The Corona Chronicles: Week 12: Teen moves fast on food trip

Over the last few months, I’ve meditated into a coma, self-helped my life to death and run myself into a hatred of exercise. I’ve also tried the antidote of mindless screen watching, dereliction of household duties and couch potato-ism. Now I find myself basking in blasé boredom.

The initial fear of catching and passing on Covid has, wrongly or rightly, disappeared. I walk freely around the streets, no longer diving into the bushes at the approach of another human. And I allow friends into my outdoor space without first subjecting them to a track and trace interrogation and a hosing down with disinfectant. And all was fine and dandy when the sun shone and garden get-togethers kept my spirits high. But no one wants to shiver with me in the cold, and there’s a limit to the number of romcoms I can watch in one sitting.

On a pre-quarantine, rainy afternoon, I’d hang out in a café, go swimming, catch the latest film or hit the shops. But none of these have been possible until now and so I’ve had to make do with the occasional grunt from the teenager whilst awaiting an exciting summary of the Nearly-Beloved’s day at his empty office.

What joy then to discover, in the latest Corona update, that non-essential shops are opening, along with zoos and theme parks.  With a sudden attack of panic, I realise I’m not ready for this onslaught of entertainment and need to train myself up quickly.  You see, I’ve restricted my weekly shopping to a store whose layout is so well-known to me that I’ve honed my trolley dash skills to perfection. So, what I need is a mission to explore strange, new supermarkets, to seek out new products and new lockdown shopping habits. I will boldly shop where no post-Covid shopping has been done before.

But for this I need moral support and asking the Nearly-Beloved is out of the question. There’s been enough drama with his self-check-out shoplifting and vigilante policing of fellow customers. No, it’s time to get Grunting Teen involved. It’ll be good for him and relieve my guilt at pursuing a parenting style of benign neglect.

I mean I do worry about the ratio of time he spends studying to the time he spends on the PlayStation. So, it’s no surprise when I receive a letter from the school this morning. What is surprising is how it congratulates him on completing all his assignments. I roll my eyes in disbelief. Could Grunting Teen be a closet genius or do his teachers just have incredibly low expectations?

Whatever the answer, he’s already been glued to a screen for over four hours. I decide to take action, so inhaling deeply, I poke my head into the pungent fog of his adolescent den. ‘Ineedyoutocomeshoppingwithme,’ I gasp, conserving as much breath as possible. He looks up from the screen. His eyes narrow. ‘Where?’ he asks and when I tell him, a crafty look flits across his face. ‘OK,’ he says, wrong-footing me with the ease of his acceptance.

Arriving outside the strange, new supermarket I notice a jungle of sunflowers and cut-price pot plants, where a pair of silver-haired pensioners are browsing peacefully in their natural habitat. There’s no sign of any other wildlife gathering as we enter this unknown territory. However, ahead in the distance a lone carnivore has made a lion’s kill of salami, chorizo and sausage. Best to leave a safe distance. But Grunting Teen’s in charge of the trolley and has switched into full fairground mode, spinning like a Waltzer through the unsuspecting shoppers. I rush after him muttering apologies to the fallen victims – the elderly gentleman upturned in the freezer cabinet and the toddler face down in the snacks.

I eventually catch up with Grunting Teen in the fruit and veg section where the flora and fauna have changed dramatically.  Here, clean-eating herbivores graze on 2-for-1 organic oranges or forage for fennel in the undergrowth.

‘Give me the trolley,’ I hiss at my son and he retreats a safe, 2-metres away whilst I wonder what a kumquat is and whether it’d go nicely with my signature corned-beef surprise. And I find myself enjoying the novelty of this different shop with its changing landscape and lesser spotted seasonal aisle, where blow-up paddling pools mingle with disposable BBQs.

Suddenly five bumper packs of Monster Munch helter-skelter their way overhead into the trolley and, like a Ghost Train skeleton, Grunting Teen jumps out at me with yet more inadvisable fodder. ‘Muum,’ he says, ‘I’m starving! Maccy Dee’s drive-in is open opposite. Can we go? Pleeeaaase!’ I’m about to give him a categorical ‘no’ when his Bambi eyes meet mine and, as I so rarely catch a sighting of this gentle faun nowadays, it’s hard to resist.

Twenty minutes later, after a dodgem ride twice round the car park, I finally pick up my trophy. I’ve bagged a Big Mac and double fries. Grunting Teen is waiting open-mouthed for his catch and swallows it down whole before we even reach home. All in all, it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster outing, where I’ve discovered my son has got a cunning-fox streak but that zoos and theme parks no longer hold any fear for me.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 11: The need for the human touch

Today when I go into the kitchen, I find the Nearly-Beloved and Grunting Teen rolling about on the floor. My son has got his father in a headlock, one arm raised high in triumph. But the young still have a lot to learn. And the Nearly-Beloved once had a streaky pink belt in Aikido. So, with an almighty roar, he throws himself forwards, dislodging the would-be challenger and pinning him down with his leg. The victory remains with the alpha male.

As much as I love a good David Attenborough series, these testosterone-expending displays are getting tiresome.  I’ve already lost one vase and two mugs to their daily wrestling matches. And buying replacements in lockdown isn’t easy, as I’m not desperate enough to stand in a queue outside Ikea.

