For all the bravado of lockdown’s most endless repeated refrain – can’t wait to go to the pub! – I suspect many of us are anxious about confronting a new reality. One in which people are visible all the way down to the floor; have aromas and don’t glitch; look you in the eye, rather than somewhere around the solar plexus.
So, having provided the definitive guide to WFM (Working from Home, rather than a new branch of the trad. wife movement) I thought I might be of use now in preparing Spectator Life readership for their return to real, Participant Life. Sadly, Martin Clunes won’t be there to watch as you are returned, like a timid zoo-raised chimpanzee, to The Wild. But I do hope it will be at least as moving and meaningful an experience.
Real People are in many respects very much as you have seen them represented on Zoom, except that they continue below the Screen Line, a fact that many of them mitigate through the use of trousers, skirts or, in the event that they have forgotten how to do it, towels.
You too will have to learn to dress, if not to impress then at least to minimise alarm. Your phone probably has some shots of you in social situations stored in the memory. These can be consulted to help you combine the clothes you already own, into an outfit, the basic unit of sartorial sanity.
However, that aside you will be amazed how quickly your innate ability to simply “be” with other people returns, especially once you begin to drink. Which brings us to –
Firstly, plan ahead. If you hope to meet someone in a pub, you will need to give them much more of a warning than you might have got used to when your second drink of the evening suddenly suggests, almost by itself, an impromptu video call.
On the plus side, you only need to tell them the name of the pub and its rough location, rather than send them a complex code of any kind. Nor will you have to remember to “admit” them when they arrive.
Remember that they can see and hear you as soon as they walk in, and vice versa, so it is a good idea to start smiling straight away, rather than spend a few seconds looking confused and uncertain when they first appear. And once the meeting begins, remember that they cannot be muted, or minimised. Nor can you bring up a different screen in front of them and watch some You Tube content or read an opinion piece about the riots without them noticing. Having said that, many young people do indeed regard this as a legitimate way to interact in person, so perhaps you’ll be fine.
The other major forum for interaction will be the…
Office and Workplace
Again, just remember that you can be seen at all times, including, weirdly, from the back. Once at the desk, however, you and your colleagues will once again resemble their on-line avatars, top third visible only, and this should help to calm you.
Remember to shut the door in the lavatory. When going to make tea, it is polite to offer to “get anyone else one?”. When going to the loo this is probably best left unsaid.
Other workplaces – factories, warehouses, grooming salons – will all have their own idiosyncratic opportunities for you to trespass on people’s heightened sense of personal space, and vice versa. If you feel that someone is breathing unnecessarily close to you, or is touching a surface with malicious intent, the important thing is not to escalate the conflict. Rather, use post-it notes, message boards and send-all emails to raise your issues – much like you did when someone stole your milk or ate your sandwich. People love to get these little messages when they least expect them.
If you are a customer, perhaps at the barbers, you may find that the friendly banter about sports and holiday destinations which used to so enliven the experience has been somewhat diminished. My guess is, you’ll learn to live with this.
Walking post lockdown is superficially similar to walking during, with this important key difference – you’re going somewhere. Consequently, it might be worth making sure you have everything you need with you, and nothing that you don’t – for instance, don’t take your dog, unless you intend to keep him with you all day.
I hope these tips prove re-assuring. I can be reached on Twitter – @TheSimonEvans – for further coaching, and bespoke sessions are available at a very reasonable rate. On-line only though, I’m afraid. I’m not quite ready yet to go further than that.