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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Are we?’ I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been a good news, bad news week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nearly-Beloved harrumphs and disappears.

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

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

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

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

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

I go upstairs and knock on his door.

‘What’s wrong, sweetheart?’ I ask.

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

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

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

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

‘S’pose not.’

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

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

‘No, a proper tea, I promise.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Corona Chronicles: Week 2: Keeping a neighbourly distance

It’s breakfast and Grunting Teen is complaining about the extra, after-school GCSE input.

‘No one else will be there, Mum,’ he groans, ‘it’s optional. We don’t have to go.’

I sigh. Is it worth a battle? But the Nearly-Beloved has strong moral principles.

‘You’re going mate and that’s that. If your teacher’s bothered to give up her time to help, then the least you can do is turn up. It pays to do the right thing.’

Grunting Teen gives one of those grunts that signifies both capitulation and contempt, and slams his way out of the house.

The Nearly-Beloved heads off to his new home-office and I decide to get to grips with the shopping situation. Last night’s news coverage of panic-buying has reminded me why I avoid the big supermarkets at Christmas, and so I opt to support our local traders instead.

I amble down to our small supermarket, where the shelves have seen fuller days but there’s still some choice available. As I round the aisle, I bump into a neighbour from across the road.

‘Oh, hello, how lovely to see you,’ we chorus in unison before springing back like startled rabbits when we remember the new social distancing rule.

So, as she stays in the safe vicinity of the jammie dodgers, I hunker down with the cream crackers and we talk about how strange life is and how there’s no pasta or loo rolls to be found.

‘I’ve got loo rolls if you need any,’ says a familiar face appearing over the top of the canned soup display.

‘And I saw pasta down at the Whole Food shop,’ says another voice from the bowels of the freezer section.

I smile. I don’t think the Nearly-Beloved’s ready for the healthy variety yet. But this is so nice! It’s a neighbours’ impromptu get-together. Too often, in our busy lives, we rush past each other but now we spend a pleasant ten minutes catching up on gossip until we realise there’s a queue forming outside.

‘I’ll forward you the video on how to wash your hands,’ beams next-door-but-one as she leaves the shop and we all agree we’ll have a massive street party once this is all over.

Returning home, I see the Nearly-Beloved about to get in the car.

‘Where are you off to?’ I ask.

‘The office. I forgot an important file.’

I seize the opportunity. ‘Great. I’ll come with you and we can pop in at a bigger store. I really do need to get some loo roll and pasta if I can.’

However, I later regret this decision as the Nearly-Beloved hasn’t stepped foot in a supermarket for over a decade and cannot comprehend the concept of stock-piling.

‘This is ridiculous,’ he says, reading the labels on the empty shelves, ‘why is there no bread? Where’s the pasta and rice? Why are people buying jars of Bolognese sauce?’

Why indeed? But there are two left and I’m having them. I’m not sure how this fits into my weekly menu-planning but I fill my basket all the same.

We head for the check-out, with the Nearly-Beloved spouting the government line that if only people would buy what they needed, there’d be enough for everybody.

‘Where’s the assistant?’ he asks, not realising this is a self-check-out.

I ignore him and start scanning. This grabs the Nearly-Beloved’s attention. He likes a gadget and reckons I’ve got my technique all wrong.

‘Here let me do it,’ he says, relegating me to the packing.

‘Unidentified item in the bagging area,’ screams the screen and an assistant magically appears. He takes one look at the Nearly-Beloved and shakes his head sympathetically at me before turning off the alarm.

I grab the chips and put them in my bag.

‘I haven’t scanned those,’ objects my soon-to-be-ex.

‘Item has been scanned,’ intones the machine,

‘Or those,’ he says as I pick up the jars of sauce.

‘Item has been scanned,’ mocks the monotone voice.

‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ I say pressing the pay-key and swiping my card, ‘let’s get out of here.’

Back home the Nearly-Beloved brandishes the till-receipt in my face.

‘See, I told you! You’ve made me shop-lift! I’ll have to go back and pay now.’


‘Seriously. It pays to do the right thing you know.’

And our social-distancing for the rest of the day turns out to be surprisingly easy…

Luckily, the hand-washing video pings into my feed to keep me occupied. It shows a nurse in surgical gloves, covered in paint which represents the virus. She demonstrates how to effectively get rid of it all. Flippin’ ‘eck, this is taking more than two rounds of Happy Birthday! Perhaps I’d better have a go myself.

I furtle round in the craft cupboard, last used with the sweet child that used to be Grunting Teen, and come across a bottle of red poster paint. That’ll do nicely. I get to work on my Corona-catching mission.

