Tom Cooper: the Coronavirus Diaries

Already Read Part One? Read Part Two and Three Here

The Coronavirus Diaries: Part One

Monday 16th March 2020

The apocalypse has begun.

And it’s going to be boring.

I’d always envisioned zombies or a nuclear bomb or the rise of A.I. overlords, but  instead, we’ve got home-working, the kids still in school/nursery and a massive shortage of toilet paper.  If anything, it’s a little underwhelming.

Not that I’m happy about the kids still being at school.  Right now, it doesn’t seem like the best idea. Especially as, at the moment, Carrie’s favourite game is: ‘I’ve licked it’.  It started off with food, as a way of stopping her brother nicking whatever sweet thing she was eating, but now it’s everything: books, the TV control, her duvet. Given the current situation, she may have found the single best way of stopping people stealing things in the history of western civilisation.

But the point is kids can’t be trusted not to infect each other left right and centre, so they shouldn’t really be mixing. 

And I’m trying to do my best as a parent. I’ve been training Arthur and Carrie to cough into their elbow.  Not that it’ll do any good if they lick someone else’s sleeve to claim ownership of their coat, but it’s a start.  I think Arthur can be trusted though – although I think he’s got a crush on a girl at school.  Can that be right?  I think I had crushes on girls at 7… If Sienna from Mr Robinson’s class licks something, he’ll be all over it.

***

At ten, after an hour of ‘home-working’ (clearing off the kitchen table, putting the computer on it, and eating an entire pack of garibaldis; and, as I’m in advertising, not studying the over-consumption of biscuits I don’t particularly like, this does not count as a result), I head down to the shops. 

The supermarket isn’t as bad as I thought.  Still no soap (although they have washing up liquid and shower gel, so if you’re prepared to think outside the box, you’re fine) and no toilet paper (likewise there are alternatives – kitchen roll/baby wipes/£2.99 Dan Brown novel.)

They still haven’t got any pasta, which is annoying.  Or pesto.  Proper pesto I mean. They’re awash with the coriander version of the stuff, but who the eff wants that? May as well make tomato sauce with red peppers as far as I’m concerned.  Oh, they’ve got that left too. 

It’s only when I hit the ‘baking’ aisle  – don’t know why I’m in it anyway (I do the biscuits are on the other side) – that I spot some 00 flour and get an idea.  I know for a fact that that’s the pasta one.  I always remember it, cos when someone tells me they made pasta I like to go ‘oo’.  No one every finds it funny, but turns out it’s damned useful as a mnemonic device.

I continue searching my mind-palace (/studio flat) until I finally remember I’ve got a pasta maker tucked into the back of one of the cupboards.  Me and Sally got it as a marriage gift, and I imagine she left it for me in case I wanted to self flagellate with some Good Place-style penis flattening.  Well, now the yet to be unboxed appliance shall finally come into its own.  I shall make pasta!  While everyone else is suffering post-apocalypse, I shall be eating home-made tortellini, stuffed with… out of date tinned goods.

I put the flour into my basket, along with a couple or normal ones for making bread and some yeast which is still in plentiful supply (lateral thinking is putting me way ahead of the hoarders), and head to the pharmacy bit.  I still need some paracetamol.  I stocked up on ibuprofen only to read the other day that it makes Covid-19 worse. Agghhh. But when I reach the place where they normally are, I’m met by a couple of empty shelves.  Like they’ve been stripped bare by a shoal of piranhas with a headache and slightly raised temperature.  On the upside the ibuprofen is gone too, so at least I’m not the only one who made that mistake. But then I spot something: Lemsip.  And there’s loads – I look at the ingredients: phenylephrine (don’t care), guaifenesin (no one cares)… and paracetamol.  Oh my God. Why has no one taken this?  I feel like singing.  It doesn’t make any sense that people haven’t taken this.  Maybe most people don’t want a temperature but actually really enjoy being congested?  I stuff a pack under my arm (the basket is full to bursting) and head towards the tills. Needless to say I’m feeling pretty cocky as I take a short cut down the frozen aisle.  

And that’s when I see them.  The police.

Now, I’m not someone who has a problem with the police. I like the police.  They’re my friends.  If you’re physically weak, and don’t do anything illegal you very quickly develop a pretty positive attitude towards them. Not that I’m precious about it.  I can still sing along to N.W.A.’s ‘Fuck the Police’. I just have to convince myself the fucking is part of a consensual and loving relationship. (There’s also lot of n-words in it too so I try not to get involved with the verse).  

But this is different.  They’re in a supermarket, and the world is going to shit.

‘What are you guys up to?’ I hear someone ask them, pretending to be casual, but clearly thinking the same thing as me.

‘Just seeing what’s going on,’ one of them answers with a smile, as if we didn’t all know that they now have the power to detain people who show symptoms.  I think.  Did that actually happen or were people just saying it might happen?  I don’t know any more. All I know is they’re standing right in front of me, and it’s making me want to cough.

Now, I haven’t coughed for weeks. Ever since they announced the symptoms I’ve been checking my temperature obsessively, and scanning my throat for the merest hint of irritation.  But now it’s forbidden I’ve got one tickling my gullet like I’m deep throating a feather duster.  It’s like being told not to giggle in class.  If giggling might lead to being taken away from your children and possibly some jail time.

‘Are you all right, sir?’

I suddenly realise I’ve been standing there, staring at them.

I try to supress the cough. ‘Yeeessss.’ The words come out like I’m an eighty-year-old chain smoker.  My voice reminds me of my granddad.  And as far as I know he smoked ten pipes a day. At least I hope that’s what did it, now I’ve got visions of him practising his moves on the feather duster, and whole idyllic parts of my childhood are evaporating into geriatric cleaning porn.

‘Can we help you at all, sir?’

‘Noooooooooo.’ Damn, same tone. A single cough would have solved it – there’s something lodged. It’s the one thing I can’t do.

‘Only it’s part of our job to keep our eyes open for people like you,’ the constable continues.

Fuck.  I’m buggered.  They’re going to take me to jail.  They’re going to take my temperature.  With one of those ear thermometers I use on the kids. I bet it will be really unpleasant.

‘I don’t know what you meeeeeaaaannnn,’ I reply trying to feign innocence.

‘Shoplifters,’ he replies.

‘You what?’

‘That Lemsip that you were hiding under your arm,’ his colleague continues, her face deadly serious, ‘you dropped it into your pocket when you saw us.’

I look down.  The Lemsip is indeed in my coat pocket.  How the hell did it get in there?  Turns out not only am I bad at home-working, I’m also bad at carrying things by armpit.

‘You’ll need to come with us, sir.’

‘But I didn’t put it in my pocket – I was just carrying it under my arm ‘cos my basket was full.’

‘I’m sorry, sir, but it doesn’t sound very plausible.’

I can feel a sinking feeling inside.  I’m going to jail.  I’m going to jail.  How the hell am I going to pick up the kids later if I’m going to jail?!?

‘Now, normally at this point we’d handcuff you –’ the policeman continues. Oh Christ. ‘But because of the coronavirus we’re not allowed to touch you. So we’re just going to have to ask you to just hold your hands together and imagine you’re handcuffed.’

‘But…’

‘Sir… please’

I do as they say.

‘I’m afraid you’re going to have to put your basket down, sir.’ 

‘But it’s got important stuff in,’ I protest. ‘Pasta. Well, stuff for making pasta.  Pesto. Coriander pesto… they’re running out of everything!’

‘Coriander pesto?’ says the policewoman, visibly grimacing. ‘Who eats that?’

‘It was all they had left. And my children love it.’ They’ve never had it and will definitely hate it, but I thought I should let them know I have dependents.

‘Nevertheless, you need to put it down and accompany us to the station,’ she continues.

And then they burst out laughing.

‘Sorry mate – we saw it fall into your pocket.  We’re just messing with you.’

His partner finds it as hilarious as him.

‘You just seemed so worried.  We thought it’d be funny.  It’s important to try to cheer everyone up!  Everybody’s so serious at the moment.’

‘Great,’ I reply, as a pensioner five feet away from me laughs so much he goes into coughing fit.  Fuck you old man – this is all happening so you don’t die.  And you’re definitely coughing, the police should really have a word.

‘Take care of yourself.  And have a good day,’ they reply before heading off round the corner.

I go back to my basket and pick it up. I look down and see someone’s nabbed my 00 flour.  How middle class an area do you live in when people are stealing your pasta flour?

N.W.A. were right.  Fuck the police.

***

In the evening I message Amanda.  She was visiting her parents the other weekend and then came down with the flu.  Hopefully.  Her dad’s a doctor, and he reckons it’s not the Coronavirus, but she’s still having to self-isolate.  She’s also feeling like crap, so we’re just communicating by WhatsApp. I miss her, but it’s a relief, to be honest.  The relationship still feels too new to not make an effort. Having to shower and tidy myself for a Zoom call every evening feels like more than I can cope with at the moment.   

Sally, the kids’ mother, however, is fine.  She was visiting her boyfriend in Canada, had a temperature for about an hour and a half, and is now thinking that sharing a packed airplane home with all and sundry isn’t the best idea. She’s probably right, but it does mean I’m doing every single second of childcare.  It’s really crappy for the kids ‘cos they aren’t going to see her for a while, but, on the upside, I do get to overhear her judging me every evening when she FaceTimes… Good times…

Tuesday 17th March 

‘Are you going to die, Daddy?’

‘What do you mean, Carrie?’

‘Someone at nursery said there’s a bad disease and everyone’s going to die.’

I think for a second, not sure how to approach this. And then Carrie starts to cry.

‘Oh my love.’ I pull her close to me, feeling her tears wetting my cheek.

‘If you died, how would we… how would we… how would we…’ she can’t get her words out.  I hug her tighter still.

