Andi Best Freelance Designer

A Home-based Freelancer Goes Into Lockdown/Meltdown


  • Published 16-06-2020
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A Home-based Freelancer Goes Into Lockdown/Meltdown
At the risk of tempting fate I'm going to talk about lockdown in the past tense. Some spent theirs shielding, others spent theirs isolating and some spent theirs continuing as (almost) normal for the greater good of the rest of us. But most, I imagine, spent theirs the way I did; not really knowing what they were supposed to be doing beyond hiding in their own homes for several months straight and trying to avoid everyone and everything until news broke that the world was fine again. Whilst we haven't yet arrived at that revelation, the powers that be have effectively lifted the lockdown and released us to conduct ill-advised mass mingling.
I think now would be good for me to rant find some closure at this point of reflection by chronicling some of the calamities that shaped my lockdown experience. Before I do I need to stress that this post will largely comprise a list of now mostly resolved "third-world" problems and I am fully aware that they are in no way comparable with the genuine grief and hardship this period has brought to others. I am in no way making light of those circumstances, just my own. I was having a dreadful ordeal and was indirectly affected by the lockdown in a variety of colourful ways.
But let me back up for a moment - how was I directly affected by the lockdown?
The most significant impact I felt was the removal of childcare. Both my wife and I normally work full-time from home, in a productive and professional setting we'd cultivated over years. When nurseries and schools across the country closed my attention-dependent daughter became displaced, rendering her house-bound for the duration and abruptly halting our fluid work routine. In its place we entered a bizarre, fractured partnership of interchangeably slaloming between our child's never abating demands and our increasingly neglected desks, racking up little more than five hours a day on our workloads between us. Neither of us were furloughed, or entitled to any of the government compensation schemes, so as difficult as it was we had to find a way to keep working, answering calls and meeting deadlines, even if it meant spending 10 minutes on/10 minutes off in relay with concentration levels shattered beyond resolve. The pace of progression therefore was reduced to a crawl and yet work just kept coming in. Delivery dates rocketed into the future, expected contracts never materialised, existing jobs pulled the plug or clawed back costs - I genuinely couldn't plan or forecast or complete anything. It was easily the most turmoil my business has ever faced. And as if that wasn't atrocious enough, the needlessly gratuitous stuff started happening.
A Home-based Freelancer Goes Into Lockdown/Meltdown
It all began when my wife asked me what date it was (because reliably following the passage of time had become a dark art by this point) just as I had one foot out the back door to the garden and was clutching a potted plant in my right hand. I knew the answer would be found on the lock screen of my phone, but retrieving it with my subordinate hand whilst mid-stride would prove to be a feat I would fail to execute flawlessly. Instantly adopting a placid stupor, I looked on as my tumbling iPhone pancaked onto the hardwood floor with a perfect slap. No single edge or corner connected with the surface, but rather the entire face of the screen took the full brunt of the impact, resulting not in fractured glass of temperamental use, but thick striped bands of pixels alternating black and white emblazoned across the full display, rendering the phone totally unresponsive to touch. Under normal circumstances I'd make the trip into town and walk out of the Apple shop an hour later with my phone behaving as if nothing had happened, but with that option scuppered by lockdown, I had no choice but to send the device off for repair via courier. At the risk of sounding like one of those millennials, two weeks without a smartphone is actually pretty rough. Social media addiction aside, plenty of other reliances on my phone came sharply into focus during that fortnight, from reminders being missed, emails from clients getting slower responses, falling out of group chat loops and photogenic moments of family slipping away without being recorded. Having no phone was immediately and extensively oppressive.
A Home-based Freelancer Goes Into Lockdown/Meltdown
Whilst the rest of the world was gradually applying the brakes on all of their operations, or better yet, were finding means to discount or simplify their services for their customers now in lockdown, my web hosting provider decided to forge on as if nothing was wrong and carried out their advertised mass server migration in the last week of March. I don't pretend to understand exactly what that process entailed, but given that myself and at least three of my clients who use their services experienced significant technical issues following that migration, I'm willing to bet not everybody at my hosting company understood it either. Websites were going offline, FTP connections were permanently severed, and more crucially, emails were dissolving into the void instead of arriving at inboxes. For the better part of a month I found I could not email anybody from my account, which was beyond infuriating for someone also unable to call those same people to explain this owing to a lack of phone.
