Category: peste

#Peste 6: Lockdown Cooking

I’ve got 15 hours a week of commute back since lockdown. I’ve been working just as hard, but that’s still meant I’ve had more time to read, relax, drink and cook. So for the benefit of my future self, here’s a cooking/eating diary. Warning, nothing interesting about supply chains or observations on how to source ingredients or anything. It’s just photos of stuff I’ve cooked.

First up was prior to lockdown, but was going into the Joy Luck restaurant in Chinatown. Doesn’t tend to be one of the ones better attended by western tourists (though a fair few of East Asian tourists). On the basis of the London Eater recommendation, I go there for the Wuhan Dry Noodles, which are wonderful. On this occasion I also went in out of solidarity with the Chinese restaurant community – business had plummeted in the early days of Covid awareness in the UK (this was 7th March).

I went into the restaurant and the staff were sitting round a table with chins in hands, chatting. I was clearly the first customer they’d had for ages. They sat me in the window, which was perhaps a mistake. The Wuhan Dry Noodles were as good as ever, which as they are also hot, meant I was sweating and snuffling over them for the entertainment and enlightenment of everyone going past.

I don’t really cook Ottolenghi as much as I should, but this recipe for a hot confit of mushrooms with a butterbean mash is one of the best vegan recipes I know. Hot, substantial, and delicious.

Rather a dull looking, but very nice Barnsley chop.

AH, now we’re talking. Minestrone, in this case Marcella Hazan’s spring vegetable soup, is a miracle. I would strongly recommend cooking it, then leaving it a day, but it’s one of the most restorative recipes I know, and freezes ok for a quick sense of vitality and boost on days when you simple cbf’d.

I’m not actually sure what the pasta is here, but the spinach is first lightly cooked as per usual, and then mixed into olive oil in which a couple of lightly crushed garlic cloves have been cooked and then removed. And then squeeze some lemon over it. I remember this being extremely satisfactory.

This next looks rather grey, but it was wonderful. Elisabeth David’s Roman Beef Stew, or Stufatino alla Romana from Italian Food. With some stewed celery and some sourdough from the Aries Bakehouse on Acre Lane. One of those dishes that I think only has about three ingredients in – shin of beef, some pancetta or bacon, and tomato puree. Highly recommended.

So I live in Herne Hill, which these days is pretty bougie, and with the consequence that it has a very good but expensive deli-cum-butchers – the sort where it’s impossible to buy cheap cuts of meat. Also the sort of place it turns out that in lockdown has queues of people willing to stand around for two hours to get what they want. (I don’t know about anyone else, but although this was in part because I wanted to cook more, I also found myself *buying* a lot more. In theory that was to reduce the amount I needed to go out, but I think it was actually more about a changed context for buying food and cooking. I was practicing more what the person responsible for the domestic shopping would do in the past – buying stuff for multiple meals ahead – rather than popping into the supermarket during or after work to pick up a couple of ingredients for tea).

ANYWAY, to avoid the queues, I went to the very good Jones the Butchers down the road – an older type of butchers, and amongst other things bought a chicken. Annoyingly, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the expensive deli chicken, with the consequence that this roast, although very pleasant, looks better than it tasted, I think.

I did also do Marcella Hazan’s two lemon self-basting roast chicken recipe, which I periodically try, because she absolutely swears by it, but it never really quite works for me, and I should here have stuck to my more orthodox chicken dressed with thyme, garlic, lemon and good butter.

Ah BUT. pasta col tocco d’arrosto – pasta with ‘a touch of the roast’ is one of the very finest things. And of course this is now asparagus season. The roasting pan you cooked the chicken in should be full of fat and lemon and juices, which after a day will have turned into a sort of jelly. Cook your pasta, as usual reserve some of the cooking water. Then tip the cooked pasta into the roasting pan over a high heat, and grate a fuckton of parmesan in. Stir until you go ‘bavosa‘ like the chef here. (This is incidentally the best recipe for carbonara).

