By chance and completely at random, we were invited to participate in a national COVID-19 research study being run jointly by the Office for National Statistics and Oxford University. The aim is to track a large cohort of people from different ages, backgrounds and regions for a year to follow the progress of the virus. The results will influence public health policy going forward.
We agreed to take part and this involves regular self-testing – once a week for the first five weeks followed by monthly tests thereafter. The tests themselves are unpleasant – a swab wiggled around the back of the throat that makes you gag and then jammed up a nostril that tickles painfully and makes you sneeze. I squeeze my thumb hard to create a sensory diversion. It works – kind of. The news about vaccines is looking increasingly positive but we’re not out of the woods yet and so we’re pleased to be lab rats for the common good. And we get shopping vouchers for our trouble too. ‘Every little helps’ as they say at Tesco’s.
I’m a dedicated and sometimes not very subtle eavesdropper. When we were travelling on the London Tube a few weeks back, two hipster types were sitting opposite chatting away. Naturally, I listened in.
‘Called the doctor today to get my hands on some Champix. I really need to quit the fags. He asked me if I felt suicidal which I thought was a bit odd. I said no. I’d already had a G and T so I was feeling prettygood. Then he asked me if I felt positive about the future. I laughed. I said as we’re in the middle of a pandemic, with Brexit, more austerity and mass unemployment ahead, I found it hard to be positive. Fair enough, he replied.
I should be getting my pills soon. So, depending on how well I cope with the pandemic, Brexit, more austerity and mass unemployment, I should be smoke-free by 30!’
I’m now officially old and young people in shops call me sir. I’d like to say 60 is the new 40 but who am I trying to kid? Gravity is taking its toll, my bald patch is getting bigger and my pubes are turning grey. Looking on the bright side I now get free prescriptions and free eye tests, potentially saving me a queen’s ransom as, health-wise, it’s only downhill from here. I also get 25% knocked off fruit and veg every Tuesday at the local farm shop.
To paraphrase an old saying to bawdy effect…
You’re only as old as the man you feel.
Well, I’m feeling a 59 year old so that really doesn’t help.
I was born on a Sunday 60 years ago in utilitarian army digs in Canterbury and according to the nursery rhyme…
…the child who is born on the Sabbath Day is bonny and blithe, merry and gay.
I guess that makes me a handsome, carefree, drunken old poof. Well, if the cap fits…
So there it is, my card was well and truly marked from birth. No wonder I developed a liking for anything dashing in a uniform. Now I’m official past my use by date, I’ve decided to become a grumpy old git and shout loudly at the telly whenever someone says something stupid. That’ll keep me busy.
All masked up, Liam and I jumped on the bus to Norwich to take a gander at In Memoriam by artist Luke Jerram, flapping about in Chapelfield Gardens. The installation premiered in Belgium and is now on tour across Europe. Made up of bed sheets arranged in the form of a red cross, In Memoriam is a tribute to all those health and care workers who risk their own lives caring for the sick during the COVID-19 pandemic. We meandered through the forest of sheets in grateful silence. Lest we forget.
We wear face masks when required – on public transport and elsewhere – not because we want to. No one wants to. We wear them because it helps protect us and those around us. That’s the socially responsible thing to do, the civilised thing to do. We don’t think wearing them is any more of an infringement of our civil liberties than, say, wearing a seat belt or stopping at a red light. So my message to those ignorant refuseniks who think they’re striking a blow for freedom, don’t be a twat, wear a bloody mask.
I’m all for people stepping out of their cars and getting on their bikes. It’s good for the body, good for the soul and even better for the environment. And pedal-power has gone into overdrive since the pandemic. With quieter roads and cleaner air, people are turning and returning to cycling in their droves. New bike sales are up and old bikes are getting a makeover after years of rusting away at the back of a shed.
The flatlands of Norfolk provide an easy ride for cyclists and there are few better places to pedal push than the highways and byways hereabouts. On sunny days, it can be the Tour de Loddon along the high street with riders top to toe in fancy kit dismounting for coffee and cake. It ain’t always pretty. Okay, we can’t all look like six-times Olympic champion Chris Hoy with his thunder thighs and buns you could butter. But if all your spare tyres are wrapped round your waist, it’s best to go easy on the lycra. It’s enough to turn the milk in my flat white.