First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 29.11.21
Don’t ask me what week it is, or when something happened – I appear to have lost my grip on time. Christmas is apparently on its way but I will need some kind of exploding advent calendar delivering an urgent daily warning before I feel like I can measure this as a real thing.
I’m not alone in this – friends also report being unable to say whether something occurred last week or last month (or last year) and forward planning feels weirdly abstract. “COVID-brain” we’ve been calling it – the effect of living through something so extraordinary, it bends and frays our built-in sense of “how long until” and “how long ago”.
I haven’t worn a watch since August, though we can’t blame it on that. There’s no need for a watch when you’re at home with clocks and on the odd occasion you go out you have your phone constantly at the ready for scanning and it lets you know in passing what the time happens to be on its digital face.
I like watches, though. Getting my first one as a kid was one of those rite-of-passage moments that says you are being trusted with something grown-up and expensive, and also it suggests you might be old enough to have somewhere to be, and to be in charge of getting there and back.
It may sound old-school, but a watch is an essential tool still for the work I do which is time-sensitive – get the next guy on stage, wrap it up, get everyone home in time for the babysitter.
When I reached into the drawer for one yesterday I found that all but one of them had stopped. Fair enough. Not a tool I’ll be needing for a bit – currently about as useful as a lawnmower in August – but the idea the watches had also given up trying to measure these days and weeks felt symbolic enough to make me roll my eyes.
Even the seasons seem confused. Spring came across a lot like winter round these parts. Possibly I started the confusion, because it was back in winter that I embraced spring cleaning with gusto, what with it being the beginning of lockdown and not much else on. Slightly regretting all that effort now of reaching into corners – we’ve been home so long it’s starting to look like it will all need doing again this summer. So there will be two spring cleans in 2021, neither of them taking place in the correct season.
Sometimes it feels like we are slipping a long way back. I wrote my granddaughter a letter – a letter! – for her birthday and then pictured her checking the letterbox each day the way I did once. On the other end of the surprise, I waited for her to phone me – phone! – to say it had arrived safely and to say thank you because she is well brought up and I blame the mothers.
Best of all there have been books read at bedtime over FaceTime and the moko get to choose their stories from my shelves, and sometimes they read them to me instead of the other way round. One night they chose “Green Eggs and Ham’ and I showed them the inscription which says, “To Michele & Stephen, From Sandra & Keith, Christmas 1964” and we all marvelled at this but me mostly because, to be fair, I’m the only one who can accurately measure how long ago 1964 is.