Another three weeks

At the end of last week the government announced that the ‘lockdown’ here in most of the UK would be extended by another 3 weeks. There has been much pressure on ministers to start to talk about how the country should emerge from this, which sectors might be allowed to open first, but they resolutely refuse to even discuss it, on the grounds that it will dilute the message and the urgency to stay at home etc.

Perhaps it is not that good for my mental health but I have been reading about the 1918 so-called Spanish flu that killed what in today’s world population would be about 300 million people. The story and some old photographs are chillingly familiar – everyone in masks and the proposition that governments delayed action by initially refusing to name it and to discuss what was happening so shortly after the end of world war 1. The first hand tales of horror and shock at the speed of death and its sheer scale remain powerful and chilling. Also that flu, and others, had 2 or sometimes 3 waves before they died away.

So London is deserted – apart from a steady stream of joggers by the river which remains, in the sunny days at least, very pleasant, if odd, to walk by. Occassionally it has felt creepy but mostly it is just odd. Going shopping is constantly changing. It took maybe two weeks for everywhere – supermarkets and now Borough Market – to introduce social distancing with queues 10 feet apart and restricted numbers shopping. Once inside though it is hard to avoid getting closer and some people don’t appear to care. People are not relaxed enough yet to engage in banter in these stretched out queues but I am hoping that it will come. There used to be empty shelves – itself provoking anxiety – but now stocks have returned and my anxiety has gone down a little. Work is via Skype or Zoom and so is contact with our children as well as meditation and teaching from the Jamyang centre down near Elephant and Castle. In fact I do more of all of this now that it involves almost zero effort – not getting on my bicycle – and I am so at home with the computer.

We sit in the garden when it is sunny and warm, we garden quite a bit (Spring has come to the garden despite the virus), and cycle on the godsend exercise cycle (45 minutes) and lift some weights throughout the day. Shopping takes an age because of all the cleaning afterwards. So the days are full.

I am constantly wondering about the summer and my travel plans. The Youtube motorcycle travellers that I follow have one by one managed to scramble home and are wondering about how they will keep the views up along with their income, I presume.

At work two members of staff have died along with one student mental health nurse. My close colleague who had the virus now has pnuemonia – and she has also lost her mother. Sad times.

The story continues

As ever, there are contradictory strands in the quickly changing story of Covid-19. The speed of movement is one characteristic of events here and globally. There are inklings of a stabilising in the number of deaths here in the UK, but more confidently in some European countries, like Spain. In Austria they are even talking about easing restrictions on opening shops. And in China they seem to be in a phase of giving thanks to those who died and opening things up again, whatever that means in China. So while it seems we still have a couple or more weeks of this ‘lockdown’ the fact that some other countries appear to be emerging from this gives a sense of confidence that, while our intensive care units have yet to see the peak in admissions, on a broader perspective, there is some light in the distance. At the same time, working at home, which never felt that unusual, is feeling normal already.
We had a lovely sunny weekend and we spent Sunday doing some sustained gardening. lots of planting and absorbing the suns rays in our small London garden.

On Sunday evening the queen made a televised speech to the country, and to the commonwealth I suppose, which we watched on a tiny mobile phone screen. I don’t know who wrote it for her but I found it very moving. It was full of references to the Second World War, which she, of course, experienced, but with no actual mention of it. She even closed by saying ‘we’ll meet again’ (after the end of lockdown). Very nice. She said that this lockdown was an opportunity for those of ‘all faiths and none’ (very inclusive) to reflect, slow down and meditate. Politicians aren’t quite in a position to say that. She managed to encapsulate a vision of what it was to be British in a crisis: ‘quiet good-humoured resolve’. It was astonishing. And I am astonished that I was so captivated and moved by it. Perhaps it is the undeniable seriousness of the situation, despite the over-the-horizon glimmering of hope, that makes me susceptible to such sentiment.

The other news, of course, is that our new Prime Minister, recently rather reviled as a posh power-hungry opportunist made (a little bit) good by his serious handling of this crisis, has been admitted to just-around-the-corner St Thomas’ hospital with the virus. First they were saying this was ‘for tests’ but now we hear that he has been admitted to intensive care, ‘just as a precaution’. Probably it is, and he is being taken care of as no other hapless sufferer is. Nevertheless my mind raced to the possibility, ‘what if he were to die?’ That would be a dramatic turn not only for the desperate story of Covid-19 but, in the longer term, for the story of his yearning to become Prime Minister. Brexit seems so distant and irrelevant now. Be careful what you ask for.

