It has been a long 10 weeks.
I have grown weary of the endless skirting round hole-diggers, plasterers, plumbers, electricians, a team of heating engineers and a kitchen fitter. Last week the cast also included four high- viz hooligan window-fitters and roofers.
Twirling in an endless polka through stepladders, like a deranged folk dancer, I juggle multiple slopping cups of sweet tea in each hand as if in a circus display of acrobatic skill. Yes, a circus, that is the best way to describe my house at the moment. Following the whirling tea Dervish act, let me introduce the amazing Badger & Poacher Duo, hyperactive dogs who, when they’re not performing their slapstick tripping-you-up-while-carrying-a-box-of-glass-bricks routine, or attempting to escape, have taken to occasional bouts of spectacular projectile vomiting on account of having so many tasty bits of builder’s rubble and plastic trims to chew on. Their glamorous assistant, Ginge, slinks around under everyone’s feet and sings loudly by the front door to be let in, only to commence a new and much louder song about going outside again. The Vomiting sideshow is reserved for the late night performances where, once you have settled comfortably into your seat, exhausted, and ready for some escapist TV, you are treated to unceremonious and indiscriminate displays of regurgitation. There follows much swearing and more fevered dancing around packing cases and piles of miscellaneous belongings as you look for ‘the little blue bucket’. “Where’s the fucking Zoflora??” “I don’t know! Have you tried the box with the bread rolls in?” “Oh, Jesus Christ! He’s done more in here!!” and so it goes…
On Monday we had the dread phone call from school, asking us to collect Arthur. He was apparently displaying symptoms of The Virus. My hands slapped hard against my forehead and slid down a Munch Scream face in a shocking display of cold hearted, un-motherly, selfishness as I contemplated the added complication of an infectious pariah in my house of madness, and the ensuing quarantine measures that we would have to initiate. It turned out that he had just got a bit hot and sweaty in a Drama lesson and, coupled with his week-old phlegmy cough, this was enough to invoke the school’s strident anti-viral policy. He was ejected from the premises with a warning not to return for seven days. I took his temperature (a cool 37), made him a jug of water from the outside tap and left him to enjoy an afternoon of enforced, prostrate Youtube surfing.
On Tuesday, just for a brief while, I got to escape the madhouse. Oh joy, an appointment for the ultrasound scan of my ageing ovaries. Nobody told me this would involve a frosty woman wielding a giant white dildo and ferociously probing my spleen. Shaken and a little tearful I returned home via B&Q, always via B&Q, to make more tea and to carry the copious dirty cups and last night’s dishes upstairs to the bathroom for the spine-snapping job of washing-up over the bath. Two weeks ago when I waved a fond farewell to my old kitchen sink I thought ‘What fun! It’ll be like camping!’ Now I resent every miserable tannin-stained teaspoon, and the chore is carried out with a gale of huffs, getting huffier with each new day our project runs past the scheduled completion date.
Thankfully the school’s attendance officer allowed Arthur to return to school on Thursday, with my firm assurances that he had not been feverish, and was in the finest of fettles.
But the PM’s school closure announcement, though inevitable, still came as a shock, bringing with it a deepening, creeping sense that this pandemic, ‘the murder of nineteen crows’, (CORVID-19) as I had joshingly referred to the week before, was going to change all our lives for good.
Meanwhile on the domestic front, in an inexplicable act of madness akin to extreme self-flagellation we also thought it was a wizard idea getting the decorator to make a start on the upstairs rooms this week. So in between my project management of the ground floor bomb-site, I also needed to pack and sort the contents of the main bedroom and en-suite. Don’t look at me. Don’t even try to be kind. I don’t deserve it. The accumulated dust and cobwebs beneath the bed and behind the chests of drawers would make even Kim & Aggie wither and die. I was there when the decorator climbed a ladder to the timber beam that spans the vaulted ceiling and discovered on it’s uppermost surface a thickly layered blanket of grey felted dust particles so awesome I nearly took a photograph before the abject shame of it took hold.
With the bed looking like Tevye’s refugee cart in Fiddler On The Roof, piled high with lamps and books, bathroom scales, boxes of toiletries, pictures off the walls and homeless clothes (not those belonging to vagrants, but those we have no room for in our wardrobes) we had to retreat to the spare room to sleep. But by 3am I was murderously close to smothering the snorer and decided instead to creep back to our bedroom where, like an old end-of-life cat looking for a quiet place to sleep, I cleared a little corner of the bed in which to nestle, pulled the paint spattered dust sheet over my face and waited for death.
