Stressbusters

Work and the state of the country are getting me down. Not enough hours in the day, goods on the shelves or petrol in the pumps. I need to de-stress. But how? I make a healthy, executive decision.

I opt for the pool. At least it’s in walking distance. No need to take the car to get there. The last time I went – when venturing back into post-Covid life – the water was deserted. Pure heaven. But now social-distancing is distant only in memory. And the fast lane’s been cordoned off for family swimming, meaning I’ll have to pick between slow and medium.

Watching the frenzied crawler ploughing through the water, I have a flashback to the recent road rage at service stations around the country. I shudder. I certainly don’t need that. What I need is calm and order. So, I choose the leisurely lane with its swimmers floating gently in line. Hating to be hemmed in though, I let them all reach the far end before I dive in, leaving a luxurious distance between us all.

But as I breast-stroke smoothly to the half-way point, I realise that the out-of-condition guy ahead of me is hardly moving. Is he stuck in traffic? Having problems with his engine? Or waiting politely for me to pass?  But when I’m a mere half metre away he sets off again – cork-bobbing nowhere fast whilst showering all those around him, creating a swimming jam. Doesn’t he realise some of us need to get a move on, not pootle about all day? He leaves me no choice…

Going all guns for an Olympic medal, I nip past him into the empty space. But unfortunately, my slow is the swimmer in front’s medium and I soon catch up with her. Thankfully, she, at least, understands the unspoken pool etiquette. Pausing at the end, as if stretching out a cramp or searching for a familiar face, she lets me overtake and I settle into a pleasant rhythm. All is going swimmingly until two pensioners join our lane. For heaven’s sake. Why now? They’ve hadall dayto use the pool!

Enough is enough. I do the calculations. Five swimmers in the slow lane and only one in the medium. It’s time to switch. So, I duck under the ropes, ten metres ahead of the front-crawler. But Mr Frenzied has no intention of digressing from his path, even if it spells disaster. Nothing is going to get in his way. Karate-chopping my legs, he rams me into the wall as he flips underwater in pursuit of his personal best.

Spluttering to the surface, I console myself with the fact that at least I now have a whole length clear to myself. But I haven’t taken into account the anti-social antics in the family lane. Here a lone father, with his attention fixed on a yummy mummy flirting with the life guard, is oblivious to his two horrors playing catch very badly.

Not content with hogging their own lane, they’ve strayed into mine twice to retrieve their ball. And when I give them the look, they just use my head as target practice. But at least I swerve. Mr Frenzied chooses to swim right over the top of them, finally attracting the life guard’s attention.

It’s the garage forecourts all over again! Lone Father confronts Mr Frenzied, who, in his defence, complains about lane violation. The two pensioners busybody over to give their version of events whilst the lifeguard tries to diffuse the situation. But as he bends down for peace talks, Cork Bobber splashes by and soaks him.

It’s all too much for me. I make a governmental U-turn on my executive decision and head for home. But thank goodness for this week’s panic buying. No jerry cans of Premium unleaded or bumper packs of loo rolls in our stockpiles. Instead, a much-needed crate of stress-busting Chardonnay.

Manflu

Grunting Teen staggers into the kitchen, sniffing loudly. ‘Mum, I’m feeling proper ill,’ he rasps. ‘Do I have to go to school?’

To be fair, he doesn’t look great. I’m leaning towards giving him a day off. However, the Nearly-Beloved is having nothing of it. ‘Stop exaggerating. You’re fine. Besides, you’ve already missed nearly two years of education, so you can’t afford to lose any more,’ he says. ‘But to be on the safe side, we’d better do a PCR test.’

With clinical precision he grabs a swab stick and performs a near tonsillectomy, sending our adolescent gagging to the sink. If Grunting Teen wasn’t feeling good before, he’s now feeling a whole lot worse, particularly as the test comes back negative and he’s despatched to Sixth Form, with the advice to wear a face mask to prevent his germs spreading.

This turns out to be a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. Apparently, half his class have sore throats and runny noses and the local pharmacy has already run out of Lemsips and lozenges. It’s simply a matter of time before the whole school succumbs to mass infection.

‘It’s only a common cold,’ snorts the Nearly-Beloved, rolling his eyes as I rustle up a honey and lemon drink for my man-child on his return. ‘He just needs to buckle down and get on with it. Stop babying him.’