‘How would we… how would we…’ 

‘It’s all right, my love, Daddy’s not going to die.’ It calms her just enough to let her get her sentence out.

‘How would we… reach the cereal?’

This isn’t quite the ending I was expecting.

‘What? What do you mean, love?’

‘The cereal,’ she explains. ‘How would we reach it?’

‘Um, you’re talking about Daddy dying.  The cereal isn’t what you’re really worried about.’

‘Yes it is. It’s on a really high shelf.’  

Why not just step on my corpse?  Or are you thinking you’ve already eaten that as well.

‘I’m not going to die, love – this disease doesn’t really kill people of my age.’ (I looked it up – it’s a 0.4% chance). ‘So Daddy can just get the cereal for you.’

She seems relieved for a second, before a new thought strikes her. ‘What about children? Does it kill children?’ 

Thank God. The one question I can answer without making things worse. ‘No – it doesn’t really hurt children.  That’s the one good thing about it. It’s more dangerous for old people – like Granny and Gramps. That’s why we’re not going to see them for a while.’

‘But we haven’t seen them for ages.’

‘No,’ I reply, ‘that was different.  That was because they’re not very helpful.  This is to protect them.’

‘OK,’ she says, surprisingly reassured, despite the fact the Coco Pops are still six feet above ground. ‘I need to do a poo.’

‘All right,’ I reply ‘Make sure you don’t use too much toilet paper – actually call me when you’re done – we’re down to three rolls.’

‘Can‘t we buy some more?’

‘There’s not really any left in the shops.  People just buy it as soon as they get there, and then its gone.’ 

‘Don’t worry Daddy – next time we go to the supermarket, I’ll run straight there and lick it.’

‘Please don’t do that.’

‘OK, Daddy.’  And then she wanders off for her previously announced loo-trip, and I sit there waiting to hear the words ‘I’ve finished’ from the bathroom.

But the statistics are still going round my mind. 0.4%.  God.  I mean, it’s ridiculously low, but it’s still roughly one in two hundred.  If that was the chance I’d be hit by a car when I walked them to school, I’d never leave the house.  And if I did die – what would happen to them?  Their mum’s thousands of miles away.  They couldn’t go and stay with my parents – it’d be as good as signing their granny and gramps’s death warrants. I don’t want them losing their father and their grandparents in the same bloody week. Would they have to go into care until Sally could make it back here?

I’m overreacting.  It’s more likely I’d just get ill.  But how would we cope then?  Who will make the meals? How will we get the shopping? Come on – you can l deal with that if it comes up.  Hopefully it won’t.  Until then, I just need to make sure they know I love them.  Just in case.

And I should probably move the cereal to a lower shelf.

***

‘Mark – I need you to look after the kids if I die.’

‘People normally start with a ‘hi’.’

I’m sitting at my computer, sharing a beer online with my best friend over Skype.  It’s rubbish, but thanks to social distancing (which Mark and I are observing properly because we’re responsible human beings), it’s the closest we’re going to get for a while to going to the pub. I’ll have a drink with him for an hour and then maybe chat a bit with Karen after.

‘Oh no, you can’t talk to her,’ he interrupts.

‘What?’

‘Sorry – you’re just my friend now.’

I feel a little taken aback. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘Well – we had a chat about it and we realised if we’re stuck inside together for months, we’re really going to wind each other up, so we’re each going to need someone to complain to.’

‘Why does that mean I can’t talk to her?’

‘I can’t have it that I’m slagging her off to you, then she comes on and does the same thing.  You’d know too much. So we’ve decided to divvy up our joint friends.’

‘And you’ve got me?’

‘Yeah. She’s got loads of other friends.  I’ve mainly just got you.’

‘Well, what if I want Karen?’

‘You can’t want Karen – she’s my wife.  It’s fine if we’re both equal friends with you – but if your relationship becomes the main one, that’s basically an affair.’

‘Yeah, we’d probably start having Skype sex,’ I reply, sarcastically.

‘Can be done.  I’ve done it.  With her.  When I was away. She was really good at it.’ Didn’t’ need that shared. ‘Just be thankful, Tom. You’re lucky – being single.  This is going to be a fucking nightmare for couples.’

‘Yeah – it’s going to be great.  Loneliness, isolation, no breaks from childcare for the foreseeable future…’  But maybe whatever situation you’re in, it’s going to be awful. The whole thing reminds me of a joke I once heard – can’t remember who it was – it was about the question you have to ask yourself when you’re thinking of getting married: which would I rather be: lonely or irritated? Coronavirus is just going to get people to that point a hell of a lot faster.

But even if Mark is being ridiculous, it’s nice to be talking to another adult human being. I’ll let the whole no-Karen thing be for a few days, before I start insisting that I talk to both of them. 

But am I being ridiculous? Is this whole not-seeing-friends-thing a complete overreaction?  The pubs are still open, other people are still having play-dates, me and Mark are making sure we don’t go near each other, yet the kids are all over each other at school…

‘Oh no – Amelie isn’t,’ Mark replies when I mention it. ‘We took her out.’

I can’t quite understand the words.  ‘What do you mean you took her out?’

‘It’s as it sounds.’ He pauses. ‘Don’t tell me yours are still there?’

‘Yeah – the schools are open. Don’t we have to send them?’

‘Technically, I guess, but everywhere else in the world has closed them – letting them go to school seems like a really bad idea.’

‘I know, but… how… how did you do that?’ I am still genuinely uncomprehending.

‘We just said she has a cough,’ he shrugs.

‘You’re pretending she’s got coronavirus?’

‘Yeah – but to stop her catching coronavirus. Karen and me sat down and decided it was for the best.’

And there it is: the real reason it’s shit being a single father.  How the hell can you make a decision like that if it’s just you?  I can imagine the two of them egging each other on, comment after comment, until eventually they’re sure, they’re confident, definite that they’re doing the right thing.  But when you have to go against what the government is saying alone, you just feel like a crazy person.  God, I really hope Amanda and me work out.  It’d be great to have someone to make those decisions with.  Oh, and because she’s awesome. That’s the main reason. Not just because I want a break from responsibility and childcare.  Maybe won’t mention this when I message her later…

After the call, I turn on my phone and I read a bit about what’s going on in Italy – it’s horrendous.  It’s the nicest place in the world and now it’s like a bloody warzone.  I can’t believe the whole country’s in lockdown.  Is that going to happen here? Everybody being trapped in their houses except for when they have to go to the shops? Reading the stories about what’s happening totally breaks my heart.  Italy seemed like heaven for old people, and now they’re going down like flies.  I really hope they find some way to treat this better soon…

Wednesday 18th March 

8.15 am

‘Right, kids – handwashing.  You need to learn to do it properly. If you’re going to keep going to school you’re going to have to improve your personal hygiene.’

The kids look unimpressed, standing in the bathroom like they’re about to experience the most boring lesson of their lives.  But this is necessary – if I’m going to continue following the government guidelines (which I’m beginning to agree are massively stupid), I at least need them to wash their hands properly. 

Arthur has an alternative suggestion:‘Well, maybe we just shouldn’t go…’

‘It’s school. You have to go.’

 ‘Amelie’s not going,’ Arthur counters.

‘That’s different.  Amelie’s got a cough. You have to either have a cough or a temperature to be off school at the moment.  Those are the rules.’

‘But she hasn’t got a cough,’ Arthur replies.  ‘I heard you talking to Amelie’s dad last night. He said they were just pretending.’

‘She’s got a pretend cough?’ asks Carrie.

‘Um… Maybe slightly pretend,’ I reply, ‘but…’

‘I think I’ve got a pretend cough,’ says Arthur. ‘Can I be off school too? I think I’ve got one now.’

‘I have as well!’ Carrie echoes.

They both start coughing, and I’ve got to admit it does sound convincing.  Then I remember the upstairs neighbours. They’re going to think this is a hotbed of infection.

‘Stop!’ I shout.  ‘Please stop coughing.  PRETEND coughing.’ I add – loud enough so the people in the attic flat can hear. ‘You can’t pretend cough anymore.’

‘Can I have a pretend temperature?’ asks Carrie.

‘That would be better,’ I reply. ‘But no. You can’t have a pretend anything.  You’re going to school and that’s that.’

‘Why?’ insists Arthur.  Justifiably so.  

I sigh, and let the truth flood out.

‘Because Daddy’s weak and doesn’t have the courage of his convictions.’

That seems to satisfy them.  I just needed something they could believe in.

‘Right – hand washing,’ I say, trying to get this whole farce back on track. ‘Now, you have to wash your hands for twenty seconds. That’s counting up to twenty, all right Carrie?’

‘I can count to twenty!’

‘I know – that’s why I’m telling you like this.’

She counts to twenty in about four seconds.

‘It has to be slower than that.’

Second try – six seconds.

‘OK – this is the problem.  And the government knows that so what they’ve said is that you have to sing happy birthday twice while you’re doing it.’

‘Who to?’ Carrie asks. It’s not a question I was expecting.

‘Um… I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be to anyone.’

‘Then how do we do the “Happy Birthday Dear…” bit?’ Arthur queries.

‘Just leave it out.’

‘But won’t the song be shorter then?’ he asks.

‘OK. Just, um… to me then.  Happy birthday dear Daddy.’

‘But it’s not your birthday,’ Carrie protests.

‘I know it’s not my birthday, but it doesn’t matter.’

‘Then I’m not singing it to you.’

‘Why not? It doesn’t matter.’

‘Because when it is your birthday you won’t feel special,’ Carrie explains.

‘It’s like when you tell us not to wear a coat in the house,’ Arthur adds.  That is a very astute observation.

‘OK – then not to me.’

‘Then who to?’

‘I dunno – the coronavirus,’ I respond flippantly. It is not taken like that.

