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If you haven’t been paying attention to the pandemic – and, I’ll admit, I did start tuning out sometime around May – you would be forgiven for thinking it was all just a global ruse to launch Matt Hancock’s early morning TV career. Here he is, look, talking to Sky News about the doomed track-and-trace system, giggling in front of a faux-punk portrait of the Queen. Here he is, look, threatening Piers Morgan that he’ll take the vaccine on live television. And here he is – and yes, I’ve just watched it back again to make sure – here he is crying on Good Morning Britain, because someone called William Shakespeare took the vaccine, and that man was British. I grew up on a steady diet of Zig and Zag, so I’m fairly used to waking up to watch puppets being controlled by hands inserted into their darker regions, but I do think the 2020 reboot needs to work in the realism department.
Are we all right? Matt Hancock, who is pretending to cry on TV by holding a single finger to a dry eye and then laughing – I don’t want to “gatekeep crying” but that is simply not how it is done – clearly isn’t all right. With Tuesday morning’s rollout making household names of Coventry grandmother Margaret Keenan (the first person to take the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine outside of trials) and William Shakespeare (the first person named William Shakespeare to take the vaccine out of trials), it’s totally understandable that this news would bring with it a small, squirming feeling of hope. But then Hancock dabs his bone-dry eyes again and says something like, “There’s so much work that’s gone into this and it really, really … I’m just proud to be British”, and: ah. Are you? Really? Why?
I suppose it is hardwired into the British condition to react to any hardship big or small by doubling down on dumb patriotism, but I do really think it is worth saying that “Germany developed the vaccine, all we did was buy it” before we plan a too-many-Red-Arrows flyover.
There’s an old dunk the British like to perform on Americans about the second world war – “You took your time getting involved!”, men born in 1965 like to joke with men born in 1978, in bars and pubs across the free world – and it relates to some complex neuroses about valour, sacrifice and having had comparatively easy lives: I don’t know. Britain being the first country to roll out a Covid vaccine feels less of a gritty victory won in the trenches and on the beaches, and more like camping overnight for three days outside an Apple store to be the first to buy an iPhone: like yeah, you did it, but it’s very difficult to respect you for it.
Big week for patriotism though, isn’t it? Kate and William – who, if you haven’t got up to that bit in The Crown yet, are the good honest millennial-era royals we like, and not the workshy millennial-era ex-royals we hate – are doing a tour of Scotland and Wales, for some reason, but on a train this time, so it’s fun. Part of me was hoping they’d see the reality of British train travel and revolutionise it from the inside – Prince William, so affected by being shimmied out of his chair by two people with five people’s luggage who insist that they’ve booked his table, then sitting on a fold-down seat by the toilets and having his £9 cheese toastie interrupted by people who need a crap repeatedly asking him, “Is there anyone in there, mate?”, like what am I, the Toilet Master? – but then I found out they’re travelling via royal train.
So at no point in their tour will they have to confront the strange sewage-y smell of every single carpet on certain expensive train operators. Prince William will never have to idle for half an hour at Rhyl. At no point will Kate have to fumble through her bags to produce a millennial railcard which – both she and the inspector know full well – expired several years ago. This was an opportunity lost.
Still, you have to wonder what those encountering the royals in Vaccine Week are feeling. Existential apathy, I’m suspecting. On a week where the long-awaited vaccine is finally rolling out but things are still extremely bad, pandemic-wise, Kate and William are doing a frontline worker-thanking tour but not actually taking the vaccine with them, so it’s just two royals turning up, slightly flouting domestic Covid regulations, to politely say: hallo.
“Just you?” paramedics would be forgiven for thinking, as a flurry of photographers stop them working in the middle of the day to make them line up and keep their distance from two strangers. “No … no vaccine for us or anything?”
There’s just – sorry, I’m tearing up. There’s just so much work that’s gone into this pointless train tour of the UK, you know? And it really, really … I’m just proud to be British.
• Joel Golby is the author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant
Source: The Guardian
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