LIFESTYLE FEATURES

If we re-frame lockdown as an opportunity to hibernate until spring, things begin to look a little less bleak

While I miss my friends and the spontaneity of a social life, I’ve found it easier to cope with this time by accepting this stultification as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to just stop, and see what happens, says Alice Vincent

It would be a wild understatement to say that this is not exactly the way we wanted the year to start.

Covid cases soaring, plunged into a third national lockdown and freezing temperatures holding the country in a further stasis - January can be bleak at the best of times, but 2021 is laying it on thick.

In the depths of this gloom, though, I’d like to suggest a gentle resolution: to try and find the joy in January.

It might seem an impossible task, but even in these cold weeks when time seems to telescope - daylight vanishes, and yet the days can seem endless - there are glimmers of hope to hold onto, I promise.  

While millions of key workers have been continuing, if not increasing, their working hours and newly quiet commute, the rest of us are staying at home, in line with government guidelines.

And though January was never renowned for its high party quotient, these locked-down weeks have seen us returning to the now well-practiced habits we forged the first time around: perhaps with less frenetic baking of banana bread and sourdough, but a greater understanding of the grounding we need to maintain our wellbeing.  

Studies have found our sleeping habits have changed since the onset of the pandemic; I’m among those who have been clocking more hours asleep than at any time during my adulthood.

Since March, I’ve set my alarm clock twice, otherwise trusting my early-rising body clock to get me out of bed in time to stumble to my desk to start the day.  

After years of sneaking whatever sleep I can into a day, my body has finally reset to something more archaic.

What’s been interesting to witness is how my sleeping patterns have changed with the seasons.

In May I’d be wide awake with the Dawn Chorus - something that starts off as charming and grows increasingly tyrannical - but since the clocks went back in October, I’ve been sleeping later. In short, my body now wakes with the light.

More sleep in winter, less in summer: after years of sneaking whatever sleep I can into a day, my body has finally reset to something more archaic.

It’s one of the reasons why I’m trying to think of this time as a kind of hibernation rather than a government-imposed long stay in my own home.

When the days are bright, I’ll get on my bike and take in the hazy winter sun, but when they’re not, I feel no shame in bundling down on the sofa, lighting some candles and making a nest out of hot water bottles and blankets.

For so long, I craved weekends that were free of commitments and relished the rarity of a quiet night in. While I miss my friends and the spontaneity of a social life, I’ve found it easier to cope with this time by accepting this stultification as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to just stop, and see what happens.

In January finally, it seems, the Zoom socials have stopped. There are books to read, soups to make and TV shows to catch up on.

What kept many of us going when we first locked down - nearly one year ago on 23 March 2020 - was the promise of spring: garden centres ran out of compost and seeds as people frantically attempted to garden their way out of food shortages and we took our daily exercise under showers of blossom during an uncharacteristically warm April.

However, in January, the other life that surrounds us is sleeping too: the trees are mostly skeletons, the ground is slicked with mud and even the birds are hiding from the cold.

It makes finding solace in the natural world more challenging, but also demands that we shift our perception.

There is beauty in the mint ice cream-coloured frost that coats the grass, the blurring between that and the cold skies above, as well as the multitude of blue, grey, white and brown that make up winter landscapes.

For the first time in my life, I’ve had the time to notice these little wonders

Look closer and you will see hope: green tips of spring bulbs pushing determinedly through the ground; the sugary pink and heady hit of viburnum, sarcococca and daphne blossom; the swelling, fuzzy buds of magnolia.  

For the first time in my life, I’ve had the time to notice these little wonders.

Much as I am bored of sitting at the same makeshift “work station” everyday, of not seeing colleagues or even popping out for lunch, I am able to see the days getting longer.

There’s been an ingenious Instagram hashtag, #photographsat4, started by photographer Eleanor McAlister-Dilks, which shows the lengthening of the day in back gardens and through locked down windows across the nation.

I find it an enormously cheering thing: up and down the country people are taking a moment to look up and see the daylight begin to stretch. There’s joy to be found in that, indeed. 

Alice Vincent is the author of Rootbound, Rewilding a Life (Canongate, £9.99).

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