Pissed-off Toff continues his diary of London in lockdown.
WEDNESDAY 25 MARCH
The second day of ‘lockdown’, with glorious spring weather.
I look in at Victoria Coach Station. Almost entirely abandoned at 11 in the morning.
Along streets on which there are a few white vans and a few builders in high-visibility jackets, I make my way to Waitrose Belgravia. I do not notice that there is a queue outside, the reason being that everyone is standing so far apart that at first sight it doesn’t look like a queue. And come to think of it, this is the first time I have ever seen a queue outside a food shop in this country.
So I start walking through the doors … only to be stopped by an East European security man, who says something about “one out, one in” and orders me aggressively to the back of the queue. Clearly he is loving the small amount of power that this ‘lockdown’ has given him. I say something pompous in reply and walk off.
Spurned by Waitrose, I make my way to the food halls at Harrod’s.
Knightsbridge is deserted, with hardly a vehicle in sight. See below:
It turns out that this is the last day the food halls here are open. Almost everything is half price. No queues at all, except at the meat counter. I buy some Macadamia nuts (even half-price, they are a luxury) and on the way out I am handed a goody bag … these being dispensed to anyone who has bought anything.
Returning home, I walk past the Goring Hotel, now closed, like everything else. The times when I went there for an occasional cocktail already seem to belong to a bygone era.
The meaning of all this has yet to sink in. How can you close down not just the capital city, but the whole country? I don’t get it.
And now we are all being urged to work, free, for the lovely NHS. In my view this institution is a ravening monster, an example of state-sponsored waste and inefficiency on a massive scale. But that is not an acceptable opinion, especially now.
THURSDAY 26 MARCH
I speculate that London’s pigeons are confused by the ‘lockdown’ and by the sudden disappearance of their food supply. It seems to me that they are rather listless today and that their usual swagger has deserted them. I can’t say I’m sorry.
We are now ‘allowed’ out once a day to do ‘essential’ shopping and to take exercise. What is ‘essential’? And can you have one outing a day for shopping and one for exercise? Or must they be combined? It is unclear.
Today the Police are given sweeping new powers. It seems that this is part of the new Coronavirus Act 2020. Going online to read this Act, I realise it would take days to make sense of it. But this virus has finally given the Police the excuse they have long been looking for to abandon the irksome task of investigating and preventing crime, and to concentrate on the more agreeable pastime of issuing fines at will.
I fear that they will now fine me £60 if, among my ‘essential’ shopping, they find a half-bottle of ‘non-essential’ gin, along with ‘non-essential’ tonic water. Perhaps, if this happens, I can blame it on a fictitious elderly neighbour. “I’m frightfully sorry, officer,” I’ll say, “but she has to have her gin. Goes crazy without it. So you see it’s essential.”
Some time in the early evening there’s a terrible cacophony in the street outside. People are standing there, all several yards apart from each other, clapping and whooping in a deranged manner. From elsewhere comes the sound of spoons being banged on tins. I think there’s a fire and that this is the signal to evacuate. But no: it’s just everyone saying how lovely the NHS is. It is a sickening display of piety and virtue-signalling. I will have nothing to do with this.
FRIDAY 27 MARCH
To Fortnum’s … now closed, despite the example that they set only a few days ago. Empty red buses galore … a few builders in their hi-viz jackets … and the Police in their hi-viz vehicles are also much in evidence. As usual in this new reality, there is almost complete silence, interrupted only by the sound of a drill coming from one of the few building sites that have not been closed down … and by the ear-splitting screech of sirens as the Police whoosh past at full speed.
With the streets quite empty of traffic, there is even less justification for this than before. So I now have solid evidence for my theory that the Police turn on their life-threatening sirens not out of any sort of necessity, but out of arrogance.
Various pundits are saying how nice and clean the air is in Coronavirus London, without all those nasty ‘man-made carbon emissions’. That’s nonsense. For as long as I can remember, the air in London has been absolutely fine, and it is no cleaner now (or not significantly so) than before the city was closed down. If you want to know what dirty air is, go to China.
