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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.’

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.

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 …

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…

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.’