How have we managed to turn thanking the NHS into a pissing contest?

Picture by Goron Joly (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Mike Parker

Living in a remote rural setting with no immediate neighbours, there are numerous advantages.  Sure, no-one can hear you scream, but also, and much more pertinent right now, no-one can hear you clap.  Or not clap, as the case may be.

I get that in towns, cities or villages, the Thursday night doorstep applause is a hugely important ritual, a way not just to show solidarity and support for NHS and other frontline staff, but also to reach out to share space and intent with our neighbours and community, people from whom we feel so weirdly estranged right now.  There’s something quite wonderful about that.

As ever though, we’ve managed to turn something precious and powerful into a pissing contest.  The signs were there from the beginning, when politicians of every stripe leapt aboard the bandwagon, even those who had run the health service into the dust, who cheered when they voted against pay rises for medics and who refused to heed any experts or take pandemic planning seriously.  Despite all that, there they are every Thursday, clapping like the Duracell bunny and ensuring that the camera gets their best angle as they do so.

Ditto the papers, of course.  Those that have most loudly cheered on the dismantling of the state have suddenly become its greatest advocates, extolling in syrupy tones the ‘angels’ ministering to us, and demanding that everyone fall into line with their oh-so-public demonstrations of newfound affection.  In the hollowed-out cliché of the moment, it’s all getting very ramped up (‘ramping up’ is very much the new ‘going forward’).  No surprise that the Thursday clap now comes accompanied by music, fireworks, live TV outside broadcasts and dark mutters about those not partaking.  There’s more than a whiff of Remembrance Day poppy-fascism about the whole thing.

And that’s the key to the British way.  No matter what the crisis, just invoke the war and its bulldog spirit.  We’ve heard it in the language of the politicians and media since the outset, how we’re going to vanquish the virus just like we did Hitler.  Remember all the vainglorious boasting at the beginning, how there was no better country on earth in which to be facing the coronavirus than the UK?  Strange that we don’t hear that one so much these days.

 

White elephants

So back to the past we go, as we always do.  Back to the sepia-tinted memories of the war, falsified by constant retelling, like an eight decade long game of Chinese Whispers.  Vera Lynn is back in the charts aged 103, though she’s facing a tough battle for the top from Captain Tom Moore, at only 99.  More than anyone, that sweet old man doing his bit has inadvertently become a perfect symbol of the UK in 2020: a country shuffling on its Zimmer frame round and round its garden, before being surrounded by squaddies and turned into an overblown Help for Heroes meme and career boost for Michael Ball.

And where the UK leads, all too often Wales gallops behind like the back end of a pantomime horse, stridently demanding our own version of the latest British fad.  Someone decided that we had to have a Welsh-only weekly doorstep singsong, and so was born the idea that we’d all gather – not on a Thursday, that’s NHS Clap Night, and not on a Saturday, that’s Ant and Dec – to belt out Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau into the gloaming.  There was one, perhaps two, but then it just fizzled out.  Where was Katherine Jenkins when we needed her?  (Accompanying Vera Lynn up the charts is the answer.  Inevitably.)

Even at the medical heart of the crisis, ‘having a Welsh version’ of whatever is being touted as the British thing of the moment becomes imperative, loudly screamed for by folk on social media.  It doesn’t hold water though, for inherent in that is an acceptance that the UK model is therefore the right one to follow, and that can’t be their intention at all.

In this crisis, the classic example of this was the emergency field hospitals.  From the very first mention, medical professionals were warning that they might be expensive white elephants, draining away precious resources from existing ICU care.  Others challenged them as desperate PR exercises for politicians in a very tight corner.  We should have had those debates here, especially as we had some hindsight to work with, but no-one bothered to ask if such a flawed and urban model fitted Wales; it was just assumed that if it’s good enough for London or Birmingham, then it’s damn well good enough for Cardiff and Llandudno too.

Unfair, maybe, for there was some debate about the field hospitals.  Not whether they were necessary, nor what might be the impact on the rest of our health service, but fierce discussion about what we were going to call them.  When the apocalypse comes, let’s just hope it’s got the right name and logo.  If it has, we’ll be clapping it from the doorstep.

Read more in Mike Parker’s series for Nation.Cymru below:

Part 1: We’ve been told before that things will never be the same again – can we mean it this time?

Part 2: Last weekend’s pandemic-panic awayday was inevitable – but so was the visceral response

Part 3: Will we use this crisis to rediscover the value of community – or for more suspicion and othering?

Part 4: The BBC needs to start listening to doctors – not government spin

Part 5: In a pandemic, fake news can become a lightning conductor for our fears and frustrations

Part 6: Could the pandemic bring us all back together while keeping us apart?

