Love in the Time of Covid #9 – To Vax or Not To Vax?

covid 19

That is indeed a question.

I have very good friends who sit on both sides of this ‘question’. I would vax, but am not going to un-friend my very dear friends who wouldn’t.

Although I say I would vax. When I was picking up my prescription before Christmas at my local chemist, I was offered the seasonal flu vaccine. So many daggers flew from my eyes I pretty much emptied my arsenal. Why would I want a flu vaccine? I’ve had flu before and it’s never done me any harm. Surely natural immunity’s a good thing? When I got home I realised that having had a heart operation and being over 50, of course I was in the bracket to be offered a flu vaccine. And now knowing a whole lot more about covid 19, I understand that it’s not about me and my illness, it’s about protecting the whole population. Especially the old and the vulnerable, who I could infect and unknowingly kill, whilst getting better myself.

As hunter gatherers, we lived a fair distance apart, and diseases burned themselves out quickly. About 12 000 years ago, a hunter erected a pen around a couple of wild sheep and cabbages and we started to live together, in groups. Infectious diseases had a field day. We are already post human and need vaccines just to live next door to one another.

We vaccinated our populations before knowing what a germ was. When bacteria were first seen through a magnifying glass in pond water, no one thought it could make people ill. In 1850, Robert Koch in Germany proved that TB was caused by bacteria, rather than being inherited, as was widely believed at the time. The first vaccine was discovered by Edward Jenner, who successfully vaccinated a boy against cowpox in 1796 (hence the word vaccine from Latin vacca = cow), and this was the basis for the modern smallpox vaccination. Smallpox was certified as globally eradicated in 1980. Thanks to the vaccine. Water purification and vaccine programmes were imposed on the general public, though not without resistance. How could you be protected from a disease by being injected with it? But at the beginning of the 20th Century, diseases were being controlled, cities were self-sustaining and faith in science and rationalism was high.

This changed with the 1918 flu epidemic. Regulated healthcare and homeopathic remedies existed side by side. Nothing was considered conventional or alternative, they were just different. The horse and the motor car travelled together in the streets, and quantum theory existed, as did witches. Many people in the industrial world turned to medical doctors for treatment, but the scientific community had no answers, as viruses had not been discovered yet. The infection was thought to be bacterial, and government laboratories produced large quantities of vaccines against the bacteria. This did nothing because in fact the flu was caused by a virus. Consequently the American Medical Association advised its members not to put faith in vaccines. The New York Times said science had failed to guard us and The Times ran stories of neglect and lack of foresight (mm sounds familiar), and that someone should be answerable for the nation’s health.

Doctors started prescribing the recently developed Aspirin, but in far too large quantities which did more harm than good, increasing the mis-trust in science. So doctors fell back on older techniques, and homeopathic remedies had a resurgence. Alternative medicine was able to claim higher cure rates, and rightly so, at the time, as good nursing and attentive healers can pay dividends to a patient’s sense of well being and strengthened immunity. A lot of the cures were no more effective than placebos, but the effect of positive thinking can be a very powerful thing, linked to the trust established between a patient and their doctor. Without medicine, religion became another source of comfort, and among the bitterest enemies of conventional medicine were the Christian Scientists. They claimed prayer alone had proved superior and their following grew rapidly, believing themselves to be untouchable. Much like Donald Trump ‘wearing the armour of God’ and holding a bible above his head (and upside down) for a photo opp outside St John’s Episcopal Church last Monday, after threatening military action on his own nation.

At least I think that’s an upside down bible…

When a virus infects a person, anti bodies are formed, that attach themselves to the virus. This prevents the virus from attaching itself to us and causing harm. These antibodies remain in the blood for years and hence we can be ‘immune’ if the same flu virus comes knocking in the future.

As a virus is a parasite, and can only reproduce inside a host, scientists had a problem back in 1918, trying to recreate it in the lab for vaccine making purposes. It was 1931 before a virus was successfully grown in a fertilised chicken’s egg, and 1936 before the first flu vaccine was produced, way after the pandemic had passed. The virus in the egg produced more of itself, and the weakest versions were grown in another egg. This process was repeated 30 times until the resulting virus didn’t replicate very well at all. This vaccine was injected into people, who experienced very mild symptoms, but were protected against re-infection. All this, before a flu virus was actually seen for the first time in 1943.

Now, again, confidence in vaccines is low in many countries. In August 2019 the UK lost its status as a country that had eliminated measles after a declining MMR vaccine take up. In late 2018, Brooklyn New York City saw the largest outbreak of the disease in nearly 30 years. The Global Vaccine Summit is currently being hosted in the UK, on line. It seeks to raise 6 billion pounds from around 70 countries so we can continue to immunise half of the world’s children against deadly diseases such as measles, polio and diptheria and prevent them making a comeback. Already this year, as a direct result of the covid 19 pandemic, almost 40 million children in Pakistan missed their Polio vaccination after nation-wide programmes were halted.

Unless we have a water tight track and trace system, without a vaccine, the threat of infection will never go away. And that’s if we even find one. We were promised an HIV vaccine in 5 years, 30 years ago. Germany and South Korea are managing to keep covid 19 at bay, post lock down, with track and trace, but there is little room for error. At the moment, our system in the UK is said to be ready for ‘Autumn’. And a track and trace system operating in the face of world wide Black Lives Matter demonstrations and rioting is another moral wrangle. The abhorrent and inhumane treatment of the black population at the (often white) hands of those controlling us all, is an injustice that has prevailed far too long. The blood is on all of our hands as a complicit society and through direct social action we can strive for a goal of real change. And I’m mortifyingly white to say this, but…

Black Lives Matter demonstration in Portsmouth, UK

However, (ok, I chickened out of but), there is still a pandemic out there, and I hope against hope that there isn’t a further climb in numbers two to three weeks down the line, or once again we will be letting down the weaker members of our society, who as a civilisation are the very people we should be taking the most care of.

We don’t yet know if people who catch covid 19 acquire long term immunity. But we need to recognise that there is a general public who have very valid questions and concerns. What are the motives of the big pharma companies? Is Bill Gates going to micro chip us all? And if the vaccine is rushed through does that mean bypassing safety concerns? No one has so far said that a covid 19 vaccine would be mandatory. However, to achieve herd immunity, 80% of the world’s population would need to take up the vaccine. A recent study of Fox viewers in America showed that only 60% of their viewers had faith in vaccinations. Americans who voted for Donald Trump are also prone to anti vaccination attitudes, exacerbated by his tweets. Some people are ideologically opposed to vaccines, some just don’t like needles whereas others are more vaccine hesitant. On line there lives a vocal community of vaccine doubters armed with reasons why vaccines should not be the norm. Maybe on line is where we need to see more balanced and scientific reasons why people should be vaccinated to give both sides of the argument.

