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This one weird thing is getting me through lockdown...

From growing mullets to getting into obscure YouTubers, Time Out writers reveal the shameful obsessions they’re relying on at the moment

Photograph: Shutterstock
Photograph: Shutterstock
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Lockdown might have been largely terrible so far, but it has been good for one purpose: cultivating weird habits and obsessions away from the prying eyes of friends, colleagues and busybodies. We’ve got the time, we’ve got the privacy and we’re all craving consistent things in our lives to cling on to: it’s a perfect storm.

In the old world, staying up every night to, say, watch all of Trinny Woodall’s Instagram videos from the past 18 months, would have been perceived as ‘worrying’ behaviour. If you started talking to a neighbour’s cat every day and got sad when it wasn’t at the window? A reason for ‘concern’. But now that’s all changed. For a start, nobody ever asks you what you’ve been up to anymore, and if they did, they’d be too busy thinking about the imminent financial crisis to really listen to your reply.

It’s high time we were all shamed for our transition into horrendous kooks. So, we asked Time Out staffers to reveal the odd habits and interests that they’re clinging on to in lockdown. Turns out they’re all pretty suspect. But, hey, there’s no judgement here. We just know who well be avoiding in the kitchen when we return to the office. 

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The guy who eats military rations

Before lockdown I didn’t use YouTube. I mean, I did use it. I’m not a caveman. But I didn’t really use it. My assumption was that only children had subscriptions and favourite channels. I wasn’t interested in seeing webcam footage of slightly-too-old men playing Fortnite, so why bother?

Reader: do bother. Driven to distraction one day in early March, I began to trawl the site, assembling a stable of channel subscriptions that has since become dear to me. Now, I cannot imagine lockdown life without them.

My favourite is a man named Steve1989. A simple fellow, Steve loves military history and has found a way to take his love of the subject to novel, possibly fatal, places. His videos consist of him opening old (sometimes really old) military rations, carefully laying out the contents while breathlessly commentating, and then, finally, inevitably, eating a bit.

Yes, he eats a bit. This is food that my dog wouldn’t recognise as food. The tin of Vietnam War spaghetti looks like nicotine-stained asbestos. A 60-year-old can of pears resembles a corrupted mass of black slugs. Steve, like us, is repulsed. But unlike us, he is compelled to get his spoon and have a taste.

I’m not sure why this appeals to me. Maybe it’s his good-natured West Coast accent which makes Steve sound a bit like Bill and Ted when he mutters things like ‘That’s the last time I open up another 40-year-old cheese spread’. Maybe it’s his infectious enthusiasm for history. Or maybe it’s just that watching a man nibble at quasi-mummified food matter will always be entertaining. At ease, Steve1989. At ease. Joe Mackertich

Turning my life into a musical

Once, in what now seems like another plane of existence, making my morning coffee did not involve breaking into a three-verse song about ‘tasty beans’. Feeding the cats was not accompanied by the banger known as ‘Mystery Cat, Where Have You Been’. And the neighbours certainly did not witness the pre-dinner ‘wine time’ rhymes. But that was then, and this is lockdown, and turning my world into an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular is one of my key sanity(?) strategies.

I should have seen this coming, really: I soothed myself in the early days of lockdown by watching some of my favourite musicals (‘Oliver’, ‘The Prince of Egypt’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’) and jumped on the weekly Andrew Lloyd Webber The Shows Must Go On! train faster than you can say ‘magical Mr Mistoffelees’. Honestly, I have no shame about this. But for my colleagues’ sake, I just hope that once I’m back in the office I’ll be able to refrain from bursting into song every time I make a cup of tea. Rose Johnstone

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‘Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins’

‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’ is pretty good. A mixture of fitness freaks and motivational speaker types, whose unshakeable self belief is tempered with gnawing insecurity, are taken to Scotland where a beetle-like man called Ant and three of his ‘ex-special forces’ pals ‘break them down’. They devise hideous torments for them, making them abseil off cliffs and lie in freezing seas while shouting the fuck at them 24 hours a day.

The current series of the celebrity version is truly great, though. The ‘celebs’ emphasise the show’s sublime dimension: how can man in his puny patheticness dare to confront nature? Huge landscapes loom over Anthea Turner as she tries to put her boot back on. Bitter rain lashes Joey Essex as he gets confused by two rocks. Other highlights so far are Katie Price’s kennel cough and the total package of dickheadedness that is John Fashanu. Plus some boxer bloke who seems permanently on the verge of tears and/or ultra-violence.

