Tim Dowling: ‘In 100 yards, go the wrong way to the vaccination centre’
It is Wednesday morning and I am looking through my phone for a confirmation email proving I’m meant to be here: at this distant community centre, at this precise time, to receive my second coronavirus jab.
Except I’m not there yet – I’m still at home, running through the manic pre-preparation I reserve for appointments of significance, by imagining all possible unwanted outcomes: having the wrong day, or the wrong paperwork, or both. I consider not being able to find the place, even though I’ve been there already. I think about answering a single checklist question in a way that gets me sent home unvaccinated. If I’m nervous, it’s only because I desperately want to be done with this.
“OK, so I’m off,” I say to my wife, a Post-it note bearing my confirmation number stuck on my arm.
“When’s your appointment?” she says.
“12.35,” I say.
“An hour from now,” she says.
“Yeah,” I say.
“It’s a 10-minute drive,” she says.
“Is it, though?” I say. My wife failed to press “Confirm” at the end of her online booking, then turned up for an appointment she’d never made, and is consequently two weeks behind me in the whole vaccination process. I will take no lessons from her in being relaxed about this sort of thing.
A third of the way through my journey, the satnav tells me to turn left, where last time it told me to go straight. It seems unwise to deviate from a route I’ve actually rehearsed, but I also notice the satnav voice has a new, more informal way of putting things. It must have been updated recently. I turn left.
“Go straight through these lights,” the voice says, “then turn right at the next set of lights.” I like this new mode, I think. It’s laid-back, but also anticipatory: it understands my need to know what’s coming.
But at the next set of lights, the option to turn right has been recently rescinded.
“How could you not know about this?” I say, driving past. The satnav tells me we’re basically going to the airport now.
“What?” I say. “I can’t!”
The satnav ignores this, urging me towards an approaching slip road. I see a right-bending arrow painted on the road ahead.
“Why can’t I turn right there?” I say. The satnav voice says nothing.
“The car in front is turning right,” I say. “Why can’t I?” The satnav is silent.
I turn right. After a hundred yards I realise I can pick my way from here without help.
“Proceed to the route,” the satnav says. I pull the cable out.
There is a queue of about 30 people waiting outside the community centre. I immediately stop worrying about being late and start worrying about how badly I have parked. The only space was along a narrow stretch of road, and I didn’t imagine leaving the car there, wing mirror folded in, for more than a few minutes. I look at the queue and think: why didn’t I anticipate this?
Half an hour later, my wife sends a text: “Have you been done?”
I reply: “No, I’m still outside.”
She writes: “I think I might eat.”
An ambulance arrives, but my first thought is not for the person possibly having an adverse reaction somewhere inside. My first thought is: if that ambulance got past my car, it’s probably fine. Then I think: what about fire engines?
As I reach the front, a doctor is sent out to interrogate the queue.
“Pfizer?” he says to me.
“Er, no,” I say. “AstraZeneca.”
“Wait here,” he says. Then he selects five Pfizer people from the queue behind me and escorts them inside. I text my wife.
“It’s like a nightclub,” I write. She doesn’t answer.
But 15 minutes later I am nodded through, and before I know it I’m sitting in my car with a completed vaccine card in my hand. As I set off down the road, I find the way blocked by a large delivery van – it’s halfway pulled out, and indicating to pull out, but it also isn’t moving. I wait. Eventually the driver rolls down his window and angrily waves me past.
“Relax, mate,” I say.