Robin

About Robin

Occasional painter. Golfer. Fascinated by humanity. Passionate about beautiful stuff, the people who create it and its narrative.

The Lockdown Diary – Day 9

Geneva, Tuesday 24 March 2020


Thinking today of – and dedicating this post to – all New Zealanders. Two reasons: first, they have all just gone into lockdown that includes a ban on going into their great outdoors; second, a much loved niece from UK on holiday out there with a friend have been caught in the lockdown. Unable to return home, they needed a place to self-isolate for however long it takes. Faithful buddies came up donalds. Thank you! 

I’ve taken a month out there each year for thirty years. I’ve always found the kiwis a very happy, friendly and resourceful bunch. Hardy too; they wear shorts come rain or snow. I once met a couple of hunters on a mountain track who, because of some atrocious weather, had been stuck in a small hut for three days. They told me they had been “givin’ the tea bags heaps!” What a great phrase to denote the staving off of boredom. (Difficult to translate: something like “On a sérieusement harcelé les sachets de thé!”) And now here at home these days, we too are giving the tea bags heaps.

New Zealand culture is deeply spiritual. Or so I was once told. I naïvely asked what the dominant faith was. “Rugby, mate!” Silly me. Of course… How could I forget the haka?

So it’s 2007. I am pursuing two of my favourite pastimes. Giving some large trout heaps and painting… big and freestyle. So here is the making of “All Black.” It was later stolen from a gallery in Geneva. Very flattering! If you’re not interested in the technical process, just lap up the views of the wonderful South Island. 

So…. Find nice river. Park battered old camper van. Take out canvas and acrylic painting kit. Apply pink / umber base layer. Leave to dry whilst giving the trout heaps.

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Return to van. Find suitable fern. Cover with paint. 

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Use thrash technique. Leave to dry. Wonder where this might go. Reflect on fern pattern resembling Maori tattoos and, whilst giving the trout heaps again, realise that this is probably not coincidence. On returning to van, notice possible emergence of rippling tattooed thighs. Roll up canvas. Move on to another hidden riverside camp spot. 

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Unroll canvas. Think “All Black.” Find suitable fern. Cover with paint.

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Apply black paint with very large human in mind. Leave to dry. Give the trout heaps yet again. Roll up canvas. Move to most secret lakeside spot.

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Unroll canvas. Realise need for big angry sticky-out haka tongue. Find suitable fern. Cover with paint. Apply in mouth area.

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Add eyes, ball and big muddy hand fending off the English… or the French… or the Aussies. Leave to dry over convenient shrub. Give trout still more heaps yet again.

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Roll up canvas for long flight back to Geneva. Get canvas stretched up. Ask Peter Hobden to take photo. 

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Move “All Black” to swish gallery. Forget to insure it. Give gallery owner heaps.

Todays putting competition…. The match is square! 4-4. I won 4 and 2. Stats: me 16/16 (100%); the GG – unusually -12/16 (75%).

The Lockdown Diary – Day 8

Geneva, Monday 23 March 2020

I promise to be more upbeat today. Yesterday’s post was a bit glumpsom. It was posted before the evening’s public applause that was, as always, uplifting and gets longer, louder and more inventive by the day. (Can anyone tell us how the equivalent for the UK’s NHS is going?) The highlight was the noise generated by our young neighbours who are music students. We heard this burping sound that sort of belched out a sort of tune; “Sweet Caroline” maybe. Francesco and Marianna had actually manufactured bagpipes from two PVC tubes and a beach ball. Brilliant! 

A trip to the Coop this morning was wonderfully uneventful. There was great music to get us hoofin’ around the aisles. This morning’s blast-from-the-past was Cindi Lauper’s “Girls just wanna have fun.” When I got home, there were two pigeons on our balcony having sex. I thought “Attagirl, just have some fun!” Although the flappy-feathery cloacal contact did seem a bit brief.

We decided that over the days we would undertake a deep clean of the apartment. We have discovered what many will already know. It’s hard work! Indeed, it is very good exercise especially mopping the floor. There are websites galore that promote using domestic chores as exercise. But one bit of science in this domain caught my eye. Harvard researchers Alia Crum and Ellen Langer (1) set out to test how we perceive our activities and how this perception can change the outcomes. Specifically, they wanted to test different perceptions of household work as exercise on weight loss. They looked at hotel housekeepers who are generally very active throughout the day. However, 67% of the maids claimed they never took any exercise at all. Measurements of their body fat, waist-to-hip ratio and body/mass index indicated outcomes similar to their perceptions that they tended to be overweight and out-of-shape. The researchers divided the 84 housekeepers into two groups. One group was told how much their daily activities count as exercise; specifically, how many calories were burned for each type of activity they do. The other group received no information and served as the control. The maids were then measured one month later. Those who were told their work counted as exercise lost body fat, body weight, and had better waist-to-hip ratios. Indicators of blood pressure were also improved. Fascinating!

