...Good morning. You are my home. You always were. Sometimes I hate you and dream of escaping your grey skies and fume-filled air for...somewhere warm, somewhere pretty, somewhere with sun and orange trees...and never returning. At the moment, though, I love you more than ever.
A couple of years ago we joined a club, one of those spacious, historic buildings where you can sit in absolute peace in the centre of the city, sipping a nice glass of wine and reading the TLS. Like most of these clubs, its doors are now closing for the C-19 crisis, so we went for dinner last night, the last opportunity. We are fine and have not been in contact with anybody suffering symptoms, so this was a reasoned decision and will probably be our last outing for months. I took the train into Waterloo - not empty, but relatively quiet - and walked across the bridge, past Charing Cross and through Trafalgar Square.
There is no upstream overcrowding on exiting the station, no traffic, and only scant bicycles or scooters to knock one over between there and the South Bank; usually the Waterloo main entrance is so appallingly designed, and the streets nearby so mismanaged, that there are 10 different ways you can be killed in five minutes.
The Royal Festival Hall is eerie: most of the restaurants are still open, and sparsely populated by small groups of young people, but the venues are shut. On the way home later, Tom admits quietly to having a "soft spot" for the place (where he has after all worked for 34 years), which is a way of saying it means the absolute world to him, and now it's closed. The bridge is empty of tourists, buskers or sellers of caramelised nuts. River boats pass underneath looking like the Marie Celeste. In Trafalgar Square, the lions preside and Nelson seems to wonder, up there, what's going on. The mood is sober. Outside the National Gallery a young man plays a Celtic harp - a silvery, ancient sort of sound, a fine alternative for St Patrick's Day - and pavement artists are chalking Paddington Bear with his red duffle coat onto the flagstones. I imagine Dame Myra Hess marching up those stairs during the Blitz, then wonder if she had to use a side entrance.
As usual, in London, there are as many different attitudes and opinions as there are people (estimated: 10m). One newspaper has noted that we're all talking to each other on the phone more than usual. The instinct is to huddle together, just when we can't. As the Italians say, we must keep our distance now in order to hug each other later. I've had various phone conversations with friends, three-metres-away chats with neighbours, and some long emails. The emotional range is from basic panic (induced mostly by empty shelves in Waitrose) to basic, relaxed, sit-it-out acceptance and, also, a downright relishing of the opportunity this unprecedented-in-our-lifetimes event gives society to rethink, completely, its priorities, structures and means of functioning.
I quote one dear friend who sees things in a more positive light than I do, and may have a point:
"The world is entirely reinventing itself! Our utterly corrupted and broken society and planet is forcing us to rethink our ENTIRE way of life... I know it is SO sad for us individually when so much is being lost (especially income ... very worrying), but I just wonder whether this is the moment where the world as we knew it cracks open, and then a new, more human way of existing is forced into existence...I'm not unhappy about the world taking a break ... the human tragedy aside, I can't think of anything better than the planet having space to breathe, and people having a chance to reconnect and reflect and think..."
Income being lost...well, quite. Yesterday, my commissions and engagements dropped like flies, and not like albums (how I loathe that term "x is dropping a new album" - it sounds like trousers, or guano). Programme notes for concerts are not needed if there are no concerts. Two of our planned IMMORTAL pilot performances in late spring are victim to cancelled series and festivals; much uncertainty surrounds major events in other parts of the world as well as closer to home. I am trying to find a silver lining in the truism that this will give me more time to work on IMMORTAL when it comes back from the editor, who hopefully is as able to work alone at home as I am.
The flood of dis/misinformation continues. When fact-checking the news, please read only official and trusted sources, and apply common sense at all times. Remember, for example, that if a virus could simply be flushed into the stomach and killed by warm water, we wouldn't have a pandemic at all. Meanwhile even left-wing commentators are noticing that the charismatic Rishi Sunak, the recently appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, can wipe the floor with the bumbling, bungling, burbling Boris PM. And reading Keir Starmer's articles, I keep wishing there was some way to magic him into Downing Street right away.
We go day by day. We can't do much else.
Hang in there, and see you tomorrow.