Notes on a Pandemic # 2

The Coronavirus pandemic is being widely compared to a war, a war between humanity and an invisible, mysterious enemy – the virus.  There are many weapons used in a war and propaganda is one of them.

The word ‘propaganda’ was derived from the verb ‘propagate’, meaning to spread. It can take many forms including the withholding or distortion of information, the dissemination of fake news,  emotive language and subliminal ‘brainwashing’ techniques which pass unnoticed, for example, the repeated use of suggestive images and slogans. Since the early twentieth century propaganda has been used to  persuade or manipulate an audience into behaving or thinking in certain ways.  If you think that kind of thing couldn’t happen in a Western democracy, think again.  Look at Donald Trump’s election campaign and Brexit. Look at any advertising campaign. Democracies depend on the cooperation of a compliant population.  We are told we are free so we believe we are free, but how free are we really?

In 1929 Everett Dean Martin argued that, “Propaganda is making puppets of us. We are moved by hidden strings which the propagandist manipulates.” In his book ‘Propaganda’ Edward Bernays wrote “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

Back to the Coronavirus pandemic and the British government’s response (or lack of it). Think of the slogans and language used repeatedly.

STAY SAFE ………STAY AT HOME……..STAY 2 METRES APART…….STAY….STAY…..

STAY is a command used in dog training. Stay safe is a pat phrase we all say to each other now as we become ever more fearful and ever more passive, meekly accepting the nonsensical titbits of information about the virus that the government doles out. We are treated as sheep not equals.

FOLLOW THE SCIENCE, follow the yellow brick road, follow the Pied Piper…

At the start of the pandemic when the British government were wallowing in sloth and denial of the seriousness of the situation, doing fuck all to protect the public and wasting precious weeks, the Prime Minister would appear on his podium flanked by two government scientists. He claimed his decisions were based on ‘science’. There is no one science. Science is not God. Every country has its own scientists and experts with widely divergent views on this unknown virus. Even within the UK there are different opinions. While harbouring their covert dark agenda of ‘herd immunity’ and protecting the Capitalist economy at all costs (elderly and vulnerable groups considered collateral damage) the British government hid behind the veneer of so-called science. As a result, several weeks later the UK has the highest death rate in Europe and the mortality figures are ‘massaged’ to exclude deaths in the community.

 

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Image by the author

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of lockdown. We must take strict precautions.  But we need other State measures to successfully eradicate Covid 19. Testing everyone, not just those with symptoms or in hospital, adequate PPE for all care workers, a safe vaccine, antibody testing, anti viral drug treatments, research into why some but not others succumb to this disease apparently for no rhyme or reason, proper financial support for self employed so they are not tempted to go back to work. Instead of throwing every resource into those measures the Government have been working behind the scenes; giving new powers to the Police similar to those in a Fascist state, the Care Act has been suspended, mentally distressed people can now be sectioned by just one doctor for example. And God knows what else has been going on behind our backs…

People are snitching on their neighbours. Poor Mrs Wigglesworth from No 19 is being blamed for the collapse of the health service and the spread of the virus because she took her dog Bowser for an extra walk! The public are told to stay home and if they don’t behave like good little children many will die.  Like any skilled magician the government is making us look one way while they perform their dirty tricks. The health service and social care would not be in such a fragile state if it hadn’t been for years and years of cutbacks and austerity. Now the public are deemed responsible if the NHS can’t cope. Parents are scared to take their sick children to A and E as they don’t want to burden the system.  Many people are dying unnecessarily and not just of Covid 19.

So please, please, those of you who have persevered and read as far as this….thank you and next time you listen to a Government briefing, or a media report or any ‘expert’ holding forth…think what language they are using, what are they choosing not to tell you? What might lie behind those smug assurances and token gestures? What are they really saying with those snazzy slogans. Look at the wider picture and think for yourself.

This is not just a war against a pandemic – it’s an exercise in social control. It’s amazing what fear will do to a population. Fear and sex- the primal instincts.

So I won’t say ‘stay safe’ but I will say Keep Well and trust only yourself.

