As of yesterday here in Newport, South Wales, I’m able to have a socially distant meet up with another household outside for the first time since lockdown began. I’ll be seeing my Mum and Dad for a long awaited cup of tea in my garden. But I won’t be seeing my Edinburgh-based fiancé, who I was meant to move in with in April and marry in May - two major life events we have had to repeatedly postpone since the pandemic began. This was supposed to be our big year: I went to Scotland at the end of February and we made the last few arrangements for the big move. We were really excited; I left my good sports bra at his, thinking that in a mere six weeks I’d be there for good. Three weeks later came the crushing realisation that wasn’t going to happen. For a long-distance couple, devolved government and the impact the different routes out of lockdown are having are ruinous effect. To get from Wales to Scotland (or vice versa), you have to negotiate the rules of three different governments and while Westminster is romping away with easing the rules, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and the Senedd in Cardiff are being much more cautious. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with what we can and can’t do in our own local areas without having to worry about the rules of another government entirely, but this too has become part of our reality. We went into our relationship knowing that it was going to be a long-distance one for a while, but that was at a time when we could plan and there were timescales; now it’s just “it’ll happen some time”, and “we might know more in three months”. We had family due to travel from Europe and the USA for our small wedding with afternoon tea afterwards in Leith. While we came to realise they wouldn’t make it, we still held hopes that our UK guests could be there, until we finally admitted defeat, willing to settle for just us and two witnesses. But then even that became impossible, and we made the decision to cancel. Although we knew it was totally the right decision and that we’ll get married in the future, when the time is right, we were devastated that it couldn’t go ahead; we’d thought that keeping it simple, yet exactly what we wanted, would make our big day stress-free and capable of going off without a hitch. We were lucky to get nearly all of our money back and although we haven’t rescheduled yet, we will. We were used to talking on the phone multiple times a day and last thing at night, so I don’t think it really hit us at first. But as lockdown has gone on, and we’ve had to accept that living together isn’t going to happen for now, phone calls have now been joined by WhatsApp and Zoom, because we flexed our middle-aged (I am 51) digital muscles and learned new skills. We spent what would have been our wedding day on Zoom and watching Shakespeare from The Globe (The Tempest, since you ask), and have got into the habit of scheduling events that we attend ‘together’ so that we can talk about shared experience (thank you Hay Festival and all the theatres that have moved online for the duration).
It has now been 71 days since I last touched my boyfriend. When Scott and I parted ways the weekend before lockdown began, we figured we would be spending a month apart at most. We've been together for two and a half years — a few weeks apart wasn't going to be easy, but it wouldn't break us. If I'd known then that it would be closer to three months before we were able to go for so much as a distanced walk together, I think I may have moved in with him there and then. New government guidance stipulates that couples like us who have been separated can now meet up at a distance in a public space or garden, but still can't touch, and certainly can't have sex. I know at least one couple that is ignoring this entirely and has just decided to start seeing each other again. I'm sure many others are, understandably, choosing to do the same. Meanwhile, it seems as if lockdown has as good as disintegrated in the past two weeks, with parks and beaches now full. You don't have to go far from your house to see that social distancing seems to be a thing of the past. It's why the rules around couples are so frustrating.
The Corona Chronicles are published on The Telegraph online every Friday. To read previous chapters, click here 9.35am, Thursday May 28 – Day 66 of Isolation A big day for bubbles as it turns out. After weeks of blankness, a sudden flurry of news. A letter from Izzy’s school arrives explaining plans for students to return to the classroom in “bubbles”. “It says there will be fifteen of us, Mum, plus a teacher. We all have to have our lunch together and everything.” “That sounds good, darling.” “No, it’s stupid,” Izzy sighs. Ah, here we go, my every-silver-lining has a cloud thirteen-year-old. I know how much she’s been missing school. “If one person in the bubble gets a cold or symptoms everyone has to to go home and isolate.” “Well, yes, but surely that’s to stop the virus spreading.” “Duh! Muu-uum! Don’t you get what kids are like? If I’m in a bubble with Josh Martin he’ll say he’s got a bad throat every single day. And we’ll all have to miss school forever because of one lazy idiot. Plus if I get sent home you and dad and our whole family also have to isolate for fourteen days.” “Wicked,” says Harry with a wolfish grin, “basically, we get time off school any time we want. Double bubble!” “What’s that?” Robert glances up from his phone and reaches across the table for the letter. “Us isolate every time someone sneezes at school? Christ, more bloody lunacy from this Government to kill business. How am I supposed to manage if Josh’s dad needs to take a fortnight off work every time his kid throws a sickie, eh?” “It’s not all about business, Daddy, it’s people’s lives that matter,” says Chloe buttering a slice of toast furiously. “The economy *is* people’s lives, young lady” snaps Robert, buttering his muffin with equal venom. “A fact that seems lost on half my staff who are enjoying their furlough holiday in the sunshine so much they can’t be bothered to come back to work.” “Do you blame them with a boss with that attitude?,” Chloe fires back over the net. Oh, hell. I hate it when the culture wars break out around my own kitchen table. Better swing into peacekeeping mode. “Chloe, don’t you think Dad could do with a haircut? He’s starting to look like Noddy Holder.” “Noddy who?,” chorus all the kids together. “Are you sure I should let Chloe near me with a pair of scissors in her present mood, Carrie, darling?” Robert flashes that ingratiating smile he’s been giving me on a hourly basis since I saw him in the park with Jennie the “personal trainer”. Forget Chloe. Don’t think I’d trust myself near him with a pair of scissors right now. 10.54am Heading to the vets to see about Max’s dicky tummy when I bump into Apocalypse Anna. Well, not bump. She’s about twenty feet away obviously. Anna is one of those lockdown fundamentalists who takes ostentatious pleasure in keeping her distance from you. She may as well be wearing an invisible crinoline. The police turned up on Monday afternoon to question the Beresfords at Number 6. They advised the grandparents who were sitting having tea in the back garden to leave. Bet I know which snitch reported them. “Carrie, I’m absolutely seething about this Dominic Cummings business,” says Anna. Well, there’s a surprise. After ten weeks, everyone who has strictly abided by the rules is hugely resentful of anyone who hasn’t. The world feels like it’s split three ways: a) Those who are genuinely scared and want the lockdown to continue until there’s a vaccine (could be forever). b) Those whose inner traffic warden has been unleashed by the state of emergency and who rather enjoy disapproving of people who commit the unforgivable crime of walking the wrong way around a supermarket. c) People like me who have had enough and want to take our chances with the wretched virus and get our bored lonely, depressed kids back to school and university rather than live in some hideous “new normal”. “See you at the clap tonight,” says Anna. It’s an instruction not an inquiry.
