Subject Access: Pandemic

Covid-19 Update:

16 June 2020
UK cases: 298,000 – UK deaths: 41,969
US cases: 2,179,000 – US deaths: 118, 710

19 June 2020:
UK cases: 301,000 – UK deaths: 42,461
US cases: 2,297,000 – US deaths: 121,400
These figures don’t reflect all the people who may have died from the disease; and they may also include some individuals who were ill, and who would have died a few months later anyway.

From the i newspaper, 20 June 2020: “An ‘R’ value higher than 1 would mean that the spread of the coronavirus is starting to increase, as each infected person would be infecting more than one other person, forcing the government to take further measures  to limit the spread.” (Jane Merrick)

From the i newspaper, 01 Feb 2020: “Two members of the same family have tested positive for the coronavirus in England, it was confirmed yesterday (…) Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading, said that the possibility of transmission in the UK was ‘minimal’ because the cases had been caught early.” (Paul Gallagher)

So, the lockdown is being lifted: in England, groups of six or more can meet out-of-doors provided they come from no more than two households, while in Scotland, groups of eight adults can meet out-of-doors from any number of households. British travellers can now fly to Spain for a holiday, but will be required to self-isolate for two weeks on their return; however, Spanish tourists arriving in Britain will be allowed to go anywhere and do anything during their stay. And in Wales, groups of twelve adults from three households can meet out-of-doors.

In England, children from years one, three and six will be able to return to school but will be required to maintain 2-metre social distancing; in Wales, children from years two and five will be able to return to school but will only have to observe 1-metre distancing. And in Scotland, children from years two and six will be able to return to school but will have to observe a social distancing (2n-3m) plus 3p squared minus (k/2 + f), where n is the number of children in the class, m (inches) is the average height of the children, p is the floor area (square yards) of the classroom, k is the number of children living in the same household and f is the average distance (miles) from home to school.

In Oklahoma, US President Donald Trump (!) has held a campaign rally to speak to his supporters ahead of the forthcoming election. He boasted that there would be at least a million devoted fans clamouring to see him, and huge barriers and a temporary stage were erected outside the arena to keep everybody safe. In the end, the arena was only partly full, and only a handful of people wanted to see the outdoor meeting. It appears that large numbers of people applied for multiple tickets which they had no intention of using, but it may also be that several of his supporters were still anxious about the prospect of being exposed to Covid-19 and decided to stay home.

An intriguing observation; I submitted a ‘subject access request’ to a credit check agency and after two weeks received a reply saying that “As the reference was conducted in 2015 we no longer hold the records in line with our obligations under GDPR 2018”

Strange; I was puzzled by the evasive tone of this answer, and sent another message, asking for confirmation that the records had been deleted. They offered to look into this for me, and I waited a further four weeks before sending a reminder. The message came back saying that their system automatically deleted records after 8 months and so no copies of my enquiry were available.

So why didn’t the original reply mention this? And why choose 8 months, rather than 6 or 12? And why did the agency in question believe that I was going to be employed sixty miles away from the property for which I had arrange to take up a rental agreement?

In the news: three men have been murdered by a knife attacker at a public park in Reading. Joe Ritchie-Bennett, David Wails, and James Furlong were killed when Khairi Saadallah launched a random assault as they sat drinking in Forbury Gardens on Saturday. Saadallah is described as a Libyan asylum-seeker who was undergoing treatment for mental health disorders.

Rampant Microphobia

Lowry organic decay

At the Whitworth Gallery, along with the guns and the machine tools and the print of ‘Melencolia I’ they had the ‘Industrial Landscape’ picture by Lowry, a composite nightmare of smoking chimneys. In one corner we can make out the faint shapes of squat cooling-towers.

Are there any fragments of Lowry trapped in the fibres of the canvas, or the joints of the frame, ready to degrade the paint over time and render the image hideous and corrupted like Wilde’s changing picture of Dorian Gray?

We need to harvest organic matter from elderly books and try to cultivate any dormant life-forms lurking in the forgotten dust. There are impressive tomes in the Rylands Library, bound in crimson leather, dating back to the 1780s. Somewhere in the basement of the Rutherford building there will be laboratory notebooks and abandoned labcoats, covered in microbes and fragments of radioactive isotopes.

Some artists have been exploring the idea of decay and corruption, with catalogues of forgotten photographs damaged by damp, or printed texts obscured by cultured mould obtained from their own surfaces. Or they have collected dust from the couch used by Sigmund Freud’s patients:

Broomberg & Chanarin hired a police forensic team to scrutinise Sigmund Freud’s iconic couch, gathering DNA samples, strands of hair and a multitude of dust particles left by his home’s many visitors. These may include traces of Freud’s early patients such as ‘Dora’, the ‘Wolf Man’ and others, as well as those of more mundane visitors, mainly tourists, who have travelled from around the world to visit this legendary item of furniture.

Laura Splan, Turning fear to wonder

In 2004, soon after the SARS epidemic, Splan brought out a series of works called Doilies. Traditionally used to protect surfaces of furniture or flatware, their designs are inspired from nature. Splan’s doilies were inspired from the structure of viruses such as SARS, HIV, Influenza, Herpes and Hepadna.

The situation back then was similar to what it is now; though the number of people infected by Covid 19 today has far surpassed that by SARS. Photos of people wearing protective masks and microbial imagery consumed the media, bringing with them a sense of fear, she recalls. “Conflating the traditional radial doily form with a deadly virus was an attempt to create a situation in which the viewer could transpose a state of wonder on to the very structure of the virus which they feared,” she says.

David Goodsell, Putting a face on foes

“My goal with this painting, and with previous portraits of life-threatening viruses, is to demystify and put a face on these submicroscopic foes,” says Goodsell. His illustrations are so aesthetically pleasing that, despite depicting deadly viruses, they are used in fabric designs and are part of private collections and exhibitions. Recently, a colouring book version of his coronavirus painting was made available for free to download, on RCSB PDB (a member of World Wide Protein Data Bank) website.

A scientist who does research on structural molecular biology, Goodsell’s inclination towards applying artwork to science began when he was in graduate school in the 80s, developing computer graphics methods to display and analyse the results of his experiments. He began the paintings because the cellular scenes were “too complex to be done with computer graphics [back then]”.

Josie Lewis isn’t the first person to grow art in a petri dish, but she claims to be the first to use resin to produce colorful petri dish creations reminiscent of an exploding supernova.

Based in Minnesota, Lewis tells Mental Floss that she’s been using resin in her work for over a decade. Last year, she started experimenting with adding different chemicals to uncured resin. “I used all sorts of paints and inks and solvents like a science lab to see what would happen,” she says. “At some point I discovered that when I used certain inks with resin in a certain sequence, strange, colorful forms and growths would develop.”

After mixing the ink and resin together in a petri dish, she seals the container, flips it upside down, and leaves it to bloom over 12 hours. That means Lewis has no idea what the piece looks like until she flips it over and removes the disc from the mold the next day.

Ken Rinaldo, an established artist in the field of Bio and Postmedia art, develops hybrid human-nonhuman ecologies. Borderless Bacteria / Colonialist Cash explores the hidden microbiome of money within a critical framework that also sheds light on exchange and power. Do Chinese Yuan and American Dollars share bacterial and fungal communities?

