As the world returns to the office, doggy daycare is booming. You hear of kingpins who never even have to meet the dogs, but run establishments packed with canines, whose owners are each paying more for the day than the dog-loving apprentices are receiving. They offer “enrichment activities” – AKA other dogs with buttholes – and nap time, which is to say, all day.
Sorry, that is unfair. There are also many fine and upstanding dog lovers providing these services, and right across the spectrum, everyone reports a surge in demand as people who got a lockdown puppy now have a regular, grownup dog. But it’s a dog with a difference. It can’t be left alone for one second. Dog behaviourists report weird, amazingly strategic new methods to stop owners going out: dogs that will hide shoes, lie down across front doors, or – in the case of one high-risk fellow – across the rear wheels of a car. Realistically, what’s the upside, for a dog, of anyone leaving the house? You can hardly blame them, but you have now created an animal that needs £40 a day spent on it just to stay sane. You might as well have bought a lockdown racehorse.
I’m wondering what this all means for the lockdown spouse, the cherished life partner who worked at home anyway, but has now spent two years getting used to constant company. Which is to say, I’m wondering what it means for me. I complained constantly throughout 2020 about the limits on my considerable pre-Covid freedom. I used to live as if in a fairytale or dream – totally normal on the surface, then, wham, 9am, the final person would leave and the home was my castle, or my oyster, or whatever. Sometimes I’d work, sometimes I’d just stare. I could feast on crisp sandwiches and solve the tea/coffee dilemma by making both at the same time.
Once the lockdowns began I formed a support group-cum-prayer-tree with other people who had previously worked from home alone, where we’d swap recent outrages. On one occasion, a friend’s formerly office-based wife told him what time there was a break in her meeting, in case he wanted to bring her a cup of tea. Another friend exploded: “All he does is Zoom! Zoom Zoom Zoom, always more Zoom, every word is Zoom, everywhere I go I can hear the Zoom!,” and we thought she was making a strong point, while having a nervous breakdown. I could discuss this stuff for hours, except I’d have to go for a walk to do so, because how are you supposed to bitch about people who are always in?
Then, finally, we all got used to it, and one second after that, the company was more like a necessity or a birthright. I want someone around when a package arrives – not so that they’ll open the door, or maybe that, too, but someone reliable, someone invested. Someone who will celebrate the arrival of a heated pet pad or some pasta made of yellow peas. I want to be able to say: “What’s that word beginning with S?” into not-a-void. I want to eavesdrop on someone else’s meeting and ask questions about the future too banal for a phone call.
If I do anything at all pro-social, anything domestic or thoughtful, I want it to be observed in the moment. Then I want a medal. If I hear a noise on the street, I want to ask someone else what they think it was, and if the sun comes out, I want to be only one of two simultaneous voices saying, “Look, the sun’s come out.” I don’t even want to think about what would happen if there were to be a rainbow, with me the only witness. I want to peer into the flats opposite and make suppositions about their relationships and housekeeping, like in Rear Window. I’ve acclimatised so completely to this unboundaried life – is he a co-worker or a flatmate or a partner, or are we actually both students? – that I can’t imagine life after it.
I don’t see myself lying down across the rear wheels of a car, however.