From David Maughan Brown in York: Dehumanising the victims

Napier barracks in Folkestone

January 28th

January 27th being Holocaust Memorial Day, we attended the annual civic commemoration of the day, this year via Zoom.  York has more cause that most UK cities to be highly sensitive to Holocaust Memorial Day, having been the site of anti-Semitic riots which culminated on 16th March 1190 in the murders or suicides of the entire one hundred and fifty or so Jewish community of York when they sought refuge in the wooden keep of what later became Clifford’s Tower, which was then burnt to the ground.

Yesterday’s very well put together commemoration was Zoomed from the University of York and introduced by the Vice Chancellor, the Archbishop of York and the Lord Mayor.  The major part of the ceremony featured a very moving talk by Ariana Neumann who told the story behind her memoir When Time Stopped, which recounts  her gradual uncovering, as she grew up in Venezuela, of the past her German-speaking Jewish father would never ever talk about.  Ariana discovered that 25 of the 29 members of her father’s extended family had perished in the Nazi concentration camps and that, although he had managed to escape being sent to the camps himself, her father’s experience had left him so traumatised that he was never able to speak about it.   As is the case every year, if the appalling horror of the murder of the Jews, travellers and others in the concentration camps was the one very striking aspect of the import one took away from the commemoration, the other was the recognition that it took years of incremental dehumanization of the victims to enable their mass murder in the gas-chambers to take place.

All facile analogies or comparisons of other circumstances and events with the Holocaust itself are rightly regarded with suspicion as potentially anti-Semitic tropes, but it is clear that all genocides such as those in Rwanda, in Cambodia, in Bosnia and in Darfur begin with the dehumanization of the victims that characterized Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II.   So it is greatly heartening to see that President Biden recognizes the importance of an immediate reversal of his predecessor’s insistence on demonising and dehumanising asylum-seekers and other immigrants.  Putting a stop to the building of Trump’s wall, and decreeing that government documents cease using the term ‘alien’ and speak of ‘non-citizens’ instead, may be largely symbolic, but reuniting immigrant children with their parents, and calling a 100-day halt to deportations, are much more than symbolic.  ‘Non-citizen’ is, of course, only halfway to being acceptable terminology, given the ‘non-White’ term beloved of apartheid functionaries and still used with such casual thoughtlessness in contemporary political and media discourse in the UK.

All the more reason then for dismay when, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, firstly, our Trumpian Home Office, in this instance fronted by Chris Philip, the immigration Minister, announces that unaccompanied child refugees will no longer be given sanctuary in the UK, in spite of the fact that the Home Office takes ‘responsibility for the welfare of children very seriously.’   So seriously that their welfare can happily be left to the people-traffickers.  Secondly, an article by May Bulman in The Independent[1]exposes the extent of the Covid19 outbreak at the Napier Barracks in Folkstone, one of the “camps” being used to house asylum seekers in the UK.  Bulman reports that by Tuesday over 100 positive cases had been recorded with at least one asylum seeker having resorted to rough sleeping in the camp to avoid having to sleep in a dormitory with up to 27 others, any of whom might be infected.   On 11th January Chris Philip responded to a parliamentary written question saying that the Home office was reviewing the recommendations of a ‘rapid review’ of asylum accommodation.  Ten days later the Home Office was still reviewing the recommendations.

Given the Windrush scandal, the ‘hostile environment’, and the callous indifference to the fate of asylum seekers exhibited by the Home Office and its current figurehead, Priti Patel, it is not stretching too much of a point to wonder whether confining asylum-seekers under such conditions in the first place, and the unconscionable delay in reviewing the findings of the ‘rapid review’ of their accommodation and doing something about it, is not deliberate, rather than just yet another manifestation of our government’s inveterate incompetence.   If we can’t generate waves in the English Channel to swamp the asylum-seekers’ dinghies, and we can’t send them all to St Helena, by way of deterrents, let’s just not worry too much about whether some of them die of Covid.   That might put an extra burden on the NHS, but it could stop them wanting to come here.  If that sounds unduly cynical I would, once again, cite in my defence the striking similarity of attitude and mode of operation of our Home Office to that of apartheid South Africa’s Department of the Interior.   

