Detail of work by John Walker©
Novel Hovel’s debut collection ’52 Weeks’ by Jan Woodward.
This collection is a personal view of weekly news events throughout one year in response to the present unique and volatile political landscape. The backdrop to 52 Weeks is extraordinary as we are living through the sixth mass extinction event. From Frida Kahlo to Donald Trump, climate change to religious persecution, 52 Weeks is an intimate and moving response to a year’s events.
Due to bookshop closures during the corona virus pandemic we are teaming up with Claremont Gallery for sales of this poetry collection. Cover image by Eelco Maan, artist represented by the gallery. claremontcontemporary.com/product/52-wee
That fear I know,
when the world opens up like an umbrella.
Liberation obstructed by cloudburst,
each drop escapes to the nape of the neck
with shuddering pace; a flurrying flume
of teardrops, raindrops,
in equal symmetry.
© Jan Woodward 2020
image © L Broad
During this pandemic people are being asked to self-isolate, to socially distance themselves from others and go against their natural inclination to be active in the world. We are finally being asked to be more altruistic and to think about the well-being of those more vulnerable than ourselves. It has taken a pandemic for governments to ask us to change the way we think and how we live.
Perhaps more than anyone those in government should be extending this psychological shift to themselves. Urgent changes to policy in post-pandemic days should continue to encompass more financial help to those in need, but also to project a more loving psychology to minorities in general. Whether they be disabled, having to sleep on the streets or those having to attend food banks, and I will also include all of those people who have been shipped out of this country or told to leave in a manner that shows no empathy or compassion, our government’s attitude has to change. In short, all governments should be true leaders and show by example for others to follow.
The path of the Covid-19 virus is being followed closely by the scientific community, every step is a learning curve. But there is another lesson we can all learn from this terrible time in our history, and that is the ability to empathise. We can all take note that it is people that matter more than money and material goods. It is becoming very clear that extreme inequality is not workable. In a society where excessive wealth is capped and the state gives more back to ensure everyone has a home, free health care, food and enough money to live decently, then society will be repaid as a whole. By being kind we could all ultimately benefit.
We have seen the two sides of society. Those who stack their trolleys with goods clearing the shelves of food, toilet roll and soaps, leaving nothing for others in need even when asked directly for just one packet of pasta or toilet roll from their horde . But we have also seen those who are attempting to reach out to the more vulnerable, to connect to others and offer reassurance and company in these isolating and lonely days.
Big business appears to carry on as usual with Virgin airlines asking for a bailout from the government . Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic, is a multi-billionaire, but Virgin group chairman, Peter Norris, is calling for a £7.5bn bailout of UK airlines from the government. Those who make the most money are constantly protected and thrown lifelines. The oil industry is another example. According to a report by the European Commission the UK gives the highest subsidies to fossil fuel industries in the whole of Europe at some £10.5bn per year . It is this on-going inequality that governments around the world need to change and change fast.
I hope that the rest of us now catch the empathy bug. Many people with chronic disease of one kind or another already know what it feels like to be isolated, to live on the outside of society. People can be pretty cruel and dismissive to those with disabilities or chronic illness in the same way they can to those who cannot get jobs, afford to eat, or have homes. We don’t seem to be great, on the whole, in caring about how these people survive. We don’t have experience of having to go without food, a bed, heat, health or love. We are all shocked that we are being asked to change.
For someone with ME, MCS Cancer, Systemic Lupus, or any of the other isolating illnesses that make people vulnerable to outside contact, they already know what it is like to feel psychologically lonely. Every diagnosis of cancer, and one in two of us are expected to contract it, immediately distances us from others psychologically. People with illnesses that are more difficult for the ordinary person to detect visually, such as Lupus and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity are often in a position of living their entire lives in an ‘avoidance’ phase. All of us now are living the experience of what it is like to be frightened of contracting something that just might kill us. The difference being we are hoping for a vaccine or cure, an end in sight. For others it is a life-long isolation.
Having all had experience of social isolation now, we can recognise what it is like to be set apart from society and show more kindness in future to those for which it is a way of life. We are experiencing the reality of being old and lonely, homeless and lonely or just simply lonely and a bit frightened. Forced to be apart from mainstream society can be a killer psychologically. Not being able to pay your rent or your bills has been a daily on-going worry for a lot of people in pre-pandemic times. When the pandemic does finally subside let’s remember what it feels like to be stressed and panicked about how we might survive and use it as an impetus to help others.
I am hoping that governments will see the practical good of having empathy with the people they govern rather than seeing everything and everyone under the umbrella of economic gain. It is a false premise for any government to ask, does this sector of society add or detract from our wealth or power? The question should be, how can we help others rather than just helping ourselves? It is a mantra that governments across the world should become familiar with. Let’s hope that a pandemic will make leaders finally look to levelling out the obscene levels of inequality and heal not just our physical selves but also broken political systems.
Note: 20.04.2020 Branson made a fresh plea for taxpayer support after the government rejected Virgin Atlantic’s initial proposal for a £500m aid package. The Treasury told Virgin to look at other ways to raise cash. He has since proposed to mortgage his private Caribbean island to help retain his empire.