Portraits from the pandemic: Artists highlight the role of NHS workers
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

Portraits from the pandemic: Artists highlight the role of NHS workers

Published in Visual Arts

Nicholas Baldion discusses art, portraiture and the Covid-19 crisis, illustrated by some of his portraits of NHS workers. The painting above is of Karl, who works for the NHS in Oxford, and it's by Tim Benson

In the ancient Roman Republic, there were laws preventing anyone but the patrician class from having their portrait made. This is because the ruling class of antiquity understood well the power of art, and they wished to prevent this tool from falling into the hands of the plebeian masses.

No.1 Nurse

Today, art - and portraiture in particular - is available to anyone who can afford to pay.

That is until the coronavirus turned everything on its head. All layers in society, especially the artist, have been forced to re-evaluate how they understand the world. The idea that ‘we are all middle-class now’ - an idea that every class-conscious worker knew to be a fallacy, but which had been prevalent amongst certain layers of society - has been utterly destroyed.

No.2 Cleaner

The working class is now visible for even the most thick-skulled to see. The category of ‘key worker’ reveals to all that the lowest paid and least respected - the supermarket workers, the delivery drivers, the transport workers, the cleaners, the nurses, and healthcare-workers - are the ones that society cannot do without.

In stating this fact, the immense power of the working class also becomes apparent. As Ted Grant famously stated: not a wheel turns, not a lightbulb shines, not a phone rings, without the kind permission of the working class.

Art mirrors life

It is often noted that art provides a mirror to the mood in society. It is no surprise then that the popular outpouring of support for the NHS - seen until recently every Thursday with the ‘clap for the NHS’ events - should be reflected by the art world.

No.3 Nurse

Artists who would normally paint the portraits of paying clients are turning their talents towards healthcare workers. From the big names in the oil painting world, to the emerging artist and amateur painters, hundreds of NHS workers have been matched to artists and have had their portraits painted.

It is important to recognise the genuine nature of this mood. The claps and cheers for the NHS come loudest from working-class neighbourhoods and estates up and down the country. Likewise, the hundreds of artists participating do it because of a genuine admiration: they rightly understand that these workers are the ones that society should be honouring.

Lives sacrificed for profit

At the same time, we must highlight the hypocrisy of the capitalist media and Tory politicians who clap and sing praises for NHS and frontline workers. These same workers are dying preventable deaths, precisely due to the policies and failures of this government.

No.4 Nurse close

These workers are forced to work in unsafe conditions. They are gagged from talking out about the lack of adequate PPE. And they are often paid poverty wages. Their lives are being sacrificed needlessly.

Some of the health care workers I have spoken to have told me that they had been threatened with the sack for making political posts on social media, or for speaking out about inadequate PPE. Indeed, even Labour MP Nadia Whittome - who returned to work as a carer - was sacked from her zero-hours contract job after speaking out about the lack of PPE.

No.7GP

Consider the case of the cleaner working for private contractor ISS at Queen Elizabeth’s hospital in Woolworth, who was suspended and who faces the sack for requesting PPE. Think also of the nurses at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, who were forced to use bin bags as makeshift PPE equipment, and who all subsequently contracted coronavirus. And think of bus driver Emeka Nyack Ihenacho, who died after contracting Covid-19. He was at risk due to his asthma. Yet he was told he had to go into work or face a pay cut, despite there not being safety measures in place .

The poor are dying at a faster rate than the rich. There are 55 dead for every 100,000 in the poorest neighbourhoods, compared to 25 dead per 100,000 in wealthy neighbourhoods. The deaths - and the inequality in the death rate - are only likely to increase as lockdown measures are lifted prematurely, with more lives sacrificed on the altar of profit.

Time to demand

To my fellow artists, now is the time to stand with our brothers and sisters working for the health service, and with all key workers working in unsafe conditions.

Don't fall into the establishment’s narrative of ‘sacrifice’ and ‘heroes’. The NHS workers I have spoken to don't want to sacrifice their health. They don't want to sacrifice their lives and those of their families. They don’t want to be remembered as heroes. They just want to do their job as professionals.

No.8 Paramedic

Now is the time to demand that they get the correct PPE. To demand that they get the hazard pay due them. To demand that the families of dead health care workers receive death in service benefits. To demand that our nurses and health workers are never again in a situation where they have to rely on foodbanks - that they get the pay rise due them.

