The Corona Chronicles: Week 54: A bad-tempered week

It’s been a bad-tempered week. Just as the light starts shining in the pandemic darkness, my torch of tolerance finally runs out. Maybe it’s yet another Easter Holiday with the what-shall-we-do options limited to bracing walks in over-busy parks. Maybe it’s the fact that the unpredictable weather promises long, sunny barbecues but delivers hasty, rain-drenched cuppas. Or maybe, despite being fed up of the same old faces, I’ve lost the ability to meet new ones.

It starts off well with a warm day and five neighbours in my garden. But after so long in lockdown, I’ve forgotten how to host. Filling up people’s cups and plates is surprisingly tiring and I’m having to completely relearn the art of group conversation. My daily socialisation consists of grunts from the teenager and monologues from the Nearly-Beloved. I inevitably tune out. But now I need to tune in. Active listening is exhausting and by the time everyone leaves I have to lie down.

Interestingly, it’s not just me having problems adapting. When my running club restarts, a veritable crowd turns up and even though we run in sixes, one member makes their excuse to sprint off into the distance, unnerved by so many bodies in one place. Nor is it an age thing, as I hear more and more stories of school refuseniks and youngsters unable to cope with the return to the classroom after so long in the safety and seclusion of their Teen Caves.

Even when we venture out, the landscape is not the same as it was before. Shops may be reopening but masks and hand sanitisers are with us to stay. What’s more worrying is where have all our flagship stores gone?  Profits have taken precedence over public preference. My bad temper escalates. The torch of tolerance flickers and dies. Without the helpful assistant in the changing room am I really going to have to rely on the Nearly Beloved’s opinion of next season’s fashion?

But what brings my mood down the most is the thought that emerging from our months of enforced isolation, we come out of it into a world that seems none the wiser and none the better. For when we do have a day of blue skies, the hordes descend on the nearest green space only to leave it a littered tip of take-away packaging and empty cans.

What’s happened to the kindness and consideration we witnessed when the country first shut its doors? Why would anyone steal a local pensioner’s e-bike if they realised it was the only thing offering them a sense of freedom and connection? Are we returning to the dog-eat-dog society of the pre-pandemic rat race? With the current vaccine wars and the passports-to-pubs palaver maybe it’s better to stay indoors and grow that extra-terrestrial head in the comfort of our home bar?

But that’s giving in and, as a nation, we never do that! So, we’ll swot up on social skills and hone our herd behaviour. We’ll come dressed for four seasons in one day. And, when we want to buy new stuff, if we’re not profitable enough for the big corporates, then we’ll take our custom elsewhere – to those small independents that have fought and thought outside the box to keep themselves going throughout the Corona crisis.

We have to be the change we want to see.

So, I’m posting a neighbourhood WhatsApp alert for that bike. And, on my next trip into the countryside, I’ll be suitably weather-proofed. Then, instead of shaking my head at the inconsiderate idiots who’ve left their mess behind, I’ll pick it up and take it home. Because I refuse to let our inclement climate, the pandemic’s restrictions and the minority’s bad conduct affect my good temper.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 53: Vaccine Victory

I’ve been feeling April-foolish. You see, whilst the majority of the over-fifties have been vaccinated with no big deal, I manage to sabotage my big day.
Right from the start I’ve been jab-ambivalent, not because I’m an anti-vaxxer or needle-phobic, but more because my default setting is to steer clear from doctors and medicine of any kind. Our family motto is ‘Die or Don’t’ and no one goes near the GP unless wounds are suppurating or joints refuse to pop back into their sockets.
But this is a pandemic and we need to protect the vulnerable by keeping the virus at bay behind the Great Wall of the Vaccinated. Not to mention, this is our passport to freedom. Who knows what slogans might catch on this summer – ‘Have a shot to get a shot’ or ‘Want a vacation? Get a vaccination’? So as a good citizen I sign up online to do my duty.
The process is easy. Just enter a few details. Don’t worry if you haven’t memorised your NHS number or if it was last seen at your maternity appointment in 2005. The computer knows all, and before long, you’re being offered a variety of centres to attend. With fond memories of a Michael Bublé concert I opt for the Sheffield Arena and click on the most convenient dates. Job done. I rush off to spread the good news.

The Nearly-Beloved, being older and wiser, has already got his ticket out of lockdown and is keen to make sure I behave.

‘Arrive on time. Then follow their instructions. You can do that, can’t you?’