Yet I have sympathy for these men in my life, with their need for expression through physicality.  Women, it seems, may have it easier in the current situation. For whilst friends and their daughters are now venturing out for daily distanced-walks and talks with other sociable females, the Nearly-Beloved and Grunting Teen shy away from meet-ups unless they involve action or exercise.

My other half is not interested in making polite chit chat. He just wants a good sweat-out and a rousing defeat of his opponent on the tennis court. For my son, there’s no point in arranging to see his mates unless he can punch them on the arm in jest or trip them up for a laugh. I’ve forced him to recreate Wimbledon in the local park a few times and, with restrictions easing, he can now kick a ball about with friends, but I sense it’s not the same.

On the plus side, I’m receiving far more hugs from him than I’d expect for his age. The problem is that he’s grown upwards and outwards so much in lockdown that his teenaged attempts at affection bruise my ribs and literally squeeze the breath out of me. Luckily, the Nearly-Beloved seems to enjoy the odd thump and kick, so I leave them to it.

And I can understand this human need for touch and connection. Talking to Darling Daughter face-to-face now is lovely, of course, but what wouldn’t I give to be able to enfold her in a motherly embrace?  Friends in lockdown on their own are far less lucky. One singleton starts sobbing when she tells us, in our get-together in the park, that she hasn’t physically touched another person in twelve weeks. And our natural response would be to crowd round and hug her. But instead, we have to make do with an ineffective air equivalent.

At least, I console myself, we no longer have the awkwardness of how to greet people. No going in for a hand shake when the other person decides a body clinch and a mwah-mwah is what’s called-for. No, now it’s a civilised wave from across the road or a mimed hug and a kiss blown on the breeze.

And that’s okay for those of us old enough to understand that lack of physical contact does not mean lack of emotional concern. But what about those toddlers who rush excitedly towards their grandparents for a cuddle, only to be dragged away to a safe Covid distance? How to explain to a sobbing tot that nanna and granddad still love them but can’t pick them up? When will normal service be resumed?

For now, there’ll be no more hen-parties doing a conga down West Street, and likely no kissing of strangers under the mistletoe. In fact, I already do a double-take, when I watch a games-show repeat and see the host put his arm round a contestant’s shoulder. And I almost miss walking down a crowded shopping street and bumping into a fellow pedestrian by accident.

For a strait-laced Brit, who frowns on the touchy-feely expressiveness of our European cousins with their far-too-many-kisses-on-each-cheek habits, I’m starting to appreciate the importance of physical contact.

So, when I next go into the kitchen and find my boys in full combat mode, I give a kamikaze yell and dive right in. After all, if you can’t beat them …

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 10: Strange mix of new and familiar

I’ve found this week a strange mix of the new and the familiar. New to be meeting friends outside as opposed to in their houses, yet familiar to fall back into easy conversations cut short by lockdown.

And, with restrictions easing, I’ve been popping up in gardens all over Sheffield. It’s been quite a revelation. Our British summer usually only allows us one BBQ apiece and a cursory glance at each other’s landscape design. But now, with the unseasonably hot weather, I’m becoming an expert on outdoor plants and garden ornaments.

‘We need gnomes,’ I tell the Nearly-Beloved.

He rolls his eyes and I know it’s a lost cause. After all, I’ve never quite believed his tale of the fox that ran off with my stone rabbits or the accident that melted the metal butterfly. Given half a chance, my order-obsessed other-half wouldn’t allow anyone into the garden to trample on his pristine lawn. In fact, when visitors do come over, he puts down a doormat by the gate so they won’t trample dirt onto his newly jet-hosed patio.

Despite being glad to see different faces, I’m not sure the Nearly-Beloved finds social-distance hosting to be relaxing. He gets up early with his tape measure, carefully positioning the anti-bac-ed garden chairs at the required distance and frowns if anyone unintentionally edges their seat forward a millimetre. Just as well then that his office in town has now re-opened, leaving me to oversee all outdoor events.

But it’s a new situation and strange not to have him at home any more. For a start, there’s no one to police my activities or oversee the household duties.

‘Mum. This hasn’t happened for two months! Can’t dad keep on doing the laundry?’ complains Grunting Teen, sporting a streaky pink T-shirt that doesn’t quite reach his waist.

‘That colour suits you,’ I reply, ‘shame you’ve grown!’

And to be fair to me, he has grown, as Darling Daughter remarks on our first in-person get together. 

Family catch ups are a familiar, weekly event. But what’s new is that the conversation isn’t taking place around the kitchen table, as was the case pre-quarantine. Nor is it on Zoom, our favoured meeting spot during lockdown. No, today we are out walking in the Peaks. And again, it’s not our familiar Sunday walk, for that’s too popular.  Crowds, that were once the norm, now seem strange and somewhat threatening. So, we’ve got up early and driven to a less well-known area, where we automatically gravitate towards members of a different household.

The Nearly-Beloved forges ahead, compass and map in hand, navigating the unfamiliar territory. Darling Daughter and I follow on, happily discussing celebrity lockdown low-downs. As for Grunting Teen, he chats more to Super Son-in-law on the two-hour walk than he has done to us, his uncool parents, in the last ten weeks.

