I have been working entirely from home since mid-March 2020. It was a sudden transition. In the week beginning Monday 10 March 2020, I was zooming all over the place, and this was normal. On the Monday morning I set off from my home in the English Midlands to travel to Southampton by train. The train was delayed, so I missed two meetings I had planned for the afternoon, but arrived in time to have dinner with a colleague who had flown from South Africa for my workshop the next day. On the Tuesday I taught creative research methods all day, then caught a train to Gatwick and an evening plane to Stavanger in Norway. On the Wednesday morning I gave a keynote speech at a conference in Stavanger. The plan had been for me to teach at the conference in Stavanger on the Thursday and return home on Friday, but the pandemic was taking hold in Europe and there was talk of airports closing. My clients were understandably worried, and conference delegates were leaving, so they booked me onto a flight home on Thursday afternoon, and into the Premier Inn at Heathrow for the night as I arrived too late to get back to my home in the Midlands. On the Friday I travelled home by tube and train. I remember seeing a man on the tube with a big black bin bag which was obviously full of toilet rolls, and thinking, wow, this is different.
In the first couple of months of 2020 I worked in Brussels, Manchester, Sheffield, Brussels again, Cork, Dublin, Belfast, and Glasgow, as well as Southampton and Stavanger. It was rare for a week to go by without a trip; in fact, I would block out a ‘no travelling week’ in my calendar every few months so I could catch my breath. Since mid-March 2020 I have not travelled for work, and I have not used public transport at all apart from one short off-peak return train journey in London, in summer 2022, to travel to the wedding reception of some good friends. Next week, though, I am going back to Ireland, to teach in Dublin and Belfast. Before the pandemic I was working in Ireland two or three times a year. I love Ireland, and I am really looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues and friends in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.
Booking travel and accommodation again was weird. I had forgotten how I used to do that, and so many things have changed. Not least the trains: I used to take the train to and from the airport, but I live on a branch line where there is now one train every two hours instead of two trains an hour outside peak times. Also we are experiencing frequent train strikes at present here in the UK. So I will be driving and parking at the airport instead, which is much more expensive and much less environmentally friendly, but with the trains in such a bad way I don’t think there is another option.
On the plus side, now I know I’m autistic, I am allowing myself to pay for airport lounges – as long as they are not too expensive – because avoiding the noise and bustle of the main airport will mean I arrive at my destination in much better shape. Also, I often need a meal at the airport, and that is included in the lounge cost, so it’s not as expensive as it looks.
I can tell you one thing, though. I won’t be travelling most weeks again, ever. It was exhausting – I really have no idea how I managed. I am glad we can do more online, because it’s better for the environment, and better for our lives. I would rather spend more time at home and less time on stations and trains, in airports and planes. Even so, I am glad to be able to travel more freely in general, and I’m looking forward to going back to Ireland in particular. If you are one of my Irish colleagues or friends – I’ll see you soon!
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