Coronavirus: FaceTime, pilates and lockdown humour - Jeremy Thompson's diary

March 30, 2020

Jeremy Thompson is a former Sky News presenter in his seventies.

He is documenting how the coronavirus lockdown is impacting his everyday life in a personal diary.

To catch up, read about what happened during week one.

Wednesday 25 March

Some friends around my age report back on their first trip out to "oldies' hour" at the supermarket.

Quite civilised apparently, with staff politely monitoring shoppers' ages and carrying bags to their cars.

Even so, a few "younger" shoppers still try to jump the seniors' queue or break the two-metre cordon sanitaire. Ah, good old Brits, all pulling together! When will we ever learn?

I read about one GP weeping at the foolishness of folk still gathering in contagion clusters, recklessly disregarding the medical facts. It's like some people are determined to live by New Hampshire's state motto: Live Free or Die.

For a sports nut like me, no live action on TV is hard to deal with, but my local rugby club Harlequins is doing its best to lift spirits and stay in touch. Their bright young fly-half Marcus Smith rings me out of the blue as part of an effort to reach out to self-isolating fans. A nice lad and a nice touch.

I feel really bad when I hear later that the club has asked all Quins staff to take a 25% wage cut. It doesn't bear thinking about the number of people suddenly facing pay cuts or job cuts.

No wonder the economy is taking such a battering.

I read that after the Great Depression in the late 1920s it took the markets 25 years to recover. I wish it hadn't. I dread to look at my own investments. My pension crop must have shrivelled from ripe grape to dried-up raisin.

Thursday 26 March

Our first milestone in "captivity".

Week one of self-isolation since we returned from Spain - after doing a week's porridge in Andalucia.

We're about to celebrate when we remember this could go on for months. Pace yourselves.

A few days ago we decided on no more walks in the park for the time being. Genuine lockdown. Otherwise, so far so good.

My wife and I haven't gone mad - yet, we haven't argued, we've eaten well and exercised way more than normal.

Two or three pilates video sessions a day with Aussie trainers like Caity, Meagan and Kelly.

For some reason their voices seem kinder and more encouraging. My wife's even tempting me into some plyometrics and the occasional plie. Ballet barre classes, really? I'll be in tights and a tutu next!

Watching Boris Johnson's latest briefing, it's interesting to see how journalists have now been banished from No 10, to save him from hacking coughs and hacking hacks.

Beside the PM are the two men I've come to think of as his Twin Pillars of Wisdom - Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and the government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

They deliver information and advice in such reasonable, reassuring tones I am reminded of deadpan Ian McDonald, the MOD spokesman during the Falklands War, who read out his daily bulletin of doom, gloom and occasional victories with a stoical calm we Brits do so well.

Like millions of others, we stand out on our terrace at 8pm and join neighbours in applauding everyone in the NHS, all the carers out there and our emergency workers. It's a wonderfully uplifting sound as people clap, whistle and holler their support.

It feels like the whole country's out there. It's really life affirming, like together we can beat this thing, this plague upon humanity.

Go Britain! Go World! Hopefully the "Great Ovation" will become a regular event.

Friday 27 March

Looking at photos of Prince Charles joining in the clapping for carers, he's still wearing a tweed jacket and checked shirt, even in quarantine. Poor chap.

He's probably one of the few blokes not hanging out through the crisis in a sweatshirt, trackie bottoms and trainers. Talk about dress-down Friday. Now it's every day.

We hear Boris Johnson has just put himself into self-isolation after testing positive - just like not so bonnie Prince Charles. He promises to keep leading the country from behind closed doors. A fine example to us all.

Had a video chat with son Adam and his wife Fiona, who are working in Vietnam.

We'd planned to fly out to see them in April. Not anymore. They're in good spirits, self-isolating in their flat in Ho Chi Minh City, working from home and arranging pub quizzes with local ex-pat mates via video conferencing.

Though they're noticing an increasingly hostile mood among some Vietnamese, who are starting to blame Westerners for spreading the virus. Even more worrying is the sight of a police car and bus touring the neighbourhood rooting out anyone who might have been in contact with the virus.

A knock on the door inevitably leads to residents being driven away to quarantine camps around the city. No ifs or buts. It's mandatory. But then Vietnam is a unitary Marxist-Leninist one-party socialist republic. No wonder authoritarian regimes find it so much easier to enforce lockdowns than defiantly democratic Britain.

