‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’, as Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock might say, chortling in his joy. Never was there such a glorious day. VE Day, and VJ Day both marked a triumph, but the V in both of those had to be qualified by the E and J respectively, and the British triumph had, however grudgingly in retrospect, to be shared with allies. Now V Day stands tall, sovereign and unqualified on top of the world – finally, an unquestionable world-beater. People say the V stands for Vaccination, but we know that that is just natural British deference and that V stands, as ever, for Victory. Britannia rules the air-waves (and the print media.) We were the first to run the four-minute mile; now we have proved ourselves the fastest in the world to approve a vaccine developed in another country, and produced in a different other country, and to inject it into the arm of a 90-year-old British citizen. During an interview with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, Matt Hancock, our more or less grown-up looking Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, was moved to tears in his excitement at this unwonted triumph. But then being in the presence of Piers Morgan must, in itself, be enough to reduce many a fully grown-up man to tears.
The unlikely 90 year-old celebrity who was the heroic recipient of the first approved vaccination, and whose photograph has appeared on the front pages of most UK newspapers, was one Margaret Keenan whose not particularly distinguished biography is now known to everyone in UK who reads the front pages of newspapers. Demonstrating that, in true Christmas spirit, it is almost as good to give as to receive, the nurse who administered the epoch-making vaccination, May Parsons, is allowed her share of the glory by appearing in many of the photographs at the very moment of the impact of that first needle on that first flesh. Only almost as good to give, though, as the file photograph of May in the act shows her uniform-clad left thigh and buttock looming very large, but her face not featuring at all.
In the photographs and news-clips Margaret Keenan looks somewhat bemused by all the fuss, as well she might, (insofar, that is, as one can tell how anyone looks behind a face-mask.) But so, for that matter, does the wide-eyed penguin on her Christmas jumper, who is breaking hospital rules by not wearing a mask. Given her new-found and obviously wholly unexpected celebrity status, the look of bemusement may have had something to do with wondering how she should respond when the invitations to “I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here” and “Strictly Come Dancing” start rolling in. From what one can see of her above the mask, she looks unlikely to relish the idea of eating tropical creepy-crawlies, so those invitations should be relatively easy to turn down, but she could hardly be worse dancing-wise than Ann Widdicombe, so she might have been taking the idea of Strictly somewhat more seriously.
The media missed a trick in their coverage of the very first triumphal vaccination, as the very second person in the entire world to receive the vaccination was a certain Mr William Shakespeare who hails from Warwick. If Newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Sun can persuade a gullible British public to believe that Brexit heralds a glorious future in which a ‘sovereign’ UK will ‘prosper mightily’, in the imperishable words of our esteemed Prime Minister, they could surely have made an equally persuasive claim that V Day was so unique and glorious a day in our history that the Bard had felt compelled to rise from the dead to share it with us. Instead, they had to make do with photographs of Margaret Keenan being wheeled out of the hospital along a corridor lined with a guard of honour of clapping hospital staff, as though she had just survived 70 days in intensive care on a respirator rather than having had to endure a needle being stuck in her arm by a nurse in exactly the same way as she will have had a needle stuck in her arm at least once every year for the past ninety years. I couldn’t help feeling that the 40 thousand volunteers who had come forward to be injected with the vaccine before it was shown to be safe were more deserving of the clapping.
When a media campaign is so obviously being carefully orchestrated to hype-up the good news, long experience has taught me to wonder precisely what it is that the hype is designed to distract our attention from. In this instance I suspect we are being inoculated with the good news as insurance against the likelihood that our portly superman of a Prime Minister, who has flown to Brussels to the rescue of a Brexit deal that will allow him both to have his cake and eat it, will come back empty-handed and hungry. Nobody but the sovereignty-fetishist loons on his back benches will regard that as good news, so Margaret Keenan’s vaccination will have to do.