A few weeks before this all began, I went to see the Dissent and Displacement exhibition at New Walk Museum.
This exhibition was mainly collages detailing the flight of Jews from Nazi Germany; a number who subsequently came to Leicester and made their homes here contributing to our economic, civic and cultural life.
The exhibition also featured (mainly from the museum’s own existing collection) the sculptures of Communist Margarete Klopfleisch, one of those who fled to the UK with her husband, Peter and whose daughter, Sonja, has died (12th April) after a long illness.
Sonja was born in Maidenhead in 1942, but in 1960 mother and daughter made a trip to Dresden, then part of the Eastern Bloc, for a holiday.
They were not allowed to leave to return back to their UK home, and Sonja did not leave East Germany until 1984.
I got to know Sonja (now Grossner) and her own daughter, Lorna, in the late-1990’s when both joined the Socialist Party.
I always found Sonja’s involvement with the party quite puzzling since whilst it seemed she had become a Trotskyist, she always associated it with what she (and indeed many in society) termed the communism of East Germany, which she detested.
It was no surprise, therefore, when she left the Socialist Party, but it raised many eyebrows that she did so for the equally proclaimed Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party.
She (and Lorna) played for many years in a local cèilidh band, together with Michael Gerard, who was one of the first local victims of C-19.
Sonja’s death, however, does not appear attributed to the virus.
Whilst I often found Sonja difficult (we artists often are), I am very saddened by her passing, not least because I had been thinking about contacting her to discuss her mother’s work of which Sonja was very proud and could talk about for hours.
Her death also reminds me that the exhibition that I hoped to visit again is closed, together with the museum, because of the lockdown.
These remain strange times both in which to live, and also, it would seem, to die.
“On Monday of this week, I recorded a short piece for a birthday video for Russ, the bar manager of the West End Brewery.
It was nice to be asked to do this by Josh, the pub’s joint owner and its amazingly good head brewer.
From his Facebook post yesterday – the day of his actual birthday – Russ seemed quite overwhelmed that people had remembered him in this way.
I enjoyed the experience; I have known Russ for a number of years back to the days when he managed what was then Leicester’s no.1 real ale pub, The Criterion.
But it got me considering again how unreal the reality of this lockdown is.
It was nearly four weeks ago that I was last in the West End Brewery and it seemed like any other ordinary Friday.
I watched as the group I call the Mostyn Street Crowd enjoyed what for them is an end of the week tradition.
They were laughing and joking, ordering more drinks and, as is their regular thing, phoning for pizza from Bagos.
They are a friendly lot and there was a lot of hugging and kissing as you do with people close to you.
Or more precisely, as you did – as many of us did – before we entered the period that we are now in.
I have been thinking a lot since Monday about that March 13th day; it was the last time I saw my soulmate, it was the last day I saw Phil, the joint landlord of the Ale Wagon, alive (he died suddenly on April 2nd) and it was actually the last day I had a beer and saw Russ.
But what sticks in my mind is that glorious social interaction that I observed, which is now denied to us all.
And (as I write) what frames my thoughts is this was all less than four weeks ago.”
Amongst the outpouring of news from the BBC, a web article appeared today under the headline: ‘How deadly is the coronavirus?’
You may think that this is strange given how the BBC in the company of other media outlets pour figures out every day of the deaths that have occurred where the virus was present.
But that’s the point.
It is always of those who have died with the virus in their body.
It is never reported that people have died due to the virus itself, or if it is, I stand to be corrected but I have never personally seen it.
Nick Triggle, the BBC’s health correspondent, writes:
“The death figures being reported daily are hospital cases where a person dies with the coronavirus infection in their body – because it is a notifiable disease cases have to be reported.
But what the figures do not tell us is to what extent the virus is causing the death.
It could be the major cause, a contributory factor or simply present when they are dying of something else.”
Triggle goes on to say that the death of an eighteen-year-old was (at the time) the youngest recorded, but it was later revealed that sadly it was “due to a separate ‘significant’ health condition and not connected to the virus.”
