Diary of a Lockdown, day 174: I feel like ‘carping’

Out of touch: Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg MP

In the nine days since I wrote here about our struggles to get a Covid-test for our symptomatic 15-year-old son, the chaos in the country’s testing system rarely been out of the headlines.

After initially denying there were any problems, the government then blamed the public for demanding unnecessary tests; then admitted the backlog in the labs would take “a matter of weeks” to resolve; and then the odious Rees-Mogg accused the public of “carping”.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 165: ‘no test sites found’

In the nation’s capital city, with Covid-19 cases rising, you can’t get tested

Youngest child has a runny nose, headache, sore throat and cough. In normal times I’d tell him to soldier on, but he’s just started back to school and his whole year ‘bubble’ of more than 200 children will be told to stay home if he turns out to have Covid-19, so we’re doing the responsible thing and keeping him at home.

When we called NHS 111 last night they told us to book him a Covid test. More than 12 hours later and I’m still trying, refreshing the page periodically since I got up this morning. The website responds ‘no test sites found’ for our London postcode. I’ve now called the 119 helpline, which tells me unhelpfully, but repeatedly: “Your call is in a queue. There will be a wait before your call can be answered.”

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 160: end-of-summer blues

Morale-boosting home-grown tomatoes in SW2

Morale has been wobbly this last week or so. There are money worries as the reality of having to cancel every yoga retreat planned for this year hits home. Two close friends have been made redundant after decades with their employers. A nephew let go from his job in retail at the start of lockdown has yet to find work.

Our family’s summer excursions to Devon and Kent are fading into memory. The days are cooling.

On the bright side, the garden is blushing each morning with newly ripened tomatoes. There’s a new baby safely arrived in our extended family up North – and another on the way. And hooray! – the teenagers are finally going back to school next week.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 136: back in the swim

Lido selfie: swimming again from today, 12th August

Tooting Bec Lido opened today for the much-delayed first swim of the summer. I was one of many who spent Monday hovering on the overwhelmed website trying to book a ticket – and with success. So at 10.55am this morning I rode down on my bike, had my name checked off against a list of bookings, and followed the marshal’s instructions for the new socially-distancing lido protocols.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 118: seaside and meals out

Summer is almost ‘normal’ on Viking Bay, Broadstairs

This weekend is the closest to ‘normal’ we’ve done since the start of Lockdown. On Friday afternoon we went down to Broadstairs, the traffic as congested as any other I can remember on the first weekend of the school summer holidays. We got there about six, just as dog restrictions on Stone Bay beach lifted and and we could go down for a heavenly swim in the sea.

After so many months barely ever venturing beyond the confines of our little corner of south London, the vast expanse of sand, sea and sky was almost as shocking as the cold water. How wonderful to be able to see beyond a few hundred feet without bricks or rooftiles; how beautiful the long shadows stretching out across the sand as the sun dipped behind the cliffs.

We stayed with much loved friends and, of course, we couldn’t hug them when we met, but we had a whole evening and the next day to catch up, listen, share and feel supported in ways that Zoom meetings and phone calls never manage to do.

Our first experience of a meal in a restaurant under Covid conditions was at Prezzo on Friday night. We had booked an outside table overlooking the sea. There were floor markings and hand-sanitiser at the door, a one-way system for moving around and instructions from the staff on how to navigate it all.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 114: is it safe to go out?

I’m making face-masks out of old T-shirts. As the government has stopped dithering and made face-masks compulsory in shops as well as on public transport, we are going to need a supply. I don’t want to be adding to the plastic waste in the oceans, so I’m hoping my family can be persuaded to use washable re-usable ones. So far, they haven’t been too keen.

For the style-conscious teens, I might need to splash out on cooler designs; I fear my random bits of T-shirt material don’t pass the embarrassment test. It’s got to be something they want to wear – or they just won’t.

And now that lockdown has fizzled out, it’s become harder to get them to take precautions. Are they hand-washing as much as they did at the start? Are they really staying a metre or two apart when they meet friends? Almost certainly not when they are playing football or basketball.

Life outside the home is resuming, albeit in a new form.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 96: is it all over?


Windrush Square: with a crowd of 20, mainly 2m apart, listening to Rashid Nix talk about the legacy of the sugar trade and its impact on black lives in Britain

Clearly we’ve all had enough – of no pubs and clubs, no summer holidays, no birthday parties, no fun. The pressure has been building and now the lid has blown off and we’re streaming to the seaside, to party in the street, to have barbecues with neighbours. You can’t blame us on these long, hot midsummer nights.

Our household has been gradually slackening its lockdown regime – and not strictly sticking to the rules. Our eldest teenager has had two or three friends round and not always sat in the garden; and he’s met up in the park to play football with friends more than once or twice.

Last Sunday I hung out with about 20 others by the statue of  Sir Henry Tate in Windrush Square, Brixton, to hear Rashid Nix talking about the legacy of the colonial sugar trade on black lives today.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 88: back to flat-sharing days

lockdown hair

Lockdown haircut: finally reached for the scissors this week

I thought my days of sharing a home with inconsiderate flat-mates were long gone. But three months out of school and our teenagers are displaying some pretty anti-social tendencies.

I’d become fairly used to washing-up piled in the sink and late-night frivolity waking me in the early hours; but now there is a new development and it crosses the line of tolerance: one of them is drinking my booze!

Inspired by my old friend Jane, I’d bought a bottle of vodka to make flavoured liqueurs. The elderflower is already brewing nicely in a dark cupboard and there were more plans to do something with rhubarb from the garden. So about a third of a bottle was in the fridge when I went to bed. When I looked for it this morning there was only an inch of vodka left.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 78: reading about race

Is this a tipping point? After all the moments when people said “never again”: like after the 1981 riots, like after Cherry Groce, like after Stephen Lawrence, like after Grenfell… As the list goes on and on you realise that racism doesn’t sink as easily as a statue of a slave-trader under murky waters.

I’m taking my cue from black friends and commentators on how to support Black Lives Matters. How can we prevent this being just another moment that passes without real change? So we joined a (socially distanced) protest on Tooting Common on Saturday. Everyone wore masks and there was space to stay two metres apart for the 30 minutes we gathered. It was solemn and serious.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the books that opened my eyes to the reality of racism, including my culture’s part in it. For what it’s worth, here’s my contribution to the reading lists many are now sharing.

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Diary of a Lockdown, day 71: time travel

Bella in the garden
Learning from Bella: the pleasure of a garden plot

As lockdown rules continue to be eased, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to walk the dog. Now that six people are allowed to meet in the open air and households can mingle, the local parks and commons are crammed with people enjoying each other’s company – and the sunshine.

So our Lab-Collie cross Bella had just meander round the local streets and nearby nature garden today. She turned three last week. She has a great life anyway, but lockdown has suited her well. Her ‘flock’ of people (us) is never far from sight; we are keen to take her for walks; and during what was the hottest, driest Spring on record, the back door was almost always open, with squirrels, foxes and all sorts of interesting smells within easy reach.

I’m learning from her the pleasure to be had from whiling away the time in a shady spot in the garden, taking in the almost daily changes in the natural world at this time of year.

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