The last of the chicken, I thought I’d do a pilaf. I could only find brown rice and had forgotten or possibly never knew that this abomination takes twice as long to cook, with the result that the first attempt at this was inedible and the second attempt was rendered extremely mediocre by me being a-holed.

This asparagus risotto (Marcella Hazan again), was AMAZING. AMAZING.

Good Friday iirc. The super easy Belgian dish Waterzooi – very very good indeed, hard recommend.

A rather careless spaghetti bolognese or ragù or what have you. VERY NICE ALL THE SAME.

Fuck I’ve eaten so much Ritter sport. This is the best. It is the best.

I do think at least once or twice a week you should cut it out and just have a snack or an olive in the evening. Aubergines are wonderful, griddle them and eat with garlic.

Oh! And I bought some South African pears from the excellent grocers near me. Stewed them with cloves in red wine. I think that’s marscapone or creme fraiche. Very good. Don’t normally do deserts.

😬 The cornflake one wasn’t as interesting as it looked?

For some reason the roasted potatoes here look rather grey, but this sirloin steak, asparagus and roasted potatoes was pitch perfect. Absolutely wonderful. A strand throughout this generally is that the less interesting it looks, the better it was.

eg – this lancashire hotpot (scrag end from the proper butchers) was delicate and lovely. One of those dishes close enough to a provençal daube to make you realise that our own simple cooking, done well, has as much room for excellence and delicacy as the more garlanded continental versions of peasant cookery (and they are very nice). Has to be scrag end. Not enough fat/flavour otherwise.

Puy lentils with garlic, parsley and lemon and an omelette. A favourite.

This salad looks great, but it was in some respects A Mistake, namely the presence of asparagus in it. It would have been much better for both asparagus and salad for them to be presented separately. I was taking my lead from the excellent Richard Olney who encourages experimentation and thought in his cooking, on the basis that this is the way you will learn, and he’s right. I learned not to put asparagus in a salad with fennel in. The flavours confused each other. It was still very good.

I started baking! I hadn’t baked for about 18 years, since I made a loaf denser than a black hole. Following the fantastically fucking irritating but really very good Bake with Jack, I came up with these two wonderful wholemeal loaves. They were excellent and I felt so proud I kept on going in to look at them cool.

Ok, the Sicilian classic of sardines, with fennel, pine nuts, raisins, saffron etc, with bucatini. Except I didn’t have any bucatini at the time so I did it with spaghetti. The sardines were the quite expensive Ortiz tinned sardines worth every penny.

Another sirloin steak and some roasted peppers.

THIS is one of the best recipes. Inexplicably not had it before – Marcella Hazan’s Aubergine with chilli and tomato. The heat works very well with the aubergine, and is slightly surprising as it perhaps looks like ratatouille. Really great.

Couldn’t be fucked to cook other than to do the asparagus with a dressing of boiled egg and vinaigrette. Some good italian salami which I absolutely STUFFED MY FACE with.

When I did the lancashire hotpot it reminded me how much I liked this recipe for Provençal daube – the key ingredients for me are the orange peel and the cloves, both of which give it a light and slightly strange taste – troubadours and venice and southern france rivers and abbeys. Like so many stews it is approximately 100 times better left a day before eating. NOTE PLEASE home baked bread.

A poor photograph of a childhood favourite this: smoked mackerel and potato salad from Jane Grigson’s incomparable cookbook Good Things.

I burned da bloomer. My oven thermometer was giving me bogus info.

This bloomer was better but had bust out at the side, i assumed because I had underproved it.

A very welcome delivery from the excellent Grappin Wines, providers to some of the best restaurants and drinking holes in London. Saving the premiere cru from when I can have a guests round. Won’t invite them. Will just drink the bottle.

Fresh trout with an order from Pesky Fish – direct from fisherman to home they say. I hadn’t read the order properly, and was hoping for a whole trout, to do in a beurre blanc or meunière. As it was a fillet, I poached in a court bouillon, which I strained and then whisked some… far too much actually… butter and some as you can see not at all properly chopped sorrel. This was very nice, but the bouillon sauce was fucking rich innit.

