“On days that you feel like the world is against you, you just have to push back harder… Life has a funny way of working things out…”
special had penned me these words in a card shortly after Christmastime, when I
really did think the world was against
me. Little did I know what life would bring in the months that followed. In
fact, looking back on that time, those problems seem a million miles away from
the world we are currently living in today.
often seems selfish to be thinking of ourselves in times like these. I look at
my own life; I live in the beautiful countryside, with a healthy, happy family,
and am lucky to still be working and seeing faces each day. Yet still, despite
all these privileges that we are so lucky to have, it can sometimes still feel
like the world is against us- and
that’s ok, that’s human. We all deal with things differently, no matter how big
or small our problems, and that is perfectly normal; especially when we are in a pandemic, when life has been completely
flipped upside down, when we barely even know what day of the week it is!
the sun glares through the curtains of my little room in the mornings, I often
wake up bursting with energy, with the feeling that I want to achieve
something, to better myself, to make the most of this time I have with myself. And
these days are great; they are filled with new opportunities to make me feel
fantastic and to make lockdown seem not completely awful. Yet other mornings, I
waken, feeling like the only solution is to lie in bed with a book and a cup of
tea all day, tossing with the idea of maybe
going for a walk, but eventually convincing myself that staying in bed is a
better option (which in hindsight is never the case). And it always seems
easier to be hard on yourself rather than forgiving yourself for having these
‘off’ days. Yet, over the last number of weeks, I have accepted that it is in
fact perfectly normal to have chops and changes in my moods and attitudes
during lockdown- and it is a perspective that I hope to keep with me even after
lockdown. These ‘off’ days are normal, they are ok, and they don’t last
I know that they don’t last forever,
because I look at the last eight weeks, and the bad days I’ve had, that are
completely outnumbered by the good days, the great days! Like the evenings I
have spent laughing with my sister over absolutely nothing, or the days I have
spent bonding with my dad as we chopped logs for the winter, and treated
ourselves to a cheap can of beer after, or even the sheer appreciation of
hearing my granny’s voice over the phone, picturing our first cup of tea
together once the lockdown is lifted. It really is the small things that keep
us going during these crazy times. I understand that not everybody is on the same
boat, but as that special card I mentioned stated, no matter what storm you are
facing, you have to push back harder.
feel like I have really learned a lot about myself during lockdown. I like
poetry, I am a good runner, I like oat milk in my coffee; a compilation of tiny
elements about myself that I had never discovered before. It has been this time
I’ve had with myself that has really got me thinking about things- about what
‘normal’ will be like in the future, about what my own future will look like. But
I suppose, what I have learned the most, is that it really is ok to be a little
selfish during these uncertain times. We are living in a world that is millions
of miles away from our usual comforts, and it is perfectly normal to be feeling
uneasy or worried about things, even if they do seem small.
five months after that card was sent, I feel like the words within it resonate
with me now more than ever. These are uncertain times we live in, but it is
important to look after one another and look after ourselves, mentally and physically.
everything is a part of your plan, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t part of the plan. Stay in, stay safe, and save
MA Candidate in Conflict Transformation & social justice
Belfast in lockdown is loud at night. The sound of a helicopter stirs the darkness, its whirring drones on for what seems like hours outside my window looking west. I ask my friend, Google, why the helicopters are so frequent lately. She replies with an article from 2018:
“If you can’t sleep, too bad. Be thankful it’s not you who has a loved one missing.”
research fellow in the school of theology, philosophy and music, dublin city university
My new guitar arrived today, corralled by cardboard, suffocated in styrofoam. This isn’t how it was supposed to go, you know.
I had a guitar lined up for my fieldwork. Had it lined up a year ago, a girly-pink Daisy Rock hanging on the wall of a friend’s studio. Not my colour, but the price was right. Instead, separated from the Daisy Rock by an ocean, I browsed a website. Disembodied. I realised how woefully unprepared I was for this task, with no one to guide me, no way to see the guitars in person. I nearly bought a left-handed model by accident – a close call. I somehow managed to bumble my way into a decent purchase; it has since been approved by my brother, the rock star.
I watched the UPS delivery tracker the same way I should have been watching the notifications for my flights: When will it get here? Will there be a delay?
If all had gone as planned, I would be flying to the US next week. Well, you know how that goes. I’m hardly the only person grounded by travel bans, answering questions about my fieldwork – my job – with a ‘delayed indefinitely’. It sucks though.
