Days of Isolation,
our coronavirus diary


Its spring 2020, and coronavirus is sweeping across the world. This is our diary of what it is like to be under virtual house arrest in a large and comfortable house in northern europe in the spring, with endless streaming services and a Co-op at the end of the road.

måndag 22 juni

Glad Midsommar!

Remarkably, this midsommar was actually dry, after we have been rained out for the previous three years. The hackneyed joke that it rains at exactly kl. 15 every Midsommar being amazingly accurate for us. This year though, of course, there was no Midsommar Fest because there are no fester anywhere. Instead we built a miniature stolpe in our backgarden, set dolls and princesses around it and had a fest of our own.

But then we had one of those moments that was quite unplanned and quite wonderful. Samantha started playing on her violin, I had my guitar. Then Simon next door turned up with his guitar and joined in from the fence. Then more neighbours came out across the road with midsommar hairbands and applauded the end of each piece. All of a sudden we had a local, neighbourhood, socially distanced party with our dolls and a variety of instruments. Fantastic.

tisdag 16 juni

Ellie and I had a picnic in the backgarden yesterday while Samantha was at a club. We have a heatwave in mid June. The greenery is still lush and bright green, too close to rainy spring to be fading yet; the sky a deep azure blue; we sat directly in front of our neighbour's flag, bright blue and yellow. Every colour so stark that it seemed unreal. In front of us two tornseglarer swooped back and forth, a private aeronautic display just for us. There was a digger operating somewhere just to add a touch of town life, but mostly it was picture book stuff.

Our corner of the world is so peaceful anyway that it is pushing it a bit to say that we were watching the return of nature in coronatider. But still, the sky seemed bluer without any aeroplanes, the land greener with so few cars, the insects more undisturbed. Or should that be less disturbed? It was very peaceful.

The message of that paragraph was slightly nullified by the buzz of the small aircraft that flew overhead while I was writing it. Sigh.

We went swimming yesterday, the first time in three months. We had to try and remember what to do. There was a big 40m pool and a small 25m pool and just the three of us. Maintenance of social distancing not a problem, even when one further swimmer arrived half way through our session.

måndag 15 juni

First live rugby for 3 months as Super Rugby opens in New Zealand. That is worth an entry by itself :)

fredag 12 juni

A little cold went through the family last week: first Ellie had a runny nose, then I had a sore throat and a cough - I never used to be ill, through three children, until Ellie arrived and now we share everything, must be parallel genes or something - then Samantha was a bit moody but not really affected and Nicola was just too busy to think about it. Absolutely the same as every other time.

Except...

In coronatider everything is a little different. First Ellie was isolated at home for two days, then I was grounded for two days. We were all on tenterhooks watching for any symptom from the others. Then of course it is only human nature to think, is this it? although no sign that it was any different to any other time. Then, perhaps most of all, one is so sensitive to a sniff or a cough in public. We must not be in public if spluttering, so even if you are absolutely sure that the cold has gone and the sniff or the cough is just the last of the infection shaking the door on the way out you still feel alert to doing it in public. All so strange.

Headlines in the paper this morning were of politicians bickering. The government had done something and the opposition had complained and each had called the other a twit. What a lovely, sweet, old-fashioned headline to wake up to. Just like it was in the old days. Not related to that virus, unlike every other headline from the past 3 months. Bring back petty political bickering again! I can't wait.

I trimmed the edge of the lawn with a pair of scissors. Crazy lockdown thing to do huh? Actually not as crazy as it sounds. Our back lawn is quite small, it has a border against gravel down one side of barely 4 m, it really needed a once-a-year cut back and any power tool would have sent gravel everywhere. Scissors got the job done and only took about 15 minutes, much faster than faffing about with anything more garden oriented. So actually logical. But still a crazy lockdown thing to do.

tisdag 2 juni

Ellie has had the remnants of a minor cold the past two days, so we have been at home together. Government recommendations are to stay at home, isolated, at the merest sniff of symptoms of poor health. So we have had two days of the same isolation that the rest of Europe has had for two months. For a short period of time and without the need for home schooling it has been fun: we got the train set out, read books and made a snowman out of white packing beads. Still, it makes one forever appreciative for how wonderful school is, it must never be taken for granted.

