Lost in cyberspace; The collapse of civilisation in a British lockdown household.

The last thing we all need right now is more doom, and I’ve really been trying to keep busy, stay positive and look on the bright side, honestly I have. These days, the mere whiff of Trump, BLM, Earthquakes, Beheadings, Starving Children, or Drowned families sees me, fingers in ears chanting, “Tra-la-la-la-la-la-laaa!” in a wilfully petulant act of self-preservation, and that’s even before the breakfast news has announced the latest Covid death tally.

Frequent immersion in cold lake water has helped enormously, as has the occasional catch-up with good friends on dog walks, a modest amount of retail therapy and a daily IG post on seeking and finding joy in small things. Long solitary drives to Dover for much needed contact with my parents have also provided welcome and timely breaks from the tedium, and I am grateful and lucky to live in a beautiful house in an idyllic place but sometimes it feels rather good to have a bloody good moan, so apologies in advance for the following negative and seemingly despairing blog. You know I’ll be all jolly again in the morning.

Readers of my blog will know that life began to gently disintegrate for me on 6 January, when a troupe of chain-smoking navvies made a start on the groundwork for our extension. Then, in the middle of March when The Virus took hold of the nation, our household slowly and steadily slumped into a domestic disorder punctuated by rare and fleeting flashes of brilliance that contrasted starkly with the monotonous nothingness of this strange purgatory we casually call lockdown.

While the entire planet was invaded by a monstrous and deadly organism, some enjoyed a refreshing break from the daily grind, seizing upon a priceless furloughed moment of solitudinous contemplation, a chance to Marie Kondo the shiz out of life and to gaze smugly at a frothing sourdough starter while learning Portuguese and wearing a home-made crochet kaftan with matching face mask. Some people seemed positively perky, and many were awash with fresh zeal for creative endeavour. I, on the other hand, feel like I’ve been trapped in an exhausting altered state more akin to Groundhog Day, where each day sees an almost imperceptible but nevertheless steady disintegration of family values and general mental health, and I’m firmly placing the blame on screen technology (as I tap on the screen of my iPad).

The first quarantine measures almost brought our building project to a miserable puttering standstill at the precise point of having no ground-floor running water, no kitchen, and no dust/slug-free places to sit and balance a pot noodle. But the stars aligned just enough to send us a saviour in the form of a no-nonsense builder who agreed to plough on with the work until it was complete.

In early summer the fresh hell of school closure added to the heady mix of stress and anxiety, providing the extra embuggerment of feeding two pernickety teenagers twice a day, every day. I say ‘twice’ on account of them choosing to forgo breakfast in favour of staying in bed till after lunch most days. Despite missing lunch at the allotted ‘lunch time’ they often still expected, like angry open-mouthed chicks, to be fed a lunch-like meal some time before dinner. It is staggering to observe that, given they already know everything, and have unfettered access to all the information the www has to offer, a common condition among teenagers with a SAHM (stay at home mum) is the complete inability to recognise any amount of delicious, fresh or ambient, comestibles as edible foodstuffs, until they have first been combined and cooked for them by a third party.

Now that the builders and fitters have left us for the time being, our beautiful new kitchen cupboards, freshly loaded with a paired-back (Marie Kondo-approved) edit of our favourite and most essential pots, crocks and utensils, take on a hauntingly empty appearance towards the end of every week. At this point I am required to venture upstairs into the the gloomy repositories of teenage life, littered with heaped damp towels, assorted wrappers and spent containers, where fetid flocks of grubby socks multiply in the recesses under beds and alongside empty laundry baskets. This requires mettle, and a superhuman strength to resist the urge to whirl into a manic de-cluttering frenzy. Instead, with great control, I have become adept at extracting the large quantities of missing glasses, bowls with spoons glued into the bottom of them and ketchup-smeared plates, all the while, a pale vacant face, illuminated by LED technology, lurks motionless in a corner, sucking up maximum discretionary screen time as if life depended on it.

I can already hear the multitudinous cries of “Tell the lazy buggers to tidy their rooms, and make their own fecking lunch!” from serried ranks of wise and experienced elders.

Now, why didn’t I think of that?

In fact a decade-long battle has been raging, where we the evil adult ‘oppressors’ employ increasingly innovative, sometimes violent strategies to effect a regime change, achieving nothing but the increasingly dogged determination of the ‘oppressed’ to cling to their savage ways, and fight tooth and nail for the civil right to watch YouTube, and live in squalor. It calls to mind the Viet Cong tunnels, (believe me, Agent Orange has not been ruled out as an option) and in this war of attrition, I am almost attritted to death.

Those elders of which I speak, did not have The Internet to contend with.

In conjunction with the punishments/confiscations/dire predictions of blindness and or madness, I have sunk many, many soul destroying hours into attempting to master various technologies that erroneously promise to make ‘parental control’ of the internet simple and touch-of-a-button convenient. The, (evidently childless) persons responsible for designing BT’s screen-time management tools should be executed by firing squad. Same goes for the person who has removed the handy little plastic password plaque from our Home Hub, so that now, when I need to adjust settings, I have to crouch uncomfortably behind the TV where the hub resides and key in a 58 digit password, with upper and lower case letters for extra marvellous MI-5 level security, before I can even view what my complex settings are. (And yes, I did write it on a card, which has also been mislaid) We soon got fed up with the basic all-inclusive Presbyterian setting which meant we couldn’t even do a Tesco’s online shop in case one of us was exposed to a picture of a cigarette packet or bottle of vodka (-coincidentally two very useful survival tools listed in the parenting manual).