Fieldwork deferred, with no definite end date, feels like a bit of an identity crisis. I am, after all, an anthro-pologist. I do research with people. It’s one of the things I love about my job and my chosen career. While I fully believe in, and support, more social-distancing-friendly fieldwork – virtual research, online interviews – it is still deeply disappointing that my much-planned-for, in-person fieldwork, a project years in the making, has been put on hold. Ordering the guitar felt a bit like admitting defeat.
And so instead I am doing what everyone else is doing right now – learning online, alone, with an amp that plugs into a pair of headphones so as not to disturb my neighbours, or my long-suffering husband in the other room of our tiny apartment. Instead of being guided by a teacher, I am watching short videos of people I’ve never met – and never will meet – explaining string names and fret numbers to thousands of people they can’t see. Instead of rehearsing and performing with a band, I hum twenty-second pop song choruses under my breath to ensure my hand-washing is up to code. My chorus of choice is that to Queen’s ‘Save Me’ – a bit of black humour for days when humour is needed to get by.
This isn’t how it was supposed to go, but like everyone else right now, I am improvising.
If later this year the coronavirus pandemic can be managed (prior to the current projections of a second wave arriving), different economic and social sectors within NI will be negatively impacted by the potential threat of further viral outbreaks. As the medical experts continually remind us that second and third viral outbreaks will arise, economic investment will halt and individuals and corporations will remove themselves from certain at-risk sectors to concentrate their investments in other sectors that are mores immune to the virus.
Take two specific NI sectors for study:
The social housing sector within which I include care homes, nursing homes and sheltered schemes, is likely to take a large economic hit. Over four decades sheltered housing (in all its different forms) moved from being seen as a form of prison accommodation for OAPs to becoming a lifestyle choice for people who were in their 50s+ Housing associations have invested heavily in sheltered housing, but the pandemic has shown that sheltered housing with all its lifestyle freedoms in ‘normal’ times becomes the gulags and the gas chambers in viral pandemics. Who today would in their right mind take up a tenancy in a sheltered housing scheme, or which daughter would now place her mother in a nursing or care home unless there were no other options? Which person living in solidary confinement in a sheltered scheme for the last month is not thinking of giving up their tenancy to return to living with a greater degree of freedom if the experts are correct and further viral lockdowns can be expected.
The housing associations will start to lose high levels of income from these valuable cash cows within the near future as void levels increase. The community based housing associations and those housing associations that have a high ratio of communal properties will suffer worst. One of the impacts of this drop in income will be the inability to borrow to build other new-build social housing and hence the management of coronavirus may impact upon future social housing programs giving rise to increased levels of homelessness? Government cannot be expected to bail out the third sector housing providers faced with decreased tax revenues, increased welfare payments and higher national debt interest payments. The management of the coronavirus in the last month will cause massive economic and social problems for the Ni social housing sector in the years to come.
A second sector that will face an immediate negative impact from the virus is the NI university sector. This sector is more dependent upon government funding that the sector within England and Wales. The Scottish university sector will face monumental problems arising from coronavirus as the Scottish government faces astronomical demands upon its welfare subsidies across many different policy areas. Quite simply two things have happened in the university sector. Third level learning has gone live, it is now on-stream and the energy provided for distance learning by the virus will mean the creation of more competitor on-line university providers such as the Open University and the University of Reading’s College of Estate Management. The NI universities will increase their on-line learning provision, but students will also be aware how unsatisfactory this type of learning is when engaged with for 3-4-5 years.
There are other massive challenges facing the NI university sector. the numbers of university students from the Far East will greatly reduce and this will impact on certain academic disciplines, post-graduate programs and student housing provision. The loss in student income will be substantial and the NI universities may come to regret having marginalised some sections of the NI population. The Ulster University which has invested heavily in China will take a huge economic hit. The UU has already heavily over-invested in the York Street campus and has had to go cap in hand for an additional £130 million bail out (this year) to the NI Assembly. The universities and private market housing providers have invested massive sums of money providing large numbers of ‘student halls’ in the north side of Belfast. These investment and development companies could face financial ruin if the NI student foreign population falls by 10 -15% as a result of the continuation of the virus. In addition, those UU and QUB university students who could not terminate their rental agreements with the private landlords in the Holyland will be less likely to want to return to the poorly regulated HMO sector around Queen’s University.