Europe is full of the lightening of restrictions at the moment. Schools are going back, sport is restarting, travel restrictions are being loosened. All good things.

It is likely that the saga is not over. Svenska Dagbladet had a report last week on the 3 to 6 month strategies that should be prepared by the government. Experts differ on likelihood of what things will be like in the autumn, on the severity of the virus' comeback, but all agree that it will come back. I guess that public appetite for shutdown will be very different to what it was in march. I hope these predictions turn out to be exaggerated, that a comeback isn't severe, that the extraordinary restrictions turn out to be worth it. I hope for a good outcome, but I am wary of these forecasts.

Sometimes the most telling signs of the age are the tiniest details. I chatted with a friend in the UK last night. He told me that he had been to town in the last couple of days to buy pizza. That was the first time he had driven a car in 8 weeks. There was pause, then he said that in fact it was the first time he had worn shoes in 8 weeks.

Nicola has been seeing moose and young in the forest during early morning walks. There is a need to be careful here, but fabulous experiences, matched by great pictures. Priceless memories of swedish life.

Måndag 25 maj

I often get up early and read at weekends while the three girls in my life are all upstairs having a little tablet time. This morning I opened the blinds in the living room and saw a clear blue sky with a single white line stretching from one horizon to the other. A single aeroplane had flown across and in windless, clear conditions the trail stretched out unbroken in front of me. It was quite beautiful.

Quite unusual, too. In Coronatider we get almost no planes. Nothing in the sky, no noise, no white lines. Unfortunately no work for my friend who is on a zero hours contract with an airline at Göteberg Airport, she is getting zero hours at the moment. Still, the white line is a thing of rare beauty, a reminder of the auld days.

Tisdag 19 maj

Grattis Samantha, 10 år :)

Måndag 18 maj

I don't chase celebrities and won't do during these strange times, but I shall make an exception for Tim Brooke-Taylor who passed away a couple of weeks ago. I listened to a radio celebration of his life last night which was very moving.

He made me laugh as a boy, watching his antics in The Goodies. He made me laugh as an adult with ISIHAC, particularly during the rather sorry period of my life when I first heard Tim singing Funky Gibbon to the tune of Hey Jude, which was the moment that I fell in love with the show. I saw him perform the show twice. Then he made my children laugh all over again with old DVDs of Kitten Kong. All of this humour was silly and self-depracating, never biting cruelly into the inadequacies of others. I am sure he will continue to make us all laugh for years to come, with endless repeats.

I do feel like I have lost a friend, and I don't care how cliched that is. We shall miss him.

Tuesday 12 May

Another snippet from the strange times we live in. A couple of premiership footballers and rugby players have been caught doing embarassing things and have been criticised in the press. Nothing strange there of course, that happens every other month. In the past some things have been downright unpleasant. Different this time though. For one chap the great crime was driving to his sister's house to deliver a birthday present. Celebrities should set an example, but it is odd to read about something so otherwise innocuous being criticised so heavily.

I chatted with my son on skype last night. It was a very hairy conversation. My hairstyle is normally number 3 but has expanded to number, I don't know, 11 or 12 by now I think. Euan is a bit more "Thor" at the best of times, and is now moving towards Robinson Crusoe at a rate of knots. I am deeply concerned that if we don't get a resolution soon it will be approaching Gandalf, that would be scary. Barbers come back. We miss you.

Måndag 11 Maj

Today's Show and Tell.

Tuesday 5 May

Nicola and I are watching rugby games on a friday evening as usual. When the live games stopped we just started again from the start of the season and have currently made it through to November, or in fact Movember, judging by the facial hair on display last friday! Modern rugby is what modern rugby is. About 46 players take to the field for a game, up to 10% of these can expect to require a head injury assessment during the game. No more than a dozen choose to wear protective helmets, the rest go bareheaded and take their chances. That is an interesting take on individual risk assessment, as we talk of litte else during Coronatider.

The girls played a game of tennis on the Wii over the weekend and I spectated. It was the first live sport I have watched since Super Rugby finally gave up the ghost in march. Sigh.