To be honest, he’s been ignoring us since we dissed his favourite Marvel film and has refused to watch any more with us. So now, no new movies to fall out over, but a return to the old favourites. We can all agree that the Hunger Games never disappoint. No need to press pause for a catch-up on the plot as we all remember how it turns out, and familiarity is surprisingly comforting in these strangest of times.

And yet there is always something new to be found within the familiar. These corona days have seen me stick close to home, where my neighbourhood streets have become my stomping ground. I thought there was nothing to discover on our daily excursions but how wrong I was. Little-known paths suddenly reveal themselves, a hidden wood, a house with a turret, a stunning mural. Who would have known it, if time hadn’t stopped still, giving us the chance to slow down and open our eyes?

‘Do you think we’ll get to have our holiday in Brittany this year?’ asks Grunting Teen.

I shrug my shoulders and pout, ‘Bof, who knows? Will you be upset if we don’t?’

‘Nah,’ he replies, ‘we were only going so you could hothouse me for my GCSE.’

Little does he know that on my travels I’ve discovered a new patisserie run by native French speakers…

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 9: Making the most of the good days

Lockdown has had the curious effect of turning life into a series of yin and yang extremes. You’re either an indoor or an outdoor person, an exerciser or a Netflix binge watcher, a healthy eater or a chocoholic, a news addict or a news avoider, a rule-follower or a rule-bender. The list is endless and at any given moment I can veer between the two.

Today I’m happily Yin, accessing my nineteen-fifties housewife. I’ve spring-cleaned, done the shopping and even baked a cake, since flour has magically re-appeared on the shelves. The Nearly-Beloved, on the other hand, is in full Yang mode and, having been given the ok from the latest BBC update, has decided to venture out to that bastion of maleness – the DIY store. He’s not set foot in a shop since his failed, self-check-out fiasco so I fear he’s in for a shock. I try to discourage him but he’s adamant – the weather forecast’s looking good, so it’s time for a manly imposing of order on the house exterior with tools, appliances and heavy-duty equipment that I couldn’t possibly understand.

‘I won’t be long,’ he says and I wave him off wordlessly, not wanting to be the one to shatter this illusion.

In the meantime, my job is to coax Grunting Teen out of his cave of darkness. Left to his own devices, he would happily shut himself away all day with the curtains closed, his only illumination coming from the mobile, permanently glued to his hand. I, on the other hand, am a creature of the light and, at the first glimmer of sunshine, head out to the thanks-to-covid, impeccably manicured lawn. Occasionally, of course, I have a down day when, instead, I can be found enjoying the gardens in Emmerdale, wandering down Coronation Street or getting lost in the East End.

But today, thankfully, I’m on the up. I’ve already been out for an early morning run and I’m determined that Grunting Teen will get some fresh air too. I step gingerly into his shadowy underworld of empty crisp packets, discarded coke cans and half-eaten Mars bars.

‘Would you like some cake?’ I shout in vain.

He’s engrossed. Headphones on. Full concentration. Staring at the screen. A French listening comprehension maybe? Apparently not. A full-on battle-royale on the PS4. He finally notices my presence and scowls at the interruption. I repeat my offer and as he lipreads the word ‘cake’, his demeanour changes.

‘What kind of cake,’ he says removing his headphones.

‘Gluten-free, sugar-free, aubergine, nut and dried fruit,’ I announce proudly.

His lip curls. ‘Can I have a Twix instead? And a tube of Pringles?’

‘Alright,’ I say, ‘but don’t forget, I’ve booked you a tennis slot in the park in thirty minutes. With your friend John. We mothers organised it.’

He raises his eyebrows, ‘I’m playing online with John, now. Why do I need to go to the park to see him? I thought we weren’t allowed.’

‘Well, you are now,’ I tell him, ‘it’ll do you both good. Only you’re not allowed to touch each other’s balls.’

‘Mum!’  he says rolling his eyes and I exit the room like an SAS pro.

Half an hour later with Grunting Teen reluctantly dispatched to the courts, and still no sign of the Nearly-Beloved, I decide to go on a little outing. After all, we’re now allowed to exercise more than once a day. And walking is definitely exercising.

My walk happens to take me past a friend’s house, who just happens to be in her front garden. We spend a pleasant half an hour bemoaning our dodgy lockdown hairdos whilst enjoying her Spotify playlist. But part of me feels guilty.

‘Are we allowed to do this?’ I ask, ‘I mean you’re not a family member and we aren’t actually exercising.’

‘Well, according to government guidelines, if I paid you £10 and you came in my house to do some light dusting, that’s allowed, so I can’t see what’s wrong with this,’ she replies. I’m not convinced my law-abiding husband would agree with me, so I cut the visit short and head home.

I’m just in time to see the Nearly-Beloved pull up. He looks harassed.

‘Where have you been?’ he asks accusingly, ‘you’ve already had your run.’

‘Yes, but we’re staying alert now rather than at home, remember,’ I remind him. Then, quickly changing the subject, I ask him why he’s been so long.