At the same time that university students question living in cheap HMOs, the private sector HMO landlords in the Holyland looking for security of income will most likely look to income stability and rent to the growing Romanian community. The Romanian community in the Holyland, increasing in size and confidence will not be inclined to tolerate the sort of anti-social, criminal behavior associated with QUB and UU students over the last decade. If university students look for alternative forms of accommodation, this will come at a substantial price and will greatly increase the individual cost of gaining a degree in NI. With unemployment levels bound to increase, students will start to question the value of a social sciences degree? Reduced student numbers, changing pedagogic delivery, reduced student housing provision and collapsed student housing developers will collectively put pressure on the NI Assembly to bail out the NI university sector. Alas, the increased funding demands on the NI Assembly by all sectors; including policing, health, welfare, housing, education, etc., means that there will be a significant reduction in the size of NI university sector to match that within the NI social housing sector. if this is so, increased homelessness, increased academic redundancies and reduced foreign investment from university students will be just a few of the problems facing NI (and the UK) in the next few years. And this is just a brief synopsis of the impact of coronavirus within two sectors within NI?!
BA (JS) Student in History and Social Anthropology
I am not affected by COVID in a way that will cause me great trouble later in life. It’s been interesting to keep up with the science of it all and its not been too bad student-ing from home. However, something occurred to me recently as I was sitting in my family home having dinner with my parents. What did not occur to me was gratitude; an emotion that must be stalked and snagged, and forced into the centre of one’s mind. Gratitude is only achieved through painful activities, the likes of which, annoyingly, I ought also to be grateful for like meditation and prayer. What occurred to me was how much time I had lost with my friends in Belfast, and how this, the summer after my final year was time I would never get back.
So here are the mitigating factors: this is where I am wrong and stupid. Allow me to lay it out, to bear my sins before the group and be judged accordingly:
· I’m ungrateful for the family and the home that I have.
· I’m secure and I will nor starve or freeze, or probably (due to my age and lack of cardiovascular problems and age) die of COVID or any other infectious disease.
· I am not newly exposed to danger in a low wage, low status job like people in Tesco or Asda (or whichever supermarket is pertinent to you, oh reader, I’m not leaving you out in sentiment just because I left you out words).
· I’m not even grateful that I’m not sick, I take it for granted that I will be healthy throughout this.
· If I do get sick, I know there will be people to care for me, family and NHS.
· I am not at huge risk of high viral load and therefore a more complex illness like heath workers and teachers.
· I have no dependents, no fat coocoo has landed on me, beak open, demanding to be housed and fed…guilty as charged.
· I am not a significant other to someone pregnant nor am I pregnant myself.
· I have not been put into any financial hardship.
· I am not a business owner forced to put others into financial hardship.
· More good news! My submissions were pushed two weeks later than they otherwise would have been…
· one was reduced in length
· All the emails I get are about the understanding of the difficulty of these, and I hate to repeat this ubiquitous phrase, “unprecedented times”.
There! I said it! I’m an ingrate! I even bought a new smartphone this week, this is the lap of luxury…yet seen as the thought flashed across my brain, from whence it came or to whence it went no one knows, I allowed this nymphic spark to be a cantankerous and unreasonable one.
‘This blows, and I hate it and I want there to be a responsible person in front of me so that I might kick them in the shins with big steel-toe boots’.
I am a child having a tantrum even as I recognise I am a grown up watching that child. I was planning a huge party with all the friends I’ve made over three years of work at this uni. I was even planning on being quite happy about my achievement of not dropping out, despite weekly threats to the contrary. At Uni learned to cook, I learned to plan my days, I learned how to fight for myself. I wanted to have a right roaring ol’ pat on the back, and I had reasonable hopes of getting just that. Even what I wanted now sounds disgustingly self-gratifying.
