Notes on a Pandemic #4

A crisis is like an x-ray. It shows us who we really are. In the case of the UK government the Coronavirus crisis has revealed incompetence and deceit. In the case of the British public however, the picture is more positive. Communities have come to the rescue where the State has failed.

As individuals we are dealing with this new existential threat in various ways. Here’s a light-hearted analysis of the different strategies we are using to cope with strange times. So read on if you want to know if you are an Ostrich, a Doomer or a Happy Clapper.

The Hero

This group includes all essential workers including health and social care, cleaners, truck drivers, supermarket staff, delivery drivers, police, community volunteers and the invisible people who maintain electricity, water and sewage systems. This group gain strength and meaning through helping others. They enjoy being busy and have a positive, practical attitude to life. Their hard work and self sacrifice must be rewarded and respected.

The Ostrich

Unlike the heroes Ostriches think only of themselves and their own needs. They have difficulty facing up to reality and are afraid of change. They admire Donald Trump and believe the virus is a Chinese Hoax. They often have narcissistic tendencies and think the world owes them. During the Pandemic they are out on the streets flouting lockdown rules or on Facebook posting photos of their dinner and complaining of boredom. They have a deep seated fear of death hidden beneath a superficial bravado.

The Happy Clapper

This group have an optimistic trusting attitude. They believe all will be well if only we listen to the authorities.  They spend lockdown time painting rainbows on windows, organising sing-songs on Zoom, doing sponsored knitting for charity and making masks out of cotton knickers for health workers. They clap so hard and so long their hands hurt. They are a contented bunch who never ask difficult questions. Sadly I am not one of them.

The Doomer

The Doomer is the opposite of the Happy Clapper. They are pessimists and give up on every project after five minutes. They believe the Pandemic is the beginning of the end of the world and nothing can be done to stop it so we may as well not try. They disagree with Lockdown, thinking they might as well die sooner but on a good hair day and in a nice restaurant. They brood indoors and do nothing constructive, spending time instead watching the 24 hour News Channel and drinking gin. They take their allocated daily exercise strolling around the local cemetery. Doomers are to be handled with caution as they can damage your mental health.

The Survivalist

This group are going strong while others struggle. They have been preparing for the Pandemic or some other existential crisis ever since they first saw George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. They may have an underground bunker in the back garden or a basement filled to the brim with essential supplies, hand sanitizer and Hazmat suits. They have an emergency generator in the shed and a very sharp axe by the front door. They are now smugly observing from a safe distance as lesser mortals fight for toilet rolls.

The Creative Revolutionary

This group sees the Pandemic as a chance to change the world for the better. They are idealists. They believe people are basically good and that a new order with humanist values will rise as the virus demonstrates the failings of capitalism. They are using Lockdown time to organise community groups and post provocative messages on social media. They believe art can bring change and they may be artists, musicians, writers or gardeners who leave boxes of vegetables or poems at the doors of needy folk.  This group are an inspiration to us all and we must hope they’ve got it right.

 

214C0529-452C-45E1-9421-A4EBEBE9D5F0
Artwork by the author. Acrylic, household paint and collage on canvas.

Notes on a Pandemic #3

In the topsy turvy world of the Pandemic where social distancing is paramount, the news media and politicians are broadcasting from their home environment either by Skype, Zoom or other technological wizardry. This is fascinating as instead of a neutral studio backdrop we get a glimpse of the real personalities behind the public image. Or do we?

The funny thing is the majority of such broadcasters are careful to arrange themselves in front of their vast book collections reminiscent of a city library with thousands of resplendent volumes on custom-built floor to ceiling shelving. It’s as if they have to prove to themselves and to the audience just how intelligent and ‘expert’ they really are. I would love to know how many of those books they  have actually read and digested or are they merely status symbols signalling their supposedly superior social class. The tasteful middle class interiors with designer accessories  and original artworks are a universe away from the average person’s home, that is if they’re lucky enough to have a home at all. I have yet to see an ‘expert’ speaking from a cluttered bedsit or a small kitchen with dishes draining by the sink. Perhaps we would trust these people more if they showed their human side. They’re keen to prove how intelligent they are but books are not the only marker. There’s something called “common sense” which has fallen out of fashion in recent years. And there are different types of intelligence, not just the academic sort with its focus on science and rational thinking, there is also emotional intelligence, the intelligence of direct experience. There is intuition, gut intelligence, survival instinct, body intelligence.

