This is a WriteWyattUK public service announcement … without guitars. Hereby follows a written intermission, after a testing fortnight on the home front in which this website’s sole scribe finally succumbed to the dreaded coronavirus. Normal service will be resumed as soon as I’m ever deemed (in my mind or anyone else’s) normal, or at least when energy levels are high enough again. Until then …
Mud-and-leaf-caked trainers fastened. Check. Lumberjacket on, raincoat zipped. Check. Potent mix of hotdog pieces and cheese in plastic cup. Check. Back door open. Check. Now where’s that dog?
Poor Millie. A week stuck in the house, just the back garden to look forward to when it comes to outdoor pursuits. A back garden increasingly resembling a Great War battlefield. Bucket-loads of rain and soggy wanderings taking their toll, the grass-free patches afforded us by taking on a rescued female Labrador-cross just before the first lockdown (our rescued Collie-cross, Tom … RIPee … would wee everywhere, but neatly around the edges, with no damage done– our girl’s alternative is somehow highly toxic) turning from dry earth to gloop.
I’m not complaining. We at least have the luxury of a spacious back garden. Thousands don’t. But it’s become mighty small since that positive test came in for my beloved. This morning, not for the first time, there was hope in those gorgeous eyes that the pre-amble might lead to a proper w-a-l-k. She followed me around a bit, sat beautifully, charged around me, edging closer to that front door. But soon enough she got the picture. If we were going anywhere, it wasn’t beyond the front door. Instead, it was back to Passchendaele, 1917 style. And before anyone picks me up on that, I’m not making light of an historic nightmare. Just think of it as descriptive.
I ventured over the back step towards the trenches (more WWI imagery, but I’ll stop there) and proffered a small chunk of cheese. Millie took it, I carried on. I turned back. No sign. She was gone. She’d sniffed the air, looked out, then darted back through the kitchen and on to my better half’s lap in the back room. I went back to the window, showed her the cup. Her response? The facial expression suggested, ‘You are joking, mate’. Playtime was over for now.
The previous night, a similar tale, but we at least got some exercise in. I threw hotdog on to an armchair, she jumped up and retrieved. I threw the next bit by the living room door. She charged through, click and collect style. I moved to the foot of the stairs, threw the sausage up towards Andrew the chicken (don’t ask) at the top by the stained-glass window. She clambered up and wolfed it down. You get the picture. We got two-thirds of the way down the cup before she’d had enough and burrowed back into the sofa. I needed a sit down and a wheeze by then.
There I guess is the other side of the coin. The joys of COVID-19. Yep, we’re not complaining. Worse things happen at Chelsea. We’re still here, we’re relatively fit, and we’re getting through. Two of us have tested positive, the third reckons she’s got it, but it didn’t show up on her test. My better half got there first, her day-job in a pre-school the likely cause. However amazing her and fellow staff are, sterilising every corner of their setting within an inch of its life, with a meticulously safe regime in place, they’re still dealing with under-fives and – in some cases – parents not quite on that same page. And they’ve been open so long this year, either fully or just for children of those deemed ‘essential’ workers. It was only a matter of time before complacency elsewhere – and I mean among parents and guardians, not staff – had an impact. Now there’s a few of us ‘extended families’ going through this. One positive test for a staff member was quickly followed by news of at least two children feeling poorly, the centre temporarily shut down. Maybe that trotted-out official national line about children not being super-spreaders wasn’t quite true after all.
I’m not here to set myself up as either an expert or a martyr. I don’t know it all, and some people have got it far worse. But it’s shit, all the same. If you can avoid the coronavirus, please do. Not least as it’ll help keep the hospital wards clear. Those underfunded hospital wards run by committed but underpaid NHS staff. Yep, those care workers this Government was more than happy to stand outside and clap for, but determined not to give a payrise. Scum.
We’ll get through this though. Thankfully, we haven’t got the underlying health conditions that would make this all so much harder. I don’t want to alarm anyone here, but that first night I definitely knew I had this – before the positive, official conclusion – was hard. I was knackered, in bed by nine, but couldn’t sleep. My breathing was fast, and the more I thought about it and others I knew and liked who would struggle in similar circumstances, the worse it got. This was no cold. I struggled to regulate my breathing, and it took me a couple of hours before I finally got there. I eventually drifted off, for at least an hour. My biggest crime that night, after my beloved let Millie out for a wee in the early hours, was letting on to her that I’d been struggling earlier. I dozed back off while she remained awake, listening to my breathing, worried about a repeat episode. Well, they say you drop your guard now and again.