The relatively good news is that even the most cursory research will show that it isn’t only the Guardian and The Independent that have carried this story sympathetically. Even the Sun and the Daily Mail have done soboth of which have reported on a petition to shut down the site, along with a similar facility at a barracks in Wales, which had already by last Tuesday amassed more than 10,000 signatures.  So, much as the behaviour of the Home Office would suggest that it sees its role as being to take the lead in the incremental dehumanization of the victims of an inherently xenophobic government, it would seem that it still has some way to go if even the populist mouthpieces and opinion leaders of the tabloid press are still able to view the victims of the Home Office’s bullying sympathetically.


[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/asylum-camps-home-office-covid-b1792422.html

From David Maughan Brown in York: Christmas 2020

Occasional poet and novelist since retiring as Deputy Vice-Chancellor of York St John University in 2013

30th December

So Christmas has come and gone and, like so many of the paradoxes this strange and difficult year has thrown up, ended up, thanks to modern technology, being as social as any we’ve ever had, in spite of our being largely socially isolated and, for the couple of hours when we weren’t, maintaining a very careful social distance.  Present-opening in Cape Town over breakfast; followed by present-opening in Sheffield; followed by present-opening on my son’s lawn in York, as the temperature warily edged its way up to 3C.  Followed by mulled wine and snacks round a brazier for an hour on a friend’s lawn; then Bingo with all children and grandchildren in the afternoon; and a 90 minute chat with my four siblings and partners variously in Johannesburg, Namibia, Devon and Washington DC to end the day.  So another grand conjunction: this time between Zoom and the weather gods’ cloudlessly sunny day.

Christmas 2020 for us seemed to be characterized by a particular generosity of spirit which came partly perhaps from a recognition and thankfulness that our family has so far been one of the lucky ones that hasn’t been too badly affected by Covid19.  The only slight shadow on the horizon was the persistence of the underlying worry that my son-on-law was due to go back on duty as an A&E consultant in Sheffield in the evening, and that for some peculiar reason, unlike NHS staff in some hospitals elsewhere, the hospital staff in Sheffield have not been prioritized for the vaccine.   While stories abound of the vaccine being sent out to GPs for the prioritised elderly – whose continued existence provides living demonstration that they can self-isolate perfectly well – and the GPs not being able to use it all on the elderly, so calling in their friends and relatives to jump the age-priority queue, those NHS staff putting their lives at risk in our hospitals every day are being bumped down the queue.

The spirit of generosity that informed our Christmas was introduced for me this year by a Christopher Duigan concert we enjoyed shortly before Christmas.  In my entry on July 18th I wrote at some length about the hour-long piano concerts live-streamed via You Tube twice-weekly from his house in Pietermaritzburg that have been among the relatively few highlights of a year’s social isolation.   At one point during the Christmas concert it was reported on a corner of the screen that 462 people currently subscribe to Christopher’s concerts; they deserve to have many thousands more.  The Christmas concert saw Christopher being joined by Bongiwe Madlala, a brilliant Zulu soprano who gives concerts with Christopher on a fairly regular basis in normal times, although we haven’t had the pleasure of hearing her before. During the course of the hour, she told Christopher that it was the first time she had sung for an audience of any kind since March.   The concert consisted mainly of well known arias sung by Bongiwe, interspersed with classical piano pieces and a bit of improvisation from Christopher, ending with a couple of Christmas carols.  I found the fusion of Western culture and African culture almost unbearably poignant at times.  Where cultural artefacts were concerned, there was, in fact, relatively little that was African:  the Zulu lullaby, ‘Thula, thula, baba’, and one verse of ‘Silent Night’ sung in isiZulu.  But the warmth and humanity of Bongiwe’s singing, and the whole ambience of the concert, felt to me to be quintessentially African and richly redolent of ‘Ubuntu’, variously interpreted as ‘A person is a person through other people’ and ‘I am, or we are, because you are.’ 

