Covid BCN 07: crime and (physical) punishment

I wanted to open this blog with some positive news: a couple of days ago the death rate in Catalonia dropped for the first time! I was hopeful we were reaching our peak even as the toll continued to rise in Spain (bearing in mind they didn’t go into full lockdown until around two weeks after Catalonia). But unfortunately it was a false alarm, just a blip on the graph. People are dying as fast if not faster than ever. So sorry, no encouraging news. I’ve been desperate to avoid falling into the trap of constantly regurgitating depressing news (hence I haven’t posted for a while). Unfortunately with this crisis, however, we haven’t a huge amount of choice.

Moving on, I want to urge people to stay safe in another way. Tuesday I went down to buy my organic veggies. I was surprised to see there was no Covid (or any other sort of) queue and the veggie woman seemed to be picking up a mess in the back of the store. She told me she had just been robbed. They had taken all her cash and her mobile phone. It is fortunate so many people have been paying by card to avoid virus spread, so she won’t have lost everything. She was most annoyed about losing her phone as all of her business info was on it. I called the mossos (police) on my phone and she reported it. Apparently, one guy had come into the store and started to browse the fruit down the back. She had thought he was shifty even before he tipped a box of lemons onto the floor. She went to help him pick them up and at that point another guy, whose face was covered (as everybody’s is nowadays), entered the shop and rifled the till (which presumably she had left open). She called out and ran to grab him, but he pulled his arm back as if to punch her so she let him go and he left. The other guy also left hurriedly and she is sure he was collaborating with the thief. They took advantage of the fact there are so few people on the streets right now, knowing they wouldn’t be seen or stopped. So remember, even in this coronavirus crisis, shit happens. Crime still happens. Be alert and stay safe.

And now for some overseas news – from Croyden, UK. A friend of mine who works as a primary care pharmacist, told me how he is collaborating in the fight against SARS-CoV-2, as it is officially called:

“I’m supporting a project – electronic repeat prescribing – so that stable healthy patients are able to be issued 12 prescriptions on one signing and they just collect it from the pharmacy every time they need a prescription [thereby relieving strain on GP surgeries]. The technology has been in place for years but was never pushed as it is a hassle to set up at GPs. So us pharmacists in primary care will do the set-up but that’s only until we get redeployed for work into hospitals to cover all those who go sick – till we might [get sick]. Then it’s a lottery as anyone can be a victim of death.”

He also shared a bit about the reality of patients who are on ventilators and necessarily sedated:

“Nurse to patient ratios are normally 1:1 in usual circumstances, but now it will be 1:4, so that means patients are sedated to level -3 to -5 (the scale is -5 to 0). In normal circumstances you get sedated to level 0 which means you’re asleep but wake up when your name is called and stay awake for at least ten seconds. Level -5 is no response when touched or spoken to. The reason for higher sedation is so that nurses can manage four patients. It would be terrible if a patient pulled out the ventilator tube suddenly and that risks virus [escaping] into the air; and sedation is given in the first place so the patient is comfortable with the tube down their throat. A long-term side effect of -5 sedation is that no memories are formed, and that means that mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder are likely in the future.”

But on the positive side (yes, there is one), all of this staying at home (and working out there) means you no longer have any excuse not to get to the gym.

Image of barbell made from cartons of milk in shopping bags on a bamboo pole
A little bit of Kiwi ingenuity and a bamboo pole can turn your improvised dumbbells into improvised barbells, saving you thousands in gym fees and exercise equipment every year

I have some aches and pains today as yesterday I did quite a lot of weights – and also skipping! Who knew that somebody who worked as a physical actor for over twenty years could have become so uncoordinated? Aiming to skip for a mere twenty jumps left me panting and out of breath – and I don’t even smoke! I blame it all on the lockdown. Now I know why all the boxing films show Rocky and his crew skipping rope for hours; it’s the ultimate tough-guy endurance activity. Don’t trust those devious eight-year-olds who make it look so damn easy. They’re just setting you up for a fall, entangled in your own rope.

Image of dumbells made out of full cartons of soup and milk in shopping bags
When you run out of milk for your morning coffee and have to raid your homemade dumbbells …

So after the lockdown lifts I expect you all to leap from your homes into the brisk spring (or autumn) air, showing off those ripped, toned bodies you have been working on so hard while inside.

