Keith Skipper: I’m confined to barracks, but still putting off those odd jobs

Splenid isolation! But Keith says one of the hardest things is trying to conjure up new excuses to p

Splenid isolation! But Keith says one of the hardest things is trying to conjure up new excuses to put off those odd jobs around the house - Credit: Archant

Despite being a regular worker from home, Keith Skipper says he’s becoming more on an expert on avoiding odd jobs around the house in the current state of lockdown

As a fairly experienced member of the MVB … Most Vulnerable Brigade … I have been taking due care and attention in my self-isolating role while our current health crisis deepens.

It’s already a severe test of mental and physical resources for someone used to regular fresh air and exercise along with plenty of good mardling company. It soon becomes obvious just how much we can miss so many little habits hitherto taken for granted.

Snatches of birdsong in the back garden, as well as budding bushes and nodding flowers, feed tantalising desires to burst out of confinement and head for favourite Norfolk hideaways to savour spring’s rich panoply of natural treats.

Formation teams of synchronised dancing daffodils. Clusters of cowslips inspiring a whiff of boyhood ditch-hurdling memories. Trees beginning to dress up again for summer. Muddy tracks turning crusty. Cuddly lambs relishing frisky freedom.

All these and more topped out with home-made sandwiches and a blackbird serenade as the sun strengthens and a grasscutter chugs across the village playing field to signal preparations for a brand new cricket season. Freshly-cut outfield and manicured strip in the middle await calls of “Play!”.

My little reverie is halted by another phone call presumably from a relative or close friend wondering how we’re coping with this unprecedented form of being largely confined to barracks. I break into an impromptu rendition of our entry for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

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“Self-isolation! Incarceration! I want the world to know I’m happy as can be” I warble in my best Cliff Richard voice. Silence at the other end suggests it could do with a few more rehearsals. I apologise to the nice man interested in my broadband service and give thanks it wasn’t Hank Marvin.

I have shared more orthodox examples of uplifting humour designed to match an inevitable outpouring of rousing phrases to go with such a demanding and widespread challenge. “Wartime spirit”, “Bunker mentality”, “All in this together”, “Bringing out the best in people” and “We shall overcome” top the list.

It seemed a suitably patriotic gesture of defiance to urge one old chum to dig out his collection of Winston Churchill’s “darkest hour” speeches, relearn them by heart and send an invitation to younger acquaintances to a friendly fight on beaches of their choosing when this insidious drama is over.

He replied with a famous line brought savagely up to date: “Never in the field of human conflict have so many toilet rolls been stockpiled by so few”. It summed up so adroitly the scourge of panic buying flying in the face of constant warnings to stay calm and think of others.

Another friend with a close eye on the topically ludicrous told me about a chap Fakenham way who queued for another trolley load of freshly-delivered toilet rolls. He returned to the supermarket soon after -- -to return two as he couldn’t cram any more in his loft!

It’s been a matter of urgency to come up with new excuses for not doing all these little jobs around the house demanding attention when time allows. This dilemma yells out for extra powers of instant invention. I can’t just nip out for a walk, something nice for tea or a chat with that useful chap who hoards old photos of Cromer.

I’m working on a comprehensive catalogue of tasks to be done, materials likely to be needed, estimated hours and cost for each and (in a column only I can interpret) names of proper local tradesmen available in the autumn.

Efforts to clean up the study beyond carving out a safe path to foothills beneath mountains of books, magazines, cuttings and folders full of old photos of Cromer could well founder on regular trips outside to do my bit for the Great Norfolk Cloudwatch. I’m really cirrus about this.

I hope there will be scope for a few more shafts of cheerful sunlight in the shape of missives to and from family and friends. We can find some consolation and hope in the kind of reminder landing on my desk as soon as severe restrictions came into force:

“Just remember, you are far more interesting than most of the people you won’t have to listen to again for a while”.

Nearly as good as Oscar Wilde’s: “Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others, whenever they go”.

I’m off to keep warm with a spot of self-insulating.


My shortage of green fingers has been a source of amusement and amazement to family and friends for countless growing seasons. How can someone raised in the country be such a duffer in the garden?

Some even laced disdain with suspicions I deliberately cultivated this image of utter ineptitude with hoe, rake, fork and spade. Sadly, it came quite naturally after a bad experience with a dibble.

Father and brothers tended our large vegetable patch with enthusiasm and precision. I neither envied nor understood. I had books to read, cricket matches to play, rustic adventures to pursue.

Beans and sprouts were boring old things. I knew parsnips tasted better for a good frost and King Edward had as much to do with spuds as expensive cigars – but that was the sum total of my gardening knowledge.

The call to dibble duty came unexpectedly one Saturday afternoon when I happened to be the only unemployed boy on the premises. Dad decided I might be better than nothing and sent me to the shed to collect that wretched instrument for making holes. A tray of seed potatoes waited for insertion.

He ushered me ahead, a reluctant trailblazer in short trousers and high dudgeon after being prevented from striking gold down King Solomon’s Mines. I couldn’t keep a straight line. One hole was too deep, the next scarcely discernible.

I could see there were far more potatoes than holes and hit on the bright idea of shortening the distance between them. No-one had told me they didn’t all have to be planted in the same row or that they needed a certain amount of room to flourish.

My misery plumbed fresh depths about two feet from the chicken run. Just to bring a spot of variety to this rollicking rural scene, I poked the dibble through the wire netting . It steadfastly refused to come out again. The hens all began to peck and prate at this sudden intruder.

Father’s suspicion of fowl play was confirmed all too rapidly. A verdict of misadventure spelt banishment from the blessed plot, a thick ear and a fatally soiled reputation.

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