Elin Thomas creates petri dishes filled with mold, but she’s not using any week-old peanut butter sandwiches. The fiber artist builds her science experiments using a felted wool base, and then carefully crafts individual growths using crochet and embroidery techniques. Most of her creations are set in authentic 8cm borosilicate glass petri dishes, although she also makes free-form brooches and other accessories in a similar style.

Thomas has an MA in Visual Culture from Bath Spa University College, and she is based in the UK and Wales. The artist sells her work, including custom orders, on her website and Etsy store.

For all 94 days of 2013 thus far, Klari Reis has kept to her resolution. The San Francisco-based artist has posted a new petri dish painting—eye candy for any sci-art lover—to her blog, The Daily Dish.

Reis’ circular art pieces are explosions of color. The yellows, pinks, purples, greens, oranges, reds and blues in the paintings take on a smattering of different shapes, including amorphous blobs, radiating fireworks and wavy veins that resemble, quite intentionally on Reis’ part, what a scientist might see when gazing through a microscope. The artist gives her creations playful names, little quips, really, that spring to mind when she looks at the designs.

Craig Ward heard an urban legend that “using the handrails on the subway is like shaking hands with 100 people.” He decided to test that theory by sampling the bacteria on subway lines around New York City and photographing his findings. The results were striking and unconventional “portraits” of NYC commuters. Produced by Emily V. Driscoll. Filmed by Jeff Nash. Music by Audio Network Additional Photography © Tasha Sturm, The Mason Lab The Wall Street Journal and Martin Burch, Chris Canipe, Madeline Farbman, Rachel Feierman and Robert Lee Hotz

Lowry, Background Image Not Discerned

Embroidered high with luminous grey clouds
The neutral sky picks out the sturdy contours
Of terracotta chimney-stacks arranged above
The jagged factories and mills. Far away, off-white
Against off-white, a cooling tower rests its vague geometry.

Perhaps we could behold the virus, let it sweep
Across the land, and simply take it on the chin. I know
That Winston’s day would start with brandy; but
I think I prefer a gin-and-tonic. This tiny organism

Manages to jaunt from town to distant town
With supersonic grace. Don’t worry though;
However fast you drive or where you go,
This thing will always somehow track you down.

BLM Protests, UK 2020

This piece by Mathilda Mallinson (Evening Standard, 5 June 2020) perfectly sums up the background to the current situation in the UK:
“Since the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis last week, protests decrying systematic racism have spread across the US and around the globe.

Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minnesota, died after an incident on May 25 in which a police officer was caught on camera kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes. He was arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Former officer Derek Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder, while the three other officers involved – Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao – have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

In disturbing video footage that went viral after his death, Mr Floyd repeatedly said “I can’t breathe.” These three words have now been used in protest graffiti and banners wielded by BlackLivesMatter demonstrators, who began protesting in the US last week.

The unrest has since grown violent, as US riot police fire tear gas canisters and bean-bag rounds at the activists. Looters have joined the crowds, several officers have been disciplined for excessive use of force, and journalists including CNN’s Omar Jimenez have been arrested while attempting to cover events.
The campaign has been picked up around the world, reaching London and the rest of the UK.”

Journal entry, 6 June 2020

Although the country is still under partial lockdown due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, huge crowds gathered in London to demonstrate outside the American Embassy as well as to protest about police brutality in Britain. This behaviour was condemned by some as being likely to hasten the spread of the virus, cases of which have been steadily declining.

Every day we see news footage of the victims of Covid-19, a disease which has an disproportionate impact on members of BAME communities – this is attributed to various factors including housing quality, nutrition, social exclusion policy and being employed in high-risk sectors.

British culture has a background of prevailing whiteness – castaways to the Desert Island on Radio Four’s fantasy music programme are given the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare for literary solace. There must be some individuals for whom these compendia are of marginal significance, and who might prefer a different religious tract; but I have never heard of this idea being raised. Perhaps the format of the show is registered as a legal entity, and permits of no alteration; indeed, by using a uniform structure, it frees the celebrity to discuss their musical choices (and how these reflect their lives and careers) without having to explain everything.

There are numerous instances of police brutality directed against black individuals, as well as the more insidious discrimination: when two senior academics gave on-screen contributions to BBC Question Time, the white male (Hugh Pennington) was afforded the title of Professor. The black female participant was tagged as ‘Donna Kinnair’, overlooking the fact that she is also a Professor. And a Dame of the British Empire. It would have taken the programme researcher about thirty seconds to locate her academic profile and give a more accurate picture of the discussion.
And one caller to Radio 4 pointed out that the umbrella term ‘BAME’ lumps together groups with different racial or cultural origins, thus leaving diminished their individual identities.

Update, 7 June 2020:

Well, fancy that. I was listening to Desert Island Discs – the socially-isolated game show for all the family – featuring popular finance guru Martin Lewis as the castaway.

Near the beginning of the show, he admitted to presenter Lauren Laverne that he didn’t have much interest in music and had never collected records. Oh dear, I thought, this doesn’t promise to be a riveting show. But then he picked Adam and the Ants ‘Stand and Deliver’ which seems remarkably apt for a financial campaigner. And then he related the story of how he interviewed Mick Jagger backstage at Wembley Stadium (before enjoying the show and VIP hospitality afterwards).

And, since he’s Jewish, Laverne asked him what book he would choose: ‘You will get the complete works of Shakespeare and The Bible, or the Torah if you’d prefer’ – which is the first time I have ever heard this kind of concession mentioned.

Journal entry, 9 June 2020:

The coronavirus pandemic drama carries on in the UK. It has now been decided that, contrary to earlier announcements, Primary schools will not be able to open before September. Non-essential retail stores, closed for about twelve weeks, will be allowed to resume trading next week. Leisure facilities such as theme parks and pubs with beer gardens are also expected to get the green light. The virus is in retreat, so we can all relax and start having a normal social life again.

In late May, various regions of the US began lifting their quarantine restrictions and were warned that this risked a flare-up of the virus.

Arizona, North Carolina and California have all reported an increase of over 1000 new cases per day, and these numbers will probably rise sharply over the coming weeks following the mass demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd.

The death toll in the US now stands at 110,000. Meanwhile, in the UK, there have been 40,800 official deaths – but it is generally accepted that the true figure is at least 51,000 based on the excess death count. And in an attempt to protect British citizens, it has been announced that all new arrivals from abroad will have to self-isolate for two weeks – except for travellers from Ireland.

Across the UK, huge protest marches have taken place in support of the Black Lives Matter equality movement; angry demonstrators pulled down the statue of Edward Colston and dumped it in Bristol harbour. Colston was born in 1636 and became enormously wealthy from trading in commodities and slaves, building schools and hospitals and churches. The citizens of Bristol have campaigned for years to have his statue removed or amended with a slightly less fulsome, cloying tribute.

In October 2019, the Evening Standard announced that the University of Bristol had appointed a professor of slavery history to examine its links to colonialism.
Professor Olivette Otele will begin the role in January and will carry out two years of research into Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade.

