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James Willstrop

James Willstrop: Isolation Conversation #2

Former World No.1 James Willstrop keeps us up to date with his diary entries.

Read the second instalment from the Englishman below.

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Wednesday 18 March

Finishing an assignment at Uni and volunteers are coming round workstations asking why we are not at home. Almost an interrogation. Things are worsening but if we’re not supposed to be in places then perhaps it needs to be made crystal clear. Leaving everything unspecific and just ‘advising’ people not to go places might not work. The public will be inclined to carry on if they can. It seems that movements we make away from home are now to be considered and validated. There’s an issue of responsibility here.

I walked in to Leeds after the relief of handing work in and found restaurants and shops closed and people absent. A lot of emptiness. Picking up a book in Waterstones for half an hour and sitting at a table, it appeared the cafe was now closed except for takeaways and after a while staff started clearing away all the chairs and desks on the top floor. People were trickling out. I stayed reading but asked staff whether they were closing and if I needed to leave. No it’s fine, he said, they were not closing but tables and chairs need to be separated for ‘Social Distancing’. Now there’s a very 21st century phrase.

I sat reading a little longer as customers gave up and left and staff made plans. Without trying to disrespectfully compare this to the sinking of the Titanic it did bring to mind the string quartet who kept playing on when the ship was sinking.

It was all becoming strange.

Went to Pontefract and helped coach the juniors. Some parents choosing to stay home with their kids. Plenty of members still drinking at the bar though. No problems there.

Had a conversation with Malc. He is bemused, like we all are. I’m beginning to wonder if his work is going to be threatened, which won’t sit too well with him.

We’ve already had the chat that most people much younger than he is are not even leaving their houses, let alone coaching four hours a day in a sweaty squash club. I should have known better than to try to tell him he’s in the ‘vulnerable bracket’ and therefore should be a bit careful. I was on a hiding to nothing; he’ll be working until he can’t. At least then, I tell him, make sure you bloody well wash your hands! His responses have just a touch of the bah humbug….

Friday 20 March

Dropped Logan off at school for his last day then drove to Skipton. ‘Searching for customers’ one notice outside a cafe read. Drove up to Kettlewell for a very long, hard, hilly walk/ hike/ run in the sunshine.

Took Logan to the squash club after school and Boris came on TV for what is now his daily press conference. They turned up the volume on the box and everyone gathered round. Really quite a strange experience, akin to what you imagine it was like when Churchill made his war speeches, when people listened in to wirelesses. Boris is saying now for absolute certain that cafes, restaurants, clubs and leisure centres are to close from tomorrow. There is to be no further doubt on this.

Some members carried on playing, some carried on talking and drinking their pints. Most were glued to Boris. Mick, who has been building up steam on court of late, stood in the middle of it watching, slightly disbelieving. His club will certainly have to shut, which apart from every fourth Christmas Day, it never does. The members could be enjoying their final pint for a while. We are in for a lockdown it seems.

People in the club inclined to a tipple are murmuring about a final blowout tonight, trying to make light of it. It might be the last time we get to go on a squash court for a while so even though it’s getting late we play another best of three.

Some kids at the club coming in tonight who were facing their last year of school and all of a sudden they are saying goodbyes and being told there aren’t exams.

It’s all gone very flat.

Reaching home the message is becoming more stark, more serious yet. People should not go be tempted to go out tonight for a final blow out and instead must stay at home. Being around people would be an act of irresponsibility.

The important message is that by going out we are risking spreading, and furthering the spread, and giving additional work to an NHS which is massively stretched.

These are stark notions for humans to hear- to be warned against a fundamental principle of human existence. The simple every day act of having degrees of close contact with others is to all intents and purposes now forbidden. Social distancing is the norm.

It is unthinkable now that only one week ago two players played in front of a packed crowd in the UK in a relatively small space in Canary Wharf to play the final of a professional squash tournament.

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