WFH and lockdown(s)

A brief moment in time

From the perspective of a graphic designer and new dad

I preface the following by saying that I know I’ve been lucky. That a lot of people have had it, and continue to have it, a lot worse than I. I make no judgements, provide no answers, and explain nothing of consequence, or perhaps even interest. This is just my subjective experience of the pandemic and working from home as best as I remember. 

Introduction | Innocence lost 

Lockdown, Pandemic, Furlough, Coronavirus, Social Distancing, all words and phrases that we’d probably never said more than two or three times in our entire lives up until March 2020. Most people didn’t even know what a furlough was. If I’d been asked to guess I think I’d probably have gone with the downy belly hair of the African, short legged, brown, water beaver. But these days you hear people banging on about Social Distancing at least five times before breakfast, you have to have a face mask within easy reach everytime you leave the house, and leaving the house is still something of an oddity. The once daily used car lies in the driveway slowly gathering moss, only used now for the occasional mission out to replenish the household stockpile of toilet rolls, tinned food and pasta. If you’d have told us at the beginning of 2020 that next year the entire country would be under indefinite house arrest at the Government’s leisure it would have seemed completely preposterous. But this is the world we live in these days. As Biggie Smalls said so eloquently on his seminal album Ready to Die… “Things done changed”. 

Lockdown one | A brave new world 

It seemed like the end of days, but in a good way. The sort of dystopian, post-apocalyptic vision of the future that you could probably actually quite enjoy. The entire noisy, annoying, throng of people you see every day, swarming all over reality with their frantic, furious lives and urgent, just-in-time deliveries/appointments to make/get to, loud, ignorant, incorrect opinions and barely suppressed ultra-violence bubbling away just under the surface, all just seemed to evaporate into nothing. The streets were deserted, the noisy, stinking, dirty, poisonous, smoke-belching, cars, buses and lorries all vanished overnight. The only sign they were still there somewhere was on TV, and with the news being so depressing we even stopped watching that. The world grew smaller, quieter, more relaxed. I personally loved it. The sun was out and so were we, we discovered local ponds, walks, hidden parks and nature reserves that I had no idea were there before. And best of all it seemed like we were the last people on earth and we had them all to ourselves. 

I got to work from home which meant I was able to see my son’s first steps, hear his first words, be there for so many firsts and play a part in his early months that was simply impossible before. As I said, I got to work from home which I know a lot of people didn’t. I realise I am lucky to have had this, and I appreciate the fortuitous situation I find myself in. I also have the luxury of a spare room to use as an office, so I didn’t have to struggle with working on the sofa, kitchen table or bed as a lot of other people did. I did continue to work full time, but looking back at it now I don’t really remember that, I just remember the walks in the sun (government approved and sanctioned exercise), and the quiet. The quiet between periods of noisy, baby related racket anyway. 

The whole situation felt exciting. Again, I know I am lucky, but I don’t know anyone personally who passed away because of the pandemic, I only know a couple of people who even had it, and they said it was just like an unpleasant cold. So the whole Covid 19 pandemic thing seemed to be easily kept at arm’s length. It clearly was something to worry about, but from the limited, subjective perspective of our house it didn’t really seem like it. We had stopped watching the news as well at this point so the telly boxes’ daily diet of misery, paranoia, fearmongering and death that we had been used to also stopped. Something big was happening, that was clear, but everything that had changed for us was for the better. We were through the looking glass, all bets were off, anything could happen. The weight of responsibility from regular, normal, tedious, real-life seemed to have lifted a little, as it was starting to look very much like normal, real-life might not be a thing anymore. It was just me, my wife and our new baby boy. It was a brave new world and we didn’t have to share it with anyone!

Post lockdown one, lockdown two | Misery 
back garden misery
Old decking removal begun

As time went by the novelty did start to wear off, and my wife (who is a lot more sociable than I am), started to miss the interpersonal contact of friends and family. Our baby boy became more challenging and more averse to sleep. The evenings drew in and the nights grew longer and longer until it seemed like it filled up 23 hours a day. With only a bleak, pale, half-light penetrating the gloom for an hour or so around lunchtime. The world became colder and darker.

If you’ve had children you’ll already be aware, but it was a surprise to me, that almost every developmental step they take comes with a predictable associated sleep regression. And babies are absolutely terrible at sleeping at the best of times anyway, so being worse than terrible for prolonged phases, time and time again, does get a bit wearing after a while. He was now also clearly very aware that Daddy was always upstairs in the office room if he wasn’t in sight, in easy shouting distance even if he couldn’t physically barge in through the stairgate. And if it wasn’t a toddler demanding attention it was the bleedin’ cat! It was becoming apparent why most workplaces do not come with babies and animals in them. 

We could no longer go for pleasant walks as it was now absolutely frigid, and usually pitch black, outside the house. Anytime you did venture out was a painful, miserable march born out of absolute necessity. The back garden was a no go area as I was still half way through re-building the decking. Making it a muddy, dangerous pit of trip hazards and power tools (not the perfect environment for a 1 year old). So every single day became the same, trapped in a cold house with an angry baby, an upset wife, with no end in sight and nothing to look forward to but a joyless Christmas by ourselves. Winter was long, cold and miserable. Spring couldn’t come soon enough.

Spring, lockdown three | A new hope 

Nearly six months in the making, I finally finish the decking. The back garden is usable again, every day is a little warmer than the preceding one and walks outside are possible again. The easing of the lockdown rules has meant my wife has been able to see her family, and we’ve even had friends over for back garden beverages in recent weeks. In short, things are looking up again. 

I’ve learnt a few things during the pandemic, you’re certainly happier if you don’t watch the news, and though WFH does have some drawbacks, overall I know it has improved my quality of life enormously. I honestly think it has improved my son’s and wife’s as well. It has certainly brought me and my son closer. I get to see him at lunch, during breaks for coffee in the kitchen, not to mention the commuting time I get to spend with him in the morning and after work. Occasionally I even let him sit on my lap and “help”. In recent months we seem to have found a way to mitigate the negative aspects of WFH while continuing to enjoy the positive ones. I for one would find it very difficult to go back to how it was before this whole thing started. 

I don’t want to tempt fate, but it is starting to look like we made it through the pandemic winter while being locked in a house together 24/7 and bringing up a really-very-grumpy-at-times baby, and all without killing each other, going too doolally or getting poorly! It didn’t seem very likely at points, but I think we did it. I just hope we can continue to be as lucky.

What an entrance!
The future | Apparent, imminent, absurd

Who knows where we go from here as a society? Will everything just go back to normal? Everyone going back to commuting for hours every day? As the frantic pace of society slowly ramps back up will we lose everything positive we’ve gained during the pandemic? The cynic in me thinks, probably yes, but I hope not. I hope society surprises me, embraces the positive changes many of us have discovered, and doesn’t go back to the bad old status quo just because it lacks the imagination to do anything else and doesn’t ultimately care. I suppose only time will tell.

Anyway, roll-on summer, the further easing of lockdown rules and being able to travel again. I can’t remember the last time I saw the sea!