How Wales is adjusting to the ‘new normal’ | Carolyn Hitt – Carolyn Hitt

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These are dark times but – as the corned beef-obsessed Frances and Bill of Merthyr Tydfil have proved – seeing the lighter side occasionally is helping us all.

The hilarious self-isolating pensioners won the Welsh internet and made the “And Finally” news slots after their daughter Melanie – an NHS clerical worker – posted a two-minute clip of her grocery drop-off.

In a scene that will resonate with everyone trying to keep their captive elderly relatives safe and stocked-up, Melanie engages with her folks through the letterbox.

“I got you evaporated milk but I couldn’t get any corned beef,” she yells as her Mam pays for the newspaper Melanie has also brought by sticking a shoehorn through the letterbox with a pound coin on it.

“Put the milk on top of the bin and step away!” Frances bellows back, as if she is gun-wielding detective negotiating a ransom drop-off with a kidnapper.



“Your dad’s driving me nuts” – Frances from Merthyr Tydfil



Melanie and Francis in happier times

Melanie backs off and takes the full force of Frances’ stir craziness.

“I’ve been out the back talking to the cowing birds!” fumes the 74-year-old.

“Why don’t you talk to Dad?” asks Melanie.

“Oh, I can’t talk to him all day, he’s driving me nuts!” she replies.

Dad, meanwhile, is only visible via a cheery thumbs up through the blinds at the window.

And just when we think Melanie’s daily parental check-in must be appreciated, there’s another fabulous tirade from Frances: “And, by the way, where’s my money back from the paper? Five pounds you’ve had off me this week and I’ve not seen a penny in change!”

Shot through with classic valleys humour, it was a comic scene worthy of a Bafta Cymru. But, of course, Frances and Bill – a former nurse and ex-factory manager who’ve been married for 56 years – were for real. And for a fun-starved nation their performance was a two-minute treat to savour.

Melanie explained the background to giving her folks a bit of fame.

“I only put the videos online to cheer people up, because there’s so much depression about at the minute. Mam and Dad have both got underlying health problems so they’ve been self-isolating… and it’s driving them mental.

Highlighting the act of checking-in also served a bigger purpose, as Melanie added: “It’s a scary time for everyone, especially the elderly, so it’s important to make sure everyone remembers to call in on family, friends and neighbours who might be getting on a bit and can’t get about during this crisis.”

Since the lockdown was ratcheted up – and not before time after so many thickos treated last weekend like a bank holiday with bells on – very few should be getting about. We’re all adjusting to the New Normal. So, what has changed for us in quarantined Wales?



Porthcawl seafront was packed with visitors

Well for a start there’s having a night out while staying in. A fortnight ago I didn’t know what Zoom was. Now I’m thinking, “Should I put some mascara on for my 8.00pm with the girls?”

If you still don’t know what Zoom is, it’s a video conferencing platform that was once the preserve of corporate types but is now a way of necking wine with your mates who visit you virtually in grid formation on your laptop or mobile.

Other platforms are available. Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime… but my colleague Chris – who is to technology what Herod was to baby-sitting – suggested we had a work meeting via HouseParty this week. Using the teens’ favourite app, however, left us grappling with programme budget conversations while animated dice invited us to play HouseParty’s complete repertoire of integrated games.

So much communication via video is also giving an unexpected portal into the interior design choices of everyone from your boss to Robert Peston.

Some people have totally nailed the art of Skype style and rooms on Zoom. Those in the know face the window for flattering light, place the laptop on a box to avoid the camera-up the-nostrils view and ensure a backdrop of intelligent bookshelves. Those who haven’t cracked it inflict their triple chins and a glimpse of knickers drying on the radiator.

On the subject of underwear, in a woeful attempt to exploit the commercial potential of a global pandemic, Ann Summers posted a picture of a pouting model in the most uncomfortable looking scanties, suspenders and stockings imaginable with the tagline: “Who else has spent the whole day in lingerie?”

If the anecdotal statistics of my WhatsApp groups are anything to go by, 80 per cent of the female population are currently spending the whole day in a state of semi-undress. But none of them are trussed up like a Fifty Shades of Grey character. In fact, the no-bra plus comfy pants combo is one of the unexpected joys of social isolation.

The Ann Summers commercial isn’t alone in its inappropriateness. Another aspect of the New Normal, is that every single advert on television seems to belong to a parallel universe – a fantastical realm where pan-generational people still hug, shop in actual clothes shops and are planning sumptuous meals for the Easter Weekend family get-together.

Back in the real world, we’re waving sadly at our parents and grandparents through windows, scrolling through out-of-stock websites and playing Use-By Date Roulette with the ever-diminishing contents of our fridges.

And does Andrex even needs to advertise? I covet bog roll in the same way as I used to dream about owning more than one Jo Malone candle. Dare I mention Toilet Paper Strategy? Too much information perhaps… but anyone else thinking: “Do I really need that last wipe” every time they’re sat on the loo?

At least that bathroom is probably sparkling as domestic chores have taken on a new glamour with a country in lockdown. Not for me though, disappointingly. I always thought the reason I couldn’t keep on top of housework was lack of time but I’m ashamed to discover that’s not necessarily the case.

There is also an irritating pressure to use this period of captivity for personal growth and self-improvement rather than lie on the settee and watch 10 seasons of Spooks. Don’t succumb. It’s a stressful enough time without thinking we should emerge God knows when with a six pack honed by Joe Wicks and fluent in conversational Russian. I could be imprisoned for the rest of my life and still not get through Middlemarch.

Coronavirus: Dr Hilary explains how to self-isolate


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Anyway, I’m technically Working From Home on the usual day job. We managed to record the next episode of The Review Show for BBC Radio Wales with myself, presenter Gary Raymond, guest critics Charles Williams and Emily Garside, and soundman Terry Lewis all hooking up from our respective homes this week.(Have a listen next Friday at 6.30pm and on BBC Sounds as we highlight great Welsh content that can be enjoyed in the lockdown – from Georgia Ruth’s beautiful new album Mai to BBC Wales’ cracking new youth comedy drama In My Skin.)

I actually shed a few tears when we were done because I was just choked by the effort all the team had put in to make it work. There was also comfort to be derived from doing what we normally do in these abnormal times.

It may also feel abnormal to find laughter in the dark at the moment but as Merthyr Melanie and her fabulous parents Frances and Bill showed us, it’s also pretty essential. However anxious we feel let’s hope we can still find reasons to smile. 



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