‘Do you think you’re in news overload?’ Chris asks me on Thursday night as we sit down to watch the evening news.
‘We have to be informed,’ I tell him. ‘It’s important.’
‘But you’ve got it on all the time. It’s not healthy.’
He has a point. After watching the news every hour on the hour for the last six weeks, I’ve become quite the expert on coronavirus. I know which surfaces it lives on and for how long. I know the symptoms and incubation period. I even know about the complexities of the ‘R’ rate. I’m so well informed I’m surprised they’ve not asked me to run Downing Street’s daily briefing.
‘Shall we have a break from it?’ Chris suggests. ‘Just for tonight?’ He’s got a strange, almost desperate look on his face.
I consider telling him to go upstairs and watch what he wants, but he looks like he’s about to crumble. Instead, I feel a compromise is in order. ‘We’ll watch Channel 4 News and then something else.’
He breathes a sigh of relief and then disappears into the kitchen to make us a cup of tea while I consume every piece of news available.
I sit on the sofa, staring at the TV, and I can feel my heart rate getting faster, thudding in my chest. It’s about this time every night that I develop symptoms. Headache, sore throat, feeling hot — I’ve had them all, just not at the same time.
‘My heart’s beating fast,’ I tell Chris when he returns with our tea.
‘Maybe it’s watching so much news.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ I turn back to the TV, steaming mug in hand.
When the hour is up, I’ve drunk several cups of tea without really noticing, but, thankfully, my heart rate has steadied. ‘You’re right,’ I say. ‘We should watch something else, something un-virus related.’
But just as I’m saying this, a trailer comes on for the programme on next — How Clean is Your House? A coronavirus special. It promises to explain how coronavirus works, how it uses our behaviour to get into our homes. And what we can do to stop it.
Immediately my heart resumes its frantic thudding. ‘We need to watch this,’ I say. ‘We need to know this stuff.’
The programme follows two families, who seem to have immaculate houses, identifying how and where the virus could infiltrate. The expert provides germ-busting tips and tricks that leave me and the families shaking our heads and looking panicked.
‘I’ve been doing it all wrong,’ the woman on TV moans as she mops her floor.
‘You’re not the only one,’ I shout back.
Apparently, we should use a three-mop system. ‘We don’t even own three mops. Why don’t we have three mops?’
They reveal more tips, like sterilising the bleach bottles and sanitising the thermostat.
‘I don’t do that,’ I say after each revelation. ‘Do you do that?’
‘No,’ Chris says. ‘I’ve never even thought about any of it.’
At the end of the programme, my head is swirling. ‘We’re living in a germ factory.’
Chris looks just as horrified as I feel.
‘Don’t panic,’ I say, grabbing a cloth. ‘I’m on it.’
That night, all the next day and into the weekend and bank holiday, I clean. I am not a cleaner. I have never been a cleaner, but I clean and clean and clean.
When Mum rings, I don’t have time to chat. ‘I’m cleaning,’ I say.
‘Cleaning?’ I hear the shock in her voice.
‘Yes. It’s taken a global pandemic, but I’m… cleaning.’
‘That’s good,’ she says. ‘I’ll leave you to it.’
The cleaning continues. There is not an inch of house left untouched. Chris even pops out and buys another mop — essential according to the expert on TV. I feel calm and in control. And then, the last job, the mopping.
Of all the extra cleaning measures, it’s the three-mop system that causes the problem. I accidentally mix up the mops, and then use so much bleach, I have to go outside to avert an asthma attack.
While I sit on the patio, breathing in the fresh spring air, Chris stays inside. He runs from window to window, a tea towel over his nose and mouth, letting in air to dilute the toxic fumes.
Suddenly, it all feels too much. I take my newly disinfected phone from my pocket and text my friend. ‘I’m having a mopping meltdown.’
Chris steps outside, removing the tea towel from his face.
‘I’m sorry,’ I tell him. ‘I wish we hadn’t watched that bloody programme.’
‘You were the one who —’
My phone beeps. A reply from my friend. ‘I’m here for you in these times of mop-related crises.’
The whiff of bleach has faded when I go back into the house. I put the three mops into the cupboard, put the kettle on, and breathe.