Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The New Epicenter

I've been thinking of my sister and nephews who live in Kent
They've been in lockdown, it seems, ever since the start of Lent
Last year's, that is, the start of that long winter
Of dread and distancing and social dilemma
And now, as isolation stretches out for just over a year
They've been facing life under the most restrictive tier
The fourth one, the hastily manufactured one
Imposed just a few days before the third English national lockdown

They'd gone from the original traffic light schemes
To other mixed metaphors and coded rainbow regimes
Ten long years of austerity had left the NHS crushed
The ground was prepared by the hostile environment and Windrush
The confusion over changing definitions of support bubbles?
This is what you invite when you keep voting for Tory trouble

She's a nurse, so had early warning at the outset
About the grievous lack of personal protective equipment
What was it the bard said about discontent?
A prophecy of life with the new variant.

Their home is not too far from the new epicenter
Revealed, belatedly, to the general public this past December
Although there was fair warning from researchers back in September
Mutations were expected given the inconsistent public health measures

The Greenwich Meridian runs prime through Delay-Deny Road
The dithering pathway to all manner of grief, and deaths untold
There was a temporary detour through Eat Out to Help Out Alley
But the protective barriers at the Furlough Scheme Bypass were dismantled prematurely

Think of those truckers who spent the twelve days of Christmas
Stranded on the way to the port of Dover, some slept on the tarmac
The Sikh community nearby rallied to provide crackers and soup
And, eventually, some portable toilets
   were procured for the inevitable poop
Stuck in motorways and a dreary airfield as tensions boiled over
An early taste of life after Brexit, this pointless disorder
Despite reassurances from the hapless Minister,
(Gove, Shapps or Hancock was it?)
Nothing is remotely close to being "match fit"

That scoundrel Mister Johnson claimed to speak with a heavy heart
At that phrase, one should advisedly check one's pockets
Lock down any spare change, and advise your daughters
For, even as he gives that signature, dismissive, and nonchalant shrug
There's always an angle
   with He of the Studied Disheveled Pose from Eton
For any hint of sincerity bespeaks the grifter's insufferable ambition

I fear for my family, harried and burdened,
They've lost their sense of delight and wonder
It's all about raw survival, I guess, is the lesson
I don't envy Her Majesty's subjects in these matters
To quote Evelyn Waugh's warning and bleak insight,
Remember: "Charm is the great English blight".

The excess mortality figures belie the competency claptrap
And the mealy-mouthed talk about leveling up
I guess the cheerleaders who foisted all these bitter pills
From prorogation on, skipped town, leaving us to foot the bill

The rabid allies in the yellow media,
Call them the Murdoch Industrial Complex,
Are counting on fatigue, if not induced amnesia,
To erase the lasting traces of this covidious mess.
Wolves in bigots' clothing,
They now rely on the Fixed Term Parliament Act
To give them enough room for breathing
To craft a narrative for their next act.

london bridge tower glory

Still, no matter the scapegoat or scenario conjured up,
No matter how misbegotten
I assert that none of these dead bodies
Will ever be forgotten
The wound is too deep, moreover the futility rankles
That, by neglect, these rogues condemned Grandma
   or perhaps your favourite Uncle

If you're lucky, your last hours are spent in an ambulance in a parking lot
No specialized breathing apparatus, medical care is scattershot
And forget about the American President's experimental treatment
In a overcrowded hospital in Maidstone,
   you'll be lucky to get to the basement
This is the second hospital,
   they'd first driven you to the Tunbridge Wells Trust
But you were turned away like that family who ended up in the manger,
   it was a bust
By definition, you'd already lost the race
   between the vaccine, social distancing
And the virus. And with low oxygen supply,
   your care is now subject to strategic rationing

