The last Englishman

I love the Real England, but I hate more than anything on earth (except cowardice in looking at the truth) the intellectual sloth, the gross mental indolence that prevents the English from making an effort of imagination and realising how shameful will be their portion in history when the story of this last year in the biography of democracy comes to be written. Shameful foolish and tragic beyond tears, for the toll will be paid in English blood. English lads will die and English lads have died, not one or two, but hundreds of thousands, because their elders listen to me who think little things, and tell them little things, which are so terribly easy to repeat.

I didn’t write that. Rudyard Kipling did, writing about the Russian revolution a hundred years ago, his point proven by how pathetically little has changed. The Prime Minister, who likes to pose as the ultimate Englishman despite being an American citizen until 2017 appointed a Minister specifically to find the benefits of Brexit, unable, along with the UK media who enabled it, to tell the truth about the lunatic lake of half-truths, conditional clauses, delusion, racism and xenophobia that bred it. After two months the Minister has somehow inexplicably failed to make his findings public. Meanwhile, lorry drivers crap on the roadside waiting for the technological solution the government promised would simplify import and export, in the absence of which the whole process has become more difficult. This year, apart from intending to send people to camps in Africa, Australia being no longer available, the main item on the Parliamentary agenda has been not just shamefully foolish and tragic beyond tears, but all the evidence anyone could ask for of a failed state. The main item, even bigger than the pretence that a disease killing 500 people per day has somehow not just gone away but was personally cured by the Prime Minister dressing up as a nurse, has been avoiding telling the truth about his lies and lawbreaking.

There were, unarguably, parties at Number 10 Downing Street, during a Covid lockdown where parties were banned by the man who was there. Nobody even disputes that now. Even the Prime Minister, who used to claim he didn’t know about that happening in his own house, despite being filmed at the event, now says OK, he was there, maybe, but not for long and anyway, he didn’t know it was a party. Adults in the UK are being asked to believe that an adult who genuinely does not know what a party is, is fully capable of say, being responsible for the launch of nuclear missiles in defence of the nation.

Even without a handy little military unpleasantness far away, the preferred English kind notwithstanding that it usually resulted in a colossal English defeat (vide Mons, Dunkirk, Norway, Singapore), a man who pretends everything, from not knowing how many children he has to not knowing that PG Wodehouse was kidding to not knowing that airborne disease transmission can be mitigated by wearing a mask to pretending it’s all just not happening and doesn’t matter anyway so long as he’s still Prime Minister is still Prime Minister.

And the hundreds of thousands of dead? That only happens in the kinds of wars we don’t have anymore. Except of course, it doesn’t, as a direct result of the policies of the Party the Prime Minister leads. 130,000 preventable deaths in 2019, well before Covid. Another 170,000 on top of that caused directly by doing too little, too late, having a lockdown, not having a lockdown, pubs being too dangerous to enter, totally safe to enter and too dangerous to enter all in the course of a single day, pretending that science was just something girly swots did, that adhering to medical advice was subsidiary to the unassailable right to infect anyone, anywhere at any time because Freedom.

We have seen progress in reducing preventable disease flatline since 2012. At the same time, local authorities have seen significant cuts to their public health budgets, which has severely impacted the capacity of preventative services. Social conditions for many have failed to improve since the economic crisis, creating a perfect storm that encourages harmful health behaviours. This health challenge will only continue to worsen.”

Institute for Public Policy Research 2019

Most unforgivably of all, the cowardice in the refusal to face facts is something the Prime Minister is or was or pretended to be aware of. More contemptible still is the way it’s almost impossible now to decide which of these is ever true, or at what time, or whether it just changes according to who he talks to, but that’s just a given now.

One of the big things affecting lives and deaths is the fact that UK trade is down 15% post-Brexit, according to the government’s own figures from the Office of Budget Responsibility, still shamelessly called that without the slightest trace of irony. Handily though, that’s hardly ever mentioned in most UK media, let alone repeated around the bar in every pub. The little, easily repeatable things still matter more. And as everyone knows, when it comes to the UK’s problems it’s all down to them forrins, innit?