The six-foot baby looks at me with sad eyes and retires to his Teen Cave with a boxful of Kleenex, to ‘do his homework’. I’m impressed. Even though he’s feeling under the weather, he’s showing remarkable maturity and dedication to his studies. Later in the evening, I bring him up a salt water gargle and some mentholyptus sweets discovered in the depths of a winter coat. I can hear him wheezing on his headset. Poor thing. He’s still managing to work on a group project, despite losing his voice. Only that was wishful thinking on my part…  I open the door and catch him in a full-scale battle on the PlayStation.

Seeing my disappointed look, as I pick up the sea of tissues surrounding him, he puts on a pathetic face and croaks, ‘Couldn’t concentrate properly, mum. Besides, the assignment doesn’t have to be in until next week as the teacher is off sick…’

The following morning, it’s not only the teacher who’s suffering. My head feels as if the entire cast of River Dance is rehearsing there and my eyes are running so much that my pillow is waterlogged. Yet my nostrils and throat are tightly blocked, causing me to fear a tracheotomy is on the cards.

‘Oh, for goodness’ sake. You’re such a hypochondriac!’ huffs the Nearly-Beloved. And it’s all I can do to beg Mr Florence The-not-Nightingale to bring me a glass of water and some paracetamol. Luckily, I have no work on today so tuck myself up in bed and succumb to illness. How ironic that after so long worrying about Covid, it’s a common cold that fells me in the end!

All that social distancing and mask-wearing did in fact serve a purpose. I’ve been germ-free for months now. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel poorly. But I’ve also forgotten the benefits of a duvet day. No need to make an effort. Lack of appetite works wonders for the waistline. And binge-watching ‘First Dates’ is perfectly acceptable medicine. Plus, a head cold never lingers and is, thankfully, not life-threatening.

By the weekend, both Grunting Teen and I have made a full recovery. Unfortunately, bugs love to breed and spread. They have now transferred themselves to the Nearly-Beloved. He has taken to his bed, demanded regular thermometer checks and is insisting on a home visit from the GP.

‘Come on, love. Pull yourself together,’ I tell him. ‘After all, it’s only a cold.’

‘A cold?’ he splutters indignantly. ‘This is no common cold. This is full-blown flu…’

A Happy Half

The big day finally arrives. It’s eighteen months later than expected. And I’d like to say that I am eighteen months more prepared for it. But the truth is my planning for Sheffield Half Marathon has been interrupted – by injury, which slows down my progress – and long overdue visitors, who force me out of a healthy eating and training regime. Still at least I’ve got my boys to encourage me…

And nothing is going to stop me taking part. It’s a battle of hope over adversity. A feeling of finally drawing a line under difficult pandemic times and making a fresh start. The only problem is that today’s start is rather too early for my liking. I need to be up and eating my carbs by the crack of dawn so that my stomach is settled and my blood-sugar balanced for the 9am kick off. Still half asleep, I sort out my race essentials. Running kit already laid out. Water bottle filled. I just need to pack some power punching jelly babies for the half-way mark. So where are they? I’m sure they were in the ‘Forbidden Sweets’ cupboard… And yes, they were. But judging by the empty packet lying beside the discarded Oreos wrappers and half-eaten crisps, it seems that Grunting Teen has already consumed all hope of boosting my energy mid-race.

Leaving the house, I resist the urge to slam the door loudly and wake up my sleeping fan club. After all my efforts – no cheer leaders on the course for me today! The Nearly-Beloved did offer half-heartedly to give me a lift into town but Grunting Teen just shrugged his shoulders and informed me he’d ‘be having a lie-in, innit?’

But who needs such lacklustre supporters when the rest of Sheffield has congregated in Tudor Square to produce an early morning festive spirit? There’s a real buzz in the city centre and a party atmosphere in the queues for the portaloos. And even though I’ve come on my own, I soon buddy up with fellow runners as we join local radio and their full-on fitness guru for a rousing group warm-up.

Then it’s ‘5-4-3-2-1’ and we’re off.

First, it’s a stumbling mass jog into the unseasonal sunshine lighting up Charter Row. But then the lines thin out and I overtake four burly men in pink tutus. They’re running at the speed of the slowest – a show of solidarity, not weakness. They give me a generous thumbs-up as I gazelle past them, caught up in the excitement of the occasion.

