I am judgey. If you have ever seen me at the school gates then you should know that I may well have been smiling politely but when you were looking away I was running my eyes up and down to make my judgements. And based on you, I will also be judging your children. Because this is Britain and this is what we do. So if you’re dropping them off wearing a loose tracksuit over slippers with a fag on the go then I will assume that your children are effectively feral - ill behaved, dragged up heathens who eat their own bogeys or wipe them on their sibling when they are full.
Home-schooling might be teaching my children very little but I am learning a lot, mainly about myself. Isobel starts the day by picking her nose and eating her catch. She then wipes the excess on her sister. I challenge her and she clearly thinks that my anger is due to the fact that she didn’t eat it all so she shrugs and explains that she is ‘full up.’ It is 9:05am and I already need a break. I step into the garden wearing my loosest tracksuit over backless slippers and quickly get a fag on the go. I never smoked before lock down.
Today there is reading. I am struggling to begin to explain the internal battle that occurs every time a child reads to me – or even in my vicinity. When we first became pregnant I dreamed of the day my little girl would read a story book to me. That will be a bit of a moment, I thought, something quite incredible to share and enjoy.
It is not.
Any child given a book to read out loud will instantly ruin any content by adopting the same drawling tone. They can be reading out the most dramatic, the most entertaining, the funniest story ever written and it would still have all the excitement of Moira Stewart reading the shipping forecast. Or a drill. I would rather listen to a crying baby banging a wok with a rattle at 3am than two more pages of James and his giant f@cking Peach read by my own child. Just three lines in and the internal battle is real, I’m so angry I’m considering how much of that peach I could stick up James’ smug…. I digress.
Of course I hold it in and continue to grin inanely throughout. Josie accepts this as encouragement to read beyond what she was set and then asks me why I have suddenly developed a twitch in my eye that soon extends to my whole face. When the torture ends I express some or all of this opinion to my wife. She suggests that maybe it is time I had a proper break. We need shopping. Maybe I should go out.
Outside then. And for the first time in four days. I don’t want to go out. I have social media so I am suitably terrified by what some bloke called Steve off Facebook has found out from his extensive research. I don’t remember how I know Steve, he looks vaguely like a guy I used to know who sold knock-off TV dongles in-between short stays in prison but it appears he has properly got his shit together and is now a highly educated virologist.
So I am prepared. I have scraped together some home made PPE and I am aware of all government advice. It takes just a few metres down the road to realise that driving a manual car in oven gloves has its challenges. Basically you have to take your hands off the wheel to change gear so for a few seconds no one is steering… It’s still safer though. Definitely.
For the supermarket I have taken another social media post to heart and adopted the hula-hoop method. This has nothing to do with the crisps but has all to do with holding up a hula-hoop around your waist – thus sending a clear message and providing a clear barrier to keep everyone-else-the-f@ck-away. This method proves a little less effective than I hoped. The only hoop I could get hold of is my daughter’s. It is sized accordingly and instead of providing a barrier it merely grips tightly around my midriff to ensure I resemble a walking cupcake. It is also pink. I am half way round Sainsbury when I lose the feeling in my legs.
I am approached by an elderly woman in an otherwise deserted aisle. She is wizened, fragile looking and hunched over a frame that has a bag for life hanging off it. She says ‘excuse me son.’ Bless her heart! Instantly part of me thinks: ‘this is my chance to do my bit! A vulnerable member of society is going to ask for me to assist in this time of great need!’ And the other part of me is eyeing up her bag and thinking ‘if she’s got pasta in there, I could easily take her.’
Instead, she says ‘Why are you wearing a shower cap?’
I’d forgotten about that. I can see her point. Now I am outside it does feel like overkill. Unfortunately I can’t take it off as the oven gloves had rendered my thumbs useless. I couldn’t even get a grip on her pasta while she was distracted.
On returning home I am to lead the English class because I am a writer so I know English. Turns out I do not. We are writing sentences and we have to point out the noun, verb, adjective and preposition in each. I google noun despite knowing, but just to be sure. Then I google verb, despite knowing exactly what it is but just to be sure. Then I google adjective, despite knowing what it is but just to be sure. When I get to preposition I… ah fuck it. School’s out.
Art is the last lesson. My wife takes it. Soon Isobel rushes up to me where I am stood out in the garden. She shows me a picture she has done of a pencil drawn humanoid. It has a bulbous body, a fat head, googly eyes and hair that looks like it is made out of those furry pipe cleaners. It also has stick arms and tiny little hands – with three fingers on each like on the Isle of Sheppey. she’s also drawn a poop between the legs of this poor, hapless character and the expression overall is of someone smiling and thus blissfully unaware of this poop – suggesting this poor, ugly, fat old sap is also incontinent.
Daddy! Daddy! It’s you! Do you like it!
I do not. She is looking at me intently for my reaction – for my approval.
Ooh! She then says, hang on, I can draw in the shower cap!
She snatches the drawing back and is gone. I turn to the kitchen window to take in my shower-capped reflection. Through it my wife is laughing hard.
‘Why didn’t you tell me!’ I mouth at the glass and point at my head. She makes a gesture with a loosely closed fist that no wife should make towards someone they love.
She is to make it again later, at bedtime, when I ask for her to assist me with stepping out of my hoop as it appears to have shrunk during the course of the day and is now at risk of becoming a permanent feature. The eventual solution involves butter.