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The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

Dreaming of Books 10

Amid the leaked news that Spain’s lockdown may be extended until June, I resolve to remain calm and comment-free (see previous posts where I totally go off on one), and turn my gaze to literature. I’m resurrecting a series I used to post on this blog, dreaming of books, where I recommend great books to read – during the lockdown or at any time.

Pat Barker has taken Homer’s tale of The Iliad and retold it through the eyes of one of its central characters – one who barely received a mention in the original. Briseis is a beautiful noblewoman of Lyrnessus, near Troy, captured as a “prize” by Achilles in a Greek raid on the town. Having seen this warrior slaughter her family, she is enslaved as his concubine before being passed on to the Greek commander Agamemnon as disputed booty in a quarrel between the two warriors. She does not merely witness but experiences first-hand the events that unfold in this tragic final year of the siege of Troy.

Photo of The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker on a Barcelona balcony with a glass of El Priorat wine
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is a great Covid-19 isolation read, here being read on a Barcelona balcony with a nice drop of El Priorat wine

I am an unconditional fan of Pat Barker. I first got to know her writing in “The Regeneration Trilogy” (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road), where her setting was the First World War. The subject of The Silence of the Girls is likewise war, but more specifically how the caprices of male egos cause innocent people – most often women – suffering and death.

I love the approach Barker takes to the concept of gods and mortals here, not attempting to engage in any kind of supernatural fantasy fest but accepting that through their belief her characters acknowledge and experience the gods in a real sense, and are affected by their whims. Being the female slave of the most powerful warrior in the Greek army affords Briseis the protection to wander where she likes in the camp. So she often swims in the bay, attempting to wash away the despair of her slavery. When she comes to his bed one night, “aware of how it must appear to him, the crust of salt on my cheekbones, the smell of sea-rot in my hair,” Achilles seems to become entranced. It is as if, through the sexual act, he is seeking his mother, Thetis (a Nereid or sea nymph, who deserted him as a child), attempting to reconcile her abandonment with his destiny. The imperative of his destiny and need for glory weigh constantly on him, affecting every action: “Ever since he came to Troy, he’s known – intermittently, at least – that he won’t be going home.”

In these days of the Covid-19 pandemic, plague likewise features heavily in this tale, so it is interesting to see how the male characters move through the various stages of hubris, denial, anger, panic and finally humiliation and appeasement, orbiting along their own strict paths of battle codes and honour. Yet it is chilling to see through the women’s eyes how decisions taken by the men directly affect them as they look on at events with an absolute lack of choices over where they live and sleep, what they eat and especially who touches and uses their bodies.

Barker never falls into the common trap of many historical writers of creating an overly prescient or knowledgeable narrator but rather presents a world of raw, bruised and believable humanity, comfortable in its own period even as it is conflicted by its own inequality.

Purchase the ebook here.

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Covid BCN 06: virus versus hubris

Sunday, 22 March 2020

I woke up grumpy this morning, wanting to go to the pool or for a bike ride, and angry at the incompetents who by their ineptitude have ensured our confinement will last closer to three months than three weeks. We’re in the ninth day of this damn lockdown, the ninth day I haven’t been able to get to my pool or on my bike and ride up the mountain. Yes, unlike Belgium and France, in their infinite wisdom our noble rulers have banned any form of exercise outside the home, even in situations where you are exercising solo, your feet never touch the ground and you remain at least fifty metres from any other living being at all times. We are expected simply to endure with little thought for the logistics of how the goal might be achieved while still ensuring our sanity.

The ninth day of lockdown, knowing this is likely to last for months and we haven’t nearly approached the peak yet. A lot of people still have to die before this is over. New Zealand will no doubt be locked down for about three weeks and sort it quickly. But thanks to those in charge, Spain is more likely to be locked down from here to eternity. And this morning as if on cue, it was declared that Spain’s lockdown will be extended by a further 15 days.

Why am I not surprised? The Catalan first minister, Torra, has repeatedly asked for Catalonia to be sealed off. He has asked Sánchez to stop cleaning airports and start closing them. His plea has fallen on deaf ears, as did the plea to properly seal off Madrid. From the Spanish point of view, the fears about closing off Catalonia are that those borders may never open again and Catalonia may become de facto independent as a result of the crisis. Hmmm, maybe we should have a referendum on that?

