Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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After the pandemic: Loathe thy neighbour and worship the NHS

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NO one knows how this thing will end, but we conjecture, all the time. I can only look forward to a time when depilating my legs will no longer be the highlight of the day. 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 too. 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 push back hard against any changes towards literacy. But 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, the UK will become a kinder, more cohesive society, embracing a new kind of socialism where everyone, including shelf-stackers, cleaners and delivery drivers will get more respect for their service. We will be in what used to be called a ‘Christian society.’ 

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 the men who eventually put the NHS in place would have thought if you’d told them they would create a monolith that would 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 Vienna to use the services pioneered by that nice Dr Freud.

Maybe Boris will give the NHS a grateful dollop of extra funding. But if the love is to continue, there may have to be a change 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 certainly seemed like angels, as to me they were invisible.  

While humans wait anxiously inside, the outside world is happier. On the daily walk, one notices the deafening din of birdsong, usually muffled by the noise of traffic, burgeoning wild flowers along roadsides normally destroyed by local councils every spring. 

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 selling endangered species. That idea is even considered ‘racist’ by the Left. Better red and dead than risk that accusation, or upsetting the Chinese Communist Party.

 A vaccine may soon be found anyway, hopefully before the next pandemic, a better alternative to asking anyone non-European 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. There is something reassuring in the increased bonhomie, as 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’m much more tolerant of them. But if the Second World War is anything to go by, most people will forget all about the lockdown and go back to 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 will finally die, but the monarchy, like the Queen, will live forever. 

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Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly was a journalist with the Daily Mail for fifteen years. She now writes for the Spectator and the Salisbury Review.

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