At the end of April, I was lucky enough to be featured in a New York Times article written by the lovely Molly Oswaks. ‘People Have Gone Full 1800s’ explored the revival of a seemingly bygone time with Victorian hobbies making a noticeable comeback during lockdown, my contribution being the childhood favourite of flower pressing and collaging (‘cutting and sticking’ to industry experts, of course). A facetime interview between LA and London became the most delightful half an hour interlude to my fourth Thursday as a furloughed worker.
Molly and I discussed the importance of having time away from the screens that fuel our 9-5 jobs and being able to preserve something from this time, albeit just a petal or a humble leaf, and turn it into art. Trivial? Perhaps in the grand scheme of things. But coping mechanisms and sources of joy simply cannot be disregarded or labelled as insignificant, especially in a time where ‘to cope’ is the greatest talent of them all. Molly collected my thoughts and those of other nostalgia-seekers looking for an escape from Netflix and Zoom (Tom C J Brown in Brooklyn made a bright blue harp form scratch) to create a wholesome and enchanting, five-minute read built upon a ‘back-to-basics’ ethos. It made me wonder why it has taken a crisis to give new life to the hobbies and past times from our childhood, our history books and even the reoccurring daydreams that never see the light of day.
We must make a living. I am lucky enough to whole heartedly love my job and the people I work with. Yet for the majority, a ‘living’ ironically does not actually involve the things that make them feel the most alive. If money doesn’t make the world go round, then it sure is an incentive for our working life to become a number one priority. Perhaps all the world is indeed a stage and employment and education are the starring roles. It is therefore not surprising that baking bread and flower pressing, painting and jigsaw puzzles have only made an appearance now these lead characters are no longer performing. It is not so much the type of activities many of us have filled an abundance of free time with, but the feel-good factor they all instantaneously create.
A good work performance is awarded in promotion and school essays in a grade or gold star. Have we returned to the simple comfort of childhood past times to achieve this sense of accomplishment again, to feel in control when nothing seems controllable, or for further escapism from the hustle and bustle of a now absent norm? Perhaps it is a combination of all these things. It is indeed refreshing to see hands crafting instead of texting and building instead of typing. This doesn’t mean that screens need to be abolished off the face of the earth – they are a tool to communicate with loved ones and that is invaluable. Under lockdown, today’s screens are now sitting comfortably alongside their paper counterparts; the dusty books at the back of the shelf we now dedicate an afternoon to, the song lyrics and poems finally being written down, the posters and prints and art we have shamelessly crafted with whatever ‘tools’ we have in the cupboard. The joys of the virtual and physical world appear to be finding a certain harmony with one another.
When lockdown is lifted and the word ‘furlough’ is no longer part of our daily vocabulary, what will happen to these little pockets of therapeutic time and interest we have grown so fond of? Will the unfinished books be closed, puzzles or paints packed away and yeast never ever purchased again? I hope not.
I like the phrase ‘Newmal’; it welcomes the routines that will allow us to live and work as we once did while promising not to forget the many lessons we learnt when this was simply not possible. One of these little lessons is to make more time for the things that make us happiest. The holy weekends will be our best friend here. If five days a week are for making a living and working bloody hard, then let us all be determined to try and find some time each weekend to say hello to the hobbies and new-found passions that got us through some rather bleak times. Let us play Victorians who had never heard of Instagram or Google, just for a little while. Escaping to our childhood past times is the underrated stress relief that we should try to make more time for, just as long as we can become adults again when a pint at the pub is needed.