Valborgsnatt at the end of april and desperate pleas from central government to the population to break lifeong habits and not congregate in large groups to party the night away. A couple of Communes enforced compliance by spreading hönsskit (you probably don't need google translate for that one) all over the grass at normal celebration sites. Good for the grass I expect. Once again, another of those stories that make sense in these senseless times, but must seem so strange when viewed from a distance.

Monday 27 April

I got this for the first time this week and it caught me by surprise. Daft really, because obviously many of these are coming, but somehow the first still sounded odd! I listened to the panel game På Minuten on the radio and there was no audience, just the comedians and faint echoes as their jokes rebounded from the far corners of the studio. As a gimmick they used buzzers which were recordings of little bursts of audience activity, but these only accenuated the strangeness all over again each time one of these died away. Many more coming.

Talk about getting caught by your wife! I listen to classical music a lot, almost exclusively. The only exception is working out or housework where I succumb to a little rock music from my distant tender years to get me through. Now Nicola is furloughed and is not working long hours in the office, which is unheard of. Thus she arrived home early on a Friday, before I had picked up the children, to find me washing dishes in the kitchen with The Ramones' Sheena is a Punk Rocker set far too loud on the kitchen music player. Embarrassing.

Sweden continues with an approach to this pandemic which is different to almost every other country. They are - and this is my interpretation - trying to get the right balance between lockdown and economic continuation. They are encouraging enough isolation to cut the spread significantly, but not squeezing out a further small cut by enforcing such isolation which overly damages the economy and the mental health of the population. One could second guess individual decisions, but in general I support these principles and the scientific process they are applying to try and get the risk balance right.

Having wrapped myself in the flag to say that, I ought to be honest and comment that perhaps the population is not covering itself in glory in the spring sunshine. Nice weather is here and many people are crowding the parks and krogarna, squashing together to get the best seats and cause anxiety to the public health officials whose recommendations they are disregarding. These officials have even tut-tutted at the folk in public, which is about as severe as condemnation gets in this wonderful land. Must try harder.

Meanwhile I drove into the next county to visit a remote garden centre to buy a bay tree which I couldn't get locally. To do this I went into an industrial greenhouse which was about the size of a rugby pitch with three other people. This behaviour is taboo across much of Europe just now, although I cannot understand why. Surely warehouse stores, garden centres, forest walks cannot be significant ways to spread disease. I don't understand some of the measures, but then what do I know?

I also drove to the recycling centre with a car full of stuff from the garage. Every such trip has a little nostalgia of course, but this one seemed to be soaked in it. Now our younger daughter is at school, we have moved on from a whole world of young child things. There was a changing mat (a long time since the last run!) and potties, a training bike, bouncy dinosaur, small toilet seats, pool balls. It seemed to be a whole stage of life I was clearing out, which always brings a lump. Of course, it was straight back home to school pick up, fiol lessons, colouring in, reading practise and Studio Ghibli movies, so another stage is in full swing. No time for the lump to stay for long.

I picked the children up from school yesterday and whole playground seemed to be alive and hopping, even more so than usual. One child must have taken out a pogo stick and of course others followed. I think there were only four, but four pogo stick hoppers can make quite a visual impression amongst all the other children running and playing about. It was a wonderful sight, it always is. Just this week one country has confirmed that its schools will remain shut until September. What a tragedy for the children there. I thought of them as I dodged pogosticks across the playground. We have much analysis to come in future months and years, many detailed studies of what these measures are doing to a vulnerable population, including a generation of children. Much of it will not be pretty reading.

Sunday 12 April, Påsk

Another konsert needed, methinks.

Glad Påsk.

The events of these months are bad for my listening Swedish. Each day I try and listen to worthy broadcasts in my new tongue to improve my language skills. Generally these are the daily news, daily sports, also Vetenskåpsvärld broadcasts. This latter suite of science programmes is fantastic, with a weekly TV show, a weekly magazine podcast, a near daily feature podcast and an occasional history podcast on a wide range of scientific subjects. I also read Svenska Dagbladet on fri - sat - sun when it gets delivered. It is both nostalgic and also memorably effective to watch and read news in these non-internet formats.

