There was something yesterday – Radio 4; I was cooking not listening – about the lowest number of something – Deaths? New cases? – since some significant date early in the year, in the UK.
One or other of those is either mistaken, or fake, or evidence of a spectacular change over twenty-four hours. Or maybe there are countries where the virus is just worse and/or people are getting closer to each other. Or it’s our turn next.
Spaghetti Carbonara, since you ask.
I think I’ll just stay at home. The World is still on my doorstep, and I watch it. Occasional activity, occasional puffs of smoke. The maintenance crew chose a Pope the other day – white smoke instead of the usual black.
The world’s largest privately owned yacht is in for a three-month stay. The Captain, or the Customer-Services Manager, or the Landlord, I forget which*, looks forward to welcoming back the owners of the apartments on the vessel, craft, boat, ship, but for now, it’s empty pending the end of the coronavirus crisis.
Empty but for that maintenance crew putting out the smoke signals. In the deep channel upriver, where the cargo ships are laid to rest – laid up, I mean – there’s the quiet hum of enough power to keep the lights on and the berths warm – like the hum of a fridge in a silent house. Comfortable life, if you like maintenance.
I remember one evening, seeing a group of young men jumping onto the quay from an orange plastic life-boat. Going out for the evening rather than arriving home from a shipwreck.
Not that I was going to write about any of this, but I don’t suppose Covid-19 would agree to wait while I write about something else. “Spreading exponentially”. We’ve all been looking the other way lately, so maybe I should bear witness to what I heard rather than assuming that we all hear the same news.
Speaking of which. That statue pulled down in Bristol. It was put up in 1895, 125 ago, and yeah, maybe there are democratic ways of agreeing that a statue should be removed. But 125 years? That’s almost as long as it takes a public inquiry to produce a report exonerating a government.
Black lives matter. Of course they do. It takes a death – another death – to show us that we behave as though they don’t.
We’re not prejudiced. But somehow, judging by what we do, we are prejudiced.
I’m not talking about single police officers.
Different -ism, but I remember being astonished a few years back, when the BBC finally, reluctantly revealed that it paid its prominent women less than its prominent men. They were going to fix that by 2020, I think I remember.
No individual at the BBC would set out to discriminate against women, but somehow they all do. Did.
Back to racism. I wonder if collective racism, “institutional racism”, is what you get when you deny or suppress or don’t even recognise “individual racism”. I wonder if individual racism is such a simple thing anyway. Hardly anybody would use the words “I am a racist”, and most of the people who said the opposite would mean it. But.
Like everybody else, I’m a complex and complicated evolving bundle of upbringing, experience, expectation, nature, nurture, peer-group pressure, education, instinct, being picked last for the team, getting an A for my essay, mustn’t forget Stress, learned attitudes, memory, idiosyncrasy, sheer good looks and remarkable charisma (I made that last bit up). That suggests my attitudes to myself and other people are determined by a head-full of “stuff”. In double inverted commas.
There’s no clean-slate William. My head’s full of what we might as well call -isms. Most of them benign, I hope. But many of them difficult to detect, never mind change.
Okay. Stop for a moment. At no point in human history has a big moral question been solved by an overweight late-middle-aged man sticking his hand up and saying “Here’s the answer!” I’ve even got a (long-ish, grey-ish) beard at the moment, thanks to the lockdown – but even that won’t do it. Even if I write a book about my answer and start an -ism of my own. Racism is too big an issue for me, or even you, to fix.
What we’ve done throughout history is, we’ve built up mythologies and fairy stories, moral tales, around our most difficult issues. The most successful of those have come down to very simple conclusions.
Do unto others. Do all those things that, as instinctive creatures, we find most challenging.
It would be impossible to train a baby out of the startle reflex.
It would probably be impossible to replace Fight or Flight! with Group Hug! But it’s worth a try.
Difference evaporates. We’re all victims; we’re all having a hard time.
There was/is a saying – “less is more”. Difference is similarity.
Watched a TV show the other night, on Freeview. People looking for houses to buy. They had budgets.
In every house they were shown, the pitch wasn’t “This’ll do” but “If you knock down this wall, extend here, punch a window through here, make this room a bathroom, this’ll do."
And watching that statue coming down, I thought: this isn’t our house. This is the house lately vacated by the Victorians. Statues of slavers, streets named after colonial administrators, monuments to centuries-past victories.
We need to knock down some walls.
Let’s move all that Victorian stuff to the attic – sorry, the museum – and live in a stripped-down modernist interior with huge windows to bring the light in and all the communications technology we could possibly need to share our deepest feelings and find our unsuspected prejudices.
Let’s talk. Let’s open up. Let’s trust each other – and be trustworthy.
That’ll do for today.
*There was a report about The World in The Packet, which is Falmouth’s answer to The Washington Post.
PS: Now there’s a group of MPs “calling on the government” to relax the two-metre social-distancing rule because it’s hindering The Recovery. Their “call” is gaining traction in the media. I say: No. Don’t “call on the government” to do it. Take responsibility. Stand very close to each other. Breathe into each other’s air. Take responsibility for your own little corner of The Recovery.