You'd be bate from the gardening all the same. This is especially true in my case given that I hadn't actually been in my own garden in four years, but it was either tackle the garden or attempt DIY, and I fancied my chances better swinging a blunt slash hook at some briars rather than using a jigsaw to remove my own fingers. At least outside waging war against my Jumanji-style wilderness I would be away from my phone, the radio, the TV, and the exhausting torrent of news. Just switching off for a little while felt like a guilty pleasure; to be blissfully ignorant of the crisis evolving all around us, even momentarily, felt like a dereliction of duty. But duty be damned, I had to take what distractions I could get.
Early on in our isolation programme I was told that I was to be whatever the opposite of a designated survivor is - in other words, I would be the one doing the shopping. With a wife and daughter whose medical issues place them both on the protected species list, it had to be me - I thought it would be terribly exciting, like being a less stylish Omega Man. In reality it was more like being Jacque Cousteau, as I found myself holding my breath as I made my way round the supermarket. All we needed was Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygène playing on the tannoy and it would have been perfect, as I free-dived down the cereal aisle, scared to make eye contact in case I had to say hello in an explosion of sour breath.
As the days went by, the trips became less like a sci-fi adventure and more painfully real; more and more shoppers were wearing masks and gloves - gone were the scarves that people wore wrapped around their faces, which only served to make them look like they were fleeing a press photographer outside the courthouse. The trips became less and less of a treat: soon I was looking at everyone in there and thinking, do they have it? What about them? What about this carton of milk? What about me? Was that person coughing? Did it go anywhere near their elbow? Oh god what is in their basket, can I avoid the aisles it came from? If I hadn't been holding my breath I probably would have screamed with the tension of it all.
Of course, while society powered down, the calendar moved on - summer time clicked on, our accursed days got even longer, and my eldest son turned 12. In a rare moment of foresight I bought his birthday present well in advance, and what better item to give a child living through such odd times than a virtual reality headset. We all had our own virtual realities - Disney+, Nintendo, Spotify - without a digital world to play in we would have felt very much more alone.
So we had cake, he blew out candles and, thanks to our sizeable family, it wasn't a lonely affair, as the six of us joined in a caterwauling chorus of 'Happy Birthday' that presumably made most of the neighbourhood think the banshee was coming with grim tidings of the Linnanes.
We all still struggled inside our cocoon - it was a fine line between being snug as a bug in a rug and feeling like a fly wrapped in web, waiting to be consumed. So this was why we took to the garden, me with my slash hook, my wife with a tin of creosote, and all four children with water pistols, all trying to burn off the nervous energy. None of us got much done, but it felt good to be outside, in the fresh air, doing some mundane chores with the sun on our faces. We are, of course, incredibly fortunate - to have a garden, to have a good-sized home, to have each other in our little life raft. So we wait for this to end, hoping it passes us by, and we can get back to reality, if it's still there waiting for us.