When We Walk Free Again

Artist Lindsey Dearnley

No one knows how this thing will end, but we conjecture, all the time. A bit like death; if only knew exactly when, we would know what to do with ourselves now. I can only look forward to a time when depilating my legs will no longer be the highlight of the day, when I can go outside to paint plein air again and sit on a bus. When that time comes, according to the BBC and the Archbishop of Canterbury we will be in ‘a new normal.’  

The hatred by the young towards the old displayed during this crisis, evinced by such Twitter sites as, ‘Boomer Remover’ and the surprisingly frequent suggestion that the lives of old people should be sacrificed for the good of the economy, will be forgotten. Instead Millennials and Boomers will join youthful and arthritic hands in their love of WhatsApp, Zoom, Hangout and Instagram.

Children will also have changed. Missing out on school they may suffer an increase in literacy. Radio 4 reported recently that, ‘watching TV may be educational,’ of course if the parents are middle-class they might impose a learning regime including educational programmes if there are any, but at the start of April a teacher’s union warned parents against imposing ‘too strict a learning regime on children who may already be disorientated by the virus.’

Once children return teachers will have to fight hard against any change of that kind. A fear that education is bad for you is deeply ingrained in our culture; when I was an infant in the 1960s my mother was ticked off for teaching me to read. No child was supposed to get ahead of the others. In the 1980s a trainee teacher told me she was very worried about a Chinese boy in her class being so good at maths. She spoke as if his ability was a kind of misconduct. Since then there has been a gradual abolition of any subject deemed ‘too hard’ for British brains. In May last year a spokesperson for OFQUAL, the UK exams regulator, complained that language exams were being, ‘marked too strictly’ which was putting possible students off.

Many pundits opine that as a result of the Chinese eating bat soup, UK survivors will want a kinder, more cohesive society, embracing a new kind of socialism where all people including shelf-stackers, cleaners and delivery drivers will get more recognition and respect for their service. Even prisoners, whose living conditions have never attracted public good-will or the attention of politicians, will get cleaner cells.  We will find ourselves in what used to be called a ‘Christian society,’ although that term is unlikely to be used.

 On Easter Sunday Linda Woodhead, Professor of the Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University told the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme that as the church has declined in moral authority, the NHS has gradually taken over.

 ‘It is now the source of our spiritual and moral guidance, she said, ‘representing our best ‘values.’

‘Values is the watchword of this new normal. Later that day Boris was released from hospital and with all the emotionalism of a new convert declared that the NHS is, ‘The best of our country, the beating heart of our country.’

Thursday may become the new Sunday as families troop outside in the evening to clap and bang dustbin lids the way people once went off to Evensong.

What would the Edwardian men who put the NHS in place have thought if you’d told them they were creating a monolith that will one day replace the Christian church is hard to imagine. I think you might have met with blank faces if not a suggestion that you might like to perhaps visit that nice Dr Freud in Vienna.    

Perhaps Boris will now give the NHS a large, grateful dollop of extra funding but if the love is to go on, there may have to be a culture change there too, at least in the training of nurses. People might start to remember what many of them outside intensive care units, were really like. In a London hospital in 2010, they were like angels; hardly anyone ever saw one and didn’t expect to. If you did it was not necessarily a good thing.

While humans wait anxiously inside, the natural world is a lot happier. On the daily walk one notices for the first time the deafening screech of bird song, usually muffled by the noise of traffic, burgeoning wild flowers along roadsides and tow-paths, normally destroyed by local councils every Spring. There has also been a stay of the usual slaughter of song birds migrating to Europe. 

It’s unlikely that Nature will go on burgeoning happily when this crisis subsides; No politician of any hue has put any pressure on the World Health Organisation to stop the Chinese using wet markets with the concomitant destruction of endangered species, including pangolin, civet cats and rare bats.

That idea is even considered ‘racist’ by the Left. Better red and dead than risk that accusation or upset the Chinese Communist Party. A vaccine may soon be found, hopefully before the next pandemic, a much better alternative to asking anyone of a non-European race to change their ways.

For a short time then birds and animals will thrive and Nature will revivify before her final end. Once any possible charge of racism is out of the way, Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg may also reappear from under their synthetic down duvets and start howling at America and Europe again.

When this is over, I might become depressed being one of those who enjoys a state of national emergency. If we were in the last war, I’d be happily driving lorries or organising soup kitchens for night workers. There is something reassuring in the increased bonhomie, usually in England there isn’t any which I find rather bruising. Living alone I benefit from the increased friendliness of almost everyone, who seem to forgive whatever it is that they usually dislike about me, and I am much more tolerant of them.

But if World War Two is anything to go by, most British people will forget all about the virus and the lockdown and go back to dour, unfriendly ‘normal’ the day after the restrictions end. After that, apart from the Labour Party complaining about broken promises, they won’t want to hear a word about it for at least five years. After that there’ll a flurry of poems, novels and films about the great lockdown, starring Jake Gyllenhaal or Ryan Gosling as Donald Trump.

