Thursday, 20 August 2020

In Search of a Hero

Did you watch the programme on Captain Sir Tom Moore, shown recently on ITV? What a story! A life in 100 years. Captain Tom’s is a life well lived and he’s living it still. 

The story so far: we’re talking a life full of adventure, a go-getting man, a kind person - he gave up a job during hard times because he was not prepared to exploit housewives by persuading them to buy his unnecessary product - a loving husband and father and a man who has persevered throughout his own personal tragedies. He has lived a heroic life. He is a hero, and we applaud him for it.

He’s not the only one we applaud. Remember all the NHS front-liners we stood and clapped at the height of the Covid epidemic? Week after week they laboured and week after week we cheered. And then we expanded our applause for the carers and the key workers who risked their own health to help others. For 10 weeks, we remained in our own insulated little bubbles looking out towards others and striving to remember we were part of a whole, that there was another world out there that we would be returning to very soon. It gave us hope.  

And then the clapping stopped. Still on a high, but as it had to before it petered out and left us feeling as though it were a chore, rather than a celebration.

And then what exactly? Exactly. What?

Lockdown eased. We moved into double bubbles and extended households; going to the seaside - or not - following government guidelines - or not - if we could understand them and generally trying to be good citizens. We moved seamlessly into masks and are presently waiting to see what is expected of us next.

Unfortunately, we mere mortals seem to have been forgotten. Our political masters have disappeared into the ether (or, as they may prefer to call it, their summer recess); our royal family are self-isolating and invisible in the glorious UK countryside (or what looks like a fantastic hidey hole in the California hills) and we are where exactly? Confused, I fear, and pretty much where we started. Neither here nor there. 

Those who were brave enough to attempt a break out for freedom with a holiday abroad have been caught out as unexpected lockdown quarantine rules return. Crab-like, the naughty escapees rushed to get back before the curfew with some of them arriving back in the UK with only minutes to spare.

Some may consider such holidaymakers a little frivolous for risking a trip abroad, others might applaud their “can do” attitude, believing we still have to make our own minds up how we choose to live, even in uncertain times. 

And this is where our need for heroes come in. The media - both traditional and new social - are full of articles about managing uncertainty, making the best of this time or offering insights of wisdom (I try to do it here) in the hope it will help people to keep their sanity while, it seems, politicians and world leaders all around us are losing theirs.
Personally, I experience the current uncertainty and what seems to be an absence of leadership as being left on board a rudderless ship. I’m no sailor, I need help.

We used to be able to turn to religion in times of adversity. Many of our brothers and sisters around the world still do but statistics inform me that, in the UK, the belief in an omnipotent celestial being has waned.  

Ironically, as we as a nation celebrate multi-culturalism and diversity, we seem to be moving away from a collective celebration of a life which embraces and includes all humanity. Instead, we pick and choose what matters to us as individuals and “identify” with ever smaller groups that seem to exclude more than they embrace. It is something we have always done; we may appear more sophisticated than our ancestors but, deep down, our emotions are pretty much the same as they always were.

My sense is that each of us needs some kind of spiritual or god-like figure to help us make our way through this crazy, uncertain world. We need exceptional people that we can look up to, aspire to and maybe even become. We need a sense of idealism, community and the feeling that someone is looking out for us and putting society’s collective needs above their own individual desires. We need more heroes.

As singer Bonnie Tyler once pondered: “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods? Where’s the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?” I only wish I knew. 

Until then, three cheers for Captain Tom. 

By: Lulu Sinclair

Top picture: Captain Sir Tom Moore portrait by kind permission of Alexander Chamberlin

Photo by Kutan Ural on Unsplash
Photo by Wai Siew on Unsplash

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Masking Up

How are you getting on with wearing a mask? Are you glad to be doing your bit for society and hoping that you’re helping to contain this awful illness?  Are you pragmatic? Do you wear it because you have to? Are you railing inside, feeling it’s an infringement of your own rights? Or have you decided to give up on going out and doing anything that requires wearing such a facial covering?


There are other options available to this question but it’s curious that we are having to discuss it at all. Who would have thought, even as late as March when lockdown started, that it would be made compulsory for all of us to wear masks when we are out and about?


A newspaper recently carried a cartoon of a man wearing a face mask, saying: “I’d never had imagined the time would come when I’d cover my face, walk into a bank and demand money.”


I find that funny but I also find the situation very, very odd. Our Western identity is very much wrapped up in baring our face. We are suspicious of those who conceal - or are concealed - behind a mask. If we can’t “read” a person, how can we know who they are?


We have characters in history to learn from, good and bad. For bad, think highwaymen, pirates, masked thieves stealing away in the night with swag bags over their shoulders. The Man in the Iron Mask is an in-between figure: feared because of his demeanour but trapped and controlled by his disguise. Inside was a man who had done no harm to anyone, locked up inside a mask simply because of who he was. Darkness and masks, there’s a theme there.


Good masked characters are available, in case you are beginning to feel bleak. Among the superheroes are Batman and Robin, Spiderman, the Lone Ranger and even Cat Woman, though she did have a devilish streak.

What they all had in common, however, was a desire to disguise who they really were. Whatever their role, these characters did not want their true selves revealed. The masks set them apart.


The difference for us is that we are having a mask imposed on us, whether we like it or not. Earlier in the lockdown, we were told they were unnecessary so we have to adjust our thinking from “not doing any good” to “wear a mask to avoid killing your fellow human beings”. I’m exaggerating of course but that, I would say, is the gist of the message. Whether we like it or not, we no longer have a choice. Mask up or stay at home.


For those of us who choose to go out, how will you wear your mask and what sort will it be? Will you ease it casually under your chin at first sign of open air, or will it stay firmly in place, metaphorically glued to your mouth and nose so that you obey the rules and limit the risk of infection? There you are, you are telling us a lot about yourself, even without saying a word.


You might decide to follow the style of trendy celebrities and “influencers” who are making a feature of their masks, designing ones to match their outfits. Mask as statement: a clever idea. 


But what about we who wear them out of necessity, not accessory? We who go for the functional white-backed blue paper-type that the NHS hands out. They are not pretty to look at but they serve a purpose. Unless you wear glasses, then your breath tends to steam up the glasses, making it both hard to breath and see. It’s not a good look, and it makes shopping difficult.


Once out and masked up, there is the question of how we behave. I have been observing, and notice a mask does make a difference. Often, it is an extension of a person’s personality. If they are timid, they may become more timid - keeping their distance, hand up to face perhaps in a bid to ward off evil illnesses or unwanted attention. Conversely, a mask may allow a more confident soul to spread (usually a) himself further physically.


At the beginning of lockdown when only brave or desperate people ventured out and masks were still a rarity, I spotted a heavily shielded man pushing forward to get what he wanted from the shelves while tutting loudly at others who were also trying to get their food needs met. The irony was that he was coughing and spluttering too. I wanted to point this out to him but lost my nerve as he glared my way. It was a learning moment and, after three months of observing, I get the sense that a mask will bring out the extreme of a wearer, good or bad. 


The lesson I'm taking is that I - a person who does not like wearing a face cover - need to adapt as best I can. If I am going to be forced to wear a mask for some time, I need to accept it with good grace and try to remember I am still on show, even if a part of me feels hidden. I should not use it as an excuse to behave "badly" or in a way I might not, if fully uncovered.


If we really want to be supportive of each other, maybe we need to work to ensure masks don’t bring out the worst in us. Maybe, instead, we could use our eyes - the “windows to our souls” after all - to signal that we wish our fellow travellers all the very best. 

By Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1: Colin D on Unsplash  

Photo 2: Alex Motoc on Unsplash