We are all in the same pandemic storm, but the vessels in which we are travelling are very different. Some are in the equivalent of super yachts while others struggle in leaky rowing boats. ‘Twas ever thus, when it comes to the “haves” and the “have nots”. But Covid-19 has changed the rules.
Lockdown “haves” are those with gardens, a half decent wine cellar and a dog or two for on-demand social contact. Trappings such as sports cars, watches, black cards, bling, boats, private jets and club memberships are somewhat superfluous to our existence now. Many avenues for spending money are also closed off (as someone whose social life revolved around going out for lunch and dinner, it’s been tough).
But worse than that? For now, I have no domestic help. This is “situation critical”.
The wealthy can no longer run a finger along the skirting board or windowsill, tut and make a mental note to have a word with their cleaner. As lockdown continues, the lack of help requires a radical change in behaviour. As we work from home, domestic duties are the new norm. This extends far beyond changing the loo roll or throwing used towels or undercrackers into a heap in the corner of a room. It’s full-on bucket of warm water, mops, an array of cleaning products and a serious schedule to clean the nooks and crannies of the bathroom and around the house.
I have never been so busy. Last week not only did I vacuum the landing, but I emptied the Dyson — making so much mess that I had to vacuum all over again. Meanwhile, the dogs seem to bring most of the outdoors indoors. The kitchen is like a sand pit requiring a daily sweep. It’s not that they didn’t do this before, but then I simply let things wait until someone else cleared up their mess.
As for doing the bins, this really is a nightmare. The last time I had to do those myself I was a child. Recycling was not a thing back then. Now, with bi-weekly bin collections I’ve had to learn and implement a refuse separation and recycling strategy. And how to unblock the kitchen sink. A plunger didn’t work. Luckily, five bottles of sink unblocker did.
Then there’s the laundry. Washing towels, clothes, cleaning surfaces and wiping stuff. The list is endless, my hands are very dry and I am in danger of coming out in a rash.
The really boring tasks that might have been possible to ignore for a few weeks are now beginning to build up. For example, removing limescale from bathroom fittings and cleaning watermarks off the shower. But absolutely the worst job of all? Changing the duvet cover.
The only way I’ve worked out how to change a super king is to clamber in with the two ends gripped between my fists, then reverse out and give it all a good shake. Only to find that it’s all crinkly — because I hate ironing almost as much as I hate changing duvet covers.
I’ve always been a fan of home cooking, just not every meal, every day. While there are some take-away options, never before has so much cooking been done at home. Fresh ideas are always required to prevent groundhog day. During the last cupboard reorganising day (Tuesday), I found an old but unused Persian rice cooker. The plug was a European two-pin, so I set about changing it. The collection of tools that have been sitting patiently in the utility room gathering dust have come into their own. Who knew I had those skills?
My dad has always advocated the importance of possessing certain abilities, changing a plug being one of them. With that fixed, the cooker did its magic. I made a cake-like creation that’s crispy on the outside and fluffy basmati rice infused with split lentils on the inside, and a delicious accompaniment to virtually any dish.
Another domestic task I’ve gladly taken on is procuring groceries for my parents — but, goodness me, they are fussy.
On “shopping for the olds day” (Wednesday), I learnt that my mum draws the line at Aldi’s Greek yoghurt. “If it’s not from M&S, I don’t want it!” she said. However, the queue for Magic and Sparkle was halfway round the block.
There’s a big change to the social life too. Lockdown and complying with social distancing rules doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had.
Last Friday, our “virtual drink with the neighbours day”, we decided to play Zoom bingo. I prepared a millennial list of bingo calls, including 26 (Little Mix), 14 is Netflix and chill (apparently) and 58 is now Not another Brexit Debate (what’s Brexit?).
Bingo is, fundamentally, quite dull — unless .you have prizes. Using old newspaper as wrapping, I packed up a litany of items either found in the house (such as a loo roll and packet of flour) to some other choice items found in the wonder that is the Aldi central aisle. Who knew that a llama crochet set, bake your own unicorn cookies or mini jammy dodgers were a thing? Or that on winning them, people could get quite so excited.
I left a bag of wrapped prizes on my neighbours’ doorstep, with instructions and bingo cards printed off the internet, downloaded a bingo number randomiser app and — boom!
As the competition heated up, so the desire for more Zoom-based activities has extended.
This week, we tried a Zoom wine tasting. Pick a wine, drop the bottle off at your neighbour’s house at a prearranged time while collecting their offerings (including home-made brews) to test and contrast. We had a locally produced bottle of rosé, available at the Co-op, pitched against the stalwart Provence Minuty. The verdict? Both very drinkable. We really must do this again.
When this is all over, the amount of money we spend and where we spend it is likely to change. I never really understood my father’s obsession with gardening, recycling and leftovers. But he grew up during the war. And that affected him and his views to this day. I expect when this storm finally passes, we will see more domesticity, a simpler life and a stronger focus on the people we have in our lives — and not the things we want.
Letter in response to this article:
Get alerts on Personal Finance Advice & Comment when a new story is published