The Lockdown Diaries 3: Double Or Nothing


I’m sitting in my dressing gown overlooking London, thinking about where the city goes from here.

In his memoir of growing up in middle-class Viennese society, Stefan Zweig writes that Jewish families such as his were misunderstood. The desire for financial security lasted just two of three generations, and once it was achieved a new objective took its place within the family; the attainment of intellect. The professional and artistic callings became all-important. The next generation became musicians, artists, writers and professionals with higher callings. The assumption was that humans would evolve steadily like climbing the rungs of an endless ladder.

But they don’t.

Several comfortable generations toward the end of the 19th century were enough to lull Zweig and his kin into a false sense of security, so that when the rug was brutally pulled from under them by the assassination of the Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand, the outbreak of war came as a shock that shattered their world. It seemed to them that everything they had trusted vanished overnight, but of course the political situation had been slowly eroding for a decade; they simply had not noticed.

Zwieg’s plunge from order to chaos was far greater than ours. We have experienced a calibrated reduction of freedom. We can see what we should have done. Every day the press covetously explains how New Zealand beat the virus. New Zealand admirably did the right thing. But their entire population would fit into the London of 1880.

The Black Death wiped out 60% of densely packed Europe. Of all the developed countries, the US approach to the present plague has been the most disastrous, suffered by ordinary working men and women, many of whom will continue to vote in favour of a morally bankrupt ruling elite.

At the moment for me life involves being in a double-Lockdown. I start each day in a busy London hospital. Most government booklets designed to inform patients have been rendered hilariously impractical and out-of-date by the virus. The juggling of virus, cancer and other underlying  conditions can be managed if you concentrate. They say I’ll suffer mood swings. Not me, I laugh, and proceed to have a furious argument about…bread.

A routine has evolved – after the hospital we stop at a bakery. Coffee and cake on the terrace, then work. The best advice a medic ever gave me was; Don’t talk to too many people. I learned to avoid certain ‘friends’ who took a creepy pleasure in explaining what could go wrong. When I was 41 and on a ventilator in an ICU, a complete stranger managed to get through on the phone and explain why I should ‘just let go and be accepted into God’s hands’. I am not a vindictive man, but I hope she’s dead.

When I read Zweig’s description of his ordered old world I realised he was right; it did not come back. It changed out of all recognition. That particular evolutionary ladder had reached an end.

All of which is enough to make you think I’m not writing. But I am. Each morning, just for a while, I step back into the offices at 231 Caledonian Road and shake hands with the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit (no social distancing here). Then I start chatting with Arthur Bryant and John May. They may be fictional but they are constant. The world around us is not.

23 comments on “The Lockdown Diaries 3: Double Or Nothing”

  1. Jo W says:

    Keep going,Chris, stay strong!
    By the way did you manage to liberate that poster and where were you thinking of displaying it ? Maybe the balcony? Could give your neighbours something to think about! 😉

  2. admin says:

    My neighbours have quite enough to think about thank you! We just did the ‘Urgent Sausage Roll Run’ for the neighbours…

  3. davem says:

    keep up the posts Chris, always good to hear from you.

    although not as complex as your situation, I went through a 4 week course of daily radiotherapy at St Thomas’ a few years ago … the first 10 days were fine, and then it got tougher mentally and physically … but a completion date does finally materialise.

    stay positive, may sound a trite phase but I am convinced it does help

  4. Brooke says:

    Wow…Lots to think about in this post .e.g human investment in stability and certainty, despite mankind’s history. And the evolution of “the city,” as a densely populated center of innovation, commerce, etc.
    Yes, do avoid the Eliphazs, Bildads, Zophars and the especially ludicrous Elihus.

  5. Liz Thompson says:

    Urgent sausage roll run. Years ago, in Halifax, when I worked in the civil service, the Regional Controller was due to visit the office. He was an Assistant Secretary grade, biggest cheese in the Region. The reception committee, Manager, Deputy, Assistant Managers were gathered in a dignified group by the staff entrance, a small doorway next to a large Tesco. The Regional Controller arrived. Just as they moved forward to greet him, round the corner, smartly, bearing 11 bacon sandwiches, came a lower grade clerical officer. Every morning, without fail, he went to the local baker’s and brought back elevenses for his colleagues.
    Consternation, at least amongst the managerial team. With a cheerful ‘Morning’, the bacon roll bearer swept through their midst into the office, and went smartly up in the lift.
    We never did find out what the Regional Controller said.

