Hop-picking may not be my particular catharsis but getting the first COVID vaccination today is close! Already the Ministry of Health has – with what I can only describe as unpredicted nimbleness – confirmed by email the particulars of my inoculation this morning. I have the bandage on my right deltoid to prove it; viz., Pfizer-Biontech COVID-19 mRNA PB, 0.3ml dose of PFIZER Diluent 0.9% Sodium Chloride by Renfrew County and District Health Unit, Andrea M. Registered Nurse. The expertness and civility of the on-site delivery at the Canadian Legion in Barry’s Bay was nonpareil from beginning to end – the check in, the screening, the injection and the certification.
‘A holiday with pay.’ ‘Keep yourself all the time you’re down there, pay your fare both ways and come back five quid in pocket.’ I quote the words of two experienced hop-pickers, who had been down into Kent almost every season since they were children, and ought to have known better. For as a matter of fact hop-picking is far from being a holiday, and, as far as wages go, no worse employment exists.
I do not mean by this that hop-picking is a disagreeable job in itself. It entails long hours, but it is healthy, outdoor work, and any able-bodied person can do it. The process is extremely simple. The vines, long climbing plants with the hops clustering on them in bunches like grapes, are trained up poles or over wires; all the picker has to do is to tear them down and strip the hops into a bin, keeping them as clean as possible from leaves. The spiny stems cut the palms of one’s hands to pieces, and in the early morning, before the cuts have reopened, it is painful work; one has trouble too with the plant-lice which infest the hops and crawl down one’s neck, but beyond that there are no annoyances. One can talk and smoke as one works, and on hot days there is no pleasanter place than the shady lanes of hops, with their bitter scent – an unutterably refreshing scent, like a wind blowing from oceans of cool beer. It would be almost ideal if one could earn a living at it.
New Statesman & Nation, 17th October 1931. Adapted from Orwell’s hop-picking diary
When checking out of the Canadian Legion I asked the affable clerk whether there were other people from Almonte. She replied “No!” with a mixture of curiosity and surprise. In answer to what I perceived to be her incredulity, I explained that after I had been notified of my registration for vaccination there were no available sites closer to my home. I didn’t bother to interject that for me driving anywhere is seldom an inconvenience. My expatiation can be tarsome! We did however share reminiscences regarding her jewellery especially a Caribbean vacation ring now battered with time but still much beloved. Such is the serendipity of life that one encounters these heartfelt moments! Innuendo is the word!
As we rolled out of Barry’s Bay I had to laugh that the vaccination amounts to such an epoch-making event. We old fogeys haven’t a great deal by which to assess the accomplishments of the day. The triumph of this exploit makes up for what has been months of anxiety surrounding the pandemic. No one wants to be left behind. My apologies to the younger generation for having jumped the line!
I don’t attach any more medical strategy to this inoculation than to a flu vaccination. It’s just compliance with social imperative. It is nonetheless a terribly relieving task. Not only have I met face-to-face and successfully confronted the uncertainty surrounding a 2-hour drive to a remote cottage town for what I rightly imagined to be an express performance; I also have the paperwork to prove it! Carrot cake and butter tarts come nowhere near the rush from such short-lived endurance and such long-lasting sensation!
Next on the agenda of important stuff is the second vaccination which the Ministry’s certificate indicates to be within 21 days – 4 months. Surmounting this modest but important obstacle (the first vaccination) carries with it an overall spirited rendition of government purpose and necessity. Nor is it overlooked that today’s puncture is a happy coincidence with humanity en masse! There’s a reason they call it a global pandemic! Once again we’re indebted to governments throughout the world for addressing the rampant need – without which we would all be facing a far more dire roll of the dice. While it may be extrapolating the situation to say so, I reckon this is yet one more fibre in the woven mesh of people worldwide. When the alliance of government and populace is furnished with such clearcut benefit, the erstwhile so-called “conservative” ambitions of isolation, self-interest and national unity are moot.