I’m in the middle of scribbling a couple more things about the bloody pandemic. Then I’m done. It’s weary keeping up with the information, misinformation and disinformation. An inner voice pleads, ‘just put up and shut up’. And then by chance, I trip up over this revealing photo and text, tears come to my ageing eyes, remembering my grandma and my mum. Simple, sentimental nostalgia of no significance. And yet………
Helen Ashton writes:
I don’t think most kids today know what an apron/pinny is. The main use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.
It was wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.
From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.
When visitors came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.
And when the weather was cold, she wrapped it around her arms.
Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood or coal stove.
Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.
From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
In the autumn, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.
When unexpected visitors called it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.
It will be a long time before someone invents something as useful as a good old pinny.
[And today] They would go crazy trying to figure out how many germs were on that pinny.
I don’t think I ever caught anything from a pinny – but love.
PInched from The Wigan Nostalgia Facebook page and thanks again to Helen.
“We are engaged in a war against the virus”- Boris Johnson
” In this fake war children are set to be vaccine fodder” – A concerned parent
From the very beginning, March 2020, of the utterly undemocratic imposition of COVID-inspired sweeping restrictions on social existence I feared for children and young people. Perhaps this was a knee-jerk response. After all, I have spent the last 50 years conversing with and about them – as a teacher, youth worker, lecturer and, latterly, a commentator-cum-spectator on the sidelines. Indeed in late 2008, I penned an Open Letter, arguing that youth work should side with young people and not the State; that it should not assume it knows what’s best for young people; that it should be in a critical conversation with them about how together we see the world; and that it should aspire to be ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees’.In short it ought, first and foremost, to be a democratic practice. On the back of this missive, a campaign, In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW], emerged.
Against this history, given these commitments, I was perplexed from the outset at what has seemed to be the absence of debate and the utter lack of opposition to the demanded closures of children’s and young people’s provision – from playgrounds through schools and youth facilities to universities. I am being diplomatic. I was pissed off and angry. It was plain that such draconian, disproportionate action would be deeply damaging. The belated acknowledgement in the summer of 2021 that the lockdown was creating serious mental health issues for the younger generation, crocodile tears, merely confirmed my angst. Then, a humble breath taken, I recognised it was easy for me to be so moved. If I was still a practising youth worker. teacher or lecturer what would I have done during the last two years?
I find it difficult to imagine that, as a youth worker I would have caved in without protest as the youth centre was boarded up or that on the streets I would insist the young people be masked or else. I find it difficult, as a former primary school teacher, to believe I could cope with imposing upon children, I knew well with all their idiosyncrasies, the general requirement to don face coverings and keep their distance from each other and me. I find it difficult to accept that as a lecturer teaching upon a course committed to vibrant argument I would have meekly capitulated to the assault on critical thought, the depiction of the campus as a theatre of contagion and the arrival of on-line learning. As far back as Spring 2019, a modicum of independent research would have shown that masking was about obedience rather than transmission and that children/young people were in little danger from COVID and little danger to anyone else.
Of course, I’m probably deluding myself, thinking I would have swum against the conformist tide. The calculated campaign of fear disseminated without demur by the mainstream media has known no moral or ethical bounds. Management and trade unions in the public sector, along with the caring professions, armed with the ideology of ‘safetyism’, which in a trice provides both explanation and justification, have all embraced the dominant narrative with at times a nauseating pomposity. If you want to follow the unfolding of this smug self-righteousness delve into the archives of the Guardian.
Hence, where would I have found support in desiring to resist – certainly not in the trade union. little chance in the staff team and, to my chagrin, not through In Defence of Youth Work? In this context, speaking up might well have meant losing my job. However, deep in my decaying bones, I want to believe that there has been guerilla activity, which by its nature is underground. In my pretentiousness, I want to believe that with others I would have sought somehow to bring these guerillas together in some supportive form of solidarity – see the history of the Socialist Caucus and Critically Chatting Collective. You might well say, ‘dream on,Tony, dream on’.
Certainly in the coming weeks, as the pandemic narrative unravels, it would be revealing to hear the thoughts of UK youth workers, teachers and lecturers about their sense of the impact upon children and young people, upon themselves of the two years lost.
