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 30: A husky get-away

This weekend finds us on a long-delayed, Corona-cancelled birthday ‘experience’ for the Nearly Beloved. It’s a welcome chance to escape the city whilst we still can, even if ‘sledding with huskies’ isn’t my ideal break.

But I mustn’t complain, unlike the Nearly Beloved, who wasn’t at all happy with last year’s gift of a ride in a microlite. Thankfully it was a solo trip in what turned out to be a dodgy, flying lawnmower. And we didn’t want a repeat of the dislocated shoulder from indoor skydiving, the paint-balling incident that ended in tears, or the life-flashing-in-front-of-my-eyes moment on the river jeep-safari. I mean I’m not a big fan of animal adventures, unlike my fear-free other half, but life in lockdown needs some spicing up.  And what could possibly go wrong?

I wasn’t counting on the great UK segregation system. The night before we leave, South Yorkshire slides into tighter restrictions, meaning household bubbles can no longer mix indoors and more importantly, Grunting Teen can no longer stop over with his big sister. He’s officially too old to need child-care provision but is he old enough to be left on his own?

The boy himself thinks so. But the Nearly-Beloved isn’t convinced. ‘You’ve babied that lad. What’s he going to survive on? He can’t even make toast without setting off the smoke alarm. So, I’m certainly not trusting him with the cooker.’ Grunting Teen rolls his eyes. ‘I’ll have a couple of Pot Noodles,’ he says, ‘and there’s always the biscuit cupboard…’

So, it’s all decided and, whilst Darling Daughter breathes a sigh of relief that she’ll no longer be eaten out of house and home, I stock up the shelves with non-government-dietary-advice goodies.

There’s just time for one more drill on operating the central heating and locking the front door safely before I send the Home Alone child off to school and drag my fellow husky-sledder into the car. ‘He’s got to learn independence,’ I say. ‘and he’s old enough to cope now, isn’t he?’

As we journey on, passing colourful woodlands, the roads are Covidly quiet and the attractions en-route are bereft of tourists. There’s a sense of both autumnal beauty and sadness. But this break is a welcome distraction from the doom and gloom of lockdown life.

Arriving at our destination loud barking greets us. There are eighteen rescue huskies in all. That’s eighteen too many for my liking. But the Nearly-Beloved is in his element, bending down to pat them and get his face licked, whilst I stand trembling, at a virus-friendly distance.

Thankfully, the trainer is both competent and aware and soon puts us at ease. She’s well-informed and conveys her message clearly and concisely. What a refreshing change! By the time she’s finished there is no confusion whatsoever about what we’re expected to do. There’s no ‘mush!’ to get the dogs started. This is just misinformation. Instead the command we need is ‘hike!’ And if we want to slow things down, then it’s just a little squeeze on the brakes and a gentle call of ‘steady,’ whilst an emergency stop calls for a loud ‘whoah!’ and full on pressure.

‘The huskies don’t appreciate it if the instructions aren’t clear,’ the trainer warns us, ‘and if they lose trust in the sledder, it’s hard to win it back. They just do their own thing.’

‘Sounds like my wife’, mutters the Nearly-Beloved, whilst I find myself warming to these intelligent creatures.

She tells us that, like humans, huskies are sociable animals who enjoy company and pine away if left on their own too long. They’re different from other dogs in that they’re creatures of cooperation who will follow orders if they can see the benefits yet are too smart for blind obedience. And usually the lead husky is a female because the whole pack does well when they’re in charge.

I’m starting to like these dogs a lot.

And now it’s time to turn ‘musher’. The Nearly-Beloved, of course, is ‘a natural’ and heads off like a pro into the sunset. He makes it look easy. I reckon I can do this too.

But once the power of the huskies is unleashed, they surprise me with their breakneck speed. I completely forget to steer and find myself careering towards a ditch. In my panic, those oven-ready commands fly out of my head and I shout out an illogical ‘steady-woah-hike-woah-steady’ order that ends in chaos and a near head-dive over the handle-bars.

It seems that being in charge isn’t always as easy as it looks.

And maybe this experience hasn’t been the best for me but there is an end to it and my reward comes later with a relaxing evening in a country hotel.

Returning home, the next day, we find the door unlocked, the central heating on the blink and a smell of burnt toast in the kitchen. We eventually track Grunting Teen down, headphones on, in front of the PS4. The room is littered with discarded biscuit wrappers and coke tins. But, like us, he’s alive and well.

We’ve all survived the experience.

