4th May 2020

Darling Paloma,

I walked over last night to see your grandfather’s house. There was hardly anybody outside on the streets, which made my walk a little daunting. A few foxes were lurking among the trees in the neighbouring squares and on street corners. They focus their eyes. I’m sure I saw one crane its neck even rising on its tiptoes. I, in turn, stepped up my pace and made a slight detour to avoid yet another one on yet another street corner. A certain amount of paranoia has begun to set in. A policeman standing at the end of the mews with a pointed helmet looked more like a witch. He, like the foxes, observed me. It is as if he had been told to keep an eye on me and report back to headquarters if he saw anything suspicious. I immediately felt guilty about something. I am that sort. The type that although innocent walks through customs as if I’m carrying a load of drugs. If stopped (which used to be a common occurrence) I grow so nervous and when asked a question tend to reply in code or should I say in a language that doesn’t exist.

Your brother and I on your grandfather’s terrace.

I walked to the end of the mews, and the policeman’s eyes follow. It is as if he has decided to wait before approaching me until I stopped dead in my tracks. A police car came hurtling out of the mews with siren blaring. I lifted my arms as if in a western and waited to be arrested. But of course, they weren’t interested in me. I heard this morning that they were probably heading to Hyde Park where a body was found. I am not sure if it is true. There are so many rumours flying about at the moment.


The house was looking refreshed. It had had a massive makeover. It is a unique mews house because windows stare out from each side – a good selling point for the estate agents. ‘ Something of a palace!’ One agent used to say. But that wasn’t true. By the time your grandfather died, the house was in desperate need of modernisation: sticking windows, white paint in the kitchen turned to cream, the dining room’s ceiling fading and the terrace which once boasted flowers and plants from across the globe now empty. My father used to show off that anyone who was anyone raved about its beauty. Towards the end of his life, a few friends still mentioned how lovely the house was, if only out of respect for her happier past. One friend described the house as something that had gone to seed like a soprano whose voice has cracked. He was never invited back.

I found the whole experience revisiting the front of house profoundly moving. My reaction surprised me. I had thought that I had been able to compartmentalise those emotions. Even when I watch my movie which I wrote and is set partly in the house, I don’t mourn her past. I think what a great house we were able to find and use to define a time gone by.

The walk home was without incident. Not even a single fox scurried amongst the bags of rubbish. The total silence was daunting. I didn’t know what had got into me. I still don’t. But my nerves were not helped by your mother’s screams as I unlocked our front door. I sprinted downstairs to find her in the kitchen. She was ashen. Unable to move.

‘ What’s wrong!’ I asked.

At first, nothing emerged from her mouth save heavy, irregular breaths.

‘ Come here,’ I said, ‘Tell me what happened?’

‘ A mouse!’ she screamed.

I held her tight and then led her out of the kitchen. I, all of a sudden, felt very brave.

Te Quiero mucho,

Papa.

.

2nd May 2020

Darling Paloma,

When I woke up this morning, I promised myself that I was going to write something positive or at least try. I looked out of our bedroom window and saw how crystal clear the day was. The rain over the last few days had changed my mood. I had become somewhat subjective, and I know what that does to me. So again I promised myself to keep my mind on the world’s beauty and let go of any recent negative thoughts where humankind seems at times bent on talking itself into trouble, pressing the communal self-destruct button.

I looked at what I had written in my dairy precisely five years ago today. I remember it not being the best of times and wondered how I had described my mood. Instead of noticing grammar and punctuation and prosody and syntax and style and solecism and tautology and pleonasm and litotes and mixed tenses and long-windedness and overindulgence and lack of narrative and inconsistent characterization and dittography and repetition and repetition and repetition. I discovered, after a few lines, that although dark I liked what I read and was surprised by my observations and the sharpness of my pen – Good I thought – my mind had been working far better at that time than I remembered.

For that is the problem with days and months like these. We tend to forget and rewrite what transpired. And why does fate and nature put obstacles in our way?
And I searched for an answer: To teach us to appreciate better the times when there was no virus and potential of death in so many of our lives; to think more often of those who, perhaps through no fault of their own, suffer for most of their lives; to give us a glimpse and therefore a warning of what hell – would be – will be like; and to remind us that there have been and are and always will be plenty of opportunities for each of us to create our troubles… anywhere. Phew! Stop it!

The drive to St John’s Wood and walk on Primrose Hill was what I needed. First, I was able to get your mother smoked salmon, bagels and cream cheese from Panzers. If there is anything she craves for, during her pregnancy, it is smoked salmon! Quite surprising for a Spanish girl. I have been going to that supermarket ever since I was a kid. It is quite an experience. Like always and even in the middle of a pandemic, locals rush to be served first. The prize and it’s a big prize is to get out without the virus and to buy the second-best smoked salmon in town. The best is from Browns the old fashioned fishmonger just five streets away; unfortunately today it is closed.

