It’s a difficult time to have the artist formerly known as the common cold. The slightest cough, splutter or sneeze sends masked strangers flailing about in the Co-op cereal aisle. You may remonstrate that you only have a cold but they clutch their bairns by the hand and travel quick sticks to the chilled section.

As I write this week’s column, I am still, many months after the event, licking my wounds. In April, at the start of the pandemic proper, I wrote, in hindsight, that I believed I was one of the first sufferers of the illness. Thankfully, most of my sense of smell is now back, but if I knew then what I knew now, I would not have ‘manned up’ and travelled to work while feeling under the weather at the time.

I digress, still not 100 per cent positive I was inflicted back then, I succumbed to an illness a few days ago that left me coughing my guts up as I lay in bed for 48 hours solid and my head felt as if I had just spent an afternoon with Stephen Hawking discussing quantum physics. To say I felt ill is an understatement as I lay in silence and listened to the world going on around me: from the kids playing in the street, my wife cooking dinner downstairs or my kids discussing Roblox tactics in the next room, it is a place we have all been and it makes you thankful when on the upward curve that it was but a passing illness.

This time, ‘to be sure’, I decided to get tested. I logged onto the Government portal knowing that, like admitting to a crime I may or may not have committed, I was in effect handing myself in. I gave all manner of details including my employ and was then informed the drive-in testing centres were ‘very busy’. The truth is they weren’t and, having negotiated the Covid admin at 22 minutes past one on a Saturday, I was expecting to wait a couple of days to be slotted in. The first appointment pinged up for 1.30pm, as did every other appointment time which seemed free from there on in.

Safely in the confines of the car, and with the windows up, I did get a few derisory looks at the traffic lights as I emitted a nasty green coloured globule onto a piece of Andrex at the traffic lights, before arriving at the ‘test centre’. Expecting a long wait, I was surprised to see a huge car park with what I estimate to have 50 plus staff members and no punters, bar me. It reminded me of going to watch a Barnet game in mid-November at Underhill, as I was first waved in by a young man who seemed excited. I suspect I was the first form of human life that had passed that way that week.

The road cone layout was overkill and a little like a task from ‘the Cube’ as I wove up and down, around and along, at each turning or junction meeting with up to four workers, all wearing winter jackets and hi-viz on what was a hot day. A ticket was put on the car and I was ushered to bay 4 where, like uncovering Jesse’s cookhouse on Breaking Bad, a team of six readied themselves for the oncoming contaminant. They donned masks and gloves before calling me forward as five of them disappeared into a portacabin while one guy instructed me, through the car window, what was about to occur.

The first port of call was the ‘nose blow’. He handed me a piece of tissue and I did the deed. Thinking he needed it for ‘analysis’, I made a schoolboy error and went to pass it back to be informed ‘it’s yours to keep’. I then undertook the test proper which, for me, was rather unpleasant. Having a gag reflex is exacerbated with a cough and I retched onto his swab which he held in my mouth for a good eight seconds before diving in for a repeat. Having managed to not expel last night's keto-inspired diet onto his gloved hand, he then informed me there was ‘one more test’. He then proceeded to stick a long swab up to the back of my nose which made me feel uncomfortable in the extreme as I wished I had got the Remington out of its enforced hiatus a few days earlier. I know I’m not the first person to be put on the cusp of fainting by having something forced up their right nostril, but it really was unenjoyable and I was glad to wave a cheery farewell to the 20 or so staff manning the car park exit as I wheelspan back onto the B road.

I am glad to report I failed the test, which psychologically made me feel a whole lot better, not only for myself, but that if I were to infect anyone else from here on in, it wouldn’t be with Covid.

Now I am left with the quandary as to how I manage to see my doctor and get some amoxycillin for a chest infection, that’s if I can get past the indomitable non hi-vised gatekeeper on reception.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher