This Lockdown Life: Bishop's Stortford mum Cate Wilson on the stresses of organising a strawberries and prosecco party while following lockdown guidelines
Bishop's Stortford mum Cate Wilson is writing a regular diary for the Indie on lockdown life...
This week has seen the Wilsons struggling to get to grips with the 'new normal'. This latest buzz phrase has come to define the new way we are all going to be living our lives in a coronavirus world.
At first glance this appears to be a less-than-fun type of existence involving lashings of hand sanitiser, face masks and shouty conversations with five other people standing two metres away in your back garden. However, like most people longing to see loved ones separated from us since March, it was important we followed the guidelines and kept ourselves and others safe.
I was in luck when it came to advice. A quick trawl of the main news websites provided ample information on the new normal subject. Several even offered handy downloadable practical guides with graphics detailing how we as a family could socialise safely in groups of six without falling foul of the new guidelines.
Determined to embrace the Government's own mantra of following the science, I eventually settled on one reputable news website which had enlisted the help of a Dr Xand van Tulleken to set out what we could and couldn't do as a family.
Broken into bite-size sections, the first was titled Who To Invite? A consideration not as straightforward as you might think. Friends' snot-ridden children were fine, as was anybody who had had the virus but, in a warning which effectively ruled out my husband's entire family, anybody with a body mass index of 30 or more would require me to have "a detailed conversation about the risks they were prepared to accept".
Gulp. Clearly this was a situation which required some delicacy and maybe a little advance planning. Should I ask for measurements in advance or perhaps leave a set of scales on the doorstep for friends to discreetly step on? Would I even have any friends left after grilling them about their vital statistics? Even more worryingly, was I about to organise a meet-up I couldn't attend myself? I nervously turned to the next section – How to Arrive.
Serious thought was needed here, according to Dr Van Tulleken. Forget visitors gently sauntering up your path with a friendly nod towards the neighbours. No. People needed to be moved urgently and at pace, into the garden on arrival. Despite having swiftly moved 'fix the garden gate' up the Wilson to-do list, I realised our guests would have to be frogmarched through the house before being turfed into the back garden.
Luckily, the guidance allowed us to do just that. That is as long they wore a mask, washed their hands beforehand and didn't touch anything on the way through. No lingering by the shoe rack, no pausing to admire the new sideboard or offer a witty observation on the dust levels in the hall. No. Straight through and into the sanctuary of the outside where finally we would all be allowed to relax in peace. Provided we stood in a 2-2-2 formation throughout and didn't make any sudden movement towards stroking the dog.
Thankfully, the website provided a natty little picture sequence illustrating the best ways to avoid any social distancing faux pas. Top tips included drawing white circles for each guest on your grass – or in the highly likely scenario of you not possessing an industrial-sized line marking machine – laying out 12 two-metre by two-metre picnic blankets and ordering any guests to stand or sit at the intersections where the blankets met.
Now I confess I enjoy a summer picnic as much as the next person, but a dozen blankets is a tall order even for those with a hoarding compulsion. A swift count up of likely substitutes in the house – five towels, three tea towels and a bath mat – still saw me coming up short on the social distancing hardware. Not only that, my dreams of an afternoon of summer prosecco and strawberries was swiftly looking less Wimbledon and more Wormwood Scrubs by the minute. Food was clearly out anyway, unless people were prepared to bring their own cutlery, crockery and a signed form stating they weren't going to stray near anybody else's coleslaw.
And, just in case the measures so far hadn't moved the atmosphere from one of jovial geniality to paranoid terror, there was a reminder for hosts to "do anything you can to signal that this is not a normal gathering". Okey doke. I think they've probably got that one already.
By the stage I'd reached the Using the Toilet section, I'd given up on Dr Van Tulleken and the legions of other online guides and decided to spend the next few months hunkering down with just the teenager, husband and dog for company. Any emotional reunions would just have to go on hold until restrictions were further lifted. I'm afraid I just don't possess enough bathroom cleaner or know enough people with a BMI of 25.
Until then the Wilson new normal is going to look surprisingly similar to the old. But perhaps with more prosecco and strawberries. It is summer after all.