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Pass the vaccine . . .

Opinion Piece

by David Aitken, Scotland

Every age brings forth great men. Scholars, painters, literary geniuses, musical virtuosos, inventors and newspaper journalists. (It’s rude to laugh when someone is being serious.)

Each era also produces its fair amount of crackpots, ding-a-lings and loons, stormy petrels every one. (Why do birds get such a bad press? Some are as wise as owls.) And like Tolstoy’s families, all great men are alike (eccentric, usually) but every nutcase is cracked in his individual way.

Pandemics seem to bring out the worst in various people. Covid-19 has given rise to a few of the most bizarre notions since my childhhood fear that striped toothpaste would cause me to have striped teeth. (It didn’t.)

“Earthen beehive houses might be the future,” announced a man on my doorstep, his breathless delivery (of my pizza) giving me the impression he might be on the run from some locked facility or other. “Or yurts,” he added. Bats in the belfry rather than bees in a hive, I thought. But he persisted. “Not so much social housing as socially-distanced dwellings.” By this time I was waving in welcome to some passing Jehovah’s Witnesses, oblivious to cold pepperoni.

One masked commentator appeared on my TV screen pleading the case for a posthumous pardon for Mary Mallon, “Typhoid Mary”, who was sentenced to 23 years isolation in a one-room cottage on an island in New York. “She doesn’t seem so bad, in retrospect,” he said. “And she was a talented cook, by all accounts.” (The accounts of those who survived her cooking, I suppose he meant.) Pass the vaccine, please.

Other outlandish claims have been made by folk whose grip on reality has loosened from too much time spent staring at the moon. The pandemic was caused by an unfortunate alignment of the planets Neptune and Mercury. Or it was started deliberately by an unholy alliance of the warlike Klingons and the Borg, whom it turns out aren’t fictional characters in Star Trek after all. Resistance is futile.

My favourite, on the silliness scale at least, is the theory that a return of “the English sweating sickness” kicked the whole thing off — this sometimes led to rapid death before it suddenly vanished in 1551, with its cause never established. Until now, apparently. But when was it ever warm enough in Britain to cause a mass outbreak of perspiration? It would take a top scholar to explain that. Or a great inventor.