21st June: Virtual travel to mark viral time

Today is a day that I want to make feel special. It is a turning point in the year. Like the feeling that precious time has been squandered by confinement, the 21st of June every year makes me feel like i should do something special in order to make peace with the sad knowledge that even when summer feels at its best and most infinite, the days are starting to get shorter. I hope that by giving it special attention and marking it out as significant, I will be more able to come to terms with the passing of time. 

In the morning, I decide to embark on a travel adventure. I get excited by the idea of creating a log of my virtual journey, my own pilgrimage to mark this day out as special and different. Turning points, beginnings and ends, entries into new phases of life seem in general to be marked by changes in space. This signals a break from the ordinary. It was taken for granted I’d go interrailing to mark my liberation from school – just as my relatives now assume I must be itching to get away and travel after graduating. Punctuation points in our lives are marked by travel through space.

My laptop offers a perfect window onto other worlds. I start the day at Stonehenge. I am 4 hours late for the solstice livestream I thought I would catch. I’d misread the time on the event but thankfully found a video of it on Youtube, no longer ‘live’ but still real. 

The footage of a grey foggy morning in the English countryside makes me feel nothing. I get distracted by the comments section below the video. Disappointed pagans and druids from around the world debate whether the blurry footage is proof that Stonehenge resists ‘Disneyfication’ or shows the producer’s technical incompetence. One lonely druid in the States laments not having druid friends to mark this moment with him. 

I decide that something manmade and cultural might make for a better virtual travel destination and flit between tabs to the Uffizi in Florence. I definitely find this a more engrossing experience. Compared to the Stonehenge livestream, you can make your own way through the virtual gallery space. I realise that I have not been inside a big public space since the beginning of lockdown and this is probably why I initially feel so excited to be in the gallery. 

But I soon feel purposeless clicking on rooms at random on the menu below the map. I’m not making a journey through the museum. Instead, I’m making quick leaps between different, self-contained scenes. It is hard to come up with a reason for me being in each place. Why have I even chosen the Uffizi when a quick Google search shows me that I could go to a thousand other galleries? 

After stopping to make a quick sketch of a glitch in the programme of the Uffizi’s parquet floor I move on to the Met. Given I’m travelling virtually, surely there is  more of a reason to go to a gallery on a different continent than to limit myself to Europe? 

The Met has kaleidoscopic Youtube videos filming throngs of people moving aimlessly through its great halls. 

But by now I’ve started to feel foggy and frustrated by the drawings I’d made and the lack of direction my day was taking. Today, I’ve ‘been to’ places which are extraordinary, significant, special. In the Middle Ages, virtual travel was a skill to be honed. Nuns embarked on virtual pilgrimages in which they diligently followed guidebooks and cultivated certain emotional states. Yet despite the luxury of my laptop and the fantastic hyperreal images I can access, I don’t feel like I’ve broken the ordinary cycle of days. I leave my bedroom for yet another family lunch at our customary time.  

Time has disappeared for me with Covid.  My normal marker points are gone and each day blends into the last. My termly migration between London and Cambridge can no longer be used to place the events of the last few months. The everyday repeats itself day-by-day. We have settled into a comfortable routine. Without places to go to mark out time, it feels like no time at all has passed. Instead, I’ve just repeated the same day again and again, with no special punctuation points.

One of the things which has most often filled me with anger during quarantine is this feeling of squandering youthful time. I’ve been so aware of nature in its prime and of my own surplus energy and desire for interaction. It feels painful to know that I have permanently lost this time.  All of spring has passed in the shadow of covid and confinement. Even if I feel like days, weeks, months have simply repeated themselves, things have also officially changed for me. I’ve now graduated, done my finals, and left Cambridge. All without needing to leave my front door.

After lunch, I gave up trying to create the extraordinary through my laptop screen. In the end, I surrendered to the M25 as the only way to make this 21st of June feel different. I drove to the end of the Metropolitan line. There was nothing remarkable about the walk I did. It was an intermittently sunny afternoon. I smile awkwardly at families out on Sunday walks as we cautiously sidle past each other on narrow paths. I spot a houseboat with an excessive collection of British flags. I come home feeling much better about accepting the ordinariness of the day.