Tag Archives: Coronavirus

See How They Run

Some previously shy creatures have become more visible in our now quieter towns. Foxes. Squirrels. Hedgehogs.


The closure of the gyms has driven these long-hidden animals out onto our streets. It is quite common to see them now, red-faced, sweat spraying in their drift like the tail of a comet, their breath in short pants, like their legs.

They do not appear to be enjoying themselves.

This is because they aren’t. Joggers do not like to run on the street. If they did they would run to the gym instead of driving there.

To be honest they do not like to run at all. Ask any one of them why they run and the best reason that they can come up with is that “you feel great afterwards”, a phrase that can be equally applied to tooth extraction.

But run they do, driven by innate, primitive instinct. Not a fleeing-from-the-mammoth instinct, but a competitive one. And the most competitive one of all.

They are competing with an infinite number of their other selves. Twenty-year Old Self. Still Playing Football Self. Yesterday’s Self.

So they look constantly at their watch as they run. They have a Fitbit, a device that sees them when they’re sleeping, and nags when they’re awake. They have a small rectangular pad strapped high up on one arm, which I assume is to gather data about them – though it may in fact be a Kindle, or a GPS system. Perhaps it’s a solar panel.

Anyway, all of these things help them to run faster, to do better, to ignore the taunts of In Your Dreams Self, who has given up drink and has not survived lockdown solely on Jaffa Cakes.

Next Monday the gyms will re-open, and the joggers will return to their natural habitat. Bird-song will be replaced by techno music and by the occasional shuddering thud as someone loses control of their kettlebell.

Scenery will be replaced by Sky News on a muted TV. Blue-cold air will be replaced by muggy staleness. The scent of post-rain soil, of cut grass, of wildflowers, will be replaced by the odour of sweat and athlete’s foot powder.

They will be back, literally, on the treadmill, running to stand still.

But they will no longer be alone, out in the wild. There will once again be rows of them pounding their feet in unison.

They will once again be running with the pack.


You Can Almost Smell The Jasmine

Mrs Tin and I are not in Portugal.

This ought not be newsworthy. We are also not in Antarctica, Burkina Faso, or the express elevator in the United Nations Building. We are not in Bratislava, Medicine Hat, or the currently empty stadium of Accrington Stanley Football Club. The world, in fact, is made up almost entirely of places where we aren’t.

The thing about Portugal, though, is that it is where we should be.

This morning we should have got up at a ridiculous hour, since a holiday is not legally a holiday if it doesn’t so start. We should have checked that we had our passports, made our way to the car, checked that we had our passports, driven to Long-Term Parking, and checked that we had our passports. We should then have caught the courtesy bus to the terminal, where someone would have checked that we had our passports.

We should have gone on to catch a flight, been met at the airport, and should now be sitting in sun-loungers at our resort, wondering if two o’clock is too early for a beer.

We should be wearing shorts that scream “I’m on holiday”, whilst whispering apologetically “and my wearer is colour blind”.

We should be spending the coming week eating pasteis de nata, cozida à portuguesa, and dobrada, though perhaps not so much of the last one since it seems to be a tripe-and-bean stew. We should be drinking our way through the resort’s cellar of Vinho Tinto. Instead we’ll be eating sausage and chips and drinking our way through our fourth box of lockdown tea-bags.

Yep, not small ones, 160 per box

While walking we should be staring in awe at lovely churches. Instead we’ll be glaring in ire at non-distancing joggers.

Because we will be out and walking around our home town, since I’m off anyway. Our company made those of us who had holidays booked take the days in any case, as otherwise all one thousand of us are going to try to be off during the same two weeks in September.

So here we are. No swimming pool. No local entertainers. No umbrella, neither shading us nor in our drink. Also no pub, no bookshop, no sport on telly.

And it’s just started to rain.



A Cut Above The Rest

“Black market in haircuts has ‘erupted’ during lockdown” (RTE News headline)… 


I walked up the dark lane, eyes darting in all directions, terrified not of muggers but of being seen.