This was supposed to be an artisanal loaf. I think this time it was underproved?

Mussels with my fish order. An attempted moules marinière. The mussels were meagre, end of season farmed mussels, very tasteless, and I hadn’t done enough of them in the broth to flavour it properly so it tasted overmuch of wine.

And throughout, where would I have been without my Canopy Beer order?

#Peste 5: After the Lockdown

People are thinking about the beginning of the end. In his very good weekly newsletter Alex Hern was speculating about the travel industry in the immediate aftermath of Covid:

But it won’t kill wanderlust. If anything, at least in the short term, I can’t see how it does anything but strengthen it. Perhaps it’s a nightmare scenario for epidemiologists, but when lockdowns lift, I could see it being like uncorking a bottle: people will flood out of their homes to go elsewhere, anywhere.But it won’t kill wanderlust. If anything, at least in the short term, I can’t see how it does anything but strengthen it. Perhaps it’s a nightmare scenario for epidemiologists, but when lockdowns lift, I could see it being like uncorking a bottle: people will flood out of their homes to go elsewhere, anywhere.

https://alexhern.substack.com/p/its-thursday?r=3iau3&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email&utm_source=copy

What will the end of lockdown look like? Will it be like the uncorking of a bottle? People flooding into the pubs on the first day back? Hugging each other in the street?

It’s hard to imagine. It’s clear that ‘post-lockdown’ is going to be an extremely extended transitional period. In a long and useful thread from a press conference by French PM Edouard Philippe and Health Minister Oliver Veran on what ‘easing’ the lockdown looks like:

Masks obligatory on public transport, bars and restaurants to remain closed. Schools to re-open as soon as possible, but gradually, in least affected regions first. Travel to and from France? Unreasonable to go back to normal at this stage.

In their now twice-weekly podcast, Stephen Bush and his excellent team of political commentators at the New Statesman took something of a sweep on when they thought the lockdown would end. In different ways Patrick Maguire and Ailbhe Rea questioned what the definition of that would be. For Ailbhe it was ‘being able to sit in a cafe observing social distancing’ and her suggestion was September. Stephen thought it would last out the year.

Certainly I am not expecting to go back to work in an office in any meaningful way before September. I would be surprised if it was then.

It’s very hard to imagine pubs or public sporting events happening until next year.

In his article analysing Rishi Sunak’s ‘risky’ aversion to taking on more government responsibility for debt (for ‘risky’ read ‘wrong’ imo), Bush wrote the following:

at the moment, we don’t know for certain what the government’s fiscal response will be after the UK exits lockdown, we don’t know when, how or if we will properly exit lockdown, we don’t know how people will behave if we do exit lockdown

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2020/04/rishi-sunak-bets-economy-and-his-career-strength-his-loans

All that’s right of course. But even there, what does ‘properly exit lockdown’ look like?

Prior to a vaccine or social immunity we will, as the French Health Minister said, have to ‘learn to live with the virus.’ In a world where social distancing is maintained, restaurants being told the lockdown is over, support is ended, will fail, because they won’t be able to generate the same revenue, or process the same number of people, as they could prior to Covid, and that’s assuming people have the same willingness to socialise. It is almost impossible to imagine, almost on a physical, visceral level, the crushes of public transport in rush hour returning at any time, let alone soon, with all the implications for that network lower volumes implies. Workspaces may require injections of capital investment to maintain Covid-safe working environments. Sure interest rates are low and capex can be amortised, but that’s a hell of a decision in the all-but-certain context of a global recession, and at a time when many businesses will be wondering what a post-Covid business model looks like (obvious examples – jettisoning as much floor space as possible, increased reliance on digital platforms for commerce and B2B transactions of all sorts).