To demand a fully-funded training programme for doctors, nurses, paramedics, and medical staff, with decent pay and hours to increase staffing levels across the board. To demand that all the auxiliary staff, cleaners, and porters are taken back in-house, and that we put an end to the poverty wages that they have been suffering for so long. To demand that the private profiteers who have been milking our NHS are driven out. To demand that we have a fully-funded and fully public NHS, run under workers’ control and management.

No.11 Nurse

Artists: now is not the time for cutesy portraits of smiling NHS workers that conform to the Tory narrative. These are a just pat on the head for NHS workers, whilst they remain silenced. Now is the time to take up the mantle of the great artist and communist Pablo Picasso, who famously said:

What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it: at the same time he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.

For more images, see here and here. There is also a virtual exhibition of portraits of NHS workers here.

Nicholas’ own series of portraits of NHS workers - 'Safety not sacrifice' - can be seen on his instagram: Baldion

Are we really all in this together?
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

Are we really all in this together?

Esther Leslie questions the media messages and slogans around the Covid-19 pandemic, as part of the joint Morning Star and Culture Matters series on Covid-19 and culture

 A picture flashed through social media channels. A woman, in a Stars and Stripes dress, protesting at Huntington Beach, California, holds up a banner: Social Distancing = Communism. State-enforced regulations, the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, insist on keeping a perimeter of 6 feet around each person to prevent the spread of a virus. These rules were interpreted by her, and many others, as the unwarranted intervention of authority into the sovereign life of the individual.

Is not the opposite more true: that social distancing suggests neo-liberalism in spatial form? You should remain alienated from the social whole, from others, because to band together is to develop class consciousness and reasoning. ‘There is no such thing as society’, said Thatcher, and hoped we would retreat, at least ideologically, to our strong individual selves, bolstered by our families and the compulsion of tradition, cossetted in our homes, that we have bought, preferably off Labour councils, turning ourselves into property owners.

In contrast to Thatcherite and Trump-ish definitions of the social, its defence as a realm of collectivity led to this banner on some people’s social media profiles: Physical Distancing and Social Solidarity. Physical distance to protect bodies but social solidarity as an expression of support for NHS workers and the commitment to volunteer to aid the vulnerable. It affirmed the desire to support each other through our loneliness, at the start, when there was still some hope and a spirit of experimentation abroad.

We could still experience things communally, in Zoom pub quizzes and free theatre online. But the name of the social was held onto resolutely by those with the power to decree what should take place in it – and their ears were apparently deaf enough to historical and political resonance to make a public information message for radio that made me wince each time I heard it: ‘Observe national social distancing guidelines with each other, currently set at 2 metres.’

‘We are all in it together’, they say, in order to produce a sense of unity. We are all in it together and to say otherwise is to unjustly politicise the situation, because politics are divisive and division should work only for the purposes of rule, not for the purposes of critique.

We are all in this together – and we applaud those on the frontline. The frontline, that metaphor from war, referring to a space most proximate to active combat, the killing zone. And all this is war because our Prime Minister would like to be seen as Winston Churchill, although in any case the Second World War is the off-the-peg reference point for every event that slashes through the nation and rattles stability. Even the opposition cannot leave war references behind, when appeasement.org pay to plaster a billboard in Kentish Town with the accusation that the Prime Minister is less like Churchill and more like Chamberlain.

Because to fight a virus we need a war – but not the class war, anything but that. We are all in this together, but not socially proximate, not conceived of social beings. Indeed a phoney, unused, NHS army of volunteers has to be mobilised to counteract the Kropotkin-inflected principles of the mutual aid groups that sprung up uncontrolled and just got down to helping.

But who hasn’t used the phrase in recent politics? ‘We are all in this together’, said David Cameron and George Osborne, when they used it to justify austerity measures, and Ed Miliband tussled over how to fill it with something approaching meaning. We are all in this together. But we are not so much in it together as outside it together, all of us looking in on a spectacle of government, a circus of staged briefings, in which nudges and deliberate miscommunications are meant to spread fluidly across the social media that slides under our fingers, more viral than the virus.

Silly fonts, illogically photoshopped adverts, inept slogans – all appearing as failures of communication, fudges of policy by the indecisive, but actually modes of management through confusion and pranking. Nothing will stick and we can get no handle on what is meant and what is not meant. We are all in it together, as we stand side by side clapping health workers next to those who will turn on them in a breath, if they point out the inequities of the situation, or worse, do something about it, by withdrawing labour. We are all outside this together, socially distanced, clapping our hands before wringing them, when we see the assaults to come on those who make up or exist within the welfare state – which is most of us indeed.