I nod enthusiastically. But he’s not convinced so decrees that he’ll accompany me.

The night before, the news headlines are full of vaccine nationalism. The UK’s roll-out is impressive compared to the European Union’s. But we’ve apparently upset our neighbours with the one thing we’ve done well in the pandemic! Despite dissing our Oxford-educated immunisation, there’s talk of blocking exports or re-routing them to Ireland. So, I’m feeling rather smug at already being booked in. I don’t even mind when the Nearly-Beloved talks to me in the voice he reserves for small children.

‘Now just show me your reference number before we set off tomorrow. You don’t want to be that annoying person holding up the queue, do you?’


‘You do have a reference number, don’t you?’


‘In a text message? An email?’


‘Oh, great! Have you done your usual trick of forgetting to click ‘confirm’ before you sign out?’


I phone the helpline in a panic. They can find no record of me. More panic erupts as I find the Arena is no longer available. Within minutes I transform from someone with Astra-Zeneca apathy to a Pfizer fanatic. I need that virus-slayer in my bloodstream now! If my dose is winging its way to Dublin, I must wing my way to the nearest centre.

I scroll down the list – Leeds, York, Manchester. If I could combine these with a trip to the Armouries, Minster or Arndale Centre, then I’d be tempted. But, as the distances increase, my desire for inoculation wanes. Then my eye alights upon Mansfield, a mere eighteen miles’ drive away. It’s never been on my bucket list but today it feels like one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

And it means a road trip – my first jaunt outside the city boundaries in months – albeit to a repurposed Wickes store. Not quite the Bublé of my dreams, but well-organised and efficient. I wave goodbye to my chauffeur as I’m issued with a mask and ushered through a series of checks.

This is where I nearly fall.

‘Do you have any symptoms of Covid?’ asks the uniformed official.

Faced with authority, I question myself. I’m feeling feverish actually and my head does thump slightly.

‘Ermm…’ I say.

But I see the frown on his face and remind myself it’s 22C outside and I’m most likely dehydrated.

‘Do you have your registration number?’ asks volunteer number two.


A small queue forms as I scroll furiously through my phone.

The staff have now clocked me as ‘one to watch out for’ and I’m asked not once but twice to verify my details. Still, it’s third time lucky and, with a minimum of fuss, a kindly nurse jabs me in the arm then presents me with a sticker.

After trying to exit through the entrance, I’m escorted out of the building, back into safe hands.

‘Did it hurt?’ asks the Nearly-Beloved, who suffered from a sore arm and flu-like symptoms when he had his.

‘Not so far,’ I say as I get into the car.
Minutes later, I feel weak and nauseous, and all my muscles ache. Then I realise I’ve been reading the leaflet on side-effects. I’m perfectly fine.

So fine in fact that the Nearly-Beloved rolls up my sleeve to confirm I did actually have the injection. Because, let’s face it, if I hadn’t, then I really would be feeling April foolish.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 52: Pancake Panacea

There is a six-foot toddler on the carpet having a tantrum. ‘I might as well leave school now,’ it moans, throwing a pencil case across the room, ‘I can’t cope! I’ve got no future!’ As I move all breakable objects out of reach of its thrashing limbs, I sigh to myself. The buck has to stop with me. It’s mock exam time and the word ‘mock’ says it all. I should never have outsourced science revision! It’s a domestic re-run of Track and Trace, overseen by the well-meaning but basically clueless Nearly-Beloved.

‘You were meant to help him bullet point the information, then test him,’ I hiss to my other half as he trips over the melt-down monster blocking the doorway.

‘Well, he didn’t have any notes as far as I could tell and he said he was fine,’ so I just let him get on with it,’ says Mr Incompetent.

‘That’s what study guides are for,’ I explain.

‘Oh, yeah. Well, I wasn’t sure where to get them, so …’

‘You didn’t,’ I say, realising now how the PPE scenario got out of hand.

At times like this though, apportioning blame isn’t helpful. What’s needed is a quick solution.

‘Pancakes,’ I say decisively.

Several plates later Grunting Teen has been sugared into a better mood.

It’s hard to tell how much of this is his own doing. I mean if he’d followed my catchy slogan of ‘Stay off the PlayStation. Control your revision. Save your Sixth Form place’, he wouldn’t be in this mess now. But maybe he needed better guidance, less self-interpretation. After all it’s difficult enough being a teenager anyway. Throw a pandemic with its exam uncertainty into the hormonal mix and it’s a recipe for disaster. What’s more, he now has to shove a cotton bud down his tonsils and up his nasal passages twice a week, so no wonder his brain is scrambled.