The Corona Chronicles; Week 29: Teething problems

I awake screaming as a thousand hob-nailed boots stamp a River Dance along my jaw line. My impacted wisdom tooth has decided to make its presence known for the second time since lockdown. As time slows down and pain increases, I await with shaking fingers poised to dial the dentist’s surgery. The minute it opens, I’m on the line – a toothache junkie desperate for a hit.

But things have changed since I last met my orthodontist dealer on the street corner. No more shiftily sliding a prescription through the car window with no questions asked. No, now I have to be seen in person. No medication without explanation. But this is a good thing, surely? Maybe the dentist can help me get clean? Maybe I won’t need the hard stuff after all?

So off I go to his drug den with its high security. No entrance without prior permission. Instead, a covert phone call is required to announce my presence and allow me to be buzzed into the building, where I sit in desperation with a fellow masked-sufferer. We avoid eye contact. We both know what we’re waiting for.

Finally, I get to see the Boss. He’s heavily disguised in PPE, making it impossible to pick him out in an ID parade. I wait, quivering on the interrogation couch, for his verdict. It’s not good news. ‘That molar is on its way out,’ he warns. ‘But it’s a specialist job for the big guns at Charles Clifford. In the meantime, I can slip you some antibiotics.’ Trembling, I pay up my NHS dues and sneak out in search of a chemist’s where I trade money for my fix and stock up on some hardcore painkillers.

Back home I wait for the big rush. But it never comes. By the time my son and his father arrive back I’m almost psychotic with pain. Grunting Teen pauses on his way back from the fridge to ask ‘What time’s tea?’ When he gets no reply, he deduces from my delirious expression that the situation is serious. ‘Mum, why’s your face swollen?’ he asks. ‘Yes, you do look a bit like the Elephant Man,’ agrees the Nearly-Beloved cheerily.

He’s not so cheery the next morning as my groans have kept him awake half the night. Now instead of helping me quit the habit, he’s scored me some industrial-strength narcotics from his knee-op two years ago. They come with a government warning and a 3-day maximum usage before addiction sets in.

And how easy it is to get addicted as my agony miraculously vanishes and I float through life in a numb, pandemic-anxiety-free haze. Life is great. Until Day 4. The miracle pills run out, the antibiotics fail to kick in and the spiky River Dancers resume their ceaseless jig around my gums, hammering nails into every nerve ending.

There’s no choice, I’ll have to go back and tell them the truth. I’m having a bad trip. What they’ve given me isn’t getting me high. I need the pure stuff coursing through my veins. But on my return the dentist has transformed from dope-peddler to substance-misuse-worker. He’s all concern and compassion. He’s here to help. But I’m already on the grade 1 antibiotics and there’s nothing stronger on offer. The only solution is to go cold turkey at the dental hospital. ‘I’m sorry,’ he tells me, ‘but due to the current crisis, there’s a backlog of patients, and pain doesn’t move you up the waiting list when there are more life-threatening cases to deal with.’ His face falls. He looks sad. Before I know it, he’s telling me that dentistry’s become the forgotten relative of the NHS, that stringent Corona safety measures mean normal procedures take much longer and that, now, instead of saving teeth, he spends more time extracting them.

‘So, can’t you take mine out then?’ I plead. He shakes his head. ‘Too complicated. You need to do business with the men at the top.’ But he offers advice about cleaning and mouthwash, and phones the clinic to bump me up the ranks. Then he packs me off with a virtual hug and an extra supply of antibiotics in the hope they’ll eventually do the trick. And the fact that he’s genuinely concerned about my well-being and doing his best in difficult circumstances does make me feel slightly better.

When I tell the Nearly-Beloved my cure might take months he pales at the thought of more sleepless nights. He makes enquiries. Money is the answer. And we’re lucky to have that option. The refund from our Covid-cancelled holiday in France will pay for private surgery that can be done next week. But will pain or Yorkshire thrift win out?

Spurred on by the caring dentist and the cost of treatment, I embark on a radical rehabilitation programme. I open up about my predicament on Social Media and am immediately overwhelmed by an outpouring of warmth, affection and good wishes. Intervention is no longer needed. Miraculously, the next day, the pain has lessened. I’m in recovery. Loving kindness is the drug that works for me.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 28: Building good relations?

With nights drawing in and little to look forward to, people are hunkering down and making the best of it. On our street this has translated itself into a flurry of home improvements and an army of builders invading the area. Our friendly WhatsApp group has been pinging with messages from various neighbours. They’re terribly apologetic and hope we don’t mind but they’ll be ‘having a bit of work done’ and taking the chance to visit far-flung relatives whilst they still can.

We’re awoken at 6am by the sound of heavy machinery under our bedroom window.

