Just a few days with my family pushed me to volunteer for the NHS

Judith Woods is spending isolation with her daughters Lily and Tabitha, and their pet Gecko
Judith Woods is spending isolation with her daughters Lily and Tabitha, two dogs and their crested gecko Credit: Clara Molden

Lockdown. Meltdown. Slapdown. If social distancing is going as well for you and yours as it is for me and mine, then I salute your forbearance in not simply walking out. Even if it’s only because nobody else is allowed to take you in.

Here at Woods Towers, we are four. Six if you include the dogs. Seven with the crested gecko. Double that if you count my shameful panic-buying of goldfish.

Yes. I bought ten. In my defence, I felt bad they would be left to languish if the pet shop were forced to close; I was considering taking the oxylotyl and a pair of gerbils, too.

Felicitously It turned out that providing for lop-eared rabbits is considered an essential service, and pet shops have remained open, so my dramatic rescue mission was rather premature.

Still, the fish are happily milling about the pond, while I (it’s that time of the year again, folks), hand rear tadpoles and watch the herbaceous border throb with the promise of tightly wrapped buds.

While Mother Nature has regained her mojo, I’m struggling to work, home school and shoulder more messy emotional labour than an episode of Call the Midwife.

And I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I only have the two wayward offspring. Oh, and before I get emails expressing opprobrium at my poor parenting skills, I’ve never been more aware of my shortcomings.

As one of five girls reared by my widowed mother, I have prided myself on raising my daughters as she did; as free-thinkers, who question and push for self-determination.

But that was predicated on the understanding that the crack pedagogues employed by the education system would be doing the heavy lifting. I’m more about overarching ethos than lesson plans.

My teaching style is more Dead Poets’ Society than Mr Gradgrind. Feelings not facts! Discover your passion! Forget the constraints of the curriculum - what do you want to learn, children?

Not a lot as it turns out. So far we’ve managed one morning of algebra, a scrub of the garden furniture and two episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians under the guise of anthropology.

The 11-year-old is impressed I once interviewed Kourtney. I try to shoehorn history into my account (the American War of Independence) but she spots it and rejects all furtive attempts at educational entreeism.

Their father’s Dickensian contribution has been to gather us together at 5pm every evening to read an improving work of literature. I’m not making this up.

His first choice? How about the portrayal of a dystopian world of terror and hopelessness? And that’s even before everyone is hunted down by carnivorous plants. 

The Day of the Triffids is gripping and timeous. But not in a good way. Especially when he keeps having to pause and explain ancient concepts like telephone operators.

The kids dread it. I manage by belly-breathing my fight-or-flight impulses away. His stubborn refusal to read the room (if not the book) is possibly a reaction to my passive-aggressively chivvying of everybody to all look on the bright side. 

I concede that I must be annoying. But morale matters. Which is why I’ve morphed into a sort of happy clappy (you secretly want to slappy) evangelist you’ve refused to let in the front door yet continues to cry Pinterest platitudes through the letterbox.

I’m remorselessly upbeat. I’ve even taken to customising the lyrics of the late great Ian Dury to buck us all up:

Reasons to be cheerful, part three

1, 2, 3

Spring, here at home, we’re working on the phone

Have a little moan and shrug

Yes we’ve got a plateful, but let us all be grateful

Stick it to the hateful and smug

Shares might take a tumble, useless now to grumble

More fun in a fumble and hug

Soaps are off the telly, stockpiles getting smelly

Reduced city melee and fug

Axed football fixtures, rationed dolly mixtures

No snacking in the pictures all snug

Covidiots convening, they’ll soon grasp the meaning

Of social isolation in the jug

Why don't you get back into bed?

Why don't you get back into bed?

I could go on all day, which is not necessarily a good thing but please feel free to extemporise. Or just to get back into bed.

Having said that, hiding under the duvet is a rookie mistake made by all you newbie Working From Homers. You see, it takes a singular sort of person who can survive never mind thrive solo. Take it from me.

As a friend remarked when we had a drink this week over Skype: “Now we all know why you’re completely mad Judith - it’s being on your own for so long.”

Not any more. Cue turf wars as three other people crowd into my space 24/7. I know the term surreal is overused but we’ve already hurtled passed R Mutt’s urinal and towards Salvador Dali’s melting clocks.

But solipsism is a self indulgence when we have been called to join forces in the National Help Service, providing fetching, carrying and (safely distanced) comfort to those who desperately need assistance.

The appeal was for 250,00 volunteers. At the time of writing there were half a million and climbing.

I already volunteer with my local hospice, although they have sensibly put a cordon sanitaire around their highly vulnerable patients.

That means I’m available and already have a DBS (the new name for criminal records check) certificate. So I’ve put my name forward.

A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members. We’re all in this together; social isolation must not turn into abandonment.

Read  Judith Woods at every Thursday from 7pm