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.

 

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Artwork by the author. Acrylic, household paint and collage on canvas.

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:-

 

 

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?’

 

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Photo by the author

The Tower

there are no birds
only the wind
and the howl of wolves
beyond the silence
we are alone

there are no clouds
only the wind
confusion spins
the crag of Lady Hill
we are alone

there is no sun
only the wind burns
the air is thin
within these walls
we are alone

we build brick upon brick
and watch the flickering walls
waiting for the storm
the Tower stands alone
in this Border land
we dance upon the battlements and hope

 

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Image created by the author

Web

She never learned the 60% rule,
hungry swarms disappearing.

Small insects under her skin,
no place for strangers.

Cracking pistachios late October,
a bumble of dogs bark at the fish truck.

She was arrested for public indecency,
a memory, bare arsed in a sacred place.

Time was up. At the border
she never heard church bells.

The day stripped naked, intersecting
her space with signs.

The sun more pink now. She swatted
it flat and bloody with her hand.

 

 

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Image created by the author

Plot and Bash

Tackle it when thrust through the window.
Look difficult when leaving the control area,
keeping right. Drive gentle up the road.
There may be more than you.
It will contain the time and distance you.
Get to the first junction as somebody else
and set off again. Beware of blindly following.
He may know where he is going or he may not.
Keep trying to make the fit and keep an eye on.
You may end up lost off route, being baffled
on route! Alternative. Pull up, obstruct and try
the hand better than clutter. With practise
you will plot the move keeping at least two.
If you are baffled it may be your opinion
-miracles do happen and he may see. Do it
or provide the clue. As a last resort guess.
Don’t stumble on a code. Use a magnifier.
Don’t discard handouts, keep them safe.
Engineer the maps in alphabetical
to easily locate you in the night.

 

Note:- Plot and Bash is a navigation technique used within British Road Rallies during the 1980s.

 

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Image by the author

Them

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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.

 

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Image by the author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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.

 

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Photographic image created by the author

Melt Down

She drifted down Main Street,
shrunken and exposed
to the gaze of lacy twitchers.

She maintained a regal air,
head high, Liberty scarf fluttering.
Think panache, she thought.

Her expression was composed,
eyes cool as anthracite
and mouth dead as diamanté.

But sunbeams melted her frozen
cockles, dissolved her moody blues.
So why the tremor in her guts?

When she reached the Post Office
her feet puddled like jellyfish
and she slumped against the wall.

Her reflection in the window
was pale as January. Her face
had slipped to her waist.

With failing heart she understood.
The next day all that remained
was a dark stain and a scrap of Liberty.

 

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Photograph by the author