To say that springtime 2020 was different to other springs is an understatement, considering we spent most of it in full coronavirus lockdown. Now it’s summer, and while some restrictions have been relaxed, we are still in the middle of a pandemic, and the usual activities and conversations aren’t always possible. Here are a few slices of the new normal in N.E. Switzerland…
Scene One: outside the restaurant.
Swiss restaurants reopened in time for the summer season, and Son 1 and I went for lunch on a lakeside terrace one day. On the way out again, we had a generous squirt of the restaurant’s hand sanitiser, and emerged onto the lake path rubbing our hands together.
Son 1, sniffing his fingers: That’s one of those new gin company disinfectants, isn’t it?
Me, sniffing my own hands: Mm, yes, I think so – quite pleasant. Have you tried the supermarket spray yet?
Son 1: The stuff that smells like fish paste? Yeah…
Remember when we used to come out of a restaurant talking about the lovely meal and our plans for the afternoon?
Scene Two: on the way home from the shops.
In the old normal, I’d have gone home in the bus. Nowadays I walk both ways, which is, admittedly, better for my health. On this particular day, I was striding along the main road with my trolley bag when an entire class of schoolchildren, maybe twelve- or thirteen-year-olds, emerged from a side street just in front of me, all wearing full gym kit and obviously en route for the fitness trail in the woods. The teacher was trying valiantly (and with no success whatsoever) to chivvy them along a bit faster, and I slowed to half my previous pace.
The kids’ social distancing skills, however, were exemplary. There they were, taking up the entire pavement, meandering along at a pace a geriatric snail would match on an off-day. And it was another 100m to the next side road where I could escape.
Pre-corona, I’d have barged through the middle, but you can’t do that now. A quick glance behind showed there was nothing coming. I dropped into the bike lane with my trolley bag and did a quick jog past.
The teacher turned round and yelled at the kids: DON’T YOU FIND IT EMBARRASSING when people MY AGE start RUNNING past you WITH THEIR SHOPPING?!?!
Which meant, of course, I was obliged to jog on as far as the side road, so I missed the answer to that. Probably just as well…
Scene Three: Zoom chats with your children.
While I’m very glad we’re able to do this, those calls bring with them the question – what do you talk about when no one’s done anything interesting?
You start with the corona doom and gloom, of course, then you move onto the daily excitements – an abandoned bike in my block of flats, Son 1’s attempts to grow ginger, the change of colour for Canton Thurgau bin bags… all stirring, important stuff.
Son 2, who studies in Zürich and lives in a flat share, didn’t half make me sit up recently, though:
Son 2: Danny’s moved out, so we’re interviewing people for his room tomorrow.
Me (hair standing on end): You’re showing random strangers round your flat??
Son 2: No, we’re doing Skype interviews first and we’ll take it from there.
Me (hair still up on end and greying rapidly): ASK THEM IF THEY GO CLUBBING! (Night clubs and bars in Zürich and Geneva are being blamed for the recent increase in corona cases there)
Son 2: We have ‘What do you do in your free time?’ on the list of questions. Don’t want any drummers! (chortles)
Me: We’re in the middle of a pandemic – you have to be specific! Say, ‘DO YOU GO CLUBBING?’
Son 2: Sure, whatever.
Me: (head on desk)
And won’t it be perfect when the biggest worry is if someone plays drums in their free time?
2020, the summer of small conversations… We’ll laugh about it one day. Maybe.