Diary: March 2020

Business as usual rudely interrupted by killer virus

This month includes… Worms on the turn, wildlife in focus and immunity in Ambridge… for the time being

Sunday 1, London At the end of Liverpool’s 3-0 humiliation by Watford last night, manager Jürgen Klopp made a statement of the bleeding obvious (We lost, they won. Well done Watford. For you are jolly good fellows, etc). The story has been spun as Klopp seeing the defeat as “positive”.

📌 Coronavirus jokes are starting to appear. Newsbiscuit has one announcing that Covid-19 will headline this year’s Reading Festival. “Although it will be a short appearance, the impact of the concert could last a lifetime”.

📌A top civil servant, Sir Philip Rutnam, has quit his job, saying Home Secretary Priti Patel is a horrible bully. Supporters of the Tory minister have reacted by starting a hashtag, #StandWithPriti, on Twitter. 

📌 I managed to turn up a few worms down at the allotments today. The thyme plant seems to have survived the Winter, so fingers crossed it will thrive come Spring.

Turned worms…

📌 I saw someone walking along Goswell Road with an undone shoelace. I was about to tell them, but stopped and considered whether it was a new fashion statement. Then they stopped and tied it.

📌 At an Outsider Art exhibition in Angel, my feet were so cold I began to hate the mentally ill artists and their petty self-obsessions.

Outsider Art, a monoculture…

📌 The new 8pm Sunday evening detective drama series on ITV is ‘McDonald & Dodds’.

New detectives…

It replaces ‘Endeavour’, making it a tough ask. The first episode, ‘The Fall of the House of Crockett’, is a King Learish outing for Robert Lindsay as a maybe baddy. When his youngest daughter tells him to shove £30m inheritance money up his arse, Lindsay goes into a full Shakespearean flourish like Lear trying to impress his arsey daughter. But does that make him a killer? 

Monday 2, London I found this online today and requested permission to buy.

The wheel thing…

📌 News arrives from Cristina at Headway that my monoprinting workshop at Autograph later this month is fully booked. 

📌 I read that homeless people sleeping in large roadside bins have been crushed to death after being tipped into the jaws of the collection lorries.

📌 Work on the building site outside our front door has started to pick up pace.

New school unfolds…

Tuesday 3, London Last night my wife writhed and pleaded for mercy as an old ailment gripped her midriff, scrunched up her insides and tossed them aside. It was a pitiful sight and I’m not that good at sympathy. When she screamed for me to get an ambulance, I nearly said, “Shut up! Stop whining! Deal with it!”. But not only would that have been unnecessarily hurtful, it wouldn’t have worked. So I gently persuaded her to crawl in agony from the bathroom (where she’d sat for 30 minutes with her head in the toilet) to the bedroom. She somehow hauled herself into bed, instructed me to put her socks on and later accepted the offer of a few sips of water. Twelve hours later she was sitting up, glued to her iPad, demanding a cup of weak tea with two sugar lumps.

📌 My task for today is to try and make some storage sense of this.

Spice of life…

📌 An email from Camper tells of the new line of women’s flip-flops. They look like mini popadums juxtaposed with two plastic straps. 

Then another fashion trend popped into my inbox.

Inflation goes through the roof…

📌 The Morning Star is running a series of articles supplied by the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell. The series title is Full Marx and today’s piece is about “financialisation”. This is the historical switch of economies once driven by the manufacture of goods to ones powered by the creation and distribution of capital as defined by the financial services industries. “Today profits come increasingly not from the production of goods but from the buying and selling of financial securities and the interest payments they accrue.” It goes on to describe how the financial sector, at one time playing second fiddle to manufacturing and agriculture is now the top dog and sucks in everything around it.

Wednesday 4, London Genesis are on the radio talking about re-forming for some concerts. My wife remarks: “God, they’re still boring!”

📌 Before retirement, my wife worked as a data analyst. Today she sighed when the radio newsreader told us the number of people in the UK with Coronavirus had “risen” to 53. To data people, 53 is a statistically non-existent number.

📌At Guardian Archive I’m still working through the last of the very large Don McPhee collection. Today there are some special shots from collection labelled “Glasgow Alcoholics, Holy Loch”.

Glasgow alcoholics negatives…

Then came several strips of negatives titled “Whit Monday Walk in Manchester”. One shot, of a group of very proper-looking women at a bus stop, shows a poster on the wall behind them announcing “Black Sabbath bring you Heaven and Hell”.

📌 Later, as I left, I got some shots of Guardian archive material.

One of the display cases holds the remains of a computer destroyed on orders from the Home Office during what became the infamous WikiLeaks story.