Thankfully that stage didn’t last long, touch wood, although there have been instances since, once when I hear my big sister was waiting at her local hospital to be admitted. Thankfully no COVID-19 there, but your mind still goes into overdrive. I’ve never encountered panic attacks or incidences of claustrophobia but guess there’s something in that. Mostly it’s been a story of fatigue for me, but also lack of appetite, alternate sweats and shivers, and …. did I mention I was tired? A sore throat too, but maybe that was down to my OTT swabbing technique, making sure I’d reached my tonsils at the testing centre last Sunday. At one point, I prodded slightly too far and there was a horrible retching sound. The poor lad manning the tent had a brief glance around the partition flap to make sure I was alright. I apologised a minute later, and he brushed it off, announcing, “I’ve heard far worse noises lately … and that’s just from my fellow staff.”.
And there’s the thing. From the car park attendants to the staff within, they were great. Hats off to South Ribble Borough Council in my case. If only this was all run at local Government level. But how about the track and trace people? Well, let’s be positive first. They were soon on to me, and every time I’ve had a phone call, they’ve been great. The right mix of info and concern. Also, a little humour and a few laughs. The fact that I was throwing in the odd one-liner might have helped break the ice. So fair play to all those manning the phones … in my experience. However, where it seems to go wrong several months down the line is in the actual machinations of the system. There seems to be bugger all joining of the dots, and it’s turned into something of a game at ours as to who’ll get the next call from them and who will then swap places and be the last to get released from self-isolation.
This Wednesday alone, my partner had two calls, one leading to tears of frustration from her as she tried to explain to the woman on the line that while she had in fact come into contact with someone with the virus (i.e. me), she already had it, and that’s why he’d caught it. And this on a day when she was knackered before she even picked up the phone and was really struggling to conjure up the will to go through it all over again. Our youngest also got a call, one which ended with a mighty groan, letting us know her own release date would be a day later than she’d been assured before, on account of my later positive status, meaning she’ll now miss her first day back at sixth-form college. And this in the most frustrating of years for an 18-year-old, already one of the many victims of the algorithm fiasco that put a dampener on her A-level results just a few months ago.
Meanwhile, I got another call, where I had to explain to someone I wasn’t just another sad sap who had been in contact with someone who’d got a positive test, but I too was positive, having found out for sure on my birthday, as made clear by the first line of the message, which confirmed my date of birth. Thanks Serco.
The most recent call I received was from an Australian operator. We were having a bit of a laugh, to be honest, and I got the impression this was as much fun as she’d had on the phone all day. Well, you’ve got to laugh. ‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’ she asked at the end of our conversation. Well, you can remove this incompetent Government if you like. ‘I’m afraid I haven’t got that power,’ she replied, with a hint of regret, I felt. The day before, I asked someone else, after the same question, if maybe they could go around Matt Hancock’s house and gaffer-tape it up to stop that arse of a health minister getting out. And on the call before that, I asked a girl with a lovely Irish lilt in her voice that made me feel better for at least a minute to be put on to their incompetent boss, Dido Harding, as I had a few questions for her. Well, it was worth a try. If you’re not feeling weary and frustrated before, you generally are by the time you’ve reached the track and trace call stage. Don’t get me wrong, Lots of genuine people are working hard within that framework, doing their best to provide a system that helps pulls people through some dark times. But never let it be forgotten that this Government handed over the reins to an untested organisation – their corporate pals – instead of bringing in experts in the field working with councils and healthcare professionals at local level.
My better half was soon informed via her app that she’d be allowed out from the start of Friday (not as if her current energy levels suggested she’d be looking to celebrate in any illicit late-night bar in the area), but an email sent her way once they found out I was positive too suggested she’d be in until Sunday. Surely this far down the line, the company awarded this contract should have in place a system that can work out how to put all those individual bits of information together for the bigger picture. To be fair, they’re clearly making more calls now, as opposed to previous months, but neither of us felt any more assured or clued up after those conversations.
And note that I’m not calling this NHS Test and Trace. It’s a Serco-run system, arguably using the NHS as a good character reference, its £12bn budget seemingly blown, its instigators having failed to drive infection rates below critical levels, its Government sponsors and their allies having exerted ideological commitment to the private sector over over-riding concerns of the health of the nation. This is Boris Johnson’s mate’s company, its leader – Dido, the Queen of Carnage – having previously made a pig’s ear of her time as chief executive at TalkTalk and even more recently remembered alongside fellow Jockey Club board members allowing Cheltenham racing festival to happen earlier this year, 250,000 spectators there for what many deemed a super-spreader event while everything else seemed to be closing down, positive cases soon escalating.
