We have a flutter on the virtual Grand National and I can’t believe how realistic it is. All the fun of the race with no fear of false starts, squashed jockeys or horses with broken legs. I win with Potters Corner (kerching!) but that isn’t the only reason I’m an instant convert to computer imaging. Surely there is scope to roll out the model further. Could we have a virtual family Christmas for example? Imagine if we could harness data algorithms with the latest graphics to predict who would drink too much, who was most likely to stomp off in a strop and who’d crash before pudding and snore on the sofa. There’d be no need to cook. We could enjoy the day supine, champagne in hand, while it all unfolds on a screen in the corner.
My son and I take our exercise by walking to Broadstairs jetty. We are keeping our distance but there is hardly anyone about.
The light is sparkling on the water, the sun catching the pastel shades of the deserted beach huts. I think how fortunate we are to be isolating here instead of an inner city high rise. As we walk back along Stone Bay, I launch into a long, meaningful speech about living in the moment, and the restorative, life-changing powers of counting one’s blessings in uncertain times. When I eventually stop for breath my son looks thoughtful.
“See that–” He jabs a finger at a small sausage dog reminiscent of the one his girlfriend owns, that is running in circles. “That dog looks exactly like Peanut.”
I am finally all set up on the app to volunteer for the NHS. I have registered as “on duty” and am poised to “check-in and chat”, when needed. Nobody has required my support or comfort yet but I am keeping my hand in. I hover at my son’s shoulder as he scowls at his lap-top screen. “How are you feeling?” I enquire. He does not look up. “Stop being weird,” he says.
I am startled, considering the rivets I have spat in the last three years, by how upset I feel about Boris. I saw our Premier speak circa 2007 when he was campaigning to be Mayor of London and was impressed back then by his creative thinking and social conscience. I realise now that much of my outpouring of impotent rage against him for Brexit, was down to disappointment.
During the virus crisis, I have felt the first stirrings of mollification. And even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t want him – or anyone else – to be ill. He has family and friends and a pregnant partner and certain comments on social media are shameful. I keep the radio on long into the night, willing him to pull through.
I call a Cobra meeting around the kitchen table. My husband is Rishi because he pays for most things, I am Home Secretary and Minister for Health combined (as the only one standing between us and total squalor); my son was going to be Boris as he is the best at funny voices, but out of respect for our PM’s confinement, elects to be Jacob Rees-Mogg instead. (Mainly for the chance to use the words sesquipedalian and floccinaucinihilipilification.)
There is only one item on the agenda. Lack of cleaners (#firstworldproblems) – and I attempt to outline the gravity of the situation. “Terri…” I begin.
“Is that the tall one?” My husband interjects.
“No,” I snap. “Terri and Charlie have had to be furloughed but we must set up our own employment retention scheme….”
“Splendid,” says Jacob.
“Not so fast,” I add, pulling him back. I’m not doing all of it. We need to allocate tasks.
My son is clearly preparing to make a second break for it. “I actually don’t know,” he says conversationally, as if discussing sky-diving or the finer points of macramé, “how to go about cleaning…”
I shove Jif and descaler into his arms. “Look it up on YouTube.”
I am finally going to discover how to use “Zoom”, for an online quiz, organised by an actor friend. Apparently, there will be lots of us on the screen pitting our wits against each other and I am looking forward to it. Quizzes are high on my list of things I enjoy but am fairly rubbish at, along with tennis and singing. It starts at 8.15pm so we can thank the awe-inspiring NHS staff first.
There is nothing virtual about this. Real people shouting greetings at each other across the street and applauding wildly. I don’t have words for the gratitude and admiration I feel. I’ve never clapped harder.