I want to start this blog on a huge note of gratitude! The response to my last blog, WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT, overwhelmed me and I cannot be more grateful for your reads, shares, thoughts and coffees. This is an incredibly lonely time for the planet so to feel seen and heard is the kindest gift you could offer.
It’s Monday night. My voice is usually taunted as being eerily similar to Paul O’Grady or Mariah Carey in the latter part of 'Emotions' but tonight… it is full Ray Winstone. My faux fur slippers are firmly planted and I stare at my Mum in the eyes, unwavering, and say “pass me the fucking remote Chez”. Getting the remote off Cheryl is difficult at the best of times, but when she’s planted with a bottle of Budweiser and a playlist of Karen Carpenter and Gladys Knight, it is a job for another Oceans heist film. My grey Sharpei, Blu, her bodyguard and my nemesis, shoots a discerning look which says "don't fucking try it lad" but tonight I’ve got a valid reason… Boris Johnson has been admitted to intensive care. There is a heartbreaking weight that hangs in the air of my living room. There is a devastating truth that has smacked the gut of Britain… no one is safe from this virus.
I’ve cried twice this week. Once with laughter as my Nan sports a new fringe that she’s cut with a knife in her kitchen making her look like Ric Flair. Second, later on in that phone call, when she sings a refrain from Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll meet again’ and I realise all I want to do is hug her and put her in a headlock. But tonight I stand in front of my television, teary eyed again, as I hear the news that this virus has held another human captive, another father, another friend.
I hope with my whole heart that Boris gets through this virus as quickly and painlessly as possible. The calls for his mortality are frightening and tasteless. Now, my hate for the Conservative party is boundless: I have been kicked out of bars slating them, I have screamed in Rory Stewart’s face on Hammersmith Bridge and I have hurled cans of Stella at the TV when they announce another budget cut. Yet, I have also felt grief in its many forms, the slow descent into memory of your loved ones smile, voice, smell, and I couldn’t wish it on anybody.
Boris Johnson will have my prayers, but he will never have my respect.
Praying for the survival of the Prime Minister does not equate to acceptance of his policies, actions or values. Boris’ death or suffering does not undo the years of trauma the most vulnerable in our society have endured at the hands of him and the Conservative Party. Boris’ death will not bring back Errol Graham, Sean Doherty, Philip Herron, Brian Sycamore, Chris Gold, Robert Fowler or Christian Wilcox. What I know for sure is pain and grief isn’t translatable, nor is it in limited supply, and pushing our suffering onto Boris won’t transcend us from its grip. Instead, we should focus our energy and hearts on the lives that Conservative policy have framed… Like Dave’s…
Dave walks with the vigour of a man who knows his way around a Paul & Shark jacket, he comes from a lineage of Dockers and instantly gains the respect of every dog he encounters. He wallows in his status of father, provider and survivor. Dave is a man who ships in emergency blood for young girls scared they won’t dance again or for men desperate to see their grandchild’s first tooth appear. His accent is a badge of honour, he wears it loudly for his Father who left his last silent scream on a pitch in Sheffield. Dave is a laugh in the pub, his quick wit manifests illusions of Peter Kay or Mae West, so when someone calls Dave a ‘victim’ you would think he’d be quick on a comeback. But this slur isn’t said between mates in a pub, it is echoed in the most profoundly powerful halls in this country and printed on a paper for millions of eyes to see and repeat. Now, every time Dave goes for a job interview he feels the burden of a voice that keeps his Father alive, he feels the pain as he fakes a laugh when someone new calls him a thief or dodgy and he grows tired, apathetic and angry. Dave is stained by the words of a man who he will never meet, a man who sits in the highest elected chair in this country, a man who decided to provide for his family by slandering a city grieving the loss of 96 fathers, daughters, lovers and dreamers.
On Thursdays Dave drops the Mona Lisa smile and instead endows his face with as much admiration as he can fathom. Like me, Dave is hell bent on slapping a layer of his skin off as he applauds Laura’s departure to work. Laura clocks onto her night shift at Aintree University Hospital hoping the only collapse she will see tonight is that of The S*n newspaper. She was born 15 years after Hillsborough but cites women like Anne Williams and Margaret Aspinall as the inspirations for her bravery to wear her mask and blue overalls. Her son, Noah, is beautiful. You can hear his laugh four doors down when she squirts waterguns at him in the summer. He is far from the “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” child that Boris claims are the product of single mothers. Noah has only made Laura upset once and that is when she caught him eating wallpaper because he was too hungry to function. Noah doesn’t understand why sometimes he has to go to bed with a grumbling tummy, he doesn’t yet understand that regardless of how tight your bootstraps are, how many extra shifts you endure, we live in a harsh climate of austerity politics that will feed you ideals of mobility and ambition (fuck, they may even print them on the sides of buses!) but will deliver you PPE that should be in a crafts fair, record levels of food bank usage and a mental health service that needs its own therapy.
I fiercely admire Laura with my whole soul: a woman who will still fight a pandemic under the leadership of a man who has attacked her parenting skills in a £275,000-a-year column and not let it get her down. Coronavirus has shown that magic isn’t at Disney anymore, it’s in the spirit and tenacity of nurses like Laura who refuse to let shit pay, exhaustive hours and poor protection stop her from paying the NHS car parking fees to save the lives of strangers. Every time Laura is on shift she plays every key worker role from cleaner to counsellor, from makeshift bed electrician to Google translator as she sits in front of the tears of a first generation immigrant promising it will be OK.
Dave’s claps are not enough for Laura. They never will be. Yet this minimal currency of his appreciation for her heroism should be reserved for her and for the NHS staff only.
Let us pray that Boris recovers quickly, for the quicker he recovers, the quicker we can hold a mirror to his soul and remind him: in his time of need, he sought help and found it, now it’s his turn to do right, virus or no virus.
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