Finally getting the hang of this new (online) way of working, enjoying seeing students in different, more human contexts – darkened rooms, still in bed/dressing gowns, sneaking off to microwave pizzas during class. One student forget to dress from the waist down, stands up to fetch something, another lies about a camera not working, only suddenly to appear in a room full of laughing girls just out of the shower.
Medical student son, strapped in body brace after dislocating (yet again) a shoulder in rugby, sits day after day staring at a screen. As confinement moves into its third week, he’s noticeably glum. “What are you studying?” I ask. The answer this week, “The penis”. I ask if they spend as much time staring at vaginas? They don’t.
A modern-day Heath Robinson posts videos of inventively madcap chain-reaction machines. I send links to self-isolating families with a tongue-in-cheek message “try this at home”. Two hours later a home movie arrives. Recycling bins have been rummaged, rolls of masking tape shredded and genius marble-run rigged down flights of stairs. House a Cat-in-the-Hat mess, but kids very happy.
A post prandial walk through streets ghostly quiet these past two weeks or more, suddenly primitive fear takes hold. Up ahead I sense large crowds, hear a deafening, hooligan din, a kind of barbaric improvised Samba. My son explains the ritual of applauding health care workers has arrived in France, a wonderful nightly cacophony of banged pots, pans and blasting whistles.
“He looks like a mass murder” says older son, looking at a photo on my screen. Ironic, because he may well be. A Florida pastor thunders to his packed congregation “We’re raising up revivalists, not pansies. Listen, this has to be the safest place; I said this has to be the safest place. If you cannot be safe in church, you’re in serious trouble. Serious trouble.”
I do a double take. In the shop window, cheery sofas and coffins decorated with Marvel and Beano characters. The deceased can also rest in peace covered in flowers, landscapes or family photos. If funerals suddenly appear on our To Do list, we’re going with the personal touch of the gregarious, colourfully-suited manager at Go As You Pleease rather than black suited seriousness of the Co-op.
Difficult to convince dementia sufferers of the need to stay indoors. “You mustn’t go into town, not even to buy a paper.” Pause. “Go out the back door and have a stroll around Arthur’s Seat”. She’s been in the flat for over seven years, has forgotten it backs on to 640 acres of natural beauty. “Does it?” she asks. “Oh!… I’ll go and have a look.”
Nothing is thrown away, a legacy perhaps of growing up during the war. Chaos reigns, clutter, cupboards over-stuffed. Neatly I fold hundreds of plastic bags, find cheese on the floor by the front door, long-ago bars of chocolate under a radiator. A supermarket shop brings home more of what already exists in abundance.
6th March: epidemiologists issue stark warnings up to 2.2 million Americans could die. Trump tells reporters: “Anybody that needs a test gets a test. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful… No, I’m not concerned at all. …we’ve done a great job.” 3rd April, the USA has 277,475 cases, 7402 people have died and the curve is rising exponentially.
Dangerously stupid, narcissistic, a “reckless anti-science moron,” Trump says America will be open for business by Easter. Why Easter? “I just thought it was a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline, it’s a great day.” Bolsano apparently believes Brazilians are naturally immune. And history will decide what to make of Boris Johnson’s’ herd immunity comments.
Lockdown France, Day 3. Out walking in the middle of nowhere I’m stopped by gendarmes and threatened with a 138€ fine. Give petty officials a little power and you can create monsters. Driving a Transit van a friend-of-a-friend is fined because his son, who lives in the same house, sits next to him, not 2 metres apart. A woman who leaves her house to buy tampons is fined, told sanitary products are “not essentials” .
This virus is wonderful for nature. Dolphins and swans have returned to Venetian canals, water, devoid of power boats and tourists, crystal clear. With manufacturing halted and commuting on hold, dense pollution clouds disappear. Rich birdsong, no longer drowned by human activity, fills the air.
The world changed forever when planes crashed into the Twin Towers on Tuesday 11th September 2011 My sons grew up with unrelenting media messages of nihilism, terrorism, anger, intolerance and fear, climate change, pollution, populism, the death of democracy, fake news, and now a world in lockdown. “Nous sommes en guerre” the president last night repeated, six times.
I turn up to vote, hoping to elect a more environmentally-aware mayor. A few days ago I checked my name was on the electoral list and it was. Today I’m told I’ve been “eradicated.” Thanks to Brexit, I no longer have voting rights. So the old adage is true and nothing certain in life, but death and the taxman.
A poet lobbies his government, funds are given, a ship refitted and, at the outbreak of WW2, 2200 refugees crowd onto the Winnipeg, a ship originally designed to carry up to 97 passengers. They leave Franco’s Spain bound for Chile, Pablo Neruda’s “long petal of sea, wine and snow” to start life anew.
In May 1937, a month after Nazis bombed Guernica, 3860 Basque children were put on a ship bound for Southampton. Prime Minister Baldwin opposed the idea, insisting the climate wouldn’t suit them. His government saw them as “an embarrassment” and left it to locals, volunteers, trade unions and the general public to provide food, shelter, education, support and clothing.
In I am I am I am Maggie O’Farrell examines 17 near-death experiences. Frequently harrowing (especially the gynaecological sections) the book makes readers chillingly aware of how tenuous life can be. And wonder why we spend what time we have on earth bogged down by the ridiculous, the unnecessary, the deeply unpleasant.
Can it be life imitating art? A relative poisons the portals of an ear, a damnèd smiling villain, the devil with power to assume a pleasing shape. Siblings are divided, power usurped, a child fixated on inheritance, tyrannical parent reduced to second childishness.
A free drawing session at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. A large gallery, empty but for a giant spotlit low-hung, slowly revolving disco ball. which creates illusion of softly falling winter evening snow. We sit and draw. From the next gallery excerpts drift of Schumann’s Kinderszenen. I look, see a grand piano, but no pianist.
As Storm Ciara batters the UK, one man exhibits quintessentially British eccentricity – naked except for a pair of Speedos, bobble hat and scarf, he continues his fundraising hike from John O’Groats to Land’s End undeterred by the lashing rain and winds of 80mph which have felled trees, blocked roads and left hundreds homeless or stranded.