Diary: March 2020. Uncut.

This month includes Liverpool cruising to the top spot, the onset of Corona crisis, worms and wheelbarrow wheels…

Sunday 1, London At the end of Liverpool’s 3-0 humiliation by Watford last night, manager Jürgen Klopp made a statement of the bleeding obvious (“We lost, they won. Well done Watford. For you are jolly good fellows” or something similar). The story has been spun as Klopp seeing the defeat as “positive”. Er, don’t think so. Liverpool were rubbish.

📌Coronavirus jokes are starting to appear. Newsbiscuit has one announcing that Covid-19 will headline this year’s Reading Festival : “Although it will be a short appearance, the impact of the concert could last a lifetime”.

📌A top civil servant, Sir Philip Rutnam, has quit his job, saying home secretary Priti Patel is a horrible bully. Supporters of the Tory minister have reacted by starting a hashtag, #StandWithPriti, on Twitter. The last time I looked it had been successfully taken over by Priti haters.

📌Managed to turn up a few worms down at the allotments today. Lifted the soil, got some air in and pottered, sweeping up leaves and binning crappy old plastic pots. The thyme plant seems to have survived the Winter, so fingers crossed it will thrive come the Spring.

Fertility symbols…

📌I saw someone walking along Goswell Road with an undone shoelace. I was about to tell them, but I didn’t because I thought it might be a new trend in fashion. Then they stopped and tied the lace.

📌At an outsider art exhibition and talk called ‘Monochromatic Minds’ at Candid Arts Trust in Angel, my feet were so cold I began to hate the mentally ill artists and their petty self-obsessions. That’s cruel, but that’s what being cold does. It makes you mentally unstable.

Monochromatic Minds…

📌 The new 8pm Sunday evening detective drama series on ITV, the one with the irritating sponsorship from SEAT cars, is ‘McDonald & Dodds’. It replaces ‘Endeavour’, making it a tough ask. The first episode, ‘The Fall of the House of Crockett’, is a King Learish outing for Robert Lindsay (Wolfie ‘Citizen’ Smith of the Tooting Popular Front) as a putative baddy. When his youngest daughter tells him to shove the inheritance money (£30m) up his arse, Lindsay is onstage for the RSC. Every look and word is pure Lear. Nice touch. But was he the killer?

McDonald & Dodds…

Monday 2, London I found this today and requested permission to buy from the Sue.

📌News arrives from Cristina at Headway that my monoprinting workshop at Autograph later this month is fully booked. I’d better start preparing for that. Don’t want to cock it up.

📌I read that homeless people sleeping in large roadside bins are being crushed to death after being tipped into the jaws of the collection lorries.

📌 I’m still grappling with how to make tags work. WordPress tags are not the same as social media hashtags. And getting the social media tags working is more important for increased site traffic. Maybe tomorrow I will sit down and get to grips with this. At the moment I’m flailing, swinging from one extreme to the other.

📌 Work on the Colpai building site outside our front door has started to pick up pace.

Colpai monthly shot…

📌Got permission from Sue, the Golden Baggers Treasurer, to order the wheelbarrow wheel through my Amazon Prime account. Notice of dispatch arrived almost immediately.

Wheeling this way…

Tuesday 3, London Last night my wife writhed and pleaded for mercy as an old digestion disorder gripped her midriff, scrunched up her insides and tossed them aside, no mercy. It was a pitiful sight and I’m not that good at sympathy. When she screamed for me to get an ambulance I nearly said, “Shut up! Stop whining! Deal with it!” But not only would that have been unnecessarily hurtful, it wouldn’t have worked.

So I gently persuaded her to crawl in agony from the bathroom (where she’d sat for 30 minutes with her head in the toilet) to the bedroom. She somehow hauled herself into bed, instructed me to put her socks on and later accepted the offer of a few sips of water. Twelve hours later she was sitting up, glued to her iPad, demanding a cup of weak tea with two sugar lumps.

Tea, but little sympathy…

📌I awoke to find I had a new follower for my blog. The notification by email gives you the chance to check out your fellow blogger’s work. This I did, and the first posting on Pobept’s front page was about a dog rescuing a lost 3-year-old child.

On closer inspection it seems that the toddler and Buddy the “loyal pit bull” actually got lost together. In some woods, somewhere in Suwannee County, Florida, USA. “Far, far away”. Police located them, but Buddy’s protective instinct kicked in and he sure as goddamn wasn’t gonna leave his pardner to the mercy of strangers. Buddy turned nasty on the rescue workers. They dangled a bone in front of his nose and everyone lived happily ever after.

📌My task for today is to try and make some storage sense of this.

Spice, the final frontier…

📌An email from Camper tells of the new line of women’s flip-flops, designed by Kiko Kostadinov. They look like mini popadums juxtaposed with two plastic straps. The design fault for me lies in that ominous cavity. If you are on the beach it will fill with sand. When you eat it will collect crumbs.

New trend in flip-flops…

Then another fashion item popped into my inbox.

Rampant inflation…

📌The Morning Star is running a series of articles supplied by the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell. The series title is Full Marx and today’s piece is about “financialisation”. This is the historical switch of economies once driven by the manufacture of goods to ones powered by the creation and distribution of capital as defined by the financial services industries: “Today profits come increasingly not from the production of goods but from the buying and selling of financial securities and the interest payments they accrue.” It goes on to describe how the financial sector, at one time playing second fiddle to manufacturing and agriculture is now the top dog and sucks in everything around it.

📌The paving stones down by the Golden Lane swimming pool are up again. I think if they ever fix the area properly, I will miss the mini lake that forms on that part of the ground whenever it rains. Sometimes I even imagine children fishing in it, bored with plain old paddling.

Wednesday 4, London Genesis are on the radio talking about “re-forming” for some concerts. They are doing an interview and my wife remarks: “God, they’re still boring!”

📌She also raised an eyebrow at the boot going into Home Secretary Priti Patel. Patel is facing accusations of bullying, and every day new people from all the government departments she has ever worked in have come forward to spill the beans. Before her retirement, my wife worked in the Department of Work and Pensions and heard all the gossip at the time.

📌My wife worked as a data analyst. Today she sighed with derision when the newsreader on the radio told us the number of people in the UK with Coronavirus had “risen” to 53. 53 is a statistically non-existent number.

📌At Guardian Archive I’m still working through the last of the very large Don McPhee collection. Today there are some special shots from collection labelled “Glasgow Alcoholics, Holy Loch” (ref DMC 1/4/2/38).

Then came several strips of negatives titled “Whit Monday Walk in Manchester”. One shot of a group of very proper-looking women at a bus stop features behind them, a wall poster saying “Black Sabbath bring you Heaven and Hell”. I verified this online to discover that the sleeve artwork for Sabbath’s ‘Heaven & Hell’ depicts a group of winged angels smoking joints.

📌Later in the Education Centre I worked with Y13 students in teams of 6,7 and 8. They worked well together. Sometimes the Editorial Teams workshop gets bogged down in petty squabbling and focus disappears. As I left I got some shots if Guardian archive material.

One of the display cases holds the remains of a computer destroyed on orders from the Home Office during the investigations that became the infamous WikiLeaks story.

📌In Murder 24/7 the stars of the latest Colchester murder investigation are the police sniffer/blood detection dogs, Mo and Millie. They looked ecstatic whenever they nosed out a tiny spec of incriminating evidence. Tales wagging, noses darting furiously, they were a picture of job satisfaction.

Thursday 5, London Every Thursday the day starts with us cleaning up before the cleaner arrives. This isn’t as stupid as it sounds. Paying a cleaner for two hours’ work each week would be wasteful if all they did was pick up your socks and run the vacuum over. So we tidy our own mess away first so the cleaner can do the stuff we have no inclination towards. That would be dusting, mainly.

📌Back to the Barbican with Headway for a curator’s introduction to and tour of the ‘Masculinities’ exhibition. I learned that the bullfighters were Portuguese and not Spanish. And that Portuguese bullfighters do not kill the bull. 

The philosophical emphasis is not on blood lust but on male fellowship and camaraderie, said curator Chris Bailey. Togetherness and teamwork are the drivers, he told me, which could be why the portraits of Portuguese bullfighters look very like those of elite football players after a hard-won Champions League game. Chris told me also that the disco dude is a photographer’s self-portrait. One in a series in which he put himself into the heavily staged shots to demonstrate his evolving “masculinity”.

My wife said the black disco guys of the 1970s were quite feminine in appearance, along similar lines to the white UK glam band The Sweet. I’m looking forward more than ever to doing the monoprint workshop there next month.