Bill Gates (and I know not everyone trusts him!) said in an interview on Radio 4 recently, that regardless of who invents it, the vaccine will be produced by pharmaceutical countries all over the world, working together. The companies with capacity are currently building factories in different countries to cope with demand. The widespread use of the vaccine will be limited by logistics rather than by manufacture. But can the big pharma giants ever be trusted by the public to be helping the world rather than profiteering?

And apparently he’s not looking to micro chip everybody. He did say we will know who has and hasn’t been vaccinated. But this will be down to medical records rather than nano technology.

On the plus side, if a vaccine is found, and if it works, it may just convince a generation that it took a vaccine to return us to normality. And look towards a future where lock down and economic disasters are more avoidable.

Love in the Time of Covid #8 – The Customer is Always Right

covid 19

So given a choice, would we rather have the pubs or the shops back open? Most people would probably say pubs in fairness, but tuff, because what I actually know is retail, so that’s where I’m going with this. Shops, in all likelihood, are set to start a phased re-opening from June 1st. As with the rest of this pandemic, we are waiting very much day to day for any decisions to be made on whether any shops will open on this date, if so which ones, and what will the guidelines be?

Many shops are operating perfectly well, and have been since the rest of us were closed. The big supermarkets have Perspex shields and arrows on the floor, with social distancing reminders marked out by tape on the floor. Smaller health food shops / newsagents / kiosks etc are one in, one out, maybe offering a delivery service, and most places are saying they’d prefer to take card payments to avoid shared handling of cash.

I’ve worked in many retail establishments from downright cool, to being self employed, to department stores, to the health and beauty industry and thriving family businesses The one thing they all have in common is the customer.

And the customer, as we know, is always right.

Aaaah, the customer. But the thing is, I am also a customer, and there are instances in life when I think I’m right. I’ve stood behind various counters, being told what a customer has seen in the window three weeks ago, despite the fact that I know what was in the window three weeks ago because I bought the stock in the first place, chose it and put it in the goddam window! Also, I know that what they’re describing was actually in the window about eighteen weeks ago. Or being told that on our website at their house, there’s definitely a picture of a blue top with black skulls on it, but it’s strangely missing from our actual stock. Or how as a woman up a ladder with a drill I’d better ‘be careful luv’, presumably because my dick safety harness isn’t holding me securely to the ladder, or at least giving me a proper centre of gravity so that my boobs won’t just wobble me off.

In all these situations, the customer thinks they are right. I once witnessed an accident with two of my good friends. Another guy we didn’t know, had been run over. He survived with a punctured lung, but the three of us were police witnesses. I was completely blown away by the fact that all our statements were very different, despite the fact that we’d all witnessed the same accident. And these were people whose opinions I trusted. None of us were lying, purely recounting the events as we’d understood them.

And so it is for the customer. From the centre of their world they are right. They have seen our window for a snippet of the time we have, and have remembered a picture or item that would look stunning in their new kitchenette, now all that loo roll has gone. But in the last eighteen weeks their mind has morphed that item into something that they want, rather than something that we have to sell. They’ve fallen for the Bill Bailey’s infamous glossy book of Argos dreams.

Any excuse to feature a pic of the fabulous Bill Bailey
Sonisphere 2011

And I’ve fallen for this myself. Thought about something I’ve seen in a shop which is the most magnificent artefact in the world and I must, must, must have it and I can’t afford it but on my one precious day off I’ll go out of my way to get it and – it’s just a vase. I can understand why I remembered it as the top trump I did: larger than life; cool factor 8 million; guilt rating after purchase; affordability; availability; instagramability etc. But I draw the line at arguing with the shop keeper about the difference between what I’ve come into their shop to buy, and what they actually have on the shelf to sell me. Because I know at this point that I’m wrong, and have retail amnesia brought on by product lust.

I don’t berate myself for this. I try try try to live my life in a compassionate way and understand that I share planet earth with 8 billion people and billions more animals and life forms, but I don’t live off grid. I am constantly advertised to everyday telling me that particular objects and ways of life will help me to be a fabulous me. These feelings of need and lust are strong and subversive forces, and difficult to resist. Studies with MRI scanners have found that patterns of brain activity in people experiencing lust are very similar to those taking cocaine. Lust can easily overcome reason. It’s one of the seven deadly sins for a start, and as such, a driving force of human behaviour. The fact that it’s called a sin means we can feel shame in lust exactly as we may feel guilt of shopping. Of course advertisers and retailers play to this feeling. No one ever made a fortune by appealing to restraint or wisdom – lust is why shops work in the first place. We buy into a way of life that is far more than the single item itself.

And I love shopping! It’s a part of our human soul. Ok, I could become a Buddhist and try and rise above those feelings. But I choose more to go with the ‘and it harm none’, embracing my human wants and desires, but with a conscience. No man is an island, and my actions (including my shopping habits), are a result of, and affecting many more people than myself and I don’t want my actions to ever hurt another human being.

Buddha and Bruce

We will all be venturing back into shops soon. And to go by the government’s recent track record, there won’t be any specific guidelines about how shops are to operate, and everyone will have very specific ideas about what they expect in the retail environment, from both sides of the counter. Talking to my friends and colleagues about Covid 19 has shown me just how different people’s understanding of the virus actually is. Some people don’t believe there’s a virus at all and others literally are so freaked that they only go out once a week for an essential shop. Everyone is going to have different opinions about what is and isn’t safe based on their fears and understanding of an unprecedented situation which no-one ultimately knows the answer to. So more than ever, we need to have each other’s backs, and appreciate that business owners will be trying their best to make things safe and get their businesses running again.

So I will patiently listen to the customer who impatiently tells me what was in my window three weeks ago, or that this is the way I should be conducting my business, and know that the force driving them isn’t necessarily common sense. It’s pure unadulterated beautiful humanity with all its joy and flaws. But enough now – if there’s one thing I do know – it’s my windows.

Now let’s go shopping!

Promo shot taken by The News for the opening of Gunwharf Quays

Love in the Time of Covid #7 – Take me to your Leader

coronaviros, covid 19

Stay Alert.

What are we supposed to get from that then? We either get one instructions which doesn’t tell us anything specific, or a myriad of conflicting instructions from various governments around the world, enforced on the people who happened to have been born on their bit of land.

The virus has got it easy compared to us. 8 simple genetic instructions on how to wreak havoc on us, the unsuspecting population of hosts. Or even, to our shame, the suspecting population of hosts.

