Bulletin From A Hot Zone

Christopher Fowler
The ramping of Covid-19 from mild flu to pandemic killing machine has taken a while in the UK, which was complacent after relatively few deaths and the national trait of bolshiness that encouraged street socialising. I suspect the PM's rather eerie 'Not Quite A Lockdown' speech has a hidden agenda. Since it is hopelessly unenforceable it's clearly there to act as a deterrent to those in certain parts of the country who are ignoring rules. Many of the invulnerable young appear to be behaving badly. I find myself surrounded by emerging stories, usually created by the combination of two unfortunately timed events; a neighbour who has died leaving his sick wife vulnerable, a niece with health problems in the middle of a difficult pregnancy, a midwife who needs an urgent operation, a builder who must work or lose his business and his right to stay in the country. My cleaning lady, who has been with me for 40 years, also works in a hospital, and the three members of her family live in three rooms. I'm paying her to stay home and protect herself but she sees it as her duty to at least continue at the hospital. And now I have joined that group of challenged individuals. I spent much of last week queueing in hospitals and doctors' surgeries, running from one cancelled appointment to the next, always ten minutes behind closing doors and changing deadlines. Eventually everything was cancelled as confused health workers, awaiting further instruction, shrugged and told me to go home. At any other time the need to organise serious emergency surgery would be straightforward. Now it's...challenging. Yesterday I went to hospital twice, once for an appointment that no-one had told me was cancelled, once to collect a prescription that nobody could find. As this massive nurturing system stretches, breaks and reconfigures itself there are inevitable stress fractures. A star emerged; my new young NHS GP, who feared I was slipping between the cracks and began plugging the gaps in services. He called me several times yesterday to check on my wellbeing because he felt it essential that I could see a way forward and not feel hopeless - this from a man working in an overwhelmed service. He's promised my tests will be combined to form
a full prognosis.
I'm assuming it's a good sign that it will arrive on my birthday. Meanwhile, I need to isolate - but hospital trips mean exposure, from getting there to waiting in packed wards. Food shopping yesterday was fine but crowded; UK shops are not built for distancing. Compromises inevitably have to be made. My neighbour, just returned from Singapore, found that the country let her in without testing, and she's on her own cognisance to isolate. The message is; Look after yourself - the government will try to help. It's not quite the nanny state we once knew. Meanwhile, already compromised by my age and pre-existing conditions, I await emergency surgery at the soaring zenith of an epidemic. Not something worth thinking too deeply about when you're a writer of worst-case scenarios. My solution; to open a bootle of the good wine and start writing like a son of a bitch . Perversely, London is having the most beautiful spring it has ever experienced. Without planes in the skies or the heat of people and urban industry every day is a clear-skied blaze of turquoise glory, forcing buds to bloom and filling the streets with the kind of snowdrifts of pink cherry blossom you associate with Japan. (A massive number of cherry trees were planted because their urban and hardy and grow fast.) The air is clean, the light Mediterranean. Looking out, you'd almost think it was a normal day.


Martin Tolley (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 10:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Best wishes Mr F. As well as you can, keep safe and sane.

mrobertson (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 10:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Dear Author

Locked Down in San Diego, demographic'd among those of Trumplandia's expendable 2.5% Solution for economic growth and metastatic rule.

Meanwhile - flowers everywhere, raucous parrots, brutal blue sky and not-so-pacific ocean - listening again to Bryant & May everything (brilliantly voiced by Tim Goodman) while subduing the shrubberies.

You have offered us much complicated joy.

May you fare well.

/mark & paula - san diego ca

Christopher Fowler Tue, 24/03/2020 - 11:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My very first trip to America was to San Diego. It remains the city by which I measure all others.

Allyson (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 11:21

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I'm sending good thoughts your way. My husband and I are working from home (normal for him, unbelievably strange for me). Re-reading some Bryant & May, plus some Rivers of London. Humor definitely helps and I thank you.

Peter Tromans (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 12:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Best wishes. Combining interventions is good, but can, from my experience of a hernia and a large polyp, lead to conflicts in the recovery process.

