By Tony Curram
Isolation. Social distancing. Scary, alien words in our society. We are the first generation to experience their governments say ‘don’t go outside or you will die’ due to a disease since the dark ages. If you’re anything like my house hold, the first week was actually kind of scary; I managed to convince myself 10 times a day that I had early symptoms. Turns out I was just continually hungover from all the medicinal beers I was taking. Easy mistake to make!
Soon it was pretty cool; loads of family time, catching up on box sets, pottering around the house. Ignoring my bank balance. But now, patience is likely waning, and boredom setting in. It’s easy to find yourself just sitting there in your underwear all day, watching the TV whilst eating crisps off your gut (or is that just me?). Or scrolling through your newsfeed on Facebook, looking at a million and one ‘doom and gloom’ posts, feeling worse. But we can turn this into a productive time, a time of previously impossible personal development, and of family connection. Allow me to assist you with ideas to beat the slump.
1) Learn a language, any language, for free: Ever thought about dusting off that GCSE French or Spanish? But never had the time or money? Well now you certainly have the time and it’s free! Get on Duolingo, available on most smart devices or as a web page app and start learning today. As their business moto goes “15 minutes a day of Duolingo can teach you a language. What can 15 minutes of social media do?” Although granted, it may not be as intriguing as 15 minutes on PornHub.
2) Read something, anything: Between my wife, 4 children, full time job, a website and professional drinking habit, I have very little time for sitting down and reading something. The closest I generally get is to reading the cooking instructions for whatever I’m pinging in the microwave. But with this unprecedented isolation, I’m increasingly finding myself with nothing to do; the novelty of dad being home has worn off, and the kids are off entertaining themselves! The thing is, I’m a ‘lore whore’; I need big, detailed worlds, spanning at least several books. Not ideal reading material when you only get to sit down for 5minutes once a week. But not anymore! My favourite series I’ve discovered to loose myself in is Stephen King’s epic fantasy series, The Dark Tower. Not the movie, forget that garbage! Or the equally fantastic, but immensely shorter, award winning trilogy Phillip Pullmans Dark Materials. Which is also now available on the BBC, and pretty damn good!
3) Get Active: We’re still allowed a 1hr a day exercise window (in the UK). What a perfect time to do this NHS written couch to 5k programme. What else are you going to be doing? As long as you’re not an idiot, going around licking the floor and park rails, and observe social distancing, this is a pretty low risk, high reward activity; the numerous psychological and physiological benefits of exercise are well established.
4) Do a puzzle (at your own risk): Puzzles should 100% be reclassified to a class A drug; they ruin almost as many lives as heroin. Seriously. Stage 1: Denial. You get the puzzle, you can’t really be bothered to do it as you think it’s something your grandma would be into. It’s not cool, it’s probably boring. So you just try it once. Stage 2: Your mouth feels dry so you decide to take a break from the puzzle and get a drink, only to realise its 2 AM and you’ve been going solidly for 8 hours. Stage 3: You’ve completed the puzzle but now you need your next fix, and your cutting up the Frosties box while you wait for your next puzzle delivery. Fortunately, we can hook you up right here.
5) Call your loved ones (especially Nan): People need the human connection to stay positive. Now, if you’re like me and surrounded by screaming children and a wife that’s losing her mind, you may find this difficult to relate to. I’d love some peace and quiet. But there are many people, particularly the elderly, that are isolated alone, and this can be just as damaging to the mind and health as any disease. So please, call Nan.
6) Play a game: Absolutely guaranteed to cause you all to punch each other in the face. Top game to induce face punching? Monopoly. Hands down. The banker always cheats, one of the kids gets bored before the end and starts playing up and you all argue about whose interpretation and version of the rules is correct. Before you know it your youngest has snuck a piece away and got the Top hat piece stuck up their nose, and you’re on NHS 111 website looking up ‘remove foreign object from toddler’s nose’. Still, it’ll pass the time. You can find a selection of face punch inducing games here.
7) Do a free Open University short course (yes, free education, again): Possibly one of the best things you can do with your time now. Lost your job? Worrying about having a competitive edge in the job market when all this is over? How about pinging a short course or two onto your CV for a potential future employer? Or go back to your employer after all of this, better trained and educated in your field, ready to kick ass in the post-coronavirus landscape. Perhaps it will even inspire you to do a full course. There are hundreds of free courses on the Open Universities page in all manner of fields.
8) Finally complete that to-do list around the house: Garage starting to look like a tip? Been meaning to tidy the draws out? Make a to-do list and tackle it, task by task. Some people like to list in priority order. I like putting the wife at the top of mine; 3 weeks on and it’s still not been achieved. But I live in hope.
9) Get inventive: The kids pestered me to go camping, so the other day we went camping in the front room. I put a small kid’s pop-up tent out in front of the TV and had a movie. Later for a snack I got two pretend tea candles and some cooked cocktail sausages and we ‘cooked’ the sausages on our ‘camp fire’; the kids loved it! Complete a colouring book with the kids, dig out the arts and crafts box, or start that woodwork project you’ve always been thinking of. Just get off that sofa (and get dressed) and get doing something! It’ll make you feel better at then of the day to know you’ve been productive.
10) Cook something new: Sit down one evening with a cook book, I’ve been looking through Joe Wicks Lean in 15 books, and plan a whole weeks’ worth of meals out (or however long you want) to organise a shopping list. I find this helps keep my shopping bill lower as I have a strict list, and every day you have a new meal to try and cook in the kitchen. For bonus points get your partner and kids involved as much as possible.
This unprecedented lock down is a scary, confusing time. But it can also be a time of unparalleled personal development and much needed family time. A lot of the things on this list are free, or utilise things you probably already have at home, lurking in a cupboard somewhere. And it’s by no means extensive; these are just 10 things I thought of in between righting my usual satire and parody. The key is to be positive and creative; look for something different to do, instead of focusing on what you can’t do.