An Age of Miracles

I have recently walked the mile-or-so to and from a branch of Boots located in a retail park next to a dual carriageway. In some ways, a more banal and unexciting excursion can scarcely be imagined: though I guess were I to have previously travelled from even the slightly distant past I would have seen apparent marvels even on this mundane journey.

However, the purpose of this excursion was to receive something quite extraordinary, in some ways little short or miraculous: a vaccine to a novel virus which burst onto the world stage little more than a year ago. Universities and Big Pharma, quite rightly, come in for a lot of flack but they are capable of truly astounding scientific feats working together. It felt oddly pleasing that the development of my particular dose of vaccine took place at my alma mater, though I suspect not by the maths department: then again, mathematics is embedding itself ever more deeply in biology and so perhaps it did have a finger in the pi. It is also rather appealing that the vaccine name is abbreviated to AZ, which gives it a vibe of completeness in the protection that it offers.

I can’t help feeling that this model of profiting from the provision of drugs that serve a global need is a rather better one for a pharmaceutical industry to pursue than its current focus of much of its efforts on making marginal changes to existing drugs to extend or bypass patents or in the creation drugs of frankly questionable benefit to anyone. Clearly, the main burden of any profits should fall on rich countries who can afford it to encourage future risk-taking to find drugs of genuine importance to humanity. This would seem a much better use of taxpayers money than most of the COVID “efforts” of the current UK government who would be in for the godmother of all bollockings, shortly prior to being handed their P45 with extreme prejudice, if they worked in any purchasing department that my long and not especially illustrious career has exposed me to.

With a modified and weakened adenovirus sloshing round my body, there is a glimmer of hope of spending time with friends in both the flesh and a pub or, whisper it who dares, at a gig! Prior to March 2020, I had never imagined that I would miss close proximity to the sweaty bodies of other humans but apparently I do: longing for the sweet scent of someone else’s BO…

Having achieved hit my half-century (in the currently unfashionable base 11) a few scant days ago, my jabbing represents one of the first advantages of antiquity (well, if we ignore the fact that the past is a foreign country where they have much lower house prices). Roll on my bus pass and wearing purple!

As part of the process, I received a set of “notes” on my ChAdOx1-S. I found reading the “contents” of my dose somewhat awe inspiring. I understand many of the words and concepts given and so have some idea of the understanding of some of the complex, biochemical processes of life (and viruses) that it implies in the creation of the 50,000,000,000 viral particles that are now my house guests. Apparently, it also includes 0.002mg of alcohol and so I have decided that it is not safe for me to work this afternoon. There is also a fascinating list of potential side-effects for me to anticipate. However, as I had a fairly serious personal training session this morning it is going to prove quite tricky whether to blame the vaccine or my strange ambition to join the circus for many of these.

Many of my contemporaries report feeling quite emotional upon receiving their injection but, despite being more than willing to cry at the opening of an envelope, I have (so far) been curiously unemotional. Still, I am jolly impressed (not to say astonished) that we have reached this point and doff my cap to the many, many underpaid people who have made it happen. It felt only right and proper upon my return home to bung a few quid at COVAX so that more people can enjoy a similar experience and the same future benefits.

This afternoon’s events have been by far the most earth shattering in the last 48 hours of my humdrum existence: for the second time in a month, I was indoors with other people and not expected to buy anything! On both occasions a needle was involved, one for a withdrawal and today’s for a deposit. However, such is the state of my brain (or its remnants) that I remain more excited – for now – about two far more mundane recent achievements. Yesterday, having stood stationary relative to the street for a good two months, I decided my car needed to move before its new super-battery died. It may not have a cloak or any tight-fitting lycra but the new battery started my car without even a moment’s hesitation. To reward it, and the car, I give it a little run up to Chilworth Asda and bough it a slap up tank of petrol.

Today, I finally managed to organise a regular cleaning schedule for the windows of my flat (or their outer faces) by a chap who does it properly, i.e. with a ladder, bucket and sponge-and-squeegee combo. I have no truck with the modern vogue for some sort of brush on a long stiff hose waggled about from the ground (though clearly do approve of the prospects for double entendre this offers). I like my windows cleaned with an element of life-threatening risk for the artisan involved. I will admit that I am slightly squeamish about actually watching a man face death by the sudden conversion of gravitational potential energy into blunt force trauma but I do like to know it has happened (the cleansing not the BFT). As a result of his derring-do, I can know both see out more clearly and how much of the filth falls to my account to remove. For this first session, I resisted giving the poor chap my quite creditable rendition of When I’m Cleaning Windows by the rather splendid George Formby on my ukulele. He cannot expect to escape this form of serenade indefinitely…

After this incredible catalogue of achievement, I feel I may take the rest of the week (month?) off. If a justification is required, I shall roll a 1d20 and select a random side-effect from the table of outcomes provided. I see no reason why my dungeon mastery should not extend from Generic Fantasy Landia into the soi-disant real world!

Digit shortfall by 2030?

