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30 May 2020

The longer lockdown continues, the more everything is starting to break

Things fall apart, but defeating the virus is more important than home comforts, as anyone who isn’t a senior advisor to the Prime Minister could tell you.

By Jonn Elledge

Shortly before lockdown began, I bit into what I firmly believed to be a pitted olive. On hearing first a snapping noise and, shortly thereafter, a scream, I discovered this belief to be mistaken. I’d bitten onto a stone, and what felt like a quite significant chunk of a lower molar had cracked clean away.

My dentist, with whom I have a close relationship forged through the upsetting regularity of incidents like this one, gave me an emergency appointment to patch it up, but warned that we should probably come up with a plan as the quick fix she’d offered wouldn’t last. A few days later, coronavirus exploded, the world closed for business, we all locked ourselves in our homes, and I forgot all about all this until one evening in early May, when I realised while eating some (this is part that baffles me) salad that the filling had just vanished, presumably gone the same way as most other things I put into my mouth. 

Almost immediately after that, I realised that all the dentists were closed; that the only treatment currently offered by emergency dental hospitals was extraction; and that unless it reaches the point where it hurts so badly I’d be better off having the 70% of my tooth that remains yanked out altogether, there was literally nothing I could do about any of it. 

And so I go about my business, trying not to think about the fact that a part of me is now missing. We all have our crosses to bear.

Other parts of me are altogether too present. I’m not sure when I last had my hair cut; but neither am I sure that no families of birds have made their homes in there recently, which suggests it was quite some time ago. At any rate, even by my standards, I have a lot of hair, and as the summer warms up the problem has ceased to be merely one of aesthetics and become one of feeling quite faint, because it is as if I have wrapped my head in a large woollen cardigan.

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No of course I’m not shaving my head, what do you think I am.

It’s not just me that’s falling to bits, but my home, too. When lockdown began, I thought it might offer an excellent opportunity to investigate all those niggling little problems around the place, like the curtain rail that had come out of the wall or the fact my water bill is, for some reason, quite high for a family of five. (This is especially confusing because I live on my own.) 

But I hadn’t reckoned with the fact that a) you can’t just get a handyman in during lockdown, and b) I have all the DIY skills of an unusually incompetent pigeon. I did succeed in fixing my non-draining dishwasher a few weeks ago. But yesterday when I noticed a very small thing wrong with one of my doors, I spent 20 minutes trying to fix it and another 20 trying to fix the much worse problem I had created in the process, before eventually getting things back to a state of “only slightly worse than they’d been before I started”, which seemed like a good moment to stop. Shortly after that I gathered, from the thriving new water feature on the floor of my kitchen, that I had not in fact fixed the dishwasher at all. 

None of this is unusual: though the details of all this are specific to me, the feeling that more and more things are breaking is probably familiar to everyone. When I tweeted about my travails (thanks for the dishwasher advice, by the way, lads), I was greeted with dozens of heartbreaking stories about the slow-motion collapse of genteel domesticity: fridges that won’t close or showers that won’t heat, phones with broken screens or laptops with broken everything. Writer David Llewellyn’s oven bleeps continuously every time he uses it. Anand Menon, the director of The UK In A Changing Europe, has broken his glasses and keeps walking into things. Nick Cohen has run out of trousers, though – this is perhaps for the best – he declined to elaborate further. 

All of these are problems that, in normal times, would be fixable – annoying and expensive, but fixable – but with the world in its current state may be bordering on insoluble. Even if repair services are still operating, after all, it’s hardly in the spirit of lockdown to invite a complete stranger into your home, in between trips to many other homes, for no better reason than that you can’t be bothered to do your own washing up.

And so, we’ll just have to put up with it. Defeating the virus is more important than home comforts, as anyone who isn’t a senior advisor to the Prime Minister could tell you. It’s not as if anybody is really going to see your hair anyway. 

At Thursday’s press briefing, incidentally, Boris Johnson said the first dentists could begin opening on 8 June. That’s a mere week after the first car showrooms. I’m delighted: it’s nice to know exactly where the nation’s health and comfort falls in the government’s priority list.