There was no briefing to speak of, but with my new colleagues we sorted some sort of routine. After an hour or so I was starting to adjust to my role.
I was wheeling Alice to the Vaccination Centre whilst her son parked the car. The car park was about 500m away.
“This is nice.”
“It’s a car park in the middle of Wembley. And it’s drizzling.”
“Well I haven’t been out much.”
“None of us have.”
“I mean it’s lovely being wheeled about by a nice young man.”
“No-one’s called me a young man in 40 years.”
“Well everyone’s young to me.”
“Don’t spoil it, I’m hanging on to that compliment. Tell me if I’m going to fast?”
“I’ve never met a man yet who went too fast!”
“You’re a flirt Alice!”
“Well you only live once. You won’t be able to keep me in once I’ve had this jab.”
“You’ll still need to be careful. It doesn’t kick in for a few weeks. You should wait till you have your second dose.”
“Don’t worry I will. But it does feel like a new lease of life.”
“I’m sure it will. Those amazing scientists have done a fantastic job. Do you want to go up in the lift or wait for your son?”
“Let’s go up. I feel like I’m in safe hands.”
“I’m not sure about that. But you will be in a minute. “
We got out of the lift and went into the Vaccination Centre. About 20 makeshift cubicles on the first floor of an empty office block in the middle of the new Wembley redevelopment.
Alice gave her name and date of birth 3rd April 1925. 95!! She was 14 when the Second World War started. 20 when it ended. I wanted to talk to her more but left her with the wonderful nurses and went back to the car park.
My next charge was Derek who was getting out of his Smart car with the aid of two sticks.
“Have you driven far?”
“About 10 miles. From Pinner. I came yesterday to check out the route, to work out where to come.”
“Good for you. That’s amazing. Would you like a ride?” I pointed to the wheelchair.
“How far is it to walk?”
“Well the lifts are over there but they’ve got you walking all-round the building like some airport queuing system.”
“Give us a push then.”
“Gladly. How’s the car? It looks great”
“They are lovely little cars but a bit quirky. I used to have a Vauxhall Astra. This one’s very different -everything’s in the wrong place so I have to have my wits about me.”
“I’m sure you do. What do you think of the new electric cars?”
“That’s the future. I’d love one of those Teslas. And it would be easier to get in and out of.”
“I’ve only been in one once. It was fantastic. I love those gull wing doors.”
“Like the Delorean in “Back to the Future.”
“You obviously like your cars?”
“I like the independence they give I guess. I used to be an engineer. When I was younger I had a Rolls Canardly”
“I’ve not heard of that- what’s a Rolls Canardly like?”
“It rolls down the hills but can ‘ardly get up them!”
“Very funny Derek. That’s clever. What kind of engineer are you?”
“I worked for McAlpines on the motorway bridges mainly.”
“I love them. Some of the Arup designed ones are beautiful. So heroic. I’m an Architect.”
‘Of course you are. Only an Architect would describe a motorway bridge like that. But yes they were built to last. What do you design?”
“Most of my career I’ve been doing the opposite. Trying to coax people out of their cars by designing good public transport.”
“Well good luck with that, some people will always want to drive.”
“That’s true at the moment but it’s changing.”
“Probably because it’s no fun anymore.”
“It’s more fun if you walk though or cycle. Are you looking forward to getting the vaccine?”
“Yes. It will be good when this is all over.”
“It’s been scary for lots of people.”
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been scared. I was in Europe in 1942. That was scary.”
“I’m sure that puts most things into perspective. That must have been horrific.”
“It was actually ok. It’s surprising how we get through things. These new mutations are a bit worrying though.”
“They are. But for the moment they all seem to be defeated by the vaccine.”
“Let’s get it done then!”
Derek game his name and date of birth to the front desk, 11th March 1923, unbelievably 98!! No-one else mentioned it so I didn’t either. He must have just turned 20 when he was sent to fight in the war. I left him in the care of the nurses but saw him 20 minutes later getting back into his car.
“Hi Derek. Was everything ok?”
“Perfect. Thank you young man.” (Twice in one day!)
“It was lovely to meet you. Safe home”
I wanted to say more but couldn’t. I wanted to say thank you. I wanted to ask how weird it must have been for the last 9 months, but he was already round the first corner. He didn’t need that Tesla.
The 10 nurses on the 1st floor performed over 1,000 jabs that day. Many were concerned about the recent mutations and the worry of more to come. Most appreciated that it could have been worse. How would we all be feeling now stuck back in lockdown, deaths still rising and no vaccine? I couldn’t begin to imagine. A few were worried that there will be another virus more virulent, more deadly. But every person I attended said they had a mixture of great relief and profound gratitude.
It wasn’t all sweetness and light. I had to diffuse a shouting match which was in danger of coming to blows. It was partly (mainly) my fault.
A young man had pulled up in a Prius.
“Can I park here whilst my parents go in for their jab? I don’t have a disabled badge in this car, it’s in my wife’s.”
“I’m sure that’s fine. I’ll keep an eye on it.”
It was fine. The parents got out went for their jab and came back 20 minutes later. They sat in the cab opened a flask and were having tea and sandwiches. All’s well.
By now it was after 6.30 and the adjacent loading bay was available to park in. Another young man with his parents read the sign and parked his Mercedes. But when he was helping his parents out of the car he spotted that the Prius didn’t have a disabled sign and flipped. He’d obviously had a bad day.
He shouted all kinds of obscenities, C***, F***, B******, in random sentences designed to fit as many combinations of the words as possible. Words that shouldn’t be used in front of two sets of elderly parents. The young man in the Prius opened the door to get out and I knew I had to intervene.
“Look, sorry this is my fault.”
“I told him to park there. They are just leaving. They’ve had their jab.”
“But he doesn’t have a disabled badge.”
“You’re right. You should be parked where he is and he should be parked where you are. But for the sake of swopping, I think we are all fine. Can I get you a wheelchair?”
“Yes. In fact get two. If you don’t mind pushing my mum.”
“Gladly. That’s what I’m here for. I should leave the parking directions to someone else.”
“Not your fault mate.”
At 7.45 my manager Rory came down:
“You can go up and have the vaccine if you like?”
“Wow! That’s amazing but I don’t think I should jump the queue.”
“You’re not. You’re on the front line now and you’re no use to us if you get ill. Everyone else here has had it.”
“What about you?”
“I had the Pfizer vaccine 3 weeks ago. My arm ached for days but this one’s fine apparently. You’d be mad not to get it.”
Afraid of being labelled an anti- vaxxer I followed Rory up to the first floor and the incredible care of the NHS nurses. Even after a 12 hour shift they were still smiling, supportive, with unbelievable compassion.
“What made you want to volunteer?”
“Probably all the wrong reasons. I wanted to feel part of history. To see what it was like, how it’s all working. I used to volunteer at the Foodchain most weekends and I miss it. That sounds bad. I don’t feel like I’m making a difference, but I am seeing what it’s like to be around people who are.”
“Well you’re here. I’ve seen you pushing wheelchairs all day.”
“It’s actually been amazing. I’ve met some incredible people.”
“Yes, it gets you like that.”
I answered questions about medications and allergies and was given the jab. I said a silent thank you to Astra Zenica and the Oxford scientists and found a space for a quiet moment. It had been an emotional day.
Back home I was thinking about Alice and Derek. Were they feeling the same emotions? I figured not. Their generation are stronger. Less melodramatic. Lived through much more and hopefully more to come. All we were asked to do is stay home and wash our hands. And many of us couldn’t even do that.
Can’t wait till next weekend to do it all again.