Wednesday 15 April 2020

Day 30 of self-isolation - John Conway died

John Conway died.

John Conway was a professor when I was at Cambridge. I was a regular at the "Puzzles and games" ring, and so was he. He turned up one day with this new game, he called it the "Game of Life". With a couple of simple rules, a pattern of dots would evolve and change. Remember, this was before computers, so we played it with pencil and paper. That game became world-famous.

He also came to a meeting once with a Klein bottle that started as a square of fabric, but with two zips, and when it was half-twisted and joined, you got a Klein bottle.  John was one of my heroes.

On March 4, I went on a road trip to visit the National Space Museum. It was a "Summer Wine" kind of trip; three of us, and I was the only one with a full head of hair. It was a grand day out in Ian's new Tesla, which was very impressive. 200 miles up the motorway, some hours at the museum, seeing lots of interesting stuff, then 200 miles home.

Ian was infected a few days before. He hadn't known that, and he wasn't showing symptoms. No coughs or sneezes, so maybe he wasn't infectious.

Five weeks later, he's just getting over the illness, which hit him pretty hard. Either I didn't catch it from him, or else I did but didn't have any noticeable symptoms. But it shows you how easily this virus can spread. And there were great flocks of children swarming around the museum. Maybe that road trip was unwise? But I seem to have survived. When antibody testing is available, I'll find out if I did get it. Ladysolly is sure I didn't.

Ladysolly came into my office, very excited. She's booked three Waitrose delivery slots, spaced a week apart, which means she's secured our food supplies for three weeks now.

There is a food shortage issue coming at the country, though. The problem is, a large amount of food production and distribution, is aimed at bulk supplies. That means to restaurants, and fast food shops, and hotels, and suchlike. It isn't easy to divert  that food to the retailers, because the packaging is all wrong. You can't put a ten gallon container of milk into a supermarket, or a 25 kilo package of pizza topping cheese.

So food producers could change their distribution systems, but then they also have to find their new customers. And will they recoup the cost of those changes, if the restrictions are lifted some weeks from now?

Many small businesses are suffering acutely. We have five hairdressers in my area that I know of. All are now closed, of course, but how many will reopen? We have three Turkish-style restaurants, all are closed, how many will reopen? I can think of five Chinese restaurants, three Indian, several pizza shops and umpteen coffee shops. Many of those will never reopen. The government help comes in the form of loans, which are funnelled through banks, but banks are still applying commercial criteria to making a loan.

I'm hearing guesses of a 35% fall in economic activity as a result of Covid-19.  I think that's wildly optimistic.

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