I’ve Zoomed and I’ve dog groomed and I still don’t know how to stay alert | Coronavirus outbreak


Many people I know are using lockdown creatively either to develop existing talents or to discover new ones. I appear to be the exception, unless you count working out how to do a Zoom call and worrying even more than usual as lifelong learning. The only skill I can vaguely claim to have acquired is how to cut the dog’s hair. Badly. A week ago, Herbert Hound was in a miserable state as his fur hadn’t been cut since Christmas, apart the odd trim with scissors around his eyes so he could see out. So I went on Amazon to investigate buying a pair of dog hair clippers, only to find that they are identical to the ones I use to shave my own head – excess hair is one of the few things not to have presented a problem for me so far – except the dog ones had a nice picture of a dog paw on the handle. So my wife and I got out my own clippers and took Herbie out into the garden. It wasn’t a total success. We started with me trying to keep the dog still and with Jill giving him a Number 8 cut. Which appeared to make little difference, despite the large amount of fur that had collected on the patio. So we gradually worked our way down through the attachments before ending on a rather uneven Number 3 cut – with the exception of the areas around the genitals which we felt required rather greater expertise than we possessed. Herbie has looked on us disapprovingly ever since, as if he believes we have made him the embarrassment of Tooting Bec common. He now doesn’t even bother to come into our bedroom before saying goodnight to us and clearly can’t wait for the time when we’re out the house more. Annoyingly, the new dog grooming salon rang us this morning to say they had just opened. Herbie is now booked in for early July.


We’ve heard a lot about coronavirus tests that don’t really count as tests. The same people getting tested three times and the tests that were included in the daily figures merely on the grounds that someone had put them in the post. But we’ve heard little of testing as surreal performance art. So meet my friend Kevin who, early on in the coronavirus pandemic, signed up to C-19, a research app that asks participants to report their symptoms online. On 30 April – possibly owing to Kevin saying his voice was a little huskier than usual, but more likely because of the government’s desperation to meet its 100,000 daily target by the end of the month – he was told he was eligible for a test and was invited to go to a centre in Cambridge the next day. There he was greeted by some soldiers in full camo suits who passed him a swab attached to the end of a long pole through his car window. Once he had done the necessary, he went home having been told he would receive the results within two days. The two days passed with no news, so Kevin emailed to find out what was going on. He was told the new estimate was five days. The five days passed with no news, so he contacted them again to be informed that the five days meant five working days and he should hang on a bit longer. Still nothing. When he emailed again on the Thursday, he was told to call a number, select option 1, and he would get his results. He phoned only to find there was no option 1, only an answerphone message saying the office was closed until the following Tuesday at 11am. After waiting out the weekend and still getting no joy when the phone line was open, he was sent an email offering him another test at Stansted airport. So Kevin now finds himself in a Kafkaesque situation in which he could have died before receiving the results of his early diagnosis test and faces the choice of going into self-isolation for a further two weeks if he takes up the offer of a second test. Luckily neither Kevin nor any other members of his family is a key worker as he could have been needlessly off work for a month. And the government wonders why so many people are sceptical about its testing numbers.


A rat on the pavement in Downing St
Classic Dom to leave a sinking ship. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s suggestion that parliament should totally ignore government advice on social-distancing and meet as normal when it returns after the May recess has understandably been met with derision by most MPs. But his desire to fill the Tory benches almost certainly has less to do with his interpretation of health guidelines than with a desire to protect the prime minister. Because without the presence of both fellow cabinet ministers to help him out and 300 or so Conservative MPs to kill themselves laughing at his rubbish jokes, Boris Johnson has been hopelessly exposed at prime minister’s questions by the courtroom atmosphere in which Keir Starmer flourishes. The Labour leader will have had tougher days defending shoplifters as a junior barrister than questioning the prime minister about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It turns out that years of entitlement, bluster, lies and winging it aren’t such great preparation for serious interrogation on the most serious health crisis for 100 years. In short, Boris is having a nightmare at the moment – his Sunday night address to the nation was a TV car crash – and he and the Tory party know it. Matt Hancock is another minister who looks under the cosh. I’m well aware of all his faults but I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for him as he is clearly being lined up to take most of the blame for things that weren’t entirely his fault. Matt now looks haunted: his Tigger-like enthusiasm is now a distant memory and he’s even taken to getting stroppy with Louise Minchin on BBC Breakfast. He looks like a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The only cabinet minister who appears to be enjoying the crisis is Rishi Sunak who is lavished with praise for delivering a new bailout budget once or twice a week. Better still, no one thinks to ask how on earth he is going to pay for his spending commitments. Which is just as well as right now he doesn’t have a clue.


I am trying to Stay Alert, but the government’s new physical distancing guidelines – brief summary “Go to work but don’t go to work” – have left me feeling somewhat confused. I have no idea when I am going to see my daughter in Minneapolis again – we were due to go to the US in August – though it seems that my wife and I could arrange to see our son in a public space in Brighton, providing that only one of us was to see him at a time. So we’re thinking of driving down this weekend so that my wife can him for an hour while I wait in the car. Then when she returns to the car, she can stay behind while I see Robbie for an hour. Another solution is for Robbie and his girlfriend, who are living together, to both go to an open space so that I can see Robbie and my wife can see Laila. Then we could leave for five minutes before returning so that Jill can see Robbie and I can see Laila. Right now, though, the easiest way to see him would be for him to get a job as an estate agent, as apparently they have carte blanche to go anywhere, and for us to put our house on the market. Not that I’ve any intention of moving anywhere: we’ve lived in the same house for 25 years and I’d be more than happy to stay another 25 and besides London now has the lowest virus reproduction rate (0.4) of anywhere in the country. But we could theoretically put the house up for sale so that Robbie could come round to measure up and then just refuse to allow any viewers. The other possibility is that Robbie could become our cleaner. The downside is that he’s only ever been known to make any place more untidy than he found it.


As the days have long since elided into one another – apparently it’s Friday, two new trends have begun to emerge. Fear of missing out (Fomo) has become a thing of the past, as there is nothing to fear missing out on. Unless you don’t have a Netflix subscription. Replacing Fomo are two competing behavioural traits: Fear of going out (Fogo) and Joy of missing out (Jomo). Being naturally cautious and highly anxious, I’d put myself in the Fogo camp. I just don’t feel as safe, even in my own neighbourhood, as I used to. Apart from two trips to the local supermarket each week – face mask, check; hand sanitiser, check – the only times I go out in the day are either to walk the dog or to cycle up and down the same hill on my wife’s boneshaker. And as I’m counting down the days till my exercise bike arrives – Amazon promises 1 June – I’ll soon be able to cross that last activity off my list and watch Grant Shapps take the Downing Street 5pm press conference. There will be something quite zen about us both putting in a lot of effort to go nowhere. It’s come as a surprise to me but the closest I’ve come to Jomo is not having to schlep all the way up to White Hart Lane to watch Spurs put in another lacklustre performance. At the start of lockdown, I couldn’t imagine life without football – even during periods of depression, it’s always been a fixed point in my week, not to mention a timely reminder of how little control I have over the world – but within a comparatively short period I’ve experienced little sense of loss. On occasions even a sense of relief. I just don’t understand those who are rewatching the whole of Euro 96 on ITV catch up. Guys, you know it ends badly with England losing to Germany on penalties in the semi-final. It has occurred to me though, that, I am beginning to experience Fomo on my season ticket part refund as it’s clear the Premier league season will at best be only completed in empty stadiums. Every other organisation from whom I had bought event tickets has been in contact either to make refund arrangements. From Spurs I have heard nothing.

Digested Week: Stay Alert!

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