In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, each NHS trust would send out individual emails of the number of people who had died. Now the daily totals are approaching the 1,000 mark, we are down to one global email per day. It feels as if so many people are losing their individual identity and just becoming a statistic. So to redress the balance a little, I would like to tell you about Pete, who died of Covid19 last weekend, the first person I have known to have died of the disease. Just so that he and thousands of others like him don’t get forgotten. Pete wasn’t a close friend: more of a friend of a friend and someone my wife would join on long weekend walks. But he was a lovely man. He was at Exeter University several years before me – he took his studies so seriously, it took him four years to complete a three-year degree – but photos from that time show him as a dead ringer for Steely Dan’s Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. He was also known for driving his motorbike far too fast and for crashing cars. On leaving Exeter, he went on to establish his own communications business in Brighton and was heavily involved in several charities working in India and Africa. He is survived by his wife, Heidi, and his two children. My heart goes out to them. It’s still not clear of what the rules are for funerals in the time of the coronavirus but it will undoubtedly be a scaled back affair. Sometime, when this horror is all over, we will have a party to remember him properly. And for all the many others whose deaths were merely reported as a grim number at the daily Downing Street press conference.
I found myself totally unsettled by the news that Boris Johnson had been moved to the intensive care unit at St Thomas’. So much so, that I had to switch off Twitter and stop watching the news: even though it is literally my job to watch the news. Part of the shock was that less than three hours earlier, Dominic Raab had insisted at the Downing Street press conference that Boris had only gone to hospital as a precaution and was basically still in charge of the country. So the only possible conclusion was that Raab had lied about the gravity of Boris’s condition or that, even as de facto deputy prime minister, he had not been kept in the loop. Neither of which inspired much confidence in the government. If we couldn’t trust the government to tell the truth about something so critical as the prime minister’s health, why should we trust it to tell the truth about anything else? The No 10 communications team really needs to start upping its game: we’re long past the point where serious news can be withheld for a few hours. But mostly my shock at the deterioration of Boris’s condition was on a more existential level. You can dislike his politics and think little of of his suitability as prime minister, but he is still the country’s leader. At a very basic, psychoanalytical level Boris is the country’s daddy. And no one ever wants to lose their dad, no matter how how crap a dad he has been. We want our parents to be strong. Invincible, even. The last thing we want is proof that the coronavirus really is totally indiscriminate.
Finding ways of filling up the days – other than with work – is proving to be more and more of a challenge. I have had two more goes at Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light but still haven’t got the concentration to get past the first four pages. That makes it six attempts at the book so far, but it’s testament to the power of the writing that I have been gripped on each occasion. By this time next week, I am determined to make it to at least page six. My wife is rather more inventive than me and had found on Twitter the #GettyMuseumChallenge, which encouraged everyone to recreate works of art using objects they had lying around the house. After a great deal of passive resistance from me – “Why on earth would I want to do that?” – Jill persuaded me to join her as Piero della Francesca’s Duke and Duchess of Urbino. Her costume was constructed using some lace bought from a French market some years ago, along with a pair of headphones covered with tin foil and a paper flower. Mine was made from some red felt, left over from making one of the children’s Christmas stockings, rounded off with a heavy Le Creuset saucepan for the head gear. It certainly had the necessary gravitas. Once the pictures were taken against the kitchen wall, our son Photoshopped them into the appropriate frame and we posted the diptych on Twitter and got a wonderful response from many people. Apart from the bloke who suggested I should have gone the whole hog and broken my nose like the original duke. Now our fame is to be extended further. Yesterday I got an email from a producer working on a TV film Grayson Perry is making about creativity in lockdown, requesting permission to use our photo. A Bafta surely must be in the offing.
Most of the season, I have spent wishing Spurs could play rather more like Liverpool and less like a bunch of bored, non-league players. And much to my surprise, I have found that I have missed the final two months of the season far less than I expected. It turns out that there are limits to my masochism and were the Premier League to announce that the final placings for this year’s season were as of the beginning of March, I’d be quite happy. If we can’t make the Champions League we can at least avoid the Europa League. Best of all though, would be for the entire season to be considered null and void so that Spurs would automatically qualify for the Champions league on last season’s performances. But now I find myself not just wishing Spurs would play like Liverpool but behave like them too. Earlier this week, Liverpool announced it had made an error in laying off and furloughing many of its non-playing staff and were going to retain them all. Just a week after announcing profits in excess of £70m, the Tottenham board – despite much pressure from the supporters’ trust and other interested parties – came to an entirely different decision and is laying off and furloughing non-playing staff. At White Hart Lane, the directors seem to care more about the bottom line than basic human decency. To make things even worse, the club has broken social-distancing guidelines by holding training sessions in the park. I’ve sometimes been ashamed of Spurs’ on-field performances; now I am ashamed at their off-field ones. It’s not too late to reverse the decision. The club may be surprised at just how many fans won’t forget or forgive if they don’t.
There’s no getting away from it. As for many people, it’s been another tricky week on the mental health front. I miss my children more and more – I dare say I might be feeling differently about this if they were both still teenagers and going stir crazy indoors – and our frequent phone calls are bitter-sweet reminders of the distance between us. It’s the not knowing when I will next get to see them that hurts the most, and I am planning on observing government guidelines to the letter. But I did promise to try to include some good news each week, so here goes. Boris Johnson is out of intensive care: I feel far more emotional about that than I expected. I’ve also spent the last three and a half weeks growing a beard, something I’ve never done in the past. So that’s a first. I’m not sure it’s a total success though and I doubt it will be staying much longer. My sisters have been polite about it but my friend Alex said I look like a serial rapist on death row. I’ve also now almost finished cataloguing my books, which has been mind-numbingly dull and unexpectedly time consuming as my spreadsheet skills are minimal. Next I plan to move on to cataloguing our ceramics. Soon I will be down to cataloguing the exact amount of dog and cat food we have left. But the undoubted highlight of the week has been the arrival of this year’s Wisden Almanack. I haven’t had time to more than dip in so far – Mark’s Lawson’s moving essay on how cricket helped his mental health was my first port of call – but the new Wisden is always a sure sign of the start of summer. Though what kind of summer it will be is still in the lap of the coronavirus. And who knows what next year’s Wisden will look like?
Digested week, digested: Same again.