‘How old is the coronavirus?’ says Carrie. Speech to kids really needs a forward slash s at the end.

‘It’s not old, it’s new,’ Arthur points out.

‘Well, this one is, but there’s been other ones.  Covid-18.  No one ever talks about that one. It probably feels very lonely, whereas in reality I’m sure it was nice and didn’t really hurt anyone.’

‘I’m not singing happy birthday to a silly virus,’ Carrie snaps.  She seems adamant. Why do things always have to be so difficult? ‘We need to find out whose birthday it is.’

All my resolve is gradually crumbling.  ‘Fine.’

I got onto Facebook, and scroll through my notifications.  Kate Belfiore has a birthday today. I have no idea who that is.  But who cares?  It’s a birthday.

‘Good news guys – it’s Kate’s birthday today!’

‘Who?’

‘Kate. Kate Belfiore. You remember?’

‘No.’

‘Doesn’t matter – it’s her birthday! And that’s true! Now, let’s get to some handwashing.  Twenty seconds! Sing it twice remember? She’s a bit deaf.’

The kids start washing their hands and singing. Kate Belfiore has literally no idea how much goodwill she’s now getting right now from the under tens.  The annoying thing is that like Cinderella’s godmother’s, Kate’s Belfiore’s magic will wear off at midnight.  That means I’m going to have to find someone else first thing tomorrow morning.  As if getting them dressed and reaching up for the cereal wasn’t enough.

‘OK – let’s get you to your infected schools!’ I reply.

‘Daddy – I need to go to the toilet first.’

‘A number one or a number two?’

‘Two.’

I eye one of our remaining two toilet rolls and think of Carrie’s technique of rolling it round her hand like she’s trying to mummify it. 

‘Call me when you’ve finished.  I’ll wipe for you.’

‘Thanks, Daddy.’

I wash my hands afterwards.  Ten seconds should do it.  It’s only a poo.

***

After school, we FaceTime Granny Jan.  She’s finally agreed to self-isolate after a week of persuasion from me.  A typical conversation:

‘Mum – you have to stay in the house.’

‘Of course, I’m not stupid. I’m only going to go out if I need to do the shopping.  And for Zumba.’

‘No, no – not for Zumba.  You can’t go out for that.’

‘I’ve got to keep fit, Tom.’

‘Go for a walk – just stay away from other people.’

‘I don’t like walking – it’s boring.’

‘Well you can’t go to Zumba.’

‘Fine.  I’ll just do Tai Chi this week then.’

‘You can’t do Tai Chi either.’

‘No one’s near each other.  It’s very slow.  A lot of people do it in China.’

‘Really not doing anything to help your case.  Even if it’s is the number one leisure activity in Wuhan, I still don’t think it’s a good idea.’

‘Fine.  I won’t do that. I’ll stay in the house.’

‘Good.’  Another thought hits me. ‘And you’ll cancel your hair appointment?’

‘No. There’s no need. That’s not going out.  She comes to the house.’

‘For God’s sake.’

‘You said not to go out, not not to have people come in.’

‘You’ve got to be sensible, Mum, you’re old.’

‘I am not old – I’m middle-aged.’

‘You’re not middle-aged.  There’s no chance you’re living to a hundred and forty.  I’m sorry mum – but you’re nowhere near the middle. I’d just like to see you reach 75.’

Eventually she agrees to cancel her hair appointment.  When she hangs up I can tell she’s unhappy.

That was six days ago.  We haven’t talked since.  At 6.30 p.m., I assemble the kids around my phone (propped up on the first can of tinned vegetables I have ever bought) and dial her up.

What appears on the screen is not pretty.

It looks like Granny Jan, but also… not like Granny Jan.  Her face is the same, but her voluminous styled hair is now plastered down in two strange featherlight curtains either side of her head.

‘Aggh!’ screams Carrie as she appears.

‘Hi Carrie, hi Arthur!’ Granny Jan waves on the screen.

‘Who’s that?’ asks Arthur.

‘It’s Granny Jan, of course,’ I tell them, smiling, desperately trying to pretend it does not look like Granny Jan’s corpse.

‘That is NOT Granny Jan,’ Arthur replies.

‘Course it is – sorry, Mum, they’re just not used to seeing you on the screen.’

‘I’m scared,’ says Carrie. ‘Make it go away.’

‘No, no – it’s just Granny.  You’re just not used to FaceTiming.’

‘Yes we are,’ says Arthur. ‘We FaceTime Mummy every night.’ 

‘What’s happening?’ asks Granny Jan, confused. ‘Is something wrong with your screen? I can see you perfectly.’

‘Yeah,’ I reply, knowing that this is allmy fault.  It’s fair enough that I made her cancel all these things, but I really had no idea of the consequences. Maybe the hair appointment was a step too far. ‘I think something’s wrong with the screen. Maybe we should call you back.’

‘I think you dialled the wrong person,’ says Arthur.

‘Maybe you called Kate Belfiore?’ suggests Carrie.

‘Mum – we’ll call you back in a sec.’

I hang up, the words ‘Is Granny Jan dead?’ trailing from Carrie’s mouth just before my finger reaches the button.

Fuck.

Hopefully she didn’t hear. 

I sit the kids down, and explain to them that Granny might be looking a little different to normal, but that they shouldn’t say anything. We need to be understanding in this strange unusual time.

When we call back, my mother is wearing a sunhat.

I feel terrible. Maybe I should have just bought her hairdresser a hazmat suit.

After the call, I sit there thinking. Is this a taste of things to come? Are we all going to be emerging in three or four months’ time looking like Robinson Crusoe? Obviously there’re bigger issues at stake, but is this the moment we suddenly find out what everyone looks like sans expensive haircuts and hair dye?  Without regular…

Shit.  

Hair dye.

I started dying my hair a few months ago – just before I started seeing Amanda.  I never should have started.  Shit.  One kid says you look like Santa, and suddenly your life is in ruins?!?  My hair appointment was meant to be next week.  That means my dye’s due to start coming out.  Christ – what’s Amanda going to think?!? We’re still only messaging, but she says she’s getting better, so it can’t be long until we’re seeing each other’s faces on a screen, or in actual life.  

It’s going to look like I’ve gone grey over two bloody weeks.  I know this is a stressful situation but that’s ridiculous. I’m going to get fat anyway (in the 3 days I’ve been working at home, I literally haven’t stopped eating).  The least I can do is be fat with flowing chestnut locks.

Should I just tell her I dyed it?  No – I’ve got to maintain the façade.  As much as I condemn all these hoarders, we must be going into lockdown soon (every other country in Europe seems to be bloody doing it). So I need to stock up.  I need to stock up on hair dye.

When I check the news later, it turns out that things are going the same way as the rest of Europe.  The schools are closing. Nurseries too. It’s going to be disastrous, but I think I agree it’s for the best.  And I know lockdown’s coming.  They haven’t announced it, but I can feel it.

So I need to get to a chemist.

Thursday 19th March

I arrive at  Boots just before nine.  There’s a bit of a queue, but it’s not too bad.  My plan is to get in and out quickly then go to the supermarket before starting my ‘home-working’.  I still need to get some toilet roll as my whole Dan Brown plan didn’t work out the other day.  Turns out he hasn’t written a book for a little while.  Jeffery Archer has, but that one was completely sold out.  Guess I wasn’t the only person who’d had the idea…

As soon as the doors open, I dart straight to the men’s section. I vowed never to dye my hair myself in case I messed it up, but here I am – buying six packs of Just For Men.  I try to be big about it – flattening the curve will require everyone to make sacrifices. 

OK – what colour am I – Light brown? Dark brown? Mid-brown? I could ask someone but they’d probably give the answer ‘slightly grey’ and I don’t think they do that one as an option.

I head to the till as quickly as possible with an eye to being at the front of the queue, and getting out with my dignity intact.  

But it is not to be.

Somehow, within the three minutes it has taken me to scoop up an armful of embarrassment, the queue is now twenty people long.  I look to the front doors, and there’s more of them coming in, flooding through the doors like zombies into a shopping mall… And they’re going straight to the back of the queue without even getting anything… what the hell is happening? 

In a rare moment of decisiveness, I realise I don’t have a choice.  I have to act now.  The quicker I get in the queue, the smaller the damage will be. And any hesitation might also mean the supermarket is out of loo roll. Or the Jeffery Archer restock.

I join the queue and an old lady takes her place behind me.  I can’t see anyone around that I know.  This might be all right.

Then I hear a coughing from behind.  A ‘can get your attention?’ one rather than a ‘highly infectious and you probably shouldn’t be in the same room as me’ one. Still, not currently the best way to get someone to look at you.  It’s the old lady.

‘My husband used to use that,’ she whispers.  Not that quietly.

‘Oh, right,’ I say, smiling, trying not to look mortified.  I attempt to change the subject before anyone can overhear. ‘Why’s everybody queuing?’

‘They’ve got paracetamol and hand-sanitiser!’ she says triumphant.

‘Really?’ Wow, result – I hadn’t even thought about that!  ‘I mean – I knew that.’

‘Of course you did,’ she comments. ‘No, one would be in here at nine a.m. just to buy six packets of Just For Men.’

She’s not keeping her voice down.

‘We probably shouldn’t talk,’ I explain.  ‘You know – in case I have a mild form of the virus – I don’t want to risk giving it to you.’ 

‘Oh, yes,’ she replies, stepping back.  I’m really hoping this means an end to a conversation, rather than just that she continues it louder.

The queue moves forward, and my Machiavellian machinations seem to have worked.  But then I see who’s in front of me in the queue.  Martin.

He’s one of the Dads from school.  Massive, stupid, and completely unsophisticated. I kind of got in a fight with him in the playground a few months ago.  And then I started seeing his ex.  Used some of his left-over extra large condoms. They’re back together now.  Him seeing me like this means she is definitely finding out.