However, unless you want to read extensive details of coronaviruset, which I don't, these media channels are now all redundant. For there is no news. Nothing is happening in the world. No stories to be had. Except coronavirus. Literally every story in every channel is corona related. Every one. There is no news to hear or read except for one subject. Never have I known this, not post 9/11, not when the home team won the World Cup, not when the hurricane hit, never. It is uncanny.

Strange days indeed, or have I already said that in this diary?

Wednesday 8 April

Headlines in the news yesterday featured the fact that the death toll from coronavirus in New York has now surpassed the death toll from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. One of those eye-catching yet pointless little bits of information that demonstrate nothing. Still, it might be the single, saddest headline to be published in my lifetime. What a huge amount of sorrow for the loss of loved people lies underneath it.

Monday 6 April

Adrian and I went walking this weekend. The plan was train and ferry to Bornholm and then spend 4 days walking around the island. Can you believe that it was 10 march, less than one month ago, that I wrote:

Here we are in the second week of March which means that Bornholm is hoving into view. We shall be heading off in just three weeks...In fact, everything seems to be clicking for this walk, can anything go wrong?

I did mention the virus in that email, but not seriously. How much can change in a month.

So anyway, this weekend we each walked through bits of forest local to us, with a beer secreted away in a back pocket. At 11 am we each sat, cracked open the beer and had a brief phone chat to make it a joint occasion. One does what one can.

As is so often the case, it takes the insight of a child to reveal the foolishness of what adults do sometimes. Nicola described how at work one cannot shake hands, so the fashion is to bump elbows in a comradely way. Samantha commented at this:

Yeah, they tell us all to cough and sneeze into our elbows, then when we meet we bump elbows. What is the sense in that?

Speechless. There is no answer to that one.

Wednesday 1 April

I'm still not fully convinced that the WHO is not going to host a press conference this morning and say,

"April Fool. We really got you all with that one!"

I don't mean to be disrespectful to all the sorrow which has dogged this pandemic with that piece of flippancy, just to comment on how strange this has all been. I slipped a little food colouring in the milk carton last night, but the pink milk which splashed onto the girls' cereal this morning was nothing like as odd as real life.

Nicola and I have a bottle of beer with the family meal on sunday evenings. Half way through the meal this week Samantha suddenly put down her knife and fork and said to Nicola in horror,

"What are you drinking?"

We both looked at the bottle which I had bought on the friday. It was an old brand that I had picked up without regarding, the way one does with old brands. Fancy drinking that.

Tuesday 31 March

Spring is here, spring is here,
Life is skittles and life is beer.

... as Tom Lehrer would have it. Spring arrives with summer tyres on the car in our town. The vernal hjulskift brings a smoother ride. I couple it with soft carpets in the car and getting my suede shoes out of a back wardrobe, so for us it really is a complete picture. Now the sun is shining, the grass is growing and nature is excited about the start of another cycle of life. I daresay that if it wasn't for this global shutdown we would all be pretty excited too.

In fact, my observations on the huge life changes I make in these virtual pages continue to be very much from one on the outside looking in. For three years now my life has been that of a home parent and writer. I deliver my children to school; I pick them up and take them to clubs; I cook meals and in the off hours I listen to Bach and write stuff.

I go for long forest walks frequently. Here, in the spring sunshine, with my Gloucester Rugby bobble hat and earhones in, my silhouette is satisfactorily troll-like. No wonder other walkers keep their distance.

This lifestyle is heaven on earth, I'm sure you agree. I suffer only for a little adult company and my conversational swedish continues to languish accordingly. Now everyone's lifestyle has changed dramatically, but here the younger children are still at school and my personal lifestyle continues almost unchanged. That in itself seems very strange in its sheer normality.

At the weekend we met up with friends, another family with young children, and went for a joint walk in some woods. We had fika standing beside a picnic bench towards the end of the trail. We each had flasks of coffee and shared some home cooking with lots of sugar in it. We thought this was a reasonable way to socialise while remaining socially responsible. The really extraordinary thing is not so much that this behaviour is discouraged in other countries, but in some member states of the EU this most innocent of mornings would be illegal. Such seditious behaviour would have seen us fined and under threat of jail. Words cannot express how strange it all is.