 

63C7953B-A338-4B6B-80AD-95C5345A3477

 

According to Howard Gardener, the American developmental psychologist there are nine different types of intelligence, all equally valuable. Which one are you? I am probably a cross between interpersonal and existential but perhaps that’s something for someone else to judge.

So back to the Pandemic crisis…perhaps we would be coping better with defeating Coronavirus if we relied on people with different perspectives on life, different skills and different types of intelligence. A footballer, a psychotherapist, a musician, a poet, a plumber, a mother of six, a gardener..they all deserve the same respect. Their insights and skills are just as useful as any so-called expert with an impressive book collection and a David Hockney on the wall.

 

 

Lockdown

Beyond my kitchen window, grey skies
crumble like clinker over empty fields.
The scarlet willow bends in the easterly,
branches stripped naked like veins.
Crows smudge charcoal on the horizon.

Indoors, I inhale recycled air and open
my liquid crystal display. Your face bubbles
expectantly, cornered. Behind you double
doors slide shut, a TV grumbles. You hold
a Bugs Bunny mug, ‘What’s up Doc?’

 

981BC4B7-6968-4B80-BE41-F8DE50DF2DE7
Photo by the author

Remember

we gather at the edge
white feathers falling
in the dark
staring into the void
we are alone
the children wave purple lightsabers
kitted out in knitted hats
adorned with pom-poms
there’s a sense of urgency
mother and child move quickly
the wrong direction
teenagers pace and stiffen into poses
words fade with the wind
the burning of wood
the Ivory Tower
the crackling of flames
taking hold the awe
exploding the shock
we gasp smoke
sparks rise shimmering bat-wings
it is beautiful
the stars weep green roses
silver snakes carved
in the perfect dark
a father thin and tired
carries his daughter
to the edge
holds tiny pink hands
in huge gloved fists
nuclear dots burn
in the emptiness
we hold the fire
and only the wind

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2020 to all my friends and supporters!

 

5E056D5B-CACC-4D6F-B147-93349E645EF1
Photo by the author

 

 

 

 

Titanium Dreams – a poem created by the WordPress Community

She was the only titanium woman in the village.
Her metal mettle was more than a match
for the spineless would-be oppressors
but her shell held back a tide of bitter tears.

Her metal mettle was more than a match
but hidden beneath the nearly unbreakable
exterior was a wounded heart. She was looking
for the iron man with a heart of gold

hidden beneath the nearly unbreakable.
Her smooth skin sparkled like moonlit snow
and her eyes were bold. Protected within
her circle resisting the marauding crowds,

her smooth skin sparkled like moonlit snow.
Her shiny exterior made others inferior
and her titanium cranium was full
of geraniums, no mere delirium.

Her shiny exterior made others inferior
and she dreamed of titanium forests
where birds fly upside down, with neither defects
nor qualities but simmering in secret whirls.

She dreamed of titanium forests, a path unknown,
a mysterious world, a secret of her own. Her haunting
gaze and those dazzling eyes in people’s heart created
cowardice. Little did she know the path, her life,

a mysterious world, a secret of her own, her haunting.
Deep beneath the unbreakable cover
beat a fragile feathery heart
that could be broken without a spark. They say

it takes a village but her people had hearts of stone
deep beneath the unbreakable cover,
so she, the sole courageous stood resolute, alone.
She was the only titanium woman in the village.

 

 

Here are a few final lines from Kimmagic that unfortunately arrived after the deadline but form almost a separate poem by themselves:-

“Her cogent complexion clinging onto the cries,
Her shimmering skin ignites the lies,
As she swaggers through the spiraling shame,
And kindles the agonizing flame,
Is it the metallic her to blame?”

While assembling this group poem I loosely based the structure on the Pantoum form which uses repetition to unify the lines and create alternative meanings. The second line of each stanza forms the first line of the next stanza and the final line is a repeat of the opening line so it feels circular.  I had to make a few small edits to some of the contributed lines to make this work so I hope you approve of any changes.

Thanks so much to all the talented writers who made the time and effort to participate in this project.  It was fascinating to see the different responses.  You are all amazing!

