james debate
james debate

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Hello and welcome to the unending tedium that we now call every day life! Only, it doesn't have to be that way. On the contrary, the increased downtime and freedom from other commitments could be just the opportunity many of us need to realise a golden age in self discovery and improvement. To misquote GK Chesterton: there is no boredom, only boring people.

ephemeric how to survive lockdown activities fun theatre movies music

It turns out there are a wealth of different experiences that can be had without leaving the home. New hobbies, resources for learning, and more in the way of home entertainment than at any point in our history. Thanks to new technology and innovations in the field of laziness, we can experience whole new worlds and gain access to more information than we could ever process, all from the comfort of our living rooms. There are so many different ways to spend lockdown, and in this post I will discuss a few of my favourites from the past few weeks. Want to make the most of your lockdown experience? Consider indulging in the following:

Learn a skill

This deserves to be high up everybody's list. Sure, no one is going to be productive all the time, but now you have that rare luxury of having time both for learning and for goofing around. Fire up Duolingo and learn (or practice) a language. Take a class on Skillshare. Hit up some lectures or TED Talks on YouTube. Many universities offer online courses, including Harvard and Oxford, many of which are free. Consider also FutureLearn, which indexes many such courses into an easily accessible platform.

It doesn't have to be something academic either. Why not break out that guitar you haven't touched in years, or find a new instrument second hand online to try out? Something broken around the house? Learn how to fix it. No restaurants open? Learn how to cook new recipes. You would be amazed what you can learn with the additional two hours you save by not having to commute to work every day.

Take a night at the theatre

Miss throwing on your best trousers and spending way too much for a night at the theatre? Well thanks to the magic of the Internet you can now do it from the pantsless comfort of lockdown.

Indeed one of the more pleasant surprises with how the entertainment industry has responded to lockdown has been the advent of theatre home-streaming. The National Theatre's offering is perhaps the best known of these services, but we also now have Hampstead Theatre, the award winning Theatre Complicité, Fleabag, the Lincoln Center and countless others on offer. Ticketmaster has a pretty good index here, as does What's On Stage. Whether you're in the mood for drama, ballet, or Broadway classics, the options available really are remarkable.

Discover your neighbourhood
One of the few things we are currently allowed to leave the house for is exercise. So make the most of that freedom and take the time to learn your neighbourhood. Walk the quiet streets you've never been down, explore the green spaces if you have them, read up on the local history.

If that's not enough, use this time to better connect with your local community. Many of us have formed a common bond with our neighbours through what has become a weekly ritual, clapping every Thursday for our frontline workers. Others have engaged in street concerts, fun-runs and other communal activities. Apps like Nextdoor let you stay in touch with your neighbours, keep track of the local goings ons and share tips with one another. If you're feeling distant and detached from your fellow humans, this app will help.

Catch up on your backlog of TV series and films

Let's get this one out of the way. We all have a list of film franchises we've been meaning to get through, a TV series that you've been working on, a watch list that has been sitting there for two years. Now is the time to burn through all of that. I could write a whole separate post about all the different things you could be binge-watching (and maybe I will), but for now have at it, guilt free.

Watching movies at home seem old hat? Try one of the new home-cinema concepts being trialled by Secret Cinema or Everyman Cinema. Featuring all the novelty, dress-up and social connections of a night out at the movies, without breaking lockdown.

Get horticultural

If there's one thing I've learned from all those post-apocalyptic films and videogames it's that the key to surviving times like this is to become self-sufficient. Build your own shelter, mine an aquifer, power your home with solar panels and improbably small wind turbines. You may not be able to do all those things currently (although if you can then go you) but one thing you can do right this minute is get started on your own self-sufficient food supply.

Mint plants, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, buy seeds or extract them from fruit and veg that you buy in the store. If you have a garden get started on your own vegetable patch. If not, don't let that stop you. Our windowsill vegetable garden is thriving! No pots available? Not a problem, put those old milk and juice cartons to new use in three easy steps: 1) open one side with a knife or pair of scissors, 2) place absorbent material such as wool, styrofoam or insulation material along the base, 3) add soil - boom, you have a makeshift planter.

Sure, you won't become totally self-sufficient in this manner and the plants won't bear fruit for months, but gardening is fun, therapeutic, and is scientifically proven to make you feel good about yourself. If you have some space, try working on your green thumb.

Enjoy the golden age of live streamed concerts

The theme today is doing things from your living room sofa that you would previously have had to leave the house for, and the world of music is no exception. As concerts the world over have found themselves cancelled or postponed, artists have really come through for their fans. From off-the-cuff Instagram streaming to star-studded charity concerts, there has been an abundance of live content for our enjoyment from a vast array of artists.

First Aid Kit, The Killers, Chance the Rapper, David Guetta, Deathcab for Cutie to name but a few, without even mentioning the mega-sized One World Together at Home concert which featured the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Lady Gaga and countless others. If you like music I have no doubt that there is something going on that you will enjoy. It may seem like an overwhelming amount to keep track of, but fortunately you don't need to be in the right place at the right time and there are plenty of resources available for you to discover what's coming up. I recommend Songkick, but you can find very thorough lists from the likes of Billboard and TimeIn (formerly TimeOut).

