Thursday, October 21, 2021
HomeCOVID-19The tale of two lost neighbours

The tale of two lost neighbours

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AT THE start of all this nonsense concerning a killer virus that was about to sweep the world, my next-door neighbour was being treated for a brain tumour. He had had an operation and the prognosis was that he had two years to go (why do the medics give these estimates?) Bill and his wife Margaret were devastated, as you would expect, and friends and neighbours rallied around as best they could. We formed a rota to take him to hospital for his treatments, and under the circumstances they were managing reasonably well, until . . . lockdown! Everything came to a grinding halt, and hospitals and doctors shut up shop.

Only for three weeks to flatten the curve, mind you. Nevertheless Bill’s support structure crumbled overnight, as did his treatment and care. His friends and relatives had to stay at home and their only contact was by telephone. Mrs Hopkins and I, being next door, did shopping for them, talked to them over the garden fence and generally tried to offer support as best we could.

But of course the three weeks was only the start. The so-called expert who had triggered this panic, a certain Professor Neil Ferguson (with a dubious record of inaccurate predictions, to say the least) kept banging on about doom and gloom whilst at the same time flouting the rules so that he could continue his own form of banging in his private life. The lockdown kept going, and the media felt as if all their birthdays had come at once, and launched into 24-hour saturation coverage of the huge death tolls we could expect. The Covid porn was like nothing we had ever witnessed, and most people fell for it.

Next up was the deification of the NHS. We had to make no demands whatsoever on the medical services so that they could be ‘saved’. We were urged to go outdoors on Thursday evenings to clap and bang our pots and pans to illustrate our love for a monolith that was simply an entity in itself, functioning for itself, and regarding only itself. Bill and Margaret were out there on time as well as most of our neighbours, clanking and shouting and whooping for all they were worth. I was disgusted at this performance. I really cannot find the words to describe how I felt at the sight of a seriously ill man, deprived of life-prolonging treatment, applauding the very perpetrators of his misfortune.

Three months later Bill had notification that he had an appointment at St James’s Hospital, Leeds, to restart his treatment. But he and Margaret had a dilemma. Buses and taxis were operating but they were so frightened of Covid that any form of public transport was anathema. Their friends and other neighbours were also scared of the dreaded virus and besides ‘they would be breaking the social distancing rules’ if they took them in their cars. When Margaret told me of the situation over the garden fence, I offered to take them in my car. Surprised, she replied: ‘But what about the virus?’ I can remember my exact words: ‘Margaret, I have absolutely no fear of the virus, if you want a lift I’m happy to oblige.’ Her eyes filled with tears as she said: ‘That’s so kind and brave of you . . . I’ll tell Bill. I know he trusts you.’ I suddenly became aware of how entirely normal behaviour had become extraordinary, how the power of fear can change perceptions.

I took Bill and Margaret to St Jimmy’s four or five times. Each time Margaret would wear a mask in the back of the car while Bill did not. I parked and waited for them near the hospital in a deprived area where there were no trees or green spaces and the terrace houses had their front doors protected with iron grilles. I hadn’t seen this area of Leeds before and I felt so sorry for the individuals and families who were imprisoned there. It brought home to me that lockdown meant widely differing things to different people according to their means.

Towards the end of last year an ambulance came to take Bill to a hospice. Two medics were dressed in ‘full body protection’, all masked up, with gloves and ridiculous flimsy, plastic aprons that were blowing about in the wind. It was a farce of the cruellest kind inflicted on my dying neighbour. No dignity, no thought for the terror that must have been in his mind, just following the rules as laid down by the NHS who were, in turn, being dictated to by a corrupt, totally insensitive and evil government. 

Bill died in November. Thirty people were allowed at his funeral and I was one. At the church door the vicar, dressed completely in black with a matching face covering, asked: ‘Have you got a mask?’ I replied ‘No, I don’t wear one.’ To give him his due he said that that was OK and beckoned me to enter. No singing, a few muffled words from two individuals as well as the vicar and it was all over. I was the only person in the whole church not wearing a mask and I honestly feel that this gesture to a departed neighbour showed my respect for him. Whether or not other attendees felt this I would although no one said a word to me about it.

Margaret was always the more brainwashed of the two. A lifetime of Guardian readership and BBC watching had left her with an unshakeable belief in the integrity of these organisations. We tried to help and support her, but while she would engage with me over the garden fence face to face, when she occasionally knocked on our door she would immediately take two steps back to maintain ‘social distance’. Since January I have been gently trying to coax her into our house for a cup of tea and a chat but her fear is so great that she is unable to do so. When the doorbell rang this week I invited her in but she replied ‘No, I can’t, since Bill died I can’t do anything like that.’ She has a god-daughter who comes from eight miles away once a week and goes into her house but they maintain social distance. A friend comes to do her garden but they keep apart.

Three years ago Bill and Margaret were a happy-go-lucky couple who enjoyed travel and were excellent neighbours. Now, we have lost one to a terrible disease that wasn’t treated properly, and his last months were like something out of Dante’s Inferno. The other lives in fear which has compelled her to give up on life as we know it. I don’t know how to help her; she seems beyond reach. I don’t know how long she will go on like this . . . for the rest of her life?

I will never forget, never forgive the dastardly barbarism that this government have perpetrated on their decent and law-abiding citizens. They will go down in history for their infamy. Perhaps it is the sheer scale of their crimes that has allowed them to take place, because decent people couldn’t imagine, in their wildest nightmares, how such evil could possibly be conceived.

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Harry Hopkins
Harry Hopkins is a furniture designer/maker who loves to write.

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