UK (Sky News)

Coronavirus diary – Jeremy Thompson on life under lockdown

By June 13, 2020 No Comments

Jeremy Thompson is a former Sky News presenter in his 70s. He is documenting how the coronavirus lockdown is impacting his everyday life in a personal diary.

To catch up, read about what happened during week one, week two and week three.

Monday 6 April

I catch myself whistling Busy Doing Nothing – a sharp reminder to myself to get a grip.

We’re into week four of our lockdown and we’ve settled into an odd sort of rhythm.

My new five-a-day consists of exercising, cooking, reading, socialising online, and writing – with a side portion of TV viewing, if it’s tasty and healthful.

Unlike Geldof’s Boomtown Rats, we do like Mondays. They’ve become our designated walking and shopping days.

The parks are gloriously empty near us today in contrast with local food shops, which are fully stocked. One customer in, one out makes shopping a less risky pursuit.

Though Lynn still insists that I – the vulnerable one – stay outside while she buys.

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Friends in Spain send a video of a large wild boar with her six piglets strolling nonchalantly down a local street. My journalist pal John in Barcelona wryly describes it as “a vision of the apocalypse”.

Tuesday 7 April

World Health Day. That makes me curious, so I check today’s stats on world health.

Globally there are 1.4 million coronavirus cases, leading to 81,600 deaths.

The world population is 7.8 billion. I draw no conclusions.

I may have covered many disasters and catastrophes in 50 years as a newsman, but I am still not a pandemic expert.

The health versus wealth debate is getting louder with every lockdown day.

I hear the arguments about protecting the elderly and prolonging life expectancy indefinitely, but at the expense of younger people’s work and welfare.

There’s little doubt that the crisis is disproportionately affecting younger generations. No school, no university and, in many cases, no work and no income. It’s a tough trade-off.

I hear from yet another mate, who’s just been told his salary’s being trimmed. A cut of 15%.

It’s the latest sorry story from friends and family in this brutal new age of furloughs, salary shrinkages and retrenchments. Few have escaped.

A gym pal who works for a large airline has been put on two months’ unpaid leave, and a fair few freelancers have been left high and dry. As the old saying goes: “Millions of families are just two pay checks from financial disaster.”

One friend summed up the dilemma succinctly, but with more than a hint of world-weary cynicism: “In reality, if we stay locked down until it has gone away then us oldies come out to a broken world alive and the only ones with money.

“If they take the risk and get the economy moving, but create mass infection, we oldies die, but the kids inherit the money and give up work anyway.”

Thank God the day ends on a brighter note with the glorious sight of a supermoon – the biggest, fullest moon of 2020.

A supermoon is seen on Tuesday night
Image:A supermoon is seen on Tuesday night

Wednesday 8 April

We get our long-awaited letter from 10 Downing Street, signed by the ailing Boris, promising “with that great British spirit we will beat coronavirus and we will beat it together” – as long as you stay at home, that is.

In the same post, a letter from Surrey County Cricket Club promises members that we’ll all be returned to The Oval “feeling the sun on our faces, hearing the crack of leather on willow and seeing eleven cricketers in Brown Caps giving their all”.

What a good thought. Let’s hope all our favourite sports teams survive to contest another trophy.

This is on a day when Ben Stokes is named Cricketer of the Year by Wisden. For a moment I’m transported back to 2019 and that unforgettable summer of cricket.

Talking of sport, one golfing buddy in Spain is using his time and his garden wisely to improve his chipping. He could be unbeatable when we get back out on the course.

The River Thames is just a tempting wedge from my terrace. But I sense it might be a touch antisocial.

I settle for taking the rubbish down to the bins. Is it worth dressing up for? Does it constitute a highlight of the day?

One thing that’s surprising me is how little schools and universities seem to be doing to keep educating their students. The occasional online tutorial.

“It was rubbish. Not worth bothering with,” one of my granddaughters commented dismissively.

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Coronavirus: Life in lockdown

Some families have opted for home-schooling – directly or distantly.

My brother-in-law has been doing Zoom history lessons on WW2 for his young grandchildren Bea and Jasper, with photos of his last ration book and of Land Girls on farms. Authentic teaching or what?

We hear of one family where the kids are having to dress in school uniforms before their parents begin lessons at the kitchen table. Harsh.

In Yorkshire, our nephew’s eight-year-old, Emily, tells us she’s reading the diary of Anne Frank – that poster girl for the self-isolating.

Emily then takes us on a dizzying live online bike ride round her small back garden. At speed, she shows us her newly-planted vegetable patch. All the while, her Dad works at the kitchen table. Families are figuring it out.

Thursday 9 April

Our voluntary house arrest is not ending any time soon. Not even a hint of parole. It’s been 100 days since the coronavirus outbreak emerged. 100 days that changed the world.

“And it’s going to be at least another 100 days until humanity emerges from lockdown,” my knowledgeable doctor friend in South Africa tells me.

We both reason that people of our generation probably won’t feel safe back in normal circulation until a vaccine has been perfected, and that could take another year.

Then how much longer until the world produces enough to immunise a population of nearly eight billion.

Reading the smoke signals from government here, we’re working on lockdown lasting another month at least. There’s only one thing for it – pace yourselves.

