Following on from last week, here is the next entry in OV Jeremy Thompson (S 61-65)’s Virus Diaries for Sky news…
Monday 30th March: Fresh air day.
We venture out for our ﬁrst walk in a week.
Yes, we are being ultra-cautious. But then I am tagged by oﬃcialdom as among the Vulnerables. I prefer to think of us as more of a senior version of The Incredibles, confronting the vengeful killer bug. It’s a chill, grey Monday morning. But it feels great to be outdoors. Spring is bursting into life. Beautiful blooms amidst the doom. It’s uplifting. For a moment life seems almost normal.
But walking back down our high street is a reality check. Most shops and businesses are barred and bolted. It’s a sad sight. The long-predicted ‘Death of the British High Street’ feels a whole lot closer. We wonder how many of these shops will survive the shutdown.
Their cash reserves are being severely stress tested.
The only souls in sight are queueing outside our local convenience stores.
At the tills, they now only accept cards. Nobody wants to handle cash anymore. ‘Dirty money’, ‘ﬁlthy lucre’. It could hasten the end of the ﬁver and the tenner. Wedge in history’s waste bin.
A welcome piece of joyful news. Lynn’s niece Laura and her husband Matt call us from Yorkshire to tell us they’re expecting a baby this autumn. Wonderful! That’s what we need. A sign that life goes on despite the dread.
Tuesday 31st March: Groundhog Day.
“Déjà vu all over again”, as the legendary New York Yankee’s baseball catcher Yogi Berra allegedly once said.
The days are starting to repeat. The only comfort is that I’m discovering it’s a global phenomenon. Comparing notes with friends and family in Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Vietnam, the USA and Spain, they’re ﬁnding similar ways of coping with conﬁnement. Working from home, upscaling hobbies, exercising, cooking, reading, viewing and connecting with friends old and new.
A mate in Melbourne, who was my News Editor at the BBC more than 30 years ago, tells me his street has started an online community to look after each other. Bob says: “We’ve found ourselves on chatting terms with people we didn’t know existed and still haven’t seen properly.”
Perhaps by the end of all this many of us will be on better terms with people we didn’t know before or had simply lost track of. Thinking positively, maybe the world will be a more caring and friendly place.
My great buddy Graham rings me from Norfolk. He and his wife moved there from London recently to be nearer their daughter and grandchildren. But they’re more conﬁned than most as his wife has had a serious illness that’s compromised her immune system. When the kids visit they have to stay in the garden and wave at granny and grandad through the conservatory window. No contact allowed. But thankfully no loss of his usual humour.
Graham says he ﬁnally tracked down some anti-bacterial sanitiser this week and ordered it online. He collected the parcel from the end of his drive where the delivery guy had left it. Graham then remembered what I told him about the virus lasting up to 24 hours on cardboard. So he carefully unwrapped it wearing Marigold rubber gloves and destroyed the cardboard, only to discover the precious hand-wash had come from Spain, one of the worst aﬀected countries.
Wednesday 1st April: April Fool’s Day.
Any other year we might have suspected a story about a global virus with a sombrero curve as a seasonal jape. Not today. Pranksters are keeping their social distance from this pandemic.
A old South African pal Kieno Kammies calls from Cape Town to chat to me live on his daily show on CapeTalk Radio. Africa still hasn’t felt the full impact of Coronavirus and he admits they’re growing seriously worried about what’s in store. South Africans often worry about what the outside world thinks of them and fret whether tourists will ever come back. I promise him I’ll return as soon as we’re allowed to travel.
Later Lynn and I celebrate a friend’s birthday by raising a glass with chums in Johannesburg via Zoom.
These days confabs are an odd mix of family news and the latest gallows humour, interspersed with discussions on virus pathology, the latest data, falling stock markets and speculation on how long the crisis will last.
But we all become much more animated talking about our new discovery Wild Earth – a real live safari on Youtube.
We now spend afternoons tracking leopards, lions, hyena, jackals and elephants with experienced game rangers guiding us through South Africa’s lowveld bush.
It’s brilliant. And interactive. You can even ask the rangers live questions.
We raise another toast. And there’s the rub. We’re starting to realise that, like millions of others, we’re in danger of boozing away the virus blues. Just a glass of Hermitage to take the edge oﬀ our hermit-like existence. Now the ‘occasional glass’ can easily grow into a line of bottles ready for recycling.
Wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd email me a note, as a ‘valued customer’, saying:
“It turns out that self-isolation is thirsty work and, in recent days, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of orders. As a result, our warehouses are busier than ever.”
They’ve had to stop taking new orders for the moment to catch up on deliveries.
Our South African pals tells us President Ramaphosa has gone as far as to ban the sale of alcohol during the lockdown.
Beware the lure of the vine.
I promise myself: One glass. Put the stopper back. Save the rest for another day.
After all, I’m not going anywhere. Are you?
Thursday 2nd April: Bad News Day.
Who’d have thought a Downing Street news conference would become must-see TV.
In the absence of a viable vaccine we settle for a daily ﬁx of bug brieﬁngs by Boris, his band of experts and their B-list stand-ins. I detect the tone of questions from journalists is gaining an extra edge. More probing about Britain’s shortage of testing kits and lack of an exit strategy. The rising death toll and plunging markets are starting to weigh heavily on us all. What sort of world will be left when it’s all over? I sense we captive citizens are getting restless for answers. Not a rebellion yet, but deﬁnitely a right to know.
Depressingly, more reports reach us from friends with family members suﬀering from Coronavirus. Fatalities are increasing in UK. That curve still isn’t ﬂattening.
There are some wildly contrasting counter measures around the world.
