The COVID Chronicles – 1

Geneva, 25 October, 2020


In the Lockdown Diary on 11 May I said “today will be the last post of the Diary… at least for the time being!” It was clear that the end of the lockdown did not equate with the end of the pandemic. Even then, experts’ long-term predictions included living with “a series of stop-start measures.” That’s where we are now with many countries currently reporting case numbers higher than when we went into lockdown in mid-March.

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I came across this graph the other day. Note the little blip in the 14th century resulting from 200 million deaths from the Black Death in Europe. (Given the difficulties we have today establishing the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths one wonders……) Whatever, us humans have done pretty well. The boom in total carbon mass of our species would have been impossible if we had simply continued as hunter-gatherers. According to one bioboffin I heard on the radio, we can only have achieved this population boom through burning fossil carbon. In other words, we have effectively utilised carbon from the ground to power agriculture, industry and transport and, over a few thousand years, enabled ourselves to produce and move increasing amounts of edible carbon to the extent that there are so many of us we have taken over most of the planet. This has required and further nourished the potential for our outsized brains to innovate. We have come up with the likes of the Haber-Bosch process (whereby atmospheric nitrogen can be converted into fertiliser) and so can now feed billions more people. Of course, the great human story also tells of combating disease, developing the means to live in security and learning that it’s better to trade with our neighbours than to fight them (that took us some time to figure out!) Wowzers! A biological view of homo sapiens’ existence is pretty amazing. But can we really just carry on like this? If we insist on living in increasingly big cities, enjoying mass gatherings and gadding around the globe in aluminium tubes with wings, is it any surprise that a highly transmissible little single-stranded RNA respiratory virus could run us into the ground? 

Our governments are juggling the statistics and desperately struggling with that big trade-off between suppressing the transmission of the virus and maintaining their nations’ social and economic well-being. Little surprise then that COVID-19 dominates the news. Opinions, statements, policies and practices have ranged from impressive to ineffective to laughable to knee-tremblingly pathetic to downright outrageous. It is all too awful. There’s only one thing I can do to avoid the screaming ab-dabs or curling up on the sofa in the foetal position with thumb in mouth……. Welcome to the first of the COVID Chronicles.

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Photo: AP / Alex Brandon

Inevitably and not unreasonably, the fickle needle of a global media on COVID overload swings again and again towards one man, Donald Trump. Furthermore, a bitterly contested US election draws nigh. One main issue of course…. the (mis)management of the COVID pandemic. And just when you thought the political circus over there resembled a pie-throwing class at clown school, the Commander in Cheat conflobulates the whole blabberpshere by having the misfortune – or political cunning – to report that he tested positive for the disease. His extraordinarily rapid recovery – celebrated by him tearing off his mask in public – only proved that he is a man of steel constitution and a natural leader in the fight against all things evil and Chinese. We will know in a matter of days whether this sniffle gains him more than a vote or two. I fear it will. 

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Photo: ABC News

We’re familiar with images of hungry-for-visibility political wannabees standing in the background when the President makes an important statement. But why would a senior doctor drag his colleagues out of hospital – still in scrubs and unrecognisable anyway in masks – to back him up when he gives waiting journalists some inconsistent snippets of medical non-news about Mr Trump’s condition? Does having what look like medi-thugs on hand add veracity to your message? Ducked if I know!

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Photo: Donald (the other one)

Masks have crashed into every aspect of our lives. They make for ubiquitous litter and are now a major source of pollution of our waterways. To wear or not to wear has become a massive political issue. Wearing has become an emblem of the responsible COVID-aware citizen. Not wearing has become a statement of a personal philosophy that says “I don’t care!” or “Don’t mess with me!” Commercial flights have been grounded because one passenger refuses to wear a mask. The need for hand washing, that central pillar of public health, that was repeated and repeated at the beginning of the pandemic barely gets a mention now. 

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Photo: Guardian

Ironic photos aside, I hate the whole mask thing. (I comply though.) Above all, I want to see strangers faces when I deal with them; and I want to shake their hands. And I hate my regular pocket-tangle of those elastic ear-loops, door keys and glasses. To lift our socially distanced spirits, my wife and I decided to go out for a fine dining experience here in town. True, the food was fantastic….. But monkfish carpaccio with a lime and almond oil drizzle followed by venison dauphinoise just don’t get the taste buds fizzing as they oughta when served by people in masks and, worse, rubber gloves; forensic examiners come to mind at just the wrong moment. I guess I have to accept that this is all part of the “new normal.” 