The great white properties at the bottom of Primrose Hill, although still early were blazing with the reflection from the morning sun. It was as if the owners had been pruning and preening their homes so that they were spick & span, ready for the weekend.

Nature had once again come to the rescue. And with all the questions and search of answers today, I saw little else I hope to achieve in this life for you and your brother other than to leave the earth and sea a smidgen more bearable and more beautiful and more of a paradise for those who are to come . . .

With all my love,

Papa

1st May 2020

Darling Paloma,

We went out at eight pm last night to cheer our carers. It seems we are living in the most deserted part of London. Only three others joined in with our applause. Two police officers standing by their squad car and the vagrant I mentioned yesterday clapping and hooting louder than any of us.

It is proving to be a lovely tradition. There is a sense of community supporting those working on the front line. I’ve noticed in myself a renewed sensitivity during these days. When I was out for my last walk of the night, I heard from a nearby house a brief snatch of opera and the voice of a man, the sad voice of a young man who I felt had been touched by loss. I wonder if I would have noticed his pain months before.

Boris Johnson addressed the nation. We sat, waiting to see what he would reveal. But as he walked to his podium, it was evident that this was not going to be the big announcement we had been hoping to hear. Any news about the loosening of isolation restrictions would have to wait until next week. The microphone met the Prime Minister’s dry lips. He spoke as if talking to a vast auditorium. He said that we had done an excellent job in a “we are all in this together” style and the country had now passed its peak. He shows the skill of someone expert to carry simultaneous conversations. One going on in his head while at the same time saying ‘yes, yes, yes,’ to whoever is in front of him. My father had that skill when playing hide and seek. He’d count to ten, and we’d dash off upstairs to hide. He, in the meantime, remained downstairs to read his paper and would noisily turn the handle of the drawing room and yell ‘I’m coming to find you, ‘ which would keep us happy.

Leadership is going through a low point. I think it’s fair to say that we have lost trust in our leaders. I believe the actions of most at the beginning of the pandemic is a perfect example. Everyone hesitated at the start like sheep waiting to go through a gate, no one wanting to go first; but once one goes through, the whole flock follows. I was looking for a flicker of change in the Prime Minister’s face and attitude after his near-death experience; still, I didn’t glimpse it for a moment. When he was asked “how he was feeling” it was a perfect opportunity to say that he never expected to get it and did not protect himself adequately. If he doesn’t see it as a plague, then a few can. He should have looked straight in the camera and say,’ I nearly died. I would have missed so much, first and foremost, the birth of my son this week… None of which would have been a lie but he didn’t. Instead, he tried to erase any fear or vulnerability with an expression on his face, and a gesture with his arm, of complete apathy.

You probably know this, but the scan went well yesterday. As our fetal consultant Elena Greco said, it is the only time you want to hear that everything is average. No surprises are needed, and thankfully, there were none. You are a perfect weight, length…everything.

What I did find disturbing is that Elena was still waiting to be tested for Covid-19. Can you imagine? A woman who works closely every day with pregnant women. I rang a close friend who is involved in organising tests for antibodies and arranged one within hours. Thank you! She was found negative, as was I after my test on Tuesday. I’m not sure if that is good or bad news? There was a part of me that was hoping I had got it and was so light that I hadn’t noticed. Oh well, at least for now I remain healthy.

Te Quiero mucho,

Papa

30th April 2020

Darling Paloma,

I admit walking down the street to take the dog out is getting increasingly more difficult. I’ve moaned before, but people’s lack of awareness or just good manners is depressing. But now I have another problem. Only today with eyes purposely set on the coffee bar, someone who in the past has badly let me down appeared across my vision. I’ve seen him a few times before but I’ve always been able to avoid him. This time it was impossible to turn and look into an empty shop. He walked straight over, all chummy as if we were long lost friends. He was full of platitudes and resembled precisely what I think he is: averagely good, top of the class bad and too cowardly to be evil.

I noticed he waved at anyone who lived on the street. They, in turn, picked up their pace and looked at me with pity, ‘poor Simon, he’s been caught?’ Even the local vagrant who sleeps on the bench outside the church was hiding behind a tree as if playing a game of hide and seek. He gave me the thumbs up. That tree I thought could in the future be necessary cover.

He noticed my shaved head. ‘ I hope your change doesn’t just apply to your exterior,’ he said, sounding more like my ex headmaster.