Lockdown is easing just as we get into summer. For those in England, we will be able to meet in groups of six outside, including in private gardens, from Monday. Which means one thing: barbecue! But... with everyone staying two metres apart. How will that work? What do you need to consider before opening your front door to others? And what happens about the loo? Read on for our unofficial guide... Stage One: Saying hello Everyone has done it: you put out your hand to shake, but they go for a hug and your hand is squashed between you, every muscle tensed to make sure your fingers don’t accidentally skim a boob. Humiliating. (Of course, it’s hilarious when it happens to someone else: when we were just out of school, a friend of mine said goodbye to another friend’s mum. Each tried to kiss the other on the cheek, but they fudged it and ended up kissing on the lips. Brilliantly entertaining.) Anyway, no need to worry about such front-door faux pas in the new age of coronavirus, where there's a strict no touching rule in place. It's overzealous waves all round, then. If you’re a host: Open the door, say hello and stand back, so the message of “don’t approach” is clear. If you’re a guest: Hold onto the bottle of plonk you’ve brought, and say you’ll put it down when you get to the garden. Stage Two: Getting a drink Social distancing is a terrific excuse for keeping all the booze you’ve brought to yourself. The government says you need to be very careful about passing glasses and crockery between each other, as this could spread the virus. As a host, you could demand everyone brings their own beers, which will save you a lot of money; and as a guest, you can splurge on something nice, knowing you’ll get to finish it yourself. Win-win. If you’re a host: Thoroughly clean all glasses before handing them out. Leave people to get their own drinks and don’t pass them around. If you’re a guest: Bring a good stash, so there’s at least something left at the end as a thank-you and you look thoughtful.
In my experience, there are fewer things more stifling to the concept of sexual pleasure than a Catholic education. When I was at school, one of my clearest memories around sex and relationships education was our teacher telling us that she had waited until marriage to have sex - the implication being that this was the right thing to do. Unsurprisingly, no one in that class, as far as I know, followed suit. It wasn’t until years later that this conversation came back to mind. I’m now 29, and at 28 I had my first orgasm. In truth, this fact didn’t impress on me too much until an office conversation with my colleague and co-presenter Lily Freeston. In it, she relayed her own experiences of how, until recently, climaxing during sex had been a rarity. What we shared, it seems, was being at the wrong end of what she told me is 'the orgasm gap', an issue so important to us we’ve now made a radio documentary about it for the BBC World Service. In its simplest terms, the orgasm gap points to what will be no brainer to many of you - that men have more orgasms than women. In 2017, the Family Planning Association did a survey which found that over 80 per cent of heterosexual women said they couldn’t reach orgasm through penetration alone. Another earlier study by the Kinsey Institute, found that of the heterosexual people they surveyed in the US, 95 per cent of men climaxed during sex compared to just 65 per cent of women. Right now, a topic like this feels timely. For one, sex is an important part of life, and the global increase in sex toy purchases during this pandemic says something about how people are passing the time. But also because, when statutory relationship and sex education is introduced to schools in England in September 2020, sexual pleasure will remain off the agenda. When we began looking into this, Lily spoke to Lucy Emmerson, Director of Sex Education Forum, who helped draft the new Government teaching around sex and relationships. “I think as a nation, I'm probably not alone in this, there are aspects of sex which we still find very difficult to talk about... We worry that talking about pleasure might encourage sex in some way,” she said.
'I had to keep busy to avoid getting upset' By Estelle Keeber Packing our lives into boxes wasn’t exactly how I expected to be spending our wedding day. But preparing to move house, dressed in sweatshirt and jogging bottoms, still signalled the start of a new chapter, albeit in a somewhat less glamorous way. Chris and I were due to marry in Cyprus on May 14. When I woke that morning the relief I’d felt since the end of April - when, after weeks of uncertainty, our flights and hotel accommodation were finally cancelled and refunded - temporarily segued into disappointment. I knew I had to keep busy to avoid getting upset, and was up at 7am replying to work emails, instead of treating myself to a wedding day lie in. Thankfully, after that, we had plenty to do. We’d brought our move to rented accommodation in my son’s intended new school’s catchment area forward after our wedding was cancelled, and Chris had taken the week off work to help empty shelves and cupboards.