As a stimulus to reflection, I’m reposting this moving and stimulating article by a Canadian teacher, which appeared on Common Sense, one of many alternative news sites that have sprung up during the pandemic. This outlet seeks to situate its politics as rejecting both the hard Left and the hard Right. Classically it seeks to find the middle ground with all the contradictions therein. To my mind, the very categories of Left, Centre and Right are in such a state of meltdown that the vital thing is to be aware of one’s own prejudices and history, to explore expansively, be open to critical dialogue and committed at every turn to the democratic process in the struggle against authoritarianism.
I am proud to be a teacher. I’ve worked in the Canadian public school system for the past 15 years, mostly at the high school level, teaching morals and ethics.
I don’t claim to be a doctor or an expert in virology. There is a lot I don’t know. But I spend my days with our youth and they tell me a lot about their lives. And I want to tell you what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, when our school went fully remote, it was evident to me that the loss of human connection would be detrimental to our students’ development. It also became increasingly clear that the response to the pandemic would have immense consequences for students who were already on the path to long-term disengagement, potentially altering their lives permanently.
The data about learning loss and the mental health crisis is devastating. Overlooked has been the deep shame young people feel: Our students were taught to think of their schools as hubs for infection and themselves as vectors of disease. This has fundamentally altered their understanding of themselves.
When we finally got back into the classroom in September 2020, I was optimistic, even as we would go remote for weeks, sometimes months, whenever case numbers would rise. But things never returned to normal.
When we were physically in school, it felt like there was no longer life in the building. Maybe it was the masks that made it so no one wanted to engage in lessons, or even talk about how they spent their weekend. But it felt cold and soulless. My students weren’t allowed to gather in the halls or chat between classes. They still aren’t. Sporting events, clubs and graduation were all cancelled. These may sound like small things, but these losses were a huge deal to the students. These are rites of passages that can’t be made up.
In my classroom, the learning loss is noticeable. My students can’t concentrate and they aren’t doing the work that I assign to them. They have way less motivation compared to before the pandemic began. Some of my students chose not to come back at all, either because of fear of the virus, or because they are debilitated by social anxiety. And now they have the option to do virtual schooling from home.
One of my favorite projects that I assign each year is to my 10th grade students, who do in-depth research on any culture of their choosing. It culminates in a day of presentations. I encourage them to bring in music, props, food—whatever they need to immerse their classmates in their specific culture. A lot of my students give presentations on their own heritage. A few years back, a student of mine, a Syrian refugee, told her story about how she ended up in Canada. She brought in traditional Syrian foods, delicacies that her dad had stayed up all night cooking. It was one of the best days that I can remember. She was proud to share her story—she had struggled with homesickness—and her classmates got a lesson in empathy. Now, my students simply prepare a slideshow and email it to me individually.
My older students (grades 11 and 12) aren’t even allowed a lunch break, and are expected to come to school, go to class for five and a half hours and then go home. Children in 9th and 10th grades have to face the front of the classroom while they eat lunch during their second period class. My students used to be able to eat in the halls or the cafeteria; now that’s forbidden. Younger children are expected to follow the “mask off, voices off” rule, and are made to wear their masks outside, where they can only play with other kids in their class. Of course, outside of school, kids are going to restaurants with their families and to each other’s houses, making the rules at school feel punitive and nonsensical.
They are anxious and depressed. Previously outgoing students are now terrified at the prospect of being singled out to stand in front of the class and speak. And many of my students seem to have found comfort behind their masks. They feel exposed when their peers can see their whole face.
Around this time of year, we start planning for the prom, which is held in June. Usually, my students would already be chatting constantly about who’s asking who, what they’re planning on wearing, and how excited they are. This year, they’ve barely discussed it at all. When they do, they tell me that they don’t want to get their hopes up, since they’re assuming it will get cancelled like it has for the past couple of years.
It’s the same deal with universities. My students say, “If university is going to be just like this then what’s the point?” I have my own children, a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, who have spent almost a third of their lives in lockdown. They’ve become so used to cancellations that they don’t even feel disappointed anymore.
I think all of my students are angry to some degree, but I hear it most from the kids who are athletes. They were told that if they got the vaccine, everything would go back to normal, and they could go back to the rink or the court. Some sports were back for a while but, as of Christmas, because of the recent wave of Covid-19 cases, club and varsity sports are all cancelled once again. A lot of the athletes are missing chances to get seen by coaches and get scholarships.