Once he’s calmed down, I reassure him that everything will turn out ok. There are no government inspired algorithms to shatter his dreams this year. His results will be teacher assessed, so a bumper box of Thornton’s for the staffroom might just do the trick. And besides, the clocks have moved forward, as will he. The Covid school years of Y10 and 11 are ticking to a close and a new start in Y12 beckons.

Spring is here and hope with it. Vaccinations are being rolled out, gardens are entertaining visitors once more. Hospitality and haircuts are on the horizon. We’re counting down to opening our businesses and our doors. It’s just three steps now to heaven.

Let’s not contemplate this ‘third wave’ or a ban on holidays in the sun. After all who wants to go abroad if ‘British’ has now become synonymous with ‘virus variant’? I’ll save my £5000 fine, thank you very much, and spend it on fun in our promised summer of freedom and festivals.

But hang on a minute. I’ve had a year of isolation. No one has stepped foot in my house since Christmas. I’ve got used to living life from behind the safety of a mask. I’ve forgotten how to shake hands. As for hugging, it’s a long-lost art. And people! The rule of six is more than enough for me.

I can’t leave lockdown! How am I going to cope? I’m scared of the future!

As my heart pounds at the thought of crowds and face-to-face contact with strangers, I remind myself that these next few months are like our mock GCSEs in ‘Back to Normality’. We’ll have trial tests at meeting up outdoors.  A dry run to the gym. A practical exam in the beer garden. And when we’ve done all our preparation, we’ll finally be ready for the end of term party.

But in the meantime, what I need is a pancake!

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 51: A year on


March 22nd 2020. Mother’s Day. The last day I truly feel like a real mum. The last day I hug my daughter with unconscious unawareness. For, despite the knowledge that a pandemic is fast approaching and that lockdown is imminent, how can I possibly envisage that, a year on, so much of my life that I take for granted will be changed beyond recognition?

‘See you soon,’ I say waving her off with what now seems negligent nonchalance. The next day we are ‘ordered’ to stay at home and my mothering career takes a very different turn. Sure, my oldest two are adults, but that’s when the rewards of parenthood finally kick in. Entertaining evenings around the dinner table, with catering finally outsourced to the younger generation. Trips abroad conveniently classed as a ‘must’ rather than a ‘luxury’ in order to be able to see the middle child, who’s moved his life to tourist-friendly Amsterdam. Sightseeing combined with interesting adult conversation. The realisation that you actually enjoy your children’s company now that you no longer have to pretend to like S Club 7 or Pikachu.

Then suddenly these feasts are snatched away. And all you are left with is a few crumbs. The chance to see Darling Daughter’s face from behind a pane of glass. Hurried walks in wintry weather. Eating soggy sandwiches together but at a distance. How are you to know what’s really going on inside her head? Yes, you can see that something’s up. But without that girls’ night-in, watching rom-coms with a confessional glass of wine or two, the truth is less likely to out, and mum’s magic, cure-all hug is out of bounds.

As for my Lost Boy, he’s changed from Pokémon to poker face. Everything is always ‘fine’. Is that pallid complexion and serious expression a result of his mother’s imagination or simply poor lighting? But why then, when Skype interrogations get too close for comfort, does the internet connection always seem to break? How I miss those walks along the Dutch canals or companionable drives in the Peaks when, with no direct eye contact, all manner of secrets unfold…

And yes, I have my youngest. I can still be a hands-on mother to him. But truth be told, Grunting Teen is at that age when he’d much prefer me to be hands-off. He needs his siblings to distract me whilst he gets up to no good behind my back. He needs silent disapproval for his street-cred rather than overt smothering for his mum’s neediness. No wonder he’s been begging for a pet all this time!

So, Mother’s Day 2021 comes and goes, and with it, the carefully chosen card and bouquet of flowers from Darling Daughter, the badly wrapped, last-minute box of chocolates from Grunting Teen and the hastily written, sister-reminded WhatsApp message from the Lost Boy.

It may not be exactly what I had in mind but somehow this year’s celebration has more poignancy for me. The fact that my children recognise my efforts in the mothering department makes me realise that, even despite government-imposed distancing, our bonds are still there. We are all doing our best.

