(Walter G. Poole, ‘Gauguin Played Here’: private collection)
The drip from the leak into the bucket quickens when stimulated by the cold water tap being run, then gradually quietens. Books from the last set of shelves are temporarily stacked on the floor of the sitting-room. Chunks and strips of broken plasterboard lean against the garden wall. The boiler is turned off, so no hot water; at night and at odd times during the day, we turn the water off at the mains. A Gas Board engineer is due on Monday, by chance the ill-conceived and misnamed ‘Freedom Day’.
I can hardly pretend surprise that our elected leaders finally abandoned even the pretence of governing the country and embraced again the notion of herd immunity—‘a dangerous and unethical experiment’, as a great many scientists have phrased it— though little over half the population has been fully vaccinated and cases have passed 50,000 in a day, the highest number of new cases anywhere in the world, I notice.
So, after last year’s Eat Out to Help Out the Virus debacle, we have Freedom to Catch and Transmit Covid-19 Day, another cunning wheeze. Tolerant to a fault I may be but I’m getting a bit sick of these people, their latest move to accelerate the privatisation of the National Health Service worthy to be set beside the corruption, the hypocrisy, the casual racism, the fake culture wars and this continuing lethal incompetence. But then I’m also getting a bit sick of the people who go on supporting and enabling them even now, unwilling to hold the guilty to account but perfectly happy to attack other targets they’re cynically diverted towards.
But soft! What light in yonder window breaks?—a call from British Gas to say that an engineer is in our area and could come in the next half-hour. We don masks and confine the cat to another room. The engineer arrives, looks at the leak, goes up to the loft, confirms yes, ball valve in hot water tank, fetches a new one from the van, returns to the loft and soon calls down to me to turn the mains water back on. Moments later the leak, tired of its minor status, transforms into cascade, waterfall, deluge, while the engineer plunges downstairs, shouting ‘Turn it off! Turn it off!’ I turn it off and attend to the explanation about a rare defective ball valve. Pretty small-scale in the light of appalling news from Belgium and Germany but alarming enough.
(William James Müller, ‘A Waterfall’ (sketch: York Art Gallery)
Now he’s capped off – something or other. The water is turned on, anyway, though not yet the boiler: we’ll wait until Monday and another engineer who’ll finish the job. Plenty of symbolism here, for the augur, the haruspex or even the paranoiac. A drip can become a flood; but a flood can be diverted, even halted. Broadly, we are now, I’d say, mid-flood with more to come. But recovery is possible. It will, though, take at the very least a change of government and a measurable increase in the number of English people willing to live in the twenty-first century rather than some other period of their choice.