Anarchy in the history lesson

Spring term 2121: Key Stage 3 – How we saved the NHS

Andy Lambeth

2021-06-04 10 min read

“Hurry up children! Stop all the chitter-chatter and sit down at your desks. We have a very exciting history lesson today,” said Sir.

        “What are we learning, Sir?”asked Julia, as she grabbed her exercise book and pen to start taking notes. Julia was a keen student with an enquiring mind, though her over-confidence did tend to make Sir a little nervous.

        “We’re learning about how we saved the NHS after the Great Covid Plague of 2020.”

        “Wow, my mum told me about that,” said Julia. “She said both her grandparents survived it!”

        “Yes, some people were lucky enough to survive it, Julia,” said Sir.

        “How many children died, Sir?” asked Dominic, fiddling with his calculator. “I bet it was in the thousands wasn’t it?” Dominic was a gloomy sort of child who had an obsession with numbers and data.

        “No, not that many,” replied Sir. “It mainly affected the old and the obese. But there were so many old and obese people in the UK at the time that they had to shut down the entire country, to stop the spread.”

        “That’s ridiculous!” A rather sceptical boy named Toby responded, frowning in disbelief. “Why didn’t they just tell the old and the obese to stay at home?”

        “Don’t be so impertinent, boy!” Sir said. “We learnt about fascism last week, so you should know the answer to that question.”

        Sir hated teaching class 9B. There were so many smart alecs all in the same class but there was one particular boy who made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Sir kept one eye on the boy, who was sitting quietly at the back of the class taking it all in but somehow looking slightly menacing. He was hoping that he would stay schtum for the time being. The boy had a know-all way about him and an aloof, deadpan delivery that would drive the history teacher insane with anger and frustration. He hated him so much he could not even bear to address him by his first name. The boy fixed his stare at the teacher, poised to have his first dig at the man he considered to be just another of his intellectual inferiors.

        “What on earth has fascism got to do with it? It’s not fascist to give people advice. They could have just warned them of the dangers and given them the choice. That’s liberalism not fascism.”

        Sir was getting hot under the collar. He knew this was a tricky subject and that 9B would give him a hard time over it; so much so that he had been up all night preparing for the lesson. The correct response to the boy’s suggestion was on the tip of his tongue, but he was getting so flustered he couldn’t seem to recall it.

        “STOP TRYING TO BE SUCH A CLEVER DICK, HITCHENS!” Sir hollered at the top of his voice. “You’re only thirteen, so don’t act like you know everything.”

        He was playing for time. He furtively glanced down at his notes to try and find the answer...“Ah yes...the reason they could not make the stay at home order advisory, was that people might not take any notice and then the NHS would get overwhelmed,” said Sir, naively believing he had managed to draw a line under it.

        “Why didn’t they just open more hospitals?” asked Brendan, a suave and quick witted boy, whose manner was less corrosive than some of Sir’s other adversaries but whose intent was no more benign.

        “They did,” answered Sir. “But then they had to close them all down again when they realised they didn’t have any staff for them.”

        “Our ancestors weren’t very clever were they?” Julia said, incredulously. “Couldn’t they have asked retired medics to go back to work?”

        “No, that would have been impossible, as none of them had had the necessary equality and diversity training,” said Sir.  “Now please stop interrupting me and just settle down and listen. It’s all very straightforward if you’ll let me explain and then you can ask questions when I’ve finished.”

        Sir nervously glanced down at his notes again. “Now these days, we’re all very aware of how dangerous germs and viruses are, which is why we wear these face coverings all the time.”

        “Oh, is that why we wear face masks?” asked Boris, the classroom clown. “I thought it was to stop us swallowing wasps.”

        “My mum told me it was to stop us eating so many sweets,” a rotund boy butted in.

        “You are all wrong,” said an Asian girl sitting in the front row. “We cover our faces to maintain modesty and show our love for the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.”

        “For heaven’s sake, stop making all these inane comments and let me continue...and put those colouring pencils away Bob, this is History not an Art...So back in the early 21st century, getting colds and influenza was just accepted as part of life and nobody made any attempt to stop the spread of these illnesses, aside from putting their hands over their mouths when they coughed. This all changed with Covid because it had an unusually high death rate, which scientists of the time were able to calculate with incredible accuracy as being somewhere between 6 percent and 0.2 percent. Not only was the death rate so high but the virus was also extremely contagious and therefore much more of a threat than regular viruses. They knew this thanks to a brilliant discovery called PCR testing. The PCR tests were so ultra-sensitive that they could detect minute traces of the virus even when they weren’t actually there. With the aid of computer modelling, scientists were then able to extrapolate the figures and calculate with extreme precision what proportion of the population had contracted the virus, which they found to be somewhere between 5 percent and 60 percent. The scientists also knew precisely what percentage of the population would need to catch the virus to achieve herd immunity (between 30 percent and 100 percent) and it was predicted that there was an imminent danger of this happening. Therefore to avoid this disastrously unpopular and terrifying prospect there was no alternative but to lock everyone up in their homes. This worked extremely well. Not only was herd immunity avoided but the lockdown measures combined with the suspension of all cancer and heart disease treatment meant that our ancestors managed to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. Sadly there were still many more people dying than usual but it was okay because a large number of them were dying at home, thus taking the pressure off the hospitals. Everyone was so happy about this that they stood outside their houses every Thursday night and clapped. NHS doctors and nurses were the happiest of all and many of them made dance videos, which they shared online to celebrate their success. With the number of Covid deaths eventually falling to almost zero, lockdown was eased over the summer but by the winter of 2020 the over 80s and the obese started to get really sick again. No-one knew for sure whether it was the easing of lockdown or the cold weather that was causing this, so the country locked down again for a few weeks just to be on the safe side.”

