On the memory of touch in the time of social distancing - part two.

Leonora Oppenheim
8 min readApr 1, 2020


Taking a moment to feel the rays on my face — sunbathing on the floor of my sitting room.


Yesterday, I accidentally touched my lip. I touched my lip with my glove. My OUTSIDE glove!

I don’t know about you, but each day I regularly confuse myself with my own strategies to stay safe when I go outside. I wear my soft leather winter gloves to open shop doors and pick food up off the shelf, but then I’ll remove my glove to extract my debit card from its case. Gripping the thin plastic in my outstretched fingers, I hover delicately, trying not to touch the contactless machine with my contactless card, while getting close enough to trigger the money-sucking beep.

As I wait for the cashier to confirm my purchase, I might absent-mindedly adjust my glasses with my exposed hand or maybe with my gloved hand. Some days I forget to put my glove back on as I am leaving the shop and, reverting to normalcy, push the shop door open with my bare hand. Now I get a shock if I touch metal or glass with my skin, the coolness of the smooth surface reminding me of the new protocols that I just failed to follow.

Of course, I can’t wait until I get back to the house to check my phone. I remove my glove again, using the fingerprint mode to unlock the dastardly device and the warmth of my finger tips to navigate across the seductively smooth screen to check for messages, messages that might have landed in the 2 mins since I last checked my phone. Meanwhile, I am holding the phone in its case with the other gloved hand.

On my excursion, within the space of ten to fifteen minutes, I have easily cross-contaminated everything in my possession. By now, I imagine the inside of my gloves are just as germ ridden as the outside, so most probably all this convoluted effort makes no difference at all.

Before I took to wearing gloves while shopping, I spent a week or so pushing and pulling public doors open with my sleeve pulled up across my hand. Moments after leaving a store, walking down the street, I’d feel an urge to itch my face. Conscientiously, knowing I shouldn’t touch my face with my hands, I use my sleeve instead to satisfy that compulsion — the very same sleeve that just opened a potentially contaminated door handle. I have to laugh, it is so ridiculous.

But yesterday, I was not laughing. I had attempted to blow a kiss to a friend who I was chatting with, at the appropriate distance, over her garden gate. In an upbeat, grand gesture I mimed blowing her a kiss with both hands, as if I was on stage bidding adieu to an applauding audience. But I misjudged my proprioception and tapped my lip with the tip of my leather glove.

Oh horrors!

I smiled winningly as I turned on my heel and departed, as though nothing was awry. But a couple of steps later I quickly dropped down to a crouch in the middle of the road and started panic rifling through my handbag. I took off my glove and carelessly moved all my shopping aside, while I willed myself not to lick my lips. After all this effort to stay well, I’m not going down because of some silly theatrics, my internal monologue hissed.

I found what I was looking for — what is now considered in our society a sort of liquid gold — a small bottle of hand sanitiser, one of only two in my possession, which I bought at the pharmacy for way more than its usual market price. I squeezed out a small blob on my finger tip and started dabbing my lips with the gel. The coolness of the alcohol immediately made my skin tingle and I willed myself again not to lick my lips.

Who knows if it’s possible to transfer the Covid-19 virus from a shop door handle or a bottle of olive oil onto a leather glove and then on to one’s own lip? Who knows anything anymore. Everyday it feels like there are so many more things that we just don’t know. How long does this virus live on surfaces? I have read reports that vary with answers ranging from a few hours to three days. Nothing is certain.

I now receive all packages at my door like a bomb disposal expert. When I ask the delivery person to place it on my doorstep we both look down at it for a moment in silence, wondering if it’s about to detonate. Then we both look up and cheerily bid each other a good day, as though we weren’t just dealing with a life or death scenario for a second there.

As evidenced by my chaotic glove shenanigans, you will have gathered that I am not that methodical. And so it is with my Amazon parcels. Sometimes, using my feet, I sort of kick / shuffle them over the threshold of my front door and then just leave them there on the mat. There is one down there now, actually, just waiting for me to open it. It’s been there three days, I think it’s ok to pick it up now. But I’ll probably leave it one more day, just to be sure.

If it’s something I want to use right away then I’ll get my trusty leather gloves on again and carry it to my kitchen sink, likely cross-contaminating several light switches and door handles on the way there. I’d facepalm myself right now, but I know that’s just flagrantly hazardous behaviour. Sometimes I tear off the cardboard packaging with my gloves on, sometimes with my gloves off. Either which way, I’ll be washing my hands thoroughly and soapily afterwards.