📌 In Murder 24/7 the stars are Mo & Millie, the police sniffer/blood detection dogs. They looked ecstatic whenever they nosed out a tiny spec of incriminating evidence. Tales wagging, noses darting furiously, they were a picture of job satisfaction.

Thursday 5, London Every Thursday starts with us cleaning up before our cleaner arrives. This isn’t as stupid as it sounds. Paying a cleaner for two hours’ work each week would be wasteful if all they did was pick up your smelly socks and run the vacuum over. So we tidy our own mess first so the cleaner can do the stuff we hate – dusting, mainly.

📌 Back to the Barbican with Headway for a curator’s introduction to the ‘Masculinities’ exhibition. I learned from curator Chris Bailey that the bullfighters pictured were Portuguese and not Spanish, as presumed. And that Portuguese bullfighters do not kill the bull. The sociological emphasis in Portuguese bullfighting, he said, is not on blood lust but on male fellowship and camaraderie. Togetherness and teamwork are the drivers, which could be why the portraits look very like those of elite footballers after a hard-won Champions League game.

Chris also told me that the disco dude I spotted was a self-portrait, one in a series in which Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso put himself into the heavily staged shots to demonstrate his evolving “masculinity”.

Samuel Fosso self portrait…

Later, my wife said that the black disco guys of the 1970s looked quite feminine, as did the white UK glam band The Sweet.

The Sweet…

📌 The rise of precarious work has “cultivated class unconscious”, writes a columnist in the Morning Star. The article goes on to talk about the inroads unions have made in organising precarious workers, but have failed to entice the “hipster capitalists”. It identifies this breed with the statement: “think beanbags, beer pong on a Friday, ‘tech start-ups’ in which all staff are required to adopt liberalism as a political philosophy and an obsession with coffee as a lifestyle”. And goes on: “The assumption amongst most people outside this sector is that these irritating cosmopolitans are raking it in whilst sipping their oatmilk brews, but when you’ve been at the heart of darkness, it becomes clear that like everywhere else, there is a class struggle going on, whether the craft beer brigade know it themselves or not.”

Friday 6, London The Coronavirus panic is hotting up. Friends report empty shelves in supermarkets. My wife said Lidl was OK (apart from hand-gel). She also said that the Corona beer company is urging the virus to be referred to as COVID-19 because their sales have taken a hit in the USA.

📌Off to Two Temple Place for an exhibition about Victorian women who were big in textiles. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, but the moment I walked into this grand chamber I automatically re-titled the exhibition, ‘Posh Women Swan Around the World Nicking Crafty Stuff From The Poor’.

Victorian ladies do their thing…

📌 Thus inspired, we stopped off on the way home to buy some posh cakes to eat later in front of the telly.

Posh cakes…

Saturday 7, London A new series of ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ started on TV recently. As we’d never bothered with it before, we looked the other way while the world tuned in. Our friend Liz was a big fan and raved about ‘Halifax’. She’d been right about ‘Death in Paradise’, but still we resisted. Then, as the afternoons got cold and dark, we surrendered and went right back to Series 1, Episode 1 and plugged into the complicated lives of Celia & Alan and Gillian & Caroline. Very quickly, we were addicts.

L-R: Caroline, Celia, Alan, Gillian…

📌 Some men are just hopeless. Or are they all, but a small number are quite handy to have around? Down at the allotments, the simple task (to me) of fitting a nut to a bolt on a wheelbarrow was beyond one man, who finally managed it, with supervision. You’d think he’d split the atom by the look on his face. I imagined him running home to phone his parents: “Hi Mum, you’ll never guess what I did today!?”

📌 Shirley says there are online car-hire firms that operate just like airbnb. No keys, just a code on your phone that unlocks the vehicle and lets you fire up. Less than £60 a day. Or you can do it PAYG by the month.

📌 There’s a lot of debate about how thoroughly you should wash your hands to avoid being contaminated by Coronavirus, so an editor at The Conversation emails to tell us about someone who swears by the length of Lady Macbeth’s famous soliloquy, the one that gave life to “the milk of human kindness”. 

Sunday 8, London Great news from the satirical website Newsbiscuit. Miley Cyrus has been named the official Cockney rhyming slang for Coronavirus. It narrowly beat Egyptian papyrus.

📌 Weird dream last night. From our 5th-floor balcony I looked down on a patch of ground and saw the body of a woman lying face down in a shallow grave. She was clothed in a blouse and skirt. The backs of her bare calves were clearly visible. She wore court shoes with a square heel of about 3 inches. Her arms were out above her head. The grave was barely deep enough. Her bum stuck up, and had her body been covered with soil there would have been a conspicuous bump. But it hadn’t, and there she lay, lifeless in the open grave. The patch of ground was quite cluttered with clumps of earth and rubbish, and it took me some time to convince others that there was a dead body down there in that mess.