We, on the other hand, are having advice thrown at us from all over the place. Be it governments, social media, our friends and family, bloggers thinking they know it all. And while this confusion reigns, our foe Covid, is rampaging across planet earth, oblivious to territories and borders and world leaders with their different rules and regulations. We’ve even set ourselves up in handy refugee camps and cities. All of us sitting pretty together and making the job of the virus that much easier.

In a democratic country, we get to choose our leaders to make important decisions about life and death for us. Ok, that may be up for debate. The first past the post system we have in the UK means the elected leader may not have got the majority of the votes at all. The Brexit outcome shows how a vote can be won on bare faced lies, and Trump vs Clinton maybe one big rigging hoax from start to finish. But we should be able to trust our leaders to guide us through the tuff times. And then there are dictatorships, communism, monarchies, republics etc where people don’t get even get to choose who makes the rules. Some work, some systems not so well, but they’re all in place to govern or rule a group of people in a territory.

Not what we thought then…

Except Covid 19’s territory is the entire planet. As one. But planet earth is not responding to it as one. We are ultimately divided in our response, which is giving Covid 19 an advantage in certain countries. At some borders it will be stopped in its tracks, at others it won’t even need a passport. And once it gets into a country, there will be houses, which are so locked down it won’t get a look in, vs those with an open door policy where a cough or a touch becomes a golden invitation. I can’t see how, without a more united approach, we can come out of this efficiently. Planes can take off from some places, but not land in others for a start.

So great leaders would be handy in helping us to navigate. Even more so, great leaders who talk to each other, so we can get the balance right between staying healthy and not overwhelming our hospitals. But also living the life that we’re here to live. Our population growth on this planet is an outbreak as much as Covid 19. But right now, Covid 19 has the edge on living the dream.

The life of a virus is not all planned out though. We are both comprised of genes, or a set of Ikea directions telling us how to assemble ourselves. The virus has 8 steps. We have about 20 500 hereditary instructions from our parents telling us where our noses should be, how tall we may grow, if our hearts will be healthy etc.

Our instructions are arranged in a double helix DNA spiral, solidly dependable for reproductive purposes. The genes of a flu virus are arranged in a single RNA strand, which is pretty flimsy. As it hi-jacks its host’s cells to make more virus, it’s fairly hit and miss as to what it actually makes, so errors creep in which can change its list of instructions. Hence new flus are produced. This is why we need a new flu vaccine each year and the World Health Organisation have to place their bets on which strain of flu will be the major illness in the winter season to come. In the 1918 flu epidemic the first wave was relatively mild, as it was more easily adapted to birds. After a small but critical change, the second wave was far more devastating, as it was better adapted to humans.

Covid is fashion size medium (for a virus) and roughly spherical. More apple than pear in dress fit. Its genetic instructions are on the inside, surrounded by protein. Then its protective bubble (dissolved by soap for the win), and then a stalk which pokes out through the membrane. This stalk is what gets the virus into our human cell. One of its 8 instructions. The other instructions are contained inside, and could relate to how sneezy we might get (how potentially the virus can travel), how long the virus can survive outside the human body, and how long it takes for flu symptoms to actually develop. All these things will shape the type of flu we are dealing with.

In effect the virus’ strategy is messy and haphazard by nature – but what’s our excuse?

Many lessons have been learned from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, quarantined off the coast of Japan at the start of the pandemic. As soon as the passengers had left, the cabins of infected passengers and the communal areas could be swabbed for traces of the virus’ genes. They were, as you might expect, on phone receivers, tv remote controls, chair handles, pillows and most concentrated in the bathroom and toilet. They were also in the rooms of the infected passengers who had tested positive but weren’t showing any symptoms. From tracking the movements of patient zero, the main areas where infection was spread were in the closed spaces, which were crowded and where there was close contact between passengers. Recently, in South Korea, 119 cases of Covid 19 have been linked to a nightclub, which had just reopened after easing the lockdown. A crowded closed space with close contact between people.

On the cruise ship, they carried out a black light experiment in the restaurant where one acting passenger put uv paint on his hands, to represent the virus, and then a crowded restaurant of people ate a buffet. Even the passengers eating alone picked up traces of the virus from the communal serving equipment. They repeated the experiment with kitchen staff, wearing PPE, serving the buffet instead and keeping a person’s width between each diner. With these small changes there was a huge reduction in the spread of the uv paint.

So with proper advice and small changes, we can get back out there. But not with dithery whiff whaff about staying alert. A Scottish MP has suggested that staying apart would be a better sound bite.

Because the government are more pre-occupied with the economy, than useful things like testing and contact tracing, its apparently ok for a cleaner or child minder to go into a strangers house, and then onto another, and another before they go back home. Or have complete strangers round to view your house if it’s on the market. But it’s not ok for us to go round a mate’s house for a chat. We need clear concise instructions on how to deal with the virus, not the government trying to tell cleaners how to clean, or estate agents how to sell houses. We don’t need to be micro managed in our jobs. We’re the experts there and will adapt accordingly. Our local garage is doing car MOTs, and there’s a disinfectant bucket to put your keys in, the payments put through over the phone and the garage dog has to say hello with a tail wag rather than a full head nuzzle – but it’s working. Many local restaurants have been operating as take-outs just fine since lock-down without any ‘help’ from the government. Schools have been open with limited numbers of pupils and the teachers I know, have felt safe. And they haven’t done that by being alert. They’ve done it by using practical common sense, soap and understanding how the virus spreads.

Covid 19 gets off on the things we love and our everyday behaviour. Being close to each other and living in a communal world where we are breathing the same air and touching the same door nobs. It can survive on stainless steel and plastic for 3 days which is 1.5 times longer than the influenza virus. This is an instruction in its favour. Also, that patients can carry the virus, but show no symptoms. So we still need to be careful even if we don’t feel ill.

It’s important to take responsibility as individuals, but also as a collective. And not just on our own shores, but as inhabitants of planet earth.

World Flag designed by Black Powder Engine

Love in the Time of Covid #6 – Know Your Enemy – The Science Bit

covid 19, Lockdown

The world is currently under attack from a tiny, tiny, tiny capsule containing instructions on how to infiltrate a human cell, and force that cell into making more tiny, tiny, tiny capsules. The result, is that our human cells then feel rubbish, and we experience the symptoms of having the flu. Normal flu works like this too. But normal flu viruses have been around for a while, so a) many of us have immunity to certain flu types, and b) vaccines are available. As long as a certain number of people have immunity / have been vaccinated, the flu will hit a brick wall as far as spreading goes.

Covid 19 is all new. No immunity. No vaccine. 8 billion people on the planet. Party, party.