Bongiwe Madladla’s voice has a richness and strength, but also a warmth tenderness, that convey the humanity and concern for others that Ubuntu seems to be all about, which harmonizes perfectly with the care that Christopher and his partner Barry take to ensure that the visual context out of which the music flows via the live-stream is as richly appealing as the music is itself.  The backdrop to the music – the colourful wall-hangings, the paintings, the assortment of large, beautifully framed mirrors, the brilliant displays of orchids, or, for Christmas, poinsettias – is subtly changed for every programme.   There is a painstaking, deeply thoughtful, attention to detail, to making the whole sensory experience of sight and sound as beautiful as possible, that reflects a gratuitous generosity: people tune in for the music, and Christopher’s informal commentary, the visuals are a bonus, an unasked for gift.  And what a gift that concert was.

From David Maughan Brown in York: It’s all in the stars.

December 23rd

Manston Airport in Kent: 22/12/20

‘It’s all in the stars’ – or, more accurately, to be a bit of a killjoy, in the planets.  A Grand Conjunction only happens once every 800 years so it must, of course, be redolent of cosmic significance, and Jupiter and Saturn chose to align for our benefit at the winter solstice in 2020.  What could be more significant than that?  Given what 2020 has dished out to everyone, astrological significance should come as no surprise, but when it comes to comprehensive interpretation one has to rely on the wisdom of astrologers.  What better authority to call on to tell us what it all means than the Daily Telegraph’s tame astrologer Carolyne (sic) Faulkner who informs the world that this conjunction is occurring in Aquarius, which is an air sign, and that all other conjunctions for the next 200 years will be occurring in air signs.  She goes on to say that whereas “Earth energy triggers people to become more grounded, practical, sensible; to have respect for politicians and institutions. Air energy triggers cerebral, less tangible happenings.”

I’m glad she told us that.  If we had been told that it was Earth energy that was holding sway over us we would have had to conclude that the energy, like that of the pink mechanical rabbit in the battery advertisement, was grinding to an arthritic halt.  There is very little that is grounded, practical or sensible in the way we are being governed, and respect for politicians, and many institutions – the NHS being a notable exception – dribbled away long ago.   On the other hand, if air energy ‘triggers cerebral less tangible happenings’ that explains why our entire economic and societal future is currently caught up in an ideological wind-storm with no tangible benefits whatever in prospect.  To take the latest example of the utterly delusional cerebral forces determining our future (giving the benefit of any doubt that anything resembling a brain is involved), one only has to cite our representative Home Secretary, the inimitable Priti Patel: ‘The government has consistently, throughout this year, been ahead of the curve in terms of proactive measures.’  She then went on to correct Boris Johnson’s absurd claim that only 170 HGV’s were queuing in Kent, by claiming the number was 1500, in itself a serious underestimate (today there are said to be 5000- 8000), and then pointing out that the number was constantly fluctuating as “lorries are not static”.  Tell that to the drivers of the seemingly motionless lorries ‘stacked’ on Manston airfield in the photograph above.   She might also like to tell them where they are supposed to find food, water and loos – never mind somewhere to sleep – for the three or four non-‘static’ days they are having to spend in Kent before being forced to be away from their children for Christmas.

The Grand Conjunction, symbolically hidden from the view of most of the UK by impenetrable clouds, should probably be taken as nothing more esoteric than a stark cosmic warning – a preview projected in the stars – of the much less grand, but probably equally far reaching, conjunction of Covid19 and Brexit.  The French government, understandably panicked by our callow Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock’s, ill-judged statement that the new variant of the virus was ‘out of control’, promptly closed their borders to all people coming from UK, and every single state in the EU, apart from Greece and Cyprus which are retaining strict quarantine regulations, immediately followed suit.  Many other countries around the world have now done the same.  So our proudly independent and sovereign little island nation is completely cut off; nobody wants us anywhere near.  Our rabidly jingoistic tabloid press promptly and predictably erupted with age-old Francophobic fury, accusing President Macron of playing politics.  Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian politician, reflecting on the current chaos and probably on the empty supermarket shelves to come, commented that the British people “will now start to understand what leaving the EU really means….”  Matt Hancock, gaze fixed firmly on the national navel, and unable to see beyond the white cliffs of Dover, had been intending his comment to persuade those living on his little island to abide by their Tier restrictions, oblivious to the fact that the rest of the world was bound to be listening.  Those trying to argue that lorry drivers don’t pose any risk of transmitting the virus because they spend their time ‘alone in their cabs’, and should have been allowed to cross back to France, have the same problem with national navel-gazing: they would appear not to have heard that HIV/AIDS research in South Africa has demonstrated very clearly that the spread of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa can be traced along the routes taken by long-distance truck drivers ‘alone in their cabs’.