On Friday I managed another great escape, this time to the top of Sutton Bank for a long walk with friends and far-reaching views. These girls are just the tonic you need around you in a crisis, and we picnicked on the shores of Lake Gormire, talked forever, exchanging funny stories, and laughing so hard we momentarily forgot to feel anxious. Eventually returning to our cars, we elbow-bumped our goodbyes, promising that, for the sake of our sanity we should schedule another self-isolation hike very soon.
That afternoon the most anticipated summer of Arthur’s life so far, with GCSE exams, (and results) leaver’s day, the school prom, his first ever unaccompanied trip to a music festival, and a long happy season of parties and fun evaporated in front of him. There were tearful farewells at school, and he showed me a video of his Year 11 as they formed a huge circle of friendship on the playing field. It was a beautiful sunny day.
We really felt for him when he returned home crestfallen and covered in Sharpie signatures. A pall fell across the house, and the workmen all buggered off early leaving only the clouds of fine builder’s dust to settle again over every surface and houseplant frond, every half opened packet of biscuits and squeezed-out teabag, an uninstalled toilet, and ironically, the broken hoover. A strange quiet and eery time.
Keeping calm and carrying on I remembered it was ‘Chippy Tea’ night, and spirits were momentarily lifted with the consuption of large quantities of lard washed down with a tub of Ben & Gerry’s. …Or was that Thursday night? The takeaways are all beginning to blur into one and the gentle squeeze of my belt is a reminder that salads can also be a good no-cook food option.
I do remember it was definitely Friday night when I decided to put the freshly laundered curtains back up in the newly painted bedroom while the world outside revelled drunkenly, toasting one last pint in The Winchester before all the pubs closed for the apocalypse. By midnight it had taken me almost two hours to re-attach, with impossibly fiddly little plastic hooks, the blackout liners to their linen partners. It took a further hour or more to actually hang the bastarding things. I was starting to feel as though I was falling apart at the seams.
We waited all day on Saturday, for the kitchen fitter to return, this time with an assistant, so that between them they could make galloping progress on the installation. He promised that by the end of the day I might even have a kitchen sink! My ravaged heart fluttered at the thought. By midday however, my faith was faltering with each apologetic texted update. He was held up on another job, clearing conifers. At 4pm he proudly texted me pictures of someone else’s beautifully re-modelled back garden, minus conifers, and with a fresh new swept-clean patio. My initial response was barely suppressed livid rage, but I managed to channel this eyeball-rolling, snorting energy into hefting away the abandoned piles of building materials and stacks of kingspan that had been left on my now churned up and barren back garden lawn. Danny helped, and we felt marginally but significantly better afterwards. I also fired off an absolute zinger of a letter to the company responsible for our current state of disarray. I almost enjoyed pointing out to them that not only have they failed to complete on time, but there are gaping holes allowing giant slugs to take up residence inside my house, and even the cat is pissed off with them for not finishing the installation of his new cat-flap. This actually cheered me up.
The doctor texted me about my scan results…We need to talk, he says. So that’s just another spoonful of angst to add to the mix.
Spoke to my mum this morning to wish her a long-distance Happy Mother’s day. We laughed as usual, but underneath there was a leaden feeling that it might be many months before we see each other again.
I rustled up a camp-style one-pot mother’s day lunch on the precariously perched portable stove, and in the absence of a space where we can comfortably gather, what with the contents of the old kitchen and utility room on and under the dining table, we dispersed around the house to eat. Then I cranked down the height-adjustable round Conran table which is now placed incongruously against the stove in the living room, and cleared a space for Danny’s 1000 piece self-isolation jigsaw. About an hour into this peaceful study in concentration I noticed that my palpitations had subsided. Danny declared with an ambitious flourish that he would have it finished by the end of the day. We were all rather engrossed in the challenge.
Then came the sound of contented lipsmacking and, lunging across a stack of cookery books, I quickly retrieved from Poacher’s soft furry mouth two jigsaw pieces that he had stolen to convert into papier mache.
The last straw.
Time for bed.
Grant me the strength to face the coming weeks without resorting to physical violence.