Below, I give the grim statistics, but before that, let’s stay positive (yes, up till now this has been positive – hadn’t you noticed?) and talk about keeping ourselves in shape during the lockdown.

Day nine and my affirmations are to start playing more music and doing exercise on a regular basis. This morning my body was screaming out for stretches and a proper workout, so to Velvet Velsen’s beats, I finally kicked my lazy arse into some semblance of a half-hearted routine. Reader, I exercised! I’ll do another short session this evening, turning it into a twice-daily habit – at least that’s the plan.

If exercise is difficult for you (as it is for me), break it up. Do half an hour in the morning and the same in the evening. Or even just ten minutes, go and do something else, then do another ten minutes and so on. I have a friend who works at home and has installed a lifting bar in his kitchen doorway, so that every time he goes to the kitchen for something (which us work-at-homers tend to do several times an hour), he does a few pull-ups to give the trip the patina of a virtuous goal. Otherwise, pick a spot in your house that you pass through several times a day and set yourself an exercise task to do every time you pass that spot: for example, five push-ups, some leg stretches, or ten star jumps. Keep it brief and easy but frequent.

Okay, here are the grim statistics* for those interested:

In the last 24 hours, 394 more deaths in Spain and 3,600 new cases. So officially, 28,572 cases and 1,720 deaths in all. Bear in mind that testing is only being carried out in hospitals so this doesn’t include people catching it on the street and self-isolating. Therefore the real figures are bound to be far higher.

This is a 15% increase in cases compared to Saturday. If true, it means the increase statistic is beginning to peak: 20%, 18%, 18%, 15% … (Or are they just testing less?) My friend working at a hospital tells me not to trust the statistics as they are being whitewashed. For example, a recent figure claimed that 57% of cases were in Barcelona and Madrid, whereas it breaks down into 47% of cases in Madrid and 10% in Barcelona, but this was part of an effort to conceal Madrid’s poor management of the crisis. Where infections have jumped is in the community of Castilla-La Mancha, probably from Madrid residents heading out of town to “escape” the virus.

Deaths have increased by 30%, half of them in the community of Madrid, and the rate of deaths is not levelling off. Madrid, still the main focus in Spain, now has over 1000 coronavirus deaths, with almost 10,000 officially infected. Its health system has collapsed. Two hospitals in the community, the Príncipe de Asturias in Alcalá d’Henares and the Severo Ochoa in Leganés, have asked for patients to be diverted to other centres because their emergency services can no longer cope.

In Catalonia, official infections increased by around 500, with 69 more deaths.

“The worst is still to come and we must prepare”

The experts are not optimistic. Seventy scientists from all around Spain have requested that everybody is confined to home to avoid collapse of the health system. They also demand – as Torra has repeatedly requested for Catalonia – that the worst-hit areas are totally sealed off. These include Madrid, Catalonia, Castella i Lleó, Castella-la Manxa, la Rioja, the Basque Country and Navarra.

Spain’s prime minister summed it up: “The worst is still to come and we must prepare”. Yeah right, like we didn’t know that already.

First layer of an oil painting of a reclining male nude
“Manchando la tela” (“staining the canvas”) of a new oil painting – channelling my frustrations away from politics and into art

I swear for the duration of this crisis and to preserve my sanity, I will henceforth leave politics alone and focus on pastoral pursuits such as painting and writing.

* The statistics in this article were drawn from CCRTV’s 3/24 news channel on 22/03/2020.

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Covid BCN 05: a time for reflection

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Day six of lockdown. I woke this morning to a neighbour playing ABBA at full blast, so how could this not be a glorious day!

Dancing queen, young and sweet only seventeen!

Yes, reader, I spent a fun half-hour lip-synching in front of the mirror. Desperate ills … desperate remedies. I don’t think I’ve done that since I was fifteen and a friend of my sister’s caught me at it. Oh the shame, the shame! Since then, however, I’ve gone on to do far more shameful things, so dancing to ABBA has been officially struck off the list. One of the glories of growing older is being able to own your idiosyncrasies – even weirdnesses – without shame.

