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.

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