The dog has adjusted to the new normal – wish I could say the same | John Crace | UK news


Never has the slogan “a day at a time” that I learned at my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting well over 33 years ago – yes, I am still counting the days – seemed more apposite. On a day-by-day basis I can just about muddle through the coronavirus pandemic. I still wake up gripped by anxiety and it can still take a couple of hours for me to feel brave enough to get out of bed, but for the rest of the day I can more or less function. Work provides both a distraction and an outlet for my feelings of powerlessness, pedalling up and down the same hill 10 times on my wife’s (much too small) bicycle replaces cortisol with endorphins and our small back garden has been a haven in the good weather. So I am more than aware that I am so much more fortunate than many others in the current situation. It’s when I start to think about the future that things rather fall apart. When will I next see my daughter in Minneapolis? We were due to fly over in August but, even if the flights are operational, would it be a good idea to go to the US with health insurance that is certain to exclude Covid-19? When will I next see my son in Brighton? When will I next see my mother? Her care home went into lockdown three weeks ago and has now reported its first suspected coronavirus case. So, she is lonely and frightened, confined to her room, seeing almost no one. These are the thoughts that dominate my subconscious and to which there are no clear answers. Which is presumably why I wake up in a complete state every morning.


I can’t help feeling that government ministers must be secretly wishing they had never agreed to give a daily Downing Street press conference. Obviously, given the gravity of the situation, they didn’t have much choice in the matter but, having now watched every single one of them, it’s now clear their main underlying purpose is to show just how little command of the situation ministers actually have and how policy is being made up day by day. Rishi Sunak has already delivered at least six new budgets since his first one on 11 March and looks set to hit double figures by the end of the month. Matt Hancock has managed to forget his first promise to deliver 25,000 daily tests by the middle of April – we’re currently at about 16,000 – and has instead committed to 100,000 tests daily by the end of the month. He has also rather belatedly remembered he is secretary of state for social care as well as health, though care workers would probably more appreciate personal protective equipment and testing than his offer of shiny green “CARE” badges. And Sunak and Hancock are two of the more able cabinet ministers. After many complaints that the government was treating the coronavirus as man’s work, the home secretary, Priti Patel, was sent out last Saturday to face the media. An experiment unlikely to be repeated. First Patel managed to imply that NHS workers were deliberately wasting PPE and then insisted that the government had so far carried out 300,034 974,000 tests. Which by my reckoning means that every person must have already been tested 4,615 times each. Her performance was so poor it almost made me wish that I worked on a Saturday.

Dominic Raab

Raab: ‘Try to look on the bright side – you could have got Michael Gove as stand-in PM.’ Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA


One of the main problems with the daily press conference is that ministers have to pretend that they have some important news to divulge even when they almost invariably don’t. In the absence of Boris they don’t even dare to suggest what criteria might govern their thinking in any relaxation of the lockdown, which gives each briefing a sense of deja vu. One of the most annoying parts of every ministerial statement is the constant reiteration of the mantra that “the government’s actions have at all times been driven by the science”. Mostly because that merely serves to underline just how little the government actually understands the nature of science. The whole point of science – especially in regard to a disease as new as the coronavirus – is that there is no overall consensus. Disagreement and pressure-testing each other’s arguments are precisely what makes scientists and other academics tick. So there is no uniformity and the government is having to make judgment calls on which scientists are the most trustworthy. Donald Trump is clearly doing that, having rubbished the World Health Organization for having less of a grip on the science than a couple of his close mates. And yes, the UK government has been too craven to call the Donald out on this. Nor does the UK’s insistence on scientific evidence quite explain why the government did a complete U-turn nearly four weeks ago. On the Friday, it had been fine for 80,000 people to go to the Cheltenham races; by the following Monday the country was being put in near total lockdown. I don’t remember anyone saying the science had changed over the weekend.


My concentration levels are still hopeless. I have done slightly better this week, having now made it to page 10 of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and I can report the extra six pages are every bit as good as the first four that I had already read several times. It’s immensely frustrating as there’s nothing more I would like than to be immersed in someone else’s world, but my mind won’t allow me to settle. I’m reluctant to temporarily give up as I hate the idea of abandoning a book I have waited the best part of eight years to read, but I fear this is the way I’m heading. After all, it’s not as if I’m not spoiled for choice as I have Hadley Freeman’s House of Glass, Adam Macqueen’s Beneath the Streets and Svenja O’Donnell’s Inge’s War piled up beside my bed. I did also have Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet but my wife has already pinched that and has advised me not to read it at present. It’s set against the background of plague and she is worried about the effect it might have on my mental health. I’ve also been struggling to dip in and out of this year’s Wisden because, although the pieces are an ideal length, the print is just too small. My eyesight is fighting a losing battle with the almanack and I fear that next year I may have to order the large print edition. In the meantime, I have come up with a reasonable compromise by downloading it as an audible book. It calls itself the Shorter Wisden – mainly because it doesn’t give you the scores of every game – but still comes in at over 20 hours. And at £10, I reckon 50p an hour is a bargain.


Apparently it’s Friday, though it’s hard to be too certain as the days all tend to merge into one another with little to differentiate them. Same feelings, same activities, much the same TV. Weirdly it’s the weekends I now find trickiest as they have even less structure than the weekdays. I have to struggle more to find a sense of purpose and retain my fragments of identity. But when this lockdown started I made a commitment to try to end every week on a positive note, so here are my notes of love among the ruins. I would rather I didn’t have to look at myself during online calls – do I really look that bad? – but FaceTime and Zoom chats both with family and friends have proved to be a lifeline. Although they are reminders of the closeness that has been lost, they do give me a sense of connection. And I’ve been genuinely touched by the number of readers who have emailed in to check up on me, to share their own thoughts and send me photos; I’m also happy to report that Herbert Hound has now adjusted to the new normal. Initially he was rather put out to find that Jill and I were around 24/7 and he would self-isolate in our daughter’s bedroom. But now he seems to need less “me time” and has come back to sleep in our room. I have finally finished cataloguing my book collection and am about to start on the ceramics: a far trickier enterprise as it involves including pictures and my tech skills are rudimentary at best. I will report back. Incidentally, I have taken to talking to my pots … I fear I may be turning into Prince Charles. Also huge kudos to the Spurs’ players and the supporters trust who persuaded the club to reverse its decision to furlough and lay off non-playing staff. It made me feel proud to be a fan again. And finally, do watch Harry Birrell Presents Films of Love and War on iPlayer. It’s an astonishingly moving and intimate collection of homemade movies collected into a feature length film. I cried. But then I tend to do that a lot these days.

Phone box food drop

‘Do you have an online delivery service?’ Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

Digested week, digested: Same as it ever was

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