In the ignorant fog of youth, I wasn’t full of all this icky introspection and self-critique; I’ve developed that, I’ve learned how to think, and follow up the thought with why I’m thinking like that. I’m almost a civilised person in a room now, and believe it or not sometimes I have a conversation with people that I can look back on and be proud of. Thank God. Listen, there is much to be grateful for in this, there are new friends to make and new adventures to pursue. I know it, I spend time and take pictures of flowers and hug my family… but, would it be okay to allow myself, for these next months are so significant to me perhaps, to be upset? If you can get on with reading and research then good for you, and post on the forum about how interesting this all is then good on you, great attitude and congratulations on your well-formed character. Really (I know tone is hard in text), but I do mean good for you, I read and am glad to know you are inspired by this new world as you have been in the old one to explore all that good academic stuff. This is not how I feel about **LOCKDOWN** most of the time, and I have a tenancy to decide to handle something one way, and then decide that I’m weak and morally compromised for doing it another way. In spite of all the good things I have, I feel alone, I feel grief for time I won’t spend with my friends and I feel sure that my degree, my last stage of adolescence will be marked by nothing.
These are the least of the concerns of our society at large, and it chose the right priorities. Now is not the time to hold a vigil for the students who are still basically fine. These are not, however, the least of my concerns, and seen as communities do sometimes take note of the discomfort of the individual, I thought I might see myself as a member of my own community and remember that mercy isn’t just for others. I remember the student, the person newly formed and ready to take their place in society who now, by the great and terrible Mother of Nature, is forced to cower in the rooms of their father’s house. I don’t know what to think when I remember that the student is me, but maybe that is an exercise for a different day.
These are all the thoughts I have to share right now.
Thursday evening. Sitting at the desk in the small upstairs office which has been my workplace since Queen’s University was locked down, I see my north Belfast neighbours coming out of their houses to participate in the weekly applause for the NHS. I open the window and join in the applause. Many of the houses in the street have been decorated with bunting for this year’s VE Day commemoration, which has been widely publicised in the neighbourhood: two minutes silence at 11.00am; Churchill’s speech on TV at 3.00pm, “socially distant” family celebrations in front gardens at 4.00pm.
The thought of VE day turned my attention to an old cardboard box which has sat untouched on a shelf in the wee back room for at least ten years. I know it contains photographs of my mother’s wartime service as well as other family memories: I had meant to go through them any create albums, but had never found the time. I opened the box. It contained a jumble of photos and documents going back over a century. The first thing I pulled out, however, was my own military enlistment papers, dated August 1975. My mother must have kept them: I didn’t. A brochure for the Royal Anglian Regiment promises “good pay, excitement, comradeship, promotion and the opportunity to travel, drive, signal, learn other skills and further your education.” Looking back now, the army delivered on every one of those promises, but ironically, the same cannot be said for the society it was defending. I did indeed further my education, eventually going on to achieve a PhD, but in real terms, I was paid more as an eighteen year old infantry recruit in 1975 than I am now paid as a contracted university lecturer with 13 years of experience. I dug deeper into the box.
The oldest thing I found had immediate resonances with our current situation. It is a preserved newspaper clipping dated November 1867. It announces the retirement of my great-great-grandfather, William Hunt, from the Metropolitan Police, in which he served as the Inspector of Common Lodging Houses. Although he died long before I was born, I still have his truncheon and whistle, and the desk on which I am writing, a little battered now, but still beautiful, belonged to him.
The clipping says that “Mr. Hunt was mainly instrumental in the suppression of the evil of subletting single rooms, the more especially amongst the lower class of Irish; and in his troublesome and often dangerous duties – having frequently to visit places infected with fever and other contagious diseases – he invariably displayed the greatest patience and kindness.”
I am glad that my great-great-grandfather was kind. I wonder what he would have thought had he known his great-granddaughter, my mother, would marry one of the “lower class of Irish”? That was far in the future, but such class controversies entered the family in the next generation. In the cardboard box, I found a paper bag full of photographs and letters belonging to John Hunt, son of William Hunt, who had been the founder and Captain of a North London Fire Brigade.
John had clearly been held in respect by his fire brigade comrades, but when he entered business after leaving the fire service, things went downhill. According to my mother, he not only lost all his own money, but married a rich heiress and lost all her money too. Nevertheless, he retained Diadora Lodge, the large family home with its extensive grounds in suburban North London, and he clearly retained his pride and class consciousness, for when his daughter, Ada, my grandmother, fell in love with Walter Larkin, a lowly carpenter, he refused to allow the marriage. When Walter was conscripted into the Royal Engineers during the Great War and posted to a searchlight unit in northern England, John hoped the romance was over. But the couple wrote to each other throughout the separation, and thirteen years after they first met, John finally relented and allowed the marriage. A postcard I found in the box reflected Walter’s wartime role.