The university says it will then decide how to acknowledge its past links with colonialism, which could include making a public apology. But the professor seems to have had her thunder stolen by the decisive action of an angry mob. Our prime minister – not the most conspicuous supporter of race equality – eventually broke cover to condemn the protest marches as being ‘subverted by thuggery’. He probably felt a pang of nostalgia, harking back to those halcyon days when the wealthy chaps of Bullingdon could swagger through Oxford, smashing up restaurants and leaving a trail of broken glass in the streets.

Korona-Kolored Katastrophe

25 May 2020: A storm erupted yesterday when it emerged that Dominic Cummings, ruthless political Svengali behind the Conservative party’s election triumph, had ignored government guidelines and travelled from London to Durham whilst suffering from the symptoms of Covid-19. The ‘guidelines’ were generally viewed as commandments rather than suggestions.

At exactly the moment (in March) when Boris was telling the nation that we all had to stay at home, and that people with symptoms should avoid any contact with anybody else, Dom and his wife and child travelled 250 miles to stay near his parents’ house.

Oddly enough, when his wife wrote an article for the Spectator magazine she failed to mention this epic journey, instead telling us all that they had spent a miserable fortnight stuck in the house, eventually setting out to find London eerily deserted like the set of a zombie apocalypse.

The public – along with politicians of all shades – were furious at this revelation, and demanded an explanation. Some people had spotted Dom’s presence up north and alerted the police, who confirmed that they had ‘spoken to an individual’ to confirm the importance of correct social distancing.

The prime minister’s office was having none of this wishy-washy letterbox-tank-top-bumboy nonsense, and went on the offensive, declaring that Cummings was concerned for the welfare of his child and that his actions were completely justified. Oddly enough, they also claimed that he had not been spoken to by the police in County Durham. (This is a bit like saying that ‘I didn’t break the window – I may have thrown the pebble, but it was the pebble that actually broke the window’)

The Prime Minister himself held the daily press briefing (usually chaired by a senior minister or medical officer) and announced that Cummings had behaved in a responsible manner and had not broken any laws, and would not be facing any disciplinary measures.

Cummings is well known as a provocative figure who enjoys radical debate – one of the advisers he recruited (Andrew Sabisky) had to be speedily dismissed after their interest in eugenics became public knowledge. But he understands how to use political messaging to manipulate the opinion of the electorate, and thus deliver shock results in referendums. And he regards everybody else – taxpayers, police officers, MPs on the Select Committee – as being ignorant and worthless.

Today’s Covid statistics – US, 1.67 million cases, 98 thousand deaths.

UK, 260 thousand cases, 36 thousand deaths.

Later: In a remarkable development, Dominic Cummings has given a press conference – this is normally done by cabinet ministers or heads of state, not by unelected advisers. It seems to have been another demonstration of his limitless contempt for convention and authority. Instead of expressing contrition or regret, he cheerfully informed us that yes, he had driven up to Durham (without stopping for fuel) and then decided to go for a drive in Castle Barnard (because he couldn’t see properly) and he considers his behaviour to be entirely reasonable. The story has more plot holes than a Bruce Willis film, but everybody seems quite happy with it. Apart from those individuals who had to stay under lockdown, unable to comfort ill friends or relatives at the very end of their lives.

Broken Ruler

I only did what I considered to be right;
But a faceless man thinks that he alone can charge
Me with committing a sin; don’t you believe
Me? Surely only someone with a heart of stone
Would punish me for being kind, you must be aware
That destiny will always be to me a heavy load.

My mind holds a gun that I’m ready to load
With silver bullets that show I’m on the side of right
While enemies hide in echo-chambers, still aware
That I’ll be waiting for them when they charge
Through the waiting trees with leaves of stone
To strike against the fool who wants them to believe.

You can’t expect the public to believe
These lame excuses, shimmering ideas, a load
Of finely-graduated legalistic puns. They’ll stone
You when they find out just how right
They were, and how many lies the man in charge
Dumped on the state to keep us unaware.

The testament of parallax remains aware
While anxious friends and relatives outside the gate believe
The prisoner is hypnotised, a bold electric charge
Will drive his nerves and heart to overload
Until they crack; although we’re doing what we think is right
The content of the message is defeated by its tone.

He wears his learning like a precious stone
Designed to dazzle and distract the people who might be aware
Of where they are. Galvanised young men demand the right
To climb inside the chambers they believe
Will keep them safe and let each one shed his load
Until at last the catalyst takes charge.

We’ll never understand why he was left in charge
Of all the living circuit-boards and stone
Chrysanthemums that overlapped and magnetised the load
While turning galaxies embraced the pole, aware
That to succeed you only need to make a fool believe
That he who has the power has the right.

Roll away the stone’, the virus said; ‘Let’s get it right!
And so the load, despairing of the man in charge
Became aware that he can never share the tenets we believe.


Radio Times, Radial Crimes

“This historical record contains material which some may find offensive.”
I really didn’t expect to encounter this warning when I called up the November 1953 issue of the Radio Times. It has HM the Q, along with the D of E on the cover – they are due to embark on their tour of the Commonwealth.
There are adverts for ‘Radio Rentals’, where people can pay instalments to hire a hefty Bakelite-and-amber wireless with a huge rotating dial.

We have an obituary for Dylan Thomas (‘He developed the radio talk into a form of art…’) and a full-page advert for the new Gillette blade dispenser. We also have an interview where Frankie Howerd discusses his thirteen-year journey to overnight stardom. “‘I’m not really a comedian’ he says, rumpling his already-rumpled hair.”
You can imagine Boris Johnson making a similar comment in a few years’ time, when he has been banished to the TV chat-show circuit following a titanic election meltdown.

‘Away with badly-fitting shirts and on with the Radiac!’ yells one advert, addressing the problem of disappearing shirt -cuffs; on the next page we have an advert for the latest technology, a 17-inch Ferranti television set.

And then, the listings for Monday 23 include the Frankie Howerd Show (oo-er, missus!) and a sci-fi radio drama called Journey Into Space, featuring Andrew Faulds – one-time Argonaut and MP for Smethwick – as the spaceman Jet Morgan. Jason and the Astronauts, you could say…

And then we find an offensive article, a programme called ‘The Whitaker Negro’ written and presented by Robert Graves. This appears alongside ‘The Archers’ and a twenty-minute talk about Busoni’s writings about music.

In his opera ‘Doktor Faust’, Busoni refashions the role of Mephistopheles and portrays Faust as a psychological case-study, whose tormented conscience manifests itself as the fiend. Perhaps the same was true of Dorian Gray; paranoid, awash with herbal narcotics, he becomes convinced that his expensive portrait is deteriorating and revealing his guilt. Everybody knows he is engaged in reckless debauchery; they amuse themselves by pretending to believe that his appearance is unchanged and his reputation still spotless.

A few pages later, we find an advert for Andrex toilet roll – 1/3d for a single roll, or 2/5d for an economical double roll pack. What would the readers think, if they could be whisked 67 years into the future, to see supermarket shelves carrying economy packs of 24 rolls (and shoppers panic-buying this product) in a range of colours. Perhaps some of the more priggish RT readers would write angry letters in green ink, protesting against this vulgar and degrading advertisement.

Another advert, this time for chocolates: ‘Nestlé’s Home Made Assortment gives a special touch of hospitality to a television party or a family game of bridge.’