I try to take time at the beginning of class to ask my kids how they’re doing. Recently, one of my 11th grade students raised his hand and said that he wasn’t doing well, that he doesn’t want to keep living like this, but that he knows that no one is coming to save them. The other kids all nodded in agreement. They feel lied to—and I can’t blame them.
What’s most worrisome to me is that they feel deep worry and shame over the prospect of breaking the rules.
Teenage girls are notoriously empathetic. I see that many of my students, but especially the female ones, feel a heavy burden of responsibility. Right before Christmas, one of my brightest 12th graders confided in me that she was terrified of taking her mask off. She told me that she didn’t want to get anyone sick or kill anybody. She was worried she would be held responsible for someone dying.
What am I supposed to say? That 23 children have died from Covid in Canada during the whole of the pandemic and she is much more likely to kill someone driving a car? That kids in Scandinavia, Sweden, and the Netherlands largely haven’t had to wear masks at school and haven’t seen outbreaks because of it? That masks are not a magic shield against the virus, and that even if she were to pass it along to a classmate, the risk of them getting seriously sick is minuscule?
I want to tell her that she can remove her mask, and socialize with her friends without being worried.
But I am expected to enforce the rules.
At the beginning of the pandemic, adults shamed kids for wanting to play at the park or hang out with their friends. We kept hearing, “They’ll be fine. They’re resilient.” It’s true that humans, by nature, are very resilient. But they also break. And my students are breaking. Some have already broken.
When we look at the Covid-19 pandemic through the lens of history, I believe it will be clear that we betrayed our children. The risks of this pandemic were never to them, but they were forced to carry the burden of it. It’s enough. It’s time for a return to normal life and put an end to the bureaucratic policies that aren’t making society safer, but are sacrificing our children’s mental, emotional, and physical health.
Our children need life on the highest volume. And they need it now.
Anyone who has followed my scribblings knows that I approach behavioural psychology with extreme caution. This concern predates COVID by decades – see Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes for something written in the last decade. In previous posts, I have voiced my concern at the explicit and conscious stoking of fear fuelled by the SAGE Behavioural Group in the UK. At the heart of its cynical propaganda has been the mask. A month or so ago I ended a section on masks as follows:
In essence, the mask seeks to muzzle us into obedience. It confirms that we are in dire danger. Itdemands that we police one another into compliance. It is the visible expression of the desire to divide us from one another, to undermine our humanity. It is about social and political control. It serves no other purpose.
The Mitsotakis government in Greece is determined to keep us in our place – at least until the tourist season starts. Thus, as I write, we are under mandatory manners to wear face coverings inside [preferably duplex] and in the great outdoors. There are heavy fines to pay if we are disobedient. Pragmatic contempt is to be seen. No masks in the villages, masks worn or in readiness in the big towns. And, as for out in the olive groves, foothills and mountains we are at one with nature and humanity, looking each other in the eye.
Nevertheless, I was thinking of rehearsing the arguments once more but I’ve been saved the trouble by a challenging piece, composed by Gary Sidley, a retired NHS consultant clinical psychologist and a founder member of the Smile Free campaign to remove all mask mandates. It poses disturbing questions for the trade unions, the bureaucrats and the members, together with educators on the ground, be they, lecturers, teachers or youth workers.
Let’s face it -Governments use masking to force compliance, not fight viruses
I’m in the middle of writing a post pursuing the clatter of contradictions sounding through the COVID consensus. In doing so I came across this brave and resounding rebuttal of both the Israeli and global responses to the perceived pandemic. It was published on the Swiss Policy Research website.
Professor Ehud Qimron, head of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Tel Aviv University and one of the leading Israeli immunologists, has written an open letter sharply criticizing the Israeli – and indeed global – management of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the end, the truth will always be revealed, and the truth about the coronavirus policy is beginning to be revealed. When the destructive concepts collapse one by one, there is nothing left but to tell the experts who led the management of the pandemic – we told you so.
Two years late, you finally realize that a respiratory virus cannot be defeated and that any such attempt is doomed to fail. You do not admit it, because you have admitted almost no mistake in the last two years, but in retrospect, it is clear that you have failed miserably in almost all of your actions, and even the media is already having a hard time covering your shame.
You refused to admit that the infection comes in waves that fade by themselves, despite years of observations and scientific knowledge. You insisted on attributing every decline of a wave solely to your actions, and so through false propaganda “you overcame the plague.” And again you defeated it, and again and again and again.