I power along Eccy Road feeling like an elite athlete as spectators applaud enthusiastically. Who needs family there when the crowds are so appreciative? It takes a while to realise their clapping is aimed, not at me, but at the agile Tyrannosaurus Rex, three superheroes, two Peppa Pigs and a Buzz Lightyear in front. Still, I soon overtake the fancily dressed, panting my way up Ringinglow road. Thank goodness for an inspiring folk band at the traffic lights and chalked motivational messages on the tarmac. For this is a Sheffield half-marathon and the first part of the race is relentlessly uphill.

As I stagger past the Norfolk Arms, the sensible folk, enjoying the sunshine with a pint, raise their glasses in my direction. It’s oh so tempting to go over and join them. But I head left along Sheephill Road and am rewarded for my endeavours with amazing views over my Outdoor City.

And then it’s downhill. I ignore the drink stations with their energy gels, tempted instead by the small boy holding out a plateful of those coveted jelly babies. I smile at him and nod gratefully to his mother. Little does she know that one day her precious child will turn into a grunting teen…

Fuelled up by my sugar hit and the cheering café goers I fly back down Eccy Road, heading towards the home straight. But it’s here I come undone. So near and yet so far. The sun beats down on my head, my muscles start to seize up. It feels like I’m wading through porridge. My urge is to slow down and walk the last bit. But then… I hear a shout – ‘Come on mum! You can do it!’

I catch sight of two familiar faces. The unexpected support group lifts my spirits and I put on a final surge. And whilst I may not have broken any records, it’s amazing what you can achieve with a bit of encouragement.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 76: The End!

This week I’ve won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Mother. It’s taken months of my life and huge amounts of effort. But all my impatient suffering has been rewarded. My Lost Boy is coming home! That nightmare screening of ‘Pandemic I’ has finally come to an end. Many in the audience have long gone. They left in the company of the main stars. But some of us stayed behind, holding out for those foreign supporting artists in the closing credits. And sadly, some are still waiting, in the hope they’ll spot their loved one in an outtake.

My own lead actor will be arriving shortly, courtesy of his Dutch supporters waiving his need to quarantine on return. No private jet for him. But the red carpet will certainly be rolled out in his honour. Just as in ‘screen life’ we’ll be condensing the last two years into a manageable viewing. We’ve got to pack in those key dates missed. Pancake Day, Easter, Bonfire Night, Christmas and countless birthdays will all be celebrated, along with toasts to absent brides and grooms.

The mood in our house has changed noticeably in anticipation. Grunting Teen, that notorious shop-a-phobic has announced he needs a new wardrobe in his desperation to prove to his big brother that he’s now up to being his co-star. He’s even roped in his sister to help with costume design.

Meanwhile, the Nearly-Beloved is busy directing the set. Apparently, it fails all Health and Safety standards and requires a deep clean. The last thing we want is for our Lost Boy to have battled through all the Covid setbacks only to be felled by a respiratory attack brought on by poor quality housekeeping. I outsource this task to the professionals as I have more important catering issues to resolve.

Has my Lost Boy been pining for my signature corned-beef surprise? Seemingly not. He remembers my culinary skills only too well…Thank goodness for Deliveroo! Our diva A-lister has yet to find an Amsterdam curry house worthy of an Oscar, so top of his wish list is a Chicken Vindaloo. I just hope the special effects aren’t too spectacular.

Hills have also been ordered. But care must be taken. Legs that have spent too long on flat land need to be broken in gently. A walk round our steep neighbourhood will do for starters until we build up the strength for an outing to the Peaks. And interviews will have to wait until his ears re-adapt to his native language and its Yorkshire vowels.

The long-awaited homecoming has his fans gathering in readiness. Delightful Daughter has booked time off work so that she can hang out with her ‘little big’ brother. And we’re shooting on location in Wales, with a crew of long-lost relatives and a reception worthy of Sir Tom himself. Spirits will be high and the after-show party will go on for days.

The challenge will be to enjoy this live performance, focussing on the present moment, without regretting roles that have been passed over or worrying about parts yet to come. What’s more, all the actors in this current film need a good long break. It was very much a box-office flop and we certainly don’t want to see a Pandemic II in production. So, for the next two weeks I’m taking the time to connect with my Lost Boy and disappear from public view.

