Quintessences Vol. 1: On the Coronavirus

Written by Erskin Quint

Sunday, 12 April 2020

image for Quintessences Vol. 1: On the Coronavirus
An encyclopaedia salesman would be no match: a large-eared migratory hippopotamus in the Mangalorean hinterlands, yesterday

Good evening.

Having been instructed to produce a short treatise dealing with the Coronavirus scandal to which we are all currently subjected, I crave your attention while I marshal my thoughts.

Let me expound, in response to this entreaty. Favour me with your indulgence. It may be a chore - it is certainly a chore for me, as I haven't the faintest idea what I am going to say, and I am almost certain that the experience will be a reciprocated one, as far as yourselves are concerned (if indeed you may be numbered plurally; if indeed, there is anybody at all out there reading this rubbish, apart from me).

I have lost the thread now, and must begin again, as my mother used to say when she was darning my father's socks. I used to wonder why she was darning his socks when he had passed away five years previously, having fallen foul of an elderly hippopotamus in India.

Now this is a disturbing memory for me on various levels, having been a disturbing thing to have been told in the first place, when I was an impressionable child. Now that I am an impressionable adult eking out his life at the fringes of society, it disturbs me no less.

In vain did I protest: "But the hippopotamus is a native of Africa". She said that some of the more adventurous hippos were wont to swim over to India in search of a better life, and that it had been a particularly angry one of these with whom Father had had his fatal altercation, while he was bicycling through the hinterlands of Mangalore selling encyclopaedias. It was elderly because it would have taken a long time to swim all that way. Unlike the elephants, apparently, the Indian hippopotamus has larger ears. These larger-eared hippos are much more aggressive than their African cousins, she told me, and that would have sealed his fate. Poor Father. His experiences as an accountant at the Iron Foundry would have left him ill-prepared to stand alone against a large-eared migratory hippopotamus in the Mangalorean hinterlands, armed only with two panniers full of encyclopaedia samples.

She would not go into further details. Her face was as implacable as the Mona Lisa, or the awful inscrutable face of the Buddha. The matter was shrouded in enigma, as was the true identity of the man who she called "Uncle Percy", who had moved in since Father had mysteriously decided to resign from his post at the Iron Foundry and moved to India to get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning encyclopaedia craze, and who was now wearing Father's socks.

Can you wonder, then, that women have remained a closed book to me all these years?

To return to the task in hand, this is certainly a chore for us all, but it must be done. A man has got to make a living. "Uncle Percy" and his many successors did not leave much, if anything, in the way of a legacy, and so I must live by the sweat of my brow. Not that I am getting paid for this rubbish, but it does keep me off the streets, at least, which, as I have already said, brings me to the topic at hand.

Let me develop my thesis, as it were (it isn't, as a matter of fact, but let us not allow our jolly ship to founder on the jagged rocks of harsh realities).

These are very strange times, as we keep being reminded on the wireless. Very strange times, they are. Very odd. The strangeness is unprecedented within living memory. We have not faced anything like this since time immemorial, they say.

Poppycock and piffle, is what I say. Let me develop my argument.

Apparently, the government guidelines exhorting us to stay at home and only venture forth either to buy food or to exercise, alone or with close relatives, and when we do, to maintain a social distance of two metres, and to get back inside as soon as possible, apparently, the people on the radio phone-ins keep shouting, apparently, these guidelines are very draconian and it is all extremely unprecedented.

Well, well. Draconian indeed! Had these people lived in 7th century Greece - having studied this subject at length, I now feel as though I have - they would not be so ready to use these idiotic comparisons.

Draco, of course, was the 7th century Greek legislator who codified a written system of law so severe, that it became known as draconian. Under these laws, you could have your ears lopped off for shouting rude words at your landlady, or you might be sold into slavery for offences such as getting into debt and shooing next door's cat away from your window sill. And you could have been roasted alive inside a brass bull for throwing mud at the local vicar. If all these fools had had to contend with that kind of thing in the 7th century, with no toilet paper or Vim, let alone convenient anti-bacterial wipes, then they might have something to shout at the poor radio presenter about.

The fact that this is all completely exaggerated, and that Draco was actually quite a moderate man responsible for some rather nice laws, such as allowing ice creams to be eaten in church, and banning silly beards, and letting single gentlemen marry a domesticated animal of their choice, only strengthens my case in this maelstrom of hyberbole that we are having to negotiate these days.

Even that bastion of rational fortitude, The Catholic Herald, is not uncontaminated by the contemporary miasma. I have always looked to the Catholic Church in times of privation. You only have to look at the Pope and his entourage to see that these are people with their feet on the ground who have no time for fairy stories or rigmaroles intended to bewilder the masses. Well, admittedly, the Pope's feet don't touch the ground when they carry him on the Gestatorial Chair, or when he rides in his Batmobile, or whatever it is called, and, to be brutally honest, I don't believe I have ever actually seen his feet, but I think our contention is safe enough within the parameters of this Socratic dialogue, if that is what it is.

The Catholic Herald, however, has let the side down. When we read a passage such as this we are given pause, indeed:


The situation is unprecedented. It is not, however, entirely unprecedented in England.

So the "situation" is not unprecedented, but they are not letting that get in the way of a good bit of gossip.

They are talking about how awful it is that all the churches are closed, but then they go on to explain that the churches were also shut in the 13th century, when the King fell out with the Pope over the new Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Pope ordered the special Canterbury Chapter of the Hells Angels to shut everything down. In those days, of course, the Hells Angels were monks and rode on horses and donkeys, but I would imagine they still cut quite a dash when most people were lucky to own a few potatoes. Inevitably, the Hells Angels have become corrupt these days, and no longer serve the Church, which is of course what happened with the Teddy Boys in America, and the Ku Klux Klan, who started off as altar boys and worked their way up, as it were.

But the point that I am trying to make, as I hack my way through the terrible petrified forests of history, is this:


Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been, will be again, what has been done, will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

You see, that's the Bible, that is. Not that those dreadful shouting people on the wireless would know.

And what does it teach us? Very little of practical import, I fear, since it was written by cowled religious maniacs living in the desert with no idea of the complexities of a modern post-industrial democracy dealing with an unprecedented viral pandemic. However, it does - and here, you will be thrilled to learn, I approach the climax of my lecture - it does, I say, teach us about our old friend, futility.

Futility is, I often think, my oldest friend. My only friend, and my truest teacher.

It's all just stuff going round and round and round with no beginning or end, really.

Look at this social distancing nonsense. I've been practising that for years. I only ever go out to buy soup and Carnation Milk. Or Vim. And of course you can barely get Vim these days, so that's less reason to go out. And as for the instruction about being two metres apart - well, two metres is the kind of intimacy I haven't enjoyed since I started as a choir boy at St Ningo's. I only went the one time. But that's a tale for another evening.

So none of this is anything new to me. And, as far as pubs and churches go, I only ever went to a pub once, in 1978, and I don't remember anything about it, apart from waking up the next morning on top of a Vauxhall Viva with no shoes on. And the churches have always been shut as far as I am concerned.

So, although I look askance at all this nonsense, I am, at the same time, a model citizen as far as social distancing is concerned. And I have studied the history.

Which is more than you can say for those awful people on the wireless.

There was one on the television the other day, I think it was a kind of talent show or something. This dreadful woman was pretending to be the Home Secretary. She wasn't very convincing. I don't know what she was smirking at, because she wasn't very funny. And she fluffed her lines, when she tried to say those numbers.

It's all very irritating.

I'm thinking of forming an exclusive underground avant-garde resistance movement, like the Surrealists, or the Torquay United Supporters Club, if anyone is interested.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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