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Testing, testing, 1,2,3

Two days ago I had my AstraZeneca anti-Covid injection. For the first day my arm was a bit tender where the injection went in, and I ached a bit, pretty much all over, with a slight headache. I felt as if I was dehydrated, but judging by urine colour, I wasn’t. It just felt like a mild dose of flu, but without the hallucinations and conversations with Marine Boy.

Last early night I was on Facebook and saw that the local fire station was doing asymptomatic Covid tests. We booked at about 10pm, online, found a slot at 0800 this morning and went along and got tested. It took five minutes for the test. It didn’t hurt. And I found that today I don’t have Covid. Which was nice.

I didn’t have any symptoms I couldn’t easily explain as the effect of the injection. I didn’t have a cough. I didn’t think I had a temperature to the extent that I didn’t bother to root the thermometer out of the cupboard and find out – it didn’t actually cross my mind.

So why test? For me, it was obvious. As someone who has stopped teaching partly because I refuse to be sacrificed to Covid on the alter of Boris Johnson’s ego, I’m extremely interested in the idea that people who don’t think they have anything wrong with them actually do and can go on to die of it. Unapologetically more importantly they might give it to me.

The other reason, obviously, is if asymptomatic transmission of the virus is a thing, then the only way of knowing what proportion of people have it is to test people, whether they think they’ve got it or not. As the house magazine of the British Medical Association put it, by failing to integrate testing into clinical care, we’ve missed an important opportunity to better understand the role of asymptomatic infection in transmission. So far in the world-beating UK, we’ve managed to take an entire year missing this opportunity.

You go to the testing station and queue up a safe distance from the not very many other people in the queue. There’s time to look at the mangled cars the firemen take to pieces and see how high the practice tower is. Rather quaintly I thought, it had proper light switches on it.

You’re given a slip of paper with a bar code on it and two bar code stickers. Do not do what I did and stick one on your notebook so you don’t lose it; it’s not for you anyway.

Top tip: The sticker will come off without ripping if you do it slowly.

I totally messed-up logging on to the website to put my details in. It all looks at first glance as if it’s very high tech but if that’s seriously what £200 billion buys then someone’s done very nicely out what could have been done with a box of pencils and a Roneo-Vickers copier full of pink ink, the kind that was cutting edge when I was at school.

When things got done properly at schools. NB scabby jumper and cigarette.

It doesn’t hurt

The lateral trace test isn’t a blood test. There are no injections, no blood, no rolling your sleeves up or anything like that. There was some massive confusion though. The tester obviously wasn’t a doctor, but he didn’t need to be. What he did need to do was speak a bit louder. I couldn’t hear him through his mask and when I did he made no sense.

Do you know where your tonsils are?

When did you last see your tonsils?

I’m old, ok? That’s why I don’t want to die yet. It’s also why, it is submitted m’lud, that when I hear a question like that I grab the first thing that comes out of the grab-bag of associations and random historical artefacts I call my memory. Which was this picture.

I last saw my tonsils over *cough* years ago. I don’t have any. They were taken out at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, which is what happened to almost everyone’s tonsils back then. I imagine, although I don’t know, they went into the incinerator there. But I don’t know. So I can’t answer this presumably vital medical question. I asked him to say it again in case I’d misunderstood.

Nope. That’s what he’d said. Do I know where my tonsils are? No. I still don’t. I know where they were, but that’s a completely different thing. Once we’d cleared that up we got down to the unpleasantness, such as it was.

You’re asked to sanitise your hands. Then blow your nose and chuck the tissue in the bin provided. Sanitise your hands again. You’re given a swab, like a cotton bud from the pound-shop, but longer, much thinner and I’d guess, as there is one per sterile pack for one use only, rather more than a pound. You’re asked to rub the swab up and down your absent tonsils (or in my case, where they used to be once upon a time in a land long ago) four times. Then stick it up your nose and rotate it ten times. Not nine. Not eleven. I thought that was rather sweet. The gagging I couldn’t help doing when I stuck the swab in the back of my throat, having no tonsils to act as a guide, wasn’t rather sweet, but that was as unpleasant as it got.

