The Corona Chronicles are published on The Telegraph online every Friday. To read previous chapters, click here
9.35am, Thursday May 28 – Day 66 of Isolation
A big day for bubbles as it turns out. After weeks of blankness, a sudden flurry of news. A letter from Izzy’s school arrives explaining plans for students to return to the classroom in “bubbles”.
“It says there will be fifteen of us, Mum, plus a teacher. We all have to have our lunch together and everything.”
“That sounds good, darling.”
“No, it’s stupid,” Izzy sighs. Ah, here we go, my every-silver-lining has a cloud thirteen-year-old. I know how much she’s been missing school. “If one person in the bubble gets a cold or symptoms everyone has to to go home and isolate.”
“Well, yes, but surely that’s to stop the virus spreading.”
“Duh! Muu-uum! Don’t you get what kids are like? If I’m in a bubble with Josh Martin he’ll say he’s got a bad throat every single day. And we’ll all have to miss school forever because of one lazy idiot. Plus if I get sent home you and dad and our whole family also have to isolate for fourteen days.”
“Wicked,” says Harry with a wolfish grin, “basically, we get time off school any time we want. Double bubble!”
“What’s that?” Robert glances up from his phone and reaches across the table for the letter. “Us isolate every time someone sneezes at school? Christ, more bloody lunacy from this Government to kill business. How am I supposed to manage if Josh’s dad needs to take a fortnight off work every time his kid throws a sickie, eh?”
“It’s not all about business, Daddy, it’s people’s lives that matter,” says Chloe buttering a slice of toast furiously.
“The economy *is* people’s lives, young lady” snaps Robert, buttering his muffin with equal venom. “A fact that seems lost on half my staff who are enjoying their furlough holiday in the sunshine so much they can’t be bothered to come back to work.”
“Do you blame them with a boss with that attitude?,” Chloe fires back over the net.
Oh, hell. I hate it when the culture wars break out around my own kitchen table. Better swing into peacekeeping mode. “Chloe, don’t you think Dad could do with a haircut? He’s starting to look like Noddy Holder.”
“Noddy who?,” chorus all the kids together.
“Are you sure I should let Chloe near me with a pair of scissors in her present mood, Carrie, darling?” Robert flashes that ingratiating smile he’s been giving me on a hourly basis since I saw him in the park with Jennie the “personal trainer”.
Forget Chloe. Don’t think I’d trust myself near him with a pair of scissors right now.
Heading to the vets to see about Max’s dicky tummy when I bump into Apocalypse Anna. Well, not bump. She’s about twenty feet away obviously. Anna is one of those lockdown fundamentalists who takes ostentatious pleasure in keeping her distance from you. She may as well be wearing an invisible crinoline. The police turned up on Monday afternoon to question the Beresfords at Number 6. They advised the grandparents who were sitting having tea in the back garden to leave. Bet I know which snitch reported them.
“Carrie, I’m absolutely seething about this Dominic Cummings business,” says Anna.
Well, there’s a surprise. After ten weeks, everyone who has strictly abided by the rules is hugely resentful of anyone who hasn’t. The world feels like it’s split three ways:
a) Those who are genuinely scared and want the lockdown to continue until there’s a vaccine (could be forever).
b) Those whose inner traffic warden has been unleashed by the state of emergency and who rather enjoy disapproving of people who commit the unforgivable crime of walking the wrong way around a supermarket.
c) People like me who have had enough and want to take our chances with the wretched virus and get our bored lonely, depressed kids back to school and university rather than live in some hideous “new normal”.
“See you at the clap tonight,” says Anna. It’s an instruction not an inquiry.
Sitting in the car outside the vet’s surgery waiting our turn. It’s the most incredible palaver. You have to call up and, after they’ve asked you questions to make sure your pet is sufficiently unwell, they may or may not grant you a time slot. You arrive, phone Reception, like I did just now, and tell them you’re outside. Eventually, an assistant appears through the glass door in full PPE to take the pet inside.
Poor Max goes berserk when the masked figure - I think I recognise nice friendly Susie under all the layers - opens the car door. His high, frantic, scared bark. He cowers on the back seat and refuses to go with her. Get out of the car, go round to the other side and coax him out with a treat, then I hand the lead to the spacesuit. Spacesuit hands me a form. It says that, after three days, I must take a photo or a video of my dog’s wound and send it to the vet for checking.
While I wait for Max, I sit and listen to the radio. When the news comes on, after the headlines I automatically switch to Classic FM. Can’t bear the news any more. It’s almost like they’re willing the death toll to go up, for us to be the worst in the world. I don’t trust any of them any more. Fi messaged me on Tuesday that her hospital hadn’t had any Covid deaths for 96 hours: “Honestly, we’re all sitting here twiddling our thumbs, Caz. What we’re focusing on now is what happens if Covid comes back in winter and catching up with the huge backlog of other patients. That’s a lot more worrying tbh! Hope you’re OK? Any news of R’s bendy PT?”
Are we worrying about something that’s almost gone? What if it’s all totally OTT, these veterinary assistants dressing up like they’re handling radioactive material, not a scared cockapoo? What if Izzy going back to school in a “bubble”is just stuff they’re doing to satisfy lockdown loonies like Anna? Suddenly, I’m not anxious. I’m angry.
Poor Boris still has the sickly sheen of a man who has been ill. Plus the poor blighter’s got a new baby as well. He must be shattered, but at least today he brought us good news. Now, we can have six people for a BBQ in the garden, as long as they stay two metres apart.
“But everyone’s been doing that already, Mum,” objects Izzy, “There are six of us, including Paolo, and we had a BBQ on Sunday with Ben and Fi and Isla.”
“Did we really, darling?”
Oops, nobody tell Anna.
Is this really the last Clap for Carers? Incredible. We started on a dark March evening and tonight here we are, all bathed in lovely late sunshine. Ten weeks have passed, ten strange, time-bending weeks. My family has eaten every meal together. I’ve loved that. Not sure how I’ll cope when it changes. But change is coming as we move from darkness into what feels a lot like light.