Trainee journalist Heidi Bottomley was halfway through work experience at the Herald when the lockdown came. Here, she describes life at home in Norton Lindsey…
Being told to stay at home and do nothing wasn’t a huge life change for our household.
Time off for my teenage sons and me usually involves a commitment to the sofa, PJs and reruns of Top Gear on Dave. Or, as my elder son Max put it, without glancing up from his phone screen: “Outside bad. Inside good.”
So my immediate response to friends’ texts, asking how we were coping with the new government directives, was a Callaghan-esque: “Lockdown? What lockdown?”
News of school closures and exam cancellations only added to my sons’ feeling that Christmas had come early: 17-year-old Rupes’s mood changed overnight from scowling incredulity at Bojo’s refusal to close schools to demob happy. Not even Liverpool – his brother’s team – winning the league by default could cast a shadow over the prospect of months of school holidays.
The only time I spotted lockdown panic in their eyes was when disruption to the food supply became a real possibility. Anyone familiar with feeding teenage males knows it’s like funding the pre-pandemic NHS – demand always seems to outstrip supply.
Their normal pattern of communication with me – “What’s for dinner?”, usually uttered from a mouth full of their current meal – echoes throughout my waking hours.
So, after days of fruitless attempts to shop at the new Soviet-era supermarkets, we decided to take matters into our own hands.
We Googled survival sites, checked out air rifles, surveyed the field behind our house for signs of sustenance, and made an emergency “shopping list”.
We agreed the pheasant we saw every day on the school run, always stopping to let him cross the road, was out. Ditto the pair of deer we saw regularly at tea-time. Way too cute, was the consensus.
A grotesque hierarchy was forming – the boys said they’d rather eat the dog than Bambi and friend. Which left the pigeons and squirrels. “Quite tasty, apparently”, ran my son’s footnote.
Vegetarian readers can rest assured that as the supermarkets rallied, the wildlife beyond our back garden came out of hiding and we settled into our lockdown routine.
Like half a million others, we join the nation’s favourite PE teacher, Joe Wicks, for his live 9am workout. As I struggle with the exertion and Wicks’s chirpiness, I also have the in-house heckling to deal with: “You do know this is the kids’ one?”
Board games have been safe-distance-swapped with neighbours – with the Times helpfully providing Scrabble tips (“xi” and “xu”, anyone?), although I can’t recommend Monopoly for familial harmony – it seems to provoke more disputes than an Arab-Israeli summit.
Rupes, a committed foodie, is teaching himself to cook. For “cook”, read “eat vast quantities of butter, sugar and chocolate, preferably raw”. He fails to see the point of putting a perfectly tasty batter into the oven. But his chocolate raspberry pavlova has gone down well with the neighbours.
Ironically, being housebound is offering us plenty of chances to get away. A live, guided game drive through the Kruger? A hike through the splendour of Jordan’s Petra? Or a virtual cycle through the Pyrenees? They’re all just a click away.
And then there’s the world’s galleries and museums opening their doors for virtual tours, though I’m finding there are only so many Incan cat sculptures you can gawp at.
Alongside theatre and opera screenings, there’s even a club where you can be part of a virtual audience and chat as you watch without being shushed.
Socially, I’m probably seeing more of my friends than normal, with face-to-face video calling the order of the day. Our Friday Happy Hour via WhatsApp has been – unsurprisingly – a hit, while across the generational divide, my sons meet schoolfriends over Houseparty or PlayStation games.
As for social restrictions, I’m well used to my sons’ attempts to impose these on me, Taliban-style – “You can’t wear a bikini outside” – and they’ve been socially distancing themselves from me on family outings for years.
Perhaps the hardest thing to cope with is feeling guilty. We’re lucky – we have outside space, our health is okay and I’ve some savings in the absence of work. And yet there are friends on ventilators, or hostage to abusive domestic situations or mental health issues. On a national and global scale, there is grief, joblessness and homelessness.
So we have signed up to help in whatever small way we can locally, and via the NHS drive for volunteers. Max is using his exercise hour to cycle at Bradley Wiggins speed to get supplies for isolating or vulnerable people.
Meanwhile, I count the household cost of weathering the 24/7 company of my two weapons of mass destruction: the bird feeders have been smashed by penalty shootouts; our bemused cockapoo has been shorn with nail scissors; my vegetable seedlings lie trampled by two bored, wrestling, six-foot giants.
But for this soon-to-be empty-nester, family lockdown has been a timely and positive antidote.