The door thumps open.

‘Told you! I was the only one there!’ grunts the teenager.

‘At least you had one-to-one attention,’ I call back, half-way through my tenth round of the birthday song.

‘Yeah, well. Miss did seem pleased with me,’ he says, coming into the kitchen, ‘Oh God! Mum! What’s happened? Dad, come quickly! Mum’s injured. There’s blood everywhere!’

The Nearly-Beloved appears in the doorway and rolls his eyes at me.

‘Don’t worry about your mother, son. You should listen to the news. They’re closing the schools on Friday and your GCSEs have been cancelled. Apparently, you’re going to get grades based on teacher assessment. Good job you went to that after-school session. It pays to do the right thing.’

And to celebrate my son’s top marks in Business Studies, we have a delicious meal of chips and Bolognese sauce, followed by a handful of indigestion tablets.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 1: Gold-medallist hoarders beat me to prize sanitiser

These are strange and worrying times that we’re currently living through and we have a choice of being overwhelmed by fear or of trying to ‘find the message in the mess.’

Today – because tomorrow, who knows? – I’ve decided to put a positive spin on the situation and find the ‘crown in the corona’ and the ‘victory in the virus’.

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind in the stockpiling stakes, so soap, sanitiser and paracetamol have already been bagged by the gold-medallist-hoarders with their triple-decker trolleys, leaving me to raid the booby-prize shelf, with its oven cleaner, wasp spray and indigestion tablets.

Back home I spray the chemical cocktail randomly around. It’s pretty potent and before long my lungs have taken a hit. I decide that a walk in the fresh air is just what I need. There are a few pedestrians out and about but, as I cough up the waspy oven cleaner, they magically disappear and I have the streets to myself. It’s remarkably peaceful without the usual traffic noise, and the air tastes clean and fresh. With no office to rush to, I have the time to admire the miniature daffodils, nodding their golden heads appreciatively at this new world order.

Zen peace doesn’t last long though as, on my return, I discover the Nearly-Beloved, rummaging through the kitchen cupboards

‘What are you doing here?’ I ask nervously.

‘We’ve all got to work from home – ‘it’s meant to be safer, more hygienic.’ 

His expression suggests otherwise, as he’s had over 30 years to realise my limitations as a housewife and my personal immunity-building strategy of exposing the family to as much dirt and bacteria as possible.

‘Ah, found some!’ he shouts victoriously and from the space under the u-bend of the sink, he conjures up 2 bars of coal-tar soap, circa 1998.

‘At least we’ll be able to wash our hands now! And maybe if you do a bit of de-cluttering, who knows what else you’ll find.’

And the Mr Right I married turns out, as usual, to be Mr Always Right. As I visit storage places last opened in the 20th century, I discover a bottle of disinfectant, nozzle missing – but beggars can’t be choosers – and a pocket-sized anti-bacteria gel, wrapped up in a nappy sack. I feel like I’ve won the lottery!

And even more so when a note pops through the door, suggesting we start a neighbourhood Whatsapp group to look out for each other in the community. It feels good to know that the media portrayal of selfish individualism is not, in fact, the case and that strangers can still open their arms, metaphorically at least.

However, when I open my arms to the Grunting Teen, on his return from school, he recoils in horror. ‘Mum, you’re old and decrepit! I’m not supposed to go near you!’

‘I assume you’re showing concern for the potential risk you may cause to us?’ I say, pointing him towards the bathroom.

It feels almost festive as I hear him singing the government-prescribed, two rounds of ‘Happy Birthday’ upstairs. Just a shame that, instead of the homely aroma of baking cake, there’s a pervasive scent of tarmacked road.

‘Mum’, he says plaintively, peering over at me from the landing, ‘are you going to die?’

‘Well of course I’m going to die,’ I reply, looking at his shocked face, ‘it’s the one given in life. And that’s why it’s important for each of us to contemplate this fact, decide how we feel about it and what we believe. You know, ‘die before you die’. That way it really makes you appreciate every moment of life you’ve been gifted, so you use it wisely and don’t waste it…’

My words, apparently, haven’t reduced his anxiety. I try a different tack.

‘Listen, 96% of people recover completely from this illness and, if I get it, then I intend to be one of them. Because, if I peg it, your big sister will inherit a teenager and I couldn’t possibly do that to her.’

In response, there’s a grunt and a ‘Can I go on the PS4 then, mum?’

