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.