Indeed, we are the lucky ones. For all things pass. And an end is now in sight. Unlike those whose mothers have been lost to them through illness, tragedy or political power-mongering, we live to celebrate another Mother’s Day next year. If nothing else, the pandemic has made us appreciate the bonds of family. For there is no price tag on the love we feel for our nearest and dearest. And no joy greater than when we are finally reunited. And I can be a real mum once more.

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A right royal rift

Families, royal or otherwise, are strange beasts. Sometimes you can’t live with them and sometimes you can’t live without them.

At the moment things are tense between Grunting Teen and his father. Someone didn’t inform the Nearly Beloved that their free-trial computer virus protection had run out. So now it’s all a question of security.

‘I bet my games have been compromised,’ wails the teenager, seemingly unconcerned about his school files, which were the reason we bought him a laptop in the first place.

‘Well, you should take a bit of responsibility for yourself and not rely on your parents all the time,’ mutters the Nearly-Beloved forking out for a new subscription. ‘You cost us a fortune.’

‘Excuse me,’ interrupts the disgruntled adolescent, ‘when was the last time you gave me any pocket money? You’ve literally cut me off.’

And while this is an exaggeration, it’s true that we haven’t been handing him his allowance, mainly because he hasn’t asked and also because he’s not been going anywhere to spend it.

It’s the time of his life when he should be hanging out with friends and gaining independence but instead, he’s trapped indoors with his ‘unwoke’ parents and it can’t be doing his mental health much good.

‘Grumpy Git’s always having a go at me,’ he complains. ‘He’s totally unsupportive. He doesn’t understand how difficult it’s been and how trapped I’ve felt in lockdown. He says my hair’s too long and my trousers are too short and that I’m not working hard enough. But he doesn’t offer to help me.’

‘Well, that’s not how I recall it,’ says the Nearly-Beloved when I broach the subject with him that evening. ‘The boy’s lost his sense of humour. It was just a bit of banter. I didn’t want his mates taking the mickey out of him at school. That’s all. And I did offer to buy him new clothes online and give his hair a trim.’

I nod in sympathy for both my boys. Wires can sometimes get mixed up and meaning lost in translation. Grunting Teen hasn’t had a haircut since late summer so maintaining eye contact is becoming increasingly hard. He’s also made excellent use of this third quarantine to have another growth spurt. But whilst a new pair of jeans wouldn’t go amiss, we all know what happened last time the Nearly-Beloved was let loose on my fringe…

‘And you have to admit,’ continues my indignant husband, ‘the Prince of Laziness is hardly pulling out all the stops for his exams. As for expecting me to help him, I haven’t got a clue about Psychology.’

That’s the answer in a nutshell, I think to myself, whilst watching the feuding pair bolt through their mealtimes in simmering silence.  My granny would have banged both their heads together to make them see sense. But addressing each other by correct title might be a better starting point. After all, it’s important to be sensitive about the names we use. And listening to each other and talking through our problems is certainly more productive than the blame game or cold-shoulder approach. Still, sometimes what a relationship needs is space.

So, it’s just as well that school has started again and Grunting Teen is out of the house all day. It’s doing him good to finally be back in the classroom and mixing with his peers. And absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. The house seems strangely empty without him. No hourly raids on the fridge. No music blasting from his room. I even bake his favourite flapjack so that the house smells more welcoming when he comes home.

In fact, Grunting Teen was even smiling as he came through the door the other day. Was that because he caught his father peering out from behind the curtains, watching for his return?

‘Have you missed me, dad?’ he asks, trousers up by his calves and hair flopping over his grin.

‘Like a hole in the head’, his father replies.

But there’s been a definite thaw in the atmosphere. Time and distance are great healers. You see, families, royal or otherwise, are founded on love. So, even when you feel let down, you always know they’ve got your back.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 49: Leaving it to the experts

For now, we’re leaving it to the experts. Covid cases are going down as vaccination numbers rise. We’re still trapped but hopefully not for much longer. The sun is shining, my mood is lifting, and spring-cleaning can wait as I venture outside to admire the snowdrops.

I am not the only one. 

The kittens from next door are outside, frolicking in our overgrown grass. They’ve even enticed Grunting Teen from his pizza-strewn cave. ‘Why can’t we have a pet?’ he moans, ‘Everyone else’s got one in lockdown. You’re so mean.’

