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British India to 1857: The Rise and Fall of the East India Company

British India to 1857: The Rise and Fall of the East India Company

If you follow me on Twitter or read last week’s blog post, you’ll know I’m just back from a holiday in India. I’d like to blog about India while the country is still top of my mind. Last week I did touch on how the war of 1857 (the Indian Mutiny or the First War of Independence depending on when and where you learned about it) still affects the way Indians view their history and their relationship with Britain, although not as much as you might expect. I thought that this week I’d take a look at the events that led up to the War of 1857. I’ve covered this before and my post about it remains one of the most widely read I’ve ever done, so it seems worth repeating for an audience that might not have been following me back when I wrote it.


In the mid-19th century, India, the jewel in Britain’s imperial crown wasn’t, technically, part of the Empire at all. It was run by the East India Company, a commercial organisation, originally set up to trade with the Far East. Under the India Act of 1784, the activities of the Company were subject to direction from the British government, but the Company remained a commercial organisation with shareholders who were paid dividends from the Company’s substantial profits. How had we reached a situation where one of the world’s largest countries was being administered for profit by a private company?

For centuries, Europe had traded with the Far East. The spice trade was of vital economic importance as far back as the days of Ancient Rome. Look in your store cupboard, even today, and see how many of the spices we use come from the Far East. And remember that, in the days before refrigeration, spices were essential in making meat palatable.

Until the 15th century, trade routes to the East went overland and were controlled first by Arabs and later by the Ottoman Turks. It was not until 1498 that the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, navigated round the Cape of Good Hope and opened a sea route from Europe to the Far East. This meant that European merchants could trade directly with their suppliers and a new age of maritime commerce was born.

Britain was late to the party. By the time that the Queen Elizabeth signed the original Royal Charter of the East India Company in 1600, the Portuguese and the Dutch were well established in the Far East. Repeatedly rebuffed by their rivals in the East Indies, Britain looked to the possibilities of India.

It was not until 1639 that the Company established its first permanent base in India, in Madras on the Bay of Bengal. In 1668, it acquired Bombay, and then Calcutta followed in 1690. These three “factories”, as they were known, were intended as trading outposts: places where merchants could warehouse goods imported and exported in the increasingly profitable trade between Britain and the Indian states.

By the 1740s, the main threat in India came not from the Portuguese or the Dutch, but from the French. Their principal trading point was at Pondicherry, less than 100 miles from Madras. In 1749, the local ruler died. There were two rival claimants for his throne. The French and the British, both trying to extend their own influence, each backed one of the rivals. Both trading companies had their own military forces to defend their activities and each supported their own choice for ruler with troops. Open war was underway by 1750.

Although the dispute was notionally between two Indian princes, involvement of French and British trading companies led, inexorably, to the involvement of the French and British governments. Both sides sent professional government troops to support their own trading companies.

Backed by the military and naval resources of Britain and France, the two companies had now become significant political forces in the region. At this point, in 1756, a separate war broke out a thousand miles away, where the nawab of Bengal attacked and occupied Calcutta. The military build-up around Madras meant that the British were in a position to respond decisively. Ships of the Royal Navy carried an army from Madras to Bengal. At the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757, Robert Clive, commanding the forces of the East India Company decisively defeated the Nawab of Bengal, supported by French troops. The defeat of the Nawab was of huge symbolic importance and Plassey came to be seen as marking the start of British rule in India.

Statue of Clive of India. Whitehall, London

Immediately following the victory at Plassey, Clive installed the British candidate, Mir Jafar, as Nawab of Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. Effectively, the East India Company now governed Bengal through a puppet ruler.

The tax revenues of these provinces now passed to the Company with Mir Jafar left responsible for justice and policing. (The Company took over even these residual powers in 1772.) All Frenchmen were expelled from Bengal. With the revenue from Bengal, the company was able to expand its efforts against the French further south and their hold over Pondicherry was destroyed in 1761.

India, at this time, was not a single country. The place was governed by local rulers, some with limited authority while some were absolute monarchs of huge areas of the subcontinent. All, though, recognised that the political and military presence of the British had changed the balance of power for ever. Some chose to make formal alliances with the British. Others sought to maintain some kind of independence by joining with the French.