I look around, desperately searching for something to hide my stash under.   There’s a big bag of panty liners on the shelf next to where we’re queuing.  They’re the only thing I can see that’s big enough to hide multiple packets of hair dye, so I grab them.

And just in time.

Martin turns around, almost as if he has sensed me.

‘Oh, it’s you?’ he scoffs.  ‘Aren’t you meant to be staying in your house?’

‘What do you mean?’ I ask, confused.

‘Vulnerable groups, he says. ‘I think weaklings count.’

Every time he talks to me, it feels like I’m back at school being bullied.  I turn to the mouthy pensioner behind me to roll my eyes, but she’s having none of it, looking away like she doesn’t know me.  What – suddenly I’m a stranger now? What happened to me and your dead husband bonding over being the unacceptable face of male vanity?

‘That’s very funny, Martin.  Good to have a laugh when things are so difficult.’

‘Not a joke.  And what are you buying?’ he says with a grin.  I look down with a grimace before replying to check what he can see.

‘…Panty liners.’

‘Ha, ha! I always knew you were a woman!’

‘They’re not for me.  They’re for my girlfriend. Who’s on her period.’

He shakes his head.  Probably more information than was needed.  I doubt my imaginary girlfriend uses them as pan scourers.   And why did I feel the need to call her imaginary?  I actually do have a girlfriend.

But Martin has spotted something, and there’s a glint in his eye.

‘Panty liners, you said?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Except, they’re not panty liners, are they?  They’re incontinence pads.’

I look down.  Fuck, he’s right.  They look almost exactly the same, but no, these are definitely, one hundred percent, incontinence pads.

‘My husband used to use those as well,’ the old lady pipes up from behind.  For fuck’s sake – where were you when I needed some support on the eye rolling?

‘Been pissing yourself, have you?’ he says. ‘I  know this Covid-19 thing is scary, but I thought even you could have held it in?’

I want to say I got the wrong ones, but that would involve me putting them back and swapping them, revealing the eight months’ supply of hair dye underneath.  Then I’m incontinent and embarrassed about going grey.  Doesn’t exactly make things better.

‘How old is your girlfriend?’ he laughs, intoxicated by his own hilariousness. ‘Eighty?’ I feel the woman from behind perk up – maybe she can get herself a toyboy. 

Martin gives one final snort, then turns away from me, confident in the utterness of the devastation in his wake.  He’s right.  His victory seems absolute. If a little pyrrhic.

A few minutes later I reach the front of the queue, utterly ashamed, plonking my haul down in front of the cashier.

‘I’ll get some hand sanitiser and paracetamol as well please?’  I ask, thinking I may as well try my luck.’

‘No problem,’ she replies, ‘Just one packet though, oo, and that’s the last hand sanitiser!’ 

Silver linings.  That means I can now survive this disease if it hits me for more than two days.

As I leave the shop, I pass my elderly queue mate arguing with the cashier. She’s looking unhappy.

‘But that’s all I came in for.  I’m old – you should save the hand sanitiser for us.’

‘I’m sorry, madam, but when it’s gone, it’s gone,’ the cashier replies.

As much as I’m annoyed with her, I realise I don’t have a choice.  I step over to the till (maintaining as much social distance as the action will allow).

‘You can have mine.’

I walk away with a bag full of hair dye, some incontinence pads (can’t work out why I went through with paying for those) and some unexpected paracetamol, my head still held low.  Then the old woman calls after me. 

I turn around, worried I’ve dropped something.

‘You are like my husband…’ she says.

Great, more mockery coming from the OAP roast squad.

‘He was kind too.’

Silver linings…

***

The supermarket shop goes more smoothly, apart from a brief set-to with a man in his thirties who I accuse of being a hoarder (‘I need a lot of pasta!’ ‘So does everyone else’ ‘But I don’t like eating many things!’), and I manage to get pretty much everything I want.  The only strange thing is that I’m suddenly having to buy all the expensive stuff that I wouldn’t normally touch – Lurpak butter, organic milk, Charlie Bingham’s ready meals… Gone are the economy free range eggs – in their place I now have to shell out £2.40 for some Burford Browns.  It makes me feel like I’m a rich person.  A rich person who just happens to have basically nothing in his bank account.

By the end of it I have about thirty quid’s worth of shopping that costs me over sixty.  On the upside, I did manage to score a nine-pack of toilet roll, so that puts us up to eleven. I’ve got to work out how many we use a day – see how long we can survive until we need to restock. I’m also quite excited about trying the high class eggs.  This is how things must have been for people during the war.

***

Back at the flat, work is starting to worry me. I haven’t come up with anything decent since I’ve been at home.  I really didn’t think going to the office with its free coffee, bean bags and creative spaces was particularly helpful, but it turns out that being able to play ping pong or Space Invaders on a 1980s arcade machine does make you more creative. 

But I’m trying.  This could be a really difficult few months.  There’s a good chance the business could go under even. If I lose my job, I’m fucked.  How am I going to support the kids? How am I going to pay our rent?  I really need to come up with some ideas for this bloody campaign.

After two hours I’ve come up with about a page of stuff.  It’s not particularly good, but at least it’s something.  Maybe it’s ‘cos I don’t have coffee? I probably need proper coffee.  I think about going down to Starbucks and getting a take away but that seems like a bad idea.  What if the person serving is all coughy?  Ha ha coffee.  No?  Nothing? 00 flour?  Anyway, I decide against it.  I go online to see how much a home coffee maker is.  And they’re bloody expensive.  Finally I find a nespresso thing with a milk foamer for just over a hundred.  Ouch.  But maybe it’ll make a difference.  It’s the only option I’ve got to make the place more office-like. And it’s definitely cheaper than a ping pong table. Plus I doubt one would even fit in our living room.

At lunchtime, I get a call from Larousse.  He’s filling in for Amanda while she’s self-isolating.  He likes to pretend he’s down to earth ‘cos he’s got a Welsh accent, but apparently his dad left him about 20 million and he has a seven bedroom house in Notting Hill, so there’s only so down to earth you can actualy be.  What am I talking about? He probably owns a valley or a quarry or something. That’s actually more down to earth than ground level. I’m also pretty sure his actual name is Larry.

‘All right, Tommy boy?  How’s it going?’ asks Larousse.

‘Not too bad – just getting used to this whole home-working thing.’

‘You’ll be all right.  I got the document you sent.  There’s some good stuff there.  Not much of it, but good stuff.’

‘Well – I’ll make sure I get a lot more done this afternoon.  I’ve ordered a coffee maker, which should come tomorrow, so hopefully that should give me a bit of a boost to get more done in the mornings.’

‘What?  A coffee maker?  Everyone else is stocking up on pasta and rice, and you’re ordering coffee makers?!?’ he says, barely able to contain his own amusement.

‘I just wanted to be productive.’

‘God, Tommy boy – how middle class are you? Quick! The world’s ending – get me a cappuccino!  Down the supermarket worried they’re going to run out of avocados and hummus are you?’

‘I…’ Annoyingly they had run out of avocados.  I try to change the subject. ‘Do you not have one?’

‘Yeah – of course I’ve got one – a Sage Oracle it’s excellent – but I didn’t go out and get it just ‘cos the Coronavirus started!’  I look it up online, it’s over a thousand pounds. Jesus.  And yet somehow he has still succeeded in making me feel ridiculous.

‘Yeah – maybe it was stupid,’ I reply. ‘Anyway – I’ll get some more ideas to you this afternoon.’

‘Don’t worry about that.  We need you to work on some copy for a radio ad we’re recording Monday – I’ll send you over what we’ve got. You can sit in on the voiceover.’

‘Great.’ That actually sounds a bit exciting. 

I suddenly realise I can hear something in the background down the phone line.  It sounds like children.

‘Is that your kids?’ I ask.

‘Yeah – we’ve had them off since Monday.’  Christ! How is everybody doing this? Does no one obey the rules?!?  ‘Yeah – wife and I just chatted about it and sending them in didn’t seem like a good idea. Bit of a hassle with both of us trying to work from home, but the nanny’s managing to keep them occupied most of the time.’

‘Nanny?’

‘Yeah…’ he pauses before continuing, suddenly realising he’s been caught out. ‘Probably shouldn’t have said that.  Don’t tell anyone.  She’s agreed to self-isolate with us till things calm down a little.’

I literally can’t speak. This man was taking the piss out of me for spending a hundred quid on a coffee machine, and he has staff

It’s ridiculous.  The media keeps saing everybody’s in this together. Rich and poor.  Turns out it’s everyone except for the those who can afford to pay people to go into quarantine with them…

That evening, someone sends me through a link of Gal Gadot’s Imagine video.  It’s sickening.  All these bloody rich people, pretending like they’re experiencing what we are in their massive bloody houses and park-like estates.  I wonder if they have staff?  I’ll bet some of them do. It’s not like they’d put them in the video.  Are they basically self-isolating with the below-stairs team of a country house? Those should have been the lyrics

Imagine there’s no cleaner… I can’t believe they’d find it easy. Even if they tried. No cook below us, no private jets in which to fly.  

Meanwhile I’m lying in my bed, trying to think of whose birthday I should pretend it is tomorrow, wondering how the fuck I’m going to get through this.  Tomorrow will be my last day of home working without the kids around.  I need to make it count.

Friday 20th March

The coffee-maker arrives and I get some serious amounts of work done on my new found caffeine high.  This was the best investment I could have made. Come Monday, when the kids are at home, I’ll realise it probably isn’t as good as a live-in nanny, but for a single father on a budget it was definitely the way to go.  Well, until the supermarket run out of nespresso pods.

By lunchtime, I’ve got a draft of all the scripts sent off and I’m cooking an organic bacon sandwich, when I get a phone call from Mark.

