It’s a funny thing trying to write a blog. I was never any good at keeping a diary despite trying several times in my adolescence and young adulthood. I started this back in August last year, very excited, and a little bit fearful, both at the change of giving up clinical work and at the attempt to cycle to Compostella and Finisterre. Then it was much more a technological challenge than a psychological one to get posts out. Now, it’s a psychological challenge and there’s something, having passed 60, about a much more general reflection on, and reshaping of, my relationship with the world.
In my last post I noted, a bit slyly, that we have had a momentous general election here. I read someone, a journalist, saying that a colleague of his in Albania (it was actually Kosovo I suspect), reporting an election there, commented that the British were odd: how come the winners of our election looked so glum and the losers so happy? Good point. Well, as a lifelong socialist (whatever that means), the result was the best I’d allowed myself to hope might happen, even though it left the Conservatives in power. In the event, with whatever the deal is that they have struck with the DUP, it’s perhaps simultaneously even better than I’d allowed myself to hope for, and a bit worse. The “worse” bit, for those outside the UK, is that there’s very little (anything?) in the DUP’s manifesto and political position with which I can have any sympathy, so perhaps this will be grim. However, it feels hard to see it lasting very long or enacting that much that is worse than May would have done without the DUP so I am trying to stay happy and hopeful.
However, this week there is a real and gross hurt in London and, I suspect, most of the UK. The Grenfell tower fire has come hard on the heels of the London Bridge/Borough Market atrocity. A week ago I found myself cycling past the wall covered with post it notes and overlooking hundreds and hundreds of bouquets of flowers at London Bridge. I’d just been to a truly glorious photography exhibition and had a lovely end of exhibition experience meeting the curator and the director of a brilliant film that had been part of the show. (Another post about that soon I hope.) Cycling along slowly, in beautiful sunshine, glowing inwardly from that good experience, I had almost forgetten where my route would take me and it was sobering to see the wall and the carpet of flowers, and I was immediately aware that not so many weeks ago I’d been cycling over Westminster Bridge a few days after the atrocity there. Suddenly, human hatred, and the lost lives, blighted survivors’ and relatives’ and friends’ lives all felt so horrifically palpable.
Each time these horrors have hit London, one of my overseas friends and colleagues has Emailed me asking if I and my family are OK and each time I’ve been deeply touched. Westminster and London Bridge both happened while I was out of London and that added an odd distance to the news, a dissociated feeling.
Now we have Grenfell tower and so, so many more deaths and I woke up on Wednesday in South London immediately thinking that I must have seen the tower many times though it’s an area of London, unlike Westminster & London Bridges, that I don’t know very well. I don’t know why but this particular horror seemed to hit me hard and I felt pretty shaken all Wednesday.
Last night J and I met up with two younger friends, an ex-colleague from my last clinical job, and his wife. We had been to the Tate Modern, very near London Bridge, it was nearing 23.00 and suddenly there were enormous bangs but no visible flashes in the sky from where we were. A year or so ago we’d all have just thought “wonder what those fireworks are about?” but last night was very different and I immediately thought, though my medical competence is probably about that of a member of the general public who did a first aid course, that I should perhaps move in the direction of the noise. It was hard to locate and J clearly felt I should move too, and Hugh I think felt the same (he’s a much younger and still GMC registered psychiatrist and probably a lot of real help in a mess). So and I walked awkwardly, a bit faster than sauntering but embarrassed perhaps to move really fast. We headed to the river to get a view of the sky, increasingly aware that realistically the continuation of the noise meant it had to be fireworks but somehow still unable to relax, I could even now see a small bit of smoke but still no flashes of light. Suddenly we could see them and the relief was huge.
While we were (until then) having a lovely time, we learned later that earlier in the day people had been protesting about Grenfell tower and not just in the borough but outside BBC headquarters and Downing Street. That’s the key thought driving this post: surely we in the UK are on the swing of the pendulum? Surely a new political climate might emerge from this that could be about valuing lives, valuing people, finding bonds, not putting wealth and achievement above gentleness, generosity and empathy for everyone?
It really feels as if we are on that swing here. Now how to help that be a really good and sustainable change away from greed and contempt driven discourses? Of course I don’t know, sure but perhaps nailing my longing to a little blog is a useful bit of movement, at least for me. I’ve realised over the last year that the grotesque excesses of “free market” worshipping capitalism, and the hatred and contempt for other people that I think is one of its covert drivers, has to be fought. I’ve realised that I was quiet and polite for too long and that many of us being that way helped it grow and grow.
However, the fight mustn’t just be about anger but also about positives. Knowing that I have come to know an extremely diverse group of people, worked with so many remarkable people, mostly in the UK but really all over the world too, people who believe in helping other people; that’s been an incredible gift. It meant that when a tower block fire in London was seen in Shanghai, I got an Email from there and that I’ve gone on to discover that my friend there lost friends in a similar fire there some years ago and that, of course, that still matters to her. Having these connections, locally, with people I can meet, and nearly half the world away, is a privilege but in our global world, with Email & so many audio & video chat options, perhaps such webs of connectedness are ones we can all have. I believe we’re a species always longing for people who empathise and care, on good days, I think we’re a species that really can try not to let hurt and sorrow turn to hate. These days are ones for action and change though, not stasis and complicity.