Part 7: This pandemic is the moment tech giants have been dreaming of – even I’m shoveling my data online

Part 8: Will the pandemic change the superior ‘screw you’ attitude of entitled second home owners?

Part 9: Lockdown is making it even harder to escape from our online echo chambers

Articles via Email

Get instant updates to your inbox

13
Leave a Reply

avatar
13 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
13 Comment authors
Sian CaiachSofaguruMary RollSteve DugganRobin Lynn Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Jonesy
Guest
Jonesy

Haha, that is so true. The field hospitals in west Wales may as well be used for testing, there are not enough Covid 19 patients in west Wales to fill a small chapel, which is a good thing obvs, thanks to social distancing. I clapped once, won’t do it again, vaucous tokenism.

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

Well, this is a very astute piece, I must say. “I wonder they’re printing ration books ready”, said my old Mom. More seriously, after clapping ( a Franco-Italian invention for all you Brexiteers btw) for the NHS, how about a Slow handclap for those who had let things run down over the years?

Dr John Ball
Guest
Dr John Ball

Absolutely! Broadcast this far and wide!

John
Guest
John

Well we do have the ‘Sing for Wales’ facebook group.. where everyone goes out and sings the welsh anthem for the Welsh NHS.. I quite like that as Welsh courses are now booming because of it.. Even got me back into it.. a good knock on effect.. But i am sick of the wartime spirit.. Giving up on an enemy and saying take it on the chin as it rips through the country wasnt ‘Churchill’, it also wasnt him who promoted the economy over the lives of old and sick people (as they thought it was at the time).. That… Read more »

Deio Jones
Guest
Deio Jones

I was in Spain, Andalucia, fir the month of March. There they clapped EVERY night. When the King decided to make a speech people decided to bang saucepans at the same time to drown him out. Now that’s what I call appropriate. The people were so disciplined in keeping to the rules of lockdown. The police were very efficient and polite as well. We did eventually get back home to Wales after 2 cancelled flights and a 3rd to an airport 250 miles from where iI wanted to be. The Spanish community that we were in had a great sense… Read more »

Alan Price
Guest
Alan Price

That is a great article. Thanks.

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

Well herd immunity didn’t catch on so they opted for herd behaviours instead, and got some kind of result. A well meaning gesture rapidly hijacked and turned into a soft form of street fascism where you conform or neighbours look down their f***in’ noses at you ! We now have an NHS that is beyond reproach and criticism yet the same panicking politicians who chuck everything at it today will be looking for stiff cuts as soon as this blows over. Maybe our shallow modern society gets the politicians it deserves.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Spot on! NHS staff know how highly people value them, without this cringemaking display. I hope the exemplary courage and commitment shown by NHS workers during the current pandemic stills the tongues of the minority of hospital patients who sometimes verbally abuse them and make unreasonable demands on their time and patience.

Still, if someone feels the need to express their gratitude in this audible way, clap on!

Robin Lynn
Guest
Robin Lynn

I love this. The social pressure in my village is starting, with injunctions from people too young to know better telling us to fly the Union Flag, print off the downloadable bunting and hold parties in our front gardens. “They are the feckless children of 70 years of peace” as Ferdinand Mount put it. My late parent’s generation fought it and they alone have the right to celebrate it. The world has moved on. Call me a curmudgeonly old sod but we’re due some rain.

Steve Duggan
Guest
Steve Duggan

Of course we should honour those battling this disease on our behalf but, as the article mentions, those politicians, who have run the service down over the last 10 years , smuggly clapping too is a pure insult. However, that is exactly what populists do – jump on the bandwagon of sentiment – anything to, look good, boost their warped ideology and get votes. For heaven’s sake, let’s learn the lesson and kick the scum out at the next election!

Mary Roll
Guest
Mary Roll

Totally agree. The only worthwhile part of the ritual is the “after church” chat with neighbours shouting across the road with useful information about where to get scarce commodities and general catching-up. It seems that over the weeks the clapping part has become shorter and the chatting part extends well into the evening! There isn’t anything that isn’t good for something …

Sofaguru
Guest
Sofaguru

Not sure why William and Kate are clapping, the royal family avoid using NHS like the plague. More likely to find them in King Edward VII’s Hospital, which describes itself as “London’s foremost private hospital.”

Sian Caiach
Guest

I agree that in isolated rural areas there is little point in clapping and banging pans but a couple of weeks ago I inadvertently did set off a local NHS clapfest 20 minutes early by repairing a boundary fence at 7.40pm. I live on the side of a steep sided valley with a smattering of farms and residences, most impressively detached from each other. Our sheep, especially the young lambs, sometimes sample our neighbour’s fields and fence repairs are required. I don’t have the strength yet (after an illness last year) to put the wooden posts in. My son bangs… Read more »