I am on an email list for a walking group with many pensioners in it. The group is continuing, with local rules about no physical greetings and keeping distance at fika. Surprising, perhaps unwise to try and push things this far, but also evidence of admirable spirit.

The government remains actively watching day by day. They are ready to bring in stronger measures if and when necessary, but are adamant that such measures can only be used for very constrained periods and so must not be brought in too soon. They should be held back until absolute peak time to use them. Time will show if this is right or wrong, but I continue to respect and admire what they are trying to do. I continue to be concerned that restiction fatigue in other countries might bring problems in weeks to come. Of course, it goes without saying that I hope we all get it right and win the battle.

So, lets end with a piece of nonsense to cheer us all up. A few weeks ago there was a national survey as to what was the most trusted brand in Sweden. Old politics perhaps, parties that have held power for years? New politics, whose brand has risen since the 2015 immigration issues? Big companies, IKEA perhaps? SVT? Memories of Astrid Lingren and her defence of childrens' rights? Swedes in the FN? Which brand is it that the nation turns to first? Well, the most trusted brand in Sweden is ...

... da da da da, wait for it ...

... System Bolaget, the state owned liquor and beer stores. Way to go Sweden :)

Monday 23 March

I walked through Torsbovallen today, passing three or four others on the way. Each time I passed someone we kept a metre apart and raised a silent hand in greeting. No closeness, no shaking hands, no personal greetings. It is the new way of personal interaction prevalent everywhere in these new times.

Of course, it is also true that in 20 years or more of walking through skogen I have always done pretty much this same thing anyway. But regardless, it is still momentous.

Statsministern addressed the nation on TV last night, the national flag behind him. I felt quite moved watching it, but also patriotic and rather proud of our flag and our parliament building in the closing shot. Pulling together across the land in this time of need is cementing a renewed nationalism in this particular immigrant.

Sunday 22 March

In the kitchen we have a monthly calendar. The weekly stuff - clubs, visits, classes - goes elsewhere, on the monthly calendar we have the longer term stuff for us:

  • Nicola's work trips;
  • County Suzuki Guitar Weekend;
  • school term dates;
  • girls' Birthday Parties;
  • special event at the local museums;
  • my priceless once-a-year walking weekend;

and also the international events we care about:

  • Rugby European playoffs;
  • Swedish Ice Hockey playoffs;
  • Baseball Season Opening Day;
  • ... trying desperately to think of one that isn't sport ...
  • Farnborough Air Show.

But now the calendar is empty. All of the above events have been cancelled. Is that not crazy?

Saturday 21 March

Yesterday I went to the supermarket. The Statsminister has issued a decree that all over 70's are classed as vulnerable people and so should stay at home and avoid exposure outside. I went at around 10.30 on a friday morning, so I assumed that it would be quiet.

Not a bit of it. There could not have been any more over 70's there if the Statsminister had issued a decree ordering them all to go to ICA that day and manoeuvre their trollies in front of mine for an hour. That generation are revealing themselves to be every bit as disobedient and rebellious in their prime as they were at Woodstock all those years ago. Part of me is aghast at their foolhardiness, but another part admires them for it.

Dear Diary.

Sorry, I didn't write yesterday. We watched How to train a dragon yesterday.

Bye. Samantha.

Thursday 19 March

Dear Diary.

We had another test today. We had to write a fact test about pine trees. In Swedish.

Me and Daddy had guitar. We played Long, long ago and Meadow Minuet.

Bye. Samantha.

Happy Birthday to Euan

Ellie played a game. “I’m going to pretend to be the teacher,” she said, “and you can be the class.” “Yes,” I replied, “next week I shall be playing that game.”

The level of shutdown is crazy. this is going to hit business very hard and big changes will come on the back of this. April will see some itchiness starting to creep in. It will be bankruptcy month as businesses, sports teams and shops start declaring disaster and that will bring a strangeness of its own.

But all of that lies ahead.

Wednesday 18

One of the tragic casualities of the world situation is the annual walking trip that Adrian and I make each april, which has been postponed. Oddly, this never made the national papers, but it is a cause for regret for us anyway.