Our media claim for themselves the name of the social now and the trinity of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook bridge distance virtually. Social media are one of Platform Capitalism’s greatest hopes for profits. Across social media, the slogans proliferate, doctored, adjusted, in a war of words that are composed to nudge or to nudge nudge wink wink or to cock a snook or make a cheap joke.

In response to the corruptions of government, the debacle of a senior government advisor providing a test case of ‘one law for them, another for the rest of us’, a phrase replicated itself on social media, in more or less this form: ‘Now the English know what it's like to be ruled by the English.’ And, with this, the contradictions within the social whole that is the United Kingdom are prised open as a joke-not-joke.

Plague Songs - It Cures What Ails Ya!
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

Plague Songs - It Cures What Ails Ya!

Published in Poetry

Plague Songs - It Cures What Ails Ya!

by Martin Rowson

One should not mock the chronic sick,
And nor should we mock Dominic
Whose road-based therapies recall,
Damascus-bound, those of St Paul
Who was, you lot should be reminded,
On a road trip when unblinded.
Dom need make no apology!
It’s not just opthalmology
That sees Road Treatment’s benefits!
It’s a cure-all for the many! It’s
A tested and well tried procedure
From whooping cough to paraplegia!
For instance, the old dean of Keble’s
Gout’s returned: drive him to Peebles!
Abjure the lure of penicillin!
Simply drive to Enniskillin!
Infantile paralysis?
Why not try a drive to Diss?
Your child it born with a cleft palate;
Drive the brat to Shepton Mallet!
A cerebral catastrophe?
Fixed by a drive to Leigh-on-Sea.
You find your mum’s airways restricted?
Motor her to the Peak District;
A femur pops out of its socket?
Drive all the way to Drumnadrochit.
Obviously if you have a stroke,
It’s in the car to Basingstoke;
And likewise cardiac arrest
Demands a drive to Bristol West!
So if your stomach ulcer bleeds
Jump in the car and drive to Leeds;
Caries rot your yellow teeth,
They gleam before you’ve got to Neath;
Struck down with Huntington’s Chorea?
Simply drive to Hazelmere.
A touch of cancer? With a whoosh
Drive off to Ashby-de-la-Zouch!
And when they say you’ve caught malaria -
Hull Regeneration Area!
Just even feeling sort of sick
You’ll cure on drives to Walberswick
And when they say you’ve got Corona
A nice long drive to Barcelona
Should see you right! Whate’er you have
Just punch a route in your sat nav
And soon, on the A23,
You’ll find the perfect remedy!
All you have to do is DRIVE! It
Cures what ails ya! Or go private.

Super-spreaders
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

Super-spreaders

Published in Poetry

Super-Spreaders

by Mark Kirkbride

Contagion wants to shake your hand. Now you’re ‘it’
and you don’t even know it. When everyone else
could see it coming, the Prime Minister dismissed it.
With more time to prepare than most around the world,
he squandered it all, sleep-walking into disaster
with missed COBRA meetings, warnings disregarded,
then talk of ‘herd immunity’ and ‘losing loved ones
before their time’ as if sacrificing the sick
and vulnerable to a lottery of death
was a plan. Now the Government’s playing catch-up
to avoid a backlash as a silent wave of death
sweeps the country, taking mums, dads, husbands, grans, thousands
upon thousands more than the official figure
because if you weren’t tested you didn’t die of it.
The dead nurses, who worked 12-hour shifts, caught it
on their own time, not due to binbag PPE
after the hollowing out of the NHS.
You see, the Conservatives are super-spreaders
of lies. The problem is, they just don’t care. They read us
to see how normal human beings should react.
So take off your Brexit blinkers. COVID – the Tories
are on it, they’re all over it, it’s on them, they own it.

Science in a time of pandemic
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

Science in a time of pandemic

Published in Science & Technology

Helena Sheehan continues the Culture Matters and Morning Star series on the Covid-19 crisis and various cultural activities, by looking at its effect on science. Photo: Dave McNally

OF THE many dimensions of the present pandemic, swamping our lives and suspending our normal reality, one of the most central to our culture has been the role of science. Every report on our all-virus-all-the-time news references science and the new media stars are epidemiologists, virologists, mathematicians, physicians and public health officials. My Facebook newsfeed has been dominated by amateur epidemiologists.

I do not mean this disparagingly. The times demand that we all inform ourselves and allow specialist knowledge to permeate our collective consciousness to find our way through this crisis. There have been all sorts of challenges to the fast-developing science of Covid-19, ranging from religious immunity to 5G susceptibility, but the over-riding story has been trust in science.

