Virus restrictions are still rigorously enforced at my home. By Jem Clarke
Jem Clarke is in his very, very early fifties, is five foot zero inches tall and has never left the family home in Cleethorpes, which he still shares with his parents…
‘I’ve got COVID,’ I gloomily declared with all the phlegmy fanfare I could muster.
I was speaking through a crack in the door to the kitchen, where my at-risk patients were sitting, hitherto blissfully unaware, at the breakfast bar, swinging their tiny legs like young things without a care in the world.
‘Oh, he’d have to have it, wouldn’t he?’ Mum said mockingly, as if I’d just turned up with a hula hoop or a faddish grilling machine. Their hatred of the modish, or simply new, is a bit rich: Mother has been having ‘bottomless brunches’ since the ’80s or whenever elasticated trouser waists were invented.
I now regret getting them a double-size puzzle magazine – because, brains fully fired, they were soon putting a literal battle plan in place. Central to ‘Operation Don’t Catch COVID’ was my banishment to my bedroom. By banishment, I mean being roughly herded upstairs with immediate effect by a tiny woman poking me constantly in my ribs with a telescopic duster.
Once inside, I could hear further conversation on the landing. Then my door cracked open and a bucket hovered into view at head height, hanging from that same dastardly dusting device.
This was to be my ‘bathroom’ – non-negotiable. I did try to negotiate, but my mother said, ‘Any nonsense and I’ll get your father to jam your door shut with the stepladders.’
This was no idle threat. Father was on a stepladder at that moment, head poking into the attic, coming back down with a tambourine – or rather an ad-hoc early-warning device.
‘If you’re coming down to use the kitchen, rattle the tambourine,’ he said.
I suggested using my mobile phone and just calling the house phone, but mother gave me full-on Kathy Bates in Misery eyes. I thought better of arguing. If I lose my legs below my shins, I’ll be down to four foot something.
Worse, I had to phone my unnecessarily tall brother to tell him to postpone his trip to see us. He reminded me of how smug I’d been when he contracted COVID in 2020 – of course he had to be an early adopter, despite his austerely healthy lifestyle.
He said, ‘So there’s finally a variation of COVID microscopic enough to enter the body of the equally microscopic.’ He sounded just like a science supply teacher – which he is.
Suddenly, for the first time in half a century, Mother became only the second- most significant threat to my life, as the full symptoms of COVID washed over me.
While I still had some strength, I searched the Government COVID offering. I found a chart showing that, for a thrice- jabbed male of my age, the symptoms will probably be one and a half times as bad as influenza. More resilient men would have taken this in their stride, but it sent me into a panicky head spin – and soon I was on the phone to NHS Direct.
The kindly customer-servant explained, ‘The website does say, “Phone this number if symptoms persist,” not “when symptoms begin”. Are you a worrier?’
‘I should say so. Mother’s left me a bucket, and all I’ve got is a pack of pocket tissues and I can’t even open them in my weakened state.’
She suggested I phone back in five days. Resigned to my fate, I took to my bed and fell into a disturbed sleep. I had a nightmare in which I was trapped in a room with medical staff, but I secretly knew they weren’t really medically trained as they were terrible actors. Then I woke up and realised I had just left BBC1’s daytime show Doctors playing.
Still not of sound mind, I wrapped myself in my duvet, and went to the window to let in some fresh air. I didn’t manage it, though, because an unknown cat was sitting on my ledge in the afternoon sunshine, looking at me smugly with what I diagnosed as ‘rabid intent’.
For a second, I planned to attach a note to the cat’s collar, saying, ‘I am being held against my will, with inadequate facilities and what can I only describe as a couple with Texas Chainsaw Massacre-level parenting skills.’
Still, I was uncertain about the ramifications of going into social-services care at the age of 51-ish.
My final humiliation was phoning up work the next day, to explain I was trapped in my house – so I simply couldn’t work.
My boss reminded me, ‘Aren’t you the guy who has been moaning that you won’t come back into the office, and actually want to work at home. Why can’t you now work from home, even if you have got COVID?’
‘Because Mother’s unplugged the internet router.’
‘Why on earth has she done that?’
I went for a breathy, embarrassed pause, full of virus and deep existential regret. ‘Because I went downstairs for a Wagon Wheel and I forgot to take my tambourine.’