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Corona Diaries – slivers of experience and ancient bogs

March 19, 2020

On 30th January I wrote the first of a dozen posts about the emerging pandemic. It seems a lifetime ago. Coronavirus had hardly penetrated Donald Trump’s palaeolithic imagination. Boris Johnson was crowing about Brexit. And the rest of the world – China excepted – was getting on with its life. Now everyone with a phone, tablet or keyboard is writing about it. This will be the best documented event in human history.  

Good. Everybody has their own story to tell. Will those of us who survive end up any the wiser? I’m not sure. One wonders how future historians will sort through all the slush in order to come to any universally-accepted conclusions.

If we want to derive lessons from history from, say, the war between Athens and Sparta, we have only Thucydides and a limited number of other sources to draw upon. As each event or period from then onwards becomes better documented, the picture becomes not clearer but muddier, not focused but more multi-faceted, more open to interpretation.

So it will surely be with this pandemic. All that diarists will be able to offer is slivers of experience and uncertain speculation.

So my first bit of uncertain speculation for this morning is that lock-down in the UK might be hours away. I’m not suggesting this in a vacuum. Stuff is flying around the internet to this effect.

I guess most of us are wondering what this new world we’re entering is going to look like. Here are one or two thoughts – some facetious, others less so. First, whose job will be safe over the next twelve months?

Delivery drivers, though any carrying loo paper will need an armed escort. Bureaucrats – can’t see the civil service standing anyone down. Personal trainers, provided they kit themselves out to do their sessions online. Therapists, again on-line, tending to the anxious. Private jet aircrew, provided any country will still allow billionaires to land. Actors, waiters and teachers, provided they take jobs as delivery drivers and supermarket shelf stackers. Journalists, provided they don’t expect to get paid for everything they write.

Some jobs are actually being created. Aside from manufacturers who are re-tooling to produce ventilators and other pandemic paraphernalia, I hear that the government is afraid of riots in the near future. Therefore, allegedly, it’s planning to recall some police officers from retirement. I’m not sure whether they’re being recalled for their beef or their brains, but either way, depending on the length of time they’ve been retired, I imagine that there will need to be a bit of shoe-horning of large bellies into uniforms and reading up on what’s changed in the law.

And if riots are imminent, this implies that there will be arrests, so will we see former prison officers being enticed back into service to look after all the looters and protesters confined to their kettles? I doubt it. Not when prisoners are being released to reduce overpopulation of our penal institutions.

Next question. Which assumptions that underpin our daily lives will prove to be unreliable over the next eighteen months? Here are a few:

That the internet will work. That central heating boilers will be repaired if they go wrong. Ditto cars and washing machines. That potholes will be repaired. That online deliveries will arrive on time, if at all. That you will be able to choose from ten types of coffee at your local supermarket. Likewise tea. That you will be able to meet your local Member of Parliament.

An irony of the present last gasp of free association is that most restaurants are nearly empty, judging by a drive we took last night through our town centre. We went to one of them – possibly for the last time for a while – and were able to secure a table miles away from the only other diners, an extremely loud group of twentysomethings. Washed hands going in and going out, plenty of distance, nice dish of pasta. What’s not to like?

Fine for us, but not for the restaurant, whose owner vented his frustration at being unable to claim on his insurance for loss of earnings because the government has not ordered him to shut down. So this is not anecdotal. It’s real. And he blames the insurance companies for lobbying the government, a possibility I mentioned a few days ago. You can see the grievances being stored up.

On to what now seems like an old chestnut. We’ve given up waiting for our online order for loo paper, placed three weeks ago, well before the panic. So before long we’ll be moving to plan B, which is to use back copies of The Times cut into neat little squares. Plan C is to dismember all the books we’ll never read again, though we’re reserving the coffee-table volumes because the glossy paper would be thick and non-absorbent. They will also be useful for next winter, in case the boiler gives up the ghost or the nation runs out of gas.

