The Corona Chronicles: Week 22: A Memorable Summer

Grunting Teen’s had too many questions recently. Maybe it’s because of the way certain decisions have impacted his own life.

‘So, no France now, mum? Even though we were encouraged to book trips abroad to support the travel industry?’ he asks.

‘Be quiet,’ I hiss, ‘don’t mention the H-word. It’ll upset your dad.’ And indeed, the Nearly Beloved has spiralled into deep despair. Our French holiday’s been cancelled and he’s spent the first three days off work ‘on hold’ with the insurance company.

My attempts at booking a last-minute break in the UK have also been unsuccessful as thousands of other France refuseniks have beaten me to it. According to the online websites, 98% of accommodation’s already sold out and the remaining 2% is either country estates with butler service or cut-price deals in emergency-measures Aberdeen.

But I’m determined to create a memorable family summer, even if it means staying put. I know we’ve been locked-down here since March but things are opening up now so, surely, we can find some activities to do?

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park ticks the culture box, although Grunting Teen seems more interested in the sheep grazing by the sculptures than the art itself. The purple-heathered moors with vistas of Lady Bower reservoir provide us with exercise, natural beauty and fresh air. And, instead of ‘boules’, we make do with ten-pin-bowling, which brings out both boys’ competitive spirit, finally putting a smile on the Nearly-Beloved’s ‘face of a champion’.

As for me, a holiday involves a respite from cooking, so thank goodness for the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme. ‘Makes a nice change from your corned beef surprise,’ says my other half, looking almost cheerful after two pints of his favourite bitter.

‘This is great, mum,’ agrees the teenager, tucking into his second portion of fries ‘but why are we being encouraged to eat more when I thought we were supposed to be eating less?’

Why indeed, I wonder, as he helps himself to an extra spare rib and the remains of the garlic bread. But the food has fuelled his brain cells and he’s being unusually talkative for a boy whose default setting is grunt mode.

‘Doesn’t Covid affect the overweight and unfit the most?’ he continues between bites, ‘I mean, shouldn’t the government be prioritising the opening of all swimming pools and sports facilities instead?’

I nod, not wanting to discourage his newly found communicative enthusiasm whilst at the same time wishing I had some logical answers to give.

‘See, it’s great I can go climbing again,’ he tells us, ‘But Ponds Forge is still shut. And my mates who love diving are really fed up. It doesn’t seem fair.’

I nod again and offer him some of my baguette in the hope of distracting him. But he’s in flow now.

‘In fact, mum,’ he splutters, inhaling rather than ingesting the bread, ‘my generation’s copping for it far more than you oldies! And that doesn’t seem fair at all.’ Resting his case, he takes a swig of coke to wash down the last crumbs of his meal.

And, indeed, the question of fairness raises its head again after exam results drop through the letterbox. Thank goodness that the expertise of teachers has triumphed over algorithms, and that we forced Grunting Teen to attend the optional after-school GCSE sessions in March. ‘Told you, it pays to do the right thing,’ says his father with the satisfaction of the righteous.

‘Yes, and soon you’ll be back at school and able to concentrate on the subjects you’re taking next year,’ I remind him. He scowls and I wonder if it’s because the PlayStation isn’t yet on the curriculum.

‘Don’t you want to go back?’ I ask.

‘Yeah, actually, I do,’ he replies, ‘it’s just I’m worried about next year’s exams. Some schools did online classes all day. But we didn’t. How’s that fair?’

Having no satisfactory response, I divert his attention with the promise of buying him an exam gift and celebratory coffee and cake.’

But even then, the questions don’t stop.

‘How come we were the only customers in that shop and had to wear a face covering but now we’re next door in a café full of people, unmasked?’ he says, ‘It doesn’t make sense! Is government science different from ordinary science?’

I sigh. Thank God school’s starting soon and the teachers can answer his questions instead.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 21: Covid Cuts

‘I’m finally going to get my hair cut!’ I tell the Nearly-Beloved. He nods, nervously.

Many years ago, he failed to note my transformation from a particularly dramatic cut and colour. The ensuing Ice Age taught me to forewarn him of any impending visit so that he’s primed to compliment me on my return. However, one bonus of his rookie mistake is that he never asks me how much my hair cut costs, and is under the illusion that it’s only mildly more expensive than his.

Since covid, he’s taken to home-barbering, which covers the cost nicely when my hair salon puts up its post-lockdown prices to include PPE. You see, I have a more sophisticated approach to personal-grooming than the Nearly-Beloved and I’m hoping that, post-lockdown, things won’t be too different.

I’m greeted by Marco, my just-the-appropriate-amount-of-flirtatious stylist, who beams broadly from beneath his visor, before taking my temperature and handing me a fancy face-mask. Deftly disguising his horror at the sight of the wild, grey Brillo pad, masquerading as hair, he launches into a muffled pre-cut discussion.

