Monday 23 – Friday 27 March 2020
We were still adjusting to life with social distancing when I got the dreaded text from the NHS. It seems I am one of the UK’s 1.5 million Rapunzels, “at risk of severe illness” and to be locked away in a tower for twelve weeks. Or until Coronavirus goes away. Whatever.
‘Do not leave your home’, the text commanded. OK, I thought, I can cope with that. I’m used to working alone, being a writer with that most writerly of assets, a heated garden shed. And I don’t mind not shopping, given the only shops we’re allowed in now are supermarkets and pharmacies, both full of people with unknown microbes. Nothing to miss there.
But the text was relentless. I scrolled down, to the bit that says ‘Stay three steps away from others indoors.’ Really? I thought. How does that work? And indeed, it turned out to be bogglingly complicated to enact. Even though there’s only the one other person in my house, my darling husband. Not counting the dog, and she has explained to me that I’m quite safe with her, and does this mean she can creep upstairs and onto my bed now that Daddy has moved downstairs?
Once we’d got things sorted out with Peggy, we spent the rest of the day separating ourselves and stuff into Upstairs Hers and Downstairs His. But that still left where to stand and sit in kitchen and living room, who touches what and when, how many times a day to don gloves and spray cleaner on door handles, light switches, cooker knobs, fridge handles, etc etc. It was time-consuming and surprisingly emotional.
We are getting used to it. And now the rest of country is in nearly as much lockdown, I’m no longer having to explain why I can’t go out. At least I can go into my garden in this wonderful spring weather.
So that was Monday. On Tuesday our washer/drier broke down, refusing to do anything but flash dire warnings from its fancy – and as it turns out, useless – digital display. Not good timing, when I’m supposed to keep sheets, towels and clothes washed regularly. We cleared out the nearby cupboards to pull out the machine, wiped down all surfaces with cleaning spray, arranged for me to loiter in the garden, and called our local appliance engineer. Thursday, he said.
On Thursday, as promised, he came. Took one look at the flashing digital dsiaply, and told us to call the manufacturer. We gritted our teeth, put everything back in the cupboards so it would be possible for us to continue our remote tango round the kitchen without tripping up, and rang Miele. (Other washers are available.) There really was plenty of teeth-gritting going on by now, as the rationale for buying an expensive German appliance two years ago had been, of course, the reduced risk of it going AWOL in the midst of a life-threatening pandemic. Peter leveraged my special status for all it was worth.
Meanwhile, on Friday, two lovely things happened. Dspite being on the death list, I’ve been sneaking up onto the hill behind our house to walk. The very few other people up there on the ridge are visible for literally miles, so I can dodge them easily. As I was walking the regulation six feet behind Peter, wondering aloud how easy it would be to climb up a rock wall if needed, we were accosted from a safe distance by a local GP who had overheard us. She, by the way, is a certified Star, being retired and having nevertheless volunteered to go back to work. ‘You’re all right to just walk past people,’ she assured me. ‘You would need to spend 15 minutes within the six feet exclusion zone to stand much risk at all.’ Her gaze swept over my lovely husband, and her face puckered. ‘It’s in the house with him you need to be careful.’ This was good news, of a sort, I suppose. At least I can take my daily walk without too much fretting. Must just avoid tripping on a rock and spraining my ankle. No Mountain Rescue for me.
The other lovely thing was that Pete managed to buy toilet rolls. Now I’m saying nothing about people who indulge in panic-buying, hoarding, profiteering… I’ll maintain a dignified silence on that topic, and merely point out that for people like us who carry on as usual, relying on the common sense of their fellow-citizens, confident that when our supplies of essentials like loo paper need replenishing by the normal modest amount – in short, when people like us find empty shelf after empty shelf, and are forced to forage for the Daily Mail instead – well, we can be forgiven for getting a bit tetchy.
And now this morning, when the glacial speed of Miele’s broadband finally allowed them to enter their booking system, Miele customer support gave us the good news. Monday next an engineer will call. Anytime from 7.00 am. So all the cupboards will be emptied again, and all surfaces wiped clean on Sunday night. Peter will be masked and gloved, and I will be banished off to the garden shed at a hideously early hour. Oh well, I suppose I can always write another blog while I wait. Who knows what could have happened by then? The Prime Minister and his cabinet might even catch the virus.
Oh, has he? Really? Quel surprise. And did he get a test? Oh, he did? That will be even more comfort to our embattled frontline NHS medics and nurses than the applause he led last night.