‘They’re doing my fucking head in.’

‘Who?’ I ask, not even bothering to comment about the lack of greeting. It seems pretty standard for us now.

‘Karen. The kids.  All of them.’

‘You love Karen – you two are the best couple I know.’

‘I know, I just… I need to get out.  Can you meet me in the park.’

‘We’re not meant to be meeting people.’

‘I know the rules – we’ll walk eight metres away from each other and talk on our phones.’ 

‘Won’t that be awkward?’

‘We can put headphones in and talk through them.’

‘Can’t we just Skype on treadmills or something?’ I really want to enjoy my overpriced bacon sandwich in peace.

‘Do either of us own a treadmill?’

‘Ok. I’ll see you in the park.’

Twenty minutes later, we’re in the park, and what follows is the weirdest conversation ever.  Me and my best friend walking what is probably ten metres away from each other, with our headphones in so we can hear actually hear what the other ones saying.

‘I can’t take this,’ Mark rants.

‘It’s only been a week.’

Mark looks genuinely surprised. ‘Has it really?  God, I’m fucked.  I’m absolutely fucked.’

‘Calm down – a lot of people have got it a lot worse than you.  Like, look at this guy’s dog,’ I say, pointing out a dachshund being dragged along by a jogger. ‘Did you see the expression on its face?’ 

‘Not a person,’ he replies. ‘But no, I didn’t see the expression on its face. The dog is ten metres away from you so it’s twenty metres away from me.’ Maybe now’s the time to point out that this ridiculous charade was one hundred percent his idea. 

‘Fair enough,’ I reply. ‘OK – just get it off your chest – tell me what’s happening?’ 

He sighs. ‘It’s impossible. I’m trying to work – but I’ve got the kids screaming downstairs.  Then I’ll talk to Karen and she’s in a terrible mood, and has a massive go at me ‘cos she’s been dealing with them close up. So I take over while she works, and after about 2 minutes of ‘isn’t this nice?’ I feel like I want to kill them.  Then I have to supress that feeling for the next ninety minutes and of course – not actually kill them, and then she comes into the kitchen having finally calmed down, and I have a massive go at her.  It’s fucking shit.’

‘Doesn’t sound great.’

‘You know Tom, I didn’t realise how much I liked working. Work is amazing.  I always thought I went just to make money, but it’s like this brilliant opportunity to not be around your family.’  He starts to slow down. ‘To actually miss people.’

‘Yeah, well… I don’t want to be a dick or anything, but it is kind of what you signed up for. Wife. Family. Being with them for the rest of your lives, that kind of thing…’

‘Yeah, I know.  And I do want to be with Karen forever,’ he replies. ‘Just not this much.’

‘Well, at least you like her.  Normally. Think of all the people who are shacked up with someone they don’t love anymore, someone who hits them…’

It knocks him out of his indulgence for a while. ‘Yeah, you’re right.  It could be a lot worse.  First world problems, I know. But it’s still difficult.’

‘Hey – at least you’ve got someone.’  My turn for self-indulgence.

‘You’ve got the kids,’ he replies, in the weakest counter argument ever.

‘Isn’t that just worse?’

He pauses for moment.  ‘Yeah, you’re right – that’s worse,’ Mark replies. I laugh.  ‘Not a joke. You’ll see on Monday.  It’s a fucking nightmare…’

We don’t talk for the rest of the time, but I think just getting out has made him feel better.  But when I get home, the words are still just hanging there.  ‘It’s a fucking nightmare…’ And I can’t help but be worried he might be right.

Afternoon

Thinking about other people puts me in a giving mood, and, after I finish the rewrites for the voice over, I decide to text Sue, my elderly neighbour, to see if she wants anything from the supermarket. 

She calls me almost the instant I press send. 

‘Tom!  That’s so nice you got in touch. That would be so kind.  Can I give you a list?’

After five minutes of her reciting items that I didn’t know were still stocked anywhere (frozen cauliflower, Baxter’s consomme, corned beef, pudding rice, canned fruit cocktail and 300g of fresh liver), she asks me if I’d be willing to get a few things for her friend Pamela as well? I tell her ‘no problem’, but then Pamela refers me to Rosamund, who refers me to Cath, and by the time I’m done I have the shopping lists for four pensioners written out in front of me.

As much as I feel like a good person, I can’t help but feel I might not get it done before I have to pick up the kids from school.

Turns out, the best thing with pensioner food is no one else wants it.  Although they’re still out of eggs (I doubt they’ll  willing to pay up for the Burford Browns), everything else is a breeze.  The corned beef actually has a deal on. It’s crazy.  If I could convince the kids to start eating tinned sardines, I could probably get  enough stuff to last me until winter.  

The bad thing is that I’ve currently filled up a full size trolley as well as a basket.  They’ve also all requested toilet roll, which seems impossible, but when I tell the shelf stacker guy that it’s for elderly neighbours he goes out back and gives me some from a secret stash. Still it doesn’t look good. I’m walking around with a type and quantity of food that makes me look like a black market dealer during World War II rationing.

And that’s when I hear someone calling me from behind.  

‘Excuse me!’

I turn round to come face to face with the pasta hoarder from a few days ago

‘Oh… how the tables have turned…’ he says, smugness running through his veins like blood with a glucose spike. ‘The other day you accused me of hoarding pasta – and looks what’s happening now. You’re hoarding. You’re hoarding…’ he picks up a packet from my trolley ‘blancmange mix!’

Even more than his accusations, the fact that he’s handling the food sends me into panic mode.

‘You shouldn’t be touching that.  You’re not following the proper social distancing rules.’

‘You should have thought about that when you accused me of hoarding pasta!’

‘You were.’

‘All I had was three bags.’

‘You had seven.’

‘I DON’T LIKE RICE!  … I’m naming and shaming!’ he says.  ‘I’m NAMING AND SHAMING.’

‘No – don’t do that – it’s not for me.  It’s for my neighbour.’

‘A likely story – just ‘cos you eat…’ he picks up another item, ‘tinned prunes rather than pasta, it doesn’t make you any better.’

‘Please don’t touch my stuff.’

He pulls out his phone – and I manage hide behind my coat before he starts filming.  Eventually someone from the supermarket asks him to stop.

‘No problem, I’ve already got the footage… posting… now!’

I go to the tills, my head held low, having to explain once more to the cashier why I’ve got so much loo roll.  

I drop the various bags off at the pensioner’s addresses, making sure I stand back after ringing the doorbell.  Everybody is very appreciative, but still…

‘How much did it cost you?’ Sue asks as I drop off my final delivery.

‘Just my reputation,’ I reply.

She looks confused. I feel bad. Old people don’t like to be confused. ‘I’ll work it out and text you.  Oh, and disinfect the blancmange and prune packets before you touch them – they might be infected.’

It’s when I’m walking the kids home from school, that I see I’m mentioned in a couple of tweets.  One is Sue (who I’m surprised in on twitter) thanking me for being a good neighbour.  The other is trending at number 3 with the hashtag ‘named and shamed’.  There’s no face on it though. Turns out I did manage to get my coat up in time.

That said, I should probably change my clothes.

Saturday 21st March

After a family breakfast of the most delicious golden-yolked eggs I have ever tasted (note to self: if I get rich I am never buying the economy ones again), I head out to the park with the kids.

The whole thing is so weird.  There are people everywhere – the sun’s out, it’s warm – it seems more like a spring bank holiday than the middle of a pandemic.  I let the kids run ahead of me as it’s going to be the nearest I get to alone time for a while – they’re under strict instructions not to get too close to people (or lick anything), so hopefully it should be fine.

But what’s worrying is that people seem to be letting their guard down.  Walking too close, going over to friends to have a chat.  Not that I blame them a hundred percent.  When the weather’s like this, it just doesn’t seem real. The joggers are the worst – they never seem to give you any space – as if coughing in contagious, but sparying you with out-of-breath pant spittle is fine.  At one point, I actually shout ‘two metres!’ as one skims my shoulder.  Carrie overhears and finds it hilarious and starts shouting ‘two metres!’ at everyone who walks past.  God, I’m raising my kids well.

But beneath it all, I can’t help feeling generally unsettled.  I suppose we all do at the moment. We’re living through the weirdest time in human history.  Surely there can’t have ever been anything like this before? A time when everyone had to just stay in their house, only leaving for essential tasks?  Well, winter maybe – you know, in the old days, before they invented decent clothes.  But not recently.

There have been wars and disease before of course, but they were always in specific places – not all over the world.  And in the old days, diseases were mysteries.  Now we know exactly what’s going on; and we can’t seem to stop it.

But maybe it isn’t weird at all.  Maybe this is just what it is to be human – knowing something’s coming – something that could kill you, hurt you, take away your loved ones. All the time.  This is how existence has been for a species for millions of years.  Since we were conscious. We’ve just forgotten what it feels like.

I’m distracted from my thoughts by a group of cyclists all sitting down close to each other on the grass and chatting, as if there’s nothing wrong.  It really pisses me off. How the hell are we going to make it through this if this is what people are doing as social distancing.  Surely lock-down can’t be that far off?

But still, the sun gives me hope.

Maybe this whole thing is going to be all right.  

As long as the sun keeps shining…

Sunday 22nd March

Sunday begins with the daily chore of working out whose birthday it is for the handwashing ritual.  I can’t find anyone – but there’s something better.  Mother’s Day.  ‘Happy Mother’s Day to you!’ Perfect. It fits in exactly with the tune. They just need to sing it twice every time they wash their hands. I’ll get them to imagine they’re being parented by a lesbian couple.

It’s about ten minutes later when I come to a realisation.

I too have a mother.  

And I haven’t sent her a card.

Shit.  

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.  

I sit the kids down. ‘You know we’re FaceTiming Mummy today to say happy Mother’s Day?’ I mean Sally.