Whilst the boys are otherwise engaged, I crack on with the cooking duties. I’ve not done a good job on stocking up for the current crisis. But down the cellar I do have random supplies in case of a ‘hard Brexit’. So, dinner tonight is a medley of tinned chili con carne – sell by date 2019 – and a packet of reconstituted mashed potato, followed by some healthy peaches in syrup. Thank goodness for those indigestion tablets – far more useful than paracetamol!

And even more gratitude comes my way as, in the spirit of ‘social distancing’, Grunting Teen retreats to his Cave, the Nearly-Beloved finds solace in his CD collection, leaving me to retrieve the Christmas Quality Street and binge-watch season 3 of The Crown.

All is well, as long as I retain my sense of humour … And if we all survive until the summer, then you’re invited to a BBQ at mine – no wasps guaranteed!

Speaking the Lingo

I am in a restaurant in Galicia, Northern Spain – an area popular with Spanish tourists but not yet geared up towards the UK market in terms of communicative ease.

That suits me though.

I have never been your typical Brit abroad, who assumes that if you shout loudly and slowly enough, then even an imbecile will understand your mother tongue.

No, I have an ‘O’ level in Spanish and although that was over 30 years ago, I am determined to make myself understood and show my 13-year-old that it’s both easy and cool to get by in a foreign language.

The problem is, that although I spent the week before my holiday flicking through an ancient school text book, with useful sections on ‘my family’, ‘the weather’ and ‘plants and animals’, I didn’t make it as far as the chapter on ‘food’! Never mind – I am nothing if not a great improviser.

The waitress comes over and I flash her my brightest smile.

Please, Mum! the teenager begs in anguish, as he sinks below table level ‘Just ask her in English’.

I sigh. It’s hard being the mother of an adolescent!  Do I satisfy my desire to try out my linguistic skills or risk embarrassing my son? I reach a compromise.

Hablas ingles? I ask politely.

The waitress looks alarmed and backs away slightly. ‘No!’ she states categorically.

‘See, she doesn’t speak English.’ I explain, dragging my boy upwards. ‘So if you want to eat, you’re just going to have to let me order. Now you and Dad wanted steak and chips and I’m going to have some seafood.  How difficult can that be?! I’ll just ask her a few questions. It’ll be fine.’

I turn to the waitress, who is hovering reluctantly nearby. I point at the ‘gambas’, which I hope are shrimps and ask confidently.

 ‘This fishing…’

I stop suddenly. I’ve forgotten the phrase for ‘does it come with’. Not to worry, I will paraphrase.

‘This fishing. Does it live with green vegetation?’

The waitress erupts into a coughing fit, then replies at speed with a very long and incomprehensible sentence that includes the word ‘ensalata’ – ‘salad’. I nod in agreement and she writes down my order.

Encouraged by this initial success, I point at ‘costilla de Angus’. I am guessing it is an Aberdeen Angus steak. Still it’s always better to check.

‘Is this cow or pig?’  I ask, throwing in a helpful ‘moo’ and ‘grunt’ for good effect, ignoring the adolescent who now has his hands over his face and is mumbling ‘Please let this not be happening. Please let this not be happening’.

The waitress is having trouble composing herself. Perhaps I have given her too much to think about, so I decide to simplify my question.

‘Is it cow?

She nods, obviously not trusting herself to speak. I continue enthusiastically.

The cow. Does it live with green vegetation or chips?’

The waitress replies with a tirade of rapid fire Spanish amongst which I cling on to the word ‘patatas’ and assume all is well for the steak and chips, so I confidently order ‘two cows and chips for my wife and the child’.

Linguistically incompetent husband is looking at me admiringly as if I were a seasoned UN interpreter, ‘Don’t forget the drinks,’ he reminds me.

Ah yes. ‘2 beers and a cola’ trip off my tongue with such fluency that even the 13-year-old is now back on board, albeit to make my life more complicated with his diva demand   –  ‘Can you ask for ice in it Mum please?’

‘Ice’? Now that’s a tricky one! But I need to demonstrate to him how effortless language learning is, so I frantically search my brain for vocabulary linked to ‘ice’. Of course! Weather words! They will be close enough for her to work it out.

I beam confidently at the waitress and ask, ‘The cola lives with is it snowing?’

Blank stare.

I try again, wrapping my arms around me and mimicking a shiver.

‘The cola. Please bring with winter’.

No … she’s still not got it. Honestly – I don’t even think she’s trying that hard!

So I launch into an Oscar winning performance of dropping ice cubes into a glass and then in a flash of inspiration with a word whose difficulty level deserves an A* grade at the very least, I shout out ‘Hailstones! Put hailstones in the cola please!

The waitress looks at me in disbelief, then in a sudden lightbulb moment, she understands what I mean, nods abruptly, wipes away a tear of emotion for my performance from her cheek and rushes off to sort out our order.