People are thinking about the beginning of the end. The ugly and insidiously deniable vectors of communication around the Tory party (incessant Telegraph pieces about the need to end the lockdown, Toby Young’s self-styling as a ‘Covid dissident’, taking his cue as usual from US libertarianism, the Twitter psy-ops of fake NHS accounts) are pushing it hard. They fear the pressure on Tory party ideology a paradigm shift in substantial government debt financing would imply. Much of the Tory party’s response – including Sunak’s equivocal support of bank lending – is expressive of a group of politicians backed into the response of a social democracy, but fearing to finance that reponse ‘too much’. They certainly fear that financing lasting too long, and will I think happily see risks taken with public health to avoid that proposition. Starmer wants to see a plan, though it would be nice if he could hold the government’s disastrous and chaotic response to account as well, as 500 people a day are dying, and people on the front line of fighting the virus are still inadequately protected and supported.

In a Twitter typo, BBC journalist Lewis Goodall, referred to Rngland. This seemed to me a good name for post-lockdown England. It brought to mind a ‘living-with-pandemic’ world (maybe not this pandemic, maybe another), where country’s R-rating is put alongside the weather forecast:

“England’s R-rating is currently 1.2 and most leisure activities are currently curtailed. Wales and Scotland however are currently at a relatively mild R-rating of 0.3 and most tourist and visitor activities are open.”

#Peste 4: Desire Lines

We all know about desire paths or lines. Those diagonal paths across grass, chopping off the right-angles of pavement, those snickets through hedges to avoid the long way round, emerging through constant use because people have a good eye for quicker, easier ways to getting to the same destination.

The path below, in Brockwell Park, is slightly different.

It hasn’t been there in previous years; it’s emerged since the government has recommended social distancing rules to minimise the opportunities for Covid-19 transmission.

Out of consideration to others and themselves, people have increasingly found themselves moving off the tarmac path to the left and going across the grass. It’s helped that it’s been dry – that ground can get quite boggy in the wet. But it wasn’t created because it was a quicker or easier route, but because people have been doing their best to keep social distance. It is a Line of Consideration, yes a desire of sorts, to show a care to oneself and others, overcoming ‘quicker and easier’.

Seeing it emerge made me wonder what other habits, what other ‘lines’, will be emergent as a result of Covid social and economic measures. What patterns are we entrenching in our behaviours, quotidian processes, and mental adjustments, what paths will emerge?

It is perhaps only a different way of asking the question everyone is asking, about what gets unpicked after Covid, what doesn’t, what the new normal is. How people are answering that question seems to be determining some of people’s responses to the possibility of a short lockdown, or a long lockdown.

‘We will go back to normal’, ‘We’ll have to start reopening by June’.

Or ‘Things will not be normal for a long time, and when we emerge what memory of ‘normal’ will we have? Will our perception of how normal is constituted have changed, so that any attempt to go back to the ‘old’ normal, seem artificial in the extreme?’

It takes a lot to change people’s behaviours, despite our remarkable mental adaptability to new situations. We remain sensibly open to the quickest, easiest route to our destination.

But maybe new paths of consideration are emerging, which will persist beyond this social winter.

# Peste 3 – Conditions for Living

A collection of diverse observations from the last week:

The kids are all right

On the last day of school last Friday (lockdown -4), I walked through the park, and there was a large crowd of GCSE-aged schoolchildren – about 120 I made it – all collected there with more arriving. No adult supervision: this was clearly for and instigated by the children, one of those self-organising things – half entirely lark, half entirely serious – that teens can do, and do very well. It was of course in total contravention of recommended behaviour, not that they would possibly care about that – this was ‘it’s the last day, in really unusual circumstances, let’s get together, we may not see each other in person again for a while, let’s do a bit of planning [tho for children that age, the distinction between in person and digital, unless you’re going out, seems a lot less distinct than for pre-internet people like me]. A group of that size would have surely included smaller groups that wouldn’t perceive themselves as part of the main socially/hierarchically central group too. It was all oddly heartwarming.