Thanks to policies of economic efficiency and generalised saving up, our services, from the NHS to Heathrow airport, operate at 99 % capacity under normal conditions. It's fine until the system hits a small disturbance. Then everything goes to pot and the only way out is a massive effort.

Peter Dixon (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 12:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This reminds me of the Rich Little routine where he says: In America a cop shouts 'Stop or I'll shoot!' but in Britain a policeman shouts 'Stop or I'll.....shout Stop again!'.
The public think that advice is meant for everyone except themselves - its for people in council houses and the unemployed, not real people with conservatories and a double garage.
The sheer stupidity of people packing tube platforms in the city with the highest contagion levels beggars belief.

One simple act of reflection is to watch (or listen to) Hancock's 'Sunday' episode. Back in those days we had almost total lockdown for a day a week with not a shopping centre, computer game or iPhone to relieve the monotony. We had Sunday Night at the London Palladium with Lenny the Lion, The Bachelors and bloody Bruce Forsyth. On the radio we had Two Way Family Favourites with Jean 'Hello BFPO 49' Metcalfe and the bloody Clitheroe Kid.

As Alan Partridge pointed out: 'Sunday Bloody Sunday, it certainly was'.

Lyn Jackson (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 13:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You are in a terrible situation, I hope everything improves for you very soon.
On a lighter note, how is it possible to have the same cleaning lady for 40 years!?

Bob Low (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 13:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Look after yourself. We've never kept a cleaner for more than about a year, and the last one tried to kill us, but that is another story............

Ben M (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 14:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I prefer the younger doctors, they haven't had their enthusiasm battered out of them by the system yet. Let's hope your saviour can resolve the issue.

Liz Thompson (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 14:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good luck, all the best, and stay safe! If writing keeps you sane, reading works for me. Local networks of communal support springing up here in Leeds. And bless all those taxi and private hire drivers offering to take people for 'click and collect' pick ups, and taking NHS staff free or at big discounts. There's good folk out there, as well as selfish pillocks.

Brian Evans (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 14:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Nice one Peter! Though you missed out "The Navy Lark" which I rather liked. It still stands up well.

Good Luck Mr F. It will work itself out. Look on the bright side-you have a lovely flat to get stuck in.

I have just had a hospital test cancelled for Thursday due to you know what.

Jo W (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 16:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh, Chris, you have all our sympathy. Alan and I both wish you well, as soon as can be and to reinforce that,we will open a 'bootle' later and drink to your health. ;-(

Debra Matheney (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 16:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My husband came home to find our cleaner passed out on our bed having indulged in our booze. The woman who recommended her to us then told us, "I forgot to tell you she drinks."

Take care everyone. If Trump has his way we will all be back at work next week. America, such an unscientific place.

Bless your doctor, and be safe, Christopher.

Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 18:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Someone has just done a survey that shows 20% of Canadians think the whole thing is over hyped and have no intention of complying with distancing or isolating. Should we be grateful it's only 20% or insist on roving police patrols to enforce the regulations?
Advice here is to relax as much as possible, find indoor activities that you enjoy and think positively. For you that sounds like writing. I hope it works and that your young GP, bless him, is able to bring it all together for you. Enjoy the blue skies and the cherry blossoms.

eggsy (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 18:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

All the best, Mr Fowler. Fingers (and whatever else) crossed. The mix of admin failure and incredibly dedicated individuals is familiar from my mother's travails. Personally, I am fortunate enough to be able to avoid healthcare like the, er, plague....

On the matter of the tube - had the infamous pictured service been cut back, thus concentrating passengers? And how many of them were key workers?

I'm glad I am (rather laughably) a key worker, and not self employed or on zero hour contract...

Denise (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 20:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My hospital appointments have been canceled, the are to monitor me from there. Good luck on that as I have my phone off most of the time, so the data can't be sent from my loop recorder to the hospital.

Brooke (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 20:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Debra. Only unscientific? Junior senator from KY suspects he is infected--and goes swimming, conducts meetings.