        Sir paused for breath. At this point in the narrative he was a little hazy about the details and found it very difficult to memorise the various changes in lockdown restrictions, but he had made himself a handy list of bullet points in his notes. He rummaged around on his desk for the right page.

        “Let’s see now...oh yes, then they locked down for a few more weeks...erm and then they banned golf, then they tried locking down different parts of the country at different times and then...erm then singing was banned, then they locked the whole country down again, then they banned fishing and sitting on park benches and erm...then...erm...scotch eggs...yes, there was something about eating scotch eggs in pubs but I can’t remember if it was banned or encouraged, then they eased the restrictions again for Christmas, then they changed their minds again and banned Christmas (with the exception of certain families who met certain criteria and on the condition that everyone kept their windows open and didn’t hug) and then they locked down again for the New Year.”

        Dominic was getting so bored with Sir’s monotonous tone, burbling out this ridiculous twaddle that he started to get itchy feet. Dominic was a studious boy and usually well behaved but he had a very active mind and sometimes found it difficult to pay attention to teachers when they were being particularly tedious. He was feeling so restless that he could not bear it any longer. It was excruciating. He got out of his chair and started wandering over to the window.

        “Dominic! Sit down this instant! What on earth do you think you are doing?”

Dominic went red in the face and was quite panic stricken. He really didn’t want to get into trouble with Sir, as he had a strong ambition to become the form prefect. None of the other boys and girls liked him and so he always made every effort to ingratiate himself with the teachers, especially the history teacher, who normally had a bit of a soft spot for Dominic.

        “Erm...I’m sorry Sir...I was erm...just testing my eyesight,” Dominic blurted out. Everyone laughed. It was the most absurd excuse ever, yet it seemed to confuse Sir and put him off the scent.

        “Well...okay, just get back to your desk and shut up!” Sir snapped.

        “Now where was I? Oh yes, in the New Year of 2021 the vaccines arrived. The vaccines turned out to be hugely successful (apart from the odd thousand or so people who got blood clots and died) and by the spring of 2021 hardly anyone was dying of Covid. However, there were lots of mutant variants emerging from all around the world and these started to cause concern, as it was uncertain whether the vaccine would offer enough protection. By late 2021 almost the whole country had been vaccinated, including adults, children, babies, cats, dogs and guinea pigs but once again the over 80s and the obese started to become ill, so the only solution was to go back into lockdown again. Since then we have enjoyed perpetually going in and out of lockdown, which not only has enabled the NHS to continue for another hundred years but has also given us the value added benefits we enjoy today, such as less pollution, more time on the internet and our shoes not wearing out so fast.”

        There were a few moments of silence, as 9B attempted to digest the drivel that Sir had been uttering for the last twenty minutes. Dominic now saw his chance. It was an open goal. He put up his hand.

        “Yes Dominic.”

        “I just wanted to say thank you, Sir, for that brilliant and inspiring explanation of how the country got through the Great Covid Plague and saved the NHS. I’ve always thought how lucky we are to be in and out of lockdown whenever there is pressure on the NHS and how terrible things must have been in the days before lockdowns. It baffles me that there are still people around who think lockdowns are not a good idea. I only wish we could have started this term three weeks earlier, so that we could have heard some more of your lectures about Covid-19 and lockdowns.”

        A voice came from the right hand side of the class, “Arse licker!”

        “Who said that?” Sir asked furiously.

        The children were expert at playing this game. To avoid recognition they disguised their voices and kept their profanities to a bare minimum. With their mouths covered by the masks the teacher had no idea who the hecklers were.

        “Dominic is a wanker!” from the left hand side of the class this time.

        “Turtle-headed prick!” this time it seemed to be a girl trying to sound like a boy.

        “Was that you Julia?”

        “No Sir!”

        It was all too much for Sir. He snapped.

        “Right take your masks off everyone now!”

        Piers, a fat boy with a surly and petulant disposition, scowled at Sir.

        “Are you completely insane? We’ll all die if we do that!” he snarled angrily.

        “Don’t argue with me. Just take your mask off!”

        “I’ve had enough of this!” Piers sneered, as he stormed out of the classroom in a huff.

        “Masks off, everyone!”

        “I don’t wear one anyway,” scoffed Hitchens in a superior manner. No-one ever dared to ask Hitchens why he didn’t wear one (not even the teachers) - they all just pretended not to notice.

        “Help! Help! He’s going to kill us all!” cried out Neil, the bespectacled mathematical genius of the class. He waved his arms around frantically in complete panic. Everyone was jumping around hysterically, some pinging their masks into the air and trying to hook them onto the overhead strip-lights, some trying to pull off the masks of their classmates and others clinging onto their own masks in defiance and terror.

        The headmaster heard the commotion from outside in the corridor and he walked slowly and purposefully into the classroom. He glared sternly at the pupils. Instantly everyone sat behind their desks in complete silence. You could have heard a pin drop.

        “Thank you, Mr. Schwab,” said Sir.

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