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Guest writer


Below is a short account of my first coronavirus lockdown experience in the early days in late March, and a further short piece from 1918 (no, I’m not a survivor of that flu; it was a bit before my time).

Normally I would not do anything as stupidly dangerous as walking home from our Parktown offices to my Braamfontein flat at night. It’s about a 12-minute walk at more than ambling speed for any 50-plus, reasonably fit person, so you could easily get cleaned out of wallet and clothing during that time. Still, myself and a street-smart colleague also from Braam decided we had little choice but to walk home on this Sunday night. I tried getting Taxify, but the “app” wasn’t working. 

So the two of us set off on foot, carrier bags over a shoulder, at this mugger-friendly hour. It was a little after 8pm and the streets were deserted as we started our walk, the first part being a relatively steep uphill for me, though I have walked it many times before during daytime without running short of breath. Two cars passed us coming down the hill and their drivers must have wondered what these two nutcases were doing on the street at that hour with dangerous viruses lurking around to kill them. 

At the top of the hill, just three minutes from our flats, some police officers stopped their prison-cage-type cab — one of those pickup trucks you fling a suspect into —  next to us and politely inquired what we were doing out on the street. We said we were returning home from work as there were no metered taxis available. They asked for our permits — officially a PPES which goes by the full title of Permit to Perform Essential Service — and we produced them. The cops did not bother asking for our IDs and said something like “Take care you two madalas”.

So off we went on our way home, thankful that these policemen were not traffic cops, or they might have asked us for our driver’s licences. I also realised that a person’s face can look quite different when viewed in the shadows cast by street lights: you get that old-geezer appearance when shadows form wrinkles and a cop addresses you as “old man” because you don’t look like a young man any longer. 

Well, these two young old geezers got home safely and I thought, “That cop can’t be right. What old man was he talking to?” The fear of viruses can cause so much confusion.

Now for something from a previous epidemic era:

I had a little bird, its name was Enza
I opened the window and in-flu-enza

Children’s jump-rope song, 1918 (Taken from the documentary “1918 Spanish Flu historical documentary” viewed on YouTube).

And my version written for the coronavirus era

I had a little bird, its name was Ona
I opened the window and in-flu-corona

I don’t think my version has quite the same effect of a child’s innocence endangered by a virus.