You refused to admit that mass testing is ineffective, despite your own contingency plans explicitly stating so (“Pandemic Influenza Health System Preparedness Plan, 2007”, p. 26).
You refused to admit that recovery is more protective than a vaccine, despite previous knowledge and observations showing that non-recovered vaccinated people are more likely to be infected than recovered people. You refused to admit that the vaccinated are contagious despite the observations. Based on this, you hoped to achieve herd immunity by vaccination — and you failed in that as well.
You insisted on ignoring the fact that the disease is dozens of times more dangerous for risk groups and older adults than for young people who are not in risk groups, despite the knowledge that came from China as early as 2020.
You refused to adopt the “Barrington Declaration”, signed by more than 60,000 scientists and medical professionals, or other common-sense programs. You chose to ridicule, slander, distort and discredit them. Instead of the right programs and people, you have chosen professionals who lack relevant training for pandemic management (physicists as chief government advisers, veterinarians, security officers, media personnel, and so on).
You have not set up an effective system for reporting side effects from the vaccines, and reports on side effects have even been deleted from your Facebook page. Doctors avoid linking side effects to the vaccine, lest you persecute them as you did with some of their colleagues. You have ignored many reports of changes in menstrual intensity and menstrual cycle times. You hid data that allows for objective and proper research (for example, you removed the data on passengers at Ben Gurion Airport). Instead, you chose to publish non-objective articles together with senior Pfizer executives on the effectiveness and safety of vaccines.
Irreversible damage to trust
However, from the heights of your hubris, you have also ignored the fact that in the end the truth will be revealed. And it begins to be revealed. The truth is that you have brought the public’s trust in you to an unprecedented low, and you have eroded your status as a source of authority. The truth is that you have burned hundreds of billions of shekels to no avail – for publishing intimidation, for ineffective tests, for destructive lockdowns and for disrupting the routine of life in the last two years.
You have destroyed the education of our children and their future. You made children feel guilty, scared, smoke, drink, get addicted, drop out, and quarrel, as school principals around the country attest. You have harmed livelihoods, the economy, human rights, mental health and physical health.
You slandered colleagues who did not surrender to you, you turned the people against each other, divided society and polarized the discourse. You branded, without any scientific basis, people who chose not to get vaccinated as enemies of the public and as spreaders of disease. You promote, in an unprecedented way, a draconian policy of discrimination, denial of rights and selection of people, including children, for their medical choice. A selection that lacks any epidemiological justification.
When you compare the destructive policies you are pursuing with the sane policies of some other countries — you can clearly see that the destruction you have caused has only added victims beyond the vulnerable to the virus. The economy you ruined, the unemployed you caused, and the children whose education you destroyed — they are the surplus victims as a result of your own actions only.
There is currently no medical emergency, but you have been cultivating such a condition for two years now because of lust for power, budgets and control. The only emergency now is that you still set policies and hold huge budgets for propaganda and psychological engineering instead of directing them to strengthen the health care system.
This emergency must stop!
Professor Udi Qimron, Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University
Thanks to Tribune and Emily Ingram for this important reminder of the strike that gave birth to ‘flying pickets’ and later to the acapella group, ‘The Flying Pickets’, steadfast supporters of the miners in the 1984/85 Great Strike.
Fifty years ago on January 9, 1972, miners across Britain walked out on strike in a landmark dispute that popularised the flying picket. We speak to striking workers about their memories on the frontline.
New Year’s Day 2022 – an azure and windless sky beckons, promises and resolutions hang not yet tested in the still air. New Year’s Days I’ve had too many to mention but this one is different. It’s surreal, sinister and disconcerting.
I’m now into my 75th year on this god-forsaken earth. For more than half a century I’ve spouted forth about the evils of capitalism, even advocated revolution but my stance has not cost me dear. A tapped phone here, a night on a police station floor there, a few bruises on the picket line. Nothing to write home about. Indeed, it might well be argued that I’ve made something of a career out of being the useful ‘token ‘radical, not ‘in and against’ rather ‘in and compromised’ by the State. I’m of a post-war generation, whose lives were improved to different degrees by the struggles of our forefathers and mothers. With all its warts, and I railed against its shortcomings, the social-democratic society was a step forward. Neoliberalism has been closing down its gains for over forty years. I’ve sought to criticise this assault, arguing against the insidious influence of behaviourist psychology and worrying about the danger of us sleepwalking into an authoritarian and intolerant society. Again I have not been taken to task by the powerful for this dissension. As far as being troubled goes, it’s been wrought by my own self-doubt and anxiety. As a dear friend whispered gently, ‘being a couch revolutionary isn’t exactly uncomfortable’.