‘The queue was horrendous,’ he says, ‘I nearly turned round. But then I got chatting to a chap in front of me about wood stain. Very informative. That kept me occupied until I got inside, where I picked up some masonry paint, a jet power hose and a multi-tool gadget for my bike. Then I had to have words with an idiot who couldn’t tell the difference between 1m 50cm and 2m. It got a bit heated. But the security staff were on my side. I mean I brought my tape-measure out to demonstrate, so they had to let me go.’

I nod, glad that shopping in couples is still discouraged.

‘So where have you been just now?’ asks my personal law-enforcer.

Hoping there’s no photographic evidence otherwise, I reply, ‘Oh, you know. Just met a friend for an outdoor dancercise class.’

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 8: Beating pain with drugs and wine

It’s hard to tell whether this parallel universe we are currently living in has made me fitter or unhealthier, more socially distanced or less.

I mean, in order to escape my other inmates in lockdown I’ve had to go running once a day for the last eight weeks. But it appears, the daily pounding out of my frustrations has been good for my soul but not for my body. This week my back decides it’s had enough and goes into its own spinal lockdown.

I am reduced to crawling onto the sofa, to resume my daytime soap binge, with a hot water bottle and a bumper pack of Maltesers. This only makes me more miserable as it reminds me that, at this very moment, I should be in Valetta, the capital of Malta, with my two besties, enjoying a fun break. To ease my physical and mental pain I self-medicate on wine and goodies from the cupboard of sin.

This, in turn, enrages Grunting Teen when he discovers his personal snacking store is nearly empty and that my lack of mobility means no imminent trip to the shops. In disgust he socially-distances himself all day, only popping out when his stomach starts rumbling, with a plaintive plea of ‘isn’t your back better yet, mum?’

Normally a one-off session with the chiropractor would sort it out but that’s not going to happen any time soon. But then the phone rings. It’s my friend, calling to commiserate about our trip. She’s a Pilates instructor, furloughed for the moment and desperate to teach a class. Before I know it, we’ve switched to Zoom and she’s talking me through a series of exercises to reset my spine.

Newly re-aligned I can now walk without pain, so when the phone goes again and it’s my other friend suggesting a Malta-alterative meet up in the local park, I gladly agree. It’s so great to see her I have to resist the urge to hug her and, instead, make do with a 2-metre-distance air embrace. Our conversation lifts my mood so much that I even stop off at the shop on the way back to stock up on essential chocolate and crisps.

Grunting Teen with his bloodhound nose for inappropriate food is down the stairs in seconds, hoovering up half the contents of the bag before I even have time to put them away. But put them away I must, as all this excess snacking has added undue stress to my poor wisdom tooth. It’s been nagging away at me for two weeks now. In normal circumstances a quick trip to the dentist for an industrial scale clean would sort it out, but now it’s erupted into a full-blown abscess.

Thankfully, the surgery still offers phone advice and half an hour later I pull up in the car park and the dentist passes me a prescription for anti-biotics through the window. We don’t usually have much to say during my regular check-up visits, as a mouthful of dental instruments isn’t conducive to conversation. But today, we have a long chat through the glass, about life in lock-down and how she’s worried about her family and the future of dentistry. Ignoring the throbbing in my jaw, I smile and nod in the appropriate places.

‘Thank you, I feel so much better for having this talk with you,’ she says gratefully as I finally drive off to pick up my meds.

Whilst waiting for the painkillers and anti-biotics to kick in I distract myself by skyping my sister-in-law in Germany. They’re slightly ahead of us in easing restrictions and can now go to outdoor cafes. But when I see Facebook photos of her countrymen drinking coffee whilst wearing strange swimming noodle hats for self-distancing, I decide that facing Covid is preferable to facing humiliation.

She reminds me that even though Eurovision is cancelled this year, I can watch the Shine the Light programme being broadcast from the Netherlands and join her and our extended family in a Zoom song appreciation.

So, on Saturday night we all gather round the TV in our different destinations round the country and abroad. The focus tonight is not on winning but showing solidarity with all nations of Europe. My back’s recovered and my tooth is on the mend. And as I applaud the contestants and comment on the clips, I realise that I’m thankful my body’s functioning once more, whatever its state of fitness. And I’m aware also that, although we might be spatially distancing, in many ways we’ve never been so socially close.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 7: Gloom lifted by some girly chat

I’ve been overcome by a great fatigue this week. It’s a tiredness that’s affected both my body and my mind. The thought of a socially-distanced future with nothing to look forward to has sent me into a nose-dive. And even our Marvel-film-watching-bonanza has just seen the evil Thanos defeat both the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy. So, what’s the point?

I simply can’t be bothered any more. I get up late, still feeling exhausted, and slob down for a breakfast of chocolate bourbons and cake. Thank goodness I don’t have to home-school small children or else they’d all be addicted to day time soaps by now.

Grunting Teen, though, is getting concerned. ‘Mum, you haven’t made me play basketball for four days now, or bullied me into going for a walk, or checked I’ve done my assignments.’

The Nearly-Beloved is also on my case, ‘Are you ever going to change out of that pair of trackie bottoms? And can we please not have fishfingers and chips for tea again. Or at least give us some peas with it!’

