Chris Read: Trapped within the luxuriance of incarceration

Chris Read is dipping his toe into the outside world as lockdown edges ever closer to its end. But, let’s be honest, it is all a bit scary

Pitcairn Island is a very difficult place to get to. Isolated in the vast expanse of the southern Pacific Ocean, it was the hiding place in 1789 for Fletcher Christian and the mutineers from HMS Bounty. Today, to get to Pitcairn requires a bit of planning and a pinch of luck.

Fly to Tahiti (easy enough to do via LA or Auckland). Pick up an internal Air Tahiti flight and fly eastwards for four hours to Mangareva on the Gambier Islands. Perhaps the closest you’ll get to King Kong island. Then you must await a ship to leave that is to pass Pitcairn.

Pitcairn does not have any docking facilities, so you must descend the ropes into longboats and row to shore. There are 50 or so people who live on the island, descendants of the mutineers and you can stay over by booking into homestays.

As a British Overseas Territory, it has a 4G network and satellite internet connectivity. Truly you can work anywhere in the world, tempted? In any event, definitely a destination for the Bucket List when the planes start flying again.

The view from the ‘hole’

My own personal Pitcairn is called the “hole”. My hole is the study where I do my work.

The hole is a box room, isolated at the end of a corridor in the expanse of a non-descript detached house in the vastness of the suburban sprawl of SE England. The only gorilla that occupies this seat is me.

I have all kinds of Internet of Things: Alexa, Sonos, Denon – all hooked up with sub woofers and a NAS. Not sure why I have this stuff, I never play anything loud anyway. Amazon has been my umbilical cord to the material world. The daily Amazon trawl fishes out items and artefacts to satisfy an addiction, my habit of confinement.

Last week I purchased a green screen backdrop to project interesting and funky backings for Zoom calls. For those using Teams, you can drop your own pictures into the %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds directory.

My new forward-facing defused lights are positioned to make me look more presentable to the many who view me though their own digital portholes.

Being bald (since my early twenties) means all that glare off my bonce can be quite blinding without this lighting arrangement. Natural light has been banished as my box room is blacked out.

My artificial life is complete, my iron lung under construction awaits my cryogenically-sealed future.

In these last faltering days of lockdown, as R numbers intertwine with K numbers, I need to learn how to be human again. To meet physically, to be a natural social primate.

In isolation, I have been very accepting and obedient to the spirit of restraint. The daily routine, like a Trappist monk, happy in silence, marked by mealtimes to break periods of utter confinement.

I have not driven much beyond five miles from my home, my very own Pitcairn Island. Even now, as the early signs of the unlocking are with us, I am behaving with the inactivity I have become accustomed to. My vows of silence, clothed in the habit of simplicity, shorts, t-shirt, flip flops, have been my comfort. I am now conditioned. I have been broken. I am happy in the mutiny of an anti-social isolationist.

Baby steps

The thought of facing the world and going back to the office to work is a bit scary. The thought of leaving my hole is disturbing. Will it be cold turkey or gradual embrace? I will start with baby steps to wean myself from my abnormality.

Monday morning, shave, shower, shirt, shoes, and suit. I shall drive around the block several times to reacquaint myself with the rush hour. The day will be spent at work back in the hole, with casual strolls over to the fridge, where I shall talk to the water cooler.

I shall return home at the end of the working day and drive around the block several times in the opposite direction to reach home safely, rewarded with a glass of wine.

A few days of this, I am sure I will be ready for a return to work and say farewell to Pitcairn. In days to come, I will reflect and reminisce about the habits I adopted, both good and not so good, during the luxuriance of confinement that was my lockdown, my mutiny.

Chris Read is group chief executive of Dunstan Thomas