UK (Sky News)

Coronavirus diary: Jeremy Thompson on life under lockdown

By October 3, 2020 No Comments

Jeremy Thompson is a former Sky News presenter in his seventies.

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, week three, week four and week five.

Monday 20 April

It’s the hugs we really miss. Don’t you? All the bonding and banter on video chats and social media is great. But it’s no substitute for the human touch.

We have a birthday party for our pal Graham today – a Zoom gathering with family and friends organised by his daughters.

We sing Happy Birthday and raise glasses to toast another year – possibly the strangest yet in all our lives.

But it’s not the same as being together. Lynn’s dad, Nevil, is living on his own in West Yorkshire. He’s nearing 90 and has some health issues, so he really is in solitary isolation.

She rings him every day and he seems remarkably sanguine. She’s just sad she can’t reach out and hug him. The comfort of contact.

But Nevil’s got a good deal going with his young neighbour, who’s a professional gardener. He mows Nevil’s lawn in exchange for using his greenhouse and dropping off some freshly grown produce. Just one small example of the local sharing and barter systems flourishing in these difficult days.

Niece Emma volunteered to order garden supplies on behalf of her street. She ended up with two fully laden vans from a local garden centre dropping off dozens of bags of compost at her front gate.

Almost every neighbour had ordered the maximum of five bags. Distribution while social distancing took a bit of organising.

With similar tales of potting and planting from across the nation, Britain seems determined to recreate the wartime campaign “Dig for Victory” – 80 years on.

Tuesday 21 April

We should have been in Cambodia today touring the breathtaking Khmer Temples of Angkor Wat.

Instead we have to settle for a guided tour on YouTube – the nearest we’re likely to get in a long time. Still, at least we aren’t troubled by the heat and the crowds.

Former Sky News presenter Jeremy Thompson in Angkor Wat in 1989
Image:Former Sky News presenter Jeremy Thompson in Angkor Wat in 1989

I tell Lynn the last time I was there as a working TV newsman with ITN 31 years ago, it was so humid that by the time I finished my piece to camera the sweat had turned my shirt from light to dark blue.

I produce a photo to prove it. Another visual treat. We get a live view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge lit up at night as we chat with our Aussie friends Pam and Andrew on the North Shore.

We learn that social distancing Down Under is only 1.5 metres – a full half metre less than the UK. Why? Andrew insists it’s because Aussies are more law-abiding.

Brits are space-invaders! They found themselves in one of the more ironic isolation scenarios. They’d been to get a flu jab from their local GP only to receive a call soon after informing them their doctor had just tested positive for COVID-19.

It cost them two weeks in quarantine. They spent the time checking on their doctor’s health rather than him checking on theirs.

From South Africa, we hear more about the plight of the millions with no work struggling to feed themselves because of the lockdown. My former Sky colleague Pearlie tells us she’s been helping to raise funds to take food parcels out to townships where families live in shacks with no breadwinners.

A team from Mama Afrika takes food parcels to shack-dwellers outside Cape Town
Image:A team from Mamma Afrika takes food parcels to shack-dwellers outside Cape Town

Her friend Mamma Afrika and her team of helpers deliver food that is literally keeping people alive. But as Pearlie says, in the long term: “It’s unsustainable. It’s an endless hunger pit.”

In the larger townships she says people are so desperate there’s looting and food riots.

A team from Mama Afrika takes food parcels to shack-dwellers outside Cape Town
Image:The food deliveries are helping keep people alive
Mama Afrika take food parcels to shack-dwellers outside Cape Town
Image:Food parcels lined up

Wednesday 22 April

Earth Day Walking round our local park, it strikes me it would make sense if we all went in the same direction.

Surely that would avoid risky corona crossings. Lynn thinks such conformity would take the fun out of our walks. Just in case there is a vote on it, I’m a clockwise man myself.

I receive the spring edition of Money and Wealth Magazine. More like the Lack of Money and Reduced Wealth Mag. My financial adviser friend appeals to me to add the word “temporarily”.

My new motto: Keep calm and carry on ignoring your investments – if you have any left.

Seriously the damage to the economy doesn’t bear thinking about. Pundits are predicting the Great Lockdown could be as bad as the Great Depression of 90 years ago.

And that was possibly the world’s worst economic recession. Financial analysts talk about long-term “scarring”. I reckon my savings could end up permanently disfigured.

Lucky I haven’t had to open my wallet for a month. Even the moths have flown. A mate in the airline industry tells me his company’s business model projects recovery in 12 to 18 months. Even that sounds optimistic. After all how do you manage social distancing on aircraft?

Two metres separation on a plane could mean using only one in three seats. Potentially that would treble ticket costs. Who’d fly at that price? Here’s a taste of our flying future.

A friend’s son flew Dubai to London recently and describes the service as more like Medivac than business class, “a worrying and very basic experience delivered by staff in virtual full Hazmat suits”, with temperature checks and health screening.

The passengers were placed in window seats only, with zero interaction. It could certainly take the fun out of flying. And cruising.

My pal in Australia reminds me that 30% of all COVID-19 deaths in his country came from the cruise ship Ruby Princess after it docked in Sydney and passengers showing virus symptoms were allowed to freely disembark.

Thursday 23 April

St George’s Day… We’re all grateful food shops have stayed open throughout.

But I was wondering how the supply chain is working. Paul, a big player in food retail, explains that food factories are operating well with strong social distancing rules in place. Two metre spacing, big Perspex barriers, upgraded hygiene, shortened shifts with no staff crossovers and zero tolerance of anyone showing symptoms.

Paul admits it has cut productivity and hit profits a bit. But at least they’re still going and people are still employed. He plans to share with the government so they can see how to safely open up businesses again.

