I don’t want to spur on sentiments of British exceptionalism or uniqueness, as I find that these pander to some of our more obnoxious stereotypes, such as empire and bangers and mash. Yet I can’t help but say that when it comes to the current coronavirus situation the behaviour of our country does feel a bit isolated. Up till yesterday evening, it seemed that our favourite wartime motto – Keep Calm and Carry On – was being adhered to just a bit too strongly. Obviously, it would be unfortunate if a civil war originated from two pensioners fighting over carrots in the veg aisle of Morrisons. However, until yesterday it felt like Britain was role-playing as Switzerland during the 1940’s; the rest of the world is on fire and we are just counting money.
It also doesn’t really help that the public response by most national leaders has been rather tepid. Boris Johnson’s speech can be summed up with Lord Farquaad’s rallying statement: “Some of you may die but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make”. Of course, this response is notably better than those of a few other national leaders: Trump referred to the disease, and he assures us that it wasn’t at all in a racist manner, as “the Chinese Virus”; Kim Jong Un simply had any infected people shot, which is admittedly more humane (and cleaner) than having them executed by mortar shell like last time; Putin has remained remarkably quiet on the matter which probably means he’s colluding with the virus to take down western democracy. All in all, I rate the global response a mediocre 5/10.
However, despite the uncertainties that are affecting our time, as a comedian I believe it is always important to find humour in a situation, no-matter how dire. Therefore, I have selected a few incidents that have made me laugh over the past two weeks to share with you all. Firstly, in a wave of what I can only call morbidly ironic fascination, Albert Camus’ landmark text La Peste (The Plague) managed to almost top Amazon.fr’s book charts before completely selling out. Seriously, this novel is now rarer than toilet paper. Secondly, in a turn of events that brings a whole new meaning to the term “lovesick”, a cheating husband who traveled to Italy to see his mistress managed to catch coronavirus whilst there. Moreover, in light of Italy being placed under total lockdown, Pornhub is currently offering all quarantined Italians their premium service for free. It would seem that, along with roads, all VPNs lead to Rome. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Plague Inc. devotees can now finally wipe-out humanity with a disease named after a beer rather than their ex-partner.
Of course, when it comes to the idea of quarantine itself, I can’t say that as an introverted writer I am not slightly looking forward to it. Finally, I have time to write my book and immerse myself in intrusive thoughts which the outside world can’t distract me from. I can also slowly work through my extensive reading list which up till now has been expanding relentlessly. Mary Beard’s SPQR has been eying me up for a while now, and any of Tolstoy’s works require more commitment and effort than teaching Prince Andrew to count past 16. I have also never read Fifty Shades of Grey all the way through – only the sexy bits.
Yet when I say that it is important to remain positive, I really do mean it. It is all too easy to focus on the negativity in the world, such as a few invalids hoarding 17,000 bottles of hand sanitiser to make a profit or Trump’s abhorrent xenophobia. But this pandemic has equally brought out some of the better aspects of humanity: John Boyne, the author of the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, has set up a short story competition for kids cooped up at home in Ireland; many of my university contemporaries offer free tuition to any kids hoping to take exams whose schools have closed down; I have witnessed extensive support networks set up over social media where people have offered to go out of their way to help complete strangers. I rarely say this due to the overwhelming cynic I am, but I have been genuinely touched by the courage and altruism of so many of my fellow citizens. So, let’s form a line, stand hand in hand and face this virus together (but remember to wash your hands to the tune of Happy Birthday before any physical contact).
Featured image by Abhi Sharma. Available on Flickr under Creative Commons License 2.0