But before I go, I’d like to thank you, the audience, for keeping me going. You see, writing a weekly blog has encouraged me to put a positive spin on life in lockdown, even when times have been hard. For me, The Corona Chronicles have finished with a happy ending and I hope that after my break, I’ll return to less pandemic-related, more mundane, musings on life.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 75: A fresh start

In many ways September always seems like a fresh start to me. The new school term, with feral, summer-riotous children now tamed into uniformed-meekness, heralds the long-awaited regime of orderly structure. Parents, released from the burden of acting as cook, cleaner and court-entertainer, can breathe a sigh of relief and hand over their off-spring to the professionals. Even those of us with lower-maintenance adolescents welcome the return of the timetable that dictates that 3am is not a sensible hour to be going to sleep and that homework should once again take precedence over the PlayStation.

And this year, hope runs particularly high. Could we actually make it through to Christmas on face-to-face teaching? Might we avoid those ‘bubbles’ that inevitably pop, bursting our dreams and our work plans? Do we dare to believe that zoom-free classes and home-educating are a thing of the past? Not if Scotland is our example to follow… Since mid-August, an unprecedented number of Covid cases has been recorded there, fuelled by the reopening of schools.

Grunting Teen is not impressed. He was counting on a mask-free arrival in Sixth Form. But his first day there involves no teaching, just testing instead – of the viral rather than the academic variety. On the plus side, at least it gives him an extra twenty-four hours to complete the ‘bridging work’ he’s avoided all summer. He is expected to take two tests and then… who knows? Each letter home always contains the caveat – ‘The current government guidance is unclear.’

Still, he takes the tonsil swabbing in his stride. ‘Used to it now, mum,’ he says. ‘Do it twice a week for work, innit?’ It’s not the procedure that makes him worried but rather the huge amounts of plastic that goes unrecycled in the process. In fact, the pandemic is far lower down on his list than the climate crisis. You see he’s already had his first vaccination. And so far, no extra head has grown, although an extra brain could definitely come in handy. The thought of falling ill rarely crosses his mind these days, unlike in 2020 when footage filmed in intensive care units caused him to have sleepless nights.

Sadly, nowadays, doing your PCR is as important as learning your ABC. But if it stops outbreaks escalating, that’s surely a good thing. If nothing else, Grunting Teen has become an expert at administering the test. He can add that skill to his CV, along with his summer of pot-washing. Indeed, like all youngsters, he’s experienced a lot during this pandemic.

And he’s one of the luckier ones. His house is only falling apart due to the cleaner-in-charge’s dislike of domestic duties rather than a dodgy landlord. His homelife is reassuringly stable, as his parents politely ignore each other and leave his upbringing to the Internet. No turbulent atmosphere for him as a result of a shared bedroom with siblings, or job losses due to Covid.

Any anxiety he has is of the normal teenaged variety, spiced up by his laissez-faire attitude to studying that makes last-minute deadlines the norm. But for others the pandemic has heightened their disconnect. According to the charity Mind, there has been a huge rise in numbers of young people contacting mental health services since March 2020.

Whilst the Nearly-Beloved is of the ‘pull yourself together’ mindset, Grunting Teen is from a different generation. He and his friends are more likely to start a conversation about underlying worries than brush them under the carpet and focus on the latest football scores. That in itself is refreshing.

What’s needed now is to acknowledge that the last seventeen months have taken their toll on all of us. Some have coped better than others. Affluence versus poverty has had only one winner. The north-south divide has also come into play. There’s been a call for walk-in centres for people to access help before their problems escalate and they fall into crisis. If only funding was made available so that we could focus on prevention rather than cure. That would be a truly fresh start now, wouldn’t it?

The Corona Chronicles: Week 74: So close and yet so far

I’ve shed a few tears this week and stamped my clogged feet in frustration. You see, I was meant to be in Amsterdam, visiting my Lost Boy. But the Dutch have deemed us Brits too Covidy to be allowed entry. So that’s the last time I’ll be buying tulips!

