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Alex Kane

Lessons of the lockdown: Coronavirus crisis will change how we see the world

Alex Kane

After years as a freelance writer, you'd think Alex Kane would be used to working from home, but he hadn't bargained for a toddler with a genius for mayhem... or an unfortunate encounter with a hammock


Alex Kane with his son Indy

Alex Kane with his son Indy

Alex Kane with his son Indy

Be it ever so humble, "there's no place like home". A lot of people have been discovering the truth of that sentiment as the new realities and new norms of lockdown have sunk it.

I don't think it matters whether you live in a multi-roomed mansion, or a modest terrace, most people will, by now, be aware of a remarkable paradox: your home is both very big and very small when you're confined to it on an almost-24/7 basis for weeks on end.

Our home is in the modest category and I've been working "from home" for years now. Pre-lockdown it was fine, with Lilah and Megan both at school for most of the day (Megan went to university last year), leaving me enough time to write.

Even when Indy came along (he'll be three in July), I learned to adapt to the toys and food aimed in my direction when he was bored.

But with all three at home now (that's a 10-year-old, a 21-year-old and a toddler), I really wish we had Tardis-like dimensions to the house.

It isn't just one background noise I have to work against, it's three: worse, it's three entirely different and competing noises, because they like different music, television programmes and pastimes, all of which they insist on doing at the same time. As loudly and as grumpily as possible.


Heady times: Alex Kane and his daughter Lilah

Heady times: Alex Kane and his daughter Lilah

Heady times: Alex Kane and his daughter Lilah

And they're always starving and whingeing on and on and on about snacks, drinks, crisps, sweets and Easter eggs (we bought for the whole wider family before lockdown and still have a mountain of chocolate).

Like many others, we also decided to use the lockdown to "get around to doing" all those jobs we'd being talking about doing for years.

That's when we discovered how big the house is; for, once we had made a list of everything that needed to be done in every room, I calculated that it would require the lockdown to last about three years for us to finish it all.

Matters haven't been helped by the fact that Indy has discovered the joys of painting, felt-tipping, hammering and embellishing the walls, doors, bookshelves and tables. He has, in his own way, confirmed one of Newton's laws of motion: for each job we finish in the house, he creates another job to be done. We had considered potty-training during the lockdown, but I'm not sure we'll bother with that right now.

We have a corner-plot garden and it is a godsend in weather like this. Like the house, it used to seem small; but then we decided to make it a "project" as well.

Garden tools and a toddler don't go well together, particularly when I have the sort of natural clumsiness which is usually only seen in Laurel and Hardy films.

My first digging job involved a garden fork and a rake. Indy moved the rake while I was digging and laid it down behind me. I stopped digging, turned round to lift the rake (which I had left leaning against the wall), stood on the prongs and whacked myself in the ear.

Indy hollered with joy (and hopefully won't repeat the words I used). I decided to ease my pain by resting in the hammock. Instead, I fell out of it and landed with a thump on the decking. Indy hollered again. I swore again.

I kept to smaller jobs, but one calamity followed another. (I have a tendency to saw pieces of wood at least six inches shorter than they need to be).

And even those jobs I do manage to complete don't withstand subsequent contact with Indy, who has a fondness for knocking over flower plots, running amok in places I have just weeded and dug through and planting himself knee-deep in barrels which have just been seeded with various vegetables.

A month into lockdown and the garden looks worse than it did at the start. My offer to "sort out" the guttering and hose down the roof over the decking has been rejected - and not gently, either - by Kerri. I'm also about to be banned from the hammock, having fallen out of it three times since the first fall.


Indy in the garden

Indy in the garden

Indy in the garden

Even those who work from home (which I'm lucky enough to be able to do) and try and find house and garden projects to occupy themselves will find there are still hours and hours to be filled every day.

The first port of call is the TV box-sets; although, to be honest, not having bothered to watch Game of Thrones over the last decade, I don't intend to start now, just because I'm bored.

On the other hand, flicking through the hundreds of channels available on most televisions is like discovering a hitherto hidden circle of Dante's Hell, with celebrities as well-known (and as eloquent) as my cat trying their hand at cooking, dancing, ice-skating, house-swapping, job-swapping, singing, travelling, gardening (I'd love to see them survive an hour with me and Indy), singing, rowing, snogging and house-building.

It's horrendous old guff, yet disturbingly addictive.

One other word of advice: don't go the attic in search of board games, because you'll discover why you put them up there in the first place - most of the dice and the key pieces are missing.

On another level entirely, I've been struck by how much we tended to take everything for granted before lockdown. We probably didn't even notice them, because we always assumed they'd be there.

Places we used to go to every day, or maybe once or twice a week, which are now closed, some never to open again.

People just popping in for a cuppa and a chat. A trip to the pub for a pint and a game of snooker. The children being able to go next door to see their friends.

The chats with the neighbours as we came and went to the local shops. My in-laws and nephews and nieces not able to visit. Yes, we have social media, but nothing beats the physical presence or the hold-and-hug.

The library. The local park and playground. Jumping into the car and heading up the coast. The hairdresser (although obviously not a priority for me). Hundreds upon hundreds of taken-for-granted activities which we haven't been able to do and suddenly realise how much we miss. The irony of the "we are all in this together" mantra has also struck me, because the community is being asked to come together by staying apart.

I'm in the relative safety of my own home and garden, yet aware of the hundreds of thousands of frontliners who can't so easily shelter from Covid-19.

Again, I took most of those people for granted, only now realising that, at moments like this, their role is to be the human shield which keeps me and my family as safe as possible.

My worries are, in one sense, trivial when compared to theirs; and my worries are as nothing when set aside the worries of the families waiting for those frontliners to return from their daily shift.

It's impossible to believe that this crisis won't change how we think about ourselves and the world around us.

The ease with which businesses will plunge into ruin and the sheer numbers of people who are already struggling with their finances (and concerned about jobs to go back to) is a worrying sign that too many people are actually on a wing and a prayer when it comes to coping with this sort of crisis - particularly what will be a long and difficult aftermath.

So few seem to have "rainy-day" savings. Even fewer seem to have made the just-in-case decisions, assuming, I suppose, time was always on their side.

I hope we will become the generation that realises the importance of truly valuing what we have, rather than taking everything for granted.

This crisis will have scared and unsettled millions upon millions of us, making us realise how flimsy many of our social structures are and how fragile our grip on everyday life can sometimes be. We have so many lessons to learn from this. I hope we do.

In the past few weeks, I have taken great comfort from the opening and closing lines of Alexander McCall Smith's poem In A Time Of Distance:

The unexpected always happens in the way

The unexpected has always occurred:

While we were doing something else.

While we are thinking of altogether

Different things - matters that events

Then show to be every bit as unimportant

As our human concerns so often are ...

We wait, knowing that when this is over

A lot of us, not all perhaps, but most,

Will be slightly different people,

And our world, though diminished,

Will be much bigger, its beauty revealed afresh.

Belfast Telegraph