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.