We ended up in lockdown in, I believe this is the technical term, the arse end of nowhere. We were on holiday here and decided to stay put for the moment – no one else will be arriving for a break any time soon. I don’t know if it was the right call and I’d rather be home, but we are wildly lucky. There’s space, air and a view of extraordinary empty beauty, punctuated only by the odd sheep or exhibitionist chicken (aka pheasant). There’s a small telly, enough heating oil for a while and tons of books, even if most of them are by Len Deighton.
We are adapting with varying degrees of success. My husband, a man who runs worst-case scenario plans to lull himself to sleep, is rising to an occasion he has prepared for his whole life. He’s purposeful and calm, alternating unnecessary DIY (he’s “fixing” a chair I suspect wasn’t broken as I type), fire-related tasks and trying unsuccessfully to organise family jollity (we have always loathed collective fun and continuity is important at a time like this).
For someone habitually nourished by a steady drip of HBO drama and vegan protein powder, my nearly 18-year-old is adapting well. He has gone Full Survivalist, digging a trench for vegetables and chopping wood to replace his gym trips (“If you cut your foot off, you’ll be lucky to see a vet!” I screech, gesticulating at him through the window. “They’re all lambing!”) He’s also tending a forest of Marks & Spencer Little Garden seeds, surely the unlikeliest craze since loom bands. The 16-year-old is teaching himself to play the piano between bouts of catatonic boredom. The elderly dog is happiest: the whole pack is home and when we go out, he can chase rabbits until his feeble city legs betray him.
As a fully fledged bird pervert, I love the eerie whoop of curlews and flocks of oystercatchers, ludicrous cartoon birds with giant orange beaks. A squabbling rainbow of finches and tits on the feeder is better than Netflix. I’m also enjoying daily games of “best-before chicken” – the cupboards are a cornucopia of delights for those of a robust stomach. I’m grateful to whoever went mad for pulses in the 1990s, though why the only seasoning is nutmeg and dusty bay leaves (useless at the best of times) is anyone’s guess. My wimp family refused to try the only slightly acidic 2015 salsa, but I’m enjoying it with 2013 crackers (damp but edible). As a weekend activity, we made I Can’t Believe It’s Not Cake: an unholy blend of oil, 2011 flour, rock-solid sugar and bicarb, plus an egg and yogurt. It was fine. “It’s fine!” is my mantra currently, and it mainly is.
With one huge exception: the internet. We are literally off-grid, with no network coverage. Theoretically, there is wifi, though not enough to stream or download (with two teenagers). All talk of Zoom and Houseparty seems a futuristic world away. On good days, we can email and check in with family and friends; occasionally I Instagram a bleak moor.
But the wifi is ailing. Sometimes there’s a long stretch with no outages; other days it refuses to co-operate. I wake in a panic (yes, I know, we all do at the moment) and come downstairs, heart in mouth, to check the home-hub light: blue for OK, flashing orange for misery. On orange days, I’m a hot mess, cycling through anxiety, rage and exhaustion from repeatedly trekking to the only patch of 4G for miles, the size of a single sheep and about as reliable.
After a long outage, we now realise the connection wheezes back to life the instant we call BT: I know that sounds mad, but I swear it’s true. While it’s working, the phone stays off the hook: the hub seems to prefer that. “Don’t touch it!” I snap when anyone strays near, hovering, Gollum-like, over the receiver.
“Correlation isn’t causation,” says the 16-year-old, waspishly, playing an ancient Nintendo DS game in his pyjamas at 3pm. “It works,” I insist, bug-eyed. “We just need to do exactly what the hub wants us to.”
“Pretty sure this is how religions start,” says the elder.
I know it sounds like a bleat of privilege, but connection is oxygen: that joke version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with “wifi” scrawled at the bottom is no joke now. You could say faaahm-lay is all that matters, Peggy Mitchell style, but faaahm-lay is not just the nuclear unit. It’s my sister, still working in vital social care in Paris, my vulnerable stepfather and father miles in opposite directions; my poorly best friend.
And community matters, too, more than ever. Our web of connection is necessarily virtual at the moment, but it is an absolute necessity, keeping us together, tethered, apart. I desperately need to send love and solidarity, fat marmot photos and “bad night?” or “thinking of you xx” messages, and I’d sacrifice anything to keep doing it: a loo roll, even an egg. At worst, I suppose I’ll harness my husband’s DIY compulsion and get him to build me a shelter in the 4G patch.