I have been paranoid since late January about COVID-19, a virus that sounds like one of the many tediously named planets at the arse-end of the solar system. I remember lying awake at night and saying “this is going to go everywhere.” I was told I was being paranoid. I hoped I was, but I knew I wasn’t. I’d say there’s no consolation in being right all the time, but that just wouldn’t be true.
Time to head down to Devon to see someone else who’s right all the time…
It’s a few weeks ago now, and I’m in London on the phone to mum. This is just as the hand-sanitiser mania peaked, a time that we now look back on wistfully.
Me: We’re going to go to Keats’s house today, can’t imagine it will be very busy so a pretty contamination-free zone.
Mum: Let’s hope his bed’s not still infectious!
There was a time when there were other diseases, apparently…
I’ve just arrived down in Devon after another glorious 6hr National Distress bus trip, this time trying especially hard not to touch anything. Mum has come to meet me off the bus. She’s wearing a cute little outfit that involves a woolly cropped jumper.
Me: I like your little jumper.
Mum: This is my big, cosy jumper! I put it on 60° by accident.
Mum wants some of the chocolate cake I’ve saved from the bus journey.
Me: No! We mustn’t co-handle things.
Mum: Co-handle—don’t be so ridiculous.
Me: I’m going to see if it takes off.
We’re doing some work that requires us to drink wine; it seems to have gone directly to mum’s voice box …
Mum (theatrically): I was taught to project.
Me: You don’t need to project, I’m right here.
Mum: I am a trained actress!
I have just tidied mum’s entire flat, including hoovering. I am packing the vacuum cleaner away, like any saint might…
Me: Well, I’d decontaminate the hoover but I don’t think there’s much chance of you touching it.
Mum: Oh, a joke, at last!
I’m on my phone, probably looking thick. The opening bars of some classical music come on.
Mum: What’s this, Jade?
Me (without looking up): Vaughn Williams.
Me (to clarify): ‘Lark Ascending.’
Mum looks both annoyed and impressed.
Me: You can’t mess with me!
Mum: No, you can’t. I’d jump on you if you weren’t potentially infections.
We’re talking about local people.
Me: Is this Dave The Wave?
Mum: No, this is Itinerant Dave.
Mum is hip to the groove of technology and is scrolling through the news on her iPad for some goss.
Mum: Madonna’s had to cancel her tour.
Me: Well she is over 70, isn’t she.
Mum: Oh she’d love you! No, she’s 65.
I burst out laughing.
Me: No she’s not! She’s like 50, mum.
Mum: No she’s not.
Me: Yes she is!
We’re in the car having marched mother to Currys to get a little freezer, because regardless of what the government is saying at this point, I’m telling her she needs to stay in as much as possible. And I am bossy.
Radio: The prime minister has advised the public against taking a cruise if they have flu-like symptoms.
Mum: Did I just hear that right?
Me: I think it basically just said that you shouldn’t take a cruise if you’ve got corona virus.
Mum: Are they joking? That must be a joke. Surely?
Me: No. I think that was Boris Johnson’s advice to the British public, based on science.
Mum: We’re doomed.
Mum’s phone rings.
Me: Your phone’s ringing.
Mum: Oh, it’s probably a racist trying to sell me something. Ignore it.
I look over at mum typing away with her little wand on her iPad. I notice the keyboard has split in two and is now on either side of the screen.
Me: What’s happened to that?
Mum (proudly): I have been operating it like this for some time.
She continues trying to type something while having to move diagonally across the screen to get from one letter to the next.
Mum: It’s just a slight inconvenience.
I watch her in silence and say nothing.
Mum: Oh bugger, I spelled it wrong.
Someone else has gone skiing and caught the virus.
Me: Skiing, again! Always with the skiing, these guys.
Mum: It will be the rich that get this!
Me: Yes, but then the poor get it. The poor always get it.
We’re having supper. I’ve been busy worrying quietly in my head about my contamination levels and only tune in to the last part of mum’s sentence.
Mum: Andrew, the dirty pervert.
Me: Who’s Andrew?
Mum: Prince Andrew!
We’re in the greengrocers. Mum is talking loudly to everyone, as usual. This time about cruise ships.
Mum: Absolutely disgusting things. Destroying the planet almost single handedly.
Greengrocer: They use fifty gallons a mile.
Mum: Oh it’s appalling. I think if you go on one of those you deserve the virus.
I am concerned for mother’s safety voicing such views in what is most likely cruise ship territory, but a little old lady with raspberries walks out of the shop giggling.
Mum goes to pick up a fork from the table.
Me: Oh no, don’t, I touched that!
Mum drops the fork and puts her hands to her face in horror.
Mum: Oh no, I touched my face.
Screaming and waving her hands.
Mum: Oh god we’re all going mad.
The news continues its Covid orgy…
Presenter: Britain is the experiencing the worst health crisis in a generation.
Mum: Yeup, and the government are doing fuck nothing.
Mother is looking into the dark chasm (the light’s gone) of the fridge.
Mum: I’ve bought some feta, because feta’s the best thing you can eat.
Me (imagining it contains some magical antibody or mineral): Why is that?
Mum: I just wanted to eat it.
Typically with this visit, conversation has turned towards pandemics and pandemic-related things.
Mum: Ask your father if he’s seen ‘Survivor’. Fantastic television series from the seventies about a pandemic.
Me: Yes, I know, you got it out from the library and watched it with me when I was about thirteen.
Mum: Did I?
Mum (reminiscing): ‘Survivor’, yes… I’ve been preparing ever since.
Me: So have I.
I’m back in London now, or in “the firing line” as mum is calling it. I’m on the phone to her and mum reads me something she has seen…
Mum: Oh, look at this: “Woman discovers she’s been washing hands with block of cheese.”
I spit water everywhere.
Me: Oh shit, I’ve got water all over my computer.
Mum (ignoring me, still deeply involved in the story): In her defence it seems she does keep a bar of yellow unscented soap by the sink.
I am complaining that in North London we are suffering from the side-effects of Boujis stockpilers – can’t get any organic porridge or apple cider vinegar for love nor money, and we’ve run out. What, you’re saying I’m supposed to have toast for breakfast? THERE’S NO BREAD. Meanwhile in Devon, mum can’t get even one lowly packet of paracetamol, forget loo roll…
“No paracetamol anywhere. No peas, nada. Shelves stripped. Where are they putting all this shit? This lot wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in “the war” they keep on about.”
Later on in the conversation I’m back to worrying about my parents. I mention my father. Mum reassures me…
“His grandmother was a peasant. So was mine, that’s why we’re so tough. Little strips of leather but we’re well put together.”
Stay safe out there, compadres. And if you’re not worried about yourself, be concerned for others safety and act accordingly. We really are in this together, whether we like it or not. This virus is many things, including a(n unpleasant) reminder that we are each a small part of a whole. What we do and, possibly more importantly, do not do, during this time can save someone’s life.