The timing of the Grand Conjunction so close to Christmas 2020 has reawakened discussion of the theory that the star of Bethlehem in the story of the nativity could have originated with the conjunction of Jupiter with Venus (rather than Saturn) in 2BC. For those inclined to read messages into astronomical events, there might be a message there for our nationalistic ‘Christian’ xenophobes as they ponder the Nativity story in their unsung Christmas church services.   Perhaps the writing in the stars might be inviting them to compare the fates of two families, and two very young children in particular.   On the one hand, 15-month-old baby Artin who drowned in the English Channel in 2020, along with his parents, Rasoul and Shiva, his nine-year-old sister Anita, and his six-year-old brother Armin, after the family had fled from the violence in the near East, travelling from Iran to Turkey, Italy and France before having to try to cross the channel in a small boat because Priti Patel had closed off all legal and safe ways to get here under the pretext of Covid.  On the other hand, Jesus of Nazareth, whose parents had also had to flee violence in the near East, but who found refuge in a non-Christian country that was happy to provide refuge to asylum seekers long before there were international agreements requiring countries to do so.

It’s all in the stars – if one only knew how to interpret them.

From David Maughan Brown in York: ‘Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

December 16th

On the 24th November, a whole month before Christmas Eve, the UK government (read government of England), under extreme pressure from the libertarian loons on its back benches, who regard any restrictions on their freedom to do whatever they like as an unwarranted imposition, corralled the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into agreeing to a five-day Christmas ‘amnesty’ from whatever Covid19 restrictions the devolved governments happened to have in place at the time.  The national November lockdown was about to end, but the three-tier system was destined immediately to be re-imposed, and it was assumed that the virus would be sufficiently suppressed by then for there to be no problem with families being allowed to travel the length and breath of the UK to join two other families for overnight stays between 23rd and 27th December for a close-to-‘normal’, no doubt boozy, Christmas knees-up.  Extra trains are being laid on; extra time for travel to Northern Ireland is being allowed; all stops, apart from the one that says STOP, are being pulled out.

Strangely enough, the virus didn’t just remain unsuppressed and unimpressed by the November lockdown, it went into overdrive: it has not only increased its infection rates exponentially in the three weeks since the amnesty decision, but has spun-off a Southern Counties mutation which appears, although the science is still out on this, to be even more infectious than the original is.   So greater London and parts of adjacent counties have been elevated from Tier 2 to Tier 3 exactly seven days before an amnesty that lifts their newly imposed restrictions kicks in.   Chocolate fire-screens come to mind.  Whether or not the virus is equity-minded and made a mental note that no cognisance whatever had been given by the powers that be to Eid, or Diwali, or Holi, or Hannukah, Covid19 is not going to regard Christmas as a season of goodwill to all mankind and take a break from its job of infecting anyone rash enough let it anywhere near.

If the virus is certain to be unimpressed by the Christmas amnesty, so is the medical profession, as represented in particular by the editors of the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal who view the approaching amnesty with such trepidation that they have published a joint editorial for only the second time in 100 years.  In similar manner to President-elect Joe Biden’s excoriating demolition of Donald Trump’s undermining of US democracy as soon as the electoral college had formally approved his election, the editorials don’t pull their punches where the UK government is concerned: ‘The government was too slow to introduce restrictions in the spring and again in the autumn…. We believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives.  If our political leaders fail to take swift and decisive action, they can no longer claim to be “protecting the NHS”.’  The joint editorial predicts that, even without the time-lag between the inevitable Christmas amnesty infections and consequent hospitalisations, by January 1st there will already be as many patients with coronavirus in UK hospitals as there were at the height of the first wave in April.