Does anybody remember ‘Batchelor’s Baked Beans – the best you can buy!’

And then to prove that feminism was just a distant dream, we have a half-page advert for domestic appliances showing a wholesome nuclear family: “Naturally, you are eager to give her what she really wants – something to make life easier, pleasanter, happier for years to come! Give her a Hoover – she knows it’s the best!’

Or: “Try this on your favourite man this Christmas – get him something that really does make sense to a man, a Ronson lighter! For the young people there is also the Ronson Cadet from 25/-…”
And then on Friday 27, we had a broadcast concert by the Brighouse and Rastrick band, conducted by James Hickman.

A large advert shows a tin of ‘Du-Lite Emulsion Paint’ from the makers of Dulux. The company name and address are given as ‘Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd, London SW1’, which gives some idea of the towering confidence (arrogance?) of that organisation.
And a full-page advert on the back page shows a newlywed couple visiting the Cadbury’s factory at Bournville, and admiring the staff leisure facilities. How stable and secure life in Britain must have seemed at the time…

The Saturday listings show that the week rounds off with a charming programme: ‘Your table is reserved at Café Continental, the Gay International Cabaret’. Sydney Jerome conducts l’Orchestre Pigalle. Gay times, indeed!

According to my copy of Boye de Mente’s 1987 textbook ‘Japanese in Plain English’ the honorific term San is used to address anybody and takes on the appropriate meaning of Mr, Mrs or Miss. The author points out that “The concept of ‘Ms’ has not penetrated the Japanese language or culture”.
I was reminded of this when I spotted a recent news item concerning Nippon Paint, which has moved into the field of consumer paints. Initially their product range was stagnating, until two of the female employees came up with the idea for ‘Roombloom’.

This was proposed as being ‘A well-designed paint for women’, and included radical ideas such as ‘Repainting your home’s ceiling and walls according to your tastes’ and ‘If the paint cans were cuter, women would also probably buy them.’

Because of the successful advertising campaigns launched by (for instance) Honda and Toyota, we may be in danger of thinking that Japanese consumer and corporate cultures are almost the same as our own. It may be that Japanese home-owners always use professional decorators, and that the idea of painting your own walls is a novelty.

Perhaps Nippon Paint executives are already aware that in Europe and the States, women are not seduced by cute label designs, but instead are making important decisions on technical and commercial aspects of coatings. And women tend to show a much lower incidence of colour-vision defects than men, so it makes perfect sense to employ them in the coatings sector.

Meanwhile, I shall keep a look out for tins marked ‘A well-designed paint for men’ next time I’m pushing a trolley round B-and-Q at Batley….


Of course, the only real cure for novel coronavirus 19 is to be placed in a steel tank under eighteen atmospheres of Hydroxychloroquine vapour and then ignited.

11 April 20: The epidemic of Covid-19 continues to sweep across Europe and the US. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has accused NHS workers of using too much of the protective clothing supplied, which has given rise to a shortage of PPE.

Cabinet Minister Robert Jenrick has been criticised for travelling to visit his elderly parents – although he claimed that he was delivering urgent medical supplied.
He also travelled from London to Herefordshire, and told the Daily Mail: “My house in Herefordshire is the place I, my wife and my young children consider to be our family home and my family were there before any restrictions on travel were announced.”
But his children attend school in London, and his website declares that he lives in London and Southwell. Perhaps he is a quantum being, who manages to simultaneously occupy two separate dwellings in order to fulfil his constituency post and also to qualify for mortgage relief on second homes.

This slippery behaviour has enraged social media commentators, who point out that ordinary people would be stopped and fined for driving 40 miles to deliver groceries. We also had the pleasure of watching Home Secretary Priti Patel addressing a press conference and carefully telling reporters that she was sorry if the public felt that there had been failings in the Cabinet’s performance.
Meanwhile, the UK has 78,991 cases of Covid-19 and there have been 9,875 deaths. Fatalities in the US now exceed 20,000.

12 April 2020: Easter Sunday!

Got up this morning and read some Wordsworth, then watched the final scene of ‘Parsifal’ on YouTube.
Outside in the garden the two lonely daffodils have turned brown and dry, the force no longer through the green fuse drives. But the trees are starting to sprout leaves, and the lawn is sprinkled with daisy-points of light. Although society is constrained by the Covid-19 epidemic (no mass gatherings, no pubs, no football games, no race-meetings, no weddings or a funeral) everything is starting to wake up and reach out towards a more hopeful tomorrow.

In the news: another 737 deaths have been reported from the disease, bringing the UK total to 10612. Among the casualties was comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor who kept people laughing wildly during his appearances on ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’.

Talking of people not having a clue, the hapless Alok Sharma (Business Secretary) was on Sophy Ridge’s show this morning and he said: “I’m sorry if people feel they have not been able to get the right equipment.” Then he emitted a series of random, robotic platitudes which appeared to have no connection with the question he had just been asked.

Monday 13 April 2020: Bank Holiday Monday. It is a bright cold day in April, and my watch says it is 13:42. Outside, the two lonely daffodils are still brown and withered in the sunshine. The prime minister has been discharged from hospital and is recovering at Chequers.
Fortunately, he will not need to sign on to claim Universal Credit while he is away from work, since UK members of Parliament have just approved a £10,000 increase to their expenses budget in order to help with the costs of working away from Westminster. Every little helps!

Each day we are given an update on the Covid-19 statistics, with a breakdown of how many new cases have been diagnosed and how many people have died. However, the death toll only measures those victims who were in hospital; elderly (and younger) people who died in the community or in care homes will not be included, unless they had conspicuous symptoms or were later diagnosed with the virus.

To keep myself amused I go online to wallow in Die Frau Ohne Schatten. Why did Hofmannsthal decide to make Barak a dyer? (And why did Claus Guth decide that he could change this to a tanner, in the 2014 London production of the work?)

Perhaps the alchemy of the dyeing process was what enchanted the librettist, the mysterious reaction between two or three white powders that become transformed into a shocking elixir of red or violet. The blank innocence of white cotton could become something bold and urgent, a statement of intent or possibility.

During the musical sequences for Barak, I imagine long coloured skeins emerging from a vat and then billowing out on stage to reveal a huge curtain decorated with the atom tree scaffolding of quinacridone or imidazole dyes. Of course, as every opera-lover knows, the chemicals that go to produce dyestuffs and pigments are also used in the preparation of antibiotics and drugs.

‘When the white eagle meets the red falcon, will their dance be weak or strong?’

I wrote that in a notebook in 1987, about seven years before I travelled to Rome and witnessed a kestrel hovering above the Coliseum, calling out in high-pitched urgency.

Today’s death toll for Covid-19 is 717, bringing the UK total to 11329. Each day we hear the numbers, abstract points on a chart reaching gradually onwards and upwards; but these are not just figures, they are people. Many of the victims are nursing staff – they are the people we can least afford to lose.

Two weeks ago it was announced that Tottenham Hotspur, one of the UK’s wealthiest football clubs (which is saying something) indicated that they were planning to use taxpayer-funded subsidy to replace their wage bill for non-playing staff. This provoked a storm of protest, and the club relented. After the dust settles in a few months’ time, we will start to look at the absurd rules governing the UK tax system – after all, there is no point in allowing somebody to claim tax relief on their income if they have an eight-figure bank balance.