I began to smell the coffee from the local bar, and although I never like to be rude even to shits like him, I lifted my lapels in the manner of a screen detective, smoothed down my absent hair and said, ‘you’re a bore, I must be off.’

‘ See you soon,’ he said, obviously not hearing what I had just said. I hope not I thought and then as I walked away, I stopped dead in my tracks and said, ‘it’s Captain Tom’s 100th birthday today. Let’s all raise a glass to his health. ‘

Bedford School displays 135,000 birthday cards sent to Captain Tom.

‘Who’s Captain Tom,’ he asked. I paid no attention. My coffee awaited, and nothing was going to stop me. Nothing except a police car which roared past almost knocking me off my feet and squashing me out of holy existence. It would have continued its speed except suddenly it ground to a halt. The vagrant had decided at that point to leave his tree to cross the street. He didn’t seem to mind that he had nearly died. I do though and gave myself a good scolding. We have you arriving in just seven weeks from today. And later we are heading in for the 32nd-week scan. You’re as big as a cantaloupe, so your mother’s app says and your skin is now opaque instead of transparent!

Strange although at times, the days feel as slow as an evening shadow, the last week has spun by.

See you later, my tiny one.

Te Quiero mucho,

Papa

28th April 2020

Darling Paloma

Today it rained and rained. The warmest April since 1929 has come to a very wet end. It seems trivial to talk about the weather during these days but we have been truly blessed with sun and blue skies in England. You will discover soon enough that it is rare in this country to have continual fine weather and when you get older and reflect on your childhood, it is the bright summer days that you will remember.

When I was thirteen years old, I passed my common entrance examination to gain a place at Harrow. It was important for my father, your grandfather, as it was the school he went to and wanted his sons to continue the tradition.

For many boys, it was and is their happiest days. For me, it was a place I found trouble. It was not the school’s finest period in its history. One of the school houses ( the boys were split into 12 school buildings to sleep) was burnt down the term before I arrived, the school’s collection of Turner paintings were stolen by a group of boys in my house and a boy again in my house was arrested for shooting his air rifle at passers-by on the main high street. The Headmaster persevered i.e. kept his job. He and the Governors continued in silent pain and pretended the that the school hadn’t broken into smithereens

15th June 1945: Your grandfather at Harrow School being given a lesson in baseball by American airmen of the 225th Photo Recce Wing and the 305th Bomber Group.

One particular summer is still remembered as one of our finest. The heat encouraged good boys to behave and bad ones to have fun.

How I looked forward to those warm Saturday nights when my four accomplices and I would escape from the school grounds by taking the subway into London and party until the early hours; it worked week after week like clockwork; confidently striding off Harrow Hill without a care in the world even though if caught, we would be immediately expelled. So much confidence in those days! Where the hell did it all go?

The route back to school duplicated the way out. A friend leaving a window open at the top of the fire escape followed by a few steps to my room. Easy! Except on this particular Saturday, my so-called friend forgot to leave the fire escape window open and I had only one choice; to climb through the housemaster’s study. During those summer nights, he always left his window ajar. It was a high small window, almost an apology as if no one working there would ever want to look out.

The housemaster’s study reminded me of a dentist’s waiting room. It smelt stale and was full of relics and nasty knick-knacks he had bought on his yearly vacation to Bognor. I climbed in without much trouble. The heavy felt curtains were drawn and as I was beginning to walk across the beige carpet I heard footsteps heading in my direction. Surely not? It can’t be? But yes the housemaster had decided to work late; I would recognize those steps anywhere.

I dashed and hid behind the curtains. A crack in the curtains allowed me to watch in disbelief as the housemaster sat at his desk inches from me and began to mark a pile of examination papers. His carriage clock read 3 o’clock. Next time I looked it said 4 o’clock. I had spent an hour standing silently upright. It was the longest hour of my life. I was on the verge of giving up. I planned to reveal myself by telling him a good joke. To borrow an old quote, ‘ how often at moments full of potential drama only a joke comes to mind.’ But then without warning, he put his pen down, straightened his papers and switched off his table light. The joy and relief remain today. He walked slowly to his door and when he opened it, he turned directly to where I was standing and said, ‘ I don’t know about you laddie but I am going to bed!’ He then shut the door and walked out.

I never found out if he knew it was me. I never found out if it was my breathing or the stink of cigarettes that gave me away. I never found out because the incident was never mentioned to me or to any other boy in the house.

My luck at school didn’t hold though. I was asked to leave less than a year later.

I hope you will follow your mother’s ( head girl!) example and not your father’s in your academic life. It will make life a little easier.

