DAY MINUS 1

Wouldn’t you just know it – its Friday 13 March.

As if in premonitory mode I get my long white wavy locks cut back as never before by my Sicilian barber. He tells the other customers he is “shitting himself” as he sets to work. He has cut my hair (twice a year) for 20 years, and his father for 10 year before that, and they know I prefer to retain my ‘70s long hair-style as a gesture to my younger days. Apparently I over-react whenever I think they have snipped too much. But this time I have a slight case of Seborrheic Dermatitis so I need to clear the decks to treat it.

He tells me he has already lost one customer who asked if he had been in Italy recently as he hung up his hat. Somewhat offended he had snapped back, “No. but I have just collected my cousin from Milan!” 

But the joke fell flat. The hat went back on and the customer departed. A mild but indicative instance of the racism that is playing out over the coronavirus crisis.

Back home, shorn but with some essential shopping done, and pumped up from binge-watching news from everywhere, I fire off messages of best wishes to all my friends of a certain age (and others) around the world. We need to make sure we all keep in touch as we disappear into isolation bunkers. For the most part there is good news and humour from Canada and France and Germany and Italy and Portugal and Tanzania. No immediate replies from elsewhere yet but eventually, and inevitably, from America come understandable gripes about the orange toadwart who thought the virus was another hoax perpetrated by the ‘fake new media’ and the Democrats.

A call from the residential home looking after my 98 year old godmother informs me she has been rushed into hospital with a suspected collapsed lung. It is no time for a relapse, and alarm bells ring. She is hundreds of miles away, but at least she is in the best NHS place for treatment.

A Chinese friend calls to say he won’t be coming to stay next week after all. He is not feeling well and thinks Bristol’s Jazz Festival can do without him this year. 

My sibling WhatApp group is now in overdrive. Two sisters are awaiting operations, and several of us have ‘underlying conditions’ that put us at risk, so all the talk is of self-isolation (and the bloody weather!) Attendance at Saturday’s christening of the latest arrival to the clan threatens to be low, and someone on the in-laws side has gone down with CV in Austria!

Having just got back from a busy 5 days in London – meeting and greeting lots of people – I have turned down a ticket to the Wales v. Scotland game in Cardiff on Saturday. I have also decided to back out of a contract to train journalists in Morocco later this month. 

On reflection, journeys from Bristol and Brighton to London for appointments in Parliament and at Channel 4 next Monday can’t really be classed as essential. I had arranged them for Egyptian journalist colleagues now on Masters degree courses at Sussex University. They can easily be rearranged in happier and healthier times, so they are put on hold.

I can feel the hatches being battened down as my children all insist that I must now enter purdah, with access to grandchildren via Skype and WhatsApp.

I watch good-natured wins for Hugh Dennis and Nish Kumar in Richard Osman’s House of Games, make a light supper, and cheer myself up with Gogglebox which always restores my faith in human nature, even if I haven’t watched the programmes they are responding to. And so, chuckling, to bed, where I sober up watching (on MUBI) Ingmar Bergman”s Winter Light, a nihilistic drama about the loss of love and faith.

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