Sheffield

Working from home in Sheffield …

I HAD established a generally happy routine in my ‘semi-retirement’ over the last two years. It contained very predictable blocks of time, providing structure to the week, the rest being open to choice and spontaneity.

So what about now? Look at my diary and that basic structure is still there. I still work on the same days, and exercise at the same times. I still stop at 9.00 pm for TV drama, I shop, cook, clean, manage emails, and spend too much time on social media. But so much of the actual activity and detail has changed. Nowadays I work from my spare bedroom, and I counsel on the phone. I no longer see the people I work with – my clients, staff at the medical centre, professional colleagues, except occasionally on a screen when bandwidth allows video. I don’t have the physical experience of the journey to work, being somewhere different for the day, seeing a different view through the window. Work routine has changed and definitely won’t be the same again as new permanent systems are installed, but eventually, we are reassured, we will return to face-to-face counselling. I wonder though about other people’s jobs – will there still be one for some of them? Will working from home take on economic necessity and what might the impact be on family life and mental health? Will video conferencing become more commonly the time- and cost-efficient way to hold meetings? Might reduced travel and cleaner air be a beneficial consequence?

There is poverty about the new routine; it lacks the possibilities of the old. I’m pleased to be more disciplined about daily exercise and feel fitter, but routes are limited, and we’ve lost the weekly camaraderie of parkrun. I go to yoga in my attic, courtesy of Zoom, and feel grateful there is still a way, am aware of classmates, but feel unpleasantly solitary. Most social contact comes through a screen, and I almost have a rota of who I’ll be in contact with and when; but it’s not the same, not as good – something valuable of presence is lost by not being in the same room. I wouldn’t give it up though – this regular substitute for the real thing is essential to my new lifestyle – and I spare more than one thought for those who find their new routine means potentially unhealthy confinement, no garden, no nearby park, many more responsibilities, many fewer resources. Our perspectives on life cannot but be altered by this experience, but what will that mean for each of us?

The bit of weekly structure prevents a ‘groundhog day’ experience, but it doesn’t eliminate an underlying discombobulation. Life’s context has changed so much. The world just doesn’t seem a very reliable place anymore.

Glasgow

… and Glasgow

IT’S been nearly six weeks since my boss suggested that I could work from home if I wanted to. Shortly after that the filming we were supposed to be doing the following weekend in the art gallery I work at was postponed (working with an artist to make a new site-specific film in the gallery with a cast and crew of thirty people) and then lockdown was enforced. A few days later the postponement of Glasgow International, the city’s contemporary art biennial for which we would have been doing the filming, was announced. I was furloughed around the same time, too, all work on hold, but thankfully I should still have a job to go back to with funding secured until November. Still, all extremities crossed, the art world feels all too precarious anyway.

Fast (very fast) forward and GI was due to open last week. Arguably the (definitely my) highlight of Glasgow’s art scene, flocks upon flocks of artists and curators from across the world descend for four days of exhibitions and parties. Instead, this weekend, GI launched an online programme of commissioned film and sound work by artists who should have been participating in the festival. Still featuring some fantastic artists, it just doesn’t feel the same but nothing does and I guess this is a close second.

It’s not just GI but the entirety of the art world that has gone virtual. All of a sudden, galleries and museums have had to make very difficult decisions about how and if they continue business as usual. Last month, Art Basel launched Online Viewing Rooms (equating to not much more than a folder of jpegs with a password) so that their Hong Kong fair could still be ‘attended’ by prospective buyers, and many other commercial galleries and art fairs have followed suit. Taking the virtual gallery further is Occupy White Walls, an online game in which you can make your own gallery and exhibit real life art works to sell to real life people. The makers proclaim that OWW bypasses the pretentiousness and exclusivity of the art world. Note the Occupy namesake, big political claims here from a game that isn’t reinventing the wheel (i.e. a platform for artists, or making it any more accessible or ethical) just simply putting it online.

Aside from the commercial, there has been an overwhelming proliferation of film festivals on YouTube, art schools by email, lecture series on Zoom, gigs and clubs on Twitch and exhibitions on Instagram that have popped up all at our fingertips. Everyone still trying to put their long-planned programmes on view, turning it all into online content that we can watch after our morning Zoom meeting and before the evening’s house party meet up on the same flat computer screen. We are both isolated and hyper-connected right now.

These are temporary measures, but are they just speeding up what was happening anyway? We live in financially precarious times, the arts are seriously underfunded and it’s only going to get worse with a continued Tory government. Pablo Larios in Frieze states, ‘as doors close during the lockdown, shuttered exhibitions, theatres, cinemas and clubs have left culture in a lurch. It’s time, then, to rethink the nature of that cultural experience itself.’ How do we reimagine the arts beyond just simulation? How do we support artists when we can’t see their work in person? What is our exit strategy?