We FaceTime my other son, James, and his wife, Lisa. They're also working from home in West Sussex.

Both are in the event management business and say things are still surprisingly busy. The large-scale gatherings they usually organise around the world are shifting to web conferencing. Even so, they may soon be cut to a four-day week.

Their girls, my granddaughters, are now home until September, unless things improve. Sophia's GCSEs are cancelled, her grades now dependent on past work and teacher predictions. Or the 'lap of the gods' as some have called it. Bella's university course has been put on hold until the autumn.

They're trying to figure out how to fill the time and not lose educative headway. Newly and exotically dyed hair suggests they don't think they'll be seen in public for quite a while.

Sharing the Thompson family lockdown is their cute dog Pablo, who now has his own Instagram handle -@keepingupwithpablo. Meet the new British nuclear family!

Saturday 28 March

Social media is sharpening and blurring the narrative in equal measures.

The pandemic is proving to be a petri dish for incubating fake news, and, of course, it's all going viral. But there is plenty of good and witty stuff out there on anti-social media.

One Twitter user, @wryly, suggests that if Boris Johnson can't get his message over through polite requests, Trevor McDonald and Jeremy Thompson should be wheeled out to give it sufficient gravitas to make the nation sit up and take it seriously. Very kind Twitterati - I'm surprised you can remember that far back in TV news history.

Maybe they've been watching re-runs of Shaun of the Dead, that iconic RomZomCom movie. A zombie apocalypse, just what you need to lift the mood in a pandemic.

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The exchange of videos and jokes among friends is certainly giving us a few much-needed laughs, like this one from my rugby-watching buddy Big Al: "I gave Carol a dart and told her to throw it at the map in the kitchen and I would take her wherever it landed when this was over. We're having two weeks behind the fridge."

We reminisce about the good old days when we'd watch live rugby together from the stands at The Stoop. It triggers another man gag: "A week without sport on TV. I found a lady sitting on my couch. Apparently she's my wife. She seems nice." But seriously, no live sport is leaving a big void.

Usually I'm at Harlequins or Twickenham, or watching cricket at The Oval in the summer, or driving up to Headingley for a Test. Today this sporting saddo is trying to recreate Saturday afternoon on the settee.

I've recorded a host of classic games, some British and Irish Lions games, a few Ashes Test matches, England's brilliant triumph at the Cricket World Cup and some Ryder Cup highlights. Hopefully a few cold beers will make up for the lack of live element. But I doubt it.

Talking of telly, Saturday evening is a bit of a watcher's wasteland. Even Ant & Dec are presenting an audience-free show from their separate front parlours. There's no Strictly for my wife to enjoy. And surely I can't sit through another hammy old Inspector Montalbano.

Sunday 29 March

I wake to the sound of near silence. Hardly a plane or car to be heard these days. The air is definitely fresher and cleaner. Maybe it'll make us think more about global pollution and climate change when it's all over.

I've still got that annoying dry, croaky cough, now joined by a snotty nose. I haven't got a temperature. It doesn't feel like The 'Flu. It's more like a common cold. But how the hell did I catch whatever it is in my hermitage?

Video chats are now a way of life. My son James's usual Friday get together with work colleagues down at the pub now takes place via Zoom. My granddaughter Sophia is keeping up with friends on Houseparty. And her sister Bella is getting a few university tutorials live online - but not enough. While Lynn and I are doing exercise sessions on YouTube.

Distance socialising while social distancing.

Our golf mates at Los Arqueros in Spain keep in touch through numerous WhatsApp groups crammed with updates, advice and a lot of lockdown humour.

One of them says she was stopped by police today while walking her dogs. Others report that the army is out in larger numbers than before around our local towns of Benahavis and San Pedro. The crackdown in Spain is way more severe than here in the UK.

Talking of dogs, our pals in Hong Kong say there was a scare that pets could transmit the virus after one little old lady's Pomeranian reportedly tested positive. It sparked a brief panic with owners advised not to kiss their dogs and to start making them face masks.

A test on the dog eventually proved negative. Panic over. It seems even those on four legs aren't immune to fake news.

Saul and Wendy, our friends in Johannesburg, come up with the tempting idea of joining them in isolating at our favourite safari lodge in the remote African bush. A great idea if it wasn't for the risky journey getting there from the UK - 12 hours in a flying germ tube.

If we're really confined to barracks until June at the earliest, as some experts say, we might all have turned into wildlife by then.

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