I have a lockdown challenge that might keep you amused for all of two minutes. It’s called the one-letter-film-title-change-game. The rules: take a film title and change, remove or add one letter. You can then have a little chuckle about an imagined fusion of the original movie with it’s new title.

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Here’s a few we came up with this morning. “The Jam Busters.” “Barman and Robin.” (Ha!) “Shaving Private Ryan.” “None Flew Over the Cockoo’s Nest.” “Paws.” “Breaking Bald.” “The Mild Bunch.” “Oldfinger.” And for motorcycle enthusiasts in New Zealand “The World’s Fattest Indian.” Go on, give it a go!

Today’s putting match: She wins 1 Up. Stats: Her 18/18 (100%); Him 17/18 (94%.) Overall matches: Golfing Goddess 4; the Mere Mortal 3.


Reference 1. Crum, Alia J., and Ellen J. Langer. 2007. Mind-set matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Science 18, no. 2: 165-171.

The Lockdown Diary – Day 7

Geneva, Sunday 22 March 2020


Meet the lady against whom I marshall my putting skills on our balcony every day. 

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This was on our honeymoon in 2013 at Jack’s Point Golf Club in New Zealand’s South Island (one of the all-time great courses!) Happy memories! Sadly, we have had to cancel our flights for Australia and New Zealand; we were due to depart this week. “Oh, well” we said yesterday “We’ll go in December.” Will we? I’d like to think everything would be “back to normal” by then but I’m not so sure. I’m not a pessimist by nature but someone wiser than me once said that a pessimist is simply an optimist with considerable experience.

The news gets worse still. Rocketing infection and death rates. More countries affected (160+.) More lockdowns. Optimism is, like toilet paper in a supermarket, difficult to keep in regular supply. Furthermore, two camps seem to be forming on social media. One says “Prevent spread. Self isolate. Do social distancing. Wash hands. Flatten the curve. Protect health care services from overload. The social and economic costs simply have be borne.” The other camp says “We should just carry on with our daily business. Measures to prevent spread are not effective. Spread is inevitable and anyway the mortality is very low. The social and economic costs for enforcing the lockdown are simply too high.” This second camp is readily joined by those in denial and those who simply don’t give a damn. Both camps claim the evidence or lack thereof supports their views. I rarely feel sorry for politicians, but whether or not we take measures and how they are or are not enforced are ultimately political decisions and very difficult political decisions at that. Where do I stand? In the first camp obviously. This is epidemiology. (And after all, what else would I blog about?) However, I wouldn’t be surprised if, after a couple of weeks, the political forces align themselves with the opinions of the second camp whilst assuring us all of stringent measures to isolate those most vulnerable to serious infection. We’ll see.

Thanks to the hundreds who have taken time to read the Lockdown Diary this last week. I’m really encouraged by people’s response. I’ve had news from many old friends. Whatever your situation, I hope the lockdown is bearable. Let us know your thoughts. Big man-hug to you all.

Today’s putting match: a hard-won victory in a cold north wind. All square after 18 holes. I win on the first play-off hole. Stats: me 18/19 (95%); my other half 17/19 (89%).

The Lockdown Diary – Day 6

Geneva, Saturday 21 March 2020


Yesterday evening, we watched on-line the unusual spectacle of the Swiss parliament – all seated well apart – announcing the new legally-enforceable social distancing measures. Maximum group size in a public place is five people and they must be at least two meters apart. The police can issue a fine of 100 Swiss Francs (about 95 Euros) on the spot. Serious stuff! What’s more, the lockdown is to last at least until April 19. 

This morning I woke at 06.00. I stood on our balcony. Another beautiful, quiet and clear morning with a fine view of the mountains. An extraordinary dawn chorus of at least a dozen different birds. A woodpecker rattled a branch of a nearby tree. I swear the air is cleaner and sweeter. What awaits us at the end of this crisis? I wonder if we will reflect just a bit more about the risk of unlimited international air travel. I wonder if humans might find a better way to interact with the natural world. I wonder if we might be able to generate a healthier and more resilient nexus of government, business, the general population and the environment. I am reminded of the challenge thrown down by Greta Thunberg when laying into the nations of the United Nations last year: She asserted “You cannot continue to propagate the fairytale of everlasting economic growth.” I felt that many of our leaders might have been sympathetic to her view and would have been happy to have guidance as to first steps. Perhaps Greta should have pulled on a T shirt emblazoned with the words “Mother Nature” and said “Here’s a viral pandemic; that’ll give you some pointers!”

