The Pandemonic Dialogues

1. We don’t want to be  heroes, even for one day

We are not heroes. We do not want to be fallen  martyrs. All this war imagery  makes us very uncomfortable. It distract people from the reality. We are ordinary people who have chosen to  become  health workers and carers. We are professionals and highly trained. All we want is to be given the tools we need to do our job properly, to look after people in a safe environments. We need proper protetive equipment and we want it now. Your applause is very nice and your support is very moving, but we need the government to do its job so we can do ours.- Health Worker Interviewed on BBC Newsnight


2.  Optimism of the Will, Pessimism of Intellect :  In Conversation  with a Neighbour

I plan on going to the shop tomorrow morning after I’ve taken the boys to football

PC  Are kids still playing football?

Well, yes, definitely although the virus is still just as deadly outdoors if you happen to breathe in particles from someone who has got the virus

PC I thought they did a study which showed that unless someone actually sneezes in your face  while outdoors the risk is minimal

Even runners and cyclists if they have it without knowing are most likely to spread it as they are breathing heavily and releasing huge amounts of harmful particles. Unfortunately unless people start to follow the guidelines more carefully this situation won’t be going away for some time yet.

PC There is a lot of political pressure on the government  to lift some of the lockdown resrictions so that schools and small businesses can re-open

Yeah there is a lot of pressure from folk that don’t see the bigger picture. Schools can in no way re-open while abiding with the social distancing rules , even heads in the strictest schools said its impossible. It certainly won’t be normal for everyone for the rest of the year sadly.

PC Perhaps schools could run on reduced numbers with some kind of shift system?

Its impossible to organise social distancing in schools even on a reduced intake. Children mingle – its what they do! We all know that schools are a breeding ground for viruses. There will be more waves of infection to come , especially in the winter months.Unless there is a miracle cure or a vaccine , there is little they can do to let children safely back into school, or re-open public places.

PC We just don’t know how things are going to pan out. The scientists don’t know yet how things are going to develop , we will just have to learnt to live with uncertainty !

I just say it how it is. A vaccine takes time  to develop and test, and there is still a ridiculous amount of folks  dying each day in Colchester with the wards full up. I know because my wife works there. People need to understand what social distancing means and not take unnecessary risks. People seems to think Wivenhoe is safe from the virus  because it’s a village buts its not. People have died here too. Its not safe when people are going round friend’s houses, having cups of tea, or gathering outside the Rose and Crown down by the river. Then those same people go shopping in the Co-Op touching all the items, then coughing which spreads the germs through the whole isle onto the next one.  It isn’t making for a safe environment.

PC Are’nt you being a little bit paranoid here? You just have to wear a mask and wash you hands after shopping.

You do realise a cough in a shop from someone with the virus will travel much further than 2 metres? Its not paranoid, its common sense lol,. I’ve been studying the coronavirus since Wuhan , before the government ever took notice. I have a wife working in the NHS whose colleagues are getting sick from people who think they are immune to it. Mask only help a bit. Many of the staff on the front line  are dying whilst using the proper PPE  so it goes to show if you are exposed to the virus , you cannot be fully protected, I have a funeral to go to in a few weeks time  which will easily the worst time  to have one.

PC Yes it’s a bad time to die. Everyone is doing it, its no longer a special event!


3.Walter Benjamin’s  Lockdown  Diary

“ People smile and wave  at me when I go for a walk. They see an old man and think to themselves  ‘look he is out and about  despite the regulations. Remarkable for his age , and without a stick too. But shouldn’t he be safe indoors?

Niceness can be a way of killing people. Slowly but gently letting them know that their existence does’nt really count any more   except to be a receptacle of other people’s kindness and generosity.  They wave at me expectantly as if I should  wave back to show my gratitude. I am drowning in other people’s sympathy, while they wave at me from  altogether other and safer shore.”

For Walter Benjamin , that most conservative of revolutionaries ,  the secret charm of the bourgeoisie lay less in their ostentatious and often hypocritical displays of public virtue, than the private vices and phobias which lay so openly concealed in their broom cupboards and bedside lockers. He would have delighted to see in  the elaborate etiquettes of social distancing   the moral anatomy of class distinction laid bare. And he would have detected in the response to an enforced slowdown of economic and social activity  the seeds of resistance and  even revolt against the ever increasing speed-up of everyday life and labour under advanced capitalism.


4.We’ll meet again ? Virus Everywhere Day 2020

So they came out in  droves, all of them infected with the  same virus of national  nostalgia promoted by the government,  singing along with Vera Lynn  to  celebrate  victory in a  war none of them had lived through and at best could remember  only at second or third hand through watching old 1950’s  movies”, or listening to their grandparents’  reminiscences.

