For the last few nights I have jolted awake every hour or so in panic and anxiety about the situation in Ukraine. My parents were Ukrainian refugees during the second World War and I grew up in England. Throughout my childhood I heard horror stories from my family about what they endured when they fled their home at short notice during the Nazi invasion not knowing where they would end up and carrying only the few belongings they could gather. Today I wept upon seeing footage of Ukrainian families having to run for their lives just like my own family did seventy years ago. I still have cousins living in Ukraine and God knows what is happening to them. I feel powerless to help. My mother’s home city of Dnipro was bombed today by Russia. I am glad she is no longer with us and spared the knowledge of this atrocity. She died three years ago. As a gesture of support and solidarity for the Ukrainians who are now homeless and terrified I am posting my poem ‘Heartland’. It is based on my mother’s story and is one of the poems in my recent book, The Rush of Lava Flowers available on Amazon.
The train is leaving but I am here in a yellow room with curtains of sky. The door is chained from the inside, the lock and the mirror are broken.
The train is leaving and you’re not here. The prints of army boots have scarred the wood I once polished on my hands and knees with melting candle wax.
The train is leaving, I can hear it’s wail. On the sunlit balcony above treetops where the birds have fallen silent, a young boy hangs from a rope.
The train is leaving to I know not where but my cat is hungry, my roses wilt, poor Mishka waits on the window sill and they will not fit in my suitcase.
Will I find you arched across wild waters? Will I see you in the sparks of burning pines? Will you shimmer like an island in an ocean of wheat? Will I smell you in the northerly like the promise of snow or grass that is limpid green? Will I meet you in the white lines in the middle of the road? Will I catch you like a ghost in a speaking mirror? Will I taste you in buttermilk pancakes or tea sweetened with cherry jam? Will I feel you in the blue fur of a cat? Will I discover you folded inside yourself like a secret at the back of my wardrobe? Will I fear you in my dreams of showers without water or scroll you on my screen as a drone follows the River Dnieper Mama once swam? Will I hear you in the trains as they scream through the night?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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:-