Pottering in lockdown


Partial lockdown, or the semi-limbo in which much of the country seems suspended, ought to be a conducive moment for some pottering. And the uncertain trajectory of the Covid-19 virus and its probable aftermath has reshaped existence so that improvisation and ad hoc experimentation have become the default. 

KSA moved all its postgrad teaching online fairly seamlessly and has offered workshops, seminars, presentations and even a couple of reading groups, one of which I joined. The most intriguing of these sessions is the Virtual Writers’ Room, which runs for an hour and a half weekly. Students log on to work in silence, while in the remote presence of other students. I haven’t had the chance to try it out, as it is on a day when I do my paid job.

In July, TECHNE, the consortium which funds my research, organised an entire three-day congress online aptly titled ‘Distanced But Not Alone’, including speakers, panels and questions from the audience typed into the chat box. For me, the only unsuccessful part was the virtual drinks, where the impossibility of reading body language made for awkward hesitations, or people talking over the top of each other, in a way less likely to occur in face-to-face encounters. The biggest technical problem was my laptop overheating on warm days during long Zoom presentations.

Up until now I have had plenty to do; transcribing material from archival visits, working towards my upgrade, general reading. However, none of my plans for the new academic year is really feasible without undertaking some journeys to physical locations such as libraries, archives and museums in city centres. 

I am running out of books! Avoiding train travel into London means no access to the click and collect service currently offered by the university library. I hold a SCONUL card for my local university library, but it is suspended due to current circumstances, so I cannot borrow from there either. Meanwhile a long-ago-read interlibrary loan book, due back in April, languishes on my shelf, probably to another student’s frustration.

I have been working from home on my paid job since mid-March and there is still no definite date for starting back at the office. There seems no point in risking travel until I am instructed to return. I somewhat miss my long train commute, always a productive time for PhD work, as it provides a seat and table while cutting out internet and interruption. 

Many doctoral students have been harder hit than me by limitations on their capacity to continue with research, and stress about whether funding will cover an extension. Though for some, lockdown has augmented the relevance of their project, or added a new dimension. For example, the Modern Interiors Research Centre #screenedinteriors Reading Group, which I attend, has been looking at how global lockdown has increased the mediation of our interactions via screens and how this ingress of technology into domestic space is transforming reality.


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