I cannot continue with my Dionysius debate until Dan’s with me and he’s coming to London later today to go see Jude Law as Hamlet with his sister Portia. I got the tickets because Portia adores Jude and I thought that it might be the only way she would ever agree to see Hamlet. Her mother still hasn’t forgiven me for taking her to see Jonathan Miller’s Hamlet (and I cannot remember who played Hamlet but it certainly wasn’t Jonathan Price’s, which is still limned inside of me) at the Warehouse when the temperature soared to over 40C. She only remembers that everybody wore grey and it put her off Shakespeare for life. I hope the Wyndhams Theatre has air conditioning because it’s already very hot this AM. We have tickets for row B of the stalls and I’m hoping that being that close to Jude will console Portia for so many words, words, words.
This flu thing makes me laugh: the government wanted us to believe they had it under control, a Confine and Contain policy, and that the flu line was set up and ready to go when it was and probably still is in an uneducated digital shambles. If the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus HPAI ever takes off we will anyhow get mortally caught in our own man-made lines. (However what does not seem to be publicly discussed is that the Spanish flu of 1918 was also, like swine flu , an H1N1 virus which started mild enough but in its second coming it killed – at the most modest estimate – 40 million people.)
The people, if not the viruses, the government bullied into their control were the GP’s who – for possibly the first time ever – were to begin with forbidden to write a prescription at their own discretion, in this instance for Tamiflu. If the doctors had bothered to read the bullyings of changing instructions in the daily communications from the Department of Health they would not have had any time to see a patient. The idea that flu can be contained is ridiculous, it has the unknown potential for a more devastating killer energy than any terroristic attack and those who are really in control of our health and safety in this country have known this for a long time. Not to begin to speak about the pharmaceutical companies.
Flu flirts. Flu looks like one thing and then becomes another. Most people say they have flu when they have a feverish cold but anybody who’s had a proper dose of any seasonal flu will remember that it’s probably the viral illness that has made them feel closest to death. I can recall a description in one of Jane Smiley’s books where the mother might as well have been dead for three weeks. Most of us only experience the real thing once, rarely twice in our lives, but I remember when I got it in the last epidemic: I lay in bed for a week without eating or moving and if anybody had told me the house was on fire I wouldn’t have had the strength to move. That was in 1989 when flu was responsible for 23,046 deaths in the UK.
It’s intriguing to see how differently people’s defenses operate under threat and how most of us split into two camps: those who believe that they are invincible and have faith in the government and the medical profession to take care of us, and those of us who don’t think but know that if the benign swine was to mutate into its avian cousin some of us, if not too many of us, would be done for by Mother Nature’s fickle hour. A flu pandemic won’t and can’t be contained, and it’s not interested in rank or riches, although age does seem to be a consideration, and when it strikes it can only be endured.
None of the doctors I knew were worried this time around, even though I was to begin with. One of my doctor friends, who is one of the most devoted GP’s that I know, spent one day early in May, when the Mexico stuff was still baffling, besieged by female patients in premature and hysterical terror about their families. By the end of a day when yet another patient had appealed for reassurance that he would take good care of her if the worst was to happen, he heard himself, and not without some degree of shame, shouting ‘For heaven’s sake don’t you realize that if the worst does happen I shall probably be dead long before you.’
Flu can be a trickster and a tease but when push comes to shove it is indifferent to life If that pathogenic virus HPAI decides to get going across Asia over the summer it wont make much difference which camp we fall into. I think the culture out of which we decide whether to adopt a naive optimism, or negative pessimism, depends on whether on not we have suffered premature bereavement in life. For those of us who have loved and lost in a too untimely way, we already know that those bolts from the blue, or Fate, or God’s unconscious, are more powerful than Life. All we can do is to watch and wait. Or pretend that everything will always end up being OK. I’ve just remembered how – many years ago – Milan Kundera attacked humanity for its inhumanity to other animals, was it in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and now it seems an irony that these viruses incubate a revenge in the dark heart of animal abuse.