Appointment television is back – and it’s a bona fide masterpiece. In the midst of lockdown, a quirky Channel 4 series has brought the nation together and served up not just creativity but a slice of British life like no other. Grayson’s Art Club was never intended as a ratings winner. But over the past five weeks it has evolved into a must-watch programme with the power not just to make us laugh – Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty, as the nation’s unlikely muse, anyone? – but bring an unexpected tear to our collective eye. At its heart is a couple who have unexpectedly lifted our spirits without even trying; Grayson and Philippa Perry, whose tender exchanges and shrewd observations have elevated it to the artistic equivalent of Gogglebox. Quirky and clever, they are extravagantly comfortable in their skins – she is a psychotherapist with Cruella de Vil monochrome hair and statement glasses, he is an artist with a transvestite alter ego, called Claire, who has been known to dress as Little Bo Peep. Bonnet and all. Ostensibly, Grayson’s Art Club is about unleashing Britain’s creativity through assorted media; embroidery and paint, pencils and, in one memorable instance, soy sauce with noodles. But it has also provided a heartwarming portrait of middle-aged marriage rarely seen on screen. As Grayson, 60, and Philippa, 62, potter about, drinking cups of tea and amiably chatting about their work to each other it is impossible for those of us competing with our nearest and dearest for deskspace and headspace not to feel a pang of envy.
What do you call a halfmade glitter pig, a yet-to-be assembled lasagne, fractions homework and a screaming toddler? Clearly the answer is an aneurysm – unless you’re my husband, who is able to deal with all of the above in the kind of jaunty spirits that would make Mary Poppins seem glum. When the lockdown started, I switched to working from home while my husband James’s job as a television director came to a sudden halt. So for the past two months, the homeschooling, cooking and endless unicorn make-believe with our daughters, aged seven, five and nearly two, have fallen to him. As someone who moans regularly about ‘maternal load’, I welcomed the shift. James has often had spells working abroad and part of me was secretly happy he might finally acknowledge that looking after three kids on your own can be tough, even without the added challenges of lockdown.
The gulf between those who have children and those who do not has never felt more gaping than during lockdown. Initially, I felt secretly smug about my child-free status. I listened to tales of homeschooling horror and rampaging toddlers imprisoned in flats while I, residing at my mother’s house with a garden, had the luxury of endless ‘me-time’: reading, running, bingeing Netflix. But the novelty of doing nothing wears off quickly. While the pandemic has turned all our lives upside down, it’s also put into perspective the importance of love, connection, kindness and nurture. All the qualities key to being a good parent. Now, as I find myself worryingly besotted with the family cat, I am beyond envious of friends with kids. To have this unique time watching their little ones learn and grow, despite the tantrums and tiredness, is a blessing. To be able to hug and kiss your children while the country social distances is something I crave viscerally.
Grab a saucepan, wooden spoon, glass of wine, and a painted lockdown smile. It has become a Thursday evening ritual, just before 8pm: scrambling to the front door to join neighbours you met for the first time 10 weeks ago for a few minutes of applause. Let out the fears and frustrations of lockdown; celebrate the workers who have kept the country healthy and safe. First, we clapped for the NHS, the doctors and nurses on the Covid-19 frontline. Next, we applauded the postal, supermarket, waste disposal, and transport workers. People set off fireworks, donned fancy dress, and composed streetwide singalongs. And then, perhaps wearying of clapping, the judgement started. “I haven’t seen Sue from number 10 for two weeks, has she fallen ill?” “I heard she hates the NHS.” Now, after more than two months of Clap For Our Carers, organiser Annemarie Plas is applauding tonight for the last time. “For me personally, on behalf of Clap For Our Carers, it will be the last clap I give,” says Plas. “We want to maintain the positive impact it has had. We’re really proud of our NHS workers and now want to turn it into something that lasts after coronavirus.”
Anyone remotely interested in current affairs will have seen the actor Laurence Fox back in January, telling a woman in the audience on Question Time that she was a racist for, essentially, calling him a racist. Or the time when LBC host Iain Dale looked as though he was about to flounce off the panel because Scottish minister Ian Blackford wouldn’t let him get a word in. Too many Ians on that night, you might be forgiven for thinking. ‘Certainly too many panellists,’ says Fiona Bruce, who, after much speculation, was appointed the show’s fourth host in its 40 years (and the first woman) in late 2018. ‘I never think six is a good idea.’ It’s normally five. Is she consulted about who’s on? Naturally. ‘And I do my research so I knew the general shape of his [Fox’s] views. What you don’t know is how people are going to express it. Laurence was an example of the unexpected turn of events that happens on a live show like QT. You either thrive on that or you don’t. I think he does and I do, too.’ She must also enjoy the fact that all these exchanges went viral – and that those who suggested she was the soft choice for the job (Nick Robinson and Emily Maitlis were also in the running) now look foolish. Last month, Fox revealed he hadn’t had any offers of work since his QT appearance, actors’ union Equity disapproving of his right-wing views. For good or bad, Question Time has become a mirror of the country, and sometimes that’s not a pretty sight. But the figures speak for themselves. At the height of the Covid crisis, the programme was moved from its usual late night to a far more mainstream 8pm slot. ‘More people are watching,’ says Fiona, ‘so we’re doing something right.’
