Many of you will be familiar with Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay, A Room of One’s Own, which talks about the need for women to have money and a room of their own if they are to write fiction. As we in the UK enter our seventh week of lockdown, I suggest that the 21st century pandemic update, which applies equally to women and men, is simply that everyone must be entitled to a chair of their own if they are to get through the days.
With the whole family at home now bagging a whole room might be an impossibility, but laying claim to a single chair might be doable. In this house, after 25 years together we are rigid about which side of the bed we sleep on, we habitually sit on the same ends of the sofa to watch tv and at the same place at the kitchen table, but all other chairs are up for grabs.
All you need is to identify the chair you fancy, move it to the corner you like, add a small table and a lamp and you’re done. That is your spot to read a book, write a book, scroll through your phone or just simply sit and stare into space. In a small, crowded house you might even be able to train small children that when you are in that chair you are to be left alone.
When I was growing up my mother enforced half an hour of quiet after lunch every day once I was too old for naps. She said it was something to do with a good digestion and not getting hiccups (for years she told me hiccups was a result of talking too much and bought herself precious hours of silence) but, once I had children of my own, I realised it was simply a chance for her to have a cup of coffee and read the paper before it all started up again.
Now that we are all at home all the time you would think we would find the time to rest and recover, but I suspect most of us are more frazzled than ever. It’s not just the homeschooling (and I’m aware that as the mother of two teenage boys I don’t have that to contend with) and the working from home (although as Mother Pukka wisely said: you are not working from home you are working AT home during a crisis) it’s the constant fizz in the back of your brain worrying about next week, next year, what’s going to happen, will I catch it, will I recover, against the other constant hum – either external or internal – of being bored. Not necessarily bored because you have nothing to do but bored with your surroundings, the endless cooking, cleaning, working and the same four walls. Although, as I somewhat acidly pointed out to the boys the other day being bored is a privilege that many people don’t have at the moment.
So find your chair, find your corner – on a landing, in a bedroom, or part of the sitting room, furnish it how you wish – a throw to change the colour, a favourite cushion plundered from the sofa, a lamp and a table, or even a giant pile of books that can act as a table – I have done that. And take – and I mean take (grab it, insist upon it, reach out and help yourself) from the day, your partner, your children, the naggy cat, half an hour to sit and read, or scroll or ponder what things you might do if you actually had a room of your own.
You will feel better for it I promise.