More golf tales. Friends at our club in Spain say the course looks fabulous. Suffering from “lockdownitis”, they’re almost climbing over manicured hedges to get at it.

Greenkeepers have been tending to Los Arqueros golf course but no golfers are allowed
Image:Greenkeepers have been tending to Los Arqueros golf course but no golfers are allowed

In the meantime club members are making do exchanging crisis jokes, videos and giant jigsaw puzzles. I wonder if they’ll invent a handicap system for jigsaw players.

The manager of Al’s golf club in west London has kindly emailed his members a set of photos “so you can remind yourself how lovely our course looks”. How could he be so insensitive, taunting captive golfers with pictures of pristine, newly mown greens?

Even worse, our Danish golfing chum Ulrik, known to us all as Pete the Trousers (because of his lurid legwear) is posting Facebook photos of him actually playing at his local course near Copenhagen.

No shutdown in Scandinavia it seems. On his Cape Talk radio show, my old friend Kieno Kammies wants to know about my exercise and eating regime. I tell him I’m working out and cooking more than ever.

The result “I’m fitter and fatter than usual!” Not helped by the fact that all our mates want to web chat over cocktails. It’s a tough life under lockdown.

Friday 24 April

Hair is becoming a bit of an isolation issue. Or in my case more of a flyaway problem. My regular short cut has grown out into a wavy and fluffy thatch – not me at all.

Lynn tried to buy some hairdressing scissors at the local pharmacy. But stocks had been snaffled long ago. And she’s still rather reluctant to get stuck in with the garden shears. Not surprising when we check out others on recent web chats.

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Son James has been scalped by his older daughter Bella, who dabbles in the hair beauty business – a possible sideline to help fund her university studies.

My other son Adam is sporting a freshly cropped semi-crew cut courtesy of his wife, Fi. A decent effort.

My pal Al had a first attempt at trimming and ended up strimming himself into a patchy Punk-like pattern that left his wife falling about with laughter. He hasn’t dared cut the sides yet.

But this week’s king of shaves is Derek, whose trim ended up more like a trench, leaving only one option – cut off the lot. He’s now a shining example to all home hairdressers. You could call it the lock-less lockdown.

Still no rugby to watch. I check in with mate Mark Lambert, a stalwart Harlequins prop forward and chairman of the Rugby Players’ Association. He’s busy trying to keep the PRA’s 800 professional players informed about pay, play and prospects. The domestic game doesn’t make money. So they’re under no illusions.

Pro rugby may look very different post-Covid. “A lot of uncertainty and not a lot of clarity on the way forward,” Lamby tells me. “Going to be an interesting six months!”

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Is lockdown frustration setting in?

As if that isn’t enough, his wife gave birth to Rosie, their third child, only last week. Tony and Lynne, calling us from Greater Manchester, reckon there’ll be a British baby boom after this cosy confinement. They hear pregnancy kits round their way are selling almost as fast as face masks.

In fact, Tony admits he’s got a bun in the oven. Well, actually it was his first go at baking bread. How did it go Tony? I ask. “To be honest”, he tells me “My second loaf looked like something out of Quatermass”. (That’s for anyone who can remember that far back to TV’s first alien epic.)

You won’t be seeing him on Bake Off anytime soon.Saturday

Saturday 25 April

As the debate grows louder about when it’ll be safe for children to start returning to school, I hear more about the plight of Generation C. This is the tag for those young people whose lives will be shaped by coronavirus.

Nigel and Paul, two mates whose charity helps teenagers transition from school to work and fulfil their potential, tell me they’re seriously worried about Gen C’s future prospects.

Nigel explains that while some will be positively influenced by the crisis “for many more, this will be a brutal experience of uncertainty and loss.” He thinks it could damage their education and work opportunities like nothing we’ve seen before.

But here’s one positive note. A panel of experts from the grandly-named Institute for the Future predict that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. That suggests a very rapid pace of change and huge opportunities.

Sunday 26 April

Reading the Sunday papers online, makes me ponder how the news business, in which I spent my working life, will be impacted by the crisis.

While most of us are glued to the TV, consuming news like crazy, fewer are picking up a hard copy of a newspaper.

Some free sheets have collapsed, local papers are under massive pressure, ad sales are falling and more of us are reading our papers online.

By the end of all this, physical newspapers may be a rare commodity, like paper money. In contrast, broadcast news seems to be thriving.

Yet a new Sky survey shows a very low level of trust in journalists on the coronavirus issue. Just when we hoped the public’s thirst for knowledge might help to redress the balance between fake news and fair news.

After all, despite the conspiracists and scare-mongers out there, most people I talk to are looking for trustable facts – honest, accurate news, not mendacity. Truth is a powerful tool.

Good news from son Adam in Ho Chi Minh City. He’s allowed back to work at his office this week as Vietnam slowly opens up. He and Fi have been out to food shops for the first time in a month.

They even had a cheeky game of darts and a few pints at a pal’s bar. But only four of them were allowed in. Adam tells us they’re checked for COVID-19 symptoms with thermal scanners every time they enter a shop, an office or an apartment block.

It seems that’s one reason Vietnam has kept control, with not a single fatality.

Friends Olive and Bruce go the extra mile – or maybe half mile – in social-distancing today. Out cycling along the Thames towpath, they call us from the opposite bank to say hello. Not even Covid can jump that far.

What’s surprising me most is just how well the majority of our friends are coping with lockdown. A few are just resigned to it, but many tell me they’re really relishing this enforced break from normality, seeing it as a golden opportunity to take a breather, learn something new and reassess life’s priorities.

Sadly I’m sure the young don’t see it that way.


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