‘I’ll trim the length and get rid of the weight, si? But the fringe…’ His eyes look sad as he surveys the Nearly-Beloved’s quarantine butcher’s job. ‘Well, mio Dio, I will do my best… As for the colours, I thought warm toffee and butter for my bellissima senora. Bene?’

So, he hunts down those persistent grey hairs and wraps my head expertly in foils, whilst simultaneously bringing me up-to-date with the world around me. For hairdressers are the salon equivalent of black cabbies and are surely better than any government poll for gauging the state of the nation. He tells me of clients who are covid-deniers, and clients who’ve lost loved ones to the virus. There are those who’ve happily bent the rules and those who’ve only ventured out because the state of their hair is starting to affect the state of their mind. But the vast majority, it seems, are simply covid-weary.

‘We need beauty in our lives,’ he sighs leading me to the wash basin. ‘We need culture – cinema, theatre, music, ballet, opera. These things are important. They make life magical.’ Behind my mask I nod agreement, not feeling any water on my head yet. Seconds later I wince as my scalp is alternately near-scalded, then frozen. But once a luke-warm flow is established, Marco brings his own magic to my life with a head massage that banishes all Corona concerns.

Once towelled and combed, Marco demonstrates his craftsmanship on me, his master-piece. He snips in and out, stands back to survey his work, then reaches for a different pair of scissors to create ‘texture’. Next, onto the blow-drying – an art in itself, involving several brushes and just the right amount of ‘product’. As the final wisp of hair is gelled and hair-sprayed into submission, Marco lets out a sigh of satisfaction.

‘Bellissima. You like?’

And, of course I do. It feels like five months of weight has fallen from my shoulders. I’m no longer a zombie extra on The Walking Dead. Who would’ve thought that a haircut could do so much to transform my mood? And yes, covid has changed the experience. Masks aside, there have been no magazines to sit and leaf through and the cappuccino is now served in a paper cup. Instead of a complementary biscuit I’m now offered a complementary squirt of hand sanitiser. But it’s been worth it.

I brace myself to hear the final cost, whispered like a caress under Marco’s breath – as if not hearing the price out-loud somehow makes it less expensive. Then, finally, I’m home – three hours after I left the Nearly-Beloved.

‘I’m back,’ I say.

The Nearly-Beloved looks bewildered, as if something important has slipped his mind.

‘From the hairdresser’s.’

Realisation dawns, followed by a look of sheer panic.

‘You look beautiful – as always.’

I glare at him. He knows more is expected but struggles for words.

‘The style is …?’

I help him out – ‘choppier, younger, more fun.’

‘And the colour is … errr…?

‘Think caramels and clotted cream.’

I can see his brain going into overdrive until he focuses on something he can actually make sense of.

‘Well, not bad for a tenner, I suppose.’

I nod and smile. Despite these Corona times, some things never change…

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 20: Lockdown Firsts

This week has been a week of lockdown firsts. But which of these events would I rank first? The first time I’ve been in a pub? The first time I’ve stayed in a hotel? Or the first time I’ve seen my husband’s mother? Well, despite the long history of mother-in-law jokes, this is an easy choice. For after so many months of self-isolation, seeing loved ones, even those related through marriage, brings a tear to the eye.

In fact, there are many tears. Tears of joy from the Grunting Teen as he’s dispatched to spend the night at his sister’s. Free at last from his parents’ disapproval of PS4 misuse. Free to corrupt his brother-in-law-in-arms with an all-night gaming session.

Then there are tears of horror from Darling Daughter as double-testosterone invades her new home and an insatiable locust raids her fridge. And there are tears of happiness from my husband as he finally returns to his homeland and the person who views him as ‘fully’, not ‘nearly’, beloved.

For we are entering Wales, land of dragons and draconian laws that have made our separation much longer than its slapdash English equivalent. Even now we’re not permitted to meet indoors unless we are in a bubble. And so, we’ve had to wait for a hopeful weather forecast and a garden get-together.

Luckily the skies today are in our favour, the bakestones are fresh out of the oven and ‘there’s lovely to see you both again, isn’t it?’ And it is lovely, because if there’s one thing good to have come out of Covid, it’s the appreciation of what really counts in life. For I’ll take my mother-in-law’s Welsh cakes over my corned-beef surprise any day…

And despite having to use Google Translate to follow the conversation and my ‘interested look’ to nod through the latest rugby updates, it’s been well worth the trip over the border to see a huge smile on an octogenarian’s face. We may not have been allowed a ‘cwtch’ but we can make do with a virtual embrace and hope that next time down we’ll be inside and hugging for real.

All too soon the skies cloud over, the bakestones are gone and mum-in-law is exhausted from the unaccustomed company. It’s time to head towards English pastures and the lure of a pint in a country pub. As we sit at one of the socially distanced tables, it feels like a celebration on all counts. The Nearly-Beloved feels properly loved once more. He’s had his fix of ‘Welshness’. And now he can relax with a hand-pulled pint. For you see, drinking at home can never replicate that special feeling that drinking in a pub gives you. Despite accounts of lowered inhibitions encouraging relaxation of correct Corona conduct, this is an experience I’d be happy to repeat again, although early evening in a rustic setting may well be different to a Saturday night pub crawl downtown.

