London becalmed

Lockdown Diary (3) – 31 March to 1 April

in Diary

Pissed-off Toff continues in his attempt to catch up with his ‘lockdown’ diary, which includes photos of a dead capital city … and he once more denounces the daily pantomime which is the TV news.


Shortly before Coronavirus hysteria gripped the country, I put a significant part of what little remains of my money into a company called Non-Standard Finance, buying the shares at 29p. Thorough research and due diligence – done not by me, but by a friend who invested quite heavily – suggested that the company was absurdly undervalued, and that the shareprice should be 60p. So I felt slightly sick this morning when the same friend emailed me to say that the price is now 9p … this as a direct result of the Coronavirus-induced crash in the market, which has hit this share-price particularly hard. In the course of a few days, my investment has lost two-thirds of its value. All thanks to hysteria.

I receive emails from various friends, all based in the country, and all without any serious shortage of cash. The only topic of interest is this accursed ‘lockdown’.

“It seems incredible what’s going on,” writes one friend, whose family lives near the sea in the south south of England. “No one is allowed to do any sailing. The coast has been closed down, so nobody is allowed to walk on the beach or along the shore. Every effort has been made to stop anybody walking in the New Forest. It’s a killjoy’s charter. I cannot believe it’s sustainable beyond another fortnight.”

Another friend, holed up with his family in a rented cottage in Dorset, informs me that he’d be quite happy to ‘vegetate’ for a while, as he puts it.

“I wonder how long this can go on,” writes another, who is nevertheless happy enough, because he has his family with him and his garden to tend … and cash in the bank.

* * * * *

In the afternoon, the usual long circular walk. I pass through Victoria Station, entirely empty at 3.45pm. You’ve probably seen enough of this picture, or of variants of it. But even though this is the new normal, it never ceases to surprise me. So here you are:

Victoria Station, 3.45pm on Tuesday 31 March

On an electronic billboard on Buckingham Palace Road I see a poster that is all over London now, put there by the NHS. “Thank you to our amazing NHS staff,” it reads. This poster provokes feelings of intense irritation. Here, we have one of the most inefficient and wasteful institutions ever created patting themselves on the back. Plus, I thought they were meant to be short of money; and yet they now embark on this extravagant exercise in self-congratulation. 

Ghastly NHS poster

This poster is, I suggest, nothing to do with thanking the oh-so-marvellous staff of the NHS. It is, instead, a brazen political manoeuvre … a bid by the bloated and overpaid management of the NHS to secure any amount of money they want from this and future governments. Indeed, my guess is that the managers of the NHS are cracking open the champagne over Covid 19, as the Coronavirus now seems to be called. For those who have been spared the sight of this awful poster, here it is.

Walking across Eaton Square, I find the resident tramp asleep on his bench. You can smell this poor creature from yards away. For him, the ‘lockdown’ makes not one bit of difference.

Resident tramp in Eaton Square

In Lowndes Square, all the resident’s parking spaces are empty (yes, that apostrophe is, I think, in the right place: it’s the ‘space’ that goes in the plural; not the ‘resident’). It would seem, again, that the local residents, many of them of middle-eastern origin, have gorne orff. Anyhow, the whole of Belgravia is completely dead.

Empty residents parking in Lowndes Square

Just north of Lowndes Square, in William Street, is a Lebanese food-shop-cum-takeaway called Noura. No queue here, and lots of delicious baclava on sale.

Open for business … and no queues

Now along Knightsbridge. Here, again, is Harrod’s with just one solitary car in the distance. Somewhere on the western façade of this marvellous edifice I see the date 1911 on the pink brick … the year before the Titanic sank, at the very height of British power and influence. What was that, if not a portent? And look at us now: a nation of frightened sheep, voluntarily imprisoned in our pens.

Knightsbridge: just one car in the distance

Here we are at the back of Harrod’s. Normally it is full of Bentleys and Rolls Royces, often double-parked, with customers sitting outside the upmarket restaurant there, surveying the spectacle. Now the place is utterly abandoned, with not one single car or person to be seen.

Normally teeming with life. Now dead.

I now come across a sight which in the space of a short time has become commonplace: tramps peeing in the street. Here is one of them relieving himself directly opposite one of the entrances to Harrod’s.

London is now theirs

As I continue on my daily walk, I reflect on how odd it is that the residents of Central London are prepared to stand in long queues outside the food shops they know, when there are plenty of places with no queues. For example (and this is a good tip): Waitrose in Bressenden Place, SW1 … Sainsbury’s in Stratton Street near the Ritz … and Sainsbury’s opposite Harrod’s … all these places are easy to get into.

Now on the way home, I walk down Sloane Street, where, with what used to be called rush-hour approaching, there is just one solitary cyclist in his hi-viz jacket.

Sloane Street at rush-hour on a weekday

And I pass once more through Eaton Square, entirely free of traffic:

Eaton Square at 5.30pm, looking towards Sloane Square

* * * * *

I think the last news programme I watched was the 10 o’clock ITV news on Tuesday 17 March, presented by a deadly serious Julie Etchingham, who was enjoying every moment of it. By then, 71 Coronavirus-related deaths had been recorded in the UK, and that evening we had Boris announcing that he had decided to “follow the advice that scientists have given” (his words) and close the country down.

‘Scientists?’ I thought. What scientists? ‘Scientists’ get things wrong the whole time. With their silly ‘models’ which tell them what they want to hear, half of them are no better than soothsayers reading the entrails of slaughtered oxen, or Neapolitan crones reading coffee-grounds.

But not to worry; because the government would be injecting a £330 billion stimulus into the economy.

What??!!! Three hundred and thirty billion pounds? The sum is unimaginable. Where is it going to come from? Who’s going to pay? This will bankrupt us.

