Letters 17.4.21

Going Viral

URBAN DICTIONARY is a crowdsourced online collection of slang word and phrases, whose motto is “Define Your World” (mine is a round planet).

Astonishingly, the editors are not allowed to edit entries for spelling or punctuation. I rest my kase. According to them, when something “goes viral” it spreads rapidly through a population by being frequently shared with a number of individuals. Does that sound familiar?

Do you recall where you were when you first heard the word coronavirus? 

There are supposedly certain events in most people’s lives that will always be memorable location-wise – for example, I was in London Zoo when Edna the Elephant trod on my foot, and I was in a plane en route to Dallas Love Field Airport, as it was then called, when President John F Kennedy was shot. I kid you not. Not much love in the air in Texas that Friday, even though the next day was my birthday. 

Coronavirus was first reported from Wuhan on December 31, 2019 – Happy New Year – and at first it seemed like faraway news, of no more importance than someone sneezing in a supermarket. Remember that?

It wasn’t even mentioned on television until January 12, as I was sitting at 5am on Sunday watching the news while eating cornflakes; you know what I mean.

Even in my sleepy state I was cheered by the assurance that it would be nothing like the SARS outbreak in 2003, which killed 700 people. They got that right, unfortunately. 

The trouble was, at this point in history, the world had become to a certain extent disease-blasé. Most known illnesses did what it said on the tin, inasmuch as they were known quantities and could be treated as such.

We were living in the age of creams and gels and ointments and lotions and potions and unguents. And Elastoplast – sticking plaster we used to call it – what innocents we were, it never stuck. You had a headache, you took an aspirin.  You suffered from indigestion, perhaps Gaviscon would cure it.

If you lost your mind, your wife could always buy a straitjacket. Life was much simpler then. 

No one told Covid-19, as it came to be called, the rules. The virus didn’t play fair. It was sneaky and furtive as well as everywhere and malicious.

Doctors in jungles in old B films used to sniff the soldier’s infected limb and say; “afraid it’s gangrene, old chap, that leg will have to come off”.

But coronavirus disease causes loss of smell, and nowadays both doctor and patient might die.  

But the news isn’t all bad. For the first time in our lives we can save mankind by sitting in front of the TV and ordering food online.

The ever-astute Germans are said to be stocking up on sausage and cheese for a Wurst Käse scenario.

Now that awful pun might merit a mention in the Urban Dictionary, what do you think?

David Aitken
via email

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