Over the next few weeks, and very possibly months, we will have to get used to a new way of living. So how do we adjust to a Church without public Masses? How can we help the most vulnerable? And might there be opportunities to live better lives than we did before? This week, six writers offer their suggestions for thriving in a lockdown. Here, Charlotte Runcie writes on hobbies.
Don’t start a podcast. I really can’t stress that enough. Everyone else will be thinking the same thing, and there are enough bad podcasts in the world already.
Still, when it comes to taking up new hobbies, it truly is now or never. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get really good at anything: by the time all this is finally over, there will have been plenty of opportunity to make, at least, a pretty good start. If you’re not going to be able to master that skill you’ve always dreamed of having now, when could you? Pass me that bass guitar.
On the other hand, now could be the moment that all your dreams come crashing down. As Jane Austen’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh said confidently of playing the piano, “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.” But she never did, despite living luxuriously at Rosings Park with lots of time on her hands. It’s comforting to be able to tell yourself that you’d probably be an absolute genius at chess, or have a really mean table-tennis serve, if only you’d ever had the time. Well, now there are no more excuses. You have all the time in the world as long as you’re healthy.
But don’t be downhearted if it turns out that, contrary to your expectations, you’re actually really quite rubbish at, say, balloon modelling, and it’s not even that much fun. There are other realms of leisure to explore. And when we can all join together in society again, it’ll pay to have mastered something a little out of the ordinary to share with the class.
Take board games, for instance. You could get really good at Catan, and be poised to conquer the local board game cafe when the quarantine lifts, or you could go a step further and design your own brand new game to play. First, get to know the crucial elements of game design: a clear objective; obstacles; strategy; surprise; narrative; and a mechanism to prevent someone winning too early or by too much. Then get the cardboard, paper and paint set out and create a new legendary activity for your whole family. You could even sell the concept for some big potatoes when the virus danger as passed. (Or normal-sized potatoes, depending on how food supply chains are looking by that point.)
Or maybe you’re more of a bookworm than a gamer. Maybe you’re just thinking that it’s about time you actually read Middlemarch. My local bookshop tells me they’ve sold out of copies of Middlemarch already, such is the demand. Again, think outside the box. Try non-fiction, history, or uncelebrated genres. Maybe you could become an expert in minor works of 17th-century French theatre? Aeronautical design from the 1960s? Marian Keyes? Later, it may come in handy as your specialist subject on Mastermind.
But the best hobbies to take up when the world seems upside down are those that help you feel as if you’re giving something to others. Creativity is the answer here. Knitting is both a hobby and a way of generating gifts for loved ones; get working now on some mittens to give as Christmas presents. Or try drawing, painting, collage, keeping a diary of this unprecedented era; anything that feels like a contribution to the world and a record of your time here. Because, though we may be physically isolated, the creation of something new and beautiful is the surest way to bring us back together.
Charlotte Runcie is the Daily Telegraph’s radio columnist and arts writer