There is a school of thought that holds that you aren’t in any position to criticise, and can’t write really authentically about, anything that you haven’t experienced yourself. It isn’t a position I have a lot of time for – apart from anything else it would rather limit the scope of the writers of crime and thriller novels – but after months of irregular diary entries about coronavirus testing, I am in the privileged position of now being able to reassure members of that school that I am in a position to write from personal experience about the joys of being tested. Pace Boris it wasn’t a world-beating experience.
Sunday saw the high-point of a two-week self-isolation build-up towards a pain-blocking epidural for my progressively degenerative spondylolisthesis, scheduled for this afternoon. For anyone wondering why I bother to accord it the dignity of its full tongue-twister name, the answer is that getting my head and my keyboard around its name is the only means I have of asserting any kind of control over it when the analgesics stop working. On Sunday I was not merely allowed out of strict lockdown, but actually, by way of enjoying my freedom, required to take a spin through the Yorkshire countryside for a test.
‘Countryside’? Those of you who know I live in York may be inclined to ask. Isn’t there a testing site in York? Yes, there is, there’s one in Poppleton, a village on the outskirts of York four miles the other side of the city from where we live, and, as it happens, two and a half miles from the York Hospital clinic I need to go to. But I have been told to go to Malton for my test, 20 miles down the A64 towards Scarborough. So I phone the relevant number and ask whether I can’t have my test at the Poppleton Testing Centre instead. No, I can’t. Why not? “Because the centre at Poppleton isn’t connected to the hospital in York.” So the centre a couple of miles from the hospital isn’t ‘connected to’ the hospital, but the one twenty miles away is? “That’s right.” So who gets to go to the one at Poppleton then? I ask. “People who have phoned 119”, comes the answer. “Ah”, I say, light dawning, brilliant idea arriving, “can’t I just phone 119 and go to Poppleton instead?” No, comes the answer (they have thought of that wizard wheeze), you can’t, because if you do we won’t get the results in time. Silly me. 48 hours is obviously not nearly long enough to get the results across the gaping two and a half mile distance from the testing ground to the hospital in a world-beating system. The swabs must have to go to Birmingham or somewhere properly centralised to be processed.
So we are sent off down the A64 towards Malton for a scheduled appointment at 11.30 on a Sunday morning in the middle of August. For those unfamiliar with the geography of the North of England, the A64 is the main route from Leeds, the third largest city in England, to the seaside. For those unfamiliar with what is referred to as the North-South divide in UK, the road from Leeds to the seaside just happens to be single carriageway for a good part of the way. The nearest equivalent in the South is probably the road from London to Brighton, which just happens to be a motorway. For those unfamiliar with the seasonal cycle in UK, a Sunday in August is guaranteed to be peak traffic-jam time for everyone heading for the beach during the school holidays. It happened to be raining, so I naively thought I might just try the A64, but when did a mere spot of rain deter the hardy citizens of Yorkshire from heading for the beach? As soon as we got to the first single-carriageway stretch just beyond the York ring road the traffic was a bumper-to-bumper crawl, we weren’t going to get to the appointment in time so I ducked off the main road as soon as I could to go the far more scenic but round-about route through Sheriff Hutton. To cut a very long story short the expedition involved a stressful two-hour, 53 mile, environmentally unfriendly round trip, all in aid of a highly efficient, less than 90 second, testing procedure. And all the while the lucky 119 callers were being tested in Poppleton.
As I write, an SMS has just appeared on my mobile phone from the York Hospital Out-patients Department asking me to tell them about my Sunday experience. I think I might just do that.