I recognise it’s a difficult situation, but in our cases there are three of us living together, two of whom have officially tested positive at different times, the other convinced she’s had it, even though the results came up negative the day she was tested. The reason my test was only undertaken six days after my better half’s was because I honestly didn’t want to throw my youngest daughter under the bus. She’d put up with having to sit looking at our miserable faces quite long enough. In this shitstorm of a year – one that started with Johnson blundering into office, clambering from one crisis to the next ever since – she’s already put up with far too much, doing everything asked of her, in a year which – reaching her 18th birthday – should really have been about celebrating good grades, hard graft, and life itself.
The same goes for my eldest daughter, studying hard in Sheffield yet somehow truly robbed of her second year there. First, we were all locked down together, and it went fairly well in the circumstances. We made a point of weekly dinner theme parties and kept ourselves entertained through various inventive means. Character-building. But while it’s far easier for two 50-pluses to carry on down that route, it can’t be for two gifted young women at such key stage of their lives. They stayed in, they followed the increasingly confusing advice from atop, and eventually, when the chance arrived, our eldest returned across the Pennines to try and re-establish her independence. She’s been getting by ever since, somehow. It’s not always easy, making that small talk on the phone, but we get by where hugs would often work better.
As it was, eldest daughter was affected first. In a house of six conscientious students, half of them succumbed to the dreaded disease. Accordingly, they locked down, scrubbing away at the kitchen between separate visits, and generally doing commendably. Then after two weeks’ isolation, she heard that Greater Manchester, Merseyside and our own patch in Lancashire were going into so-called tier three level restrictions. You could hear the concern in her voice over the phone, and we decided there and then to do something about it. No specific time had been mentioned for the status changeover, so we planned a Saturday daytrip, meeting in the in-between Peak District. We could walk around Bakewell and properly catch up, try and do something a little more normal. Healthy perhaps. But then came news that tier three shenanigans would come into operation after midnight, first thing Saturday morning. Probably announced first via the Mail, and the telegraph. That seems to be how this elite Government works, with mere contempt for the workings of Parliament. Accordingly, my better half, who’d finished for half-term a week early, and I, jettisoned our immediate plans and instead headed over the Pennines to meet her at a park in Sheffield.
There were complications, a landslide at Snake Pass bringing a major diversion – ironically, us driving through the gorgeous Derbyshire countryside we originally planned as the location for our meeting – and it took us two and a half hours to get there. But we had fish and chips in the park, spent two and a half quality hours there, then headed home via the M62 this time, only to realise part of it was closed for repair works late that night. It took us – yes, you guessed it – another two and a half hours to get home. As it turned out, we’d planned something different that day. It was my mother-outlaw’s 75th birthday, and we were set to finally visit the pub (not having taken advantage of any Government-sponsored meal deal back in the summer) for the first time together in 2020. Instead, Grandma and youngest Granddaughter dog-sat in our absence.
Matters moved on the following day, and on the political front, Andy Burnham dug his heels in for Greater Menchester where Tory-run Lancashire hadn’t. The Government and its hand-in-glove media tried to paint him as just another trouble-maker fighting his corner and trying to get more money for his patch. But he knew the desultory amount offered by way of a help package was nowhere near enough, something Johnson, Sunak and co. clearly realised in retrospect by upping the perecentage for the furlough system after all.
On the local front, we discovered that two children from my partner’s pre-school had been taken ill and were about to be tested. The following day my beloved realised she wasn’t feeling so well either. Maybe we were just knackered from our cross-Pennines round-trip. We felt awful for having possibly brought our eldest daughter into this. She was masked up throughout our visit, but the feeling remained. We felt guilty for having brought the girls’ grandmother to the house too. Thankfully neither have fallen ill since. Within a few days, several more staff from that setting, and their immediate family, had also succumbed.
So where are we at? Things escalated again this weekend of course, Johnson standing in front of his lectern for another display of public incompetence, alongside two leading scientists. Barely 10 days earlier the Tories had been tweeting about how Labour had been advocating another national lockdown, pouring scorn on their plans, saying that it would be ‘the height of absurdity’ to do what their own scientific advisers were calling for: introduce a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown immediately to stem what was already becoming a massive second wave. They dithered again, with disastrous results. Total incompetence.