‘Bloody bin men!’ groans the Nearly Beloved, jamming a pillow over his head.

But it’s too early for the refuse lorry and, what’s more, it’s a Saturday. It’s only when the loud clunking of metal hits the road, that I realise a skip has just been delivered.

The skip remains blissfully empty until Monday morning when all hell breaks loose and a team of workmen invade number 12 with drills, wrecking hammers, saws and blaring commercial radio. After two hours I give up trying to work from home and head to the local café with my laptop.

On my return I see the skip is already half-full and console myself with the fact that the worst may be over. But just like promises and politics, hope and reality are very different, and the next morning a second skip is delivered outside number 36, along with a rival gang of builders with their rival radio station on at full blast.

By Friday, number 71 is covered in scaffolding and more music is booming out from the rooftops. It’s alright for the Nearly-Beloved who can escape to the quiet of his office. And Grunting Teen just plugs into his own PS4 soundtrack when he comes home. But out of self-defence, my office has now transferred to the café, which is doing a roaring trade in disgruntled forced-to-work-at-home-by-Covid neighbours.

On the plus side we are all united in our despair at both the constrictions and the construction. The sharp-suited neighbour at number 44 nods sympathetically at me over a latte. ‘Such disruption. As if life isn’t stressful enough in these difficult times.’

‘Well, hopefully there’s an end in sight,’ I reply. And as I walk past a workman filling yet another skip, he gives me a thumbs-up and tells me they should be finished soon. I smile and head up the passageway – too late to hear his warning. ‘Watch out for that hole we’ve dug for the drain…’

But, just like the pandemic, the construction work goes on and on and the relentless banging and drilling has resulted in a continuous headache for me and an escalation of bad temper in the Nearly Beloved. ‘Bloody skips’, he complains, ‘there’s hardly enough room for the car as it is, without those monsters taking up half the space.’

It’s mid-week and I’m limping back from the café with Number 44 who is some kind of lawyer. ‘You could sue them for personal injury,’ he suggests. ‘We’re exhausted by it all too. Thank goodness, we’re off for an extended visit to the grandchildren tomorrow.’

But I’m just happy to know it’ll all soon be over and that the Nearly Beloved will, once again, be able to park in front of our house. He’s been spitting feathers all week.

‘Bloody vans now as well as skips,’ he chunters. ‘How many more workmen can this street take?’

It’s 6 am on Saturday morning and we’re awoken by the sound of heavy machinery under our bedroom window.

‘Bloody skip lorries,’ mutters the Beloved.

‘Well at least that’s the end of it,’ I sigh.

And later that day, the neighbours at number 12 return, delighted to discover the kitchen of their dreams, whilst number 36 wax lyrical about their new ensuite. As for number 71, she’s oblivious to the haggard looks of those she left behind. ‘That was such a stress-free way of having work done,’ she tells me, ‘I just hope that extension they’re starting next week at number 44 isn’t going to be too disruptive…’

The Corona Chronicles: Week 27: Turning into caged animals

This is the week when I finally succumb. But is it to Covid or mad cow disease? All I know is that I’m very confused. Lockdown rules seem to change hourly and you need a PhD to make sense of them all. It’s very stressful and the threat of a £200 fine for getting it wrong doesn’t help. It’s no wonder then that the BBC Corona update website now includes calming meditation tracks.

But it’s too late for me. I’m beyond help now. Months of social media bombarding me with conflicting viewpoints has convinced me that either the world is about to end or it’s being run by alien lizards. Maybe Bill Gates has actually managed to plant that micro-chip in my brain, as I now find myself in a David Attenborough wildlife documentary where we’ve all metamorphosed into animals.

Back in March, we experience the zoo conditions of yesteryear, all caged up with no room to move. But then our horizons open up so we can roam unchained once more. We have a sense of freedom. We’re allowed to re-join our packs. And some lucky birds even manage to fly away to warmer climates. But with the news of a further six months of restrictions, a Zoom-based winter and a Grinch-style Christmas, we realise that it’s all been a safari park illusion.

Some more timid, vulnerable creatures are happy to retreat into their enclosures but the young have had enough. Like wild-eyed tigers, cooped up too long, they pace up and down, waiting for a chance to escape. They might be kept in check for now but will the long-term effects be worse than keeping them locked down?

The under-18s can still be controlled. They are the lab rats of this pandemic experiment. Sick specimens can be sent home to be isolated, and as long as the rest are regularly fed and distracted by Tik Tok videos and online gaming, they are happy to run round their familiar maze. But the university primates who trusted their keepers to take care of them, rather than incarcerate them, are now beating their chests and demanding to be set free.

