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 23

Geneva, Tuesday 7 April 2020


The news gets no less bizarre. The UK’s Prime Minister is in intensive care with COVID-19. Most regrettably, less than twenty-four hours beforehand, we publicly named our new and petulant sourdough starter “Boris.” O Dear! We hope this causes no offence. We join many others in wishing Mr Johnson – and indeed all those hospitalised by this virus – a speedy recovery.

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Copyright: Getty Images

Also yesterday, a Malayan tiger called Nadia in a zoo in New York showed symptoms of and tested positive for infection by the coronavirus. It is believed she caught the infection from an asymptomatic zoo-keeper making this the first proven human to animal transmission.

Whilst noting advice on-line not to get too absorbed by stats, I can’t help looking at the Johns Hopkins site. It informs me that new cases per day in Switzerland have levelled off. Are Italy, France and Spain doing likewise? The stock markets seem to be reacting favourably. We can but hope.

At a local level, the 21:00 stay-home party of the residents of the apartment block on the other side of the park is louder than ever. It draws a small but near-illegal crowd out on to the car-less street. We can hear that the inhabitants of other buildings are now likewise rockin’ the town. Bella Ciao! 

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I jog around the park early most mornings. I noticed today that my fellow joggers have worn a new track two metres from and parallel to the main path maintaining the required distance from walkers. Respect! 

Here’s my latest lockdown painting. Inspired by other spring-time happenings on our balcony, this is “Pigeon love!” Blue for Boys Are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy;) Pink for Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! (Cindy Lauper.) Room for improvement, I know, but this diary is a bit of a soul-baring exercise. 

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Pigeon Love 35cm x 35cm Neocolour and watercolour mix

We missed our putting competition yesterday. Its resumption today saw a total loss of putting mojo on my part. I lost 5 and 4 missing 7 of 14 putts. That’s 11 games to 6 in my favour; but I’m not sure for how much longer I’ll stay ahead.

Us humans, having such a short attention span, have understandably been distracted away from the other great challenge facing us all, climate change. The Geneva winter has passed without a single flake of snow in town; this is a first. Also unprecedented, we played golf in nearby France throughout the whole of January and February. Now in lockdown, during this first week of April, it is warm enough to have dinner on our balcony; this also has never happened before.

Looks like the future is not what it used to be!

The Lockdown Diary – Day 22

Geneva, Monday 6 April 2020


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She had invited her boss to dinner. He, his CEO. The invitation list included high-flying partners and a scattering of supposedly brilliant personalities. It had to go well. They had decided on Beef Wellington as a nod to their British mettle. And for entrée? Something that made manifest their eclectic and cultured tastes despite the Brexit they had voted for. Snails? Oui! Escargots!

With elegant ease he tied his bow-tie. She put the finishing touches to her eye make-up. “Darling, are the snails still in the fridge?” she enquired. “The snails? I don’t know. You were going to order them!” Piercing exchange of eye-daggers as the awful truth sets in. Pas d’escargots! A snail-free soirée loomed. Merde!

“Listen,” she said, flustered, “Just go down to the riverside and grab snails, any old snails. They won’t know the difference. They’re English after all.” Feeling that it wasn’t really his fault, he put aside this minor injustice and complied. He pulled on his wellies, grabbed a bucket from the kitchen cupboard and headed off into the fading light.

His bucket was half full when a young lady came past on a bicycle. Intrigued by a man sporting at once dinner suit and wellies, she stopped to ask him what he was doing. Noticing that she was really a most attractive woman, he fired up his most winning smile and gabbled something about gastropods. She giggled. His heart melted. “Well,” she said “I live in that cottage down there. If, when you have filled your bucket, (another giggle) why don’t you come in and have a glass of wine?”

It is no coincidence that the last rather common little snail dropped into the bucket just as he found himself before the goddess’s cozy little home. He knocked on the door. She opened it having changed into something very, very comfortable indeed. He gaped like a netted cod. She offered him a glass of cool crisp Sancerre that he downed in one mesmerized gulp. “Another glass? Well, why not? Hmm… delicious! But I must head off soon. Ah… well…. I’m sure I can help you finish the bottle. Really, I must get going. Ooh, you’ve got another bottle. Smashing! I must buy a case of this. Champagne? Pomerol! Abso-bloody-lutely! Bring it on, Babes!” It can be of little surprise that, after chanting “Amo, Amas, Amat it again!” midnight found our sozzled hero making sozzled love to his sozzled hostess.