She returns shortly after with the 2 beers and for some reason makes a great play of rattling the ice cubes in the coke. Still, I want to thank her for her patience in communicating with me, so I point happily at the beers.

2 beers. Very good’ I say.

‘2 beers?’ she repeats in confusion.

‘Yes, yes – 2 beers’ I reply, waving her away. Honestly, she seems to have lost it again! Still the beer is good, the teenager has ice and the food is on its way, so all in not yet lost.

A short time later the waitress reappears bringing 2 more beers, 2 plates of ribs with boiled potatoes, a dish of prawns with vegetables and a humungous salad that fills the entire table.

‘Mum!’ my disappointed son wails, ‘that’s not steak and chips!’

The waitress looks at me with slightly less patience than before.

‘Vale?’ she asks with raised eyebrows.

‘Va?’ ‘Le?’ No – neither word is registering for the moment. I plunge deep into my polyglot memory. French – that will do. ‘Va’ – ‘go’. ‘Le’ – ‘the/it/them?’

Oh I see! She’s realised her mistake about the extra beers, she must be asking if she should take them away.

Yes, yes. 2 beers. Take them away!’

The waitress frowns and looks at me with a hint of contempt before stomping off, deliberately ignoring the beers and muttering something about ‘los ingleses’ and ‘cervezas’ under her breath.

‘What did she say about the steak and chips?’ the teenager demands.

I swig back my beer before answering. If I admit I haven’t a clue what’s going on, he will lose all confidence in my language abilities, so I do what all great interpreters should and make it up.

‘She said she’s very sorry but they’ve run out of steak and chips. The ribs are the house speciality and they come with potatoes from their own garden, which are famed for their flavour. Honestly, love, don’t make a scene and show us Brits in a bad light! Your meal looks delicious and you can always fill up on that lovely salad’.

Minutes later the waitress is back and unceremoniously plonks 2 more beers down on the table.

Monlingual husband looks non-plussed.

‘Why has she brought us 6 beers?’ he hisses, ‘Does she think all Brits are alcoholics?

To be honest, I have no idea but I am half way through my 2nd beer and past caring.

No, no,’ I improvise, ‘It’s just to thank us for not making a fuss about her messing up our order’.

3 beers later and, whilst the salad remains intact, the ribs and shrimps have been declared ‘really tasty’, and desserts have been ordered effortlessly (due to the helpful photos that accompanied the sweets menu).

English speaking husband has been so seduced by his slice of local cake that I have asked them to wrap up a whole one to take back with us. ‘It’s a bit pricy love’, he argues when I tell him it will cost 7 euros – but it is artisan, a regional delicacy and after all, we are on holiday…

It’s just as well then that it is me who asks for ‘the receipt please’, as I quickly sober up when I realise that I have misheard ‘siete’ – 7 – for ‘dieciesiete’ -17-and that we are now taking home the most expensive almond dessert in Europe, on top of paying for the 4 extra beers and salad!

Much to the lazy teenager’s annoyance I decide it’s such a beautiful evening we should walk back to the apartment rather than taking a taxi. But half an hour in and he’s refusing to go any further unless he can refuel his adolescent, hollow legs with an ice-cream.

We are passing a ‘heladeria’- ice cream shop. I stop. I hesitate.

Yes, I may think I’m a linguist but there’s a limit to all things.

 As the assistant smiles helpfully at me and asks ‘Que quieres?’, I point at the tub of pink ice cream and bellow very loudly and slowly in my best English, ‘A STRAAAW-BERRYYYY, ICE-CREAMMM, PLEEEASE!’

The City Divide

Musings on the Mundane

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.

The city divide

‘Are you s-s-s-sure this is s-s-s-safe?’

Helicopter Mother winds down the window and sniffs the air to detect any hint of danger.

‘It’s just a park!’

I’m already beginning to regret inviting Marcus’ mum on this day out! Although, to be fair, due to her lack of trust in my parenting style of ‘benign neglect’, she rather invited herself!

I know! But we’ve never been this side of the city before!’

Ah yes – we live in a divided city, where those in the affluent south can expect to live an extra ten years longer than their neighbours in the north. A shocking statistic but one that today I hope to take advantage of.

You see, it’s holiday time again and I’ve exhausted all ideas of how to entertain an eight-year-old. Due to government cuts, the park ranger programme of Easter events, which used to be city wide, is now only running in certain areas. I pay my taxes and, as a true Yorkshire lass, I want my money’s worth – so here we are today!

‘Wow mum! Look at that adventure playground!

