4th November, 2020
Covid-19 deaths are reported on the radio to be the highest since May of this year. In Norwich the traffic is appalling, queues form at the car park for the John Lewis department store. The market is busy. The shopping mall in the centre of the town throbbing with people doing Christmas shopping just in case the second national lockdown runs on beyond 2nd December.
I set off to have a tea with a fellow student at the café at the front of the majestic glass and steel city library. I find a table in the glare of the rising Sun and adjust my chair to get the full benefit on my face. The sky is a perfect ice blue. There is some warmth in the sunlight. There is no discernible breeze.
The still air of the high pressure weather system provides a perfect atmosphere to carry the slightest sound. I sit quietly enjoying the different tempi of the footsteps of those passing by. Different rhythms, accompanied here and there by melodic phrases of conversation. A few common gulls are drifting overhead, no great energy required to fly in these conditions it seems. Everyone and everything is chilled.
I wait, enjoying the space, this time, this specific place. The tower of St Peter Mancroft dominates my view. It is unwavering in its stout presence despite the seductive curvature of the modern buildings across what can only be described as the piazza.
At the next table, what seems to be a first, safe date is in progress. The key phrase being the words, “Far from it for me to ruin our first meeting, but…” From whence follows a most impressive series of mansplaining expositions. I am frankly desperate for my friend to arrive on time, so I can escape this audiological torture, but it is his turn to be late.
I think about turning my chair to the woman behind me and introducing myself with, “Hello, (sorry to interrupt, mate), but madam come and tell me everything about your life. What makes you happy? What do you dream of? Why are you on a date with this dullard?”
I am denied any further development of my imagined plot, (that would no doubt have cause a ruckus in café on a Wednesday morning), by the breezy hello of my coffee companion.
After a couple of cups each we depart to our respective duties. I have brought all my loose change from the flat and start looking for the young man who was selling the Big Issue nearby yesterday.
He had told me that arrangements for street homeless people had not yet been confirmed, but that he had a contact in the local council to liaise with and that there was plenty of expert support for him. However, he still had a job to do raising money by hawking the magazine. https://www.bigissue.com This website will explain more, better than I can about what the idea is behind the publication and how it is “a hand up not a hand out.”
It struck me that buying one copy yesterday would not be much help today. My loose change building up in the kitchen was more use to him than it would be to me. At first I thought that I might share these few coins between a number of Big Issue sellers before I realised that there are several sellers around the old market area. Although spaced out, it is a competitive environment, which along with Covid-19 inspired cashless shopping, makes it even harder for licensed street sales folk. I decide that my money would have greater benefit if given to one person and not diluted amongst several.
This is the problem of philanthropy; the wealthy decide what they want to do with their money without an appreciation of the full picture. Government funding raised through taxation can address societal issues strategically, or at least as directed through an election process. Another issue is that I have decided what to donate to my worthy cause, a system of taxation removes that prevarication. Money raised through taxation is agreed to be a fair contribution towards the upkeep of our community. How much could I actually be donating? Here, though, as a taxpayer, this is my spare change, which I give freely. However, it worries me how much this country relies on charity to fill the many gaps exposed by the ideology of Austerity economics that we have endured (and many have voted for) for a decade of Tory governments.
Taxation as a concept gets a bad press, whereas it is the way of spending tax payers’ money that needs scrutiny. This government’s blowing, (or “spaffing” as it is when done by Alexander Johnson’s government cabinet), of £12bn of tax revenues on a Covid-19 testing and tracing system through their chums in Serco plc and associated privateers is a criminal act. That money could have been invested in establishing a reliable infrastructure utilising the regional NHS trusts. Now the money has gone and we are about to enter a second national lockdown because the private enterprise system has been shambolic. Read all about it in the national news media.
I find the lad. He is dressed in heavier duty clothing and a balaclava which keeps him warm, but also makes him less easily recognisable as the vulnerable young man he was yesterday. Seeing his face bordered by the wool headgear reminds me of tomb carvings in the local medieval churches. He looks like a knight, nose broken from a jousting tournament perhaps. He tells me his name and I tell him mine. I explain about the loose change.
He looks more anxious than yesterday. Are drugs an issue I wonder. He tells me that he is doing ok, but he is watching around needing to urgently sell as many copies of the magazine as possible while the shops are open before the second lockdown starts tomorrow. Aware of his pressure to shift copies as quickly as possible, to make the most of the higher footfall, to sell up and get in the warm as soon as he can, I wish him luck and step away after we fist bump by way of parting.
The low sunlight and strong shadows, the dry, golden leaves of the plane trees are beautiful. I am overwhelmed by the realisation that we are retreating toward winter. I feel my eyes beginning to fill with tears. I am grateful to be wearing my face covering.
A few yards further up Haymarket a couple of singers were giving a recital of an opera duet to the queue of people outside Primark. A number of people had also just stopped forming a loosely assembled semi-circle to enjoy the performance. I found a bit of wall to lean against and listened to the conclusion of the number.
My emotional mood today can only be described as fragile. Some of this due to my brother’s condition. Some of it down to the unsettlement of the email from my lost love, some due to concern for my friend with whom I had just had coffee and some due to tiredness after the excesses of last night. It was important to lean there and listen. A beautiful moment.
I knew the tune, but could not identify it. The song ended and a ripple of applause snaked through Haymarket from the impromptu audience.
I walk home more relaxed. I have an online meeting to attend and a bike to loan out to a young student who is a little concerned about what will happen in the lockdown as he was not in Europe when everything was put on pause in the early spring.
Tomorrow national Lockdown 2 begins. Weeks too late.
CLP 5th November, 2020