The sun rose over the cottage and its first few rays shone through a gap in the curtains. He woke. He surveyed the passion-crumpled bed with Her Loveliness not yet awake. Despite a sand-paper tongue, he felt total serenity and joy for a second or two and then blind, gut-wrenching panic took over when reality hit a home run. He kissed the dozing beauty, pulled on his clothes, rapidly retied his tie, leapt into his wellies and sprinted out  grabbing the bucket on passing. At least the slippery little suckers were still alive and well!

He raced up the path to his front door. He tripped. The bucket fell to earth scattering its contents over and around the door step. He was face down, arms spread and groaning when his wife – never far from eruption at the best of times – opened the door trembling with rage. “Good morning!” said Vesuvia with a rock-splitting edge to her voice. “I trust you have a very, very, very good excuse for this.” He looked up at her. He looked down. He looked up at her again. He looked around at the snails who, in their newfound freedom, had started to slither hither and thither and in his most whiny voice he pleaded “Come on, babies! We’re nearly there! Daddy wants us all home soon!”

Blogger’s note: Looking for a connection between this story and the COVID-19 lockdown might prove a disappointing exercise.

The Lockdown Diary – Day 21

Geneva, Sunday 5 April 2020


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One year ago to the day, we were at the summit of the magnificent Greenstone-Caples track in New Zealand’s South Island. Who would have thought…..

We’re now three weeks into the lockdown. European countries may be reaching the peak of their slice of the pandemic. If so, I imagine we’ve got at least another three weeks to go. It will be longer before we can cross the border into France. Longer – maybe much longer – before we can take a flight. 

Yesterday we saw a couple sitting on the grass in the park; they were not two metres apart. Two policemen politely checked they resided at the same address.

The evening clapping at 21:00 has transformed into a more riotous noise and lasts longer. There’s whistling, singing, rock music, trumpets, the bashing of pans and of course home-made bagpipes. The spirit has changed from a heartfelt outpouring of appreciation for essential workers to the whole community showing solidarity and a determination to see this thing through. 

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This morning, the kitchen was all a-clatter. Brunch was a wonderful surprise: chorizo, feta and egg shakshuka with, as centre piece, a loaf of home-made ciabatta bread. 

Domestic life has changed radically. We try to keep busy but moments of idleness are deliciously guilt-free. Obviously, with being here all the time, there’s more cleaning, cooking, washing and dishes to do. There’s more refuse to go out. Rarely opened cupboards have their contents scrutinised and thinned out. Keeping the apartment tidy is an ongoing and circular process.

The kitchen has a new sourdough starter on the go called “Boris.” (For non-bread makers, setting off on this traditional approach to dough really is like keeping an unruly puppy in a jar; it has to be fed, watered and relieved of its excrement!) I noticed early this morning as I took my tea onto the balcony that my wife has planted rocket, sweet peas, chives and chilli seeds in pots that would all normally hold flowers. On the second day of lockdown, we subscribed to Netflix. Being newbies, we have come late to and enjoy the fast and tense Spanish production “Money Heist.” Guess what the good-bad guys theme song is….  Bella, Ciao!

Another victory on the putting matt. I won 2 and 1. (Stats: He 15/17 – 88%; She 13/17 – 76%) That’s now 11 games to 5.

Hoping you are all well and safe.

The Lockdown Diary – Day 20

Geneva, Saturday 4 April 2020


Here’s some reason for hope. The number of new COVID-19 cases per day in Switzerland seems to have levelled off. 

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COVID-19 cases per day: Switzerland (Source, Johns Hopkins)

However, it’s too early to say for most other European countries and, regrettably, the USA is still booming upwards in its position as the third “epicentre.”

I believe the figures generated by Johns Hopkins. Most people do. But even though public health science and medicine are believed in and are generally trusted, there’s a lot of space in peoples minds for an overarching spirituality with respect to their well-being. Many would listen attentively to the public health experts, change their behaviour appropriately and, nevertheless, find comfort in praying to whichever deity they believe in. The interface of health and faith is as complex as it is fascinating.

