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!

Purchasing

The current G4S Olympics debacle (can I use the word debacle, or have LOCOG been granted all the rights to it?) did make me wonder if at any time in the last 20 years (say), any UK government contract has been delivered on time, for the cost originally agreed and representing the entire scope of work specified in the contract?  I have a nasty feeling that the answer will be firmly in the negative.

I will admit that I am no expert in the field on purchasing – I still like to work within the Corinthian spirit of the amateur game – but I feel it is high time the government made the commitment to turn professional.

If my very cursory view of the story is even roughly correct, it would seem that G4S provided the lowest bid for security at the Olympics.  However, the actual cost charged by G4S will be many times higher than this (even with penalty payments).  This combination of events is not at all uncommon with poorly drafted contracts, the contractor is able to add significant charges for variations and changes in scope (charges that are now entirely free from the pressure of competition).  Even given this huge increase in the value of the contract, it seems that G4S are still unable to meet their contractual requirements and we have had to call in the public sector to bail them out (why do I find myself remembering about the Banks?  Who will bail out the private sector when the public one has been cut and privatised away?).  To be honest, I’m surprised we still have 3,500 people in the army and police combined, given the aggressive pruning of numbers that has been occurring: let alone that many with free time on their hands.  Presumably, as long as you steer clear of Stratford, now is very much the time to either (a) invade or (b) launch a crime spree – it all smacks of 1066 to me, I think we should keep an eye out for any boats leaving Normandy for the environs of Hastings.

I think I may have the solution to our current economic woes.  Rather than cutting people and services left, (mostly) right and centre, perhaps the government should invest some of the vast quantity of money we give it each year into recruiting some people who can draft and enforce a decent purchasing contract.  When I was younger, purchasing departments were staffed with hard-bitten (often Scottish) men (well, this was the 80s) who would have no truck with the idea that people or companies were essential good or honest.  All purchases were made on the basis of cast-iron contracts, with no wiggle-room for the vendor and swingeing penalties for non-delivery.  Whatever has happened to these fine folk?  Can none be tempted into a life of public service?  Given the amount of money being lost through the current appalling attempts at contracting, we can afford to pay these people the sort of salaries of which bankers and Premiership footballers can only dream – and still be quids in!  This G4S mess alone, if properly contracted, could have freed enough money to support tens of libraries for years to come.

A cynic might wonder if the fact that most of the government have never had a real job, or in the case of the cabinet much in the way of money worries, might be contributory factor? I also worry that the government thinks that the money it disburses (much of it very wastefully) is its own – rather than that hard earned by its less tax-savvy citizens and corporations.  Perhaps if ministers had to personally fund the extra cost caused by their contracting errors, they might take a little more care in drafting the contracts in the first place: if we are to be ruled by the fabulously wealthy, at least we would see some benefit from it!  Over time, my approach might see a switch from government by the rich to government by the competent: though sadly I can’t see this change coming about any time soon as the current incumbents seem unlikely to support its passage into law.