Diary… When the nation started to breathe easily


Clusters of anarchists ditch distancing in pursuit of self pleasure in the sunshine


Digest: 3-9 May


Sunday, London The Lockdown routines are turning into comfortable habits. Sunday starts with editing last week’s diary and posting it online.

📌 Agreed with a friend to share a glass of fizz next Thursday on Zoom to celebrate her special birthday. Then it was straight into making a new soda loaf. This one has no oats or bran and tastes a bit dull. It also doesn’t look too beautiful, which is because I just mix and pour. No handling, rolling, shaping, etc. I probably need to overcome my reluctance to get my fingers stuck into the dough.

Not too beautiful loaf…

📌 We watched a gripping 1970s psychological film called ‘The Conversation’, starring Gene Hackman as a security snoop who is driven to paranoia and ultimately insanity by his own guilt. It also features a very young Harrison Ford.

📌 There is something dodgy going on with the internet. Our friend in Brighton dropped off her network and couldn’t join our Zoom quiz. I have just spent 10 minutes watching a 2.5mb picture sending via email. Using any internet service while a catch-up TV app is running  is impossible.

📌 I’ve stopped hating ‘Normal People’ so much. It might be because we’re getting to the end of the 12 episodes, or maybe I have been blessed with some tolerance spirit I never had before. I still find Connell and Marianne’s obsessive introspection irritating, but I’ve softened, a bit.

📌 Andrew Rawnsley’s column in the Observer talks about the government’s precarious next steps towards rebooting “business as usual”. I read elsewhere that in other countries schoolchildren are returning to their classrooms, but enter school only after a temperature test. There is muttering in the UK media that “immunity passports” will be issued within months.

Monday, London There is a perception that the government’s political body language has given a green light to a drift “back to normal”. We had sensed this already and agreed to stay put, that the risks were still high and that the government’s approach was a dangerous game of roulette. The government is so wedded to its libertarian ideology that it is prepared to force its citizens to make the “choice” between death and penury. It’s as disgraceful as its treatment of frontline nhs workers, who have carried on serving the sick without proper protective equipment. I hope they go on a national strike. I will be happy to support them.

📌 With a government itching to lift the Lockdown, the unions have now got a fight they can win. The old image of them as a ragtag wrecking crew is long gone. If they focus on the health service and “keyworkers”, they can mint a new image in the public mind. The TUC’s Frances O’Grady starts the fight today.

Tuesday, London The media is full of stories about how the government is pushing ahead with its evil plan to flog off the nhs despite the virus crisis. The contract for contact tracing has gone to cowboy security operator Serco. The app that is to be piloted on the Isle of Wight is said by experts to be an open door to hackers and cyber criminals. Trade talks with the US will quietly resume this week. Trump has made it clear he wants US business to own the nhs.

📌 I’ve been mulling over what art route to take next. Every time I start a drawing or painting a human face seems to pop out. Today I saw this picture on the 19-20th Century Russian Painters Facebook page.

It’s called ‘Ices Of The Kara Sea’, by Borisov Alexander Alexeevich, and it reminds me of the fantasy landscapes we used to draw at school – me, Gary and Dennis, creating wacky worlds where odd people did the funniest things.

📌 At the beginning of the virus outbreak I dramatically labelled it a revolution, stating pompously that we were on the threshold of a new way of living together. Today I can say I was wrong, but only a bit wrong. I believed back in March that a ready-made, more collective and collaborative way of life was waiting in the wings. It’s not, and there are no big alternative solutions poised to step up. What there is, more than any clear idea of what to replace the old order with, is a sense of what needs to be thrown away, what needs saying no to. No to ignoring your vulnerable neighbours. No to downgrading health and social care in your list of voting priorities. No to crap, dangerous jobs. So the revolution will unfurl into our lives rather than crash through the door, shouting and waving its arms.

📌 During an online coffee, A said she was unlikely to succumb to Covid because her immunity had been super-sharpened by years travelling on the Central Line.

📌 There’s a fabulous 15-minute lockdown drama strand on ITV called  ‘Isolation Stories’. Last night it was a single pregnant Sheridan Smith doing Zoom, and tonight it was Robert Glenister as a dying dad to his real actor son Tom.

Wednesday, London Some top government scientist has been forced to resign because he breached social-distancing guidelines. My wife had the details: “and all because he wanted a shag off his married girlfriend.” He said he thought he was immune because he had been infected by and recovered from Covid-19. I repeat, TOP GOVERNMENT SCIENTIST.

📌 It was reported on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show that Tom Hanks (or Tom Cruise?) is “in talks” to make an action movie in Space. That hasn’t been done before, so good luck with that, Tom, whichever Tom you are.

📌 It looks like the government is trying to pull a crafty stunt. “News” arrives that the way out of the Lockdown amounts to locking up the over 70s. The elderly and the vulnerable will be kept “shielded” while the younger generation get on with the business if rebuilding the economy. This is a sneaky move to super-marketise an ageing population, keep them quiet with cheap gin and free telly, and to kettle the rest of the population down the road to the sunny uplands of NeoNeoliberalism.

📌 There’s been a rush to defend the randy scientist. Other scientists are saying he is being fitted up for pointing out how crap the government has been at following “the science”.