And then we had the Chancellor intoning in would-be-Churchillian manner that “we have never in peacetime faced an economic fight like this one.”

No-one, anywhere on this programme, was questioning whether those stupid ‘scientists’ had got it right, and whether it was really such a good idea to shut down the entire country, at a cost beyond anything we can conceive of. 

This wasn’t news. It was hype and propaganda.

* * * * *

But I suppose I should really watch the news again … and today the ITV news (I more-or-less refuse to watch the BBC) is presented by Tom Bradby. I have pen and paper to hand.

Someone has died, as people do, and the reporter ramps it up to maximum, emoting about “an invisible killer leaving scars of grief that will be felt for generations to come [sic].” And inevitably: “The family is devastated.” 

Now we have an NHS worker who sobs as she is interviewed. This is the sort of emotional incontinence which one might expect from the ghastly Gweneth Paltrow; not, please, from a professional nurse. But it is exactly what the ITV news people are looking for. We don’t want a nurse with backbone; a nurse who says she’s coping well enough, thank you. That would never do. What we want is more fear, more emotion, more hyperbole. So bring on that nurse who, we very much hope, will blub to camera.

And with one news item after another, we have the same unquestioned apocalyptic narrative: Charity donors are stopping their monthly donations; fruit and veg. can’t be picked because there are no more labourers and the farmers are desperate; the end of the world is nigh … and the news people are just loving it, reporting on the very drama which they have done so much to create in the first place.


Unexpectedly, this ‘lockdown’ is quite good for friendships. I now ring and email various people on a regular basis, and I correspond almost daily with a friend who is stuck, alone and separated from his family, in his villa in the Mediterranean. He has been neglecting the garden there for the last twenty years, so he now works hard at it all day, clearing the ground of stones while bells hanging from the necks of goats tinkle as they roam the nearby mountainside. It’s all rather biblical; but modern technology keeps him in touch with the world.

An ex-Army officer emails from Scotland to say that this Coronavirus business is “rather an over-reaction.” Dead right, Sir.

* * * * *

Time now for my ‘permitted’ daily exercise. And I have a new Coronavirus outfit!

During the first days of this so-called ‘lockdown’, I used to emerge from the front door dressed as a gent, with proper shoes, a smart overcoat and a cashmere scarf given to me by a girlfriend in Italy. I realise that this might look to the now ubiquitous Police as though I were not taking the current Coronavirus ‘crisis’ with the deep puritanical seriousness that is required of me. 

Indeed, I am not. I am quite clear in my mind that this whole thing is madness, a phenomenon of mass hysteria. But one has to play the game. So today I emerge from my place of residence looking, as much as I can, like a tramp. A tramp with a camera, however.

* * * * *

Today we head off down an abandoned Victoria Street towards Westminster Abbey.

Victoria Street, abandoned at 4.30pm on a weekday

Here is the Abbey, minus the tourists.

Westminster Abbey: closed

Across Parliament Square and over Westminster Bridge, where I spend some time taking a photo of the statue of a lion on the South Embankment (nothing to do with this virus scare, but various of my friends are Leos, in zodiac terms). An androgenous oriental figure with a huge and fearsomely sophisticated camera in her hands is also taking photos, and asks me whether I would take one of her in front of the lion. And we start chatting.

It turns out that she’s a journalist, that she comes from China, and that she’s here taking photos, for the Chinese, of London during what she refers to as the ‘Colonavilus’. This encounter provides me with my laugh for the day.

Now along the South Embankment and back over the Thames on the Golden Jubilee footbridge, on which there is not one single person at five o’clock in the afternoon. Look for yourself:

Golden Jubilee Bridge at rush-hour

On the other side, the Embankment, which at this time would normally be solid with traffic, is entirely empty.

Embankment at rush-hour

On the way home I come across one of these Orwellian billboards telling me to clap for the NHS. “Open that door, window, balcony or terrace,” it reads, nonsensically (since when does one open a balcony or a terrace?) “and clap, scream or shout your appreciation for our front line services. TOMORROW 8PM.”

This repulsive piece of propaganda is sponsored, it would seem, by two entities called #ClapForOurCarers and #CoronavirusUK. Presumably the NHS is behind it, in their bid to secure limitless funding in the impoverished future which we now face.

Muttering unprintable curses, I continue on my walk, only to be confronted by yet another Big Brother billboard, put there by the NHS. “Stay home > Protect the NHS > Save lives,” it intones, prompting me to mouth a further string of obscenities.


* * * * *

A vague sense of duty prompts me to turn on the news … the ITV again, this time with Tom Bradby. There have so far been about 2,350 Coronavirus-related deaths in the UK, and we are informed that three more months of ‘lockdown’ might be required.

Surely that’s impossible? But even that awful prospect is not dramatic enough for the ITV … because here’s their ‘science editor’ suggesting that the lockdown should go on till November.

What!? Till November!!?? This idiotic ‘science editor’ really thinks that you can lock up the population of an entire country for eight whole months!!??

But does Bradby express any surprise at this proposition which is clearly beyond absurd? Does he question it? Does he prod, just a little? Not at all. Indeed, the more hype, the better. So he laps it up and proceeds with his message of gloom and doom, throwing in the now inevitable reference to “the invisible killer” … an expression that is beginning to annoy me intensely. Then yet more drama and yet more emoting, before Bradby winds up by informing us that “every day brings more death and more heart-wrenching stories.”

No, mate, I feel like saying to Bradby. My heart is not wrenched. Not in the slightest. On the contrary; I’m bored with you and your dreary pantomime parading as ‘news’; I’m bored with the hysteria which you relentlessly promote; I’m bored with this suicidal ‘lockdown’ for which you and your ilk are so largely responsible. And boredom is starting to turn into anger.

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