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  • Writer's pictureIqbal Hussain

Hibo - the new normal

“Be careful what you wish for.”

Little did I realise how prophetic these words would be. I’d said them to a friend who’d touted the idea of “hibo”, an enforced hibernation every winter for three months. No getting up for work, no social life, just government-sanctioned time in which to recharge your batteries and start anew in the Spring.

Well, she got her wish – and some. We’ve now been living in a real-life version of hibo for a year and counting. We are human battery hens. It is hard to imagine those halcyon pre-hibo days.

It’s been a year of new experiences, on every level. Unfamiliar words and phrases entered our consciousness: lockdown, social distancing, contact tracing, flattening the curve. Until the pandemic struck, Zoom was a multi-coloured ice lolly. Cries of “I can’t hear you” and “Rachel’s frozen again” have become commonplace as we interact online – our new normal.

I’ve embraced home working to such an extent that the thought of going back to an office makes me hyperventilate. Previously, I’d done an occasional day a month from home, cursing the technology for not working and longing to be back in the office with my two screens, a printer and a slap-up lunch in the canteen.

We moved house just before hibo struck; we also got a puppy: both have kept us sane. Trading Walthamstow for leafy Chingford, we know the footpaths and tracks of nearby Epping Forest as well as I once knew the streets around my beloved West End. Like Dorothy going from the black-and-white of Kansas to the Technicolor® of Oz, our world has gone from concrete grey to every shade of green. We forest bathe to our heart’s content. We breathe in lungfuls of clean air. We easily manage our 10,000 daily steps. We’ve made friends in our new neighbourhood much more quickly than we would have done without the pandemic. The puppy helps, of course, but also the experience of being “in it together”. This is our Blitz, our common shared experience.

In a country devoid of earthquakes and volcanoes, hibo shook us up like nothing that had gone before. Things we had taken for granted were suddenly no more. Walking into a supermarket and seeing bare shelves. A run on toilet paper, of all things. Worrying each week where the food was going to come from – not through a lack of money, but a lack of availability. Online supermarket slots were the new Lottery and it became normal to wait for hours in a virtual queue. You lived for your hour of outdoor time each day, indulging in the temporary freedom, before returning to house arrest.

Looking to the coming year, in the brave new world promised by the vaccines, it’s the simple things I am looking forward to the most. Hugging friends. Having them round for dinner. Going on the tube. Spontaneity.

Hibo. We tried it and we didn’t like it. Can we go back to how it was, please?

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