Two years ago I would have shaken my bald pate in disbelief at the predicament I face this New Year’s Day. The Greek government has determined that all the citizens and residents of the country, who are over 60 years of age will be vaccinated with the ‘booster’. Refusing to comply will lead to the following State punishments.
Each person resisting will be fined 100 euros each successive month until they give in. Over 25% of Greek pensioners, around 700,00 persons, receive less tha 500 Euros a month and even the average pension amounts to only 869 euros before deductions. In my case it seems that if I resist the 100 Euros will be procured for the government by my accountant.
Each person resisting will not possess therefore a valid vaccine passport. This means they will only be allowed access to supermarkets, grocery stores and chemists, to food and medicine. They will be barred from all public indoor spaces – tavernas, kafeneion, the beating heart of Greek life, even, I’m not sure, the Church – and public events. If this is enforced they will be excluded from the majority of what we might call civil society.
I want you to be shocked and angry in the face of such a draconian scenario, imposed by a government without an ethical leg to stand on. I worry that the propaganda machine churning out numbers, numbers, numbers will continue to cloud the issue. Mass testing alongside the emergence of a milder but more infectious variant will inevitably mean an upsurge in infections, leave aside the fact that the USA Centre for Disease Control has just disowned the PCR test, admitting its unreliability. A touch late, methinks.
In essence, the Mitsotakis government’s authoritarianism, whilst running deep in its historical blood, is inseparable from the influence of the corporate and pharmaceutical giants of our era. It is about power and profit. It is about politics. It is not about health. At this point, some readers may sigh. Am I in Covid denial? For now, I will only say that I believe that the COVID threat to society as a whole has been exaggerated enormously; that from a health point of view things could have been managed so very differently.
Peak Case Fatality Rate in winter 2020
Case Fatality rate in June 2021
4 in 100,000
4 in 100,000
14 in 100,000
20 in 100,000
8 in 10,000
5 in 10,000
2 in 1000
1 in 1000
8 in 1000
3 in 1000
80 or above
Table 1: Proportion of people catching covid who die with it by age in England – official gov.uk figures
The data presented above for June 2021 does not take into account booster vaccinations, early treatments and Omicron being less dangerous than earlier variants. These figures are calculated based on every ‘covid death’ including those where covid may well have been a bystander infection as often occurs with respiratory viruses. [Taken from ‘The Six Miracles of COVID’ Health Advice Recovery Team]
Thus, walking Glyka this morning, I felt my back was against the stone wall running down our lane, never mind that it was crumbling with the passing years. What to do? If I decline to be boosted I don’t think I am a health hazard. I don’t think I am being irresponsible. The growing evidence, given the vaccine has not lived up to the hype, is that the unvaccinated and the vaccinated are no more dangerous in terms of transmission to each other than each other. The mandatory vaccination of the over 60s here in Greece owes nothing to its democratic tradition, harking back much more to the dark days of the junta. As with all authoritarianism, it is industrial in its practice. The idea that treatment ought to be tailored to the particular history and circumstances of the individual is an anathema; that the principle of bodily autonomy, ‘our body, our choice’, is fundamental regarded as passe; that a healthy older person with no underlying comorbidities with legitimate concerns about the safety of an experimental drug has every right to demur is seen as utterly unacceptable; and as for the once cherished notion of informed consent that’s consigned to the historical bin.
Obviously, given my analysis of the situation, I should refuse the jab. Yet I prevaricate. I’m perplexed and angry. There’s nothing unique about the corner I’m in. Insofar as it’s special it’s to do with relationships, most intimately with my family. Becoming a ‘refusenik’ would curtail all sorts of simple social acts, just having a morning coffee down in the village. It would prevent me from travelling to see my children and grandchildren. Perhaps, if I was made of sterner stuff I would hold out. As things stand, in the absence of visible collective resistance, I suspect, I will shame-facedly comply. I have until the 16th of January to decide. Rather than be true to the active intent of the slogan, ‘educate, agitate, organise’ I’ll retreat passively into being agitated. I will persuade myself that I will live to fight another day. Will that be when the fourth jab is demanded? History will be the judge.