So will the UK government respond to the increasing pressure and change its mind about the wisdom of its amnesty? Not a chance. They always ‘follow the science’ – just as long as the science suits their short-term political interests.  They are running too scared of the loons, whose numbers are sufficient to annihilate the Tories’ 87 seat majority, and no Tory government, never mind one elected with a ‘land-slide’ majority barely 12 months ago, likes having to rely on Labour votes to get its legislation through parliament. True to their tradition of hopelessly muddled, and often contradictory messaging, the government is maintaining the amnesty in law but strongly advising people not to make use of it: Boris Johnson is wishing everyone a ‘Merry Little Christmas’ and implicitly granting the NHS a potentially overwhelmed and not at all happy new year.  In the meantime the Welsh part of the ‘United Kingdom’ is changing the legal limit to allow only two families to meet, and the Scottish part is strongly advising against any overnight stays and against meeting for more than one day.

Boris Johnson and his equally out-of-their-depth chums would, of course, deny that it is in any way contradictory.  It was Mr Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whose turn it was to be the ventriloquist’s dummy justifying government policy on the Today programme yesterday.  Asserting that you “can’t legislate for every eventuality” he expressed the libertarians’ total confidence that people could be relied on to “weigh up the risks to their own loved ones” and “exercise their own good judgement” about their Christmas plans.   You couldn’t expect a ventriloquist’s dummy to realize that that makes a complete nonsense of putting 38 million people into Tier 3 today, and, indeed, of maintaining any kind of Tier system at all.  The entire rationale for having any restrictions can only be that people can’t, in fact, exercise their own good judgement.   

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: the rise of the strange.

4 September.

our art installation

The recent Economist magazine has an article about the weird conspiracy and outlandish theories arising during this period of covid19. Stories merge, grow and adapt to current fears. Such oddities have been around for a long time. (Did you know that aliens built the pyramids?)

I cannot understand how people are caught up with such mad ideas to the extent they will go out on the streets, risking contagion, to promote these ideas. To my amazement I have family and friends on FB that have indicated their following of such mad theories.

https://www.economist.com/1843/2018/08/14/following-qanon-into-the-age-of-post-post-truth

But humans are a strange (and brutal) species.

We have our local strange happenings as well. No conspiracy, no madness, just determination and lots of money. And a little bit about art.

Three hundred metres down our road, on the sloping Hills Face Zone, there is a magnificent garden, a garden of over 2 ha with a permanent gardener. We call it the ‘secret’ garden. The owner has allowed locals to wander in his beautiful garden. We marvel at the tendered lawns, the meandering paths, the huge trees, the olive grove, the water features, the views over Adelaide. Often, we have wondered why the owner has not built a house on the level area obviously prepared for one.

This last week, activity started in a strange way. Three or four containers were delivered to the site. Cranes arrived to position them on the slope. What was this all about? Next the containers were painted black. Was the owner going to store material on the site? Another crane arrived and placed a final container upright on the other containers. Was this a mistake? Had they dropped the container in the wrong position? The rumour then arrived that the elderly wealthy businessman was finally going to build a house. That made sense as many people are using this time of Cocid-19 to upgrade their properties. Wrong.

The puzzle was solved yesterday. Another crane arrived and placed three red crosses on top of the upright container. This expensive exercise appeared to be all about creating an art installation. I assume that the owner is a Christian and is making a statement … no harm done, no angry shouting in the streets.

art and belief in our neighbourhood

The art installation, which is what I will call it, can be seen from a great distance. I’m not sure what the council rules are about erecting such a construction. The council official has been seen taking photographs.

Meanwhile, I hope we can still wander in the garden. While doing so, we might reflect on the strangeness of humans.

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: Gratitude

May 1. Migration from rural to urban is reality in India. Millions of people are estimated to migrate from rural areas to urban areas and metropolitan lobour markets, industries and farms. It has become essential for them from the regions that face frequent shortages of rainfall or they suffer floods, or where there are less or no opportunity for employment. There are other social, economical and political reasons also. It also adds burden on the urban areas in many aspects.

Many of these migrants do not bring their families along with them. Once a year they go to their native places to visit families. Among the biggest employers of migrant workers is the construction sector,textile, domestic work, transportation etc. They are poor people.

Sudden announcement of lockdown due to corona outbreak and because of the sealed borders they could not go back to their native places. When all others were staying with their families, these poor people could not. Under these kinds of situations everybody needs emotional support. They somehow tried to go back even walking several miles. They were stopped on the border of the district by the local administration  and quarantine them in schools, hostels or whichever place was readily available in that area. Their life became miserable. However, Government and NGO’s made some arrangements for their food free of cost as their income is nil in these days. 

