Of mutants, past & present

News of the new variant, the mutant, has careered into our humdrum existences. Just as we were getting used to living entirely out of doors, never going to the theatre, never listening to live music, news from the “hiheejins” (as the Scots call the experts and politicians) is that “the English” have accidentally mutated the virus to make it even more transmissible, potentially through giving blood plasma containing COVID antibodies to someone whose immune system was so severely compromised that it only served to show the enemy how “healthy” people fight it, and the virus was then able to practice getting round those defences over and over again in someone who had no fight left in them.
Man vs nature. Nature wins again.

Unsurprisingly news of a mutant spike protein has sent my anxiety spiking. Never when you are awake though Fintry, only after you go to sleep. All day long, we hold it together with painting, PVA glue, stickers and Play dough, and then I begin to unravel with wine while you are in the bath, and once you are asleep, I am free to have a nice panic attack which loves to play out as COVID symptoms, which I am usually able to quell with a bit more white wine, a scroll through Facebook and a few deep sighs.

That said, I have had a good few days. I have been staying out of the supermarkets and have just invested in some good quality masks to replace those homemade masks festering in the car. 

I went to Shawlands this morning. It was raining. The snow has gone and Glasgow’s infamous grey skies are back – though there is talk of the snow returning. 

Shawlands was deserted, except for the old man and old woman in Sainsbury’s, both with their big noses hanging out of their masks. It’s clear that the message is still not clear enough: this is an airborne disease. You can wash your hands as much as you like, but you are mostly likely going to catch in from breathing it in. There is no way it would spread so easily if it was all about touch. But that was the message at the start. “Wash your hands,” stupid Boris said over and over. “Wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday and you will be fine.” And then he ended up in ICU and we all held our breaths while he couldn’t breathe. 

The poetry of this pandemic plays out in my mind day after day. We are choking the planet with our carbon emissions, choking the birds and the fish with our microplastics, and now the planet is choking us back. The virus takes our breath away and we have to be pumped with pure oxygen to have any hope of surviving. 

I read an article describing what it was like to wear a C-PAP mask. “Like hanging your head out of the window of the car on the motorway, for hours on end.” I have done that for a few seconds. It’s awful. Dogs like it. Humans don’t. 

It was a good article – in The Times – written by a junior doctor, who was explaining how hard it is to be a doctor right now, not just because of the long hours and the personal fear of disease, but because you can’t make people better. There is no quick fix, just tending them, nursing them, helping them while their immune systems do or don’t overcome the illness. And in the worse case scenario, their immune systems overcome the person rather than the virus, and there is nothing to be done. 80,000 dead now in the UK. Close to 2 million in the world. In less than a year. 

When we were still allowed to go further than 5 miles from our council boundaries, we took a day trip to the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian. It’s in the grounds of old army barracks from the Second World War. Squat, drab, grey buildings that look straight out of a film set of a war movie, except they are the real thing.

One of the hangars has the discontinued Concorde on display. Such a beautiful plane, a film star of the skies. Interesting that her exterior lines are timeless but inside her décor feels dated. It gave me a buzz to see her and climb aboard. Gavin recounted when he travelled with her from Aswan to London with other journalists. I had heard him tell this story many times before. It was good to the first time, but got weaker with age. Like when you keep pouring water over the same coffee granules. 

I am not good with repetition. Gavin always tells me stories as if he has just met me. Sometimes it feels like he is not quite sure at which point I entered his life. Or rather, that he is certain that I entered after all the stories had been made. I am the wife of the epilogue. He will say I am talking nonsense and that me, and especially me and Fintry, the latest arrival, are the best part of his life. I don’t entirely believe him though. Sometimes I think he romanticizes us as much as he romanticizes that flight from Aswan to London. 

Anyway, I digress because I can, what freedom to write again and have time to write. Fintry is with Nanny Brodie in the outside barn with the roof. She goes there four mornings a week now and I can hang out in my office with the yellow floor and the view over the rhododendrons – which seem more like triffids, the more we stare at each other. 

What I want to write about is what I saw in the third hangar at the National Museum of Flight. Though I also want to point out that the best bit was in the second hangar: a homage to ordinary people’s personal relationship with flight – the hobbyists who have built planes to fulfil their own dreams of taking to the sky. One of my favourites was a guy from Ayrshire who had built a plane in his house, with the fuselage in the hallway and the wings in the rooms off either side (He had to take it outside eventually to fix it all together). He used the hot water in the bath to mould the wings and his son said his mother complained that the bath was never the same after that. (This is the plane – and you, Fintry – below)

But it was the third hangar that has been interrupting my thoughts at red traffic lights and other times of day when you find your mind drifting off. The third hangar is dedicated to the use of aircraft in the Second World War and the Cold War. A plane that was used to carry actual nuclear weapons stands quietly outside. Inside is a Spitfire, a Messerschmidt, and loads of other planes, photographs and films depicting how this beautiful form of travel, this mimicry of birds, souls and stars, has been used to kill, maim and destroy. 

As I wondered around, wearing my mask to protect me from the microscopic virus potentially floating around in the air, I couldn’t help but think how dated this exhibition was. Not just for the aesthetics of the aircraft and objects built in the 30s, 40s, 50 and 60s, but for the actual concept of going to war against fellow humans. 

Right now, scientists across the planet are involved in the greatest collaboration we have ever seen. Using the internet and shared data bases, medics, researchers and the military are actively pooling all their brain and computing power to try and find out what genetic strain of the virus is on the loose, to observe how and where it is mutating, to test treatments, develop vaccines and use logistics to deploy these vaccines and treatments to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time. Across the planet, humans are working together to stop other humans from dying, and yet in hangar 3, all that was on display was human endeavour to kill other humans, and to my COVID-tuned eyes, these relics of war seemed not only deeply unfashionable, they seemed like acts of madness. 

And you can’t help wonder: has this virus been sent to cure us of our craziness?

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