  6. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    A friend of mine completed radiotherapy just before lockdown. She was amazed by how many people seemed to enjoy telling her what could go wrong.
    I’m sure Bryant and May are better company than the Job’s comforters.
    Looking forward to hearing what they have to say in the not too distant future.

  7. Jan says:

    Chris half of it is just getting into a routine see? Just getting used to where you find yourself and how your world is now. The strangest of situations stops been Such a challenge after repeating your day to navigate through it half a dozen times. Getting in the swing of things. All it is.

    Beware another rant might be brewing here…….you know what you were saying about the Black Death….. that they reckon might have knocked out two thirds of the peasant population that worked the land for their feudal lords which was of course the peasants primary obligation + duty to serve their Lord and master. Well once the Black Death turned the situation pretty much on its head causing Labour shortages and other members further up in the feudal triangle to question the whole set up of the thing and to readjust their own sights and personal ambitions. Life across the continent changed and within England it certainly did. There was real social change. Things were quite radically, as it went, reordered.

    I wonder if without losses anywhere near that sort of range at all but with a much more aware, connected and educated society anything at all along those lines of change will occur post this pandemic? If our political masters will look at the society they represent and really appreciate who has it turned out kept the UK going? Makes you look askance at Tony Blair’s education, education education. No body had ambitions to be a bin man, or a shelf stacker or a supermarket check out personage now did they? But thems the folks the very people who as it turned out were important.

    Look at nursing and the healthcare related professions – now nursing is probably one of the longest established female care giver jobs but who would have ever believed that the care givers would have turned into the front line troops – in a situation Mr Johnson + co have decided to compare to being at war.( Except we are at war with a miniscule biochemical structure totally unaware of our existence!) Never have the front line troops going into a battle been largely female or from such a wide age spread. Hardly believable just like oil being negatively valued or the leader of the free world telling his citizens to inject bleach and/or disinfectant – or you being poorly. Everything’s properly changed and different and making no sense.

    Except we will all make new routines. You crack on and make yours….. Within just a few months we will be arguing about bloody Brexit again and you will be posting pictures of your horribly neat and freakishly tidy desk and that weird brass lamp once more. Take it steady!

  8. Brooke says:

    @Jan…quibbles. Females as front line troops going into battle… I beg to differ–I recall photos from WW2 of generals (suffering from typoid, malaria, and other super bugs) being carried through jungle, battle fields, on stretchers by female nurses. Women ran the US portal service on the battle fronts…women served in resistance armies. It’s just that men write the history books.

    And few things have changed…we are just standing at a different point of perspective, with some of us waiting for a familiar color pattern to reassert itself… it won’t.

  9. Front line troops? These front line troops have several things in common with the military variety. We send them into battle ill-equipped. We rely on them to their job at whatever cost. And, when the war is over, our politicians and most of society will forget all about them, their sacrifices and their problems.

  10. Roger says:

    …and they’ve been led by some of the most incompetent and self-serving “generals” in history, Peter Tromans.

  11. Debra Matheney says:

    Nay sayers are far too many. Our neighbor received a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer in January and told he had 7-9 days left if he didn’t get treatment. He has done remarkably well with chemo and can take 2 mile hikes now. Cancer and Covid 19 are unpredictable illnesses, and I think it important to remain positive and hopeful. You have many fans supporting you and wishing you all the best. Take care.
    I find great comfort in nature, watching trees and flowers come to life, listening to bird song and watching my 3 cats enjoy their days. I long to go to the beach, 2 hours from where I live in California, but remain at home. Pictures of fools wandering the beaches without masks and distancing drive me mad as does the piss poor leadership in both UK and USA. Bumbling fools are they. Thank God for gin.

  12. Jan says:

    Brooke no you could actually go back a good bit further than that I think to find a significant female presence on a battlefield (and I am not only talking about the valiant efforts of nurses during the Crimean war or during WWs 1_and 2)….what I was (clumsily) trying to point out is that at present the front line contingent of people combatting this “enemy” both within the red zones and in the normal green zone care settings are in fact mainly female and rather than being from a similar age group they are from a much wider age range than our more familiar ideas concerning combat troops.

