Behind the facemask of my mind there isn’t a lot happening. The dullness of disaster has arrested complex thoughts with its neutralising swarm, experienced as a blank mass descending over everything like snow, or asbestos over an old factory. Which isnt to say I’m having a particularly bad time. After all kids would play in it like snow, and were presumably happy for those moments, even as the traces of later pain knitted themselves into the depths of the lung. Although I do have chronic pain of a kind, it’s really not anything to send letters home about – I can still enjoy the bubbling steam of the coffee machine that cost me £4 in a charity shop. These cheap, or at least notionally cheap pleasures help us in the mornings as they grow darker, colder, here in the north. For the best skill in life is to hold on whilst letting go, and knowing when. The chances of death are still certain etc. etc.

Stranded on the immensity of the ocean, I am treading water. The giant fish-object silhouette hovers in the deep, just on the edge of the dysphotic zone. My eyes are sliding off its almost-imperceptibility as the water laps around my ears, as the waves pull me up and down. My stomach is turning and turning to try find a way out, but of course there is none. Dread is with me in the cold water, amongst the water, invisible. My eyes are wide, and cold and I am in constant tension waiting for the attack.

Then something changes. I relax, see the surface rise away from me in its liquid glass transformations of the grey clouds. I take a mouthful of water and taste its saltiness before I open my lungs and breathe it in. It is light and cool inside me and I now hover, buoyant as the water, breathing the ocean in the dark. And moods are like this, aren’t they? I suppose.

Corona Diaries – VIII April through May 3


Finished Westworld series one today. It had an interesting ending, but was ultimately unsatisfying in the way some TV shows are these days – the puzzle solution is basic and doesn’t make sense, whilst the puzzle itself is engaging. It’s like the producers just wanted it to grip and confuse, and drive compulsive viewing, without worrying about the solution, the denouement. In fact, fully satisfying someone is the last thing a modern American Commercial TV producer would want their show to do.

I clean the loo, then walk. I translate some more of Bonjour Tristesse, then a package arrives. I carefully cut it open, dropping the packaging straight in the bin, and then clean it with washing up liquid and tissue paper – a copy of the 2013 penguin translation to check mine against when I get really confused.

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See all the souls anchored to you
each faint and crackling golden line
like a nylon line, but neater,
each is a life you’ve saved in here.

You look like a heaven-flower
like an aurum tree. The fire-work
frozen in time, on the blue black
all the still-paths, the fizzing strings.

The key to self-hood is the gap
between what we would like to be
and what is. These things are all sent
to test us, see: to build us up

Without these moments we would fall
again, into the depths of hell
which is a flat, blank, pool of white
like milk. But tastless, vigorless.

Humans need this pain to grow full.
If there was fruit hanging from each
tree, we would never need to think,
never need a revelation.

And so, these two things connect us.
These metallic wires, our trellis.
To be saviour to each other
And see what newness can encroach

Corona diaries VII – 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 April


Not meant to meet anyone from outside the household, emphasised in a Government ad on TV.

Went for walk in the woods, saw a fair few people out. Among them a guy in a grey hoody, stood, quite still, off the path, just staring out at nothing. I find that, as a population, the sometimes pathological levels of politeness come in handy now, as we were basically observing the two meter distancing anyway. Now there’s just the added dance, where I have to jump off a ledge to avoid an old couple.

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Corona Diaries VI – 1, 2 April


It’s all over, we’re being let out! The virus magically disappeared overnight!

Early start today, walking in the woods. It was going to be a ‘teacher start’ which is a bit like – shall we just do a couple of the circuits of the woods at 4:30am. But I convinced my friend that we could have a bit more of a sane meeting time. Of course I’m exaggerating – I’m lazy. We did 9:00am.

Fried eggs on crumpets for breakfast with fresh coffee. Mum had thrown some seeds for the small birds onto the mossy lawn, but immediately the industrial cleanup team arrives, and spend about half an hour proceeding to methodically hoover it all up. Two mated woodpigeons, very beautiful but absolutely tactless.

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Corona Diaries V – 30, 31 March


Get up too late and miss the news on the morning radio. I’m not going to go looking for news right now, so that’s that!

