Welcome to Musings on the Mundane! The world as depicted in the media can often seem dark and overwhelming. So join me and my blog posts to marvel in the mundane and laugh at the little things in life.



Who’s the mug?

Today I break a mug. Not any old mug. The cheesy mug with the big red heart that the Nearly-Beloved bought me for our ‘China’ anniversary many moons ago. It may not have been the cruise along the Yangtze River I’d been hoping for but at least it was lovingly chosen…

The problem now – apart from confessing my sin – is which mug is going to replace it?

In ideal families, who live in tidy, designer homes, tea is drunk out of colour co-ordinated cups that match the palette of their kitchens. Alas, not in our household!  My kitchen cupboard is an orphanage to a motley crew of abandoned or purloined pottery. What’s more, certain mugs already have an owner and woe-betide anyone who tries to drink out of those!

Grunting Teen has staked a claim on the ‘Cadbury’s’ mug. He’s welcome to it as far as I’m concerned. It may give him the old-fashioned feel-good factor with its vintage air and authentic crack down the middle, but to me, there is something fundamentally wrong with drinking tea out of a cup that contains the word ‘chocolate’ on it.

‘Pontypool RUFC’, circa 1978, is obviously a no-go area. It came as part of my marriage vows and has a special shelf all of its own. Thank goodness I didn’t drop that! And ‘Smiley Fish’ is also out of bounds. It’s sunny in a charming Mediterranean way but, as the only non-chipped drinking vessel, it is invariably reserved for guests.                                            

Maybe I could risk the ‘Star Wars’ mug? It once held an Easter egg. But the handle has been superglued back on and I fear the Force may long since have abandoned it…

Then there’s always the cutting edge ‘German Bauhaus’ masterpiece, purchased on a whim from a museum shop in Dusseldorf. It’s cool and Teutonic. Yet its slanting design is unnerving. What’s more, it has a superior air that mocks you at the first sign of spillage.

I could resort to ‘Boring Stoneware’, the sole survivor of the class of four. But its bland respectability means I keep it in reserve for any visits by officialdom or in-laws.

Maybe ‘Psychedelic Spots’ – an heirloom from my student days – could get promoted? But on second thoughts there’s a reason why I’ve always kept it out of sight…

‘Nasty Bee’ is an obvious no. It’s the mug of last resort, usually only offered to workmen or the Nearly-Beloved when he’s in my bad books.

That leaves the assortment of plastic cups which hang out on the naughty step. They are the remnants of childhood, and have never quite grown up. ‘Teletubbies’, with its lingering smell of toddler tantrums and sticky Ribena, is an old favourite. It was such fun with its swivelling middle that I could never bear to part with it. But to drink from its slightly chewed, germ-infested rim is dicing too closely with death.

So, by process of elimination, my new mug of choice must be ‘Someone Special’.

It was given to me by one of my former students, and despite its oversentimentality, it is strong, sturdy and the only thing in the household that still appreciates me.

As I celebrate my decision with a cup of ‘Special’ tea, the door opens. The Nearly-Beloved is home. It’s time to beg his forgiveness. Underneath it all he’s quite a softie, a closet romantic. I hope he won’t be too upset about the breakage. After all, he knows how much his thoughtful gift meant to me by the very fact I managed to keep it intact and crack-free for over a decade.

But memory is a strange thing. It turns out I needn’t have worried. The man who swore he’d taken days to pick out the ideal anniversary gift looks at me in confusion. ‘That tacky, old mug?’ he asks bemused, ‘I never liked it anyway…’

The Grammy Awards

I am in post-ceremony mood. The feelings of elation have died down to be replaced by a sense of disbelief and a slight nervousness. Am I really worthy of this honour? Will I live up to the high standards expected of my fellow nominees?  I’ve never received such an accolade before. I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance… Then a few weeks ago, Little Angel made her first stage appearance and I became a Grammy – an award-winning Grandmother. But do I deserve it?