A coronavirus tweet from Downing Street, last month, reminded us that ‘It's called a living room for a reason'. Stay home, save lives being the message, of course. It infuriated me, because it completely missed the reality of lockdown for many. The more comfortable your home, the higher up the career ladder, the bigger your garden, the easier lockdown is. But what if you and your children have to lockdown in just one sub-standard room? There are more than 135,000 children living in temporary accommodation in the UK. I photographed and interviewed four women for my latest project, ‘One Room Lockdown’. These are women who live with their children in temporary accommodation in London, and I was shocked and saddened by their situation. The rooms were small, which made photographing them at the Government mandated distance of two metres away barely possible. Three of the rooms had mould and damp on the walls. This is an environmental health breach and dangerous at the best of times. But this isn’t the best of times - these women and children are stuck indoors, without sunshine and fresh air, breathing in mould spores. You also can’t self-isolate if you share a kitchen and bathroom with other tenants. Public Health England has delivered advice that is impossible to follow for some of the poorest and most disadvantaged families in the UK. The four women in ‘One Room Lockdown’ have fled difficult circumstances to come to the UK, and are grateful for the fresh start. But the lockdown has magnified the problems they live with. A small room feels even smaller when you are on top of each other every day. Food prices have risen. Looking after their mental health and the wellbeing of their children is acutely difficult. Many don’t have family and friends in the UK, but normally rely on playgroups, nurseries and places of worship for social interaction. Those have now gone. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life lay the crucial foundations for their physical and psychological health. It’s not just a question of avoiding trauma and danger and getting the right nutrition, but also promoting socialisation and active play. When I met them, these children had been locked indoors with no outdoor play and no sight of another human being for 30 days, and another 30 days have passed since then. These women and children need lockdown to end. But after this they also need healthy, happy homes. Their stories are below, with personal details removed as some remain in danger. Sanober's story
Imagine the scene: you’re working from home and realise the sun is making you a little warm. You remove your socks. Is it acceptable to put them on your desk and leave them there, possibly for some days? Personally, I think so. A cursory glance at my lockdown work desk confirms it's a one-stop dumping ground for just about everything, from used plates to garments that technically belong in my wardrobe. But so long as I can see my emails and do my work, what does it matter? If your gag reflex has just been activated, or you're howling the word "noooooo", you probably won’t like the recent pictures of Prince Charles at work at Birkhall, his home on the Balmoral estate. During a video interview with Alan Titchmarsh for Classic FM, we got a glimpse of his desk – or more correctly, the papers strewn across it, and the cup of tea that's just itching to be spilled over them. I say cosy, you say horror show. Same difference. So what does your home set up say about you? Messy desk
Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear me-ee?, happy birthday to me.’ I never imagined I’d have to sing happy birthday to myself as I turned 30, but that’s exactly what happened. I had originally planned a big weekend away in Kent with my closest girlfriends to celebrate the occasion - stressing to them this was my equivalent of a hen do, and organising it months in advance - when coronavirus hit. In comparison to the tragedy it is bringing to so many people, across the world, having to cancel my 30th birthday plans obviously wasn’t a huge deal. But as the disappointment set in and the day approached, it began to hit me that - as I live alone - I’d have to see in my big 3-0 all by myself. The fears started to creep in. Would this be a symbolic start to the next decade of my life? Would I end up eating ice-cream out of the tub in my pyjamas singing All By Myself a la Bridget Jones? Or would I just spend the whole day on my phone, yelling at my Wifi, as I called pixelated friends on Zoom? I took to Twitter for advice from others who have celebrated milestone birthdays in lockdown, and realised the answer to surviving a solo birthday all lay in one hyphenated word: self-care. So, I ordered my favourite cake from bakery Cutter & Squidge, I made sure my fridge was stocked with champagne, and I swallowed my pride to ask my friends if they’d send me cards in the post to give me something tangible to look forward to on the day.
A couple who remained in lockdown for 10 weeks with two young children despite having severe coronavirus symptoms have criticised the Government’s “audacity” for implying that they are bad parents. Lucy and Matthew Jenkins, who have a two-year-old son, Ozzie, and six-month-old son Ari, were both struck down with coronavirus in the middle of March. Mrs Jenkins, 32, also required surgery during the lockdown to remove potentially cancerous cells from her cervix. However, despite the serious medical problems, she insisted on going to hospital alone in order to comply with the Government’s social distancing rules, despite “desperately” wanting her husband to go with her.
