The Lockdown Diary – Day 11

Geneva, Thursday 26 March 2020


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Copyright: BBC

This is a still from the computer generated video that serves as the backdrop to the BBC’s “special report” on the COVID-19 pandemic. I guess it’s meant to lend credibility to the report. What are the other subliminal messages passed by hundreds of spinning-spikey red coronaviruses behind the presenter and experts? Maybe an asteroid-alien life form from somewhere out there that could collide with earth and attack the whole human population? Or how about viruses drifting menacingly through our body fluids? I am, for once, being serious. Sublims are very powerful and are specifically built into such images. Ask anyone in advertising. 

We are visually bombarded by a variety of images of this little pest that are, in reality, false. Is this important? Does propagating these images help or hinder our response to this monumental global emergency? Whatever, our decisions and actions now are major determinants of how our lives will eventually unfold; they should be driven by rational thought rather than fear. This means believing in the science. Scary subliminal messages apart, do we need false images amplifying the non-truths and barmy theories circulating about (and with!) this virus? Having a little time on my hands, I’ve dug into the provenance of these microbiological fakeries.

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Copyright: CDC Public Health Information Library/Dr. Fred Murphy

This is an image of four coronaviruses generated by transmission electron microscopy (TEM.) It shows the viral case (the virion) and the viral spikes (the peplomers) that form the crown or halo (the corona.) This is the only possible scientific image of the coronavirus. Thanks, Dr Fred! Note that TEM cannot generate 3D images. There is no colour. Here’s some techy stuff. Transmitted electron energy has a wavelength of one nanometre. The coronavirus has a diameter of about 120 nanometres. Visual light has a wavelength of 400 to 700 nanometers depending on its colour. These figures explain why the virus cannot be detected by visual light and therefore cannot have colour. So there!

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Copyright: New Scientist (no mention of Dr Fred!)

The New Scientist….. A coloured-in version of Dr Fred’s viruses! Can you believe it? I fear a bring-the-kids-to-work day resulted in a sub-editor’s little Meghan taking felt-tip pens to some paper plucked from the recycling bin. “Look, Daddy!” Meghan cries. “Ooh! That’s lovely, Darling! Well done!” he gushes. “Actually, that’s pretty cool. Give it to Daddy. He’s just going to nip out and show it to his best friend.” 

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Copyright: The Royal College of Pathologists

It looks like a similar incident happened at the Royal College of Pathologists although the colouring-in is a tad more sophisticated.

But where do the 3D images come from?

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Copyright on model: CDC Public Health Information Library / Alissa Eckert, Dan Higgins

Ms Eckert and Mr Higgins built this model for educational purposes. It extrapolates from the TEM 2D image of the virus with its corona to its likely morphology including spikey peplomers covering the entire surface of the virion. Eckert and Higgins have, independent of little Meghan, unwittingly spawned a number of monsters that have been hand-reared by the fertile imagination of graphic designers. Let’s take a look at some of these monsters and the subliminal messages that might be lurking within. 

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Copyright unknown (although we’ve tried to find it.) If the graphic designer responsible would like to contact us we can remove this image or make a donation to his or her favourite charity.)

What about this Star Trek inspired scene in which the viruses float over the surface of a distant world? But… that could be human skin about to be attacked. O. M. G.!

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Copyright: Getty Images

I’m fascinated by this gloopy bug floating in the void. The pemploners are now protruding suction pads ready to clamp onto us and suck away our life blood. Oh! Yuch! That’s disgusting!

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Copyright: Réformes.ch

The green hues and the double helix DNA together give the notion that this virus is a natural phenomenon. Fair enough! But the coronavirus is a single strand RNA virus; it does not contain DNA. Mistake? No, that is our DNA. Note viruses sitting on it. Eek! The virus targets the very core of our being! Call an ambulance! 

If we’re going to bash the scientific drum, let’s do so in all aspects of communication about the coronavirus. I’d really like to know if I’m the only person bothered by these misleading images.

Putting competition: Robin wins 2 and 1. That makes it 6 to 4 for the ten days in lockdown.

Coronavirus husband comes home late, drunk and amorous yet again. “Yup! You’d better believe it, Babes, I am the lowest form of life!”

The Lockdown Diary – Day 10

Geneva, Wednesday 25 March 2020


My wife works in the domain of quality assurance in something to do with software development. Heady stuff. Having my very own IT consultant is just fine and dandy; having her at home all day is finer and dandier. 

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“Have a nice day! Cycle carefully!” I quip. We start the day with a smile. She’s going nowhere. After more than a week of lockdown she’s concluded that this period of enforced teleworking has many advantages. They include:

– going to work with bed hair and without make-up (must be a girl thing;)
– not arriving at office with bike helmet hair;
– morning commute is walk from kitchen to dining table;
– spending all day in slippers;
– husband making lunch;
– lunch on balcony followed by putting competition (and winning sometimes) followed by pilates;
– being brought cup of tea and digestive biscuits during a conference call;
– taking catnap (if required) during coffee break;
– evening commute is walk from dining table to sofa recently vacated by husband who has gone to cook dinner.

“OK” I ask from the sofa where I am writing this blog. “What don’t you like about it?” She pauses a moment “Not much…. except looking at you sprawled out on the sofa in your pyjamas.”

For me it’s fascinating to hear her interact with colleagues. Her professional voice is largely unfamiliar to me. It has a no-nonsene tone. It is friendly and firm but polite. At home, she uses this voice only for two questions. “Did you save it?” and “Have you tried switching it off and back on again?”

Of the different books that provide a platform for her laptop, I recommend “The Lost Art of Putting” by Gary Nichol and Karl Morris. The authors cast light into the dark corners of putting’s mental game. It is entirely down to this book that I have today edged ahead in our daily competition; 5 to 4. A stunning victory; 3 and 1. Stats: me 17/17 (100%), her 14/17 (82%.)

These are times to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. French joke… Question: What do you call a meal without wine? Answer: Breakfast.

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%).