The Sweet…

📌The rise of precarious work has “cultivated class unconscious”, writes a columnist in the Morning Star. It goes on to talk about the inroads unions have made in organising precarious workers, but have failed to entice the “hipster capitalists”. It identifies this breed with the statement: “think beanbags, beer pong on a Friday, ‘tech start-ups’ in which all staff are required to adopt liberalism as a political philosophy and an obsession with coffee as a lifestyle”.

“The assumption amongst most people outside this sector is that these irritating cosmopolitans are raking it in whilst sipping their oatmilk brews, but when you’ve been at the heart of darkness, it becomes clear that like everywhere else, there is a class struggle going on, whether the craft beer brigade know it themselves or not.”

The author identifies these workers first as enemies and then as comrades in waiting, urging: “Be ready to support us, not dismiss us, when we get our backsides off our beanbags.”

📌And the day just got better. The Golden Baggers will be back with a fully functioning wheelbarrow at the weekend.

Friday 6, London The Coronavirus panic is hotting up. Friends are reporting empty shelves in supermarkets. My wife says Lidl was OK (apart from hand-gel), but that the situation might easily have changed the moment she exited the store. One minute later hordes of Mare Street shoppers probably ransacked the place, foaming at the mouth as they frantically bundled two-ply toilet tissue into their arms and rushed for the checkout.

The supermarkets have issued a statement saying they won’t let us all starve. That’s kind of them. My wife wanted to know what happens when their delivery drivers are forced to “self-isolate”, depots run out and imports are banned? And the grocery home-delivery workers on whom the nation is becoming overdependent? She also says that the Corona beer company is urging the virus to be referred to as COVID-19 because their sales have taken a hit in the USA.

📌Off to Two Temple Place for an exhibition about Victorian women who were big in textiles. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, but the moment I walked into this grand chamber I automatically re-titled the exhibition, ‘Posh Women Swan Around the World Nicking Crafty Stuff From The Poor’. Some of the exhibition I found quite funny. One of the printed biographies of the seven ‘visionary’ women featured described Louisa Pesel (1870-1947) as “one of a cohort of well-connected advocates of embroidery”.

📌Thus inspired, we stopped off on the way home to buy some fittingly posh cakes to eat later in front of the telly.

Posh cakes…

📌We grabbed a fixed-price two-course meal at Palatino. I had chicken and pancetta meatballs. Only because Funtime Friday at St Luke’s was cancelled after the musician they’d booked got quarantined.

Saturday 7, London A new series of ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ started recently. As we’d never bothered with it before, we looked the other way while the world tuned in. Our friend Liz was a big fan and raved about it, and she’d been right about ‘Death in Paradise’, but still we resisted. Then, as the afternoons got cold and dark recently, we surrendered and went right back to Series 1, Episode 1 and plugged into the complicated lives of Celia & Alan and Gillian & Caroline. Very quickly, we were addicts.

Caroline, Celia, Alan, Gillian…

First impressions. Some of the plot-lines were ridiculous. Then you realise that behind the soapy domestic drama is a comedy waiting to escape. So that stupid no-good husband Caroline can’t get rid of is there to prop up her jokes, not to be a real person. Other bad things that are good. No one can keep a secret. Confessions flutter in the air like confetti. Caroline fessed up about her lesbianism; Gillian came clean about doing in her half-dead husband because “it’s what he would have wanted”. Then she confesses to him being a brutal wife-beater. That’s not on his gravestone, though.

Alan and Celia are at it too. Everything their dysfunctional daughters tell them gets passed around. The words, “I specifically asked you not to tell anyone” is almost an invitation to put a big sign across an M62 bridge saying, “Alan shagged Mary Kershaw”. Later, the confessions continue to hemorrhage, but the secrets are being born so fast at the other end of the production line it’s hard to keep track of who is the keeper if the BIGGEST LIE. It is all endlessly entertaining, especially when the writers slot in a bit of Yorkshire argot. Like when Judith refers to Caroline’s rekindled interest in lesbianism as “went shopping round the corner”.

Which brings us to class: Posh Harrogate versus agricultural Halifax; private school headteacher and earthy sheep-farming widow.  All of this only works because the acting is superb. The cheesy story of septuagenarian newlyweds Alan band Celia only makes the cut because the actors (Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid) play off one another so well. The same applies to Sarah Lancashire (Caroline) and Nicola Walker (Gillian). These characters lend a plausible realism to the show that in the hands of different actors could have made it a turkey.

📌For reasons no one seems to be able to explain, babies are fascinated by my wife. I can understand it, but I can’t explain it. This morning in Mola on Whitecross Street a three-month-old child sat in his chair with a stupid grin stuck to his face, gawping as she did all that goo-goo-gaa-gaa nonsense. She thinks it might be something to do with her eyes. They are very brown and one of the first things that attracted me to her all those years ago.

📌Watching the Liverpool vs Bournemouth game today, it became clear that the season’s biggest losers are the Premier League match officials and their assistant technology (aka VAR). Liverpool sneaked another win, 2-1.

📌Some men are just hopeless. Or are they all, but a small number are quite handy to have around? Down at the allotments, the simple task (to me) of fitting a nut to a bolt on a wheelbarrow was beyond one man, who finally managed it, with supervision. You’d think he’d split the atom by the look on his face.

I imagined him running home to phone his parents: “Hi Mum, you’ll never guess what I did today!?”

📌Shirley says there are online car-hire firms that operate just like airbnb. No keys, just a code on your phone that unlocks the vehicle and lets you fire up. Less than £60 a day. Or you can do it PAYG by the month.

📌There’s been a lot of debate about how thoroughly you should wash your hands to avoid being contaminated by Coronavirus. Consensus held around singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice… until today. Then an email arrived from an editor at The Conversation that tells of someone who swears by Lady Macbeth’s famous soliloquy, the one that gave life to “the milk of human kindness”. Other handy tips are to dry with paper towels rather than hot air.

Sunday 8, London Great news comes from the satirical website Newsbiscuit. Miley Cyrus has been named the official Cockney rhyming slang for Coronavirus. It narrowly beat Egyptian papyrus.

📌In my book, a 10-year-old Davy Copperfield has just been bundled off to London to become a downtrodden warehouse slave at Murdstone & Grinby.

📌Weird dream last night. Or perhaps not given that we overlook a building site and we watch a lot of crime/detective fiction. From our 5th-floor balcony I looked down on a patch of ground and saw the body of a woman lying face down in a shallow grave. She was clothed in blouse and skirt. The backs of her bare calves were clearly visible. She wore court shoes with a square heel of about 3 inches. Her arms were out above her head. The grave was barely deep enough. Her bum stuck up and had her body been covered with soil there would have been a conspicuous bump. But it hadn’t, and there she lay, lifeless in the open grave. The patch of ground was quite cluttered with clumps of earth and rubbish, and it took me some time to convince others that there was a dead body down there in that mess.

📌I am getting a lot of stuff about relationships in my Quora feed. This is because that’s what I read most recently, like the one about the woman who fed laxative to her unsuspecting boss. Today’s question: “I can’t stop staring at a co-worker and now it’s really uncomfortable. What should I do?”

Top answer: “I had a similar experience the last time I was in college (I was 45, at the time). One of my classmates had the most amazing, clear skin I had ever seen, and I couldn’t help myself. After I realized I had been staring, I was worried about how she might feel about it, so I walked over to her, apologized for my perceived slight, and told her why. Her response totally surprised me. She beamed and said ‘Thank you! I work hard on my skin, and I’m glad someone noticed!’.”

📌I sometimes wonder in moments of being ridiculous whether the two plastic bags ensnared on the bare branches of the tree below have started a conversation about the weather in London today. White bag to blue bag: “Bit breezier than yesterday, don’t you think?” Blue bag to white bag: “Definitely. Felt like my insides were on the outside.”

📌We are supposed to be “self isolating”, as recommended by the government. Fine by me, but my wife has just suggested we go into town to buy a new telly. I said it would be safer to do click-and-collect. Or have it delivered.

📌 It seems that one story is making all the news agendas today. It’s the one about the pig in Leeds that ate a pedometer, shat it out into dry hay, whereupon the device caught fire. 

📌Gripping end to the Six Nations game England vs Wales. Right up to the final seconds, Wales clawed their way back, despite being two players down. It was not to be. England won 33-30.

📌Man Utd beat City 2-0. Great second goal after City keeper blundered badly.