📌 One of the questions on Quora today asks, “I can’t stop staring at a co-worker and now it’s really uncomfortable. What should I do?” Top answer: “I had a similar experience the last time I was in college (I was 45 at the time). One of my classmates had the most amazing, clear skin I had ever seen, and I couldn’t help myself. After I realized I had been staring, I was worried about how she might feel about it, so I walked over to her, apologized for my perceived slight, and told her why. Her response totally surprised me. She beamed and said, ‘Thank you! I work hard on my skin, and I’m glad someone noticed!’.”

📌 One story making all the news agendas today is the one about the pig in Leeds that ate a pedometer, shat it out into dry hay, whereupon the device caught fire. 

📌 Most of the cast of ‘Hidden’ look like they need a wash. 

Monday 9, London Today I got to team up with physio Katie Campion again, for a Bridges podcast. I arrived early and sat in a café reading the local paper.

Meanwhile, in Tooting…

On the way back to the tube station afterwards I noticed the road sign that leads to St George’s hospital. 

📌 Toilet rolls are still the most desirable supermarket item.

Tuesday 10, London The Morning Star tells us that the budget store Wilko is to cut back on its workers’ sick pay, making it very difficult for them to “self-isolate” should they become ill. 

📌 I demonstrated the Poundland Portraits workshop to Madhumita and she booked me for a gig on June 2. The Poundland coloured crayons are not the best medium to use. Oil pastels work better, but I’m not sure Poundland sells them, in which case I need to source a cheap alternative.

Wednesday 11, London Hilarious posting on Quora from Terence Kreft, who asks: Do they have ground beef in England? Why do they call it mince? The answer, which I note has been upvoted by Clive Anderson, is… “Q: Do they have ground beef in England? A: Yes, but it’s called mince. Q: Why do they call it mince? A: I’m glad you asked me that, what you call ground beef in the US is produced using a meat grinder which in a kitchen may look like this…


In the UK we use a meat mincer which looks like this …


A: Oh, erm, right.”

📌 Ollie the female cat owned by funnyman Ricky Gervais and partner Jane Fallon, has died, passed away, gone claws up. It is an ex-cat, a former cat.

RIP Ollie…

📌 In the Guardian Education Centre, the Year 12 group are more in love with alliteration than they are with meaning. One pair were on a story about turtles mistaking plastic rubbish for their next meal. And so hungry for alliteration were these two 16-year-olds that they couldn’t even decide what the subject of the story was. Plastic pollution, turtles or the smell of turtle prey resembling that of plastic crap thrown in the sea? I got them to start the headline with the word “turtles”, considered it a major leap forward in teenage literacy, and moved on.

📌 In Guardian Archive, Ryan was indexing some Don McPhee negatives from the Govan shipyard on the River Clyde. 

Pride of Govan…

On my way out of the Guardian, I snapped some shots of the typographical posters that used to be displayed in reception at the old 119 Farringdon Road offices.

Guardian graphics…

📌 Got a call from Specsavers in Tottenham Court Road to say the glasses I dropped off two weeks ago for new lenses are not ready because they accidentally broke the frames. 

📌 Angelina just sent me this joke news bulletin intro.

Top story…

📌 We met my cousin and her husband in a pub off Euston Road. They were down from Stoke to see ‘Uncle Vanya’. I wondered what kind of story Checkhov would have written about Stoke.

📌 Liverpool are out of the Champions League.

Thursday 12, London The government is meeting today to decide whether the Coronavirus response needs to be racked up. Last night I made a sick joke about a new book detailing the origins of the outbreak. The book was titled ‘Eat Bats and Sneeze’. My wife says that is probably racist. I think it is probably just in bad taste.

📌 At Headway Stuart asked me who originally sang the song ‘Right Said Fred’. “Was it Bernard Cribbins?” he asked. I said yes I thought it was and then confirmed online, which caused Stuart and I to break into song: “We was getting no where, and so, we, had a cup of tea”. I finished the pesky stitchwork picture, which I complain about but actually enjoy when I’m doing it. 

The needle and the damage done…

I did a few more monoprints straight from pictures cut from newspapers. I can’t remember who any of them are other than Roger Scruton (top right). The woman top left might be Jess Phillips.

Monoprints from press shots…

There was a cracking picture by Jon sitting on the studio floor. Not Jon on the floor, the picture.

Floorless, by Jon…

And an old one by Chris, from which I shot the face because as always it is Chris’s face.


📌 Most of the people I’ve seen wearing surgical face masks are Chinese or Asian. 