I nod uncommittedly as they disappear off to their various workstations for their busy days. I, on the other hand, sweep aside several empty crisp packets from the sofa and plonk myself in front of the telly. I ignore the cobweb hanging in the corner, the biscuit crumbs on the carpet and the film of dust on the window ledge. I mean, at the end of the day, does it matter whether we perish from Covid-19 or an overdose of domestic dirt?

I must have dozed off again as the next thing I hear is my boys whispering in conspiratorial manner in the kitchen.

‘Mum,’ says Grunting Teen, shaking me, ‘I need you to take me for a walk.’

‘I’ve already been for a walk to the shop to get some fishfin… to get some tea,’ I say ignoring him.

‘Yeah, but now you’re allowed to go out more than once a day for exercise.’

‘Are we?’ I say.

‘Yes, remember. We’re on stay alert now rather than stay at home.’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ agrees the Nearly-Beloved, ‘and you can even meet another family member if you stay outside at a safe distance.’

My ears prick up. Could this mean I can chat to Darling Daughter again, making a change from the testosterone-fuelled conversations which focus on unfunny jokes about bodily functions? I feel a faint hope stir within and allow my son to fetch my coat and shoes.

As we walk the extra miles to his sister’s flat, Grunting Teen gives me a pep talk, ‘Mum, I think you need to get a grip and get back on top of things. After all, this won’t last for ever. We’re not being bombed and we’re not short of food. So, actually we’re pretty well-off, aren’t we?’

I stare at him. Is he parroting my own words back to me? Are we in some kind of role-reversal world?

And then all of a sudden, here I am, in the garden of Darling Daughter’s flat. A window opens and a familiar face appears. I’ve seen it many times on Zoom or Skype but somehow, it’s different here in the flesh, even if it’s two metres away.

‘Mum! Oh, it’s soooo brilliant to see you. You’re looking great. I love that choppy fringe look – it makes your eyes look bigger’

And even though I know she’s lying and has been forewarned about the Nearly-Beloved’s disastrous haircutting attempts, my heart sings just at seeing her again.

‘So mum, I’ve been practising decorating my nails in lockdown,’ she says, ‘which style do you prefer?’ and she dangles her hands in front of me.

‘Errm, I think I’ll get off home now and leave you two to chat,’ says Grunting Teen.

And so, we talk, a mum and daughter conversation – light-hearted, fun and frothy – not a hint of testosterone and all mention of bodily functions banned. I’m only there for half an hour but somehow my spirits have lifted and optimism springs anew.

I rush home, Dettox the house from top to bottom and make a healthy casserole ready for yet another film night. Apparently, that wasn’t the last episode in the Marvel saga. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a happy ending.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 6:The bright side of lockdown life

It’s week I’ve lost count of lock-down and the family is taking it in turns to have a melt-down.

First up is Grunting Teen. And to be fair to him – it is his birthday, which he was expecting to spend with friends, enjoying a nutritious KFC and the latest blockbuster. Instead he’s watching a mediocre Netflix offering with his uncool parents. His presents, ordered on over-subscribed Amazon, have yet to materialise, and the Chinese delivery service isn’t taking any more orders. So, I rustle up a cheery stir fry. Only it turns out that wilted lettuce, blackened carrot and furry tomato aren’t that cheery, even when swamped in soy sauce.

‘I’m fed up of this,’ he snaps, ‘when are things going to get back to normal?’

The Nearly-Beloved is next. He’s been doing quite well. He has his home office, which he retreats to even when the work day is over. He’s a great music fan and spends hours organising his extensive CD collection into alphabetical order. But recently he’s been wallowing in the blues.

‘I was meant to be going to a gig at the Greystones tonight,’ he sighs, ‘and the likelihood of Tramlines going ahead is slim. Not much to look forward to anymore, is there?’

Thank goodness then that I am Mrs Positivity, tasked with keeping everyone’s spirits up. ‘Look, we can’t change our situation but we can change our attitude to our situation,’ I say, proudly quoting some of my Self-Help literature, ‘in every cloud there is a silver lining, we just have to look for it, that’s all.’

And it’s true. I may have lost my income but as I’m no longer able to go out and spend anything, I’m probably breaking even. I may not be able to see friends in person, but I can meet them on Zoom. And I now know my neighbours so much better as we have a street WhatsApp group and an uplifting afternoon distance cuppa in the garden, where we play PPE ping-pong, hitting the latest death figures back and forwards over the fence.

I have altered my mindset so that I no longer consider myself to be in quarantine but on a luxurious writing and meditation retreat. And okay, there are no helpful instructors or yoga sessions by the infinity pool. But the Nearly-Beloved takes positive delight in pointing out my punctuation mistakes, and Grunting Teen has me contorting myself under the basketball net. In fact, I’ve improved my shots so much, I might even try out for the Harlem Globetrotters once this is over.

To lighten the Nearly-Beloved’s mood I buy him a harmonica and practice book online. On reflection this might have been a huge mistake as the neighbourhood cats join in with his first discordant attempts. But eventually a tune becomes distinguishable and, should the economic crisis hit his job, then at least he’ll be able to bag a busking spot on Fargate.