Each of my copious support chat sessions on the matter (for which the queue to join was around an hour's wait because - you guessed it - there was a sudden spike in people needing support and furloughed support staff) yielded little resolution to this problem as none of the things the technicians claimed they were doing behind the scenes seemed to make any difference. To this day, the issue will still spontaneously reoccur for an hour or so, causing a temporary email backlog that eventually tumbles away, a bit like those hypnotic two pence sliding shelf games at the arcades.
A Home-based Freelancer Goes Into Lockdown/Meltdown
I can't be sure, but I heavily suspect that the aforementioned server migration was also the reason why Google decided to reach out to me a few days later to notify me that they had delisted my website from their indexes, thereby removing any trace of my domain across their entire search engine territories. Wow.
Notice how I said "notify" and not "warn"? This was an 'immediate effect' type of situation with no explanation given, and it was only once my email account was back in relative commission that I even received this notification, by which time the damage was already done.
I did eventually manage to navigate Google's labyrinth of service pages to find the one where I could appeal this decision. It was headed in prominent red text declaring that due to Covid-19, appeal requests were being dealt with much more slowly than usual. Overall it was impossible for potential new clients to find my website via Google for about 30 days straight.
A Home-based Freelancer Goes Into Lockdown/Meltdown
When the strain of being disconnected from my phone became too much to bear, I decided to delve into my old storage boxes and retrieve my now seven year old Samsung tablet. Dusting off the screen and giving the battery a top up, I had soon restored a fraction of digital attachment to my life, albeit with an OS I truly dislike. The age of the device made it a less than worthy substitute for my smart phone. Instagram wouldn't let me publish anything, Facebook was sluggish, the native browser would crash after just a few seconds. Twitter refused to even start as it no longer supported the OS version, and typing on the damn thing was a mild form of torture, so whilst I could respond to emails on the fly again, I quickly didn't want to. Plus it was cumbersome, didn't really fit anywhere, and could only charge from one cable in one room. It was a pain-point buffet.
One evening, as my wife began ferrying dinnerware to the dining table, she shooed me and the project I was working on away from the space. I gathered up my laptop, tablet, and the illustration I'd been hand-drawing all afternoon and lowered them to the seat beside mine in a pile. I poured a glass of beer and "cheers"ed my family. A short while later my daughter decided to set off on one of her mid-meal excursions after just three bites, abandoning the table to do literally anything else. Tonight this entailed nuzzling enthusiastically into my side with her arms clamped around my waist in a misjudged display of affection that would ultimately cause me to lose my balance on my seat, strike my beer glass with the tip on my fork handle and decant its contents all over the illustration, laptop and tablet. I was immediately mortified taking stock of the resulting carnage. There were cascades of beer everywhere. There seemed to be impossibly more flowing in and out of the electronics' intimate crevices than the glass could have feasibly held.
The tablet smelt of stale pubs for a few days afterwards (a welcome smell in hindsight, having missed being in a pub for several weeks) and didn't seem to have been seriously damaged. The laptop spent a number of days throwing up angry blue screens at me because I didn't possess an adequate amount of rice to shroud it in, but fortunately that too passed after a brief dousing from a hairdryer. The only persistent issue is that some of the keys and tracker pad really need encouragement to register pressure. The illustration however was a write-off; an unsalvageable inky liquid mess. I would have to redraw it from scratch which was especially annoying.
A Home-based Freelancer Goes Into Lockdown/Meltdown
The final devastating straw that unravelled the very fabric of the camel's being was when my work PC - the epicentre of my enterprise - started presenting warning screens during boot up predicting an imminent hard drive failure. That failure transpired seven days later and that was the moment I totally deteriorated. I slumped back into my seat (which at this rate was overdue spontaneously bursting into flames or inexplicably poisoning me with its hydraulic gas) and disengaged entirely. No thoughts or focus. No consolation at all from the ostentatious sci-fi graphics of the BIOS I was now stuck looking at. Just blankness. This last event in the catalogue of misfortune had finally broken me. No smartphone, no emailing capabilities, no organic web presence, near-unusable backup devices, and now no central tools to conduct my business with, all occurring consecutively during the same 12 weeks that the entire planet had become unhinged. Utter mental evacuation.
***
The temperature has dropped today and the June sky is a dreary autumn one. It's my birthday tomorrow. The house is quiet - my wife is typing away at her desk and my daughter is being inducted into the new sterile bubble protocol at nursery. I am composing this post on my newly refurbished iPhone. I've just received my first email of the day - a new enquiry from my website which has now been reinstated in Google's index. My PC appears to have not rejected the new hard drive I carefully wove into its innards, or the fresh operating system I grafted onto it cloned from my laptop. I've reconfigured the disk partitions to maximise performance and filled them with every scrap of data from the fastidiously copious backups I make each week.

I think everything is going to be OK.
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