To prove this point, the Nearly-Beloved, self-confessed cat-hater, bats the inquisitive creatures away with his newspaper, muttering about ‘mess on the lawn’ and ‘finding the hosepipe.’

But a few days later, the cold snap returns, the media announces a South American virus mutation and my mood falls as we’re confined indoors once more. I’ve still got no work but neither have I got the motivation to shift the dusty clutter-mountains piling up in every room.

Instead, I’m watching repeats of Modern Family whilst the Nearly-Beloved reads the latest scare-mongering headlines and Grunting Teen stuffs his face.

‘What was that?’ he asks, spitting out a mouthful of popcorn as something streaks across the carpet.

My heart longs for it to be a gold-medallist spider but the tail that flashes by reveals the awful truth. I scream. The Nearly-Beloved lowers his paper. ‘That’s what happens when you let standards of hygiene slip,’ he tuts.

‘It moves well fast’ remarks Grunting Teen, displaying a sudden David Attenborough interest in wildlife.

But despite running my way through this pandemic, I am a mere Mo Farrah’s granny compared to this Usain Bolt of the mouse world. My efforts to catch it are as effective as the government’s track and trace system. I know it’s out there but I can’t pin it down.

‘Ah mum, it’s peeping out from under the fire grate. It’s really cute.  But it’s trembling. All your screaming’s frightened it.’

The Nearly-Beloved, however, has remained calm. ‘We need a strategy,’ he announces.

Oh yes? A road map for the removal of rodents? But first we have to identify where it’s come from. Because the last thing we want is for the situation to escalate. Pandemic experience has shown that any delay could be fatal. We need to shut down the borders immediately.

Old terraces and gaping floorboards attract these unwelcome visitors with the promise of warmth and a ready supply of food, courtesy of Grunting Teen. In fact, we’ve had this issue before. We dealt with it. But we knew we’d never eradicate it completely.

‘I’ll get that mouse-trap then, shall I?’ I ask.

Grunting Teen is horrified until I reassure him this isn’t China or Burma. No force will be necessary.

Rifling through the chaos of the kitchen cupboards, I come across cans of wasp spray from ‘Covid: The Prequel’ when everyone was panic-buying and that was the nearest I could get to antibac gel. I console myself with the fact that at least we’ll have insect-free barbecues in ‘Covid:The Return of the Burnt Sausage.’

I finally find the humane trap I’m looking for and walk gingerly back into the living room to find the mouse on its hind legs, snuffling the as yet unused Christmas ‘candle in a jar’. This critter’s getting cocky now and its flamboyant salsa around the rug suggests it’s a Brazilian variant.

For a moment we’re all spell-bound. Has life in lockdown really become so tedious that watching vermin snacking is the height of entertainment?  But whilst little Micky is ‘eating out to help out’ – and it has to be said, he is doing an excellent job of hoovering up after Grunting Teen – I load the trap with some Cheddar.

Mais, zut alors! Could this be a continental cousin? The mouse sniffs our 76% effective British offering disdainfully. It obviously wants to hold out for the 95% proof Swiss version. In the meantime, it jumps into the unlit candle for a relaxing spa roll-around, occasionally twitching its whiskers in ecstasy. And part of me understands its contentment as the scent of cranberry and cinnamon takes me too back to happier times.

But, before we can all be reunited, order has to be restored. So, the next day, with no sign of any captured enemy, deep-cleaning and blocking-up-of-holes are top of the agenda. On the plus side, the house is now sparkling and I’ve found three months’ worth of teenage socks. Then, feeling high from inhaling so many chemicals, I go outside for some fresh air.

The Nearly Beloved is there with the kittens. All three look remarkably self-satisfied. 

‘What’s going on?’ I ask.

‘Oh, the problem’s definitely been sorted now,’ replies my husband, bending down and uncharacteristically patting the felines.

Ah well, sometimes you do have to leave it to the experts…

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 48: Dodgy directions?

So, we now have a roadmap out of lockdown. This is excellent news. I like a good map. The problem, so the Nearly-Beloved informs me, is that not everyone is capable of reading them. And this is no little jaunt out. It’s more of an epic road trip.

Hopefully the driver and the navigator know what they’re doing. However, quite often the trek to the final destination can include unforeseen obstacles and diversions, so by the end of the journey no one is speaking to each other. I mean, it’s not as if we signed up for this National Lampoons Vacation. Grunting Teen for sure would never willingly spend the next three months caged in a car with his parents. But sadly, he has no choice. And his wailing ‘are we there yet?’ falls on deaf ears as his father drives on relentlessly. Nothing is going to prevent the Nearly-Beloved reaching his goal. Want to stop? No chance – on we go past service stations and laybys. Feeling sick? Here’s a bag. Or hang your head out of the window.

