The tortoise and the hare

‘Lockdown is very slow,’ Gemma pops up, and then ducks out of sight on the screen.

‘I was furloughed for the first four weeks, and as soon as I started loving furlough life, they called me back; our systems aren’t set up for working from home.’

The first week was weird, she says, mainly because no one really knew what was going on, ‘like, shits getting real,’ she laughs, ‘I was wondering whether I’d have a job to go back to. It took about two weeks to settle.’

‘I managed to find a 24-pack of toilet roll, in a corner shop in the middle of nowhere. I’ve never bought a 24-pack of toilet roll in my life.’

Gemma has the most deadpan way of talking, and reminds me of a stand up comic delivering a punchline; the timing and delivery is impeccable.

‘Everything was going a little bit crazy. It probably lasted us about twelve weeks,’ she laughs. ‘It just sat in the spare room for ages. With everything else that we don’t need.’

Gemma’s fiancee Sian was also furloughed, and they’ve really enjoyed having the time to chill out. ‘It was like being on holiday. We had an inflatable hot tub that’s been in our attic for two years, and we managed to get it out, fill it up-using next doors tap,’ she pauses and looks at the camera, ‘with permission-and go in it, approximately 72 hours before I got called back into work.’

Chilling out also includes bootcamp sessions, with them both being members of Battle Bootcamp in Cheltenham, England who transferred to online sessions during the UK lockdown. She says, ‘there’s a whole online programme, training stuff, a nutrition seminar-type thing, pub quizzes and the social stuff. That added structure in the beginning where there was none.’

Sian’s been practising headstands. ‘She hasn’t broken her neck yet,’ Gemma says, with another one of those one-liners, ‘she’s only left me a few times at work wondering if she has, where she hasn’t replied to messages for like four hours. I’m like, is this a headstand gone wrong?’

I ask if they’ve tried the seemingly-must do lockdown activities of making banana bread or sourdough. ‘We haven’t bothered trying to make bread, although you have made a few things and delivered them,’ she says to Sian, and I hear a noise in the background. Gemma looks back to the camera, ‘she made welsh cakes and delivered them to people’s houses.’

Sian’s still furloughed, Gemma’s back at work. ‘We’re both opposites, we’ve both got what each other wants. I’d be happily furloughed, because I can fill my time with sunbathing-that is a viable activity-and reading, I could lose hours sitting in the sun with a book. I don’t mind going walking on my own, exploring new places. Sian loves being around people and being busy, and when I come home and don’t want to do anything because work’s been really busy, she’s raring to go. At the weekends, every second is accounted for,’ she pauses, ‘every second. Like, I could have an itinerary.’ She jokes, ‘I say to her, where have you factored in just being?’

Normally at a weekend, Gemma doesn’t have to join in with everything Sian does. ‘I can spend time reading, or sleeping, or just not moving very much while Sian goes off running, but during lockdown we can’t spend time with anyone else. I like to be busy too, just in a different way to Sian. I really admire her focus though, and we just seem to work. I think we both compromise more than the other appreciates.’

I ask her what she’s looking forward to doing after lockdown. ‘It’d be nice to go away for the weekend, to the beach. We’ve got a trip to Devon booked for the end of September, we’re hoping it can still go ahead.’

She pauses. ‘It’s a surreal time to be alive in, isn’t it? Everybody reacts differently. I’m reasonably stoical, I think, I don’t panic. Ever. It’s just not a useful trait.’

‘Another thing I’ve learnt is that virtual pubs are dangerous. In a real pub, I would run out of money way before; when you’re not paying for it, you don’t realise how much you’re drinking. The first virtual pub we went to, we were hanging out our arses the next day,’ she burst out laughing, ‘we literally couldn’t move. Wasted an entire day. Sian was being sick, I was wishing I could be sick.’

We have to wrap up our call, Gemma needs to go to work and Sian’s outside in the garden doing the 7.30am online bootcamp. The thought of them both just going about their day makes me smile, there’s just something warm and comforting about it.

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