This role is new to me and takes a bit of getting used to. Day 1 and I’m high on adrenaline and dopamine. Day 2 and the cortisol kicks in. There are unfortunate setbacks, a prolonged hospital stay and the realisation that I now have an extra person in the world to panic about! Thankfully, by the end of week 2, I finally get to meet my granddaughter. But, oh my goodness, she’s so tiny! And despite the fact I’ve had three children of my own, who’ve somehow survived to adulthood, I’ve totally forgotten all knowledge of babies. Even Grunting Teen, who is ‘well proud’ to be an uncle, seems more adept than me at handling this squawking creature with its wobbly head and thrashing limbs.

The Nearly-Beloved remembers his limitations and keeps a secure distance, under the pretence of taking photos. He’ll save his cuddles and come into his own once a ball is involved and kicking practice is called for. The paternity leave of the modern father is a mystery to him. In his day I suspect he found his office a welcome haven for a sneaky nap. But Super Son-in-law appears sad to be returning to work. And Darling Daughter, who’s been full of happy hormones, suddenly morphs into a blubbering mess at the news she will be home alone.

All eyes are on me, the one with the flexible job that can be fitted round general dogs-bodying and teenage taxi duties. Surely a bit of baby-sitting is not beyond me? But am I up to it? I fear not.

‘I can always ask my mother to help out…’ suggests my now Not-so-super Son-in-law, playing his trump card. Well yes, of course, Nemesis Nana would be the ideal solution – she’s already on grandchild number three. Calm, competent, cool in a crisis – she can read a story whilst supervising craft work and simultaneously cooking up a nutritious meal. I’d better tear up that acceptance speech right away…

‘No, your mum will be happy to come round,’ volunteers the Nearly-Beloved on my behalf. I smile sweetly back and vow to make him suffer.

But at 7am the next day I’m certainly not smiling. Nor is Darling Daughter who looks in need of a blood transfusion. ‘I’m just so tired,’ she sobs, thrusting a sleeping bundle at me followed by a list of instructions and a hasty exit. I sit, straight backed and rigid with Little Angel in my arms, hoping that if I don’t move, she will be none the wiser. But the moment her mother leaves the room, the abandoned one’s eyes flash open. Nemesis Nana has obviously warned her about me, as she takes one look and starts howling. I feel like howling back. But in the recess of my mind, I remember that liquid refreshment is the answer. Unfortunately, there is no gin in the cupboard. There is however, an all-singing-dancing baby espresso machine that froths up a bottle of milk in no time. And magically the howling stops to be replaced by contented sucking.

It’s all starting to come back to me. Cradle in a semi-upright position. Support the head. Even I can manage that. And yes, there’s a bit of a burping blip. And yes, the nappy changing could’ve been smoother. And yes, I may have to work on dressing skills. Still, I think Little Angel has forgiven me for sticking her feet in her sleeves and mis-popping her vest. For now, she’s snuggled up safely, all pinky-cheeked and rose-bud-mouthed.  So, whilst I may not yet have reached Nemesis-Nana’s high standards, I think I could get used to being a Grammy…

Garden Wars

I am on gardening duties, following the Nearly-Beloved’s instructions.

Or to be more precise, I am not.

‘I said dead-head not destroy! Into a pile not spread round the lawn. And why have you dug up those bulbs I plantedlast week?’

Before long I’m banished to the wasteland behind the apple tree to deal with the nettles and brambles as punishment.

You see, the Nearly-Beloved’s idea of a great garden is a neatly manicured lawn, fringed by a choreography of colourful foliage and flowers in a weed-free area. I, on the other hand, am a fan of overgrown wilderness mixed with a hint of anarchy and a splash of eccentricity. But marriage – that union of two different sides – involves compromise. And, over the years, the Garden Gestapo has taken over, chaining up my free spirit by banishing my bird boxes and silencing my wind-chimes.

I dig on until the spade hits a memory from the past – of care-free times, young children and laughter.

‘Look at this,’ I exclaim in delight, ‘that stone frog the kids used to play with. It’s lost all its colour but still got its sweet smile. Ah – happy times.’

The Nearly-Beloved does not have the same recall.

‘Bloody garden ornaments littering my lawn! Throw it away.’

But the bin seems too final for such a faithful friend.  Waiting until the Joy-killer’s gaze is distracted I find Little Frog a safe hiding spot at the side of the shed.

