Trashy TV, dog ears and the unexpected kindness of strangers

Emma Beddington
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

Hey guys, how are we all doing (imagine me crouching beside you in a matey fashion with my arm across the back of your chair as you peruse a sticky menu and reflect how not everything is worse in 2020). We are six months into all this: are you holding up?

I have been impressed, generally, by the levels of stoicism, selflessness and forbearance on show. I think we all deserve a medal at this point and by “medal”, I mean “competent government”.

I think we all deserve a medal at this point and by 'medal', I mean 'competent government'

I find myself obscurely moved by the patient, carefully hand-sanitising Sainsbury’s queue, by masked elders trying to chat two dog leads apart, or kids uncomplainingly playing in demarcated playground bubbles. I’m starting to worry that I’ll be one of those Blitz-glorying types in 20 years, harking back to the good old Covid days of saucepan bangs and sharing a single sachet of yeast with my neighbours.

Given no medals are forthcoming, I was wondering if it was perhaps instead a good time to share our experiences of the unpleasantness to date, and some hacks and hints for the next stretch. There is, after all, nothing particularly cheery on the horizon: at best more of the same; at worst a winter holed up at home like the Ingalls Wilder family with wifi, occasionally breaking out to drive 500 miles for a Covid test rarer than a March loo roll, or to trap and fatten a squirrel for Brexit Christmas. “What do you think we should be stockpiling?” I asked my Economist-reading husband this week as we watched the news unroll its litany of awfulness. “Money,” he replied grimly (unfortunately that seems to already be rationed).

But at least the unprecedented times are gradually becoming sort of semi-precedented. Perhaps that will help. These are my learning points so far:

Zoom fit and real fit are not the same Keeping up with an online exercise class where you skip the hard bits and half-arse the rest, comfortable no one is watching, is an entirely different proposition to actual fitness. My Zoom exercise hubris was recently revealed at an in-person yoga class, after months of 10-minute sessions from home, with a soft-voiced woman telling me to take healing breaths. “I’m fit,” I told myself. “I will crush this.” Something was indeed crushed, but it was my spirit. Although the class was in the “goose-free garden” at the park, that is more of an aspiration than a guarantee: the honking waterfowl felt like circling vultures as I died multiple deaths, wobbling sweatily in Reverse Triangle. Someone nearby was playing the Casualty theme tune as I panted in corpse pose, which felt appropriate on many levels.

Decent TV is a finite resource Prepare yourself. If you haven’t already, you will run out of good telly. The time when we watched whole seasons of quality, crafted programming in a weekend is gone; now we carefully hoard single unwatched Veep episodes for a “special occasion”, record University Challenge and consume hours of brain-numbing bro-TV idiocy (Bear wrestling! Naked orienteering!).

Drastically lowered standards are key. I now look forward to Alaska: the Last Frontier as helpful prep for imminent end times. In today’s episode “Elvin helps his wife Eve take out a rogue cannibal hen”. I’m excited. Also, if you are lucky, the stress of recent months will have killed so many brain cells, old TV will seem new to you. “I haven’t seen this Travel Man!” I exclaimed to my sons this week. “We watched it last Tuesday,” one replied.

Texture is consoling I don’t know if it’s a side effect of our aching touch hunger, but some of my greatest current pleasures are textural. Crisps, obviously (a daily delight), fondling the dog’s silky ears and the explosive crunch of new-season apples. I have also taken to quietly touching a tree trunk when overwhelmed (thankfully York is full of tree-huggers, so this is a fairly mainstream activity). I don’t think I’m alone. My best friend keeps sending me links to bargain cashmere she’s desperate to buy; we all need new sensual pleasures when so many are off limits. Crunchy, soft, smooth and silky are more than peanut butter varieties now: they are genuine opportunities for joy.

Strangers are good The thing that has given me the most energy and optimism has been stranger encounters: muffled checkout chats, surreal dog-walking encounters, watching my husband wrangle spreadsheets for York’s Supper Collective, a group of strangers who volunteered to deliver meals for months to the vulnerable and isolated. In April, a kind stranger sent my bored and anxious son a beautifully packaged collection of vegetable seeds with painstaking hand-written growing notes; five months later we’re eating her tomatoes. People are basically good news, not irresponsible virus vectors; they are often astonishingly kind. That, if nothing else, will make the next six-month stretch bearable.

Follow Emma on Twitter @BelgianWaffling