📌 To show some kind of support for northern Italians, we went to Baracca for a meal. Nice to see they were still operating and customers showing up. I had catfish for the first time. It was sweet and moist. During the meal my wife told me about a media discussion that started this week involving the actor Amanda Redman talking about the apparent dislike of the UK public to witnessing fictional depictions on TV and film of young people having sex with old people, or vice versa. We talked about examples. My wife quoted the case of Daniel Craig and Anne Reid, 30 years his senior. I recalled an episode in the cult TV series ‘This Life’ in which randy Anna (Danielle Nardini) coupled with Egg’s dad. I believe also there was an incident in the film ‘The Last Picture Show’, in which a young male virgin is deflowered by a stoical female pensioner. Please note the studied euphemisms in that last passage.

Friday 13, London The Prime Minister obviously doesn’t want us to believe we are in the jaws of some kind of national emergency. His failure to act decisively, as other national leaders have, was criticised heavily in yesterday’s Guardian. He made an alarming statement asking families to expect bereavement, but no attempt to put in place practical measures to allay fear. Don’t go on cruises, he advised. That might all be about to change. The sense of real emergency is high, even if much of it is imagined. But falling into line with the rest of the world is not in the DNA of this government.

📌 There’s an article in The Conversation about how the elbow bump has taken over from the handshake as a form of greeting.

📌 To the Natural History Museum for one of the year’s biggest treats, the ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ show. It was a Christmas present for my wife’s sister and her husband, who travelled from Wallingford in Oxfordshire despite the Coronavirus panic. My favourite picture was of a broken window with the shadow of a rat appearing in the bottom right corner. And the shot voted the ‘People’s Favourite’, of two rodents seemingly fighting on the platform of a London Underground tube station was a worthy winner.

Wild world out there…

📌 Then it was on to the V&A, where the jewellery room and the shop proved the big attractions. We did see an elm tree painting by Constable, but it was disappointingly small.

Jewellery Room and shop…

Saturday 14, London New idea: ‘World of Interiors’, in which I photograph the insides of things. Today, pictures of the four shelves in our bathroom cabinet.

📌 For more than seven years, the unsung heroes of my stroke recovery were Specsavers. But not any more. My stroke left me with double vision (diplopia). After several appointments at UCLH ophthalmology department they found a prescription that would correct the diplopia for both near and distance vision. Specsavers then worked hard to make the prescription into affordable glasses. One of their Tottenham Court Road staff members, Patricia, took a special interest because it was the first case of acute diplopia she’d come across. Since then, the prescription has been modified slightly and new glasses bought. So many, in fact, that I had accumulated several sets of frames with now-defunct lenses. Three weeks ago I decided to have some new lenses put into old frames and deposited the frames at the shop. Last week I got a message to say they had broken one pair of frames but have replaced them free of charge. We arranged to collect my new glasses today. One pair for distance vision, one pair for reading. On arrival at Specsavers we find that both pairs of frames held distance lenses. Now it will be another two weeks before my new reading glasses are available.

📌 Got a text message from the doctor’s surgery today saying don’t call us, go to the nhs website. Then this appeared on the TV.

📌 Then to Tate Modern to see the Andy Warhol exhibition. The first thing we learned was that he was Andrew Warhola, son of Slovakian emigrants Andrej and Julia Warhola. It was busy. 

📌 On the way back over the river across the Millennium Bridge, a young man was down on one knee, ring box opened, proposing to his girlfriend. I saw her reaction – surprise, but not total surprise. She was wearing Ray-Ban Aviators. She embraced him by cupping his face in her hands and kissed him. I didn’t actually hear her say Yes, so I asked her, and she repeated to his face, “Yes”.

Sunday 15, London Doom is all around. Stories in the media focus on how this Coronavirus will change society for ever. Human contact will slowly dissolve as isolated, remote living becomes the new normal. One report points to the state being the institution people look to in times of crisis. Another points to e-voting as the road down which popular representation (voting) must travel. But will the public develop a real connection with the state as a result? Will participatory democracy flourish? Or will we all fall prey to the capitalist cowboys such as the company that has the contract to clean Lewisham hospital? Can our present government embrace the need for a big, active, listening state. Can it learn to love the BBC? To trust the word of experts? To value the integrity of the NHS? Whatever happens, it’s hard not to imagine a near future when men in space suits turn up with your veg delivery.

📌 Yesterday my wife speculated on how young courting couples would cope with the prescribed social-distancing protocols. Might there be a demographic blip in the future that indicates a Coronavirus Abstinence from coitus?

📌 We defied convention and went out for a meal in a local (empty) Turkish restaurant. They were not only amazed, but grateful to us for coming.