I won’t go far into the mask thing here, but it’s about common courtesy if nothing else. The science may be a little mixed on this, but it’s not hurting me to put a proper bit of cloth over my nose and mouth when I’m back in the shops and treat shopkeepers, shop workers and fellow shoppers with a little respect. We owe them that for them still being there. It won’t be forever.
As it is, my app suggests I’ll be out tomorrow (Monday 2nd), by which time hopefully I’ve got the energy to at least take our Millie for a proper wander, building on whatever my better half has already managed. She manged to do a short walk yesterday, and hopefully will later today too. I’m certainly looking forward to walking the pavements of my adopted Lancashire town again. God knows, Millie needs it. But this is hardly freedom. Nothing much will change until we have a proper antidote. A cure. By then, God knows what a mess we’ll be in as a nation, not least as the chancers in charge are pressing on with their no-deal bullshit on the whole Brexit fiasco front. Don’t get me started on that. I’ve now got to try and add another paragraph so this ends on a more positive note …. the very word positive achieving a rather negative association amid this pandemic.
Despite what you might think, I remain optimistic (is that a better word?). Next week, I’m hoping America votes out its national clown and our own clown car of a Government will have to think again on what constitutes its planned UK-US trade deal. While we’re at it, I’d be happy to see Brexiteers finally get their wish for a day if it means we can refuse to allow Nigel Farage back into this country after his further Trump rally buffoonery over the Atlantic. I had my hopes up early in this pandemic that we’d come out of it so much better as human beings. I saw us on the doorsteps clapping for care workers and the NHS and thought, ‘Maybe people aren’t going to stand for being run by some toff elite anymore’.
A side-issue maybe, but the strength of feeling behind Marcus Rashford’s recent free school meals campaign also brought me a little hope. And yet Tory MPs were having none of it. It seemed that an official pat on the back for its architect was deemed quite enough. There are no simple answers there either, but a Government that presides over a nation where the one true successful growth area is in food banks needs seriously re-examine its policies. This council house kid remembers all too well the stigma of being in a separate queue for free meals in middle school days. It made me request – I didn’t enjoy those meals anyway – that my Mum made me sandwiches instead. There are times when you don’t want to stand out from the crowd. But Marcus has been there, and he gets it. Give him the support he needs to make that work.
Talking of which – and starting to wrap up now – I love my football but haven’t been to see my club play since mid-January. I also love live music yet haven’t seen a band play live since mid-March. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen my family in the South-East since early January. I was lucky enough to have a week with my girls in August in North Wales, and a couple of days around a university visit in Cornwall with my youngest fairly recently, but even then we put off visits to friends nearby. It didn’t seem right in these increasingly strange times to go house-calling. But with friends all over the UK and further afield, this year has sharpened my resolve to catch up with many of them when the coast is finally clear. And it will clear.
Thankfully I can still immerse myself in the immediate company of my better half, my daughters and a gorgeous four-legged creature that makes us all smile on a regular basis. Then there are all the others who’ve pitched in on the phone, by video link or knocked at the door – beyond the call of duty – with essential shopping this past fortnight. I’ve got my music, films, documentaries and TV series to further entertain me (all the more reason that those creative industries are properly subsidised too – something I’ll no doubt get back to when I’m next putting together a feature), and it’s fair to say this pandemic has properly reminded me what’s important in life.
So here’s to encouraging the scientists who can hopefully reach those breakthroughs that ensure we safely return to some form of normality again sometime soon. We can’t afford to just follow the science when it suits us. It’ll be too late for so many, but we’ve got to have hope. Here’s to a brighter future and people waking up to what’s truly important in life. Keep on pushing, as Curtis Mayfield put it in his Impressions days. And while we’re talking Curtis, he perhaps put it best on his self-titled solo LP, released 50 years ago in September and still as pertinent today …
‘Move on up towards your destination, though you may find from time to time complications’.
Stay safe, my friends.
Talking of going viral, at the end of October 2020 – when the author got his positive COVID-19 test result – this website’s viewing figures topped 11,000 for the first time ever during a calendar month. Yes, going viral in more ways that one. Perhaps it’s not quite as shite a year as I’ve imagined all the way along. That leaves us comfortably on target for another record-breaking 12 months, reading figure-wise – not as if I can do anything else other than cover our website costs with the proceeds of those annoying ads – and now means we’ve had 455,000 page views since we started, more than 400,000 of those in the last half-dozen years. So thanks one and all for reading … and reguarly returning. Much appreciated.