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Hello, I’m Eleanor – please can you remind me how to make small talk? | Eleanor Margolis

Lockdown is easing, and that’s a relief. But there’s a very strong chance we may all have forgotten how to socialise

In 1828, a strange teenage boy appeared on the streets of Nuremberg. He had a limited vocabulary, and – initially – tended to repeat the phrases, “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was,” and, “Horse! Horse!”. Later, he would claim that he’d been raised in total isolation; in solitary confinement, in a dark cell. His name, Kaspar Hauser, became synonymous with outsiders, feral children, and – more generally – people who have to learn to adapt to society.

Now, I’m not saying the pandemic has turned the entire global population into Kaspar Hausers; speaking in monosyllables and rehearsed phrases, and hissing at sunlight. My English is still pretty good and, thanks to the spare-time glut, I’ve even improved my French. At the same time, as lockdown eases, the idea of having to hold a conversation with someone other than my partner or the select few people I regularly video call, fills me with both excitement and dread. Even before my year without a social life, I was prone to social anxiety. Parties – if I remember rightly – left me feeling like I’d just tried to schlep a mattress up a hill. Now, I feel like I need to take a nap after exchanging small talk with a delivery person.

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