The Sultan of Mysore allied with them to war on the Company in southern India in the late 1770s and 80s. His son, Tipu, became the most powerful threat to British hegemony. He styled himself the “Tiger of Mysore” with tiger motifs worked into his uniforms, cannons, cane handles, bed hangings, swords and thrones. His famous model of a full size tiger killing an East India Company soldier is now on display in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Tipu Sultan sent agents to Europe to buy arms that might enable him to meet the British on equal terms. Intelligence reports suggested he bought 50 cannon, 80 gun carriages, and 100,000 cannonballs, besides muskets and sabres. His army was built up to the point where he did pose a real threat to the British, but he was ultimately defeated, dying in battle in 1799.

By now, the Company was committed to Indian politics. Company troops had to defend the borders of those rulers that the Company had put in power and this meant coming to terms with their neighbours. In some cases “coming to terms” meant crushing militarily. In others, alliances were formed. The continuing involvement of the French, trying to regain territories that they had lost, and carrying on their Revolutionary Wars in the Indian theatre, meant that the Company continually felt under threat. Rulers who had not been won over to the British side might always ally with the French. Every new territorial gain, therefore, meant more territory that had to be defended, which, in turn, meant the need for further expansion.

The British conquest of India, state by state, was far from being motivated solely by the need for self-defence. The settlement after Plassey, gave the East India Company vast tax revenues. Clive predicted a £2 million annual revenue surplus (an incredible sum in 1760), which led to a 100% rise in the price of Company stock.

The military also benefited directly from the campaigns that accompanied the Company’s expansion. The word “loot” comes from the Hindu word for booty and its adoption into the English language gives an indication of the enthusiasm with which European troops plundered their enemies. Everyone from the humblest private to the general could expect to get rich should they survive a war in India.

As the Company moved from a commercial to a political entity, trade became an increasingly unimportant part of its activities. In 1833 the Charter Act ended the Company’s trading rights in India, as trading was deemed to be incompatible with ruling. The East India Company was therefore the ultimate example of privatisation. The entire government of one of the largest countries in the world had been outsourced to a private supplier whose profits came from the tax surplus of the nation that they governed. (Thomas Babington Macaulay, a leading British politician who served on the  Supreme Council of India, described it as “the strangest of all governments … designed for the strangest of all empires”.)

Government for profit clearly had a vast potential for abuse. A clear example of this came early in the East India Company’s rule, with the Bengal Famine of 1770. This is estimated to have killed around 10 million people – about a quarter of the population of the province. During this time, the government of the East India Company took no effective measures to reduce starvation but, instead, increased land taxes and encouraged the growing of non-food crops (including opium) instead of the desperately needed rice.

Despite horrors such as the famine, many aspects of British rule were benign. In a time when communications with India were slow, British administrators would spend years in post, often not returning to Britain for long periods. In general, the late 18th century saw a relaxed coexistence between the Company’s servants and the native rulers. Many pleasures were shared, with British officers often enjoying lavish hospitality from native rulers.

Initially too, intermarriage was encouraged, with the Company giving cash gifts when their employees had children with Indian women, on the basis that the children would grow up to soldier for the Company. Colonel James Skinner, the founder of a famous cavalry troop, Skinner’s Horse, fathered a substantial Anglo-Indian dynasty. According to his family he had seven wives, while legend claims he had fourteen. In appropriately multi-denominational style, Skinner built a mosque for one Muslim wife, a temple for a Hindu one and then his own church in Delhi, where he was buried in 1841.

The result of such good relationships was a European ruling class that, for a while at least, demonstrated some understanding of India and a real interest in improving the economy of the country. The commitment of enlightened European rulers to their Indian subjects was rewarded with a surprising degree of loyalty and respect by many of the Indians.

By the mid-19th century, though, such mutual respect and understanding was breaking down. One in three wills made by Company servants between 1780 and 1785 made provision for Indian wives or mistresses. Between 1805 and 1810, it was down to one in four and by the middle of the century, such provisions had almost entirely disappeared. A new breed of administrators was ruling India, often contemptuous of all things native. Christian missionaries, whose activities had been restricted by the Company until 1833, were now proselytising widely in a country which was not naturally inclined to Christianity. Changes in the structure of the Army had reduced the pay and promotion opportunities of native soldiers. Perhaps most seriously, the British now controlled so much of India that they were increasingly ruthless in their manipulation of the law in order to seize those few states that remained even notionally independent.