📌 My cooking “experiment” got the look of disapproval. It was an attempt at a flat tray loaf of eggy bread with bacon bits. Two eggs, flour, sour milk (milk with lemon juice), salt, bicarb, bacon, whisked into a thick batter poured into a tray, sprinkled with dried chilli flakes and baked on a low light until risen and “bready”. I was winging it, and that makes my wife nervous that I’m wasting stuff on stupid ideas. I got defensive in an arsey way when she said so and angrily offered to “pay for the eggs, with my own money, out of my pocket”. She rolled her eyes and went back to her Sudoku.

📌 Another great ‘Isolation Stories’ tonight, with Angela Griffin as a psychiatrist dealing with a dickhead hypochondriac.

Thursday, London As Boris gets ready to tell us to carry on sunbathing I wonder if many people will remember how badly the government screwed up over this crisis. Even today we hear of a massive consignment of imported “safety” gowns that were not safe at all and lie abandoned in a warehouse.

📌 Good news indicator: Halfords report a huge uplift in bike sales to people who are too scared to get on buses. British roads were never really built for mass cycling and cyclists routinely use the pavements, to the annoyance and safety concerns of pedestrians. Still, if we are genuinely seeing the decline of the motor car in cities, that is good. Adapting the highways and byways for cycling is a challenge. A green transport overhaul is overdue.

📌 Florence Pugh was good in ‘Midsommar’, but I remember having the impression all the way through that she wore the look of someone who thought they were experimenting in a new groundbreaking type of comedy, not in a bad horror film.

📌 It was a year ago that Liverpool thrashed Barcelona 4-0. That Trent Alexander-Arnold corner lives in the memory, a golden moment in these bleak times.

📌 We did the Brighton Zoom quiz. Mia asked the questions and we all did very badly. The questions were very ‘A-level’. We didn’t know that “ship” means “relationship” to young people and that Ship Names are ones where the names of the two partners are linguistically welded together. Thus: Brangelina and Shamy. We had a good laugh later creating ship names for members of the group.

Friday, London As the Prime Minister prepares to tell the nation that the Lockdown will be “eased” from Monday, news arrives that UK citizens believe the restrictions should stay in place. Is this a genuine case of the population having more sense than its government, or maybe the crisis has pushed the reset button on an old way of life and the people are still in two minds about what the new way should look like.

📌 Interesting to see London issuing its own stay-at-home policy in defiance of the idea that a relaxation of the rules is on the way.

📌 Such a pleasure to rearrange the fridge magnets.

📌 During a family Zoom, my sister recommended a new drama on Netflix called ‘The Eddy’. It’s about the complicated lives of the people who own and inhabit a jazz club in Paris (that’s where my sister lives). The club isn’t doing well, the owner is an unexploded psychological bomb and his personal life is, natch, a disaster. His best mate gets his throat slit in the first episode and his busty blues singer has lost her voice. His estranged daughter arrives from New York to add even more baggage to his already overloaded life and he constantly puts on a face that simply looks doomed. Typical of my sister to enjoy this type of rubbish. She banged on about Spiral for about three years until I finally snapped and told her I thought it was crap because IT DOESN’T HAVE A SINGLE LIKEABLE CHARACTER. She tossed my thesis aside and carried on bigging it up. ‘The Eddy’ is black-hole TV. Its density and intensity is claustrophobic, suffocating. That could be seen as a good thing, of course. Except it’s a drama without a story, and I like stories. It’s an overlong character study. Nothing really happens. “Sweaty Parisian club owner feels the pinch professionally and privately” isn’t exactly come-hither viewing on a Friday night in Lockdown.

Saturday, London There’s a story in the paper saying 8,000 more people have died since the start of the virus than would have in normal times. The story goes on to suggest that rather than bother an overstretched nhs, people simply stayed at home, curled up and died. Or possibly in more distressing circumstances.

📌 There was a lone magpie hopping around on the grass outside. My wife said that magpies mate for life, so something tragic must have happened. I offered an acrimonious divorce as a possibility and she gave me a derisive look.

📌 The Barbican asked me for 100 words about my experience working with them for the ‘Masculinities’ video workshop. I managed 97: “Working with the Barbican’s Creative Learning team has been a joy because collaborative work is not easy right now. Artists are often loners, but I get my artistic energy from others, and from looking out rather than looking in. Finding partners who share that outlook is exciting and inspiring. Finding one that sits at the heart of your local community is even better. Beyond the new skills I’ve picked up, my Barbican experience has taught me above all else that the artist is a citizen, and a society that stands by its artists is a strong one.”

📌 When I heard this morning of the new 14-day quarantine policy for people entering Britain, the words horse and stable-door came to mind. Kevin Maguire sniffs another, more sinister motive to the initiative.

📌 At this week’s Zoom coffee, we all wore hats.

Mad Hatters…

The conversation centred on the imminent so-called “easing” of the stay-at home rules. Already a type of DIY anarchy has broken out and distancing guidelines casually binned. Maybe this is a city thing only, but it is growing and will be hard to suppress unless city councils take the issue into their own hands and lay down the law.

♦️ Read last week’s Diary digest.

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