But wait a minute. What if the route’s been miscalculated and we suddenly find ourselves lost? The Nearly-Beloved refuses to ask for directions. So, does that mean we’ll end up driving round and round in lockdown circles until we run out of steam?

Apparently not, because this is a scientific road map we’re using. A satnav of data not dates. Hooray for the science! Unfortunately, satnavs have a worrying record of lorries wedged under low bridges and cars floating down rivers as a result of that ‘convenient ford’ short-cut. And this satnav is literally glitching with its Top of the Pandemic Pops countdown

At number five is 8th March and all schools re-open. Well, the buildings are opening their doors at least. But instead of text books, Grunting Teen is issued with a kit for a lateral flow test. ‘What? You mean I’ve got to shove a swab up my nose and down my throat?’ he asks, unimpressed until he realises he’ll miss double Maths as a result.  And I’ll miss him. But thankfully, whilst he can look forward to wearing a dog-breath facemask all day, my treat from the government is to throw away my Covid-issue thermos flask and finally sit down for a civilised take-out coffee with a friend.

Moving up one place to number four we welcome 29th March with open arms when the magnificent rule of six returns. Remember to pace yourself, as unaccustomed amounts of conversation could be overwhelming. It’s still outdoors but, hey, the pandemic has turned us all into Wim Hof Icemen who can withstand socialising in all weather conditions. And on the plus side, all those months of ‘exercising with one other person’ means calories in credit for the Easter egg hunt.

Making it into the top three and a definite favourite is the glorious 12th April. However, what to prioritise? A visit to the hairdresser or the beer garden? It’s a tough decision. And it only gets better as we head up the charts to 17th May when all outdoor restrictions could be lifted and up to six people can marvel at how you’ve totally redesigned the interior of your house.

Then by the end of that month, with vaccinations promised to all over fifties, the streets will be awash with oldies brandishing their passports and certificates as they Zimmer-frame their way onto international flights.

And yes, younger souls may have to queue until 21st June to hear that number one recording of ‘You’ve reached your final destination.’ But with any luck there’ll be no ‘Thelma and Louise’ driving-off-a-cliff ending.

It all sounds very promising until we remember all the promises we’ve heard before. But for now, I’m sticking with this latest ride. I might be a little dubious about the driving team’s credentials but I’m desperate to visit the sights along the way. Hopefully the satnav will recalibrate if we take a wrong turn and then it’s just a question of a new post-lockdown roadmap…

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 47: Celebration not hibernation

So, I hibernated my way through January, pretending it was a normal year and my staying in was just a reaction to overdoing it in the festive season. But now it’s a different matter altogether because it’s time for celebration.

For a start it’s my wedding anniversary. Usually the Nearly-Beloved is instructed to take a day off work and, after a leisurely breakfast and exchange of gifts, we head to the cinema, have a late pub lunch and maybe a bit of retail therapy. Then we go home, dress up and hit a fancy eatery for a five-star meal. This year, however, is rather different.

‘What do you mean, the Amazon package hasn’t arrived in time?’ I snarl as I’m handed a wilted bouquet hurriedly acquired from the local garage. And although the country walk the Nearly-Beloved has planned for me is very scenic, his picnic of squashed ham sandwiches and a can of lager whilst sheltering under a tree from a downpour is not what I’d dreamed of. When we return four hours later I haven’t the energy to cook a romantic meal, so it’s either my signature corned-beef hash or a take-away curry.

I’m still feeling the effects of the vindaloo several days later. But at least I can put my lack of sleep down to indigestion rather than the usual lockdown anxiety. Just as well I’m awake when all hell lets loose. Huge bangs reverberate in every direction. Are we under attack? What the heck is going on? I shake my snoring hubby back to consciousness to check the SAS aren’t about to break down the door.

