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Corona Diaries – lockdown, soon, maybe…

March 17, 2020

I don’t know about anyone else, but one of the odd things about living though a pandemic is the sense of certainties evaporating. Things we take for granted, that shops will be open, that planes will be crossing our sky on their way to Heathrow, that playgrounds in the park will be full of kids and that there’ll be footie on the TV if we fancy a nap – all slipping away from the realm of normality.

Then there’s the possibility of death, something most of us come to terms with if we have an incurable disease. But a plague is different. It’s rather like a storm cloud you can see on the horizon as you’re out walking. Will it drench you or will you escape a soaking? Either way you prepare yourself for the deluge, and hope it discharges itself elsewhere.

For the past six weeks, since the virus first raised its ugly head, I’ve thought constantly about the prospect of being one of the unlucky ones. My first emotion was fear. I was also struck by the cognitive dissonance of contemplating the end amid benign normality. Then fatalism. If it happens it happens. Then positivity. It’s possible to influence the outcome by taking precautions, and meanwhile life, to the extent that it’s allowed to, goes on. There’s plenty of pleasure to be had from listening to the birds, watching the early flowers come out and seeing the trees gird themselves with buds in time for another summer.

That’s how I feel now. Should the virus take me, there probably wouldn’t be much processing capacity beyond dealing with body aches and failing lungs – the primal struggle of staying alive. But that’s for tomorrow. Today is for appreciating good health and using it in productive ways. Writing this diary is one of them.

Normally on my birthday we would have a gathering of our small but much-loved clan. Not on Sunday. We cooked the usual full-monty lunch meal, but because one of our daughters, her partner and our grandson have the sniffles they didn’t make it. Our other daughter, stuck in London, gave it a miss on our advice. Hopefully there will be other opportunities in better times to get together.

But enough of this mawkish contemplation. Time to think about others, especially the people of Italy. Celebrity chef Giovanni Locatelli posted a video the other day showing the death notices in a Milanese newspaper a month ago. One and a half pages in February, and ten pages in a recent edition. Brings it home to you, doesn’t it? My heart goes out to them.

Now, turning towards the reported policy of the British government towards the over-70s. I know nothing, but it occurs to me that the worst thing you can do is to confine fit and healthy senior citizens to their homes, especially if they live active lifestyles. State of mind must play a part in boosting or depressing immune systems. So surely we should be encouraging our elderly to continue to be active, so long as they do so in a way that doesn’t potentially infect others?

They should be encouraged, not just allowed, to go for walks provided they keep away from others. They should be allowed to play golf, so long as they maintain a safe distance from their playing partners – no handshakes, no congregating in the club house, plenty of hand-washing. If they live by the sea, they should take the dog for a walk on the beach. If they live inland, they should seek out beautiful places, if they’re lucky enough to live close to any.

Is this dumb advice? Call me stupid, but it seems to me that someone locked in their home is more likely to succumb to depression, and consequently to other ailments, even if they escape the virus. I know people, especially singles, who if they were locked away might die of boredom and neglect.

Of course it would be simpler just to issue a blanket ban. But most older people I know want to live and have much to live for, not least to be involved in the lives of their kids and grandkids. They’re not stupid. Should we not trust them to do the right thing? Maybe, maybe not. After all, desperation often finds a way.

Another question: to what extent can the population as a whole be trusted to do the right thing? I’m assuming that everybody by now knows the basics – hand-washing, social distancing and so on. But how far into the population has the message actually penetrated, and to what extent are people believing what they want to believe, especially if there are siren voices on the internet and amongst natural sceptics suggesting that the virus is no worse than the flu?

I suspect that despite the wall-to-wall messaging, there are still people who are not convinced. It may well be that a universal acceptance of the danger won’t come about until everybody knows somebody who has been infected, and their stories – especially those who have had a bad dose or even died – circulate widely. That moment may not be far away.

Here’s another issue that prompts my inner cynic to leap out. In the government’s most recent communications, spokespeople from Boris Johnson downwards keep airing the prospect that a lock-down is imminent. Yesterday, Johnson said in the first of his daily homilies that people should avoid going to public places such as theatres, pubs and restaurants.

Good advice, except that, as a number of journalists on the social media point out, until the shut-down is mandatory, owners will not be able to make insurance claims for loss of earnings. So they’re understandably worried that they will soon go out of business.

Now here’s where my cynicism kicks in. If insurance companies, which are among the mainstays of the British economy, have to pay out for a massive number of claims, what will the hit do to their financial health? And what level of lobbying of the government is going on to mitigate that risk? And to what extent is any lobbying influencing the timing of the government’s decision to impose the lockdown?

Recommendations, as opposed to orders, appear weak and indecisive. I find it hard to understand why the government should wait a couple of weeks before doing what most people know it’s going to do. So to what extent is the timing guided by science, and to what extent by powerful lobbying?

Finally, the latest in the long-running saga of our online loo paper order. After numerous promises that delivery is imminent, we got this email today:

Thank you for the message to find out the status of your order for toilet paper. I’m very sorry to hear that you have not received your order as of yet.

As you will no doubt have heard the recent escalation of the Coronavirus outbreak has created a sudden and unprecedented demand for household essentials, especially toilet paper. As a result, all manufacturers are struggling to meet the increased demand, which is, therefore, resulting in some delays in getting sufficient stock to us.

Nevertheless, we have secured the commitment of stock from our manufacturers, and are receiving stock on a daily basis and will be fulfilling all orders. We completely understand the importance of having essential household items such as toilet paper during this period of uncertainty and are working extremely hard to ensure that all our customers receive their orders as soon as possible.

I will also check with our carriers regarding your order, as we are starting to receive reports of parcels of toilet paper going missing. It is something that we are monitoring carefully, but rest assured if this is the case we will organize a replacement parcel to be sent out asap.

We apologize for the inconvenience caused and thank you for your patience and understanding.

So it seems that the timeless Middle Eastern tradition of bukra inshallah (tomorrow God willing) has arrived in Britain. Or otherwise, I will look with unaccustomed suspicion upon my neighbours, as in as in that famous Surrey epithet: “which of you bastards has nicked my bog paper?”

Oh for the days of plenty when loo rolls would cascade down the terraces at football matches!

One last thought. If the Grim Reaper decides to take me, I fervently hope he doesn’t knock on my door until after the last episode of Homeland.

More when I have it.

From → Social, UK

  1. Another 2 expressions come to mind of KSA days….”shwaiya, shwaiya” = take it easy; and “bukra fil mish-mish” = literally, tomorrow there’ll be apricots, the Arabic equivalent of the anglophone “pigs might fly” or francophone “when hens have teeth”, being when your question on “government influencers” might get an answer. Replying, hard at work, on full pay, laptop on lap, (in bed). Emmanuel said “we’re at war” so I’m keeping my head down, the official “attestation de déplacement dérogatoire” will go unused in my case…Mrs. R. is caring for the elderly and infirm so the reaper might be a Fifth Column. The birdsong was great until the neighbour started installing a conservatory…

    • Thanks Andrew. I’m struggling to think of more Arabic phrases appropriate to the moment, but there must be some. Glad you’re both holding up. S

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