The hotel too brings nothing but delight at its normality. So what if the receptionist is behind a counter shield? He still smiles a welcome and puts the ‘hospitable’ back into the hospitality industry. And handing over keys and information in a covid-safe envelope actually feels quite fun in a ripping-open-birthday-card sort of way. As for pre-ordering breakfast times and food, it’s a blessing in disguise. No rolling down late to find the buffet bacon overly crispy and the orange juice jug full of sediment. No, the only issue is the Nearly Beloved muttering ‘if you wanted the full English, why did you order poached eggs on toast? Get your hands off my sausages!’

In fact, it all feels refreshingly new yet at the same time refreshingly normal. And that for me, in these strange, uncertain times, is definitely a lockdown first.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 19: The staycation

It’s the summer holiday in Corona times and many Brits are making do with a staycation. Luckily, I have a sister in Scarborough. So, I persuade Grunting Teen to accompany me on a road trip. It’s been four months since I’ve ventured outside Sheffield and the thought of motorway driving is making me nervous. But although the traffic has increased as restrictions have eased, there seems a lot less than in previous years.

Our visit’s been long overdue because I’ve been put off by the media coverage of hordes of tourists packing out the beaches down south. I needn’t have worried as this is Scarbs and I choose the weekend when it’s 13C and raining! But we are made of Yorkshire grit and are immune to the weather. No sun, sea, and sand for us. We have traded in these exotic items for showers, shells and shopping.  No skimpy beachwear, sun hats and Factor 30 in our suitcases, just warm jumpers, waterproof macs and cough medicine. We enjoy our sky fifty shades of grey, our seas muddied, and our sand an honest dirty brown.

Still this is not a ‘normal’ visit. I’ve hardly been inside another person’s home since lockdown so it feels strange to step foot inside my sister’s house. And stranger still not to hug her but to keep an appropriate distance. But it’s all worth it to have someone else on chef duty. No corned beef surprises here!

In fact, no real surprises on this staycation. Scarborough is as delightful as ever and, on the surface, life has changed little. The beach is dotted with deck chairs, picnic rugs and windbreaks. Small children splash blue-legged in the waves as cagouled parents watch on. The donkeys still plod patiently along the sands but now they’re pulled along by men in masks, bringing a cowboy feel to the beach.

But we are here for the crazy golf, which even brings a smile to the teenager’s face. For what’s not to like about hitting a ball into a whale’s mouth or through the base of a light house? The green may be a little rain-drenched and worse for wear, but it helps to while away the long hours of a damp day and it’s less soggy than sitting in the dragon boats on the lake.

No raucous behaviour in the seaside cafes either. Screens protect the staff, and masked waitresses bring beverages to the table. Maybe the weather helps our sobriety as, although alcohol is on offer, what we need most is a hot reviving tea to warm our bones.

‘Can we go to the Arcades, mum?’ asks the teenager who’s partial to the bright lights and loud music which lure us in with the promise of a good time. I hesitate. Those ‘Two penny slots’ are my down-fall. Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been drawn to these machines like a moth to a flame, and the outcome is never pretty. I get fixated with winning a small plastic pig or key ring of dubious taste, and I physically cannot leave until ‘the Precious’ is mine. But this is a staycation and we have yet to see that elusive golden orb in the sky, so we head off to the South Bay.

As we round the corner the sun comes out and with it the crowds magically emerge from souvenir stalls and chip shops. Suddenly the promenade fills up. Suddenly we are surrounded by people. People in carefree holiday mode. People with no face coverings. People heading straight towards us. People. We’re no longer used to people. We’ve avoided people for the last four months. We’re not sure how we feel about people. Certainly not so many of them.

Grunting Teen pulls me urgently towards the railings, ‘Mum, can I have my face mask, please?’ he asks. I nod as I put my own mask on too. It’s a surprise to feel like this. It’s a surprise to be in a familiar situation that suddenly feels so unfamiliar.

‘Shall we just go back now?’ he says. I nod again.  For now, I’ll stick within my comfort zone, which may well be different from those around me. I can still enjoy the bracing sea air. I can still buy rock and candyfloss when there’s no queuing to be done. But, at least, until I get comfortable with the crowds, I’ve saved myself a fortune on the slots.  Maybe this is the ‘new normal’ staycation?

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 18: Happy faces?

It’s the school holidays but there are no happy faces in our family. These are not the carefree days of the past. ‘Staying alert’ means that Grunting Teen is supposed to keep his distance when all he wants to do is hang out with his mates without worrying about corona restrictions.

‘It’s so annoying, mum,’ he complains. ‘We can’t mess about together in a pool or high-five in a game of footie. It’s easier to just keep playing on-line.’