I stopped at a partly-hidden doorway, pulled my sleeve over my thumb, and pressed the buzzer.

“Hello?” said a voice.

I shone my phone briefly onto a piece of paper. “‘The wheat grows tall in the upper field’,” I read aloud.

“Two doors down,” said the voice. “This is black market lattés.”

I mumbled an apology, moved two doors along and repeated the ritual. This time the buzzer buzzed. I pushed the door open and walked up a narrow stairway into a small, bare room.

“Hello,” said John, the town barber, quietly.

I looked warily at his own hair, which looked like Hermione Granger’s, not a good look on a fifty-year old man. Then I nodded in understanding.

“Ah,” I said. “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”

He frowned. “We’ve already done the password bit,” he said.

“No,” I said, “I just meant that you haven’t done your own hair.”

“Well, of course not,” he said, “Have you any idea how hard it is to cut your own hair in a mirror?”

“It’s funny you should ask that,” I said, pulling off my beanie hat.

John stared silently. My fringe was uneven, but worse than that, it  had one deep rectangular cut-out in it. I looked like a flyer on a shop noticeboard from which just one person has taken the contact number.

“You have to help me,” I said fervently. “I have Zoom meetings.”

He nodded and gestured me toward an upright kitchen chair set in front of a small mirror. I sat down, he picked up a pair of scissors and stood behind me. I was suddenly aware, for the first time ever in a barbershop, of the breath on the back of my neck.

“Face mask?” I said hopefully.

He shrugged. “You can wear one if you want to, I suppose,” he said, “but I won’t be able to get at where the straps go round your ears. You’re going to end uplooking like Princess Leia.”

I opened my mouth, then decided to let it go. I was not the one in the conversation holding the scissors.

He started to clip. I watched as great brownish-grey tufts flew off, like an explosion in a Shredded Wheat factory. Then he spoke.

“Going anywhere nice on holiday?” he said.

His eyes met my stony expression in the mirror. “Sorry,” he said. “Force of habit.”

The rest of the haircut took place in silence.  Take away football, the awfulness of the traffic, and how many pints you drank in the pub the night before and men have very little to talk to each other about, a fact currently being discovered by flatmates all over the country.

Then he was done. I looked in delight at the result, now more Bradley than Alice Cooper.

“That’s great,” I said. “How much do I owe you?”

“Eighty euro,” said John.

“What?” I gasped. “It’s normally twelve.”

“Yeah, well, it’s normally legal too,” he said. “Just be glad you’re a bloke. Colette the hairdresser is charging women three hundred euro just for roots, and what she’s charging for a Jennifer Aniston even Jennifer Aniston couldn’t afford.”

I paid, feeling that I was being fleeced for being fleeced, and turned to go.

“Will I put you down for next month?” asked John.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m sure this will do me, you know, until -”

“Next time you’re in,” he said, “I could have a look at those eyebrows.”

He gave a tiny smile as he said it. He knew he had me hooked.

“Ok,” I said quietly.

That was a week ago. I now walk proudly around the town, passing men who look like badly tied-down haystacks and women wearing baseball hats of teams they’ve never heard of, and I smile, though a little guiltily.

And I do now have a cough, though I tell myself it’s simply because of the vast amounts of hair that I must have inhaled that night.

That’s not important though. What matters is that I have a haircut that’s To Die For.








Looking On From Above

When the clocks went back last October I wrote this story about the confusion it caused the bird population. As the clocks go forward again this weekend I’m wondering what they’ve been making of what’s been going on lately… 


Keeping watch

After the mysterious event of the previous October, when all of humankind had travelled one hour back in time, the birds had for a while kept a worried eye on them, watching out for any oddities in their behaviour.

Just four days later the humans had all dressed either as if they were witches or as if they had an axe protruding from their head.

In December they had strung lights upon the trees in their gardens, something the birds found infuriating, much as we would if somebody broke in and filled our house with lava lamps.