Further reading/viewing:

Glasgow International 2020, online art festival, https://glasgowinternational.org/

Occupy White Walls, online game, https://www.oww.io/

Pablo Larios, Why Covid-19 might be our chance to re-imagine the arts, 7 April 2020, https://frieze.com/article/why-covid-19-might-be-our-chance-reimagine-arts

Thomas McMullan, The art world goes virtual, 30 March 2020, https://frieze.com/article/art-world-goes-virtual

Sallèles d’Aude

When will I eat in a restaurant again?

COVID-19 has changed some of my routines, but not all. In some ways I feel very sheltered from it as I already live a private life, working from home, following my own pattern.

So I continue to get up each day, have breakfast, do a bit of editing, walk the dogs and have a second coffee, edit through to lunchtime and then have a third cup of coffee. After lunch I either work in the garden, do more editing or something musical. The evening meal is normally accompanied by TV (the news) and then the evening continues with TV or talking. That hasn’t changed very much.

However, like most people I guess, sleep is not always easy – I wake in the middle of night with thoughts about what is happening, thoughts that don’t have any easy resolution as there is no easy answer. I lie awake, and toss and turn, and worry. So I have tried to make sure I go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time in the morning – I believe sleep is assisted by routine and that my body needs to be told ‘this is the time to sleep, now is the time to wake’.

Walking the dogs is circumscribed by some of the rules of lockdown – we should go out only once a day, no more than one hour, no more than one kilometre from home. Fine for the older dog, not so fine for the younger dog and me! And walking the dogs means, strictly, that is the end of my exercise for the day – no jogging (and even if I did, that should be no further than one kilometre from home, which is not much of a challenge). So I am spending some time at the start of each day following the super-fit guy on the TV as he shows me (the definitely not super-fit guy in the room) how to stretch and bend – yoga style stuff for limbering up for the day.

Monday afternoons always used to be choir practice and other afternoons might be jazz group sessions. No more! So I get my saxophone out every afternoon now, and make sure I do a proper practice session – boring for the neighbours with the emphasis on long notes and scales, but good for my development. Saturday mornings would be a visit to the shopping centre in Narbonne, cup of coffee in the bistro, visits to the supermarket and the DIY shop – no more, and no substitute!

I hope my newer routines will continue into the post-Covid future, whenever that might be – good sleep habits, stretching my body, practising the saxophone. I fear, though, that other, older, routines are going to be slow to return – my Monday choir is composed of ‘experienced’ people and we may not be allowed to meet, given our age and the need to continue isolating; cafés and restaurants are going to be among the last enterprises to re-open; concert venues and large gatherings are going to be restricted for a long time, so performance opportunities will be limited.

Pietermaritzburg

Working at home – with secretarial assistance

I’VE tended to switch off from the media recently – bombarded by viruses, statistics and never-ending repetitive instructions and admonishments – and retreated into a world of mental detachment as well as the physical isolation that the government demands. But before that I was aware of psychologists using the broadcast media to dispense advice about lockdown. Something that struck a chord was the importance of routine.

Perhaps the most difficult one to adhere to is getting up early. With winter round the corner there is the temptation to linger in bed, but this disregards the fact that my most productive hours of the day are 6.30 to 10.00 am. So productivity has taken a hit. However, I have discovered that under lockdown the best days are those of variety. So weekdays are divided into blocks: work after early morning chores; some practical activity in house or garden; exercise (illegal, but I managed to reach the 29th day before being stopped by the police); preparations for supper; and then whatever the evening offers. This seems best for my mental health. Meanwhile the government, for no logical reason, is doing its best to destroy my physical wellbeing daily routine.

The most depressing part of lockdown is that I am constantly reminded I’m in a vulnerable age category, despite the fact that my fitness is much better than it was 40 years ago. As the world’s original self-isolationist, I’m now even more reluctant to go anywhere near people. So my haphazard shopping methods are undergoing radical transformation (a very trendy tendency for everything in South Africa). Once a month there will be a big expedition for non-perishables; and every ten (maybe more) days I’ll sally forth to renew the contents of the fridge. It’s clear that in spite of endless regulations, some of them understandable others idiotic, the most important of all – social distancing – is not being practised in any meaningful way except in marked-out queues, devaluing every other precaution.

What has yet to be fully and widely grasped is that routine in the broadest sense – what normally happens around us even at a distance over an annual cycle – will not return yet, possibly ever. Anything involving high density, more than a few people in a relatively confined space, will not be possible. Routine life as we have grown to know it will have to alter and, even if this is a temporary phase, some behavioural changes may become permanent. Routine human interaction, not just domestic arrangements and the increased possibility of working from home, is set to evolve with consequences that are probably beyond most imaginations at this stage.

Contributions from Sheffield by Penny Merrett, Glasgow by Caitlin Merrett King, Sallèles d’Aude by Jonathan Merrett and Pietermaritzburg by Christopher Merrett.