📌 The ridiculous posh shoe shop in Whitecross Street has closed down. It is boarded up and the grafitto “@ikillhumans” has appeared in red.

 📌 ‘World of Interiors: Our Veg Drawer’.

Veg drawer…

📌 Later we watched the film ‘On Chesil Beach’, based on the Ian McEwan novel. Chesil Beach doesn’t feature much. I asked my wife if all the Ian McEwan books she’s read were basically about Ian McEwan. She said yes. I wondered if Saorise Ronan was Annalena.

On Chesil bed…

I wondered also if Ian McEwan was ambidextrous. In the film he plays tennis against Samuel West. In some shots he is right handed, in others he attempts shots with his left hand.

Monday 16, London Uncertainty is everywhere and the main theme from my news media sources is that the government’s easygoing, let-the-people-make-up-their-own-minds, approach doesn’t work in a time of crisis, when leadership and surefooted guidance are what’s needed. The crisis is now more about crowd control than about health and wellbeing. That may change. 

📌 Later a friend, a nurse at Brighton General hospital, posted on Facebook: “Since our ward became the frontline for caring for Coronavirus patients, it has proved increasingly difficult to fill staff shortages with bank and agency staff. Yesterday, one agency nurse refused to work and walked out. Thankfully, the more senior nurses are now putting down their clipboards and putting on their scrubs. To those nurses currently refusing to care for patients with COVID-19, I say this: You will soon be unable to work anywhere. It will be on every ward in every hospital and every nursing home and every GP practice. At least on our ward you will have the maximum protection possible. Oh, and if you came to work on the bus you could have been sitting close to someone infected but not symptomatic and still capable of transmitting the virus…”

📌Shirley sent out a message asking if anyone has spare toilet rolls. I suggested she check the toilets of the Barbican Centre and she was flabbergasted that I was suggesting toilet-roll theft. 

📌 My monoprinting workshop for Headway at the Autograph gallery in Shoreditch has been cancelled, but the whole project has been a joy to prepare for. I am even keen to continue some of the stitch-work I tried.


📌 Just as we started to worry that Corovavirus had put a block on the courting rituals of the Millennials, the #boomerremover trend has hit social media. This is the work of Millennials who like to blame the Boomers for all their ills. Boomers created the climate crisis. Boomers waged war on Islam. And now Boomers have unleashed a deadly virus on the planet’s population. Oh, and they stash all their money in tax efficient legal savings instruments. So, with this mindset underpinning their judgement, it’s not surprising that they are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of Covid-19 knocking off their sworn enemies.

📌 From the BBC Radio 4 nature programme presented by Sue Perkins, we learned that up to one third of female albatrosses, a species long thought to be heterosexual monogamous, are lesbians. Same-sex birds have been discovered raising chicks in tandem cooperation. Then they would slip away for a couple of hours, find a spare male and create a few more.

📌 All medium-term plans have evaporated. No monoprint workshop, no trip to Liverpool, no Archive presentation in April, or a trip to see Dominique and Graham in Spain. No workshops at the Barbican in May. It’s hard to see when anything will look like normal again. Or if.

Tuesday 17, London Yesterday the British Prime Minister asked all Britons to cut unnecessary contact and travel. This means that from this day on, for an unspecified period of time, this diary becomes the diary of a hermit. My wife and I could be holed up in our apartment for months as the government and the nation’s institutions have found a way to manage the virus crisis. This is from where I will be watching the world from now on.

📌 Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter are becoming the human tools they always had the potential to be. They’ll probably become even more important from now on as distant family and friends keep in touch and local communities organise themselves in the absence of anything useful from governing bodies. Facebook has been known in the past for its ability to murder irony, but even that might be about to change. We are at the start of a global revolution.

Facebook irony, a rare thing…

📌 Virgin wants employees to take unpaid leave. Aldi have announced rationing. Speaking of which, Chris posted this on Twitter last night.

📌 1There’s a lot of talk here on the estate. Groups are forming, policies drafted, etc. It could bring people together in the way no studied community building initiative ever could have. There were quite a fews locals in Waitrose. We got some toilet rolls and hot-cross buns. The neighbours we bumped into were genuinely pleased to see a familiar face. It’s a reminder of the isolation and loneliness felt by many who live on their own.

📌 The UK government has announced a £330bn package of loans to businesses. Part of me thinks this is a good thing, part of me thinks it’s the job of the banks to support businesses in difficult times, not national governments. And this from a prime minister who is reported to have said, “Fuck business” when making a case for Britain to leave the European Union. We are back to the old question of whether governments should allow businesses to fail. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband thinks not. We are all in this together, he argues, and punts the idea of a Universal Basic Income. The pathetic leadership of the government is now fuelling the panic. Rabid behaviour is the result, and this is just the start. 