Then I sat down and applied for two copywriting jobs that had dropped into my inbox, so the day started constructively. (Note to self: for the facetime interview, ditch the sweats and wear a proper shirt.)

Two items, one shared by my sister here, and another by The Big Idea website on the Japanese concept of Ikigai, made me think that with this crisis we are creating a new world. So the challenge is to create it better than the one we had. There will be a before and an after from this time. I suspect teleworking could become more the norm with, say, office employees needing to show up for meetings just one day a week while otherwise working from home. That would bring business rents down in cities like Barcelona, taking some of the strain off shops and off the businesses themselves, which would need less office space.

Illustration of Ikigai by Jessica Thompson Carr (AKA Māori Mermaid), courtesy of The Big Idea website
Illustration by Jessica Thompson Carr (AKA Māori Mermaid), courtesy of The Big Idea

The covid19 crisis has all but shouted down news on the environmental crisis the world is facing, yet this fundamental change we are all making to our lives could be the healthy beginning of a new way of treating our planet. In China, Europe and many industrial nations, air pollution is the best it has been for decades as industry closes down. If we continue with and expand upon the patterns we are establishing to fight this crisis – travelling less by air, avoiding a commute and working from home, doing as much of our business online as possible (admittedly computers use a lot of energy, but not nearly as much as trains and planes) – we are likewise taking positive steps to heal the planet. Neither am I suggesting that industry should remain shut down, but this crisis might provide an impulse to reorganise it along greener lines, so that when it reopens, our world is a better place.

We should identify these processes and make them manifest and permanent. A friend who has been forced to work from home for the Covid19 crisis is now considering – if he can make teleworking a success – a move back to his village, where he is closer to the beach and life is cheaper. A lot of Spanish towns have been affected by migration to the cities. This could be the key to their repopulation. Obviously this solution would not work for everybody, but if commuting within cities was halved, for example, and we had less need to build new motorways, imagine how grateful our planet would be. Working from home means you are lowering your carbon footprint so neither do you have to feel quite as guilty about taking that holiday by plane as you did before the crisis hit us.

Just some thoughts for reflection from a Covid home-exile.

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Covid BCN 04: reporting from the containment zone

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Day five and I’m considering hammering nails into the walls so I can physically as well as mentally climb them.

Yesterday, having donned both mask – a single-use one from Jordi since he gets them free from hospital (civilians can no longer acquire masks for love nor money) – and latex gloves – the latter from a glove pack I bought to keep the oil from my hands off my charcoal drawings – I leapt out the door, desperate for any excuse to savour the outdoors, however virus-laden it might be. I was hoping my organic veggies woman had turned up and so was thrilled to spot a Covid queue immediately. They are recognisable by the number of apparently unrelated, disparate individuals randomly scattered across an empty space like a 1980s grunge band LP cover. Proof the veggies woman was open for business.

I called out in my best Catalan, ‘Qui és l’últim?’ (who’s the last in line?), that particular rallying cry traditionally used in the markets since Catalan people are thoroughly queue-phobic (one of the reasons I love living here). It is serving them well in the Covid crisis, where linear order is a thing of the past. I was pointed to a solitary woman communing with her phone in the centre of the square over three metres distant from anyone else. I found my own suitably lonely spot and settled in to wait.

People not obviously standing in a queue outside the organic veggies pop-up shop
Spot the queue: A Covid queue in action, camouflaged within the urban landscape

Returning home with my basket of veges, I activated recently learnt glove-removing skills to avoid getting any icky virus on my hands or into the house. If you don’t know how to do this, here’s a good video on hygienically removing your latex gloves. I do love that accent!

At noon today there was a cacerolada, that popular protest when everyone comes out onto their balconies banging pots and pans until we’re all good and deaf. I couldn’t work out what it was protesting against and wondered if it was due to the sudden rise in cases in Spain. In the last 24 hours they have risen by over 2500, an 18% increase, bringing the total to just under 14,000. It should be borne in mind that people on the street are no longer being tested, only those in hospital, so the true figure is likely to be far higher. However, according to the director of the Health Emergency Coordination Centre, 18% is an increase similar to the day before, suggesting that the infection rate might be peaking, though it is still too early to say. Spain in total has 28 cases for every 100,000 residents. There are 774 people in Intensive Care (i.e. requiring ventilators), and 5717 hospitalised. Over a thousand people have now recovered.