‘Yeah.’

‘Well you know who else’s mother’s day it is today?’

‘Amelie’s mum’s?’ Carrie says.

‘No. Well, yes, but also…’

‘Mrs Harrison’s from Science?’ Arthur asks. ‘I don’t like Mrs Harrison.’

‘I don’t think she has children,’ I reply.

‘She does – two…’

‘Really can’t believe anyone would… any stork would… Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is it’s also Granny Jan’s Mother’s Day. She’s a mother.  A grandmother.  So – what I need you two to do is to draw her a card.’

‘Shouldn’t you draw her a card?  She’s your mother.’

‘No – Daddy needs to learn how to bake bread, otherwise the family will starve, so today: this is on you.’

An hour later, I have some bread dough ‘proving’ in the cupboard and over most of the work surface, and the kids announce that the card is done.

Just in time.  My phone starts ringing almost to cue.  My mother’s FaceTiming.  I wanted to beat her to it. At least the card’s finished.

I answer, and Mum appears on the screen.  

She’s wearing a woolly hat and an expression of disappointment.

‘I didn’t get a card through today.’ Wow. Straight in with the accusations.

‘Happy Mother’s Day Mum!’ I reply, ‘And of course you didn’t get a card.  We’re trying to be safe.  I did think it through – it’s not just like I forgot!’

Mum looks sceptical.

‘Look – what if I sent a card through to you, and we had an asymptomatic version of the virus, now you’d have it too. Doesn’t really seem worth the risk.’

She hesitates. ‘… I suppose not, no.’

‘So… really – not sending a card is the nicest thing I could have done.’

‘Well, I got one from your sister.’

‘Then it seems like she wasn’t being as thoughtful as I was.  Think about who loves you more.’  Dick move.  I feel guilty almost immediately.  ‘Actually, I doubt the virus could last the trip from Australia, so she was probably thinking about that.  Looks like we actually both love you equally.’ Saved it. ‘The good news is – we’ve drawn you a card. Kids.’

The kids lift up the card, which shows Granny Jan doing Tai Chi.

‘It’s you doing your old person karate!’ says Arthur. ‘We drew a really weak person coming to take your money who you might be able to beat.’

‘Oh right,’ says Granny Jan.

‘I drew your hair,’ says Carrie. ‘Do you like it?’

‘It’s really nice darling.’

‘I did it so your hair looked like it did before the virus came, so you don’t look scary.’

I hold my head in my hands.  

Strangely, Mum actually seems OK about it.

‘Thanks my love. That’s what I really look like, isn’t it?  It’s good you drew it like that.  I won’t be posing for any photos while it’s like this.’  I decide not to tell her that Arthur has just reached over and taken a screen shot.

‘So – you got to see it on the day, and I’ll put it in the post tomorrow.’

‘But…’

‘That was a test.  Just checking you were being cautious too…’

Monday 23 March  

The first day of home-schooling begins.  

I have to say I’m pretty impressed with what Arthur’s school has sent through. They emailed to say they’ve set up all this online work  – various tasks and worksheets to download.   I really can’t believe they’re going to so much effort.  I just think the whole package is amazing.

That is until I open it.

There’s almost nothing.  One page of easy maths questions, some colouring and the task ‘make a rainbow.’  I can feel my son’s mind expanding already.  

Apparently, the rainbow thing is what people in Italy have been doing – putting drawings of them in windows to show solidarity.  It’s meant to give the kids hope; take them out of the doldrums they’re in and make them know that the world is going to be OK.

‘No schooooooooolllll!’ 

They were the first words I heard today as I regain consciousness with Arthur bursting into my room.  It was 6 a.m.  I’m thinking he’ll probably be OK without the rainbows.

Anyway – I reckon it’s best to keep them to their regular schedules, so I decide to start them off with work at nine.  Which actually means ten.  It’s only fair. After all, they’re technically ‘working from home’. I start to explain what they have to do at 9.50, as I need to be on the phone with work for ten.

‘All right. Carrie you’ve got some colouring and some letter writing that your nursery has sent through.  And Arthur, you’ve got colouring, worksheets, and then you need to “make a rainbow”. What’s making a rainbow? Look at this picture.’

I show them the example photograph the teacher has sent through.

‘See your teacher has arranged all these different objects in different colours together, so they form a rainbow.  There’s a red book on the left, then an orange… which is orange… and – do you understand Arthur? Yeah?  Good – so that’s what you have to do, and then you take a picture of it and upload it on the school website.’

 ‘What can we use?’ Arthur asks.

‘Anything you can find,’ I reply.  ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. Red, orange, yellow, green… you know that one yeah?’

Arthur nods.

‘Can I help?’ Carrie asks.

‘’Course.  Arthur – you explain it to Carrie. I’ll log in for you on the website so you can upload your photo when it’s done.  Now Daddy’s got to go into the other room, and do his work, all right? Try not to disturb me’

I hand them my tablet and leave them to it.  There’s not much work, but it should buy me a couple of hours to get this recording done.  I reach the bedroom, just as my phone rings.

‘Hi Tom? It’s the engineer, Derek – I’m just dialling you in with Larrouse, and Seb our voice over artist.  Everyone – Tom’s on the line.’

‘Morning, Mr Coffee,’ Larousse laughs, getting in his dig before I even have time to speak.  A response comes to mind.  Saying it will involve getting fired.  Maybe I should have conspiratorially asked him the other day not to tell anyone I have a (whispered) ‘nespresso machine’.

‘H…’ Seb’s voice cuts off, just as he starts to talk.  

Damn it – I look down at my phone.  I’m on wifi – must have just been a glitch.

‘Are you there, Tom?’ asks the engineer.

‘Yeah, I’m here. Sorry – just cut out for a second then.’

‘No problem.  Right, Tom,’ Larousse interrupts, ‘I was thinking that Seb approached your script  with a k… o… … t… and kind of… h… and b… but not too s… don’t you think?’

What the? I look down at my phone again – still says I’m on the wifi. Shit. I guess wifi’s not quite so reliable when half the country’s watching Netflix.

‘Well, if that’s what you think, L,’ I reply, ‘I’m happy to go with it.’

‘Cool, let’s do a take.’

Seb starts his voice over and cuts out immediately. Arse. I need to get some normal 4G reception so I can actually hear him. – I head to the loo, the only place that has a decent signal.  It kicks in just as Seb finishes.

‘What do you think?  A little warmer maybe?’ Seb asks, ironically the only thing I’ve heard in his last minute of constant speaking.

‘Maybe.  But I liked it – that was a great start,’ Larousse replies. ‘Tom?’

‘I… I’d like to hear a second one,’ I hesitate. Or a first one. For all I know he was doing it in a Scooby Doo voice.  A Scooby Doo voice that wasn’t quite warm enough.

He starts and I can hear it! Excellent.  Annoyingly, I find the best place for reception is actually sitting on the loo itself.  With the lid down of course. I’m not an animal.

He finishes and it’s actually pretty good.  Kind of how I’d envisioned it, and not a request for a Scooby Snack in sight.  

‘That was great, Seb, I think the warmth worked well,’ I reply. ‘Maybe if we could do another one, but a bit faster at the top as I’m worried it’s not going to fit in the slot.’

‘Cool, no probs,’ he replies.  Just as Arthur comes in.  And starts pointing at the loo.

Fuck.   I mime the words ‘wee or poo?’ at him, and he replies ‘wee.’  Thank God.  I rise from my throne, and Arthur relieves himself while I continue the conversation.

‘What was that?’ asks Derek, ‘I’m getting something on the line.  That’s not Seb is it Derek?’

‘Sorry that’s me,’ I reply, wishing Arthur would finish his wee quickly. ‘The tap’s dripping.  Can’t get the plumber out cos of the lockdown.’

‘Oh right.’ 

Seb finishes another take.  At the exact moment Arthur decides to flush the toilet. I try to ignore it.

‘That was great,’ I tell him. ‘I think we should move to the second script, then come back to this one again at the end…’

‘Tom?’ Larousse asks.

‘Yeah?’

‘Are you on the toilet?’

‘Umm…’

Carrie takes this as her cue to come in.

‘I’ve finished!’ she exclaims. Unnecessarily loud.  It’s only been ten minutes.  That was meant to be a day’s work for her.  WTF?

‘Tom?’ Larousse continues.  ‘Are you…  are you… in the toilet wiping your kid’s arse?’

‘No, I’m…’

‘I’ve finished too!’ says Arthur.

‘Two of them?’ Larousse questions.  He sounds genuinely shocked.  ‘Derek – can you just put Seb on hold for a second.  Tom – we’re all doing this from home, but you’ve got to maintain a little professionalism.’

‘I’m in the bathroom – the kids needed to come in to use the loo – they haven’t ‘finished’ finished…’

‘They’re still pooing? For God’s sake Tom.’

‘Give me a break, L. There’s nothing I can do.  Not all of us are self-isolating with a bloody nanny.’

‘Sorry guys,’ interrupts Derek.  ‘Seb and I are still on the line – I haven’t worked out how to put you on hold yet.  New software.’

‘You’re self-isolating with a nanny?’ Seb asks.

I have to admit considering how shocked he seems, he does manage to make his words sound reassuringly warm.

I’m losing my fucking job.

***

I manage to explain the whole thing to Amanda at lunchtime – we’re speaking now, even if she doesn’t feel up for FaceTime. But its reassuring. Even though L’s filling in for her, she’s still technically my boss, so he can’t fire me without her permission.  I start to worry that she might be torn between her loyalties to me and the job.  Turns out she’s not. She mainly seems to find the whole thing funny.  

