It's official. I've worn out the refresh button on my computer. In a quixotic attempt to get a test for my daughter, I have travelled - only across Sheffield, mind, but I have travelled and I have witnessed the wild geese in their natural habitat - and I have entered my details, then hers, then mine again, a number of times beyond counting.
It's a simple enough rule, and one that could actually improve the safety of all sorts of people if it is followed: don't go to work or school (or indeed anywhere else) if someone in your house gets coronavirus symptoms until that person gets a negative test back. But the tests, oh the tests! Like prising work out of a challenging Y9 class last thing on a Friday, getting the test is a matter of great frustration. There are the moments of blissful promise, such as when I had checked a slot at Chesterfield's stadium late yesterday, but the lack of a confirmatory email - and the fact that the website spat me back out to where you first start entering your details - was enough to tell me that despite my willingness, a trip to Chesterfield would - figuratively, at least - get me nowhere. Briefly, this morning, there was the promise of what appeared to be a rather posh health spa in Bolton (not -upon-Dearne), a mere hour-and-a-half's drive away, with 18 slots. But those 18 slots were an echo, a whisper of a time 0.007 seconds previously when they were not already filled by other, faster clickers of the refresh button.
Rumours abound: you can walk in to to walk-in centres, and they will see you there and then. Counter-rumours spread: they will not see you, despite your desperation. The centres themselves, certainly the two that I have visited (and not been able to get a test from) were not busy, at least not in the sense that they couldn't have handled more people. Some sort of quota is preventing them taking more people through, which we must assume is the capacity to analyse the tests that have been done. For me - in decent health, despite a dignity-stripping tumble down the staff room stairs yesterday morning - this is a frustrating adventure, the kind of computer game where you always die on the same bit because it's just too hard. For some people, it's getting close to life-and-death. And that's where the joking has to end.
It's not that the government of the day has got everything wrong, although their decision-making has a bit of the drunk-teenager-on-a-Friday-night about it, wilful, dangerous, almost trying to do something stupid. No, they have put in place measures that, if enforced sensibly, if followed, if consistent with other measures, might have helped. But too many of the decisions have been made for the wrong reasons, leading to contradiction (go out and spend money, but don't actually go out, that would be daft), confusion and a general sense that listening to them is futile, so I'll just do what I please.
The NHS has stepped in to save me on a couple of occasions, and those around me on several more. It is not a perfect system without flaws, and it does not get everything right. But - ambulance-chasing lawyers aside - we do not expect perfection. We expect a system that is grounded in a desire to do well by everyone, not one that is about enriching companies or individuals. That system is kiboshed if its workers are grounded at home because their children have a temperature...
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought