We’re in tears over tiers; only the Isle of Wight, The Scilly Isles and Cornwall are in Tier 1. From next Tuesday or is it Wednesday… many of us will continue being home alone. Four fifths of my family will be in Tier 3, including the new puppy, but as he’s not allowed beyond the back garden yet he probably is not bothered. For those of us in Tier Two the only difference from Lockdown Two is that all the shops are open, I think… In some ways it is a sort of Covid comfort blanket, no pressure to decide what to do or where to go next.
Christmas is still going to be a five day bubble of fun with three households allowed to meet as long as they keep all the windows open, don’t play board games and don’t hug Granny, but all that could change...
Theoretically it would have been better if everyone had stayed home for ever back in February and worn masks, even in the shower and if flights all over the world had been cancelled… We would have ended up with no food in the shops and worse still, no Amazon deliveries, but at least our leaders could not have been accused of being indecisive.
But what is life like in our new reality? My elderly next-door-but-one neighbour rang up the other evening; earlier when I walked past her house she was sitting in her porch with her granddaughter perched on a chair in the front garden, baby on her lap. I stopped to say hello at a safe distance, but her dog started barking ( the tiny dachshund barks at everyone that goes by ) , frightening the baby, who started crying… I waved apologetically and moved on. She was on the phone for over two hours, I was a bit punch drunk, but can’t complain I have no one to talk to and she makes me laugh. She was widowed when she was my age; half her family are nurses at our local hospitals and one of her sons works at the crematorium. Whatever the latest instructions Boris declares, her family have put her under lockdown. Her other son controls her central heating from his home in Malta.
On Tuesday my friend and I met at the beach hut in glorious sunshine. I can go to the shops ( the ones that are open ) or the cliff top and look at the horizon any time; I don’t feel closed in. On the promenade or up on Hengistbury Head it is like a permanent weekend or holiday time, everyone is out walking, jogging, cycling with dogs and children. Mostly they smile as they pass at a safe distance, glad to see people’s faces. Later in the afternoon when it is dark it is quite festive on the sea front; our resident four or five redundant ocean liners are fully lit up and circles of coloured light whiz past as invisible dogs run around with their flashing collars. Back at the shops the Christmas lights are up and windows are brightly lit with displays of what we cannot buy till next week.
But everywhere there will be people in tears over tiers, most of us confused with the constant changing of rules and information. Folk overworked and folk out of work. Parents going on social media to insist that though Johnny was off school sick, he tested negative for Covid and he wasn’t the cause of the whole of year seven having to stay home and isolate…
She was not addicted, she was just adapted. Amelia’s grandchildren had told her to get on Amazon while she was in lockdown. She was not locked in, still allowed out for exercise and shopping essentials, but that was no help if she wanted a pair of slippers and the shoe shop was closed. But even going to the local food shops was an ordeal; wearing a mask, her glasses steaming up so she couldn’t see what she was doing let alone think what she wanted. Her dermatitis had flared up after putting the basket cleaning spray on instead of the hand gel. Then she couldn’t buy any cheese because she accidentally bypassed the dairy chiller cabinet and couldn’t reverse in the one way system. The final drama was getting in the wrong queue and ending up at the self service tills; waving to her nice young man on the real till she was accused of pushing in by a large woman with a scary red mask.
So here she was at the computer she used to only use for Facebook and emails. Amelia was now the proud owner of an Amazon Prime account and it was true, you could get anything on Amazon. Instead of two or three emails a week she now had half a dozen a day, kindly keeping her up to date with the progress of her deliveries. It was like Christmas every day.
It had started with slippers, some nice face cream and a big box of fruit and veg from that nice Suffolk farm; too much veg, she had to share with Doris and Ken next door. They were so impressed with her on line skills she offered to order things for them. Autumn bedding plants, then her son sent her links for the grandchildren’s birthday presents; more than she usually paid, but she wasn’t spending any money going out to the theatre, cinema or meals with friends.
When she couldn’t think of anything more she needed Amelia decided to give herself some presents, Covid Comfort… Self Care her granddaughter called it. Well Amelia did not want to plaster her face with green paste like that YouTube video, but she could improve her surroundings without even setting foot in B&Q. Colourful lampshades, amazing rugs and exotic plant pots arrived at her doorstep. Now she needed a new challenge.
