Pedestrians wearing protective face masks walk in Soho in London. | EFE/EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA


Despite the cancellation of the annual Book Fair, I decided to go to London and hold separate meetings with those whom I would have met had things gone to plan. I also took the opportunity to catch up with close friends and visit some of my favourite restaurants. It has been a wonderful visit despite the shadow of the virus hanging over the city. Coronavirus has indeed gripped the heart of the nation and the pendulum of emotion swings between complete nonchalance and denial to outright hysteria.

It was a relief to find the capital functioning as normal. Alas, in spite of tabloid hype, I found the underground still bursting at the seams, although the smell of hand sanitiser infused every carriage. I carried a hand sanitiser left over from my last jungle expedition and was told by a commuter only to use it surreptitiously. With a straight face, he said it was now worth more to a mugger than a Rolex or IPhone. It’s almost impossible to purchase lavatory rolls or sanitisers in London and many parts of the UK. I had dinner with some older friends the other night, two of whom have respiratory conditions, and both said they had queued at Tesco at 6.15am only to find a bogus NHS worker had swiped all the sanitisers fifteen minutes earlier, claiming to staff that they were needed urgently at a hospital. As ever, global crises such as this expose the very worst and best traits in humankind. For every hysterical and selfish hoarder, there’s an unselfish, kind person doing their best to help those most at risk. Take grocery store owners Asiyah and Jawad Javed in Falkirk who generously bought and delivered sanitisers, face masks, lavatory rolls, and hand cleaners to all the old folk in their locale. They are the real heroes of the hour: calm, collected, cheery, practical and unselfish people going about their business and helping others.

Another media falsehood concerns masks. Hardly anyone is wearing one in London, save the odd Chinese tourist, and those that do, often find themselves the object of ridicule. No one on any of my tube trains or buses donned a mask and even at Gatwick I didn’t see one worn. Restaurants and shops aren’t deserted either. At Le Caprice and the Wolseley, the tables were all full and everyone looked happy and relaxed, in other words business as usual. Oxford Street was busy but definitely there was a reduction in footfall as there was in large department stores but there were still a good number milling around and no one looked worried.

Friends working in law firms, insurance companies and the like, complain that it is younger people most hysterical about the virus while older people, ironically those most at risk, remain unfazed and are just getting on with their lives, albeit with more cautious hand washing and vigilance. My cockney taxi driver in his eighties, told me that he’d rather run the risk of coronavirus than sitting at home having to listen to his missus all day! Londoners have most definitely not lost their sense of humour and black jokes are spun out at every dinner. It keeps the equilibrium.

What did resonate with me were how older and more vulnerable citizens damned the idea of being left alone in their homes with no visitors. They said that loneliness would hurt them far more than the virus so they’d rather integrate and hope for the best. Friends with elderly and infirm parents have uttered the same sentiment. Visit an elderly relative or leave them to it, dumping a box of groceries on the steps and a pair of surgical gloves? Most found this heartless and likely to cause more harm to older loved ones.

So, there are conundrums at every turn. Of course, the good news is that thousands have coronavirus or have had it in the UK and didn’t even know. They are the uncounted but they have survived. This is a tough call for everyone and all we can do is step up to the mark, do as instructed by the authorities, help neighbours and elderly friends and keep a calm and positive outlook. Hopefully with the warmer weather upon us in a few months time, this pestilence will be long behind us.

Woke Wombles

Many of my generation grew up with the Wombles of Wimbledon, created by author Elizabeth Beresford. In the seventies, the books were turned into a television programme for children narrated by Bernard Cribbins. It was a joy to see the loveable, fictional creatures bumbling around Wimbledon Common clearing up litter. Greta Thunberg would have been proud of them.

Now, a new woke version of the Wombles has hit the screens courtesy of PC zealots at the BBC. The new weird-look Wombles have coloured faces and espouse right-on views. The creator’s incandescent son believes his mother’s legacy has been abused and I sympathise. Why do producers have to reinvent an existing fiction or programme beloved by thousands, just to appear ‘woke’? Can they not create a new concept that fits today’s strict criteria of what is acceptable or not? It shows a complete lack of imagination. There are countless new children’s authors out there who would love to have their books turned into TV series. Instead, the past must be butchered and sacrificed. Of course, this is really just about capitalising on a well-known brand to maximise profit potential, a cynical ploy to make the production company concerned, pots of dosh.

Meddling with this cherished book series, is a travesty, particularly as the wombles of Beresford’s imagination were purely fictitious. They didn’t have human physical traits because they weren’t human. Wombles had orange faces and grey fur. End of. Why was that so unacceptable and un-woke as to need total revision for a modern audience? I hope today’s children see the new interpretation for what it is. It amounts to style over substance and is exploiting a national treasure for profit. Shame on the BBC and shame on the production company that created this abomination.