I last left my home six weeks ago. I have been outside. To the bins a couple of times, though now my husband has that joy to himself (following a text from the National Health Service saying I shouldn’t stray beyond our front doorstep. It is strange to live in days when the NHS sends me regular life advice). To the garden. Daily. Twice daily. As many times as the weather and work will allow. But this is all in the vicinity of home.
I am grateful that this season of life has coincided with a shift from dispiritingly soggy February to brightness, and warmth; sometimes the promise of summer and sometimes a proper preview. We’ve sowed a lot of seeds, preparing for the long haul at home. Chard that survived the winter and lettuce newly planted are already gracing out salads. Mint is beginning its proliferation (in terracotta pots, lest it rampage through the whole garden). We have had two barbecues already. And both involved eating in actual daylight; a feat only managed with the easing of time that lockdown has brought (we are optimistic people, so run late normally).
Time is a topic of much discussion. How much is available. And how could, should, will it be used. I have not found it to be as plentiful and free as social media seems to suggest. Partly because we are still working, just from home – something I do not take for granted. And I never had a particularly long commute. There are other factors too. Commitments have shifted online so Tuesday evenings and Sunday mornings are still occupied. Figuring out how to get food when you can’t leave the house has been a bit mentally occupying at times. We already tried to cook a lot from scratch, but now there is even more of this. I could measure these weeks in bread products we’ve baked: white bloomer, seeded rye loaf, focaccia, focaccia again, bagels*…. We’ve long tried to embrace the good life and it turns out you can live semi-sustainably in suburbia. But it really does take time.
I had been thinking a bit about constraints already during 2020, sparked a friend talking about their efforts to go ‘zero waste’ in 2019. One of their big reflections was you can only reduce your landfill rubbish to one small jar over 365 days if you accept that there are some things that you simply cannot have. This tapped into something I’ve been thinking about since action on single-use plastic exploded into the mainstream. So much advice is about alternatives, swaps, exchanging one plastic wrapped product for another (unwrapped, or perhaps beeswax is involved). This can be good. But in some cases – as my friend found – there is not a viable sustainable alternative. So what do we then?
We have to accept constraints.
Yet this is so often missing from the sustainable-living conversation. I think part of it is the desire to make it seem easy, palatable for people. Change the planet without really having to change your life.
And now life has changed, without us choosing it too. Shielding, self-isolating, social distancing. Words that now litter everyday conversation and shape every hour of current life. We have to face the reality of constraints. The size of our flat (too small to self-isolate within, so the whole family shields together). The vulnerability which means you have to stay home. The ingredients left on the shelves. All this is such a contrast to the lifestyle of convenience and consumerism that was so prevalent before. It makes me wonder how we will shape life when this season passes; surely we can’t simply go back.
In the midst of these constraints, we have also known incredible abundance. Friends and neighbours who have shopped for us; more offers of help than we could possible accept. Virtual coffee mornings and messages sent out just to say “we’re thinking of you”. I am grateful that we enjoy the creativity of cooking, the escape of reading… We miss hills and the sea, but our homebound hobbies bring deep satisfaction, which isn’t necessarily the case for everyone. And of course, there is the garden. Space to breathe deep, touch the soil, listen to the birds. They are making this moment theirs. I am thankful for so much.
* bagels! I made bagels. With my bare hands! And a pan of boiling water. And an oven. I would never have thought this was possible. But through her cookbook Midnight Chicken, Ella Risbridger assured me that it was. And she was right.