And what of our leaders in this Kafkaesque world? Are they trustworthy sheepdogs herding their flocks to safety? Or are they coiling pythons, squeezing out their victims’ last breath of freedom? Let’s just hope it’s not the lemmings who are in charge, blindly jumping off the cliff top.

As regards the general public, they also divide up into different zoological species. The selfless Emperor penguins huddle together in sub-zero temperatures for collective warmth whilst the hyenas run riot, laughing at authority. And then there are the creatures of the Galapagos, so unaware of any threat that they mill around happily with no concern for the potential danger facing them.

So maybe it is better to stick with our trusted pets? For, closer to home, the domestic animals in my life provide some comfort. The Nearly-Beloved is a faithful guard dog, loyal and true. He’ll always obey commands until his nearest and dearest are threatened – then beware his growling bite. As for Darling Daughter, she’s the feline of the home, happy to purr and curl up on a lap yet careful to retain her independence. Meanwhile Grunting Teen is the family’s hamster, sleeping all day, active at night and forever stuffing his cheeks with food.

Yes, I fear that human life has finally got too much for me. From now on I will have to take my cue from the giant tortoises of the kingdom of beasts. So, I’m just going to stick my head inside my shell and go into a long hibernation. Hopefully when I re-emerge the animals will be leaving the Ark two by two.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 25: Are we suffering from ‘sloganitis’?

The virus of our times is actually not Corona but sloganitis. And it’s a cunning beast. It hangs around for a while. Then just as we’ve got used to its message, it mutates into an inexplicable, new form.

Back in March, we knew what we were dealing with: Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives. It was a slogan that slugged it to us, no holds barred. If only I’d followed that advice last week, I might’ve avoided my fell-running, face-disfiguring fall and A&E visit! But earlier on in the year the Nearly Beloved, my strict rule-following husband, hadn’t even stepped outside the house when his carpet-slide-triple-somersault-into-heavy-furniture left him gasping for breath in the hospital waiting room. Still, the NHS, if not thriving, is hopefully still surviving. And even if it’s long on queuing and lacking in funding, it’s certainly not short of care and kindness.

But then we no longer needed to stay at home, instead we had to stay alert. Like meerkats sticking our heads out of our lockdown holes, we scouted the surroundings for potential enemies. It turns out the Nearly Beloved’s danger radar is so finely tuned he can easily spot the difference between 1.9 and 2 metres. This is why, if he wasn’t already working, he’d be applying for the post of Covid warden. It’s also why I banned him from the shops as it turns out not everyone reacts kindly to safety reminders… In fact, it took some people more time than others to get to grips with the new ways of interacting. On several occasions I’ve had to bite my tongue in shops when little old ladies that I’m meant to be protecting sidle up too close for comfort. And as for mask infractions, don’t get me started. Inside out, upside down, gone AWOL – and that’s just Grunting Teen! But I live in hope that the penny will drop at some point.

And pennies certainly dropped at the slogan’s next mutation: Eat out to help out. What a slogan that was! Our all-time favourite. And massively infectious too. Who could resist stuffing themselves with chips and beer at the government’s kind expense? It gave us hope for the future. Just as the masses were running out of patience with the restrictions, some kind of normality was returning, albeit in a topsy turvy kind of way. Who would’ve imagined that Monday to Wednesday was to become the new weekend?

But this was merely a honeymoon incubation period for a more health-oriented type of catchphrase to reappear. Hands, face, space seemed familiar. Was this slogan making a comeback in a slightly different mutation? Grunting Teen was a hand-washing supremo at the start of the season but quarantine apathy eventually took its toll on his hygiene. Now, since school’s restarted, so has his self-sanitising. My stocks of soap are dwindling and there’s an all-pervading scent of Lynx in the bathroom. I wonder though if this has less to do with his attitude to Corona than his attitude to the opposite sex…

And with regard to masks, I’ve had an epiphany. I used to resent relying purely on the power of my eyes to beam a smile of gratitude to harassed shop assistants. But this week I’ve positively embraced the covered-up look to hide the unappealing bruised and stitched face that lies beneath.

As for space. We all need that. We’ve been cooped up far too long in those rashly decided bubbles. For, as much as I love my husband and son, my tolerance level of their boys’ behaviour has plummeted, my intentions towards them are not always of a nurturing nature and a descent into despair looms large. So, I’m embracing the latest evolution of sloganitis. You see, for others, the rule of six, might have the sinister undertones of history’s powerful gang of four but for me it’s a long-awaited break, a benevolent light on the horizon of doom and gloom.