Continuing to dig, I realise that I’ve stumbled across a safe haven for ornamental undesirables. For there, cowering behind the brambles is Timid Mole and not far away – a chipped, moss-covered shadow of her former self – lies White Cat. And, oh my goodness, could that earless lump lying on its side, once have been our proud Lady Siamese?

Checking that all is clear, I stage another rescue, before returning innocently to my digging.

‘You’ve not come across any more of those atrocities, have you?’

I smile the smile of the oppressed who’ve suddenly been thrown a life-line.

‘No, that was the only one…’

But I know now that more rebels will seek sanctuary and before long Bouncy Bunny, who’s sacrificed his tail to the struggle, hops out of hiding and leads me to the greatest find of all – Old Brock. War-damaged, his hero stripes are no longer recognisable, but he’s all in one piece and ready to lead his battalion again.

And over the next few days, I tend to their wounds, washing off the mud and sanding them down. But how can I restore them to their former glory? It’s not safe to go out and buy paint – that would arouse too much suspicion. Instead, I make do with underground materials salvaged from the cellar. A tin of white gloss, a pot of black enamel and some long-discarded bottles of child’s poster-paint help repair the damage.

‘Sorry – it’s the best I could do,’ I apologise to Lady Siamese, whose fur is now more purple than grey and whose eyes are not the blue she was once famed for. But Little Frog is charming in green, with black spots cunningly disguising his chipped skin. White Cat and Bouncy Bunny, it has to be confessed, are a little too shiny, and Timid Mole’s features are impossible to distinguish. But Old Brock is a triumph – a call to arms!

And so, under cover of darkness, the animals take up position once more in the garden. Lady Siamese disappears under the holly bush. White Cat and Bouncy Bunny patrol behind the shed. Little Frog stands guard, unnoticed beneath the ferns, whilst Timid Mole and Old Brock are ninja shadows between the tree trunks.

Yes, they may have to wait and bide their time patiently. But it’s only a matter of when not if. For they are ready, cute and therefore unstoppable, to stage a coup when the grandchildren of the future arrive to rescue them.

Car Blindness

My next-door neighbour smiles bemusedly at me as I pretend to be searching for something on the pavement in front of her house. ‘Thought I’d dropped some money’, I mutter in explanation, as I retreat back up the road and get into my Nissan Micra. The truth is much more worrying. I have once again narrowly missed being caught trying to break into her Citroen! This is no indication of criminal tendencies, I hasten to add, but rather a severe case of ‘car blindness’. I have no notion of the different makes of car. In my eyes, a Mini and a Maserati merge in their ‘maroonness’, a Lada and a Lotus are lookalikes in lemon, and a Beetle and a Bentley blend together in blue. My brain registers the colour – red, the size – small, and the position – on the street outside my house, and concludes that the car must, therefore, belong to me.                 

My lack of automobile awareness is incomprehensible to the Nearly Beloved. When he asks me where my friend bought their new Qashqai, it takes a while to register he means a car rather than a cardigan. And then I can only recall that the colour, which was previously white, is now black.

It’s not that I’m disinterested in cars, it’s just that to me, their prime function is to get from A to B without breaking down. This lesson was taught me by my very first purchase (metallic, small, terrified of hills), with its dodgy handbrake. It had multiple health problems and often needed emergency care. If only I had concentrated on prevention, rather than cure! Looking after the lights, testing the tyres and organising the oil all seemed too strict a regime to follow until one day little ‘Goldie’ went into cardiac arrest on the motorway, with steam billowing from her bonnet. The AA paramedics arrived, gave her a Castrol transfusion, and then towed her away, warning me I would need to drastically improve my nursing skills. But instead, I outsourced Engine NHS to my more mechanically minded other-half.

Delightful Daughter despairs of me, complaining, ‘You’re hardly an advert for Girl Power, are you mum?’ She, in contrast, is a competent modern woman, known for jump-starting batteries, replacing windscreen wipers and keeping an eye on her treads. She’s a serial motoring monogamist, treating her rides with respect so they stick with her for the long haul.

I, however, am always parting company with my fickle means of transport. With Goldie in the morgue, I headed to the Motor Maternity Unit and returned with ‘Girl Racer’ (sporty, go-faster stripes, always up for a burn out). She was a party animal but fell in with a bad crowd. Late one night she ran off with a gang of joy-riders and was found head-first in a wall.