And indeed, the face-to-face option has become even less likely now as the friends he hoped to see, after their Spanish breaks, are now required to self-isolate on return. These latest travel regulations are putting our own get-away at risk too. Should we go or should we stay? What will we do if cases rise again in France? What happens if we have to quarantine on return? It’s currently a waiting game of Covid Russian roulette added to the usual pre-holiday stresses.

My Yorkshire soul is horrified at the thought of losing my deposit so prepares for travel with all eventualities. My usual tourist emergency phrases of ‘my son has heat stroke’ and ‘where can I buy sun-cream?’ are now being replaced by ‘my husband is in a critical condition’, and ‘do you sell oxygen?’

In the meantime, I’m trying to assuage my ‘bad-mother’ guilt by thinking up activities that will keep the teenager off the PS4 and out of the optician’s. The Nearly-Beloved is no help either as his sympathy level with his son has plummeted.

‘Bored? You don’t know you’re born! You try slogging through lock-down without a day off, sonny,’ he mutters. Tempers are starting to fray as the over-worked and under-occupied clash in domestic disharmony. And the last thing I need is an aimless adolescent on my hands. But it’s hard to keep him occupied because I’ve now been unfurloughed and am up to my eyes in work.

After all, I’ve tried running with him, which has been less than successful. He either surges ahead of me with the speed of a hare and the enthusiasm of youth or collapses on the side of the road with stitch and self-loathing as I pass him at tortoise pace.

His father has set him gardening tasks to be done. But they’re never completed to the Nearly-Beloved’s strict standards and so, to avoid patricide, he’s been moved onto painting duties at his sister’s new house. Unfortunately, an unsupervised session and a mix up between white gloss and matt emulsion has seen sibling relationships strained to breaking point. There are no happy faces in our family.

I think back to my own idyllic childhood of feral summers roaming free. How I loved the moors and all they had to offer, and surely, it’s my duty to pass this onto my son? And so, I form a cunning plan that will kill two birds with one stone – a useful activity in the fresh air, combined with a free meal.

‘What do you mean, we’re going bilberrying? Is that even a thing?’ grunts my teen. But with no friends on-line he’s become desperate and reluctantly heads out to the Peaks with me. However, memories can be deceptive. Didn’t berries use to be so much bigger in my days? And it hardly took any time to fill the baskets. Weren’t the bushes much higher too? I certainly don’t remember my back aching like this nor all those midges biting me!

Grunting Teen is not impressed with his purple-stained T-shirt and I’m not impressed with the Nearly-Beloved when he spits out a mouthful of my delicious home-made pie.

‘Shouldn’t there be sugar in it, instead of leaves and stalks?’ he splutters.

There are no happy faces in my family.

So, thank goodness for the news that indoor climbing centres have finally opened. Let’s forget the fact that my man-boy has gone up two-and-a-half sizes since he last scaled a wall, and that the price I’ve paid for his new climbing shoes is half our holiday budget. No, let’s focus on the positive. I can get on with my work unhindered, the Nearly Beloved no longer loses his rag at the sight of his idle offspring, and Grunting Teen has a new purpose in life.

Finally, the happy faces have returned.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 17: Random acts of kindness

In the trials and tribulations of these Corona times, I’ve been using self-help techniques to ground me. This week, finding myself falling into grumpiness at the whole situation, I’ve been practising ‘random acts of kindness.’ This involves small deeds that bring a smile to someone else’s day. I’ve sent flowers to a friend, picked up some shopping for a neighbour and bought chocolates for the staff in my local shop.

It feels good to do something for my soul. But I also need to do something for my body, which hasn’t fared well in lockdown. It’s too late now to undo the months of comfort eating but with a holiday in France on the horizon, I’m sadly lacking in Parisian chic. Drastic action is called for. Not just for me but for the whole family. We all need a make-over.

The Nearly-Beloved isn’t convinced. He’s perfectly happy with his home haircut and sees no need to replace the baggy shorts, socks and sandals he wears on every vacation. Grunting Teen’s reluctant to go into town with his mum again but even he realises that his fringe has now reached comedic lengths.

Besides, with school no longer providing a brief respite from the PS4, he needs something to fill his day. But he’s surprisingly resistant to my offer of hothousing his French. ‘No point, mum,’ he says, ‘we’ll just let dad shout loudly and mime until they reply in perfect English.’

Well, if I can’t get him to speak the lingo at least I can make sure he’s presentable, so we head off in search of a barber’s and a bargain. But first we have to negotiate public transport, so it’s time to don the masks. Grunting Teen has already lost his, despite not having set foot outside for the last two days. Thank goodness I have a spare one.

And the bus is fuller since the last time we ventured out on public transport. So just as well that the Nearly-Beloved isn’t with us to point out violations in mask wearing laws. He’d give an A-star to the young woman in her colour-coordinated Covid combo, and the elderly lady with her cheap plastic offering would surely be awarded a B for effort. The cool dude in his edgy bandana might raise an eyebrow and lose marks for non-conformity. But, all the same, he’s following safety advice, unlike the gossiping friends who’d fail outright, with their noses peeping out for a breath of fresh infection.