I get up late and have coffee and breakfast in the living room since my family are already up and working in the dining room.

I do my skipping in the morning, but I overdo it, doing about three hundred skips all at once, and end up seeing stars in he shower. Tens of little pinpricks of light that zip smoothly along random paths in the edges of my vision. I have them from time to time, like when I hit my head. I can’t find a description of this phenomenon among the pages I read on phosphenes, which are visual hallucinations of light, and can be caused by various things. I rarely have asthma attacks, and they’re always mild, but this one is quite bad and I have to lie down for a while. I end up feeling odd for the rest of the day, probably due to the steroids in the inhaler making me trip out. I watch nuclear weapons test videos on youtube to calm down, which, I think later, is just the sort of thing a character in a Luke Kennard or Ben Lerner novel would do. Something about their regulated framing, with the VHS timings in the corner and multiple views, and then the absolute difference and unthinkable power of the explosion, how it draws the earth into the air as if gravity itself suddenly gave up or reversed. I find out for the first time about the outer atmosphere tests that were conducted, resulting in incredible footage of spherical blasts in the rarified air at the edge of space. Apparently they were seeing whether they could create a radioactive layer of the atmosphere to cause nuclear missiles to malfunction. If they’d succeeded, or it had behaved in a way different to their expectations, we might have never been able to use satellites, or launch rockets without even more layers of heavy protection. People can be very stupid.

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Corona Diaries IV – 28, 29 March


They tell me it’s the weekend.

My mum does more gardening – weeding today. The one teasel she let grow last year has resulted in baby teasels all over the garden, between the paving stones, in plant pots, on the roof. Well, not on the roof, but I wouldn’t be surprised. She talks about how well adapted they are. The juveniles have wide leaves which cling to the ground in a large area around their roots, smothering everything, but thankfully their roots don’t go too deep, so they’re easy to remove. I imagine a situation where planetary gardeners have a similar reaction to humans. “Oh god, look at the humans. They’re absolutely everywhere.

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Corona Diaries III – 26, 27 March


Already not sure what day it is. At Tesco’s I see them getting ready to implement queue restrictions and limits to how many people can be in the store at any one time.

I see a video of Chinese doctors addressing a press conference in Italy. Their message is – I don’t know what you think this is but it’s definitely not a lockdown, you need to do more. And Italy is already doing a lot more than us. I fully expect to see the army marching around Leeds by the end of this. No sign of them so far. Went to the park to walk with a friend. We walk opposite sides of the path, which is 4 metres wide, but still strictly against the guidelines which will soon become law. I try and convince her to walk around the park in opposite directions, greeting each other with secret messages, like it was a police state.

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Corona Diaries II – 24, 25 March


Didn’t watch the news today, lived in a bubble. First day of three week lockdown.

Today I reach for the jam and pick up a tub of vitamins. They’ve been on the breakfast table in the morning for about a week now.

Looking out the window, I see the Mediterranean in the air and the sun of the morning, but then, it might be that being cooped up with my family makes it feel eerily like a holiday. I say this to my dad and sister, and they say ‘what, like the mediterranean in winter, in the middle of the night?’. I’m so lucky to have travelled in Europe. If I thought England was the whole world, I would have lost my mind a long time ago. Or become some kind of pygmy version of myself.

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Corona Diary I – 22, 23 March


Mother’s Day. Restaurants, Cafés and Bars advised to close.

We went to visit grandma today as a family. The current advice is that it’s too risky for anyone over the age of seventy to come into contact with someone potentially carrying the virus. So we stood outside the window, and passed her presents through, my sister occasionally shouting – wash your hands! She seemed in good spirits, happy with her DVDs. One of them was Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory peck. She told us how, in the film, there is a stream of water that (legend has it) will make your hands fall off if you submerge them in it. Gregory Peck sticks his hand in and pulls his sleeve up to make Audrey Hepburn scream. We also got her some rose scented soap. She said her hands are already dry. I said I’d bring a copy of Rebecca for her to read, and some hand cream. I’ve never really needed hand cream before now, and that’s probably because, as I now know, I wasn’t really washing my hands properly. I’m surprised they didn’t fall off.

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