Fiona Mountford

Why now is the time to be spontaneous

From theatre to travel, this summer is a golden moment for doing things on a whim

Why now is the time to be spontaneous
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I am not naturally a spontaneous person. I relish neatly laying out projects and plans in my Moleskine diary. It was out of character, then, when on the second Monday of the Wimbledon fortnight I decided on the spur of the moment to head to the All England Club and join the queue for a day ticket. If I didn’t get in, I reasoned, I could always have a nice meal in a nearby restaurant and watch the action on a big screen, content in the knowledge that I was at least sharing the air of the SW19 postcode.

My back-up plan wasn’t needed. When I joined the ‘queue’, I was the only person in it. I was ushered straight into the grounds to enjoy six glorious hours of sun-drenched tennis. Perhaps there was something in this spontaneity lark after all.

In truth, I had taken a calculated gamble. During the first week of the tournament, there had been much discussion of how attendance was lower than expected in this first ‘proper’ year post-Covid, and television coverage showed the normally packed alleyways between courts to be considerably less jammed than usual. This chimed neatly with what I had experienced in other areas, most notably the arts, where almost all theatres, in the West End and elsewhere in the country, are struggling to attract punters in the numbers they would like. Same-day tickets, as well as discounts, are there for the taking, even for shows that in other years would almost certainly be posting smug ‘House full’ notices outside. Fancy seeing the musical Mary Poppins tomorrow? Or what about going to the Proms? Step right up.

What is going on here? I believe that we are experiencing a recalibration, as we try to reconcile our pre- and post-Covid selves. Before the pandemic, it is generally agreed, our lives, especially for those in big metropolitan centres, were excessively planned and regimented, with diaries filling up weeks if not months in advance. Everything, even so-called ‘free’ time, was scheduled down to the last half-hour, leaving precious little opportunity to, in the words of that corny-but-true W.H. Davies poem, ‘stand and stare’. If we wanted to watch ‘squirrels hide their nuts in grass’, we would have to pencil it in for two weeks on Thursday. Someone crying off an arrangement last minute and giving us an unexpected free evening was a source of barely concealed delight. 

And then everything changed. The world stopped, at least for those of us not on the front line of the pandemic. Time suddenly unfurled endlessly before us and no plans could be made, because almost everything was shut and the rules kept changing anyway. Watching squirrels on a nut-hiding mission was suddenly the highlight of the week and we either revelled in this unexpected superabundance of time, vowing never to return to our formerly frenzied selves, or tore our hair out in sheer frustration. Either way, not a lot of ticket-booking was done.

As we emerge at last from the clutches of Covid, we are tentatively starting to believe that the lost art of planning ahead is possible. But not very far ahead, mind, as what with strikes, heatwaves, collapsing governments and the ever-escalating cost of living, it is almost certainly tempting fate to look too distantly into the future. There is also the not inconsiderable matter, a source of much anxiety in cultural institutions up and down the country, that many former punters have lost the habit of going out to see and do the things they did previously, preferring instead to stay at home with their feet up and a world of streamed entertainment available at the click of a remote control. This is dire news for these arts companies’ cash-flows, based as they always are upon advance ticket sales, but a bonanza for the spectator who fancies trying to make a booking for something tomorrow. Additionally, in a valiant effort to reassure the nervous, many venues are offering ‘Covid flexibility’ with ticket purchases. Just please do not adopt the bad habit of a colleague of mine, who wields the excuse of Covid to swap theatre tickets whenever a better social offer comes along.

Here in the summer of 2022, we are living in a golden moment for doing things on a whim. How about a trip to Cornwall this school holiday? There is still an abundance of availability due to folk havering over foreign travel. Yet like all golden moments, this one will not last. Autumn’s heavyweight cultural offerings and sporting fixtures will soon tempt punters into greater feats of forward planning which, combined with the general momentum back towards office working, will once again put the pressure of demand upon the most popular events. The government will settle, the heat will drop and greater clarity will, presumably, become available. Until then, however, there are delights aplenty on offer today – and almost no queues.