The king of Spain is slated to speak at 9 pm tonight, and there is another initiative to hold a cacerolada while he speaks, as a protest against the alleged corruption and right-wing political stance of this head of state who is supposed to remain politically neutral. It is also to demand that the money his father, the king emeritus, salted away in tax havens for him is donated to the health authorities. Politics enters every facet of life here, and the Covid19 crisis is no exception. Apparently the 12-noon cacerolada was promoted by the king’s sympathisers so he wouldn’t be drowned out this evening.

Masks and gloves are also political. The Catalan health service is complaining that Madrid is intercepting orders of surgical masks destined for Catalan hospitals, while the mayor of Igualada, focus of Catalonia’s biggest outbreak, has officially complained that 4,000 masks destined for Igualada Hospital have been held up in Madrid. Madrid claims it is “redistributing” material throughout Spain, but the Catalan Health minister is saying this is creating unnecessarily long bureaucratic delays. A Zaragoza company has been caught holding a secret auction of surgical masks.

My income this month has shrunk to a pale vestige of itself, minus 15% tax retained at source and monthly Social Security payments that do not shrink regardless of my income. So I am now officially paying out good money to be self-employed here in Spain. Most other self-employed people here are in the same boat, but then nothing has changed in that regard since the days of Felipe – and I don’t mean Gonzalez but the one who built the Escorial palace.

What we really need now is a sudden burst of early hot summer weather to take the temperature above 27ºC, which it is reported would kill off the virus. Come on Global Warming, we’ve been investing in you for almost two centuries – time to do your thing!

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Covid BCN 03: shop till you drop

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Yesterday it was time to eschew my quarantine and head out into the world to stock up on perishables. After 72 hours, in which my computer has been my only window onto the world – except for my balcony, which faces a brick wall – this was a big deal.

First things first: this meant putting on my outdoor shoes, careful not to tread virus deeper into the house. In many countries, people remove their shoes when they enter a home, but in Catalonia, with its predominantly tiled floors, shoes inside remains the norm. That’s a thing of the past. Shoes that walk on the street now stay in the entrance hall, since virus-containing sputum coughed into the air ends up on the street and from there onto the soles of your shoes, where it can live for several hours.

I take my shopping bag and head downstairs – I’ve been advised not to use shopping trolleys as too many people have handled them (I’ve been trying not to use plastic for several months already because of the environment). Once below, I realise I have no gloves (or a mask!) and have to open the street door with the cuff of my jacket. So many simple actions now need to be rethought to help contain the spread of this virus.

At my local supermarket, a few dodgy characters can be seen hanging around the entrance, but there are no queues or hysterical mobs in sight. Yet as I go to enter, one of them hauls me up. Thus I am introduced to the new Covid queue: far more spacious, with oodles of room between you and the next person. I assume I’ll be here for hours so I take a selfie, but in just a few minutes, I am waved in by a masked and gloved supermarket cashier, who in these post-Covid days has assumed the role of traffic warden. Inside, there is none of the usual shoving and jostling that generally goes on in this small but popular shop. Customers edge around each other warily, aiming to maintain that crucial one metre of viral-free breathing space.

Photo showing people in BCN queuing 1.5 metres apart
The new Covid queue is far more spacious: over 1.5 metres between members and no nasty pushers-in

I’m surprised to find that many products are available: no eggs, pasta, fresh milk or my particular brand of yoghurt, but plenty of paella rice (fair enough; it isn’t the season for large family gatherings), and meat and poultry. I came for juice, yoghurt and other perishables and these are mostly available. That may be unique to this supermarket, which though small is popular, offering high-quality products at excellent prices, so endless restocking of shelves has always been a big part of their working day.

It is tempting to want to pile goods into my bag. The whole atmosphere is post-apocalyptic, and the goods I am seeing now may not be here tomorrow or next week. But I stiffen my resolve and heed the government warnings not to hoard, buying just what I came here for, not a half dozen more.