We have been able to play golf since the lockdown. There are of course, strict social distancing measures in place around the club house. At the stellar level, the main professional golf tours in the US and Europe seem to be particularly well organised with regular COVID-19 testing of players, their caddies and tournament officials all of whom move in a bubble from one tournament venue to another. There are no spectators on the courses but the TV coverage is exceptional. All golfers keenly await Tiger Woods’s upcoming defence of his US Masters title at the re-scheduled iconic event in Augusta, Georgia. Personally, I’d like to see Rory McIlroy claim this title. The friendly rivalry of these two stars goes back a few years. 

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Photo: Getty Images

Hoping you are all well and as happy as possible under whatever COVID measures you are obliged to suffer. Part 2 of the COVID Chronicles will be published next week.

The Lockdown Diary – Compendium

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Copyright: Getty Images

Today would have been something like day 147 for the Lockdown Diary had the lockdown here in Geneva persisted. A reminder…. from India came one of the many totally bizarre but telling images to emerge from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just because some of us are now able to get out and about, it doesn’t mean that this pandemic is done and dusted. The recent rise in the number of cases is not a second wave; we have just – in some parts of the world – managed to put a dent in the massive first wave. We are still caught in the dilemma of an effective and responsible public health response (including protection of health-care systems and heroic workers) on one hand and limiting the damage to our economy, lifestyles and society on the other. It looks like that damage will prove to be severe and long lasting whatever we do in the near future. In the meantime, we twiddle our thumbs waiting for a O-so-hoped-for vaccine. At a personal level, I want to shake hands with people I meet. I want to hug my friends. I hate the whole mask thing.

The statistics remain central to everything we know and do about the pandemic and yet they are variably reliable, inaccurately reported and grotesquely politicised. This embattled optimist is not excluding a further period of lockdown. Many readers have asked if there is one place where all 57 days from 16 March to 11 May 2020 can be accessed easily. Here it is! BTW… the two most popular posts by far were those about my brother Garth (Day 26) and my friend Alastair (Day 33).

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6
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Day 19Day 20Day 21Day 22Day 23Day 24
Day 25Day 26Day 27Day 28Day 29Day 30
No postDay 32Day 33Day 34Day 35Day 36
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Dry stone sculptures on Bohus-Malmön, Sweden

Home for a summer break. I head for the wonderful island of Bohus-Malmön with some of my oldest friends. We chat. We swim. We have a BBQ. We drink a few beers. We laugh a lot. Could it get better than this? Well, yes. It could and it does.

Dry stone sculpture 1

Day two finds us chilling on the rocky shoreline. A flattish pile of angular stones catches our eyes; maybe someone has built a sort of seaside cairn. We take a closer look. Holy moly! Check this out, guys! It’s a rocky crocky! It’s not just a pile of rocks arranged to vaguely resemble a massive reptile. The unknown person has spent quite some time and effort making this snapper and clearly has an eye for reptile anatomy. It really is quite crocodiley. I love the angular pebbles that have become those glinting predatorial eyes. I feel fascination for this work and admiration for its creator in equal measure.  

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The permanent population of Bohus-Malmön is around 250. Someone must know whose deft hand has pulled these rocks together. I drop a line in a Facebook group. Willy Ociansson tells me that there are some similar and much older dry stone sculptures on the far side of the island and shares some of his own photos (thank you, Willy!).

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Another crocodile! This one has lichen on it. It must be older. It’s mouth is open.

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A giant python with forked stick-tongue. It’s almost smiling. It looks like it has been here for years.

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The real treasure though is – for want of a better term – a technically challenging Goldsworthy arch sitting right next to a mini green Stone Henge. There is something really exciting in discovering these stone sculptures. The atmosphere is mystical and mysterious. It’s a little bit spooky. I feel some pagan ritual is about to start up any time soon. I imagine this is what it must be like to discover some cave paintings. 

Who did this? When? But most importantly, why? Is there anybody out there that knows?

Manuka tie decay… hanging by a thread!

Remember the story of the decaying ties in New Zealand? I left three specimens of executive neckwear exposed in a Manuka stand by a little known creek in 2009. This is how they started.

Tie 1

It was fun visiting them over the years. A friend (thanks, Anna) sent me a photo of them now. They’re just about hanging’ in there; they seem about to merge completely with the natural world. Take a look at them now.

Tie 5