For as soon as I’ve packed the men in my life off to school and work, it’s time to put the kettle on, crack open the biscuit tin and get socially-distanced together with five, non-family friends each day.

But whatever we think of the ever-changing guidelines, maybe this rule of six will create its own slogan, one that will guide us through these strangest of times and bring us out the other side. Yes, my slogan of choice is this: Be patient, be kind, be hopeful.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 24: A question of balance

These Corona times are all about balance, finding the mid-point between lockdown and normality, fear and complacency, self-sacrifice and selfishness. It’s important to get the balance right. By taking care of ourselves, we take the pressure off the system, which is why it’s important to keep fit and healthy.

I remind myself of this on a grey, rainy day as I set off for a bracing run in the countryside. Ten minutes in and, despite being drenched, I feel like an Olympic athlete. How amazing that, even at my advancing years, I’m still as nimble as a gazelle. Not for me the slower pace of the Nordic walker ambling towards me with her two poles. As we pass, she nods towards the path ahead. ‘Slippery as marbles’, she warns. I smile patronisingly and springbok my way forwards.

But pride comes before a fall and, shortly afterwards, I lose my footing and execute a perfect chin-dive onto a boulder. Coming round moments later, I tentatively check my mouth. All teeth are intact, thank goodness. So, where’s this pool of blood coming from? I stagger upright, wrists already swelling, and fumble through my bag for something to stem the flow.

‘Are you alright?’ asks a fellow jogger coming up behind me. He looks conflicted.

‘I’m fine,’ I lie, to save him the difficult decision of whether to offer a Good Samaritan’s hand or stay at a safe, virus-free distance.

Then, staggering home, I clean myself up and assess the damage. I’m shaken, bleeding, bruised and swollen. But does that warrant medical intervention? I have work to do as well. On balance, I think I’m okay. So, I sit down at my computer, a pile of tissues wedged under my chin, and send a message to the family WhatsApp group for moral support.

As expected, there’s radio silence from Grunting Teen, an ‘It’s probably just a graze’ from the Nearly Beloved and, from Darling Daughter, an ‘Oh, mum, poor you,’ with a link to the NHS website. The advice is to seek help if bleeding hasn’t stopped after ten minutes. It’s now two hours since my mishap, and the waste-bin resembles the inside of an abattoir…

I phone the surgery.

There are no appointments available but a doctor will get back to me in the next four hours. They’re overrun with patients and have to prioritise. I suddenly feel weary and decide to lie down.

But there’s to be no rest. Five minutes later, I’m on an online consultation with the locum, who’s obviously missed his calling as a professional photographer. After making me strike numerous poses, he tells me to come and be ‘steri-stripped’ straight away.

Mask soaked in blood, I enter the consulting room, to be greeted by a figure from a sci-fi film – the GP, I presume – although it’s hard to tell under all the PPE. Ingrained to make small-talk, I tell the doctor how impressed I am by the video diagnosis and how this could be the future. But apparently, the success rate all depends on the quality of the image and, now he’s seen me in the flesh, the flesh is what he’s seen. My ‘superficial cut’ has been upgraded to a ‘gaping wound’, requiring a visit to A&E for stitches.

I return home, bandaged up. Grunting Teen is in the kitchen with his head in the fridge. ‘What’s for tea, mum?’ he asks, barely registering my appearance. Then the Nearly-Beloved comes through the door. ‘Do you notice anything different?’ I ask. He pales and in a panicked voice replies, ‘Have you had your hair cut?’

But at least he gives me a lift to hospital and acts as my interpreter at reception when I can’t face shouting out my name and address for the umpteenth time to penetrate the seemingly sound-proof Perspex screen. And it doesn’t matter that I forgot to bring a book because the entertainment is ‘in-house’. The fine-line between privacy and safety has been crossed. Before long I know all the intimate details of my fellow sufferers.

But there’s no opportunity for commiserating with them as I sit, vulnerable and alone in the socially-distanced waiting room, with no one allowed to stay and hold my hand. So, thank goodness the NHS still retains its balance of care and compassion. Despite looking like one of Grunting Teen’s classmates, the doctor is a pro, stitching me up like a first-class seamstress, checking nothing’s broken and making me cry with her kindness.

I finally arrive home to find flowers dropped off at the door, chocolates on the table and a multitude of good wishes on my phone. Sometimes the balance swings the right way.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 23: The death of spontaneity

Whatever’s happened to spontaneity? It’s become a victim of the virus, that’s what! No more casual popping down to the shops. I mean, now face coverings are mandatory, preparation is vital. And it’s just one more thing to forget. Keys, money, reusable bags… mask. It’s like a military operation before I even leave the house.

