“Hello! How’re you?” “I’m fine!” This routine, inconspicuous exchange between two people, with nil expectation of any other reply, has moved from its mere rhetorical boundaries in the last few days, and developed deeper significance. Now our query is more genuine and full of concern: How are you? How is your family? Is everyone safe? And almost always a conversation follows, where we share our experiences on health matters and working-from-home in these unique times of the on-going pandemic!
I have been living in the City of London for the past ten years, working as a Finance professional. A typical week-day entails: Rising early, ambulating through cold misty mornings, even windy at times, greeted by enthusiastic joggers or a senior citizen walking the dog, straining to keep my balance on crowded underground rides and then disembarking onto the preserved lanes of the Metropolis, where thousands of men and women, pristinely dressed, queue up to pick their favourite coffee from a cherished café and then move towards colossal office buildings that have, through the centuries, withstood the Second World War Blitz, the Great Fire of London and many grim manmade depressions. Evenings unfold a familiar routine – only that designer ties are now loosened and sleeve cuffs rolled up, the newspaper readers having swapped their FT for the free Evening Standard, their moods more relaxed, with everyone looking forward to an evening with family or friends, or even at the theatre, a football match, or just the uplifting pint at the pub.
But almost abruptly, the music of humdrum life has died down and the electric city now as if switched off. The sudden hush and the un-inhabited streets give a haunting reality-check on the austere situation we are facing. We are all in lockdown and our routine has not only been broken, but shackled! Hence, the broker/client calls that usually start by examining management policies, debating analyst upgrades or coming to terms with perplexing central bank policies have now been preceded by the compassionate approach of checking on each other’s health and wellbeing. Make no mistake: we are still buy/sell side; so conversations take the form of the usual fierce deliberations on unearthing opportunities in the crisis. Yet, there is a sense of infinite time and tranquillity. Earlier, one could hear eager colleagues on call or the Bloomberg bells in the background; but now these noises, or rather voices, have been traded for the chirping of birds, friendly dog barks and sometimes even a nursery rhyme being recited by an ignorant, happy child at a neighbour’s. Non vocational chats, which were banters about football/cricket results or critiquing a new restaurant or a show at West End, have now been limited to conferring sombre Netflix offerings. Keeping motivated is a constant trial, now that work-life balance has curtly been supplanted by work-life integration at home. The television in my office was usually muted; however, I keep the one in my house on high volume, stuck on a business channel, to ensure that ‘financial’ voices echo in the house.
In the UK, daylight saving, which usually heralds longer days and active evenings, commenced this week. But the concept of a day-end or logging off from Bloomberg around 5.30pm-ish is no more in effect and the yellow idle dot rolls red on its own judgement. To top the sultry housebounded-ness, smiling almost cynically, the London weather has been dazzling. Though not being able to venture out on weekends, watching the sun rise from my window at home, on the now unspoiled spring horizon (not even a stray aeroplane to blemish the canvas) and slowly sipping my morning coffee is one refreshing change. Nevertheless, the city-boy banker in me wishes to get back to the manic eight meetings a day, road-shows fuelled by endless macchiatos, challenging every London traffic norm and jumping on the Tube, as the familiar recorded voice cautions “Mind the Gap Please!”