from David Maughan Brown in York, UK: Isolation and Cold-calling. April 1-2

Having spent some time learning how to post these blogs myself (thanks to Anne for her excellent fool’s-guide instructions), I turned my attention this morning to transmogrifying into one of my own least favourite creatures – a telephone cold-caller. Isolation is for many of our members precisely what the University of the Third Age (U3A) provides an antidote to: what it offers by way of companionship and friendship being for some people more important than the mental stimulation or physical exercise. As Chairman, I have been particularly concerned about those members of our York U3A community who don’t have email and with whom we can’t, as a consequence, easily keep in touch.  We have been sending out weekly information updates to the 1,550 or so members who do have emails, and our very long-standing practice has always been to post letters to those who don’t have email whenever we send out emails.   But that is totally impractical in present circumstances.  Besides which who knows whether the local constabulary might not think buying stamps and posting letters to be on a par with buying Easter eggs when it comes to being “essential”?

So three of us from the committee have set out to phone all our 230 or so members who don’t have email, working our way down the list on the basis of their membership numbers.   Today I’ve been phoning the ones whose membership numbers are in the 300s and 400s.  Given that the number of the last person on the list to be phoned is just under 4700, the ones in the 300s are clearly very long-standing members, all in their eighties or nineties.   Once the initial suspicion about the credentials of yet another cold-caller have been overcome – April Fool’s Day was probably not the ideal occasion for this exercise – I have found it a heartening experience.   Although many of them live entirely on their own they have, with one exception, all been cheerfully philosophical and said they are being well supported either by family or, more frequently, by neighbours.  I’ve made a note to phone the one exception again next week.  Although time-consuming, it is a worthwhile exercise to the extent that all the 30 odd people I’ve spoken to so far have said how pleased they are that we had contacted them.  It has also been useful to discover that several of them do, in fact, have email.

2 April:  So our sick Prime Minister (using the term literally in this instance) has made an announcement, quoted in this morning’s news bulletins, to the effect that ‘testing, testing, testing’ is what will enable us to conquer coronavirus.  This insight was accompanied by the promise to ramp up the number of tests being carried out.  So Boris has undergone a Damascene conversion in his illness and arrived at a dazzling new insight which just happens to be what the WHO has been saying for the last six weeks.  As it also happens, Boris has himself been promising for a week or two to ramp up testing, with no discernible effect whatever on the number of tests being undertaken.  Perhaps amnesia is another of the symptoms of the virus.

The same broadcast also carried a gem for the collectors of absurd World War II Covid analogies.  A spokesman for some chemical company or other has apparently asserted that small companies can contribute to the war effort in the same way as ‘the little boats at Dunkirk.’  The government effort is like the big destroyers but the little boats can also assist.  Admittedly it was an early broadcast and I was half asleep, but my imagination is not fertile enough, particularly at that hour, to dream up an analogy like that.  If one were to follow it through one would have to conclude that the destroyers have, in fact, been holed below the water-line and have sunk without trace.  Good luck to the little boats.

Where much less far-fetched and jingoistic analogies with war are becoming all too apparent they are, for obvious reasons, being suppressed.   The parallels are with the pain and fear-filled deaths of the many who are dying essentially alone, out of reach and out of touch of those they love; with the loved ones left behind who have not only been unable to watch over or be with them as they die, but are unable to hold anything resembling an appropriate send-off; with those whose loved ones are simply being taken away and burned without any send-off at all.  Those who invoke World War II need to be careful what they wish for.

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