Friday, June 12, 2009

Pandemic flu scene - ripe for cutting

I wrote a piece a couple of years before swine flu appeared on the scene, and once I started writing the current book - But I told you last year that I loved you - I decided to include it, but now that swine flu has taken off, it would probably not be a good idea....although, I would be interested to know what you lot think...

Later that evening, all thoughts of Northumberland slipped from Sol’s mind. We were watching a Channel 4 documentary on bird flu, and Sol was riveted. Although the disease had slipped from the headlines, said the voice-over, medical experts the world over were convinced there would a pandemic. It was just a matter of time. When the programme finished, Sol switched off the telly and said, in the voice that I always thought would make him an excellent hell-fire preacher, “I don't intend to be a victim of the avian apocalypse. We need to be prepared, and we can’t trust the bloody government. They’ll have a stash of vaccine and a bunker with supplies, and they’ll leave the unsuspecting public to fend for themselves.”

All through the night he was switching on the light to make notes on a pad he had on his bedside table. He viewed bird flu with as much horror as he viewed social interaction, and by the next morning he’d hatched a plan so in one fell swoop we could avoid them both. He regaled me with it over my porridge, while I was still waking up. Why couldn’t he be like other men at breakfast time, and read the paper?

His bird flu plans centred on total isolation. He got the idea from Eyam - five miles away from Rowberry as the infected crow flies. When the plague arrived there from the great Wen in 1665, the local rector persuaded the villagers to isolate the village to prevent the plague from spreading to the rest of Derbyshire. 260 of the villagers died, but the plague was contained.

“As soon as they announce on the news that there’s a case in Britain, we’ll have to stay at home for either three months or six, I’m not sure which yet,” said Sol, “but at least until the pandemic has been and gone and someone else has buried the corpses.”

“But that kind of activity is just up your street,” I said. Sol delighted in helping people with practical problems – heaving away a cherry tree that a gale blew down on Mrs Bailey’s front path, putting a slate back on Chrissie’s roof, replacing broken windows in the village hall, unblocking Fiona and George’s loo.

“I could have used my new round-mouthed shovel for the grave digging, but-” “

Why not? It’s not as if it’s a sociable activity, unless the village hall committee set up a rota for refreshments. I can just see Mrs Bailey in her wellies, squelching through the mud, Would you like another egg and cress, Mr Suskind, when you’ve disposed of Mrs Woodbury?”

“The point is, Fran, that neither of us could be in contact with any corpses or we’d risk becoming infected,” he said.

When Jem got up and Sol told her the survival plans, Jem said “Oh my God! As if my life wasn’t bad enough already. If you two are having a lock down, I’m going to stay with Cass.”

After breakfast, Sol started scribbling shopping lists, and I didn’t get much work done because of his constant shouts from downstairs. “How many bars of soap do we use in a week? Do you think I should order body bags?”

The next morning when I left for the advice centre, he gave me his lists, and I was charged with going to the Co-op at the end of my session. I filled two trolleys as high as I could pile them, with - probably not enough - loo rolls teetering on the top. As I was nearing the check out I bumped into Mrs Bailey.

“Oh my word!” she said, pushing her spectacles up to the top of her nose, and peering closely at the contents of my trolley. “Party time? I hope I shall be invited.”

I tried to force a smile.

When I got home, I helped Sol stack the booty in the shed, next to the tins of baked beans left over from his beat-the-millennium-bug escapade.

“You mustn't tell anyone about this cache, or its location,” he said sternly, “or we could be prone to break-ins.”

His other plans included opening the post wearing rubber gloves, or doing it bare-handed after waiting for the virus to die (12 hours for porous surfaces, 48 hours for non-porous surfaces); and secondly, preparing Gwen at the village shop to leave emergency items of shopping at the gate.

He gave me his safety goggles from the shed to protect my eyes from bird flu virus droplets, and he ordered a pair from George’s catalogue for himself. He also planned to wear his chainsaw safety helmet with a visor so he didn’t inadvertently touch his face, apparently a fatal error for people with potentially infected hands. He allocated an old pair of swimming goggles to the cat.

“So far so good,” he said, after organising the eyewear, “but I fear the chimney may be our Achilles heel.”


“We need to buy a sonic bird-scarer. If queasy birds decide to perch on the chimney, they could topple in and bring infection into the house.”

He went to the doctor’s to be vaccinated, but there wasn’t a phial of Tamiflu in sight. The best thing on offer was an ordinary flu jab, so he had to settle for that. He came home with a sore arm, a leaflet listing possible side effects, and a bad temper.

“Why the hell isn’t the NHS better prepared?” he said. “Bloody politicians! I don’t think God does enough smiting these days. It should be the case that if a politician steps out of line, then SMITE!” He smashed his hand on the kitchen table, and the shock made me spill my tea down my front.


“A bit of light smiting would be a jolly good idea. It would save people like me from writing endless letters of complaint, and save a hell of a lot in postage.”

He opened up the leaflet about the flu jab and started reading. “It says here there’s a slight possibility of coma or death. You’ll need to watch me closely for 24 hours.”

The next day, he was still alive.

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