COVID World, Day Thirteen

Woke up at 5:30, got ready for my morning run, warmed up. This morning it was 3° but without a breeze, so if felt much more reasonable (the BBC Weather app said that it felt like 0°, but I’m sure it was a bit warmer than that). My body felt much more cooperative this morning, though toward the end it resisted a closing push; my 10:14 time seems reasonable enough.

Then I went to Sainsbury’s at its opening at 7:00. There were no other customers in the store, so I filled my shopping list (save onions and, of course, loo roll and kitchen roll) with lightning speed, woohoo! A couple of other shoppers had drifted in while I was there, but it was a very socially isolated experience.

Next came breakfast, and various email tasks. After I extracted myself from distraction and lunch, I tackled the essays I left unmarked yesterday afternoon in the aftermath of the sudden imperative to approve curriculum changes; frustratingly, some queries and tasks diverted my energies (by mid-afternoon, my focus and productivity drop off precipitously even apart from isolation). I didn’t close out the marking — determined to settle that tomorrow morning.

We dined on spaghetti and veg in an amply fluid sauce (it might have been ‘spaghetti with tomato sauce’ if we had more spaghetti in the pantry), and continued watching Spooks.

COVID World, Day Twelve

Still arctic in the morning: 1°, with harsh breezes, felt like -2° according to the BBC. My limbs were in rebellion for all the warm-up; it felt as though I had never run before in my life (‘What are these strange motions you are imposing on us?’). Nonetheless managed a 10:18, pushing ahead so as to ‘do it for the sake of doing it, not for time’.

This morning I continue manicuring my music database, and in the midst of that I discovered the NME top singles lists for 1977-81. I was obliged instantly to make playlists for them, and have already compiled them for ’77, ’78, and ’79. Early report: NME and I are much more aligned for 1977 than for the other years, and I have some surprising, some embarrassing, some predictable holes in my collection. This isn’t very informative (cos the number of entries on each year’s list varies), but just as a rough indicator, my 1979 list has 29 songs, 1978 has 20, and 1979 has 18. I am not rethinking my life choices. (Margaret is in the top floor room working on an article.) Now, I have schoolwork to do, then lunch, and perhaps more playlists after lunch.

As I typed my comments on essays, I noted that my hands have begun to look more wrinkled than they have previously. I’m getting old guy hands. I had ample opportunity to look down at my hands this afternoon, as not only did I have the essays to mark, but I also got a last-minute academic administrative request for an approval note that must be written today! Isn’t life jolly?

After a delicous dinner of vegetable risotto, we spent the evening (re-)watching episodes from the first season of Spooks a/k/a MI-5.

COVID World Eleven (A)

Somehow I got into the habit of writing these entries retrospective to the day after things actually happened, so beginning now I’ll write about the actual, you know, day advertised in the title of the entry.

So, this morning I took my morning run in 3° weather with icy breezes. Honestly, if they’re going to call this ‘British Summer Time’, the least they could do is dial up the temperatures to 7° or 8° anyway. My limbs felt as unforgiving as usual in the mornings, but the run itself seems to have gone all right — 10:11 even though I didn’t feel as though I was moving that well.

We attended morning Mass for Passion Sunday at Holy Trinity Church in Wolverhampton with Fr Damian, then had a leisurely morning breakfast and lunch. Margaret has been working at a jigsaw puzzle; I’ve performed some maintenance on the music library for our listening pleasure. Speaking of pleasure, we were touched to see Glasgow in glory in this drone footage (with a Belle and Sebastian soundtrack, so that’s good):

We took a stroll around Christ Church Meadows by the Thames this afternoon, and the 40 mph winds with 7° temperature kept us moving pretty rapidly. Happy to arrive home safe and (now) warm.

Margaret prepared a delicious crepe dinner, and we’ve settled in to watch ‘The Quake’, a Norwegian disaster film that is, we are assured, actually good. We will see.

COVID World, Day Eleven

A mostly calm, pleasant day. I worked on my reading patience, puttered about the internet, cleaned up some pens that had been waiting for my attention since term time, and Margaret took a long afternoon walk around South Park, exultant in the capacity of her new knees to propel her long distances with relatively little discomfort. Thank heaven we got those sorted before the plague struck.

At the end of the day Margaret and I watched Too Late, an interesting if overly-arch film noir à la Tarantino. Overwritten (or underedited — the opposite of an Elmore Leonard script style) with a couple of defining directorial tricks, it nonetheless kept our interest, if only to try to figure out what was going on. It should be noted that the filmmaker seems to think women spend a lot of time without anything on below their waists; perhaps I just haven’t been to those parts of Southern California, but I had the general impression that trousers and skirts were expected even in Hollywood.

