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Quarantine fatigue has set in. From me to Matt Hancock, we're all showing the strain | Zoe Williams | Opinion


My Mr was wondering out loud about how people cope with lockdown, and said: “I suspect it’s not gradual, it’s really sudden. You spend four weeks making banana bread and doing yoga, managing your anxiety, looking on the bright side, curating your half-hour worry-window, and then, wham! You can’t take another second of it.”

I would say that within about half an hour, today turned out to be that day, and everyone went wild. I bumped into a friend on the street who runs a very elegant, 1920s-style household – dressing for dinner, cocktails in units of one, zero shouting – and she told me she and her husband had had the first row of their entire relationship. “Huh. All 13 years?” “Yes,” she said, with a tinkly laugh. “OK, so I have a follow-up question. What was it about?” “I can’t remember.” “Don’t be ridiculous, of course you can remember.” “Well, it was by text, which is what made it even funnier.” “Then show me the texts!” She looked uncomfortable, as if I might wrestle her phone out of her hand, which, if it weren’t for physical distancing and the fact that I didn’t know her password, I would have done.

Other neighbours had spent the morning having an argument just loud enough for me to hear that they were fighting, with nothing like enough enunciation for me to adjudicate on who was right. I don’t mind conflict. In fact, I love it. But, Solomon-like, this stuff is no use to me unless I can pick a side.

So, given the circumstances, I was forced to fall back on my own resources and fight myself, of which the following is not even the full record of the past 12 hours.

I texted a different neighbour to tell her that I had unfortunately had to call the police, since there was clearly a violin duet going on in her house, but I knew that only one of them played the violin. Obviously, this was a joke. I think three of their household play the violin. But when, after a few hours, she hadn’t replied, I realised that I do not know them very well because – you know, neighbours don’t – and she had no way of guessing that I wasn’t serious. So I told my 12-year-old about it, because a problem shared etcetera. Except he did not halve my problem, he said: “Why are you like this? Why can’t you just be normal?”

Not counting the time I had posed it of myself, it was the second time I had been asked that in a day. The other time was by the 10-year-old, because I leaned out of the window, pointed at a kid in the street and said: “I like her poncho.” Except, in these utterly silent times, my voice carried about 500 yards, and everybody wearing a poncho for streets around will have been casting about the skies, wondering who liked their poncho. I still don’t think that is the end of the world, because everyone likes praise and, let’s face it, once you like one poncho, you pretty much like them all. But, asked my daughter: “Why, why are you like this? Why can’t you just be normal?”

I then witnessed a juicy and audible argument outside the cornershop between those classic foes, a jogger and a family. The surprise twist came when a woman just peeled out of the queue – totally losing her place in it, that’s how invested she was – to weigh in against the jogger.

Later, I had an argument with my mother about why she was so grumpy, a cul-de-sac I don’t think I have gone up since I discovered, maybe 40 years ago, that asking people why they are grumpy is guaranteed to make them seven times worse. I have had more arguments on Twitter than I could possibly count, but I blasted through my own personal best later on by starting a fight on Instagram.

When I have exhausted all the meat and virtual possibilities, I just roam around having imaginary arguments in my head. Stage two of quarantine-fever will be picking fights with figures from history (there’s a meme going round that asks you to choose your ideal quarantine house from these political theorists, or these economists, or these figures from the French Revolution. But in real life, what we want to be memed about is who to have a fantasy beef with.)

“Look at Dominic Raab’s tie,” my Mr said during prime minister’s questions. “It’s crooked.” “Things are getting pretty lean, when you’re having to launch your devastating fashion critique on the last four people left in parliament,” I replied. “No,” he said, “it’s a sign, isn’t it? He’s showing the strain.” The next morning, Matt Hancock was on the radio, also showing the strain. “Let me finish,” is his rallying call, “Will you please just let me finish.” Naturally – and here I have genuine sympathy for the man – having had a tantrum about finishing his sentence, he then couldn’t remember how it was supposed to end, and had to go back to the beginning.

“Strain,” said Mr, sagely. “Forget about their strain, what about me?,” I said. “I’m having an argument with a sorry-you-were-out delivery slip dated 18 March.” “Oh,” he said mildly, “you’re often a bit like that.”

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