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Corona Diaries: obsessive-compulsive, or obsessive-repulsive?

April 23, 2020

One of the strange effects of lockdown is the repetitive behaviour it induces, in me at least. You might call it obsessive-compulsive, but I prefer obsessive-repulsive, since any new activity I start to perform without giving much thought as to why I’m doing it seems pretty repellent to my rational self.

Let me give you one or two examples.

Having spent a couple of days sorting out my books into subject categories and in order of author’s names I anxiously look at books that escaped the great reconfiguration, such as those in our bedroom, which sit in a nice little bookshelf. I work out where each book should be, and have to force myself to leave them where they are, because an empty bookcase is not only unattractive but suggests an empty mind. Then I curse myself for being an incorrigible book snob.

Next is the patio burner, which is an evil little tool my beloved brought me last year for the purpose of burning off the weeds that grow between paving stones on our patio. It’s basically a small flame thrower to which you attach a canister of butane gas. When you light it, it gives off a satisfying hiss. You point it at the offending dandelions, moss and grass, and it incinerates them, with an equally satisfying crackle, in seconds.

She bought it on the basis that it was less environmentally harmful than weed killer, which I suppose it is, though whether the burning butane does more harm to the environment than killing the earth is debatable. I love it, but the point at which love has turned into obsession was when I started to prowl around the patio, burner in hand, ready to zap the smallest green shoot that had the impudence to raise its leaves in the twenty-four hours since my last patrol.

Worse still, I’ve taken to zapping the places where the ants hang out in the hope that I can stop them visiting our kitchen, which they often do at this time of year. Deforestation is one thing, but incinerating the habitats of small creatures feels well beyond the pale.

Then there’s the roses. Last year I bought several rose plants from the local garden centre. They produced magnificent flowers right through until October, when the leaves started dropping off. This spring, as you would expect, they’ve produced gorgeous green foliage. The rosebuds are busy swelling in the sun. BUT, dark spots have appeared on some of the leaves. They’re turning yellow and dropping off. Not fast enough for my liking, so I’m out there with my clippers cutting them away because I want PERFECT ROSES. I haven’t gone so far as watering them every day, because that would be the last step before full-blown insanity. But really….

I guess most of us have hands red from incessant washing. I’ve taken things a stage further. No, I’m not microwaving the newspaper, but I am waiting for three hours before reading it. And I leave any deliveries for twenty-four hours before opening them.

And there’s the cross-trainer. I’ve managed to survive a decade without using the bloody thing. Now I go upstairs every evening and pound away for thirty minutes. That’s 300 calories, or a large piece of cake in old money. Now I’ve got into the routine, I find it hard to break it. If I miss one night, I feel stricken with guilt, even after doing the obligatory half-hour walk around town.

Next, boiled eggs. We get our eggs where and when we can. Small and large, white and brown. I’m good at boiled eggs, but I’m having to be obsessively agile in order to get the timing right depending on the size. I’ve developed a finely-tuned sense of the right time for boiling each size variant. I stand over the eggs looking at my watch. I’m acutely aware that in the time it takes to spoon the eggs out of the water, the last egg will be harder than the first one. Doctor, why does this bother me? I must be ill.

Oh yes, and I almost forgot. In the time between putting the eggs on the hob and the water reaching boiling point, I have just enough time to empty the dishwasher. Such brilliant use of empty time! After all, there’s no time to waste in a lockdown, is there?

Then finally, there’s this blog. When things started getting serious, I decided that I would post something every day. Not a single paragraph and some pretty photos, nor someone else’s video, but a proper piece of original prose around the theme of the coronavirus. So far I’ve managed to stick to my resolution, though it’s for you, my reader, to decide whether I’m producing a stream of drivel or something worth reading. A bit of both perhaps. But the point is that I now feel that if I fail to come up with a daily post, I’ve let myself down. For in this moment when everything is turning upside down, there’s surely something worth saying every day.

So is this collection of tics, foibles and fads the beginning of a mental illness that will afflict me for years to come? Nah. Put it down to a bout of temporary insanity. When I finally emerge, blinking and faltering, back into the crowded streets, I shall be just as haphazard and disorganised as I always was.

Though I call these corona-inspired obsessions repulsive, in some ways they’re a throwback to an earlier age. Back to boarding school, in which the daily routine, from dawn to dusk, was pre-ordained and immutable. Even if the daily tasks are self-imposed rather than dictated by an institution, there’s a certain comfort to endless routine.

Perhaps without knowing it, I’m even preparing for the day, hopefully a couple of decades away, when I sink into the routine of a care home from which I never emerge. But that would be fine, because most likely I wouldn’t even realise that I’m in a routine.

From → Books, Social, UK

One Comment
  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    An EXCELLENT piece of prose – highly entertaining and with the odd “lol”, even. Our ecological weed flame-thrower is nuclear-powered….well, electric actually, but being in France…(!)

    Your powers are far-reaching. Having read your piece, and thought, smugly, how those thingies with the blue lights on and a pitch we can’t hear (and therefore verify) had kept the ants away, I’ve just spotted that our barmy army are back for the (non-existent) summer season.

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