A Straight Line

Writing a Covid-19-free post is a struggle if not downright impossible. If I caved in to my rage over how this crisis is being mishandled I’d probably get arrested. As it is, currently I’m furloughed and on a 23-hour a day lockdown. Frankly I don’t know how others are coping. What I do know is those charged with mental health services will reap a bitter whirlwind when this is over.

It took only days into this pandemic for pundits to opine how, on the other side of this catastrophe nothing will ever be the same. I sincerely hope so if ‘the same’ equates to a hard-boiled Brexit, Austerity V2 and a depression that will make the crash of 2008 look like someone made off with the menage money. Meanwhile a supine mainstream media shills for an incompetent, venal Tory government mandated to get away with anything, genocide included.

As the song goes, ‘Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.’ Never has my trust in the media been so eroded. Until recently I listened to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Flagship’ Today, a once-respected news programme now reduced to press releases, opinions, fact-free, partial interviews and what I call jingo lingo bingo – the broadcaster’s relentless fetishising of WW2; the frontline and the battlefield, Dunkirk, the Blitz spirit, Spitfire waffle, ‘We’ll meet again’, the invocation of all things Churchillian, topped with lashings of conquering zeal.

I recall the closing lines of Alan Bissett’s poem, Vote Britain

Yes, sadly, some of you will die. But you will return to a hero’s welcome


the Union Jack, proud symbol of integrity and honour, draped across your coffin

while your mother, dabbing at her eyes, recalls the words she learned in school

in Kirkcudbright

‘There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.’

Vote with your heart.

How easily we embrace the language of the pandemic: self-isolation, Nightingale hospital, social distancing, key worker, Lockdown and the New Normal. At supermarkets people fall meekly into line, cowed and confined, thankful it’s not winter and hoping pasta or 28p tinned tomatoes are back in stock.

In my local Morrisons I encountered a middle-aged man eyeing me as I perused the shelves. Finally he spoke – ‘You’re looking for red kidney beans, aren’t you?’ in an accusatory tone that I soon learned was entirely serious if not borderline psychotic when he added, ‘This is the third branch of Morrisons I’ve visited and I can’t find KIDNEY BEANS anywhere!’ Later I spot him looking dejected, clutching a single can of organic chickpeas.

On the streets blue billboards announce THANK YOU! in large lettering, a message to NHS staff and other carers that rings hollow given the rising death toll of hospital and care home workers. As in a disquieting dream, at moments I’m seized by a jolt of lucidity at just how truly horrendous this situation is and how immeasurably painful it is for those who have lost loved ones.

As the world adjusts, to escape my impotent fury I retreat to the shed. There’s little difference to my daily routine but for the fact I can’t get out and shoot which as a filmmaker is my primary task. My other occupation – writing – is impossible with my thoughts so clouded by opioids. Having successfully weaned myself off morphine, it was chilling to read in the guidelines for the Excel Nightingale Hospital in London that Covid-19 end-of-life cases are prescribed 10mg of morphine daily as part of a palliative regimen; until recently I was on 40mg.

Indeed, pain has preoccupied me for over eight months now. Out of necessity I resigned myself to taking drugs following my accident and two operations. In spite of daily exercises, walks and massage, the pain hasn’t improved much. At my last appointment with my surgeon, the estimable Mr. Rooney, it was agreed between him and my other surgeon, Mr. Walker that no more surgery was required.

Perhaps I’m too sensitive but on bad days I long for my lower right leg to be amputated – an elective surgery disallowed by the NHS. Over the passing weeks I’ve concluded that I’d sooner tolerate the pain than forfeit the ability to think in a straight line. I’m now determined to get off co-codamol and have since reduced the dose by 25%.

Verbs are important. My decision to rid myself, as opposed to combat or battle what is clearly a nine month opioid addiction is prompted in part by a incident at my local pharmacy when, having called my surgery the previous day, I arrived expecting to pick up my script. After waiting patiently outside – only two people are admitted at a time – I entered to find a young guy in a floral patterned facial mask from whom I learned that his girlfriend is sewing similar masks for the local care home.

Just as I was about to commend the guy’s girlfriend I received the news, so bad that the head pharmacist came out from behind his screen to deliver it: there was no script waiting and certainly not for a controlled substance. Plainly my GP hadn’t signed off my prescription. Since I had no medication this was not good news, made worse because the surgery was closed for a half-day.

To cut to the chase, within two hours my pharmacist called to say my script was ready and asked if would I like it delivered. I replied I’d walk the hundred or so yards to collect it. On the way, I reflected on how privileged I am to live in a country (Scotland) where prescriptions are free and where, in spite of the Covid-19 crisis, my local pharmacy, all of whose staff were about to observe Ramadan, went above and beyond to make sure I had what I needed. Humbled doesn’t begin to cover it.

At time of writing no one knows how long this lockdown will last. Or what the New Normal will look like. My guess is, if left to the present government, it will look exactly like the Old Normal and surely that cannot be allowed to happen. While people die alone in hospital wards in horrific conditions, e.g. surrounded by faceless staff shrouded in gowns and masks, someone somewhere is shorting the currency, stockpiling wealth to acquire leverage in a game whose payoff I cannot apprehend.

Assuming a form of normality resumes, I’ll be back on the streets making Tilo IRL even though the business of cinema is currently suspended. Many of my peers have expressed how their efforts are in vain, their stories trumped by this extraordinary situation and as such are irredeemable. Personally my project’s unaffected given the prescience of Tilo’s themes. Time will tell.

What I am certain of is that in 2021 the TV schedules and cinema screens will be jammed with stories of isolation, family breakups, untimely deaths, medical melodramas, political shenanigans and media mendacity but mainly they will deal with loss. Much as there will always be the need for stories, my only worry is who gets to tell them. That, and those destined to be forgotten.

The above image is an X-Ray of my right knee. It is held together with eight screws which I suspect is more than what’s holding most of us together right now.