The Corona Diaries

Hammersmith’s Junior Hour tutor, YouTube star, and 2020 Club Personality of the Year, Christof, shares some selected highlights from his diaries over the last four months.

My Corona Diaries

On 25th of February, Corona shows up for the first time in my diary notes. There are worrying reports about increasing numbers of infections and deaths from the virus in Korea, to where my wife has planned a trip in three weeks time. We agree to postpone the trip until the end of Summer, observe how Korea deals with the situation and wonder whether similar measures would be possible to adopt here in the UK.

Chess becomes increasingly affected by Corona. In early March, I participate in a weekend Congress in Exeter. Last year, I had been a returnee to chess and surprisingly won the Major Section there. This year, I play in the Open section (finishing joint 6th), but that is not the only difference – people are allowed to not shake hands before or after the game. Allowed to abstain, not required to do so, well that sounds harmless. But does the virus travel via the palms, or in the air? Even today, I still remember the hot breath of my opponents, two feet away, for 20 hours over 3 days…

During the Congress I receive an email from FIDE informing me that the Amateur World Championship for which I was nominated to play in April on Crete, is postponed for half a year. Well, that now starts to affect my daily life.

I had endured a rigorous training program for the past three months and there were just three more weeks to go until the big event and before resuming a normal life again. How will I be able to keep up that energy level for another six months? Well, being in principle a positive-thinking person, I convince myself that I should be lucky to be healthy, with numbers of virus infections and deaths quickly starting to increase in the UK. But read on.

Club life changes in early March. It soon becomes clear that over-the-board chess will disappear for some time, and that club members are looking for alternatives. In a club which never sleeps, there are so many people with lots of ideas, enthusiasm, and some with time (including me, not having to prepare for my Crete tournament anymore), and a lot of new activities are organised. It seems chess has never been more diverse and vibrant.

Lockdown starts, but for me as a pensioner there are not many changes in the daily routine. Okay, no pubs, fine dining and cultural events anymore. No day trips to the country, all international travel cancelled, but otherwise even more chess than before – not too bad!

The lockdown beard begins to blossom

News about Brexit is replaced by news about Corona. Worrying news. Death rates spiralling out of control, the government obviously indecisive. I cherish the health and social care workers. And then comes my own personal encounter with the health crisis.

One morning I wake up with never before experienced excruciating pain (though my wife reassuringly tells me it will be nothing compared to labor pains) and I have to call the emergency services.

Dry cough or similar symptoms? No. Fever? No. Periods of unconsciousness? Not yet. Well, then they cannot send an ambulance, sorry – the NHS has to be protected.

After some time the GP answers my calls, delivers a remote diagnosis and prescribes me some medicine. For two weeks I live on drugs before I am back to normal.

Some afterthoughts remain and I cannot forget the pictures of the PM boastingly shaking hands in Corona-infected hospitals when I diligently restricted myself to elbow-checks with my chess opponents, and we both fell sick during the same days a month later. And I will not forget whose responsibility it was and is for the underfunding of the NHS.

The beard in full bloom!

Social life goes on during the next weeks in lockdown, but no, not as some privileged politicians do. Gatherings now take place via Zoom, be it in normal chats or in highly sophisticated cocktail hour groups. Discussions circle around health issues (mostly my older friends) and economic worries (the younger ones). Political discussions with family and friends abroad compare the different national approaches to the crisis. I tell them, being a chess player I believe in post-mortem, an exercise where you learn from mistakes by going through the finished game together with your opponent. While the term may currently be inadequate, I express my hope that one day such an exercise will be done on Corona, because I dream of a life after lockdown and definitely do not want to have to repeat this experience.

And now, 15 weeks after my first Corona diary entry, my 3-month Carlsen-style beard shaved off, close to start of Summer, it feels more like Spring is beginning, everything re-awakening. Discussions are intensifying about resuming regular chess activities, not only in other countries which have already overcome the crisis, but even in the UK. I feel anxious.


In normal times, a pre-lockdown hair style

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