📌Most of the cast of ‘Hidden’ look like they need a wash. I think this is slightly unfair on smalltown Welsh people.

Monday 9, London After what seems like a million years, but is probably only 4, I got to team up with physio Katie Campion again. I arrived early and sat in a café reading the local paper.

The subject of our chat was the same as the last time we met, and the time before that: goal setting after stroke. In the meantime, Katie had lived in Madrid for two tears. While there she had a baby, Wilbur, now 2. And on her return she came to work at Bridges Self Management full-time on co-production and delivery. We were doing our thing for a Bridges podcast. We sat in a small room at Bridges HQ in St George’s Hospital in Tooting with producer Kelly, a table and two microphones. GSOH useful.

It didn’t take us long to drop back into our trademark banter-style exposition of what goals are, how to set them and how to craft a personalised ‘journey’ to your chosen  destination. It’s the Bridges mantra: small steps to big goals, and one we jointly presented to a symposium back in 2016. We updated our talk to include some more football references and the ever-growing importance to the game of the “goal assist” and how that concept translates into the support essentials for post-stroke recovery. Winning goals are not created by a ‘stroke of magic’ from an individual, they are built by a team. We also talked about the work I did on the trial for the Bridges in a Group idea, about my early positive experience of an nhs multidisciplinary team in rehabilitation and about co-production. I pimped my scrapbook blog, the stroke blog and the stroke archive.

The funniest moment came when the microphones were off and producer Kelly and I ganged up on Katie, who we concluded can be a hard taskmaster with a sharp tongue. That, and the revelation that the road leading to St George’s hospital is called Effort Street.

Only in Tooting…

📌Toilet rolls are still the most desirable supermarket item, though Katie told me earlier she’s more bothered about nappies.

📌Not to miss out on the public mania for stockpiling, I emptied our store cupboard this morning to see if we had any stockpiles that have somehow gone unnoticed. I opened the cupboard door and straight away three packets of instant noodles fell out. More discoveries followed. Lots of lentils, plenty of rice and couscous and even more noodles, noodled away at the back. If forced to self-isolate as predicted, I think we might just survive. Tomorrow’s job is to do likewise with the top shelf of the freezer. 

📌Mark Steel’s heavyweight sarcasm can sometimes weigh heavily on my patience, but today in The Mirror he gets the measure of Boris Johnson.

Tuesday 10, London With all the health panic around Coronavirus and the moral panic that has gone viral in Britain, you don’t need an excuse to stay indoors. My wife has decided she will not give in and intends to carry on as normal. But since I am happiest at home, I am staying put.

📌The Morning Star tells us that the budget store Wilko is to cut back on its workers’ sick pay, making it very difficult for them to “self-isolate” should they become ill. This, along with the news that yesterday, March 9, was dubbed Black Monday because of the drastic fall in the performance of the stock market. These are more signs that Capitalism big and small can be laid low by a health scare rather than a challenge to its economic philosophy.

📌Katie is pleased with the blog post I did about our podcast session. Let’s hope she shares and my blog stats get a boost.

📌Demonstrated the Poundland Portrait workshop to Madhumita and she booked me for a gig on June 2. The Poundland coloured crayons are not the best medium to use. Oil pastels work better, but I’m not Poundland sell them, in which case I need to source a cheap alternative. We decided that the Mona Lisa is a good subject for the first workshop. That. way I can talk about Leonardo da Vinci and ask questions about his most famous painting. It will spark a conversation, hopefully, though I suspect a few self-important  smart-arses in the group will make the most noise. I will just ignore them and work with the quiet people.

📌 Before my brain injury I had no urge to make pictures. Now you can’t stop me. But is what I do of any use to anyone else? Is it even art? I don’t see it that way myself. I just call myself a picture-maker. To me, all my pictures are some kind of attempt to make sense of the horrible thing that happened to me. I started making them when I joined Headway East London in 2013, and I haven’t stopped.

As time goes on, new projects and opportunities lead to new pictures. Few of them fall into a category anyone would call art. I do them for my own satisfaction or because I believe I have something to say. Now, seven years after the trauma of my brain injury, the first five pictures I made sit somewhere in the back of Headway’s Submit To Love art studio.

I started looking at them again today because yesterday I spoke to a physiotherapist for a podcast about my stroke rehabilitation and how I set goals for recovery. When I made the images below I broke down the “journey” from trauma to recovery into five “chapters”, each with a one-word title. I hope they tell a story. I still include text in all of my pictures because, I suppose they are some kind of self-therapy. Having shown them publicly, I know they are of use to others. Whether it is art, I couldn’t say, and I don’t really care what it’s called. I have no idea what art is. I just know that what I do makes me feel better.

Here are screenshots of the pictures in chronological order of both experience and creation. The printed text on the left is the words hand-written in the image, right.

Wednesday 11, London Hilarious posting in Quora from Terence Kreft, who asks: “Do they have ground beef in England? Why do they call it mince?

The answer, which I note has been upvoted by Clive Anderson, is: Two questions:- Do they have ground beef in England? Yes, but it’s called mince in England. Why do they call it mince? I’m glad you asked me that, what you call ground beef in the US is produced using a meat grinder, which in a kitchen may look like this …

In the UK we use a meat mincer which looks like this …

Oh, erm, right.

📌Ollie the female cat owned by funnyman Ricky Gervais and partner Jane Fallon, has died, passed away, gone claws up. It is an ex-cat, a former cat.

Fallon adds beneath this posting: “I have no idea what I’m going to do without her by my side. #Ollie”

📌The Conversation has an essay with the headline “Five things people think they know about English grammar that make absolutely no sense”. Hard not to click on that. And if knowing the difference between the two meanings of the word “can” (the ability and the permissive), it’s your go-to lunchtime read.

📌In the Education Centre at the Guardian, the Year 12 group are more in love with alliteration than they are with meaning. One pair were doing a story about turtles mistaking plastic rubbish for their next meal. And so hungry for alliteration were these two 16-year-olds that they couldn’t even decide what the subject if the story was. Plastic pollution, turtles or the smell of turtle prey resembling that of plastic crap thrown in the sea? I got them to start the headline with the word “turtles”, considered it a major leap forward in teenage literacy, and moved on to another desk.

📌In the Archive, Ryan was indexing some Don McPhee negatives from the Govan shipyard on the River Clyde. Ones of a ship launch were very special indeed.

On my way out of the Guardian, I snapped some shots of the typographical posters that used to be displayed in reception at the old 119 Farringdon Road offices.

And at Kings Cross St Pancras the external lift opposite the station was at the top floor.

📌Got a call from Specsavers in Tottenham Court Road to say the glasses I dropped off two weeks ago for new lenses are not ready because they accidentally broke the frames. 

They want me to OK the free-of-charge replacement frames before they order them. Which suggests to me that it was the shop staff who broke the frames and not the lens fitter, who is an outside contractor.

📌Angelina just sent me this joke news bulletin intro.

And Sadiq Khan sent me this:

Khan has never, in any of the emails he’s sent me, names his mayoral rival in the Conservative Party.

📌 Met my cousin and her husband in a pub off Euston Road. They were down from Stoke to see ‘Uncle Vanya’. I wondered what kind of story Checkhov would have written about Stoke.

We dined in a nearby fish restaurant, caught up on all the gossip and heard about their plans to go and live in Coleraine in September and each do a degree at the university there. They’re pushing themselves when others might sit back and dodge around the softer options. We look forward to visiting them in the very north of Northern Ireland.

📌 Liverpool are out of the Champions League.

Thursday 12, London The government is meeting today to decide whether the Coronavirus response needs to be racked up. Last night I made a sick joke about a new book detailing the origins of the outbreak. The book was titled ‘Eat Bats and Sneeze’. My wife says that is probably racist. I think it is probably just in bad taste.

📌 At Headway Stuart asked me who originally sang the song ‘Right Said Fred’. “Was it Bernard Cribbins?” he asked. I said yes I thought it was and then verified online, which caused Stuart and I to break into song: “We was getting nowhere, and so, we, had a cup of tea”.

📌 Headway seems quite sombre today. Attendance is low and the feeling is blue. It made me feel quite depressed, and then the news came in that Ireland has decided to close all schools and colleges from tomorrow. That’s depressing. It’s like the walls are closing in and soon we will be faced with a nightmare. I began to plot a disaster movie in my head. One by one, the citizens of the world are infected with a deadly virus. Life for those yet to fall victim becomes a race/chase for survival. 