Having (probably) literally been shat from a bat, that tiny, tiny cell was accidentally eaten by a human who then coughed on someone else and infected them. Covid 19 then spread like wildfire. In fact better than wildfire, which is how we began this year, focusing south on the disaster that was the Australian bush fires. As the hot season in Australia ended, and the fires were being brought under control, so Covid 19 was embarking on a tourism season like no other, and brutally putting a stop to any holiday plans we might have had.

Lanzarote – not this year

As super villains go, Covid 19 ticks a lot of boxes: ability to self replicate; invisibility – at least to the naked eye; immortality and even animal control – it makes us cough and sneeze in the hopes of finding a new host.

But other than that, it’s pretty rubbish.

It can’t think. It can’t plan. It can’t run. It’s a parasite, and can only live in another living organism or host. It needs us to reproduce itself. Outside it will die in 72 hours. Its survival and growth depends on that of its host and its host’s actions.

And that’s us.

We can think and plan. And we can have hope. Hope that as a collective we can do things that will make the final result not so bad. And apparently we can even run outside, except we should be staying in but it’s important to go out and exercise as this will stop you getting sick but other people, who are also out, may give you filthy looks. And don’t even get started on the arrows directing people around supermarket aisles…

So we need to sort our shit out.

It’s tricky, because unless we’re working front-line, or have tragically lost people we know and love, or indeed have known people who’ve had the virus and then recovered, many of us are not seeing the mass effects of Covid 19. It is a flu. And, as with seasonal flu, of those who fall ill, about 20% of people get that flu really badly. An even smaller percentage of those people die every year. Many deaths are due to further complications such as pneumonia, and it is often the over 65s’ who account for most of the deaths, because our immunity to diseases decreases with age. This is equally true for Covid 19. But with no immunity or vaccine, potentially all of us could catch it. A small percentage of about 8 billion people dying, would be a phenomenal number of people needing hospital treatment all at one time, and the worlds health services would be overwhelmed. Hence the ‘Stay at home, and save our NHS’ message.

So we really do need to sort our shit out.

Some governments have done this for us. New Zealand has followed an elimination strategy, to eradicate Covid 19 entirely from the country. On March 23rd, New Zealand went into hard lock-down. Only 100 people there had tested positive, and no one had died. Borders were shut, and anyone who did enter the country was quarantined for 14 days. Compare this to our own situation where on March 23rd we’d already registered 335 deaths, people were merely advised to stay at home, and businesses closed but there was no quarantine or contact tracking. New Zealand has only just allowed take-aways to re-open. Ours never closed.

Australia is practising a similar strategy as it did back in the 1918 flu epidemic, and to great effect. It’s only fault then was to re-open its borders too early and the third wave of flu hit it hard. Arguably, New Zealand and Australia are in a unique position to do this, as island nations, geographically far from other major countries. Anyone who’s played Risk will know that Australasia is not a strategic position for world domination by human or virus. Ours is a mammoth task compared to New Zealand, but surely then we should be taking mammoth actions to protect everyone?

As in Australia in 1918, the timing of any measures introduced is critical. They have to be introduced early, and kept in place until after the danger had passed. Lock-down strategies place the interests of everyone over those of the individual. However, those working on behalf of everyone, (ie. governments), may have other priorities, such as the need to make money. The demands of a thriving economy and the nation’s health are rarely aligned. But if lock-down is lifted too soon, the virus is presented with a fresh supply of non-immune hosts.

As restrictions are lifted, this really is on us. Covid 19 isn’t going to go away anytime soon. We’re going to have to live alongside each other. If Covid 19 was dog shit, we’d find social distancing a breeze. If there’s dog shit on the pavement, we walk around it. If there was dog shit everywhere, for the smell, we’d probably wear a mask. If doctors and nurses had dog shit on their scrubs, the government would be laughed at for saying they should re-use them. If someone was nearby with dog shit on them we’d give them a wide berth, and if we had dog shit on us we’d go straight home and have a ruddy good wash.

With no cure and no vaccine, having a wash is probably our best bet, as soap does actually dissolve the tiny, tiny, tiny capsule which contains Covid 19s instructions for world domination. It literally bursts its bubble and its 8 meaningless genetic instructions go down the drain.

So a little bit of soap, and a little bit of hope. Hope that whatever happens, this crisis won’t go to waste as an opportunity to look at ourselves, and demand better from our world leaders.

And if it looks like you’re over reacting, you’re probably doing the right thing.

Love in the time of covid #5 – Baz Luhrmann – Are we Still Free to Wear Sunscreen?

covid 19, Lockdown

From the first time I heard Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen on the Jo Wiley show on Radio 1, I think life started to make a little bit more sense.

It would have been the late 90s, in a small industrial unit, tucked away in Portsmouth, whilst sewing an ever increasing pile of furry legwarmers. Generally, I’d start the day with a dose of the Chris Moyles’ Breakfast Show. I don’t have any excuses. This ran into the Jo Wiley Show, where in my mind, I was likely to hear the best new music on a radio station (this is way before 6 music, Spotify or podcasts). Eg. Goldie Lookin Chain, who, it turned out, were playing The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth that night. We had a call from Mr Shenton, sound engineer extraordinaire at the Wedge back then, saying there’s a bunch of Welsh rappers playing here tonight – you’ve got to come down! Newport, Newport, so good they named it twice.

The Sunscreen song, though, was different to anything I’d really heard before. I loved it’s sentiment, and it stopped me in my sewing tracks. I’d only heard of Baz Lurhnamm as having directed the latest (at the time) Romeo and Juliet film (1996), which I guess, gave it a different heritage and experience to other songs. I didn’t realise it then, but now I look back on the times in life when I’ve had to think A or B, (and before the lockdown meme that told us it was definitely B), I’ve referenced his lyrics more than a few times. Both in heartfelt matters and in very practical ways:

‘You are not as fat as you imagine’ – True dat.

‘Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements’ – Makes clearing out an old drawer or cupboard so much easier.

‘Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts and don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours’ – Sometimes, just sometimes, when you get that crushed feeling inside and really wish you could be anywhere else – it’s ok to walk away. Life can begin again.

‘Your choices are half chance and so are everybody else’s’ – Yes, come on humanity.

‘Friends come and go but with a precious few you should hold on, Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle’ – thanks Facebook. But yeah, now, more than ever, realising who those special people are. And if you could get on a plane, train or automoblie tomorrow who would you go and see?

‘Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise; politicians will philander; you too will get old and when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.’ – haha, one of my favourites.