By the time of my novel, Cawnpore, British rule had lasted almost 100 years. A trading company, still structured as a commercial organisation, was ruling over around 200 million people. It was a time of technological and social change, yet the administration was increasingly out of touch with the people and the army was restless. The scene was set for revolution.

In 1857 a rumour spread that the cartridges issued to native troops had been greased with pig and beef fat, making them unclean for both Moslems and Hindus. The story about the fat may well have been untrue. Despite official inquiries, no one will ever know for sure. On 24th April Colonel Carmichael-Smyth of the 3rd Light Cavalry took it on himself (against the advice of many of his officers) to insist that his men drill with the new cartridges. The men refused and 85 were convicted of mutiny. On May 9th, the men were paraded in chains before their regiment at Meerut in north west India and marched off to jail. Shamed by the treatment of their comrades, the regiment rose in revolt on Sunday 10th May, 1857. The Indian Mutiny had begun.

What started as a mutiny in one small outpost became a revolt that swept across the sub-continent and nearly saw Britain driven from its most important colonial possession. When it was over, millions had died, either in the fighting or the reprisals that followed. The East India Company was abolished soon afterwards. The British continued to rule for almost another hundred years, but the relationship between rulers and ruled had changed forever.


My book, Cawnpore, is set around the siege of Cawnpore, which was a particularly terrible incident in a particularly horrible war. It’s my personal favourite of all the books I’ve written. It’s the second of my books to feature John Williamson, but it’s completely self-contained, so you don’t have to read The White Rajah first. It’s available as an e-book or in paperback.

Cawnpore has not got anything like the sales of my James Burke books, which I think is a pity because people have said some very nice things about it:

“For anyone who has a love for this period, Cawnpore is probably one for you.” Historical Novel Society

“All that historical fiction should be: absorbing, believable and educational.” – Terry Tyler in Terry Tyler Book Reviews

The Kindle edition is an absurdly inexpensive £3.99. Please buy it.

The photo at the top of this post shows part of the royal palace within Delhi’s Red Fort.

Why I don’t say I’m a historian

Why I don’t say I’m a historian

Over on Twitter people are reviving the old Academic Historians vs Historical Novelists debate. I’d been vaguely thinking about writing something about this and had just decided not to when this discussion got me thinking about it again.

I’m not going to get into the whole argument about whether academic historians are stuffy or whether historical novelists dumb down their subject matter. There are obviously academic historians who can completely kill the subject and historical novelists who aren’t safe outside of the 21st century, but many academic historians write fascinating and lively accounts of their periods and many historical novelists are almost obsessive in their grasp of the detail of what they’re writing about. In the former category, I can give Jacqueline Reiter as an example. She’s engaging and her biography of Lord Chatham reads like a novel. I’m waiting desperately for her biography of Popham, which is bound to be a brilliant piece of historical research but which people who know her can reasonably expect will also be hilarious.

There are loads of historical novelists whose understanding of their periods is quite astonishing but the one I’ll pick out is Lynn Bryant. Her accounts of Napoleonic battles are spectacularly well researched and she can give many military historians a run for their money.

If many professional historians are great writers and many novelists really know their history, then what is it that distinguishes them?

I have I clear interest in this. Occasionally, it is suggested that I should set myself up as an “expert” in Napoleonic history – especially some specifics like the Battle of Waterloo. The Daily Mirror actually quoted me as a “historian” in a feature about James Brooke from my book, The White Rajah. (That’s me highlighted at the bottom right.)

I’m very reluctant to claim to be a historian, having no qualifications beyond O-level (yes, I pre-date GCSEs) and knowing a few ‘real’ historians who are far better informed about history than I am. My main reason for not wanting to be thought of as a historian, though, is that ‘real’ history is hard.

I do know quite a lot about Waterloo and the history of the period so I did wonder if I could publish some of my notes and blog posts as a simple historical introduction. The book I had in mind started with a quick portrait of the two main protagonists: Napoleon and Wellington. This being an introduction for the casual reader, I could hardly not mention the whole business of Napoleon’s height. (Spoiler alert: he wasn’t short.) I remembered reading that the Emperor of Austria used to ensure that when Napoleon visited he was always surrounded by the Emperor’s own guards – men selected as being particularly tall. It’s a nice story and a good example of the way in which Allied propaganda sought to literally diminish Napoleon.