Where are we?
It’s 6 May – on Friday it will be my third anniversary of starting work, and normally we would all head off to the pub for a drink and a snack to celebrate. But because the nation is in a state of lockdown, all the pubs are closed, people are banned from taking unnecessary journeys by road, and most of us have been told to work from home.

In the news: last week the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has announced that the UK had managed to meet their target of 100,000 Covid-19 infection tests per day by the end of April.
A closer scrutiny of these figures shows that the total includes not just lab-processed tests but also testing kits which had been posted out to hospitals and individual households.

In the news: Professor Neil Ferguson, epidemiologist at Imperial College, has stepped down from his role as government advisor. His department formulated the models, based on which, Boris told the UK to stop going out and stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
However, the Prof is currently engaged in a secret romantic liaison with a married woman who was spotted visiting him at home. In a way, it is nice to see that high-ranking scientists are real human beings and not just cold, rational droids; but this was a bit too much and he had to go.

Latest official corona fatalities: UK, 29500      US, 71000

7 May: normally we would be given the first Monday in May as a Bank Holiday, but since it is the 75th anniversary of the end of the second World War, the holiday has been shifted to Friday 8 May, to commemorate the exact date of VE day.

Last year the government website announced this amendment, adding that it would provide an opportunity for street parties and special events in thousands of pubs and restaurants round the UK. Alas, there may be a few sparse gatherings in parks; but all pubs are firmly shut and no mass celebrations will be allowed.

A couple of weeks back it was announced that a large consignment of surgical gowns, masks and other items of PPE was being sent to the UK from Turkey (healthcare workers have complained about shortages of equipment). The delivery was postponed, so the RAF sent a plane to retrieve the goods. They arrived today and on inspection were found to be below the required safety and quality standards.

Latest official corona fatalities: UK, 30076         US, 74581





Corona Chapel Canticles

A few months back I decided to start a bullet journal, filled with the films and plays I wanted to see, the trendy café bars I wanted to visit, and the art galleries where I would get my culture jabs. Accordingly I purchased a lovely A5 notebook with smooth, ivory-coloured paper and a blue cloth cover and
Time stopped
Time cannot stop
The gleaming granules spill their steady stream
To pile up at the bottom of the cave.
No sex no drugs no books no films no lovely meals
In restaurants where plastic waitresses stand guard
An epic catalogue of cancelled things and books unread
By children kept away from school to save
Them from the sweeping virus in the air
My pen will hover here eternally, afraid to touch
The empty landscape of another page. Perhaps
One day I’ll stick the coloured pins into the map
To show the places where we stopped for tea, on peaceful
Afternoons where we believed that time had stopped.

A Fever, by John Donne

Oh do not die, for I shall hate
All women so, when thou art gone,
That thee I shall not celebrate,
When I remember, thou wast one.

But yet thou canst not die, I know;
To leave this world behind, is death,
But when thou from this world wilt go,
The whole world vapours with thy breath.

Or if, when thou, the world’s soul, go’st,
It stay, ’tis but thy carcase then,
The fairest woman, but thy ghost,
But corrupt worms, the worthiest men.

Oh wrangling schools, that search what fire
Shall burn this world, had none the wit
Unto this knowledge to aspire,
That this her fever might be it ?

And yet she cannot waste by this,
Nor long bear this torturing wrong,
For much corruption needful is
To fuel such a fever long.

These burning fits but meteors be,
Whose matter in thee is soon spent.
Thy beauty, and all parts, which are thee,
Are unchangeable firmament.

Yet ’twas of my mind, seizing thee,
Though it in thee cannot persever.
For I had rather owner be
Of thee one hour, than all else ever.
John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Several years ago I was in the canteen at work, eating toast and drinking coffee; my colleagues at the next table were discussing higher education and lamenting the indulgent stupidity of postgrad students. “I don’t see the point in doing a PhD,” said one of them. “After all, there’s nothing left to be discovered – we know everything about science and engineering now.”

07 April 2020: Ten days after announcing that he had become infected with Covid-19, the Prime Minister has been admitted to hospital and is now in an intensive care unit, receiving low-level oxygen treatment.
Messages of support have flooded in from fellow politicians, some of whom might fancy measuring up the curtains in Number Ten. TV news bulletins have been awash with people praising Johnson’s rugged energy, calling him a ‘fighter’ and someone with a great zest for life. When not seriously ill in hospital, Boris is routinely criticised for being cynical and dishonest in his dealings with work colleagues and intimate partners.
UK coronavirus figures today: 55242 infected, 6159 dead.

For the past few years Donald Trump, the talking pumpkin of the United States, has entertained and baffled us all with speeches and Twitter-feed comments which cheerfully dispense with any form of logic or grammar. Back in February he reassured us that ‘There are only five cases, we have this under control’, but a few weeks later the US has about 350,000 cases of Covid-19, with over 10,000 fatalities.

A row about Covid-19 recently erupted in the US between senior figures in the military. Captain Brett Crozier raised concerns about an outbreak of coronavirus on board his ship and was promptly dismissed by acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly. Modly then gave a speech to the crew of Crozier’s ship, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, in which he described the captain as being ‘naïve’ and ‘stupid’’.
The next stage of this drama involved Modly releasing a statement offering his resignation and saying that he had never viewed Crozier as being naïve or stupid.

On March 20, the Chancellor announced that the UK government would provide financial support to firms, paying 80 percent of their workers’ wages so that the staff could stay at home and thus avoid spreading the coronavirus. By doing this, the treasury expected that the firms would then be able to resume operations quickly once the virus had been contained and lockdown was lifted.

One organisation keen to take advantage of this scheme is Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, whose non-football staff have had an immediate cut in pay, while the chairman Daniel Levy has received a £3 million deferred bonus; the players enjoy salaries between 1 and 10 million per annum, and no announcement has been made about reducing these even though the football season is now effectively over.

March 2020: Exactly ten years ago I was living in Cornwall, having moved down there to start my new job in Penryn. On Saturday morning I decided to meet my sister in Truro, so I settled down in the Museum café with an expensive but remarkably tasty raspberry milkshake, and the Independent magazine.
The magazine featured an article about Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal football club; some clubs were starting high-profile community outreach campaigns to boost their public image, but Arsenal had been running these activities quietly for years.

Eleven weeks after starting my new job, I was told that my performance was not up to the required level, and the company would prefer it if I was to leave with immediate effect. During my brief time there I learned a fair bit about the coatings industry – I managed to print a double-sided sheet of water-based silver finish, with the text of Goethe’s Ganymede overlaid on it.