But it hasn’t been a great first experience of how home-schooling is going to go. I managed to shoo the kids away until the voice over was finished, only to go to the kitchen afterwards and find Carrie’s craft medium of choice is now crayons and toilet paper.  Seeing her drawings hair peppered with glued on strips of Andrex sends a shiver down my spine.  How many times have I told her it’s a precious commodity right now?  This is how onlookers must feel when an R&B star starts spraying five hundred pound bottles of Dom Perignon around a nightclub.  If the Dom Perignon was a basic necessity.  And actually theirs.

They’d also posted Arthur’s rainbow picture online via the school website and ask edme to look at it, but i hadgot more work to do, so had to tell them that I’d look later.

It’s not until 4, that I finally get round to viewing their masterpiece.

A red book, an orange (as suggested), a rubber duck, some broccoli… and three packets of Just for Men.  In various shades of brown.  Well, at least they got the light/mid/dark in the right order.

I feel part of me die inside. It’s on the school notice board.  Which means it’s basically been viewed by every parent in their year group.

‘Arthur, you do realise the B, is for blue not brown yeah?’ I’ve lost all hope of a future, I may as well try to educate them so they can look after me in my old age.

‘Sorry,’ says Arthur. ‘I got mixed up.’

I almost don’t feel anything when I scan along to see the indigo slot is filled by the packet of incontinence pads.  At least they got the colour right this time.

A few hours later, I suddenly realise how to minimise the fallout.  I pull up the picture and comment ,‘Ha! Ha! This is why, when you do a shop for an elderly neighbour, you don’t leave it in your house!’  I think about linking in Sue’s tweet thanking me, but it doesn’t seem right.  Also, her hair is completely white.  I notice Arthur’spicture has had ten times as many views as anyone else’s.  I check my phone, yeah, it’s gone round on the year group’s WhatsApp chat. I’m screwed.

It’s such a relief when I finally put the kids to bed.  How long are the schools going to be shut for? This is impossible. And it’s day one.  At least if I had someone else to help, I could go for a walk on my own, get some space, but instead I’m going to be with them non-stop for all their waking hours for God knows how many months. I don’t think things could get any worse.

It’s 8.30 when Boris announces we’re going into full on lock-down.

It’s 9.45 when I realise I have to pay for the third season of The Bureau on Amazon Prime.

Life really doesn’t let up.

Tuesday 24th March

I’m getting the kids ready for our once daily allowed exercise when Mark Skypes me.

‘I’m going fucking crazy.  I need to get out.  Can we do another one of our distance walks in the park?’  He calls to Karen without even waiting for an answer.  ‘Babe – I’m going out with Tom.’

‘You’re only allowed to go out for exercise once a day now,’ Karen calls back. ‘If you go out now you won’t be able to come out on the family walk then later.’

‘This is the gift that just keeps on giving,’ he mutters under his breath.

‘Sorry mate – I can’t do it,’ I reply. ‘I’ve got the kids.’

He sounds genuinely annoyed, before realising that my situation is probably even worse than his. ‘Course you have.  Yeah, sorry man.  I’m being really self-involved.  That must be really hard.’

It’s nice to hear someone say it.  My mum hasn’t.  My dad hasn’t even joined a call on FaceTime. So its really nice to hear someone acknowledging what you’re going through.  I think everyone’s having such a tough time at the moment that we forget there’re plenty of people who have it far worse than us.  I need to remember that too. I tell him I’ll call him later, and then head off towards the park.

***

It’s really weird being outside.  It doesn’t seem like anything’s different.  I guess physically it isn’t, and yet there’s this weird sensation hanging over me.  Like I’m not free anymore.  Is this what it would be like to be living in a dictatorship? Heading down to Gorky Park for an afternoon stroll, just knowing that if you take a step out of line…  Even the park itself seems different.  People seem better at keeping their social distance now, but that’s not it – it’s just this cloying feeling of foreboding – like a pre-revolution French aristocrat walking around his sumptuous grounds knowing that beyond the walls of your estate everyone wants to kill him.

The kids seem fine though.  Carrie’s definitely getting better at not licking things, and has stopped shouting ‘two metres’ at people.  I keep seeing these newspaper articles about ‘how to talk to your kids about Coronavirus’ – seems like the best thing is not to talk about it at all.  They seem to think everything’s fine.

The issue comes on the walk home.  The kids run ahead of me while I message Amanda to see how she’s doing. Then ahead I see an old man walking towards us.

‘Kids! Make sure you give the man some space.  Walk by the wall – two metres remember!’

Issue dealt with.  Except it isn’t.  I press send and look up again.  The old man has started swinging his stick.

And not just a little bit.  We’re not talking a jaunty little wiggle so he looks like he’s about to launch into a Singing in the Rain style number.  No, he’s swinging it from side to side at arms length in an attempt to enforce the two metre rule. What the…?

‘Carrie be careful, the man’s…’

And then he whacks her full on around the head.

I can’t quite believe it – I run towards her as fast as I can – the old man is still walking, his cane arcing around him.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ I ask as I run past.  ‘You just hit my daughter.’

‘Then she can’t have been far enough away,’ he says.

‘She was next to the wall – she couldn’t have got any farther.’

He stops for a moment, as I reach Carrie. She’s finding it difficult to open her eye and the skin is all red around it.  Luckily, she’s not bleeding.

‘She needs to learn to give old people space,’ he spits. ‘We’re a vulnerable group.’

‘She knows that!  It doesn’t mean you can go round hitting kids with a stick.’

I get Carrie to open her eye, and she seems fine – she can answer my questions normally and doesn’t seem to be seeing double, so that’s not dangerous.  I think. 

I turn back to the man to see he’s carried on, still swinging his stick from side to side, a whirling dervish of self-importance and self-righteousness.  What a horrible old git.  I can’t believe he just walked off after basically committing assault.  She’s all right – but what if she hadn’t been – if he’d fractured her skull or given her a concussion?  Taking a kid into A & E doesn’t seem like a good idea right now.  

This whole pandemic thing has been making it seem like it’s the only thing that can hurt us right now.  Like you can no longer trip over and break your wrist, like you can eat any old shit as long as the supermarket has it – it’s not an issue while the pandemic’s on – you can’t have a heart attack.  The other day I washed my hands after handling raw chicken and I didn’t give it half the time I do after I’ve touched the post – as if Salmonella is on a break – as if the Coronavirus has offered to take the slack.

And it’s not just diseases – what about the kids’ education? I’ve been letting them watch TV and play around on the iPad today so I can get my work done.  That’s not going to work out if they’re off school till the autumn.  I can’t have my kids being six months behind where they should be by the end of the year.  I need to pull my finger out.

‘Come on guys – let’s go home.’

We walk off, and I look back to get one last glimpse of the person who just hit my daughter and got away with it. I’m filled with resentment and anger. To think we’re doing all of this for him.  But then, abruptly he stops swinging his stick.  It’s weird. It feels as if the daggers I’m sending him have got through.

Then suddenly, I see a policeman crossing the road, and having a word with him.   After a quick telling off, the old man walk onwards, his head no longer held as high, his stick tapping a path on the ground by his side as it should be.

Looks like the police are back in my good books again.

***

‘So, are you moving in with Amanda?’

I get the text from Mark at about six.  As much as anything, I think it’s mainly a reminder so that I call him back, but it throws me for a loop. I’ve been so overwhelmed with getting my head round 24/7 childcare that I haven’t thought about how me and Amanda was going to work with lockdown.  Maybe that’s not true.  I think it’s been there in the back of my mind.  I just didn’t want to confront it.

I look online, and it’s been announced that there’s no exception for the person you’re dating.  That means I won’t see Amanda for ages.  I can’t believe it – it just feels like such a kick in the gut. Unless, of course, we move in together… 

Is that something we should be talking about? It’s only been a few months, but these aren’t normal times.  It just seems too serious for this early on. And we wouldn’t just be moving in.  We’d be moving in in. Trapped in a flat with nowhere to go – hers is nicer, but it wouldn’t have room for the kids – I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want to come to mine.  Why is this even going through my head? This is madness. 

But what if this lockdown goes on for half the year?  That’s longer than we’ve been together.  We’d be out of the honeymoon period.  That’s rubbish – you can’t have a relationship without a honeymoon period. We’d see each other again and it would just be super weird.  But no, I can’t ask her.  It’s too much.  Not with the kids.

We chat on FaceTime a few hours later.  I can sense she’s been thinking about the same thing, but neither of us mentions it.  Instead, we just talk about random terrible things that are happening in other countries.  

So we can avoid talking about the terrible one happening in our relationship.

Wednesday 25th March

After printing out the single hour of tasks the school has set for today, I manage to find some extra colouring for Carrie and some maths questions for Arthur.  I’ve decided to teach him his three times table as well. If I can get him up to seven, he’ll be able to work out how many days of horror the family is going to endure collectively every week.  That’s useful stuff.

But we’re also out of food.  I go online, as going to the supermarket with the kids.  Annoyingly,  most stores don’t seem to be allowing new customers – that’s ridiculous.  Tesco has a different approach, allowing me to do a full shop before showing me that there’s not a single delivery slot available ever. But then I remember something. I did an Ocado shop once.  I must have a login. I go through my old emails and find the details – system, you have just been beaten.

I log in and the shop page appears.  For about half a second.  Then suddenly, I’m in an online queue.  What just happened?  Why did the website tease me that I was in, and then put me behind one hundred and eighty thousand other people? That’s just not nice.

Right, I look at the numbers: 186,742.  Oh no -186,741!  RESULT.  Some people have no patience.  I need to work out how long this is going to take me. To get the front of the queue. 

Underneath, is the helpful information: ‘Waiting time: more than an hour.’ No shit Sherlock.  Difficult to believe you can’t deal with nearly two hundred thousand customers within sixty minutes…

But after a quarter of an hour, I’m already in the one hundred and seventy thousands.  Maybe this can work out.  If I keep it open on my phone, I can do my work and teach the kids and keep an eye on it all at the same time.  I should be at the front by the end of the day, and then boom! Delivery Slot!