So I have a hotel booking in Denmark that offers me 90% refund if I cancel in 30 days, and 50% if I cancel in 14 days. I am cancelling in 20 days, but I claim the full refund anyway because this was caused by Denmark fully closing its borders due to the World Situation. The situation, the email, the reasoning is all just too strange for words.

I have an idea for a Magnus Mills type story. Two buddies go and walk round Bornholm, but during the trip the world situation collapses and they have no choice but to carry on, walking round and round, in perpetuity, an island in the sea. MM could make it into a classic I am sure. The question is, can I?

Dear Diary.

We had a test today. A Swedish test.

We're going to theater later. It's one of my favourite clubs.

Bye. Samantha.

Tuesday 17

A remarkable 24 hours really. Monday night we had Ellie's fiol and Samantha's dance; then home for pizza and a movie. Tuesday morning up on time to breakfast and run to school. As usual I drove carefully along Albertsvägen which was full of youngsters, schoolbags and bikes. I left the girls at school and then went for a long walk through Torsbovallen.

What was so remarkable about that, you might say? Really, it was abnormal in its normality. Everything the same, all well. Nowhere else in Europe is like this, and it looks increasingly unlikely that we shall be like this for much longer. But today, one more day, we enjoyed the mundane.

In France it is now illegal to go out for a walk. In Italy dogs are being secretly hired around the suburbs because walking a dog is the only way a human is allowed to go for a walk.

This is no longer real life. We have left our planet and entered a John Wyndham novel. Watch out for that triffid!

Dear Diary.

We went to school today. We did math and swedish. We also did a bit of coloring and earning about St. Patrick's day. At the start of the day we got to choose between coloring and math. I was the only one who chose math.

We're going to Ellie's dance later.

Bye. Samantha.

Monday 16

Dear Diary.

Today it was a k-dag. That is when you don't go to school.

We went to the park. We wore our new shoes.

We did organizing. I did my bedside cabinet, bookshelf and my unit.

Bye. Samantha.

A few random comments then:

At school Samantha and her friends have been playing coronavirus tag. One person has cv, if they tag you then you have cv too and have to sit in a corner for 30 seconds. Fantastic. Our newspapers all need a few more 9yo's giving their perspective on the news.

Many schools in Europe have closed now. What do I mean by many? Well, this graphic gives you the picture:

Sweden continues to lead in terms of following actual scientific advice and not political trends. Its not a question of who is right or wrong. I hope things work out for all of these countries. But right now I am pleased that life is normal for us.

The best bit about today was going to the playpark in my new shoes. The worst bit was tidying up. I am looking forward to school tomorrow.

Ellie

Sunday 15 March

Dear Diary.

Today we did Wii dance. We did it to the songs 7 rings, Policemen, Bad guy and I don't care. I won against Ellie all the time apart from when we did 7 rings. We played that song 3 times and she won everytime.

We also went and walked through the forest. That was fun. We had to follow orange signs.

I'm going to sleep in Ellie's room tonight. I've done that about a million times before. Maybe not quite a million. Maybe 10 or 20.

Bye. Samantha.

Nothing for it. Time for a family konsert to rally our spirits!

Privation and exposure had left their mark on the party, and the health and mental condition of several of us were causing me serious anxiety. Blackborrow's feet, which had been frostbitten during the boat journey, were in a bad way, and the two doctors feared that an operation would be necessary. Then the food supply was a vital consideration. We had full rations for the whole party for a period of five weeks....

But so much for Shackleton. Meanwhile, we have considerations of our own to contend with.

Its spring 2020, and coronavirus is sweeping across the world. Only in early march we were ticking over quite normally, but since then much has changed. Now europe has set in place a significant shutdown to slow down the spread of the virus. Schools are closed, sporting fixtures cancelled, no large gatherings, many national borders shut. In Sweden the government are following scientific advice rather than popular feeling and life remains more open, but still there is a strong smell of lockdown in the air. This is our diary of what it is like to be under virtual house arrest in a large and comfortable house in northern europe in the spring, with endless streaming services and a Co-op at the end of the road.