 

Notes on a Pandemic

There’s a pandemic but no one is dying. No, they are all ‘sadly dying’. The adverb ‘sadly’ is now inevitably coupled to any mention of death.  Journalists, broadcasters, politicians and other famous figures have all succumbed to this trend – feigning sympathy for the deaths of unknown people as a way of distancing themselves and their audience from the grim realities of dying. It’s particularly hypocritical when UK politicians use this phrase as their lackadaisical response to the Pandemic has caused many vulnerable people to die unnecessarily. People in care homes, health workers, essential workers, disabled people and the elderly have been thrown under the bus due to lack of Personal Protective Equipment and not enough testing for the virus.

The public are struggling,  not so much with social distancing and isolation but with this close up encounter with their own mortality. Uncomfortable, terrifying, unfamiliar. Death is one of the remaining great taboos in Western societies. Many people go their whole lives without witnessing a death.  Death is hidden away in hospices, hospitals, care homes and the third world. Even in the midst of this pandemic I’ve been surprised how many intelligent people are convinced they could not possible die of Covid 19. They think they’re too smart, too fit, too wealthy, too young or immune because they had a bit of a cough over Christmas and eat a lot of yoghurt.

’Dead is dead’ is a phrase my father used. It sounded harsh to me as a teenager but my father knew there was little room for sentiment when it comes to dying. We are all born to die. Sooner or later, one way or another. We are flesh and blood.  My father lived through Holodomor in the USSR, World War 2 and life as a refugee. He certainly knew about death.

We do not help ourselves by hiding away from the truth. The way we use language is important.

Here are some alternative phrases and colloquialisms for dying:-

pop your clogs; kick the bucket; drop dead; snuff out; expire; breathe your last; depart this life; dead as a door nail; launched into eternity; gone to Davy Jones’s locker (drowning); pushing up the daisies; one’s race being run; shuffle of this mortal coil; peg out; hop the twig; slip one’s cable; close one’s eyes; give up the ghost; pay the debt to nature; cross the Stygian ferry; to go aloft; last gasp; the swan-song…

 

Here’s the marvellous Leonard Cohen’s take on the inevitable with his powerful song Who by Fire:-

 

 

Coronavirus

This hideous pandemic has clearly shown that the earth and humanity are interconnected and dependent on each other for survival. Different nations, animals, plants, the climate – we all need each other. There is no room for selfishness, cheap nationalism and bigotry. The World Wide Web is not just on the internet but everywhere.

 

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Spooky Stuff

Last night I climbed into bed relaxed and comfortable with my cat Nadia beside me.  I switched off the lamp and moments later I heard the sounds of a cat moving around the house.  It’s very quiet where I live, bordered by fields so every sound is amplified.  I heard a cat jump down from a height and then the gentle clicking of claws on the wooden floor.  I was confused as I could feel Nadia snuggled up against my legs.  Convinced a stray cat must have sneaked into the house I quickly switched the light back on.  There was no-one there.  I switched the light off again and the noises continued.  It was pretty spooky.

This was not the first time I’d heard unexplained cat sounds since my loyal ginger cat, Sputnik, died four years ago.  I’ve sometimes heard a cat wailing. At first I put it down to missing him but now I’m not so sure.  Perhaps he’s still around me.  It would be nice to think so.

One of my friends had an uncanny experience after her beloved dog died.  A few days after his death she was visiting a relative in hospital.  As she walked the length of the ward she was stopped by an old lady, one of the patients.  “What a lovely spaniel you’ve got there, dear,” she said to my friend.  “Fancy the nurses letting you bring a dog to visit!”  My friend’s deceased dog had, in fact, been a spaniel.  The old lady could describe the brown and white dog following along behind. It’s hard to find a rational explanation for this.  The lady had never spoken to my friend or her sick relative before.  How could she know about her dog?

Acccording to a recent poll about fifty percent of people in the U.K. believe in ghosts.  In an age where secularism and science are the undisputed new religion it’s surprising that so many believe in the supernatural.  Cynics would say, it’s all in the mind, a trick of the light, a hallucination or there must be a rational explanation.  But surely everything is in the mind.  Our experience of what we name ‘reality’ is entirely subjective.  The world is perceived and interpreted by our mind, there is no other way.  So if we think it’s ‘real’ then it is ‘real’.