The bleak mood wasn’t much better in the art studio, where normally spirits are buoyant. I finished the pesky stitchwork picture, which I complain about but actually enjoy when I’m doing it. It is a new way to draw a line and it tests the ability of my left hand to stay still. I’d quite like to do more of this.

I did a few more monoprints straight from pictures cut from newspapers. I can’t remember who any of them are other than Roger Scruton (top right). The woman top left might be Jess Phillips.

I also did a tester for a brain idea I’m thinking for a workshop at the Barbican for ABI (Action on Brain Injury) Week 11-17 May.

Not sure about that. Might try to make it more diagramatic.

There was a cracking picture by Jon sitting on the studio floor. Not Jon on the floor, the picture.

And an old one by Chris, from which I shot the face because as always it is Chris’s face.

📌 Most of the people I have seen wearing surgical face masks are Chinese or Asian. Perhaps they are wearing them to reassure non-Chinese people that they are not likely to be infected by them.

📌 Kat’s shoes were again a repetition. 

Laura told us that as part of a recent £30,000 charity award, a film crew will spend a day at the centre and asked if I would be prepared to talk to them about co-production. I said yes.

📌 To show some kind of support for northern Italians, we went to Baracca for a meal. Nice to see they were still operating and customers showing up. I had catfish for the first time. It was sweet and moist. 

My wife told me about a media discussion that started this week involving the actor Amanda Redman talking about the apparent dislike of the UK public to witnessing fictional depictions on TV and film of young people shagging old people, or vice versa, depending on your position.

We talked about examples. My wife quoted the case of Daniel Craig shagging Anne Reid, 30 years his senior. I recalled an episode in the cult TV series ‘This Life’ in which randy Anna (Danielle Nardini) shagged Egg’s dad.

I believe also there was an incident in the film ‘The Last Picture Show’, in which a young male virgin is deflowered by a stoical female pensioner. My memory might be playing tricks with me about that. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Friday 13, London The Prime Minister obviously doesn’t want us to believe we are in the jaws of some kind of national emergency. His failure to act decisively, as other national leaders have, was criticised heavily in yesterday’s Guardian. He made an alarming statement asking families to expect bereavement, but no attempt to put in place practical measures to allay fear. Don’t go on cruises, he advised.

That might all be about to change. The sense of real emergency is high, even if much of it is imagined. But falling into line with the rest of the world is not in the DNA of this government.

📌 There’s an article in The Conversation about how the elbow bump has taken over from the handshake as a form of greeting.

📌 It might just be faulty reporting, but the cases of CV+, as I shall call testing positive for Coronavirus, seem to be people who can afford to travel. I’m sure it is different in, say, Italy or China, but here in Britain, the less well travelled don’t seem to keeling over breathless, aching and unable to get an appointment to see a doctor.

📌 I wonder how many more new expressions will be born from the Coronavirus crisis. We already have “social distancing” and “self- isolating”.

📌 There was a health expert on the radio this morning slamming the government’s “cowardly” response to Coronavirus. In particular he spoke about Northern Ireland and said that with the Republic shut down, the Six Counties should automatically follow, since containment is not possible otherwise. Two different national approaches is “pathetic”, he said.

📌 This morning on Zoe Ball’s radio show, two members of what I used to call the most irritating band in the world turned up to perform their most irritating song, ‘Rotterdam’. But today I found something I liked about this tedious song. I got it by counting syllables. This is a habit I picked up in the period immediately after my stroke, reading Shakespeare and poetry. The chorus of ‘Rotterdam’ is a useful study in how small numbers of syllables can work together.

This could be Rotterdam (3) or anywhere (3), Liverpool (3) or Rome (1); Coz (1) Rotterdam (3) is anywhere (3), anywhere (3) alone (2)… Anywhere (3) alone (2).

📌 To the Natural History Museum for one of the year’s biggest treats, the ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ show. It was a Christmas present for my wife’s sister and her husband, who travelled from Wallingford in Oxfordshire despite the Coronavirus panic.

My favourite picture was of a broken window with the shadow of a rat appearing in the bottom right corner. And the shit voted the ‘People’s Favourite’, of two rodents seemingly fighting on the platform of a London Underground tube station was a worthy winner.

📌 Then it was on to the V&A, where the jewellery room and the shop proved the big attractions. We did see an elm tree painting by Constable, but it was disappointingly small.

Saturday 14, London New series: World of Interiors, in which I photograph the insides of something. Today it is four pictures of the four shelves in our bathroom cabinet.

📌 Then, inspired by yesterday’s visit to the ‘Wildlife Photography of the Year’ exhibition, I got quite excited when I spotted a blackbird in a nearby tree.

And some wildlife of a different kind.

📌 For more than seven years, the unsung heroes of my stroke recovery were Specsavers. But not any more. My stroke left me with double vision (diplopia). After several appointments at UCLH ophthalmology department they found a prescription that would correct the diplopia for both near and distance vision. Specsavers then worked hard to make the prescription into affordable glasses. One of their Tottenham Court Road staff members, Patricia, took a special interest because it was the first case of acute diplopia she’d come across.

Since then, the prescription has been modified slightly and new glasses bought. So many in fact that I had accumulated several sets of frames with now-defunct lenses. Three weeks ago I decided to have some new lenses put into old frames and deposited the frames at the shop. Last week I got a message to say they had broken one pair of frames but have replaced them free of charge. We arranged to collect my new glasses today. One pair for distance vision, one pair for reading.

On arrival at Specsavers we find that both pairs of frames held distance lenses. now it will be another two weeks before my new reading glasses are available.

📌 Waiting for the 55 bus outside Primark on Oxford Street, I spotted this strange partnership of 21st Century short-term business impressed upon what I guess is a 19th Century building. It looks like somewhere Mr Micawber might have lived. 

📌 Got a text from the doctor’s surgery today saying don’t call us, go to the nhs website. Then this appeared on the TV.

📌 Then to Tate Modern to see the Andy Warhol exhibition. The first thing we learned was that he was Andrew Warhola, son of Slovakian emigrants Andrej and Julia Warhola. It was busy. 

📌 On the way back over the river across the Millennium Bridge, a young man was down on one knee, ring box opened, proposing to his girlfriend. I saw her reaction – surprise, but not total surprise. She was wearing Ray-Ban Aviators. She embraced him by cupping his face in her hands and kissed him. I didn’t actually hear her say Yes, so I asked her, and she repeated to his face, “Yes”.

Sunday 15, London Doom is all around. Stories in the media focus on how this Coronavirus will change society forever. Human contact will slowly dissolve as isolated remote living becomes the new normal. One report points to the state being the institution people look to in times of crisis. Another points to e-voting as the road down which representation must travel, for both politicians and voters. 

But in thinking this through, will the public develop a real connection with the state as a result? Will participatory democracy flourish? Or will we all fall prey to the capitalist cowboys such as the company that has the contract to clean Lewisham hospital? Can our present government embrace the need for a big, active, listening state. Can it learn to love the BBC? To trust the word of experts? To value the integrity of the NHS? Whatever happens, it’s hard not to imagine a near future when men in space suits turn up with your veg delivery.

📌 Yesterday my wife speculated on how young courting couples would cope with the prescribed social-distancing protocols. There is a broader point here. Might there be a demographic blip in the future that indicates a Coronavirus Abstinence from coitus?

📌 We defied convention and went out for a meal in a local Turkish restaurant. They were not only amazed, but grateful to us for coming.

📌 The ridiculous posh shoe shop in Whitecross Street has closed down. It is all boarded up and the grafitto “@ikillhumans” has appeared in red.

 📌 ‘World of Interiors: Our Veg Drawer’.

📌You can always rely on Positive News to change the mood.

📌Later we watched ‘On Chesil Beach’ on Netflix, based on the Ian McEwan novel. Chesil Beach doesn’t feature much and I asked my wife if all the Ian McEwan books she’s read were basically about Ian McEwan. She said yes.

I suspected the role played by Saorise Ronan might be based on Annalena, who used to work at the Guardian and was married to Ian McEwan. I wondered if Ian McEwan was ambidextrous. In the film he plays tennis against Samuel West. In some shots he is right handed, in others he attempts shots with his left hand.

Monday 16, London Uncertainty is everywhere and the main theme from my news media sources is that the government’s easygoing, let-the-people-make-up-their-own-minds, ethos doesn’t work in a time of crisis, when leadership and surefooted guidance are what’s needed. When you bump into people in the neighbourhood, they tell you their news from the recommended 1.5m distance. Soon everyone will be carrying yardsticks+.