The Covid-19 pandemic is not my first brush with a notifiable disease. As these long lockdown weeks have passed, I have found memories of the summer of 1984 returning in an insistent manner, bringing many unanswered questions in their wake. When did my father become so worryingly irascible? Did my little sister disappear for a month, or was it two? When did Granny come to run the household? Why was I told never to speak about what happened? So I phoned my four brothers and sisters to see what they remembered. It started around spring, with Dad’s deeply-embedded cough that built to fierce crescendos. This was still the season of flus and colds, so no one took too much notice at first. Also he was a heavy smoker and was still puffing away at his full-tar Rothmans. Although it must have been disconcerting for the drinkers at my parents’ country pub – perched in woodland high above the Kent Weal – to see my 74-year-old dad hawking up phlegm near their pints of ale. His personality seemed off-kilter, too. My father was infamous for calling people, “bloody idiots,” telling customers to “Bugger off the lot of you,” at closing time and for giving regulars rude nicknames like, “John the Rat.” But he was kind-hearted and funny under the gruffness and was always dolling out free drinks, giving racing tips and helping locals find work. As the cough bedded in, though, he began to seem genuinely foul-tempered. He shouted at drinkers and spat into a big cloth hanky he kept in his jacket pocket. I was in my O-Level year at school and my desk for doing homework was stationed just outside the door connecting the pub to our cottage, so I could hear every fearsome, shuddering hack. The cough escalated over a couple of months. On a couple of occasions I stuck my head round and saw my father trying to hide a sherry glass, which was odd. Dad has spiralled into alcoholism in his early years as a publican, but became a teetotaller when I was four. My mother was beside herself with worry and was aware some customers were now staying away. My father never consulted the doctor, but after days of forceful cajoling when he seemed close to collapse, my mum managed to haul him off to the GP. That’s when everything started moving at speed. Mum returned from the doctor’s without my father; she was dazed. Dad had been rushed into hospital for urgent X-rays and tests, and the medics were certain he was suffering from a serious case of tuberculosis. Our GP had told mum that if she hadn’t bought him in when she did, he’d have been dead within a week. Now the entire family needed to be X-rayed and checked, with my five-year-old sister, Dorcas, first in line. We were all suddenly keenly aware that she’d also had a bit of a cough. Within a day she was in hospital – although we four older siblings were given the all clear. My mother was in tears as she relayed how five nurses had to hold my little sister down as they took blood tests and put a tube down her nose. If this had happened today, there’s no doubt the pub would have been closed down and notice given of an outbreak of TB, which would have destroyed our customer base. I imagine my sister’s village primary school would have been subject to restrictions, too. Certainly parents would have been told, tests offered and we would have felt like social pariahs.
Jasmine* is pregnant, therefore at higher risk from Covid-19. But her employer is refusing to make allowances. She tells her story here... It is scary being pregnant and working in healthcare during the pandemic. I work in a secure psychiatric ward. I take pride in my job but it isn’t easy; I’ve been punched, kicked, spat at in the face. But I keep turning up to work to help my patients navigate the darkest moments of their lives. Now, though, my bump feels like a target. I feel scared about anything that might harm the baby, and vulnerable. When the Government announced pregnant women were at higher risk from the virus and told to follow social distancing guidelines strictly, my employer informed me I was not allowed into work. Their plan for me was half pay, which would have resulted in a significant loss of income for me and I was terrified about how I would provide for my baby. Then, their position changed and I was asked to come back because I was under 28 weeks pregnant and therefore 'not at risk' - something I informed them was incorrect. If I refused I would have to take unpaid leave until I was 28 weeks, when I could then claim company sick pay. I was completely panicked; I could either go without any wages for eights weeks, which is not a financial option for someone getting paid just above minimum wage, or spend 12 hours a day in a locked building with no windows, and no way to maintain a two metre distance from the other people in there. Thankfully, I was able to find some guidance from Pregnant then Screwed and wrote to my employer, remindeding them of the regulations and asking to be put on medical suspension, as they themselves had stated there was no alternative work that they could offer me. They quickly responded with an office-based role for me, although better it was still by no means the safest option. What was worse, the role was fewer hours, therefore less money – and I was barely on minimum wage as it was.
Brideshead, the name of the great house in Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel — and a name so familiar that it heralds “a multitude of sweet and natural and long-forgotten sounds” — is more resonant than those of our own modest abodes. It is a literary home in which the British can find a seat for our emotions. As the late Christopher Hitchens once wrote: “It comes as a shock to discover that Waugh nearly called Charles Ryder by the surname of Fenwick, and almost gave Cordelia the first name Bridget. Such is the power of a great novel to make us feel that we own it almost as private property, as it were, and must resent any intrusion on our intimacy with it.” To know Brideshead Revisited is to hold it fast, whether we know it through reading and re-reading, that languorous 1981 television series, or the Audible version read by Jeremy Irons, the nation’s Charles Ryder of choice. This Thursday, May 28, the book will celebrate its 75th birthday. BBC Radio 4 Extra will be repeating its radio version from tomorrow, starring Ben Miles as Charles, Jamie Bamber as Sebastian, Anne-Marie Duff as Julia, and Toby Jones as Brideshead. Castle Howard will be hosting a Twitter webinar on Thursday to discuss the house’s relationship with Waugh’s novel. While legions of callow youths will doubtless sally forth bearing strawberries, bottles of Château Peyraguey — and teddy bears. Waugh may have referred to Brideshead as his “magnum opus” in several letters, but he told Graham Greene that he was “appalled” when he read it again in 1950. In his preface to the revised edition of 1959, he explained that he had written it while invalided by a minor injury between December 1943 and June 1944. “It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster — the period of soya beans and Basic English — and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language, which now with a full stomach I find distasteful. I have modified the grosser passages but have not obliterated them because they are an essential part of the book.” Needless to say, it is a lavishness that once again brings solace in a period in which we are also beset by disaster, and a privation built out of hoarded baked (rather than soya) beans. Subsequent criticism has been much occupied with this question of the novel’s status, in an ironically meta fashion for the tale of an upwardly-mobile castle-creeper, who almost — but not quite — gets his hands on the stately pile. Is Brideshead Revisited a great book, demand critics, is it even Waugh’s greatest book? Are we dealing with a work of genius, or some extravagantly puffed-up folly?