The Tories as the only strong centre party will be in office for years. The Church of England or ‘Momentum at Prayer’ as it will be renamed, will be even more in the wilderness, but the monarchy like the Queen, will live forever.

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17 Comments on When We Walk Free Again

  1. The youngster, Jane Kelly, says:
    “…when I was an infant in the 1960s my mother was ticked off for teaching me to read. No child was supposed to get ahead of the others.”
    I was born illegitimate not all that many years before Jane Kelly was (born, that is) and I question her memory of those days. My mother insisted I learned my times tables in our little attic garret on Stuart Street (now part of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario) and I also remember my nursery school teacher reading classic literature to us (Mr Vinegar for example) and so I submit that the abandonment of literature as a gift to children occurred later. Perhaps in the 1990s?

    • I was a child of the 60’s and went to a wonderful primary school where teachers were free (from official scrutiny I presume) to share their intellectual and cultural passions with their pupils. It was an education that children of uneducated working class parents would not have otherwise received. Everyone was terrified of the headmaster and the threat of his cane, which hung on the wall in his office. No one was ever hit with it while I was there, but none of us wanted to be sent to stand outside his office for bad behaviour (the worst punishment) in case the Head came out, saw you, and decided a caning was in order for your misdemeanour.
      In the final year of primary school he would come into maths lessons and give extra tuition to a small group that had shown themselves to be particularly able. It was a great privilege to be in the headmaster’s maths group and any one eager enough managed to get in. We were also encouraged to do ‘topic work’ in our spare time, if we wanted, on subjects of our own choosing. I got a bit carried away and completed quite a number of illustrated information booklets on a range of topics. The headmaster asked to see them and kept them pinned up on the wall in his office. On reflection, I don’t think I have ever felt prouder of an achievement. So, I agree that there were opportunities for excellent teaching and some educators most certainly delivered. However, there were teachers then and now who want as little work as possible outside of their planned curriculum. My daughter, starting preschool in the early 2000s, made the mistake of sharing with the head teacher the fact that she could count to 20 in English, French and Italian (she was desperate to join her older brother and probably thought that would help her get into class). Like Jane, she was seen to be getting ahead of herself and she spent reception year finding out how wrong that was.

    • Jackie Scarpa,
      In my last year at Primary School we were taken to see Lady Macbeth at the theatre in Central London, granted some could only remember “Hubble Bubble” but equally it must have made a lasting impression on a group of 10-11 year-olds, whether or not they realised it or not at the time.

      • Didn’t leave much of an impression on you then as you haven’t even remembered what the play was called. It’s Macbeth not Lady Macbeth.

        • You clearly belong to the ranks of the needlessly snide who are gradually infecting the SR unfortunately, still, like Wee Andy, it is much easier to snipe from under the duvet than contribute.

      • I agree that it doesn’t matter how much of the experience you consciously retained or understood, it made a lasting impression on a young mind and I bet you have been able to trace many of your subsequent life choices back to opportunities like that one. It could be that Lady Macbeth made a strong impression on you as probably the most terrifying character in the play. There was also the film Lady Macbeth in 2016.

  2. But whatever the tribulations of the NHS, or should I now call it “our wonderful NHS” (OWNHS) all the employees are working and being paid, even, I imagine sick pay, with a bullet- proof pension scheme in a profession they chose knowing its risks, and in which they are, laudably, doing their best. Rather like our conscript soldiers in WW2 underpaid and with poor weapons facing I would say far worse dangers, particularly those fighting the Japanese. No clapping for them that I remember. We should be grateful for the workers’ sacrifices, but the response has been maudlin.

    • I have been feeling queasy about the newly erected Church of the NHS as well. Like you I am, and always have been, grateful to those in the NHS who do their jobs well. I am in awe especially of those doctors who know their field of study well and apply it to one’s case in an intelligent, caring and professional manner.
      Sometimes they seem like oases in the desert. You don’t want to leave them for fear you will never find another one.
      For all my appreciation I cannot bring myself to stand outside and clap with the rest of the congregation. It feels like blasphemy. No matter if I fall foul of the neighbourhood church wardens, counting heads and remarking on the number of people skipping service. I’m fortunate that my family feels the same way.

  3. I wouldn’t bank on the Conservative party being in power for long after this finishes
    The Labour Party with its new face will exploit this situation and in my opinion quite likely achieve it.
    And I am a very right wing Conservative.

    • I don’t think real conservatives are right wing or left wing. Would Edmund Burke have ever thought of himself in such terms? He never did. In more recent times, I don’t recall Michael Oakeshott or Russell Kirk having ever made that distinction in describing their conservative beliefs. Even left wingers can be conservatives. The distributists Belloc and Chesterton always seem non-right wing to me, if not exactly left-wing.

      • Sorry, Mr Birch (for wearing out my welcome) but did Roger Scruton ever accept the sobriquet “Right Wing”?

        Are penguins right wing or left wing?

  4. As long as people remember that although the corona virus originated in China, was exacerbated in China and then spread out across the world from China, nevertheless Donald Trump is to blame.