The word “ghost” in English tends to refer to the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear to the living.  In A Natural History of Ghosts, Roger Clarke discusses nine varieties of ghosts identified by Peter Underwood, who has studied ghost stories for decades. Underwood’s classification of ghosts includes elementals, poltergeists, historical ghosts, mental imprint manifestations, death-survival ghosts, apparitions, time slips, ghosts of the living, and haunted inanimate objects.

In Asia the belief in ghosts is more widespread than in Europe.  Ghosts are seen as benevolent, healing spirits,  ancestors watching over us.  In the U.K. while some people are frightened of ghosts, many participate in ghost hunting holidays staying in supposedly haunted hotels.  The tourist industry cashes in on these spooky thrill seekers.  The medieval city of York is famous for hauntings and organised ‘ghost walks’.  When I was six years old, too young to know anything of history or the supernatural I must have seen a ghost in Clifford’s Tower.

Clifford’s Tower is a striking landmark in York built on top of a steep mound.  It is the largest remaining part of York Castle, once the centre of government for the north of England. The 11th-century timber tower on top of the earth mound was burned down in 1190, after York’s Jewish community, some 150 strong, was besieged and massacred by an anti-Semitic mob.  The tower was rebuilt and the present 13th-century stone building was used as a treasury and later as a prison.

I visited the tower with my father and grandfather, climbing the fifty five steps to the entrance and then up a twisting stone staircase to the roof.  We were on the decked walkway at the very top of the tower admiring the panoramic views of York.  I wandered off on my own, as children do, and descended a narrow spiral staircase, not the one we’d ascended.  Halfway down I discovered a furnished room bathed in a rose light with the door ajar.  A man wearing a crimson, velvet cloak trimmed with white fur was seated at a desk, his back turned to the door.  He was writing with a quill pen.  I was astonished.  With great excitement I ran back up to the roof to find my grandfather, dragging him down the stairs to see the strange man with the fancy clothes.  But everything had changed.  The door was now bolted and disused.  There was no-one there.  My grandfather dismissed my claims as childish fantasy but it was completely real to me.  It was only years later, as an adult that I recalled this incident and realised the mysterious figure must have been an apparition.

I would love to know who or what I saw that day.  Was it just a memory imprint in the fabric of time, like a psychic photograph?

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When Winston Churchill visited the White House soon after World War 2, he reported a ghostly experience.  Naked after a long soak in a hot bath with a cigar and a glass of Scotch, he was walking into the bedroom – only to encounter the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.  Churchill kept his cool and announced: “Good evening, Mr President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” The spirit smiled and vanished.
The writer Arthur Conan Doyle spoke to ghosts through mediums and Alan Turing who invented the first computer believed in telepathy.  These three men were all famous for their intelligence and yet they believed in the supernatural.

So perhaps I’m in prestigious company!  It’s good to think that there might be more to life than our humdrum material world, that there’s still a mystery to ponder.

I would love to hear your personal ghost stories.  Please leave a comment if you have  any.  And sleep tight!  It’s the living and not the dead we need to worry about!

Dark Days

The end of the year can be a difficult time for those of us who are alone, either through circumstance or choice.  In the northern hemisphere temperatures drop, the nights grow longer and Christian communities begin their Christmas celebrations.  More than any other time of year there is an emphasis on family values and sharing which can leave single people feeling alienated.  There is a stigma attached to being alone at Christmas.  Turkey for one?  So in this post I wish to share some inspiring quotes reminding us that solitude can be a positive and healthy choice.  Being alone does not necessarily mean feeling lonely and company is often overrated.  The beaming, perfect families of television commercials rarely exist in reality.  If you find yourself alone this Festive Period use the time wisely to recharge and regenerate your energy levels, treat yourself kindly and cherish your freedom.  I’m planning to lock myself indoors with a fridge full of party food, a bottle of the local whisky liquor and a pile of wonderful books.

Ten quotes to celebrate the gift of solitude:-

1. “… the highest and most decisive experience of all, … is to be alone with his own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.”