Of course, to balance this, we have now heard of the death of a thirteen-year-old who it is believed had no underlying health conditions.
Every death is a tragedy for family and friends and, whether this novel virus played any part or not, they will remain so.
But I have two issues.
Firstly, I thank Nick Triggle for his article, but the media (including the BBC) stand guilty in my opinion for very regularly presenting news as if it were macabre entertainment.
Too often, I believe underlying health issues are used in reports as if they were some kind of Space Invader target, suggesting the deceased was quite surplus in the first place.
Secondly, Triggle says later in his article that “the Office for National Statistics [ONS] is now trying to determine the proportion of these deaths that are caused specifically by coronavirus.”
I think that this is absolutely crucial.
If we are going to find a defence to this virus, we have to understand its real nature and how and to what degree it is a (or perhaps the) lethal agent.
That’s why I think the work being done by ONS is so important.
Work that might also in time give some context to the terrifying headlines that none of us seem able to avoid.
I guess that we all find things to do whilst we’re mainly (or in some cases solely) confined to barracks.
Yesterday, courtesy of being a Curve (theatre) member, I watched a recording of Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual.
Powerful political stuff about a past age in Leicester’s local history, and, of course, football.
And today (courtesy of being a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company) I signed up for a three-month free trial with arts channel, Marquee TV.
I suppose I’m lucky as I’m not working from home on account of being retired; although I’m supposed now to be plying my trade as a writer, but somehow, I’m not writing much at the moment.
Everything that goes through my head presently is pretty dark and when we come out of this, I don’t particularly want to look back on a portfolio of dark stuff.
Reality is bad enough as it is, and the media seem much better at writing the ‘disaster movie’ pitches currently.
Of course, I do get to write the odd piece for this diary, so I’ve not given up completely.
But what I have found I’m doing a lot of is going through all of my digital photos.
Perhaps it’s one of those life flashing before your very eyes moments, but I hope not.
I have posted some random ones on my Facebook page and when I say random, it’s exactly what I mean.
I think I’ve tried to avoid one’s that are too personal, too painful.
I’ve also found the ones taken from the shows that I was in as an actor for the company I most recently finished writing for.
I had some good roles from Sergeant Hanley (plus others) in Private Peaceful, Graham in Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads piece, A Chip In The Sugar and a wonderful one as King Claudius in Hamlet.
So, you do have to keep busy in these awful times, even if you haven’t got an employer checking up on what you doing.
But, most of all, what I’m looking forward to is being able to get back to some sort of normal life, although I know that the world I withdrew from on 14th March is not going to be the same as the world we will return to at some stage in the future.
“For a contribution today, I thought I’d provide what I hope is a bit of entertainment. These days, I am a self-employed creative writer and to keep my brain alive I often indulge in one hundred word pieces of Flash Fiction. I thought I’d share a topical one with you.”
Correct Distance by AnthonyL Church
“Granddad, what did you do in the great Corona outbreak?” I smiled proudly. “I got on with it my dear.” The little face thought for a second. “Did life really change forever?” “Of course not, my darling.” It was time for them to go, so I bumped my elbow with my son-in-law and virtually kissed my granddaughter through my new-age smarterphone. The other half was already in bed when I went up. “Did they get off ok?” I nodded and then got into bed ensuring that our trusty bolster would keep us at the correct distance apart throughout the night.
“So, Prince Charles, pictured, heir to the throne has tested positive for Coronavirus.
But it does bring it home that this virus is no respecter of class, economic status, sex or any other status in society.
There are those who believe that the current panic over contracting Covid-19 is all to do with the fact that rich people can succumb to it as much as the poor.
The truth is that for years the poor have been dying of all sorts of conditions, very often the affect of austerity, and it has attracted very little interest outside the non-mainstream left media.
But now princes can contract something horrible, we are being made to sit up and take notice and our neo-liberal leaning government is being forced to move arguably far more left than Jeremy Corbyn wanted to at the 2019 general election.