The Corona Chronicles are published on The Telegraph online every Friday. To read previous chapters, click here Wednesday May 20 – Day 58 of Isolation 10.10am So I plucked up courage and asked Robert to move out. “Don’t be absurd, darling,” he says, doing his best to swallow a yawn which only enrages me even more. “I’m not leaving you and the kids. Besides, it’s against the rules, isn’t it?” “And I suppose it’s not against the rules to be canoodling with some woman in a public park.” (Canoodling? What the hell, Carrie. Why do we always choose ridiculous words from Barbara Cartland novels when we’re in awful, cliched situations like our husband having an affair?) Robert has the grace to look uncomfortable, although his lockdown stubble has got so beardy recently I can’t tell if he’s blushing. “Not much social distancing going on in the park was there, darling?” I can’t stop myself. Feel so humiliated. “How many more times, Carrie? Jennie is a personal trainer who really needs the work because most of her clients are Nervous Nellies who won’t go through their front door. I was just trying to help her out when you saw us…” “Snogging?” “Resistance training. Which I thought you would approve of as you keep telling me to lose a few pounds so Covid doesn’t kill me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to give you a chance to calm down while I take Montie for a walk.” “Max.” “Sorry?” “Max.” Oh, yes, whatever. Max.” One of the things I dislike about Robert is that he insists on calling Max by the name of our previous dog, who died eighteen months ago. Even hearing Montie’s name spoken aloud can still bring tears to my eyes. Robert says it at least twice a day. As if beloved animals were interchangeable. And women too maybe. “Everything OK in here?” Chloe is standing anxiously in the kitchen doorway. “Fine,” Robert and I both say together, rather too quickly, smiling brightly at our daughter. Chloe studies us both quizzically before saying, “Alright if Paolo and I get a lift to the food bank later, Mum? We want to hand over money we made from selling our masks. Dan, the guy I spoke to, said they need all the help they can get. Demand has gone through the roof and the recession hasn’t even started yet.” Robert gives a strange whinnying snort like a horse that had just seen a snake. “Well, Chlo, it looks like your father and his entire firm – or what remains of it when furlough ends - will be taking a salary holiday this year. So we may well be using the food bank ourselves. Glad you’re getting us in their good books, sweetheart.” Funny, Robert hasn’t mentioned anything to me about not getting paid. We’re with each other so much – more than ever before in our married life actually. I always used to resent the long hours he spent at the office, but there’s such a thing as too much togetherness, I see that now. There was an article in the paper about how divorce proceedings in Italy are up 30 per cent since their lockdown eased. A lawyer said couples had realised they relied on the fact that they didn’t see each other very often or “they were able to see their lovers”. That made me wince. How many faithless spouses are there in the country suddenly locked up with their own wives and husbands, feeing miserable and utterly bereft? You know, I almost feel sorry for them. If only I didn’t suspect one of the betrayed was me. 11.01am Gosh, it’s all kicking off today on the Neighbourhood WhatsApp group. Instead of lockdown recipes for vegan banana bread and top tips on how to make board games out of old wallpaper, the mums are at war over whether schools should reopen. Lovely Karen at Number 32 just got mauled when she said she was struggling to home-school Rufus, who has learning difficulties, and really needs his teachers. I caught sight of Karen during the last Clap for Carers and she looked gaunt and distracted. I know Rufus is a handful, but could she be ill? Izzy is desperate to go back and be with her friends. My cheerful, incredibly grounded youngest actually used the word “depressed” the other day. I was shocked. As for Harry, denied the chance to take his GCSEs he’s been lost in Fortnite. The video game is his new reality, although I know he’s still pinning his hopes on being able to experience “results day” and go to the prom. Personally, I don’t see the problem. Harry’s sixteen. Kids his age don’t suffer from Covid. And Dennis and Ellen’s granddaughter, Katie, has been teaching the children of keyworkers throughout and she’s fine. Make the mistake of mentioning that to the Corona Support Group and I get a stream of unsupportive abuse from Apocalypse Anna. “Really surprised at you, Carrie. Schools are simply not safe until they’re all Covid compliant. That won’t be by June 1, whatever our murdering government may say. Dear Izzy may well be missing her friends, but she’ll miss them a lot more when they’re dead!” “Sorry, Mum, but that’s totally unscientific,” says Izzy. Anna’s, like, totally wrong. Covid doesn’t kill kids and we don’t spread it much either. In fact, only 10 per cent of the population is at any risk at all.” “Yeah, old people,” says Harry unpleasantly. “I’m not doing stupid frickin’ lockdown any more. Dad says more people are gonna die because lockdown wrecked our country.” “It won’t be much longer now, love,” I soothe, patting his bushy hair. I must give his fringe a trim, he’s shaggier than Max. “We’ll soon be back to normal.” Will we? The reassurance tastes like dust on my tongue. What good is a prom if boys and girls can’t touch each other? And how do we get back to normal if people like Apocalypse Anna almost enjoy being frightened, seem to want lockdown to go on as long as possible and say that those of us who worry about the effect on our kids are heartless? Some days, I barely recognise my country any more. Thursday May 21 – Day 59 of Isolation 2.33pm Oh, no. Peter had a fall and Susan has been struggling to help him get washed and dressed. Felt really pleased I’d managed to track down a carer who had been in isolation herself so she posed no threat to Robert’s dad, who is on the extremely vulnerable list. Triumph was short lived. “Sorry, Carrie dear, she really wasn’t up to it,” Susan sighs. “Not up to it in what way?” I ask, thinking of the hours I spent on the phone begging the impeccably-qualified Janella to help my parents-in-law. “Well, she had those gel things on her nails. Purple. Not at all suitable for someone carrying out nursing duties.” Dear God, has Susan just rejected an impossible-to-find carer on the grounds of manicure? She has. Am about to say something sarcastic when Susan continues, a quaver in her voice, “You know we got a letter from the Government? They now say Peter must probably isolate until next year. Well, we did the twelve weeks and that was bearable. I don’t know, I really don’t know, Carrie dear, how much longer we can go on like this.” Me neither.