Still, at least they’ve tried, unlike the wayward youth who’s currently attempting to board the bus bare-faced. The driver politely points out the need for a mask but is met with a stream of schoolboy excuses. Is it all going to kick off? It looks like it might until the little old dear decides on an entirely inappropriate random act of kindness.

‘I’m getting off here’ she says, ‘so take mine, love’ and to the gasps of the entire bus, she hands him her mask, which he dons with gratitude and a complete lack of health and safety awareness. The driver looks appalled. But what can he do? The rules have been upheld even if the virus most definitely hasn’t.

Still in shock from what we’ve just witnessed, I deposit Grunting Teen at the barber’s and rush off to purchase a holiday wardrobe. And I’m in luck. It’s sales city in the shops and without the option of using the fitting rooms I can fill my basket in no time. The only downside is, that four shops in, I’ve now sanitised my hands eight times and the skin’s already starting to crack. A visit to the chemist sees me stocking up on hand-cream and more masks, ‘just in case’.

As I head back to the barber’s, I spot a clean-cut young man performing his own random act of kindness, litter-picking on the street. But as I approach, I realise this handsome lad is my very own Grunting Teen and the litter is a mass of discarded face masks.

‘Mum,’ he says, visibly distressed, ‘these ‘disposable’ masks have layers of plastic in them. They’re an environmental nightmare! Promise me we’ll only use cloth ones from now on.’

Guiltily I shove my new purchase to the bottom of my bag before grabbing him by the elbow and marching him into the nearest shop. ‘I don’t need any clothes,’ he protests. But it’s not clothes I’m after. Suitably sanitised, I lead him back to the bus stop.

The driver is instantly recognisable by his ‘seen-it-all’ eyes. I show him my ticket and then, in a moment of inspiration, I present him with my pack of disposable masks. ‘I thought you could make use of these,’ I tell him, ‘you know, in case you have any more awkward passengers.’

He smiles his appreciation from behind his screen whilst I tick off another act of random, if not altogether altruistic, kindness.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 16: Maskaggedon

In the park today a cyclist, kitted out in helmet, dark glasses and face mask, screeches to an abrupt halt. Everyone around jumps out of the way.

To my consternation, the cyclist greets me like a long-lost friend. The problem is I have absolutely no idea who they are! There are no visual clues for me to work with, and the voice is muffled and unclear. I call upon my superior detective training, honed from living with a secretive, monosyllabic teenager and eventually work out Mr/Ms Invisible’s identity. They tap their mask, explaining they’re finally going to visit their elderly parents, so they’re taking no risks, even outdoors.

And I fully understand this desire to keep our loved ones out of harm’s way. So, it’s no surprise to me that the government has finally decided to enforce the wearing of masks in shops.

My non-native friends have been wearing theirs everywhere since the start of lockdown and can’t understand why I haven’t been doing the same. I ponder whether it’s due to my ingrained ideas of British politeness. For somehow, I’ve always felt that if I wear a mask when the majority around me are bare-faced, I’m being slightly offensive, implying they are carriers of infection. Conversely, if all around me are masked, whilst I’m breathing freely, that’s simply bad manners.

And it’s also bad-manners to refuse the gift of a lovingly-sewn, hand-made mask from a friend who’s shielding. At the height of the fear factor, I wear it to the supermarket. I feel invincible. For five minutes. Then I feel suffocated. Then I dump my basket and we survive off corned-beef surprise until I learn to make unveiled stealth-raids for provisions.

At least mask etiquette will no longer haunt my dreams for I have government rules to follow now. And more importantly for my Yorkshire thriftiness, a fine to pay if I don’t. But this will involve an upgrade in facial wear and some expenditure. How will that go down with the Nearly-Beloved, who keeps a tight rein on the family budget? I needn’t have worried. Whilst his chest-infection is now sorted, his ears have yet to recover from the four hours spent in A&E last week in my pink-spotted mask. He’s been surfing the internet, sourcing army-grade breathing equipment and is about to put in his order.

I really don’t think he need two filters, especially as he hasn’t been to the shops since the self-check-out incident and the DIY debacle. In fact, I’m hoping to steer him well away from any enforced face-covering situation to avoid his blood pressure rising. In the absence of police checks I fear my law-abiding husband might take matters into his own hands. So, thank God that, up to now, he considers Amazon’s taser range too expensive.

In the end we compromise on a pack of six reasonably-priced, reusable masks. They arrive within a day and within a day they are gone. ‘These are never adult-sized! I’ve demanded a refund,’ grumbles the Nearly Beloved, who’s managed to destroy half the pack simply by stretching them over his face and snapping them in two. And the ‘re-usable’ label is open to debate too. The material is so flimsy, I stick my finger through a couple and when I try to wash the remaining one, it dissolves as soon as it hits the water.

