English Covid: a truly world-beating virus | Stewart Lee

If the United Kingdom can take one positive thing from the Covid-19 crisis, it is that the most powerful and virulent version of the virus is perceived globally as being British, faster and stronger than its puny foreign counterparts. And the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has rightly declared this the sort of thing that makes our island nation “a much better country than every single one of the others”. Up yours Delors! Take back control!!

Due to festive blockages, I had to file this “so-called” “funny topical column” six days ago, though I’m not under as much stress this week as Boris Johnson’s anal sphincter. Indeed, there were only so many times the prime minister could blame Dilyn the dog before Carrie Symonds, the power behind the porcelain throne, realised some privileged knowledge had set her babyfather’s bowels aquiver. Stranded Dover hauliers must envy Johnson’s endless torrent of just-in-time perishable goods deliveries.

Last week my area moved into tier 4, a new tier that wasn’t even on the government’s own website the day it was announced. Like the notion of an “Australian-style Brexit”, tier 4 is a new piece of language intended to conceal quite how bad things really are by the use of meaningless words. “The virus is out of control,” admitted Matt Handcock, the crying piñata, on Sky News, looking like a bit-part actor in Chernobyl who realised the reactor was going to blow. Suddenly we were cut off from Europe, and from much of our usual food supply, a situation millions of people who knew what they were voting for voted for in 2016, so they were delighted.

Suddenly once-needy Europe seemed enthusiastic to cut us loose, a teenager backing away from necking someone with maggot-infested cold sores. On Sky News, entitled matching middle-class couples with matching children in matching JoJo Maman Bébé jackets justified their right to evacuate the tier 4 zone and kill the weak via some Waitrose shopper interpretation of manifest destiny. Twentysomething interns fled home to their mothers’ mince pies, filling crowded trains with death spores, as the whole online Covid map east of Dalston Junction turned the colour of the Martian red weed in War of the Worlds.

By the time you read this, you may be warming yourselves round burning bins in the ruins of Victorian gothic power stations, roasting tasty pensioners on spits made of dismantled 5G masts, and speaking a new form of English based on rhyming slang and half-remembered Smiley Culture lyrics. Britain, or more specifically the south of England, has somehow managed to platform the twin pestilences of both the current Conservative party front bench, and also a new and more virulent strain of the already terrifying Covid-19 catastrophe.

Like the gorgeous space virus in John Carpenter’s The Thing, or Jacob Rees-Mogg, the bespoke Kentish Covid-19 strain sees us as expendable host bodies in its path to full spectrum dominance. In the south-east it has mutated into a faster variant, perhaps because it is keen to get out of Kent, which is now made up entirely of bewildered Brexit voters in cognitively dissonant denial, enormous death-belching lorry parks, and laybys strewn with abandoned two-litre Coke bottles full of lorry drivers’ hot Covid-19-flavoured urine. Indeed, the acrid deposits made by thousands of tannin-fuelled truckers all along the A2 has already rendered Kent uninhabitable for generations to all humans except Iain Duncan Smith.

Our English Covid is a world-beating virus, displaying the buccaneering spirit, beloved by the buccaneering trade-buccaneer Liam Fox, that saw us conquer the world, invent the television and the telephone, and win two world wars single-handedly. Our unstoppable British Covid strain shows that yes, we can prosper mightily outside the EU. While not necessarily thinking of it as a friend, I regard the strain with fearful respect and trembling admiration, as I do sharks, black holes and the late Mark E Smith of the Fall.

I, meanwhile, am trying to rewrite the topical half of my repeatedly rescheduled 2020 tour show. But will anyone even remember Tony Parsons next year, let alone be interested in a 20-minute routine describing the various ways in which I imagine the epicurean Brexiter might manage the storage and dispersal of cess? I suspect not. A bit I wrote about attitudes to immigration eight years ago, however, appears to have endured. It has been sampled with surgical focus on a record, Comin’ Over Here by Asian Dub Foundation, and described by my nine-year-old as the only thing I have ever been involved in that isn’t awful. If you download it, and maybe all the remixes too, before New Year’s Eve it might be the Brexit day No 1, profits to Kent Refugee Action Group. And remember, channel-crossing migrants may be able to help us through this if they can bring in basic food supplies with them.

Appearing on what I am assured by the internet is a “banging tune” is a strange experience for a 52-year-old man who has let himself go badly. Asian Dub Foundation filmed a video in the gap between the first two lockdowns, that social historians are already calling Boris Johnson’s Perineum. I mimed a 1,000-year-old Anglo-Saxon poem in the original Anglo-Saxon, and felt like Alan Bennett fronting Public Enemy. Between takes in an empty Bermondsey warehouse, the quartet improvised a flute-led reading of John Coltrane’s arrangement of My Favourite Things, a strange moment of unalloyed beauty in a time of dearth, a privileged private performance when most stages are silent. I’ll never forget it. What did you do in the Covid wars, Dad? People who mimed to Anglo-Saxon poetry and swore in empty warehouses. They were the real heroes. Happy new year.

Comin’ Over Here by Asian Dub Foundation (ft Stewart Lee) is available to download, by New Year’s Eve please for the Brexit day No 1 slot, here: smarturl.it/cominoverhere


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