The Social Distance: Week Commencing 23rd of March, 2020

Having already been removed from work last week owing to the fact that I fall into a ‘high risk’ category, I had already had several days of ‘social distancing’ (read: quarantine) before the whole of the UK entered a state of lockdown on Monday, 23rd March 2020.

(Working from home – recording and editing lectures for my students)

Schools closed on the Friday previous, which meant that children are being homeschooled. My own children are studying their after-school martial arts classes (which are being organised wonderfully by Samurai Hearts in Grimsby) at a distance, with their sensei using online platforms to live stream their lessons every evening into the homes of the children who attend the dojo and after-school clubs. The Samurai Hearts team are also providing the children with Japanese lessons, again streamed online, twice a week.

The near-constant hand-washing, which the government has advised all citizens to practice in order to prevent transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is taking a toll on skin. Both of my sons are lathering their hands in moisturiser and wearing cotton gloves (not unlike the ones I use to handle my negatives) at various points of the day.

(Gloves worn over moisturised hands by my eldest son, to counteract the effects of near-constant handwashing on his skin)

On Wednesday, 26th of March, Prince Charles tested positive for the Coronavirus. The BBC news report showed Charlie shaking hands with the general public at a recent event (during which the future king may very well have been incubating the virus) like a 21st Century variant of Typhoid Mary.

My family have also been taking part in ‘Body Coach’ Joe Wicks’ attempt to situate himself as ‘the nation’s P.E. teacher’ via his daily broadcasts on his Youtube channel.

And, of course, there is downtime…

The Social Distance: Day One

It’s difficult to think of oneself as ‘vulnerable’. However, owing to varous medical factors – and chief among these is chronic asthma, with which I have suffered (and been hospitalised several times) since early childhood – I have been labelled as ‘high risk’ within the context of the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. As a consequence, I have been advised by the UK government to practice ‘social distancing’ – which, like the refusal of the authorities to use the SARS-CoV-2 label to describe the pathogen itself, seems like an example of Orwellian doublespeak. What it means is that like many, many other individuals with similar chronic health conditions, I have been urged to quarantine myself – for my own safety. I am urged to stay approximately two metres away from other people, for fear of contracting SARS-CoV-2, a situation which could potentially lead to my death.

Homage to Koudelka

As I said above, it’s hard to think of yourself as ‘vulnerable’. I am what might be described as a ‘strapping’ chap, 6 feet in height (ironically the distance I am supposed to keep from other people), though of recent years I lean towards the corpulent persuasion. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I’m 40-something but still feel about 15 when I wake up – and, to be frank, I continue to feel about 15 throughout most of the day. But ‘vulnerable’ I am, and many of my friends and colleagues who have also been advised to practice ‘social distancing’ are similarly difficult to perceive as vulnerable or ‘high risk’.

I have personal experience of pneumonia, which it seems is the possible end-stage in the contraction of SARS-CoV-2. I broke my quarantine to speak with some students today, as they were expecting me to deliver a class and I thought it would be unprofessional not to speak with them, and I told them about my own experiences with pneumonia; though this experience did not lead me to place my foot on the threshold of death, it certainly resulted in me knocking on death’s door. My oxygen levels dropped dangerously, I was placed on pure oxygen, and I was left with scarring on my lung tissue as evidence of this encounter.

More recently, I have a much more traumatic experience of pneumonia. My father died in November of 2019, following his contraction of a mysterious illness which, though doctors were unable to diagnose or cure it, gave him a terrible fever and led to him developing pneumonia. As his lungs filled with fluid and the effects of the pneumonia were compounded by other underlying conditions (atrial fibrilation, COPD), doctors decided to place him on terminal sedation. I stayed by my dad’s side for five days whilst his body failed. One wonders, given the mysterious nature of the pathogen which infected my father and led to his death, whether this may have been SARS-CoV-2. Beyond the realms of possibility? I doubt it.

I have been told, in no uncertain terms, to avoid going to my workplace and to work from home. Yet my children are still attending school (at least, until the end of the school day tomorrow) and I have to take and collect my two young sons from their educational setting. Of course, today this resulted in me coming much closer than two metres to many, many people. Additionally, my wife must still go to work. By ‘self-isolating’ from my workplace, my risk of being infected has fallen – but it’s far from nil, given my family circumstances.

On the other hand, practising ‘social distancing’ will have numerous other effects. Unable to take on freelance work, I am now entirely reliant on the income from my teaching job, which as an employee on a fractional contract is relatively small (under £15,000). Things will be tough economically. They may also be tough in other ways. Certainly, self-isolation may have an effect on people’s mental health. I make no bones about the fact that I have previously suffered from anxiety and depression, and have been on medication for such; in fact, can one ever say that one recovers from such an affliction? (And, unlike some who experience anxiety and depression, I am more than happy to label it as an affliction.) That said, I’m an anti-social sort of person, so having time to myself and working from home could have other benefits.

Communication with other people will be predominantly atomised and virtual. Will this be enough? On the other hand, this phenomenon has inspired my creative impulses, and I have several projects that I wish to pursue during my period of quarantine – including developing some teaching resources that I have wanted to develop for a long time. This afternoon, on my way home, I took my Weltaflex medium format TLR (loaded with a roll of Ilford’s FP4 Plus) and shot some photographs that I have wanted to take for a long time; these will no doubt find their way into one of the projects I am now planning.

Oh, and I also realised that giving yourself a haircut isn’t as difficult as I’d always thought it would be. Who’dathunkit?

More to come in subsequent days, but take care and be well…