I set out in this blog to try and make a light-hearted list of covid happening observations thus far into lockdown, by using the sunscreen song as a framework. However, having listened closely to Baz again this morning, it’s made me reflect on how much of his ‘advice’ I actually live by – and some notable exceptions that I ignore. But how it has helped me through the bleaker landscape of life, and also, not take too much for granted in the epic times. So I’m gonna start with Baz’s first piece of advice, and go on secondly, for me at least, to his most poignant.

‘Wear sunscreen’.

Well, fuck that, I never do. I put it down to being a tweenager in the 80s. Caught between being a fabulous Chelsea Girl just wanning to have fun, whilst being drawn to the dark side and gothing up by wearing so much Leichner clown white on my face and fully clothed in black on black, that no uv radiation was gonna touch me. No one really wore sunscreen back then or had fake tans. It was the real Miami Vice deal or nothing. I’ve always loved the sun. I’m generally quite a busy person and sitting in the sun or, once upon a time, smoking a joint, were about the only two things in life that would make me properly sit still for a while.

So covid afternoons have been pretty much that for me. Feeling really appreciative to have a garden outside the back of a terrace house, I’d stretch my tortoise neck out of the back door to check the sun possibility (obviously I’d already checked my weather app the previous day). I’ve always been obsessed by the weather. I thought I’d be a weather person on tv for a lot of my childhood. The other day, my husband was talking to one of the young people working at Music Fusion and saying ‘my wife (me!) says this is the last of the sunshine for a while’. My weather advice was now being voiced around Portsmouth – what a responsibility – I spent the rest of the day hoping I’d got it right! Tortoise check in place though, I’ve been sitting in the sun, reptilianly lifting the odd arm or leg to turn a book page, touch a screen or lift a beer. And all without sunscreen. Sorry Baz.

‘Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, or know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindsides you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.’

I used to worry about a lot of things. My parents are adorable yet cautious creatures so I grew up carefully and without much risk. I grew up with children’s stories written about nuclear winters, and in an age where sex was dreadfully risky, and still not much talked about. Unless you were having sex without a condom when you would for sure get Aids or pregnant, both equally as awful according to the media.

But surely worrying is kind of a bad fantasy. We generally think of fantasies or daydreams as a good or positive thing, but our drifting into an imagined or improbable bad future is just as easy. And generally worry is just that. An imagined bad future. It hasn’t happened yet so its not real, but we are story tellers as a species and our imaginations are incredibly good at weaving tales to ourselves which can seem so real that our bodies then start reacting with real emotions. Thinking of worst case scenarios can definitely help us to plan for the future, but worrying about the worst case scenarios that we create can be really harmful to us. If it hasn’t happened yet, great, surely we’re still winning?

I would never have worried about having heart disease. Nothing was further from my mind when I keeled over in the Post Office. I could have been driving, or on my own at home up a ladder painting a ceiling (which is what I was doing two days previously). In both cases I would quite possibly be dead now. It absolutely was something that blindsided me at 10am on some idle Monday.

I never worried about a pandemic. Despite hearing on Radio 4 news every morning about the Wholesale Seafood Market closing in Wuhan, China in early 2020, to the first cases of the coronavirus being reported in Europe and then the UK. Brexit, Brexit, Brexit was all the politicians, the economy and facebook were worried about, and bang, here we are, pretty much the whole world in lockdown.

Here are 5 things I have learned:

1 If you need bubble bath don’t write bubbles on the shopping list or you’ll come home with prosecco
2 Watching too much ‘Money Heist’ can lead to random learning of Spanish phrases: ‘No manana, no – AHORA!’ – ‘Not tomorrow no – NOW!’
3 Don’t check your mate’s conspiracy theories online or that algorithm will hunt you down
4 Get a bird feeder / bird bath – birds are great and quite fighty

5 I’ve earned a beer just for staying in – right?

The future is uncertain, bloody uncertain, but I’m gonna stick with Baz, and deal with each bit of shit as it hits the fan, rather than the imagined shit that hasn’t even started flying yet. Hopefully not all of it will stick.

Love in the time of covid #4 – Southsea Independents

covid 19, Southsea Life

I live in the seaside resort of Southsea. The nearest city is Portsmouth, and we’re situated at the southern end of Portsea island, Hampshire. Southsea developed as a fashionable Victorian seaside resort, originally named Croxton Town (who knew when you buy a beer in Croxtons?), but later adopting the name of nearby Southsea Castle.

My first experience of Portsmouth was a soggy cycle south with a friend in my teens. We stayed at youth hostels, cycling from Oxford to Portsmouth and then around the Isle of Wight. The rain had finally cleared just as we reached the tip of the South Downs, and we looked down on Portsmouth, sparkling and glinting in the optimistic sunlight. It looked like a vast metropolis of possibilities to my tiny Middle England brain. So a few years later I chose to come to Polytechnic here.

The view from Portsdown Hill

Portsmouth is practically an island. With all that an island mentality brings with it. It is still attached to the mainland, but barely. By 3 roads, all at the top. And we’re surrounded by islands. To the East is Hayling Island, look West to Gosport on strictly speaking a peninsula, and south is The Isle of Wight and then the French. Most of the council housing estates are all just off the island to the North. This means that Portsmouth itself doesn’t have a lot of the inner city problems associated with other cities because all the problems are over the (Portsdown) hill and far away.

In a survey where Portsmouthians were asked to list their three biggest fears the running order was:
1 – paedophiles
2 – drinking in the street
3 – the French

The French?? Henry VIIIs legacy I guess. Back in the day, looking out across a misty English Channel from Southsea castle, I guess you would have good cause to be scared of the French. Our best ship, the Mary Rose, didn’t stand up too well. And just to touch on paedophiles too, (tho not in that way). Yes, it was on a Portsmouth housing estate where mob rule torched a paediatricians house for fear of crimes yet to be rendered.

Island mentality I think is generally a positive minded well meaning groupthink centred around preservation. In the absence of anything but Portsmouth existing, sometimes, given a threat, the best way may well have been to bare knuckle fist fight your way out of a situation. Thus preventing the demise of Portsmouth. The biggest employer historically, the dockyard, is now largely a tourist attraction. A massive chunk of navy land has become Gunwharf Quays, a premium retail outlet centre. And possibly the biggest employer in the city is now the University. The university incidentally attracts huge numbers of new students to the city every year, some of whom, like myself, don’t actually leave. Maybe I would say this, but I think this introduction of a wide variety of twenty somethings from all over the world has added to a new layer in Portsmouth on top of the fading defence industry, which it was built to be, and is still fiercely proud of. As a city, there isn’t a huge amount of wealth here. Naval heritage yes, but actual money, no. This is a great leveller for the people living in the city and Portsmouthians generally rub along quite happily together and are an affable bunch.

