No, you can’t have that play date aunty

Why I told my 95 year-old great aunt Peggy she needs to can her birthday party

· humour,covid-19

My beautiful purple-haired 95 year-old Great Aunty Peggy tells me that she’s going ahead with her birthday party this weekend in Sydney.

“Can it you old crank,” I say to her lovingly. “Don’t you read the news?”

The problem is that my beloved 95 year-old Great Aunty Peggy does read the news. She’s a voracious consumer of news, is generally well-informed, a former lawyer, and an avid reader. She’s the top one per cent.

“Why can’t I have my party?” asks my beloved old aunt, with one of those withering looks she might have used with the hardened denizens of Sydney’s colourful underworld. “There are only 50 people, they’re all like me, and they all drive. You just don’t like me drinking and having fun.”

I do love it when Peggy drinks and has fun. She’s a really whiz at the Charleston and Fox Trot, and she reminds me that life can be long and fruitful and filled with insistent moments of joy.

The problem is that Peggy watches the news about Covid-19, and her take-away is that the risk is a distant one. The Woohoohan virus is clearly foreign, or uses public transport. Or goes on holidays (she no longer flies).

Also, it’s just like the common ‘flu that kills countless numbers each year.

“But my aunty, my benefactor,” I say to her. “Think of this in three ways:

“Firstly, imagine that you are back in London as a young woman. Hitler has declared war and Mr Churchill has said that we must all be prepared. It seems unthinkable. War? The city prepares itself with sandbagged walls, tape on windows, and the construction of air raid shelters. Panic is useless of course. It still feels unreal until the moment that the bombs start falling. Suddenly death is all about. Windows don’t implode, walls hold, people huddle in shelters they’ve been taught to run to. Some will die, but many will live because of those preparations.

“Secondly, beloved but slightly barmy aunty, imagine that each of your 50 guests has touched 5 surfaces outside their personal environment over the past 24 hours, places that other people have touched. Maybe they petted a dog, or touched a handrail, or got change in the newsagent, or hugged a grandchild, or touched a broom, or borrowed a book, or opened a door, or pushed a swing, or drank in a café, or hugged a friend, or rode in an Uber, or (really stretch your imagination) caught the train.

“So let’s agree that expert advice is that you can catch the virus by touching contaminated surfaces. Then if every one of those 50 guests had 5 contact points in the past 24 hours, and every one of those people you ‘touched’ through those contact points also touched 5 contact points, and repeat this idea for 8 days… well that network of contact points get close to the population of Australia. That’s a very bare-knuckle mathematical model for contagion, but you get the picture.

“Finally, you batty old bean, we know that the elderly are especially exposed. Your party is more like a Wuhan hot-pot of bat wings, pangolin scales, and bear claw, a fondue for the frail who have a death wish. You’re much better off knitting that weekend, and waiting until your 96th, for which we all dearly pray…