What’s more, those masks are pesky blighters – breeding like rabbits but getting lost like gloves.  Despite my having bought in extra supplies, Grunting Teen never has one on him. Thank goodness I have a mother’s mentality and can conjure up spares from my handbag, kitchen drawer, coat pocket or back seat of the car. I’m awash with masks and consequently forever washing.

So far, the Nearly Beloved’s been oblivious to this death of spontaneity. After his self-check-out shenanigans he’s no longer allowed to go shopping. So, if he has to mask-up, he just expects me to hand over suitable face wear. Still, after his last reluctant outing, veiled in pink daisies, he’s invested in a more masculine, black military look.

But it’s not just shopping that’s become a casualty of Covid, all aspects of life now require pre-planning. On our recent staycation, the Nearly Beloved is most put out to discover he can’t just walk into a pub. ‘What do you mean, have I booked?’ he asks the doorman. ‘It’s hardly a night out at the Ritz. I just want a pint!’ And after three attempts at different venues he finally gets his heart’s desire but only after he’s downloaded an app, scanned a code and had a hissy fit.

Just as well he’s so far only used the equipment in the newly re-opened fitness centre and hasn’t yet braved the pool. Maximum capacity is now three swimmers per lane and on two occasions I’ve ended up lifting weights in the gym rather than free-styling through the water. On the plus side, it feels like I’m in an empty ocean where I can happily flail my way to the deep end with no danger of knocking a fellow swimmer unconscious.

And if I want to check how full the pool is before I go, then there’s another convenient app to download. This can join the app I have for reserving Grunting Teen’s tennis court, and the app for organising his climbing sessions, not to mention the app I acquired for booking cinema tickets. In fact, I’m now so overloaded with apps I’m running out of storage space on my phone.

Still, at least a walk in our national park is app-free and requires no prior reservations. Or that’s the myth. Spontaneity is all well and good but apparently not on Bank Holiday weekends. This is when all the world and his dog descend on the Peaks. Those not in possession of a teenager have risen early to secure parking spots, whilst those encumbered with adolescents have to make do with glimpsing nature’s wonders from the back seat of a car, followed by a quick hike to the off-licence to soothe frayed tempers.

So, I wave farewell to spontaneity. Perhaps it’s overrated. Perhaps it’s even dangerous? For what starts out as a couple of friends around for a drink and some mood music could well end up as an illegal rave. No, much safer to live an ‘appy, pre-planned life.

So, Monday morning comes. The Nearly-Beloved sets off for the office and Grunting Teen returns to school at last. The door shuts behind them and I realise that for the first time in nearly six months I have the entire house to myself. I have work to do. But you know what? I don’t feel like doing it. It can wait. With a deep sigh of satisfaction, I tune the radio into my favourite station, turn up the sound and boogie my way to the biscuit tin. Then, cup of tea in hand, I stretch out on the sofa, scroll through Netflix and without any phone apps or pre-planning, click on a romcom. Now that’s my kind of spontaneity.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 22: A Memorable Summer

Grunting Teen’s had too many questions recently. Maybe it’s because of the way certain decisions have impacted his own life.

‘So, no France now, mum? Even though we were encouraged to book trips abroad to support the travel industry?’ he asks.

‘Be quiet,’ I hiss, ‘don’t mention the H-word. It’ll upset your dad.’ And indeed, the Nearly Beloved has spiralled into deep despair. Our French holiday’s been cancelled and he’s spent the first three days off work ‘on hold’ with the insurance company.

My attempts at booking a last-minute break in the UK have also been unsuccessful as thousands of other France refuseniks have beaten me to it. According to the online websites, 98% of accommodation’s already sold out and the remaining 2% is either country estates with butler service or cut-price deals in emergency-measures Aberdeen.

But I’m determined to create a memorable family summer, even if it means staying put. I know we’ve been locked-down here since March but things are opening up now so, surely, we can find some activities to do?

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park ticks the culture box, although Grunting Teen seems more interested in the sheep grazing by the sculptures than the art itself. The purple-heathered moors with vistas of Lady Bower reservoir provide us with exercise, natural beauty and fresh air. And, instead of ‘boules’, we make do with ten-pin-bowling, which brings out both boys’ competitive spirit, finally putting a smile on the Nearly-Beloved’s ‘face of a champion’.

As for me, a holiday involves a respite from cooking, so thank goodness for the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme. ‘Makes a nice change from your corned beef surprise,’ says my other half, looking almost cheerful after two pints of his favourite bitter.

‘This is great, mum,’ agrees the teenager, tucking into his second portion of fries ‘but why are we being encouraged to eat more when I thought we were supposed to be eating less?’