Te Quiero mucho,

Papa

27th April 2020

Darling Paloma,

When I wake up, I pick up my iPhone to check if something bad has happened during the night. Not a healthy habit to have got in to but a difficult one to give up. Today there was no new news just hangover reports from the weekend. Everyone is still trying to work out why the President had asked his medical team live on television to look into “whether light could be “brought inside the body”, and whether injecting people’s lungs with disinfectants should be investigated as coronavirus treatments. It was like a piercing amplified scream as soon as he had opened his mouth.

Some of the journalists in the briefing room jumped out of their skin whilst others let out an incredulous gasp. The rest of the world watching on television played back the recording to double-check they had heard properly. The President, the following day, attempted to walk back his remarks by saying, with just a dash of condescension, he was being sarcastic.

George, an old friend, texted me: ” Soon Trump won’t be making so many appearances during the daily briefings .”

So who is George? He has been my source to what’s going on behind the headlines ever since my PR days; he was on my payroll. He was a seasoned journalist who had worked for most of the papers- broadsheets and tabloids, both here and in the US. He had in his time the ability to report the ordinary day ordinarily passing. In other words, he could create a story out of nothing.

We first met years ago at the opening time of a bar off Fleet Street. It was as silent as a morgue and smelt of stale tobacco and drink. The curtains were still drawn and the staff were still clearing the half-empty glasses and ashtrays full of cigarette butts from the night before. It felt like a John Le Carre novel. We had been introduced by a mutual friend who said George could be helpful. He was not English but American and spoke in a quiet Boston drawl.

He insisted on buying the drinks. ‘ Drinks on me,’ he said making the gesture of tipping a glass towards the throat, ‘ what’s the point of having expenses if you can’t spend them.’

He snapped his fingers until he got the barman’s attention.

‘ Your usual, ‘ the barman said to George.

George looked rather embarrassed especially as he had just told me he hardly ever been there. He noticed my suspicion. ”It is fine to call it my usual when I’ve been frequenting the bar for over twenty years but ill-mannered when it’s announced on a second visit.’

We took the corner table. He spoke quickly as if to make up for lost time. I hardly got a word in. He boasted that he had the best contacts. ‘ If I had to give you a definition of success, it’s to have the personal telephone numbers to nearly all the most important people in the world.’

I told him that we should work together. ‘ I won’t be giving you stories. All I need is for you to tell me when a story is about to break concerning one of my clients.’

We shook on it. The morning drinks and the heat of the pub made him sweat profusely. I remember thinking he needed to look after himself and if didn’t a heart attack was not far away.

‘ I pride myself on discretion,’ he said

‘ Do you?’ I replied not really believing it. ‘ Look after yourself. You’re going to become important to me. ‘

And with that I said my goodbye. Rushing out with jacket under my arm to get to a lunch that I was late for. Before I walked out onto the street I turned to our table and caught him taking a sip from the gin and tonic I had left.

We have stayed in touch ever since. He did have that heart attack and did prove to be important, giving me the ” heads up” when anything was about to happen – he was nearly always accurate with his information.

George is now retired and in self-isolation alone in his apartment overlooking the North Sea in Margate. He texts regularly and prides himself that he still has contacts and knows what is going on.

On Friday he texted to say, ‘ Ssssh! No one knows but Kim Jong on is dead.”

On Sunday, I read that he was alive and had been seen on his train on the way to his holiday home. When I text George with the headline, he didn’t respond.

Maybe after all this time, George is finally losing his touch.

Te Quiero mucho,

Papa

24th April 2020

Darling Paloma,

It may be time for you to know about some of my flaws. Not listed in one letter but over the coming weeks before you get here. I don’t want you to think I’m the perfect dad. I know I can’t be even though I will try. I can get grumpy at times and I’m a little set in my ways. Those are two for starters. I spent half of my life living alone before I met your mother so I’m bound to be moderately self-centred. But I’m sure your brother would say that I’m a good loving caring dad but there are things which trigger me. Nothing major but things. Like I’m not good at getting into line or queueing as we call it in England. I’m impatient.

This is not good news during these particular days as there are lines outside most of the stores.

My local baker is to the left of the gastropub.

And there are some I can’t avoid. The first and most important is my morning coffee! Closely followed by the line outside the baker to pick up my specially made slightly burnt croissant.

There were five people outside the baker today. Each standing to attention and shuffling uneasily. The person two ahead of me was blowing his long nose. What a nose! What noise! Like a soda syphon running out of water. A woman directly in front had the hiccups. Hic Haec Hoc not once but a hundred times. “Put your head between your legs dear and hold your breath,’ I muttered and when she turned thinking I had said something. I gave her a polite innocent smile. The man second in line was sneezing. Again not once but several times. I saw particles hit all over the back of the neck of the man in front at lightning speed. He at least had the decency to put a paper tissue to his nose. The man in front was too excited to notice as he was finally being called in. I was about to say something to the sneezer like ‘ Go home and stop spreading the disease,’ when a man in his fifties in green Nike tracksuit, jogged straight to the shop door and stepped right in. Christ what is going on! All this is bad enough but queue jumping was not going to happen on my watch. I opened the door and called him out. ‘ Hey, what do you think we are doing out here. Waiting to have a piss?’