In some ways it’s a hand mirror to the island mentality of the UK. I think the two are not that far apart.

So oi loikes Portsmouth oi does. And it’s dialect.

Who would have thought then that this almost island nation of ne’er do wells would be topping the charts when it came to Google’s location data, gathered via Google Maps, to track people’s movements during the pandemic? According to Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson ‘Pompey is showing the rest of the country how it is done’.

This is a far cry from how we’re often described be it a few villeins, bordars and serfs in 1086, to ‘the diabolical citizens of Portsmouth’ in 1758 and, even more recently when Boris Johnson in 2019 called Portsmouth a city ‘full of drugs and obesity’ – hurrah!

But on top of a town filled with war and preparations for war came trade: wheat; wool; wine and woad as well as the delicious stories of Spice Island, smugglers and pirates. And trade is still a huge part of Pompey from the gold spired metropolis of Gunwharf Quays, to the well trodden market ways of Commercial Road and then the colour and variety of independent Bohemian Southsea. Always in flux – until now.

I’ve always worked in some form of retail, from selling my own clubwear line in the noughties, to working from the extremes of corporate department stores to family run businesses.

Winter @ Spanbodywear in the noughties

I’m not sure if I chose a career in retail, or that once having worked in it, it literally pinned me down by the throat and price gunned me into a life of servitude, unsociable hours and endless promotions. Even in lock down now I have to pinch myself as I work in a non essential business and am actually at home in the sunshine, while other people in shops are at work. I always seemed to still be working, be it Christmas, weekends and bank holidays as shops are required to be open when most other people have time off. That aside, I also love working in retail. There is a very real time connection with people and commodities when you work in a shop. Everyone shops for something at some point and you get to talk to GPs, mothers, captains of ships, teachers, politicians, other retail workers, downright racist bigots, bus drivers – and how do I know all this? Because they tell you. There is a real human need to communicate and a lot of that has been lost on the High Street, even before covid 19. We don’t all go to the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers any more. We do go to coffee shops and I think that’s a good thing. Whether it’s somewhere to go alone to work, think or write poetry but in the company of other people or if its to socialise and meet people out. And now, in lockdown, that’s gone too.

Lockdown has forced decisions on everyone, but here I’m specifically thinking of small independent businesses. Many have had to shut, tattooists, hair dressers, beauticians etc. Some for social distancing and some for economic reasons. Others are still continuing a presence on line, especially restaurants.

Keen to try something other than home cooking in these unprecedented times – my cooking is nourishing but basic, what we both wanted was a take out curry. I checked on line, and, to go by the websites, most restaurants were still delivering. In practical terms, however this was simply not the case, websites, for the most part, not having been updated. I found another list of take outs still delivering in the time of covid, but again pretty out of date. I Whatsappd friends and finally found that Bombay Express on Albert Road was our spicy balti beacon in the wilderness. We hesitated. Our bourgois sensibilities having loftily propelled us far from the smokey lock in days in the back rooms of that very establishment. We soon crashed back down to pandemic ridden earth, and realised it was that or no curry. It was amazing! We left a £5 tip in the letterbox poking out for the delivery driver and barely spoke until the spongey naan had scooped the remainder of the gloopey saag into our grateful mushes.

It turns out, I’d done a lot of research that night, and it seemed a shame to potentially let it all go to waste. My husband suggested I should put it out on line, as it was the very list I’d been looking for when the first pangs of curry withdrawal set in. I could hear my Mum reading me ‘The Little Red Hen’ as a kid and saying ‘I’ll do it myself – said the litle red hen’.

I’ve never really thought of my blog as a website, but it is as good a domain as anywhere, and ten past six is a pretty good time to be thinking about ordering a take out. So for the remainder of the lock down, the tenpastsix homepage will be an updated lists of as many varied and amazing independent businesses as I can find in Southsea. Those who are still doing amazing things in unprecedented times, and mostly even delivering to your front door so you don’t have to go out. Please check all the website details carefully as different businesses have different opening times and ways of ordering and please let me know if you are a business and want adding or if I can change anything to remain up to date – happy eating!

Look after yourselves, it’s the best way to look after everyone else. And support your independents by keeping the spice in Spice island!

love in the time of covid #3

covid 19

Things had come crashing down to Earth after the Mars adventure. It had become obsessive – visiting Mars at the design museum, reading the ‘Moving to Mars’ book from cover to cover and following the SpaceX journey.

I decided to Google short story competitions – surely there were others out there? It’s not for a moment that I thought I could win anything – I marvel at everything else I read – just the vocabulary that other people seem to know astounds me – I’m constantly looking up words that other writers use. I needed practice at writing, I needed some sort of portfolio and I needed deadlines. Competitions and taking up any opportunities that came my way seemed like a good place to start.

I wasn’t disappointed. There were hundreds! All sorts. From flash fiction (where you were given a photo to write a short dialogue for), to high profile magazines and publications, and then a competition from the BBC to write the opening scene for an episode of their hit noughties series ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.’

I’d loved that show at the time and thought that would push me in another direction. To write dialogue as a script. So I got involved. Luckily I-player streamed all 9 seasons (9 seasons – who’d’ve thought?) so that was my evenings for the next few weeks – although I only got as far as season 6 before the effects of covid 19 really hit home.

WHO had now declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and by Saturday 21st March the UK had confirmed 225 deaths.

My own personal introduction to covid 19 was a bumpy one. I was working on that Saturday and didn’t have my phone on me – it’s a retail thing. On my lunch hour I had a voicemail from my father in law asking in a small voice, if I was aware of my husbands condition.

I wasn’t.

I’m not one to worry, but after trying his mobile four or five times, AND THERE BEING A PANDEMIC AT LARGE, I thought I can’t just work for the afternoon not knowing about ‘his condition’. His condition, after a quick check in with said father in law was apparently throwing up and a temperature. So I grabbed a cab home – it was still my lunch hour. Anyway said husband was propped up in bed noting ‘Oh, you’re home early.’

At which point I gave him a kiss and trotted back to work.

The following Thursday my protein breakfast was going down as normal when I noticed a text from my boss. He and his wife both had had flu symptoms which could be covid 19 so they would’t be in work and could I ‘phone so we could discuss the rota.

My mind jarred. I had worked pretty closely with my boss the previous day. I work in a workshop with a retail space where we give one to one consultations with customers. There was a large piece that we’d worked on together. At that point I can’t say social distancing was a thing we’d really got our heads around. We’d been discussing anti baccing surfaces, not sharing work phones anymore and pushing online sales in light of the recent pubs, bars and restaurants closures. But if he had got it, I honestly thought there was a good chance I had it too.

