Monday, 30 March 2020

CORONA-VIRUS LOCKDOWN: THE DIARY OF A DEMENTED IRISH WOMAN



                                                  When life gives you onions, make soup.

HERE'S a prediction: right now somebody out there is writing a book about the Corona Virus of the early 21st Century: Covid 19. In a year's time, it will probably be available from all good book shops. I'm not actually writing it: somebody smarter than me is doing that.

As I write this, I've no idea when all this will be over, when normal life will return, when our economies and our societies will recover. It's hard to think that far ahead. But from now on, I know there will be life Before Corona Virus and After Corona Virus: BC and AC, perhaps.

On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, life in Ireland is pretty normal. Everyone is at work or college or school. Creches, playgrounds and clubs are up and running. Pubs and restaurants are open, shops are particularly busy. It's true that we have a fair idea of what's coming. We've seen what's happened in China and what's happening in Italy and Spain. People are starting to stock up on store cupboard essentials - many are even panic buying: tins of stuff, pasta and rice, and strangely, toilet rolls.


On Thursday, March 12, our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announces that all schools, colleges and theatres are to be shut that evening. The St Patrick's Day parade, due to happen the following Tuesday, has already been cancelled. Work places are already starting to send people home. Those who can work from home do their best to get on with things. My casual, part-time job in one of our national institutions is gone for the time being. 


The Eldest, a primary school teacher, The Middle One, who's studying animation in college and The Boy, a fifth year, secondary school student are now all at home. All sport is cancelled, so The Boy's hurling and football training and weekend matches are gone. I tell myself it could be a lot worse. We're very lucky: we have a decent sized house which means everyone has their own space to work. Also, my children aren't small: if I had to home school, I'd be found out. I take a deep breath. We can all do this. It'll be grand. What's the worst that can happen?

Day 1: Friday.
The Husband goes out and buys a coffee maker: a barista-style machine that makes espresso and cappuccinos. I am deeply sceptical. I'm also very fussy about my coffee and I love the way my local coffee shop makes it for me. On the upside, we're heading into a long weekend: Monday will be a bank holiday.
The weather is great and there is a holiday feel about everything.
I suggest a walk down by the sea front and there's immediate agreement. Off we go: me, The Eldest, The Middle One and The Boy. Look at us, happy family, exercising. As we walk down by the strand, we nod and smile at people we know. This will be so good for us, I think. We'll truly bond as a family. Like people did in the war.


Day 2: Saturday.
I test out Video chat with my mother. We've decided that it's not safe for her to come over during this time, as my dad is in a high-risk category. As they are both over 70, it's better for them to stay away.

It takes her a few minutes to connect, but we can't see her. The Eldest talks her through it and we have her on screen. We all feel ridiculously proud of this small achievement.
After the video call, I decide to colour-code the bathroom towels (hand and bath), so that nobody shares towels. I also announce that all frequently-touched surfaces (tables, work-tops, handles, taps, light-switches, loos) will be sterilised every day.
I am restocking the upstairs bathroom (we're lucky enough to have a guest loo downstairs) when I discover we have a ridiculous amount of loo rolls. We didn't stockpile deliberately, there was simply no communication when we were all shopping. The Boy stacks all the packets like giant Lego blocks, takes a photo and shares it with his friends. One of them suggests he sells some on eBay. I tell him not to be daft.


Day 3: Sunday.
We're not overly religious, but we normally head to Mass on a Sunday. As all the churches are now having services behind closed doors, we go onto the website and watch it via video-link instead. Technology is really having its moment, isn't it? I say afterwards. The Boy gives me a despairing look. Whatever, he mutters. The Eldest, Middle One and I go for another walk, trying to maintain the required 2 metres between us and everyone else out walking.
That evening, it's announced that all pubs and clubs are to be shut down.


Day 4: Monday.
Because it's a bank holiday, everything still feels relatively OK. The husband has decided it's better not to go to the gym, so he is using the ancient treadmill in the house. Because The Eldest has the biggest bedroom, that's where the treadmill is. It's fair to say she's not delighted by this. But it's a Small Sacrifice, so it's grand.

Also, because there's suddenly so much cleaning and we have the whole colour-coded towel thing going on, there's a lot of washing. Not as much as the normal stuff (tracksuits and hoodies and GAA kit usually feature heavily on the washing line) but loads of cloths and towels and bed sheets. After a few days of this, the novelty wears off and I feel like we're running a Bed & Breakfast.
I go for a walk in the morning, but feel the need for a decent screen break and fresh air after lunch. I decide to tackle the garden, pulling away all the weeds and grass under the old swing beside the apple tree. I rediscover the paving stones we put down years ago. I vow never again to neglect the garden.
I get a text from my hairdressers to say they're closing down for the moment. It doesn't matter, I mutter darkly. Who's going to see me? 