The crisis is now more about crowd control than about health and wellbeing. That may change. I joked last week about the London situation resembling scenes from Daniel Defoe’s account of the 1665 Plague, but it’s not hard to imagine the same thing happening if things stay as they are. Communication is so poor that people have started to follow their nightmares and act accordingly.

My wife believes the panic buying will end soon, but I’m not so sure. I intend to buy food whenever I see it. My good fortune is that I have the means to do that. Others don’t. I also have relatively good health, despite my brain injury. Others don’t. Anyone with a pre-existing condition or who is undergoing a treatment plan, is in the shit, and there aren’t even any toilet rolls in the shops.

📌 Down in the Golden Baggers allotments, Jacqueline was introducing a new member, from Crescent House, to the project. I think Tom may have tightened the nut on the new wheelbarrow wheel too tightly. I had intended to label and index some new tools. They are mainly loppers and secateurs, which seem to go missing quite a lot. I’m not sure there is any real theft problem, more one of carelessness and forgetfulness. But with all tools labelled and indexed as the property of the Baggers, there can be little doubt about ownership.

I opened the shed up, but no new tools were waiting for me, so that job lives to see another day. I took the opportunity, however, to take some pictures of the insides of something. This is now ‘World of Interiors: Golden Baggers Potting Shed’.

📌 Later a friend, a nurse at Brighton General hospital, posted on Facebook: “Since our ward became the frontline for caring for Coronavirus patients, it has proved increasingly difficult to fill staff shortages with bank and agency staff. Yesterday, one agency nurse refused to work and walked out. Thankfully, the more senior nurses are now putting down their clipboards and putting on their scrubs. 

“To those nurses currently refusing to care for patients with COVID-19, I say this: You will soon be unable to work anywhere. It will be on every ward in every hospital and every nursing home and every GP practice. At least on our ward you will have the maximum protection possible. Oh, and if you came to work on the bus you could have been sitting close to someone infected but not symptomatic and still capable of transmitting the virus…”

📌 Shirley sent out a message asking if anyone has spare toilet rolls. I suggested she check the toilets of the Barbican Centre and she was flabbergasted that I was suggesting toilet-roll theft. How charmingly naive, I thought, then bet her £1 that the posh residents at the Barbican will already have raided that supply.

📌 My monoprinting workshop for Headway at the Autograph gallery in Shoreditch has been cancelled, but the whole project has been a joy to prepare for. I am even keen to continue some of the stitch-work I tried.

I see it as sketching with thread, so I have given it the grand title of Monostitch. It has the same characteristics of the monoprint in that each is a one-off piece. It is a repeated process with a different outcome every time. And the repetition of the hand process alters the image every time it is performed, making each image unique. I am testing with the Mona Lisa on an old t-shirt.

📌Just as we started to worry that Corovavirus had put a block on the courting rituals of the Millennials, the #boomerremover trend has hit social media. This is the work of Millennials who like to blame the Boomers for all their ills. Boomers created the climate crisis. Boomers waged war on Islam. And now Boomers have unleashed a deadly virus on the planet’s population. Oh, and they stash all their money in tax-efficient legal savings instruments.

So, with this mindset underpinning their judgement, it’s not surprising that they are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of Covid-19 knocking off their sworn enemies. Some of them, however, are starting to distance themselves from the lunatic fringe of the BoomerRemover revolution…

📌 From the BBC Radio 4 nature programme presented by Sue Perkins, we learned that up to one third of female albatrosses, a species long thought to be heterosexual monogamous, are lesbians. Same-sex birds have been discovered raising chicks in tandem cooperation. Then they would slip away for a couple of hours, find a spare male and create a few more.

📌 All medium-term plans have evaporated. No monoprint workshop, no trip to Liverpool, no Archive presentation in April, or a trip to see Dominique and Graham in Spain. No workshops at the Barbican in May. It’s hard to see when anything will look like normal again. Or if. I suggested an online course in Art History to my wife. We might both need to plan for a future that doesn’t involve talking face-to-face with other people.

Tuesday 17, London Yesterday the British Prime Minister asked all Britons to cut all  unnecessary contact and travel. This means that from this day on, for an unspecified period of time, this diary becomes the diary of a hermit.

My wife and I could be holed up in our apartment for months as the government and the nation’s institutions have found a way to manage the virus crisis. This is from where I will be watching the world from now on.

📌 Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter are becoming the human tools they always had the potential to be. They’ll probably become even more important from now on as distant family and friends keep in touch and local communities organise themselves in the absence of anything useful from governing bodies. Facebook has been known in the past for its ability to murder irony, but even that might be about to change. We are at the start of a global revolution.

📌 The revolution is underway and the government is still spewing nonsense in an attempt to keep the old order in place. It will probably work for a while, but over time a new way of life will emerge, in which the world’s citizens are all starting on the same page. Part of a very fearful me finds this exciting.

📌 Virgin, it seems, are asking employees to take unpaid leave. Aldi have announced rationing. Speaking of which, Chris posted this on Twitter last night.

with this screenshot.

📌 There’s a lot of verbal activity here on the estate. Groups are forming, policies drafted, etc. It could bring people together in the way no studied community building initiative ever could have. There are a few bossy people dominating at the moment, but it’s nice to see also some quieter “cultural architects” (Sarah, Alice) stepping forward. Yes, it’s very likely that our saviours will be women. Locally, at least.

📌 Quite a fews locals in Waitrose. We got some toilet rolls and hot-cross buns. Lots of grumbling about council failure in helping those who need it. The neighbours we bumped into were genuinely pleased to see a familiar face. It’s a reminder of the isolation and loneliness felt by many who live on their own.

📌 Pictures of the insides of things will certainly test my powers of invention in the coming weeks. We have kitchen cupboards full of supplies, so that is my subject today.

📌 The UK government has announced a £330bn package of loans to businesses. Part of me thinks this is a good thing, part of me thinks that it is the job of the banks to support businesses in difficult times, not national governments. And this from a prime minister who is reported to have said, “Fuck business” when making a case for Britain to leave the European Union. We are back to the old question of whether governments should allow businesses to fail. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband thinks not. We are all in this together, he argues, and punts the idea of a Universal Basic Income.

📌 The pathetic leadership of the government is now fuelling the panic. Rabid behaviour is the result, and this is just the start. Michael Portillo’s clothes are not likely to improve spirits. 

📌 The lockdown has brought it home to me how important travel had become to our lives. This wasn’t always the way it was. As a child, we holidayed in Britain, usually Cornwall or the Isle of Man, once a year if lucky. Warm Summer Sundays in North Wales, maybe.

📌 And sport. It gave time a structure.

Wednesday 18, London Over the past few days, we’ve woken up each morning to say, “Hey, guess what, we’re still alive.” I’ve been here before. When I was in hospital after my stroke, I’d start each day by giving thanks that I wasn’t dead. That was weird. Once awake, at least back then I had something to look forward to, something to aim for. It was survival, but not just for survival’s sake. It was survival with some kind of hope attached.

Before the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, I’d mentally sketch out my plans for the day. Teaching at the Guardian, a charity committee meeting, preparation for a public event or exhibition with Headway. But the feeling now is that not only are all those things gone, replacements that avoid human contact are nonexistent. There are no goals. Maybe I should pull myself together and enrol on an education course or something. Finally learn how to use that Canon camera my wife bought me for my birthday. But a depression has set in and when “doing something” seems pointless, the will is sapped. The future cannot even be imagined.

This must be what it’s like for the long-term unemployed. A dead feeling of “Why bother” takes over. It is truly miserable, but at least my wife and I have each other, so we can attempt a joint plan to muddle through. Muddling through is very likely to become the new way of living.

📌 Ideas for what we can do to fill the 12 weeks we are supposed to be incarcerated are annoyingly elusive. A universal lockdown is now predicted, so it’s really not worth the effort. I went in search of stimuli and came up with this 1000-word jigsaw.

This will keep us going for a while. Chin up, start with the corner pieces. At least we can rely on the finished item being a rectangle.

📌 In an attempt to defy all this negativity, the ‘World of Interiors’ daft photography project today is my sock drawer.

📌 Cristina at Headway asked if I could do my monoprint workshop for the Barbican as a video. I tried it and it was hopeless, so I tried to back out of it. She was persistent and persuaded me to break it down into 1-minute snippets, which I will attempt tomorrow.

