Requiescat in Pace
Last Friday on the 27th of March, the UK Covid19 death toll was 181 for the preceding 24 hours. Yesterday, the 3rd of April, the daily death toll hit 684, a jump of 503 people in one week.
That’s 503 family members we now know as nothing more than statistics on a graph to be shared on social media. Some of those who have died, depending on their age, career or family connections might garner a little bit of media attention and remembrance. The vast majority will simply remain as colour coded dots on an ever climbing graph. Their anonymity in death troubles me, lives reduced to data for statistic records and modelling. This coupled with the near fatalistic zeal that goes with the news reporting, leaves me disgusted at the utterly distasteful escalation of the media frenzy for more deaths, that seeks to portray a global pandemic as the latest reality TV show.
Nearly 30 years ago, my then wife and our infant son managed to wangle a holiday on the Island of Eleuthera, one of the most amazing Bahamian islands. It was a cheap flight to Miami from Glasgow via Chicago, followed by an even cheaper hop in a puddle jumper to the island. Eleuthera is stunningly beautiful, 110 miles long, 1 mile wide, dark blue Atlantic on one side translucent crystal Caribbean on the other. The pace there was slow, calming and reflective. With no TV or internet, every night I’d tune my VHF pocket radio into an amazing selection of tinny tunes from around the islands, Reggae, Calypso and the amazing Junkanoo rake-and-scrape sounds particular to the Bahamas. Every night after a family bop or two around our beachside cottage ($20 a night!), the mood on the radio would change and a sombre voiced presenter would come on and start reading the obituaries of the Bahamian’s who had died in the recent days. At first, being a cynical cove at the best of times, I thought it was really cheesy, I recall chuckling to myself at the incredibly Victorian names, to this day I’ve never heard of another Hortense or Ottilie, then as some form of early 30’s maturity began to slowly sink in, I started to realise just how beautiful it was. The facts of the deceased’s life would be read out, their age, occupation, number of children and the illness that took them from their family and friends. Then the presenter would read statements from their nurses, doctors who had cared for them in their last days. Finally family member’s anecdotes were recounted that were filled with absolute joy and the happiness of acquaintance. The programme finished off with the playing of deceased’s favourite song. The effect of this 10-15 minutes spent noting the lives lost, was simply beautiful, respectful and full of joy for the Bahamian islanders, as an impartial listener, I felt better for knowing just a snippet of those lived lives.
This morning after yet another sporadic broken 4 hours of sleep I dread switching on the news or visiting Twitter to see what the latest horror the alt-right governments of the US and the UK have inflicted on their citizens. The buffoons Trump and Johnson will no doubt be pontificating, waffling, denying and shifting blame, whilst the likes of the sleekit Cummings will be scurrying around in the undergrowth of eugenics, trying to find the right metrics to make the horror of what we are needlessly going through, palatable to his deranged supporters in the establishment media.
Why have I woken feeling the need to write this? It’s completely unsettling. I don’t want the BBC to give over its entire evening schedule of ‘Dads Army’ repeats to reading out the obituaries of those poor folk who haven’t survived the Tories herd mentality optics. I just want some respect shown to those who have needlessly died, I want their families to know that they were loved and cared about that the vast majority brought joy into others lives. Above all, I dread that inevitable moment when someone makes a video clip of their local newspaper obituary column from a month ago and then shows the current page after page of the newly dead.
My partner and I are isolating with her kids in one of the remotest parts of the North West Highlands, we live and work here. We see our community devastated. Economy collapsed. We see the second home owners who rarely visit outside of August in their shiny SUV’s wave their guilty little waves as we take the dog out for our daily exercise. We hope none of them have brought the virus with them, a few of them must have whizzed by the signs at the road end politely asking visitors to delay their holiday until this is all over. Every day our walk takes us past the memorial to the fallen of both world wars. It’s an imposing welcome to the village, the chiselled names amount to approximately 20% of the then population. The very same names are still prevalent in the community today. The world wars had a devastating impact on depopulation then, what impact will this plague have on our fragile elderly community now?
When this is all over, when the last Covid-19 afflicted man or woman has finally shuffled off their mortal coil, how will we remember them? I can only hope that it is with some degree of the grace and joy in remembrance that the Bahamian people of thirty years ago showed their loved ones.
Keep well, stay home and wash your chuffing hands.