Before the miracle of modern medicine and universal health care, life for most was plagued by illness or the fear of it. People croaked in their beds from mundane diseases that today we pop a pill for. Many a cottage stairwell was too narrow for a coffin so some featured a trap door between floors called a ‘coffin hatch’ (or sometimes a ‘coffin drop’, for obvious reasons). This allowed the dearly departed to be laid out at the end of a bed in their Sunday best for the procession of mourners who came round for tea and sympathy. And it provided a more dignified exit to the graveyard. Much better than bouncing a stiff down the stairs.
Our cottage may no longer be an unsanitary hovel with cholera in every cup, but we’ve still got a coffin hatch, though not an original. It was constructed by the previous owner when he moved the staircase to a different part of the house. This modern hatch is just the thing for hauling up and down the big and the bulky. We’ve even hit on the idea of using the hole for a lift, as and when the stairs get too much. We’re rather taken with the thought of dying in our sleep – from old age we hope.
I got my first jab a few weeks back but, being a tad younger than me, Liam had to wait a tad longer for his. He got his first shot in the food court at the Castle Quarter Shopping Centre in Norwich where life-saving injections rather than artery-hardening fried chicken are now on the menu.
Vaccine centres across the realm come in all shapes and sizes but none is more majestic than the soaring Gothic splendour of Westminster Abbey in London. And who better to enter stage right than Norfolk boy Stephen Fry, actor, writer, presenter, everyone’s favourite audiobook narrator and all-round gay good egg. Here he is getting his first jab by Poets’ Corner, final resting place of writers, artists and actors down the ages – Chaucer, Browning, Tennison, Dickens and Olivier, among many others.
It’s a place for national treasures like Stephen Fry.
I got the call, booked my slot, rode the bus to the next-door village of Poringland and joined the orderly queue at the COVID-19 vaccination hub at the Community Centre. Friendly, fast and efficient, I was in, jabbed and out within five minutes – no messin’. The NHS really know how to run this kind of thing. Some people who get the Oxford AstraZeneca shot report flu-like symptoms for a while. Not me, I just got a slightly sore arm and a bit of swelling. Roll on jab number two – and freedom. A shot in the arm is just what we all need right now.
So far, February has delivered freezing Russian snow and an icy blast from the past on Channel Four. Storm Darcy brought two-foot snowdrifts, abandoned cars and our resident pheasant pecking about for frozen morsels. But it was Russell T Davies’ AIDS-era drama, ‘It’s a Sin’, that really chilled us to the bone. Brilliant as it is, the series made for tough (though compulsive) viewing especially for those, like me, who survived the worst of times, ducking the Grim Reaper’s scythe by the skin of the teeth. By episode three I was ripping open the wine box to squeeze the last drop from the plastic bag.
Many have binge-watched the series on-demand. That wasn’t for us. There’s not enough wine in the box for that. So we took it as it came, broadcast-wise. Last night’s brutal and uncompromising finale was the bitter pill that had us fighting over the Kleenex. The irony of screening the series during another health crisis was not lost on us. I hear it’s gone down a storm with the current cohort of young gay boys putting it about town, leading to a record uptake in HIV testing. Good job, Russell.
As further confirmation of my inevitable slide towards the slab, a bowel cancer screening test kit dropped on the mat – part of the national programme to regularly screen everyone over 55. It was back in 2016 that I endured the pain in the arse procedure at our local hospital. Five years on and the quacks are back for a second poke around. This time, though, it doesn’t involve a rear view camera, just a stick and a bottle.
As we all know, the NHS is under unbelievable pressure right now due to the pandemic knocking it for six. But it’s not quite ‘all out’ yet. I, for one, remain eternally grateful that my own health is in such capable, dedicated hands. Thank you!