By 11 a.m., Arthur knows his three times table, Carrie has drawn a frog and I have written two pages of copy.  More importantly, I’ve broken the top one hundred thousand.

By 2p.m., the kids have taken their first steps to learn programming, the whole family knows how to book a table in French and the top 50k is within my sites.

By 4p.m., school is over, the kids are watching TV, I’m on a conference call and I’m in the top five thousand. People seem to lose faith as they get nearer, but surely the secret is to stick this out.  I can do it.  I just have to believe.

By 6p.m., I have baked bread once again, made the kids dinner, got some positive feedback from Larousse, and now I’m into the triple figures.

It’s at seven when I watch the last few numbers tick down.  The kids are getting ready for bed, and I know today has been worth it. I’m going to do this.  We’re going to eat.

It’s as I hit the top twenty, that a message appears on my phone: ‘Ten percent battery remaining.’  I didn’t even take in that the 20% one had appeared, I must have dismissed it without registering when I was being basically Superdad.  Shit. My phone seems to drain exponentially at this point, and has a habit of dying randomly thanks to its crappy Apple battery –I start running round the flat looking for my charger. Kitchen: no.  I haven’t charged it today – it must still be by the bed.  I run to the bedroom, but its not there.  What the hell?!?

‘I’ve finished!’ shouts Carrie from the bathroom.

‘Wipe it yourself!’ I shout back. ‘If I can pull this off, any day now we’re going to be awash with toilet paper.’

But I can’t find it.  Anywhere. I run into the living room.  queue space: nine.  Battery: five percent

‘Arthur! Do you know where my phone charger is?’

‘Yeah – I used it to charge the iPad – it’s in our bedroom.’

Awesome. I dash into their bedroom.  The iPad’s there, but the charger’s not.  I check every plug socket.  Empty.  Queue space: five.  Battery, four percent. Back into the living room.

‘Arthur! It’s not there.’

‘I don’t know then.’

‘You can’t not know – you have to know!’

‘I’m sorry.  I don’t. No wait – Carrie was using it with her Lego.’ What?!? I look down at the phone.  Queue space: three.  Battery still on four percent.  I just have to hold on for a couple more minutes.

I run into the bathroom.  Carrie’s already used half a roll.  Doesn’t matter – eye on the prize.  ‘Carrie – where’s my charger?’

‘Behind the sofa – it was a monster and the lego men hid, but it chased them.’  

‘Doesn’t matter right now.’ I see the queue: I’m next.  I’m next!  And I’m still on three percent!

I run to the sofa, and its there!  It’s bloody there!

Five seconds later, I’ve got it plugged into the wall, and as the lead goes into the phone, I see the list of groceries appear on screen.  I did it! I bloody did it!

And then the phone dies.

Without rhyme or reason it just dies.

‘No!’ I scream.  I was on three percent – that’s not fair! It’s not fair! I was on three percent!’

I boot up the phone again, and log on.  They’ve closed orders till tomorrow morning.

For the first time since my divorce, I start crying.  I actually start crying.

Carrie comes in.

‘Are you OK, Daddy?’

‘Yes love,’ I say, trying to shake it off. ‘I’m fine. Daddy’s just a bit stressed that’s all.’

‘It will be all right, Daddy – we’ll look after you.’  And I know she can’t – that the responsibility is completely the other way round – but somehow, strangely, it makes me feel better.  She comes over, and wraps her arms round me, and we just sit there for a second as she hugs me and strokes my hair.

‘Thanks, love – I feel a lot better now.’

She smiles, giving my hair one final stroke. ‘That’s OK, Daddy. Oh, and you need to tell me whose birthday it is so I can wash my hands.’

I make up a name, and she wanders off back into the bathroom.  I tell her to be quick. It looks like I’m going to have to take a shower.

Thursday 26th March 2020

Yesterday having gone tits up, I realise I’m going to have to brave the supermarket again.  This time, with the kids.  

I go online and get in the Ocado queue before I leave (this time with a plugged in laptop) to set something up for the future. Amanda was saying last night that the slots you get are in like two weeks time, so I need to try to tee one up for then.

When we reach the shop, there’s a queue stretching round the block. On the upside, there’s less than a hundred and eighty thousand people in it so comparatively it doesn’t seem too bad. Turns out it’s actually not that many people – everyone’s now giving each other the requisite social distancing, so it’s basically a short queue stretched out like pizza dough – same amount of substance, but with lots of air.

In about half an hour, we’re in the front.  Things are really different post-lockdown.  We get given a trolley at the door – they’ve got a limited number inside the shop so they can use them to monitor how many people are inside.  It makes shopping almost quite pleasant – lots of space around you, which means none of the old people are threatening to hit you with sticks either. 

They’ve got eggs and toilet roll back so that’s a relief.  Although it seems sad to be returning to white shelled economy ones, I’ve got to think about the budget. In fact, the main new shortage seems to be on beer.  Plenty of lager left over, but not a single can of IPA.  God, this area really is middle class.

‘Back again, hoarder?’ comes a voice from behind.

I turn to see the pasta guy.  Not a-fucking-gain.  And he’s got six bags.  They’re all different shapes.  Like he’s trying to get around the system that limits how much you’re allowed of each product.

‘I told you,’ I reply, ‘that wasn’t for me – it was for my elderly neighbours.’

‘What’s elderly daddy?’ asks Carrie.

‘Old, lovely.’

Carrie looks confused. ‘We don’t have eld-ar-lee neighbours.  They’re all young.’

‘Yes we do – Sue… Sue’s friends.’

‘Who’s Sue?’ Carrie asks. ‘I don’t know a Sue.’

‘Yeah you do,’ says Arthur. ‘Sue’s Harry’s mum.’

‘Oh, yeah – Harry’s mum.  She’s not eld-ar-lee though.  She’s young.  Well, not young.  Like Daddy.’

‘Thanks love. You just don’t know them.’The pasta hoarder puts on a smirk of satisfaction. ‘They’re just local old people.’

‘But we don’t like old people,’ Carrie says.  Shut up, shut up.

‘Yes we do,’ I reply, pasting on a smile.

‘No,’ says Arthur, definitively.  ‘You said we didn’t.’

‘No – that was just that one old person.’

‘Was that Sue?’ asks Carrie.

‘No, Sue is a girl’s name – that was a man.’

‘This doesn’t sound true Daddy,’ she continues.

‘It’s completely true.’

Carrie looks at me confused, then smiles, comprehending, as if she has finally understood.  ‘Is this like when we had to pretend all the shopping was for the old people in Arthur’s rainbow photo?’

‘No, that was different. We’re not pretending here.’

‘Do we need to pretend this shopping is for them too?’

I look over to the hoarder.  He’s already got his phone out and seems to be filming me.  I didn’t even notice this time, so I haven’t covered my face or anything.  Damn. People are going to finally discover the identity of the star of one of last Friday’s top three trending tweets in the UK. Maybe the follow up will make it to number one.

Suddenly, his face drops. ‘Bugger.  It’s died.’  He walks off cursing.  

‘Crappy Apple Battery…’

Evening

I let the kids talk to Granny again in the afternoon so I can focus on my work, and they come out raving about the idea of clapping for the NHS at eight o’clock tonight.  I haven’t even heard about it – I’ve been too busy trying to work – but it’s for the NHS, so despite the fact that over the last 48 hours I’ve developed a hatred for absolutely everybody, I decide to let the kids stay up and do it.

At 7.58 we head to the front window to clap. There’s not a soul in sight, and it seems like it’ll just be us cheering into the void, but we stand there waiting for eight o’clock regardless.

Staring out into the night, I suddenly realise how quiet the world has become recently.  There are no planes, no road noise in the distance, the pub beer garden a few streets away is absent of people chatting under its heaters.  Instead there’s just silence.  It’s almost magical. As if, for the first time in years, the world has finally been allowed to breathe.

‘Is it time Daddy?’ Arthur asks.

‘Yeah,’ I reply. ‘I think it might just be us, but we should still do it.’

They nod, and I lift Carrie up so she can look out as she claps.  But then when we hear something. 

At first it’s just a quiet pitter-pattering from a few streets away.  People locked up in their houses, letting the world know that they’re still there, that they care, that they’re thankful.  Then we hear a few claps from our street, and gradually people turn on their outside lights – those who own houses stepping out onto their porches and bringing their hands together in appreciation.

‘Come on kids,’ I say, a smile beginning to appear on my face, ‘are you going to clap or what?’ I bring my hands together with Carrie nestled into my elbow, my feelings a mixture of the warmth of community and a hideous English embarrassment at the vaguest expression of emotion.  It’s ridiculous. Why can’t we be more like the Italians? I’m sure they don’t feel self-conscious when they’re singing out of their windows.  But as the kids add their voices to the fray, the discomfort begins to recede into the background.  And soon all there is, is the cheer of the neighbourhood around us.  Of the country.  And we’re part of it.

And, strangely, it actually makes me feel good. Like maybe there is hope after all.  

Like maybe we can get through this together.

END OF PART ONE…

If you’ve enjoyed this first section of ‘The Coronavirus Diaries,’ and can’t wait to find out if Tom gets his online shop (talk about a cliffhanger!), you can get part two (and three from 29/4/20) here! You’ll be asked for your email, and I know that’s annoying, but it really will just be for me to let you know when I’ve got something new coming out, so please don’t be put off. I promise not to abuse your trust.

Please spread the word if you’ve enjoyed this as that’s the only way anyone’s going to hear about this. I’d love to write part four, but I need readers to make it worth it!

If you’d like to read more about Tom Cooper and how he got to this stage in his life, you can purchase the first novel which was release late last year to amazing reviews here! Thanks for reading!