Rocking the vaccine rollout

Rocking the vaccine rollout

Along with thousands of others, up and down the country, I’ve been volunteering at local covid vaccination stations. I’ve yet to do one of the mega sites such as football grounds and usually attend local pharmacies. At these places you see a few hundred people a day. This week I was at the Montgomery Hall on Harleyford Road just outside The Oval cricket ground. There it’s a little different.

Monty Hall is a typical church hall with a large room and stage, various other smaller spaces, and a bit of green out the back. As I discovered it’s become a well-oiled vaccinating machine. On the day I was there 1800 people had registered for a jab and there were several hundred walk-ins on top. It may not be the same everywhere but if you’re over eighteen you can just pitch up and get your (Pfizer) jab and you can get your second dose just six weeks later. Note to all if you do show up on spec, you’ll need your NHS number and the name of your doctor’s surgery.

My shift was from 8.15 to 1.15 and we didn’t stop; lines of young people eager to get their shot stretched down the road. Almost without exception they were kind and friendly and some effusively grateful to get their vaccination.

Monty Hall

Volunteers appear to come from three different sources: The NHS, St John’s Ambulance and via the Good Sam phone app. The NHS mob have blue tabards, the St John’s brigade get natty name tags and I’ve got a very bright yellow hi viz jacket, which says Steward Volunteer from the Royal Voluntary Service. I may have inadvertently become a member of the royal family and the thing is so bright it frightens dogs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think people can sign up for any of these groups.

On the Good Sam app, you get a whole slew of suggestions as to vacc centres that need help, with the ones closest to where you live at the top of the list. You then click on the location you wish to attend. When the jab rollout first started shifts were often as long as eight hours but it’s now quite possible to pitch up for half that time.

Some friends seem to think I’ve been jamming hypodermic syringes into people’s arms; sadly that isn’t the case though if this shenanigan goes on for long, I might get trained up. I generally opt for being front-of-house welcoming people in, taking their temperature with a thermometer gun and logging their details into a hand-held computer, but there are plenty of other roles.

A few felt faint

Mrs Preen did a shift in the post vaccination tent out the back of Monty Hall and had a few fainters. Apparently, side effects if there are any, kick in after a few minutes with the Pfizer jab and that’s why there’s a 15-minute wait before patients can leave. Apparently, side effects for Oxford Astra Zeneca come later. But I don’t want to put anyone off, serious side effects are very rare and following my two Pfizer jabs I had a mild headache and a slightly sore arm.

Volunteering has been a great experience and a reminder as to just how wonderful London can be. You don’t have to go overseas or on holiday; the outside world comes to you. We had three Harriets, my sister’s name, all lining up with Kathryn, Scott, Muhammed, Aoife, Jasmine, Jakub, Matilda, Adam, Promise, Praise and Penelope and of course hundreds more. I forgot how to spell Aoife, but I just looked and found the name means beautiful and radiant. So top name if anyone’s about to have a daughter.

The government is always trying to stake their claim to the success of the vaccine rollout, but from my experience praise should be heaped on the NHS and if there’s a bit left over, on to people wearing quite spectacularly ugly tabards. Maybe you might consider giving it a go.

Changing of the guard

Changing of the guard

Today is Prince Philip’s funeral. In fact, as I write it has just completed with a lone piper marching in full regalia out of the chapel at Windsor Castle where the funeral took place. The Queen sat alone during the entire ceremony and cut a forlorn figure. Was it really not possible to have someone sitting with her? She has just lost her partner of 73 years and I’m sure could have used a little human comfort. It seemed cruel, somewhat reminiscent of Harry and William marching behind their mother’s coffin all those years ago.

In my youth I was a republican, red in tooth and claw. In recent years my republicanism has been somewhat blunted by Mrs Preen who is a great royalist. She reminds me when I take a swipe at the royal franchise that if we didn’t have them, we’d likely have an ex-politician as head of state who more than half the country would detest.

Today I cycled past Buckingham Palace where the Union Flag fluttered at half-mast and families in Green Park enjoyed a picnic in the cool sunshine of a chilly Spring.