‘Watch your language please?’ he said walking out of the shop. Everyone turning away pretending they had not heard or seen anything. He was vaguely familiar. The sort you mistake as someone you’ve known for years but is, in fact, the person who presents the early evening news. I’ve experienced that one.

‘I suppose you’d like us to be treated like cattle. Perhaps have an electric wire to keep us in order. ‘ He said.

God! Where did that come from?. ‘ No just common manners and perhaps a piece of paper pinned to the door saying: ” IF YOU JUMP THE LINE, YOU WILL NOT BE ASKED BACK.’ I replied.

He retreated to the back of the line huffing and puffing with infuriating self-pity . By the time I’d reached the front, two queues were building behind me. One for men and the other for women as if they were waiting to go into separate bathrooms. Some even with masks on still considered it polite to make conversation. Mainly political and mainly about US politics rather than our own. Enough of this I thought just as I was about to be called in. I decided to leave my croissant for another day. I suppose that’s my second big fault, I lack a certain amount of patience. Told you there were going to be a few admissions.

Before I left, I paused, waited for an apology but nothing came so I said finally and very softly to the ” news presenter, ‘ have yourself a good day.’

He ignored my gesture of goodwill.

Te Quiero mucho,

Papa

22nd April 2020

Darling Paloma,

We have a new hero in this country. Someone I’d like to think you will hear about when you grow. And if you don’t, I will make sure you will know how a valiant idea made a remarkable connection to our world during these turbulent days.

Thomas Moore, a father of two and a former British army officer who served in India and Burma during the second world is 99 years old. Next week on 30th April, he will be celebrating his 100th birthday. He is going to be one hundred years older than you! Well one hundred and two months older if everything goes according to plan. He has become known to all of us as Captain Tom. On 6th April 2020, he began a walk in aid of NHS Charities with the aim of raising £1,000 by his hundredth birthday. He aimed to complete one hundred laps of his garden, ten laps per day, with the help of a walking frame.

As of today, he has raised £28 million and more than 1.3 million people have donated.

When you watch him in uniform, you at first see an old man walking slowly but if you look closely enough you are transported by his grace of movement. I sat watching the television expressing my joy, screaming so loud but being so moved nothing came out. I am and was truly humbled by his cause. Each step is brief like a hummingbird that flies past you with a hint of colour from his medals. When interviewed, he is the most charming of men who you can tell throughout his life has been considerate, generous, and kind.

Captain Tom. 16th April 2020
Captain Tom during his military days

His act shadows the behaviour of some of the world’s leaders who have put their ego in front of anything else.

When he finished his hundredth lap of his garden, it was shown live on television. The 1st Battalion, the Yorkshire regiment stood to attention and as he crossed the line he was interviewed by the BBC.

‘Captain Tom how do you feel this morning?’

With a deep breath he said, ‘Fine. I am surrounded by the right sort of people…hope you are all feeling fine too.’

Te quiero mucho,

Papa

21st April 2020

Darling Paloma,

Great excitement! Our local coffee bar has reopened. Yellow lines drawn as if we were walking through US customs. Part of the new normal but that’s ok. The coffee bar is smart because it is scruffy and the coffee itself seems to have got better. Even customers lining up have changed – Spring has come – bright coloured dresses, men in white shirts (except for me) children ignoring the rules of social distancing and when glared at, run to the protection of their mother’s back.

The old gentleman was not there when I left the house but appeared by the time I’d returned. He was sitting on the neighbour’s stoop. Again in a white suit but this time double breasted similar to the type Cary Grant wore. I may be flattering myself but I think he came back to see me. I hope so. I introduced myself, ‘I think it’s time you knew my name. I’m Simon.’ Naturally, I didn’t offer my hand .

‘I’m not sure the name suits you,’ he replied.

‘You’re right, I’ve never really been totally comfortable with it,’

‘You’re more of a Jack,’

‘That’s my second name!‘ I said excitedly.

‘Well Jack it is. What made them go for Simon? Fashion?’

I knew the answer.

‘My mother chose Jack after my great grandfather but my father didn’t like it. Said that it would always remind him of my great grandfather. ‘The meanest man in the world!’ My father told me for as long as I can remember. ‘ So mean that although a rich man, he would take the 14 bus and change to the 73 to get to work because the change made the fare cheaper! That was one of my father’s tales.

