Friday 13 – Sunday 15 March. 7.30 am: London bound:
My sons had invited me to stay for the weekend in order to visit Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. It was a late and much anticipated Christmas present. As I traveled, I sensed a strange and unsettling spirit in the air. An invisible miasma pervaded the land. Anxiety, foreboding, and suspicion were conspicuous: potentially, each of us could infect the other. The smell of antibacterial hand-wash permeated the train. This was a global, national, and, ultimately, a familial and personal crisis. A matter of life and death. Perhaps, there’re lessons to be learned about what truly constitutes the ‘good life’, what doesn’t really matter in the end, and how dangerous uncritical compliance may turn out to be.
It was my younger son’s first visit to Ronnie’s. We had a gas. The Bill Lawrence Trio’s music was a little too safe, over composed, and predictable for my tastes; but the musicianship was exceptional. We staggered out into the gutter around 12.40 am Saturday morning, energized and in rapid-fire conversation.
Later that day, the Harvey Boys went shopping, café-ing, and luncheon-ing. Ruskin’s Café, on Museum Street, was a real find. When, in the late 1980s, I was a PhD student undertaking research at the British Library (then housed within the British Museum), I’d buy my lunch on this street.
We ate lunch in Chinatown, to show support for the struggling restaurateurs. This was Saturday afternoon. Normally, the restaurant would’ve been full. There was no one else sat on its upper-floor beside us. Outside, Gerrard Street was decidedly quiet. Later, we took my younger son to Denmark Street, and what remains of some of the best guitar shops in the country. A purchase was made.
After he’d left us to travel northwards and home, I returned to my elder son’s flat where I my penny’s-worth to an email chain about the threat of the virus that had emerged from correspondence between School of Art staff:
I suspect that close proximity/large group teaching places us all (staff and students) in greater jeopardy than one-to-one tutorials. If companies like Unilever are now asking staff to work at home, it makes one wonder why most educational institutions are continuing to operate normally. Presumably, this is on the assumption that it’s a risk worth taking. Is it, really? Part of our duty of care to the students is to ensure their safety in all circumstances. And we each have a duty to ourselves and our families too. I, for one, don’t wish to collaborate in the government’s ‘herd immunity’ project.
University policy regarding revised assessment regimes etc. presupposes that staff are well enough to continue functioning. The longer we go on teaching, the more likely we are to succumb to the virus. Moreover, once the students return from home from after the Easter vacation, some may bring infection back with them. Likewise, future Visiting Days, to my mind, will be a high-risk operation. These scenarios are potential game-changers. There are more important principles than ‘the show must go on’.
Saturday evening, my elder son and I put together his first hi-fi and played his only vinyl: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. After a delivered pizza, we settled to watch the documentary film Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool. (Davis’ capacity for creativity was matched on my his propensity for self destruction.) A perfect end to the day. This had been a rich and memorable time for a father of two excellent lads. They mean more to me than any accomplishment that I may be judged to have achieved.
Sunday morning, following breakfast, I bid farewell to my son and headed, via Waterloo mainline station, to Tate Modern. Andy Warhol’s contribution to Modern Art and his continuing relevance were well articulated. I enjoyed the token representation of ‘The Factory’ experience, particularly. Lou Reed looked pensive and vulnerable.
I returned to a sparsely populated city centre to hunt for paracetamol. The shelves were empty. ‘There’s a storm coming!’
Noticeably few were travelling by train. Those who were kept their distance from each other, where possible. Our peculiar British reserve now had a medical sanction.