It’s total bollocks, of course. Price retains her fake eyelashes and nails long after other contestants have lost whole limbs. You might say we have enough real suffering at the moment – why watch pretend stuff? But who doesn’t like someone falling in a hole? Chris Waywell

Sichuan peppercorns

Usually, I eat out a lot. Under normal circumstances, I can get me a bún, a bao, a hopper, a nasi goreng or a maki roll almost as easily as a pizza – and there’s no way I’d ever make them at home, given London’s plethora of delicious pro versions. Or so I thought, before I was suddenly forced to get by on whatever I could find in my local corner shop and a fairly harsh Deliveroo radius.

Sichuan food is one of the cuisines I never thought I’d cook at home: it’s fearsome, intensely flavoured southern Chinese food, with a fairly high offal quotient. But I was craving the tongue-numbing, almost psychedelic tingle you only get from Sichuan peppercorns: a pinkish-brown spice that’s more closely related to grapefruit than black pepper. So I tracked some down (sounds tough, but even Tesco stocks it online) and started cooking, with a bit of help from Meera Sodha’s ‘East’ and Fuchsia Dunlop's intimidatingly comprehensive ‘The Food of Sichuan’.

Now I can make mapo tofu as easily as spag bol, and that peppercorn tingle hits the spot every. Single. Time. As soon as this is over, I’m hopping on a flight to Chengdu and I’m going to munch till my eyes water. James Manning

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The Cupcake Jemma YouTube channel

As the dad of a three-year-old girl whose favourite word is literally ‘sprinkles’, maybe life was always going to lead us to the Cupcake Jemma YouTube channel. It’s had a soothing ASMR-like effect on the two of us as weve plonked ourselves down to watch the godlike bakers of Soho’s Crumbs & Doilies construct grand temples of sweetness.

My faves? The Halloween Graveyard cake (like a medieval plague pit, only delicious) and the ‘Breaking Bad’ cupcakes. The toddler’s? Anything that’s either a piñata or looks like a unicorn. One of the first things we’re going to do post-lockdown is march down to Carnaby Street and order a slab of Crumbs & Doilies’ finest – and say thank you. Phil de Semlyen

Florence Pugh’s Instagram stories

When this all kicked off, I deleted Twitter and Instagram in a panic. Like everyone, I was coming to terms with the fact that there was an actual global pandemic, and scrolling through social media before bed was a surefire way to guarantee myself zero sleep that night. But then I realised that I kind of missed Instagram.

Unlike Twitter, it’s actually been a pretty joyful place during this time. I love seeing the minute details of my friends’ lives on Instagram Stories. Another picture of a sourdough loaf? Yes please. A Zoom hen do screenshot? I love to see it!

But my favourite thing on Instagram right now is Florence Pugh’s Instagram Stories. The ‘Little Women’ actress has been posting cooking videos from LA – but they are not slick, they are not complicated, they are very much the opposite... and this is why I love them. With a glass of white wine on the go, she cooks up ropey onions, half a red pepper from the back of the fridge, tins of tuna. Basically, she’s doing what we’re all doing.

I’m not watching them for cooking #inspo – she put up a video for ‘browned bread’ the other day (it was a joke, don’t panic) – I’m watching them for the same reason I love the sourdough loaves and the Zoom screenshots: seeing the mundane details of everyone’s lives makes me feel a bit more connected to the world during these Unprecedented Times. And yes, that includes watching an Oscar-nominated actress chop an onion from a bougie LA home, okay? Isabelle Aron

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Anagrams

As someone who makes a living writing, my inability to excel at any word-based games (or, let’s be honest, sometimes just spell words correctly) has been my secret shame. But no more! While some people have chosen to use lockdown as a time to perfect their plank or breed bubbly loaves of sourdough, I’ve been playing anagram games on my phone.

I hadn’t played a game on my phone since Snake constantly drained my Nokia 3310, but now I’m solving word games with the same nerdy fervour. My faves are Wordscapes and Babble Bots on Peak.