It is a sight when a Tory chancellor talks very easily about borrowing substantial amounts of money, as if he was addressing a congress of a ruling socialist (or god forbid for Tories, a communist) party in a country like (say) Cuba.
In my final year of work, I was a work coach in a jobcentre.
I saw lots of claimants with serious underlying health conditions; many of them I knew wouldn’t live to a fine old age.
I’ve been thinking about them a lot in the last few days.
One stands out for me.
He was a gentleman in his forties who probably due to being a refugee from a part of the world where war was a fact of life had contracted Hepatitis-C.
I was at first nervous of seeing him, but I read up on his condition and found that as long as I wasn’t sharing blood with him, I was safe.
In any event, he had suffered with the virus and wasn’t suffering with it when I saw him.
But the point of this is that when I talked with him about his health, including his Hepatitis, he thanked me and said I was the only person outside of medical professionals who had ever shown any interest in him.
He then said something that has stuck with me all these months since leaving work at DWP.
“You know mister Tony, no-one cares about the health of poor people like me.
We are just the same as livestock [he had once been a farmer] and if one dies, so long as the rest of the herd is still there no-one takes any notice.
But mister Tony, if I was a prince in my country then everyone would be forced to take notice and pay homage, showering me with gifts.”
His words have a tremendous resonance with me today.
I hope my former claimant is presently well and remains so during the current crisis.”
But once again the prime minister who likes to think of himself as Churchill came over more like Neville Chamberlain rather than his hero.
He implored us to stand together to support our NHS.
This was the NHS that just weeks ago he refused to categorically rule out would not be sold to Donald Trump (at the very least in part) in a trade deal post-Brexit.
This is the NHS that austerity decreed had to be starved to beyond breaking point, and which is a major factor in the health crisis that we are now facing, and which could have, in my opinion, led to perhaps a poor initial diagnosing in the case of my now dead friend.
The chancellor has shown in his recent ‘generosity’ that austerity was always a political rather than a financial one.
I knew that of course.
So, I’ll live with and respect your restrictions, Mr Johnson, but your hypocrisy as well as the hypocrisy of your party is astounding.
On a practical level, food shopping is going to be a challenge for me.
I don’t have a car and therefore I am restricted to what I can personally carry given that getting a shopping delivery is like waiting for Christmas; although I do hope I can actually get one before then.
The prime minister said that we should only go out food shopping “infrequently”.
Once again, it shows how dangerously out of touch the man is.
In my circumstances, my choices are limited and I’m afraid it means that I shall be shopping (not by my choice I can assure you) frequently.
I expect to be challenged by the police for this, only I doubt this will be the case because the police are yet another victim of austerity and will not have the resources to tackle every instance of potential non-compliance.
I bet that there was rejoicing in the offices of chief constables up and down the country when they were informed of one more job that their forces had been given to do.
There again, perhaps there wasn’t.
But what really got to me, as it has every time I have heard Boris Johnson or his ministers recently, is how unwilling they are to tell business that they will enforce that it is actually not business as usual.
Within a disgustingly short space of time after the prime minister had spoken, Mike Ashley who (amongst other things) owns SportsDirect announced that his non-essential chain of stores would not be closing as requested.
Ashley has since made a U-turn through public opinion, but it does show how weak our government is seen in comparison to some others.
And SportsDirect is just one example.
I reliably know of one local design company that is still telling its staff to come in.
Is design crucial and essential business in the current situation?
I would suggest that it most certainly isn’t.
I know that this government represents the interests of business and capital and I shall always regret that many working-class people had the wool pulled over their eyes just over three months ago to be made to think otherwise.
But if Johnson really believes (I’m pulling a cynical face) that we are all in this together and that his measures need to be adopted everywhere he needs to stop behaving like a capitalist loving elitist and recognise that if we are all really going to get through this he needs to start really leading and not following the wants of his neo-liberal and big business mates and backers.
Time to be Churchill the politician and not a copy of that advertising Churchill, the corporate nodding dog.”