To be fair, it’s just the government I have an issue with. As is often the case, the actual people have been amazing. When, in January 2020, the Nearly-Beloved booked a posh hotel for our elder son’s graduation, who could’ve predicted the pandemic to come? In the spirit of saving money, it was an early-doors deal with no cancellation policy. But Marianne at The Prinsengracht showed us the true face of humanity and kept on extending our reservation. In the end, however, there are limits.

And at least the Dutch are clear with their instructions. No flashing traffic lights, switching overnight from green to red. Just a steady, unambivalent message about our contagious island. VERY HIGH RISK! Presumably, the Netherlands bases its restrictions on scientific data. Interesting then that proof of double vaccination will allow you in from most high-risk countries… so long as they are in the EU…

Fortunately, we have close relatives in Germany. The pandemic hit them hard economically. They could do with a break. Our Lost Boy could do with seeing some familiar faces. And Marianne facilitated a transfer. The Premier League’s loss is the Bundesliga’s gain. It’s been a bitter-sweet occasion. Whilst I’m glad to see my Lost Boy back in the arms of his nearest and dearest, I’m devastated not to be there myself.

And ‘over there’ shows a remarkable resemblance to ‘over here’, it has to be said. Life is going on, seemingly as pre-pandemic normal. On the UK side, the Family WhatsApp is full of photos of gatherings at weddings, pub meals and hearty walks. In Amsterdam, there are busy street markets, bustling cafes and cultural exhibitions.

‘Why’s he always visiting museums? Getting well old, innit?’ says a perplexed Grunting Teen, rapidly rethinking his planned post-GCSE visit to his brother.

But for now, that trip will have to wait until the powers-that-be deem our two parallel worlds can finally meet. Europe is so close and yet so far. Visitors are being welcomed back but mainly if the country’s economy depends on them. And outside Europe the restrictions are even greater. Unless you have a private jet, a government job, or work for an international sporting organisation, there’s no chance of meeting up with your elderly relatives or emigrated children.

So, whilst the majority of the UK is rebounding from the corona crash-down, those of us with family and friends overseas anxiously watch the daily covid figures. Even if the symptoms are now no worse than a head cold for those vaccinated, each positive result still adds to the statistics that are currently heading in the wrong direction. With schools returning, no doubt cases are set to rise even higher.

So, I’m downgrading my expectations. Some days I wonder if I will ever see my son again. Christmas 2021 is my revised goal. Anything earlier will be like winning the jackpot.

And of course, I have to remember that this is a life style choice. No one forced my Lost Boy to work abroad. He thought he was buying into a globalised new future not a virus-divided world. He can always change his job and return home. After all, we’re crying out for lorry drivers and restaurant workers!

At the end of the day, recent events in Afghanistan remind me that we are so very much the lucky ones. It’s still my Lost Boy’s decision where he lives and works. He may not have control over Covid-19 and he might have to jump through several governmental hoops to get what he wants, but he still has individual control. If nothing else, lockdown has shown us how precious that freedom is. So, I’ll dry those tears, count my blessings and keep my fingers crossed for a family reunion in the not-too-distant future.

The Corona Chronicle: Week 73: Reliably informed

Good old social media! It gets a bad press. But once in a while it provides a handy civic service. As I’m scrolling through amusing cat videos and photos of friends making the best of their British staycations, I come across a neighbourhood alert for a walk-in vaccine clinic for 16-17year olds. It’s not the most reliable of advertisements and why they don’t send notification of it through the post is beyond my middle-aged mindset. But, as Grunting Teen hasn’t yet received any official invitation from the NHS, it might be worth investigation. If he’s in favour of getting a jab then it’s best to do it before the school term starts. At least it will avoid him being sent home at the drop of a virus.

I decide to investigate. At first, I’m not sure if it’s fake news or not, since the person posting it has a Disney princess as their profile. There’s also quite an aggressive thread going on between pro- and anti-vaxers. But after some digging, I discover it’s a legitimate pop-up centre. What’s more, it’s in walking distance. Now it’s up to my adolescent to do his own research.

‘I’ve sent you a few articles to read about the pros and cons of the vaccine for people of your age,’ I tell him. ‘So, you can make up your own mind.’

‘What? You want me to read something?’ he says, unimpressed. ‘I’ll just ask my mates if they’re having it.’

‘No. You need to make a reliable, informed decision of your own,’ I insist.

