With lock-down restrictions due to ease from July 4th, there already seems to be a sea-change in the public mood. Caution is being thrown to the wind and the Nearly-Beloved is not impressed. He chunters under his breath, ‘relying on everyone to be sensible. Fat chance!’ And I sigh with relief that tasers are not available for home purchase.
‘The 1-metre rule doesn’t come into effect until Saturday!’ he shouts at a random walker who’s drifted too close for comfort. ‘There’s more than six people in that garden. And none of them look related!’ he mutters as he patrols the local streets. ‘How come her hair isn’t a shocking mess, like yours?’ he asks, spying a well-coiffed neighbour, ‘has she had it professionally cut?’
And he categorically refuses to let me form a bubble with Darling Daughter, even though I point out that the virus can’t distinguish between her being a single mum with a child or married with a husband. I just want to hug her, that’s all. But there’s to be no rule breaking on the Nearly-Beloved’s watch.
At least we’ll be able to meet indoors soon, which is just as well, as her house-sale has finally been given the go-ahead. Things are starting to get back to normal. Not a moment too late. For the initial novelty of ‘camping out’ amongst the removal boxes has worn off and my usually sunny daughter is losing her smile. But now the three-month delay is over. There is light on the horizon. And mum and dad can help, at a suitable distance, with the move.
‘Things are starting to get back to normal,’ I say as we sit down to watch the football. And okay, it’s a new normal. With crowd noise activated, there’s a semblance of a match atmosphere. But, like a badly dubbed film, the soundtrack doesn’t always fit with the action on the pitch. And with no crowd sound, the air turns blue as the players in the team demonstrate their command of ‘choice’ English phrases.
But at least some sport is back and the Nearly-Beloved is no longer in danger of a knee-replacement or heart-attack as the less energy-intensive, doubles, as well as singles, tennis is now allowed. But Grunting Teen’s activities of choice, swimming and climbing, are still banned. And he’s finding it hard. I’ve been forcing him onto the courts and out for a run with me, but it’s hardly his idea of teenage fun.
Instead he’s taken to sleeping as his preferred sport and now rarely surfaces before midday, still looking pale and lethargic. Schoolwork seems to have tailed off too. He does what he’s asked. ‘Fill in this worksheet. Do this quiz. Watch this clip.’ But with a limited amount of work set and no familiar face online to answer his questions in real time, there’s no wonder he’s losing motivation.
Thank goodness then that he’s one of the fortunate ones, invited back into school for the last few weeks. ‘See,’ I tell him, ‘things are starting to get back to normal.’ I eye the streaky pink crop top and calf-length jeans he’s currently wearing. It’s a reminder of my failure at basic laundry and his success at growing.
‘Let’s go and buy you some new clothes,’ I say. And his life now is so uninspiring that he readily agrees. Luckily, the weather’s good today and the queue isn’t too long. And although the store is a retailer’s heartache, it’s my idea of heaven, with its deserted walkways and space to browse. ‘See,’ I tell my son, ‘things are starting to get back to normal.’ He grunts and rolls his eyes. He likes the hustle and bustle, the chance of bumping into mates in the city centre. He’s not impressed with this ghost town version of his old life, nor with the fact he can’t touch or try on the clothes.
‘Call this normal!’ he sighs donning his face mask before plugging into his phone so he can ignore the fact he’s on a bus with his mother for God’s sake! And once home he disappears to his cave and the comfort of his PlayStation with its infinitely preferable virtual world.
‘If this is the new normal, it sucks,’ he says at the dinner table, listlessly pushing his salad round the plate, ‘I’m only back in school for two hours a week. It’s really weird. We’ve all forgotten how to speak to each other!’
And after a few days watching his rapidly declining descent into doom and gloom, I decide drastic action has to be taken. ‘Come, on. Get in the car!’ I tell him. Twenty minutes later I have finally restored a smile to his face. ‘Mum this is sooooo good!’ he says troughing his way through a family-sized bucket of KFC. And I resign myself to the fact that in order to keep my teen’s sanity intact, drive-thru fast-food is now becoming our ‘new normal.’