📌 My wife and I spent part of the afternoon grappling with video messaging via Duo and Skype. We want to make sure we can have meaningful contact with our friends and relatives while consigned to Purgatory. We started doing it sitting next to one another on the sofa, but this triggered a vile screeching noise from my wife’s phone. The problem disappeared when she moved into the kitchen. So I guess if you’re sitting next to one another, Skype or Duo are not the best forms of communication.

📌 Ordinarily, I might include in this diary brief impressions of a visit to a museum or art gallery. But since I’m confined to quarters for the duration, that’s not possible. There is, however, the blogosphere to sate my appetite, and into my inbox right on cue is a new ‘Artist Showcase’ from Kate Davey.

Kate is an academic who works at Outside In, the pioneering outsider art outfit based at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. I met Kate a few years ago when I co-presented a brief talk at the European Outsider Art Conference on the work of Headway East London’s art studio, Submit to Love. It was an enjoyable event and I got to meet a fab group of Finnish artists who shared my bleak humour.

My take on Outsider Art… Spot the mistake…

The latest posting from Kate features Drew Davies, who in the interview champions the process of making art.

This is something I’ve long been fascinated by. It is rarely mentioned as a creative driver and artists prefer to see their work as the product of their genius. But just as often it is about doing it, and the absorption in the act can be as equally powerful.

📌 Michael Portillo is clothed in yellow and blue today.

Thursday 19, London Tube stations are closing down, but the men on the building site outside are still hard at work.

📌 My wife got confirmation from the apartments we booked in Liverpool and Lille that we can postpone the booking up to the end of the year.

📌 We tested our newfound skills in video chatting with a call to my sister on her birthday. This is the birthday that finally allows her to retire, but that has turned out to be memorable for very different reasons. She was trying to compose an email to her work colleagues inviting them to an imaginary piss-up because she can’t have a real one. My wife suggested she add, “Dress code: Face masks and rubber gloves.”

📌 We decided yesterday to reduce the rent on our Brighton to a minimum. Our tenant was relieved. His work is casual and he’s just had an operation. So he was in a very difficult situation given the current state of affairs.

📌My wife stubbornly refuses to be bossed by Covid-19. She has just gone to Lidl in Hackney with her friend Shirley. On her return she described how the supermarket had started a simple queuing system outside to control the number of people in the store at any one time. Inside, she said all was calm, even though many of the shelves were empty.

📌While she was out I tested the video tutorial I have agreed to do for Catalan Cris. Talking straight to camera is embarrassing. If I could imagine myself acting a part in a film it might be OK, but there is no ‘character’ to slip into. It’s just me, drying up trying to think what to say next.

📌 The ‘World of Interiors’ photo project will soon be scraping the bottom of the barrel, if we had one for me to stick my camera into. The inside of the toilet might be on its way soon. But today it is the “bottom drawer in the kitchen” into which all kinds of accumulated crap gets dumped.

📌 Our friend Graham, who lives in Spain, sent us a link to a joke song that reworks Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ for the pandemic.

📌 My cousin Kate just got a delivery from Waitrose.

📌 We’ve nearly caught up with everyone else who watches ‘Last Tango in Halifax’. The opening episode of Series 5 casts Celia (Anne Reid) as a miserable old nag-bag, always giving Alan (Derek Jacobi) a hard time for being a Guardian-reading soft-arse and his daughter Gillian for being a fuckup in every conceivable way.

‘Halifax’ has always had a strong root in class, but that has been wearing thin. In this series, at least in the first episode, the strength is back, with Celia becoming a total snob and her previously stuck-up daughter, Caroline, becoming normal. That might be because she now works in a struggling state school rather than a posh private one.

Friday 20, London I still can’t stop my wife from going outdoors, despite advice saying stay inside. I can’t decide whether she genuinely wants to make the most of what might be the last days of freedom, whatever that now is, or whether she can’t stand the sight and sound of me.

📌 I’m amazed at Headway’s response to the crisis. They have completely transformed the way they work and how they deliver services to members. I am doing a video at home and Laura is keen for me to develop a cheesy QVC-style sales video for studio output and merchandise. I’m looking forward to trying that because at least I can create a character to crawl into whenever I’m forced to look at the camera.

And Michelle is sending out a daily Creative Challenge. Other members of staff do home visits with food parcels and there seems to be a great attitude to working through the crisis. Magic new ideas are coming thick and fast, but it is the spirit I find infectious and inspiring. They are also very good at using social media and that is something that counts for a lot in these trying times.

📌 We got a Messenger message from Jake saying Waitrose had full shelves of toilet rolls. He offered to get shopping for us if we needed it. He had been planning a big trip to the US, but I guess that’s been shelved.

📌 My temperature is 36.73. My wife tells me that is OK.

📌 We are still not watching much news. The temptation is to stay glued to the latest reports, but there is so much conflicting information that you’d go mad. My wife had a telephone appointment with one of her consultants this morning, and even they are exasperated. One “expert” will say that anyone with an “underlying condition” should self-isolate for 12 weeks. What the fuck is an “underlying condition”? No one has specific answers. Is my hereditary kidney disorder an underlying condition? I would say so, but ask a nephrologist and they might say “Your condition does not make you susceptible to Covid-19”.  And that’s if you can get to speak with a nephrologist, or even know what a nephrologist is. So when getting any useful health information is impossible, the default of 12 weeks self-isolation is applied. Soon, everyone in the whole world will be on a supposed 12-week self-isolation. But of course they won’t be. They will continue to make up the rules for themselves until the authorities issue compulsory self-isolation orders, as they did already in China. Keep calm and carry on, if it continues, could become the most dangerous game in town.

📌Not paying any attention to the news bulletins means your information trickles through any available crack. My cousin Kate posted a message on WhatsApp saying Nicola Sturgeon had nationalised everything in Scotland. I’m fascinated by this news, but I don’t really want to verify it in case it’s not entirely true. I prefer the idea that she has indeed got a grip of the situation and is acting in the best interest of all of her nation’s citizens. If only Scotland was a bit warmer I’d be off there like a shot.

📌 I might have to revise the no-news diktat. Just heard that a mass closure of pubs, cafés and leisure centres is underway. Anywhere, in fact, where there are ‘other people’. Isn’t that the dictionary definition of Hell? 

📌 Seems the government has agreed to pay 80% of all affected wages. Seems also that this crisis could effect a political change no politicians ever could.

📌 ‘World of Interiors’ today features the inside of the jigsaw box we’ve just started.

Saturday 21, London Yesterday brought moments of optimism, signs that London was up for the challenge. Boris Johnson then announced a compulsory shutdown of cafes, restaurants and leisure centres, so I shot straight out to the chippy before it closed until further notice. I bought far too many, so there was a box of cold chips in the fridge this morning. I dug out a bit of onion that was about to rot, and leek in a similar state, sauteed the veg then blitzed it all together in an attempt to make a sort of onion and potato soup. Then I got too clever and added about six dried chillies. It nearly blew my head off and went down the toilet asap.

📌 Waitrose was busy with people, but not with Branston pickle. I had to make do with Waitrose own ‘Ploughman’s Pickle’. The buzz inside the shop had an air of desperation that seemed all the stranger in the presence of spookily empty shelves. 

📌Amanda is suggesting the gang “meet up” on an online conferencing app called Zoom. It sounds like fun. She is very worried about her aged mum, Naomi.

📌There are four drawers in our kitchen. Todays ‘World of Interiors’ features drawer number 2, where carving knives, vegetable knives, whisks and other kitchen stuff that isn’t proper cutlery (that’s in the top drawer).

📌 It didn’t take long for the old war films to appear on the TV. Today it is ‘In Which We Serve’, co-directed (with David Lean) and starring Noël Coward, John Mills and Celia Johnson among other big stars. One of them is Bernard Miles,  who played Joe Gargery in David Lean’s ‘Great Expectations’ (also starring John Mills), who in one scene if IWWS tells his gathered family of “The whole of civilisation trembling on the edge of an abyss.” Good call that.

📌 We got a thankyou card from Séan for his birthday present (a globe lamp), which also seems weirdly apt right now. I joked afterwards that he could have added a PS to his thankyou, saying, ” It goes so well with my pandemic”. My wife didn’t think that was funny.

📌 We’ve just been discussing the seriousness of the TV show ‘Hidden’. My wife says it takes seriousness to a new level and we wondered if the word “miserableness” exists, because it is very miserable. Tonight is the final episode. We stopped trying to count the number of smiles five episodes ago. Smile-counting was a habit we picked up while watching another Welsh crime series, ‘Hinterland’.