He rolls his eyes and ignores the attachments I’ve sent to his phone, claiming that as the adults in the family have been vaccinated and they are obviously reliably informed, he’ll do the same.

‘Look, you’re going into 6th Form soon,’ I remind him. ‘You’re not going to be spoon-fed anymore. You should be developing your analytical abilities and critical thinking, not just following the crowds.’

At that moment the Nearly-Beloved arrives to undermine my parenting. ‘Vaccines on offer to youngsters. Just round the corner,’ he tells Grunting Teen, tapping his nose like a friendly drug pusher.

So, the next morning I wake him, for an adolescent-unfriendly early start. We are the only ones there apart from one other mum with her tired teenager, yawning their annoyance at being dragged out at the crack of dawn to be saved from a future of long Covid.

This time the roll-out is being hosted in a local Church Hall. It’s a much smaller affair than the mass vaccination centres I’ve been to. But somehow this makes it more accessible, less of a big deal. As usual, the staff are professional and polite, to the point where Grunting Teen looks around in complete confusion when a volunteer announces ‘this gentleman is next on the list’.

Before long, the gentleman in question has waited the required fifteen-minute recovery time and is on his way home. The mistake was in having a mobile with no battery and a leaflet of side effects that, out of boredom, he’s actually read.

‘Mum I’m feeling rather dizzy. I’ve got a headache. And my arm proper hurts,’ he complains. ‘Do you think I’m getting a blood clot? Maybe I shouldn’t have had the jab after all?’

I sigh. This is the boy who catches whatever disease the latest online influencer is promoting. The only thing he’s suffering from is hypochondria. The antidote is to plug in his phone.

As he scrolls through messages from his mates who are about to get Pfizered too, his symptoms magically disappear. In fact, he’s looking positively perky.

‘Ha! I beat them all to it!’ he tells me.

I look confused. ‘How do you know?’ I ask.

‘Reliable information, mum,’ he replies, showing me a photo of the massive queue now snaking its way outside the centre.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 72: Decision Time

It’s a time of big decisions. Exam results have come in. Futures are in the balance. There’s been a rise in top marks. But instead of taking this as good news, it’s been greeted with the same concern as the current rise in Covid infections.

The Nearly-Beloved is particularly concerned. ‘How come with this grade inflation, your GCSEs are distinctly average?’ he asks Grunting Teen. ‘Why haven’t you got any 10s?’

Seeing as the highest score is, bizarrely, a 9, this is somewhat unfair to our not-really-academic son. After all, he’s got through to the next stage and has been accepted into Sixth Form, so he’s achieved what was needed. Job done.  And not a bad one at that.

For the last two years he’s spent more time at home than in the classroom. He’s been isolated from his friends and had Professors Google and Zoom as his main instructors. He’s been terrified into thinking the entire population will be wiped out. Then he’s expected to re-emerge and mix in a viral soup of ‘school bubbles.’ Factor in wearing a dog-breath mask for six hours a day and twice-weekly tonsil swabbing, then it’s hardly conducive to effective learning.

And overall, I think his school has got it right. Had ‘Play Station Performance’ or ‘Rapid Growth Spurt’ been part of the curriculum, Grunting Teen would have aced his subjects. But studying a foreign language or working out how to convert pounds to euros in a travel-banned pandemic just didn’t grab his attention. He did his best. And it was good enough.

No doubt there will be future government funded studies comparing this Corona generation’s results uncharitably with those that went before. But let me save them money and pronounce my own non-scientific judgement, as the mother of three children. The oldest was rubbish at tests but amazing at coursework. The middle one scraped through, purely thanks to last-minute exam cramming on BBC Bite-sized. And the youngest has had to rely entirely on teacher assessment. All results weighted by different factors. But three siblings of similar intellect, similar ambivalence towards studying and, in the end, similar outcomes. I rest my case.

And hopefully by the time A-levels come around for Grunting Teen, the education system will have sorted itself out. The Nearly-Beloved, however, is all for the chaos continuing if it means Grunting Teen can have a £10,000 gap year and free accommodation, courtesy of an oversubscribed university.

But for now, there are other decisions to be made. Older teenagers are in one of the groups of highest levels of Covid infections, so vaccinations are shortly to be offered to all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds in the hope that this will have a significant effect on dampening transmission.  Do the benefits outweigh the risks? It’s not for me to say. That’s up to Grunting Teen to determine. Parental consent will not be needed.

