Why I don’t clap for the NHS

This is a guest post by my sister. As you read it, you’ll see why I asked her to write this. (The tl;dr – she writes like Terry Pratchett. Cosy humour thinly veiling extreme anger at stupidity and injustice.)


Let me paint you a picture of my quarantine (It’s not lockdown.  Our doors are not locked). I live in a good-sized semi with my husband and three children (14, 12 and 9).  We have an allotment, a large garden and a park opposite. My husband is working from home, all but one day a week when he walks up the road to work.  My girls are both at secondary school and are sent daily lessons, which they do on their laptops, our only last-minute before-quarantine-hits, panic-buy. The youngest also gets sent work daily.  I have a hands-off approach; they just get on with it and peace (largely) reigns. Most weeks we have a delivery from Ocado. We’ve recently ordered online such things as clothes, flour, a microscope, sheet music, tent pegs and an entertainingly large rubber mallet.  We have various musical instruments. We have a well-stocked art cupboard. I love to draw and write. We are cosy quarantiners. In fact, it occurred to me the other day, we are the Eloi, and out there in the unknown, Morlocks are working to deliver us our every need while we stay cosy, safe and entertained.

Concept art for “The Time Machine” (1960). (Couldn’t find a credit for this, but I’d love to know the artist’s name – JD)

So far, so idyllic.  But what of the crisis?  What of the looming threat?  How do we deal with the fear and the uncertainty of what the future will bring?  Um… well, we don’t. Mostly. Because, other than the fact that our movements are restricted, for us, and for me and for my husband in particular, the whole crisis/looming threat/fear/uncertainty thing?  Well, for us that’s business as usual.

Just over five years ago I was diagnosed with a type of sarcoma – a lumpy thing in the connective tissue around my intestines.  Surgery got rid of it, but there’s no effective treatment which stops such things coming back. I was given a 40-50% chance of it returning to finish me off.  The children were 4, 7 and 9. I learned to live with it, and it’s simple, really; simple, but not easy. My basic approach is a dialogue I have with myself. Initially it was more or less constant.  It goes like this:

Me 1: You’re miserable!  What are you afraid of?
Me 2: I’m afraid of losing my life.
Me 1: (a little patronising) But you have your life right now!
Me 2: Oh yes, I do, don’t I?  I’d better get on and enjoy it then hadn’t I?
Me 3: (even more patronising, verging on smug) Yes, you had!

And that’s it, really.  So, with that in mind I learned to live a day at a time, or as I say regularly, ‘It’s Today’.  Because it’s enough, or it can be. And I don’t think it’s hurt for my children to grow up with me constantly telling them that this is a day we have been given to enjoy and that each day is a gift.

But last year my cancer popped up in my liver.  I had chemo and then surgery and I have scans every three months.  I haven’t asked my odds because I don’t want to know, and actually I know anyway, secretly, without even admitting that to myself.  I had begun, after four years, to send out tentative tendrils of thought into the future; perhaps I would live to see my children grow up, perhaps I would grow old with my husband.  I had to prune those tender shoots back to ground level, with an extremely sharp pair of mental secateurs. I had to reduce my world back to a small bubble of relative certainty that is this single day, sent like a gift for me to enjoy.

So, Coronavirus?  It feels like a drop in the ocean, and any fear and uncertainty I feel about that gets put behind the thick, heavy velvet drapes somewhere over my right shoulder, behind which lurk abject fear and dread and sorrow and all that stuff.  Those things are behind a curtain rather than anywhere more secure, an iron strongbox, say, simply because they are always present. They’re too strong to be buried, and yet somehow my mind’s worked out a way of loving life alongside them. I laugh, I giggle, I’m light-hearted, I have many, many things I love to do, and I can do them with full awareness of the lurking darkness and yet with, often, a curious detachment which leads me to be able to think of times when I won’t be there for my children with total lack of emotion and mere practicality of mind.

And so, I feel like I don’t belong in this crisis.  Fear of death? Box ticked. Awareness of the preciousness and precariousness of life?  Ditto. Grateful for the NHS? Profoundly and constantly and many, many thanks delivered wholeheartedly and in person, so that the whole ‘clap for the NHS’ thing seems rather juvenile and heaven knows what the neighbours think when we don’t join in.  But when they are no longer clapping and hollering and banging pans, I will still be smiling at my carers and taking them gifts of homemade jam and even sloe gin (with which they spiked their drinks in the local pub – well-deserved that day, having delivered the news of my liver metastasis and sat with me as long as I needed and this is a long parenthesesed bit but my wonderful consultant and the nurse specialist just sat and let me think and talk for a long time).  I will thank my carers again and again for the life that I have, the life that I’ve been given, as the most precious gift.

One final thing, which I have to add because it’s my best and most effective anti-depressant, happy-making, giggling-on-the-way-to-chemo technique for relative mental health: fanfiction.  I regularly disappear into the world of Stargate Atlantis, which is peopled by attractive and entertaining characters that are just itching to be taken on all kinds of hair-raising adventures and then brought safely and cosily home.  I started writing when I began chemo last year and I recently hit four hundred thousand words posted to fanfiction.net and Archive of our own, under the name salchat. When I write it’s as if the heavy velvet drapes and all the horrors they hide dissolve into so much black, bitter smoke and are poetically carried away on a bold, gusting wind of drama and excitement and pure, innocent silliness!


