The awkward lessons of my privileged lockdown in Sussex

With apologies and in affectionate homage to Shruti Advani and the FT.

As a salaried journalist blessed with multiple credit cards and an overdraft I’ve been insulated from the worst effects of lockdown.

But even for me, the privileged owner of a well-appointed shed/office, this period has not been without its challenges.

I’ve had to re-evaluate many things, from how to define “essential” when it comes to weighing up if I can visit the council dump – to whether driving to Wickes for a ‘click and collect’ order of decking screws is a breach of government movement restrictions.

At the outset – and conscious of my responsibility to the household’s additional souls (or my wife and children as others might term them) – I felt the need to take stock.

Trebling our usual order of wine from Aldi was an obvious place to start. It escapes me now why this seemed essential at the time. But I take comfort in knowing that whatever bizarre things have happened over the last few months I can face the evening fortified with a glass of wine big enough to bathe a baby in.

Without my daily trip to Tesco for a £3 meal deal I have to find sustenance elsewhere. Luckily, a member of our village Facebook group appears to have insider knowledge of when Tesco delivery slots for this part of Sussex will open up. My wife stays up throughout the night with a finger poised on the mouse button to ensure we do not starve.

Wary of the fact that eating too many chocolate hobnobs leads to almost certain death in the age of pandemic I have tried to limit my “comorbidities” by snacking on the many tins of tuna from our untouched Brexit stockpile in the garage.

My work wardrobe is a self-contradictory split between an unironed workshirt and a pair of pants. Fortuitously, I have found a setting on Zoom to “enhance my appearance” which appears to smooth the worst creases out of both my face and shirt – and has left me feeling smugly convinced that I have managed to regress ten years in age during captivity.

Early into lockdown I took delivery of a garden office (a project planned long before the pandemic). I had hoped to sub-contract construction of this edifice to a cheery local artisan, but wary of breaching the rules on social distancing I instead set about constructing it myself. To describe the long weekends spent barrowing soil out, and bags of pea shingle in, as hellish would be an understatement. But compared to teaching spelling and grammar to a reluctant nine-year-old it was a breeze.

Armed thus, with a bijou garden room and a 20-metre internet cable from Amazon – I feel insulated from many of the pandemic’s challenges and supported by the people around me. From the Aldi delivery driver who risks his life weekly to keep me stocked up with reasonably-priced Cabernet Sauvignon to the binmen who carry away the tonnes of cardboard packaging from our family’s daily Amazon deliveries with barely a curse or complaint.

As lockdown has eased I have brought reinforcements into the sanctuary where, beshirted and trouserless, I toil – including a small bear called Rainbow. She lightens up the daily Zoom calls with the team and provides a much-needed second pair of eyes over the (now morning) email newsletter.

I sometimes turn up the radio to drown out the screams of rage coming from the house as one of the children is gently asked whether perfecting their ability to perform a long-range assassination of a moving target using a sniper rifle on video game Fortnite counts as home-schooling.

But I console myself that the pandemic has been a great leveller. Some FT columnists have, I hear, had to survive this trial with only the support of a live-in nanny, a cast of astoundingly  over-priced online tutors and a personal shopper.

 

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