But parental consent will be needed for the traditional, post-GCSE celebration treat. The oldest child chose a culture-filled weekend. The middle-one opted for an adrenaline-fuelled body boarding course. Grunting Teen has his own ideas. His biggest wish, which he shares with all of us, is to see his big brother once more. He was hoping for a fun-filled weekend, hanging out with him in his adopted home-town of Amsterdam. There’s lots you can do at sixteen years old in Amsterdam!

But even with our blessing, this treat will have to wait until the UK amber turns to green and the Dutch deem the Covidy Brits less of a high risk. How much of this is science and how much of it is politics is hard to decide. For now we can only keep our fingers crossed and hope. Yes, it’s a time of big decisions. Just unfortunately sometimes they’re out of our control.

Week 71: The Corona Chronicles: Easing back into action

With all legal restrictions in England now lifted, I am gradually re-emerging into ‘normal life’. But like any patient suddenly discharged from the protective routine of a hospital ward, I’ve been struggling with my rehabilitation.

Unlike the Nearly-Beloved, who follows orders with 100% obedience, I prefer to trust my gut instincts. If it feels safe, then I’m happy to do it. But similarly, despite official reassurance, if alarm bells ring, I will quickly walk away from a situation. So, when we suddenly acquire free tickets to a gig, I find myself in two-minds. I’m excited about strengthening my going-out muscles. Yet I’m also nervous about how my lungs, which for over a year have adhered to a 2-metre rule, will cope sharing air in close proximity to the unsanitised.

The Nearly-Beloved ignores my protests. ‘We’re allowed to,’ he tells me. ‘So, it’s fine.’

‘Well, it might be legal,’ I say, ‘But is it sensible?’

He rolls his eyes and points out that the band in question consists of white-haired rockers and so the audience will naturally be of the double-vaxed age group. I, however, am not so sure. What if they are Baby Boomer rebels with conspiracy theories rather than Pfizer jabs? He reassures me that proof of Covid-free status is required so I reluctantly agree.

All goes well as we arrive early and settle into our seats. It’s only when the auditorium fills up and I find myself sharing an arm rest with a total stranger that I have a mini panic attack and retreat quickly behind the comforting security of my face mask. A few songs in, and with no apparent fatalities amongst the mask-free masses, I start to relax. My neighbour smiles encouragement at me. And not just with her eyes. So, gaining courage, I remove my mask and smile back. I feel triumphant. I’ve made massive progress today. Before you know it, I’ll be going to a party.

And, not long afterwards, my post-pandemic fitness is tested to its limit. We are invited to attend a wedding. Not an inferior Zoom version. A real-life variety. With actual people. Lots of them. Not just sitting. But moving around and interacting. And no PPE specified in the dress code. It’s both magnificent and terrifying!

We accept. Then I spend a few fraught days devising a cunning outfit that includes the psychological crutch of a floaty scarf that can be wrapped around my nose at the faintest sniff of danger. But my worries are eased as the venue insists on seeing test results and vaccination certificates. And as the day wears on I become de-sensitised to naked faces in close proximity.

This get-together of two families and their friends is a glimpse both back into our pre-Covid past and forwards into a more hopeful future. Of course, there are some casualties still in convalescence, not quite robust enough to make it through a day of celebrations. They are the older relatives, whose long months of enforced isolation have left them more cautious, less inclined to venture away from safety.

So, this event is a predominantly youthful affair and, as with all weddings, a triumph of hope over statistics. The happiness of the occasion is infectious. For these are germs of joy that no anti-bac can dampen down. Even Grunting Teen breaks into a smile. He’s been sulking, forced into a borrowed suit and tie, and his first pair of non-trainers. But as the festivities continue and his more adult appearance causes the waiter to keep filling his glass with wine rather than juice, he struts his designer dishevelled look with increasing Boy Band conviction.

As for the Nearly-Beloved, he’s been mixing both his loved ones and his drinks. He’s swopped a Lockdown Lambrini for a Freedom Frascati. This results in him whirling me onto the dance floor, undoing months of physio on my shoulder, as he demonstrates his signature jive moves. 

