Staying healthy amid the shutdown without even the solace of a Spurs defeat | John Crace | UK news


I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but the coronavirus is playing havoc with my mental health. I thought I had been doing OK at keeping my anxiety levels manageable, but over the weekend I completely collapsed. It was all I could do to get out of bed around lunchtime and even taking the dog for a walk felt horribly scary. Mostly I just lay curled up in a sustained panic attack, obsessing about an increasingly uncertain future. My mother’s care home is sensibly in lockdown with all visitors barred, so I have no idea when I will next see her. My daughter and her husband are in an increasingly quarantined Minneapolis with all flights cancelled for the foreseeable future. My son and his girlfriend are holed up in Brighton. Often at times like these, work proves an excellent distraction but now I was stuck in a Catch-22, as what I was writing about was the very thing I was anxious about, so I found myself unable to sketch for two days. I just couldn’t bring myself to follow the news. But I am luckier than most. My wife, who has seen me in many similar previous meltdowns, was there for me. As were friends and colleagues at work. Not to mention, the small army of mental health professionals who have had my back for decades now. I’d be lost without all of them. It’s a privilege to feel this loved and cared for by so many people. I’ve spent more time just chatting to people on the phone and checking we’re all OK in the last week than I have in the previous year. Right now, it’s simple one-day-at-a-time stuff. Sometimes even an hour at a time. But I’m back writing again. So that has to be a good sign.


One of the more unexpected side-effects of my coronavirus anxiety has been a seismic shift in my TV viewing habits. And not just because there’s no live sport to watch. Normally I’m up for any kind of thriller or scandi-noir series – the new Homeland and Better Call Saul are my current top picks – but I now have to watch them sparingly as too much suspense is bad for my cortisol levels. Which is how on Sunday evening, I found myself watching the latest Julian Fellowes drama – a word I use in its loosest sense – Belgravia. The Guardian’s fabulous Lucy Mangan totally demolished the show in a hilarious 800-word TV review. All of which was entirely spot on. The script was wooden, the actors looked vaguely embarrassed to be in such a turkey and almost all the action (such as it was) was heavily telegraphed several ad breaks ahead. But this was precisely the reason I enjoyed it so much. An hour’s TV that made no requirements on my emotions or intellect was just what I needed. I’ve even started watching Timothy West and Prunella Scales cruising round Stockholm. If anything that could have been stretched out even longer into a feature length film. This is TV in the time of coronavirus. Some have written to say that I must at least be grateful for being spared any more Spurs’ defeats, but the opposite is true. I had reached the stage where it had become thoroughly addictive seeing just how bad the team could get, and I feel deprived to have missed out on their rock bottom.


Up till now, the little patch between Streatham and Tooting where we live has seemingly been a panic-free zone. Sure, everyone had been washing their hands obsessively and had been careful to maintain the right levels of social distancing – usually the ones the government deemed fit at least three days after any sane person had already introduced them – but there had been no signs of stockpiling or hoarding. While the news had daily reports of long queues in supermarkets elsewhere, our local Budgens was well stocked with people largely buying just what they needed for the next couple of days. With rumours that London was about to go into lockdown, all that changed today. The Budgens was rammed and the shelves looked as if they had been hit by locusts. It was nice while it lasted. Still, my wife and I weren’t too bothered as she had had the foresight to pre-book two Ocado deliveries a week and a half apart. She managed to guarantee the slots by ordering a few random staples to the value of £50. “There’s no point in ordering anything else now,” she said. “Anything else could be out of stock by the day of delivery. The way it works is that you are allowed to edit your order up to 24 hours in advance, so it will be far more sensible to see what’s available and add to the list nearer the day.” Or it would have been had not Ocado – with no prior notice – emailed a couple of days ago to say they were overwhelmed by demand, that everyone was being locked out of their accounts and they would only be delivering pre-existing orders.” Which meant all that turned up on the day was a bottle of gin and six bottles of red wine. All of which were of no use to me as I don’t drink. Still, it was good to know what my wife considers to be Ocado essentials.


There’s a lot about Westminster that’s distinctly surreal at the moment. From a prime minister who has never previously shown much sign of caring about anyone but himself urging everyone to look out for one another, to a Commons chamber that is eerily empty most of the time. Even at PMQs, the commons was only a quarter full and there was none of the usual braying and waving of order papers as MPs actually listened attentively and showed each other respect. But the weirdest moment of all was during an urgent question granted to former business secretary Greg Clark to ask the chancellor about bailout plans for business. I’m sure government ministers and civil servants have been working round the clock, but almost every statement coming out of government seems to be half-arsed. Boris Johnson advises people to self-distance but then says it’s fine to get pissed in one of Tim Martin’s Wetherspoon pubs providing you don’t breathe too much. Gavin Williamson has had literally only one job to do over the past six weeks – to decide when to close the schools – but when he did get round to making the announcement he hadn’t even worked out who counted as key workers. This is literally Government for Dummies. Clark’s UQ may have turned out to be a tipping point. Obviously Rishi Sunak didn’t want to face the flak in person, so he sent out junior minister John Glen to take the hit for him. Glen looked to be on the brink of tears long before the end as MP after MP from all sides stood up to condemn the government’s response as inadequate. Even Iain Duncan Smith, who has never knowingly met a vulnerable person he didn’t want to punish, was standing up calling for old-fashioned mass state intervention. The coronavirus is turning even Brexiters into socialists.


It was inevitable, but all my favourite pastimes have been shut down. My masochistic football obsession was first to go, though why some complete moron chose to replace Match of the Day with a repeat of the totally unwatchable Mrs Brown’s Boys is beyond me. Watching replays of Spurs’ 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich earlier in the season would be less of a punishment. Now too, the Hay Festival, Glyndebourne, Opera Holland Park, Grange Park Opera, along with the permanent opera houses and theatres, have all had to announce their temporary closure. I feel the loss keenly – only this week I had been due to go to the Fidelio at Covent Garden, for which tickets had been like gold-dust – as opera and literature are a large part of what keeps me vaguely sane. The Metropolitan Opera in New York has now started putting televised performances online for those who need a culture hit. It would be great if UK companies could consider doing the same. Still, there is one small upside in that I now unexpectedly find myself a bit richer as within the next few weeks refunds for pre-booked events will start winging their way back into my account. Quite what I will do with the money, I have yet to decide. My wife reckons that it should go to something useful like fixing the various items around the house that have been broken for years. My view is that we have got used to them not working so can probably do without them and that the money would be better spent on a thing of beauty. Like a piece of ceramic art. I will let you know who wins this battle.

Digested week, digested: Reverse Nudge Effect – the people act, the government follows

Toilet rolls arrive at No 10

Toilet rolls arrive at No 10. ‘We’re not stockpiling. The government is just shitting itself.’ Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

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