So, it’s off to the local chemist where I manage to grab the last set of unisex face masks. They may not be the most appealing but they’ll have to do. But Grunting Teen isn’t convinced. He curls his lip. ‘I’m not wearing one. It’s so uncool!’

And to be fair the school has sent us detailed information with the latest guidance for September that masks aren’t necessary. However, if pupils feel unsafe, they’ll be allowed to wear a face-covering.

‘Great’ says the teenager with unusual enthusiasm and disappears upstairs.

Minutes later he reappears and scares the living daylights out of me.

‘That’s not funny,’ I tell the Grim Reaper who’s performing a Halloween dance around me, ‘but one day you might need to buy something or get on a bus, so put one in your pocket anyway.’

Grunting Teen grunts and I sigh. He barely remembers to take his keys or money with him. What hope then for the mask? Luckily, inspiration strikes and I grab his mobile, wrapping the mask around it. He pulls a face.

But by now I’m fed up of Maskaggedon and tell him in no uncertain terms, ‘look, you need to get a haircut, so you need to wear a mask. End of.’

But it’s not the end. It turns out that with his hoody and his quarantine-length fringe, he already has an effective face-covering. And what’s more, the sight of him is guaranteed to make everyone around jump out the way.

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The Corona Chronicles; Week 15: Adjusting to the ‘new normal’

There’s no denying lockdown’s been stressful for many. But the easing of restrictions brings its own concerns. We learn of pubs opening then closing when Covid strikes again, forcing landlords to become amateur track and tracers. Hairdressers have welcomed customers back but nail bars and beauticians are still shut. And whilst the Nearly-Beloved enjoys a game of tennis, Grunting Teen still hankers for his climbing walls.

Most jobs rely on life carrying on as normal. But the new normal is filled with different stresses. What happens when the furlough period ends? Will I be made redundant? The Nearly-Beloved, for once, is remarkably upbeat, ‘It’ll be fine. You’ll be fine,’ he tells me.

I’m not so sure. ‘What if there’s no work for me? Perhaps I should apply for other jobs? ‘I bet there’s a shortage of cleaners now,’ I say, causing him to splutter tea everywhere. ‘Cleaners, yes,’ he replies, ‘so I think that rather rules you out. Good job there’s no shortage of cooks or A & E would be overrun with cases of food poisoning!’

‘Are we short of money then?’ asks the teenager pushing his corned-beef surprise unenthusiastically around his plate. ‘No, we’re fine. It’ll be fine,’ I reassure him. I don’t want adult worries to land on his shoulders, for he’s an upcoming member of the notorious snowflake generation, where resilience is low and anxiety is high.

He’s been out of school for four months now and the lessons he’s learnt are how to sleep all day, how to play on the PS4 all night and how to grow twenty-four-seven. At least, I console myself, those XL trackie bottoms I bought him at the start of lockdown have been a godsend. But education-wise, he and all his contemporaries have clearly been disadvantaged. What does the future hold for them? Will there be any job opportunities for these youngsters? Let’s trust they’ll be fine, that it’ll be fine, as the Chancellor announces ‘no one will be left without hope.’

The Nearly-Beloved gets up to switch off the news, slips on the rug and executes a world-class triple-axel into the sharp corner of the sofa. There’s a sickening crunch and his routine ends in a dying-swan finale on the floor. ‘Are you alright,’ I gasp. ‘I’m fine. It’ll be fine,’ he groans between clenched teeth as I rifle through the cupboards of wasp spray and indigestion tablets to find some paracetamol. The next morning, he doesn’t look alright at all. ‘Are you sure you should be going to work?’ I ask. ‘One of us has to,’ he replies, ‘besides, I’m fine. It’ll be fine.’

But that evening, when he staggers, grey-faced and breathless through the door, I know it’s time for action. Hearing the commotion, Grunting Teen sticks his head out of his cave and rolls his eyes. ‘I’m about to take part in a gaming competition, can you keep the noise down,’ he asks. Then catching sight of his father, his face fills with anxiety. ‘Is dad okay? What’s happened?’

The last thing I need is a panicked teenager on my hands. ‘It’s fine. Dad’ll be fine. Just a stomach upset. I’m taking him out for some fresh air. Okay?’ Grunting Teen nods, as if my corned-beef surprise holds no surprises for him.

‘I’m taking you to A&E,’ I hiss to my hospital-phobic husband. And instead of telling me it’s fine and that he’ll be fine, he meekly agrees, clutching his ribs in agony. And thank goodness for Corona traffic, as we make it across town in record time. Once there, the Nearly-Beloved, hater of masks, allows me to muzzle him and lead him gently to the reception desk.

But the Covid prevention measures are not conducive to clear communication. Through layers of material and perplex screens, ‘Watkins’ turns into ‘Watson’, the ‘13th March’ becomes the ‘30th May’ and my poor husband’s year of birth reflects his state of health by adding a further ten years to his age. Thank goodness I’m there to translate. But now my services are no longer required and I’m asked to leave.

