I’ve been thinking back to March, when we heard Johnson and Vallance’s first press conference, and the ‘herd immunity’ strategy they were going to implement. I had come across epidemiological modelling in the course of my PhD research, and I thought this strategy would probably work eventually, but it would inevitably lead to a horrendous number of deaths. I was horrified that a British government could be contemplating such a strategy, almost calculating an ‘acceptable’ number of deaths. No deaths are ‘acceptable’. They are inevitable in a pandemic, but surely any Government and its advisers should seek to minimise death and suffering in the people of that country, and not just treat it as collateral damage. That was when I wrote my first blog on the subject.
But since then a wee voice has nagged away at me from time to time, questioning exactly what I did uncover, back in the day, about the way diseases spread in a population. After all, we are talking about the late 1980s, early 1990s, and that was a long time ago. So a couple of weeks ago I dug out my PhD thesis and read the relevant chapter – first time I’ve done that in more than 20 years.
What I was researching was the nature of scientific knowledge, and the mechanisms of knowledge transfer. And lo, as they say, it was all there after all. An epidemiologist, name of Goffman, had in fact used studies in his field to develop a knowledge transfer model, and I had read and quoted him in my thesis. I did have my facts right after all. At the end of the day other models fitted my data better than epidemiology, but I did learn about R numbers, socially acquired immunity and other factors in disease transmission.
I didn’t at any point seek to keep a diary of my thoughts and experiences of living in a pandemic, but somehow some of my thoughts have found their way into poems and stories, and three of the poems have actually been published online. One of the short stories will be in my next book, scheduled for publication by Postbox Press next January.
The first poem, Getting On, was published in the Irish webzine Pendemic (www.pendemic.ie), and it was written in the early days of the virus.
The second, Ghost Train, was published as Day Twenty in the Postcards From Malthusia series (https://newbootsandpantisocracies.wordpress.com). It was written in the lockdown period. I have an allotment just outside Dunbar, which backs onto the East Coast Main Line. While I was digging, empty trains would pass by, just polishing the rails, near enough for me to look in the windows.
The third one, Starting a New Normal, was written by invitation from Dumfries-based poet, Hugh Macmillan, who has been inviting poets to contribute poems, and to video themselves reading the poems. I was asked to contribute, and I feature as Number 108 in A Plague of Poets, Poems from the Backroom, at https://pestilencepoems.blogspot.com.