What a strange time it has been. As I write this at the start of May I realise that by the time you read it, things will most probably have changed again but at the moment, daily life over the last six or so weeks has been considerably different to the norm that we knew. The high street is more or less shut, city centre parks are relatively deserted and a delivery person has never been such a welcome sight. Some of us are much too busy with essential work and some of us are really not busy enough, itching for things to get back to where they were. For some of us it will have been awful, for others, it will have unintentionally provided a time for rest and reflection, and probably just about every state in between.
At the start of the lockdown period, the brilliant cartoonist Matt, captured our changing relationship with our homes when he drew a man in his slippers settled in a comfy armchair with a framed picture above his head saying simply “Home Bloody Home”. I suspect that there are some extroverts among us who at this moment feel that they never want to see the inside of their homes ever again and some home loving introverts who quietly acknowledge how much the lockdown appeals to them. On a poignant note, it is also important to remember that for some, it will have highlighted some very difficult issues that no building, beautiful or otherwise, is going to change.
So how do you feel about your home, post lockdown? Did it work for you?
Just a few days before the lockdown started, I went to the hairdressers (I know, I know, it was pure luck) and we had a conversation about a mother who had gone from having an empty home during the day to having five school age children as well as her working-from-home husband around all the time, and all packed into a small three bedroom house. For those of us who have spent a lot more time in our homes that we would normally, there will have been challenges around space and what we need our homes to do for us. Home schooling, working from home, family members returning parents’ homes to sit out the lockdown not to mention storage of bulk bought bog roll have required our homes to adapt and change to new requirements. Some of will have looked at our big open plan living spaces and wished for smaller private areas, or conversely wished for one big space where everyone in the household can be together. Some of us will have made an underused space (a guest room for example) into a home gym, work area, second TV room or cocktail bar, whichever requirement was most pressing. Some of us, me included, will have wished we had had that big clear out before the charity shops and council waste sites closed. For many, there will simply be a sign of relief to get homes back to normal but perhaps we will also look at the spaces in our homes in a slightly different way when life returns to relative normality.
Whilst we have all been working, schooling or simply saying hello during the lockdown, many of us have become very familiar with meeting online, via Zoom, Skype or other and this, I feel, has given us an intentioned insight into our acquaintances’ homes. I am personally completely obsessed with ‘what is in the background?’ and therefore in return, ‘how does our background look’. I have been surprised by how homely, inviting and sometimes creative some backgrounds look, in homes where I may not have expected it, and in other places how unbelievably organised some are – a fearsome wall of box files making it clear that the owners information system is not to be messed with. To avoid just such snoopers as me, there is apparently now a new feature which means that you can download a background rather than displaying your own living room so I will be expecting to see an Hawaiian beach behind those that I dial in to in future.
I am sure a lot of people for whom this lockdown gave them more free time at home, such as those furloughed from work, started off with great plans to do all those jobs at home that have been previously put off. Some of those people will have great improvements to show for their time and others I suspect will know just why those jobs were endlessly put off. We were confusingly told that we could mend a fence but not paint a kitchen during lockdown but I never understood how this could possibly be policed, or frankly justified, if other guidelines were followed. I also bet some of us have had to take on cleaning our own homes which we were previously too busy to do – reverting back to being too busy to clean will be a great relief to many. It will also hopefully make us aware of what is involved in home maintenance and that actually it takes considerable time, ability and elbow grease. It might also make us think about how much home we need – too much space can cause problems in the same way that too little can and taking time to do some of these home improvements, or just maintenance tasks, might make us think about this more. Possibly no one knows this better than Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon, who it is reported is vacuuming the 61 bedrooms of Highclere House (Downton Abbey to you and me) herself, having furloughed all her staff.
As well as getting us thinking about the interior of our homes, I think this period of time has also cast a different light on what we get from the location of our homes. For urban dwellers, the closure of so many local facilities has been odd to say the least and walking around a deserted city centre, almost devoid of traffic and noise, has given a very different impression of our neighbourhood. For rural dwellers, the view from their front door may not have changed very much but the forage for deliveries, and just knowing there is life out there, if they have had to self-isolate will have been harder than for those in town.
I would love to think that the lockdown period has opened our eyes to what our homes do and don’t do for us, even for those who have not spent considerably more time at home than they would usually. After all, our home should not primarily be a status symbol or an investment, but our shelter when things go wrong, our safe haven, somewhere we like to be, or at least want to come back to when we finally manage to get out and about again.