Later, Amelia could not remember how the idea came into her head, but once it was there she was determined to see if Amazon could realise it. No more trips to the post office, she would have her own little drone to deliver letters and parcels and impress friends and family with her technical skills. She would probably have to practice first, a few tours giving her birds’ eye views of her neighbourhood.
It was rather expensive, no doubt because it was a high end model according to the description. Must be the latest model, there was only one review so far. The five to seven days passed slowly, but at last came the email Your package with 1 item will be delivered today. She waited for the doorbell to ring and her parcel to appear in the porch. Glancing out of the front window to see if a white van had drawn up yet, she was surprised to see a huge truck turn into her little road. Someone must be having building work done, though the equipment on the back of the lorry looked very strange. Paul across the road had come out to look and the sound of the strange vehicle being unloaded, like one of those huge rubbish skips, brought the children and other neighbours out. If they were being nosey, so could she, but before she could get to the front door there was a frantic ringing of her doorbell.
A huge chap in a yellow jacket and black mask stood back from the doorstep; what little she could see of his face was frowning.
‘Is this number forty six?’
‘Mrs. Amelia Dawson?’
‘Yes that’s me, have you brought my Amazon parcel.’
‘Hardly a parcel, but it’s all unloaded. I presume you have a licence from the Ministry of Defence or the Civil Aviation Authority…’
‘Never mind, not my problem, I just deliver things.’
Amelia closed the door and crept upstairs to look out the bedroom window. The lorry had already gone; surely that monstrosity parked outside her front gate, on the residents’ parking only lines, couldn’t be for her. She slipped into the little back bedroom to check her emails. One new, 11.51.
Hi Amelia, your package has been delivered.
How was your delivery?
It was great Not so great
A photo of your delivery location.
She looked at the time on the computer, 11.59, then looked at her order again, peering closer; she had assumed the measurements were in centimetres not metres…
The pandemic has revealed just how many people live alone; we hear and read about well known stars and artists happily living by themselves, presumably as a lifestyle choice. Plenty of ordinary people live alone, perhaps always have done as adults, or since a parent or partner died or after divorce. Many of these are happy living by themselves, self contained. Those elderly people already restricted to home before Covid hit, are not necessarily lonely. A lady in her nineties on our library round told us she was never lonely, as long as she had the twenty books we brought her every three weeks. Of course there are many people who are lonely, young people from broken homes in tiny bedsits, old people who have no family left in the world.
None of these ‘single households’ reckoned on having a pandemic and being prisoners in their homes. Single retired people leading busy independent lives suddenly found themselves described as vulnerable. The people for whom lockdowns and the lack of access to normal activities are so hard are single parents in tiny flats, carers left to cope with disabled children or parents and partners with dementia. Their support network was suddenly pulled out from beneath them.
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. In days gone by lone people might manage a farm by themselves with the nearest humans miles away; being alone really meant that, no radio, television or internet. I can’t imagine what that would be like, but perhaps the company of their dog, farm animals and nature all around was enough. It’s a cliché, but you can be just as lonely in a big city; most of us have probably found ourselves in a new town, at a new job, knowing no one.
When we first moved here sixteen years ago Cyberspouse had a few more weeks working out his notice at Heathrow. When he left for work early on Monday morning with the kitchen flooded ( that’s another story ) I suddenly realised I had gone from a home with five people and a job at Heathrow with thousands of people – I wasn’t actually working with thousands, just moving among thousands each day – to a strange house in a place I knew no one. I wondered if I only existed in relation to other people.
I had time to get used to the idea of joining that large club, widows ( what a medical scandal it is that women are still outliving men ) and the even larger club of women living alone. After the flurry of activity and family visits we are in our second lockdown in England, so now I am officially on my own. Cyberspouse was totally dependable, unflappable and fun, so being on my own was not what I would have chosen, but if others manage to cope so will I. During 2019 we had plenty of time for trips and fun and getting everything in order. In 2020 I learnt to be a carer and the only responsible adult in the house, no more yelling for help when the computer didn’t work. I am cheating slightly, having had family to help out with the official stuff and Cyberson Two, who after doing nothing at school, is now a builder we all depend on, who can turn his hand to anything. The downside is that none of the family live nearby, but it must be hard to truly be on your own.