My mother, Margaret, was born in 1917 and eventually, Ada and Walter inherited Diadora Lodge. I found photos of the house in the box too. Ada had to learn that shopping on a carpenter’s wage could not include ordering deliveries from Harrods, and Walter converted the large gardens, once a bourgeois playground, into extensive vegetable plots. I remember shelling peas and gathering walnuts there when I was a child, as well as playing in the wilder corners that remained uncultivated. I found a photo in the box, showing my grandad in his leather armchair with my sister on his lap, me in the arms of my grandmother, and my parents standing behind.
Now I came to the material that had first drawn me to the box. My mother, Margaret, had joined the RAF in 1941, largely to escape her over-protective mother. She had already lived through the Blitz, and was posted first to Wales, and then overseas to Egypt. A small autograph book I found in the box contained good wishes from her RAF friends, including this poem, dated June 1946, by her close friend, Marjorie:
There is sunshine here in Cairo,
Such as England rarely sees,
Though its fierce full heat is tempered
By the balmy winter breeze.
In the gardens at Gezira
Rose and antirhinnum smile
And the gleaming white fellucas
Sweep superbly down the Nile.
But I’d gladly give the river,
And the flowers and the sun,
For of shower of sleet,
In a London street,
Where the old red buses run.
My mother was demobbed from the RAF later that year, but she did not return to London for long, rather accompanying her closest airforce friend, Margaret Ramsey, back to her home in Ireland, where she met and married her best friend’s brother, my father, Bob Ramsey. My father had left school at fourteen and begun a seven year apprenticeship as a steam locomotive fitter. During the war, he moved to Short Brothers in Belfast, the city his mother was originally from. At Short’s, he maintained and repaired the aircraft which fought the Battle of the Atlantic. During the Belfast Blitz of 1941, nine members of his mother’s family were killed when a bomb struck the communal air-raid shelter in which they had taken shelter. When my father went to the house to check on them in the morning, he found the house intact and the dog, which was not allowed in the air-raid shelter, safe and sound, but the family gone. The box contained a photo of my father, with his workmates, their attention focused on something ahead of them. A union meeting? He was a committed member of the TGWU. A religious service? He was a Presbyterian but not an overly observant one. Or a football match? He played when he was young and always followed the game. It is one of the few photos I have of him without a cigarette hanging nonchalantly from the side of his mouth. Eventually, a combination of the cigarettes and locomotive boiler soot destroyed his lungs, and he died at the age of 63 – the same age I am now.
At the bottom of the box, I found a pamphlet which brought me back to VE Day. It was the order of service for a religious ceremony marking my mother’s departure from the RAF. The front cover, which showed two quotes from Churchill’s 1940 speeches, was headed, “Your Finest Hour”.
The back cover conveyed a message with a very different tone, including a cartoon, showing a soldier attempting to hand in his kit at the Demob Centre. The kitbags he carried are labeled, “Fighting Spirit”, “Service”, “Teamwork”, “Courage”, and “Sacrifice”. “Don’t hand them in this time, Son”, the storeman says to him: “We’ll need ‘em all in civvy street”.
Below the cartoon is another quote, this time from Field Marshall Wavell: “Think what a world we could make if we put into our peace endeavours the same self-sacrifice, the same energy, and the same cooperation as we use in the wastefulness of war”.
These were the word which accompanied every servicewoman and man when they returned to “civvy street”, and they are a reminder that my parents’ generation were not just the generation that defeated fascism: they were also determined to build a better, fairer and more humane society than the one which had led to the growth of fascism in the first place. Right at the centre of the society they built in the post-war years was the institution on which we all depend today: the National Health Service. Just like my parents’ generation in World War Two, NHS staff never wanted to be heroes. But this is their Finest Hour. And as we applaud them, we must remember that our task is not just to beat COVID-19, but to build a better society than the one which allowed us to become vulnerable to it in the first place. That is what true Victory means.
We have been here before. Massive social and economic disruption. Rapid and massive intervention by states around the world to minimise or prevent social disaster. Except it was the 2008-09 global financial crisis where states bailed out the banks. In the wake of that crisis there was a lot of talk about, and an opportunity for a ‘Green new deal’, using the various stimulus packages being proposed by states to usher in a step change in the economy, encompassing a low carbon, inclusive agenda for a different economy. But it failed.