Easy then to be cynical and the Left is used to being a party pooper. Yet as Frank Gallaher, the lowlife anti-hero of Shameless  memorably put  it ‘What is Democracy if its not everyone’s right to paaarty”.  And after nearly two  months of lockdown who wouldn’t want to have  a party – any excuse to get together and talk about something other than Covid-19. Yet that doesn’t entirely explain all the union jacks and the red, white and blue bunting. It surely was influenced by the Tory Press’s invocation of the wartime spirit, straight out of the Boris Johnson Churchillian playbook.  A useful smokescreen to hide the ever more visible social inequalities which the pandemic has revealed. But there was something about the gusto with which people were singing ‘We’ll Meet again  some Sunny Day” that had to do with something much more visceral than one nation Toryism: a longing for the kind of uncomplicated community of rejoicing  evoked by the original VE day celebrations. Nostalgia, don’t forget, is a special kind of homesickness, a desire  for something we never had, masquerading as a retrieval of something we have lost.   The  flags and bunting are accessories not affordances of collective memory work . It is  up to us to paint them green and red.


5.In dreams begin responsibilities (W.B.Yeats)

After the Prime Minister’s first announcement of measures to combat Covid-19

I am with Boris Johnson in his garden. He is in very ebullient mood after making his speech to the nation  and being very patronizing to everyone around him. I am furious and point out that some people don’t have enough food to eat. He gestures at a slice of toast and what looks like the remnants of a vegetarian pie  which is lying on the grass. Then he kneels down and starts eating the pie and the grass, like a dog , to demonstrate the fact  that there is enough for everyone. I feel enraged at this shameless piece of grandstanding   but powerless to do anything about it.

It is a time of crisis and people are coming up with all kinds of creative ideas about how to survive. One thing they are doing is taking over large public buildings and turning them into experimental ‘cabarets’ or ‘boites’, rooms  which they rent for a short time to put on various kinds of performance. I am given a guided tour of one such place , each ‘boite’ has a different name , after famous singers, or writers I have never heard of, except de Sade. My guide tells me that  all kinds of meetings go on here, and says it  in such a tone of voice as to indicate that he doesn’t entirely approve of some of the goings on.

After the announcement that the  Excel Centre in the Royal Docks is to be converted into a temporary emergency hospital for Covid-19 patients and on  hearing that one of my friends nearly died from the virus but is now on the long road to recovery.

A pop-up convalescent home is planned for Covid-19 patients. It has been decided to locate it in the back garden of our house, but it will also extend to neighbours’ gardens on either side. This will involve knocking down fences and concreting over our gardens. I feel very ambivalent about this. It will be good to be doing something to help but I am resentful of the government’s interference in our lives, and the destruction of all that creative gardening work.  The structure is pre-fabricated, made out of sections and assembled on site. It seems to be designed to be demountable but I am still not sure how it is going to work or what the neighbours will think. Will they blame me, as if it was my own idea?

Before hosting my first Zoom meeting

I have caught  the virus but not badly and have easily overcome the illness. I am even glad I got it so that I will be immune and can resume normal relations with people, hugging them and walking in crowded streets. Then I am meeting with a group of people with whom I am planning to collaborate in carrying out some research into the social impact of Covid-19. This will involve face to face interviews. The group are all wearing masks and we discuss the cost of providing masks for all the interviewers and informants. The meeting comes to an end and I have to establish a time for the next one. I am anxious to give a display of professional competence and give clear instructions on when  and where to meet, but I have no idea how to do it.

After the lockdown rules are announced

There is a regime change in the way sanitary material, including toilet paper, is distributed. It seems the government are issuing everyone with nappies irrespective of age. Only the nappies don’t fit and, worse, don’t work. People are shitting themselves all over the place, especially if they  break the social distancing rule.

Jean wakes up and jumps out of bed. It is a bright sunny morning and she says ‘let’s go swimming’. It seems like a very impulsive act. I point out that all the swimming pools are closed as part of the lockdown. But she won’t take no for an answer. I follow her through near empty streets , with police drones buzzing  over head  tracking everyone’s movements. We get to the swimming pool and go down into the basement car park, which is dark and with no cars in it. Suddenly a large group of primary school children file in. They are all huddled together and it is clear that  none of them is socially distancing.I shout at them to go home because the swimming pool is closed.

The Familiar strange

I am a reporter whose job is to find ’feel good’  human angle stories in the midst of the pandemic. The paper is going to do a feature about a very old lady who has been in the Girl Guides over 70 years. She looks a bit like my life partner  Jean ( who actually was a Girl Guide and whose 80th birthday is just coming up)) but she is very difficult to find  and then when I do, not very co-operative. I am increasingly anxious that I won’t get the interview, and even if I do, she won’t say the right ‘feel good’ things.  I get distracted by another story in which a field dentist pulls out a young man’s tooth with a pair of pliers (my dad in his memoir I am just  editing describes his own father as ‘the family dentist’ who was handy with pliers). The tooth is enormous and the young man, covered in blood,  is very proud of it as he shows it to me– he want me to write a story about him but I cannot see what is ‘feel good’ about it.  Finally I manage to organize a ceremony for  old Girl Guides in which Jean can be thanked for her long service.