On the last day of the year they had gathered in a circle in the street at midnight, linking hands the wrong way round and singing a song that made absolutely no sense.

In other words they were their normal eccentric selves. The birds had relaxed.

Then March came, and many of the humans simply disappeared.

The children no longer went to school. The teenagers no longer pretended to be going to lectures. The man from Number Four no longer headed off to play golf.

The small numbers that did take to the streets would pass each other in a wide arc, like ships in the night, though not in the romantic sense of that phrase.

The lady from Number Nine did still open her corner shop each day, though she now seemed to sell only toilet-roll and pasta.

The bewildered birds were now gathered in the tree at the back of Number Six.

“I reckon it’s Game of Thrones,” said the Blackbird.

“Game of Thrones?” said the Robin.

“Must be,” said the Blackbird. “It’s the only thing that would keep so many of them in. I reckon they’ve made a new series.”

“I thought it had finished,” said the Wren. “Most of them died.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time characters have been brought back from the dead,” said the Blackbird. “Sherlock Holmes. Bobby Ewing. Hamlet’s dad.”

“Hamlet’s dad was a ghost,” said the Thrush. “That’s not coming back from the dead, that’s just visiting.”

The Blackbird shrugged non-existent shoulders. “Whatever,” he said. “The thing is, Game of Thrones made an absolute fortune, there’s no way they were going to give it up.”

“O-k,” said the Wren doubtfully, “but why is the pub closed?”

The Blackbird hesitated, but only for a second. “Lent,” he said.

“Rubbish,” snorted the Robin, nodding at the phalanx of empty wine bottles in the garden of Number Six. “Whatever they’re doing, they haven’t given up drink.”

“Maybe they don’t need each other any more,” said the Chaffinch. “They have Netflix, and Facebook, and online just about everything. Maybe people have realised that they’re not people people.”

There was a pause while the others worked mentally through this sentence.

The Wren looked at the others – her fellow dawn-choristers, her flight companions, her co-conspirators in occasionally dive-pooing cats. Her friends.

“They’re wrong,” she said. “They’ll soon realise just how much they miss each other.”




Bearding The Lion

This is me.

The rules of machismo demand that I claim to have grown this today, so let’s start with that and get it over with. And then admit that it is not true. This is more the triffid of beards, slowly enveloping the globe that is my face. I started growing it, or rather stopped not growing it, on March 12th, the night before my last trip to the office. This therefore is sixteen days’ worth. Oak trees grow more quickly.

I am calling it the coronafuzz.

I didn’t set out to grow it. I have no interest in becoming a hipster. I do not intend to captain a pirate ship. I am not auditioning for the role of Hagrid. I simply didn’t shave that first weekend and then, as Monday arrived and I faced not facing anyone, I decided to leave it and see what happened.

The early shoots were grey and white, making me look like a dandelion clock. Over time, though, a certain amount of my original colour has filtered through, and now I’m more like an ineptly-fleeced panda.

I don’t hate it as much as I did at the start, and was startled yesterday when Mrs Tin said that she actually quite likes it. Nevertheless, the day this all ends it’s coming off.

But in years to come, when the grandkids ask “Grandad, what did you do in the Covid War?” I’ll be able to say that I helped conserve the world’s supply of shaving cream.


Never Seein’ No-one

My blog friend Janie Jones has posted about what things are like for her during these difficult times, after she read Sarsm’s post, and has asked that we bloggers all let each other know how we are getting on in our various parts of the world.

The short answer is that I am fine and well. The virus is most dangerous to elderly people with an underlying medical condition. Since I am sixty-two and have a pacemaker, this does not apply to me. I know by personal experience that sixty-two is not elderly, something that I didn’t know when I was thirty-two, and while anatomically speaking a pacemaker is about as underlying as you can get, it was put in twelve years ago for a condition that I had then and has had little usage since.

The underlying medical condition for this is called denial, and fortunately I have it only in mild form, so I am taking precautions. I’m into my eighth day at home, since our company is encouraging us all to work from home until March 31st at least. The good thing about this is that I get to stay in bed for an extra two hours every day. That is the only good thing.