Vegetable Loves

I was talking to my local greengrocer – this was on the Thursday (lockdown -5), and although he was flat out (‘4 times as busy’ though it ramped up even the next day), the store was full of fresh produce. He said it was a pain: he had to get to the wholesale market much earlier, because the wholesale market was closing much earlier (half three rather than half six), because the hospitality industry simply wasn’t ordering anything. Loads of fresh produce, but no one to buy it. He said he was just loading up the van as full as it would go. He was having to make quite finely adjusted supply and demand calculations and said it was very difficult: 2 weeks’ worth of leeks, gone in a morning, can’t get enough eggs, squashes going out quickly, and potatoes. I panic bought some radishes and an onion.

What was notable, though, was how full of fresh produce his shop was. Although his shop was four times as busy, this is four times as busy on his fairly quiet weekdays. Literally across the road there are two express supermarkets – Tesco and Sainsbury’s – vying for business, and their shelves are empty of fresh produce. People go in, stare uncomprehendingly at the shelves, and buy a forlorn shroomdog. I think there may be an irony here, which is that one pull factor for supermarkets i suspect is some people’s desire to avoid interpersonal communication. You can be cynical about this and say the middle-classes don’t like to be made aware of the fact that they’re being served. But in a multicultural society, uncertainty about language and etiquette, and the formal ecumenical processes of the modern supermarket can make it the easy option if people are lacking in confidence or uncertain, something self-service tills have facilitated further.

This cuts the other way, as the lex pointed out on twitter, multicultural supermarkets are also stacked with good things, but get very few people going into shop outside the community they serve.

Young turks

To take another example, my local corner shop, run by a Turkish family, is absolutely stacked to the rafters with cleaning items, baked beans, milk, bog roll, though they are running desperately short of Ritter Sport, which is extremely distressing, 10% discount for all NHS staff, and in response to Covid they’ve put this sign up in their front window:

Love those crazy turks (and mean crazy – if you’d seen them howling at the moon one New Years’ Eve absolutely off their faces you’d know what I mean. Very friendly though).

Also, the only place I’ve heard any Covid jokes. I mean I’m not getting out as much as I used to admittedly. And although yerman behind the counter found them very funny, ymmv. Still, for the record:

  1. ‘You know there have been no incidents of the corona in Turkey? Do you know why Corona doesn’t go to Turkey? Because of all the germs already there, it would die!’ (30 seconds or so of uncontrollable laughter)
  2. So Turkey said they didn’t have any cases, and then the newspaper reported one, and the government said no, no this is a mistake, there aren’t any cases. Then you know the IMF, they said that if your country had Corona you could apply for aid [i haven’t checked any of this btw], and suddenly the government said ‘We have Corona! Look at this person!’ (prolonged laughter)
  3. You know how you can get the virus on cash, so they say you shouldn’t use cash – that’s the reason they haven’t had any in Turkey because there isn’t any money! (doubles over with mirth)

He was going to carry on, but someone else came in and I made an exit.

Sundries

In other sundry news: supermarket cut flowers die almost immediately (to refer to the Barthes’ cataloguing of the spatial, temporal environments and æsthetics of sequestration), as the florist has now gone. I may just rely on daffs from the grocer.

Our estate agent runs a small set of properties, is extremely considerate to tenants, never charged any fees when I moved in, and is very prompt on repairs. Her husband is in King’s intensive care with Covid, and she is in self-isolation and understandably distressed. Wishing her very well.

Had to call her because our boiler’s packed in due to a power cut and surge last night. Me standing in front of the boiler while the… man who normally does the boiler… guided me through various tasks to find out that it was indeed bust, and that he would try to get a part but it would be tough and may be a couple of weeks because all the suppliers are closed fml.

Conditions for living in a time of Covid.

