It’s a fortnight since I wrote my last blog on – you guessed it – Coronavirus, which certain persons close to home suggested was alarmist, depressing, over-reactive etc. But it wasn’t hard to guess that where Italy led we would follow – even if we are a few paces behind. If I sound like a prophet of doom, apologies… I am describing my own fears. I know nothing about epidemiology, anthropology, sociology or economics. But I do know that whilst it is important to try to be positive about the future, wishful thinking alone isn’t enough to see us through.

That hardly needed saying, did it?

Anyway, I was, and still am, determined to write about something else. Today is the 64th birthday of my old friend Bernard Hanaway. I have previously written about two people I came to know well in Oxford back in the ’80s: Paweł Pawlikowski and Javier Marías. I got to meet, and sometimes became friendly with, many clever and talented people (yes, Professor Seán Hand, you too.). Some are now famous and successful: public figures. Others have succeeded in developing their talents, but have remained – how shall we put it? – below the radar. Bernard is one of the latter. (And, of course, so am I!). He designs beautiful, unique cabinets, as well as large and complicated structures. He can measure, cut and join wood to make super-sheds and tree houses and suchlike for neighbours who are very happy to pay for his imagination and expertise. He is also a great song-writer who, unlike me, can play several musical instruments to a high standard.

Bernard having a bash at the drums (1979)

I got to know Bernard when playing in his band One For The Wall for many years (if much more off than on). At one point Bern, of no-fixed-abode, spent several weeks kipping on the floor of my capacious room in the Florey Building. As a former architecture student he found it amusing to be staying in that ghastly but iconic, award-winning building. He possessed almost nothing but a guitar and the clothes he stood up in. But his life took a turn for the better when he met, and married, Monica.

This January we played our first proper gig – rather than a few minutes of open mic or in my back garden – since 1984, in front of a live audience in an Oxford city centre pub called The Wheatsheaf.

In the gloom of The Wheatsheaf

We were a little ring-rusty, but people said they enjoyed the music and we were invited to return later this month. We were looking forward to it, having recorded and rehearsed a new repertoire.

One For The Wall, in our state of the art studio

But of course… it isn’t going to happen

I was beginning to have serious misgivings anyway, not so much because I was scared of catching Coronavirus and becoming ill (although I am 65 and a bit asthmatic) but because I did not want to give it to my elderly parents. I had to tell the other members. But in the end my fears were irrelevant because the gig was cancelled by the promoters, as almost everything seems to have been cancelled, or indefinitely delayed. 

***

So, many happy returns on your birthday, Bern. You are a talented and much loved family man and a good friend to me. How can one celebrate with family and friends in the shadow of Coronavirus? Quietly and at home, I suppose, but I trust you and yours will be raising a glass or two.

Bernard with guitar in my back garden (2015)

Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow…

That’s enough of that. It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. There will be lots of mums who won’t receive a visit this year, but mine will. As I write, I am heading north, en route to my parents’ house. It was a dilemma that kept me awake in the wee hours. Decision time: to go or not to go. To drive or take the train. There are risks.

***

Whilst it seems that most of my neighbours in London have taken the Government’s recent advice on board I get the impression that out in the sticks, in places like Somerset or Cheshire, it either hasn’t sunk in yet, or they don’t believe it is going to happen to them. Many of us felt more than a little perturbed when we first saw what was happening in China and Iran. But some of us, the chronically apprehensive, saw it and were sore afraid (China’s a long way away, but Italy and Spain are not); others said something like “I don’t know anyone who’s got it, do you?” as if that meant anything. The inescapable fact is that thousands upon thousands of people will die in the UK of Coronavirus, and some of them may be your friends and family members. And you will probably get it too, though hopefully we will both make a full recovery.

It’s just a question of when it happens

So, as of today, my local art gallery, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, is shut. The British Museum is shut. The British Library is shut. Etc. Selfridges is shut. Etc. Well, I can manage without. Some of my local shops and restaurants are shut. More worryingly, Ocado has suspended orders. There are no sporting events to speak of. On the plus side, we’ve also lost the Eurovision Song Contest. Dommage ! ¡Qué pena!

The over-70s have been told to stay at home. People are trying to keep their distance from each other: no more hugging, kissing or handshakes. Every other email tells of a cancelled event – or else I am being re-assured that a train company or a local establishment is wiping down everybody and everything, that we will be safe. But King’s Cross and St Pancras are virtually deserted and it’s a safe bet that our restaurants, even if they manage to stay open a bit longer, will soon have no customers.

You can’t get hand sanitiser for love nor money, and if you are looking for beer, toilet rolls, all the bare necessities of life, you are better off trying the corner shops than the supermarkets. My wife has been told to work at home until further notice, as have nearly all my friends. Weddings are being cancelled. Funeral services too. Funnily enough, no one gives a monkey’s about the Brexit negotiations any longer.

***

I went for a walk yesterday, as I have every day this week, in beautiful spring weather. Nature doesn’t share our worries.

Yoshino cherry trees in Herne Hill

I could hear the children playing outdoors at the Judith Kerr Primary School. The birds are singing. The trees are in blossom. It is a beautiful time of the year. The air may not be very warm but it feels refreshing rather than cold, and on these fine days you can feel the sun on your back and face. And you can take a bike ride in the parks and pass other people who, even if wary of getting too close, cannot remain cooped up for what already seems like forever.

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