‘It’s fireworks,’ he mutters, ‘who on earth is setting them off at midnight?’ As he closes his eyes on the spectacle, I stand mesmerised by the window. A whole rainbow of colours fills the night sky, bringing a sense of wonder and excitement. Then I have a moment of clarity. Of course – it’s Chinese New Year. Normally there would be a bit of a run up to it, a couple of dragons parading around the town centre, the chance to watch some traditional dancing and acrobatics in a show at the City Hall, whilst the Chinese restaurants would be booked up well in advance. Still, at least the local community are seeing off the most-unpopular-in-history ‘Year of the Rat’ and welcoming in the Ox. Apparently, it’s a year that embodies patience, a ‘reap-what-you-sow’ kind of beast. So maybe the government’s more careful approach to easing restrictions is in keeping with the Ox’s slow, steady energy. If we can just hold faith for a little longer, the unprecedented changes that the Rat year brought us might yet yield positive new beginnings.

Next up is Valentine’s Day. And surprisingly, without its normal commercial hype, it turns out to be quite enjoyable. No pressure to eat out and spend a fortune on forced romance. Instead, we settle down in front of the TV in comfy lounge pants that expand to accommodate the delicious but reasonably priced supermarket ‘meal deal’.

Grunting Teen might not have fully embraced that particular occasion. ‘I know it’s from you, Mum,’ he tells me, rolling his eyes when a mysterious card appears for him. Still, it doesn’t stop him from snaffling his chocolate heart and most of mine too.

But he’s certainly keen to celebrate the next important date – Pancake Day. With strawberry sauce, ice-cream, maple syrup and a squirt of synthetically sweet cream, the sugar rush in itself makes the world seem a happier place.

And the change in the weather is also making a difference to our mood. Icy January and freezing February had their benefits, with the magical illusion that we were snowed in rather than locked down but now there’s a breath of spring in the air. Snowdrops and crocuses are poking their heads above the ground. Exercising with a friend is now more about leisure and less about survival. And there’s a hint of sunshine mixed in with the showers.

Even the nightly news is starting to have a celebratory feel to it as Covid cases fall whilst vaccination numbers rise. There may still be some way to go but could it be that the world is slowly coming out of its long hibernation?

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 46: At least it’s not the Black Death

I am so sick of this pandemic! I think I’ve finally reached breaking point. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve not been able to hug my daughter since Christmas. Maybe it’s the strain of keeping friendships going online or in the great outdoors. Or more likely, it’s the realisation that Grunting Teen was only fourteen the last time he saw his elder brother and soon he’ll be sixteen.

Before I know it, the low-level anxiety I’ve kept in check all these months has escaped and erupted into a full-blown breakdown. I’m sobbing hot, noisy tears and terrifying the life out of the Nearly-Beloved. He can cope with the usual verbal abuse, hysteria and flying saucepans but a crying woman is beyond his capabilities.

‘You’re just tired,’ he tells me ineffectually patting my shoulder, ‘You’ve been working too hard.’

‘But I’ve got no work at the moment. That’s the problem,’ I reply. ‘I’ve got no routine. I’m making it up as I go along. There’s no purpose to my life.’

‘But you do a great job of looking after us,’ he reminds me.

And normally he’d gain Brownie points for being so sweet but I’m suddenly overcome by an irrational fury, blaming him for being so law-abiding that he won’t allow Darling Daughter to step foot inside the house.

‘Why won’t you let her be in our bubble?’ I wail, ‘It’s so unfair. Everyone else is breaking the rules.’

He makes to pat my other shoulder then thinks better of it.

‘I know it’s hard,’ he says, ‘but we’ve got to think of other people not just ourselves. Look it’s only for a little longer. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.’

I sigh. I know he’s right but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

As the Nearly-Beloved makes a swift exit with that British cure-all promise of ‘a nice cup of tea’, Grunting Teen nervously pokes his head round the door.

‘Are you alright, mum?’ he asks, looking at my blotchy face and red eyes, ‘You know, me and dad need you to be our light. Don’t let yourself get dragged into a hole.’

For goodness sake! Is he really parroting back the wise words I spoke to him only last week? And how annoying and unhelpful they sound, when all I want to do is wallow in my misery. Seeing the expression on my face, he too retreats quickly, leaving me to self-indulge in weeping. But after a while all the bawling has given me a headache, my nose is blocked and I’m finding it hard to breathe. Stress lowers your cortisol levels, making you more prone to infection. I need to get a grip quickly or, if I’m not careful, I will have cried myself into Covid.

The tea helps. As does my maternal sense of duty. I’d promised to test Grunting Teen on his History and I know that the PS4 will triumph over revision if I don’t pull myself together. At least I’m luckier than some friends who have to supervise their primary-aged children with home-schooling every day. How they do it and hold down a job as well is beyond me.

