By Roy Mathur, on 2020-03-21, at 00:05:23--00:49:37 GMT, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen
Remember my quip last time about the coronapocalypse? Well people are still hoarding bog roll, but cannibalism isn't yet on the cards.
Joking aside and personally speaking, the Covid-19 crisis doesn't exactly strike my funny bone, so I decided to do a special show about my experiences of what has increasing felt like being in the middle of a one of those sci-fi stories I enjoy and aspire to write.
The general situation is my parents and I have been living together for a few months just before Covid-19 became an issue for us in the UK. We live in a small city called Milton Keynes about fifty miles north of London.
Because my parents are 75+ they have been self isolating, while I have been going out to forage. Want to hear something deeply ironic? After living alone for the last six years, Mum and Dad finally returned to the UK to temporarily share the same home with me, just before the Covid-19 crisis. Great timing, eh? My cousins call this phenomenon "Mathur luck".
I should also tell you from the outset that I am not and was never a current affairs journalist. As some of you know I worked for around two years on a newspaper as their resident geek columnist. That was a very different job from the reporting I am now doing, in this episode at least, as a citizen journalist.
I'm calling this the Virus Dairy and I'm not sure how long I'll keep this going, but here are the entries so far:
I wasn't too worried until Saturday when I went shopping and saw that the shelves were even barer than before and witnessed the panicky vibe in the air.
I'm not ashamed to say that the BBC ten o'clock news scared me silly. The extent of the virus crisis really hit me in the face when it was reported that the government were considering a lockdown.
No toilet rolls, painkillers, or hand wash of any kind at the Bletchly Asda superstore.
Worried, and wearing my journalist hat in a way that I haven't done before, I emailed all the local government leadership---MPs and councillors, and a couple of contacts---asking them about Milton Keynes specific policy. I.e. to find out what the government was doing at a local level.
Nationally, the Prime Minister's first daily update began on Monday afternoon. Voluntary measures such as self isolation for the elderly or vulnerable, e.g. my parents, was strongly advised.
My attempt at information gathering via the contacts and those in local government I emailed on Monday didn't pan out. The source knew nothing and the politicians weren't saying anything---complete wall of silence. I looked at their social media, but not much there either.
The national government weren't much better I decided, from the TV update later. They were quite clearly reactive, not proactive in dealing with the pandemic, but at least they were talking. Also, having a populist opportunist as the PM meant they were malleable and gradually bowed to criticism and dropped Sir Patrick Vallance's (Government Chief Scientific Adviser) cold blooded herd immunity plan and ramped up testing.
I finally found a giant bag of rice in a nearby Asian grocery. Mum and Dad eat a lot of rice, but unfortunately I passed up a chance of restocking before the crisis and people had since bought up all the big chain supermarket rice. The grocery was a little low on stock, but they had a few 20kg bags rice left; one of which I bought. No red lentils, as per Mum's request, but I also bought a bag of split chick peas (which I dropped, losing about a quarter---idiot). I exchanged names with the friendly owner who asked me to drop by for chat sometime.
Bonanza! I finally tracked down bars of soap, paracetamol, and a few family games; cards, dominoes, and The Game of Life. Maybe those would help in the days to come.I also heard that the schools would finally shut down for most pupils by Friday; again another reactive measure by the government conforming to the same strategies of other countries, rather than going it alone. Thankfully.
It was a tiring week. As well as the virus thingy, I was helping Mum sort out the shipping of their belongings as returning UK residents. No big surprise that the shipper wasn't the most organised and HMRC was impossible to contact. One HMRC advisor told us that the office for returning residents is small and many staff were off due to the virus. So dealing with the HMRC was even more of a pain than ever. Joy. Anyone who has had to deal with this government department will know exactly what I mean.
Lets's not forget, according to the latest from Downing Street, this agency, along with the DWP (who I have very probably criticised before for making my life a misery), are supposed to be helping businesses and employees through the crisis.
Today my parents went for a long walk after being cooped up for a few days. I was anxious, but mother promised to stay out of the way of others. They were relieved for the chance to stretch their legs and enjoy the sun, rather than staying indoors, or inside the car with the windows closed.
In the afternoon, after queuing at the local chemist to collect my prescription (which didn't happen as the chemist was now running three days late), I dropped into a medium sized nearby Asda. I hoped to get milk for my parents, but there was none. To add insult to injury, it appeared that the shop ASDA was offering two big containers of milk for the price of one. Isn't that crazy given the shortage? Is this the supermarket chains cashing in before the inevitable economic downturn?
I learned from watching the daily government update that bars and restaurants were now obliged to shut. Earlier this week I saw that a local leisure centre chain was, in an act of breathtaking negligence, encouraging people to attend group exercise classes, so I was glad to hear that gyms too were ordered to close.
Finally, a parting shot at the disgusting profiteering and price gouging from some third party Amazon and eBay sellers. The two companies said they are taking action against these awful people, but I still saw overpriced toilet roll for sale online.
For me that's the BBC news, WHO, CDC, NHS, the traditional print news media sites, e.g. the Guardian, the Financial Times etc., Nature, Scientific American, and New Scientist, not crackpot sites touting vitamin C and zinc, and steam prevention and cures. I try to watch the Prime Minister's update every day too.
While we're on the subject of scam artists, beware of bullshit telemarketers and email scammers who will take advantage of the crisis to suck in the gullible.
There are some queues, the rush hour traffic has lessened, but there is also more of a constant stream of traffic all day long.
My mother said that on her walk she saw a few others, dog walkers, and quite a few more delivery vans than usual.
I haven't seen much change around the city, though I haven't been to the centre for a few days.
Tense, stressful, worrying... As this isn't some idealised version of what a family looks like in those saccharine American TV movies, let's just say that our family dynamic is challenging.
My parents have been cooping, as you heard earlier, while I have been listening to a few less podcasts and a little less YouTube. Mainly I've been glued to the news. It's not healthy and there are other things I could do, but how do you write sci-fi when you are in sci-fi? I could be podcasting more too, but as I said, finding somewhere to do it in a noisy household is difficult.