Promising to return as soon as he texts me, I have a sudden moment of dread. The Nearly-Beloved hasn’t commented on the previous patient not using hand-sanitiser. Nor has he objected to the man opposite whose mask-wearing technique leaves a lot to be desired. This means he’s definitely not alright and I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But instead, I kiss his cheek and say, ‘I’ll see you soon. It’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.’

I drive home and brave a foray into the Cave. ‘You okay?’ I ask.

The teenager grunts, ‘Great, got through to the quarter-finals. Can you go now, mum? It’s a bit tense.’ And indeed, it is tense, as the hours tick by. Even the luxury of watching my secret recording of ‘Diana in her own words’ doesn’t alleviate the fear. Finally, a text pings, with an instruction to fetch the invalid.

I venture back into the Cave. ‘Just popping out for a bit. How are you getting on?’

‘We’re in the semi-finals now,’ he tells me, ‘I’m a bit nervous though, mum.’ I smile, ‘you’ll be fine’, I tell him, although I wonder how my fragile snowflake will deal with potential failure.

I rescue the Nearly-Beloved from A&E. He’s still ashen-faced but alive and seemingly intoxicated. ‘A chest infection brought on by the fall,’ he grins, dosed up on anti-biotics and industrial strength pain-killers.

As we stagger into the house, his father’s manic laughing brings Grunting Teen to the door with an accusation of, ‘you’ve been to the pub, haven’t you?’

Deflecting the question, I ask, ‘Did you win?’

‘Nope,’ he replies and my heart drops, wondering what psychological damage this will cause him. And for once it’s not just the corned-beef surprise that’s full of surprises.

‘I’m fine,’ he says, smiling, ‘It’s fine.’

And, indeed, it is.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 14: Negotiating the ‘new normal’

With the easing of restrictions, lockdown has suddenly turned into locks up. Well for some maybe.

‘I knew I should’ve given a bigger tip at Christmas,’ I mutter, unable to get a stylist’s appointment until August. The Nearly-Beloved raises an eyebrow. He has no concept of etiquette or prices at the hairdresser’s, having never paid more than £5 for a five-minute buzz cut. But he knows better than to offer to trim my fringe again… And now I’m on the wrong side of the Great Divide – those with hair-dos and those with hair-don’ts.

The Nearly-Beloved, of course, has kept his coiffure under military control with the purchase of an industrial-grade hair trimmer, meaning the local barber will now have one less tricky customer to deal with. As for Grunting Teen, he’s showcasing his inner rock star, with unruly, shoulder-length mane and invisible eyes. But he’s young and can get away with it, whilst I’m having to resort to headscarves to keep my springy, grey-heather wilderness in check. So, it’s hard to keep a smile on my face as more efficient and better organised ex-friends parade before me with their elegant bobs and glossy highlights.

And it’s not only personal grooming that separates us – there’s a whole chasm opened up between those that dare and those that don’t. ‘Go down the pub? Are you mad?’ snorts my other half as I suggest an early evening drink, ‘it’ll be awash with Covid! That 1-metre rule will have people sitting on each other’s knees! You couldn’t drag me down there in a biohazard suit!’ So better not to confess to the civilised glass of Chardonnay I shared recently to support local trade. After all, it took enough persuading him to let Darling Daughter and Super Son-in-law inside our house when they were shivering in the garden with rain ruining their ravioli.

And it’s definitely a no-no to the invite for early evening drinks on a friend’s patio as the guest list includes more than five people. As for a trip to the cinema, the Nearly-Beloved looks appalled. ‘We’ve got Netflix!’ he insists. But behind his back, Grunting Teen and his sibling-ally have already booked tickets for the next available blockbuster.

‘Chill out, dad,’ our daughter reassures him, ‘you’ve got to start going out eventually, otherwise the economy will never recover. I’m back part-time at the office now and it’s all carefully managed.’

‘Hmmph,’ is his response, ‘what about Leicester then? They’ve had to shut the city down.’

And yet, when it comes to his summer holiday, the Nearly Beloved barely bats an eyelid. ‘We’ll be fine. We’ll wear masks. We might as well be in lockdown abroad than at home.’ I’m not convinced. After all, we’re not the most popular of European nations at the moment. And negotiating rules in a foreign language can be tricky. But if we don’t go, we’ll lose a hefty sum of money, which my Yorkshire thriftiness will not permit. Plus, it means I now have the incentive to help my son with his GCSE language. After all, he’s hardly over-stretched with school work.

‘We can do an hour of revision a day,’ I tell him. He looks horrified and quickly improvises, ‘I don’t need any help mum. I’ve been getting good marks.’ I roll my eyes. His gaming and gambling rather than linguistic skills account for his success at online multiple-choice tests. ‘Go on then,’ I say, ‘tell me in French what you had for lunch.’ He panics for a moment with no Google Translate to hand. But then inspiration strikes. ‘Easy,’ he tells me confidently, ‘je suis une omelette.’ And with that damning evidence he makes his exit.