#Peste 2 – How to Live Together

In her wonderful book on love and translation, Kate Briggs describes the content of Roland Barthes’ late lecture course Comment vivre ensemble – How to Live Together:

‘There is an age at which we teach what we know,’ he’d said in the inaugural lecture. ‘Then comes another age at which we teach what we do not know; this is called research.’ In this digressive, excursive teaching (‘research, not a lecture,’ he’ll stress at the end of the first session), the practice was never to be exhaustive, or systematic: to work or walk in a straight line toward some generalizing theory, an ultimate grand idea. Instead, to set down a fantasy. And then to induce from the fantasy, a research project. The fantasy for this year of a form of living together that would accommodate rather than dictate the individual rhythms of its small-scale community. Allowing for something like solitude, as Barthes puts it, with regular interruptions. What kinds of structures, spatial or temporal, would enable this? Where to look for suggestion and detail, for models and counter-models that could be simulated, or already find their part-equivalents, in life? As materials to think with, Barthes compiles this unlikely corpus – an unexpected collection of writings and novels: The Magic Mountain, Robinson Crusoe, the texts of the Desert Fathers, Zola’s novel set in an apartment building, André Gide’s account of the real-life sequestered woman of Poitiers. The inquiry will proceed sketchily, says Barthes. Each lecture will offer just a few lines of approach; open a few possible dossiers. I’ll only be marking out the contours of these zones of interest. Like the squares on a chequerboard, he says, which perhaps one day I’ll fill in. Marking out the spaces, setting the places. A place for animals. Also for bureaucracy, for flowers and for food. I see it like a table: seating you next to you and you next to you, anticipating the conversations between topics, the arguments.

Briggs, Kate. This Little Art . Fitzcarraldo Editions.

The texts are to do with sequestration, the Barthes’ method is a way of accommodating isolation and different rhythms of life, as I wrote a bit about in my post The Pram in the Hall.

Covid will change who we are – there’s been a lot about what doesn’t get unpicked after its ebb – preposterous to think, for instance, that we would go back to demanding face-to-face interviews for Universal Credit, and you’d like to think the 5-week wait would go too. Similarly, it feels like the practices and processes we put in place for work, to enable remote communication and collaboration, will maintain, and both for reasons of cost, and increasing ‘plane shame’ – the proxy reaction to climate change, corporate behaviour will change permanently. To link to that same post on women’s writing and the stylistic and physical spaces that can allow it, I would like to think this would enable a more various working environment, allowing for more diversity, not just in terms of gender, or background, but also age.

But as well as changing the logistics of how we get things done, it will of course change the ‘spatial and temporal’ structures in which we do them. Animals, bureaucracy, flowers, food, to quote Barthes’ list.

My domestic space, which previously had been a place in which to get up, to leave, to return, to eat and to sleep, and had a lack of care proportionate to that raw functionality, is now a place in which I live and work.

As a part of maintaining good contact and communications at work, we decided to have video conference calls as standard, rather than just the rather grim Skype for Business calls – leaning over squares of identity and interrupting each other. It’s been very effective – that’s one thing we won’t unpick.

But it also meant the weekend before starting home working ‘full time’ as it were, I decided that my bedroom space, which was also to be my workspace, needed sprucing up, lest people on video calls thought I lived a life of eremitic hebetude in some sort of weird monk’s cell.

So, in the spirit of Barthes, I will document it

Two posters from the Musée de Lodève near Montpellier, from a past love. de Chirico mannequins and Chagall’s flowing lines, which always also remind me of the church in Sussex with his remarkable stained glass commemorating the drowning of a beloved daughter of local landowners.

Something from Picasso’s blue period, which was already here when I moved in, in a not very pleasing place at the top of the landing, so that I didn’t notice what a powerful, simple and tender picture it is. Study of Two Ears and a Bat by Jusepe de Ribera (Lo Spagnoletto), bought after seeing the excellent Art of Violence Ribera exhibition at the Dulwich picture gallery. third, a gift from my partner – a dark blue mood, which immediately resonated deeply with a sense of how I have felt – at times, but often for quite protracted times – over recent years.

New cheap tables as an additional space to bring some brightness to an otherwise dark place in the room, directly behind me when I’m doing a video conf call. Cheap, rather ugly vase bought from Oxfam at the weekend, and daffs from the greengrocer. Also, I now see, a clothes brush.