What else helps? Covid Comforts are what we all need and anyone who has a home and food enough to eat must be grateful. We glimpse on our television screens into the homes of news commentators or our favourite entertainers; they enjoy having the chance to chat and presumably they are coping fine with lockdown. Invisible are those folk in poverty or grieving having lost family to Covid. It may seem to me that everyone is walking around alive while Cyberspouse is not, but 53,000 is our death toll from Covid in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile in my cosy lockdown retreat I live in a nice little road with good neighbours and a garden to keep me busy. We are allowed to go to the shops for essentials and at the local shops I buy fresh flowers regularly, my lockdown treat to brighten the dark days of winter. We can go out for exercise and use our beach huts; I can sit and chat at the beach hut with the one friend we’re allowed to meet outside. We can go out for medical reasons, so I was quite excited to go on the bus to the hospital for a blood test!
Indoors the lifesaver is BBC Radio, it never goes off; if I can’t sleep I can listen to the World Service. During the day there is news aplenty ( too much ), but also intelligent chat, dramas, serials and music. I have a CD player so I am never without music on tap. Television may have plenty of rubbish, but also interesting or cheerful programmes to watch with dinner on my lap. Writing is absorbing, creative and vital. Photography and crafts are other creatives to focus on.
Connecting with the outside world? The good old fashioned telephone is the easiest way to chat to people, but how many of us would want to do without the internet during Covid? We can blog, Facetime, share political and lockdown jokes on Facebook, go on zoom; my only experience with zoom is the weekly quiz my daughters’ friends do, but it’s good to have something fun to focus on.
What will happen next in the world, in our own countries; will Christmas be cancelled, will those of us in the northern hemisphere cope with winter… look out for Home Alone Two.
Warning: If you want to avoid the topic of death and dark humour read no further.
Covid 19 has made people think and talk about how people should die, with emphasis on not being alone, preferably with family. Covid patients in isolation have been unable to see loved ones.
In reality most of us cannot choose where to die or plan the scenario; victims of murder or major disasters certainly don’t have the luxury of dying in their own beds comforted by family. Awful circumstances such as terrorist attacks find total strangers holding the hand of a dying person, giving their death some dignity. As no one comes back to tell us, we cannot know if the surroundings and company or lack of it make any difference to their own unique internal solo journey. Celebrities often seem to have died ‘peacefully at home with their family present’ but folk lore and family tales seem to indicate that dying people often wait till the very moment loved ones pop out of the room.
Most terminally ill people will probably get the chance to opt for palliative care at home, though it can’t be guaranteed; they may need to go to hospital or a hospice eventually, but Covid has made it even more desirable to stay at home and leave hospital beds free for others. Unless everyone in your family is a medical person, carers will need help along the way or near the end; team work and various bits of equipment are required to make life easy for patient and carers. There is nothing to stop you ordering wheelchairs and all sorts on Amazon and getting next day delivery, but the National Health Service is geared up to lend what you need and the various teams helping you will be busy arranging equipment. The largest item is the hospital bed; you might die in your own home, but probably not in your own bed, however romantic that looks in films. The beds have to be plugged in and do all sorts of things. The bed and other items come with wheels and stiff pedal brakes impossible to put on or off if you are only wearing your slippers!
In the first few months of the lockdown I coped fine by myself with Cyberspouse. District nurses were trying to avoid going in any homes, but they phoned regularly with advice and to arrange some of the medications. They were ready to come out with their protective gear if necessary. Cyberspouse was happy not to have any visits, medical or otherwise, relaxing at home in the exceptionally sunny weather we had.
Later on, family help was more vital than keeping isolated and they took turns to come and stay; it was only in the last ten days that the district nurses came and arranged for Marie Curie nurses to parachute in with four visits a day. A helpful bright yellow book arrived promptly in the post. We were also glad a few times to ring the emergency numbers that had been sitting by the phone for months; night duty district nurses and 111 doctors. Marie Curie were excellent, compassionate and caring ladies and one chap. Visits rapidly increased and they made sure I had a night nurse for what turned out to be the last night, one of the few nights I was going to be by myself. They told me I was going to have wonderful Linda who had been doing the overnighter ‘forever’.