As for Grunting Teen, he gradually resigns himself to the status quo. He finishes his school work by lunchtime and spends the afternoon honing his skills as an Olympic gaming champion.

And in the evenings, we spend quality, cultural, family time, watching the entire Marvel series in chronological order. How lucky I am that there are so, so, so many in the series that an extension of quarantine would not bother me in the slightest.

And okay, I can’t participate in the popcorn and snacks as my wisdom tooth is playing up and the dentist can only offer me the choice of warm, salty water or a full-on extraction… But that’s okay. I can keep a svelte, lock-down figure and numb the pain with vodka.

You see, my retreat has turned me Zen and nothing can alter my peaceful state.  When, in the unlikelihood of any imminent opening of hair salons, the Nearly-Beloved offers to trim my unruly fringe, I agree with no second thoughts. I mean, just a little snip here and there, so I can finally see again. What could possibly go wrong?

‘Et, voila, Madame!’ my stylist says with deep satisfaction, ‘not bad if I say so myself.’

But unfortunately, the jagged, butchered look is not à la mode this season. My turn for a melt-down…

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 5: It’s just one long Groundhog day

It’s the school holidays as we’ve never seen them before. No airport chaos. No traffic jams on the M1. No bad-tempered parking in the Peak District. Instead a sense of convalescing. Late mornings and early nights. A hunkering down in front of the telly with comfort food and leisure wear.

‘Who’s that pasty-looking bloke next to Boris Johnson?’ asks Grunting Teen, interrupting my news-watching to demand a snack.

I’m impressed my son even recognises the Prime-Minister. After all, as far as I know, Bojo doesn’t feature in any PS4 game.

‘That’s the Chief Medical Officer, telling us to stay home, only mix with those in our household and keep our distance,’ I reply.

‘So how come he’s out mixing and literally standing next to Boris? Honestly, adults! One rule for us and another rule for them. Bet they’re off to catch a film, followed by a cheeky Nando’s.’

His face falls. He was really looking forward to his Easter break, hanging out with his mates. Instead he’s hanging out with his parents. Or rather, he’s not. He’s holed up in his Teen Cave, permanently plugged into something electronic. Just like a vampire, he exists mainly in the dark, wincing in pain when I throw open the curtains to let in the light.

To be fair to him, the hours do blend into one long Groundhog Day. For the Nearly-Beloved, who’s still working, there is at least a sense of order, an office time-table to adhere to. But for those of us now without occupation, we have to find our own daily rhythm.

I get up at my normal time, do household chores then go for my morning run. My day is punctuated by the call of Grunting Teen’s stomach. ‘Mum, when’s lunch?  Can I have that packet of biscuits? What’s for tea? Is there a pudding? What can I eat now?’

But in the between times, I’m obliged to find my own entertainment. Knitting and crafting is not for me and I’ve been instructed by the Nearly-Beloved to avoid any culinary activity because A&E are busy enough without cases of home-poisoning. Instead I embark on reading that shelf of self-help books I’ve never quite got round to before.

I learn that the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Grunting Teen is from an as-yet-undiscovered galaxy. I learn about the Power of Now, even though Now seems pretty powerless at the moment. And I learn How to Win Friends and Influence People. This makes me sad as I think of the friends I can no longer see.

But then I get inspired, pick up my phone and start making calls. I’d forgotten how nice it is to have a leisurely chat. It reminds me of my own grunting teen years when I sat for hours on the stairs, hogging the landline. And then I discover Zoom, the joys of connecting online and virtual house-partying. Soon, my diary’s full and I’m juggling quiz commitments with salsa classes and daily yoga. And when the new month arrives, it’s almost possible to believe this whole crisis is just one gigantic April Fool.

But then I phone a good friend. She sounds down. Her voice is hoarse. She keeps coughing. And then she bursts into floods of tears. She of the British stiff upper lip!

‘I feel awful,’ she says, ‘feverish, completely exhausted. I phoned 111. They don’t think I’ve got it. But when I phoned the GP, they reckon I do.  But they’re not testing me, as I’m not the Prime Minister, so we’ll never know. We’ll just have to sit it out. And she starts crying again.’

Later, I run round, on my daily exercise outing, with a care package – emergency Lucozade, daffodils from the garden and some old magazines. I ring the doorbell, with a gloved finger, and retreat to the other side of the road. Her husband comes to the door, coughing. Even from a distance, he looks horrendous, as if he’s burning up. He gives a weak smile and a thumbs up as I shout an ineffective, ‘stay safe,’ before scarpering. That evening we all gather for the Thursday clapping and I hope fervently that my friends can avoid the need for the NHS.  

The Queen pops up on our TV screens on Sunday. Grunting Teen is impressed.

‘I’ve never heard her speak before. She’s well old. How come she’s not got the virus, then?’

And sadly, I have to disillusion him that it’s not only the elderly who succumb but all ages who can contract this virus. The next day our Prime Minister is admitted to intensive care and Grunting Teen never leaves my side all day.

‘Are you and dad going to get it too? What about me?’ he asks anxiously.

‘Look, we’re following the guidelines, only going out for essential outings and washing our hands regularly, so there’s no reason to panic,’ I tell him, ‘we only hear the bad news on TV. The fact is that the vast majority of people who get the virus will recover, just like our friends, who are on the mend now.’

