I remember at the start of the pandemic, in the early spring of 2020, being outraged by the government's apparent suggestion that everyone over 70 should self-isolate in their homes for three months to keep them safe from the potential ravages of Covid. Little did we know. Last Sunday, I watched the Armistice ceremony at the Cenotaph and spotted only one individual wearing a face mask among the assembled crowds and participants. So far, for now, we have come.
My husband and I have now been triple-jabbed. A Sunday morning, over two weeks ago, we set off in the pouring rain for a place called the BioQuarter, just south of the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. I had been sent an appointment for a flu jab and an optional booster jab. Some weeks before, my husband had been invited to get his flu jab at Ingliston, miles out of the city, but the invitation had not mentioned a booster jab. I suggested we contact our local pharmacy, where we're known, and they were happy to accommodate us both for the flu jab, but not the Covid booster. We were on our own there. I telephoned to see if my husband could get his booster as well. After a long wait, I was told to bring him along as it was likely he would be done at the same time. We have mirrored each other, jab for jab, since our first.
We were up betimes and arrived nearly an hour early. I had envisaged a reception area, an interior space where we could shed our outdoor clothes, sit down and be attended to as we had been for our first two Covid jabs. Not so. The office buildings loomed dark and silent. Just two pop-up tents in a drive-thru car park. However, there were no queues, the staff were helpful and welcoming and, despite the faff of the rain and speaking through face masks and getting our arms bared the right way round, it was all over in about 10 minutes for both of us.
We were lucky. We may be feeling our respective ages now, but we still have a car and can both drive. Some of my friends are in their 80s, without transport or extended families, and have to depend on what other support they can muster. One in her late 80s developed Bell's Palsy within two days of her first AstraZenica jab, but when she phoned her GP practice and suggested the two might be linked she wasn't believed. That was at the turn of the year. Early days. Blood clots were the first risk to be identified. Bell's Palsy has been mentioned since. It's rare. But if it happens to you and you're elderly, even if previously fit, alert and active, it's very frightening.
My friend did recover, but was in a quandary as to whether she should take the second jab. No-one could give her any definitive advice. Then she fell, was found by a concerned neighbour and spent time in hospital. Now she has daily carers and, as another friend put it, 'lost her sparkle'. Her experience has obviously triggered something of a cognitive decline.
Another friend, a widow, but likewise without immediate family, had a major cancer operation in April, and was sent home after several weeks, but still far from well. Two relatives, one local and one dealing remotely from the north of England, arranged carers, but her reaction was causing concern. She wouldn't eat, didn't want to leave her bed. After further hospitalisations and ongoing medical checks she is recovering physically, but although she can sustain a lucid conversation, her short-term memory has been badly affected and she is confused as to where she actually is. Neighbours have found her wandering out into their cul de sac, quite lost, and even trying to enter a neighbour's house with her key, believing it to be her own. All deeply distressing.
Last Friday evening, I attended my first in-person group event since the start of the pandemic. All my other group contacts so far have been on Zoom or by webinar or Teams, and my pc is feeling the strain, like refusing to unmute me, or sending error messages or distracting pop-ups, or when I attempt to send a reply email, unless I check very carefully, sending it not to the intended recipient but to the one before. We weren't wise enough to have children in a digital age. It needs a professional eye.
Anyway, the occasion was a pleasant one – the Edinburgh-based Robert Louis Stevenson Club hosting a gathering of contributors to the launch of a new anthology of diverse responses to Stevenson's life and work. We had wine and it was good to see people in person again.
The book, called Fortunate Voyager
, was intended to mark the centenary of the Club's founding in 1920, but its appearance was delayed by Covid. Our first publisher pulled out and so it was taken on by Merchiston Press, the publishing arm of Edinburgh Napier University, on condition that it would be produced in collaboration with students taking the university's course in publishing studies. Again, communication had to be on-screen. Sitting around a table would have helped us get to know each other better. Nevertheless, it was an interesting intergenerational collaboration, the students being in their 20s, the Club's editorial team aged from mid-60s to late 80s. Can you imagine how that might go? We did it though. The students brought excellent ideas on structure, book design and marketing. We negotiated the thorny field of editing with more trepidation.
The only problem was, we didn't actually have the book for the book launch. Not the fault of ourselves or Merchiston Press. First, once it had reached the printers there was a paper shortage. We've had fuel and cement shortages and empty supermarket shelves. Was this Brexit (not enough HGV drivers) or Covid (people sick or self-isolating) or climate change (a shortage of trees)? The professor in charge did her level best to get a consignment of the books to the launch in time. They had been despatched by courier, but no sign of them could be found.
Instead, we had lively readings from the book which had originally inspired the Club's initiative: I Remember Robert Louis Stevenson
, edited by Rosaline Masson a century ago. If Stevenson could have Zoomed in from his resting place on Mount Vaea in Samoa, he would probably have given a wry chuckle.
Gillean Somerville-Arjat is a writer and critic based in Edinburgh