An unexpected pleasure of lockdown so far has been the increased frequency with which I have received funny video clips, sent by friends via Whatsapp. Almost uniformly they are in appalling taste. Some are related to the crisis, but not all. I find I cannot get enough of them. Enthusiastically, I watch and pass them on in the spirit they are sent: the gift of laughter during what is otherwise quite a dull time.
The standout star of these videos — indeed, he features in several thanks to what Boris Johnson refers to as the ‘wizardry of modern technology’ — is a nude bodybuilder who nonchalantly displays a todger that, flaccid, is about the size of a wine bottle. It’s a magnificent, unforgettable sight.
Variously, I have seen him edited subversively into a line of health workers holding placards to implore the public to stay at home, footage of Prince William and Kate holding a conversation via video conference (‘ah, that’s great’, the princess says when she seems to see him) and into the announcement by President Trump of his virus-related fiscal stimulus package. ‘It’s a bold package, it’s a big package’, the president says as the wine bottle flashes up and hundreds of people erupt into ecstatic cheering.
I was so taken with this last clip I showed it to my wife. ‘Have you ever seen anything like that in your life?’ I asked her without accusation. She took one glance and replied: ‘He’s dead.’ Surprised, not least by her certainty, I set out to research the matter online but stopped as swiftly as I began. Without his name to go on, the Google search results were uncompromising, to put it mildly. In the rare event that she is wrong, however, I hope he has a good agent. His time is now.
I mention these videos and the wine bottle only because we are fast approaching the point of the coronavirus pandemic when it will become apparent who in the media has had a good crisis, and who has not.
Most readers, I believe, will already have made up their minds about which previously respected newsmen or women they believe have over the last few weeks done nothing more than seek attention by scaremongering or by recklessly playing down the gravity of the threat.
Likewise, they will have noticed which talking heads have been most relentlessly wrong in their pronouncements, and who most consistently right. When the dust settles, one suspects the reckoning will be brutal, as it was for poor old Michael Fish, the British weatherman who on its eve famously failed to forecast the deadly Great Storm of 1987. The public never forgets these things.
Certainly, there is a case to be made that journalists seem particularly susceptible to coronavirus, and that it presents in them as temporary insanity. Several seem to be behaving as if this is the moment, long anticipated, when they and they alone can save the world. There is a righteousness to their tweets or their furious denunciations — without any relevant expertise whatsoever — of the civilized world’s greatest scientific minds that intimates belief in a higher purpose, or even a calling.
Perhaps their brazenness is understandable. Because no one fully comprehends every aspect of what is now going on, they cannot be proved wrong. Besides, virtually all criticism can at this stage be gainsaid with the tired phrase ‘but it’s my job to ask difficult questions’. That, of course, will soon change. As more is discovered about how the virus originated and which social behaviors or medical interventions were most effective to counter its spread, we will come to know who since the start of the year has been speaking unadulterated bollocks, and who sense. At this point, my money’s on the guys with all the letters after their names.
Doesn’t such a remark leave one open to accusations of hypocrisy, though? Here in Britain, in the run up to the Brexit referendum I cheered as loudly as anyone when member of parliament Michael Gove said British people had ‘had enough of experts’. Back then we were a nation divided: half wanted exactly what the other half didn’t, and the experts clearly had skin in the game. Now, surely, we are a nation united — as all nations must currently be — by nothing more basic than a desire not to die. But it turns out this unity, this single most important facet of the human condition, is nothing like sufficient to stop grandstanding berks attempting incessantly to dominate the crisis by bickering endlessly about how best to navigate it.
Speaking personally, I have never felt more proud of government, here in the UK and around the world. Where previously politics has seemed always to me to be a game of shifty nuance and shameless blame passing, suddenly now it seems, blessedly, to be the opposite. For my money, British chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘whatever it takes’ phrase was a thing of incredible, shimmering beauty: an unequivocal articulation of the commitment by government to arrive like the cavalry and leave no one behind. ‘At this moment when the individual most needs the state, when the individual is in fact helpless without it, we are here for you, to protect your lives and your livelihoods’, was what, essentially, he was saying. And that’s enough for me. To judge by the opinion polls, it’s enough for the majority of my countrymen, too.
But none of this changes the fact we are all now stuck at home, bored out of our minds, waiting for this weirdest of times to pass. So thank God for the funny video clips, which break the monotony and remind us that all human endeavor is largely ridiculous if looked at from the right angle. If you haven’t seen it yet, I implore you to seek out the one I saw this morning while in line for an age to enter a still under-stocked supermarket. A man drops an egg yolk into the mouth of what I can only assume is his sleeping girlfriend. It gets very funny very quickly after that. Sadly no cameo by Mr Wine Bottle, but that’s probably the secret — if you work in the media — to having a wonderful coronavirus: you don’t spread yourself too thin. I’ve found his name now. He was called Wardy Joubert III, known by everyone simply as ‘Wood’. Died of a heart attack.
Rest in peace, big guy.