Whether you are an ardent royalist or care nothing for them, Philip’s funeral is a moment to consider. It really is a changing of the guard. In my youth there were still many veterans who had been through the machine-age slaughter of World War 1. They have gone. Now we are seeing the finals acts of those who marched through the hell of the second great European war of the 20th century. It’s a moment to pause and reflect.

What comes next could be tricky for the Windsors. Unlike the Queen, the country’s great grandma, Charles III may not be to everyone’s taste. When Diana died, I was working as a journalist and every lunchtime I was sent out with a microphone to vox pop the general public. The general consensus of the general public was that they couldn’t stand Charles at any price. I think that has softened somewhat over the years, but it could be a rocky ride for the famille royale when the Queen hands in her jewel encrusted lunch pail.

Nice to see the apparently two warring brothers, Harry and William, chatting amicably after the service. Perhaps they’ll get on with the wrangling when our very unroyal backs are turned. Or perhaps they get on fine and perish the thought their enmity is just a tabloid fabrication.

It was a sad military service with perhaps not much in it for me until I read the poet laureate’s poem on the passing of the Duke. It’s called The Patriarchs – An Elegy.

While written to mark Philip’s death, it’s a poem, as the title suggests, for the Duke and the whole of his tight-lipped, no nonsense generation. Like the Duke my father fought through World War 2. He didn’t talk about it, but he suffered greatly as a result of what he’d seen and done.

To me at least, the poem is deeply moving. I’m putting it here as a tribute to my dad and all those who are part of a generation that has almost departed.

The Patriarchs – An Elegy

The weather in the window this morning
is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,
a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion
to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up
for a whole generation – that crew whose survival
was always the stuff of minor miracle,
who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,
fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea
with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.

Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans
across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,
regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were
was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.
Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became
both inner core and outer case
in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.
Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand
in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.

They were sons of a zodiac out of sync
with the solar year, but turned their minds
to the day’s big science and heavy questions.
To study their hands at rest was to picture maps
showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes
of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.
Last of the great avuncular magicians
they kept their best tricks for the grand finale:
Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.

The major oaks in the wood start tuning up
and skies to come will deliver their tributes.
But for now, a cold April’s closing moments
parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon
snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.

Simon Armitage

The picture of Windsor Castle was taken by Andrew Laurence

Liner Notes

Liner Notes

I have a new album out which goes under the snappy title of ‘Cat in the Spirit House’. The picture below will give you a rough clue as where the name came from.

Full disclosure: These are not actually new songs but are taken from the two albums I released in the 1990s. ‘Don’t stare at the celebrities’ came out to wide- spread acclaim (hang on that should read apathy) in 1995 and ‘Shopping in bed’ followed two years later. These ten cuts represent the best songs those two albums had to offer.

In the nineties I moved to journalism and worked largely with ABC News covering the first Gulf War, the Concorde crash and the Bosnian conflict among hundreds of other stories. News features quite heavily in the lyrics if you know where to look. I was still in touch with an amazing group of musicians from by recording studio days. All these years later their playing still sounds extraordinary. Thanks to one and all.

Credit for this new album should go to my old comrade in arms Simon Webb who came up with the idea and who also suggested getting Ian Tompson to re-master the chosen tracks. Ian did a wonderful job pulling off the cobwebs using all the dastardly wizardry at his disposal.

Click here to listen to the album

Love to all

Jim

Spring 2021


Credits

Voice/guitar: Jim Preen

Guitar: Les Davidson, Tim Stone

Bass: John Gordon, Jeremy Meek, Phil Manley, Richard Lee, Simon Edwards

Drums: Richard Marcangelo, Steve Dixon

Percussion: Phil Overhead

Keys: Mick Parker, Damon Butcher, Tim Bradshaw

Vibes: Roger Beaujolais

Harmonica: Mark Feltham

Tenor sax: Ray Carless, Nick Penteloe

Backing vocals: Helen Hardy, Sonia Jones, Zoe Nicholas, Susie Webb

The Kick Horns: Roddy Lorimer (tpt), Simon Clarke (bari), Tim Sanders (tenor)

Brass arranged by Simon Clarke


Songs remastered by Ian Tompson

Photograph: Judith Hurst

Design: Rob Anderson

Framed written by Leiber & Stoller

Mr Siegal written by Tom Waits

JP responsible for the rest of the malarkey


Click here to listen to the album

The year of living dismally

The year of living dismally

We’ve never lived a year like it. Just over twelve months ago the Prime Minister told us to go home and that’s pretty much what we did albeit with a slight hiatus over the summer. We’ve mostly been home, cooped up and closeted.