Linda arrived with a huge bag, rather like a mature Mary Poppins. I explained yet again that none of the family lived nearby, but they had all been to visit and my daughter was coming back the next day. It was a busy week in real life with two grandchildren just back in the UK and starting a new school and my daughter’s son starting school! Younger son had just got engaged. Linda was there to make sure Cyberspouse was comfortable, to organise the practicalities and make sure I didn’t miss the moment…
I later got a nice card from Marie Curie and they have rung me a few times to see how I am getting on. They are a charity well worth supporting.
Handy Home Hints
You might think your loved one is past the point of seeing the GP, but it is the GP who has to prescribe the drugs and you will have to go and sign for the ‘just in case’ controlled drugs as well as collecting various ongoing prescriptions.
It is helpful if someone in the family works for the NHS or has a friend in palliative care nursing … my daughter is a physiotherapist and had that very friend to ask for advice. She always made lists of questions and sounded professional on the phone, so we were well prepared.
After the death a doctor has to come and certify the death, either the GP or the on call ( 111 ) doctor at night. After that you must call the funeral director, but you can decide if you want them to come as soon as possible or wait a while.
Afterwards you will have to return all the drugs to a pharmacy, especially the controlled drugs, but unused needles have to be returned to the doctors’ surgery.
Darkly Funny Moments.
The next day, Thursday, the funeral directors phoned to say they had not had the notification from our GP of the death. The on call night duty doctor had sat at the kitchen table typing into his lap top, saying ‘everything is going straight through to your doctor’s surgery’ but my writer’s mind thought ‘I have no proof he’s even been here, no piece of paper, was he actually a doctor?’ I was slightly reassured that nurse Linda knew him. When my daughter tried phoning our surgery she couldn’t get through and in the end resorted to using her internal NHS email. Luckily the information did end up in the right place.
One thing the district nurses requested unsuccessfully was a hospital bed extension, we had been expecting it for weeks. When a chap with a truck arrived at the door on Thursday morning I thought he was very quick to collect the hospital bed until he said cheerfully ‘I’ve brought the bed extension’. Poor bloke was embarrassed when I apologised that it was too late.
We had not seen much of the palliative care team from the local hospital who originally got us organised. One of the nurses had phoned the previous week saying ‘I’ll touch base with you on Friday.’ Sure enough on Friday the phone rang and she said brightly ‘Just calling to touch base’… so I had to tell her the news.
Because of Covid we were saved a trip to the registry office; instead I had a nice phone chat to Polly the registrar including Cyberspouse’s no funeral request. After taking most of the details she asked me my occupation. Oh oh, was I going to fail this part? I replied that I had done all sorts of things and she said ‘How would you like to be known in a hundred years?’ Well who in a hundred years would know I didn’t earn a living at it, so of course I replied ‘A writer!’
Cassie was worried about James; even though their town was still a medium risk area his mental health felt like a high risk area. She bit into the tender flakes of haddock; Friday evening fish and chips was one of her Covid comforts; the pandemic had come down to appreciating the simple things. Five of them, plus Sam’s dog, sat well spaced out in the staff canteen of the MPJ building; few staff had used the canteen since March, but this week it had been well used. Sam had honed his cooking skills catering for the small group of fellow homeless folk sheltering at MPJ and it had been his idea to provide meals this half term for children entitled to free school meals and at risk of hunger every holiday. James had been reluctant to agree, but the MPJ bosses had seen a further opportunity to be seen as part of the community and not fat cats. James had been reassured that he would not have to meet any real children. He had the perfect excuse to steer clear of the whole operation as he was still frantically busy coordinating who was coming in to work at the offices and who was working from home. There was still an international company to run in the midst of pandemic uncertainty that seemed never ending.
But it was not work stress that was taking its toll on James. Though their homeless project could not be described as wildly successful, he had proved the homeless could be housed in empty or near empty office blocks. But an office block was not home; the man who had lost his home to divorce and lived with his mother during lock down wanted his own comfortable place. Cassie didn’t blame him, she was thankful to be working at home and thankful she had her own house. She had no intention of sharing it, at least not with James. If there had been a spark earlier, when they could only talk on line, she now knew a relationship was not what she wanted; there was a limit to how much she could help him, it was up to him to work out how to move on. As for Cassie herself, Covid had been a positive experience, discovering new strengths, making new contacts, happy to have James and Sam as friends. Doubts about her actual job, what she really wanted to do with her life, were now put aside as she helped with the homeless. Being Sam’s assistant cook for the children’s meals had made her feel she was really contributing to society, part of the Covid Community.