I have long maintained that the sooner you have sex with a potential partner, the better. My theory has always been that if you enjoy the sex, and the person you’ve slept with doesn’t lose interest, then you’re off to a good start. And if the sex is bad, or the person in question has less respect for you because you had sex straight away? Then you’d have been wasting your time if you’d spent ages getting to know them. The stats back this idea up: a recent survey of 2,000 found that a third of men found long-term love after sleeping with their partner on the first date. It’s a theory which should, however, have been put on hiatus by social distancing measures. After all, if we’re not supposed to stand near people in the queue for Waitrose, then putting your tongue in someone else’s mouth seems like a no-no. Only, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As lockdown wears on, my contemporaries are slowly admitting to their less than perfect lock-down behaviours. The most common one? Meeting up with someone you’ve been talking to online and taking the relationship from theoretical to physical. I rang a friend last week for a chat and when pressed she admitted that she was sitting in the garden of a Tinder squeeze who lived a half an hour walk from her house. "I know it’s bad," she told me later. "But it turns out, two months is the absolute maximum time that I can go without sex." She's not alone. Dating website IllicitEncounters.com asked 2,000 people whether they were violating lockdown orders to have sex. One in five respondents in the anecdotal study said they had broken quarantine to get physical, with 64 per cent saying they'd do it again. "I’m wearing a mask, using hand sanitiser and social distancing", one woman, in her early thirties, told me. "I was aware of the irony of wearing a face mask to walk to the house of a man I’d never met before. We both washed our hands when I got there, and then we had sex. The whole thing was surreal, but honestly after all these weeks, it was exactly what I needed. There’s only so long you can keep things going on Whatsapp and with Netflix watching parties."
God you have to be on your toes with fat. I’m not talking about the ‘quarantine 15’ – the estimated pounds we’ll have piled on by the time the lockdown is lifted - I’m talking about how we think about fat: are we for or against, loving the plus size or keener on lean? Is fat even an acceptable word for excess weight? Is the word excess in the context of weight appropriate, or a bit shamey? You can’t deny it’s confusing. We have been on a long and bumpy journey with fat over the course of the past few decades - involving several U turns and offroad detours - and now, in the space of a couple of months we’re more or less back where we started. At the beginning of March fat was a nasty word, used by sneery, mean, probably rich people intent on putting down other people who were victims of sizeism. Now, thanks to the pandemic, being overweight is suddenly officially bad news, an underlying health issue not a lifestyle choice (with no caveats, including being successful, energetic, good with the ladies and fit enough to beat David Cameron at tennis). The Prime Minister’s time in intensive care and his subsequent admission that his BMI was to blame (“Don’t be a fatty in your fifties,” he’s alleged to have said) seems to have been the screeching handbrake turn in our relationship with fat. And now we are (sort of) facing in the opposite direction. Here’s the situation until further notice: It’s OK to use the word fat... providing you are talking from experience and owning it, eg Boris in recent days. Otherwise it is much better and more polite to say ‘overweight.’ Obese is still a word you only want to hear in a medical context. Everyone has clocked that you don’t have to be Cyril Smith to be obese A BMI of over 30 will do it (that's one in four adults in Britain). It’s no longer cool to be skinny What you want to be is fit, strong and lithe and it’s far better to have a six pack and honed biceps than bird-like legs and bony shoulders. Daisy Ridley’s figure (Rey in the sequels to Star Wars) is the one to aspire to or Adriene’s (as in yoga with Adriene). Women of all ages want to look like we can wield the light sabre, we don’t want to wear flowers in our hair and get carried across puddles any more. (While we’re on the subject of looking healthy, smoking: looking more and more like standing outside Greggs with a sausage roll in both hands and a Covid mask around your eyes). Men in their fifties and sixties (previously the most resistant to dietary change) are now level pegging with their diet conscious female counterparts They may even be ahead of them. Look at the enviable shape Pierce Brosnan is in, and are you surprised? No, because that’s the way the midlife men are heading. This time last year your average fiftysomething man was considering giving up biscuits. Once we’re out of lockdown they’ll all be fasting before midday, no carbs or booze Monday to Friday, and boxing three times a week. It’s already happening.
Imagine a mummy blogger, and who do you see? Someone in a playroom full of wooden toys? Someone in a Breton top, hair pulled artfully into a messy ‘mum bun’? Someone… white? Then meet Candice Brathwaite. Anyone who’s ventured to her corner of the internet over the past two years will already be familiar with her heartfelt, honest and often hilarious take on life as a black mother in Britain today – all delivered with a joyful dose of high fashion. Now, thanks to her widely acclaimed debut book I Am Not Your Baby Mother, she’s set to reach a whole new audience. ‘If people still want to call me a mummy blogger after reading my book then I won’t be offended, but I highly doubt that they will,’ Candice, 32, says, before breaking into a great burst of self-deprecating laughter. Due to the lockdown, she’s speaking on the phone from her home in Milton Keynes, where she lives with her partner Bodé and children Esmé-Olivia, six, and RJ, two. ‘I see it on all these lists of top motherhood books and chuckle to myself – they’re in for a shock when they open it up!’