Napoleon looks small compared with the soldiers in this Gillray cartoon. (NPG)

I remember reading it and I’m pretty sure it’s true. I’d certainly be confident in making a reference to it in a novel set in the period. But if I’m writing nonfiction, I need to put in references. And could I find any actual evidence to support my claim? No, I couldn’t. Even though I was pretty sure I could remember which book I’d read it in. Rather than let it go, I took to Twitter, where I know quite a few Napoleonic historians and several tried to help. They even asked their friends. It is, after all, a really good story and I’m probably not alone in wanting to pin it down. In the end, several historians turned their mind to this and the result was – absolutely nothing.

This was practically the first thing that I wanted to check in the whole book and it made me realise that it was going to be a major undertaking, even though I already knew, with 99% certainty, most of the things I was writing about. Like I say, real history is hard – far too hard for me. Real historians find it hard too. It’s just that they’re made of sterner stuff than me. Jacqueline Reiter, who I mentioned above, complains that she has just produced over 18 pages of bibliography for her next Popham book. That’s going to be a lot of references.

Sadly, it looks as if my nonfiction account of the Waterloo campaign will never see the light of day. I’m happy to give talks on it if anybody wants them. The picture at the top of the page shows me and Lynn Bryant (the Lynn Bryant who writes brilliant military history) talking about historical fiction in the pre-covid days when things like this happened. (If you want me to talk at one of your events, you can find out more about author talks HERE).

When it comes to writing history, though, I will spend the time and energy I save on proper note-keeping to write stories that are generally true to the historical facts but which lack references. But I’m very glad that there are professional historians around, so that I (and all the other historical novelists like me) can take their hard work and turn it into entertainment.

The seal of the confessional

The second of two guest posts this week (three if you count Tammy’s regular journal entry on Thursday). This time it’s Anna Legat talking about one of the key issues in her new novel, Broken.

Father Joseph is one of the two main protagonists of my domestic noir thriller, Broken. He is a catholic priest who receives disturbing confessions from a psychopathic killer he nicknames the Prophet. There is very little contrition in the Prophet’s confessions. Instead of remorse, there is triumph and self-righteousness. The Prophet is boasting about murdering innocent women, safe in the knowledge that his deeds will forever remain between him, Father Joseph and God, because that’s what the seal of confession is all about.

This is sheer torture for Father Joseph. He is bound to protect a secret so vile that it makes him re-evaluate his faith and question his calling. But his moral dilemmas and internal demons aside, will he be able to act – to actually stop the killer? That could mean breaking the holy seal of confession.

The institution of confession is as old as the Catholic Church. Its principle is straightforward: you confess your sins to God (via your priest), you regret them with all your heart, you are given a penance and finally – the cherry on top – you receive an absolution. That means that the slate is wiped clean and you are free to go and sin again, or preferably show self-restraint and resist the temptation of sin.

In the sixteenth century, the Reformation rejected the idea of confession. Historically, confession has been a fantastic tool for the Church to gather intelligence about the shady dealings of kings and nobles, and to use that knowledge to gain influence and wealth. Knowing other people’s secrets can be very useful indeed when one is not afraid to exploit that knowledge for one’s own ends. The absolution of sins was also a very profitable proposition as it often came at a hefty price to the penitent. To prevent the misappropriation of the knowledge acquired through the confessional box, the clergy was bound by the seal of confession. Thus, no priest (if he wishes to remain ordained) can break that seal and tell a living soul what he hears in confession. Even if it is a preventable crime.   

I would like to share a short extract from Broken to illustrate Father Joseph’s torment.

“I am not claustrophobic and am well accustomed to the confined space the confession box has to offer. It has been my second home for thirty-odd years. Sometimes I refer to it as my holiday home because I normally dwell here for hours on end in anticipation of holidays. Christmas and Easter are my high seasons. That’s when the penitents come to unburden themselves. They whisper their transgressions into my ear – God’s ear theoretically, but let’s not split hairs. I grant them absolution so that they can go out into the world with their consciences clear. They will sin again and be back to recite their wrongdoings in the privacy of my wooden box. I will be here for them and we will go the whole hog all over again: confession, contrition, absolution and a few Hail Marys for their penance. I will mumble my chant of absolution in Latin, as you do when you are a catholic priest. I will sing to them the melodious incantation of Et ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. It’s an uplifting moment – magical. It’s like the beating of the drums in the night. The penitents’ sins release their souls from darkness, and, so cleansed, my penitents walk away, light-hearted and hopeful, promising to be good, and meaning every word of it.