When they had finished eating and debriefing the week’s project it was time for Sam to walk the dog and for Cassie to cycle home, not quite so pleasant now the clocks had gone back. They stepped outside into a dark, wet and windy evening. She wheeled her bike to the park with Sam and despite the weather they were so busy talking they reached the other side of the park without her mounting her bike. He had important news. While James was now in a bad place Sam was in a far better place. Cassie had no idea what the dark years had been like after his wife left and took their little boy, but he was determined to make the future positive.
‘It’s strange that Covid has made it easier getting in touch. I suppose his mother knows there is no chance of us meeting up, no chance of me getting up to the wilds of Scotland. Well I guess she reasons that if he finds out how little his real father has to offer, he will appreciate his stepfather.’
‘But you have got a lot to offer, sounds like her second husband only knows about deer and salmon fishing, he can’t help with on line science lessons like you can.’
‘Yes I really think my son might be taking after me, he knows enough to understand what an excellent job I had, or should have had. But I’m glad I was up front with him about what happened; I think it appeals to his teenage rebellious streak that he has a father who has to sell the Big Issue and run a dog walking business.’
‘Socialist leanings perhaps, young people can see how Covid has revealed terrible inequalities and it’s not his fault if he’s been given everything and has never had to worry about food or money.’
‘As long as he doesn’t try and do anything stupid like run away. I told him to knuckle down and study now, not use Covid as an excuse, if he wants to get somewhere. The world is going to need scientists more than ever.’
In Wales a two week ‘firebreak lockdown’ has started and only essential shops are allowed to open with the essential idea that these essential shops are only allowed to sell essential items, so as not to cheat on the non-essential shops who are not allowed to open. For example, you may not buy an electric kettle at Tesco, because Dai Jones the Electric in Pontypandy has been selling only electrical goods in his shop since 1937.
How are customers and supermarket managers to decide what is essential? Essential for survival or for Covid Comfort?
Tick which of the following you will buy over this weekend as the clocks go back and winter nights draw in. Chocolate of course, chocolate biscuits, bread, wine, potatoes, warm fluffy slippers, rice, cosy pyjamas, bunch of carrots, bunch of flowers, cabbage, boxed set of old black and white films, pork chops, celebrity magazine, cheese, pot plant, milk, Lego set, a free range chicken, new underwear, shredded wheat, paperback book, cocoa pops.
If you ticked more than ten ( 8 if you are vegetarian, 6 if you are vegan ) you are being self indulgent and breaking the spirit of the new rules. Now imagine the task of staff who have to police the supermarket customers.
Chains will be strung across the sweet aisle, padlocks put on the ice cream cabinets and constant patrols to remove flagrant non-essentials from the shelves. As staff must socially distance they cannot grab that bottle of whisky out of your hands so there will be announcements over the PA system.
Will the lady in the lurid pink coat put down the packet of chocolate digestives and raise her hands in the air… now take a packet of plain digestives.
Customers are reminded they must produce their child’s birth certificate if they wish to purchase birthday candles and cake decorations.
Pet owners with a certificate from their vet may purchase one bag of pet food, but not a squeaky mouse toy.
On the ball managers may have already set up deafening alarms to beep if you pick up a box of hair colouring and there would be greater embarrassment if you have braved the medical aisle and got as far as the intimate products…
Perhaps within a few days harassed supermarket staff will allow you no further than the till where you will be handed one basket of food essentials.
If you have recently come out of isolation, albeit briefly before we’re all in lockdown again, you will have noticed that shopping is now very different. Perhaps you will look back nostalgically to those months of cyber shopping. I got an email yesterday from the Co Op ‘We have missed you, please come back.’
I have been back, but they didn’t recognise me in real life; even with a mask on I am not quite the anonymous self who ordered twice a week. On line shopping with our local Co Op was fun, not at all like the big supermarket chains, more like a game. At the start you had to spend £15 to get free delivery, but could not have more than 20 items, this gradually increased to 30 items, but still delivered by scooter. There were always plenty of delivery slots and I though smugly of all those people staying up till Sunday midnight, desperate to get any slot with Tesco or Sainsbury in the coming week. Of course, with the limit on number of items the cosy Co Op was not likely to suit those needing a big family shop. The website was a challenging computer game; you could always get chocolate, but not necessarily what you needed for dinner. It was vital to think outside the box. Type in baked beans, no luck. It was weeks before I discovered that typing in Heinz revealed beans and such Covid comfort food as tomato soup. The website did improve over the months, with the layout involving less scrolling down, but keeping the fun of guessing whether you should tap onto ‘Get Inspired’ ‘Food Cupboard’ or ‘Bakery and Cakes’. If you forgot to check your emails with updates on how your order was progressing, there was the fun of not knowing if you would get everything on your list, or perhaps an unwanted substitute.
