By the time you read this I (Jen) will be on furlough, lost in an even stranger limbo than before. (You can rest assured that while dwindling in number, my remaining colleagues have just as much zeal for fulfilling your advertising desires and informing all of Oxfordshire about what's going on!) Since this shift marks yet another sea change it has set me thinking about the people around us and the life we are leading.
The political events of the last few years have worn us down. No matter which side of the Brexit debate you're on, you probably feel the country as a whole doesn't think like you do, an isolating experience that has been destructive on all scales, from families to communities. Perhaps this is why so many of us have eagerly embraced the unifying acts of lockdown, not least the Thursday clapping for carers which has brought out good cheer and good cheering, not to mention an unlikely assortment of instruments (car horns in Littlemore, bagpipes in Summertown).
And just look at the intentions we went into lockdown with: as well as panic buying tinned tomatoes, we also stocked up on the hardest books we could think of. "At last," we thought, "I'll read Ulysses! I'll bake my own bread, grow veg, paint the spare room!" And this says several interesting things about us. Firstly, we think alike, often when we think we're being most original - uncoordinated, we decided on quite similar plans of action for our sea of undefined time. And second, we know what we need to do to make our lives better, and we have the will to do it. It's just most of the time, we're too busy.
Staying put within our own home, we learn important lessons about consumption and waste. How many loo rolls do we actually need for 12 weeks? How much waste do we produce, now that we see it every day? Where does our food come from, and how do supply chains work? What is the hungry gap? Which businesses around me treat customers as individuals and respond to cries for help, when the supermarket computer says no?
Sales of bikes have risen sharply, and so have orders of period-proof underwear products and reusable nappies for babies, as people get the chance to try out a more sustainable life, and find it harder to buy disposable products. City councils, enjoying the look and peace of cities without cars, are already looking at how to keep them that way. Let's hope new cyclists get comfortable enough with their bikes on the quiet roads before commuting begins again. Or will it? No-one wants to return to hours spent in traffic, when they could be feeding their sourdough starters.
I'm not trying to make light of a pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and will take more before it's finished. I know there are families unable to attend the funerals of their loved ones, health workers dying for lack of protection, victims of abuse holed up with their abusers, hungry children, and people desperate to become parents whose fertility appointments are cancelled. All of our lockdowns are different, and some are awful.
But we've all seen the apocalyptic movies and read the domesday books. And they're wrong - we are cooperating, grinning and bearing it, behaving with fortitude and courage, and most of all we're cooperating. Who knew people were so kind? And when 750,000 of us volunteer for the NHS, and so many are using their unique skill sets to make others' lives a bit better, then doesn't the hope come sneaking back into our lives, like clean air and butterflies?