By Robert Olrog / London
Life has moved into the slow lane in London. Traveling is cancelled, pubs are prohibited, and theatres have nailed their doors shut as a consequence of the media sensation and public health emergency winner of the year – Covid-19.
I moved to the U.K. from Sweden around two and a half years ago to do my master’s degree in engineering at the University of Cambridge. It was surprising how similar my education ended up being in both countries – most of my days were either spent in the library or at a watering hole. After I completed my studies in October, 2019. I began a consulting internship In London. When it wrapped up five months later, something no one suspected occurred.
Covid came as a shock to the world and has impacted everybody in one way or another. I know many people whose professional and personal lives have been upended. My greatest and worst pandemic story was that directly after my internship, I set out on the clichéd – “I will find myself by travelling” - trip. At that point I did not know how bad the pandemic would get. The adventure ended abruptly after two weeks and consequently I was in lockdown in South Africa for about a month before being repatriated. Since the initial wave and the following period of uncertainty, a new normal has appeared.
I am 25 and still living in London – but much has changed in terms of lifestyle. Before the pandemic, most weekends were a test to see how much one could do. Spending a weekend relaxing at home was considered problematic (a millennial vernacular term for views or actions not aligned with consensus, often used as an antonym to “woke”). A paradigm shift has occurred since March, 2020, when the first lockdowns and travel restrictions were imposed – suddenly, it is encouraged to do less.
Now my friends and I have to find new ways to spend free time and methods to maintain sanity. Some people have resorted to amateur botany, others to pursuing sports and many turned into sourdough connoisseurs. I cannot say I am particularly interested of any of those choices – my maxim has become if it does not ferment, it does not matter. Right now there are many suspicious looking mason jars in the corner of my room that are frothing and foaming. The list is long, in those jars we have had chillis, mushrooms, pineapples and much more.
I believe this aspect of the pandemic is a blessing in disguise for my generation. I have seen relationships deepen, hobbies being explored and nature being appreciated. Many Greek and Asian philosophers preferred this type of less-is-more approach and advocated simple lives and being in the present – not being controlled by a desire to check out another brunch place or pop-up shop. I cannot imagine this shift to do less would have occurred naturally for us because it is easy to know what you are missing out on in this connected world.
In Bruce Chatwin’s novel, The Songlines, he writes that the cause of all our miseries stem from our inability to remain quietly in a room. This is apparently the worst of the human misfortunes, as it prevents us from thinking about ourselves. The pandemic has forced us to confront this human trait as a lot of our previous freedoms are not possible during lockdown. Hopefully, when the dust settles, we can better balance our ability to enjoy the room and our need to explore.