Why indeed, I wonder, as he helps himself to an extra spare rib and the remains of the garlic bread. But the food has fuelled his brain cells and he’s being unusually talkative for a boy whose default setting is grunt mode.

‘Doesn’t Covid affect the overweight and unfit the most?’ he continues between bites, ‘I mean, shouldn’t the government be prioritising the opening of all swimming pools and sports facilities instead?’

I nod, not wanting to discourage his newly found communicative enthusiasm whilst at the same time wishing I had some logical answers to give.

‘See, it’s great I can go climbing again,’ he tells us, ‘But Ponds Forge is still shut. And my mates who love diving are really fed up. It doesn’t seem fair.’

I nod again and offer him some of my baguette in the hope of distracting him. But he’s in flow now.

‘In fact, mum,’ he splutters, inhaling rather than ingesting the bread, ‘my generation’s copping for it far more than you oldies! And that doesn’t seem fair at all.’ Resting his case, he takes a swig of coke to wash down the last crumbs of his meal.

And, indeed, the question of fairness raises its head again after exam results drop through the letterbox. Thank goodness that the expertise of teachers has triumphed over algorithms, and that we forced Grunting Teen to attend the optional after-school GCSE sessions in March. ‘Told you, it pays to do the right thing,’ says his father with the satisfaction of the righteous.

‘Yes, and soon you’ll be back at school and able to concentrate on the subjects you’re taking next year,’ I remind him. He scowls and I wonder if it’s because the PlayStation isn’t yet on the curriculum.

‘Don’t you want to go back?’ I ask.

‘Yeah, actually, I do,’ he replies, ‘it’s just I’m worried about next year’s exams. Some schools did online classes all day. But we didn’t. How’s that fair?’

Having no satisfactory response, I divert his attention with the promise of buying him an exam gift and celebratory coffee and cake.’

But even then, the questions don’t stop.

‘How come we were the only customers in that shop and had to wear a face covering but now we’re next door in a café full of people, unmasked?’ he says, ‘It doesn’t make sense! Is government science different from ordinary science?’

I sigh. Thank God school’s starting soon and the teachers can answer his questions instead.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 21: Covid Cuts

‘I’m finally going to get my hair cut!’ I tell the Nearly-Beloved. He nods, nervously.

Many years ago, he failed to note my transformation from a particularly dramatic cut and colour. The ensuing Ice Age taught me to forewarn him of any impending visit so that he’s primed to compliment me on my return. However, one bonus of his rookie mistake is that he never asks me how much my hair cut costs, and is under the illusion that it’s only mildly more expensive than his.

Since covid, he’s taken to home-barbering, which covers the cost nicely when my hair salon puts up its post-lockdown prices to include PPE. You see, I have a more sophisticated approach to personal-grooming than the Nearly-Beloved and I’m hoping that, post-lockdown, things won’t be too different.

I’m greeted by Marco, my just-the-appropriate-amount-of-flirtatious stylist, who beams broadly from beneath his visor, before taking my temperature and handing me a fancy face-mask. Deftly disguising his horror at the sight of the wild, grey Brillo pad, masquerading as hair, he launches into a muffled pre-cut discussion.

‘I’ll trim the length and get rid of the weight, si? But the fringe…’ His eyes look sad as he surveys the Nearly-Beloved’s quarantine butcher’s job. ‘Well, mio Dio, I will do my best… As for the colours, I thought warm toffee and butter for my bellissima senora. Bene?’

So, he hunts down those persistent grey hairs and wraps my head expertly in foils, whilst simultaneously bringing me up-to-date with the world around me. For hairdressers are the salon equivalent of black cabbies and are surely better than any government poll for gauging the state of the nation. He tells me of clients who are covid-deniers, and clients who’ve lost loved ones to the virus. There are those who’ve happily bent the rules and those who’ve only ventured out because the state of their hair is starting to affect the state of their mind. But the vast majority, it seems, are simply covid-weary.

‘We need beauty in our lives,’ he sighs leading me to the wash basin. ‘We need culture – cinema, theatre, music, ballet, opera. These things are important. They make life magical.’ Behind my mask I nod agreement, not feeling any water on my head yet. Seconds later I wince as my scalp is alternately near-scalded, then frozen. But once a luke-warm flow is established, Marco brings his own magic to my life with a head massage that banishes all Corona concerns.

Once towelled and combed, Marco demonstrates his craftsmanship on me, his master-piece. He snips in and out, stands back to survey his work, then reaches for a different pair of scissors to create ‘texture’. Next, onto the blow-drying – an art in itself, involving several brushes and just the right amount of ‘product’. As the final wisp of hair is gelled and hair-sprayed into submission, Marco lets out a sigh of satisfaction.