A Litany in Time of Plague, by Thomas Nashe

Adieu, farewell, earth’s bliss;
This world uncertain is;
Fond are life’s lustful joys;
Death proves them all but toys;
None from his darts can fly;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Rich men, trust not in wealth,
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade.
All things to end are made,
The plague full swift goes by;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Beauty is but a flower
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air;
Queens have died young and fair;
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave;
Swords may not fight with fate,
Earth still holds open her gate.
“Come, come!” the bells do cry.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Wit with his wantonness
Tasteth death’s bitterness;
Hell’s executioner
Hath no ears for to hear
What vain art can reply.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Haste, therefore, each degree,
To welcome destiny;
Heaven is our heritage,
Earth but a player’s stage;
Mount we unto the sky.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!
Thomas Nashe (1567 – 1601)

08 April 2020: The coronavirus lockdown continues – the lovely Boris, having been rushed to hospital three days ago, is sitting up in bed and chatting to nursing staff. Which makes one wonder why he needs to be in an intensive care ward, surrounded by people who cannot breathe unaided.
The organisers of the Cheltenham Festival proudly declare that they have complied with all relevant guidance in going ahead with the race meetings; if Boris could swan off to Twickenham three days earlier, why shouldn’t we carry on with our event?
They also claimed endorsement from Catherine Calderwood, who had said ‘There’s actually very little impact on virus spread from mass gatherings, particularly if they are in the open air.’
Meanwhile, the death toll from Covid-19 in the UK has reached 7097.
In the United States, 1858 people died in a single day, bringing their total to over 14000. Two weeks ago President Trump informed the world that Easter was a beautiful time, and that the US would be open for business as usual by then.



Corona Citadel Gazette


Ambient Coronaphobia

And at this point the integral converged; a thousand flames
Had faded out, the darkness sweeping carefully
Towards the cells where we’d been told to hide. Give us

This day our daily bleach, the sun will echo off the rocks
And keep us in the quarry. I don’t believe the virus
Knew how much it hurt, how many lives destroyed

It took away the ones we loved, but left the bodies –
Too many men to burn or bury, with sleeping smiles
And frozen gestures lying on the walls of stone

Beneath the relics of a dying sun.

Pages from the Corona Citadel Gazette

4 April 2020: The official death toll in the UK from Covid-19 is now 4313, 31 days after the first death was reported. However, it is likely that this figure will be revised upwards as further details emerge of infected people who died outside the health system and thus went unrecorded.

Around the UK, a new telecoms system called 5G – which enables higher-quality data transmission – is being rolled out at various sites, but there are rumours circulating on t’internet that these mast antennae are actually causing the symptoms of Covid-19 infection. Accordingly, disgruntled citizens are setting fire to them.

Today was scheduled to be the Grand National at Aintree, the premier event in the UK racing calendar. Like all major sporting events, the race was cancelled; however, a ‘virtual race’ has been created using performance algorithms to predict the speed and endurance of a field of top-flight horses.

The Eurovision Song Contest has also been cancelled, although it might be worth proceeding with a ‘blind’ version of this event. Each country could be invited to submit their song entry anonymously. The judging panel would then be spared the embarrassing ritual of awarding twelve points to their political allies, and instead could rate each performance on its artistic merit.

In autumn 2019, a BBC thriller called The Capture, by Ben Chanan, depicted a corrupt police system where artificial video footage is created to link villains to their actual crimes. This was explained as being a correction – the persons involved did actually commit the crimes, but the evidence was obtained by unlawful means and so not admissible.

Now that the world seems to be reliant on remote technology, we might expect a host of fictitious encounters to be concocted and broadcast. We have already seen the Prime Minister at the Cenotaph, his clumsy behaviour replaced by archive footage showing him being distinguished and statesmanlike.

Emily. Sometimes at work I have a customer who declares her name to be ‘Emily’. I am always tempted to ask ‘Floyd or Zombies?’ but most people under the age of forty would struggle to understand.

5 April 2020: To deal with the huge numbers of expected casualties from the Covid-19 pandemic, a field hospital has been assembled in the Excel exhibition centre down in London. Like much of the capital, this massive trade fair space is owned by a Middle-Eastern organisation (in this case, Abu Dhabi exhibitions) and the NHS is paying millions of pounds each month in rent.

Back in 1988, I explored the characteristics of abraded polyprop. We had two grades available for study; a rubber-toughened black plastic, and a slightly harder ethylene-propylene copolymer. Each of these was abraded in a uniform manner using a range of silicon-carbide papers, ranging from 120 mesh to 1200 mesh. The micro-roughness of each surface was then measured using a ‘Talysurf’ motorised stylus. The roughness profile (average peak height) was plotted against 1/(mesh size), and we ended up with two gentle curves which crossed over.

Perhaps the intersection was a point of optimum roughness; we found that wet abrasion (through a layer of primer solution) always gave better adhesive bonds than dry abraded plastic, regardless of the roughness. Because of this, we concluded that some aspect of the process was completely overriding the physical roughness effect.

f'(y,t) = (x+ai)(y+bi) – (x^0.372+mi)(y^0.372+ni)

Where y is the average roughness profile, a and b are the hardness values of the polymers, and m and n are the solubility parameters of the two polymers.

The centre of Manchester has fallen quiet, as pubs and restaurants and cinemas are all closed by order of HM Government. In Canal Street, some of the venues have boarded up their windows to prevent opportunist thieves. I recall seeing a picture in Via which looked exquisitely clever, and which I would love to steal if I thought I could get away with it…

The picture shows a neatly stylised face, photographed in B-and-W, with elegant shadows. Parts of this face have been amended by including round stencils which carry sections of the same photo, with volume parameters governed by the equation:

f’(r,θ) = (g+ai)(h+bi) – (g^0.815+pi)(h^0.815+qi)

Where r is the average grey scale density, g and h are the horizontal and vertical coordinates, and p and q are the length of curved lines between regions of high contrast. The image has been constructed using overlapping regions of metallic pigment film, giving an illusion of depth and shifting texture,

Holy water is the supreme vaccine? Religion is vitally important nowadays: passing your exams will get you a well-paid job, but Holy Communion will get you entry to Paradise.

DUP councillor John Carson, from Ballymena, County Antrim claimed that the coronavirus outbreak is God’s punishment on the UK government for allowing gay marriage and abortion to be legalised.

Conservative Tennessee preacher Perry Stone made exactly the same arguments, as did Iraqi Shia political leader Muqtada al-Sadr. And in Russia, huge crowds of believers queued for hours to kiss the relics of St John at St Petersburg, firmly convinced that viral diseases are unable to harm anyone inside a consecrated building.
In another story from a few years back, we heard how a primary school headteacher has been mocked on Twitter after claiming that evolution was “a theory” and there was “more evidence that the Bible is true”.

Christina Wilkinson, of St Andrew’s Church of England school in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, made the remarks in a tweet responding to London headteacher Tom Sherrington, who urged teachers to stick to science when teaching the origins of life.

“Evolution is not a fact. That’s why it’s called a theory! There’s more evidence that the Bible is true.” Christina Wilkinson, Headmistress of St Andrew’s C-of-E Primary School, Ostwaldwhistle.

Evidence? What evidence? Kids LOVE dinosaurs – and this woman wants to deprive them of the drama and excitement of the early archaeologists, and the fantasies of Jurassic Park, and the splendid treasures in the Natural History Museum…

Amid criticism and calls for her to resign on Twitter, Wilkinson issued a statement saying: “I’d like to make it clear that we teach the full national curriculum in school and that our pupils receive a fully rounded education.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, the warm weather has lured sun-worshippers to parks around the country, prompting the health secretary to threaten that outdoor exercise of any kind would be banned if people carried on flouting the rules.