I don’t think we heard of any new cases of COVID-19 among people we know. My cousin and her spouse are recuperating well, though feeling exhausted by the slightest exertion. Immediate family are all, I think, pretty healthy.

COVID World, hê Dékatê hÊméra

Yesterday went satisfactorily. I had college admin work to do, a staff meeting (by Zoom) and various follow-up errands. I didn’t have much time for reading — those FB and Twitter threads about the plague won’t read themselves — but I felt moderately productive, considering the challenges in trying to decompress from a manic Hilary Term during a pandemic crisis.

Yesterday my cousin and her husband in NYC seem to have passed the most dangerous phase of their COVID cases. The Prime Minister, the Health Minister, and the Chief MEdical Officer of the UK all seem to have COVID-19. So far, I’m not aware that the plague has touched the college directly, nor anyone I know at Oriel. It’s just a matter of time, though, and I’m a bit edgy from waiting for shoes to begin to drop. (I hope I have only a bipedal destiny, but this highly contagious infection means that my shoe-dropping destiny may be more like a large family of octopuses.)

This morning, the temperature was all the way up to 3°. No pauses this morning, so my time is closer to normal; occasional unwelcome icy breeze, but mostly ordinary physical condition, 10:03.

COVID World, Neunter Tag

A fine day, with Margaret availing herself of her exercise day by taking a promenade to South Park, where she encountered (but did not come within safe distance of) a dear friend. I continued working on my long-reading. [Quorn] Pepper steak and veg for dinner, and a couple of episodes of The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel.

I’m realising these days how much my ‘free’ days used to be defined by going: perhaps to Rick’s Cafe, perhaps to the Bodleian, but almost always by availing myself of the absence of timetabled constraints by meandering shorter or longer distances. I don’t have any great complaint about spending time at home, on my own; I do, however miss deeply the chance to make a spontaneous hop down to look at pens at Antiques on High, or dropping in at the Gloucester Green Market. Being at home doesn’t bother me — it’s having to be at home.

This morning I interrupted my morning run halfway for a minute or so, which enabled me to catch my breath and resume better-rested but still limber. I was amazed at the difference it made in time — 1°, bitter cold, but my time was 9:31. I’m not counting that as a personal best, since I did get the benefit of the mid-mile break, but it’s still startlingly rapid for me.


One has no hesitation in correcting somebody whose age (a child), or station (such as a student), or lack of pretence to expertise render them entirely dependent on more learned interlocutors for sound knowledge. I can argue with somebody about Javanese astrology, but since I am perfectly ignorant on the topic, I have to concede that a Javanese stargazer has the prerogative to gainsay whatever nonsense I speak. That isn’t impolite or presumptuous (done gently); it simply takes account my situation relative to another’s.

In circumstances where relative status remains undefined or unclarified, speakers frequently fall into presumption and condescension on the premise that if one’s interlocutor were an intellectual equal, one would already know them, or would be able to tell right away. So, prodigies and post-graduate students, and (inexcusably) women and people of colour, often suffer patronising airs from speakers who don’t already register them as interlocutors worthy of respect. We can explain this phenomenon readily enough, though with censure (whether explicit or tacit) to the condescendor for not anticipating that they too rapidly and inaccurately guessing at the status of the interlocutor.

Often enough, two parties with roughly equal claim to expertise speak to one another, each as if the other were a child or a student. The two are known to one another; each is aware that the other is a scholar of standing. Still, one will treat the other as if an ignoramus, a bumpkin, a clod. How do we explain this with even a modicum of charity?

Or the other way around: If I know and respect you, why would I try to change your mind on a topic of mutual interest? ‘Why’, or how? If I simply set out my reasoning, explain how my position is joined-up relative to other notions we (presumably) share, and account for its benefits — what more can I do?

Newman to His Aunt

How strange it is, I wish I could describe it, to stand in a house which was so much to me, as that house was, and it so different, and I so different! Whatever good there is in me, I owe, under grace, to the time I spent in that house, and to you and my dear Grandmother, its inhabitants. I do not forget her Bible and the prints in it. Alas, my dear Aunt, I am but a sorry bargain, and perhaps if you knew all about me, you would hardly think me now worth claiming; still I cannot help it — I am what I am — and I have grown into what I am from that time at Fulham.

What a strange change forty years makes. How little did the little child whom you used to fondle, think of what he thinks now! He had no thoughts…. I know not now of course what is before me, before my end comes—still more strange may be the contrast—but it is very touching and subduing as it is.

