I had to go out to Deepest Darkest Hove this week. It was too far to walk this time, so instead of enduring an hour’s worth of bus rides, I summoned a cab to get there and back. On the journey out, the cab drove past a small collection of box stores on a busy road, mostly sofa and furniture shops. They were closed but illuminated, as if awaiting shoppers at any moment.
As we went by, I suddenly wanted nothing more in the world than to walk into one of those big stores and just wander aimlessly for an unspecified amount of time, looking at couches and lamps and rugs, touching the fabrics, testing the cushions, decorating a sparkly new house in my mind, a blank and soothing space without the accumulated cruft of real life.
It was such an intense and ridiculous longing that I felt a lump in my throat. Granted, it was a gloomy day, and I was tired, and my thoughts were weighing heavy, so I was in the kind of fragile state where otherwise mundane things take on unwarranted significance. And at that moment, those bland but bright furniture stores represented everything just out of reach right now. I have no particular interest in soft furnishings, but I craved the soporific effect of browsing mindlessly in a shop where you have no intention of buying anything, letting the comfort of imagined consumption wash over me.
Later that day I walked through central Brighton with Jeremy, and as we passed all the closed stores, I said it felt like a permanent Sunday afternoon in Germany in the mid-90s (Sunday afternoons may be different in Germany now, but back in the day they were just dead zones of nothing being open and nothing to do). Again I felt the weird urge to go inside somewhere and roam around, or just sit outside and drink something. Right now it’s like being in a computer game where storefronts have been rendered in perfect detail, but the gameplay doesn’t allow you to enter any of the buildings. It’s uniquely frustrating. I don’t necessarily really want to go into all of those stores, but I want to be able to go in. I want to see signs of life in the world again.
Soon enough the shops will be open, and I will choose not to go in because I won’t be vaccinated yet. Jeremy, however, is on his way to being fairly COVID-proof. On the one-year anniversary of the first UK lockdown, just a few hours after our national minute of silence to commemorate the terrible year now past, he filed into the Brighton Centre and got his first jab. I sat on the beach to wait for him, the first time I’d been by the water in ages. Throughout the winter we mostly confined ourselves to the nearby park for our outdoor activities; the racetrack was far too muddy, and the seafront was too windswept. But I foresee more seaside strolls in our future, and eventually some seaside food and drinks when the Shelter Hall and other establishments open up again. Anyway, it was nice to watch the sun on the waves for a bit while a wonder of science got injected into Jeremy’s arm not far away.
I couldn’t have imagined a year ago how everything was going to turn out—both the good and the bad. I couldn’t imagine a year of isolation, fear and death, but I also couldn’t imagine that we’d already have multiple really effective vaccines for a disease no one had ever seen before. I’m happy and sad, bored and excited, optimistic and gloomy, pretty much all at the same time these days.
Our lockdown rules start relaxing (a tiny bit) tomorrow. Specifically, the “rule of six” will be back for meeting up with people outdoors. In another few weeks, pub and cafe terraces will open up, and we should be able to get together with our Irish musician friends. It’s all good—but we’ve been here before, and we could be here all over again if things take a turn for the worse in the coming months. It’s a funny tightrope we’re walking between hope and caution, and it’s taking a lot of energy to stay balanced. We just have to keep carefully putting one foot in front of the other, I guess, without rushing anything, without losing focus, without thinking we’ve already reached the end when we actually still have quite a ways to go.