It can sometimes be helpful to think about the vast, empty expanse of pandemic life in the same terms as Hugh Grant in About a Boy.
"The important thing in island living is to be your own activities director," Grant ponders. "I find the key is to think of the day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than 30 minutes. Full hours can be a little intimidating and most activities take about half an hour."
In 2021, every unit is another incremental step towards a tantalizingly close future: vaccinated grandparents, herd immunity, easing restrictions, and, eventually, if we’re lucky, the chance to experience the unfettered pleasure of the long office commutes once more.
But we’re not there yet. Different parts of the world are on very different trajectories — while some are making significant progress towards what might pass for normality, others are held back, including by current failures to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are distributed equitably.
And if you’re in one of the many countries in the world in lockdown — you’re probably facing a lot of time to fill.
Assuming you’re still in a full time job, there’s approximately 10 of Hugh Grant's units to complete every evening, before confronting themes of mild peril as we attempt to fill up between 50 to 70 units at the weekend, depending on how far you can stretch a lie-in.
So how to do it? Once you’ve binged Bridgerton, consumed all the hot takes on influencer activism coming out of Instagram, and completed Twitter — where do you scroll next? After you’ve replayed all your childhood video games, baked every last loaf your over-carbed body can take, and called your mum (again) — how do you pass the time?
Just channel your inner Grant — “this crying in the morning thing, this depression, let's get that fixed” — and read this. That, at least, will be almost another unit of time you no longer have to think about.
1. Cook across cultures — four units.
You’ve already cleared through all your cookbooks, run out of restaurants on Deliveroo, and gorged on every season of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
So why not have a go at Migrateful: nightly virtual cooking classes run by refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants from 25 countries that funds integration and employment access. You pay £20 (about $27) per household, learn some new skills, make friends, share cultures, and have something yummy to show for it afterwards.
It’s a tasty tonic to a world seemingly indifferent to the plight of refugees during a pandemic: where the world’s largest refugee camp burns to the ground, leaving thousands in poverty; as Rohingya Muslims are forcibly removed from Bangladesh, a supposed sanctuary; or when the UK’s home secretary describes desperate people crossing the English Channel as a “plague”.
With cuisine ranging from Syrian to Nigerian, Iranian to Ukranian, Migrateful will expand your palette and open your mind.
2. Adventurous exercise — two units (daily).
We all tried jogging, for a while. There was a brief dalliance with lifting heavy objects; a thrilling few weeks fumbling around with a NutriBullet; perhaps a brand new bicycle so we, too, could draw funny faces along our long, sprawling Strava routes.
That was in the first lockdown. Now, we’re at the “throw baseball against wall” phase of the pandemic. In the UK, for example, a University College London study found that 40% of people are doing less exercise than in spring 2020, while 30% are less engaged with their hobbies. More of us are watching TV. Perhaps we are starting to care less about that shapeless blob we used to call free time?
This might help: an app called Walk to Mordor that tracks the distance you walk, run, or cycle — measured against the progress made by Frodo and Sam on their summer vaycay to Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. There’s no need to emerge from your cave with the complexion and social skills of Gollum. Get those boots on and start the 2,863km to Mordor. Who knows, maybe the taverns will be open in Bag End by the time you’re on your way home.
3. Read a book before bed — one unit.
There’s a scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Dark Willow steals dozens of books on black magic, hovers her hands over them, and just sucks all the words out.
Imagine if you could do that — but for the powers of good! All those ideas, limitless different ways of seeing the world, all ready to be slurped up and shared down the pub in a few months time. We’ve got the time: you could finally get round to all the reading lists that came from the rise of Black Lives Matter movement; lose yourself in transgender stories in honor of the UK’s LGBT+ History Month; or educate yourself further on climate justice.
One way to get started: leave your phone in another room before bed. It’s astonishing the amount of time you get back when you cut out mindless doom scrolling. Here’s a few more ideas from us on books you can get stuck into.
4. Watch life-changing TV — ten units.
It’s a Sin — streaming on Channel 4 and on HBO Max from Feb. 18 — is many things: a snapshot of pure joy, a devastating account of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980, and a vehicle for the heaviest, ugliest, most cathartic cries you’ve had in ages. And like Years and Years, the previous creation from writer Russell T. Davies, its characters are just the most wonderful conduits for empathy, in all their flaws, all their beauty, all their humanity.
We’ve all watched so much television. But as pandemic fatigue sets in, and we’re numbed to the grim reality that’s set upon our mental health like a dense mist, the answer must be more empathy, not less — stories that set our human-ness alight, that show us truths both beautiful and terrible about the world, that offers hope and, hopefully, a killer disco soundtrack.
Here’s a list of some movies and TV shows that do just that.
5. Embrace digital activism — two units.
Lock the windows and bolt the doors. The last year has been a weird paradox: that for the first time, the best way to help other humans has been to shut ourselves away. But if One World: Together At Home showed us anything, it’s that solitude doesn’t have to exclude solidarity.
The pandemic doesn’t stop for the climate crisis, misogyny, poverty, or injustice. All these movements must move forward — and a great deal of positive change can still happen, even when activism is limited to online spaces.
In the time it takes to make a coffee, you could share a video explaining why farmers are protesting in India, send a tweet urging European leaders to get the COVID-19 vaccine to the world’s poorest countries, or read up about the people making a difference in sustainable fashion online. Head here to find out how to take action right away.
And outside of Global Citizen, Choose Love are calling on people to write to their MPs to ensure refugees in the UK have access to safe accommodation; the Climate Coalition are making noise about the immediate health impacts of the climate crisis that need amplification; while Gal-Dem just published an investigation into transphobia in the gender-violence sector that’s well worth a share. You could try veganism, volunteer at a food bank, or check in on your neighbours.
The best time to become an activist is today. While the world goes on, so must we.