Today when I go into the kitchen, I find the Nearly-Beloved and Grunting Teen rolling about on the floor. My son has got his father in a headlock, one arm raised high in triumph. But the young still have a lot to learn. And the Nearly-Beloved once had a streaky pink belt in Aikido. So, with an almighty roar, he throws himself forwards, dislodging the would-be challenger and pinning him down with his leg. The victory remains with the alpha male.
As much as I love a good David Attenborough series, these testosterone-expending displays are getting tiresome. I’ve already lost one vase and two mugs to their daily wrestling matches. And buying replacements in lockdown isn’t easy, as I’m not desperate enough to stand in a queue outside Ikea.
Yet I have sympathy for these men in my life, with their need for expression through physicality. Women, it seems, may have it easier in the current situation. For whilst friends and their daughters are now venturing out for daily distanced-walks and talks with other sociable females, the Nearly-Beloved and Grunting Teen shy away from meet-ups unless they involve action or exercise.
My other half is not interested in making polite chit chat. He just wants a good sweat-out and a rousing defeat of his opponent on the tennis court. For my son, there’s no point in arranging to see his mates unless he can punch them on the arm in jest or trip them up for a laugh. I’ve forced him to recreate Wimbledon in the local park a few times and, with restrictions easing, he can now kick a ball about with friends, but I sense it’s not the same.
On the plus side, I’m receiving far more hugs from him than I’d expect for his age. The problem is that he’s grown upwards and outwards so much in lockdown that his teenaged attempts at affection bruise my ribs and literally squeeze the breath out of me. Luckily, the Nearly-Beloved seems to enjoy the odd thump and kick, so I leave them to it.
And I can understand this human need for touch and connection. Talking to Darling Daughter face-to-face now is lovely, of course, but what wouldn’t I give to be able to enfold her in a motherly embrace? Friends in lockdown on their own are far less lucky. One singleton starts sobbing when she tells us, in our get-together in the park, that she hasn’t physically touched another person in twelve weeks. And our natural response would be to crowd round and hug her. But instead, we have to make do with an ineffective air equivalent.
At least, I console myself, we no longer have the awkwardness of how to greet people. No going in for a hand shake when the other person decides a body clinch and a mwah-mwah is what’s called-for. No, now it’s a civilised wave from across the road or a mimed hug and a kiss blown on the breeze.
And that’s okay for those of us old enough to understand that lack of physical contact does not mean lack of emotional concern. But what about those toddlers who rush excitedly towards their grandparents for a cuddle, only to be dragged away to a safe Covid distance? How to explain to a sobbing tot that nanna and granddad still love them but can’t pick them up? When will normal service be resumed?
For now, there’ll be no more hen-parties doing a conga down West Street, and likely no kissing of strangers under the mistletoe. In fact, I already do a double-take, when I watch a games-show repeat and see the host put his arm round a contestant’s shoulder. And I almost miss walking down a crowded shopping street and bumping into a fellow pedestrian by accident.
For a strait-laced Brit, who frowns on the touchy-feely expressiveness of our European cousins with their far-too-many-kisses-on-each-cheek habits, I’m starting to appreciate the importance of physical contact.
So, when I next go into the kitchen and find my boys in full combat mode, I give a kamikaze yell and dive right in. After all, if you can’t beat them …