(To Miss E. Newman, 25 July 1844; cited in Ker’s John Henry Newman, Oxford 1988, p. 288)

COVID World, Day 9

Yesterday went somewhat more gently for us. Margaret is working on a jigsaw puzzle on loan from our neighbours, I sent off the EBR entry-ette, I worked on cultivating my capacity to read for longer intervals; I did some odds and ends tidying-up of my laptop directory, and succumbed to the usual stress-browsing of the Web. Margaret took a long afternoon walk up into South Park, around the margin of Brookes Uni, and back down to James Street. In the evening, we finished watching our current television series.

We got word last night that my cousin and her husband are among the New Yorkers who are being treated for COVID-19; we’re awaiting test results for both, but the medical staff are evidently handling them as though they’re likely to be infected. So, they have that in common with Prince Charles, I suppose.

My run this morning was once again overshadowed by the %$^*#£ cold morning weather — 0° again. I could open up for a few paces twice during the run, but that just triggered my body to pull in tighter. Breathing was fine, though the icy air was prickly in my lungs. 10:07.

COVID World, Day Eight

Yesterday was a cabin-feverish (not COVID-feverish, thank heaven) sort of day. I tried to get some practice long-reading, but that didn’t go anywhere; Margaret got some writing done, but we were both unsettled and a bit on edge. M went for a late-afternoon walk, and I finished up my ultra-short note on ‘“Mercy” in Popular Music’ for EBR. When Margaret came home, we dined and watched television.

It’s difficult for me to concentrate much on serious work. The situation just fizzes and buzzes at the margins of my attention, and I wind up looking at Twitter for a half hour, or some other such time sink.

This morning’s mile went moderately smoothly. Still inexcusably cold for late March (where’s the ‘goes out like a lamb’? Even golden retriever?); it was 3° when I started, creaky and stiff, but by the time I was done warming up, the mile came in at an adequate 10:16.

Corona World, Jour Septième

The Prime Minister has looked at our practice and has decided that the whole nation would benefit from emulating us. From now on, all Britain will be confined to quarters (as it were) except for one venture outdoors for exercise and one grocery trip per week (and of course, medical emergencies). Since that has been our regimen since last Wednesday, we’re a bit ahead of the game.

Looking forward, I wonder how the transition from everyday life to national quarantine will be remembered. Our internal household economy hasn’t been affected that much; during summers and study leaves it’s not especially rare for us to spend a day camped at the dining room table, typing away opposite one another, and watching the television in the evening. At the same time, we already miss going to church for weekly Mass, going to our favourite cafes, studying in the Bodleian or even simply strolling into the city centre. We would probably have been to the Botanic Garden for a walk. And of course, the large wave of casualties hasn’t hit Britain yet; we don’t know anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

I had been thinking that we might miss the funerals of any of our dear relatives and friends in the USA who may die in this plague; it has only just begun to dawn on me that the same applies to friends and neighbours here. If one of our closest UK friends were to die, it would be extraordinarily difficult to attend their funeral under current circumstances; from the government’s point of view, it should be impossible (this is currently unclear, as far as I can tell). And of course, if Margaret or I were to be stricken, our family would not be able to come to our bedside to comfort us, pray with us, console themselves, and sit with us in the lonely hours that lead to death. Were we to die, they would not be able to attend any service here.

I’m still modulating from term-time habits (no reading, short attention span, feeling exhausted and stressed) to leave-time habits (reading for long intervals, writing down thoughts, composing essays and articles). I wrote the first half of a tiny squib for ERB, and I should finish it today. Then I have articles on the epistle of James and the miraculous, and on Anglican hermeneutics (both will be complicated by lack of access to my books, which I may be able to finagle after I prove that I’m healthy in a week or so).

Margaret and I are COVID-asymptomatic, though Margaret still has her head cold. I took my morning run earlier today, my knees protesting during warm-up but responding favourably once I launched into stride, 3°, clear and calm, and despite my feeling that this might be my best time yet, an ordinary 10:13.

Corona World, Day Six

Yesterday went largely as one might have expected. In the afternoon, Josiah and Thomas checked in. We read, wrote, watched a film (Timescape, a time-travel film with an interesting twist, but Jeff Daniels couldn’t carry mediocre direction and a lacklustre cast) and tested some television viewing from Amazon Prime.

This morning dawned icy cold, so that my warm-up for the morning mile was stiff and creaky again. Nonetheless, warming up had its effect, and my run (shorter course) came in at 0°, gentle breezes, decent flexibility and breathing, 10:01.