Journal of the Plague Years (Days 4-10)

Day 4 — Evening
No flour at middle class supermarket. I meet the won’t be put off student in person and we talk through her work. I hang around until four, but the Skyping student postpones to Monday. Heigho.

I get home for a lie down, prepare food and fall asleep during Front Row. I doze off and on through some programme, possibly, too tired to put it out of its misery. I get up to brush my teeth and fall asleep at 10pm.

Day 5

I’ve decided to do no work this weekend and to try not to go out. I woke after nine hours of sleep, a rarity, but I can still doze. And listen to podcasts. And catch up on MotherFatherSon, a daft melodrama about a not-Murdoch press tycoon and his coke fiend BDSM loving son recovering from a stroke. It’s from the guy who wrote London Spy, which began well but descended into daftness after the entirely predictable death of the hero’s best friend and ended with an entirely unlikely team up between hero and villain. This has its moments, a number of roles for women, diversity in the secondary cast, and Helen McRory gets more to do in each episode than she does in most series of Pesky Builders. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that this shares a populist female political leader theme with Years and Years, which

Day 6

I woke at 4am, predictably, but manage to doze through the morning. More podcasts, more catch up tv. Rather than getting dressed, I move between duvet and dressing gown.

A bath in the evening and in bed again for ten. I figure the news can hear itself and listen to an old episode on Chain Reaction, the one with Roy Hudd.

Sleep doesn’t come. Bit of a headache, cough, stomach churning. Have I moved my bowels this weekend or are they where they normally are?

Oh shit, I’ve got it.

Hits on button for radio.

Day 7
Midnight News.
Thinking Allowed.

I think I sleep through the story and hear the Shipping Forecast. Were you up for Gibraltar Point to North Foreland?

I have a sleep quota, every time I sleep in I get another broken night.

I make it through to eight, with increasingly vivid dreams, and it’s nearly ten before I get up and dressed. Those symptoms seem to have gone.

Right: laptop. Gets out it out of rucksack, looks for power lead.


Oh, there it is.

It had taken ten minutes to boot up on campus, but it’s ready by the time I have a coffee to hand. Get it talking to WiFi, which asks for something that isn’t a password but takes the password on second go. Deal with student queries, try to rearrange the postgraduate appointments, switch to iPad for Skype.

I had a MacBook for years, and I’d adjusted to that, trying to avoid the PC at work. It died and I got a new one, but I still need to set it up. When using the Macs in the Daphne O’Ram, I keep hitting the wrong keys as if it is a PC. This is a PC, but I keep hitting the page down instead of scrolling down. And haven’t quite got the knack of the trackpad. Aargh.

Lockdown is announced.

The galleries have been closing one by one and the final ones follow suit. Crowds had congregated at Whitstable over the weekend. Idiots. I have six trips planned between now and early July, and three are certainly off.

Ah, that viva. Four are off.

I read a PhD in bed on the iPad. Later I finish the Rembrandt biography.

Day 8

There’s a knock at the door. A gardener and a builder. Is this my car? Can I move it. No and no, and I don’t know whose it is. Some social distancing, please.

A day at the keyboard. Writing a lecture in the morning — I tried to reuse a colleague’s but it isn’t actually relevant to the topic. Bah. Then reading through the PhD again and commenting again. I turn the show all characters function on so I’m clear where stray spaces are. Stupidly I work til ten.

Found, one stamina.

Day 9

The veg box comes and there’s an awkward dance on the doorstep, as we maintain distance. I’ve considered cancelling, since I’m never quite using it up, but I’m glad I haven’t. First conversation since Friday, aside from phone call to Mum.

I find a postgrad on Skype, and we chat, ahead of schedule, for half an hour. He’s living with family and they are sharing two computers. It’s not enough. The library has closed for the duration, so he can’t borrow one there. Even if he could.

Then Skype final review for a PhD student.

Two hours later and I need a siesta. At least those symptoms have gone, but I’m bloody cold. Sitting too long with the heating off.

After too long, back to commenting on the thesis and an email that the proofs for Extrapolation have come.

Perfect timing. Not.

Day 10

The days are beginning to merge. Much puttering on the computer. I hates the trackpad, I hates it do. And its tendency to right click if you don’t hit the sweet spot. Or to send emails early.

I have spent a week indoors. Time to leave the house.

Journal of the Plague Years (Days 2-4)

Farce to face teaching was cancelled as of Wednesday 18 March 2020. In effect, as I had no teaching, I was already locking down in my office.

Journal of the Plague Years Day 2

First Skype call – and persuaded a student we can Skype not face to face. Sorry, you don’t understand the situation if you want to meet face to face today.

First benefit of OneDrive – looks like I can access my files remotely on iPad. Not tried reading yet.

Apparently adopting the over 70s for shopping is being gamified. Recruit as many as you can.

Day 3 Noon

It’s so tedious to have to keep logging into email for work. Time out is too quick. Meanwhile odd things with Outlook calendar — it seems to think I’m in Samoa. Settings think I’m London though.

Venture into the centre to download a PowerPoint — must get computer working — and pick up prescription. The health centre has barriers at its desks, as does the library. Big queue at chemist and I opt to collect tomorrow. Go into BigSupermarket and nearly don’t buy anything — shelves are bare. Even at times of pancake day I don’t recall lack of flour. I buy sponge flour for emergency and go to cheese shop to panic buy unpasteurised.