Sorry, it isn’t. The other good thing is being able to swear loudly about colleagues. Upon receipt of a particularly moronic email yesterday I was able to yell “oh, you are such a gobshite!” at the screen instead of seething quietly as I would have had to do when surrounded by workmates.

Other than that, though, I’m working on a laptop screen instead of two monitors, everything loads up more slowly than it would in the office, and the silence is almost oppressive. Thus time drags, and my mind wanders.

I think about the survivalists who have cabins in the mountains stocked with essentials like half-a-ton of tinned pork and twenty-four rifles, in preparation for life after The End Of The World As We Know It. I wonder if our current experience is making them realise just how dreadful that life will be, and that when the day does come maybe they should simply join the zombies.

I wonder what will happen when border closures mean a shortage of some foods from abroad, such as French cheese, German beer and Kentucky fried chicken.

Me in six weeks’ time (still writing my blog, you’ll notice)

I wonder what my hair will look like as time goes on. Given its colour and general unruliness I’m guessing I’m going to look like Beethoven. A follow-on thought is that at least I don’t have to worry about my roots showing, a panicky thought that is slowly dawning on about half of the world.

I wonder can I ever write seriously about anything.

No man is an island, except of course for the Isle of Man, and I miss people. We have email, and Skype meetings, but it’s nowhere near the same.

Mrs Tin is here, of course, and great girl that she is she has not yet thrown anything at me as I stomp into and out of the kitchen ten times a day making tea. Other than her, though, I haven’t spoken live to a person for over a week. Yesterday was warm and sunny, so we stood in the front garden for the last ten minutes of my lunch break. A number of people went by, as a laneway into the next housing estate runs by the side of our house, but none of them looked toward us as they passed. Mrs Tin says that it is the same in our supermarket, that everyone scurries around gazing straight ahead. It’s as if they think it’s the Medusavirus, transmitted by looking into someone’s eyes.

Overall, though, I know that I am lucky. I am well, when so many aren’t. I can work from home, when so may can’t. I am in no danger of losing my job, when so many have.

To all of you who come here, I hope you are well and keep well. You are my friends too, indeed ones that I’ve had more practice at engaging with remotely.

Take care of yourselves, all of you.



Lonesome Pine

Five year old Danny looked around his bedroom, and sighed in boredom.

He had played with his dinosaurs. He had coloured in his colouring book. He had built a spaceship with his Lego, played Super Mario on his Nintendo, watched Spongebob on his TV. He had done all of these things for absolutely ages.

It was 11.09 on the first morning of the school closures.

Danny realised, to his surprise, that he missed school. On most weekday mornings he would have to be dragged from bed at eight (in contrast to Saturdays, when he would get up at six, brightly demanding Coco Pops), would argue vehemently about wanting to wear his Spiderman outfit rather than his uniform, and would be driven to and deposited heartlessly at the school gate, despite his lurid descriptions of the sore throat, or stomach pain, or toothache in his big toe, that would render any learning impossible.

But this week they had been learning about St Patrick. They had made rocket-cone shaped cardboard hats, and croziers from cling-film cores, and snakes from play-dough, and today they had been going to play at being St Patrick himself, and vanish the snakes from Ireland (Miss Buckley had said “banish”, but Danny was pretty sure she’d got that wrong).

That was before the Kanoravirus made them close all the schools.

Danny had heard a lot about the Kanoravirus, on TV and on radio and in urgent conversations that would stop when he walked into the room. What he had heard worried him. He had heard that it came from china, which is what cups are made of. He had heard that the Premier League had been postponed, which told him that you could get it from footballs. He had heard that the shops had run out of toilet paper, which told him that it made you poo. A lot.

He had heard that old people could die. This worried him most of all, because Mum was thirty-eight.

