I don’t know if it’s come up at all, but we’ve had a little pandemic recently. It had been in the news for a little while, but I will openly admit that I didn’t realise how serious things were about to get when I had my last normal day. I’d been working from home for a week and a half already, because I’d happened to need to work from home one day anyway to wait in for a boiler service, and that coincided with my work wanting fewer people in the office. And I haven’t been back to the office since. There are eight uneaten sachets of porridge still sitting in my desk drawers, as well as a completed loyalty card for the coffee man I’m starting to think I may never see again.
I’m glad I didn’t know how much things were about to kick off. Because actually, my last normal day probably wasn’t that normal for me. It was a day where I threw caution to the wind, spent money with abandon, and let myself have fun. It was lovely. And if I’d been doing it all in the knowledge that we’d go into lockdown a week or so later, it would all have been coloured by that. I would have forced myself to do more than I wanted to, and stay out longer than I needed to because it was my last chance. It would have been too much pressure.
On my last normal day I got up early (which is a thing I do regularly now because I have become unbearable as a person, but at the time it was unheard of), I put on nice clothes (rare) and I caught the train to Exeter. I didn’t force myself to use that train journey to write because I was able to acknowledge, for once, that when I make a concrete plan to churn out a load of words on the train I invariably can’t get started. So I brought a book, and I forgave myself for reading it.
When I arrived, I found the most hipster-looking coffee shop I could and overpaid for a flat white. And it was delicious. I browsed a few shops. I found an Oxfam bookshop and left with the shopping bag I only brought ‘just in case’ bursting at the seams, because if there are books and charity involved I can never be stopped. I could easily be accused of stinginess, but on that last normal day I actually took pleasure in my profligacy. I ignored the bag of books weighing me down and wandered the streets for a while, without headphones, eavesdropping my way around town.
I met a friend I hadn’t seen for years for lunch. I was nervous about it. What if we had nothing to say to each other after all those years of Facebook likes, Instagram comments, and no proper, spoken words? I needn’t have worried. We passed the time like we were still at university together, not realising how weird it would soon seem that we were definitely less than two metres apart, shouting over the noise of a cafe that was packed to the rafters.
When we hugged (hugged!) goodbye I fought my way through actual crowds of people and spent ages in paperchase, touching things and putting them back down, while strangers squeezed past me in the narrow aisles. I went to John Lewis (a rare treat, since they do not exist in the wilds of Cornwall) and I bought myself the Mac Daddy of travel mugs. I’d been eyeing it up for ages but couldn’t really justify £25 on one cup, just because it didn’t spill and kept things warm for a while. But I decided it was worth it if it was going to make my stupidly-early commutes a tiny bit more bearable going forward.
Fun fact: The only time that very expensive travel mug has been on a train since I bought it was the day I took it home. Luckily, it also works for taking coffee to the beach.
I had a little tinny on the train home and suddenly had the genius realisation that I could download a white noise track on spotify so that I concentrate on my book while the family behind me flagrantly ignored the rules of the quiet coach. It still sometimes takes me by surprise when I put my ‘Bangers’ playlist on shuffle, although we can all agree I’ve had ample free time to remove it by now.
I think about my last normal day a lot. I didn’t do anything mad, but it was memorable, and I’m glad about that. It was also the first in a series of fun plans I had dotted throughout the year. And of course, every single plan after that got cancelled in something of a domino effect, as is only right and proper, given the circumstances. But if anything, that makes the last normal day that bit more special. One day I might get to do it again, but until then at least I had a nice last normal day. I’m luckier than many.