Links to Sally’s fanfic (which is just as wonderfully written, but usually rather less harrowing – I can heartily recommend the one called “Harvey” as a starting point!):
Fanfiction.net
AO3

Ma ma ma my Corona…

Over the last week or so I’ve thought of several posts I want to write about the coronapanic. But then, on one of my frequent visits to the wonderful worldometers.com to check the current figures and how various countries are faring, I spotted their other statistics. Such as the fact that, as I’m writing this, there have been 350,000 births today. That, encouragingly 40 million bicycles have been made this year but only 20 million cars. That depressingly, there are 850 million undernourished people in the world, and 750 million obese ones.

And finally, that 6 million blog posts have been written today. Given that my posts get at best about 100 readers, and that – much though those readers are very nice people and I’m grateful they read my witterings – none of them are influential on a world stage, I think it means I’m wasting my time trying to put together any coherent statement about why I think this crisis has been handled wrong, and where I fear we’re ultimately heading with all of this. If you’re a student of history you can probably predict the latter for yourself. If you’re remotely competent at being objective and reading statistics, I’m sure you can see many flaws with the former.

So I may write more about the panic. I may continue to blog about other things. Or I may not. I’ve been trying, once again, to meditate regularly, and one of the things that came out of a slightly calmer mind was the realisation that I’m stressed by the many many tasks on my mental ‘To Do’ list. And writing blog posts is one of these. So I hereby give myself permission to just not.

One of the things on my ‘To Do’ list last November was “top up the boiler with pellets (requiring a mask) despite having a terrible cough (requiring a corset to keep my intercostal muscles from going into spasm)”. Now I just look like I was channelling corona chic a few months early.

I also give myself permission to just not Facebook either, as it’s currently like having a Daily Mail reader shouting in my face every time I open the site. (Exceptions will be made for a) UP Radio, b) things like the translator chat group and the online translator’s pub quiz, and c) PetitBambou’s online meditation sessions.) I’m not currently sure if Twitter will have to go the same way, because my feed is much less toxic, consisting of a mixture of writing Twitter and No Man’s Sky players. Games are helping me enormously at the moment. Though it’s a strange feeling cycling round the deserted Normandy countryside for shopping then coming home and cycling around the deserted Navezgane countryside to loot the ruined houses inhabited by zombies in 7 Days to Die. As soon as they make masks compulsory IRL I’ll even have a similar outfit in both worlds.

Navezgane Jane or Normandy Jane?

Anyway, you know the drill. I shan’t say “Stay safe”, because the phrase makes me want to vomit. But stay sane, if you can. And if not, I hope your madness is a pleasant one.


In case you’re wondering, the stuff I could have written about:

Why the French government chose to lock down the entire country, despite numbers of infected being almost zero in vast parts of France, when everything else runs as though each département is a self-governing country. Even totalitarian China only locked down the infected bits. But somehow Europe has to close entire countries.

Whether, if masks were the way to control the virus from the start, this means lockdowns were pointless (and, as I’ve pointed out before, far more damaging to society as a whole).

Whether, if lockdowns were the right way to go, we shouldn’t therefore actually lock down – rather than all still pottering about going to the shops and forcing everyone in the logistics chain to continue exposing themselves to infection.

What the point of all of this is, given that a) it could take months if not years before we get a vaccine that’s even partially successful, b) we all have to die one day and c) the number of people who’ve died from the virus is still a drop in the ocean compared to, for example, the number who’ve already died from smoking this year, which we could stop instantly if we banned all cigarette manufacture (but we can’t because the companies who make them pay our governments vast sums to be able to keep killing us).

Why there’s such hysterical criticism of Sweden for not locking down. Personally, I think this comes down to superstition. “If we all stick to the rules, we’ll be all right, and because Sweden isn’t doing that, we’re all in danger.”

Why, on the same subject, people are saying that Sweden’s approach is a failure because they have 1.5 times more cases than Norway, which, as well as having half the population of Sweden, is the richest country in the world (excluding the tiny places like Monaco), and therefore tolerably well supplied in terms of healthcare facilities.

Why top medical officials are apparently unable to distinguish between the total number of dead – which is inevitably going to increase every day – the number of cases, which reflects the spread of the virus, and the death rate, which reflects how good or bad any country’s healthcare system is.

How long it’s going to be before the UK’s mass hysteria about applauding the NHS becomes compulsory, with neighbours grassing each other up if they don’t participate, despite the fact that, demonstrably, 43.6% of the population didn’t give a toss about the NHS at the last election, just four months ago.

Whether everyone else’s weather has mysteriously got considerably sunnier and warmer since we’ve all stopped flying everywhere. And, slightly more worryingly given that we’re coming into summer in the northern hemisphere, whether air travel was simultaneously contributing massively to global warming but also protecting us against the worst effects of the heat.

What happens next. I mean, not just how long does this continue, but where do we go as a society? I read tweets and articles saying “everything will be different”, but I’m pretty sure that after this most people will be only too happy to just go back to commuting and consuming like they were before. And I very much fear that governments will take this as an opportunity to crack down on civil disobedience. “You can go back to work, but you can’t go to the beach. We, your betters, can fly around the world for business meetings, and you can travel squeezed in together on public transport, but you get no pubs, no restaurants, and certainly no more Fridays for Future protests.”

Or is that just me being cynical again?