Don’t Swallow that!

This article is in the new edition of the Salisbury Review out September 1st.

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I sometimes see Vera in the street, a small scurrying person with that slightly distracted look older women sometimes have, as if they might have left a boiling pan on. I met her recently as we queued outside the local shop on newly painted socially distancing markers. I was looking for Vitamin D, hoping to boost my immunity against the virus.

‘Which virus?’ she said in her tiny but high-pitched voice, the way a mouse might speak if it could.

‘Covid,’ I replied wondering if she’d heard of another one on its way.

‘That’s what they want you to believe,’ she said knowingly. I decided not to ask what the heck she meant, instead I invited her to tea in my garden, a rash, even lethal act, but lately I’ve heard no voices apart from my own, talking to myself and people long dead, pundits on the radio using the crisis to re-fight the last election, and birds, once hardly noticed but now piercingly piping out their territorial disputes.

‘I have a side entrance,’ I assured her. ‘You won’t have to come through the house.’

‘Don’t worry about that,’ she said with a worrying amount of confidence. My garden has flourished lately. I presented Vera with a home-made quiche made from my own spinach and courgettes, followed by sponge cake stuffed with strawberries from the farmer’s market, twice the price of the hard, pale ones in supermarkets.

‘You’re my first post-first lockdown guest,’ I told her. ‘We can easily keep distanced sitting here.’

‘It’s all lies,’ she said calmly as I poured the Earl Grey. ‘There is no virus. This is all about global governance. Men at the top of the pyramid pulling the strings of the little people like you, who let them do it.’ Her remark seemed somewhat rude but she was probably just trying to warn me not to swallow things too easily which is refreshing advice.

She didn’t drink her tea and I pushed some quiche towards her. ‘Did you notice there is no longer a cash point at the shop?’ she asked, ignoring the plate. I wondered if she’d gone on the ‘Boris diet,’ but was already as thin as a twig.

‘Annoying,’ I agreed. So was she; all that lovely golden pastry containing an organic egg going to waste while she sat there staring straight ahead, her long grey hair hanging down almost to her waist, like an ageing Virgin Mary in a grotto. ‘That’s been going on for a long time,’ she said. I took a piece of pie for myself.

‘This false panic provides the perfect opportunity to bring that goal closer. Next it will be an App,’ she said ominously and we both shuddered. ‘I don’t really like them either,’ I said. ‘You have to log on, or you already did and you can’t remember your password,’ ‘That’s how they get you,’ she said cutting off my sympathetic flow.

‘They’ve got all your details. I don’t have a smart phone so they won’t be able to get me but most people will be easy to track and trace. Phones are a multi-purpose means of global surveillance.’ ‘You seem a little worried,’ I said, the way my mother sometimes did if a neighbour had a problem, usually with a parish magazine being late or getting a third prize at the village produce show, due it was often said to biased judging. ‘Soon everything will be controlled by Bill Gates and his microchip,’ she replied, as if that was going to be her final word on the matter. I hoped it was and began to eat.

‘As it says in the Book of Revelation, (she said, ‘Revelations,’) ‘He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor to receive a mark in their right hand, and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.’

‘Well I’m glad I’m left-handed’ I said, using it to push the cake in her direction. I was getting cross seeing the pleasure of afternoon tea slipping away.

‘Who are ‘They?’ I asked starting to snap. ‘The Chinese?’

‘International,’ she said. ‘All of them. The powers at the top working through governments, NGOs, banks and corporations and Bill Gates.’

‘Going to do it all through the internet is he?’ I asked starting to sound like a surly teenager.

‘No,’ she said annoyed that I couldn’t see the truth staring at me with the intensity of my neighbour’s cat, Hypoxia, who’d quietly landed on the table between us and was ogling the cream cake.

‘He’s using vaccines to do it,’ she said. It’s called ‘strategic philanthropy.’ He’s aiming for global control, through vaccination. This lie about Covid-19 is all part of a deliberate campaign to terrorise people so we will all get vaccinated with his microchips. I’ve looked at the statistics, they are no worse than those during other epidemics. Boris says avoid the person next to you. Boris says, cover your face. What will it be next, Boris says wave your knickers in the air? ’

I could picture him saying that but not her doing it. But using her underwear as a flag seemed more likely than her noticing what I’d put on the table.

‘Try some of this cake,’ I said, more like an order than a request.

‘Didn’t I say I’m gluten free?’ she said. ‘And avoid cow’s milk as the greenhouse gas emissions it causes are almost as bad as the tea itself.’

‘Surely as long as the people producing the tea get a fair wage that’s OK?’ I said defiantly, deciding that starting a fight might be the only way of ending what might have been an afternoon of kindly conviviality.

‘You have swallowed that fair-trade propaganda, have you?’ she replied smiling indulgently. ‘If those are organic strawberries, I wouldn’t mind just a few, but please scrape off the cream.’

I handed them to Hypoxia who licked off the cream as if she was starving, her pink tongue coiling around them until they were shiny as red buttons, while her suspicious yellow eyes flicked from side to side in constant look-out for any lurking rivals and competitors.

Vera was still staring straight ahead with a smile of contentment on her face at her own cleverness, when I handed them to her. She sucked them a little enjoying their expensive sweetness before swallowing. Hypoxia, unable to tolerate the sight of anyone else eating leapt back over the fence. For a moment I longed to follow, but there would be little point as her world of ever encircling invisible enemies seems to be much like mine.

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6 Comments on Don’t Swallow that!

  1. I’ve rather enjoyed having an extra five months off this year, particularly as it coincided with some outstanding weather in the Spring. I’ve taken up gardening, read a lot more than usual and discovered the Salisbury Review, in addition to adding half a stone in weight. What’s not to like?

  2. From its earliest days, the Internet has been a Petrie dish for the breeding of weird science, conspiracy theories and other nonsense.

    Despite the baneful influence of the Internet, in normal times the Internet-inspired lunacy of Vera and millions of other Veras would have been ameliorated by their contact with their families, neighbours, friends, colleagues, etc etc. But when everybody is locked up alone with the lunatic Internet as their only friend, everybody starts to go mad.

    When our lords and masters correctly advised us to wash our hands and stay at least six feet away from strangers, they ought to have added advice to switch our computers off.

    • One should beware of swallowing all conspiracy theories, but to believe none of them is ignorance. There are conspiracies in this world, real ones.
      “When our lords and masters correctly advised us to wash our hands and stay at least six feet away from strangers”
      This is the only country in the world that has the 2 metre rule. All the others have a one metre rule, as advised by the WHO. There is a youtube video where one of our betters admitted that “We went for two metres because we felt the British public was too thick to understand what one metre was.
      You are welcome to switch off your computer.

      • Who keeps two metres? Everywhere (admittedly in Jersey) I go people are sitting normally at restaurant tables, and if I see three masks in the High Street it is unusual. I think most people have just assumed that the panic is just a safety first measure and have acted as they think fit.
        From the very start deaths have come before the economy in spite of the fact that Hong Kong ‘flu was far worse – without the panic.

  3. Wickedly funny!
    I shall never again eat strawberries (and maybe, cream) in the same unreflecting manner as I did before reading your reflection.
    Thank you Jane.