Day 5: Tuesday.
St Patrick's Day is marked not with the usual parades and festivals, but with tiny mini-parades around the country. All day families post hilarious videos of their kids dressing up and parading up and down the driveway. On Twitter, a family with some of their animals, parade proudly through their farm yard.
Here, The Husband gives us half-hourly updates on the virus. To escape, I read the coffee machine instructions and manage my first cup of cappuccino. I am immensely proud of myself. With practice, I know that I could be a professional barista. Once everyone wants cappuccinos. And nobody wants fancy heart or leaf designs.

Newly buoyed by the coffee, I politely tell The Husband I don't want to hear anything more about the virus. I'm just trying to relay the seriousness of it all, says he. How important it is to stay home.
That evening, the Taoiseach makes a brilliant speech about why it's so important for everyone to follow the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines right now. He wants to 'flatten the curve', so our health system won't be overstretched. Basically, we all have to stay home. The Husband turns to me. See?, he says.


Day 6: Wednesday.
Now that The Long Weekend is officially over, I tell everyone that it's vital to establish some sort of normal routine. The Boy will work in the living room, at his desk. His teachers have agreed to send work online - some will even do the odd, video class. This is good, I think. I'll hardly see him, except for the end of the day.

I tend to underestimate the amount of energy he has to use up. He and The Husband go play a game of tennis at the courts in our local park. This becomes a morning routine, until stricter measures are introduced a week later and the park rangers close the tennis courts.
The Middle One is doing college classes via Google Hangouts. The Eldest has signed up for about a dozen short, online courses, to keep herself up to speed on everything she can in the world of the primary school teacher. She also renews her provisional driving licence and gets insurance on her dad's car. When they both get a spare half hour, they go off for a driving lesson. They are still talking to each other when they arrive back, which is a win.


Day 7: Thursday.
The Boy examines his hands and announces he may have developed some sort of deadly skin infection. I diagnose Extremely Dry Skin, thanks to the excessive hand washing, find a tub of medicated body cream and suggests he use it twice a day.

I head out for another walk. When I come back, I discover that The Husband has done some random grocery shopping. I say random, because the food press is now full to bursting with tinned beans and peas, and packets of rice and lentils. He's also bought a weird amount of onions and black and white pork puddings.
The Boy offers to take an inventory of everything we have. This was obviously what it was like during the war, I think. Except there were ration books and soldiers off fighting and nobody had to stay two metres apart from anyone else. So, not really like the war.

That evening, I make a cottage pie, but instead of minced beef I use black pudding. You could write a Corona Virus cookery book, The Eldest suggests. Really? I'm a bit flattered. No, not really, she says.

Day 8: Friday.
It's been a week since we all went into semi-isolation. I tell my family that much as I love them, I'd appreciate if they could limit their kitchen times to regular break and lunch hours. Rather than everyone floating in and out all the time, talking at me as I try to work. I'm going for a passive-aggressive tone, and I think I nail it.

Meanwhile, my phone seems to be having a nervous break down. I give it to The Eldest and beg her to sort it out. It's ancient, she says. (It's about 3 years old).
She discovers that the dozen WhatsApp groups I'm on, are overloaded with a week's worth of videos, jokes and GIFs: everything from self-isolation humour to tips for how-to-get-through-the-next-few weeks without losing your mind.
The Boy bakes scones that evening and munches his way through quite a few of them as we watch Ocean's 11 on TV.


Day 9: Saturday.
It's starting to feel like Groundhog Day and I realise I need to do something different. I suggest a  family outing in the Phoenix Park. The Husband does a quick online search and sees that although the grand house at Farmleigh (formerly belonged to the Guinness family, but long since in the care of the State and open to the public) is closed, the grounds are open.

We get into the car and I drive us into an eerily quiet city centre, right up the quays. The Phoenix Park (the largest walled park in Europe) is worryingly busy, but I keep driving until I come to the turn for Farmleigh. It's reassuringly quiet. We last about 10 minutes, before The Boy announces that he'll see us back at the car. I'm baffled. He gives me a hard stare and reminds us that he's about to turn 17 and doesn't want to spend every minute of every day with his family. Time to tone down my expectations. 
Later, there's news of hordes of people in Glendalough, a popular walking trail in Wicklow. The Government closes Glendalough.

Day 10: Sunday.
I have another video chat with my mum, and make her promise that she won't go to the shops anymore. But I'm right opposite the shops, she argues. I can see how busy they are. I wear disposable gloves. Please don't, I say. She finally agrees. It's grand, she says: I can ring them and ask them to drop whatever I need over to me. I decide to say nothing. 

I text a few friends to see if they'd like to video meet for coffee, when we break from our various jobs mid-morning. They're all up for it. I suggest it to The Eldest and The Middle One, both of whom have their own laptops. What do you think we've been doing all this time, they wonder. You know a group of you can get together online, The Middle One says gently. My book club wants to do this, I tell her. I've to download something called the Party App. It'll be grand, she says.
After dinner, I switch on the TV. A few moments later, there's a loud bang. The TV is broken.

Day 11: Monday.
The Boy is 17 today. Happily, grandparents and a couple of kind aunts have remembered and sent cards. The Husband is nowhere to be seen, and I discover he's taken the car. Strange, I think, as I come downstairs, hang out two lots of washing and put on an egg for breakfast. We've enough food, he's not going to the gym, and he's working from home. 

