IT TAKES magnificent self-regard to hold a ‘Day of Compassion’. But the Church of Covid, Brighton Diocese, is scarcely short of that. The new-Puritan ‘elect’ gathered expectantly at the Dome Theatre on Sunday afternoon for the day’s focal point, a Service of Compassion ‘honouring the lives and livelihoods lost in our City during the pandemic’.
For all their faults, at least the original Puritans had ‘Days of Fasting’ in which they suffered a bit. No tummy-rumbling here. The organisers, Brighton and Hove Inter-Faith Contact Group, served up a sumptuous feast of self-absorption.
The hors d’oeuvre was a melodious rendition of the African harp by a Gambian refugee. Covid relevance wasn’t immediately apparent. But with the Brighton wokenoscenti, no occasion comes Diversity-free.
On to the stage filed the overwhelmingly female choir, shedding their masks as they took their socially-distancing seats. Our commere formally opened proceedings, acknowledging the ‘damage and sorrow’ caused by the ‘worst pandemic to have emerged in a hundred years’.
Next, the Mayor and Deputy Lord Lieutenant gave the occasion their civic and royal endorsements respectively, before the first of several short film interludes, ‘Lockdown Memories’. Images of a deserted cityscape were accompanied by a (female) voiceover wistfully recollecting how ‘the ghost of Covid separated us, imposing self-isolation, making us all prisoners behind windows, gazing at empty streets’. In other words, the familiar myth: it is Covid that causes lockdowns, not politicians.
The film dramatically ramped up the theme of Inclusion. Suddenly the ‘Allahu Akbar’ of the Islamic call to prayer filled the auditorium. Local Muslims recalled how this was broadcast outside the mosque during lockdown to reassure the faithful and ‘engage with our neighbours’. In the street outside a silver-haired, middle-class Englishwoman gazed up approvingly at the muezzin. A workman watching from a nearby building site seemed less enamoured. Britain’s culture war distilled.
Onstage, a female musical group performed some feel-good numbers and the city’s two male MPs (Labour) read feel-good poems. Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s acceptance speech at the last election featured a rant vowing to ‘fight the Tories in Parliament, in the courts, in workplaces and in the streets’. Yet here he was, ‘bringing people together’. His more moderate colleague, Peter Kyle, (briefly) registered support for the family of Sir David Amess.
Up on a screen flashed the official number of Covid deaths recorded in the city (more than 500; no figures for hospital waiting lists, job losses or suicides were provided). But there was a modifying caveat: this was ‘the number of deaths where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate’. Another short film reminisced, through the words of family members, about some of the departed. Without exception these were elderly. As the choir sang, students read out the names of the victims. At this juncture the service had faint echoes of a Holocaust memorial.
A female Guyanese poet recited a poem about Caribbean folk gods, before a female bus driver gave a Buddhist reading, and a funeral director (can you guess the sex?) shared her thoughts on embracing the New Normal. Yes, ‘life has changed for ever’, but it’s an ill wind: people prevented from attending funerals in person can now ‘log on and be included in the event’. Had she been busier than usual? She didn’t say.
The final film comprised stage-managed interviews with on-message nine- and ten-year-old schoolchildren. ‘There probably will be facemasks for a long time and stuff like that,’ mused one lad. ‘There’ll probably be, like, Covid jabs every year.’ But ‘if we kept like this for ever I honestly wouldn’t mind, because I find this normal. I don’t really remember anything but Covid.’ Judging by their accents, I doubt whether these pupils were cooped up in a small flat during lockdown or unable to access online tuition.
My concerns were hardly dispelled when Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, awarded her own poetry-reading slot at the end, remarked that these ‘amazing’ young people were a hard act to follow. Her poem, by John O’Donohue, was as anodyne as all the others. Mind you, one line stood out, neatly encapsulating the prevailing mood of vanity: ‘Enter the quiet immensity of your own presence’.
You can enjoy the whole event here.