It’s a strange world

I’m in Luxembourg, one of the richest countries in the world. I’m working from home for the foreseeable and glad for the right to be able to do so. The Luxembourg government ordered that all the restaurants and caf├ęs and pretty much any non-essential businesses apart from groceries, pharmacies and banks should close. A lot of people cannot work from home and a lot of them today aren’t working at all. Not sure whether post offices are affected but I’ll try to find out. I have a Seanad vote sitting here when I find someone to sign the identity paper that came with it. It would be pretty annoying if my first time to exercise a right to vote in the Seanad got stymied by a virus.

I went out for a walk after work this evening, and after I had been to my local grocery store to get food – they were clean out of pretty much everything but they did have a reasonable selection of pizza. Hopefully tomorrow they will have some meat and a few more vegetables. They had installed their response to social distancing. They painted a yellow line on the floor, a bit like at passport control, and confused the hell out of many of their customers who did not know where they were supposed to stand. The queuing set up will take a while to get used to, I think, and I’m going to struggle because they make you stand right with the display with a whole pile of chocolate miniEggs for Easter. The temptation to just get some chocolate is Almost Too Much To Bear. The supermarket was curiously full of parents with children too. It was like being at Mass on Christmas morning with a lot of excited children’s voices.

The walk though, that was strange. There was no traffic; the odd jogger giving me 2 metres and practising their social distancing. Every ten minutes, a bus went by, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so few cars. And you could smell things. You could smell the pile of woodchip that they’ve spread somewhere near one of the schools not too far from where I live, and the wood that some workmen had thrown in a skip near the supermarket. Normally I would not notice these things, but in the quiet…it’s seems like every sense is a bit more intense.

We’re really right at the start of this experience I think. I hesitate to call it an adventure; and anyway elements of it I hate. But it’s going to have the oddest impact on the most mundane parts of my life. My electricity bill is going to completely sky rocket. I’m here all the time, and computers which were switched on maybe two or three times a month are now on at least 5 days a week. And there’s a screen. And I use so much more of my internet data allowance. And I’ll drink so much more water. All because I am here.

All day long. Mostly listening to Icelandic soft piano music in the background, except for the inevitable conference calls. Why am I using so much data again? It’s lonely. My weekend reading list filled up with “how not to go crazy while teleworking” but to be honest, the biggest issue for me was how to stop working. The odd thing reminds you. The need for bread and the fact that if you don’t get there in time they are out of bread. There might be a few rolls left if you’re lucky. If you don’t need bread, it’s possible you miss normal knock off time.

We have the tools to stay in contact; I keep a chat window open with my team and they are great. It’s not really the same as dropping down the corridor to them, but hey, we do it. And I stay in contact with a few other people who work elsewhere. We swap stories. One of my friends said that one of his joys was that he could work on a Windows machine again (heh). The world has discovered – once more – when something must happen, it will happen.

I saw a comment on twitter during the week that people should, if possible, journal what this time was like; historians in the future would value it. And to try and handwrite it as handwritten papers tend to last longer than digital records. This stunned some techbros on the thread actually. This, I don’t really see as journaling the experience of what might turn into much more of a lockdown, more a mind clearing exercise for me.

It’s hard to say what normal will be when all of this is ended. I don’t think we’re going back to how life was 3 weeks’ ago. In some ways, that might be attractive. Walkers could very easily take over the streets given how few people will be driving. It’s hard to say how many airlines will survive the complete and utter standstill in travel that is coming. It’s hard to imagine how long this is going to take. You try to predict it based on experience elsewhere but it’s not getting normal in Italy any time soon.

I like to think that maybe, there will be some recognition of the need for all of us to work together and that the ability to do this, the will to do it, will stand to us later on. That the need to refocus ourselves will cause us to take that step back and smell the sweetness in the air, from two metres away, of course.

In the meantime, we take each day as it comes.