Today is Tuesday, and I am worried that my organic veggies woman – who normally comes into town on Tuesday evenings – will have bailed. Last night my remaining veggies were looking extremely bedraggled. I made soup, reader. There is something about this lockdown that inspires domestic endeavour (being shut within these same four walls, no doubt). There’s been a frenzy of vacuuming from neighbours above and below over the last 48 hours).

Today’s figures are six deaths and almost 500 new cases in Catalonia. Five of the mortalities are linked to the city of Igualada, which has been totally closed off from the rest of Catalonia. Spain is still being laggardly about closing its ports and airports – or about isolating Madrid. The city has become a major focus of viral infection – and spread: the capital’s wealthy have apparently been fleeing to their summer homes in Valencia and so importing the virus there, which the Valencians are none too thrilled about.

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Covid BCN 02

Since it looks like Barcelona will be locked down even beyond the next two weeks, I’m posting a few choice diary excerpts about life in the containment zone. Without the raunchy bits – unless you count me sitting on my balcony watching pigeons copulate (lucky buggers!). In terms of entertainment value, I doubt it will have Netflix quaking in its boots, but it passes the time.

Monday, 16 March 2020

On Sunday my plan had been to put on my cycling gear and get in a decent ride before we were all totally locked down, but in the event I just lounged around home watching Netflix. So when that evening, Jordi told me that two Lycra-clad cyclists had been fined on Avinguda Paral·lel to the tune of 600 EUR, I thought: “There but for the luck of the Irish …” As a middle-aged man who goes cycling in Lycra, I know that middle-aged men wearing Lycra is a crime of fashion in the first degree, but I still find the punishment extreme.

At 8 o’clock every evening, neighbours have been coming out on their balconies and continuously applauding in support of the health workers and other workers who are on the front line in the fight against covid19. Apparently, it’s a trend that started in Italy and has taken off here. I take part. It almost passes for socialising.

Wholemeal and spelt sourdough bread with rosemary and olive oil topping ready for baking
Into the oven … Sourdough bread with olive oil and rosemary topping to give it some perfume

This morning I baked a fresh batch of sourdough bread. This has been my homebody thing for several months and now it’s my small contribution to the covid19 crisis. Not that I can divide a few loaves among the five thousand who are combatting the crisis – that’s been done before anyway – but it offers at least some semblance of community support to a couple of Poble Sec residents. The flour combination I used for this batch was about 70% white, and 15% each of spelt and wholemeal flour, giving a nice light but chewy brown bread. I managed to get good aeration in this batch.

Freshly baked sourdough bread of wholemeal and spelt flours
The covid loaf: sourdough bread of wholemeal and spelt flours with added immunity against the virus!

Yesterday I also downloaded an app from my gym, as I’ll need to start exercising at home if I can’t get to the pool or take my bike out. This blog post by the Travellothoner also offers a short workout you can do in just a few square metres with no equipment. So yes, that middle-aged man in Lycra doing knee bends on his balcony c’est moi. Or maybe I’ll take up Tai Chi again.

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Covid BCN 01

Since the whole of Barcelona is going to be locked down for at least the next two weeks, I thought I might post a few excerpts from my diary, detailing the ongoing craziness. It will depend on interest (my own and others) as to whether this becomes a regular thing.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

The Cercle Artístic Sant Lluc has said it will close its doors from 16 March because of the Covid19 hysteria, so I need to take advantage of the days left to get some drawing in. I think the next few weeks are going to become crazy. The other day I did a big shop at BonÀrea, stocking up on jars of lentils, beans, pasta and other non-perishables as I suspect that this week people will start swamping the supermarkets, bulk-buying against the scare of a lockdown as part of anti-coronavirus measures. Being a trendy liberal Guardian reader, I’ve seen this is already happening in the UK and elsewhere (worldwide toilet paper shortage!), so forewarned is forearmed.

As my working life is pretty much a model of self-isolation anyway (working at home, not forming part of large groups), I think I’m unlikely to be stricken down any time soon. My friend Jordi, working in the hospital reception is totally frontline, so if it does enter our orbit, it may be from that direction. For people like us, young(ish) and fit, the symptoms are likely to be mild, so I’m not too concerned. It is interesting to watch the world’s population at work though – a fascinating study for a science fiction movie: so this is how the world really reacts to an alien invasion!