Still no lockdown at all in Sweden.
While in the Philippines President Duterte is ordering police to shoot dead anyone violating the isolation rules. And you thought you were having a tough time?
It’s a funny old world, as if we didn’t already know.
Lynn sets out on a strategic sortie to the pharmacy and food store. ‘I counted her out and counted her back’. She reports that queues are shorter and more orderly. No sign of panic buying any more. It seems Britain is settling into an abnormal normal.
8 p.m. on Thursday. Time for the Great Ovation. Along with millions of others we join a common purpose and applaud our carers and NHS workers. The sense of community is comfortingly tangible.
As for entertainment, we watch James Corden in the play One Man, Two Guvnors, on YouTube, live streamed by the National Theatre. A free service for us to enjoy in these times of hardship. A return to the grand old days of Armchair Theatre. I wonder when we’ll next go to the theatre for real. And how many will survive with no audiences and no income. Seriously, it could be a long time until we want to be in a crowd or an audience again.
Friday 3rd April: Thank God It’s Friday.
But it’s not really the end of the working week.
Now every day melds into the next. Weekdays, weekends, what does it matter.
Those working from home are inexorably drawn into a seven day week.
Those lucky enough to still be working that is.
Each day plays out rather like the last and the next.
My nagging cough and stuﬀed-up nose ﬁnally seem to have receded. Thank goodness.
Without testing, I’ll never know whether it was just a cold or a brief skirmish with one of Corona’s less invasive cohorts.
I manage to exercise throughout, keeping ﬁt for all those things I dream of doing – like staying indoors. Again.
We decide to shake things up. Rattle the routine. Inject a bit of style.
A neighbour who works at a top local restaurant oﬀers to deliver gourmet meals cooked by her boss, a well-known chef, who’s desperate to keep working while his restaurant is shut and to bring in some cash. I suppose if anyone’s going to go stir-crazy it’s a chef! We make the most of this new, entrepreneurial service and sit down to a swanky three-course dinner.
We put on our best going-out clothes, for the ﬁrst time in weeks, light the candles, open a good bottle of wine and pretend we’re out on the town. But without the cost of an Uber and a generous tip.
Not a bad end to an another endless week.
Saturday 4th April:
Needless to say it’s a glorious sunny day just as the Government warns us not to make the most of it. They worry that the warm weather may tempt us to ﬂout lockdown rules. And sure enough I can see plenty of people ignoring the warnings from my terrace at Thompson Towers. The rights and wrongs of how to police a pandemic will be debated long after the last virus has been vanquished. The truth is nobody knows where the frontline is when you’re battling an invisible enemy.
Instead of joining the sun-seekers I opt for yet another round of crunches, squats and planks in our temporary gym on the bedroom ﬂoor. Disturbingly I don’t appear to be losing any weight.
But then I’m enjoying cooking too much. And meals have become a highlight of the day for the incarcerated. It doesn’t help when every well-known chef is running free online cooking classes from their home kitchen. I even try to follow a recipe by my favourite Spanish chef Dani García. But somehow it gets lost in translation. It really does end up as huevos rotos – broken eggs.
For my sporting Saturday I binge watch every British and Irish Lions rugby test since 1997 on Sky. I was planning to go on next year’s tour to South Africa, if it goes ahead. And that’s 15 months away. Surely this plague upon our planet will be over by then.
Talking of South Africa, our great friend Pearlie treats us to a live panoramic view of sunset over Table Bay from her rooftop. She tells us she climbs up there every day when ‘house rage’ overtakes her.
The relatively polite policing of the UK lockdown is put in perspective when Pearlie describes how she was stopped at an army checkpoint outside Cape Town as she was taking supplies to her elderly mother. The soldiers wanted reasons, receipts and I.D. before they let her pass. She says it was a scary experience with echoes of South Africa’s suppressive past that we both reported on as journalists not that long ago. There are more stories of police shooting dead shutdown miscreants. President Ramaphosa has called for police to implement the lockdown ‘with compassion’. Instead one newspaper notes that it will be remembered more for ‘skop, skiet and donder.’ In English – kick, shoot and thunder.
Sunday 6th April:
We start the day with a sunrise game drive following a pack of wild dogs through the African bushveld. These live safaris are addictive. They help transport us far from the real world of infection graphs, ventilator production lines and virus test kits.
After 50 years as a journalist I ﬁnd myself consuming less news now that at any time in my adult life. Just enough to know what’s going on, but not so much that I get downhearted. I guess it’s a self-protective mechanism.
It’s intriguing how this lockdown is reshaping our lives.
One pal says he sees this as a ‘period of reﬂection and a chance to re-evaluate everything.’ As long as he survives, he adds.
We’re social distancing, but socially more engaged. We’re caring more about what matters, people more than things. We’re hardly buying clothes because it doesn’t matter what you wear indoors. Athleisure wear rules. Good home-cooking is a joy. Who needs all the fancy stuﬀ and the 15-course tasting menus. Watching the green buds of spring is a joy. Just being alive feels like a privilege.
Though I hear dogs are having a tough time. During a recent video chat with the family I notice Pablo ﬂat out in the background. Like many other pets he’s showing signs of exhaustion, not surprising when every family member insists on taking him for a walk at least once a day.
After weeks of appeals and warnings from ministers and boﬃns, it’s reassuring to ﬁnally hear from the Queen. A rare ‘special message’. To us senior Brits we see the monarch, at 93, as Her Vulnerableness-in-Chief, still stoic despite the sickness all around. The self isolating sovereign evokes memories of our wartime spirit speaking of resolve and pride and praising those on the NHS frontline. She ends by telling us: “Better days will return.’
I hope she’s right.