‘Vanishing Lung Syndrome’ by Miroslav Holub

(Text copied from ‘poetic orphanage’ on the snarkattack-gracenotes blog: poem published by Faber and Faber, 1990)

Once in a while somebody fights for breath.
He stops, getting in everyone’s way.
The crowd flows around, muttering
about the flow of crowds,
but he just fights for breath.

Inside there may be growing
a sea monster within a sea monster,
a black, talking bird,
a raven Nevermore that
can’t find a bust of Athena
to perch on and so just grows
like a bullous emphysema with cyst development,
fibrous masses and lung hypertension.

Inside there may be growing
a huge muteness of fairy tales,
the wood-block baby that gobbles up everything,
father, mother, flock of sheep,
dead-end road among fields,
screeching wagon and horse,
I’ve eaten them all and now I’ll eat you,
while scintigraphy shows
a disappearance of perfusion, and angiography
shows remnants of arterial branches
without the capillary phase.

Inside there may be growing
an abandoned room,
bare walls, pale squares where pictures hung,
a disconnected phone,
feathers settling on the floor
the encyclopaedists have moved out and
Dostoevsky never found the place,

lost in the landscape
where only surgeons
write poems.

Translated from Czech by David Young and Dana Habova

5 April 2020: Today’s figures reveal that a further 621 people have died from coronavirus in the past 24 hours. And the Scottish chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, has been fiercely warning members of the public not to make any unnecessary journeys or go out in public without good reason.

Meanwhile, Calderwood decided to drive over to check on her second home in Fife, and has been warned by police against such conduct. Oddly enough, les gendarmes didn’t slap her with a sixty-quid fine like they would with anybody else caught doing the same thing.

Corona City Chronicles

Corona city Chronicles

An angry mob descends upon
The supermarket; it’s every woman for herself
Eager to collect
She pulls the packets and the tins
That represent security, until at last
The powder-coated shelf begins to yawn
With unaccustomed emptiness.

With elegant restraint, this parasite
Brings into play the polished enzyme fangs
That fill with dryness each infected cell
Until at last the shelves are bare
And membranes find there’s nothing left to sell.

The supermarket keeps a chart of
Throbbing coloured lines and numbered boxes
On the wall; the manager is quietly assured
That competition will not be allowed
To interfere. We must proceed, organic growth
And structured desecration of the host
Until the angry mob obeys the call.

Dennison Arkwell, ‘Unseen Words’

The three works by Arkwell which make up this show were created in 2016-17 for the Hamburg Science Festival, and take as their theme the aesthetic possibilities of microbiology.

Agar nutrient plates were prepared by depositing a pattern of selective preservative compounds before seeding them with dust collected from historical printed volumes. The books were picked at random from the repair catalogue at Rylands library, and a vacuum-brush with pleated polyester filter units to retain the particles of forgotten organic material.

In the piece ‘System Nine’ we find seven icons arranged about the three petri dishes – a portrait of the explorer, enlarged pictures of the cultivated microbes harvested from his books, a DNA sequence slide and some FTIR and NMR spectra for the biocidal preservatives.

‘Voices’ is a series of narratives created by schoolchildren. They were given pictures of the petri dish assemblies and invited to speculate on what the images might actually represent. Proposed identities ranged from remote planets and moons, to impact sites and the eggs of exotic insects.

‘Floating Sundials’ depicts an artificial lily-pond with petri dishes floating on the water; an extended spine juts from each one, its shadow giving a dishonest and untrustworthy measure of time.

Under the Counter Culture immersive art installation opens its doors

Corona City Chronicles
21 March 2020: It’s Saturday morning – normally I would be waking up in Andy’s spare room ready to walk across Manchester (we are required to carry out one Saturday shift from 8.00 to 4.00 every fourth week).
But today am at home, because the world is in the grip of Covid-19, a coronavirus first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The outbreak turned into an epidemic, Chinese authorities banned travel and shut down industry and leisure facilities.
Then cases began appearing in Europe and the UK, people started panic-buying groceries and leaving supermarket shelves completely bare.
This virus is severe towards anybody with underlying health problems – and since I was diagnosed five years ago with emphysema, following a chest x-ray, I have been allowed to work from home using a Surface Pro laptop to conduct webchat enquiries.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (!) has been relentlessly cheerful and optimistic but last night he caved in and ordered the closure of pubs, cinemas, nightclubs and restaurants in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Normally I would wake up at Andy’s, make us each a cup of tea and watch the news before going out to work. The city was always so peaceful in the early morning light. The news programme we watched would include a film review by Mark Kermode, which Andy hated (‘What gives him the right to tell us whether a film is good or not?’) so the nationwide closure of picture houses has one good effect, at least.

Outside, it’s a dull grey morning – the daffodils came up in the garden about three weeks ago, but only two of them have flowered. Very odd. Usually we have four bunches, each with five or six blooms. Last year I photographed them, and noticed that the flowers had appeared four weeks earlier than the same plants the previous year.
Back in July 2018, I went with Paul down to South Wales to visit Malcolm, who I hadn’t seen for about sixteen years. We spent a very enjoyable weekend visiting the beach, St David’s, and the Dylan Thomas boathouse in Laugharne.
But nowadays, to cheer us all up in this state of quarantine, the BBC ended the news broadcast with a clip of Cerys Matthews reading from ‘Under Milk Wood’.
Malcolm passed away in May 2019, so this audio clip brought bittersweet memories.
And today is World Poetry Day, an event that has been pushed into the background by the unfolding global drama. On his wordpress blog, Peter Coles posted Byron’s verse about Solitude.

22 March 2020: Mothering Sunday – normally you would treat your mum to a meal out at a restaurant and buy her some flowers and a big box of chocolates.
However, since the UK is now in a state of virus lockdown, socialising is prohibited. Pubs are closed and some restaurants are trying to survive on take-away business. And a real gesture of affection would be to give your mother some toilet rolls and liquid soap, since these items have been stripped from the shelves during the panic.
Yesterday I spent about eight hours working from home. Around me were a few small shelves, loaded with the books I have collected over the years and not touched for a long time…Women in Love, Nancy Cunard, Howard’s End, Iron John, Paradise Lost, The Secret History etc.

Two weeks ago, everything in the UK was fairly relaxed. So what if other countries in Europe were closing schools and cancelling sporting fixtures? We don’t need to panic – Johnny Foreigner might overreact when a few elderly folk succumb to the flu, but we are made of sterner stuff.
So Boris decided to announce that schools and universities would remain open, and major sporting occasions would go ahead as planned. The Cheltenham Racing Festival attracted huge crowds, and the St Patrick’s Day parade in Manchester was allowed to take place, despite nearly every other city in the world agreeing to suspend celebrations.
But now, everything is quiet.
During the past thirty years I’ve had several spells of unemployment when I have been forced to remain indoors, unable to socialise due to lack of funds.
And I wonder if that experience has prepared me to cope with this programme of isolation that we’re all having to endure?
The latest advice from the government is now that people should avoid socialising – don’t go out, don’t go to the park, don’t go shopping.
I very rarely make use of my Spiriva inhaler, but now that we are all in lockdown I have requested some capsules – the active ingredient, tiotropium bromide, is 86p per dose in the UK but 13 dollars in the US.

