opinion

Jack Rooke's Notes from Lockdown: 'Anxiety, erotic Tesco deliveries and 'Totally Scott-Lee'

Writer and comedian Jack Rooke on keeping the faith in a time of crisis.

2020-05-19

It’s Tuesday at 4:30pm. A lovely guy called Shujah is metres away from my front door, stumbling like a nervous 19-year old Grindr hook-up, looking anxiously on a touchscreen device to check I’m the right address.

He rings the bell, retreats a couple of paces and I open the door wearing a pyjama t-shirt which almost certainly has a cum stain on it.

He tells me that Tesco policy is for him to put all my items on the floor whilst I stand behind a closed front door. Once he’s finished he’ll then ring my bell again and stand another two metres whilst I retrieve my shopping from his trays.

We agree to this transaction and he starts to pile up items outside my house. Do I want my neighbours to know that I’ve ordered a total of 26 mint-chocolate Kit-Kats, a great deal of bleach and a microwavable lamb donner kebab? I’m beyond caring. Let them see how disgusting I am when at my most vulnerable.

Image: Lewis Simpson

Shujah completes his end of the bargain, I complete mine. I tip him a £5 note, which is virtue-signalling for me to mention but Shujah shoots me a smile in return that marks the most eroticism I have experienced in weeks. It was worth it. He’s a key-worker, risking his health to feed the five thousand in the Watford-district postcode and he’s got lovely, upper arms.

I stand over my shopping with a girthy pack of 120 lemon fragranced anti-bac wipes and I perform a verbal monologue to the potentially infectious items that have actually been delivered. (Sadly the order of three share-size bags of Caramac buttons couldn’t be ‘fulfilled’, another collateral damage in the global pandemic that has thankfully been refunded to my account).

Whilst scrubbing packaging rigorously, I shout “Dear Lord, Covid-19. What a sad little life. You’ve ruined my spring ~ cOmPLeTeLy ~ so you could have the exposure, and now I hope you die off, because you have all the uses of a dump truck without any tyres on!”

Once this wipe-down is complete I wash my hands three times, so much so that the back of my wrists have now started to resemble two Ryvita breads that time forgot.

Image: Wunmi Onibudo

It’s one small anxiety, sowed by the seeds of public information ads from Her Majesty’s Government. The greater anxieties come in waves. I’m worried about my job as a screen-writer, due to shoot a sitcom in July where horny uni students discover themselves. I’m unsure we can film even two actors within a metre of each other, let alone the rimming scene I’d planned. Can Covid-19 be transmitted via rimming? I am yet to hear back from Chris Witty.

I am anxious about my sister-in-law who has terminal lung cancer, a disease which steady periods of treatment have kept her with us. The NHS is her lifeline. She was told chemo would end, spending all of April scared for her life before receiving a U-turn decision that she could start again in May - her existence feeling constantly held in the balance of what our health service can cope with.

I am also anxious about my asthma, about my 65 year-old mum, about relatives who live in flats with no outdoor space and about friends whose jobs are deemed essential. It’s becoming an ever growing list of worries.

In normal times all these anxieties could be quelled with assessing the likelihood probabilities or meeting my friend Lucy for a basic bitch Wagamama Chicken Katsu curry (extra sauce on the side obviously.) But right now, these coping mechanisms do not work. We are left, purely reliant on hope, the one human emotion which can feel as unreliable as a 3am Grindr conversation with a 3km away ‘Nick, Top, 34’.

And so the question is, how much time can we occupy our anxieties with hope?

These past few weeks have often reminded me of when my dad passed away in 2008. He died suddenly of cancer when I was 15 and left me and my mum with a hole in our lives. Not only financially or emotionally, but in the uncertainty of not knowing when the pain would stop. When the grief would subside or a sense of normality would return. At the beginning this felt endless but, it wasn’t. We got through. We adapted. You do find a way.

Today I watched all of MTV’s finest offering of reality telly, 2005’s Totally Scott-Lee, a docu-series only available on a ripped YouTube playlist. The show finds Lisa from Steps going solo, trying to regain relevance, success and ITV daytime levels of fame after being in a pop group.

The cast includes her overly supportive ‘Bryn from Gavin & Stacey-esque’ Dad, her superiority-complexed (closet-acting) music manager and a Paul’s Boutique-laden Michelle from Liberty X. It’s a wonderful snapshot of mid-noughties, Heat magazine obsessed Britain and her trials and tribulations to position at No.23 in the mid-week charts feel like a dream from many moons ago. A completely comforting distraction.

Right now it’s distraction and hope which are the few ingredients we’ve got in to help us cope. It’s important to state that the NHS is still open for mental health support and if you really are struggling, your GP is there even if services are under strain. And I believe, especially after my experiences of grief, we can all surprise ourselves with our resilience and patience.

Thankfully patience, distraction and hope are all in abundant supplies right now, where bags of Caramac buttons may sadly fail us.

Jack Rooke is a writer, comedian and mental health ambassador for the charity CALM. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Jack's debut book 'Cheer The F**k Up: a comedic-memoir meets advice guide on how best to help a mate going through a shit time', is now available for pre-order from Waterstones.