Visit a museum (virtually)

That's right, if you hadn't yet managed to get your fill of culture, now you can also visit some of the world's best museums without leaving the home. Like what, you may ask? To name a few: J Paul Getty MuseumVaticanGuggenheimthe Natural History Museumthe RijksmuseumMusée d'OrsayThe British Museum and many others. It is worth giving Google Arts & Culture a browse, the search engine giant having done a great job of digitally indexing many great works of art at high resolution. Frankly, if you can name the museum they probably have some form of virtual content on now.

Get into videogames

Feeling cabin fever from being cooped up in one place for so long? Turns out we already have the technology to visit just about any world imaginable without going anywhere. Granted, I'm not expecting every man, woman and child to suddenly discover they love Call of Duty death matches or Mortal Kombat, but it isn't the 1990s anymore. These days, no matter who you are, there's a pretty good chance someone has created an interactive virtual experience that will interest you.

Fancy a nice country drive? A leisurely walk? Maybe you just want to take up the rural life and start a farm? Or if you just want to hop on the bandwagon you can go play Animal Crossing like pretty much everyone right now. Spending a morning fishing and picking flowers may not fit everyone's expectations of what a videogame should be, but as a form of escapism you are unlikely to find anything more relaxing right now.

Read a book

You know what thing, what one thing, the most people say they want to spend more time doing (if only they had time!)? Reading. Now is the time to do that. This year I set myself the challenge of reading one book per month, and so far I am pleased to say that I have managed to hit that target.

This is undoubtedly one of my top recommendations. You may have a few dozen hours' worth of TV and films on your list, but the number of books out there to be read exceeds these by many orders of magnitude. Get a taste for reading, and instantly open yourself up to countless new worlds in which to immerse yourself.


You know what? There is something therapeutic about cleaning house. Take this opportunity to finally clean out the cupboards, organise your sweaters, and empty those boxes of miscellanea that have been collecting dust. You'll be glad you did, and feel good about yourself.

Enjoy new cinema releases from home

One of the most peculiar quirks of entertainment in the digital age is the continued insistence on making people wait several months or even longer to see new films after they release in the cinema. There have long been calls to provide a home-streaming service for new releases, but ultimately it took a global pandemic to bring that vision to pass.

With the cinemas shut, studios have been forced to embrace new technology. Many of 2020's Q1 and Q2 releases have been made available months ahead of time for streaming, and in the case of Hamilton more than a year in advance. With the summer blockbuster season just around the corner, expect even more to be added to that list.

Call your friends

Just because you're in isolation doesn't mean you need to feel isolated. How fortunate that this pandemic hit in the year 2020, a time where more than at any point in our history we have the capability to connect with one another over great distances in meaningful ways.

So take some time to give your friends a call, set up video chats on Zoom or House Party. These days there are apps that allow you to play games or watch movies together. Set a date, meet up with a group, you'll be surprised the extent to which you get used to virtual hangouts. The best part? No more struggling around each others' diaries and work schedules. Paradoxically the greater time freedom afforded by this crisis makes it a perfect opportunity to catch up.


One of the few things for which you are allowed to leave the house is exercise. Take advantage of that opening and make the most of it. The weather has been beautiful this spring, go for a run, a jog, or even just a good long walk.

No nearby green spaces? Workout from the comfort of home with your favourite YouTube workout routine or yoga channel. Personally I have been indulging in a bit of The Body Coach and Yoga with Adriene. Like many of you I was worried that lockdown would mean physical inactivity and all the health and fitness concerns that raises, but honestly I'm probably exercising more now than I ever did before, largely because I actually have the time during the day to do so.


Probably the single most popular of lockdown activities. Go to your Facebook or Twitter feed right now and likely someone is talking about their attempt at banana bread. Few things feel as satisfying as baking, from the therapeutic physical process to the incredible aromas, and of course the tasty treat at the end.

Baking takes time, and right now we all have loads of it. If you're working at home, set something in the oven and go back to work while it bakes. Learn a new skill. Ease your local food chain by supplying your own. Best of all, most of the ingredients you need for baking are long-life. Get baking, and then share the results on social media. You'll be glad you did.

Get Creative

But the number one way to put this lockdown time to best use is to get creative. Whether your chosen creative outlet is writing or drawing, programming, making music, now is the best opportunity of your working life to get it done. Break out that old paint set, finish that novel you've been working on. Make a game, record some music. Use this opportunity to build that thing that you've always wanted to but didn't have time.

This is a great chance to free your creative impulses without worrying about work or other commitments. Just as importantly, getting immersed in a project can have a transportive effect, providing a welcome respite from the tedium of daily routine. So start a project, create something.

If there is one thing you should take away from this list, it is not to see this lockdown as a period of aimlessness, a period of limitation, but an opportunity to make up for lost time. We all have passions and things that we would love to spend more time doing. This list is just a few of the things that I love to do with my spare time, but I'm sure you have many of your own. So pick one and go do it.