‘ He resented my mother’s parents because they thought their daughter had married below their class. He never forgave them! Called them snobs!’

‘I know all about that one,’ the old gentleman sighed and spoke in a soft casual early evening tone telling me a story of a close friend who lost his young wife. ‘The family blamed him. The family moaned to everyone that he was never the right man. Even complained that he buried her in the wrong cemetery. ‘It’s packed in there,’ Meaning the wrong sort of people are buried in that cemetery. And when my friend said, ” there is no class distinction underground.” They dismissed him as a fool. They even moaned about him to the press who because of the family name gave it a sensational but brief coverage.’

The old gentleman looked at his own nose and gave himself an awful squint. ‘Like with so many of these stories, the press and everyone else soon gets bored and move on leaving my friend and the family to continue their lives without distraction and alone with memories.’

I wanted to ask how his friend was now doing or how he lived the rest of his life but I felt the old gentleman stiffen and a door slam deep in his soul. So I made an excuse that the coffee was getting cold and it was not worth upsetting my wife.

‘Have a good day,’ I said.

‘And you too Jack, ‘ he replied.

I turned the key to my front door. It made a sad groan.

‘Hey Jack!’

‘ Yes,’ I replied.

‘The plug fits perfectly. Thank you.’ And he gave the kindest of expressions as if it was tailor made for that exact moment.

Te quiero mucho,

Papa

20th April 2020

Darling Paloma,

‘ Wait here,’ I said, ‘ or rather wait over there,’ pointing to the next sto op so I could make my way to our front door. The old gentleman in the tweed suit had returned (back today in a white suit, white shirt and college tie). And just when I thought I’d never see him again.

I dashed upstairs to find the bath plug. That bloody bath plug which I had been carrying around in my pocket until yesterday! I wanted to find the plug quickly before I lost him again. I searched my office but it was not on my desk or on my bookshelves. I picked up the blanket off my chair, look round, once, from left to right from right to left. where is it? Asked God to guide me, hot, cold, cold, warm…I looked deep in the cupboard, in the top drawer under my socks and thought why should I have put it there? Sat down, stood up, sat down, had a sip of coffee and finally under the desk I found it, fallen next to one of the legs! Phew! And when I picked up this silly object, for absolutely no reason I uncontrollably broke down weeping. I tend to be doing this at the moment. I’m sensitive about everything. I miss your brother. I miss our old lives. I see your mum’s tummy and want to hold it and not let go. I want to thank every brave soul on the front line. They are extraordinary people. No thought of their own lives just wanting to save others. I want, I’m wanting, I wanted to ask the old gentleman where had he been? And say something like you must have known I was worried about you. But of course I didn’t . Stupid really. We’d only met a couple of times and we hardly said a word to each other; I don’t even know his name.

He thanked me kindly for the plug. Said he was grateful. He even gave a smile.

He spoke a little bit about his wife and in doing so revealed a little more about himself. He said she always slept peacefully and was an early riser. ‘ She snores though.’

‘ And you don’t?” I said.

‘ No,’ he lied like every other man who talks about snoring.

His tone changed when he spoke of her. ‘ She is from a rather grand family. and when we first met she had a house not far from here. In fact it was in that square opposite. Beautiful but rather dark with heavy furniture and ancestral portraits eyeing each other from velvet papered walls. I used to go round there and have tea! That’s how old I am. I played the classic game of pretending not to care when we first met’. As he spoke about his wife he, all of sudden, looked very young. It was startling. ‘I didn’t want to show how totally and utterly in love I was with her. I played that game of not needing her company. And sometimes I ‘d pick up a magazine or something instead of talking until she threw a cushion at me. And then she’d suggest it was time for me to go and I’d drop my guard and ask if I could stay longer and by doing so revealed that her presence was VITAL to me…’

And with that, he stood up, brushed himself down and started to walk away.

‘ Thank you again for this,’ he said holding up the plug like it was a trophy.

‘ My pleasure,’ I said, ‘ and let me know if I can get you and your wife anything else.’

He nodded.

‘ I see you don’t have today’s crossword with you,’ I said.

He shook his head. ‘ No. Things in my life are changing.’

And then he was gone.

I think or rather hope he will be back soon. I want to learn more about him, maybe even his name.

When I went back upstairs I found my laptop and looked for photographs I had taken of the old gentleman the other week. I only took a few and they are all similar. But today I noticed one because of its ray of light. Only yesterday I imagined a ray of light on the globe turning off for each one death . . . and another coming on for each birth. The thought has stayed with me.