Now states have been forced to ‘bail out the people’, find money to shore up national health care systems, leading to them effectively implementing a ‘basic income’ for workers to compensate them for staying at home, to nationalising all public health resources within their jurisdictions, and injection trillions in ‘quantitative easing for the people’ as an emergency measure… But vital those these state interventions are, this emergency and stabilisation strategy by states needs also to move onto thinking about what a post-pandemic economy looks like. Is it a return to the ‘status quo ante’, a completely understandable ‘back to normal’ desire, or should we also be thinking of ‘building back better’? To paraphrase a popular meme put it on social media, ‘The coronavirus has cancelled the future. But that’s OK. It was pretty crap one anyhow’.
Overall, the Green New Deal proposals from a decade ago, supplemented now by the more developed ‘just energy transition’ idea and policy platform, still stands as necessary and workable strategies for decarbonising economies, providing employment and managing our planned retreat from fossil fuels as modest first steps in addressing the planetary emergency. The ‘green new deals’ implemented in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis did not lead to a significant decarbonising of the economy, or a paradigm shift towards a sustainable economy. Green fiscal measures and investments amounted to around 16% of total fiscal stimulus spending in 2008-09.
It is telling that states have acted urgently on the Convid-19 emergency whereas despite parliamentary and local government declarations of ‘climate and ecological emergencies’, we have witnessed little if any climate action.
States, in drawing up economic stimulus and recovery plans to respond to the pandemic have a second chance to ensure that this time around they address the planetary emergency, social inequalities, precarious work and the lack of resilience many of the systems (not least food) that rely on globalised (and therefore vulnerable) supply chains. There are multiple co-benefits that could be realised if states and populations
The pandemic has effectively threatened the viability of the global aviation industry. But here governments should use any bailout package to ensure the airline industry transforms in line with climate science targets for reducing carbon emissions. That is, there is an opportunity for states to implement a ‘just transition’ for the aviation sector whose future expansion is simply not compatible with staying within the commitments of the IPCC 1.5 degree target. But whose workforce should not be sacrificed to achieve those climate targets. The 2018 IPCC report recommended that “limiting global warming to 1.5C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.
Well the pandemic has fast forwarded this. Or rather it has brought cheap rhetoric into contact with hard reality.
Greening finance – From institutional investors to pension funds financial actors are looking for safe assets to hold. Investment in low carbon infrastructure through the issue of ‘green bonds’ by governments could finance a green stimulus. They could be issued either directly by central governments, or through national or regional green investment banks. This could be accompanied by cross-national state cooperation for the orderly, urgent and large scale divestment from carbon energy across the global financial system.
Food – The pandemic has exposed the fragility of the UK’s food supply chain, with limited storage, a just-in-time supply model, and dependence on imported food. Alongside shifting agriculture away from its dependence on carbon energy inputs, investment and innovation is needed to enhance food security, sufficiency and resilience through the selective relocalisation of the food chain. Here, as with energy and housing, the Preston model of local wealth creation and using public sector anchor institutions to create local markets and links between local production and consumption offers a real world example of a different economy.
Energy – Governments should use their stimulus packages to quicken the transition to low carbon energy systems. Investment in renewable energy sources, along with low carbon energy infrastructure, especially the upgrading of national electricity grid systems away from centralised carbon energy plants will ensure countries can meet decarbonisation targets. This should also include R&D and roll out of battery storage technologies and associated infrastructural investment, and the ending of fossil fuel subsidies.
Housing – a low cost and quick policy win would be to roll out a massive insulation programme, targeting the most vulnerable fuel poverty households first. This would pay for itself in energy savings, improved health and wellbeing outcomes, provide non-outsourceable green employment and reduce carbon emissions.
As almost all the above changes (and the many other sectors that will also have to transform) have employment and other economic impacts along the supply/value chain, an overarching strategy and narrative integrating green stimulus initiatives must be around a ‘just transition’. That is, insuring as far as possible, that as we ‘build back better’ and lay down the infrastructural foundations for a regenerative, low carbon economy, that ‘no community is left behind’ and the most vulnerable in society do not bear the costs of this transition.
Despite the various declarations of ‘climate and ecological emergencies’, we now know what a ‘real emergency’ looks like, and what it requires. And we can start with dusting off and updating plans for ‘green new deals’ from a decade ago. Incomplete and modest as they were, it means we are not starting from scratch. When history and science agree you know something profound is going on. We had a chance a decade ago. Let’s not lose this rare second chance at making a first impression. Let’s build back better.