Sunday 22, London We could be at the start of a horrible national blame game. The radio is full of stories about carousing drinkers ramming into  pubs that have stayed open. But once again the information is vague and variable. One expert says get outdoors and exercise; another says no, stay indoors and pretend you are carrying the virus. Meanwhile, the National Trust has been forced to close gardens because too many people take one piece of advice and not the other. An email from our friend Keith predicts that very soon, these social control matters will be taken out of citizens’ hands and behaviour enforced by the armed forces and reserves. 

My sister in Paris needs to fill in a form before leaving the house stating that it fits the definition of “essential” (food, medical). Here the urgency has not gained the psychological traction it has found in other countries, and it’s hard not to see that as a question of leadership. But I’m not even sure the present government actually wants people to act collectively for the good of the many over the self-interest of the few. The crisis is now moving onto moral ground, and anyone flouting the guidelines will soon be seen as an enemy. And right on cue, Luke posts this on Facebook.

And then this popped up:

📌 Don McClean has just told me that the three men he admires most – the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost – just caught the last train for the coast. I hope it wasn’t to Whitstable. That was one of the places reported to be hosting roaming gangs of pissed-up Covid deniers.

📌 The ‘World of Interiors’ photo project today is our wine cupboard under the stairs.

📌 Kenny Rogers died recently, age 81. One of his most famous songs, ‘The Gambler’, talks about life as a game of poker, in which knowing when to hold cards and when to fold is what defines your character. It’s a corny song, but I have decided it is time to follow his advice and to fold this diary, or at least to stop publishing it daily, but just occasionally, at least monthly. My day-to-day task now is to stay healthy and to try to make a way through these terrible times. I want to keep to my lifelong love of looking outward and not inward.

Monday 23, London In ‘David Copperfield’, Betsey Trotwood has just deposited her nephew into the guardianship of Mr Wickfield and Agnes. Now she is about to depart and return home to Mr Dick. She leaves a final piece of advice for David (aka, Trot), telling him, ‘Never be mean in anything; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you.’

📌 Later, towards the end of Chapter 15, David bumps into Uriah Heap and bids him goodnight by offering him his hand. “But oh, what a clammy hand his was! as ghostly to the touch as to the sight. I rubbed mine afterwards, to warm it, and to rub his off.”

📌 Andrew Rawnsley is as surprised as anyone to see a libertarian, small-state fanantic such as Boris Johnson steering Britain towards a mega-state, collectivist solution.

📌 A depressing day, sombre, no energy, a feeling of total pointlessless. Any small sign of something positive would be nice. The people we know who work in the health service fear the worst is yet to come. 

Tuesday 24, London Unbelievably, the mood is better today. Yesterday had a deathly feeling about it. At 8.30pm last night the Prime Minister made a televised address to the nation announcing a total lockdown and a fixed set of rules on movement. It amounts to a compulsory house arrest for all but those doing essential work. Today there is some debate about what is “essential”, much of it from businessmen arguing that their enterprise is essential to the economic wellbeing of the nation.

📌 Somehow today we have some sense of the gravity of the situation. We are finally on the same page as other European countries and can learn from their experience. This gives some immediate structure to what we do, and that is a relief. There is still a ridiculous level of confusion and contradiction from decision makers. One moment we hear that the health service is to stop treating over 65s and that the army is mobilising field hospitals. The next we get the message that if we all calm down, the health service and food chains will revive. The depressing stories are very depressing; the moments of cheer are rare.

📌 I did manage to distract myself by checking out what foodstuffs we currently have. In the back of one cupboard was a small jar of something called “Balsamic pearls”.

📌 Later I set up and shot some photos to add to the video Dave is editing of my wax monoprint tutorial for Barbican Creative Learning based on the ‘Masculinities’ exhibition that has now been suspended. That was fun.

📌 I also managed to finish editing my February diary. It had sat forgotten in “Drafts” for weeks, then I noticed it, stressed out a bit, then calmed down and decided that so long as it appears before the end of March, that was no disgrace. I will try to be more prompt with the March diary. They make an interesting contrast despite being tediously long. Still, long-reads seem to be in fashion these days. But only masochists are likely to get through these monthly missives, and only super-masochists the annual collection, which dates back to 2014.

📌 My wife gave me a haircut with the clippers we bought from Argos. Number 8 all over.

📌 The great work of the staff at Headway East London continues. Today, Zuber sent all members a quiz. The answers will appear tomorrow. Have a go…

  1. Into which sea does the River Nile flow into? 
  2. Which sign of the zodiac is represented by the scales? 
  3. In TV, what bar did Sam Malone run? 
  4. The Nags Head was the pub in which classic British sitcom? 
  5. Written by Neil Diamond, what was UB40’s first UK Number 1 hit? 
  6. Phillips, London and ratchet are all varieties of what item? 
  7. What is the name of the Dutch footballer who transferred from Arsenal to Manchester United in August 2012 for £23miliion? 
  8. Which 1988 western film saw Emilio Estevez play Billy The Kid? 
  9. Where in London is there a bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin? 
  10. What was the name of the fantasy kingdom, found at a back of a wardrobe, and is inhabited by Mr Tumnus and Aslan? 
  11. Which US TV show from the 70s and 80s featured Michael Langdon as Charles Ingalls living on a farm with his wife and 4 daughters? 
  12. Which luxury department store had the first escalators installed in the UK in 1898? 
  13. What colour is Pac-Man? 
  14. What is the national emblem of Canada? 
  15. What colour would you get if you mix the colour of the Circle Line and the Piccadilly Line on a London tube map? 
  16. Who wrote the series novels, such as ‘Patriot Games’, featuring the title character Jack Ryan? Was it (a) Ian Fleming, (b) Tom Clancy or c) John Le Carre 
  17. What is the Spanish word for fox and also the name of a famous masked swordsman? 
  18.  Who is Popeye’s nemesis/arch rival? 
  19. Hepatitis affects which organ of the human body? 
  20. Who wrote the ‘Famous Five’ series of children’s books?

📌 My temperature is 36.49.

Wednesday 25, London The thing is… everyone you know is going through their own iteration of a private hell. The realisation that everything you thought you knew and took for granted must be reconceived will not happen any time soon. Will water still come out of the tap? Will electricity still come out of the socket? Gas? Will the washing machine break down? There is a new deal waiting to be made with the world, but I’m not sure everyone will surrender to the inevitable and stop acting out of self interest. For too long we have been programmed to expect the world to bend to our demands. Embracing a new relationship with both the physical world and society will not happen easily. Question everything, and question it twice. Take nothing for granted. Trust nothing. The world is just the place where we survive/subsist. Anything else is a bonus. This morning I will wash some of my clothes by hand and hang them outside to dry.

📌 Two mounted police officers came onto the estate and chatted from a distance, asking if we needed any help.

📌 Tested a monoprint workshop idea for a brain picture.

📌 It was nice to see Tom and his daughter Melody out playing football. Tom was in goal and Melody kicks with her right foot.

📌 Shirley did a WhatsApp group chat with me, Jane and Marta. It was such a good laugh we called Graham and Dominique in the same way.

📌 It seems a shame not to make use of the beautiful sunshine, so I planted some tomato and rocket seeds. No excuse to neglect them. Probably need to get some compost when we can get out of the flat.

📌 We finally watched the Channel 4 documentary about Putin. Whenever we tried before, the All-4 app crashed every time an ad break finished. But today was OK. The best bit was a scene in which Boris Yeltsin phones Putin after his presidential election victory in 2000. Putin doesn’t take the call and doesn’t ring back. Putin was Yeltsin’s chosen successor. An hour and a half later and Yeltsin and family are still waiting for the call. Earlier in the scene Yeltsin had claimed Putin’s victory as being his own. Now he embarrassingly acknowledged to the assembled onlookers that the scene should be wrapped.

📌 Michael Portillo is gushing over one of Britain’s last remaining theatre organists and his splendid instrument.

Thursday 26, London Despite its strong factual drive, the underlying tone of this George Monbiot essay is quite pessimistic. Hope here is a beaten, cowering, timid animal, cornered and bracing itself for the ultimate moment. Already we see national governments across the developed world moving rapidly to keep things just as they were, as far as is possible. The article uses the idea of the burst bubble to illustrate the situation, but inflating a new identical bubble is to continue the arrogance of human supremacy over a biological world. The planet will bite back.

📌 Cris at Headway sent me the video Dave made of the print workshop for the Barbican. Now they want an intro and to set up a web tutorial, which sounds fun but quite stressful.

