These are testing times. As we move one step forwards, cases of Covid start rising and the response is to take two steps backwards. The Nearly-Beloved isn’t impressed. He’s enjoyed being around co-workers at the office. For, with schools finally back, the harassed parents in his team have re-appeared, all smiles and sighs of relief at being able to offload their offspring. Literacy and maths have been handed back to the experts, and kitchen tables have been replaced by ergonomically designed desks. And whilst Zoom meetings have kept them all in touch and up-to-date, face-to-face interaction is still a much-cherished novelty.

As for me, I’ve been delighted to have the house to myself. You see, I’m used to solitary working, so having others invade ‘my space’ for the last six months has at times been trying. Now, when I’m ‘in the flow’, there’s no ‘Mum, I’m hungry. What’s for lunch?’ to disturb me. But could this all be about to change? Will I survive a winter with a husband at home and daily battles over thermostat settings? Domestic tension will surely increase although global warming might well be reduced.

But the Nearly-Beloved’s got used to a wife-free work day and a shop-bought sandwich with no mould or past-its-sell-by-date filling. He’s in love with his industrial-sized photocopier and would happily cast me aside for a filing cabinet and multi-drawer shelf unit. No, unless the building officially closes, they’ll have to drag him back to the marital home.

And so far, Grunting Teen’s survived his first weeks of live-teaching. Some schools have already sent whole ‘year-group bubbles’ home when a single child has tested positive. Surely, it’s only a matter of time before he’s under my feet again and in my fridge? Whilst he seems glad about his return to the classroom, he comes home drained. After all, he’s been used to six months of clocking off at lunchtime, so this new nine-to-three routine is wearing him out.

Luckily, this Yorkshire lass’ home is still her castle. The only problem is that the castle’s fallen into disrepair. Half a year of lockdown has seen no visitors cross its drawbridge and whilst the Nearly-Beloved has manicured the garden to Chatsworthian perfection, the inside is sadly in need of care. It’s not that I never tidy up but it’s been a mainly outdoors kind of pandemic and ‘out of sight is out of mind’.

In fairness the house has been too full of stay-at-homes to facilitate a deep clean. I mean it’s much easier to sweep the dirt under the rug and usher the spiders back into their corners than heave the vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard and pull muscles dusting the tops of cupboards.

But autumn is on its way and it’s too cold to entertain outside. More pressingly, a new washing machine’s arriving tomorrow. So, strangers will be setting foot inside and ‘passing judgement’. I put my specs on to view things from their perspective and am shocked to discover the light-grey cushion on the sofa is, in fact, cream-coloured, just coated with thick layers of grime. I immediately don full bio-hazard gear to decontaminate my house of shame.

I’m half-way through hoovering Grunting Teen’s cave of horrors, when my boy staggers through the door. ‘I feel awful, mum,’ he says, collapsing in a cloud of dust, ‘I’ve got a sore throat and a headache. I’m exhausted. I think I’ve got Covid…’

Oh, dear Lord. Surely not! He can’t afford to miss out on any more education.

‘It’s just a cold,’ I tell him, ‘and not being used to a full time-table. You’ll be fine by tomorrow.’

His face falls, and his body conjures up an impression of pathetic limpness. ‘But you’re not meant to send me to school, if I’ve got symptoms,’ he whines. ‘It’s not responsible. I could be spreading the virus. I should get tested…’

I roll my eyes. Tested? He obviously hasn’t been watching any news lately. The chance of getting a test is as likely as the chance of us getting a refund for our cancelled summer holiday. Still, he’s right. I don’t want to get him into bad books, especially if school ends up deciding his GCSE results next summer.

I sit down gingerly on his bed to consult the NHS website. The resulting dust storm has us fighting for breath.

 ‘Well you may be coughing now,’ I say, ‘but it’s not due to the virus.’

‘But I’m feverish,’ he moans, as I read up on Covid versus cold. It’s a mine-field. No wonder there are queues for testing if we’re meant to distinguish between such similar symptoms. Yet there are some differences…

‘You’re not used to walking so much. That’s why you’re hot and tired,’ I tell him. ‘Go and have a shower and, on your way, put these in the laundry basket.’  I wave a pair of dirty socks in front of his face and, as he recoils at their pungent odour, I confirm my diagnosis.

However, the next morning I remain undecided. Grunting Teen’s still claiming Covid. And I’m not a doctor. What if I’ve got it wrong and sending him to school results in a wave of infections? But then a homework alert pings on my phone.

‘Ah, I see you’ve got a mock Science exam today,’ I tell him as his face pales. ‘I think you’re fine to go to school, don’t you?’

Testing times indeed.