As everyone starts to surface, they all have ideas about what a new TV should look like. They've researched the sales, the shops doing deliveries and installations. The Husband arrives back and I relay the information. He tells me he's already bought a new TV from Tesco. For the first time we have a Smart TV, so The Eldest can run her Netflix account on it.  
After breakfast, The Middle One finds she's locked out of a vital computer programme and I phone our long-time IT doctor, hoping that he's still making house calls. Could he sort her out, I ask, and while he's here, could he help us hook up the new TV? There's a couple of things we're not sure about. He tells us how it's going to work: we will leave a list of everything he needs, and we'll stay out of the rooms he's in. He'll wear industrial strength gloves, and we're not even to bother to offer him tea.
After dinner, I find 17 birthday candles for the cake and we video-call my parents to sing Happy Birthday with us. I open the tin of sweets I'd hidden for today and The Boy and I binge-watch Season 3 of Frasier on the laptop.

Day 12: Tuesday.
After writing for the morning, I take a break after lunch to get some much-needed fresh air. I decide today is the day I'll transform my garden. I manage about 40 minutes of vigorous weeding before I need to stop and have a cup of tea. Do you notice anything different, I ask The Husband, when he takes a break. Um, you got your hair done? he ventures. I glare at him. He tries again. You DIDN'T get your hair done. The garden, I say. He looks out. Uhm, yeah, looks great. I sigh. I can't see any difference either. 
Later, The Middle One and I lift our broken TV off the TV stand, and move them into another room. Very carefully, we slide the new TV out of the box and screen-side down onto the coffee table, to screw on the legs. It takes ages, as the screws keep slipping out before I have a chance to tighten them in. I think I probably invent some new swear words. Finally, we have it ready and between us, we manoeuvre it into the corner.

Day 13: Wednesday.
The Eldest finally cancels the trip to Budapest she'd planned with friends for Easter. Because the airline didn't officially cancel the flight, they all lose €400: she's only entitled to a refund of €12 Government taxes. The Middle One had planned to go to Dingle in Co Kerry for the annual world-wide animation festival, but it's officially cancelled. She's officially devastated.
Our lovely IT doctor comes out. Beforehand, I sterilise everything and leave an envelope with his fee on the hall table. We all stay out of his way. He shouts goodbye as he leaves and we call out our thanks.

Day 14: Thursday.
The Boy has a video class with one of his teachers. We know because there's a handwritten do-not-disturb sign on the living room door. A friend in the book club puts a note in the WhatsApp group to say that a woman we know has had to close down her coffee shop and has given her a huge amount of coffee beans. I feel upset for this woman. She represents all the businesses, big and small, that have to take this hit.
My book club friend hangs a bag of the coffee beans on the door of my house. I make a note to thank our coffee shop owner, and we all make a promise amongst ourselves that we'll go and support her when she reopens.

Day 15: Friday.
I stop work at 11am for a half hour video chat with an old school pal. Her eldest is studying for his finals in medicine right now: by May he'll be working in one of our hospitals.

The Taoiseach gives another speech, asking people not to go beyond 2km of their homes, unless they're travelling to work. Queues for the shops are now very long and very stressful. We could try online shopping, The Eldest suggests. I know they're asking that we leave the slots for older people who can't get out, but we could deliberately take a date that's weeks away. I agree, we could do that. It seems like everyone has had the same idea, because we try three different stores online and there are either no available dates for the next two months, or the websites keep crashing. 
I miss my parents. Video chats aren't quite the same as tea from the same pot and warm hugs.


Day 16: Saturday.
Given that we're trying to avoid shops, I have to plan meals carefully. There are sausages in the fridge, which I'll tray bake with onions and potatoes. And there's plenty of frozen vegetables. But there's definitely too many fresh onions.
We could make onion soup, The Boy suggests. I'm not making onion soup, I think. My eyes would never recover.
Happily, The Boy offers. Not only does he produce a massive pot of the stuff, but he makes garlicky, cheesy croutons to accompany it. It's a lot of work, he admits afterwards. But it's delicious.

Day 17: Sunday.
The clocks go forward at midnight on Saturday, so I wake an hour later than usual, my own body clock unadjusted on the first day. I get a call from a friend who tells me a funny story about a friend of hers who tried to connect to a group chat using Zoom on her son's account, and ended up in the middle of a conference call with his workmates instead.
She asks if I want to meet her (physically meet her!!) for coffee in the village green. We just have to make sure there aren't too many people around, and make sure to stand two metres apart. She's only meeting one person at a time, she explains.
I realise that after 17 days of hardly seeing anyone apart from my family, this is possible. If we're VERY careful. We're meeting at lunchtime on Monday.

Day 18: Monday - Today.
I'm almost giddy with excitement.
Take care, stay safe dear reader, hope you check in with me next month. xx

                                                          *



Hello again. How quickly the world changes, how weird it all feels right now.
I'd love to hear your isolation stories: you can comment in the box below. (Comments are moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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Until next time, I wish you all good health.            
Hugs,
Sharon. xx


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