‘Hand-me-down’, my father’s old car (blue, solid, good in tight spots) replaced her. But whilst dependable, he couldn’t cope with the demands of a growing family and was forced out by ‘Family Beast’ (black, 7-seater ‘don’t mess with me’ giant). I have to admit, I shed a tear when he was lost at sea in a freak flash flood.

The compensation received stretched only as far as ‘Mr Make-do’ (dull, grey, uninspiring). There was no love lost between us. He never forgave me for allowing the children to treat him as a waste paper bin, reversing him into a skip, or scraping his sides in the multi-storey car park. In revenge, his electrics blew up and I spent a chilly winter with my windows never fully closing, before I finally traded him in for ‘Mum’s Taxi’ (red, reliable, easier to spot). She’s served me well through three adolescences as a moving, metal confessional where secrets inadvertently get spilled.

So far Grunting Teen has kept his lips tightly sealed. He doesn’t give much away on our car journeys, just gripping the door handle and occasionally slamming his right foot down in the door well. But he appreciates the lifts so refuses to join his father in laughing at me when I swear ‘car blindness’ is a ‘disability’ not something I have made up.

In the end, I resort to taking photos of where I last parked so I can distinguish ‘Mum’s Taxi’ from all the Doppelgangers on the street. It’s only when the next-door neighbour knocks into me that I realise I’m not the only one suffering from this problem. ‘Can I just get past you to my car?’ I ask.

‘Yes, of course,’ she replies standing up red-faced. ‘Thought I’d dropped some money, that’s all.’

The Climbing Wall

How we suffer for our kids…

I’m huddled in a thick winter coat and fur-lined boots, with gloved hands warming up around a steaming cup of coffee. A rictus smile is pinned to my face as I watch climbers of various abilities making their way up the climbing wall. Their laboured breath forms a freezing cloud, charting their progress along the route.

It’s hard to believe this is an indoor facility.

Heating is not an issue for Grunting Teen – his exertions soon have him peeling off his layers to hand to me, his pack-horse servant. For tonight, I am the designated taxi driver, so I polish my mother’s halo and jam my woollen hat further down until it meets the scarf wrapped tightly round my face.

Usually, I delegate this task to the Nearly-Beloved. After all, I’ve done my parental time with endless swimming lessons, dance recitals and basketball matches. His turn to suffer!

Unfortunately, today he’s on a well-timed business trip. I sigh and take a sip of the burning liquid. Only another hour to go. It wouldn’t be so bad if I could watch my son climbing. But no. Clapping his efforts was apparently ‘not cool’, so I’ve been banned to a side corner.

Just as I’m wrapping Grunting Teen’s discarded fleece around my hands in the hope that it will create more heat, the door opens. A group of five young men walk in. There’s an air about them that immediately commands attention. Apparently, they are the Elite Team who take part in speed competitions.

‘If you’re cold, you should get climbing yourself.’

A wholesome-looking, blonde youth is smiling at me.

I smile back and gesture in the direction of the beginners’ group, who are attempting to clip themselves on.

‘I think I’d freeze to death before I even got started,’ I reply.

‘Not if you practise,’ he winks, attaching himself to the rope and literally running up the wall.

I blink, having just witnessed a Spiderman moment.

‘Wow, that was amazing,’ I say as he abseils back down.

‘We’re always better when we have an audience, aren’t we?’ he says to his fellow climbers.

And as if to prove a point, the other four clip on and race each other to the top. They’re incredibly fit and focussed, effortlessly knowing where to find foot and hand holds. Their lithe, sinewy bodies strain against their tight climbing tops as muscles flex, reaching for the tiniest of grips.

I suddenly feel quite hot.

The Elite Team race up, down and across the walls like a moving art installation. They are living and breathing Michelangelo statues and, I tell myself, I am simply an art appreciator.

My gloves and scarf are off now and I’ve had to lift my hat up to let out a bit of steam.

Meanwhile the Elite Team continue to dangle one-handed from the highest holds or clamber upside-down around impossible overhangs. Just when a move looks impossible, they leap daringly from one rock-face to another, before finally swinging back to the ground to high-five each other.

