Fact and fiction are often part and parcel of each other. Never mind who writes what best, badly written fact can read literally unbelievably. Intelligent imaginative fiction on a factual subject can give you better emotional information. It was suggested the other day that a good novel on jealousy gave you more insight than a series of factual essays. I used to recommend certain novels rather than self help because self help was so often badly written.
But I do feel very strongly when something important in our lives is given a fictional treatment before we have had time to find out enough about the facts of the matter from reliable sources. So Chernobyl – the subject of finely acted fiction on television recently – but the facts are still coming to light. To this end , there were three books out on it last year and I chose one (by Kate Brown), waited till it came out in paperback and acquired it. And it is a game changer in perception from the first chapter.
So the idea of fake news doesn’t make me smile. We didn’t need technology to invent that. A card carrying cynic, I like to think I can often smell a wrong ‘un but in fact I am sure I am duped as much as anybody else, as a citizen or a voter, a patient or a consumer. And fact is often stranger and more provoking than fiction.
Yesterday in my supermarket of choice, two women came to blows over toilet tissue, a number of other people were much less than agreeable and some oaf shouted at my nothing if not polite Filipina cashier because she had been instructed not to let people have more than so many toilet rolls and only two packs of Paracetamol. And he didn’t like it. Panic, we agreed, is more catching than corona virus.
When I arrived at my next port of call, the long established family butcher round the corner, we were graced with a full complement of staff – the Staffie (short, muscular, twinkle in his eye, don’t cross him), the Scot, the Owner and Mr. Nice Guy who is often sent forward as advance guard plus Rosie (I’ve named her) who needs only a mob cap and a dress with panniers to look like an 18th century milkmaid. They could charge extra for teasing and fooling plus the meat is good. NG stopped me in the doorway because he said, they were only allowed to give me a chicken breast and three rashers of bacon, in case of hoarding. The Staffie said “Oh I dunno, she looks like a sufferer to me !”, the Owner said hello as we all began to talk and I asked if they had heard about the uproar in the supermarket the afternoon before. Of course they had. Jungle drums.
“So” said Rosie “ we’ve got a new wheeze now. We’re going to tell everybody that red meat will cure the corona virus – and make a few bob. If they want a fight, they can come and fight here …” I suggested ringing the Daily Mail and we all thought it was a very good idea to prop up red meat sales “because of course “ I said “you don’t have to eat it. You just have to put it on the inflammation, like that steak dress of Lady GaGa’s – that was an early case, not admitted at the time … “ By now we had been joined by another customer so I told her we were discussing red meat as a protection against the corona virus.
She was Italian and told us that in Italy which has the highest European infected population, the highest number of deaths, and also the highest number of elderly people with underlying conditions, the butchers are doing great business because everybody thinks they should eat red meat to keep themselves (her word) strong in the face of the virus.
Even I could write the piece convincingly.
Until Matt Hancock put his foot in his mouth and claimed to be liaising with the supermarkets in the provision of essentials ( which was promptly denied by the aforementioned grocers) the representation by public health and scientists in this country had been remarkable for singing off the same hymn sheet to the same tune. Let us hope for a return to form in public life as well as the supermarket.