Te quiero mucho,

Papa

17th April 2020

Darling Paloma,

Three more weeks! Three weeks more weeks of lockdown! I am not surprised but even I feel hemmed in by the announcement – And I think we all know, the lockdown is going to continue long after that. June 1st is my guess for life to start getting back to some sort of normality? And normality meaning schools getting back to finish the term. Which means your due date is edging closer to the reopening of the country.

Yesterday I took your mother to where you are going to be born. It wasn’t a difficult choice; The Lindo Wing is where your brother and I were both born. Each a Gemini like you. We found a photograph of me leaving the hospital with your grandmother and nurse And I’m also attaching another photograph of your mum’s visit. I called out to her from the car. She turned and waved and then disappeared with you inside her through the famous doors to meet the midwife .

The last time I had been there was twenty six years ago when I picked up your brother. I found the way without any trouble. It was as if our road had been lit by the early morning flecks of light and all I had to do was follow – there were very few people about so that we made the journey in short time; ten minutes from door to door.

While I was waiting in the car outside ( I chose not to go in as I tend to talk too much to the obstetrician) I looked up at the Lindo Wing. The entrance had not changed since I was first carried out of those doors. And my mind started to wander and asked myself whether any of us is responsible for anything. That everything is ordained and whatever we might have done, you were always going to come into our lives this year and during these days? I saw a couple pose with their baby at the door. The loud racket from the building work opposite spoiling the tenderness of the moment. I saw five workmen huddled together with no thought of social distancing having a laugh. They were a mere twenty yards away. I looked at the ridiculousness of it – the gulf between a new life and the stupidity of the old – will we all learn a lesson from what’s happening or we not take heed and carry on as before – I hope not.

Your mother came out smiling as she had done going in. She was elated with a feeling you may get once in your life. She had not slept well and the appointment was early so she felt exhausted but it did not stop her excitement. How lovely it was to see her look so happy following a day of sadness.

Everything is good. You are in a breech position so your mother was unable to take a good photograph of you but she heard your heart and it is strong. The doctor assured us that everything is good.

Again I am a little nervous to discuss such things. But when I got home and sat alone on the terrace, I laughed and birds sang in my soul; the song has not always been intelligible for someone who has spent much of his life avoiding intimate feelings but for the first time I heard the words distinctly and felt blessed and felt grateful.

Te quiero mucho,

Papa

16th April 2020

Darling Paloma,

We suffered our first family loss on Wednesday. Your mother’s step father Fernando succumbed to what the doctor believed to be coronavirus at his home in Madrid.

He had been unwell for some time and though he had fought dementia with the spirit of a prize fighter COVID-19 grew to be too strong for him.

‘ Today is the day he will die,’ the doctor had said early on Tuesday morning when he visited. The doctor was and is a busy man. For weeks now he goes from one house to another giving bad news.’ He will be gone by 5 o’clock at the latest’. She was also told that she and your uncle would be the only ones allowed to attend his funeral. There has been a lot of shouting and paperwork in Spain with this particular rule but in the end families readily agree rather than leave their loved one buried without them attending.

Your grandmother called the undertakers. As she dialed the number she thought of how lonely her life will be without her true love. She thought of the many times they visited London together and stayed at The Ritz where he would order scotch on the rocks at the bar adjusting his tie before he took his first sip and first puff from his Cuban cigar. How he called her flaqui (my skinny one) . How his voice sounded like a cello. How he would always notice what she was wearing and always say how beautiful she was when she came down to dinner. All this in the time it took to press eight numbers and hear a man’s solemn voice answer. She was informed by the undertaker that they would leave the coffin outside the door – it is the family’s responsibility to seal the body inside the coffin and to call when it is ready to be picked up. She flung her fingers at her phone in disgust; it would be the same gesture as the priest throwing the pieces of earth onto the coffin in the grave.

Fernando ignored his 5 o’clock deadline. And even though his breathing grew more and more shallow he continued to live throughout the night and through the following morning. Your grandmother postponed the undertakers and continued to watch over him.

He died at lunch time and was buried later that afternoon.

I never met Fernando but your mother tells me he was a good man, kind to your grandmother and his step children. Your grandmother is heartbroken. She mourns this morning and has been calling your mother constantly.

We all know the mystery of goodbye. We all know what it is like to be feeling sad but during this time it’s not just having to say goodbye but also not having your daughter fly out to be with you.

This virus is cruel in so many ways.

Te quiero mucho

Papa

15th April 2020

Darling Paloma

Whenever I go to the airport, I always look at the arrivals and departures screens. I watch anonymous travellers usually with confused faces arriving nobody knows where from, nobody knows where to. All whispering to themselves the gate number they need to reach. And I ask myself if I wasn’t flying to wherever I am flying to which flight would I like to catch instead.