I asked my husband what he thought and we both agreed. I’d be happy to go in and work but not to have contact with the public. It didn’t even seem like a grey area although the NHS weren’t advising you to self isolate if you’d been working with a colleague who then became ill, just if it was someone you lived with. My concern was that I worked with the general public.

Apparently this wasn’t the answer my boss was expecting / needed to hear from his shop manager. His first priority was to the business that he’d built up and ultimately his, and our, livelihoods.

So I didn’t go to work and started 14 days of isolation.

My husband, we figured, could go out, as I hadn’t actually displayed any symptoms. He was already working from home for the charity he runs.

In less than a week, full lockdown of all non-essential businesses had been put in place.

I didn’t come down with any covid 19 symptoms.

Love in the Time of Covid #2 – Red Fox

covid 19, short stories

A note from the author – this isn’t a happy feelgood story. I would largely call it a future/horror. It was written before the current covid lockdown and I certainly haven’t gone out of my way to write evil stories in the current climate of uncertainty. If you’d rather not read it then close this chapter for now but if it’s your thing then strap in!

Lucy gripped the arms of her chair and stared straight ahead as the shaking started. She was ready for this. Aero-braking into the Martian atmosphere. Her eardrums were battered by the mass of the engine noise, the fluid in her eyeballs trembled and her entire core clattered against itself. The integrity of her body felt at stake like that of the Starship that had been her home for the past seven months. But still she looked forward, not wanting to miss a thing.

A vivid red wave of heat smashed into her retina as if Mars had entered her very soul. The craft lurched at an awkward angle as the windowless underside faced towards the planet to act as a heat shield and take the force of the red hot glow. There was one final Godzilla like impact as the engines fired again to slow its descent. And gradually, gradually the first transportation of genpops touched down on planet Mars.

Genpops, or the general population, were the first group of non-scientists, non-business, non-rich elite space tourists to move to Mars. They each had to red-pledge $1 000 000 for the priviledge. But this guaranteed them flight, food and a roof on Mars and companies were falling over them selves to fund future inhabitants to promote their own self interests.

Lucy was Mars mad. She had plopped into the world prematurely when her mother’s waters broke 7 miles over the Pacific on a flight to South Korea. So she well and truly regarded herself as a child of space. As a small kid she even refused to go outside without some sort of helmet fashioned from packaging or domesticity. One time, after carefully running the fish a bath, she boldly went where no one had gone before with an acrylic aquarium on her head. On another, whilst fashioning a washing up bowl with a bread knife, she very nearly took off her thumb and had to have it stapled back on at A&E. The scar of the staples formed a perfect ‘M’.

For Mars.


And her obsession never waned. She experimented for hours with her Dad’s 3D printer, coming up with ideas for space exploration and cutlery in equal measures. She even met Elon Musk and he gave her a grain of regolith encased in perspex. She held that small piece of martian top soil every day vowing that some day she would pick up her own piece of regolith. Fast forward to 2045 and she applied for sponsorship on Starship Pioneer. She made the grade and got the gig. A one way ticket to the red planet.

Her parents were both devastated and delighted. It had always been the unspoken yet inevitable future for Lucy.

She’d shared her Starship cabin with Cara, who could mesmerise the whole crew with her beautiful karaoke renditions but also ate really noisily. Lucy was amazed how the same mouth could produce two noises that were so different. Their most intense bonding was actually silent where they lay on their backs below the honeycomb windows filling the entire nose cone of the craft. They would grin like Cheshire Cats and absorb the light of so many stars it overpowered the eternal night. Their stillness in space was thrilling as they slid towards their swelling red lodestar ahead

They sat together now at the monumental touch down. In total there were eighty genpops all arranged in neat semi circles across three decks of the vertical Starship. There was nervous movement among the shiny helmets all air suctioned into their chairs with the force of an epoxy resin. The final release was euphoric and a massive silent cheer erupted like a muted volcano as people whooped and cried and laughed into their solitary helmets. She and Cara fist bumped with gloved hands. Cara turned on her comms first.

“One giant fist for mankind!” She said triumphantly.

“To infinity and way beyond!” Lucy retorted. “Come on space buddy!”

Four hours later, the pioneers, helmet free, were ready to take their first steps onto the red planet. Lucy and Cara were standing about thirty people back from the front of the queue and were aware of a commotion breaking out at the Starship’s exit. It sounded as if a voice outside was saying:

“Danger – beware the foxes!”

Lucy’s heart tightened ever so slightly. On the InstaMars platform they’d used on their journey, it was as if a glitch, every so often would show a foxes face. Then it would disappear and no more information. The more tech savvy of the pioneers had spent hours trying to hack into the programme and managed to isolate the image but couldn’t identify the source of the transmission.

The disruption at the front of the queue continued followed by a hollow thud to the door of the Starship from the outside.

“What is it do you reckon?” Said Cara straining to see down the line.

“I don’t know,” said Lucy, her index finger rubbing the scar on her thumb. “It’s weird he did seem to mention foxes and…”

They were interrupted as the doors of the Pioneer Starship slid open to reveal a larger than life showbiz character with massive gesticulating hands proclaiming:

“Hello – and welcome to Mars! My name is Rupert and I’m your mentor as you take your first steps in this historic chapter for humanity! Welcome aground! And – don’t trip over the boxes.” He seemed to add as an aside.

“Oh, boxes.” Said Cara raising an eyebrow to Lucy. Lucy was less convinced.

Rupert continued. He had the largest and whitest front teeth and incredible eyebrows that were curled up at the ends like a moustache would be. The man was impeccably manicured. Lucy was surprised there were such facilities available.

“Each of you will receive your Skydose to help your bodies adjust to the different conditions here on Mars. We can-not WAIT to get to know you all personally,” he massively over-emphasised. “Please – step this way!”

The expectant crowd surged forward. With a massive smile on his face he placed one of his unfeasibly large hands on a sensor and another door, ahead of the first, slid upwards and open with a comedy fart noise to accompany it. A wave of giggles wobbled the crowd. They should have been used to Elon’s sense of humour from the Starship but a fart noise rarely fails to amuse. Rupert dramatically spun round and headed through the door. “Mars awaits!” The tone of his voice sliced through the air and the new recruits eagerly followed his enchanting invitation.

The intrepid travellers filed through the first set of doors each receiving a small pin badge with their designation number and placing their thumb on a blue silicon pad which administered the skydose via a small prick to the skin. Lucy was thrilled with her designation, LZ0007919. Her initials and validation that she was, in fact, the 7919th person out of Elon’s million to set foot on Mars.