‘Are you alright, mum?’ – Grunting Teen suddenly appears – ‘You look a bit flushed. And you’ve got hat hair.’

‘Oh, is that the time already?’ I stammer, ‘Have you finished?’

‘Yeah. Sorry if you got cold, mum. But Dad’s back next week, isn’t he?’

‘Will that Elite Team be here then?’ I ask casually.

‘Yes. Why?’

‘Oh, no reason. And, actually, I’m feeling surprisingly toasty. So, I might do your father a favour and bring you again.’

How we suffer for our kids …

Families United

Family unity is definitely missing as a string of expletives signals the Nearly-Beloved’s arrival home. I go to investigate and find him hopping on one leg. ‘Get down here sonny Jim!’ he yells. ‘I nearly broke my neck, tripping over your school bag.’ But alas, he is talking into a void. That boat has already sailed, leaving behind an empty Pot Noodle carton and a sink full of mouldering mugs. That’s Grunting Teen’s idea of clearing out his room in return for a ride with Mum’s Taxis.

‘He’s not here,’ I say, thankful for one battle less to contend with. ‘I dropped him off to do some revision.’ The Nearly-Beloved snorts. ‘Revision? As if! You’re such a pushover.’ I scowl back at him, knowing he’s right but annoyed at his directness. You see, Grunting Teen has virtually moved in with Polly Pocket, his petite ‘friend’, who fits neatly under his armpit and is a permanent fixture there. Revision or not, he’s been spending more time at Polly’s house than he has at ours. Maybe it’s because Polly’s parents don’t grill him about his homework or obsess about waterproof footwear?

At the moment there seem to be almost daily stand-offs between the alpha males in my life. All that father-son shouting and morning chorus of ‘Put your coat on. It’s raining!’ is getting somewhat repetitive. I suppose I should be grateful that currently we all exist in a different orbit. As one comes in, another goes out. Making up for all that time in lockdown.

So why do I feel a sudden nostalgia for cosy evenings together watching Netflix, for shared lunches and companionable walks, where just being outdoors was bonding? I mean, why would Grunting Teen want to hang out with his mum now? Why would the Nearly-Beloved choose to stay in with me, having already crammed ten years of marriage into sixteen months? As it is, he’s off to tennis. Doesn’t want to eat the meal I’ve lovingly prepared for him and my absent son.

I stomp upstairs. At least I can ring Delightful Daughter for a moan. But now she’s on maternity leave, she’s making the most of her last weeks of freedom. She’s too busy to talk and booked up for the foreseeable future. Great! It feels like we are all spiralling in different directions. All doing our ‘own thing’. There’s a sense of discord. We’re all focussing on individual desires. No sense of family unity any more. And there’s no point trying the son in Amsterdam…

But just then my mobile pings with a message from him. He’s recommending we all watch a new mini-series. In Korean. With subtitles. No way! Set in Korea? The Nearly-Beloved? Reading subtitles? Grunting Teen? I rather think not.

I’m getting hungry now. So, I go downstairs to eat the casserole. On my own. Then the door opens and the Nearly-Beloved puts his head sheepishly round it.

‘Any chance of some food? Tennis has been cancelled.’

I sigh and dish up.

We’re just tucking in when a tornado rattles the house and Grunting Teen blasts in.

‘I’m starvin’,’ he announces.

It turns out that today Polly is actually revising and doesn’t want any distractions. So, I set out another plate and we enjoy a surprisingly civilised meal together. There are no arguments and the conversation flows. Then Grunting Teen, who, amazingly, has finished all his homework, suggests we watch ‘Squid Game.’ Apparently, it’s the latest must-see.

‘It’s set in Korea, mum. But you’ll like it, anyway. And it’s got subtitles, Dad, so get your specs on.’

Suspending our disbelief, we settle down with a box of the not-to-be-opened-until-Christmas Quality Street. And before long we are hooked. As is Darling Daughter, as well as my Boy Abroad. So, we now have a Squid Game thread running on the joint WhatsApp. Thanks to this mini-series we’ve found a common interest. Family unity is once more restored.

Stressbusters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manflu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Happy Half

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

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

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

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

Then it’s ‘5-4-3-2-1’ and we’re off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Corona Chronicles: Week 76: The End!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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