Heating Up

It’s been hard to disentangle my thoughts about the week from the events of the country and the wider world, and even harder to get through the work I’m supposed to be doing instead of writing posts here. Trying to keep on top of a full-time job from home, with two school-age kids and a partner also working full-time and all the other constraints and tensions of lockdown, is like trying to juggle the contents of the computer cable drawer while walking calmly across the room. You’re lucky to get a few feet before stepping on a three-pronged plug.

The week started with the miserable charade of Dominic Cummings in his saintly white shirt attempting to convince 66 million people that driving from Durham to Barnard Castle was a reasonable way of testing one’s eyesight, which among other things taught us that “Barney Castle” is Durham slang for “a pathetic excuse“, that Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and the rest of the cabinet have absolutely no shame, and that whatever underhanded schemes Cummings is overseeing behind the scenes are so dependent on him and only him that Johnson is prepared to sacrifice his own political capital rather than lose Dom—so if they’re as well-considered as Cummings’ “do a runner to your parents’ place during lockdown when half of Downing Street comes down with Covid” plan, we’re in for a grand old time come January.

We then saw attempts to distract us with premature relaxations of lockdown when the UK has suffered a staggering number of Covid deaths and is already, thanks to the government’s weeks of waffle, at risk of a second wave of infections and deaths. Pictures of English beaches during a week of record-breaking May sunshine suggest that it’s not that far off. In Edinburgh, the parks are still less crowded than they normally would be in this weather, but some people have clearly had enough of social distancing, presumably telling themselves that viruses get just as bored as humans and will have given up by now.

The latest estimates are that only one in fifteen of the English population has been infected, which means that getting to the two-thirds of the population needed for herd immunity could take another half a million lives. Whether we get there gradually or rapidly, there are some grim months and years ahead. Evidence now suggests that the coronavirus can infect the lining of blood vessels, which is unheard of for a respiratory virus but explains the other strange symptoms associated with Covid-19.

Meanwhile, as Britain was distracted by the exasperating spectacle of the government redefining the law to protect their man, news emerged from America of another brutal death at the hands of its police: the suffocation of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop kneeling on his neck, all captured on video, prompted widespread anguish and righteous protest by Black Americans and their allies, only to be met by tear-gas from police, an influx into the city of white supremacists, crackdowns on journalists, and unrest spiralling across the U.S., culminating with Trump using it as a pretext to designate Antifa a terrorist organisation. Trump’s brownshirts clearly matter to him more than black lives.

The sight of Trump coming out officially as an anti-antifascist, or “fascist” as students of double-negatives know them, is an even grimmer one than Boris defending Dom. In Britain, the threat is to our collective efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus; in America, the threat is to the lives and wellbeing of Black Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, and anyone to the left of MAGA, on top of coronavirus. “Miserable” barely captures it.


And all of this when the sun has been shining, the evenings are long, the skies are clearer than I’ve ever seen them in Britain, and we no longer have to watch the clock when going out for exercise. In an ordinary May I’d have finished my marking by now, and would be looking forward to our summer holiday plans. In this extraordinary May I haven’t yet, and we haven’t got any.

I took a few photos on my bike on Friday and yesterday (in Scotland we can now travel up to five miles for exercise, which rules out anything beyond Edinburgh for us, so it’s all still very local). I may as well share them, to say farewell to May.

The garden

31 May 2020 · Journal