Except for that one man – the Prophet.

He doesn’t mean any of it.

I can’t absolve him without true remorse on his part, and he has none. He is proud of what he has done and what he will continue to do. He comes to me to brag about it. He knows I won’t give him absolution, but he keeps coming back. It isn’t absolution he is after. It’s something else. I fear his purpose is to torture me: to taint me with his insanity and seduce me to the side of evil. He has made me into his accomplice – a silent partner in crime. That’s because I cannot betray him. He knows he is protected by the seal of confession. I will sooner gag on what I know than speak of it to any living soul. It is between the monster and me. God is in on it too, I suppose. He is listening through me, and then He does nothing. I’d think it shouldn’t be hard for God to strike the man dead on the spot. But no. God chooses to love the man and lets him perpetuate his evil. Does God love the man’s victims less than He loves him? It’s a blasphemous idea and I banish it from my thoughts. I hope God knows something I don’t, and I submit to His will. We let the man walk away unscathed.

‘I’m only a humble tool in God’s hands, Father, doing His will.’ The man’s voice is no more than a low whisper, a tapping and hissing of consonants and only an intimation of vowels between them. He is careful not to raise his voice and give me an idea of his pitch and tone. He has bleached his speech free of accent. I may know him, but I wouldn’t recognise his voice if we spoke outside the confessional. He has made sure of that. His breath is infused with mint. He always chews gum so that I can’t smell his breath. He wears gloves and a beanie. It comes down to the bridge of his nose. I can’t see his eyes. His beard veils his lips. I don’t tell him this, but he doesn’t really have to go to such lengths to conceal his identity. I don’t want to know it. I am bound to secrecy and so I don’t wish to discover who he is. My resolve would be tested beyond endurance if I did.

‘I’ll be back,’ he says like he is the second coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger, an avenger of the innocent. He thinks he is. He definitely fancies himself a holy man. That is why I call him the Prophet. ‘You can sleep in peace, Father. Happy Easter.’ He crosses himself, pulls himself up to his feet and leaves.”

Broken by Anna Legat

Broken was published by SpellBound Books on 15th April.

Anna Legat

Anna Legat is a Wiltshire-based author, best known for her DI Gillian Marsh murder mystery series. A globe-trotter and Jack-of-all-trades, Anna has been an attorney, legal adviser, a silver-service waitress, a school teacher and a librarian. She read law at the University of South Africa and Warsaw University, then gained teaching qualifications in New Zealand. She has lived in far-flung places all over the world where she delighted in people-watching and collecting precious life experiences for her stories. Anna writes, reads, lives and breathes books and can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction.

To find out more:

Journal of the Covid Years: Sick Already.

This is the fourth week of this journal. (Last week’s is HERE.) Two years ago there was still officially nothing to worry about, but the country was closing down anyway. If you vaguely remember the government offering any kind of leadership, read this and think again.

I’m pleased that at least some people are reading this so we’re going to keep going with it, but I do want to blog about other things as well. Next week the Journal will be posted on Thursday with a regular blog on Friday. This week I’m running two blogs today: this one and a special post for International Women’s Week. Yes, you read that right: two blog posts! I hope your hearts can stand the excitement.

Saturday 14 March 2020

It seems that Friday 13 March was the day Britain ignored Government advice and closed down.

After I finished writing my diary yesterday, I checked my emails. One from the [Exeter course leader] proposing to cancel the Constitutional and Administrative Law seminars on Monday. What did I think? I thought it was a bad idea. The students still have stuff (notably essays) they need help with.  Got a reply saying the consensus was to cancel. Then a phone call from P. I led off about snowflakes and panics and how we should keep calm and carry on. P sort of agreed but my puny efforts could not swim against the strong current to “move online”. We agreed to replace the lecture with a video from last year. I cancelled my AirBnB booking while I still could.

The trip to Chamonix is looking dead dodgy – but we packed anyhow, as if the act of packing would make it more likely.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

I’ve just spent two days in bed, with a temperate and a cough. Am confined to the spare room.

On Saturday I did wonder if I was getting sick: a bit like a mild cold. I went to the Chemist with itchy eyes, and was told it was nothing. On Sunday I decided not to go out. Phoned Mike, who had just run an ultra marathon in 6 hours 15 mins. Feeling very pleased with himself.

