Large, Friendly Letters

In January and February I linked to advice from Laurie Garrett and Ian Mackay on preparing for the coronavirus now known as COVID-19†. After bubbling under the surface of the main news headlines in the UK for weeks, last week it leapt to the forefront; it was pretty hard to downplay the shutdown of northern Italy and now the whole of it. I’d not posted about it here (apart from those links) because I’m no more an expert than anyone else, but as of this week J. is part of UK efforts to test for the disease—on the coordination side rather than in the lab—and not much seems more important than that. We’re so proud of her.

For my own part, I share the apprehension of anyone else in their early fifties with aging parents and a preexisting respiratory condition, but I’m trying not to dwell on the thought of any of us getting it (for me I imagine the best case would be that it’s like the worst flu I’ve had since my twenties, over the Christmas of 2012; the worst case would be… worse). Instead, it’s a case of taking all precautions, and being prepared to hole up at home with the kids if—when—the schools shut.

Which hasn’t meant attempting to stuff my shopping trolley full of toilet paper. I did a big fortnightly shop yesterday, spending no more than I normally do for our family of four, and the woman at the checkout asked if I was stocking up. Was it because I bought two litres of UHT milk? I’ve been buying that ever since I started making yoghurt. Or two packets of strong white flour? Ditto bread. Okay, so I did buy an extra packet of parmesan. Our daughter is addicted to it, and if the Italian shutdown affects supplies I want to delay the point at which she has to go cold turkey for as long as possible.

A few links. How the horrific 1918 flu spread across America. Coronavirus and the blindness of authoritarianism. Israeli scientists claim that “in a few weeks, we will have coronavirus vaccine”. Hope they’re right.


In this worsening climate it’s already past the point where I feel inclined to make light of the name of the virus, and I don’t drink enough Corona beer to relate to those particular memes anyway. But I can’t be the only person of a certain age who thinks of his first car every time he hears it. Mine was a 1976 Toyota Corona Mark II, a thing of beauty I got in my first year of uni and loved until its demise on the Federal Highway a dozen years later, when a small rubber hose sprang a leak and the engine overheated and died. (I wasn’t driving it at the time; we’d lent it to a friend.) I’m not sure whether dying of a deteriorated hosepipe is worse than dying of a pandemic virus. I’m pretty keen not to find out.

Here’s a photo of the Corona Mark II after my mate and I spent a week of our summer holidays respraying it in 1990. Mouseover for another.

Toyota Corona Mark II

†Strictly speaking, the coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19 is the disease it causes, but most people are using the terms interchangeably.

11 March 2020 · Events