There’s no shortage of food. But how about other supplies, like paper and cartridges for my printer? These, for me, are essentials. Oh, and I badly need a haircut, but have no way of getting one. A few more weeks of this, and I’ll be looking like Bob Geldof.
A correspondent in Turkey emails to say that there is total lockdown, there, for the over-65s. A friend of his is a prisoner in his small town flat, unable to go out. With no intellectual resources to fall back on, and relying heavily on daily human contact, the poor man is going crazy.
SATURDAY 28 MARCH
A long circular walk today, taking photos of an abandoned London, with the joyous spring weather offering a strange contrast to the human apocalypse all around.
I decide that in the days and weeks to come, I will keep a systematic photographic record of our abandoned capital city, and that this will constitute a proper, organised diary.
[Later note: The photos from today’s walk form the substance of my blog entry in the Out and About section, entitled London abandoned, in photographs (1).]
As for how we should be taking our daily exercise, and regarding the fact that the Derbyshire Police have wasted no time in making use of their new powers by issuing fines to all and sundry, today’s round robin from The Spectator has the following to say. “In response to Derbyshire police’s claim that people should not be driving their cars to get to a preferred spot for their daily exercise or their daily dog-walk, the Cabinet Office says [that] actually they can do this. It’s fine.” But the Derbyshire Police don’t agree: “Daily exercise should be taken locally to your home,” they tweet, in illiterate manner. “Under government guidance all travel is limited to essential travel only. Travelling to remote areas of the #PeakDistrict for your exercise is not essential travel. PLEASE, #StayHomeSaveLives.”
Clear? No; not to me, either. And another thing: if the Police issue you with a fine, you have to cough up. There’s no appeal. And if you don’t pay, you end up in front of a magistrate with the power to issue an unlimited fine. I see trouble ahead.
As for the question of how strictly our lives were monitored and controlled even before this virus came along, I see the following poster in Victoria train station. “We’re watching out for you,” it says. Really? I’d say that should be changed to “We’re watching you.”
I have a conversation with a friend who suggests that it is the primary duty of the State to preserve the lives of the elderly, no matter what the cost. I point out that our chosen course of action implies that in order to enable a few elderly or infirm people to live a few years longer than they would otherwise have done, we should destroy everything else, including the lives and livelihoods of millions. How about a sense of proportion? But this is a contentious issue … unmentionable, almost … and I am not prepared to risk a long-standing friendship over it. We had enough of that with Brexit.
Less contentious is a conversation with a correspondent in South Africa, where today is the first day of total lockdown. A local wineshop in Cape Town has sold its entire stock, he says, with people panic-buying booze; and a local pharmacy is doing a roaring trade, as are all food shops. But the hotels are boarded up and shopkeepers have removed stock from their shops, for fear of looting. As for how my self-employed correspondent thinks he is going to survive this financially, he doesn’t have a clue.
SUNDAY 29 MARCH
I speak to a friend whose wife is a social worker, now back full-time with the NHS. After only a few days of this ‘lockdown’ she knows of large families shut up in small flats in high-rise blocks and starting to fight and assault eachother.
After a few days, too, we are now familiar with a whole horrid new lexicon: ‘lockdown’ … ‘social distancing’ … ‘key worker’ … ‘self-isolating’ …
Plus, what do people who are ‘self-isolating’ do all day? Not everyone has intellectual interests to pursue, and not everyone welcomes the opportunity to read all of Jane Austen’s novels. Do they sleep? Or self-medicate?
On the other hand, for many of the elderly that I can think of, ‘self-isolation’ makes surprisingly little difference. They rarely go out or entertain in any case. And they are all retired with pensions … so the havoc that the ‘lockdown’ is inflicting on the lives of everyone else does not much affect them; though I suspect that as the true extent of this man-made disaster starts to make itself felt, their children and grandchildren will start begging them for money. It is, after all, the young who are being forced to sacrifice their futures for the old.