Life has been directly informed by whether you like your home and the people in it. We were told we were ‘all in it together’, but that ‘it’ varied wildly from those with a large house and garden surrounded by a loving family to those closeted in abusive relationships or living alone twenty stories up in a tiny apartment with no access to a garden. It’s been a series of very different journeys which have determined how tolerable or otherwise our lockdown has been.

Pernicious disease

Then of course you may have caught Covid, a most pernicious and almost incomprehensible illness. Some caught it, displayed no symptoms and are still unaware they ever had it. More than a hundred and twenty thousand got sick and never recovered. For others still hanging on after being ill for weeks or months it continues to be a long brutal battle.

And what about babies and very young children, usually the most vulnerable to disease? It seems to have had little or no impact on their young lives. How can that be? Slightly older kids may not have been physically affected by the disease, but many have been hurt badly by the psychological fall out.

Our house

Days seem to pursue a relentless course of not very much. In this house we all work or are trying to navigate ‘A’ levels. We moan when the broadband is as bad as dial-up and our super important call disintegrates into digital dust.

In the evening we watch Netflix or a BBC iPlayer boxed set. We’re currently on the wonderful French farce ‘Call my agent!’ and then settle down for the 10 o’clock BBC News, unless the news is too dreadful to watch. I’m now fully acquainted with all Sophie Raworth’s broadcast outfits and frankly Soph it’s time to go online and select a couple of new ‘fits as I gather, they are now called. (Thanks to daughter for that). I really need to get out more, but then again so do you.

If you’re a keen reader of A little London Life, you’ll know that over the summer we moved to Essex for three months while our kitchen was given a complete makeover. Builders seemed to have worked right through the pandemic.

And there in the Essex house that we rented from friends was a small upright piano. I was determined to do something during lockdown that would mark some kind of growth and started hammering out gibberish on the piano. Well, that hasn’t stopped as a lovely friend from my days at ABC News gave me a digital upright which now gets beaten into submission on a nightly basis. I’m still an astonishingly bad player but having played guitar for almost 50 years I do understand music’s basic wiring. I know what’s going on under the hood, which I’m now struggling to translate on to the keyboard. It’s a battle but I’m in it for the long haul. Sorry neighbours.

Suddenly, nothing happened

So how has it been for you? Still struggling to coming to terms with it all? Doing OK? Coming up for air?

It’s odd to try to recall what happened when almost nothing happened.  The major events that typically bookmark our personal orbit round the sun were in short supply from March of last year. No holidays, no going out, no meeting with friends, no journeys, no business meetings. Social interaction reduced to a Zoom call. Work seems like a series of tasks rather than a collaborative experience.

What do I miss most? Is it gigs, theatre, art galleries, cinema, having pleasant things in my diary to look forward to? Yes, all of that but not really that either. What I really miss is just being in the presence of my fellow humans. Hugging, kissing hanging out, drinking, chatting. Life with a forward trajectory built into it. How do we know we’ve achieved anything if we keep busy but are often busy doing nothing?

Vaccination action station

It’s certainly not over yet, but the various vaccines are a beacon of hope. I remember talking with someone at the start of it all saying I thought the chance of getting a vaccine quickly was slight at best and there was a good chance there would be no vaccine at all. Science has come to our rescue, we have vaccines, there is a way out. Let’s have no mealy-mouthed anxiety. Roll up your sleeve.

As the little bumper on the BBC says: The future isn’t cancelled. See you on the other side.