Then, summarising some of the self-help knowledge I’ve picked up over the last few weeks, I tell him to exercise, keep occupied and focus on the positive. And yes, it’s the school holidays as we’ve never seen them before. But it’s not all doom and gloom. We can exercise running round the garden, keep occupied hunter-gathering and focus on those positively delicious eggs left by the Easter Bunny.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 4: Family’s good and bad news week

It’s been a good news, bad news week.

The good news for Grunting Teen is that school is now closed. The bad news is that his teachers are still setting him work.

The good news for the Nearly-Beloved is that his job is safe. The bad news is that his office is now permanently in the dining room.

The good news for me is the freedom to enjoy the unseasonal sunshine. The bad news is I’ve only got this chance because my own work has dried up.

Still, the Nearly-Beloved likes to keep me busy and has tasked me with sorting out the kitchen cupboards and mowing the lawn. As well as the oven cleaner and wasp spray, I’ve found eight packets of pegs, 2 pairs of oven gloves and 5 car sponges, foisted on me by the prison-release door-to-door salesman, whose sob story I can never resist. Now with government plans to cut short some offenders’ sentences, I expect to be inundated with dusters. But on the bright side I can pass them on to my neighbour who’s in charge of our street’s face mask production line.

As expected, all parkruns have been cancelled and so has the Sheffield half-marathon, which I’ve been training for over the past 3 months. It’s a bit of a blow, but I’m keeping fit, keeping the garden in shape. Only, apparently, I’m not! The Nearly-Beloved, who has strict rules about what constitutes a weed, is not impressed by my haphazard digging and wiggly borders. He takes regular breaks to supervise me and point out the error of my horticultural ways. But it’s okay. I’m dealing well with it. And that husband-shaped hole behind the garden shed is coming along nicely…

Darling Daughter is working from home too and my son-in-law’s been furloughed, so financially they can cope. They were meant to be moving into their first house this week but instead they’re unpacking boxes and hunkering down in their flat. At least they haven’t started paying the mortgage yet and are saving a fortune by staying in.

‘Your hair looks lovely, sweetheart,’ I say, smiling at her from the bench in the garden.

‘Yes, thank goodness I got it cut before lock-down,’ she replies and I groan, wondering what state my own thatch will be in by the end of this crisis.

‘What are you doing here?’ comes the voice of disapproval from the back door, ‘We’re all meant to be self-isolating!’

‘We’re at least 2 metres away from each other’ I reply, ‘and we’re family members. What harm can it do?’

The Nearly-Beloved harrumphs and disappears.

‘Maybe I’d better go then, mum,’ says Darling Daughter sadly.

‘Okay,’ I agree reluctantly, ‘I was going for a run anyway.’

And the run lifts my mood and turns out to be most sociable. I decide not to head off-road into the Peaks, in the unlikely event I twist my ankle and have to explain to A&E why I was so far from home. Instead, my route takes me past several friends’ houses and, as they’re out in their gardens, we shout news and encouragement to each other from a corona-safe distance. But I opt not to tell the Nearly-Beloved of my adventures. If he was running the government, we would all have an allocated, solitary exercise slot and be tasered if we broke the rules.

Unfortunately, though, he’s pre-empted this evening’s Corona update, as we’re now instructed to stay at home, only go out for essential shopping and exercise just once a day. We can only mix with people in our immediate household and we’re forbidden from heading out into the countryside.

Grunting Teen hears the news and abruptly disappears from the room. He’s been doing so well this week. He’s been keeping up with all his on-line schoolwork, taking his personal hygiene far more seriously, and even offering the occasional, muttered response to us at mealtimes.

I go upstairs and knock on his door.

‘What’s wrong, sweetheart?’ I ask.

He looks up at me from beneath his curtain of hair.

‘This all sucks, mum! It’s the holidays next week and I can’t do anything! I can’t go climbing any more. I can’t go to the cinema. And I can’t even see my mates. It’s so unfair. And my hands hurt.’

I look down and notice for the first time that his fingers are red-raw. He’s obviously been taking the hand-washing to extremes.

‘Oh darling, I know it seems as if a noose is tightening on us,’ I say, feeling exactly the same way, yet deciding I need to be the voice of reason, ‘but we’re the lucky ones. We’ve got plenty of space and a garden to escape to. We’re not being bombed and we’re not short of food. We’re being asked to have a staycation to protect the vulnerable and help out those in the front-line who are potentially risking their lives for us. It’s not much to ask is it really?’

‘S’pose not.’

‘And look, I’ll cook us a nice tea tonight.’

‘Not your corned beef shocker, pasta willies, or chilli and Smash again?’

‘No, a proper tea, I promise.’

And so that evening after pizza, ice-cream and 2 episodes of Tiger King, it turns out to have been more of a good news, than a bad news week…

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 3: ‘Summer’ pasta was a surprise

Last night’s news was not looking promising. There’s a feeling that soon only essential shops may stay open and that we will be asked to limit our social interactions. In the meantime, until that comes into force, I’m determined to carry on as normal.