Many years ago, I was working in an ICRC field hospital on the Thai-Cambodian border. I operated on a man with a perforated intestine. The following morning, I found my patient seemingly well but having smoke blown into his face by a shrivelled little guy wielding an enormous herbal cigarette. In addition, Shrivel was burning the patient’s chest with the glowing tip of the cigarette. I also noticed that taped against the patient’s forehead was a small glass in which a captured wasp buzzed angrily on the skin. (I learnt later that smoke, burning and stinging are used there as traditional medicine for a variety of ills.) “What’s going on here?” I asked, rather haughtily. “Doctor Robin, this is traditional medicine!” replied our Cambodian nurse-helper. “OK, but this man has had a great big dose of western medicine including safe surgery. Why does he want traditional medicine as well?” There was a minute or two’s discussion. “Ah, Doctor Robin, he thanks you for your western medicine. He thinks it is good for his intestine problem. (Too right, it is!) The traditional medicine is to get rid of the bad karma that gave him the intestine problem in the first place.” I didn’t have an answer to that. I thought it was a big load of old billybolony. But then, I reflected…..whatever floats your boat! 

Our friends, Phil and Michelle who live in Chamonix, have taken lockdown golf to a different level. “Par Wars – the quarantine edition!” Love it! (They have a great B&B up there, so go and stay when all this is over.) Our comparatively unimaginative balcony putting continues but nevertheless, is taken very seriously. Today, I won 2 and 1. That’s 11 games to 5.  

“Doctor, I’ve got a strawberry stuck up my bottom.” The doctor replies “Do you want some cream for that?”

The Lockdown Diary – Day 19

Geneva, Friday 3 April 2020


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Copyright: WW2 Gallery Flickr

Yesterday evening, we decided to go into the park across the road at 21:00 and listen to the clapping for carers. It was dark and there were few people about. We heard what sounded like a party not far away; music blasted out and youngsters were whooping and cheering. Intrigued that residents of this town might actually be flouting the strictly imposed Swiss social distancing policies, we went to see what was happening. There really was a party! A whole apartment block rocked. The music came from one apartment and the balconies on all seven floors had between one and five people dancing around. It was really quite up-lifting. And the music was great. We had Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive,” Abba’s “Dancing Queen” and the sublime, rousing “Bella Ciao!” (Goodbye, Darling!) the song of the anti-fascist Italian resistance in World War II. Have a listen!

You have to understand just how unusual such a spectacle is here. Is this a sign of exceptional community solidarity or an expression of frustration about the lockdown or both? Normally, at this hour, people are scraping the delicious near-burnt crust off the bottom of their fondu dishes and looking forward to counting their money for dessert. More unusual still, my wife and I, swept up by the spirit of the occasion, danced around in the totally deserted street in full view of the party-goers (or party-stayers.) I am not exaggerating when I say that our moves, although a little rusty, caused quite a sensation. We were just waiting for something like “Crocodile Rock” or “It’s Raining Men!” when a blue flashing light came into view and a blaring siren drowned out the music. We fled for the cover of the park to the applause and amusement of our new but isolated friends. We might go back this evening. Such fun!  

Today, for the first time, I heard the term “lockdown fatigue.” In the mainstream and social media, the political noise about the need to release the lockdown is already getting louder. It is clear that politicians will soon be at a critical moment (at least in Western Europe) at which a balance has to be struck between protecting a vulnerable population from the disease and protecting an increasingly fragile economy. There’s a calculation to be made here: when the number of cases per day peaks or even before, a political leader aiming to get their economy running again could release the restrictions on our lives and ride the storm brought by the resulting COVID-19 deaths but only as long as those deaths are not perceived as preventable deaths. Therefore, for the compass to swing toward the economy, there has to be a massive increase in the capacity of the health services to provide curative treatment for those seriously ill with COVID-19. From a political perspective (assuming countries are wealthy enough to do so) upscaling the health-care capacity for COVD-19 patients is a necessary precursor to lifting the restrictions little by little. However, no calculation involving deaths of loved ones is easy and the media can play this every which way. These are difficult times requiring difficult decisions. We’ll see what happens.

I hope you are all as healthy and happy as one can be at present. Go well! Be wise! Make bread! Get Lucky!

The putting! She beat me today on the first play-off hole. It’s now 10 games to 5!