It is self-evident that the issue of loneliness is ringing alarm bells across society today. Technological interconnectedness raises big questions: Does it hinder connectivity? Or, does a world brimmed of capitalistic rapaciousness reproduce loneliness? Research largely suggests both to be so. Loneliness has come to the forefront of all our minds with the onset of quarantine. We feel the need to stay connected with our friends and loved ones…possibly now more than ever! This may indeed be true for those that have grandparents, especially with their mandatory confinement to their homes. Our need to stay in touch may suggest our worriedness for them being or becoming lonely and could also reflect our empathy and love for them. (This reminds me: I must contact my Grandpa tonight!)
I read somewhere that our need to stay connected should not be reversed when we return to normality— and we shouldn’t ignore loners or those on societies fringes. Contrastingly, Goodwin Hawkins & Meher state what normality is blighted by in their article:
Loners (see: young, male, radicalized) are framed as a danger to be noticed and addressed and, in more benign urgencies, loneliness is the substance of ever multiplying government and think tank reports, a problem that vaguely defined ‘thems’ and ‘theys’ are increasingly urged to do more to tackle (Goodwin-Hawkins & Meher, 2019, p. 118).
It is rewarding to see and hear of so many charitable acts across society, like millions singing up to volunteering, or more small-scale acts of generosity like doing shopping for neighbours. We don’t know what the world will be like after this, but without trying to sound trite, it is a time to self-reflect and ask questions of ourselves and others — hopefully a causation of change for the better.
Meher & Goodwins broadly define loneliness to be a lack of sociality and intersubjectivity (Goodwin-Hawkins & Meher, 2019, p. 114). If loneliness is to be taken as a lack of something, then it might be hard to define. Indeed, you’d have to have a lack of loneliness to contrast it to what it is like to feel lonely. Moreover, we can reflect on our own experiences to understand loneliness better; but not all of us always feel lonely (if ever?). Before writing this article, I questioned my own understanding of loneliness. I’d almost say I’m privileged having consistently had good friends and family around me, but to say that I’ve never felt lonely would be naïve and superficially confident. Unlike what we may be inclined to believe, we can’t always be social. If perceived as a lack of sociality, loneliness could be more ubiquitous than one may presuppose, and not merely confined to the elderly or those who’re alone. We want to stay in touch with friends and often think about them, but to our discomfort, there will be times when we find ourselves disconnected and feeling lonely.
Loneliness could also come in the form of longing for a time in the past, a certain epoch; “to feel lonely can mean feeling apart from some imagined, or remembered, or longed-for social coherence (Goodwin-Hawkins & Meher, 2019, p. 119).” Social media seems replete with the kind of ‘take me back to Wessi Beach’ dialogue, which exists as a social figment of imagination in the person’s mind. If you didn’t already guess: Wessi Beach isn’t real (at least I don’t think it is), but it helps paint a picture of how a longing for the past or somewhere elsewhere is evoked by a feeling of detachment and longed for social coherence, which one may think is lacking in the present, thus inducing a feeling of loneliness.
We shouldn’t trivialise the concept of loneliness; it is more fraught for some than others. But that doesn’t lessen its lethality. Unfortunately, the elderly is vulnerable due to isolation and we shouldn’t turn our backs on them. My two grandparents tragically died during a civil war—amongst other factors, due to loneliness.
My other Grandfather has complained of feeling lonely as of late. He’s always had quite a resolute and zany demeanour, and seems to have been taking his matters of loneliness into his own hands; this was said in an email he sent me:
As for isolation my only human contact is making chatty remarks to those I meet (but do not get too near) in the park. Almost everybody is highly responsive, even the joggers to whom I say “Don’t you know it is illegal to run, you are only allowed to walk”.
Whilst this might not be advisable to all who are feeling lonely, humour can be one of those most beautiful things to alleviate you from a difficult situation, and it’s good that Grandpa sees the funny side of isolation (as hopefully the jogger did too!).
At a time of quarantine and mired in uncertainty, we shouldn’t turn our back on our loved ones—for they are our fabric…maybe a popularisation of distant socialising instead of social distancing would better encapsulate our collective pursuits.
Goodwin-Hawkins, B., & Meher, M. (2019). Epistolary Fragments for an Anthropology of Loneliness. Irish Journal of Anthropology, 114-121.