I head down to Saturday’s local park run, where, not surprisingly, the numbers are down. Still, there’s a good few hundred runners here, showing off how healthy and corona-free we are. But as we’re penned up, listening for the starter-gun, I have a sudden moment of panic. What if we only seem healthy but are in fact incubating and spreading the virus as we wait? On the positive side, I’ve never got off to such a fast start, racing to put as much space as possible between me and my nearest rival. I return home with a PB and a sense that this may well be my last parkrun for a while.

Grunting Teen is yet to surface so I brace myself and knock on his bedroom door. I parkour nimbly across his dark, fetid teen-cave, fling back the curtains and open the window in one deft movement. Inhaling deeply, I manage a single breath of ‘Timetogetupweneedtogoshopping’ and springbok my way out again.

Half an hour, 2 bowls of cereal, 4 slices of toast and a banana later, he deigns to look at me from underneath the fringe that reaches half-way down his face. I mentally add, ‘get a haircut’ to the priority list for both him and me next week. He mutters something under his breath, which I take to be an expression of defiance regarding our retail outing.

The Nearly-Beloved, that stickler for rules, is for once, on his son’s side.

‘Listen, we’ve been asked only to go out if strictly necessary,’ he says, ‘I hardly think a trip into town counts as essential.’

I point out that our man-boy is growing several centimetres a day and unless I get him some new trainers asap, he’ll have to go barefoot or be confined forever to the house.

‘Besides, it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow and unless you’ve both had a character transplant, you might need to find a card shop.’

The Nearly-Beloved’s face pales as he scrambles for his phone and the gift-delivery websites.

As compensation for keeping him in his mother’s good books, he agrees to come into town with us on a pasta recce whilst I sort out footwear for Grunting Teen, who has categorically refused to be seen in more than one shop with an aged parent.

‘We’ll go to the sports shop then,’ I say, ‘it should be quieter than normal clothes shops and I’ll buy you some large-sized trackie bottoms, just in case.’

Grunting Teen rolls his eyes at me, unaware that the jeans I bought him only a few weeks ago are now already hovering above his ankles. Still at least we’re heading towards summer and in the worst scenario I can hack off his denims at the knees to create instant shorts.

Dropping the Nearly-Beloved off with strict instructions not to return without pasta, I usher Grunting Teen into the store, which, to my amazement, has half-empty shelves and is packed full of muscle men.

‘What’s going on?’ I ask a harassed assistant.

‘All fitness centres have just been closed so everyone’s stocking up on home gyms,’ she explains.

Avoiding the hand-weights and static-bike corner where a fist fight appears to be in full swing, we head to the shoe section and then on to the till, where Grunting Teen is impressed that I can handle a self-check-out. But I’m not impressed with the various balls, pull-up bar, work-out mat and selection of food items he’s managed to conceal under the XXL tracksuit bottoms.

‘Sir says we’ve got to keep fit,’ he grumbles, as I reject a volleyball and several energy bars.

‘Well you’ve got enough equipment here to keep you going and hopefully your dad will return with energy giving pasta. If we don’t find some soon, we’ll be back on the Smash…’

Luckily, the Nearly-Beloved has had a successful outcome, judging by the big beam on his face.

‘’You got some then?’ I ask, ‘From Sainsbury’s?’

‘No, from that summer shop,’ he replies.

Summer shop? Does he mean Somerfield? I thought that closed down a few years ago. Still, for a man who hasn’t been in a shop for several years, he’s doing remarkably well.

It’s only that evening when we’re fine-dining on my corned-beef surprise and Grunting Teen asks, ‘Mum, why are we eating pasta willies?’ that I realise which summer shop he actually means.

Still, at least it’s an improvement on reconstituted potato and he did make the effort to get them, unlike Grunting Teen who, next morning, presents me with a Happy Birthday card he’s found in the kitchen drawer and a pack of half-eaten Maoam.

‘Sorry, mum. I forgot. I’m just stressed out at the moment,’ he says.  And looking at his pale, anxious face, I suddenly realise that the constant stream of depressing news on social media is not doing my son any good.

‘What we need and what would be the best Mother’s Day present ever, would be a lovely walk in the countryside,’ I say, ‘it’s only a ten-minute drive out to the Peaks where we can escape the mad throngs.’

But the mad throngs have all had the same idea and the national park is filled with cars and rambling mothers.  Thankfully, we manage to avoid physical contact, and the beauty of the moorland lifts my soul. Yet, once more I have the sense that this may well be my last foray into nature for a while.

Home again and the Nearly-Beloved is acting very suspiciously. He’s cooked a delicious meal of beans on toast and sat through an entire episode of the Crown without making any anti-royalist comments. Then, when Grunting Teen disappears to bed, he winks at me in a most unnerving manner.

‘The lady in that summer shop told me a very good way of boosting your immune system,’ he says, ‘I mean we should be doing all we can to make sure we don’t catch this virus, shouldn’t we?’

Hmmph, I don’t like the sound of this one bit! It’s not the first Saturday in the month. Or Christmas. Or his birthday.

‘I think you’re right, love,’ I reply sweetly, ‘Maybe we should self-isolate properly. You go and sleep in the spare room tonight…’

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