Quarantine Is Hard For Everyone, Even At The Ice Cream Factory by Tom Beasley

There’s a skit from the brilliant noughties BBC sketch show That Mitchell & Webb Look that discusses the difficulties experienced by an ice cream taster who lives with a paediatric doctor. The ice cream taster, played by Robert Webb, really wants to vent about how hard his day has been, but his problems always seem frivolous next to the fact that the doctor, played by David Mitchell, has to struggle with a ward full of dying children.

I bring up this sketch because it’s one I use a lot to illustrate the relationship between me – a freelance film critic – and my fiancée, who is a nurse on the paediatric intensive care unit at a busy hospital in central London. Her work is massively important and worthwhile, whereas society would get by perfectly fine if my work just disappeared. More recently, I’ve been thinking about the sketch in relation to the lockdown we’re all currently experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Like everyone else, I have days of being utterly miserable about the quarantine predicament. I can’t go and see friends living nearby, or family living further afield. I can’t go into London and visit the places that have made me fall in love with the city. And, most importantly for me, I can’t go to the cinema and lose myself in the magical worlds of the big screen, enjoying the stories that make me laugh, cry, jump out of my skin or even shake my head in bafflement. Shout out to Tom Hooper’s Cats for that last one – why do the cockroaches have human faces too?!

If you rolled your eyes at anything in that last paragraph, I don’t blame you. I am fully aware that I am the ice cream taster in this scenario. I have the nice edge of the COVID-19 situation, if such a thing exists. My home life is secure, I’m relatively financially comfortable and both members of my household are able to work. My fiancée is, of course, still required at the hospital and my regular work is continuing despite the absence of any big cinema releases. We’re both healthy. Really, there’s nothing to be upset about. I’m lucky – and I know it.

But that doesn’t stop the sadness. And that’s okay. This is not a situation that any of us want to be in and it’s not a situation that any of us have ever experienced before. Very few people alive today were also around for the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918 – probably the most recent pandemic of a comparable scale to what we are currently seeing. We’re in uncharted territory for all of us here and so it’s okay to be completely scrambled. Nobody should expect anybody’s mental health to remain stable when the world is collapsing around our ears and Chessington World of Adventures has turned into a disease testing centre that’s eerily reminiscent of a scene from a disaster movie.

Hardship is not a competition. The fact you’re better off than the next person – who is, of course, at least two metres away – doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel sad, even if you’re not quite sure why. We’re in this for the long haul given the fact that some form of social distancing will likely exist until there’s a vaccine for this thing, so we’re going to have to get used to bouts of feeling rough, angry and upset.

The trick is to find the things that help us get through it all and can, even for a few moments, banish the blues. Personally, I’ve been watching a lot of Paddington. That little guy always makes me happy.

© 2020 Tom Beasley

Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist living just outside London and originally from Coventry. He can be reached at tomjbeasley@gmail.com.