I wriggle my fingers into black leather driving gloves and take a plate of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon upstairs. It’s Mother’s birthday and I’m taking her breakfast in bed as a surprise treat. I knock on the door. There’s no answer.
‘Room service,’ I shout. I lean forward and knock again.
I don’t usually wear black leather driving gloves because they make me feel like Alan Partridge. But we’ve run out of the blue disposable ones and I recognise anything I can do to reduce spreading the virus must be done. Even wearing driving gloves.
‘They’re not that embarrassing, are they?’
I’m admiring my gloved right hand. I turn it around and back again like the Royal family waving from a carriage.
‘A bit Alvin Stardust, maybe?’ replies my wife, grimacing.
‘You should buy those police tactical ones, next time. They’ve got the best grip and they only cost £12,’ says my son.
My wife and son are behind me on the landing at a socially responsible distance. They’re primed to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ through their facemasks when Mother opens her bedroom door. They’re both wearing yellow washing up gloves.
‘Jeeves here,’ I shout again, my lips almost kissing the door.
I plan to pass over her birthday cards once the breakfast tray is safely landed on her bedside table. Giving her the cards by hand risks coming within two metres of her, so I’ve decided to slot the cards into the stiff bristles at the end of our long-handled broom. My son will then feed the broom into her room so she can pick the cards from the broom without coming too close to me. It’s a little Heath Robinson. But, last night, I experimented with a spatula, barbecue tongs and the broom. The broom was the most effective, by far.
Mother opens her door with a sleepy look. We burst into Happy Birthday. She is bewildered. Perhaps she thinks we are the council’s deep cleaning squad come to give her bedroom the ‘once over’? After all, we look the part in gloves and masks and with my my son holding a long handled broom.
When the song ends there is a bemused silence. Embarrassed by the silence, I try to lighten the atmosphere. Before I can help myself, I’ve slipped into the voice of the dead Australian cricket commentator Richie Benaud.
‘Great innings. Ninety-six not out. The century’s there for the taking. Just need to be careful not to play any rash shots, now.’
‘Are you trying to impersonate an Indian or an Australian?’ asks Mother.
‘Happy Birthday, Gran. Your birthday cards are on the end of the broom,’ says my son, extending the broom towards her like a bargeman.
‘What a novel way of giving me a birthday card, darling. Are you training to work on a barge?’
‘Dad’s idea to keep you safe from Covid-19, Granny.’
Her eyebrows twitch upwards.
‘Do you know what I’d like to do for my birthday?’ she says to my wife.
‘Ironing. If you could set the ironing board up, please.’
The mental health charity MIND have said ironing is good exercise for old people locked down by Covid-19, so she insists on a daily shift at the ironing board. It’s her way of being useful, too.
‘Ironing and friends,’ Mother says.
‘Friends? We can’t have friends around at the moment. It’s against the Government guidelines,’ says my wife.
‘The TV series: Friends. I love Phoebe and Joey reminds me of your husband: well-meaning but slightly dumb.’