23 March 2020: Yesterday, we tidied the spare bedroom for me to use as an office when working from home. I moved the bookcase and noticed a 10p piece, so I picked it up, then carried on vacuuming.
Later on I went out for a walk, keeping a safe two metres between me and the couple who were out walking their dogs. Lovely sunny evening, birdsong, vast open fields of the Chat Moss where the local council is planning to permit the building of 1600 new homes.
I took the coin from my pocket and found it was actually Icelandic kroner, left over from Paul’s trip to Canada four years ago.
Thirty-five years ago on March 23 I went to a concert in London; walking up the hill towards the tube station I bumped into my housemate Richard. ‘Here’ he said, offering me his one-day travelcard.
At the QEH I saw the Orpheus Chamber Choir performing Schubert 5 and the Szymanowski Stabat Mater. And then I went for a drink and bumped into Ray at the King’s Arms.

24 March 2020: Yesterday I was on a webchat with an irate customer. Throughout the UK people are being hospitalised, there are businesses closing down and workers losing their jobs. But my irate customer was annoyed because his pensions were being wrongly taxed – he had an income of fifty-three thousand pounds a year from pensions.
Meanwhile my boss rang me to ask if everything was okay. ‘Are you living with your elderly mother?’ he asked.
No, I said: my mother died many years ago. I wonder if my personnel file at work contains any other outlandish rumours?

26 March 2020: Hurrah! I’m on holiday! When I booked this time off a few months ago I was planning to go to Cornwall. But now the UK is in lockdown – Boris has ordered people to remain indoors at all times except when shopping for essentials, or exercising or travelling to work in the care industries.
While tidying the spare bedroom I came across some long-forgotten items, including my tape cassette of Strauss.
Back in 1990 I travelled to a technical meeting at an institute in Melton, and I listened to the Rosenkavalier Suite about five times during the three train journeys.
The journey home didn’t look too promising – according to the timetable, I was facing a wait of forty minutes at one station and one hour at the other. However, it turned out that most of the trains were running late, so in the end I had to wait only five minutes at each.

“I’ve danced with a boy, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales.”
But not too recently, one hopes – for it was announced on the news that Prince Charles has been diagnosed with Coronavirus. This nanoscopic organism has wrought havoc across the world.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until next year; Glastonbury has been cancelled; decisions are awaited on the Proms and Wimbledon.
Huge numbers of people have been hospitalised due to the virus, and many if them need to be hooked up to a ventilator to support breathing. Because there is now a nationwide shortage of these units, Boris has announced that Dyson (celebrated designer of vacuum-cleaners and hairdryers) will be awarded a contract to supply thousands of ventilators.
However, the government has snubbed offers from existing manufacturers of the units, who could increase production to help save lives.

28 March 2002: On Thursday evening it was announced that PM Boris has tested positive for Covid-19 and is now self-isolating in Downing Street. Bojo is famous for his enthusiastic support for Brexit.
Meanwhile the hated EU has apparently sent an e-mail message to all member states – including the UK – inviting them to join a procurement scheme for medical supplies including the ventilator units.
‘I see no ships.’
The UK claimed that we had never received this message, although the EU said that UK officials had been present at many of the planning meetings where this scheme was discussed.
This morning I shall exercise by trying a few kata (wonder if I can remember the moves?) and listening to Prokoviev Quartet no.2, filled with Baltic folk tunes and middle-Eastern atmosphere.
Outside I can see the two lonely daffodil blooms among their green shoots, which have now been out for five weeks. Very strange. But these are strange times, with the world being overrun by an exotic virus which may (or may not) have originated in a snake which swallowed an infected bat (or the other way round) before ending up in a tasty street-food casserole somewhere in a market in Wuhan.
Chinese authorities responded by blaming the doctors and accusing them of spreading false news, before eventually placing everybody under house arrest and closing down factories (great for air quality readings).
Meanwhile in the UK we have been ‘advised’ to avoid unnecessary travel , but the Brits have never enjoyed being told what to do, and we find people still having parties, playing football and going out for a family barbecue on the moors. A huge moorland blaze near Belmont led to Lancashire and Manchester fire crews being called out. So much for following advice…

29 March 2020: This morning on the Andrew Marr show we had Matt Lucas telling us about a project to supply food directly to NHS key workers, since nurses find the supermarket shelves empty when they finish their shifts. I recall seeing Matt L onstage in ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ at the Lowry several years ago.
And on Russian TV a studio journalist interviewed the Coronavirus itself – a person wearing a huge Residents-type fake head. Which I thought at first was their Eurovision Song Contest entry.
And when it was announced that Boris had been tested positive for Covid, we saw news footage of Dominic Cummings – mad scientist and ruthless political puppeteer – scurrying clumsily away from Downing Street. A few weeks ago Cummings gave a policy briefing and explained the ‘herd immunity’ theory that he claimed would safeguard the UK economy.
Shocked attendees reported later that his speech carried the message that ‘…if some pensioners die, too bad.’
Although the UK is still paralysed by the Coronavirus, we are still viewing and hearing media output based on a world where everybody is still free to travel, meet and mingle without any restrictions.
Popular TV serials like Corrie and Emmerdale routinely feature scenes in pubs and cafes with close gatherings. And talent show programmes have become a bit grim and lifeless now that they no longer have a studio audience to provide hysterical applause to the performers; so they have started broadcasting old episodes under the guise of ‘best of’ compilations.
One show where solitude is perfectly normal is ‘Desert Island Discs’ which today featured Brian Cox (the actor, not the scientist). When he introduced one of his choices as being by ‘the original rock chick’ I was expecting him to play Suzi Quatro, but it turned out to be Chrissie Hynde, performing ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’.
And I remembered when I lived in a children’s home, and on my little transistor radio we heard Kid Jensen telling us about an amazing new band called the Pretenders and their hit single ‘Brass in Pocket’.
If I could have turned to my housemates and told them that forty years from now, this group’s music will be on Radio Four they would have howled with laughter.

Paper Geographies – Manchester

Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
Lurks the antiprism black; together
We pay homage to the children of the grail
Whose chanting penetrates the void forever

Somewhere a nameless god occupies
A universe of weightless varnished wood
Where four-dimensioned dovetail joints tell lies
To dying stars by all men misunderstood 

A slash of living liquid lies upon the face
Of the clock that tells the time
To a congregation dying to replace
The hollow snake who’s learning how to climb

The dust forgotten as the twilight falls
Upon the sundial particles remain
Each fragment is a vast array of worlds
Where logic drives the nameless god insane

 From twenty miles away, the pilgrim sees
Perched on a hill, the monumental white prism
That calls to mind the land left wasted by disease
And post-ironic formalism

The library is closed; all libraries are closed, along with pubs, nightclubs and health centres, since the UK (along with many countries in Europe and East Asia) is in the grip of a global pandemic called Coronavirus 2019.
These verses were composed after reading two poems; ‘White Prism’ by Lou Reed, and ‘Black Stars’ by Primo Levi. The printed images in the exhibition suggest a new world of landscape photography where the rocks try to hide from the circling birds of prey.