Two (or three) weeks of lockdown in London

This Friday, today, marks the end of the second week of official lockdown here in the UK, though I added my own to the previous week, making this the end of three weeks at home for me. Bit by bit things outside the windows have got quieter. The sounds of nearby building – a new shopping centre for Borough market and the demolition of a huge building on Southwark Bridge Road – have, one by one, halted. There was a period when those sounds were sounds of reassurance, that at least part of the economy was still working. The construction on the shopping centre stopped first while the demolition kept going for a further week. Perhaps there was some safe point that they wanted to reach before closing the site. But photos on twitter of crowded early morning tube trains shocked politicians and others who thought Londoners were all two metres away from each other, so pressure grew to close all building sites to get rid of all the construction workers travelling to various sites. Office based workers like me can ‘work from home’ – many of us always did, but construction is a little more difficult to do over a computer connection.

Yesterday I heard the news that the elderly mother of a close colleague (had died after isolating herself and, apparently, stopping eating and drinking. My colleague has the virus so wasn’t visiting her mother. The brother of another colleague, himself 70 or very nearly, also died. Yesterday 569 people died who had the virus across the UK.

The first week at home coincided with some lovely weather and I spent much of it sitting on the bench in our small back garden in shorts working on the new laptop I’d been issued with, with a super bright screen. I still have the suntan. But since then the weather has turned very grey though, somewhat ominously, 20 degrees is forecast for Sunday, ominous with the fear that the break in the cold weather will send people out into too close proximity.

There are a few heroes about – one is the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. He’s been talking about how we emerge from this: do we emerge more thoughtful and compassionate or with bitterness and fear. He says it simply but it is a, perhaps the, most profound question about human life and growth. Here he is.

Going out to shop is a bit stressful and we are going down to the market later today, but keeping a distance from everyone and washing everything we bring back in the garden before storing it, especially the fruit and veg which is still in generous supply.

One good point is how imaginative we have got with our meals. We are resolved not to throw anything away and we’ve expanded the repertoire. We bought a rice cooker and now beautifully cooked brown rice is often on the table. I had not realised how tasty and satisfying it is. We also got a pasta roller that fits into our Kenwood mixer and have realised how easy it is to make pasta. Just by luck, well with perhaps some inkling of times to come, we bought a huge 16Kg bag of bread making flour about a month ago so that sourdough bread making continues here.

Another new experience for me is the live streamed meditations and prayers from Jamyang Buddhist centre in Kennington. Joining in with my laptop propped up on my waste paper bin has become a reassuring way to start my day.

Lockdown in London two weeks on

I came back from Australia on March 5th. The QANTAS flight from Singapore to London was cancelled, and we were booked onto a British Airways flight that left and arrived one hour earlier than the planned flight. We had a moment of panic that we were about to be trapped in Singapore but in reality no country seemed to be closing its borders apart from to people who had been in mainland China in the last two weeks. This meant a fast walk from the arrival gate to the new departure gate at Singapore. At the airport I noticed all the workers were wearing face masks. I don’t remember when I had last flown with BA – but it was quaint and old fashioned and the clients seemed to have fruity old fashioned British voices. Flight attendants were older, the food was slightly nicer and the measures of gin felt considerably more generous than QUANTAS. The large plane was about half empty so people must have been starting to stop flying by then. Arrival at Heathrow was 5.45am on Friday 6th March.

The following week I decided to avoid the train and travelled to work on my bicycle.

The Monday following that, the 16th March, we had a meeting scheduled but on Sunday afternoon I remembered that it was to be held in a very small room without window or ventilation, stuffy at the best of times – and 11 people were scheduled to attend. There must have been enough worry circulating for me to email everyone and say that I didn’t feel safe to attend and would be staying at home. The reply from the Dean of Faculty was – you are right, we need to cancel. I’ve since seen that the chair of that meeting is unwell and not replying to emails.

The week after that, the Prime Minister announced the order to stay at home. It seemed to take a while to have an impact so by the beginning of this week, the streets are very quiet, the roads around here less so. The trains continue to rumble relentlessly into Cannon Street. I see and hear them from my window. And busses continue to run with one or two passengers.

Borough Market is still open – at least the stalls we use, fruit and veg, the fishmongers and Ginger Pig butcher. Also Monmouth is still selling its lovely coffee beans.

Going shopping I find nerve racking but better now that shops have installed large perspex screens to protect the cashiers. Its hard to keep a distance from other shoppers though people seem to be taking that more seriously. Yesterday there was toilet paper to be found for the first time in about 3 weeks. Wine and gin is in reasonable supply. After shopping I take all the items into the garden and spray them with Dettol then take off my gloves and wash my hands.

Today over 500 people died related to the virus across the UK, the youngest to die was just 13 and he lived down in Brixton and died in Kings College Hospital, both very familiar to me and not far from where I live.

I have had a slight cold since Saturday but no cough and no temperature – I’ve been taking it a few times every day.

I am glad that before my trip to Australia that I brought my motorcycle down to the garage in London but it is sitting unridden down there but at least I know it is safe. The rental for the garage in Cambridge has gone up to £82 per month.