‘Bellissima. You like?’

And, of course I do. It feels like five months of weight has fallen from my shoulders. I’m no longer a zombie extra on The Walking Dead. Who would’ve thought that a haircut could do so much to transform my mood? And yes, covid has changed the experience. Masks aside, there have been no magazines to sit and leaf through and the cappuccino is now served in a paper cup. Instead of a complementary biscuit I’m now offered a complementary squirt of hand sanitiser. But it’s been worth it.

I brace myself to hear the final cost, whispered like a caress under Marco’s breath – as if not hearing the price out-loud somehow makes it less expensive. Then, finally, I’m home – three hours after I left the Nearly-Beloved.

‘I’m back,’ I say.

The Nearly-Beloved looks bewildered, as if something important has slipped his mind.

‘From the hairdresser’s.’

Realisation dawns, followed by a look of sheer panic.

‘You look beautiful – as always.’

I glare at him. He knows more is expected but struggles for words.

‘The style is …?’

I help him out – ‘choppier, younger, more fun.’

‘And the colour is … errr…?

‘Think caramels and clotted cream.’

I can see his brain going into overdrive until he focuses on something he can actually make sense of.

‘Well, not bad for a tenner, I suppose.’

I nod and smile. Despite these Corona times, some things never change…

The Corona Chronicles: Week 20: Lockdown Firsts

This week has been a week of lockdown firsts. But which of these events would I rank first? The first time I’ve been in a pub? The first time I’ve stayed in a hotel? Or the first time I’ve seen my husband’s mother? Well, despite the long history of mother-in-law jokes, this is an easy choice. For after so many months of self-isolation, seeing loved ones, even those related through marriage, brings a tear to the eye.

In fact, there are many tears. Tears of joy from the Grunting Teen as he’s dispatched to spend the night at his sister’s. Free at last from his parents’ disapproval of PS4 misuse. Free to corrupt his brother-in-law-in-arms with an all-night gaming session.

Then there are tears of horror from Darling Daughter as double-testosterone invades her new home and an insatiable locust raids her fridge. And there are tears of happiness from my husband as he finally returns to his homeland and the person who views him as ‘fully’, not ‘nearly’, beloved.

For we are entering Wales, land of dragons and draconian laws that have made our separation much longer than its slapdash English equivalent. Even now we’re not permitted to meet indoors unless we are in a bubble. And so, we’ve had to wait for a hopeful weather forecast and a garden get-together.

Luckily the skies today are in our favour, the bakestones are fresh out of the oven and ‘there’s lovely to see you both again, isn’t it?’ And it is lovely, because if there’s one thing good to have come out of Covid, it’s the appreciation of what really counts in life. For I’ll take my mother-in-law’s Welsh cakes over my corned-beef surprise any day…

And despite having to use Google Translate to follow the conversation and my ‘interested look’ to nod through the latest rugby updates, it’s been well worth the trip over the border to see a huge smile on an octogenarian’s face. We may not have been allowed a ‘cwtch’ but we can make do with a virtual embrace and hope that next time down we’ll be inside and hugging for real.

All too soon the skies cloud over, the bakestones are gone and mum-in-law is exhausted from the unaccustomed company. It’s time to head towards English pastures and the lure of a pint in a country pub. As we sit at one of the socially distanced tables, it feels like a celebration on all counts. The Nearly-Beloved feels properly loved once more. He’s had his fix of ‘Welshness’. And now he can relax with a hand-pulled pint. For you see, drinking at home can never replicate that special feeling that drinking in a pub gives you. Despite accounts of lowered inhibitions encouraging relaxation of correct Corona conduct, this is an experience I’d be happy to repeat again, although early evening in a rustic setting may well be different to a Saturday night pub crawl downtown.

The hotel too brings nothing but delight at its normality. So what if the receptionist is behind a counter shield? He still smiles a welcome and puts the ‘hospitable’ back into the hospitality industry. And handing over keys and information in a covid-safe envelope actually feels quite fun in a ripping-open-birthday-card sort of way. As for pre-ordering breakfast times and food, it’s a blessing in disguise. No rolling down late to find the buffet bacon overly crispy and the orange juice jug full of sediment. No, the only issue is the Nearly Beloved muttering ‘if you wanted the full English, why did you order poached eggs on toast? Get your hands off my sausages!’

In fact, it all feels refreshingly new yet at the same time refreshingly normal. And that for me, in these strange, uncertain times, is definitely a lockdown first.