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A HUNDRED DAYS OF SOLITUDE. BLOG 30

Blog Number 30 [Saturday 13th June 2020]

In lockdown, the days have merged into one another. The usual punctuations have been absent. A Saturday is no different from a Wednesday or a Monday. Slowly, this is changing. I have a cycle of regular weekly zoom conversations, family, pub group, old pals [or Oxford Throwbacks as Jini, somewhat too accurately, called us]. I play tennis twice a week. M and I go for walks, alternating between Burgess Field, the University Parks and Christchurch Meadow. Now, desperate to get the economy moving again, the HMG seeks to ease the lockdown. As we have come to expect, they do so without careful thought or proper planning. 

The grand aim to get all primary school children back for the rest of the summer term has been summarily withdrawn. Why? Because how do you ensure social distancing in classes of 30 or more? That problem was there from the beginning. The rational approach would have been to consult all the key stakeholders and work out what exactly could be and couldn’t be done. Had they done so, there might have found a way of staggering access over the week or attenuating the social distance rule or expanding the available space. As it is, they announced a policy and then were forced to retract it, blaming others, the Teachers Union for example who, unsurprisingly, wanted to ensure their members and their pupils were safe. What have other European countries done? Here’s a summary from the BBC as of 10th June, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-52575313. Italy and Spain apart where schools will not return until September, primary and secondary schools have reopened in various stages. France has a traffic light system of green, orange and red zones for easing the lockdown generally. Could we not learn from these countries? Or does that go against the grain of English exceptionalism in which everything we do has to be the best, ‘world beating’ as our PM is too inclined to say. Of course, we might be world beating in another sense, mightn’t we? Getting children back to school as soon as possible is one of most important and desirable changes for many reasons, educational, social, economic, psychological. Instead though, the PM announced that zoos and safari parks can reopen. Hooray!

M and I watched one of the audience-free Wigmore Hall Concerts, Steven Isserlis and Mishka Rushdie Momen playing Faure’s First Cello Sonata. Sublime. How strange it is when the camera zooms out on to the empty hall. Not totally empty as R3’s Martin Handley is there on one side along with the director of the Wigmore Hall on the other. An audience of two. How do the performers feel, I wonder? They are on stage when the concert starts so no walking on to applause. No applause at the end of a piece either. No prolonged applause at the end to signal the wish for an encore. Handley simply asked Isserlis if he had some more music and he played a Bach piece, the beautiful sound of his cello echoing through the empty hall. There were no fidgety audience sounds, no coughs or shuffling in the seats. All attention was on the playing and the music. I loved it.

I asked M if she would ever topple a statue.

‘Why would I want to do that?’ she said.

‘You might want to strike a blow against the patriarchy. Most statues are of men, you know.’

‘I’d rather topple the patriarchs.’

‘Okay. But a statue is a symbol, isn’t it?’

‘So it would be, what, a symbolic gesture?’

‘Yes.’

‘Rather like one of your symbolic gestures. For example, when you offer to do the washing up when I just finished it…’

‘Hold on…’

‘Or to clean the bathroom.’

‘I do clean the bathroom,’ I shoot back.

‘The trouble is, darling, it’s hard to tell. Or,’ she goes on as she’s on a roll, ‘vacuuming. That is truly symbolic.’

‘You don’t trust me with the vacuum cleaner. You said that.’

‘That’s because you didn’t know it had various attachments. In fact, I don’t think you even know where it is kept.’

I think quickly. ‘Top of the cellar stairs,’ I say triumphantly.

‘That’s the ironing board. That’s another symbol, for you at least.’

How did we get from toppling statues to ironing boards? Conversations with M are tricky these days. I say something to that effect.

‘Yes. Far better before the lockdown when like everything else, our conversations were – what’s the word for it, darling? – symbolic.’

Antidote 30

An 11 minute film featuring the oldest footage of London ever. Leon, you can see our old school, the City of London School, next to Unilever House at the end of Blackfriars Bridge [at 2”38’]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_me3NrPMh8

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