In the spring, the question when you met an acquaintance was: “How are you finding lockdown?” Or, for the more formal encounter: “How is lockdown treating you?” No one asks that any more. It may have something to do with the answers, which were only ever smugness or lies, although you could say the same about: “How are you?”
However, I said it on a reflex the other day, and my neighbour replied cheerfully: “My life feels exactly the same.” I took his point. A lot of social life is speculative. We think we will have people over, but don’t get round to it. We appreciate the proximity to the V&A, while rarely availing ourselves of its services. The thing I mind about inessential shops being closed is not the lack of stuff, but how life is for the people who worked in them.
Yet my life is not the same. The streets are pretty full, but feel different. Every day is like Sunday, but I don’t mean a modern Sunday, which is very similar to Saturday. I mean an 80s, Morrissey Sunday.
Actually, what it is really like is the 50s: you can do the boring stuff. You can go about your business. You can get on a bus. There isn’t a war on. But nothing is open. Wherever is open, it is a bit draughtier than you would prefer. Maybe in a fortnight, you will be able to go for a port and lemon, but right now, there is just going out into the city’s early dark and coming home again.
I know this because I have read The End of the Affair and The L-Shaped Room (sure, published in 1960, don’t @me), not because I was there. Unlike, plainly, my neighbour. He did not mean: “My life feels the same as 2019.” He meant: “My life feels the same as when I was 21, and the world was my oyster, and the low availability of unusual luxury items was as nothing, set against the sheer human vigour coursing through my veins.” I said: “No wonder you’re in such a good mood – it’s because you’re so old”, and walked away, glad to have at least sown some confusion.