‘Pick up thy coat and walk’: how to cope with the new Covid lockdown

Grace Dent

This lockdown I will remember:

  • To leave the house once a day. Even if it is to walk to the shop to remember how awful it all is out there and come back inside and slump on the couch, feeling grateful.

  • To not bother putting on under-eye concealer and tinted primer for Zoom. I don’t care if I look like Robert Smith in the Lullaby video, you were the one who asked for video to be turned on, Susan.

  • That a row of freshly laundered cosy pyjama bottoms drying on a radiator, smelling of Lenor fabric conditioner, is actual happiness and stability now.

  • We have no idea about the future so don’t worry about long-term goals.

If you miss your family and feel terrible sadness about enforced separation, simply call them and ask about their bunions or wisdom teeth; after the first 27 minutes you’ll remember why you moved out.

I will also remember every day in every interaction with a human being that we are all secretly having a shit time in one way or another, and beneath the light veneer of OK-ness, we’re mainly all filled with weariness, existential woe and suffering, so no matter how infuriating people are, it’s worth cutting everyone some slack.

Oh, and Grace, you’re never going to finish The Idiot by Dostoevsky. Why don’t you just order some chow mein on Just Eat and keep ploughing through two seasons of Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix like you did last time they closed all the restaurants?

Romesh Ranganathan

I went into the last lockdown thinking that I was much better prepared for it than I actually was. The first week I breezed, got cocky, and then it was pretty much a step descent into a noodle curry and beer-based fog. This time round, I want to last a week and a day before I do that. My targets are:

  • Phone my mum and brother every day.

  • Have a conversation with my wife that isn’t functional every day.

  • Spend some quality time with the boys for at least 20 minutes every day.

  • Exercise four times a week.

  • Try not to watch The Thick Of It 17 times.

  • Keep doing my civic duty to order takeaways.

  • Choose healthy options from takeaways about 50% of the time.

  • Actually use the DJ setup I bought during the last lockdown.

  • Have one day a week completely off my phone.

  • Avoid “double screening” for the whole of lockdown.

  • Finish the book on British history I have been reading for a year and a half.

Tim Dowling

It’s vital to create a sense of structure, however illusory. You need to walk somewhere every day for the sake of your own sanity, just to look at things beyond the walls of your own dwelling.

During the spring lockdown there was enough light for a sunny stroll in the evenings, with plenty of time to judge other people’s front gardens, but winter brings its own advantages: head out just past sunset, after people have turned their lights on but before they have remembered to shut their curtains. That way you can look in on 100 different lives in less than half an hour. Don’t forget to turn on your lights and open your curtains before you go, as a favour to other snoops.

Also, you should try to order something small on a regular basis: a book, some seeds, 100 galvanised wood screws, insoles, replacement wheels for your upper dishwasher rack. The aim is to establish a steady rhythm, with a package arriving for you every day. Not only does this give you something to look forward to, it automatically triggers a daily doorstep social interaction, where a masked delivery person waves at you from a distance of 2 metres while pointing to the parcel at your feet. Sometimes, in my experience, they even take a picture.

Hannah Jane Parkinson

I would love to say I did things one was supposed to do during the first lockdown: learn a language; become a Michelin-starred chef; get fit enough to give Usain Bolt a run for his money. But it was sunny, so mostly I sat around in the garden reading. I was lucky in that regard; I know plenty of bookworms who suddenly found it a struggle. But may I advise sticking to fiction? A long time mandatorily housebound may seem the ideal opportunity to finally tackle that 700-page book on the Suez crisis – but it isn’t.

Something I found especially hard – even though I knew it was going to be – was lack of touch. I am a very tactile person. Living alone, I literally didn’t touch another human for months. Except a nurse who gave me a blood test, who I virtually clung to. My poor cat endured three strokes per minute. So, tip number two: get a rescue cat or dog. But remember, a pet is for life, not just for a pandemic.

Finally, the most significant realisation I had was sartorial. HOW is it possible that we all lived in jeans? We might as well have walked around wearing two loo roll tubes for all the freedom they give. I will now be wearing T-shirts and joggers for the foreseeable.

Lucy Mangan

My greatest discovery of lockdown #1 was that I have legs. Legs, moreover, that work in traditional and remarkably efficient fashion. I generally don’t test them, you see. My standard, non-pandemic-dictated daily routine is to sit and type, or sit and read, and then sit and watch television, then lie down and read, and then sleep for eight hours before beginning again.

In lockdown, I started to walk. Remember that government-mandated hour of exercise a day? I took it. It was weird. It was weird walking with no point other than to get outside and literally stretch my legs. It was weird feeling how well my body responded to it – almost as if it was grateful, almost as if it were designed for the purpose of covering distance, of getting me from A to B instead of hunching over a screen or page for 12 hours a day, every day. It was weird how my knee pain cleared up and even weirder how my thoughts seemed to organise themselves better, developing their own little filing system in order of priority and packing the neuroses away in archival boxes ever more effectively the further I walked.

So my tip is simply: pick up thy coat and walk. Even if it’s cold. Even if it’s wet. Even if, like me, you haven’t got off your bum in any significant way for 20 years. Even if everyone else is running and you think only that counts. You’re wrong. Walking is, weirdly, everything.


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