Geneva, Thursday 19 March 2020
I can’t escape a feeling of being caught in a bizarre dream. The news about the pandemic gets worse. Whole countries in lockdown. And yet we can sit on our balcony in perfect quiet (bar birdsong.) It is 21 degrees. Clear blue sky. Nice lunch à deux. I find it difficult to stay connected to the reality of the situation. I know others feel the same.
I am fascinated by reports of how the massive global slowing of human activity has already brought about environmental change. Jet-stream generated clouds are non-existent. Satellite detectable markers for pollution have disappeared over much of China and Northern Italy. The waters of Venice are clear now for the first time in living memory; people can see fish! I wonder if this crisis might ultimately generate a series of new bench marks by which economic well-being can be measured against its ecological impact.
We went to the supermarket this morning. The Swiss clearly don’t do panic buying or at least not in the frenzy we’ve seen in other countries. One exception…. you’ve guessed it: toilet paper. It’s a difficult one to explain. I can understand that in a state of emergency – as declared by Switzerland two days ago – people stock up on pasta, rice, tinned food and soap. But toilet paper, as far as I know, has never been an essential for survival. And surely you don’t need that much. Do you? I mean, for ladies, one square for number ones and, for all of us, two squares for number twos. Anyway, I have a theory for the phenomenon of panic buying toilet rolls. It’s all because of the world wide web.
Before I elaborate on this theory, I would like to establish my credentials in this domain. I went to an all-boy school in England. The source of most humour and indeed a number of emergencies was firmly based in poo, bums or toilets. My boyhood fascination for the most basic workings of the human body was only amplified in adult life when I found myself working as surgical registrar at a colo-rectal clinic in central London. (And didn’t we see some stuff there?!) I am therefore firm in the belief that I can speak to the matter of people’s dependence on toilet paper with considerable authority. So… we used to buy newspapers. Most households would have several copies of old editions lying around. Now, we get our news and most other information via the web and so have no emergency back-up for when we might run out of toilet paper. Indeed, I have stayed in a mountain hut in remotest New Zealand and found the “long drop” (as the kiwis call their conveniences) equipped with carefully torn – and quite effective – squares of newsprint hanging on a rusty nail. So that’s my theory: in the modern world, there’s no alternative to toilet paper therefore we are terrified of running out of it so we have to buy tons of it. The only publications we might have going spare in any quantity these days are luxurious fashion magazines. OK…. I now what you’re thinking: that glossy paper, well…… it’s not really up to the job…. if you know what I mean.
On a more serious matter: today’s putting competition (matchplay format over 18 holes): Wife beats husband 4 and 3. (She holed 100% puts from 2.2 metres.)