The great reopening has broadened my horizons. Is Center Parcs on the green list?

Last week I was back in the office for a writing day with other people. We were, of course, socially distanced and working behind plastic screens, giving the effect that we were not only writing, but also prepared in case anyone wanted to come in and pay in a cheque.

The night before I was due to go into London, I went to check the train times and found myself feeling slightly emotional about using the train app. “Emotional” is perhaps an exaggeration, given its implication that I was teary-eyed at the discovery of which platform I would be standing on the next day at Three Bridges, but the point is I felt something. It was a little step towards normality. Of course, by normality I mean the normality of travelling to the jobs we’ve all made up to give our existence some sort of imagined purpose.

I have to be honest, when I caught the train the following day, I felt a little bit excited. Returning to normal life, you find yourself looking at things as if you’re seeing them for the first time. As I walked through the station, my internal monologue was in overdrive, generating cliches: “Oh my gosh, isn’t it lovely to see a queue at the ticket office! Oh look, there are people getting coffee! Oh wow, there are people on the platform! Oh my goodness, isn’t it lovely to see people on a train! Life! Oh life! I am witnessing it again, and it is glorious!”

Just loads and loads of inane thoughts like that.

I am aware that this all sounds as if I have spent the past 18 months in a nuclear bunker without any human contact but, as you walk around and see people, albeit in face masks, and things look as if they’re approaching normality, it’s easy to find yourself getting a little bit excited about being possibly the other side of this, while also desperately trying to forget what you’ve been reading about the possible increased transmissibility of the Indian variant.

If I got that excited about a train journey, I was nervous about how I would handle the sensory overload of going to a restaurant. I met a couple of friends, and we slipped into the mode of chat that is now common among people walking into a restaurant for the first time in at least six months. “Oh my gosh! Inside at an actual restaurant! Sitting with friends! Who would have thought it!” It’s the type of bulletproof excitement and buzz that can only be punctured by being served a slightly wrong main course, which can lead back quickly to indignant rage about something trivial. Life!

After this brief foray into 2019 life, we decided as a family that we wanted to go on a little break and, after checking it was on the green list, we decided to book Center Parcs. When you book a Center Parcs break you also book an itinerary of activities. I have never been able to look at the prices without becoming possessed by the outraged spirit of my father. My family have become used to seeing me sitting at the laptop, yelling about the per-minute cost of half an hour on a climbing wall.

Not this time! I was so blown away by the idea that we were actually going to properly go somewhere, that I spent my time on the booking site buzzing to the kids about the activities on offer as if they had just been invented. “Kids, you know slides? Well, at Center Parcs they have slides that actually end in the pool! They’re called waterslides! Isn’t life amazing, children?”

I am hoping that this change isn’t permanent, but I am pretty confident I am not the only person it’s happening to. I am looking forward to returning to my usual state of casual indifference dotted with occasional bouts of resentment.


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