Suddenly, I’m overcome with exhaustion. I’m not used to all this noise, conversation and fun vibes. It’s time for Cinderella to leave the ball. When my head hits the pillow, I have a moment of anxiety as my throat feels sore and dry. Could it be that it wasn’t only the high spirits that were contagious? But then I realise I’ve not talked so much in months, nor met so many people in one go. I’m simply suffering from sensory overload.  So, whilst I may be further ahead in my recuperation process than others, I still might need to take it easy for a bit longer yet…

The Corona Chronicles; Week 70: A winning streak at last?

A sweaty mess of ancient limbs collapses through the door. Grunting Teen, now equipped with basic CPR techniques, courtesy of his summer job, kicks the lifeless body. ‘Muuum, what are you doing?’ he complains, ‘You’ve made me drop my custard cream in my coke. Gross.’

‘I blame the Olympics myself,’ replies the Nearly-Beloved stepping over the corpse. ‘Your mother thinks she’s Mo Farrah’s replacement. Only, it turns out… she isn’t.’

Ignoring them both, I struggle to an upright position and wait for normal breathing to resume. Unlike elite athletes, there’s no team on hand to offer me water, an ice pack or a reviving sports massage. My training programme is sadly deficient and panic-inspired, cobbled together after the discovery of an important email in my spam. The covid-delayed 2020 Sheffield Half Marathon is finally going ahead. Hooray! Until I realise, just how little time I have left to prepare…

Still, anything is possible. If you’re UK swimmer, Matt Richards, then gold medals can be won by working out in an over-sized paddling pool with a bungee rope. So, who am I to complain? Our Olympians had to change their schedules so that they could peak a year later than anticipated. I’ll just have to peak a bit sooner.

On the positive side, unless a new wave of viral misery hits us, there should be some spectators. And how encouraging it is to be cheered on by an excited crowd. None of that at the Opening Ceremony of the 32nd Olympiad in Tokyo. Instead, a stark reminder of the world pandemic, as the masked competitors parade, distanced but still proud, around an empty stadium.

Yet the spirit of the Games lives on – sportsmanship, personal sacrifice and an unyielding will to reach your goals. You may lose your Taekwondo match when fortunes are reversed in the last few seconds. But you still have to bow to your victor and praise them to the press, despite your breaking heart. You may have to follow the strictest of diets and the most punishing of exercise regimes to compete with the world’s best. But it’s worth it when you’re on the podium singing the national anthem through your tears. And even if your tyre punctures, you’ll cycle on regardless to grab that medal. So, surely, I can forego the Hobnobs for a few weeks and power through my pain?

After all, it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts. I mean, so what if I have to hobble the last few miles home? Maybe I can be a poster girl for the Zimmer frame athlete? ‘If you can still run up the hill, you’re not over it!’ could be my rallying cry. Because sport is also about inspiring others. 

If the majority of members of Team GB this Olympics are women rather than men, then maybe that will encourage more young girls to continue with a sport into adulthood? Watching a female Afghani cyclist competing for the Olympic Refugee team might incite admiration rather than condemnation from her former compatriots. And the message that sometimes it’s better to withdraw from the competition rather than risk your mental and physical health is refreshing to hear. Winning at all costs is no longer what the world needs.

But we do need to keep an open mind. After all, who would’ve believed that skate boarding could be so gripping! Certainly not me in those tedious hours at the local park, watching a younger, less grunting, much clumsier son attempting kickflips. And dancing horses…The Nearly-Beloved has a lot to say about them! But strangely I find the dressage competition quite compelling. As for Grunting Teen, he even switches off the PlayStation to cheer on Sheffield’s own, Shauna Coxsey. ‘I’ve seen her practising at the Climbing Works, innit?’ he says, as if she is his best mate.

And in these games, just as in this pandemic, there are winners and losers. A false start when a camera boat tries to mow you down in the water may not be what you want. But you have to dry yourself off and be ready to take the plunge again. Your steering skills might go out of control. But you still have to get over the line. So, let’s hope that, like our Olympic heroes, Tom Daley and Matty Lee, Covid cases will take a spectacular dive. Because, if that happens, then maybe borders will open up for us. And all those who’ve been separated from their loved ones overseas will finally get to see them again. That’s definitely a gold medal worth having.