Carl Jung (1943)

2.  “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

3.  “The only antidote to fear is to go through it. Only by embracing loneliness may its tyranny be broken.”

James Hollis (1996)

4.  “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

5.  “My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”

Patricia Highsmith

6.  “Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

7.  “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

George Gordon Byron

8.  “The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”

Aldous Huxley

9.  “I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”

Audrey Hepburn: Many-Sided Charmer, LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1953

10.  “Orlando naturally loved solitary places, vast views, and to feel himself for ever and ever and ever alone.”

Virginia Woolf, Orlando

 

If you need support try http://www.standalone.org.uk

 

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Chilling Out

We are living through dark and difficult times.  It’s hard to stay upbeat and positive under the constant barrage of bad news:- fires in Siberia, more mass shootings in the  U.S., flooding and the horror of Brexit in the UK, riots in Hong Kong, a possible war in Iran….its an endless list.  There are days when I avoid listening to the news. Instead I immerse myself in quotidian activities such as housework, cooking or gardening to try and regain a balanced perspective on life. I find being outdoors amongst nature and animals the best therapy for a gloomy mood.  Also I love creative art – to paint or draw or take photographs  and truly observe the world in all its wonderful detail. It’s important to take time out doing something you enjoy.  It’s important to focus on the little things that make life worth living, to stop and look at the beauty around us.

Here is my favourite mindfulness exercise.  I hope you find it helpful.

1. Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. Maybe it is a bird, maybe it is pencil, maybe it is a spot on the ceiling, however big or small, state 5 things you see.

2.  Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. Maybe this is your hair, hands, ground, grass, pillow, etc, whatever it may be, list out the 4 things you can feel.

3.  Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This needs to be external, do not focus on your thoughts; maybe you can hear a clock, a car, a dog park. or maybe you hear your tummy rumbling, internal noises that make external sounds can count, what is audible in the moment is what you list.

4.  Acknowledge TWO things you can smell: This one might be hard if you are not in a stimulating environment, if you cannot automatically sniff something out, walk nearby to find a scent. Maybe you walk to your bathroom to smell soap or outside to smell anything in nature, or even could be as simple as leaning over and smelling a pillow on the couch, or a pencil. Whatever it may be, take in the smells around you.

5. Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like, gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch? Focus on your mouth as the last step and take in what you can taste.

 

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Play it Again Sam

If I had my life to live over I’m not sure I would do anything differently.  Life is a journey,  a series of crossroads, roundabouts and T junctions without any signposts to guide the way.  At each intersection we must make a choice.  Our decisions are based on limited information.  Emotions, intuition and experience colour our judgement and we choose what we think best at the time.  We evaluate, we take a risk or not.  Whatever path we take there will be highs, lows and plateaus but the journey will not necessarily be better, just different.

The truth is life is unknowable.  Crystal balls and tea leaves will not help. Surrender to your journey wherever it will take you for it is uniquely yours, your  own fascinating  story.  Enjoy the highs, learn from the lows, rest during the plateaus.  There are no good or bad journeys, only what was meant to be.

 

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Original Photograph created by the author

 

Moth Dance

Alone in my hospital room at night I watch tiny particles of dust and fluff swirl beneath the reading lamp.  They say dust comprises of dead skin cells, we sweep them away when we clean, removing all trace of our former selves.  Our cells are constantly reproducing and every seven years our bodies regenerate anew.  Your body is repeatedly recycling itself but not your mind.  Your mind is an entirely different story.  Our brains become less active, neural pathways die, our memories fade and disappear, we lose skills and alertness,  sometimes we even lose our sense of self.

But back in my mean small room, Ward 3A.  I’ve been here fourteen weeks now.  A reluctant patient, more like prisoner. So every night I sit, sleepless and thoughtless watching the dust  and wondering if these are particles of the old me, a shedding of  my past life. Occasionally moths enter through the open window and dance wildly in the pool of light, their fragile wings clinking against the electric bulb. Blinded and bewildered they circle.  In the morning I find their wispy bodies spent and shrivelled on my sheets.

 

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Self portrait by the author