Pissed-off Toff brings you his diary from the first day of this so-called ‘lockdown’ caused by the beloved ‘Coronavirus’. This diary will be updated regularly. It will contain a lot of photos. Please follow it and please sign up. It is free, and there are no unnecessary checks or annoying adverts.
[Later note: What follows is the first of fourteen extended diary entries which together form a record – both written and photographic – of life in London during the so-called ‘lockdown’ which was imposed nationwide from Tuesday 24 March 2020. The diary covers the period from 24 March to 3 June.]
TUESDAY 24 MARCH 2020
Just as well I did that chore for a friend of mine, driving his car from Stansted Airport to Southampton yesterday, when travel judged not strictly necessary was still permitted. But never again will I place myself, unprepared, behind the steering-wheel of one of those super-sophisticated top-of-the-range cars. Neck still tense with the stress of it.
Panic-buying has emptied the shops of many basic necessities. Loo-paper especially, as we all know. Plus eggs, baked beans, all tinned food and much else besides. All unavailable. I thought, when this started, that it was only the lower orders who were panicking … and that if Tesco, Aldi and Sainsbury’s had been affected, surely Waitrose – preferred grocer to the officer class – had not. Stiff upper lip and all that.
I was wrong. Because here (see below) are the shelves of Waitrose in the King’s Road a few days ago, just when it became clear that ‘lockdown’ was round the corner. With hysteria widespread, I had to take these photos rapidly and discreetly … so one of them is out of focus.
That’s where we were a few days ago. And it’s not a great deal better today. But: “Ah-ha!!” thinks I, early this morning. “Waitrose might have experienced panic-buying. But not, surely, Fortnums.” So I take myself off to Piccadilly, walking across an abandoned Green Park on this glorious spring day. Here is the photo of the park, without a soul in sight.
As a grocer (upmarket; but a grocer nevertheless), Fortnum’s is still allowed to be open. (Isn’t it incredible that we are talking in this way? ‘Allowed to be open’. Just a week or so ago it would have seemed inconceivable.)
Here is a foto of Fortnum’s, once full of tourists from all over the world, but now abandoned:
There are perhaps two or three other customers there; and the shop seems to have everything; most especially a large quantity of eggs, which are unfindable elsewhere. See below:
I start talking to a friendly assistant, dressed in a tail coat. “The place is empty,” I say. “You must be losing a fortune.” “Well, Sir,” says he, “our online operation is rather busy.”
It turns out that not only is Fortnums very well stocked, but that they will deliver food to anywhere in the country, for a mere £6 charge. “Even to some friends of mine in Norfolk?” I ask. Yes, comes the answer. Good to know.
* * * * *
I continue on my walk … or should I now say ‘permitted daily exercise’? Here is Piccadilly Circus, strangely abandoned:
Here is Trafalgar square, abandoned:
I now proceed to Charing Cross railway station, normally busy, but now abandoned on this Tuesday morning at midday.
The trains are still running, but there’s no-one here … not one passenger in the whole station … just one bored security man in his hi-viz jacket … or gilet jaune, as our French cousins more poetically call this item of clothing.
As I took this photo, another security operative wearing a silly mask manifested himself. “You’re not allowed to take photos,” he said. “It’s against the law.”
“Oh really?” I replied. “What law?”
“GDPR,” he said. “General Data Protection Regulation. It’s about privacy. You can’t take images of other people.”
“I see,” says I. “Are you telling me that it is now illegal to take any photos in any place where there are people?”
And we left it at that. I will look into this soon … but I know from my own experience that it is now risky to take photos in public. You can expect to be challenged. Or even assaulted, as I have been (of which, more at some later stage).
And another thing: a good number of the marvellous people who work in the security industry are loving this new health crisis, which makes them feel important. I note, however, that whilst the security man in his mask informed me that it was ‘illegal’ to take photos in the station, he didn’t ask me to delete my photos. And if he had, I would not have consented, and that would have been interesting. Could he have arrested me, or even detained me? I think not.
I try to laugh it off. But it is sinister. One lives with the feeling that more and more things are becoming illegal. This has been clear for many years now. But overnight it has got worse. And the very fact that I am thinking like this at all is troubling.
* * * * *
Back in the flat in Westminster where I have lived for the last ten years, I receive a text message, which I transcribe verbatim: “GOV.UKCORAVIRUS ALERT New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More info & Exemptions at gov.uk/coronavirus Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives. Sender: UK_Gov”
Hmmm … How did the government get my mobile phone number? Presumably 02 gave it to them. So much for the ‘data protection’ that the man in his cowardly little mask was so keen on, earlier today in Charing Cross railway station.
Nevertheless, it might be a good idea to visit this official source of information. In particular I want to know about the issue of taking exercise every day, and for how long I am now ‘allowed’ out of the flat. Also, a friend of mine tells me that he drives to Richmond Park take his exercise. Is this now permitted? I soon find the following information, in the site’s Q&A section. I copy-and-paste:
14. Can I drive to a national park or other green space to walk?
We advise you to stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily.
You can still go to the park for outdoor exercise once a day but only by yourself or within your household, not in groups.
We ask you to keep 2 metres apart from others outside your household at all times when outdoors.
(End of quote.)
But what does this mean? We ‘advise’ you? We ‘ask’ you? So are we ‘advised’ and ‘asked’ to behave in a certain way … or are we ordered to do so? It is unclear.
Next (I copy-and-paste, again):
15. What will happen to me if I break the rules?
We appreciate all the effort people are putting into containing the spread of coronavirus which will help protect our NHS and save lives.
However, if you leave your home or gather in public for any reason other than those specified, the police may:
- instruct you to go home, leave an area or disperse
- instruct you to take steps to stop your children breaking these rules if they have already done so
- take you home – or arrest you – if you do not follow their instructions or where they deem it necessary
- issue a fine (fixed penalty notice) of £60, which will be lowered to £30 if paid within 14 days
- issue a fine (fixed penalty notice) of £120 for second time offenders, doubling on each further repeat offence
Individuals who do not pay their fine could be taken to court, with magistrates able to impose unlimited fines.
(End of quote.)
* * * * *
It is worrying enough that the Police can now fine us not for disobeying the law, but for failing to follow ‘advice’.
It is even more worrying that personal liberty has been destroyed overnight, without anyone raising a squeak of protest.
We are now that thing which we have flattered ourselves only other less civilised nations could be.
Our country has, overnight, become a Police state.