My son Adam and his wife have been locked away for 21 days in Vietnam.

They went into isolation after celebrating St Patrick’s Day at a bar in Ho Chi Minh City, where it later turned out a virus carrier had been both imbibing and incubating.

We’re relieved to hear via WhatsApp video that Adam and Fi haven’t been driven away on the scary Vietnamese quarantine bus.

So far Vietnam has had no virus deaths. That seems amazing considering its proximity to China.

The one upside of being locked down in a very small flat is that Vietnam’s food delivery system is second to none.

“Order anything you want,” Adam tells us, “and a man on a moped arrives at your door within minutes with bagfuls of food strung along his handlebars.” Asian efficiency.

I’m getting a real variety of reactions to the lockdown from around the world.

Friends in Constantia near Cape Town admit to enjoying this self-imposed exile from normal life.

“I haven’t spent so much time at home for years, if ever,” says Mike, with a big smile.

Others are grinning and bearing it.

A journalist mate in Sydney has been isolating for two months, partly out of self-preservation and partly to update his investigative book on Julian Assange, one of our best known “self-isolators”.

Andrew’s Aussie view on life: “We sit at the end of the world, hoping that phrase doesn’t match the reality!”

As the weekly Great Ovation Hour approaches, we spare a special thought for a friend who’s heading up a London hospital A&E department “full of scared junior doctors who all think they’re going to get it”.

Honouring her and so many others in the NHS, we bang saucepans and clap hands in praise of their unbelievable efforts in the darkest of days and the toughest of conditions.

Friday 10 April

Good Friday – and talking of Good Friday – it feels like we’re all being terribly good.

Of course, there have been a few Covid cowboys, lockdown lunatics and disease deniers, but on the whole we Brits have been surprisingly well-behaved and obedient.

People flout lockdown
People defy lockdown rules on Good Friday

It seems most of us have rather taken to a stay-at-home lifestyle – or maybe coronavirus has just scared us to a standstill.

As we all contemplate ways of enjoying our unexpected Easter staycation, I’m starting to assess the enormous challenges of a whole year of home holidays.

The next big issue for our leaders is going to be how to shock us out of this state of stasis before we all develop agoraphobia.

The Horsham chapter of the Thompson family is sun-seeking and sipping Pimms in their back garden when we call.

The girls take us on a guided tour of their newly decorated and remarkably tidy rooms. Shutdown shipshape in a way I never dreamt possible.

School’s out, but not out of control it seems.

Friday night is now date night for us and dinner-out-but-in.

Our posh meal delivery arrives on time from a leading local chef and we dress for the occasion – mainly to remind ourselves about the location of our largely unused wardrobes.

For friends in Ilkley, Friday night is pub night, with the bar moving to different rooms each week. No doubt with a different pub sign over the door.

Around the country, pub quizzes via video link are now all the rage as we reinvent our social lives.

Saturday 11 April

A bit of excitement in my limited window on the world. The RNLI lifeboat crew stationed in my block scramble into action.

RNLI workers come to the rescue
Image:RNLI workers come to the rescue

Reports of trouble on the Thames. The volunteer crew risk life and limb all year round, even in these virus-riddled days.

It makes me think of all those still out there working and taking chances with their health.

The long-suffering staff in our local food shops, the long line of folk in the delivery chain, public transport workers, bin men and essential factory workers. They all deserve a huge round of applause.

It’s another Saturday without sport.

As I watch more reruns of old Harlequins rugby matches pretending I don’t know the scoreline, I check in with Danny Care, the Quins and England scrum-half.

He tells me he’s keeping match fit by running and working out in a makeshift gym in his garden.

Like all his fellow pros, they’re just hoping there is something left of the rugby season to return to.

I notice Danny and his wife Jodie have become social media stars of the Tik Tok dance craze. As if he’s not busy enough, I then hear him guesting on BBC Radio’s Question of Sport.

Sunday 12 April

Easter Sunday.

Isn’t it an odd sensation, looking at your calendar for April and finding nothing in it.

All those outings and dinner dates and holidays planned over the coming months, all scrubbed out or noted with a question mark. Hopefully things will look a lot better by next Easter.

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Starmer: The govt needs lockdown exit plan

A random thought.

Just for a moment, I wonder what people panic-buying toilet rolls in the early days have done with their hoarded booty.

Pop-up loo roll shops in their front gardens? Perforated art installations? Quilted tissue jewellery or perhaps a giant paper mache model of the coronavirus cell structure? So many possibilities to keep the family entertained.

Meanwhile, mates in Miami and across the US are more worried about Donald Trump’s leadership during lockdown.

He’s not filling them full of confidence, as it seems The Donald’s America is intent on withdrawing from its traditional role as the global guide in times of crisis.

They’re no longer the go-to-nation. As one of them put it: “See you on the other side of this nightmare.”

“It’s a scary world,” an old cameraman colleague in America tells me. He was filming a news piece in Washington DC when a homeless guy ran up and spat at the crew next to him. So now they’re weaponising germs.

I like a bit of magic, so we’re watching Dynamo’s new show on Sky TV, Beyond Belief.

I’m tempted to call the Wizard of Bradford and say: “Go on Dynamo, here’s a challenge. Make the disease disappear!”

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