“Get me – a prime number!” She said to Cara

“You are such a geek girl!” retorted Cara throwing up her hands. “Hey, I think Rupert’s actually wearing a foxes tail!”

The second door opened out into a larger round room and it was full of people. People seemingly in fancy dress. But pretty splendid fancy dress at that. Really over the top stuff. Marie Antoinette, Cleopatra, and an almost naked Hercules. Rupert was indeed wearing a foxes tail and Cara grabbed it in her hand as they went past, stroking it and feeling the depth of the fur between her fingers as she ran her hand along it.

“I think it’s a real foxes tail!” she said in a hushed and slightly conspiratorial voice to Lucy, her eyes shining incredibly brightly and her face slightly flushed.

“Hey Rupert – I like your tail!” She said, slightly slurring, still holding the tip seductively between her index and middle finger. “We could make this bad boy work for us!” She put her other hand on Rupert’s chest as she rounded him to face him full on.

“Oh yes,” said Rupert, his eyes narrowing. “You’ll do nicely. Very nicely.”

Lucy staggered slightly. She’d felt a rush as soon as the jab had gone into her thumb. Now she felt a bit nauseous and made a grab for Cara’s arm. But Cara was besotted with Rupert who was already draping Cara over another younger guy dressed as some sort of highwayman. He swung her away like a rag doll, her feet barely making contact with the floor but under no protest. She flung her arms around him in fits of giggles grabbing his faux ponytail hard and biting his bottom lip as she was carried away.

Lucy fought back her gag reflex and tried to find something to hold onto. She looked up again. Rupert looked down at her.

“It’s not looking so good for you chicken.” He said, fastening a full on industrial respirator around his head. The central filter covering his nose was elongated into a furry snout, and he looked menacingly at her through two amber eye pieces. And he’d added a pair of ears. He cocked his head to one side. It was the head of a fox.

Her legs could barely hold her weight now and she was aware of a bitter almond stench in the air. She lurched forward but the crowd was surging in on a pulsating wave. Their big wigged heads were all she could see and more and more of them were now wearing the fox respirators. She wasn’t the only one. Other Genpops were being corralled with her. And she could hear the murmur of a chant:

“Foxes forever – genpops out! Foxes forever – genpops out! FOXES FOREVER – GENPOPS OUT!”

And then an explosion. From behind Rupert maybe ten helmeted individuals, in much more sensible Mars attire, stormed through an opening in the wall ripped through by the blast. They had weapons. One took an axe to Marie Antoinettes neck and half severed it grotesquely. A geyser of blood ejected like a mains water leak. She crashed vertically down to her knees like a perfectly demolished chimney, her deformed fox’s head slowly falling to the right.

The crusaders spread out into the room. Their surprise attack and There was utter pandemonium around Lucy. A huge pressure in her right ear from the explosion, and then a firm gloved hand clasped over her mouth and nose.

“Try not to breathe!” a woman’s voice said. But that was all she said as Rupert lifted a recycled door handle spear high above his head and brought it down with such force it splintered straight through her saviour’s helmet.

But Lucy didn’t see that because she’d already breathed too much.

She should have had a helmet on.

She felt Mars beneath her.

She touched her scar to her lips.

She’d made it to Mars.

With eyes closed, she watched Carl Sagan’s pale-blue dot through the honeycomb windows of the Starship getting smaller.

And smaller.

And smaller.

And smaller.

She’d made it to Mars.

Love in the Time of Covid#1

covid 19

Early in 2020, just as the Wholesale Seafood Market was being shut down in Wuhan, China, I was wondering how I could get more into writing.

Having wrestled my experience of heart bypass surgery into some kind of readable format, (, I realised I loved writing. I’d always loved writing poetry and stories at school but had a weirdly scientific mind and ended up doing Maths, Physics and Chemistry for A’Levels. I did blow my Physics teacher’s brain once when for homework, I wrote him a poem about mass spectrometry. He couldn’t fault the science it contained so I passed.

Throughout my heart operation, I was fascinated by other people’s reactions. Friends, family, acquaintances and medical staff. This wasn’t just happening to me, but affected them as well. Just as other people’s lives have an effect on our own. No man is an island. There’s always endless stuff to write about other people.

With ‘Ten past Six’ I thought maybe I could try and get it published. So I bought a book called ‘Writer’s and Artists Yearbook 2020’. It’s huge and covers everything you could want to know about getting published. Including the ‘Are You Ready to Submit’ flow chart on page 441 by literary agent, Ed Wilson. Sorry to use this without asking but it is brilliant. It asks, amongst other things, whether you have enough gin in the house. I spent the whole of last year not being ready (or really drinking gin), but now, in 2020, I felt I was – ready. We at least had tequila.

In the front of the book however was a short story competition. 2000 words, on any subject, to be handed in by 13th February 2020. I’d bought the book around April 2019 so had had a year to mull this over. In the meantime, in October 2019, I’d found a local competition for local people. This was for 4000 words which had to be based on one of three black and white old photos of Portsmouth. It also, thanks to the marvels of heritage funding, offered three free workshops on short story writing, of which I was a complete novice. A local lecturer and Portsmouth Library Poet in Residence, Amanda Garrie, inspirationally led us through character development, plot lines, the hero’s journey, writing styles, conflicts, media res, Kurt Vonnegut – I was pumped for this. Unfortunately I was so pumped and giddy with all these new ideas that my story was shit because I forgot to use my imagination. But the course was brilliant and I wanted more.

Luckily, I still had short story competition #2 and had known ages ago, what I wanted it to be about. My idea was that, in the future, Lucy would be a scientist travelling to Mars with some kind of rogue AI who would malfunction, killing everyone. Maybe the AI would then head back to Earth or Lucy could, herself, turn out to be an AI too.

The point was, I was well into Mars and had taken an interest in the Virgin Galactic developments for space tourism in the 2000s and more recently, the SpaceX project headed by Elon Musk. There’d been a feature on Sunday Brunch about an exhibition at the Design Museum in London about Living on Mars. Talk about immersive. I had properly spent 6 hours on Mars by the time I came out of that place. As far as a story about Mars went, I was living the dream!

So, as the first cases of coronavirus were reported in Europe then the UK, and WHO declared a global emergency (although not yet a pandemic) and named the new virus CO (corona) VI (viral) D (disease) 19 (the year it was first identified), Lucy did indeed make it to Mars only to be faced with a complete distopian society headed by the elite. Things did not go well.

And who’d have thought that the very elite I was basing my story upon would come to be making some very socialist real life decisions within a month of handing in my script?

Next blog – The Red Fox – Lucy’s Adventures on Mars.