📌 Fiona at Bridges also got in touch about making a tip-sheet for stroke survivors who’ve been discharged early from hospital to make way for Covid patients. Their rehab has been cut off, so Fiona wanted some input on how remote rehab can be offered over the phone or web. What are the very early goals I set myself when I got home and how did I go about it.

📌 The mounted police officers are still doing the rounds of the estate. One of the Golden Baggers posted this photo on WhatsApp.

📌 My temperature is 36.34.

📌 This evening there is a public show of support planned for 8.30pm called “Clap for Carers” in which everyone who can goes outside or hangs out of a window to register appreciation for the selfless toil of those looking after others in these desperate times. Maybe in a year’s time they could do one urging better pay and conditions for those who care for others. Our friend, who is a nurse, says we should shout for more protective gear, PPE (personal protective equipment). And someone posted this…

📌I went outside at 8pm to take a photograph of a tall building nearby that nightly displays a light display with a big heart holding the letters nhs. The clapping had already started, so we joined in and my wife shouted “more PPE”. It was a real national moment, and quite emotional.

Friday 27, London Gloomy start to the day and the negativity continued when I tried to revive a lump of bread dough I made yesterday that hadn’t risen. That didn’t work either, so I am likely to default to soda bread in future.

Dead dough…

📌 Yesterday we got a call from Specsavers to say my new reading glasses were ready for collection, but they could post them for £3 if we preferred. We did, and they arrived early today. I quarantined the package while I took a bath (not related), then got to try them later. Perfect. 

📌 It was nice to get an email from Philippa at Guardian Archive and I wrote quite a long but quite depressing reply. Her reply came back, and it made me smile. She and Emma have been working from home for the past two weeks. I had wondered how Emma was coping with her pregnancy and the prospect of a new baby arriving amid the pandemic. Philippa said that Emma had been preparing to cope with re-usable nappies and had spurned her partner Mat’s suggestion that, if they can’t leave the house, nappies were not really a requirement. An image sprang to mind of a newborn baby squirming around crapping randomly on whatever surface of the home it happened to be inhabiting at the time. 

I laughed at the thought, but it was a reminder that adapting to this period of radical change is probably best tackled by dealing with whatever is immediately in front of you. Don’t sweat on the medium of long term, sweat on the short stuff. In a week’s time, my wife and I will have fulfilled our isolation safety period and will be able to walk out together. That is something to look forward to.

Philippa also said that two of her friends had babies this week. Shame that they were in hospital during such a precarious time, but now all safe, home and actually looking forward to a period of family life without the interference of unwanted visitors and busy-body in-laws. Again this is a lesson in dealing with the immediate and let the future work itself out.

Saturday 28, London Signs of what the future might hold appeared in an article in the Guardian from Tobias Jones, who lives in Emilia-Romagna in Italy. Sky-high death rates persist, but flashes of a real-world adjustment to the shock are also playing out. The mad panic scramble to survive and grab has given way to greater reflection on how we are meant to behave towards one another. It made me happy to think that this is the road down which we might soon be travelling. It is a life worth living, at least for those who buy into it.

📌 I remember the moment I decided to be a writer. I was very young, and forming the 26 letters of the alphabet into the right shapes was my art. It was the go-to activity that would give me peace and contentment. I grabbed every opportunity to pick up a pencil and make a new world for myself on a piece of paper. Any crisis or conflict of the mind could be healed with words, their mixture of straight and bendy lines, the curls, the corners and those letters that have holes in them.

Words had sounds, too. Finding the right way to say “archipelago” was music to my ears. Mispronouncing words was all part of the fun.

Pretty soon, writing letters was my default way of communicating with others. My sister went off to university in Sheffield. I didn’t miss her. We used to fight, and she normally won. Now she was no longer in my face I made my peace with her by letter, writing regularly telling her about the rich domestic soap opera she was missing back home. I took the piss out of our family and people in the neighbourhood. I turned myself into a comedian. It was comforting to have found a role.

Comfort now is in writing proper letters again. No paper, but still the great pull of words and their possibilities. Call it my therapy, and I think I am dependent, so write I shall. Apologies to those who find it tedious, but I need the struggle. It is my chosen substance and at least I know my supply will never dry up.

📌 We had a family chat via some online bit of wizardry called Zoom. My cousin Kate in Glasgow was in her pyjamas at 4pm. She made the excuse that she had just washed her hair and her default outfit post-hair-washing is PJs. My sister in Paris had a disbelieving look on her face, but since she often wears that expression anyway, it was hard to work out whether the hair-washing plus pyjamas story was genuinely plausible or not.

My sister explained that her son Tommy had shaved off his hair in an act of “cleansing”. It later emerged that he had attempted to give himself a trendy haircut with barbers’ clippers and it went wrong. Whereupon he thought fuck it and shaved the lot off.

Kate’s husband Pete asked whether Tommy’s naked head was a “beachball” or a “walnut”, having established that these were two of the known categories of male head. My sister replied that the top of Tommy’s bare head was surprisingly flat.

We were later joined in our cosy Coronachat by my cousin Helen and her husband Steve in Stoke. Unlike everyone else, they were Zooming live on a phone rather than a tablet. The viewing ratio was more of a square than an oblong, and that made them look like characters in a dusty repeat of a 70s sitcom. We finished the cyber group hug with a pledge to do it again on Tuesday with Champagne to celebrate my sister’s retirement.

Sunday 29, London I have decided that the only way through this hell is to not take myself too seriously. Having said that, I am permitted to report the seriousness of others. Some character in today’s Observer is predicting this crisis to flourish into a full-blown dictatorship by consent. Bio-security via mass Covid testing, will become the new stick with which Boris and his ugly accomplices will turn us all into dithering supplicants, begging for permission to buy our next bog roll. 

📌 Just discovered that Tim Burgess of The Charlatans is hosting album-listening parties on Twitter at 10pm every night.

Monday 30, London The Poke has put out its list of 69 funniest jokes. They have the last laugh by actually publishing 70, adding an extra one by Bob Monkhouse to finish. I expected to have heard some of them, but no, not a single repeat. I nominate this one, by Ian Smith, for today: “If you don’t know what introspection is – you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.”

📌 An astrophysicist in Australia is clogging up a hospital bed. He stuck some magnets up his nose trying to invent a Coronavirus safety device. He was “trying to liven up the boredom of self-isolation with the four powerful neodymium magnets.”

The story just get funnier and funnier with every sentence. His partner helpfully started to laugh at him, which only caused him to do more stupid things: “I was trying to pull them [the magnets] out, but there is a ridge at the bottom of my nose you can’t get past.” Then he moved on to Google for a solution and miraculously found an identical situation in which an 11-year-old boy solved the problem by using more magnets to magnetically coax the stubborn magnets from his nose. Then he tried pliers, “but they became magnetised by the magnets inside my nose.”

He must have been relieved to be offered a ride to the hospital. “My partner took me to the hospital that she works in because she wanted all her colleagues to laugh at me.” Even the doctors who finally removed the magnets thought it was funny.

📌 My temperature is 36.84.

Tuesday 31, London My personal failings are being exposed daily. For just over a week my wife has been feeling unwell: cough, headache, chest congestion, fatigue and muscular aching. The stoic in me says ride it out. You don’t have a fever. Rest, get hydrated and don’t do anything stupid in the meantime. Enjoy that big jigsaw and Homes Under the Hammer. Cup of tea, darling? 

The ineffectiveness of this method is magnified when I try to persuade The Patient that what would really help is if she put her head in a bucket of steam. This is actually on the nhs website under “home treatment” for chest infection. What’s not to like? A lot, it seems because my diligent ministering is roundly scoffed at and rejected every day. I need a different approach.

📌 Maybe a Joke from The Poke might help. Here’s one by Steve Martin: “First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me.”

📌 I’m letting the satirists show me the way. Mark Steel has posted this: “I’ve just got Zoom to work, and feel so excited I want to tell everyone. It’s a similar feeling to when my kids were born, or when I was 16, and snogged Kim Norwood at my mate’s party (turned out she was so drunk she thought I was Alan Buckingham).”

And John O’Farrell remarked that now that The Archers will finally be introducing Coronavirus to Ambridge IN MAY, he suspects the virus will be over by then. My wife tells me The Archers is notoriously bad at keeping up with current events.

📌 Kat at Headway sent me a picture for the #katyasshoes feed on Instagram.

📝 Read February’s diary.

2 thoughts on “Diary: March 2020. Uncut.

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