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News > General > Remembering Covid

Remembering Covid

Many schools (and many other institutions too, no doubt) have made a fetish out of celebrity; West Buckland has made a fetish out of obscurity. It doesn`t associate itself with History very much. Indeed it doesn`t seem to have associated itself with anything very much.

For many of its early years, quite a lot of people in the educational world hadn`t the faintest idea where it was. One puzzled gentleman actually wrote a letter to The Times about it: ‘Where is West Buckland?’ Quite a lot more hadn`t even heard of it. (Dare one suggest it? Maybe quite a few even today.)

Not only was West Buckland ‘not there’ to the rest of the world; the rest of the world ‘wasn`t there’ to West Buckland. Jot down some of the great events and names of the last 160 years, and then see how many references are made to any of them in the pages of the school magazine.

Try the Boer War, W.G.Grace, the General Strike, Jack the Ripper, the Beatles, Mickey Mouse, the great flu epidemic after the First World War, the polio scourge after the Second. Even the wars themselves.

West Buckland has a trick of slipping past History, and History has a trick of slipping past it.

But it seems that, at last, after 160 years, West Buckland has found the world unavoidable, in the shape of the Covid outbreak. The very work ‘outbreak’ seems inadequate. ‘Outbreak’ suggests something sudden and dramatic – quickly come and quickly gone, like a thunderstorm.. Well, we now know that Covid, like the unwelcome guest, has a tiresome tendency to hang around long after it should have done the decent thing and gone away.

It has entered the life of the school, almost, one might say, its bloodstream. It has entered its very way of thinking. And it has entered its language – a sure sign of influence..

And yet – and yet – times change, as times have an obstinate habit of doing. Words, initials, and phrases, like surge, PPE, year bubble, Astra Zenica, and Nightingale Hospital can become universally familiar with almost bewildering speed. And then, in the same way, they can slip off the radar so quickly that you hardly notice them going. Will that happen to words and phrases like contact tracing, social distancing, Delta variant, herd immunity, flattening the curve, and so on?

(As a matter of fact, PPE won`t disappear; it`s the name of a degree course at Oxford.)

How likely is it, then, that in ten, twenty years` time, we may be puzzled if and when we come across these relics of a vanished age? Will we assume that ‘Surge’ was a new detergent? Will we speculate that a Nightingale Hospital was a design kit for Crimean War exhibitions? Guess that a ‘year bubble’ was one that never burst (a sensation at children`s parties)? Hazard the conjecture that ‘Astra Zenica’ was a wizard`s spell out of a pantomime?

A little more head-scratching might throw up the idea that ‘social distancing’ was a euphemism for playing hard to get. That ‘contact tracing’ meant grubbing on the carpet for your lenses. That ‘herd immunity’ meant simply protecting your cows from foot and mouth. That ‘the Delta variant’ must have originated around the mouth of the Nile, and was no doubt christened by the wags ‘Pharaoh`s Curse’.

The wags have always had their few seconds in the limelight at times like this.

Short memories or no short memories, one comment deserves its measure of immortality:

A misquote from Macbeth: ‘Is this a jabber that I see before me?’

Berwick Coates

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