But you know what? There is also nothing wrong with using some of this time to relax and unwind. Use this time to be productive, sure, but also make sure to take a chill day once in a while. Find out the balance that is best for you, and don't let the productivity (or lack there of) of others put you down. I hope you enjoyed this list, have a great week!

Wednesday 6 May 2020

The Ephemeric is back, and first let me apologise for being so absent at a time where we could all do with a little distraction. I chalk it up to a combination of busy season at work and frankly having other things on my mind. I am blogging again, with plans for a number of posts not all of which will offend you. But to begin with, I just wanted to say a few words about everything that is currently happening.

2020 coronavirus pandemic message of positivity thank you nhs
There is no avoiding the fact that what is currently going on is a horrific event. Historic for all the wrong reasons, traumatic to the global confidence in a way most of us have never seen, and more than a little bit frightening. Even now, with the initial shock of pandemic having passed and many nations beginning to chart an exit strategy, we are still hearing estimates of months or even a year or two before we return to normalcy. I have heard it expressed by more than a few perfectly rational individuals that things may never be normal again, or that we are on the verge of some dystopian "new normal" (a meaningless phrase that I hope never to hear again).

So I guess the first thing to say is that things will get better. No doubt you have heard such exhortations from your local politicians in recent weeks, and I know it is difficult to hear those words coming out of their mouths and not interpret it as "here's me trying to sound inspirational, please vote for me". But really, they will. The Human race has achieved far more remarkable things than the containment of one virus, and we will deal with this one even if it takes six months, a year, or two years.

In actual fact, incidence has slowed greatly in recent weeks, and the number of virus deaths is shaping up to be far fewer than the worst case scenarios initially suggested (unless you live in America - more on that in a moment). The swift and severe measures taken by most world governments have proven a success, and this is due in large part to the efforts of regular people, with greater than expected compliance during these lockdowns. The unfortunate exception is the United States, the only country in the world where incidence of the disease is expected to increase over the summer, a sad cautionary tale of what happens when governments refuse to do what is necessary and alternate realities go mainstream.

So as you can see, now is not the time for pessimism. On the contrary, from my viewpoint the story of the past several weeks has been one of renewed positivity and remarkable compassion. From the rainbows painted on our windows and the weekly cheer for our care-workers, to regular tales of everyday heroism. People have come together in a way that has surprised many, but really should not have done so. People have an inherent pull towards good. A billion years of evolution has made it our natural instinct to be supportive of one another and to succeed together. The sensationalism of public information has always tended to focus on the negative, preying on our morbid fascinations like a bad itch that you can't stop scratching. The greatness that we are seeing in one another is not a new thing. What has changed is that we have all gained a renewed appreciation for recognising the positive in the world, and I hope that continues when this is all behind us.

It is also worth remembering that disruptive events can serve as a catalyst for change, both big and small. Remote working has become the norm in many industries, and to everyone's surprise it seems to be working pretty smoothly. What will our daily lives look like in a year's time when companies realise that they can continue to function without spending vast amounts on office space?

There has also been a notable change in how we consume culture in recent weeks, with greater efforts being made to provide online streaming of theatre and live concerts, and movie studios pushing cinema releases direct to streaming platforms. The entertainment industry, of course, is notoriously slow to embrace new ideas. After all, we didn't have Netflix and Spotify until piracy forced the industry to accept the Internet as a better platform for content delivery than brick and mortar shops. It will be interesting to see what permanent effects may persist going forward as a result of these forced adaptations.

But perhaps the most profound shift that we have seen is in the newfound respect we have for one another, particularly our healthcare workers. For most of us it will be absolutely mind boggling today that just a few months ago we were seriously debating cuts to the NHS, and that mainstream American politicians have spent a decade campaigning to cut down access to medical care. The number of stories coming out of governments cutting down pandemic response measures in recent years seems like a case of tragic hindsight, but really it was never justified and hopefully that is clear now. If there is one big takeaway here it is that we have sleepwalked into this crisis by undervaluing the infrastructure that keeps us safe, and that includes policy and people. I can only hope that going forward more people will appreciate the importance of both.

Now before I go, I would like to leave you with a selection of my favourite, strictly non virus-related stories from the past few weeks as a reminder that good things are still happening in the world:

The ozone layer is healing, has a chance for a full recovery.

Wales is building a national forest that will span the length and breadth of the entire country.

After 240 days, the wildfires stopped in Australia.

NASA fixes Mars rover by telling it to hit itself with a shovel.

Dozens of blue whales spotted in Antarctica for first time since 1980s whaling ban.

And finally, make sure you are all checking out John Krasinski's excellent new YouTube show Some Good News, a channel dedicated entirely to the sort of uplifting reporting that I have attempted to celebrate with this post.

I'm sure there are many more great stories out there that I have missed. If you have any, please do leave a comment. I will be writing much more in the coming weeks, but until then I wish you all great happiness and good health.

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