‘Your hair looks just as messy as when I spoke to you last time,’ are the first words I say to Sam, remembering that in the interview for his first post he’d just got out of the shower and his hair was everywhere, like it is this time too.
‘I ‘ad a hat on, which I took off, it’s what ‘appened.’ Sam says, his Yorkshire accent showing no signs of fading.
‘How’s the last 18 months been for you?’ I ask him.
‘Interesting.’ He replies, and silence follows.
‘You gotta talk to me dude,’ I laugh. ‘In what way?’
‘I bought a house. Got a dog. Started a new job. Got a serious relationship. All terrifying, terrifying things.’
I ask him to tell me more, and he starts telling me about the house and it’s need for a new roof.
I stop him. ‘That’s not the kind of thing I want to know. How are you feeeeeeling?’ I say, drawing out the e’s.
‘Well one thing, with Covid sort of relaxing a little bit, although it looks like maybe we’re unrelaxing a little bit, I’ve found myself rushing around like a blue arsed fly. Like, go and visit family here, go and see friends there. One nice thing about Covid was that we were forced to chill out a little bit.’
So next year, in 2022, he’s decided to try and spend more time at home. ‘I’m going to spend a minimum of one weekend in Cheltenham [at home], and one weekend on the hills somewhere each month. Because, yeah, it’s just been a little bit frantic the last six, nine months. The change has been quite large, and I’ve been rushing around trying to see people I haven’t seen for a while. Like, next weekend I’m in Edinburgh, the weekend after I’m in York, the weekend after that is the BB Christmas party, then Suffolk, then Leeds. I’m busy every weekend for nearly two months.’
I point out that perhaps he has some choice over this, but he says ‘you’ve got to meet your social obligations.’ I tell him he shouldn’t be so popular.
‘Self care is important though, I’ve learnt that. I know it’s a very fashionable thing at the minute, but just taking that time to do whatever it is you want to do is necessary. I’m still not quite so good at doing it, and I’m still getting told off for helping people, but I’m trying.’
Sam’s new job is 100% from home, and I ask him how he feels about it.
‘I’m alright with it. Although I’ve only met people once or twice, which is really weird. It means I’ve got time to look after the dog though, and I like the fact you can do a lot of the boring shit around work, like putting a load of washing on, or doing the washing up. It’s efficient for a personal life but I think it’s quite productive as well for work life as you do get that mental break between tasks.’
There’s a silence and I comment that Sam’s not as chatty as he was the first time. ‘I’m just not sure what I’ve done. I’ve only fixed one bike,’ he says, referring to the first lockdown where he passed the time fixing bikes for people. ‘Oh no actually, I’ve fixed my own bike, so I’ve fixed two bikes.’
‘You’ve been too busy socialising by the sounds of it,’ I joke.
‘Lots of things have changed now. It’s always at the back of my mind now that I have to look after the dog. It doesn’t feel like it’s gone back to normal yet. Covid’s here to stay now, in one form or another. Binga [his friends] had a party on Saturday and it was awesome, but it did feel a little bit odd to be in a room with like 15-20 people. I got social anxiety, it was worrying to see loads of people at once. With so many people to watch, it was a bit overwhelming, there was so much input. The spectre of Covid is still there, especially now we’ve got the Omicron variant. Which is a great name for a ‘orror movie.’
Sam didn’t enjoy the subsequent UK lockdowns. ‘I really did struggle with that, it wasn’t a fun time. Generally now the world has opened up a bit more, I’m doing a lot better. One thing I would say though, mental health services in the UK – dogshit. Absolutely fucking abysmal and needs reforming massively. It needs as much, if not more, investment as physical care.’
‘In Covid, a lot of people have been like ‘oh yeah, I’ve re-evaluated my life and worked out what’s important and changed xyz’, but I’ve had no great epiphanies. For me it’s just head down, arse up, keep plodding along.’