I’d like to believe the lockdown is nevertheless an opportunity to expand horizons. Whilst enjoying our tea and toast breakfast, two overripe bananas sat in the fruit bowl and begged to be made into a banana cake. New territory! Internet recipe. A hint of cinnamon. It smelled truly delicious as it came out of the oven. Bit of an issue turning it out of the baking tin! Clearly, those new horizons include baking paper.

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I look forward to the neighbourhood applause at 21.00 this evening. It is coming to mean appreciation for anyone who is still working to support the populace whether police, refuse collectors or supermarket workers. The applause has also expanded to include bashing a saucepan with a wooden spoon; at least on my part. I wonder if, after all this, we will have to reappraise the importance we give to our digital community in relation to the immediate and real community where we live.

Today’s putting match: eighteen putts each at 2.2 metres. So exciting!! All square after 18 holes. I win on the fifth play-off hole. Stats: me 20/23 (87%); wife 19/23 (83%). Ha!

In these difficult times, I take comfort in the words of the German philosopher Porkus von Munchkin: “Everything has an end. Except a sausage; it has two ends!” He was a clever man. He invented the umbrella. He wanted to call it the “brella” but when asked the name of his invention he hesitated. 

The Lockdown Diary – Day 5

Geneva, Friday 20 March 2020


I’m not sure I do much faith these days except in evidence i.e., science. But the other two of the trilogy, namely hope and love (ref. First Book of Corinthians, 13) are fine by me. This morning, I read what the poet Seamus Heaney has said about hope in the time of Covid-19: “Hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well, but something rooted in the conviction that there is good worth working for.” Top bloke! And here’s a little bit of love to you all…

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It is 12.30. Just as I take this photo on our balcony (on the putting mat!) the whole neighbourhood once again erupts into applause. I LOVE it! What an extraordinary heart-warming feeling of solidarity it brings (albeit eight and a half hours early today.)

Now about the science…. I was thinking. The number of cases per country is what we all – including politicians and the media – are hung up on. But wouldn’t it make sense to bring in what epidemiologists call the denominator? In this case the denominator would be the total population of the countries concerned. So if I divide the number of cases per country (source: Johns Hopkins) by the population of that country (source: WorldFacts citing CIA data,) I come up with a different and maybe more meaningful figure – the proportion of the population affected – for the current top ten countries. This changes the ranking to: Italy 0.07%, Switzerland 0.05%, Spain 0.04%, France 0.02%, Germany 0.02%, South Korea 0.02%, Iran 0.02%, China 0.006%, UK 0.004%, USA 0.004%. As a Brit living in Switzerland this piques my interest somewhat.

Being prepared for a national catastrophe is in the Swiss DNA. They are very good at it. They are conditioned from an early age to pull together in an orderly fashion. If rules are made, then rules are respected. This morning, I went to the Coop. I arrived at 08.30. I was shocked (and I mean shocked and rather frightened) to see a queue of 200 metres winding back from the doors. I presumed this meant that the place was already jammed with frenzied shoppers brawling over remaining packets of bircher-muesli. But then I realised just how organised everything was. We all waited quietly two metres apart. Anyone that went straight to the door not realising us regularly-spaced dudes did in fact constitute a queue were politely asked to go to the back. No fuss. As people came out, those at the head of the queue were let in. The whole entry process was controlled by the most polite of man-mountains. This guy was a Matterhorn with arms and legs. I figured as a baby he’d been breast fed fondu. And he was on the ball. To be sure, the Swiss would never leave such an important job to the pimply work experience lad. I noticed adaptation; the nice lady who normally sells and, if you want, gift-wraps the flowers with a smile was busily cleaning the handles of the trolleys with disinfectant. By observing what people coming out had in their trolleys and bags, I judged that within there was an ample supply of toilet paper. Yay! 

When, after 40 minutes, my turn to enter came, the first thing I saw was a hand sanitiser set-up which everyone was using. And after that, laid out before me was a calm, fully stocked supermarket; something I will never take for granted again. I was able to buy everything on my list. Impeccable! Bravo, Coop! Now, not that I want to go on about the bizarre phenomenon of buying toilet paper in bulk at such a time, but I found myself looking at a palette full of the stuff. My co-shoppers could and did help themselves. It occurred to me that maybe all these nice, ordinary and reasonable folk knew something that I did not. And so I bought a modest little pack of twelve rolls. Forgive me!

Today’s putting match: All square after eighteen putts each. Madame won on the second play-off hole. Her stats at 2.2 metres – 16/20 (80%); mine – 15/20 /75%).