So what is it like at real shops now? Don’t forget the mask… the rest of the rules seem to vary from shop to shop; another game to play, with arrows to follow and circles with footprints to stand on. Don’t mix up the bottle for sanitizing your basket handles with the hand gel. Move out of the way once you have swiped you card ( cash is out, except at the greengrocers ) to make safe space for the next person. But that little row of chairs where you used to sort out your bags and make sure your purse was put away has gone; don’t have a medical incident, that was where shoppers who had a funny turn were seated as they waited for the ambulance!
How will you get on at shopping centres? Those benches where husbands were parked while waiting for wives to finish in the shop or come out of the Ladies are gone. There is nowhere to rest your heavy bags and meet up at the arranged time. In town will department stores ever be the same again? Restaurants and toilets closed, no meeting friends or relaxing with coffee and scones while you check you phone, or if you are a writer, do some people watching and scribbling.
It is nice to once again see what you are buying, but will you be going on line or out to the shops in the near future?
So what next? What in the world shall we do now? When shall we… don’t pan dem ic!
Has it ever been so hard to make decisions, for anybody, anywhere in the world? Perhaps only the odd hermit in a cave is carrying on as normal, without having to think any more than usual.
Pre Covid decisions such as what to have for dinner or what to wear often took me longer than the life changing ones such as moving across the world, choosing a job or a house, accepting or rejecting a marriage proposal… now we have even more banal decisions to make; where shall I wear my mask, when shall I take it off?
Now politicians and parents, councils and carers have to make minor and major decisions weekly, daily, hourly and I’m sure many of us wish we had Jacinda Ahern or Nicola Sturgeon telling us exactly what we should be doing next. In a pandemic it does help if you are an island or a small country, but in the modern world that is no guarantee of protection.
Did I imagine it or did I hear a police chief from somewhere say on the news ‘…and we will smash your car window and drag you out if you do not tell us where you are going.’
Countries, states, counties, cities, councils all over the world have needed and still need to make firm decisions and if your local leaders have taken the right decisions, tell us about them. But if your leaders are waffling, hesitating or spouting total nonsense, your household or business needs to make its own decisions. However, deciding what next is like trying to read those multi lingual leaflets you get with everything from medicine to your latest electronic toy. The print is so tiny you can hardly find your own language, let alone read it and if you do get out the magnifying glass you probably won’t understand the instructions anyway. Shall I open my shop/go to the shops. Can we send the children to school? Shall we book our holiday/wedding/funeral … shall we cancel our holiday/wedding/funeral? Is it even safe to open my front door?
Or shall we just hide away. It is strangely comforting in these times to follow domestic routines; washing on Monday, getting your on line shopping on Tuesday, posting your blog on Wednesday, vacuuming on Thursday, mowing the lawn on Friday will make you feel in control of your little life, even though it will make no difference to the rest of the world.
Parents across the world have had a unique experience, an experience that perhaps only parents in refugee camps and war zones would envy. But didn’t parents always home school children in the millennia before it was assumed all children should go to school? How to hunt mammoths, how to plough the fields and scatter, how to count sheep – yan, tan, tethera. But parents of old would not have had to cope with on line learning, nor would they have been trying to teach rebellious teenagers. Modern parents tearing their hair out in a pandemic may well have thought there’s a lot to be said for sending your eight year old out to work as a lonely goatherd or chimney sweep, or your awkward teenager into service at The Big House. It’s not that long ago that children left school at fourteen; my father’s first job was as a telegram boy, he claimed Winston Churchill told him off for whistling in the corridor. I imagine many fourteen year olds would rather have been delivering telegrams than stuck at home with a computer and nagging parents.
