Stir crazy


David scratched marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard.

King Achish said to his servants, “Look, you see the man is mad.”

— 1 Samuel 21: 13b-14a


No need to foam at the mouth or let your hair grow wild. We’re all scratching at the gates now. Three weeks of lockdown have been extended to six, with the prospect of more to come. The children who should be back in their classrooms remain cooped up, and home-schooling has lost its novel charm. What began as a strange, scary adventure has become a thing of tedium and frustration for many.


It’s a jaundiced point of view, you may think, but please bear with me. I’ve just been on a round-the-houses tour without actually going outdoors. One phone call after another, trying to trace the whereabouts of an online order that hasn’t shown up. Outwardly I remained polite throughout. Inwardly, I became increasingly stressed as to where my goods, and a significant amount of money had gone. Especially when customer services personnel sounded so strange and echoey. The logical explanation was they were working from home, not a crowded call centre. But doubt remained. Had I been hoaxed by a fake web site? Eventually I found someone who could give me the correct tracking number, discovered where the carrier had hidden my item, and arranged a new delivery date.

I should have treated it as a parlour game—hunt the parcel. So many of us are rediscovering home entertainments that went by the board years ago. Cluedo and jigsaws are suddenly trendy. The internet enables extended family bingo sessions on Zoom. And who knew that watching your grandson have his nappy changed via video link could make for such enthralling prime-time viewing?

Maybe you’ve set your sights higher. Self-improvement, that’s the ticket. Manage a whole row of knit-purl-knit-purl without dropping a stitch. Dust off that copy of Easy pieces for little fingers that you stashed away when the kids grew up, and try not to let your own digits get tangled on the keyboard. Abandon sudoku, and try Susskind’s Quantum mechanics: the theoretical minimum instead. Build a bird table from the remains of an IKEA project that went awry. Anything. Britain’s got more talent than anyone ever imagined, and some of it is in your household.


I’m looking forward to being royally entertained with people’s new-found skills when all this is over. Especially since the number of home bakers in this country has expanded faster than bread mix on a warm radiator. Just a hint.

It’s the hope that keeps me sane.


So keep on praying for those whose hopes have been dashed. For the people whose faith in humanity is so low that they believe Covid-19 is a scam. For the ones whose nearest are not treating them dearly. And everyone for whom the normal stresses of life have been amplified to distortion levels by this shared challenge that divides us so radically.