Skip to content

Corona Diaries – viral humour, states of denial and other stuff

March 26, 2020

I woke at 8.30 this morning, which is most unusual, since I’m normally up in the early hours. What was equally unusual was the cause of my wakening – my wife giggling helplessly beside me. At this point it occurred to me that manufacturers are not alone in going into overdrive to meet the nation’s needs in this time of crisis. A trickle of joke videos and photos about social isolation is turning into a flood. It’s not just the virus that’s going viral.

One of the best is an expletive-laden rant by a squeaky-voiced dog with a broad Scottish accent complaining about the effect on its social life of one 30-minute walk a day. One of our friends responded by texting “why do I think this was made by Judy Murray?”. Mrs Murray, in case you don’t know of her, is Andy Murray’s mum, who is known for her, um, outspoken style.

Personally, I reckon it’s Andy Serkis, who plays Gollum in Lord of the Rings. But judge for yourself:

Anyway, on to more weighty stuff.

The deaths of a 35-year-old British diplomat in Hungary, and of a 21-year-old woman with no pre-existing conditions in the UK, should surely reach into the minds of the madding crowd of youngsters who think the virus is no worse than the flu. Except, possibly, those of folks who enjoy playing Russian roulette.

For people who take seriously the possibility of falling sick, there’s a new app that encourages us to record our symptoms, should we have any, on a daily basis. A good idea, because the data it provides gives a wider view of how the virus is affecting people, and in what geographical areas.

Fine in principle, but there are one or two underlying reasons why it might not work as well as it could. First, there will be people who will view it as just another example of the surveillance society. Everybody’s collecting data on me. What else will they use it for? Will I get a knock on the door at some stage by the viruspolizei, who will cart me off to some unknown leper camp?

Second, I suspect that some people are in denial. If someone has a symptom like a mild cough, or they sneeze occasionally, they might find a number of reasons to think “it’s a cough, no big deal”. On my one trip out yesterday I popped into Morrisons, which operates a one-out-one-in policy. There was a queue of about eight people, separated by the mandated distance, waiting to go in. Two of them were coughing. Why, you might wonder, weren’t they at home, especially as both were accompanied by partners?

If people are in denial, why? Normally, when flu symptoms appear, half the population thinks to hell with it, and keeps working. The other half wonders if they should go to the doctor and keeps an eye open to the possibility of calling in sick.

A month ago, people worried about whether they were infected would have sought help in the knowledge that if they got really sick, the good old NHS would be waiting for them, ventilator at the ready.

Now we’re inundated with videos and news footage of overstretched intensive care units, people struggling to speak, and heartbreaking stories of NHS staff unable to get the kit they need to protect themselves.

Is it therefore any wonder that people imagine a hospital ward to be a place worse than hell from which they might not return, and will blank out any evidence that they themselves are on a pathway to that fate until they’re so sick that there seems no alternative?

I hope I’m wrong, but for this reason I fear that the self-reporting app will only deliver incomplete data.

Next, to the argument that the elderly (or, in my case, people getting that way) are a burden on society and should make way for the succeeding generations. I was surprised to see the historian Sir Max Hastings, who is 74, endorse that argument on the grounds that, to put it bluntly, we baby boomers have screwed our kids by keeping our wealth to ourselves. It’s an argument, sure. But are we really a burden?

If all you only think of old people as cash cows, you ignore the wider role of the elderly in society. As a source of perspective, though in the case of Brexit a pretty wonky one. As people who love and are loved, who care for grand-kids, some of whose minds continue to be sharp as pins through to the end, and who, by reaching an age far beyond the average life expectancy of as little as a century ago, represent what we regard as one of the ways in which society has progressed in the era of technology, mass communications and medical breakthroughs.

And, of course, are these not people who paid their taxes and national insurance contributions for up to fifty years as part of a covenant that the state would look after them when they were too old to work?

Speaking as one of the alleged economically inactive, I would point out that far from hoarding what wealth I and my beloved have accumulated, we are spending it. So are millions of elderly people who keep buying stuff, going on holidays and serving as the Bank of Mum and Dad. Are we to be sacrificed on the altar of youth? And when their turn comes, will the young step readily towards the same altar?

There are plenty of counter-arguments to what I’ve just said. For example, to the person who protests that they’ve paid their dues and deserve to be kept alive, you might ask if over their 80 years of life they’ve never come across any examples of a government making promises it can’t keep.

Perhaps it’s all about love. The love shown by the priest in Italy who gave up the ventilator that his parishioners bought for him so that someone else might live. He died shortly afterwards. And perhaps for most of us it’s personal experience that informs attitudes towards the elderly rather than elevated concepts of morality and expedience. If your Dad is a crabby old bastard, you might be happier to let him go than if he has been the kindly mainstay of your life.

Moving from morality to expediency, I’m interested in the stance of the British government over bailouts to British Airways, our national flag carrier that’s actually a subsidiary of a Spanish holding company. It wants cash. Rishi Sunak says no – find it by loans from the market or shareholder subscriptions.

I agree with him, not because BA has long ceased to be our flag carrier, whatever that means. If BA went out of business, much as I sympathise with the thousands of employees who would stand to lose their jobs, after the pandemic is over, others would surely move into the vacuum created by its demise.

I also suspect that there are a few predators out there with deep pockets who might see the current aviation meltdown as an opportunity to pick up a bargain or two. Qatar Airways, for example, who are owned by the state of Qatar, already have a stake in International Airlines Group, the owners of BA. They might benefit greatly by taking a controlling interest. If not them, perhaps Emirates. Although less likely, perhaps even the Saudis, who have lagged behind as their rivals in the Gulf have created successful hubs in their home countries, might dip in.

The aviation industry might end up being only a relatively minor part of a succession of corporate re-alignments after the pandemic is over. Will the banking industry emerge unscathed? And what about technology companies, especially some of the old behemoths that have dominated the last few decades? For those of us who survive, it should be interesting to see which corporate household names also make it through the storm.

Finally, as we retreat more deeply into social isolation, I’m beginning to see this diary as the equivalent of a flight data recorder from a crashed aircraft plaintively pinging away from the bottom of the ocean, reminding us that it’s still there.

That’s self-indulgent nonsense of course, since we still have the full range of communications capabilities to remind others that we’re still here. Yet there’s a little voice lurking in the background telling me that if I stop posting, it will mean I’m about drop off my perch. Equally nonsense, because I only reach a small number of people, and they have more to worry about than one addition to the mortality statistics in Surrey, England.

But come what may, I shall keep buggering on, with one eye on the present, and the other on what promises to be a fascinating future.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: