Journal of the Chinese Pestilence

Day 9       Of the Oriental Visitation or the Ruin of the Abundance of People.

Monday 23rd March 2020

All new jury trials have been abandoned and ‘emergency powers’ are going through Parliament; a hastily written document of 300 pages, which will clear the Commons in one day after a hasty debate, giving as David Davis MP put it, ‘Incredible reach.’

Mysteriously he added, ‘Things like, it will only take one doctor to section you.’

All public loos have closed due to thefts of loo paper. Most draconian of all; no one will pass through or under the famous scissor arches of McDonalds again after 7pm tonight.

Perhaps Davis was being perceptive. Visitations of disease do have an effect on the mind. Defoe described a day in March, in a London gradually shutting down due to plague: ‘The Apprehensions of the people were strangely increased by the Error of the Times. I could fill this account with the strange Relations such people gave every day, of what they had seen….One time  I joined a crowd staring up into the air, to see what a woman told them appeared plain to her, which was an angel clothed in white, with a fiery sword in his hand, waving it over his head. One saw one thing one another. I could see nothing but a white cloud. People were terrified by the force of their imagination.’

When he suggested that she was seeing things, he had to escape from an angry mob who could also all see the angel.

It was a mental challenge was just to go to Sainsbury’s this morning and to face the empty shelves representing so starkly, ‘The apprehensions of the people,’ and my own. I arrived at 8.45am, car park almost empty, not many people about which was a relief as I had been dreading a long queue outside.

They were only letting in people disabled and over seventy, giving them all flowers. I asked if I could enter as I am shopping for my elderly neighbour, but the rather kindly man on the door said, ‘That is not relevant.’  

They are trying to protect the people going in from the virus rather than from hoarders.

I stood at the head of a small queue feeling anxious and uncomfortable. I’ve interviewed many famous people. Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Marianne Faithfull etc have all kept me waiting for hours, sometimes days, in hotel rooms with editor screaming at me about deadlines. I once pretended to be the relative of a dying woman in a hospice so I could over hear the Queen’s conversation, I endured a roadblock in the Congo, but for some reason standing outside that shop gave me the jitters. When we got inside, it was OK. There was enough food to go around, a few packets of rice, some bread, I am now eating my crusts, and everything D wanted including her rice pudding’ light,’ crisps and toffees. There was no meat, absolutely no beer, I got the last bottle of Hennes Dry Cider, no cleaning products, and of course no loo rolls.  I’m beginning to feel about the ones I saw in Aldi three weeks ago, the way I used to feel about the flat in Hampstead I could have bought but didn’t.

People have also been stockpiling Vitamin D supplements after information on line said it could boost the immune system to protect against the virus. There is now none to be had in shops or on line. Gone to terrified people ‘for fear of the infection,’ influenced as Defoe wrote, by ‘Quacks, Mountebanks, practising old Women, ignorant fellows tampering in Physick, blind, absurd and ridiculous stuff.’

Received a Facebook message from a member of the Italian family where I wreaked havoc as an au pair in 1975. He said he still remembers me and his mother is now ninety. They are all fine. I told him to give her my apologies, perhaps a little late. I wept a bit thinking how the mother is now so old. Second bout of tears of the day and it’s only 11am. Must keep in mind David Davis’ warning and try to stay at least outwardly sane.

Hung out the washing for the first time in months in the bright, cold sunshine and went for a walk  with a friend keeping a strict two metres apart,  which sometimes meant walking on different sides of the  sloping Edwardian streets with their burgeoning magnolia trees, and  it seemed unbelievable that tonight our government might tell us we can’t go out for Spring walks anymore.

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