Wednesday 18, London Over the past few days, we’ve woken up each morning to say, “Hey, guess what, we’re still alive.” I’ve been here before. When I was in hospital after my stroke, I’d start each day by giving thanks that I wasn’t dead. That was weird. Once awake, at least then had something to look forward to, something to aim for. It was survival, but not just for survival’s sake. It was survival with some kind of hope attached. But not now. There are no goals. This must be what it’s like for the long-term unemployed. A dead feeling of “Why bother” takes over. It is truly miserable, but at least my wife and I have each other, so we can attempt a joint plan to muddle through. Muddling through is very likely to become the new way of living.

📌 Cristina at Headway asked if I could do my monoprint workshop for the Barbican as a video. I tried it and it was hopeless, so I tried to back out of it. She was persistent and persuaded me to break it down into 1-minute snippets, which I will attempt tomorrow.

📌 My wife and I spent part of the afternoon grappling with video messaging via Duo and Skype. We want to make sure we can have meaningful contact with our friends and relatives while consigned to Purgatory.

📌 Michael Portillo is in yellow and blue today.

Portillo probably likes the look…

Thursday 19, London Tube stations are closing down, but the men on the building site outside are still hard at work.

📌 We tested our newfound skills in video chatting with a call to my sister on her birthday.

Birthday smile…

📌 My wife is stubbornly refuses to be bossed by Covid-19. She has just gone to Lidl in Hackney with her friend Shirley. On her return she described how the supermarket had started a simple queuing system outside to control the number of people in the store at any one time. Inside, she said all was calm, even though many of the shelves were empty.

📌 The ‘World of Interiors’ photo project will soon be scraping the bottom of the barrel, if we had one for me to stick my camera in. The inside of the toilet might be on its way soon. But today it is the “bottom drawer in the kitchen” into which all kinds of accumulated crap gets dumped.

Accumulated crap…

📌 We’ve nearly caught up with everyone else who watches ‘Last Tango in Halifax’. The opening episode of Series 5 casts Celia (Anne Reid) as a miserable old nag-bag, always giving Alan (Derek Jacobi) a hard time for being a Guardian-reading soft-arse, and his daughter Gillian for being a fuckup in every conceivable way.

Friday 20, London I still can’t stop my wife from going outdoors, despite advice saying stay inside. I can’t decide whether she genuinely wants to make the most of what might be the last days of freedom, whatever that now is, or whether she can’t stand the sight and sound of me.

📌 We got a Messenger message from Jake saying Waitrose had full shelves of toilet rolls. He offered to get shopping for us if we needed it. He had been planning a big trip to the US, but I guess that’s been shelved.

📌 My temperature is 36.73. 

📌 We are still not watching much news. The temptation is to stay glued to the latest reports, but there is so much conflicting information that you’d go mad. 

📌 Not paying any attention to the news bulletins means your information trickles through any available crack. My cousin Kate posted a message on WhatsApp saying Nicola Sturgeon had nationalised everything in Scotland. 

📌 I might have to revise the no-news diktat. Just heard that a mass closure of pubs, cafés and leisure centres is underway. Anywhere, in fact, where there are ‘other people’. Isn’t that the dictionary definition of Hell? 

Saturday 21, London Yesterday brought moments of optimism, signs that London was up for the challenge. Boris Johnson then announced a compulsory shutdown of cafes, restaurants and leisure centres, so I shot straight out to the chippy before it closed until further notice.

📌 Waitrose was busy with people, but not with Branston pickle. I had to make do with Waitrose own ‘Ploughman’s Pickle’. The buzz inside the shop had an air of desperation that seemed all the stranger in the presence of spookily empty shelves. 

📌Amanda is suggesting the gang “meet up” on an online conferencing app called Zoom. It sounds like fun. 

📌 It didn’t take long for the old war films to appear on the TV. Today it is ‘In Which We Serve’, co-directed (with David Lean) and starring Noël Coward, John Mills and Celia Johnson among other big stars. One of them is Bernard Miles,  who played Joe Gargery in David Lean’s ‘Great Expectations’ (also starring John Mills), who in one scene tells his gathered family of “The whole of civilisation trembling on the edge of an abyss.” Good call that.

📌We got a thankyou card from Séan for his birthday present (a globe lamp), which also seems weirdly apt right now. 

I joked afterwards that he could have added a PS to his thankyou saying “It goes so well with my pandemic”. My wife didn’t think that was funny.