It has been a mixed experience, those parents who already home school have been vindicated, so too those families who conveniently set off early in the year to drive a camper van all round their continent or sail around the world. Though sailing may have had its problems if no port let them in the harbour to fetch supplies.
But I have not seen it even mentioned that being a stay at home mum ( or dad ) is to be valued. Stay at home mothers ( or fathers ) have never been valued by any government, not even in the 1950s ( according to my mother ) when governments wanted women to stay at home and give the jobs back to the men after the second world war.
If someone is at home, permanently, it is not a major disaster when a child is sick or the other parent gets stuck at work and it must have been a great advantage when schools were suddenly closed. I totally understand the many reasons why women want or need to go to work and this varies from needing the money ( for food, not to run a second car! ) to keeping a foothold in your career, with all your earnings going to pay nursery fees.
From the children’s point of view they could be passed round like a parcel with no security or attend an excellent nursery a few days a week which they love going to. Nursery care is more convenient than school as it runs all year round and all day, eight till six, with three meals a day. If you have no family nearby and your husband (or wife ) has to work away from home, you may have to give up work when your child goes to school.
But getting back to mothers ( for they are still the ones who mainly have this dilemma ) – I have always thought that most women have not gained much over the decades, they often end up going out to work and still doing all ( lots ) of the housework. And in this country it is emerging that more working mothers than fathers have been dealing with the home schooling. To be fair to the chaps there are various reasons, many mothers work in the sort of jobs, such as retail, that were immediately closed down, so they were at home, or a lot of women work part time to fit in round the children.
But would we stay at home Mums have coped in our time with a pandemic and home schooling? NO! Staying at home for most mothers meant getting OUT of the house, taking your darling toddlers to every club and playground available to get rid of some of their energy and going round to other mums for coffee and gossip to preserve your sanity. Locked up indoors, with babies and toddlers, husband doing shift work and only 6 days off a month, I would not have survived, physically or mentally. So well done to the 2020 mothers of all sorts who are now faced with another five weeks of school holidays; Scottish mothers cheer as school starts early in August for them.
For those couples now expecting a happy event here is my handy guide to help you plan your maternity leave and work decisions.
Everyone has to eat, food has to be cooked. Every home has to be cleaned; babies and toddlers make a mess. Washing has to be done and babies and toddlers create a mountain of washing. Going out to work doesn’t make these jobs go away.
Maternity leave of 9 months to a year will flash by in what seems like one month.
On your child’s second day of nursery they will wake up with a raging temperature and you will have to phone granny – if you are lucky, or you will have to phone work.
On the child’s second week of nursery they ( the nursery, not the baby ) will phone you at work to come and fetch your baby because at nappy changing time there was the slightest hint they might have a stomach upset. Before Covid, stomach bugs were the scariest thing, perhaps with all this new handwashing stomach bugs no longer go around but you never know…
Second month of nursery you are in a meeting, the other parent is away on business and you miss the phone call from nursery to say your child has vomited all over the play area and the other children. When you finally get the message you turn up at nursery feeling very guilty and are told to keep baby at home till he has gone 48 hours without being sick.
If you have any sense you will probably have used the world wide pandemic to avoid socialising at all, thankful to avoid seeing your partner’s friends, your in-laws or your children and grandchildren. If you had any friends of your own, you probably have none left by now.
However, if you still feel the need for the occasional human company how do you work out who you can see and under what conditions? Government advice changes twice daily, whichever country you are living in, so the best policy is to not let anyone inside your house, this has the advantage of not having to do any cleaning or tidying up.
A picnic in the garden is ideal, especially if they bring their own food and drink. The thoughtful host provides welcoming signs, you can probably nick one from somewhere.
Don’t worry if it rains, you can use all those large Amazon boxes left over from your Compulsive Covid Comfort buying, ideal for making Wendy houses, though perhaps the over twelves might not be so enthusiastic.
Before you phone or message your visitors remember to keep up the pretence that you still cannot leave home, at all, for the rest of the year, despite what Boris may have said about August 1st. Your visitors are sure to ask if they can bring anything, take full advantage of this; today’s newspaper, your favourite chocolate you couldn’t get in your Tesco shop, the milk you forgot to put on your Tesco order and yes a bottle of wine would be much appreciated. Every guest is bound to say, when you ask how much you owe them, ‘Oh don’t worry.’ Added to the money you have saved by not going out, eating out etc, you should be making a profit by now.