A Chernobyl moment

Mrs S and I went out to get a small treat today from a Tim Hortons drive through. Also to have a general chin wag and to set the world to rights as we often do. Something she said touched off a memory flashback which took me all the way to a rainy UK midlands industrial estate in 1986.

That day I was outside, bareheaded in the rain with water trickling past the collar of my sodden heavy wool coat, doing the job the new foreman had sent me out to do. This new foreman hated my guts for some reason. No idea why, some people are naturally ill disposed to others and there seemed no obvious rhyme or reason to it. My previous boss had been booted upstairs for being too efficient and we were stuck with a new ignoramus who did all the petty things low level managers are not supposed to do, like play favourites and take out his frustrations on his most junior subordinates. Of whom I was one. We got all the shit jobs. Me because I was (and remain) reasonably well spoken and modestly educated, traits which will always get you into trouble with a certain sort. This particular task was something he’d given me because my face offended, so outside I was sent. I think I was checking serial numbers or something, sorting out gear in the yard for bringing inside the workshop later. It’s not important now.

I heard that specific foreman died of a heart attack in the early 90’s. Don’t ask me to be sorry about that because I’m not. He was a very unpleasant man.

On that afternoon the air tasted of something like burning tin, but I thought nothing of it at first since there was a flame cutting shop over the way and we used cutting discs and plasma cutters a lot, so I was used to that kind of smell. But you get to know the taste in your mouth when hot metal is being cut. After a while you can tell which material is being cut and what it’s being cut with, be it copper, steel, or aluminium by flame / laser or plasma cutter. They’re like power chords in a heavy metal number, brash but distinctive. Once you know what they are, some of that gets hard coded into your senses and it never leaves you.

This was different. It was akin to the harsh stink of galvanised steel being cut with a flame cutter, but not quite. I remember sniffing and glancing curiously at the workshop over the road where the guys were busy setting up a jig for a new contract. Their cutting gear was cold so it couldn’t be them. So I sniffed again, then licked rain off my top lip and spat it out. The smell was in the downpour.

I remember looking up at leaden clouds, which seemed to have an odd yellowish tinge to them. The sun, where its shape shone through, was a parody of a badly poached egg. The rain felt heavy, the kind of steady, solid English downpour that soaks you to the skin no matter what you wear. At the time I couldn’t get any more miserable than I was and I’d catch hell if I didn’t complete the task, regardless of the weather. And it wasn’t until watching the news at ten that evening that I realised what I’d seen that afternoon was probably the radioactive fallout cloud from Chernobyl passing overhead.

Just over seven years later I was under the knife, having a growth in a lung removed. Took me six months to recover. I used to wonder if that was because I’d breathed in something nasty on that afternoon in 1986.

Doesn’t matter. Shit happens and we have to adapt.

What really struck me this afternoon, and it’s been going around in my head ever since, is this one thought;

This is Communist China’s Chernobyl moment.

Never mind anything Trump or Johnson are doing in response to this event, that’s irrelevant. A chain has been set in motion and the world is changing before our very eyes. This is fall of empires stuff where not quite all the major players die at the end. Governments will fall. Two empires will collapse. I’d tell you whose heads I expect to tumble, but that would spoil the surprise. Although I’m sure my one remaining reader can hazard some reasonable guesses.

I believe the regional economic fallout will last as long as the ban on Welsh and Cumbrian Lamb after Chernobyl. Perhaps much, much longer.

Now that’s a very sobering thought and I now need a very large whiskey to counter it.

To mask or not to mask

That is the question. Do surgical masks do any good? Or as many ‘authorities’ like Canada’s Federal chief medical honcho keep telling us, masks are baaad and raaacist and your legs will drop off if wear one.

Well, I look at the public health ‘advice’ out there and I’m having a bad case of “WTF?” Finding advice given over the mass media often contradictory and downright bad. Especially if you want to avoid spreading or contracting any form of lurgi.

Declaration of interest here. I’ve done basic operating theatre training and a six weeks placement assisting with a number of operations from tonsilectomies to hip replacements. So I’m not entirely ignorant. Okay, much of my experience is dated, but the basics are pretty simple and haven’t changed that much.

Ask yourself this;

Q: Why do operating theatre staff wear disposable paper deflector masks rather than filter masks?
A: To prevent them breathing germs over open wounds.

You see, I was taught that the purpose of a surgical mask is to slow and direct breathed (and infected) air away from the area being operated upon. This is why the one time I picked up a filter mask because we were running low on the soft surgical variety, the Senior Sister on duty tore me off a serious strip and sent me back to the scrub area to get a proper surgical mask and wash up again. That woman had a tongue that could scour rust. Hey, but she was old school and her lessons stuck.

Her lesson was that filter masks are not that useful in containing viruses, especially when containing coughs and sneezes, because a little expressed airflow still escapes over the area you want to keep clear of infection and viruses can pass through even an N95. With a soft surgical mask the ever present germs from your breath tend to be directed behind the mask and not over someone else whilst still allowing you to breathe freely. That is why they work.

Which if containing diseases is the effect you are looking for, surgical masks are quite the thing. You can even make your own if the stores are out, which at the moment is probable. Pattern here if you’re handy with a sewing machine. Or watch the video below (Sorry about the accent, she’s American, poor lamb). A normal Kleenex will do for a disposable insert. Make a few and give them to your friends. Sell them to your enemies. At top dollar.

This isn’t an April fools by the way.

To reiterate; in terms of restricting infection spread a soft surgical style mask does not have to be tight fitting and fulfills it’s function pretty well even if worn over a beard. A scarf over the face works too. Anything that slows droplets expressed during a cough or sneeze (Or even excited talking) will do at a pinch. A scarf or large bandanna tied over the face while you’re out and about mitigates the worst of the spread simply because it reduces the radius of potential infection to centimetres rather than two metres. Cotton or viscose will do. Don’t forget to wash after each use. Cover your mouth with paper tissues or even an old fashioned handkerchief if you have nothing else. Japanese and Koreans wear masks a lot, and their infection stats are much lower than those in the Anglophone west. We should profit from their example.

Conclusion; masks aren’t bad. They’re quite good, no matter what the PTB say. To say otherwise is monumentally bad advice, especially when it comes to preventing the spread of a nasty disease like SARS-CoVD 19. Add a mask to decent hygiene and cheap non-latex gloves you will maximise your chances of coming through this pandemic relatively unscathed when out and about, going to work or the stores.

So long as Security think you’re not trying to rob the place and call the cops on you, you’ll be fine.

This has been a public information post. Stay safe.