Now the State governments are trying to make some arrangements to send them to their native places. The number of corona positive cases are increasing and therefore It is a challenging task for the government to send them safely. Now after 40 days various state governments talked with each other and made a plan to send these migrant labourers to their respective homes safely. Both the Government and these migrant workers faced problems because of the lockdown. But I must say that the Governments have failed in social intelligence before taking a decision of lockdown. There is a need to amend lobour laws for these kinds of situations about fixing the responsibilities of the respective governments.

But I have a story to tell about some sensitive migrant labourers even when they were suffering. Some migrant labourers who were provided temporary shelter in a school building during lockdown in a village Palsana, district Sikar, state of Rajasthan in India. As they were getting good food from the villagers they said we will go home when time comes, but we can not stay idle for long. We may get sick if we don’t work. They voluntarily offered to paint the building. We will not charge anything but give us paint and brush so that we can facelift the school building. Students studying in this School are like our children, at least they will speak good about us, will remember us. Villagers, administration, sarpanch and principal made all the arrangements and we are grateful to them. Hats off to labourers for showing gratitude to villagers for taking care of them in time of crisis.

I must say that they may be poor but rich in their heart!

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: Slum Dharavi in Mumbai

Health Minister, Government of Maharashtra Mr Rajesh Tope in Dharavi

April 14. Dharavi is is in Mumbai, India. It is the biggest slum in Asia. It is has been founded in 1884 by during British rule. Approximately 300 thousand people stay here. It has an area of around 2 square kilometres. The number increased  by way of migration in search of jobs mostly from rural areas. Surprisingly it is astonishing to say that it has an active informal economy. Many of the household enterprises employ many slum residents. It is estimated that there are around 4,000 businesses and more than 12,000 single room factories. The products made here such as leather bags, purses, jewellery, accessories, textile etc has a market in US, Europe and Middle East. Annual turn over estimated at over US$ 1 billion.

It has not escaped from many epidemics. Plague in 1886 killed half of the population at that time. After 100 years they suffered from Cholera and now when the first case of novel Covid 19 was found, Panic button was pressed in the minds of Prime Minister to Chief Minister to Health Minister to Policy makers to general people in the country because of the type virus and the spread it may cause. How will they follow social distancing. In every small house measuring approximately 150-250 square foot on an average 7-8 people live. They are using common washrooms and many other problems. How do we quarantine them? It is the most difficult task. In addition there are 2-3 more such pockets but smaller in size in Mumbai where also the infection has entered. 

However I must appreciate the Health Minister of Maharashtra, Municipal Officials, Doctors, support staff have gone there personally to asses the situation and led the operation from front. The Chief Minister extended full support to the team. They are agressively following the strategy of CTRR (Contain,Test, Relief and Release). They all are brave people. They need a great congratulations. Young people came forward to volunteer their services.

God bless all those who are working to save them as well as the residents…

From David Maughan Brown in York: Limbo

10th April

Leaving references to Christian mythology aside, ‘limbo’ is defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as ‘an intermediate state or condition of awaiting a decision etc.’  We are unquestionably in a state of limbo, with the etceteras we are waiting for including a lifting of the lockdown and, in particular, a vaccine. When it comes to waiting for an effective antidote to Covid-19, there will be many people in the USA who, as their country’s death toll tops the charts, may feel inclined to consider their particular limbo as meeting one of its less secular definitions: ‘The condition of living on the borders of Hell.’ This is likely to be the more so as their ridiculous President peddles the anti-malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine as the answer.  Sadly, ‘living on the borders of Hell’ is probably the definition many of our NHS staff would be likely plump for as they set off to work every day fearful of what the indefensible absence of adequate personal protective equipment might mean for themselves and their loved ones.