Within the divisive abortion debates that rage on across the US, it seems an almost inconceivable switch; a pro-choice advocate changes their mind to become a professional pro-lifer. But that was exactly the ideological transition made by Norma McCorvey in 1995, when she shocked the US with her decision to come out as against abortion. For in 1973, Norma McCorvey was better known as 25-year-old 'Jane Roe' - the woman at the epicentre of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalise abortion. The Roe vs Wade case went down in history after prompting an bitter cultural debate across America about the ethics of abortion. But after converting to evangelical Christianity in 1995, McCorvey - the woman who helped abortion become legal in the US - suddenly became an anti-abortion activist and fought for the rest of her life to overturn the law that bore her name. Now, previously unseen footage in a new documentary - which airs in the US on Friday - reveals that McCorvey's decision to become a pro-lifer was not entirely her own. The film, AKA Jane Roe, will show a visibly unwell McCorvey, who died in 2017, admit that she only became an anti-abortion activist because she was paid by evangelical groups. "This is my deathbed confession" she says. "I took their money and they took me out in front of their cameras and told me what to say. That's what I'd say." It has pushed McCorvey's name back into the spotlight. So who is the woman behind the controversy? Here's what you need to know. Where was she from? McCorvey's childhood was troubled. She was born in Louisiana, before the family moved to Texas - the state that was to define the outcome of the rest of her life. Her grandmother was a prostitute and fortune teller, while her father left the family when McCorvey was just 13. She and her brother were raised by their mother Mary, a violent alcoholic. A court case might have been the thing that shaped her life, but as a child McCorvey spent her life on the wrong side of the law. When she was 10, she robbed a till at a petrol station before running away with a friend to Oklahoma, where the pair stayed in a hotel room for two days before being returned by police. She was sent to a state correctional school, where she was rumoured to have undergone several realisations against the Jehovah faith she had been raised in; primarily that sex was something to be enjoyed. What ensued was years of turmoil about her sexuality and the prospect of motherhood. By the age of 19, McCorvey had two children. She gave the first, Melissa, to her mother and put the second up for adoption. McCorvery had come out as bisexual, but by the age of 21 found herself pregnant again - and this time, determined not to see it through.
How’s your lockdown going? Socially distant walks with friends, at long last? Sobbing over Normal People with your partner by night? A Zoom Sunday lunch with your parents across town? Mine has been spent drafting and re-drafting an email to my landlord re: a rent holiday, and deciding on names for the new voices in my head. I’m one of the 8 million people living alone in Britain — some 15 per cent of the adult population — yet while the quotidian struggles of couples and families are well-documented, for us singles, not so much. Solo lockdown is really tough. While people on Twitter and Facebook posted of much-awaited reunions this weekend, and their frustrations at not being able to embrace those they were meeting, that’s been my reality for two months. The last hug I had was on March 9 — yes, so important I know the date. I’m on my own and feeling it. No love, no human touch. No hugs, no hand-holding. I hate this. Touch makes us feel safe, calms us and releases the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin. I miss oxytocin. And even though we can now go out more often to exercise, and to meet a friend, I don’t really want to. That reluctance is less about fear of catching or spreading the virus; and more fear that my fury at the 2-metre violators will give me an ulcer. I’d self-medicate and up my Sertraline — if only I knew for sure I could get more. Let me give you a breakdown — apt — of my lockdown weeks. On Mondays I do my BBC Radio Sussex and BBC Radio Surrey show, so I walk to the station and see Producer Ollie. Poor Producer Ollie is the only person I know I’ll see in the flesh all week. So poor Producer Ollie gets me talking at him for about an hour. On Tuesdays, I have therapy over Skype, so my poor Head Lady has me sobbing at her for about an hour. On Wednesdays, I have a work conference call. It’s nice to hear voices I recognise. And then that’s it — no string of much-missed nannies and cleaners coming in, as friends posted of since lockdown eased last week, expanding their already-larger circles further still. I of course ‘see’ friends and family virtually, but I’m not their priority. Why would I be? I’ve lived on my own most of my life and have worked from home for 26 years. But this is something different. Psychotherapist Joanna Miller explains: “Having our lives put on hold or abruptly interrupted in this way has held up a mirror to ourselves in ways we’re not used to. Our usual distractions from ourselves are not as available. We see who we are, what resources we have to fall back on, and who is important in our lives.”
On Sunday 10 May, when Boris Johnson announced only children in reception and years 1 and 6 would be going back on 1 June, I burst into tears. I don’t often cry, but as I thought about my young daughters, who are in years 2 and 5 (they’re seven and nine), I wondered how on earth I would be able to continue to work and home-school them until September, give or take a few weeks of summer ‘holidays’. Moments later my WhatsApp groups — made up almost entirely of working mothers with school-age children — began pinging with messages wondering the same thing. Some were thinking about reducing their hours, taking a chunk of unpaid leave, or asking to be furloughed. Because it seems the logistics of lockdown home-schooling and childcare are largely playing into age-old inequalities, with working mothers bearing the brunt. I’ve heard countless stories (and have some personal experience) of fathers setting up camp in home studies or office gardens, while mothers work at the kitchen table alongside children who need home-schooling, and a seemingly endless supply of attention, meals and comfort.