‘Passing through Token-House Yard, Lothbury, of a sudden a casement violently opened just over my head and a woman gave three frightful skreetches, and then cry’d, Oh! Death, Death, Death! Which struck me with Horror and a Chilness, in my very Blood.’
Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 1665.
Day One. 16th March 2020
To London at the request of the agent who looks after my flat there. Walk up to the bus station in town as I usually do, enjoying the views of Oxford, and going to the terminus is the best way to make sure of getting a seat with a table avoiding queueing on the pavement in the High Street where there is often an unruly scrum of pensioners, students and locals when the bus arrives.
Today there are only three of us on the bus. I sit up the front so that I am not facing anyone. As we hit the motorway the driver says no one wants to go by bus anymore, people are taking their cars instead, but the road looks quiet compared to the usual Monday morning. Feels like being on a ship of the doomed as we approach the Hoover Building and there’s still hardly any traffic.
My flat has just been decorated and looks stunningly pristine with the most hygienic, virus free loo in London as no one has used it yet. Our minds are constantly thinking about infection. As I leave, give lovely agent a £100 tip for all her hard work, she puts her arms around me, then we both pull back. We’ve never embraced before and this is not the time to start.
Meet a friend for lunch who wants to visit a café on the Uxbridge Rd. I ‘m reluctant as it’s crowded with local youth seated at cheap lacquered tables all shoved together, but the proprietor comes out and practically drags us in, accompanied by a fat waitress. As they cram us in a youth sneezes near me and his friend laughs as I swerve out of the way. While we eat tepid beans on toast the young woman wearing a very small, dirty apron keeps wiping the tables with a strong- smelling fluid.
My friend describes her anxiety at suddenly finding herself ordered to stay indoors because she’s seventy, and how she’ll deal with months of enforced claustrophobia, but I’m distracted by a huge TV behind her head showing a succession of important looking people telling us our future, none of it good, as they say we are facing, ‘an Italian situation.’
She says people over seventy are going to be fined £1,000 if they dare to step outside. Nonsense, I tell her, who’s going to enforce such a thing, when did you last see a policeman?
Get home at 4pm. Have the prescribed wash singing Happy Birthday twice but wonder all the time if I have brought Ortho Corona Virinae, in the family Coronaviridae, order Nidovirales, and realm Riboviria, back with me, and if so, where did I catch it? Wash all the clothes I have worn during the day, taking particular care over my old red velvet gloves which have never been washed before. Disappear under the duvet which feels great, but will it feel so good in three months’ time?