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The strongest link - Anne Robinson on living with her daughter during lockdown

Blog | By Anne Robinson | Jun 15, 2022

Puppy love: Anne, Emma, Hudson, son-in-law Liam Kan. In front: Parker

Lockdown reunited Anne Robinson and daughter Emma Wilson in her Cotswolds barn. It brought joy, chaos – and ‘home screaming’

Anne Robinson

It should have been obvious what was to come.

They arrived at dusk from London, and from the various doors of their car, in no particular order, came: two cellos, a metronome, two whiteboards, a jar of black Himalayan salt, a wine-stain remover spray, two tubs of crispy fried onions, three cricket bats, two cricket helmets, two English setters, several rackets for various sports, a football, four bags of clothing, four cricket wickets, two dog beds, three dog leads, at least five dog bowls, a giant sack of dog biscuits, two cycling helmets, four iPads, two computers, maths, geography, English homework books, art material, two grandchildren – Hudson, 11, and Parker, 10 – one son-in-law, Liam, and Emma, my daughter.

For reasons that scientists may someday explain, Emma came out of my womb a fully qualified quartermaster with a metaphorical clipboard attached to her back.

No one else I know would leave home in haste and panic in order to reach the countryside before lockdown but nevertheless pack a letter-puncher and a special thick, blue dog lead ‘because when the puppy sees this last thing at night, she knows she has to poop’.

The parents opted for my stable block, which has a kitchen (thank you, God) and the boys’ usual bedroom.

By next morning, the corridor between the parents’ wing and my barn became an assault course of sports equipment ‘to keep stuff away from the puppy’.

All setters have special needs, but even the deaf puppy can spot an open door. Thus jockstraps, gloves, pads and shoes have daily ended up in my wildflower meadow.

The tension of the first few days centred on my inability to invest in the detail of responsible recycling. By day seven, the letter-puncher had excelled itself. In huge letters, the word ‘Unrecyclable’ was labelled on one bin; ‘Food’, ‘Papers’, ‘Glass’ and ‘Cans’ on the others. A glass container was marked ‘Used Coffee Pods’.

Glorious weather helped enormously at the beginning, particularly as Emma’s first Aldi shop for ‘essentials’ inexplicably included all the equipment required for a dog agility course.

But hey, that was only the start of the fun. Home schooling, or as I quickly renamed it home screaming, raised the drama to a new level. On the first morning Hudson was showered, dressed and at his desk by 8.50. But you get only one of those. Parker was eventually located outside the cowsheds, still in his pyjamas.

The trusty letter-puncher was by now working full time: ‘Zoom Latin lesson in progress’; ‘Cello practice 11.30’; ‘Please shut the doors. The puppy will eat. Anything.’ Let’s ignore the grammar.

My Eames chairs were shoved in a corner to be replaced by the table-tennis table. A massive jigsaw sprang up to cover the best part of the kitchen table.

The lawn of my walled garden morphed into a badminton court. Cricket practice nets were erected.

My son-in-law commandeered a space from which to remotely direct a TV commercial being filmed in Eastern Europe. Who knew?

A spare bedroom became a studio with a green screen for Hudson to film himself playing Mufasa from The Lion King and Parker to record a speech from Macbeth.

Let’s face it – I was no longer the owner of an elegant Cotswolds home. I was running a demanding, fully equipped, top-of-the-range prep school.

Throughout, I’ve mostly hidden in my study with Hattie, my spaniel.

It was Socrates, I think, or maybe Johnny Depp, who said, ‘Looking after two children was like being in charge of a couple of miniature drunks.’ I’d extend that to cover the whole family.

Emma Wilson

Moments before lockdown, we stuffed the car with two English setters, two boys, a basil plant and many packets of ramen noodles. Listed in importance the dogs came first. Then the noodles.

We arrived to bunker down with my septuagenarian mother who lives in the countryside, alone. Does she sound fragile? Don’t be fooled. She has the constitution of a cockroach. But I wasn’t prepared to be proved wrong.

Despite her obsessive monitoring of Sky News, Andrew Marr and the New York Times, she refused to accept that, while the rest of us were still more likely to die from a road accident, she, by virtue of sheer age, was at ‘high risk’.

Should I hide her car keys? It didn’t matter; once she heard about the queues, she was much happier for me to ‘pop’ to the butcher and chemist. She’s not a big one for queues.

She does love a house full of interesting people and would encourage Lucifer to supper if he promised to bring good chat to the table. I never want to see anyone; so for me lockdown was dreamy.

As I’m her only child, she can’t have a favourite. So I thought. But I was replaced. Her maternal love was redirected to my setter, Blue. Our puppy, Harper, slept alone, while her mother shamelessly snored on my mother’s bed.

She renamed our remote schooling ‘remote screaming’. That’s pretty accurate. I thought there was nothing I couldn’t source on eBay. But, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find patience or goodwill for attention-deficit offspring.

Our ‘home school for two’ boasted decent Wi-Fi. And glorious space. And very well-labelled recycling bins, thanks to Parker the Eco-Warrior. For his drama lesson, he made a video: ‘HOW TO TEACH YOUR GRANDMOTHER TO RECYCLE.’ She was the star.

Despite her pristine kitchen having numerous bins for compost, paper and plastic, her blatant disregard for them never fails to astound us. She randomly bins a half-filled tub of runny cream. If you dare mention that someone will now have to clean up this carnage, she calmly points out that that ‘someone’ will not be her. She thinks her retro chrome swing-bin is for her half-empty Diet Coke cans. No, despite its colour, it’s not for cans. Or any recycling, for that matter.

Early on, I had broken out my LARGE SIZE label-maker (she calls it a ‘letter-puncher’) but to no avail. That just irritated her. But Parker’s ‘Planet Saver’ video was a success. He managed to educate her and get a thank-you. A YouTube hit?

As for family fun … our bubble was competitive – no surprise there. Mum sacrificed her sitting room for table tennis. With daily practice, Hudson beat both of us. For Bananagrams, she and I presented a united front and refused to let him win. But it’s only a matter of time before he thrashes us at that, too.

The competitive spirit stretched outdoors. I randomly accumulated dog agility obstacles. The boys built a course. In the first tournament, their grandmother was a judge. By week two, she was competing.

We embraced the luxury of space – camping in the meadow, along with tennis, badminton, Frisbee and a cricket net (thanks, eBay). There was scope for outdoor art projects. (We don’t mention the self-portrait that was carved into the oak garden table with a Stanley knife.) Monday afternoon’s Latin and science were rewarded with a jump in the neighbours’ outdoor pool. We even pulled off a swift bike ride with a picnic lunch between lessons.

What was there not to love? We all five ordered matching hoodies, emblazoned with ‘Spring 2020’.

The multi-generational lockdown was pure joy.