DAY ONE – MONDAY
I have been grounded for the month of February. Normally on a Monday I would be taking the evening flight to Copenhagen, where I work for a very well-known optician. We have offices in five northern European countries. For February, we have instituted an international travel ban, to save some cash before the end of our financial year. It feels like we are being incarcerated, like children being sent back to their own rooms. What was it we did to deserve this?
I have flown somewhere pretty much every week for the last five years. I dodged the ban last week to attend a Board Meeting. In fact, the Copenhagen office was swarming with Brits, to most people’s consternation – “travel ban, what travel ban?”. But now it is for real – three solid weeks, 24 whole days at ground level, with no parole. It’s a daunting prospect.
To ease the cold turkey, I am considering fitting a seat belt on my office chair, and keeping my toothpaste and deodorant in a small plastic bag. I spin round slowly in the shower with my hands in the air, to make myself feel better.
Today should have been a gentle loosener. I work at home on Mondays until 4pm every week. And yet the whole day took on a different, restless, unnerving ambience, with no structure or stress.
Normally there is a focus – meetings in the morning, soup for lunch, pack, kiss my wife and leave at 4pm. Drive to the airport. Park in Car Park 5 (by the fence). Pass security. Obtain salad box, small chocolate bar, popcorn and mixed nuts from Pret (“eat out please and a receipt”). Half an hour in the Priority One lounge (snack off the menu and coffee). Priority Boarding. Aisle seat. Free Coffee. Emails. Land. Border. Train to hotel. Phone home. Glass of something. Bed, pretending its an hour later than it feels.
None of that happens today. The day stretches before me like a white sheet – with only the certainty of bed at the end. I don’t even leave the house. I wander aimlessly, dialling into a couple of meetings, nibbling away at my inbox, writing out my task list very neatly. I realise I need deadlines and activity to keep me energised. What can I do?
I will need more soup. 24 days worth of it. I cook up a complex butternut squash, chickpea and spinach concoction from the Guardian Saturday Feast magazine – Indian special. It flatter to deceive – it’s under-whelmimg
My step count target is under severe risk of abject failure. Flying requires a surprisingly amount of walking. I park as far away from the airport as I can – 2000 steps, slam dunk. Airports are small villages, and I never use the travelletor.
Today I am in trouble. By late afternoon I am obsessively circling the living room table, swapping from clockwise to counter-clockwise to control my dizziness. I play the game where I was only allowed to carry one object at once, moving things from room to room.
Finally in the evening I find something to focus on – spending a couple of hours re-vamping my wordpress site (do you like it?).
Midnight approaches. I am still restless. I drink my maximum two glasses of wine. At 10 to 12, I am racing around the house to get up to a semi-respectable 7,000 steps. My weekly target is 73,500 – it feels like a mountain to climb.
Then I eat. Boy do I eat. One packet of crisps, two eggs (scrambled for 90 seconds), three breadsticks, eight squares of Sainsbury Milk Chocolate. Countless Cashew nuts, mixed fruit and nuts. In for a penny in for a pound or more. I am binging. Supper rocks up 1,200 calories. This is going to be a long three weeks – and I will be fat by the end of it – if I make it that far.
DAY TWO – TUESDAY
A better day – not least because by some miracle I weigh the same as I did yesterday (if I take my fit bit off). After breakfast I make myself get dressed and walk out to buy a paper – 2,000 steps and fresh air. My wife cancelled the paper on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, understandably.
“This is what it will be like, when I am retired”, I say to her. I see a spark of panic in her face.”I’m going out” she says. In fact she goes out four times, each time for an hour or so. She tells me this is a typical Tuesday. That she doesn’t “hang around the house all day”. Like I am.
I only have one phone meeting, and I was unusually well prepared for it. Then I write down an immense number of things I will work through in a focused and disciplined way for the rest of the day. A golden opportunity to clear some backlog. I will get right on with them, just as soon as I’ve skimmed the newspaper and made a coffee, and maybe tidied up a little.
In order to keep up my steps, I decide I will walk around the house as I work. I take a couple of phone calls prowling around the upstairs, shooting onto mute when my wife shouts something to me like “I’m back”, and then “I’m going out again”.
I do some emails on the bed. I work up some costs in the kitchen, I rattle off some emails in the dining room. By the afternoon I can’t find my moleskin, headphones or laptop.
At about 4pm I feel overwhelmingly tired. I watch a bit of cricket and bat back some easy emails, catch up on my Facebook and field some messages. But I am feeling a little more settled. England are winning, and I am making some real progress in my task list.
Also I have a lifeline – an appointment, a time I have to be somewhere. At 7pm, I go for a 8km run with the local running club. I talk to some real people, stretch my legs, push myself and turn physical energy into mental energy. Amazingly I meet another Oldham Athletic fan, a hundred miles from home. Now that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been in Copenhagen. Ive met people from Iceland and the Faro Islands, but never Oldham.
I am feeling more positive today. I am realising that work can stop at 6, and I can enjoy other things. I am wondering how I seem to have so much time, why the hours seem to be 80 minutes long. This being grounded is making me feel more – well, grounded. Steps are 18,000, I’m ahead of schedule and on top of life.
Tonight we sit and watched The Crown together. I don’t know when I was last at home on a Tuesday night. I might just face-time her and ask her. A little normality wouldn’t do any harm.