September always sees me yearning to go out and buy a new pencil case, sharpen some shiny new pencils, have a haircut and invest in a new wardrobe.
There is something about that feeling of it being a new start – a new “term” – that has stuck with me even (many) years after leaving school. Crisp, sunny autumn days inspire us to begin afresh and make changes. This year that feeling seems particularly strong, given all the uncertainty of the past 18 months and the more recent focus there has been in the UK on getting back to offices in September with the concurrent attempt to ‘get back to normal’.
I’ve recently been at two events with lots of people in a crowded room, all drinking a glass of wine or two and seemingly merrily unconcerned about social distancing. You might think it was as if Covid19 had never happened. On the other hand, the Central line is certainly not as crowded in the rush hour as it used to be – thank goodness! – and there are still neat rows of chairs outside my local pharmacy where just vaccinated people are sitting patiently for the recommended 15 minutes. Things are the same, and yet not the same.
Much has been made lately of the idea of building back better, and there are a lot of ideas and plans being discussed on a grand scale. More bike lanes, more policies discouraging unnecessary journeys by car or aeroplane, strategic approaches to ensure staff working from home don’t become forgotten by their colleagues in the office, investment in infrastructure and focusing on a net zero future. All good things, undoubtedly. My feeling though is that it’s always easy to assume that someone else will do the leg work, rather than actively and purposefully changing things yourself. That’s led me to think about the positive changes I would like to take away from the last year and a half, and the lessons I’ve learnt.
In my home life, I’ve realised that going for an evening walk and chat with a friend is just as enjoyable as – and sometimes better than! – a trip to the pub. It also helps to include friends who have less money, don’t drink or struggle with noise levels in a bar. At work, being out of the office has encouraged me to pick up the phone more often and not simply send out an email into the ether and hope for a response. A video call is not always necessary but – at the risk of sounding geriatric – I’ve noticed that younger generations are much more comfortable sending a text or email rather than making a call for fear of interrupting someone. But a conversation can often lead on from a simple initial question to broader topics, new opportunities or simply deepening a relationship.
Ironically, among the headlines about virulent anti-vaxxers or family arguments over political strategy, on some level I think we have become more patient and understanding of each other’s day-to-day struggles. Parents home-schooling their children have been grateful for the consideration and good humour of colleagues chatting to unexpected small gate crashers on conference calls, while those living alone have appreciated friends and colleagues checking in on them with a new concern for their wellbeing.
These have been valuable insights, and I will be making a conscious effort to keep some of these lessons in mind, whether at home or at work. And while I’m building back better, I do think I need a new pencil case…