In the past year, I’ve only done one face-to-face interview. It was magical. We sat outside a curry house, acting all professional, like two strangers exchanging important information. But the outside tables had little cabana roofs, which drove us inexorably into a holiday spirit, and before you could say “Don’t forget the tiny umbrellas,” we’d ordered piña coladas. Soon, overwhelmed by the curry fumes, we got a bunch of samosas, too, except it wasn’t like being hungry, it was more like being hypnotised.
You could argue that this all led to a much deeper human connection than a 40-minute Zoom with your idiot dog barking away in the background, and you would be quite right. I will treasure that experience as if I’d actually taken a mini-break with this person, though if you asked me what she thought about the national executive committee of the Labour party (she was an MP), that would be a hard pass. As in: I couldn’t even remember by the time I got home.
In short, it’s simply better, if you want to meet someone, to actually meet them. If you think I’m trying to force you back to the office using the extrovert’s switcheroo, you’re half right; fellowship is stronger in the flesh, and if you don’t understand why, I can’t explain it to you, unless we meet in person, whereupon you will immediately understand on your own. Mainly, I’m making excuses for why I have to go to Newquay for an interview this bank holiday.
It’s not really the done thing, for a family person, to take a work trip on a bank holiday Monday. It’s maybe 65% worse than working over the weekend, just because there are fewer of them. And yet, if you work for yourself, and you don’t garden or do DIY, and the economy has completely changed so that nobody has any workplace rights any more, and consequently nothing is closed or suspended, then of course there is no chance of your remembering it’s a bank holiday until you’re out of time and it’s the only day you can do.
Then you get into the whirlpool of who actually cares whether you’re at home or not. The kids don’t mind at all, but I mind so much that they don’t mind that I’m projecting a huge amount of minding on to them, which any fool can see does not exist. Mr Z, conversely, does mind, but I am actively glad that he minds, since it means that when I get home, he’ll be really pleased to see me.
For nearly 14 months, we haven’t just been able to locate one another every second of the day, we’ve been so damn proximal that we can summon one another by whistling. I’m sure I read somewhere that marriages thrive on a bit of late-notice absence. Actually, that’s a lie: I’ve only ever read two things I can remember about marriage. One was a rabbi in the 80s, who said: “Don’t wander around naked – the human body is a terrible thing.” It’s an oddity of teenagehood – questing for information about being an adult, you take overstatement as fact, and never cross-check it. “Huh,” I thought. “That’s marriage, then. Being viscerally disgusted by each other. Sounds totally normal and great.” The other is the old adage about retirement: “For better, for worse, but never for lunch.”
The fun thing to do would be to list all the things Mr Z does at lunchtime that are annoying, but I think I did that already, and besides, as astonishing as this will sound, it’s also a bit of a mixed bag having me around. My expression when I’m concentrating is somewhere between a glare, a squint and a niche ageing supervillain trying to bore through a rock with their laser eyes. It looks, to the uninitiated, a little bit like the face of pure evil. A stranger saw it once while I was on a bus and screamed. Not super-loud, but audible enough for me to know why.
I like to bowl about the house officiously, like someone who couldn’t possibly spare the time to pick up a cup or put milk away, yet I can lose hours telling the dog he’s good when he really isn’t. If I get a call of any sort on my mobile, wham, I’ll take 50 minutes just to say hello, yet if the landline should ring, I treat it as a violation of my human rights.
Goddammit, this isn’t about family life or lockdown or the new normal at all. After all this time, I’m getting on my own nerves. I need to be in a different setting in order to be different. And I need to be in that setting on my own, preferably with the finest landscape the nation has to offer skimming past a train window, so that I can try on some new personalities unobserved.
Besides, there is a person I want to know more about, and they happen to live in Cornwall, and I want to ask them things to their actual face.
We used to understand that implicitly, and we will again.