It’s been great (grate, gear, tear, rate, gate, rage, eat, age, ate, tea, get, rat...) to see my sluggish lockdown brain learn something new. And the whole simple, logical, methodical thing is surprisingly soothing, too. Read a stressful email? Watched Boris on the telly? Felt a wave of existential anxiety? Anagrams might be the cure. Ellie Walker-Arnott

Kylie Minogue's ‘Spinning Around’

Everyone has that tune they blast out when they’re feeling down, and for me, it will always be Kylie Minogue's ‘Spinning Around’. It's glittery disco meets hedonistic sugary pop and to me it is utterly euphoric, guaranteed to lift me out of the darkest of moods and get me dancing around my living room like I’m wearing a tiny pair of gold hot pants. Recently, my ‘Spinning Around’ habit has gone into overdrive as I’ve realised that a case of the ‘lockdown blues’ requires a dose of the smash hit played at least 10 times on repeat. If things feel really bleak, then a more potent measure is required by pulling up the karaoke version on YouTube and singing it out at the top of your lungs until the neighbours start knocking on the wall. Big Dick Energy may have reigned in pre-COVID times, but Gold Hot Pant Energy is all I need in lockdown. Alexandra Sims

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Watching apocalyptic movies

The first thing I did after Boris Johnson made his ‘Stay at Home’ announcement on March 23 was queue up Outbreak (1995) on Netflix. Not only did I relate to the little girl feeding the cute little patient-zero monkey at the bottom of her garden (who wouldn’t throw an apple core or two to someone with those hungry little eyes?), but the people covered in sweat and sores from hemorrhagic fever made me think: Okay, at least people aren’t bleeding from their eyeballs right now.

I’ve continued with this coping strategy throughout lockdown, filling my watchlist with anything apocalyptic, dystopian or pandemic-y I could press play on. I even re-watched two seasons of Black Mirror, despite Charlie Brooker’s claims that it was too dark for viewers to stomach right now.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me, maybe my soul is darker than the eye bags I’m fostering from all this binge-watching – or maybe, just maybe, it helps me see all the light left in the real world. Samantha Willis

Growing a mullet

For the last two weeks I've been cultivating a mullet. It’s a decision that came after I’d already Bic-ed my face smooth for the first time in 15 years to try a moustache. (I’d tasted the experience of truly repulsing my wife and I was thirsty for more!)

Mullets and I actually have a bit of a history. My childhood (and adulthood) hero was/is ’90s footballer Chris Waddle. Football fans of a certain vintage will remember his mighty mulleted locks frollicking through the air as he skipped past hapless defenders. I always flirted with the idea of emulating Chris but never had the guts or patience to really go for it. But now, with nowhere to go – and all the time in the world – it felt like I should now embrace the look I was born to wear.

I started by just trimming the sides, but last weekend I hacked off my trademark quiff into a harsh looking ‘Dumb and Dumber’ fringe and I haven’t looked back (except to admire the view, of course).

It feels AMAZING. It’s everything I could wish for and more. Whenever things start to get me down, whether that be bleak news on the TV or realising we’ve run out of peanut butter again, I’m always comforted by a short walk to the bathroom mirror to monitor the progress of my new #mulletlyfe. Bryan Mayes

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Magic

I’ve always loved magic. Watching, doing, learning and thinking about it. Right now I’m isolating alone, so I have a lot of time, and if there’s one thing that helps a sleight of hand hobby become an obsession, it. Is. Time. The rest of the world is wasting their lives baking banana bread but I’m wasting mine perfecting faro shuffles and tenkai palms.

Primarily I’ve always been a card man with a leaning towards mentalism (Derren Brown’s genre of choice). But in these lockdown days I’m just a magic man. Any magic at all. Coins. Silks. Billiard balls. If it moves I’ve thought about vanishing it or making it levitate. I can’t stop. Before this I dreamt of work and falling. Now I dream of elaborate methods of deception and saying things like: ‘Actually sir, I think you’ll find that this box is filled with bees.’

And I’ve started buying dumb things. Entire bricks of playing cards, false digits, esoteric coins and other nonsense not becoming of an adult. I dropped a small fortune on a giant glorified mouse mat because it feels a bit nicer than a normal table top when I practise my centre deals.

When I’m not doing that I lurk on green-hued internet forums, smugly telling other magicians that the Ambitious Card Routine isn’t that ambitious, thank you very much. On multiple occasions I’ve considered jacking in this 9 to 7 churn for a full-time life of mystery. Frankly I’m losing control.

Will this heightened passion massively dampen my already weak social skills? Probably. Has it brought me great joy? I think so. Jordan Waller

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