And as Grunting Teen rattles off facts and figures about ‘Medicine through the ages’, I find myself feeling relatively fortunate. Do you realise that in the Middle Ages only half the population made it through to adulthood? And when the Black Death was in full force, there was no free health care, antibiotics or ventilators on hand. No, the best you could hope for then, was for a local wise-woman to waft a posy of flowers over you and for a benevolent God to take pity on your soul.

As I leave the teenager to do battle with French verbs, I get a phone call. It’s from a friend I haven’t spoken to in ages. She suffers from chronic fatigue, so we often just text because conversations tire her. But today she’s in good form. Despite her illness she’s been holding down a job and she makes me laugh with some of her ‘behind the work scene’ stories. She lives on her own and has been shielding since the start of the pandemic. As we talk, I realise that she’s had no physical contact with another human being since March 2020 yet she’s still keeping positive.

I’m glad now that this is just a voice call and that she can’t witness the state of my face. Compared to her, I have it so easy. And yes, I’m still sick of this pandemic. But even without the help of leeches and bloodletting I’m going to hang on a little bit longer.

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The Corona Chronicles: Week 45: Rites of passage

In these Covid times the usual ‘hatch, match and dispatch’ rites of passage have been completely overturned. For first-timer ‘pandemic’ parents, their experience of bringing a new-born into the world has been markedly different from the norm. No adoring sets of grandparents gathered around the cot, no neighbours popping round for a quick cuddle nor child-free friends dropping in to offer hasty congratulations and even hastier exits. The usual Babies and Toddlers support groups are now only to be found on line and post-partum blues are less easy to uncover.

On the plus side, there’s less of a barrage of conflicting advice from the well-meaning, and more of a chance for work-at-home dads to get in on the traditionally female-dominated first few months. Fathers with baby slings can be spotted everywhere and the parks are full of testosterone runners, racing past with their three-wheeler prams, showing off both their offspring and their PBs.

As for weddings, like buses, you seem to wait ages for one, then three come along all at once. I was looking forward to buying a trio of hats but cancellation has been the order of the day. Unlike me, the Nearly-Beloved shows little distress at this fact, claiming that the money we save can pay for our summer holiday. That’s if holidays are permitted this year… And Grunting Teen looks positively relieved that he won’t be forced out of his comfy lockdown lounge wear into something more respectable.

For the moment at least, Hollywood style marriage ceremonies are off the cards. For whilst a gathering of four hundred was recently broken up by police in London, few sensible couples would risk their guests’ safety for the sake of a cinematic spectacle. In fact, many are rethinking their attitude to tying the knot. Long-time live-in lovers are wondering if a house extension might be a better use of their funds. That way when restrictions finally ease, they can host a celebratory party at home. And for those wanting to legalise their union for love rather than for the ‘Gram, then spectator numbers don’t count, it’s the promise they make to each other that matters.

Indeed, I attend one wedding online and it manages to be both personal and moving. Only the nearest and dearest are physically present but there is a virtual audience with guests pre-recording video messages, performing songs or reading out meaningful poems. The vows are solemnly taken – a triumph of devotion over contagion. Love laughs in the face of Covid-19. And no matter off-screen or on, I cry at the sight of all newly-weds.

‘Happy tears’ I tell my teen, as he pokes his head round the door to find the cause of my noisy sobbing. ‘They’ll both be crying when they’ve been married as long as we have,’ mutters the Nearly-Beloved who’s been forced to watch with me. But I know he’s joking. I’ve caught him dabbing his eyes with a tissue. Because who doesn’t get emotional at the sight of two young people embarking on life’s journey together?

For all too soon, our human adventure comes to an end. And the Corona virus is a great leveller. Sadly, many have lost loved ones since the start of the pandemic and, whatever their status or contribution in life, only close family are allowed to send them on their way. For they are the ones holding the memory of love forever in their hearts.

So, if nothing else, this pandemic has taught us that life is for living, for seizing the moment and for making a difference. And it’s never too late to do that as Sir Tom Moore our famous centenarian charity raiser has shown us. For who could have imagined the impact on the nation of one elderly gentleman in the autumn of his life?

In current times, there will be no grand funeral, no pomp and ceremony to commemorate his deeds. But, in this last rite of passage, he has left us the reminder that a life of quiet service is an excellent example for us all to follow.

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