I watched the the Queen's broadcast yesterday, having never even watched the Queen's Speech before, and found myself getting emotional over her penultimate words:
"We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again."
No, I'm not crying, dammit. You're crying.
There's been an outpouring of love for Her Majesty in the Twitterverse from Brits of all political stripes and also from Americans who wish they had a head of state full of compassion, empathy and poise. Baroness Ludford (Lib Dem peer in the House of Lords) got in touch with me (we follow each other on Twitter) to say: "By instinct and principle I'm a firm republican. In practise, I think [the Queen] is marvellous." I'm wholly in agreement with her. It's hard for me to make an argument for the monarchy in the 21st century ("because their ancestors stole more sheep than my ancestors", as one of my teachers used to say), but I have a great deal of respect for our 93-year-old monarch, her poise, her strong sense of duty, and the fact that she keeps her own council. It's hard for me to imagine the UK without her; she's been the queen for my whole lifetime and almost as long as my parents' lifetimes.
I miss my family. They're keeping well for the time being; my sister has taken up running with her fiancee, and my mother sounded upbeat when I talked to her; the fruit, veg and dairy wholesaler I found for her last week offers prompt home delivery (and even carries purple cauliflower!) and even Waitrose has a glimmer of delivery slots on the horizon, so my parents are okay for the time being. One of my cousins, however, is stuck in a Nepalese village because as the pandemic was kicking off, she decided to leave New York City and go visit her guru (she's a Buddhist). She may now be spending considerably more time with him than originally envisaged.
Am seeing a fair bit of my friends via Zoom and FB video: pub quiz night on Saturday, virtual coffee mornings during the week, and a mini-LP writers' meetup, with a handful of us coming together via video last night from Spain, various parts of the UK, and Beirut - to reminisce about past travel and speculate about the future of the guidebook industry. We talk about #Lockdowngoals - new hobbies we've taken up, projects we mean to accomplish. With any luck, I'll emerge from lockdown a gourmet chef, piano virtuoso and super-fit machine consisting solely of muscle and sinew. Just as soon as I get over my knee injury, caused by over-enthusiastic leaping about the living room while trying to do the Juicy Wiggle on an exercise programme a friend recommended.
My colleagues who are fortunate enough to live in the UK, where people are allowed to go out for exercise, cackled when I told them that I've taken to promenading up and down my street, garbage bag in hand (just in case I get asked why I'm out), particularly in inclement weather, in the pouring rain, when I'm highly unlikely to run into another soul.
The solitary confinement is getting to me a bit in that respect and I think that Spanish government needs to rethink its strategy. Our lockdown has now been extended until April 26th and at some point they'll have to balance out keeping people safe with keeping people sane, since people need outdoor exercise for physical and mental health both. Speaking of which, I can see that Brits who've been sunbathing in parks while maintaining social distancing are being given a hard time, whereas the UK government, which has allowed the Cheltenham Races, football events and other mass contagion events to go ahead 3 weeks ago, is not.
Being cooped up indoors is continuing to feed my paranoia. This isn't helped by the Competa expats' page on Facebook, where my fellow expats are writing things like:
"I saw 4 hikers with their sticks on the trail above the village."
"Report them to the police."
Likewise, the police in the UK have been inundated by calls from 'helpful' souls wishing to denounce their neighbours for exercising or walking their dog more than once a day. It seems that lockdown brings out the Stasi in some people. I do understand people objecting to others breaking the rules and enjoying themselves outdoors when others are not, but at the same time, I think that a little perspective is necessary. The purpose of these rules is to prevent the spread of mass contagion. So if a person is not endangering themselves or others, that's the important bit.
But because the rules in the UK are not 100% clear, the police have been taking an arbitrarily heavy-handed approach with some people, while ignoring others. And I genuinely don't understand why people sunbathing in the park are getting harassed while flights keep landing in the UK from New York and other hotspots, with no screening for disembarking passengers, who then presumably disperse contagion.
In Spain, the army has been involved in ostensibly making sure that people are following lockdown rules. Here in Competa, we've had an armoured vehicle that appeared one day and disappeared the next, presumably for the photo ops. Note how the soldiers are not maintaining the social distancing guidelines of 2m.
The upside of being indoors is that I have plenty of time to devote to various fun pursuits, like taking coffee nerdery to the next level. My V60 has has arrived...
...and according to my Nicaraguan coffee guru friend, with the pour-over coffee-making method, the fun is just beginning. "There are no rules. Now you can experiment with particle size and ideal coffee to water ratio." I think I shall. My caffeine consumption is creeping up, though, and I've gone from a single cup of coffee in the morning to that, plus an espresso...
...or as close as I can get to an espresso - in the afternoons.
There are other upsides also. In various cities, friends and family have been reporting that the air is a lot cleaner, that they can see landmarks they don't normally see and that birds and animals are coming back. In the UK, native wildlife has begun reclaiming the streets, starting with the wild goats in Llandudno, and ending with this:
And now for a quick roundup of some world Covid-19 news this week.
UK: Boris Johnson has been hospitalised. Given the high bar for hospitalisation, this has fuelled speculation that his condition is more serious than is being let on. At the same time, government is quick to state that he's working from his hospital bed and getting red boxes delivered. Why not let him rest and recover? Although that means Dominic Raab taking over. Hasn't the country already suffered enough?
USA: Trump continues peddling the unproven benefits of hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial with a host of crippling and potentially deadly side effects, in spite of Dr Fauci stating multiple times that there is no data to suggest that it's successful in treating Covid-19. The USA has also taken to piracy, intercepting shipments of protective gear purchased by Germany, Canada, Barbados (what kind of thug do you have to be to rob a tiny island???) and basically taking them for itself. But to sell for profit rather than to distribute to governors begging for emergency supplies. Also, some ardent church-goers in some states have refused to abide by lockdown rules and have told the police officers who stopped them that they are 'covered in the blood of Jesus' and therefore presumably immune to Covid-19. Some people are just begging to go extinct.
Belarus: President Lukashenko dismisses Covid-19 as inconsequential and states that they have everything they need to fight it: banyas and vodka. Because that's worked so well for Russia so far.
Russia: Government has now restricted sales of protective gear, presumably to make the task of the Doctors' Alliance - trying to deliver protective gear to hospitals - even more difficult. It also turns out that Putin has shaken hands with the chief doctor at Kommunarka hospital, and said doctor has since tasted positive for Covid-19.
Falkland Islands: There have now been two confirmed cases of Covid-19 (both stable) and the West Store in Stanley has run out of toilet paper and long-life milk, according to my sources.
India: Narendra Modi's push for an immediate lockdown has panicked the vast numbers of poor migrants who then made desperate efforts to get back to their home villages, crowding public transport and potentially carrying contagion to every corner of the country.
New Zealand: only a single death from Covid-19 so far and Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are 'essential workers'.