Calamity

This week saw Portugal move from a State of Emergency towards what the government is calling a State of Calamity. I don’t think I’m alone in wondering how a calamity is an improvement on an emergency, because if anything it sounds worse. At least during an emergency there is the possibility of excitement and drama. Calamity invokes a sense of doom, although on closer inspection, this is entirely fitting. The early days of lockdown were chaotic but adrenalin ensured that we lurched from one day to the next with a fighting spirit; several weeks in and the novelty has definitely worn off. The predictability of our days and the monotony of staying at home has led to a growing sympathy for caged animals on my part. As for our 9 year old, she is unable to stand still without breaking out into complex and energetic dance moves, which we’ve christened her ‘nervous TikTok‘.

Obviously a lot of the focus is on all things domestic, but despite us all being at home, it feels almost impossible to keep on top of all that needs doing. My increasingly desperate attempts to enlist the children’s help in tidying up has already led to a stand off between me and my truculent son who, channelling Kevin the teenager, has made his position clear: he’s not my slave. I was compelled to ask him what this made me. The slave’s slave?

The post-feminist in me despairs at my current predicament. I’m attempting to work from home while also keeping the home fires burning, which turns out to be a pretty thankless task. Only last week, in an attempt to mitigate the risk of a no-lunch scenario, I had spent some of that morning laying down the foundations for our meal. Having prepared most of a shepherd’s pie and written down what I thought were idiot-proof instructions for finishing it off, I went on to teach my lesson which was due to end at 1 o’clock. Credit where credit’s due, by the time I’d finished my class, the shepherd’s pie was in the oven, even if was stone cold as I hadn’t counted on my husband failing to turn on the oven. Perhaps my instructions hadn’t been adequately clear on the requirement of heat to cook? As if this wasn’t enough, he had also attempted to boil an entire head of broccoli, without cutting it up into individual florets. Incredulous, I asked what I thought was a reasonable question: who has ever helped themselves to broccoli by hacking off a piece at the table? The point had been to sit down and eat once I’d finished my class. As it was, I ended up rescuing all of the elements, even though my blood was boiling – unlike lunch. 

It might be an understatement to say that nerves and tempers are frayed in these exceptional and unnatural circumstances. Sadly, lockdown isn’t all online learning going swimmingly and cake baking in our pyjamas. In fact, we as parents have found online learning to be extremely stressful, whereas the children are remarkably unperturbed, especially considering the terrifying speed with which tasks accumulate on Google Classroom. I wish I could be more laissez-faire, but feeling the pressure, I find myself increasingly unable to resist cajoling, meddling with, or even entirely facilitating the children’s school work. Along with everything else, this really doesn’t seem to be the right time to instigate complete autonomy, however desirable it might be. I have been behaving quite out of character in other ways. Earlier in the week, and feeling extremely frazzled, a disagreement with my husband led me to hurl a freshly washed dessert spoon at one of his ankles. It certainly wasn’t my proudest moment, although as one sympathetic friend pointed out, at least it wasn’t a knife. 

For wine drinkers, the current crisis has thrown up an assortment of new problems to be resolved. One student related to me how horrified she was when, just as she thought life couldn’t get much worse, her corkscrew broke. Equally, assuring adequate stocks of wine has become an issue on the same scale as ensuring sufficient supplies of toilet paper and seemingly has the propensity to cause similar feelings of distress and/or panic. Wine boxes are one answer in the short-term, although as with most things in life, there are pluses and minuses. A ‘bit of a head’ and a churning stomach on a few occasions taught me that boxed wine isn’t necessarily of the same quality as my preferred bottled tipples and even I am beginning to doubt the superficial advantage of cheaper, limitless wine. 

Hair is rapidly becoming a ‘thing’. In the time it took me to take her older brother out for some exercise, the youngest member of the family recently set about giving her herself tinted tips, aided by latex gloves, red food colouring and a YouTube tutorial. In a bold move, my husband took a set of clippers to his hair last weekend, although it’s taken him the best part of a week to admit that he made a mistake with the grade he selected for the cut. Alarmed by the severity of the look, I wondered out loud if he was modelling himself on Dr Evil. By night, as the air gets chilly, he’s taken to wearing a beanie hat to conserve heat, resulting in him bearing a more than passing resemblance to U2’s The Edge. As for my hair, it is literally spiralling out of control. I’ve developed unprecedented ringlets, leading me to surmise that even my follicles are stressed. I would have been delighted with this turn of events in the mid-80s. As things stand, I’m slightly bemused, as I am regarding much of the situation I now find myself in.      

I’m guessing that the question on everyone’s lips is whether this can possibly get any worse before it gets better. I’m also intrigued by what name the Portuguese government will give the next phase of disaster management. As we’ve proceeded from Emergency to Calamity, I’m speculating that the next logical step will see the announcement of a State of Collapse, hopefully providing the opportunity to do very little in the process. I can barely wait.

Edit, February 2021: The Portuguese government later implemented a State of Contingency. By the Autumn of 2020 we had reverted to a State of Calamity and ended the year in a second State of Emergency.

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