Estado de alerta virus under a magnifying glass

Dispatch from a Spanish Lock-Down Episode 3 by John Miskelly

Mar 26, 2020

Day 7: Fines; Extensions; Cod Psychology; Routine.

(click for full size)

Thanks to Spanish artist Felix Rodriguez Fernandez aka Mr Zé for the above illustration. More of this series and other pieces can be found at

Spain: 28,572 cases
Asturias: 545 cases

First of all I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome, as of time of writing, London and certain states of the USA to the quarantine party. Better late than never; although I see you haven’t actually gone with the whole martial law approach. Interesting. Let’s check in in a couple of weeks and see how in retrospect allowing Bob and Margaret and 2,000 of their friends their weekly cycle ride round Richmond park plays out.

an insidious but potent strain of British exceptionalism
I know these dispatches should primarily be about Spain but I will say this: there’s an insidious but potent strain of British exceptionalism that is and will be the death of that nation. It’s a little grain of sand that still regards Italy and Spain and France as backward but charming agrarian early twentieth-century developing nations, and an arrogance that says what happens “over there” can’t happen “here.” I’m afraid it can and it is, and, as my mate Dave put it in a Facebook message: “A stiff upper lip doesn’t stop a virus from replicating inside your lung tissue.”

I’d also like to thank the Conservative Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the U.K.’s new era of centralised communism. It takes a strong character to put aside over a century of ideological free-market dogma and finally admit that, yes, you’ve lost the argument, and that your preferred system of government was a mere racket built on sand to exclusively benefit your mates and we can bury it forever. So thanks.

Enough gloating though. There’s more pressing things at hand; most notably a global pandemic, but even more notably my personal experience of said pandemic: the glands under my jaw have swollen up to the size of a good-sized grape. A quick search online suggests I either have a) a cold on the way b) this thing that’s going round and my immune system’s working overtime to beat it or c) cancer. So that’s all good. All options, barring “a,” could eventually lead to a worst-case scenario: namely death a long and complicated conversation in Spanish over the phone with a medical professional. That’s another of my nightly realizations: my mediocre Spanish skills and British aversion to “making a fuss” will kill me. I load up on more vitamin C.

Meanwhile in the wider world outside my own head: the lockdown in Spain has been extended to the 14 April.

an extension not just time but severity of measures
¡Cago en la leche de la gran puta mierda, chaval! Another month. How on earth? How the fuck? In the context of right now though it’s such a vast stretch of time it’s more or less incomprehensible, which in some ways is a relief. A fear now is an extension not just of time but severity of measures. In France one needs a signed document to justify being out of the house. My French housemate told me this is due to the number of people flouting the rules.

One poor sod was fined 1,500 Euros for surfing.
Here? from what I can tell the lockdown is and isn’t holding. Gijón/Xixón is running at an average of one hundred sanctions a day, mostly for small mis-endeavors. Every day the local paper, La Nueva España documents the numbers of fined in the wider Asturian region plus the odd amusing piss taker—one particularly recidivistic Gijónese (if you’re bored try saying that twenty times at speed) has been fined four consecutive days for swimming at two different beaches in the city. Another was fined for fishing directly out of his apartment window into the harbour beneath (really; I’ve seen the pictures). One poor sod was fined 1,500 Euros for surfing. Another was caught walking his dog six kilometres away from his apartment.

Would all this warrant an even harsher bill of measures? Here’s hoping not. One hopes governments—both regional and national—are factoring quarantine fatigue into all this: just how much do they expect a nation of mostly apartment dwellers to take before they simply say: “Sod grandma, I’m going to fish out of my god damn window” and/or go all European and start setting fire to dumpsters and rolling them towards lines of cops albeit in face masks and surgical gloves. Al mierda con el gobierno! ¡Ni un paso hacia atrás! (¡Pero dos metros entre nosotros si!)

On the other hand I am cruelly amused at the idea of all this putting the freeze on Andalusia’s annual Easter mega-blowout catholic carnival of weird religious fervor aka Semana Santa. Jesus’s birthday bash cancelled by an act of his own omnipotent father. I’ll enjoy hearing them reconcile themselves with that.