    Peter + Roger yes there’s no arguing with what you say here the shortage of fairly basic medical PPE is absolutely no different from sending ill equipped troops into the trenches. No different at all.

    I am not quite sure which is the more accurate summation of the end situation whether it’s P.Tromans “and when the war is over our politicians and most of society will forget all about them and their sacrifices” or Brookes “some of us waiting for a familiar colour pattern to reassert itself….it won’t”.

  13. John Griffin says:

    The prize is for everything not to go back to ‘normal’, but for the ‘new normal’ to be a No Deal Brexit that enables the sweeping up of all the debris by Johnson’s backers, US companies and assorted leeches. The water has been tested by Brexit and the 2019 ‘election’, to be confirmed by ‘wonderful support’ for “Boris” and his handling of COVID19. Secure, regardless of the 1%’s contempt for the 99% and lethal governmental incompetence, the Grail is within their grasp. We are still on course for the Britannia Unchained vision of low tax, low wage economy.

  14. Brooke says:

    Heard some good news…Oxfordbridge science group has developed a candidate vaccine and are now in clinical trials. Hurray for the home teams.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    It used to be that pregnant women had to avoid older women with horror stories of their own birthing experiences. That Job’s comforter of yours obviously couldn’t find anyone to tell her tales to. You just battle on with all the strength you have, the medical team will (as usual) do everything in their power and we out here will send all the possible thoughts of power in your direction. I did it with a class I where the teacher was away on a week long course and rather fearing what she was going to have to do. Every morning (as I promised) the class silently sent positive thoughts in her direction. If some did it in the form of silent prayer no one knew and thee word prayer never crossed my lips. Extremely powerful thoughts are aimed in the direction of you and your husband.

  16. Roger says:

    “The captain is in his bunk, drinking bottled ditch-water; and the crew is gambling in the forecastle. She will strike and sink and split. Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favour of England because you were born in it?”

    Meanwhile, good luck, Chris,

  17. Kim Froggatt says:

    “When I was 41 and on a ventilator in an ICU, a complete stranger managed to get through on the phone and explain why I should ‘just let go and be accepted into God’s hands’. I am not a vindictive man, but I hope she’s dead.”

    These lines caused me to have yet another choke on my tea moments, only this time it was Vichy Catalan sparkling water which proceeded to fly out of my nose with such rapidity I almost lost balance. Clearly, I must not drink anything whilst reading your words because its so hard to predict when a laugh out loud moment will arrive. Thank you for this moment of such jollity (except for the choking bit). I hope you manage to find some time to laugh today, too.

  18. Tim Goodman says:

    Dear Christopher Fowler , May I offer my very best wishes , and express the hope that your latest book will find it’s way to the recording studios soon, for my delectation ,and narrative efforts !

  19. admin says:

    Ladies and gentlemen, above please meet and greet the superbly toned Mr Tim Goodman, the voice of Arthur Bryant on your audio books and all other characters besides. Thanks Tim – the next one should be on its way to you…

  20. Brooke says:

    Many thanks, Mr. Goodman. You’ve made the PCU adventures accessible to readers like me whose eyesight is worse than Arthur’s.

  21. David Ronaldson says:

    I have just announced my recently-diagnosed Cancer to friends on social media; I’m glad to say nobody has advised me to “Let go”, just variations on “Keep laughing” and “Keep fighting”.

  22. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – you might find the little booklet ‘Instructions For American Servicemen In Britain 1942’. A brilliant little primer for the UK, which also shows that the US were far behind the UK in their treatment of Female personnel. There are mentions of their courage under fire, and an explicit instruction to salute and obey female officers. It’s very enlightening. I have a set of these little books, and they are possibly the best insight to what things were really like. History books are fine, but these were no nonsense guides given to the people who were going to actually be shot at, and written by people who knew what they were talking about. The reprints are by the Bodleian Library, and still available.

  23. Helen Martin says:

    There have been so many favourable comments on Mr. Goodman’s reading of the books that I am tempted to get copies just to experience his interpretation. It is pleasant to see (?) the man himself here.

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