Every Thursday I post an excerpt from my wife’s journal written two years earlier. Two years ago this week, there were signs of life returning to normal, but also intense nervousness amongst those who thought it was too soon.
The Second Wave was just a vague hypothesis for most people. My beloved’s conclusion at the end of this week’s entry was to prove prescient but, of course, we didn’t know that at the time.
Friday 12 June 2020
I’m sat at the tables in York House Gardens with a take-away flat white, pretending it’s a real café. The coffee is not a self-indulgence: it’s doing my bit for economic revival. Shop staff are working on their displays, ready to open. They gather in intense discussions about social distancing.
Just overheard in Iceland. “It’s my first time out for 12 weeks”. “Is it how you remember it?” “No. it’s all closed”. Bloody hell – 12 whole weeks of not leaving the house??
Mike had been sceptical about my plans to cycle to the Albert Memorial to see D. (“You realise that cycling in central London is one of the most dangerous things you can do, right?”). But it worked just fine: 58 minutes there and 54 minutes back. I went over Putney Bridge and along the King’s Road, a compromise between Google’s two offers of the Great West Road (too scary) and back roads (too slow).
D talked a lot about her family and her garden: important stuff. And about feeling guilty for not writing: “All this empty time and nothing to show for it.” But what do any of us have to show for our lives except healthy and happy kids and (if we are lucky) memories of a beautiful garden? We spent a long time admiring the Albert Memorial, especially the four continents – elephant, camel, bison and cow (though the cow is a bit sad). “It’s part cliche and part creativity,” D remarked. I’ve had mixed feelings about the Albert Memorial over the years: Victorian monstrosity – waste of restoration cash – central landmark – and part of the furniture of my life, after years of street hockey and skater picnics and speed skate courses. I felt a sudden rush of love for the thing, warts and all, as part of our history and lives and heritage.
My aim was to get home before rush hour. I planned to be away at 3.30, and left at 3.40, which was not quite quick enough for London traffic these days. Putney Bridge was three lanes of congested cars, with more cycles, motorbikes and e-scooters weaving in and out than I have ever seen before. Is this the future?
Lockdown is always a roller-coaster, and Tom has been going through a bad patch. A few overcast and drizzly days, coupled with an assault on 19th century history. Tom has written about the White Rajah, and the Indian Mutiny and General Havelock – all pretty much banned terms. There is discussion about renaming Havelock Street.
Saturday 13 June
The sun is out, which makes such a difference these days. We bounce from optimism in the sun to gloom in the drizzle. Right now, Richmond Riverside is picture postcard perfect, with paddle boarders out in force. You have to be optimistic to trust such a precarious contraption. Tom’s rights issues are resolved and Burke in the Land of Silver is on Amazon, ready for pre-order. Tom switched from existential despair to happy and productive with a single email.
But we still can’t trust our Government. I realise, re-reading my diaries, that by 28 February, Covid was front of mind. But I still did what the Government told me, which was to carry as normal. I went to the theatre and milongas and cafes and restaurants and took long journeys by train. We now know this was a mistake. I personally might have been part of a chain of causation that caused someone’s death. This time around, should I be more cautious than the Government? Perhaps, if things get bad, but … but. London is looking good right now and maybe it can’t spread outside in the summer.
With all this spinning around in my brain, I spend too long checking figures. By the time problems show up in the death figures, it’s too late. And you can’t trust testing figures. The most reliable figures are hospital admissions, which are going down overall, but overall won’t do. And local figures aren’t available. Last week a Minister flashed a clip of what appeared to be local graphs on The Daily Numbers, which were too small to see. But when I looked them up, they weren’t hospital admissions: they were people in hospital, which isn’t the same thing. The radio talks about R, which is a bit too close to 1 for comfort. Apparently, the latest Government idea is to stop worrying about R, and to rely on whatever stats the Test and Track scheme throw at us. We’re fucked.