Mum was downstairs in the kitchen now, sitting at her laptop and yelling at their broadband. Danny gathered that she had been told to work from home. This concept worried him too, as he couldn’t see it being adapted to any of the careers he had decided upon for himself when he grew up. Train drivers do not work from home. Firefighters do not work from home. Power Rangers do not work from home.

He had been downstairs to see Mum twice, the first time to ask her what time it was, and the second time to ask her what time it was. The first time she had answered him shortly. The second time he had come into the kitchen just as she was saying “stupid shitty spreadsheet” and she had looked wildly up at him and shouted at him to go to his room.

He had run to his room, sat on his bed and adopted his annoyed pose, arms tightly folded and lower lip stuck out, until it had occurred to him that, like a tree in a forest, the pose is wasted if there are no adults there to see it.

Now he looked around his room, and sighed again.

He wondered what time it was.

He climbed off his bed and went downstairs to the kitchen. He opened the door, then screamed.

Mum rushed to him, arms embracing, hugging him tightly as he burst into terrified sobs. “Danny, what’s wrong?” she asked frantically.

“It’s the Konoravirus!” wailed Danny, pointing.

Mum looked at where he was pointing, under her chair, then laughed, relieved.

Image by me, and not staged, this has been under that chair for ages

“Oh, Sweetie,” she said. “That’s a stress ball.” She picked it up and squeezed it. “See, it’s rubber. Want to try it?”

She held it out but he backed away. She hugged him again until his sobs subsided. She pulled gently away from him then, a move that left a trail of snot along her sleeve. She left it there.

“Come on,” she said. She took him into the sitting room, put on the TV and started Toy Story. She watched it with him for fifteen minutes, then stood.

“Mummy has to go back to work now,” she said softly.

Danny nodded and Mum went back to the kitchen.

Buzz and Woody bickered on the screen but Danny wasn’t listening. He was thinking, imagining how tense Mum must have been to have coughed up a ball of stress that big.

He got up, went to the hall to his schoolbag, and took out his little maths book. Mum looked up, frowning, as he walked into the kitchen.

“I’m going to do homework with you,” he said.

He climbed onto the chair next to her and opened his book. She looked down at him and smiled, fighting back tears, but happy tears, tears of boundless love.

Their two heads bent together over their work.





Dear Diary

If Samuel Pepys were alive today…


Samuel Pepys

February 1st: Up, and to the television, for news of the new Coronavirus plague. The Minister did tell us that we should wash our hands. I was troubled at the notion that people had not been doing so anyway.

February 4th: To the Orchard Inn, my local hostelry. I fell into conversation with the landlord, who did tell me that sales of Corona beer have fallen since the outbreak. Most curious, since people do still eat Spam, which causes one’s mind to fill with advertisements for fake Viagra.

February 13th: The name of the affliction hath been changed to Covid-19, because it is perceived to sound less horrid. Methinks they should change the name of the particles themselves to Angel’s Breath.

March 2nd: Officials this day did warn us of false advice upon the internet. I was not well in agreement with their argument, finding instead much common sense in the advisements arrayed upon that most respected source of information. By way of instance, eating only garlic will undoubtedly assist in avoiding close contact or kissing, whilst gargling with bleach will assuredly preclude perishing from Coronavirus, in the same way as would shooting oneself in the head.

March 7th: Up, and to the Ireland versus Italy rugby contest, to find that it had been cancelled. Though this vexed me, I am aware that the officials do forbid close contact, and I assume that a rugby maul is as close as one can get. So to the pubs of Temple Bar instead, where I am disabused of this assumption, as they are filled with disappointed supporters from both nations, in conditions far more cramped than a rugby maul.

March 9th: Up, and to Tesco, to find all supplies of toilet roll exhausted. I home instead with the Daily Mail.

March 10th: The Health Minister did give order that all St Patrick’s Day parades are to be cancelled. Since these are held in the open air the risk is not apparent to me. Cheltenham will go ahead today, though, because that is where the money is, and because nothing is more conducive to rude health than to stand in the rain, walk in manure and occasionally slap a horse’s rump with one’s bare hand.