📌 We’ve just been discussing the seriousness of the TV show ‘Hidden’. My wife says it takes seriousness to a new level and we wondered if the word “miserableness” exists, because it is very miserable. Tonight is the final episode and we stopped trying to count the number of smiles five episodes ago.

Sunday 22, London We could be at the start of a horrible national blame game. The radio is full of stories about carousing drinkers ramming into pubs that have stayed open. But once again the information is vague and variable. One expert says get outdoors and exercise; another says no, stay indoors and pretend you are carrying the virus.

My sister in Paris needs to fill in a form before leaving the house stating that it fits the definition of “essential” (food, medical). Here the urgency has not gained the psychological traction it has found in other countries, and it’s hard not to see that as a question of leadership. But I’m not even sure the present government actually wants people to act collectively for the good of the many over the self-interest of the few. 

The crisis is now moving onto moral ground, and anyone flouting the guidelines will soon be seen as an enemy. And right on cue, Luke posts this on Facebook.

Monday 23, London Andrew Rawnsley is as surprised as anyone to see a libertarian, small-state fanatic such as Boris Johnson steering Britain towards a mega-state, collectivist solution.

📌A depressing day, sombre, no energy, a feeling of total pointlessless. Any small sign of something positive would be nice. The people we know who work in the health service fear the worst is yet to come. 

Tuesday 24, London Unbelievably, the mood is better today. Yesterday had a deathly feeling. At 8.30pm last night the Prime Minister made a televised address to the nation announcing a total lockdown and a fixed set of rules on movement. It amounts to a compulsory house arrest for all but those doing essential work. Today there is some debate about what is essential, much of it from businessmen arguing that their enterprise is “essential” to the economic wellbeing of the nation.

📌 Somehow today we have some sense of the gravity of the situation. We are finally on the same page as other European countries and can learn from their experience. This gives some immediate structure to what we do, and that is a relief. There is still a ridiculous level of confusion and contradiction from decision makers. One moment we hear that the health service is to stop treating over 65s and that the army is mobilising field hospitals. The next we get the message that if we all calm down, the health service and food chains will revive. The depressing stories are very depressing; the moments of cheer are rare.

📌 Later I set up and shot some photos to add to the video Dave is editing of my wax monoprint tutorial for Barbican Creative Learning based on the ‘Masculinities’ exhibition that has now been suspended. That was fun.

📌 I also managed to finish editing my February diary. It had sat forgotten in “Drafts” for weeks. I will try to be more alert with the March diary. They make an interesting contrast. 

📌 My wife gave me a haircut with the clippers we bought from Argos. Number 8 all over.

📌 The great work of the staff at Headway East London continues. Today, Zuber sent all members a quiz. 

📌 My temperature is 36.49.

Wednesday 25, London One of the few things you can be sure of is that everyone is going through their own iteration of a private hell. It includes the realisation that everything you thought you knew and took for granted must now be reconceived. Certainties become maybes. Will water still come out of the tap? Maybe. Will electricity still come out of the socket? Gas? Will the washing machine break down? Maybe. There is a new deal waiting to be made with the world, but I’m not sure everyone will surrender to the inevitable and stop acting out of self interest.

📌 Two mounted police officers came onto the estate and chatted from a distance, asking if we needed any help.It was nice to see Tom and his daughter Melody out playing football. Tom was in goal and Melody kicks with her right foot.

📌 Michael Portillo is gushing over one of Britain’s last remaining theatre organists and his splendid instrument.

Thursday 26, London Despite its strong factual drive, the underlying tone of this George Monbiot essay is quite pessimistic. Hope here is a beaten, cowering, timid animal, cornered and bracing itself for the ultimate moment.

📌 Fiona at Bridges got in touch about making a tip-sheet for stroke survivors who’ve been discharged early from hospital to make way for Covid patients. Their rehab has been cut off, so Fiona wanted some input on how remote rehab can be offered over the phone or web. What are the very early goals I set myself when I got home and how did I go about it.

📌 The mounted police officers are still doing the rounds of the estate.

📌 My temperature is 36.34.

📌 This evening there is a public show of support planned for 8.30pm called “Clap for Carers” in which everyone who can goes outside or hangs out of a window to register appreciation for the selfless toil of those looking after others in these desperate times. Maybe in a year’s time they could do one urging better pay and conditions for those who care for others. Our friend, who is a nurse, says we should shout for more protective gear, PPE (personal protective equipment).

📌 I went outside at 8pm to take a photograph of a tall building nearby that nightly displays a sign with a big heart with the letters nhs. The clapping had already started, so we joined in and my wife shouted “more PPE”. It was a real national moment, and quite emotional.