It’s been a long slow summer. Despite my tireless, perhaps feeble, attempts to lure the children from their cells and enjoy some sunshine, they slipped deeper and deeper into a Tiktok torpor. Travel was out of the question for obvious reasons. The oldest child managed an occasional run, but only after dark, so that no one saw him. And he did find a few days of gainful employment as a farm hand pulling ragwort, but on the whole, they both became increasingly reliant on the internet to take them places and show them things from the comfort of their beds, in the dark shadows of their cells. It didn’t help that the youngest was required to have unlimited access to the internet in order to complete her schoolwork. She developed peculiar physical tics (an apparent side-effect of Tiktok) and I suspected that more time was spent recording videos of herself gyrating like a lap-dancer and lip-syncing to inappropriate songs, than recording her observations on Suffragette posters for History. (Confusingly, I am mightily glad that she’s too self-conscious to post these videos online)

Tiktok skillz

Now, seven months on from the birth of this strange new world, my growing children are living through a kind of dreamlike reality where College consists of alternating weekly timetables of sporadic and shortened tutorials, sometimes with a long commute into town for just one hour long lesson. School is segregated into ‘bubbles’, occasional year-group lockdowns, and hour-long queues for food in a lunchbreak that lasts only half an hour. At the weekends there’s no point going anywhere or doing anything because of the queues the communication-blocking facemasks, oh yes, and the risk of contracting a deadly disease. The oldest child got a part time job which lasted a day before he was laid off due to the business-killing effect of Covid. Instead he has discovered the joys of a local pub with a relaxed approach to underage drinking, which means that at least for a few hours each week he can give his irradiated eyeballs a break from screen watching, and drink beer outside with his friends instead. Yay. But as we dig our trenches for phase two; The Second Spike, and Boris has sensibly put a stop to such risky shenanigans, it’s back to the cell for him.

Unwilling to admit defeat, and slump with them into morose indifference, I continue to attempt the instigation of mood-boosting family activities. We’ve visited an exhibition here, eaten an exotic meal there, managed sunny, if sullen, dog-walks and even a cinema trip (which was trippy). There have been three birthdays to celebrate, and despite the Covid limitations, I like to think I have pulled off successful, and actually rather spectacular festivities given the challenging circumstances.

Yesterday, with uncharacteristic willingness the ‘children’ (one of whom, having just turned 17, insists he’s ‘nearly eighteen’) agreed to parting momentarily with their devices and came downstairs to carve pumpkins. An over-ambitious design, incorporating text (not rude) left one pumpkin annihilated beyond recognition, but we managed to leave a half decent scary Jack O Lantern on the doorstep for the dear little socially isolated trick-or-treaters to look at on their hand-sanitised rounds. Sadly my two, now SO over all that stuff, were safely back ensconced in their rooms, while the little sparkly witches and loo-paper zombies passed by. I felt a deep pang of nostalgia for times past.

Rare compliance with mother’s outlandish wishes.

But today might just have me beaten. It’s the end of the half term break in which I have already been bombarded daily with happy family snapshots of smiling ruddy faces on delightfully ‘grammable’ autumn getaways. Danny’s work commitments (plus the oh-so-tying hounds) meant that no such escape was forthcoming for us this year. Instead, the four quarters of this family have remained in four separate locations for most of the week.

Danny: Office/workshop/pub

E-J: Kitchen/supermarket/swimming lake

Child 1: Bedroom

Child 2: Bedroom

In my capacity as a member of the village Jubilee Committee, who’s essential fundraising efforts have been stymied this year by Bastard Covid, I proposed and was nominated to compile a Half Term Treasure Hunt which, I admit, I did with no short measure of delight, being a total nerd and having made a similar one years ago which went down a storm. The very least my darling angels could do this afternoon was take advantage of a rare glimpse of actual sunshine and head out together in support of my strenuous efforts and in search of life affirming clues and treasure like all the other nice wholesome, well adjusted and respectable families I had spotted from the living room window.

Grudgingly the three of them eventually assembled by the front door, teenagers in the prerequisite inappropriate footwear, and we set off, me like a demented CBeebies presenter and they with the demeanour of convicts bound for the gallows. By clue number three it was amply clear that sticking needles in our eyes, or having bamboo wedges hammered up our fingernails would be preferable to a) Being outside, b) Looking at nature and c) Being together. And so, with the feeling of someone tearing out my heart, I capitulated, disappointed that they would never get to see the magical surprises I had in store for them, and we about-turned. They went their three separate ways and I retreated here to the snug to lick my wounds and mutter darkly about what ungrateful assholes they all are.

But, as they say, ‘she who laughs last, laughs loudest’. And I do enjoy a good laugh, so I’ve unplugged the Home Hub and hidden it.

Moving forward, exciting new challenges for the coming months, should I choose to accept them, include:

▪️Lockdown, The Sequel.

▪️Storm Aiden.

▪️The Cancellation of Christmas and all other forms of sociable fun. (Ironic, given the number of times we have actually threatened to cancel Christmas in the past 17 years)

▪️The Winter. (Mud season.)

Actually, maybe, just maybe it is now time for me to plug that hub back in and zone out, zombie style, watching stacked videos of kittens being hit repeatedly in the face by wagging dog tails while we all wait for it to be over. Who’s with me?

Do not cross.

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