Through all of this I’m trying to keep some semblance of routine. So far my days pass, in the very roughest sense, thus:

10–11AM: Get up. Make coffee. Make porridge. Take a dump. Read depressing news stories. Worry.

11AMish: Open bedroom window as wide as it will go. Observe outside world. Worry.

11:30AM–1PM: Exercises and stretches/and or run up and down the building’s stairs. (I’ve been doing and expanding on this repertoire of exercises for the past year and half, ever since shoulder tendonitis and subsequent frozen shoulder revealed to me the exact damage thirty-odd years of terrible posture had had on my body.) Worry.

1PM – 3PM: Read/watch something in Spanish. Read/watch something in English. Worry.

3PM—4PM: Lunch. Read anxiety-inducing new stories/hilarious twitter posts. Get homesick for superior British sense of humor. Worry.

4PM—9PM: N/A. Maybe play on my Switch Lite? Watch a performance on Instagram? Watch something else? Write this shit? Mostly though: worry.

9PM–2AM: Stew in rising anxiety. Get anxiety-induced shortness of breath. Get shortness of breath-induced hot flushes. Cough once. Reach only logical conclusion that, yes I have it. It is in me. Fall asleep thinking about the end of everything.

I have begun to think about what version of myself might come out of all this
With such a busy schedule it’s a wonder I have time to even contemplate the future, but as premature as it might be I have begun to think about what version of myself might come out of all this. Just under a week into total lockdown and two or three of taking at least some kind of precaution, my habits and mentality towards hygiene have been transformed. In my head anything and everyone beyond my own room is a potential carrier of the virus waiting to deliver a weighty payload of filth directly into my lungs. All door handles, cutlery, plates, dishes, wooden spoons, the knobs on the oven, the handle on the fridge, the handles on the cupboards, the handles on windows, all taps, chairs, the knobs on the washing machine, the clothes horse, the chopping board—everything is a co-conspirator waiting to betray me.

I sanitise my hands before I leave my room. I sanitise my hands when I get back to my room. I wash my hands all the time. On a few occasions I think I may have actually washed the hand sanitizer off my hands and then re-hand-sanitized my hands again. When I see people hugging or touching or picking up discarded newspapers on trains in the shows and movies I’ve been watching made in the “before times” I cringe. Even the most frivolous sitcom is transformed into a heart-pounding thriller. Right now I make no apologies—as a great man once said; “Just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you.” But what will a month of this to my psyche? Fuck knows.

In terms of a future beyond mere hygiene habits: mostly indifference. A mere couple of weeks ago my deepest preoccupation was a possible return to Bristol. For the first time in my life plans resembling some kind of long-term permanence were on the cards. Buy a flat in Bristol with my combined savings, ISAs, and inheritance. Actually get a job with a contract longer than a year. Maybe retrain in something I want to do. Thus far mine has been an adult life lived more or less off the hoof, year-to-year. It’s not so much that I’ve made wrong decision, more I haven’t made any decisions at all—white male privilege et cetera.

Now though, with all this—who cares? My mum asks me, “Will you be spending the summer [if there is one] in Asturias or here?”

Who cares?

Where will I be, come September?

Who cares?

But what about…?

So, fuck.

A year or so ago I spoke to another footloose friend (albeit one with an applicable real-world skill and, despite a few international moves, fairly constant work) about pension plans. “What’s yours?” I asked. “My pension plan is that in a few years there won’t be pensions.” One way or another he’s probably right. For better or worse, this whole thing right now and the fall-out of thought and debate and philosophising that should follow it, will change the world. And any plans one might or might not have made will change with it.

Ánimo colega, only twenty-eight days to go!

Thanks to Sean Bonnette of AJJ for his nightly streams.

¡Solidaridad para siempre!


John Miskelly is thirty-four years old and lives in Asturias, Spain. He remains thus far un-hospitalised.