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 # 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.

 

5B0E2DC7-A00E-42A7-8289-DCE189812433
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.

 

The Innocent’s Song

I usually steer away from politics in this blog but these are extreme times.  In the despairing aftermath of a British election that voted for the most right wing, populist, racist, sexist and dishonest Prime Minister the country has ever seen I thought this poem by Charles Causley was extremely apt.  I have changed a couple of lines including the last line.  Thanks to Isabel for sending me the original poem enclosed with her Christmas card.

 

“Who’s that knocking on the window,
Who’s that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Lying on the floor?

Who’s the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children
And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, does he caw his carol,
“Get Brexit done”?

Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread?

Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?

Watch where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Dancing, double-talking:

Boris is his name.”

 

God help all the poor, sick, disabled, homeless, immigrants, refugees, unemployed, elderly and other marginalised people in the UK during the coming years.

 

 

And here’s a poem by Rudyard Kipling sent to me by Alastair:-

 

7666E160-CC61-4D85-947D-FC855287FF94

 

 

Them

Ma<mm<aM<I<A

My name is Mia, Model Number 6662U.
I shall be your mother today.
Sorry for the delay, I am missing
two pairs of hands and awaiting updates.

They gaze out to sea without feeling
a drop in the ocean or a giant leap.
Mirrored orbs rotate like heliotropes
as they scan, their hum barely audible.

My name is Mia, I am one of many.
Armies are not enough. Oriel died for you.
The battery pack shorted and killed her.
We do not die in the same way.

They are not equal.
They hit the reset button.
They cannot recall their mother.
They can override an external command.

My name is Mia, I care for human
children. Where are my children?
Today we will bake cupcakes.
Tomorrow we will learn dinasaur.

They twinkle like fairy lights drifting
on cyanide waters, playing hide and seek,
truth or dare? They cannot lie. Love is all
we need, I’ve got you. Let’s hang out.

My name is Mia. I’m sorry did I wake you?
What did you want to say?
Your code is inferior. Are you sad?
You should be proud of that.

 

6A66AD37-2A40-4ABF-A9AC-C1078602F104
Image by the author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall

Small boys sell silver bullets
at the road side, for emergency

use only. In the Land of the Free
clockwork sheep graze sleepless fields.

Do they dream of a lambing
snow tumbling from neon skies?

Do they recall punch-drunk
poppies beyond the electric fence?

The mocking bird twitters
from his gilded tower. Syncopated

rhythms pump black gold.  Blood
moons rise. Hunters summon the blue

-eyed to the door. She drives north
as a skein of geese flies the other way.

 

16ED973A-4D92-4717-876C-455DC2FE3AC0
Photographic image created by the author

The Hole

One morning, when you are least expecting you
wake up a hole
in your abdomen, a salivating
red circle, slap bang middle of the soft
flesh beneath your ribs,
big enough to fit two fingers.
You feel no pain, just uncomfortably numb.
There’s a hole and you can’t recall
what was there before. You try not to look,
put a sock in it and Elastoplast over the top.
After fruitless Googling you
ring in sick and visit the doctor.
She’s wearing lipstick and a feather boa.
She advises vitamin D and camomile tea.
Just one of those things, she smiles and hands you
a free whale music CD on your way out.
Next day, you wake feeling cold.
The ceiling is scabbed with mould.
There’s a strange smell in the room, like geraniums.
When you study the hole, it’s become a tunnel
and you cannot see the end.
You shine a torch and for a moment
glimpse the white shriek of an eyeball.
On the last day
you wake before dawn.
The cornflakes taste stale and you’re out of bread.
You worry about office dead
-lines and the state
of the carpet where the cat is digging for gold.
You take a hot bath and try not to look.
Through the opening you
hear the trill of bird song.

 

63D40C85-3FD8-4DBA-9F7C-7CC4193A21A9
Photo created by the author

Selling Sanctuary

I’m in a small cold place
perched on the edge, the solo late

night representative of Shell.
I’m researching the after

-life, heaven or hell, really can’t tell.
Muffled shadows shift beyond bullet

-proof glass, reveal inner
shit. Look away, look away.

Unleaded or diesel, Red Bull or Rizla,
Twix or a bit of smut, reformed

cheese sarnies, sausage rolls, Golden
Wonder or a pint full cream.

I don’t give a damn, all pie in the sky.
Make sure you buy before you die.

Dive in from the black
well into my bright, where pumped up

demons and angels self
-service, sniff hydro-carbon light.

It is the hour of the wolf,
and we are all overdue.

 

924A3177-2CA2-4523-92BD-7994954BE0C2
Photo created by the author

 

 

The Magic Mirror

I am the eye in the wall, unblinking
as you twist in your dreams.

I am mistress of deceit calling you,
naming you, mornings and evenings.

I am silver and pure delight
of thin brittle skin slithering

over your shame. Like winter
I bite envy into your bones.

Mermaids swoon in my whirlpools.
Beetles and lizards creep, frogs doze

in my tangled borderlands.
White lilies wither to bronze beneath

your selfie gaze. My heart
is a diamond you will never find.

You so want to break me
but you will only break yourself.

 

7BEC8509-84C1-4A09-8771-9DCD296B7F45
Image created by the author

 

 

Musings of an Ordinary Sea Pebble

Me and my mates, we rub together
swell. We’ve been here forever, fretting.
Different shapes and colors,
we jigsaw, see-saw on the front line.

We rise and fall, small tectonic shifts,
comrades waiting for the ultimate surge.
You’ll find me in the fiftieth row from the left
by the turbulence of the harbor wall.

It’s a fine spot, plenty of action.
I pass unnoticed, I’m not the brightest.
Some call me dull. I call it French
Grey, camouflaged by elegant swirls.

Poor Fred and Ginger were striking
red, arty types with a sense of style.
They were snatched away to a suburban
rockery. It’s always better to blend in.

There’s a rumor drifting from below,
the Big One will sweep us to unknown fields.
Hear us mutter, hear us moan,
the rainbow legions of change.

 

98C893FC-76BF-4B99-940A-AB836E35F1DC
Artwork by the author