Often I forget what I’ve cleaned and haven’t cleaned, which leads to several rounds of hand washing in the space of a few minutes. So now I’ve upped the ante and started washing the packaging of whatever was in the parcel or shopping bag. The slipperiness of objects once covered in washing up liquid means I have to handle them extra carefully. I can’t afford to smash a bottle of olive oil at the best of times and very definitely I can’t afford to now.

All my food seems so precious. Every single ingredient is a rare commodity. There are days when I have wished I could just stop eating. Not because I am eating a ridiculous amount or because I want to starve myself, but because as I watch the food supply go down I know I can’t get an online delivery slot with any major supermarket, so I’ll have to go out again to the local shops and engage my haphazard safety protocols.

Now, I must acknowledge that I am in a super fortunate position. I recently moved to a small rural town, having been a Londoner for most of my life. I’d only been here a few weeks before we went into lockdown, and the novelty of village life has not worn off yet. I’m delighted to be able to walk round the corner to the local grocery shop slash butcher. There’s even an eco store where I can spend outlandish sums on nut butters and goat’s cheese. But each time I go out, like all of us, I am putting myself at risk of someone coughing in my face or inhaling these dreaded droplets we keep hearing about, which are stealthily hanging about in the air waiting for us as we waft in from the street.

Everyday I think, will it arrive on a parcel at my front door? Or will it arrive via a shop door handle or a packet of beef mince off the shelf? This endless second guessing is tiring. I feel like that excellent Winona Ryder calculations meme. And yes, I am wearing that confused expression most of the time.

Fortunately, there are blessed moments of respite from the mental chaos. The other day I arrived at the eco-store to buy said nut butter, (there was a very urgent new blondie/brownie recipe I needed to try — fervent baking clearly being the nation’s preferred coping mechanism). On my arrival I was reassured to find they had implemented a new one-at-a-time shopping policy.

A lady had just gone in before me and I wanted to say, ‘Hey! I only need one jar of nut butter, can I just…’ Of course, my default setting is the sneaky ‘sorry, I’m in a terrible rush’ queue barger type. But I checked myself just in time. I wasn’t actually in a rush. I didn’t even need to pretend to be in a rush. I thought, ‘hey, I can just wait here, outside, on the pavement, peacefully.’

My first reaction was to reach for my phone, but I checked myself again. ‘You only looked at your messages a minute ago, put the glass oblong back in your pocket!’ Only then did I notice properly the feeling of the sun touching my face. The weather here over the last week has been glorious, it must be said. But, in that moment, it wasn’t just a case of enjoying the blue sky from my kitchen window, I could actually feel the rays on my face.

I silently willed the woman inside the store to take as long as she needed, because I wanted to revel in this moment. When the world has asked us to stop, I have resisted the stopping. I have tried to carry on with every kind of mundane task, but now, on this pavement, for just a few minutes, I am obeying the call to pause and to feel something.

I stand motionless, with my eyes closed and my face tilted towards the sun. I count my blessings. I deeply appreciate the warmth spreading over my face. I become aware quite quickly that it is too hot to be wearing leather gloves as my palms begin to sweat inside the synthetic lining. I stand there and think about how confusing everything else is right now, except this. There is nothing confusing about the sun on my face.

I smile at this sliver of certainty. A line from a What’s Underneath interview I watched a few years ago pops into my head. The wonderful Naomi Shimada, in answer to the question ‘when do you feel the most beautiful?’, said, ‘When the sun blinds you and it radiates all over your face and you just feel like every pore is beaming and opening up on your body.’ And ever since, I have remembered her words each time I take a moment to really feel the sun’s touch on my face.

Until the next time. Stay in touch,

Leonora x

Note from a friend on 27.03.20

I really miss…

‘…touching things, without feeling stressed. I’m missing just picking up the post and not wiping it down with Dettol. I’m missing letting Buddy touch whatever he likes.

He got to a package before I did the other day and started banging it like a drum. And to my deep shame I shouted, ‘BUDDY! WE DON’T TOUCH THINGS NOW!’ My poor little boy. He’s only 3!

I miss being casual. And I miss my hands looking normal instead of grey and dry from washing and washing. I’m missing touching fabric without the rough skin on my fingers catching.’



Leonora Oppenheim

Visual artist & narrative designer. Body as a research tool — movement & mark-making.