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6 months into the pandemic – a quick life update (September 2020)

September is typically a month of reflection and resolution-setting for me. Normally there’s a special energy and vitality that comes after a slower, more indulgent summer, and my brain jumps into ‘action’ mode and gets busy planning for the remainder of the year. This year the feeling is a little delayed, as I took my first break from work and the UK in 8 and 7 months respectively at the start of September. I spent two weeks at a pine-wood bungalow in south-west France that I’ve been visiting with my family since I was a young child. It’s a short walk from the Côte d’Argent, which is one 200km-long sandy beach stretching all the way down the coast from the Gironde River, past Biarritz, to the border with Spain.

All the photos in this post were taken on this trip to France, and you can hear more about it in my latest bonus podcast episode: A Postcard from the Côte d’Argent in south-west France’.

The climate is Atlantic, not Mediterranean, so it hardly attracts any visitors even in the height of summer and this means that in September, once the French locals have gone back to their offices and schools, the forest and beach can be almost deserted. I spent the fortnight there studying French, ploughing through my overdue reading list, playing tennis, running, practicing yoga and braving the bracing cold of the Atlantic waves. I also spent a blissful week in Airplane Mode, away from notifications, life admin, emails, news alerts on Covid or Brexit, and that feeling of always being overdue on some task or other, always owing a reply to someone or other.

Once my body had adjusted to that pace, which took about a week, truth be told, I finally turned my head away from the present and glanced towards the rest of the year. What plans would I make? What would autumn and winter hold? What else could be squeezed out of 2020 given the constraints of the pandemic?

First though, I owe a small update on the year so far…

I began 2020 with two trips to France, a skiing holiday and a weekend visiting a friend in Paris. I then stayed put (like everyone else) for many many months, and I was lucky to spend the worst of the spring lockdown in Hampshire, at my mother’s house, which has a garden and is set in the beautiful rolling and forested hills of the Test Valley, north-west of Romsey. I am not going to write down the negatives of my experience of lockdown, because that list holds no benefit for myself nor anyone else. I suffered far less than a great deal many people, so my meagre complaints would look pitiful compared to others’.

On a more positive note, there were some good things that happened in my life:

  • I spent a lot of time with my mother (who’s a good role model to have around!) and we’ve become much closer
  • I got promoted at work, finishing the Civil Service Fast Stream and starting a new job (with a long-awaited pay rise!)
  • I had a lot of time and space to move on from a break-up that happened shortly before the pandemic began
  • I finally recorded a long-pondered podcast series, ‘The Well-Travelled Podcast
  • I lead the UK’s delegation to the G7 Youth Summit in June, conducting remote consultations and negotiations over several months, finally presenting our policy proposals to the White House, the UK PM’s Sherpa to the G7/G20 and the G7 Taskforce in the Cabinet Office (read more here)
  • Once back in London, I finally moved into the en-suite loft bedroom, which we built 4 years ago, after switching around the layout of our flat in London, which I share with my sister. We’re also converting a bedroom into an office so we can work from home more comfortably
  • I saved a lot of money by being forced to reduce my single biggest expenditure (which is unsurprisingly travel!)
  • I enjoyed sailing a fair bit this summer, as I was based down in Hampshire so had easier access to the Solent than when I’m in London
  • My father and I hiked the Yorkshire Three Peaks over my birthday weekend in July (a 12-hour hike in the Yorkshire Dales) which we completed with just 9 minutes to spare!

A few things that have helped me personally during the pandemic:

  • Down Dog Yoga app for customisable yoga sessions on-demand
  • The very mindful and present-centric distractions of tennis and painting, during which you can’t possibly dwell on reality or future uncertainty
  • The neighbour’s cat, who decided to move into our house and who my mother is now officially adopting
  • Headspace & Calm apps to help me unwind from work, which I’ve received free subscriptions to through my work and American Express respectively
  • Daily journaling and a daily grid (the latter to help establish a routine at the start of lockdown, and ensure I got a dose of fresh air, exercise, social contact and achieved something productive each day)
  • Fortnightly lists of achievements and events, no matter how small, to recognise that time hasn’t been ‘wasted’, as a key way to boost positive thinking
  • Drinking less alcohol and waking up earlier to exercise or work on a personal project, before my actual work begins
  • Wearing no make-up for work, which has saved me at least an hour a week and a small fortune in buying make-up – making me question why on earth I’d worn it so religiously for the preceding 16 years…
  • Walking during phone calls to friends and family, and non-video work meetings, to give my eyes a rest from a screen
  • Annotating my Lonely Planet Travel book with all the trips I’ve taken, as an excuse to dive back into my many travel diaries and travel vicariously through them instead
  • A series of projects, from the mundane admin I’ve been procrastinating on for years, to the creative ideas I’ve similarly mused on for years, to give me focus and goals

And what about the rest of 2020?

I’ve heard many people say they don’t understand where the year has gone, and are shocked that Christmas is already around the corner again. I honestly feel fairly accepting of the fact that it’s now September, in part because of my habit of fortnightly reviews of my achievements and main events, which has helped ground me and plot out exactly what my time has been invested into in 2020. It’s a good exercise to start, if you find yourself become disoriented in time.

Most years I visualise my year ahead framed around milestones of key events, trips and adventures. The rest of 2020 looks eerily empty however and I haven’t quite confronted what comes next. With fewer milestones to look towards and mark the passing of time, and almost zero of my travel resolutions met in 2020, I’m having to think harder about how to spend my free time, and re-discover what I actually enjoy doing, outside of travel (and planning travel).

One thing I do know is that more screen-time is not the answer, and that more outdoors-time should be the answer, at least before the British winter weather and long winter nights roll in. I’d like to get my running speed back up, improve my tennis serve, spend more time in a sea breeze or gazing out over a big hill/mountain I’ve just hiked. I want to continue learning French and maintain my other languages, and I want to make the time count for something. I’m looking forward to those things, and trying not to dwell on the missed travels and the ‘what-could-have-been’s.

I’m a strong believer in positive thinking. Writing this post, focusing solely on the positives of 2020 for me, and not dwelling for too long on the negatives, is a good step in the right direction.

If you can dig out the positives of 2020 for you, what have they been? What are you looking forward to in the remainder of 2020?

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