Caroline O'Donoghue: Six thoughts on taking a holiday in someone else's life

You know those smug, awful people who confess to actually enjoying the lockdown? I was one of those people, until recently.
Caroline O'Donoghue: Six thoughts on taking a holiday in someone else's life
Taking a holiday in someone else’s life is the perfect cure for lockdown blues, if only because it reminds you how much you wouldn’t ever leave your own.
Taking a holiday in someone else’s life is the perfect cure for lockdown blues, if only because it reminds you how much you wouldn’t ever leave your own.

You know those smug, awful people who confess to actually enjoying the lockdown? I was one of those people, until recently.

Every time my mum rang me to check in I gave some irritating speech about how much work I was getting done, how much I enjoyed having my boyfriend at home, how I was spending every evening of the glorious heatwave cycling around the city, marvelling at the empty roads.

Then, last week, it stopped. The weather clouded over. Professional problems arose.

My boyfriend Gavin, who is one of the last remaining designers at his agency yet to be furloughed, is spending half of his day on Zoom calls and most of his evening on Photoshop.

Our one-bedroom flat feels less like a home and more like a Victorian cotton mill, churning out work 24/7, children casually getting decapitated by spinning jennies in the process.

If this were a normal situation, I would have booked a weekend away with a girlfriend, or simply taken a few days off work to get my head straight again.

But there is no “off” in my house anymore – perhaps there’s not in your house, either.

My nude body has been almost-spotted by Gavin’s colleagues so many times that I am like their own personal Sasquatch, often glimpsed, but never totally seen, fleeing off-camera and into the kitchen.

1. So last week, I finally had enough. I got up at 7am and cycled the eight miles to my friend Dolly’s house (she is single, lives alone, and is therefore part of my legal ‘bubble’) with my laptop.

At six foot, she is my own personal Statue of Liberty: I am her tired, her poor, her huddled masses yearning to break free.

She was working on a photoshoot that day, so she gave me her keys, told me to take whatever I wanted from the fridge, and left.

2. Like you, I struggle to remember the last time I was in anyone’s house other than my own.

The fact that I was not only in a friend’s house, but alone in it, was overwhelming to me.

I spent the first hour simply being nosy, logging questions to ask upon her return.

Questions such as: Why doesn’t she have a microwave? How can one person own so much cashmere? And why does she have thirteen litres of Woolite, scattered in plastic drums around the house?

Why does she have thirteen litres of Woolite, scattered in plastic drums around the house?
Why does she have thirteen litres of Woolite, scattered in plastic drums around the house?

3. The quiet of the flat, after months of noise cancelling headphones and constant video calls, was delicious.

But the silence was off-set by an even more seductive thought: the fact that my friend, who is roughly the same age as me, lives alone.

This is not a houseshare, or some kind of sad sublet. Doll has lived here for three years, and has decorated the flat entirely according to her own tastes.

Framed photos of old movie stars and paintings of female nudes hang on the walls. Everything is plush, in faint pink or mint green or soft cream.

I feel immensely calm whenever I’m in this house, as well as mildly wistful.

4. I have never lived alone. And, unless something goes terribly wrong in my relationship, I may never have the life experience she is currently having: the Virginia Woolf dream of having A Room Of One’s Own, of being young and financially independent and entirely beholden to yourself.

This is shocking to me, because as a kid, I used to prize loneliness and solitude over all else.

All of my dad’s anecdotes about me involve finding me sitting behind my bed, eating a tube of biscuits in reverent isolation.

I fantasised about growing up and living like Miss Honey from Matilda, in a cottage surrounded by bluebells, with bread and margarine in a plastic tub.

The fact that Miss Honey was fleeing child abuse only made the situation more glamorous.

5. There’s something slightly painful about looking at a life you thought you would have, and realising you will probably never have it.

And actually, would never have been very good at it.

My friend is the kind of adventuress that racks up exciting, sexy anecdotes like they’re… uh, litres of Woolite, apparently.

She never says no to a new experience, never calls it a night, and is willing to spend £200 on a cab to Coventry at 3am if there’s a good party at the other end of it.

She has her adventures in the outside world, then comes home to her chocolate box flat to decompress.

I, on the other hand, am too much of a home bird to actually live alone: I am pretty much always ready to call it a night, and will gladly spend £200 on a cab, but only if it means I’m back in my own bed.

I need my favourite person in the world to live in the same house as me, a subculture of two. Three, if you include the dog.

If I lived in a flat this nice I would never leave it, and then I would go insane.

And I don’t mean cute insane: I mean, cuts-up-magazines-and-sends-threatening-letters-to-animal-shelters insane.

6. In the middle of the day, I leave the house to get a coffee.

The barista asks if I want a loyalty card. “Oh, no, there’s no point. I don’t live around here,” I say. “I’m just on holidays.”

And I am. Taking a holiday in someone else’s life is the perfect cure for lockdown blues, if only because it reminds you how much you wouldn’t ever leave your own.

Well, not for very long, anyway.

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