March 19th, 2020


The Earth Exhales

It's strange how quickly one's notion of normality changes. Seeing a programme from twenty years ago, one flinches slightly at how easily and automatically people will light a cigarette in a pub or somebody's living room - we've been trained to notice it as a taboo. Meanwhile I've been watching YouTube, etc., over the last few days, and every time I see a crowd of people, especially if there's stranger-hugging going on, I cringe slightly. (Mind you, now I think about it, I always did.)

Today I walked down the Gloucester Rd. It's not quite dead yet. I was able to buy apples at the greengrocer in the normal way. The fishmonger was open, but there was safety tape to stop customers actually entering the shop, and contactless payment was encouraged. (I got a lovely tuna steak, though.) The florist next door had assumed a similar posture. Various cafes were selling takeaways only, from a hatch, while others were still open with customers inside, though fewer than usual. Pubs and restaurants had closed, for the most part. The shops selling outpriced ornaments and clothes were open, but empty, as were barbers and opticians.

Meanwhile, Johnson's press conferences inspire ever less confidence. Today he predicted that it would take 12 weeks to "turn the tide" and "send the virus packing," but it was evident that he was pulling the figure from his arse. On Facebook, I'm trying to run a sweepstake on how long it takes for him to use the word "boffins." I give it three days.

The lack of tourism, air travel, etc., is having a positive effect on pollution and the environment generally. Suddenly the canals of Venice are streaming with fish, dolphins, narwhals and mermaids, as of yore. Could the virus be Gaia's sharp wrist slap to mankind, some wonder? Will we remember the lesson a moment longer than necessary, others speculate?

My daughter came safely back from Portugal yesterday (after a few days with her boyfriend's family), to find quite a different country, with far fewer toilet rolls. She apologised for laughing at me when I bought hand sanitiser a month ago, but now hesitates to see me lest she infect me. I miss her, but appreciate the thought.

Top tip. If you're thinking about how to spend the time between now and whenever, and especially if you're not British (which I say only because everyone in Britain probably already knows), why not check out the archive of 2,250 interviews with music in Desert Island Discs, here lovingly described by a convert in The New Yorker?

I gave my first online lessons today and yesterday, which necessitated introducing my students to my cat.

Meanwhile, the Osaka sumo basho is being played out without an audience, for the first time ever. At first it seemed very odd and unnatural to have no cheering, but now I think I prefer it (although it's probably financially unsustainable). It's interesting to see how it affects different rikishi differently, though. Aoiyama, the Bulgarian moob mountain, is having the tournament of his life, because (apparently) the silence helps him to concentrate; while little Enho, normally buoyed by an enthusiastic crowd, has gone down to a makekoshi in its absence.