In the past seven weeks, many people around the world have struggled to cope while being in round-the-clock lockdown with their family. But imagine being trapped in such close quarters with someone else's family instead.
As a live-in nanny, this is the position I'm in: stuck with my employers and their children in London, more than 100 miles from my home in the North, for the foreseeable. And no, if you're wondering, it's not been easy at all.
I'd been a nanny for five years and been working for my current family for just over a year before coronavirus struck. The job had been going well. The children I look after are 5 and 3 and I'm genuinely fond of them both. Their parents own a large house in a nice, upmarket area and I have my own space at the top of it so I've never felt claustrophobic.
Both parents work in central London, and in normal times they'd be out from 8am until about 6.30pm, by which time I'd have given their children a bath and got them ready for bed. Then I was free to do my own thing in the evenings: mostly meeting up with friends for dinner or drinks. I would see my sister frequently. At weekends I'd often go home and visit my family.
None of this is on the cards now. Instead, I am stuck in a house that isn't mine, fielding constant calls from my employers to "come and eat dinner with us", "come into the garden with us", or "come and join" whatever activity they've started next.
It's kind of them, of course, to try and make me feel at home and show me I'm not in their way. They've no idea they're in mine. They think they need to entertain me, but they're decades older – I'm in my late twenties, they're in their fifties – and, frankly, I need my own space at the end of a day with their children; something they don't seem to understand.
One evening this week I managed to escape for a walk and covered a whole 12km, just to get some headspace, alone. On other evenings, I've invented phone calls as an excuse for not joining in with whatever they've invited me to do now.
On weekends they'll ask me to join them for lunch and dinner, but, how can I put this? They're very southern in their ways, and I am very northern in mine. They'll needlessly spend a whole hour cooking something fancy and complicated, and serve it on the best china, when all I want is a simple plate of mash and gravy. To be honest, I'd often be happy with a slice of toast.
I love the outdoors, but the recent warm weather has been a curse more than a blessing. If I want to spend time in the garden at weekends, I have to spend time with the whole family, as that is where they will be. The alternative is sitting at the top of the house on my own as the sun beats down outside the window.
Gradually, meanwhile, other niggles have started to build. I'm naturally a clean and tidy person, but the parents I work for seem blind to mess. In the absence of their cleaner (unable to work during lockdown, until now), they're both more than happy to leave crumbs on the dining table, dirty dishes on the counter and clean ironing piled up on the stairs until finally I crack and sort it out myself.
Sometimes I'll conduct a private test, to see how much time will go past before one of them picks up the clothes and moves them to where they should be. But that time never comes. I've realised if I don't do these jobs, in addition to the one I'm paid for, none of them will ever get done.
Then there's the issue of their constant presence during the day. I have taken on the task of home-schooling their eldest, and the work itself – set by the school via an app – has been going well enough. What makes it impossible, however, is the frequent interruptions from the parents, both currently working from home. Either I'm the teacher or I'm not – when they try and get involved, the 5-year-old only gets distracted.
Similarly, when I have the 2-year-old calm and ready for her afternoon nap, and the dad comes in and starts horsing around and getting her all excited again, it's me who has to deal with the fall-out once he's sloped back to his desk.
But the real low-point came a few weeks back, when both the parents and I went down with Covid-19. The father only lost his sense of taste and smell, but the mother was ill for about a week, and I could hardly breathe after walking from one end of the room to the other.
Luckily we all recovered – I was better after three days – but the hardest part was being in full, extended quarantine for 14 days. I couldn't even escape for a walk, or to buy essentials like deodorant, when I ran out.
One day, the situation got the better of me and I ended up throwing a tantrum myself. "This is too much!" I cried. "I can't leave the house and this isn't even my house."
In fairness to them, they handled my outburst very well. "Calm down," they soothed me. "And take the rest of the week off."
I did – not that there was anywhere else to go. It's been so hard to know that the rest of my family are all up north together, including my usually London-based sister, who is currently furloughed and not working.
It's hard for the family I'm working for, too, of course. The parents aren't used to spending this much time together and tensions have been – ahem – obvious, at times. I try to keep a low profile when the sniping begins, but it's awkward being witness to that, and having to tiptoe around the edges of other people's marital bickering.
I didn't have to stay here during lockdown, obviously. The family offered me a choice. But what options did I really have, when so many are losing their jobs altogether? I needed to ensure I kept mine, and if nothing else, at least working here has kept me busy. Perhaps the alternative would have been worse, after all.
Thank God we're allowed to see friends from today, even if only one at a time, at a distance – but I can hardly get a train all the way to my mum's house and back again in a day. So having my own life still feels a long way away.