Speechless, you might blink your eyes, if you can still manage that,
Morse code to your brethren over that last video chat
They wave, sob silently, and mouth they miss you as you expire
The electronic beeps in the background
   that punctuate your labored breathing
The tangle of wires you're hooked up to as your chest is heaving
The dire sound, the spasm and the quickening
   - everyone is wearing face masks
As your body gets colder, you frantically snatch your last gasp
Of air. The emergency room technician, shell-shocked and overworked
Is the one who now gets to perform the last rites, you see,
It's not much unlike a closing ceremony
With less pomp, but also the obligatory paperwork (bureaucracy)
Thankfully these days there's a rugged tablet for data entry
But the buggy contractor software
   occasionally necessitates a reboot (sigh)
He codes you out, noting the time, and stops the clock
And quickly makes to preserve the depleted oxygen stock

And then the ignominious exit that rounds out the story
The casual disposition of your dead body
Sometimes there's a pile up at the doors of the nearby mortuary
As in life, so in death, there's a queue, it's the eternal village of waiting
"There's no whimsy or light anymore", my sister reports,
   "it's disheartening"
No wonder there's considerable attrition
Nurses are in short supply,
   so funereal has become the medical profession
Pity the health service, its staff are under extreme pressure
Forced to triage, major incidents declared, and other exigencies
No time for a cup of tea even, there's not a moment for leisure

Meanwhile, there was no scrutiny over the procurement contracts
Hastily doled out to bosom friends and rogue acquaintances
With no prior experience nor indeed competence
A WhatsApp message after dinner, old boy, nudge-nudge wink-wink
And then they have the unmitigated gall to aver, with special pleading,
That their abandoned app, and test and trace roll out, is world beating

Keep calm and carry on, stiff upper lip, and thanks for all the fish
Save it for when you smugly explain that jaunt to Barnard Castle
It was Malcolm Bradbury who said about "the English,
They have the most rigid code of immorality in the world."

back view

The sirens draw nearer, they wax and wane
You start to ignore those omens of pain
Eventually you're drawn to other sights in the city
The trail walks and routines in the new normalcy
You second guess every interaction for the risk of exposure
Defend in depth, you erect many protective measures
Still, will your son run unprompted to hug his friend he hasn't seen
For ten months and thereby breach the family's quarantine?
The pandemic dictionary predicts that a support bubble
Is destined to be pierced, and cause no small amount of trouble
The optimal strategy, unsatisfactory as it may be, is to retrench
Like the old man who lives in the park and sleep under your metaphoric bench
The best advice is to retreat to your minimal social unit
Lest you be placed as the song goes, in the thick of it

hampstead view

"How worried are you about the new variant?"
Asked the earnest and expectant BBC reporter
Her look betrayed no small amount of dismay
At this strain "originally detected in the UK"
The bespectacled epidemiologist from Baltimore
Shrugged, he'd just been informed of the furor
On the front line in West Texas, not too far from Abilene
Some healthcare workers were balking at the Moderna vaccine
Refusing the jab and staking their lives on hydroxychloroquine.


The names are well known by now, we recall the dire scenes
First Wuhan, Lombardy, New York City and Tennessee
But your time will come, whether in Iowa or South Dakota
The spike protein attack doesn't discriminate among actors
And, yes, wishful thinking is not a capable detractor
Nay, it only haunts when you're at the epicenter
Ruing the misplaced efforts challenging mask mandates in the courts
A signal moment of clarity, if not buyer's remorse
If it helps, think of the virus as a moveable feast
Or, anthropomorphized, a roving menace and churlish beast
That preys on the cracks in the cement of society
Observe well the correlation of its impact with inequality
It doesn't bear thinking about the ineptitude and dysfunction
Let alone the catastrophic public health intervention

About the only consolation is the knowledge that this too shall pass
And that other communities will one day graduate from this trying class
I know that in my current home in Texas, I can see already the signs
It was the good Doctor Fauci who said: "The virus sets the timeline".

Humanity knows no boundaries, it's about the Mosquito Principle
I've said it before, social living should be the abiding principle

I, for one, am resigned for another year at least of this sorry chapter
But I miss my family now living at ground zero in the new epicenter


The New Epicenter, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

See also six weeks later: The Shape of Dread

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time.

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