Back at home, I catch up with podcasts, eat, note that Towner has finally closed but I am still getting emails about buying theatre tickets.

I fall asleep to Front Row and wake again for Moral Maze. Bah. I am exhausted but I suspect this is the stopping everything exhaustion — although I shan’t be stopping. Sleep during Today in Parliament.

Awake again for 6am and get off to sleep again to vivid dream of checking out of hotel but forgetting to pack clothes, a visit to the New Inn and then panicking about closed stations. A ginger cat is caught up in yellow earphones and I take her for a walk.

So I can read files from OneDrive, but remote editing is bollocksed.

I’m meant to be at pharmacists for 10, but run into two neighbours and the pharmacy is closed 11-1 for restock. No flour in supermarket but at last there are eggs. No flour in wholefood shop but but stock powder and cornflour.

Make it to the library — deserted.

Day 4 Early PM

Back to the pharmacist and they’ve removed the pick up queue. As in the big supermarket, there are black and yellow stripes a metre apart. You are meant to stand two metres apart, but no one is. Keep two chevrons visible.

So much for nudge theory.

I swing home as usual via DaJoPuPa, and there’s a young woman with arm crutches putting on a fair turn of speed. I am weighed down with shopping, but decide to drop in to Cheapish German supermarket, but they are still picked over. I do score a bag of purple onions. As I went through the underpass, I noted how many of the anti graffiti tiles have fallen off.

It’s a metaffa.

Corner shop: no flour. More expensive eggs.

Still catching up on work emails — we know about the assessments for next week, but it’s not clear if we can tell anybody. Various emails, and various non-committal replies. The word seems to be out though, but we don’t know it’s out.

Rembrandt bookI read a couple of chapters of the Rembrandt biography — the grey brown paper does not help legibility. It’s covering the years of the Young Rembrandt exhibition and I’m about to get onto the Rembrandt and Light stuff. I might be able to catch up with reading catalogues.

The acres of free time have yet to kick in — I am tired, but I think it’s the stress of uncertainty.

This morning a neighbour asked me how the Clarke Award was going. Well remembered madam.

To work via Thais R Us — self-raising only — and picking up a work laptop.

We’ve rightly focused on student access to technology, but a colleague has a partner home working and two school age children and lives on a boat. Is this going to be practical? We have a virtual crisis conversation via Blackboard.

Norman Collier lives.

I’m persuaded to pick up a headset. Who knew we had all this kit? It’s in Anselm, by the chapel, through the door, not the first room, she’ll wave you through.

I go to Anselm and the chapel. Through the door. She waves me through.

One more face to face meeting. Then emerging for food and exercise.

I wonder if this will kill off all the post-apocalyptic YA? We can get enough of it at home.

Shortly off to middle class supermarket. Campus closes at 5pm.

A Caller Calls

Friedrich Dürrenmatt, adapted by Tony Kushner, The Visit, or the Old Lady Comes to Call (directed by Jeremy Herrin, National Theatre, London)

Slurry is a mixture of solids suspended in a liquid, but I guess we tend to think of manure. It’s also the name of a town in New York State which by 1955 is almost bankrupt. The trains rarely stop there, the factories have all closed and the bailiffs are circling.
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Dark Waters (Todd Haynes, 2019)
I still don’t get what interested Haynes in this project — like Velvet Goldmine and Carol it has the hell designed out of it, but in a downbeat register that oddly never ends up as camp. It’s the familiar enough story of the downtrodden lawyer up against megacorp— DuPont’s poisoning of a town’s water supply through Teflon. Mark Ruffalo gives a reasonable enough performance, but too often we are told about his character rather than shown it, Tim Robbins meanwhile clearly relishes his setpiece ethical speeches as head of the law firm. Anne Hathaway is largely wasted, more as a reflection of Ruffalo’s character than someone in her own right. And in the end we only get resolution through captions, without the big setpiece court case we probably need for catharsis.

Death, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (directed by Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell, Piccadilly Theatre)

This is the American play, judging by the number of revivals — I’ve seen screen versions with Warren Mitchell and Dustin Hoffman and a stage version with Roy Barraclough. This transfer from the Young Vic is not the first African American version, and the shift between ethnicities seems remarkably smooth. There are hints in the direction of the Loman’s family past of slavery plantations and his wish to live the American Dream seems even more poignant, the dice even more loaded. His rejection by colleagues has a hint of unspoken racism, the brother’s line about going to Africa added resonance. Continue reading →

Don’t Cry Uncle

Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya (directed by Ian Rickson, Harold Pinter Theatre)

For a change from Norwegian theatre – though in practice Ibsen – I moved to Russian, and ponder whether I’ve seen this before. I’d seen The Seagull, and I think something at the Lace Market Theatre, but that may have involved sisters and orchards. I had no sense who Uncle Vanya was and whether he has nieces or nephews.
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Brief Natural Nudity

The Personal History of David Copperfield (Armando Iannucci, 2020)
Emma. (Autumn de Wilde, 2020)

There is nothing we seem to like better in the British Film Industry than a literary adaptation — and there have been great versions of Austen and Dickens in the past, so much so that it wasn’t until two hours and four minutes into Emma. that I felt we need another Austen on screen. Continue reading →