Fear not, there is no imminent prospect of running out of numbers.  To the best of my knowledge, there are no immediate plans to cut eight from the available digits as a cost-saving measure nor to sell nine to a shady Russian billionaire to keep the economy afloat for a few more milliseconds.  Then again, looking at the current government and the roster of pantomime villains vying to become its titular head, you may have heard it here first: the future is bright, the future is octal!

J Alfred Prufrock, or at least his chronicler (on his behalf), counted out his life in coffee spoons.  I don’t drink coffee and so have little use for such single purpose cutlery.  Worse, due to what I am forced to assume is an administrative error, I have been forced to chronicle my own life.  So, I use a range of alternative metrics to count out my life (briefly ignoring the possibility that it is a continuous process and so intrinsically uncountable) but this post will focus on just one of these.

Since the second half of the 1980s, I have been giving blood on a somewhat regular basis.  If I’m honest, it is the only one of the fluids produced by my body for which I have found a ready market: others are available and are priced (I like to think) competitively.  There have been gaps in my donations caused by my own organisational failures, a few caused by illness and, in more recent years, those caused by the slower pace at which my body seems able (or at least willing – I fear my laziness is very deep-rooted) to replenish its stocks of haemoglobin.  I’m not sure if this last is down to age, lifestyle or the greater frequency with which I am now permitted to donate: and I do like a lie-down and free bikkies (especially if I can convince myself that these activities are somehow selfless).

Last week, a year’s worth of low-haemoglobin-related time on the bench came to an end and I made my triumphant return to the first XI: my blood falling confidently through the copper sulphate (aq) to ensure my recall.  As a result, I was able to take my place on the reclining blue throne and a proportion of my blood was able to escape – via a needle – in the hope of a better life in a new host.  As I lay back ex-sanguinating, I had a few scant minutes of recumbency to consider the changes I’ve seen over the past 30+ years to the system that are set up around the giving of blood.  Much has changed over the years: I can remember the days of loose biscuits, being allowed a full lie down and (maybe) my arm being given nothing more than a quick wipe with an oily rag before the needle was inserted.  These days there are much stronger systems in place, with even the wiping of the arm timed electronically to ensure it is properly clean (or at least is two minutes worth of clean).

When, after five minutes or so, the needle is removed, the donor is expected to press down a small cotton pad on his fresh perforation as he waits for fibrin, platelets and their fellow surfers of the crimson canal to do their work and coagulate to seal the breach.  I’m sure in the early days, this involved one finger and am confident that this became two fingers and then three fingers.  Last week, I was required to use three fingers and my thumb to apply suitable pressure.  At the current rate of escalation, all my available fingers will be fully committed to preventing me from bleeding-out by 2026.  By the early 2030s, I will need a friend, small Dutch boy or suitable robot companion, to lend their phalanges to guarantee sanguinary containment.

Despite the risky practices of the early years, I have survived – and last week marked my 98th time in the chair.  In the absence of any stronger drivers, I found myself with a strong incentive to remain among the quick for the next eight months (or thereabouts) to enable me to hit my century and bask in the polite applause of the audience and from my team-mates back in the pavilion (and a telegram from Nimue?).

While one is lying back and thinking of a geopolitical entity of one’s choice, my thoughts turned to the short-lived Septinsular Republic, screens relay the horrors of daytime television to the captive audience.  As I bled into a bag last week, it was one of these shows where a wealthy couple are shown round very expensive houses in a rural setting in a form of filmed estate agency which I will freely admit I would not have predicted.  This appeared to follow all the usual tropes of such a programme – so far as I could tell via five minutes of inattention – but was rather local, the search being conducted near Lymington.  I was struck that I had never visited Lymington, nor its environs, and probably ought to do something about this at some stage: as they are (by timetable at least) less than 30 minutes away by train.

Normally, we could now all go off and live our lives for a couple of decades before I brought this tiny blastocyst of a plan to term and was in a position to report back.  However, in an unexpected development – which perhaps gives a modicum of hope to procrastinators everywhere (though I lost interest in crastination once it lost its amateur status and big money started pouring into the game from questionable sources) – I actually went to Lymington on Saturday.  The town itself is nice enough and certainly boasts houses only available to the very rich.  Interestingly, it also exists in a super-position of being both over- and under-provisioned with car parking.  However, it is as one strolls away from the town and along the sea defences towards Keyhaven that the true beauty of it as a destination are revealed.  Glorious views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight are granted to the idle saunterer, while the adjacent marshes played host to a greater variety of birds than I have had the joy of seeing and hearing for many years.  They also played host to my first, definite sighting of an avocet (and my second).

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Needles that don’t require a trigger warning (but may require magnification)…

So, an unexpected bonus to counting out my life in major ex-sanguination events: activity ideas!  Even better, given my desire to find thematic unity,  n experience with a needle led to me enjoying a view of the Needles!  Now, I just need to get a version of (N)YTMG screened to those needle-tethered to their chairs and maybe we can get some people to donate their whole bodies to the city’s cultural riches…