And our exit might be coming sooner than anticipated when I receive a text from my daughter. She’s just been sent for a Corona test! Common sense tells me her headache, sore throat and cough are just a result of the air-conditioning she’s no longer used to. But should I inform the virus vigilante? He’ll ban me from seeing her!  And all our hard-won positives will turn negative again as Leicester comes to Nether Edge.

Apparently, the results can take between forty-eight hours and five days to come through – a competency level equivalent to Grunting Teen’s French! But I have to be responsible and think this through. The Nearly Beloved works alone in the office and his contact with others is zero. Grunting Teen needs coaxing out of his cave at the best of times. So, I keep shtum, cancel my plans for the next two days and hunker down to watch the latest season of Queer Eye.

The next morning, a mere twelve hours since her test, Darling Daughter phones, elated to get a negative result. And for once, I’m on the right side of the Divide.


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The Corona Chronicles: Week 13: Getting used to a ‘new normal’

With lock-down restrictions due to ease from July 4th, there already seems to be a sea-change in the public mood. Caution is being thrown to the wind and the Nearly-Beloved is not impressed. He chunters under his breath, ‘relying on everyone to be sensible. Fat chance!’ And I sigh with relief that tasers are not available for home purchase.

‘The 1-metre rule doesn’t come into effect until Saturday!’ he shouts at a random walker who’s drifted too close for comfort. ‘There’s more than six people in that garden. And none of them look related!’ he mutters as he patrols the local streets. ‘How come her hair isn’t a shocking mess, like yours?’ he asks, spying a well-coiffed neighbour, ‘has she had it professionally cut?’

And he categorically refuses to let me form a bubble with Darling Daughter, even though I point out that the virus can’t distinguish between her being a single mum with a child or married with a husband. I just want to hug her, that’s all. But there’s to be no rule breaking on the Nearly-Beloved’s watch.

At least we’ll be able to meet indoors soon, which is just as well, as her house-sale has finally been given the go-ahead. Things are starting to get back to normal. Not a moment too late.  For the initial novelty of ‘camping out’ amongst the removal boxes has worn off and my usually sunny daughter is losing her smile. But now the three-month delay is over. There is light on the horizon. And mum and dad can help, at a suitable distance, with the move.

‘Things are starting to get back to normal,’ I say as we sit down to watch the football. And okay, it’s a new normal. With crowd noise activated, there’s a semblance of a match atmosphere. But, like a badly dubbed film, the soundtrack doesn’t always fit with the action on the pitch. And with no crowd sound, the air turns blue as the players in the team demonstrate their command of ‘choice’ English phrases.

But at least some sport is back and the Nearly-Beloved is no longer in danger of a knee-replacement or heart-attack as the less energy-intensive, doubles, as well as singles, tennis is now allowed. But Grunting Teen’s activities of choice, swimming and climbing, are still banned. And he’s finding it hard. I’ve been forcing him onto the courts and out for a run with me, but it’s hardly his idea of teenage fun.

Instead he’s taken to sleeping as his preferred sport and now rarely surfaces before midday, still looking pale and lethargic. Schoolwork seems to have tailed off too. He does what he’s asked. ‘Fill in this worksheet. Do this quiz. Watch this clip.’ But with a limited amount of work set and no familiar face online to answer his questions in real time, there’s no wonder he’s losing motivation.

Thank goodness then that he’s one of the fortunate ones, invited back into school for the last few weeks. ‘See,’ I tell him, ‘things are starting to get back to normal.’ I eye the streaky pink crop top and calf-length jeans he’s currently wearing.  It’s a reminder of my failure at basic laundry and his success at growing.

‘Let’s go and buy you some new clothes,’ I say. And his life now is so uninspiring that he readily agrees.  Luckily, the weather’s good today and the queue isn’t too long. And although the store is a retailer’s heartache, it’s my idea of heaven, with its deserted walkways and space to browse. ‘See,’ I tell my son, ‘things are starting to get back to normal.’ He grunts and rolls his eyes. He likes the hustle and bustle, the chance of bumping into mates in the city centre. He’s not impressed with this ghost town version of his old life, nor with the fact he can’t touch or try on the clothes.

‘Call this normal!’ he sighs donning his face mask before plugging into his phone so he can ignore the fact he’s on a bus with his mother for God’s sake! And once home he disappears to his cave and the comfort of his PlayStation with its infinitely preferable virtual world.

‘If this is the new normal, it sucks,’ he says at the dinner table, listlessly pushing his salad round the plate, ‘I’m only back in school for two hours a week. It’s really weird. We’ve all forgotten how to speak to each other!’

And after a few days watching his rapidly declining descent into doom and gloom, I decide drastic action has to be taken. ‘Come, on. Get in the car!’ I tell him. Twenty minutes later I have finally restored a smile to his face. ‘Mum this is sooooo good!’ he says troughing his way through a family-sized bucket of KFC. And I resign myself to the fact that in order to keep my teen’s sanity intact, drive-thru fast-food is now becoming our ‘new normal.’

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