On Monday after lunch, I said I was tired. I thought I would go to bed. And my vague throat cough was getting deeper. Tom threw me the thermometer: 99.9. I went to bed – quite relaxed and happy – tired and warm.  Occasionally, I turned on the radio to hear that stuff had closed. And then Johnson, following rather than leading, telling people not to go to pubs and clubs.

On Monday night, Tom brought me tomato soup in a mug and a rice cake with peanut butter. We watched The Good Place. I stayed in bed, Tom sat in the green camping chair on the other side of the room, and set up the screen between us (thank you Chromecast).

On Tuesday I was pleasantly out of the world. Less pleasant for Tom, who not only has to play fetch and carry, but railed against the reality that I might actually have the disease. “It says here you need a persistent cough and a temperature over 100. You don’t meet the criteria.”

I took my temperature again – exactly 100.

“But it says over 100.”

Later I took my temperature once more: 100.4. Tom said nothing.

“It makes no sense”, Tom resumed, “I’m not even allowed to go to the shops. What are we going to do for bread and milk? Look at all those kids coming home from school. If they haven’t shut the schools, they can’t be serious.”

Phoned Mike. “How are you?” I asked him. “Terrible. I’ve just has a rant from Tom for 45 minutes, mainly on the subject of bread and milk.”

Thursday 19 March 2020

On Wednesday, I woke up as normal. The thermometer confirmed what I already knew: 98.6. Talked briefly about whether I could go downstairs. For now, though I settled for a small table and chair in the spare room. Out of the 75 students I had emailed, four had sent me their essay plans. Before I lead off abut lazy students, though, I should mention an email from the University. “In light of the disruption, there wouldn’t be any online teaching this week”.

I emailed back comments on the four plans I’d been sent. And then felt a little tired. So went back to bed, where I scrolled through the Guardian live feed (stuff closing). And listened to the Government announcement (schools closing).

I’m looking out the window at wet roads on a grey March day: 3 cars; an empty bus; runners; dog walkers; a mother with 2 kids on a scooter. And now nothing. No people. Eerie.  Yesterday I noticed planes. So far, this morning I haven’t seen one.

Friday 20 March 2020 (still in spare room, for day 5 out of 7 isolation)

On Thursday I groped, blinking, into a world of working from home, turning on my work computer. The first thing I realised is that people aren’t working. They have managed mushy emails about how much they care, cancelling things. But positive stuff for the future?  Oh, come on. Life is falling apart here. Though I did get one more essay plan: 5 out of 75.

There was an email chain about cancelling a reunion party on 31 March (and reorganising it for 29 September in a London pub – now there’s an act of faith). Otherwise it was jokes and memes and silly videos: muppets and puppet hands eating cars etc.

I phoned J who was in a terrible state over the news from Italy. The young runner in intensive care. The dead nurse. People dying alone. No funerals. She is worried sick about her parents – in their 80s in Milan, with no chance she could see them if they got sick.

Partly to distract J, I brought the subject around to work. Also awful. No one was doing any. The meeting she had prepared for had been a disaster. The technology hadn’t worked. “Here’s a suggestion,” I said off the top of my head. “If they extended my contract for a month, I could get stuck in”. Though when I thought of it, it didn’t seem an easy sell. My work isn’t a national priority right now. Today, to my utter surprise, a chain of emails, agreeing to extend my contract – I just needed to email back, agreeing.

Thursday night I slept badly, overwhelmed by the scale of the change. At 6am I fell heavily asleep until 9am. When J rang at 10am I was still in bed, eating breakfast. “There is a skype meeting at 11am,” she said. “You need to join us”. Looking around our shabby spare room, with its piles of clothes and computer leads, and general debris of the sick room, I decided my colleagues weren’t going to see any of it. I found an old sock and placed it over the camera, just in case.

My boss had been given a bollocking because he had failed to check whether I had the virus. Apparently, he should have submitted figures to the MOJ about it. Which makes no sense. What the Government should be doing is building a database of who has it. I could easily go online and fill in my age, location and symptoms, so all those clever epidemiologists could track who has it. But that is not happening. So why would MOJ figures help?

My time sense is getting all mushed, as formless days blur into a formless future. It’s one week after I was in Waterstone’s café, planning to go to Exeter and packing for skiing. And less than two weeks since the England v Wales match. That now seems prehistoric.