The best solution of all would be to find a plumber who can fit a toilet hose in one of our loos (see my post about these devices from happier times). Cheaper and more energy-efficient than the singing, dancing and blow-drying Japanese super-toilets. Bidets would work too. But I imagine that all the McMansion owners around here have created a shortage of these as well.

Use of unconventional materials with which to wipe your bottom could lead to other challenges. One of the potential environmental benefits of restaurants closing will be that the fatbergs blocking our drains are unlikely to get any worse. But will they be augmented by DailyMailbergs? The last thing we need is concrete blocks of Brexit propaganda causing a sewage reflux.

Our little contribution to avoiding such a nightmare in our neighbourhood might be to deposit re-used newsprint in bins rather than down the loo, as they do in Greece and other countries with less robust drains. Unfortunately, that would make the job of our refuse collectors more hazardous and unpleasant than it already is. Everything has consequences.

If all else fails, then perhaps we should do as the Romans did. Buckets of water and sponges on sticks. But this would probably not be a favoured option in Surrey, since it would require regular sluicing of formerly pristine wet rooms with liberal doses of disinfectant. Enough already.

On a more cheerful if crashingly mundane note, yesterday I refuelled the car. No queues, no panic, Not surprising, considering that before long anyone on the roads will be intercepted by viruspolitzei demanding to know where we’re going. But satisfying normality in these abnormal times. I’ve no doubt that given half a chance there would be people filling up jerrycans at the pumps, thus turning their garages into incendiary devices. Perhaps that’s for later.

As we plod slowly towards national hibernation, here’s a final list – things I’m not missing.

Traffic jams in my town, where planners insist on cramming in more people without considering the small detail that each of these people want at least three cars. Aircraft every two minutes on the flight-path to Heathrow. Talk about Brexit (yes, of course there’ll be a bloody extension whatever Boris the Idiot says). Talk about reforming the BBC. Flooding (thank you God for giving us a break from the rain). Unkindness, lack of compassion (we do seem to be caring about each other a little more).

That’s that for now. Comments on any of these thoughts are more than welcome.

Onwards and upwards with good cheer in adversity.

  1. The French lockdown can’t last long.

    The government has agreed to pay 84% net of everybody’s salary (fed via the employer) who is on “temporary unemployment” (including mine since yesterday).

    This, while those out for a stroll (without a dog) and not walking quickly (which counts as exercise), and not having put the correct “X” in the box of their “Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire” are being stopped by the cops and getting minimum on-the-spot 135€ fines, which can go up to 320€ if you pay late (or give any lip, probably). There was a message from the town hall on Madame’s Facebook saying the local minimum was 175€ from the Police Municipale….perhaps the Police Nationale (under M. Castaner) will be fining at the lower rate.

    I’m not budging.

    All in a good cause, but the fines won’t pay for the salaries….

    On Thursday President Manu was truly presidential and inspiring with “whatever it costs” said repeatedly.

    On Monday he was much more the scolding parent/headmaster (shepherd?) castigating his flock….baaaah! “We are at war” was the mantra then.

    I’m doing my best to teach over “Whereby” – the two first lessons this morning were “fails” – the first student, having taken a sleeping tablet at 5am, woke up after her lesson, and the second student’s internet connection was so poor we gave up. I’m on a nudge-nudge cash-in-hand 10€ per hour bonus for lessons done from the boss, so I am NOT amused….He’ll make up the 16% difference OR ELSE …..(I’ll do nothing at all – a job’s a job).

    I reckon 30 days and that’ll be that……at least for the lockdown…..the pips will be squeaking in the state coffers and the sheep will be bahed out of their minds by then.

    Summer season may be safe!

    Cheers (non-alcoholically), Andrew

    • Interesting, thanks Andrew. But don’t you think it will be difficult for the government to relax the measures if the outbreak is peaking at that time? By the way I love the way the French precede presidential addresses with the Marseillaise. Given Johnson’s treatment of Her Majesty, I suspect that God Save the Queen before a Johnsonian update might acquire a different complexion. Keep updating! S

  2. I forgot…..I’m 59 today. Maybe a bottle of Cremant de Limoux and the annual “Boris” this evening!

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