Diary

How did the virus get past my Obsessive Compulsive Corona Disorder?

18 April 2020

9:00 AM

18 April 2020

9:00 AM

When two members of my family went down with what appears to be Covid-19, I felt concerned. What I hadn’t bargained on was the sense of wounded pride. As the patients, pale as veal, collapse into their beds for 16 hours of fretful, jagged sleep, I ask myself how the wretched virus could have penetrated my defences. Have I not for three weeks of lockdown carried out normal household tasks with the heightened vigilance of a Porton Down lab technician moving radioactive material across an infant-school playground? If an Amazon parcel came to the door, I commenced the Corona Protocol. First, don safe-cracker gloves (the indoor pair not the supermarket pair) to take package. Immediately, march packaging out of back door to recycling bin. Now wash hands with real soap, not sanitising gel, because, you know, contamination and phospholipids. Retracing my steps, I wiped each doorknob and surface with special alcohol wipes which cost an extortionate £27.95. In their favour, they smell of hospitals and ‘kill 99.999 per cent of germs’. Logically, I know they may not kill the virus. But what is logic to those of us in the grip of Obsessive Compulsive Corona Disorder? Everyday objects — credit cards, country gates — assume a heightened, sinister quality like the close-up of a key in a Hitchcock film. I ask a scientist friend why I appear to be the only one in our house who doesn’t have Covid. ‘Hate to tell you this,’ he says, ‘but you could be Typhoid Mary.’ It’s just possible that I brought the virus back from my ‘healthy’ break in Austria and don’t have any symptoms. I peel and segment a couple of satsumas and take them up to the sick bay. One patient is complaining of a throat filled with shards of glass. Perhaps now is not a good time to share the Mummy was Typhoid Mary theory. Crossly, I snatch up the packet of alcohol wipes with which my OCCD self tried — and failed — to protect my dearly beloveds. On the back, in small red letters, there is a four-word declaration. ‘Responsibly made in China.’

One redoubtable lady I know died in intensive care a few days ago. Neither her husband nor children nor grandchildren could be with her in her final days. The most natural impulse in the world, to rush and be with someone you love, is denied. The woman’s shell-shocked widower is now at home alone. Family members dare not support him in his sorrow in case they are asymptomatic carriers and kill him too. How long before our old people rebel? Why wouldn’t you decide that ‘staying safe’ is hardly worth it if such time as you have left lacks what makes life worth living? The technical term ‘social distancing’ gives no sense of the loneliness and heartbreak for so many. My biggest fear is that I will never see my mother again. If this isn’t over by her 84th birthday in August, I swear I’m going to drive to south Wales and take her for fish and chips in Burry Port. We will sit on the harbour wall, its stone warm from the sun, and I will hold her hand for one last time. Yes, I will.


I spent most of Good Friday thinking it was Saturday. This barren, appointment-less landscape is playing havoc with my sense of time. In Downton Abbey, when a bewildered Maggie Smith asked ‘What is a weekend?’, everybody laughed. Well, we are all the Dowager Countess of Grantham now. We can’t tell where we are in the week and, to be honest, it hardly matters. A reader emails to offer a simple solution: ‘We just call it Day.’

The ceasefire in the war against Boris held until the Prime Minister was wheeled out of the ICU, then attacks on social media resumed with added ferocity. Trolls who wished Boris dead had been very badly let down, the poor things. I came under attack for writing a Telegraph piece which tried to convey the affection so many people feel for Boris and their fervent prayers that he would recover. The haters couldn’t stand it. I was producing ‘Pyongyang propaganda’, apparently, not speaking for millions. Gavin Esler, the former BBC Newsnight presenter and Change UK MEP candidate for London, called the piece ‘sub-Stalinist drivel’. What could account for this splenetic, unhinged lashing-out at our genial PM, so happily restored to health, and anyone who dares to point out how popular he is? Esler’s party got 117,000 votes in London in the European elections, failing to secure a seat in the most Remain part of the country. Under Boris’s leadership, the Conservatives got 13.9 million votes in the general election and the Tories achieved the highest poll rating ever for any governing party. Oh, death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?

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