I suppose with what is happening today, it makes the question even poignant. Where would we fly if we had the freedom to go without restrictions?

Do I want to fly to Los Angeles which is really our second home and the city I feel most settled? Do I want to go to New York, to the city I love and the city your mother and I got married in? Or to a country I have always imagined of where red dust sprinkles the air from unpaved roads, purple flowers, orange trees, forsythia, hydrangea, cryptomeria, and where stunning white houses and blue swimming pools roll in the hills? Or perhaps fly to the land we were planning to visit only a month before the restrictions were made? Yes this is where we will go. We will visit the beautiful plazas of Buenos Aires – palms, generals on colonnades, pink palaces, blue sky shimmering like its national flag in the golden sun. We will go to the football match I have always dreamt of watching live, the superclasico between Boca Junior and River Plate at La Bombonera. The atmosphere was described by my late friend Mike when the players walk out onto the field as being “an orgasm of orange peel and white paper, coffee cups, confetti, chocolate peanut wrappers, shredded newspaper – all fung into the sky.”

La Bombonera

And before kick off, we will visit a restaurant, I have been told about, close to the ground. A restaurant where they have named the different steaks after some of Boca’s heroes: Maradona, Riquelme and Marzolini. It conveniently shuts half an hour before kick off so the owners and their friends can settle to watch all Boca’s home games.

From there we will take the train from Constitucion station to the fertile lowlands. The Pampas! With its clumps of eucalyptus, distance and dirt, as gauchos ride blissfully through long stretches of green wheat fields.

So if there is anything I have learnt today, it’s maybe our dreams are worth keeping on to and that when the world is far safer, we should visit a country or place that has consumed us.

Te quiero mucho,

Papa

12th April 2020

Darling Paloma,

If today you had the freedom to pick anywhere in the world to have Easter lunch, where would it be? It was a question I was asked yesterday. These type of questions are more poignant as they have ever been .

Two years ago this weekend, we visited Barcelona. It was a last minute decision made for a variety of reasons: it is near, the weather is good and your mother speaks Spanish.

The city never disappoints; such excitement, such grace, such curiosity.

Miles Van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion which we visited during our weekend.

On our last day there, we walked around the neighbourhood of Sarria. An area overlooking the city with weekend markets, the most beautiful of homes and a collection of squares and parks. Sunday was Sunday again: We walked past Amat Tower one of my favourite buildings. A building that I have always dreamt I would one day own an apartment in. It was warm and the purple trees were out and families were out wearing their best clothes in respect of it being Easter Sunday. It was just as it used to be. There was no incessant roar of cars as in the centre of the city. It felt timeless.

Amat Towers

Then we turned into a tree lined street, Carrer del Milanesat, and passed number 19. A simple plaque with Acontraluz engraved on it. A restaurant you dream of finding by chance. The pass-key to peace and passivity. Open and light surrounded by french windows which lead into a wonderful garden – the garden of Eden.

The first thing I noticed was someone eating a dessert. Caramel custard, brown and treacly dotted with thick cream. It looked as if you could lick the spoon for a whole day. We sat inside as the garden had been booked but we did not care. The owners were kind and welcoming. They treated us like locals and led us to a table right by one of the windows. The waiter wiped the white table cloth busily even though he didn’t need to and presented the menus as if handing over a prize. We sat there taking our time, sipping our red wine and watching the restaurant fill up; in us they had an appreciative audience. Everyone seemed to know to each other – the odd laugh, the odd slap on the back as a welcome. Bright coloured dresses, everyone looking their best. Easter Sunday lunch with the whole family: cheerful cousins, anxious aunts, glowing grandmas.

I don’t really remember what we ate. Was it lentils, the stew or the chicken? But I remember it being delicious and I remember your mother looking beautiful turning her head and the sun from the window reflecting in her brown eyes. I knew at that moment she would one day to be my wife.

We stayed for longer than usual. I am not someone that usually stays at his table for long. But we were one of the last to leave. Maybe it was taking the time to lick the treacle off our spoons? And before we left, we swore to each other that we would return. Next year or maybe the year after and bring your brother. It all sounded so easy at the time? Everything did.

But today we are in London knowing that we can’t visit our families or friends. The news continues to be grim. Another 737 new deaths were recorded in the UK today, a total of 17209 deaths in Spain and now nearly two millions cases have been recorded worldwide .

Perhaps this Easter more than any other Easter, we are sitting alone putting today’s problems into perspective. We are taking comfort from the memories of the ordinary day ordinarily passing, from buying a newspaper, picking up a coffee, to finding a restaurant by chance down a street you have never visited before.

Jardin Acontraluz

Te quiero mucho

Papa