Contributors are (in no particular order):-

Steve Simpson, Stevestillstanding, Angus Adams, Dawn Gray, Alec Hyde, Justin Lee S,

Frenchc1955, PK Lily, Trappedinthewordofmyown, Meg, Lisa K, Alastair, Kim Magic

and Nikita Shackleton.

 

Perhaps it’s a little early for Festive Greetings but I wish you all health, happiness and success for the coming New Year 2020.  And keep writing!!

 

5874F3F8-30E8-47FD-A4CC-4AB7135447A3

 

 

 

 

The Whisperers

In Medieval times gossip was considered a serious crime in Britain.  Perpetrators were physically punished and humiliated, forced to wear a mask of shame called a scold’s bridle and paraded through the town on a leash.  The scold’s bridle was an iron muzzle enclosed in a framework that surrounded the head of the accused. The device prevented the person from talking by a bridle-bit which was put in the woman’s mouth and pressed upon the tongue.  Sometimes a spike was attached to the bridle-bit, so that the movement of the tongue would cause wounds.  Christianity viewed gossip as a sin.  Islam, Judaism and the Bahai faith took a similar stance.

I believe it is natural and healthy to take an interest in other people but there is a big difference between negative, malicious gossip and neutral gossip.  Passing on factual information is one thing, but twisting the facts and inventing sordid tales to create a frisson of excitement is another.

For example, neutral gossip – Mrs Smith says to her neighbour:- “I saw Susan in the Post Office this morning. She’d just had her hair done and was wearing a new coat.”

Negative gossip:- “I saw Susan in the Post Office this morning.  She’d just had her hair done.  Pink hair and a leopard print coat at her age – talk about mutton dressed as lamb!” Followed by mutual laughter.

Unfortunately, most gossip tends to be malicious and is carried out by ignorant people with low self-esteem to make themselves seem more interesting.  Gossip is akin to an act of violence.  It can cause huge damage to the lives of others.  Very often the victims of gossip are marked out as different or vulnerable in some way, eg single women, people with mental health problems  or those from ethnic minorities.

The old English proverb states, “sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you”. Not true.  Words are powerful.  Physical wounds will heal over time whereas emotional damage may last forever.  In my local village there have been cases of marriages breaking up, people losing jobs or forced to move away and even suicide due to malicious gossip.  It seems small rural communities enjoy gossip and relish the stigmatisation of minorities.  However, gossip happens in all types of enclosed communities including schools and workplaces where it is particularly dangerous.  Gossip is a form of bullying and with the advent of social media it is a growing problem throughout the world.

Our attitudes to gossip have been moulded by language.  Many metaphors used to describe gossip have associations with food or drink, eg spilling the beans, tempting, scuttlebutt, a water cooler moment, grapevine, juicy, delicious, delectable, tidbits, morsels.  It’s as if gossip is something to be devoured, digested, a form of nourishment. The writer, David Rakoff complained about the negativity of these expressions as they imply that the pleasures of gossip are those of schadenfreude: that is, one person’s enjoyment at the expense of someone else’s pain.  The word ‘gossip’ originated in the Old English ‘godsibb’; god sibling, the godparent of one’s child and usually a close friend.  Shakespeare’s uses of the noun were derogatory: “Shall she live to betray this guilt of ours—A long-tongued babbling gossip?”

If you become the victim of malicious gossip you may feel upset, violated and helpless as rumours and untruths circulate.  Challenging or arguing with the instigator is not to be recommended.  It is demeaning and only adds fuel to the fire.  The best policy, although it can be difficult, is to ignore the whisperers, raise your head up high and pretend you don’t care.  When you are forced to meet your accusers be polite but indifferent.  Build up your confidence and nurture your self-esteem by treating yourself kindly.  Remember your achievements and that you are a strong person.  Surround yourself with friends and supporters as much as possible.  Do activities that you enjoy.  Show the gossips that you don’t need their approval or validation to survive and be happy.  Remind yourself that the people who gossip are sad individuals with empty lives.  Defamation is the only way they can get their kicks.  They are not the type of people you would choose as friends.  But do not indulge in gossip yourself.  Let others find out for themselves where the truth lies.

I recently bought the small ornament pictured below as a reminder that gossips are insignificant.  It is only what you think about yourself that matters.

 

253AC95D-3411-4735-A6E0-A4BC1C1B3F2D
Example of a Victorian fairing, porcelain ornaments once given away freely as prizes at fairground stalls. Now collected as antiques.