2 May 2009

Paranoia Pandemic

They do it, these media outlets. They chip away at your peace of mind until each week there is at least one headline you are concerned about, even at a subliminal level. If you ignore the radio, and leave the TV off for a week, you will almost certainly have one of your friends deliver the facts to you without being prompted, or yourself sit in front of one of the tabloids with a searing headline spread across it crying "PANIC ENSUES!"

Ignorance allows me to feel impermeable to the swine flu scare, with my admirably super strong immune system and my proudly existent appendix (new searches show it may release valuable bacteria during illness) not to mention my remarkable good luck and fiercely independent travel on "the chariot" as pictured above. Ok maybe not, but I wasn't worried.

In fact weeks of impermeability went by, with that deep sense of well being becoming a constant source of comfort to several hyped up friends.
That was until I took a short tube journey.

There in the sooty, cavernous tunnels of the Northern Line (one of the deepest and oldest lines), sitting in a state of mild relaxation I had my toe abruptly trodden on by a large woman; a woman who was clearly oblivious to everything except her determined last puff of energy to get her immense frame into a seat. Admittedly my shoes were rather long at the toe, but still a mere look of mild concern would have sufficed to put me at ease.

Instead she began a loud conversation with her four friends who were spread around on the seats around me. I didn't notice they were talking in Spanish for at least 3 minutes and it struck me then that they were tourists.

My reason, now assaulted by a back-story of news headlines and badly researched Yahoo facts, churned up the logic that even if they weren't Mexican tourists they had recently been on plane!

This tension was worsened by the reaching of one of their chubby arms as it pointed directly at the headline of the free newspaper in front of us, delcaring panic about swine flu. I felt there was recognition in the women's reactions, as they nodded and I heard them utter the word 'swine' amongst the garble - they knew the story of the swine flu intimately! They recognised it as their own.

The quickly thought came: I could sit here, stubbornly telling myself 'Nothing's going to happen, not to me. It always happens to other people'. This is what all victims tell the press they felt until it happened to them. My whole life for a quick decision. If I stood up as the doors opened they might think I was getting off and I could sit farther along without causing offence. Part of us is so English isn't it, that painfully self-aware part that doesn't want to cause offence to total strangers, strangers who probably don't even notice us.

So I got up and sat father down, and called myself a victim of the paranoia pandemic. The rest of the journey was however totally peaceful, until I discovered from flashes of someone else's newspaper that the SIV virus has struck before.....