Roger (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 20:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Get well! Ihope your friends and relatives come out well.
Covin-19 went through the Britiish disaster ritual - "It's too small to worry about" to "It's too late now!" - in record time. One problem is having Al Du Pfeiffel and his chums making the speeches. It's history repeating itself as not-very-good farce.
I'm in the lethal area as far as age goes, but in excellent physical health and have two very aged friends to shop for. I give the "special ring" and leave the food and scurry away.
On the other hand, I can bring myself to get up and go for a walk along the river - plenty of room to get well away from everyone else on the way, not that there is anyone - which gives me some perpective. Does it really, cosmically speaking, matter...? A bit like Nietzsche: "There've been many nights when the only thing that stopped me killing myself was thinking about suicide."

"Many of the invulnerable young appear to be behaving badly."
Not many, I think: a small number, I think, hyped up. In some ways I can't blame them. We - the old, generically - grabbed what we could get and left them the crumbs and despised them for their ingratitude for them.

Peter Tromans (not verified) Tue, 24/03/2020 - 21:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Brooke, but he's a politician, a very important person.

I also remember George Formby films on Sunday afternoon TV. The only key workers were newspaper sellers and they all went home before midday, probably to listen to the Navy Lark and watch Formby. The out of tune church bell from across the street forced us out of bed in the morning, but to do what?

Wayne Mook (not verified) Wed, 25/03/2020 - 01:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

At least the pubs opened part of the day on Sunday, the afternoon break meant many came home only to go out again after dinner.

Hope it all gets sorted out asap Chris.

I've been off, but I am back in work on Friday (It appears I've had the mild 19.) again I'm a key worker, looking forward to going back in. (Who said you can't do sarcasm online.) Although it will interesting to see how empty the streets will be.

Good luck with writing too.


Jan (not verified) Wed, 25/03/2020 - 12:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Feel proper guilty that I vented into the next post along....can't check your blog everyday at present Chris.

This stretched system will manage in the end because young people like your top sounding doc will make the effing thing work as best it can.

Keep chugging along. Best Jan

Brooke (not verified) Wed, 25/03/2020 - 12:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wayne, be well and take good care of yourself.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Wed, 25/03/2020 - 15:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wishing you all the best.

Davem (not verified) Wed, 25/03/2020 - 16:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

All the best Chris ... stay strong

Wayne Mook (not verified) Thu, 26/03/2020 - 02:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks Brooke, it looks like I'll be home working longer than I bargained for. Se post o next page.

Good wishes and thoughts to everyone.


Ian Luck (not verified) Fri, 27/03/2020 - 03:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I did read somewhere that this Covid-19 virus has possibly been about in China since last August, and paid a visit here over Christmas time. I, and other people had a stubborn cough and 'chestiness', which made me feel like an old man (I don't know why - I certainly couldn't eat a whole one) through the end of January and well into February. I'm clear as a bell now, but you can't help wondering...

Jan (not verified) Sat, 28/03/2020 - 08:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well if that was in fact the case Ian you'll be in theory fairly safe now but you CAN'T rely on this.Could have been a totally unrelated bug.

Because of your lifes pattern your lifestyle being a night worker therefore limited opportunities for interactions you are in a pretty good place.

Just keep chugging along as you've written before this is not a massive change for you. That's the same for a surprising number of folk.

Ian Luck (not verified) Sun, 29/03/2020 - 10:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Jan - I'm not. It's just it was like a cold but not. I have never had influenza, either so I can't use that to gauge. It was just very chesty, and it felt like my batteries were running down. I feel great now, though, and enjoying being able to smell how fresh the air is, as I cycle to and from work. If I'm not working, I like to go out in the garden, and take long exposure pictures of the night sky - usually, these will be criss-crossed with tiny red fireflies where airliners have flown over (I live under a stacking area), but now, nothing. I take a cup of tea outside, sit, and listen to the night. One night, all I could hear, was the amusingly awkward sound of furiously rutting hedgehogs...: )