Once upon a time, we used to live in a world where spontaneity was possible. You could stroll into a restaurant and ask for a table without any notice; offering to ‘book’ the pub would have been considered a little straight-laced and limiting social events to a maximum of six guests was probably a sign of a small social circle.
But no more. Not only has covid stripped us of an entire year of freedom and socialising, but it is also leaving a legacy of ‘organised fun’; numbers are capped, booking is essential and human interaction outside of your selected six is strictly against the rules. We have been offered the return of our freedoms with lengthy terms and conditions.
If you have tried to book anything for the days following April 12th or June 21st, you’ll know that people are block-booking pubs, bars, restaurants, tennis courts, and Airbnb’s like their lives depend on it. These forward-thinkers have the same energy as those who set alarms for the crack of dawn to reserve sunbeds by the pool on holiday and amongst the lazy and last-minute there is a brewing resentment for them.
This aggressive pre-planning of social calendars has been coined “the tyranny of the organised” by the journalist Basia Cummings, who suggested that her disorganisation might unintentionally lead to a self-inflicted personal lockdown till November. Her frustrations have been echoed by others who have finally allowed themselves to be optimistic for the summer months only to find everywhere booked up until the seasons change again and we find ourselves back in autumn.
Last week, I sat waiting for a ticket link to be emailed to me for a restaurant in Soho. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised the lunacy of experiencing the same adrenaline and anticipation to book a table for lunch as I would trying to book coveted festival tickets. These small but strange adjustments to our societal norms have come into play slowly but largely without resistance. I can’t remember when it became normal to queue for over half an hour just to get into the supermarket, but that now seems quite mundane (though this may partly owe to our innate British appreciation of the orderly queue).
The extra aggravation is that many of the rules in place seem perfunctory and pointless. How many venues did we scan into on a Test and Trace app that never really worked; how many nights ended at 10 pm because of a curfew that almost everyone agreed was completely performative? How many people have seen five friends one night, and an entirely different group of five friends the next, but been unable to meet ten friends in one night? Or, how many groups have booked two tables of six and slowly nudged their tables closer together throughout the evening…
As much as I am looking forward to meeting friends, going to the pub and the semblance of normal life the next few months will offer, I hope that as soon as it is safe to, we free ourselves from the shackles of organisation and never have to divorce fun from spontaneity again. It is a fact well known that the best memories are made when you least expect it.
This summer, there’ll be an interesting polarisation in our social lives. The sunbed-reservers who have had their OpenTable tabs bookmarked for months will have reservations coming out of their ears, and as for the rest of us? We will probably be in the park or the garden, where, at least for now, they don’t take bookings.