One of the difficulties with living in limbo lies with coming to terms with the indeterminacy of the sentence – there can be no equivalent of a count-down Advent calendar; another lies with finding alternative ways of making sure that every single day that passes isn’t wholly indistinguishable from every other day that passes.   These were both minor anxieties when, after 43 years, I managed to shake off the habit of going into an office five days a week.   Even in retirement, in normal circumstances, one can establish rituals and indulge in interests that at least distinguish weekends from weekdays – from watching sport, to going out to buy croissants on Sunday mornings, to having family come for Sunday lunch.   Many of the distinguishing features of weekends were organized for us – the sport, the Sunday newspapers etc; some we generated for ourselves, like the croissants and Sunday lunches.  None of that is possible now.  We could, of course, mark off the passage of the days and weeks by instituting our own rituals for distinguishing between weekdays and weekends, for example by determining only to drink wine at weekends.  At which point I decide that perhaps, after all, it isn’t so very important to make sure that every single day that passes isn’t the same as every other day. 

from Megan in Brisbane, Australia: a Greater Purpose

April 10. Events have taken a turn!  My design-a-day has been adjusted and now accommodates a Greater Purpose, the existence of which can be traced to a single pivotal moment arising from the virus restrictions: my grandson posting his first video and his challenge to the family members.
These are the developments – he continues posting his videos, but now my youngest grandson aged 6 (yes, six) is making and posting his own videos. That is how much he was enthralled by his cousin’s creativity. They are delightful! Our challenge is to do something new, to look at the view, to help Mum with the weeds, do puzzles, and when doing your schoolwork, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I admit that, in the early hours when I can’t sleep, I watch all these videos over and over again. My battery is on permanent red alert.
Another of my grandsons has now decided to write a novella! So every day for an hour, we have a chat about plot, characters, suspense, description, dialogue, he writes and we convene the following day. So you see the Greater Purpose. But there’s more.
Someone on the family group, adult or child, quite spontaneously sets a daily challenge – a brain teaser or a word puzzle, cryptic clues to find deeply buried solutions – which keeps me busy in ways I didn’t dream of when I set about my design-a-day. How things can change from one day to the next. As has been proved in a more global context .
What will you create today? How will you express your creativity?

from John in Brighton, UK: an email from the GMC – the General Medical Council

April 10. I readily accept that examples of “being desperate” for the man on the Clapham omnibus would pale into insignificance in many parts of the World. The inveterate smoker on a long haul flight or train journey (not me) or urgently needing a leak on the motorway and the sign you pass says “Services 5 Miles” (been there, done that). Or more topically as the curtain is soon to come down on Lent my current yearning for chocolate after six weeks abstinence – surely that’ll mitigate some of the corona pain that we’re all feeling. But then there’s Matt Hancock’s desperate need for more doctors as their numbers shrink thro’ ill health (including a few deaths) and the vast numbers of patients. There’s no point building giant Nightingale hospitals if you cannot staff them. I was positively reassured that it was only to be doctors within three years of retirement who would get the call “Your Country Needs You” but just replace Kitchener with Matt or Boris. Let’s me off the hook, no need to feel guilty. 

But stone the crows on the afternoon of 2 April an e-mail from the GMC arrives out of the blue to tell me that my licence to practise is temporarily restored and if I don’t opt out within three days my details will be passed to the health service. My heart tells me that this is an opportunity to do my bit, something that will make a difference and is urgently needed – I’d love to do it. My head tells me otherwise and it’s unsafe in two ways. Firstly I’ve just received another text to say I’m high risk and essentially housebound for twelve weeks so that alone kicks it into touch. Maybe I could act as a telephone doc / advice helpline. But more generically I haven’t laid a finger nor a stethoscope on a patient for over five years. Medicine moves forward fast, my abilities retrograde with equal haste. I’m sceptical that a short refresher would get me anywhere near back to speed. I’d be worried that I might be something of a potential liability and I know from personal experience if you do make a serious error the stain on your conscience stays with you to the grave. Even in these unprecedented times I question whether I would want to take the risk and who covers my indemnity? Sadly I’ve declined the offer. Sorry Matt.

There is a final irony to this. I retired a little earlier than planned because of the bureaucracy and demands of revalidation – a process to weed out unsafe doctors (not that I was ever convinced it could). Politically correct, reassuring to the public but we all know that Shipman would have had no trouble revalidating. Maybe I would have still been in a position to help if I had stayed on – press-ganged into early retirement ‘cos I eschewed the safe doctor assessment, unwilling to resume now because I don’t feel safe.