The sound of lawn mowers, usually comes with the warmer weather, the sun high in the sky, no clouds, a fresh breeze and the continuous sound of grass being cut.
So we were all told to stay at home, then we were told to be careful with D.I.Y. Don’t be doing anything dangerous and causing accidents, this usually happens when people who have been cocooned all winter get let out into their gardens for some D.I.Y and grass cutting. Well surely cutting grass would be safe, the sound of it happening in neighbouring gardens had me contemplating my own overgrown jungle. Neighbours had a way of letting you know when it was your turn, the odd comment or do you need to borrow mine hint can sometimes do it. We’d become very neighbourly in these last few weeks of confinement. Clapping on a Thursday outside our doors, strange as it seemed was empowering although slightly bewildering as some never spoke a word in years to each other, but here we were clapping into the evening air for the NHS. Clapping seemed an odd way to thank them. So my contribution of not doing anything dangerous was suddenly thrown into chaos when my lawn mower took a mind of its own and went out of control.
It was another lovely evening and the urge to cut my grass became overpowering and I quickly set up the machine all with the safety switch to the ready, and proceeded to cut said grass!
Wo Ho! Look at me neighbours- out in garden cutting grass to desired level of acceptable proportions for suburban living – Wo ho! Off we go! Hold on! What is happening – lawn mower has decided to move faster than me – it has now taken off!!! But I am still holding the handle which is now NOT attached to the mower – oh no! This can’t be happening – flashes of ambulances, and pointed fingers are before me – how can I stop this mower from causing a disaster – luckily for me, the safety switch was on. I managed to stop the lawn mower in its track. It had headed for the only decent plant in the garden. Quickly I looked to see if anyone saw the comedy of errors acting out in my garden. No one around! Good. So I quickly took the electric lawn mower and put it back in the garage. Garden looked like a teenager with a bad haircut! A few passer-by’s nodded and looked slightly unsure of garden design, so I really needed to sort it out!
As I sipped my glass of prosecco that night, I was really glad I had managed to save the day and the garden with my trusted manual mower. Yes it took several hours and lots of walking up and down, and accepting smirks from passers-by and blind moving window watchers, but the grass was safely cut!
It was the beginning of COVID-19 lockdown in the Republic of Ireland. The most beautiful day I had seen this Spring. I’ve been staying with my grandmother in Dublin. Her Victorian-style farmhouse-fortress is situated deep in the country landscape, sheltered by green trees standing tall like skyscrapers. Hustle and bustle sounds of the city are scarce, but these silences amplify the voices of birds – their joyous hymns distract me from thinking too much. The virus confines my grandmother to her home because she is categorised as ‘vulnerable’. Her independence stripped; she relies on others to complete her tasks beyond the stronghold. She half-heartedly asks me to drive to the closest town to purchase the weekly shop. I can hear the unhappiness in her voice. She thirsts for her freedom. Like everyone, she wants this isolation to end and return to what she constitutes as a ‘normal’ life.
As I anxiously drive a small, raspberry Nissan Micra, my grandmother’s cries for freedom ring in my ears. I wonder if she will ever live a ‘normal’ life again. I wonder if I will ever live my ‘normal’ life again. I blast the radio loudly, distracting myself from thought. The radio station plays a bog-standard chart-pop tune. Impatiently, I click through different stations to find any ‘oldie but goldie’. After a fifteen-minute journey, I arrive at the entrance of the underground, drive down the narrow ramp, and proceed to find a parking space. I can’t believe my eyes as I scan the length and breadth of the large, industrial car park. There’s just a handful of cars scattered around the place. There are no bumper-to-bumper, vibrant vehicles or people going about their day-to-day shopping tasks. It’s eerie, lifeless, and I feel empty inside.
I park the car nervously, steadily pull up the handbrake, and carefully switch off the engine. I break into a cold sweat. I swallow the razor-sharp lump in my throat, take a pair of blue latex gloves and stretch them over my clammy hands. I quickly snatch my purse, two shopping bags and a handful of anti-bacterial wipes from the passenger seat. I mentally prepare myself for this psychological warfare as I open the door and step out of the car. I look left, then right, then left again. I hear the faint buzz of electricity waves from the overhead rectangle lights. A blue hue beams across the parameter of the parking lot. I yearn for some reassurance from just a single person, but I am alone.