In the last days, they tell us, there will be wars and rumours of wars. This week, in which it became abundantly clear that not only would schools be the frontline in the event of a lethal viral attack but that we’d be cactus no matter what, it is all rumour. It took no time at all — quicker even than the virus de jour — for students to use the threat of swine flu as a tactic in the battle we call education.

“Are you eating in class, Jai’dyn?”

“Anti-bacterial medication to ward off the swine flu, sir.”

“Really? I must inform the Health Department pronto that chewing gum is a certain prophylaxis.”

“Prophy-what? Isn’t that a franger?”

Or else there will emerge from the art class wags who have made free with the water colours in what they imagine is a simulacrum of infection.

“Those boys with the red faces and spots,” our Deputy Principal screamed from a distance, “Report to my office immediately. You look like extras in an amateur production of Les Mis.”

Still and all, management is rattled and notices have gone up in Downtown Calcutta (the malodorous place of easement) exhorting staff to wash their hands. The thought that they haven’t been up to this point is enough to put you off your lunchtime sanger. The hypochondriac among us, meanwhile, have acquired industrial supplies of alcohol wipes and that pink hospital disinfectant which dries on the hands. They open doors with tissues and turn pale at the first rattle of phlegm. Truth to tell, many of us wouldn’t mind a bona fide pandemic to give us all a break from semester exams and report writing.

In the interim we must endure the deadly humour (a truly medieval concept) of the children.

“Er, Vulnavia,” said Tarquin, lately back from suspension. “I’m really worried about you, babe.”

“Go play with yourself — if you can find it.”

“Yeah, I reckon you’re dead set for the swine flu — after all those pigs you been with.”

And so, as the class disintegrates like the Antarctic ice shelf, you sigh and note to yourself that vaudeville is not yet dead.

Peter Fray

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