The boys pile out of the car and race delightedly towards the zip-wire in the distance, oblivious to the frantic shouts of ‘Marcus! Your inhaler darling!’

We mothers make up the rear-guard, with our rucksacks full of provisions and hand sanitiser, and set up camp on a bench.

‘Look at the great views! And we’ve practically got the park to ourselves!’

Helicopter Mother does not share my delight. She’s on high alert and her radar has detected a potential threat. Over in the corner, shielded from normal view, at the top of an awesome slide is a group of dodgy-looking teenagers, all greasy-haired attitude and foul-mouthed posturing.


Marcus comes running over.

Mummy – those big boys are smoking! And we can’t get past them – they’re blocking the tunnel. They’re scary. Can we go home now?’

My own Small Child shrugs his shoulders – ‘We could always go on the seesaw or the climbing frame…

Helicopter Mother starts packing away her organic fruit’n’nut snacks but I’m not ready to give up yet – we’ve only just arrived for heaven’s sake! It’s time to bite the bullet – they’re only teenagers after all – not wild animals!

I wander over nonchalantly towards the slide – small boys following at a safe distance.

Excuse me lads!’ I cough hesitantly in the direction of the teenagers.

‘You talking to us Mrs?’

Acne-face blows a stream of smoke in my direction.

‘Err – yes that’s right. I wonder if you could help out. These little boys here want to have a go on the slide but they’re a bit nervous about getting through the tunnel.’

‘Is that right then?’

Acne-face peers down aloofly, then his eyes light up as he catches sight of Small Child.

‘How old are you mate?’

‘I’m eight.’

‘Aah, is that right? Same age as my little brother.’

‘Is he here? Can we play with him?’

‘Nah – he’s in Care.’

Acne-face jumps down from the slide. Small Child is impressed.

‘Wow you’re like a ninja!’

‘That’s right. We’re all ninja warriors, aren’t we gang?’

One by one the rest of the ninjas jump down and surround our two boys. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Helicopter Mother frantically searching through her bag.

‘Do you want to play with us?’

Acne-face laughs.

‘Yeah – why not? Do you want us to push you on the roundabout?’

And off they disappear, whooping and karate-chopping, ninja style to the other side of the playground, just as Helicopter Mother rushes up, brandishing a mace spray.

‘It’s alright.’ I say, ‘the natives are friendly! Shall we leave them and go and get a coffee from that van over there.

Helicopter Mother looks as if I’ve suggested 1st degree murder.

‘Ok – you stay here. I’ll go and get the coffees.’

I’m on my way back when a police van pulls up and, as the officer gets out, Acne-face and his gang pelt past me in the opposite direction, leaving our boys looking sad and abandoned.

Perhaps it’s time now to search out the Park rangers and their advertised activities?

We head up to the small, multi-cultural queue that has formed to try the tree climbing. Small Child, who has had climbing lessons for over a year now, scales the ladder in seconds, whilst Marcus is still struggling to put on the safety helmet his mother has insisted he wear.

 A slightly podgy Asian child is making his way painfully slowly up the rungs. When he finally reaches the top, he breaks out into the biggest smile I’ve ever seen! I smile back encouragingly. Small Child is not impressed.

‘Why are you smiling at him mum – he was rubbish!

‘And so were you when you first started!’ I hiss back.

Gradually the park that was once empty, is starting to fill up. News of the events has filtered through. A throng of pasty-looking children have prised themselves away from Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, to experience the unknown delights of fresh air and wholesome activities.

Life and a festive atmosphere is being breathed into the park.

The catering van is doing great business in cheap burgers, hot dogs and ice-creams and Small Child looks on enviously as he makes do with hummus and carrot sticks. On a grassy slope nearby a group of international students and their families are lighting up forbidden BBQs whilst the rangers turn a blind eye.

Streams of overweight kids queue patiently to try out the grass sledging whilst others take it in turns to hold the magnifying glasses on a bug hunt through the undergrowth. In one of the sheds, wild life and wild children meet, sometimes for the first, miraculous time.

Wonder, fun and amazement are what my taxes have paid for today.

But I still want to get my money’s worth. I turn to Helicopter Mother, who is busy putting sun cream on Marcus’ face – ‘just in case’.

Come on – let’s have a go on that zip-wire before we leave.’

‘Oh no! It’s for kids not adults and, besides, I’m not sure it’s sate.

And so, as I sail down the wire, the wind whipping my face, I’m aware this might be my last ever day out with Marcus’ mum. But I’m not worried – I’ve got to live a little before I return to the privileged south! After all, I’ve got an extra ten years to play with…