The news is dominated by the progress of coronavirus and our response to it. In line with one of my New Year resolutions, and to assuage Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) dislike of my chuntering on to myself in response to the radio news, I have reduced the amount of news I listen to, especially in the morning. Nonetheless, the reports of infections, deaths, stock market collapses and empty toilet roll shelves, creates a compelling narrative and visceral sensation.
The prospects, not least for my pension, look gloomy but whether the current levels of fear of coronavirus are fully justified is not quite concrete. As a result, and despite my natural pessimism on this sort of thing, my personal response, in terms of activities undertaken, has been uncertain and mixed.
For example, I did brave the snuffling crowds to travel up to London last week by train and tube to attend one of my regular evening sessions with old friends there. We went to a busy pub and Russian restaurant in Soho (we are up to R in the alphabet of cuisines we are sampling). The washing of my hands in the loo a little more self-consciously and for longer than usual, and the eschewing of handshakes, were the only concessions to the virus. Unless, that is, we count the imbibing of a few flavoured vodkas and the antiseptic qualities of their alcohol content.
On the other hand, I chose not to go to a Forest Green Rovers (FGR) football match in nearby Swindon which normally I would have attended. I rejected sitting on a stuffy train or bus for an hour next to old people like me and then being packed into the ‘away’ end. Instead, I favoured a breezy walk to an airy view of a much smaller game at Shortwood, the even more local football ground just over the hill. I felt rotten about the decision afterwards because it felt like conceding ground to the virus while missing out on what has recently become a rare win for FGR.
Since then, I have continued retired life as I did before the advent of the coronavirus outbreak. I continue to walk into town daily. I have been to a pub to meet a village mate. I have attended two optional meetings on local climate change response activity and have been to a local dinner party. LSW and I plan to go to Bath for a concert and (assuming it is on) I plan to see FGR’s game at the weekend from the (fairly) packed stand.
I keep veering along a continuum from avoiding unnecessary contact with others through thinking that what ‘will be will be’ and doing normal things but in a restrained way, to full out participation in events because it might be the last chance I get to do so for a while.
Hopefully, now spring and some warmer weather is coming, the trepidation about the virus and the more scary statistics associated with it will reduce. However, the news readers, politicians and experts on the radio that I have listened to tell me that things will get much worse before they get better. I suspect several limitations on normal living are imminent. Should that be the case I will absorb myself in splendid isolation in the garden, clearing the winter weeds and clutter and digging over the vegetable patch. In any case, that’s a task I have postponed for long enough already.
While in London last week, I did fit in an exhibition. This was the Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography exhibition at the Barbican. This inadvertently continued my recent run of visiting photographic exhibitions – the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, the Don McCullin exhibition at Hauser & Wirth last month, and now this.
Overall, I enjoyed it – these large exhibitions at such prestigious venues are so well thought out and always worth seeing – but my level of enjoyment fluctuated as I progressed through it and I ‘tired’ towards the end.
The exhibition starts with a series of photos focusing on men as soldiers, athletes and cowboys in traditionally male roles. However, the chosen photographs deliberately undermine the typical view of the male; the soldiers are out of combat and apparently defenceless, the athletes are barely beyond pubescence, the cowboys are of ambiguous sexuality.
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The theme of subverting the masculine ideal here was quite interesting and the video by Jeremy Deller of cross-dressing wrestler Adrian Street was compelling enough to watch all the way through. (It brought back memories of the routine of watching all-in wrestling on the BBC before the reading of the Saturday football results back in the 1960s and 70s.)
There was some more unexpected material on masculine spaces – fraternities in the US and Mens’ Clubs in London – and some more playful stuff on men and fatherhood on the ground floor of the exhibition.
Upstairs, as the examination into the ‘plurality of subversive masculinities’ continued, the more predictable focus was more on ‘Queer’ culture (that appears to be an ok word to use again), homosexuality and race. I found this less interesting although I again enjoyed some of the more light-hearted pieces and there were a few impressive photos by Deana Lawson and Rotimi Fani-Kayode who’s work I have seen somewhere before.
I’m wondering if my plans to visit London again over the next month or so will remain intact during the coronavirus crisis; fingers crossed on that. One thing for sure – I’m glad I have retired and have a choice (provided I don’t catch it!)