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Barcelona life has undergone radical changes yet little has changed for me personally. Last night the government closed all sports and entertainment centres, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops. Most businesses are now working from home – it is in this sense that little has changed for me. Though it is a bummer that I can no longer go to the pool. I’ll have to get my bike rideable in the next few days. Last night, we had an early beer at Saïd’s, went home for dinner, and then Jordi and Andreu came round to mine and we had beers on the balcony. In that time, the Catalan government issued a decree to close all the bars and restaurants.

Inauguration of Concòrdia’s Balcony Bar – only Jameson’s whiskey served in honour of my Irish grandpa
Inauguration of Concòrdia’s Balcony Bar – only Jameson’s whiskey served in honour of my Irish grandpa

So my larder is full, I have beers, gin and Irish whiskey in stock … Hence these days should be an intensive of writing and art … Let’s see.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

I tried to go for a final bike ride today down to the beach and the police turned me back at Plaça del Mar. From tomorrow everything will be in total lockdown. I have food stocked up for a month though apparently food shops will be open. We’ll see how much translation work comes in over this time.

Actually I quite like having the excuse to do nothing but sit at home and write or paint.

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Nothing to Lose – Clare Lydon

dreaming of books 9

Rather than a full book review, in these posts, I simply jot down a few lines on books I’ve enjoyed.

Nothing to Lose by Clare Lydon

Nothing to Lose by Clare Lydon

While lesbian romance is not my usual fare, I am pleased I made an exception for this heart-warming novel. And this was the adjective that kept coming back to me as I read: heart-warming. It is a novel about all the best things in local communities; it celebrates the humanity, compassion and solidarity that are dredged up out of even the stoniest hearts when disaster strikes. Truly comfort food for the soul.

Scarlet (yes, after O’Hara), burnt once too often, has now closed her heart to love and chiselled herself a survival existence in a basement flat in a small town. But when the rain comes down and leaves her world underwater, finally the floodgates must be opened. She takes shelter with Joy, “local mayor and sunshine specialist”, who helps her see that life can indeed return after the deluge. As a gay man (for whom sex is the bit before you ask someone’s name), I found the age it took for these two to get together both excruciating and tantalising. However, when they finally do, not only are they consummating their relationship, but reaffirming their links to the family and friends around them. Their relationship becomes a celebration of community.

Spoiler: as it says on the tin, this is lesbian romance, so there are a couple of raunchy, blow-by-blow, no-holds-barred yet elegantly rendered, girl-on-girl action scenes which, had I been of the right sex and persuasion, I would have found incredibly hot. In the event, I was able to skip nimbly forward with my modesty intact, but if this what you came for, you will receive full satisfaction.

Above all, it is a tale of love between two strong and honest women, both very different yet who each have a lifetime of experience to offer the other and, together, two lifetimes to do it in. This book does what a romance is supposed to: it leaves you feeling fabulous!

Get it here.


Fresh Air and Empty Streets – Oliver Cable

dreaming of books 8

Rather than a full book review, in these posts, I simply jot down a few lines on books I’ve enjoyed.

Cover: Fresh Air and Empty Streets by Oliver Cable

Fresh Air and Empty Streets by Oliver Cable

Having once sat drinking under a full moon on Sacré-Cœur’s steps, I immediately identified with this gem of a first novel set in the Paris streets. It is a sensitive story about a young man, Felix, who comes to meet, challenge and discover the father, Alexander, he has never known. In doing so, he is forced to question some of his own most staunchly held beliefs.

If the first few chapters feel slightly tentative, it is almost as if the author is wrestling with what sort of book he has inside himself. Then father and son finally meet and, as they explore their budding relationship, the writing becomes more assured. At times the prose truly catches alight, flaming brightly in passages describing Paris’s live jazz scene and Alexander’s regular haunts. The writing works best when, rather than trying to comment on the city or its tourists, the author simply slows his heartbeat to listen to the dark river running through himself and annotates its sounds, more in the nature of a poet than a narrator. The prose is strongest when focussing on those first tentative steps in a relationship – between father and son, or between new lovers.

With so many novels being bashed out these days by writers aiming to publish a couple of kilos of pulp each and every business quarter, it is a relief to find a writer who cares about his craft, as Cable clearly does. I look forward to his next book.

Get it here.


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