Beautifully marine coloured woollen blanket on the bed, a Christmas present from a friend. Mainly used to drape around my shoulders if I’m feeling cold, but it helps break up the white spaces in the room a bit during the day to use it as a counterpane.

A picture I got from my mum for Christmas. I don’t really like it very much, so used it to fill a neglected space.

An Eric Ravilious number. When I saw it, at the end of an exhibition, it seemed to sum up and contain everything that I had seen before – of evidence of people in underpopulated and deserted spaces, of the machine of humanity (those vertical oars like standards), of spaces at the edge of living. After I bought the print and got it home, and since then, I’ve found it blank and a bit trite. However, it’s really found its spot here, and has come to life for me again.

A cheap, vulgar and rather gimcrack Chinese style wall scroll to do something about the v rented accommodation energy of the wardrobe. It’s great. Who doesn’t like pictures of distant strange lands, with jade mountains to get lost in, full of the potential for adventure – a changed landscape, a strange new Eden.

More flarze! Thistles, daisies and… idk are they violets? and something else. When I lived in Poland I used to like the way on a Saturday, the buying of flowers to decorate the home seemed universal. And another, rather unusual Ravilious. In fact, something about its strange city of gold, fire and fireworks and stylised figures reminded me of Wyndham Lewis’s wonderful painting the Surrender of Barcelona, of which I must order a print.

A cork board that was by my desk but now sits behind my head in webcam shot to break up the so-so. Bearded man is David Rudkin, who wrote Penda’s Fen and the very strange, very good Artemis 81. Ballard on the left-hand side, tutelary angel of transformed environments and organisms. A striking Wyndham Lewis portrait of his wife, a picture of a prostrate Sancho Panza, Blake, and a gift voucher for my local delicatessen-butchers.

And finally, but very much not least:

SLIPPERS.

#Peste 1

Composed mentally on Friday, when I knew I’d be working from home this week. The atmosphere in London, such as I experienced it, was odd. It felt like the week just gone was a transitional week. Still a large amount of business as usual going into work, on high streets, on public transport etc. Trains and tubes beginning to drain out slightly. A few face masks. Becoming more aware of coughing – both yourself and others. By the end of the week though you sensed people preparing for a change the following week.

At work we’ve had very good scenario planning in place, with an isolation room and protective gear (face mask, gloves) if required. Our operational area got closed off, and for that final afternoon it was just three of us – the head of global operations, our finance guy and me. There was a strange feeling as I packed up all my stuff – we suggested opening a bottle of wine but in the end settled going for a valedictory pint in a deserted pub.

Victoria station much quieter than normal on that Friday. My housemate and I went to the local pub for what felt like might be the last time for a while. It was interesting to see that the pubs that day, and on Saturday, were rammed. Although it’s hard to judge the feeling I would not say it was one of bravura – though I did hear some Aussies saying they didn’t care if they got it (yes, that’s not the point) – more a mood of ‘this is the last time we’ll be together for a while’. As if we were going out before leaving a place that had kept us together – yes, that’s what it reminded me of: when I and the other teachers, after a year in Poland, went out drinking together for the final time.

I had been saying all week, that the mixture of early spring weather and the knowledge that I wouldn’t be going into work for a while made me feel demob happy. I felt it was slightly inaccurate to say that – after all work will continue. The phrase was more exact than I perhaps realised though, as the sense in the pub that Friday evening was of an army in a foreign land being demobilised. People with whom you had been thrown together unlikely to be seen again.*

This is perhaps over-dramatic. This will pass, and the huge majority of us will survive it, though probably not without knowing someone who is more closely affected. But I’m describing only the sense of things.

It is the uncertainty of the duration of this period that is unsettling. A recognition that we are entering a period, from which when we emerge, things will not be the same any more.

*(This feeling for me was only emphasised by a strong personal sense of the possibility of permanent parting from a deep love)