Friday 27, London It was a gloomy start to the day, and the negativity continued when I tried to revive a lump of bread dough I made yesterday that hadn’t risen. That didn’t work either, so I am likely to default to soda bread in future.

📌 It was nice to get an email from Philippa at Guardian Archive and I wrote quite a long miserable response. Her reply to that came back, and it made me smile. She and Emma have been working from home for the past two weeks. I had wondered how Emma was coping with her pregnancy and the prospect of a new baby arriving amid the pandemic. Philippa said that Emma had been preparing to cope with re-usable nappies and had spurned her partner’s suggestion that, if they can’t leave the house, nappies were not really required. An image sprang to mind of a newborn baby squirming around crapping randomly on whatever surface of the home it happened to be inhabiting at the time. 

Saturday 28, London Signs of what the future might hold appeared in an article in the Guardian from Tobias Jones, who lives in Emilia-Romagna in Italy. Sky-high death rates persist, but flashes of a real-world adjustment to the shock are also playing out. The mad panic scramble to survive and grab has given way to greater reflection on how we are meant to behave towards one another. It made me happy to think that this is the road down which we might soon be travelling. Might.

📌We had a family chat via some online bit of wizardry called Zoom. My cousin Kate in Glasgow was in her pyjamas at 4pm. She made the excuse that she had just washed her hair and her default outfit post-hair-washing is PJs. My sister in Paris had a disbelieving look on her face, but since she often wears that expression anyway, it was hard to work out whether the hair-washing plus pyjamas story was genuinely plausible or not.

My sister explained that her son Tommy had shaved off his hair in an act of “cleansing”. It later emerged that he had attempted to give himself a trendy haircut with barbers’ clippers and it went wrong. Whereupon he thought sod it and shaved off the lot. Kate’s husband Pete asked if Tommy’s naked head was a “beachball” or a “walnut”, having established that these were two of the known categories of male head. My sister replied that the top of Tommy’s bare head was surprisingly flat. 

Sunday 29, London Some character in today’s Observer is predicting this crisis to flourish into a full-blown dictatorship by consent. Bio-security via mass Covid testing will become the new stick with which Boris and his ugly accomplices will turn us all into dithering supplicants, begging for permission to buy our next bog roll. 

Monday 30, London The Poke has put out its list of 69 funniest jokes. They have the last laugh by actually publishing 70, adding an extra one by Bob Monkhouse to finish, making it 71. I expected to have heard some of them, but no, not a single repeat. This was my favourite:

“If you don’t know what introspection is – you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.”

📌An astrophysicist in Australia is clogging up a hospital bed. He stuck some magnets up his nose trying to invent a Coronavirus safety device. He was “trying to liven up the boredom of self-isolation with the four powerful neodymium magnets.”

The story just gets funnier and funnier with every sentence. His partner helpfully laughed at him, which only caused him to do more stupid things: “I was trying to pull them [the magnets] out, but there is a ridge at the bottom of my nose you can’t get past.” Then he moved on to Google for a solution, and miraculously found an identical situation in which an 11-year-old boy solved the problem by using more magnets to magnetically coax the stubborn magnets from his nose. Then he tried pliers, “but they became magnetised by the magnets inside my nose.” He must have been relieved to be offered a ride to the hospital. “My partner took me to the hospital that she works in because she wanted all her colleagues to laugh at me.” Even the doctors who finally removed the magnets thought it was funny.

📌 My temperature is 36.84.

Tuesday 31, London My personal failings are being exposed daily. For just over a week my wife has been feeling unwell: cough, headache, chest congestion, fatigue and muscular aching. The arsehole in me says ride it out. You don’t have a fever. Rest, get hydrated and don’t do anything stupid in the meantime. Enjoy that big jigsaw and ‘Homes Under the Hammer’. Cup of tea, darling? The ineffectiveness of this method is magnified when I try to persuade The Patient that what would really help is if she put her head in a bucket of steam. This is actually on the nhs website under “home treatment” for chest problems. What’s not to like? A lot, it seems because my diligent ministering is roundly scoffed at and rejected every day.

📌 Maybe another Joke from The Poke might help. Here’s one by Steve Martin: “First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me.”

📌 I’m following the satirists. Mark Steel has posted this: “I’ve just got Zoom to work, and feel so excited I want to tell everyone. It’s a similar feeling to when my kids were born, or when I was 16, and snogged Kim Norwood at my mate’s party (turned out she was so drunk she thought I was Alan Buckingham).” Then John O’Farrell remarked that now that ‘The Archers’ will finally be introducing Coronavirus to Ambridge IN MAY, he suspects the virus will be over by then. My wife tells me The Archers is notoriously bad at keeping up with current events.

6 thoughts on “Diary: March 2020

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