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TESTING, TESTING

FROME FOSSIL 74: May 2020


It was like going on holiday. We drove up and over the swell of Mendip, along little roads straight as arrows. Mint green leaves fluttered in the hedges. Pristine white lambs gambolled archly. We scarcely met another vehicle. Then we wound down the majestic cutting of Burrington Combe, across the valley floor and onto the eerily quiet A38. The journey took us an hour, and at last there we were: bowling into Bristol Airport.

And that was the end of the holiday. Just inside the entrance, we joined a stalled procession of cars stretching to the Crack of Doom. All of them were carrying people in pursuit of a virus test – the grey-haired, the anxious, the hacked-off-with-lockdown, the workers desperate to stay at work, the dutiful. And maybe a few just saw it as their most exciting social engagement for a couple of months. But the eagerness quickly wore off.

We inched forward in the blazing sun, our windows shut tight as a Cummings scowl. A cheery bloke in PPE bounced up, pointed a device at our phone and waved us on another few feet. Twenty minutes later a second masked herbert accosted us. This one was less affable. He clearly found the endless line of steaming cars a desolating prospect – and you couldn’t blame him, given the Beanesque routine he’d got landed with. This involved mouthing a question, interpreting the mouthed reply, rushing to his hut fifty metres away for a various sheets of paper, rushing back, showing them to us, waiting for a thumbs-up, and then shoving them under a windscreen wiper.

And so it went on, for what seemed like several years, until we reached the blessed shade of a white marquee. It was just like you see on the telly - except you have to do it all yourself. Ever tried shoving a stick into your tonsils? Then shoving it up your left nostril? Then encasing it in a series of ziplock bags, complete with sticky barcodes – while wearing rubber gloves? It’s not easy.

As we drove exhaustedly home across the Mendips, the puzzlement grew. Our confidence in the DIY test leaked slowly away. The whole process seemed like something from a pantomime (“ I’ve got the virus!” “Oh no you haven’t!”) When the results arrived, as promised, three days later, we were both clear. But I wouldn’t put any money on it..