No single word can accurately capture the strangeness of 2020. MR and I have been extremely fortunate that we have, in the scheme of things, been relatively unaffected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Our jobs – and income – have remained unchanged, and we have a dedicated workspace at home each with a comfortable desk and chair. We have no children that require entertaining or educating, nor any elderly family living locally in need of care. We have had the privilege of access to food, physical space, face masks, hand sanitiser and soap, unlike a large proportion of the developing world.
Despite our privilege, I am weary. In January, scaffolding went up around the Victorian terrace next to ours, ahead of a major reconstruction which gutted the property and added a floor. Aside from two weeks in early April, due to government restrictions on non-essential work, the renovation has charged forward. Hammering, drilling, sanding, sawing, has been the soundtrack of the last six months meaning that almost all of my work video calls have required me muting and briefly unmuting my microphone to contribute to the conversation.
Funnily, the construction disruption was the least painful part of the experience, being both unavoidable and expected. It was the builders lack of communication, respect and empathy – seems absurd given the circumstances – which chipped away at our patience and got us wondering AITA? Straightforward asks, that would minimise disruption to our lives and had no impact on the build, fell on deaf ears. Most asks had to be repeated four or five times before action was taken. ‘Please could we have a rough project timeline as a way to manage our expectations?’, ‘Please could you cut off the excess tarp that’s flapping in the wind and disturbing our sleep?’, ‘Please could you put up the new fence, so we can have some privacy in our garden, given that you tore down the old one two weeks ago?’, ‘Please could you clean up excess debris or dust that falls onto our property?’, ‘Please could you turn down the radio for 30 minutes when we have lunch in our garden every day?’, etc. Exhausting. The work will be complete next week and I couldn’t be happier.
Reconfiguring our wedding has also been taxing. At first I’d naively hoped that we could proceed as planned, so the reality of postponing was, briefly, disappointing. As a compromise we thought to organise a registry office marriage ceremony imminently and plan a proper wedding celebration with family and friends when it was safe to do so. But simply figuring out what was still possible with our limited time left in the UK turned out to be quite stressful. Despite small, socially-distanced weddings being legal since 4 July, registry offices only opened on the 20th. The UK requires non-Europeans to ‘give notice to marry’ a minimum of 70 days prior to their wedding date, which left us only a window of a week before our departure for the Netherlands on the 5th of October. Quickly realising London would be tricky, we reverted to the location of our original plans, securing a (memorable) appointment at the Dartford registry office on the 23rd of July. MR and I will be married at the Fordwich Town Hall on Friday 2 October, 2020, with my sister and her husband as our witnesses and only guests.
This period has reminded me how adaptable humans are. The first few days MR worked from home were disruptive, but we grew into the newly configured workspace. When supermarkets seemed terrifying and online grocers were booked up for weeks, we kept in tune with Farmdrop’s evolving order system. Initially we shopped for our elderly neighbour, quickly learning how to minimise contact wearing gloves and washing or wiping down every grocery item before delivering them to her doorstep, knocking and stepping back a couple of metres. We grew used to staying home, cashless payments, making sufficient space on the street, preparing every meal and recently, for the UK, wearing face masks.
Much of our forced adaptation, as a society, has brought about an unanticipated ‘proof of concept’ for new behaviours and policies, including mainstream remote working, decentralised living, online shopping, local manufacturing and universal basic income. I’m really curious to learn how these changes will continue to take shape in the coming years. But for now, let me just catch my breath.