All done, go away. You get an email half an hour later. I’m clear. Today, anyway.

It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t cost you anything. It’s essential it gets done if we’re going to have any real idea how many people are infected, if people can be infected and more importantly can give the virus to other people, without knowing they have anything wrong with them at all.

But there are things wrong with all this. It’s very wrong this is only being done now. It’s utterly ludicrous that this Track and Trace programme has taken a year to roll-out. It’s absolutely farcical and yet somehow predictable now in England, that the only way I knew about the test even being available was by being on Facebook at the right time, totally by accident. I’ve heard nothing about it on local radio, national radio or the local newspaper website. How that’s supposed to be effective is unclear.

What also isn’t clear is how NASA spent $2 billion on a rocket to Mars but in the UK it costs £200 billion to stick a baby bud up your nose. It’ll be a world-beating reason, whatever it is. Obviously. You have the Prime Minister’s word on it.

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It’s not flu, it’s me

For reasons that were never made clear, as Hunter S. Thompson used to say, I had my first Astra-Zeneca Covid injection yesterday. I don’t know why. Ok, the six thing on my date of birth might have been it, but I’ve heard of people over 70 not having had it yet, so I’m a tad confused. So far as I know, I don’t have any underlying health conditions, apart from the DVT business where I came very close to being very dead indeed, but that was fifteen years ago and all sorted out. So far as I know.

Last week I had an interview about communicating to minority communities about the need to get vaccinated. I thought it was going to be creating communications and that, which I’m quite good at. It was much more about going into care homes, which isn’t something I’d feel very comfortable with at all. I spent years in an old people’s home when I was a kid. It’s a long story. I still like hyacinths. I don’t like wing-back chairs. Especially in wipe-down Naugahyde. In orange. All I’m saying for now.

Anyway, I got a text out of the blue on Friday. I’m eligible for the jab. Go online and book it. So I did.

The first available slot was next day, which didn’t really suit, but the day after did so I went along to Woodbridge Community Hall at 08:45. It didn’t suit either really to be out of bed and doing stuff at that time on a Sunday, but I quite wanted not to get Covid so needs must.

You just go along, they ask for an ID number on the text they sent, they sanitise the chair, you sit down, they ask you if you’ve got Covid and if you’ve had the jab before and if you’re going to have an allergic reaction to anything you know about. Then they inject you.

At one time in my life not unrelated to DVT, for about a week I had to have injections about every fifteen minutes. I didn’t like injections before that. I wouldn’t say I liked them now, but after being jabbed every quarter hour you do become a bit habituated to it. When I got on a plane after that I had to inject myself. Or maybe die, so it was up to me, really. With that amount of injections you get to know who’s good at them and who isn’t. Nurses are. Doctors, by and large, aren’t. At the Community Hall they use nurses. Good.

I hardly felt it. Practice makes perfect. There were some after effects. I had a slightly sore arm about five minutes later, but nothing very troubling. About eight hours later I ached all over and had a slightly more sore arm, as I had when I woke up this morning, clear headed but otherwise feeling dehydrated (I wasn’t) and as if I was having a very mild dose of flu apart from the consolation dream/trance state I’ve always quite liked. The odd thing was that while I ached all over, as soon as I moved the ache stopped. Devoted Partner said that was how she felt all the time anyway.

So that’s it. I booked the second dose as soon as I could, which turns out to the towards the end of April. I haven’t found myself gravitating unaccountably towards 5G phone masts. I haven’t suddenly felt an irresistible compulsion to buy shares in Microsoft. I might short Pratt & Whitney but I’m pretty sure that’s more because they seem to have forgotten how to make airplane engines that work properly, rather than any mind-control stuff injected into me.

It’s really simple, just like everything to do with Covid. You can do what you can to stop it spreading. Or you can act like a selfish prick. It doesn’t really matter how you dress it up about access to information and communications strategies – everyone with a mobile phone has got Google, choice and free will. I chose to listen to the BMA rather than someone who does their research sitting on the loo. It really, seriously, is that simple.

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