With Coronavirus in full swing across the world it was inevitable that it would eventually come knocking at my door. Last Tuesday was that day. I don’t have the virus, but as a result of underlying medical conditions have had to self-isolate after work told me to stay away for my own good.
I feel like there’s nothing actually wrong with me, but I must admit that I’d begun to worry about the way things were developing and the fact that I would be vulnerable to the virus. But while there’s a sense of relief at being at home, it’s mostly overwhelmed by a sense of frustration. So, in order to alleviate the boredom, I decided to write a blog.
My first day of isolation was largely spent around the house. I did pop out. I gave my daughter a lift to the top of the road to meet her lift to school and went to the bottom of the drive a couple of the times to put stuff in the bin. As you can imagine, it was mostly a mind-numbing experience. As a middle-aged man, I’ve worked for longer than I can remember and so you get used to a bit of social interaction. I work in an English department with fantastic people and so to suddenly be wrenched away from them has left a bit of a void. So it was a day of feeling quite sad really.
On a few of occasions the sadness was amplified too. It started when I received a message from my boss, saying that my calmness would be missed and that the right decision had been made. Thoughts immediately returned not just to my brilliant colleagues, but to my classes – from the over confident kids right through to the more vulnerable youngsters I engage with daily. With exams only just over the horizon it felt kind of desperate that I wouldn’t be there to keep them working hard.
When my wife told me about the Easter eggs at Asda it made me sad. A bit pathetic, right? But there is a reason. On Monday night we received the information that football at grassroots level had been shut down for the foreseeable future, meaning that as a grassroots coach, a big part of my social life was taken away there and then. Last year I bought all of my squad an Easter egg and the thought of not seeing their greedy little faces lighting up as they grabbed an egg this time around was pretty rubbish, to say the least.
Busying myself by tidying up didn’t help either. At one stage I put my football boots away and then realised that it might be a long while before I pull them back on again. In a day of small peaks and large troughs, this had me reaching new depths.
I quickly realised that I needed a plan. Part of that would include blogging and I would also have to be sending work in for my classes until the inevitable happens and the school is forced to close. But in order to retain some sense of sanity, I’d need to get out and about for the odd walk and to make sure I got some exercise.
Later on, there’s a cry from upstairs followed by the noise of hurried footsteps heading down towards us. ‘My school’s closing! My school’s closing!’ We immediately put the television on to be greeted with the sight of Boris Johnson confirming that, indeed, schools across England will close after Friday. I have to admit that it comes as a bit of a shock. The finality of it all. The country’s closing down and despite being someone who tries to never dwell on matters too much, I can’t stop thinking about it.
By around 6pm I’ve had enough. For the first time in a very long time I feel like I’m going to explode. Not literally, thankfully. Because the virus the leads you to explode sounds like a nightmare and I’d happily sit in the house for as long as it took to avoid that one.
I take the kids out for a long walk, hoping that fresh air will help us all out. Later that evening I resort to a tried and tested method of banishing my worries. A great big glass of red wine and a cornetto. It’s been a hell of a day.
Day two is different. Better. I take the kids to school and the pop down to Sainsbury’s to buy a few things. I’m not there to panic buy as we’ve always tried to make sure that we have a little extra in. I’ve said I’ll get cotton pads for make-up removal for my daughter. However, I’m forced to wait in the car for half an hour as the supermarket are giving over their first hour of trading to pensioners and the vulnerable. I could play the ‘high risk’ card here, but instead just go back and sit in the car and listen to the radio. What I witness over the next half hour is a little annoying to say the least as pensioner after pensioner unloads over-stacked trolleys into the boot of their cars. They’ve stripped the shelves like a rare breed of toilet roll locust. From my vantage point it’s clear to see that a fair few of them already have packed bags from other supermarkets in the boot. So even the old and vulnerable are panic buying! But it’s OK, we’ll just lay the blame at the door of stupid people instead. None of this could possibly be attributed to cuddly grey haired people.
When I return home I watch a little bit of TV before deciding that I’d be better off outside the house. So, I wrap up and go for a walk. Today, according to my watch, I’ll do over 21,000 steps and rack up some 11.3 miles. I walk and walk and walk. And when I return home, I head straight back out again, and walk up to the doctors to collect my wife’s prescription. It’s predictably chaotic and I leave empty handed. But at least I’m not sat in the house, watching telly and driving myself mad. And yes, I’m keeping a safe social distance from other people. If you’ve met me you know that social distancing isn’t just a rule for a crisis with me, but more or less a way of life!
In the afternoon I make a video and send it to some friends to see what they think. It’s a parody video of a teaching guru. He’s his own biggest fan. It may yet make a more public appearance, but for now I’m happy that my pals seem to enjoy it. It’s a lovely response, but in turn it serves to accentuate the fact that I really miss being at work. However, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, so I’m glad that my boredom has forced me into action.
By Day Three I’m a great deal more calm. This will be the last day spent on my own as my kids will be at home from now on, what with schools closing across England. My wife will most likely work from home too. I watch a bit of television, but by about 9.30 I’m crawling the walls and so, I grab my wife’s prescription, put my jacket and trainers on and head out. The streets are quiet so it isn’t all that difficult to avoid people, but it’s a very different story at the pharmacy. I walk in through the automatic doors and take my place in what seems to be a very strange queue. There aren’t many of us, but we’re spaced out right across the floor of the pharmacy. There’s also a two metre barrier across the counter with red and white tape stuck between cones on the floor. I realise that things are serious, but I can’t help but smile.
The barrier isn’t the only thing that’s serious though. The faces of the pensioners in front of me are too. And they’re staring at me. I wonder briefly if I have porridge down my chin, but a furtive stroke of my face reveals that I’m OK. Then the woman speaks.
“You can’t be in here.”
“You can’t be in here.”
“But this is where you get prescriptions.” I raise my little booklet prescription to illustrate my point.”
“But you can’t be in here.” I’m just about to lose my rag and start ranting about panic buying in Sainsbury’s when she explains.
“It’s three at a time. You have to wait outside.”
I shrug my shoulders and leave, hoping that I’ve missed the explanation on the door. But the only thing on the door is a sheet of A4 paper with a word-processed notice that informs all who cross the threshold that Coronavirus is knocking about. Considerate, I think, and resolve to watch the news a bit more.
Eventually, I’m allowed in and this time I’m successful. As I pay I make an exaggerated fuss of reaching over the 2 metre gap, flailing around trying to get contactless to make the required contact in order to transfer the money. I manage on the third attempt and hope that however dark the humour here, it’s made people smile. It hasn’t, unless you count me. I grab the prescription, stuff it in my pocket and leave. I head away from home. More exercise, more thinking time.
I walk and my thoughts turn to my Year 11 class. I didn’t tell them that I wouldn’t be back at the end of our final lesson on Tuesday. I didn’t want to unsettle them. At that point there were still exams to be studying for. But that was short-lived and now I feel quite rueful about the fact that I didn’t say goodbye. Every year they ask, “Will you miss us, sir?” My answer is always the same. In the nicest possible way I ell them “No”, not because I won’t ever give them a passing thought or because I don’t build relationships with the classes, but because there’s always another Year 11 group, another exam class.
This year, in forced isolation, I’ll miss them terribly.