There was massive public pushback against the Johnson-Cummings flagging of a poorly conceived herd-immunity strategy and the Trump suggestion of disinfectant injections. In Ireland, where I live, the health minister — grandstanding with constant interviews and photo-ops — was quickly forced to backtrack and apologise after pronouncing on the 18 previous coronaviruses where no vaccine had been found. And there was disappointment in Africa when the Tanzanian president, with a PhD in chemistry, looked more to prayer than science and supported spurious theories on origins and remedies.

Science, of course, is not a simple matter. Science is always inextricably enmeshed in politics, economics, philosophy and culture. There is a long Marxist tradition of exploring science in all the complexity of its interactions, standing in contrast to the myopia of positivism and the obfuscation of postmodernism.
Generations of Marxists, from Marx and Engels, through Bernal, Haldane and Caudwell, to Gould, Levins and Lewontin, have embraced the cognitive capacity of science while highlighting the problematic shaping of science under capitalism.

Marxism explains this pandemic in terms of the whole network of interacting forces that have created it. Epidemiologists have been warning that such a pandemic was inevitable. Marxist writers who put epidemiology in a wider social-political-economic context, such as Mike Davis and Rob Wallace, have been clearly communicating to a wider public that industrialised agriculture, wildlife trafficking, hyperglobalisation, degradation of public health systems and big pharma-dominated research were creating the conditions for such a pandemic. Just as the 1918 flu spread by mobilisation for war, so Covid-19 has proliferated along the global circuitry of capital.

A Marxist approach also clarifies what is to be done. The current crisis demands that the priorities of public health override all other considerations — not only individual liberty but proprietary science and medicine. It thus runs counter to the whole trajectory of capitalism and points to the necessity for socialism.

This pandemic highlights the need for a global, public and open framework for science, focused on the urgency of finding preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic responses to this virus, particularly a vaccine. It should transcend all considerations of prizes, patents and profits. It requires transparent and international sharing of all relevant experimental and clinical information. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is the obvious body to co-ordinate this effort and the biggest obstacle to the optimal fulfilment of its mission is the US government.

The Trump administration has been negotiating with a German pharmaceutical firm to develop a vaccine for US-only use, pirating personal protection equipment en route to other nations and undermining and then defunding the WHO. This runs against everything the world needs today, with the US accusing China of trying to steal its research on vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, when clearly all such research should be in the public domain.

There is much media speculation on life after lockdown, some of it very shallow, but some of it more penetrating. In querying what has changed in us, in our society, as a result of this experience, many have said they do not want to return to our former normality. They have become increasingly aware of the devastation that capitalism has wrought on our bodies, societies and planet.

Things we were told were impossible suddenly became possible in these islands and elsewhere in this crisis — an end to a two-tier health service, increased funding for biomedical research and clinical resources, a ban on evictions, a rent freeze and a reduction in carbon emissions.

We have lived, however partially and temporarily, in a scenario where public health and welfare overrode the imperatives of the market. The government implementing these measures in Ireland were also responsible for running down our public health capacity and being on the other side of the class struggle. They will want to row back and it is the responsibility of the left, with considerable public support, to resist this.

Of the many memorable sights and sounds that have flowed through social media during this period, I could not refrain from sharing an image from a demonstration of New York health workers for this article. As you can see, its main banner reads CAPITALISM: DO NOT RESUCITATE.

The Unopened University: Stay Alert, Boris!
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

The Unopened University: Stay Alert, Boris!

Published in Poetry

Overacting, or The Unopened University

by David Erdos

And so the Unopen University fails as its peri-pathetic
Lecturer garbles. Transmitting graphs and equations
That would set the mathematically untrigged into spin;

A series of mixed ratios equal R over the rate of dissent
Subdivided, before what is in blue times the yellow,
Can, to the power of shite, infect twins. Or some other

Nonsense that shows no clarity, only static,
As hints were leaked of announcements that would
Returns us all to clear air. Before a broadcast that singed

Everyone confused, watching. By a form of brute
Aping Churchill, with a delivery so emphatic
That it seemed to press once wild hair. ‘Stay Alert’,

He said. Where? And how for that matter.
Alert at home or out jogging now that apparently
We all can? But just as long as we’re related? I see.

Or rather I don’t. What’s the question? Are we to now
Jog with passports, or have our DNA stamped across us
As the Street Block Corona Bill tests for clans?

Those who can’t work at home can go to work,
But must bike there. So does that mean as I say
This that the Tour de London streets that were

Empty will now resemble that famous race
Through the Alps? Or will millions of builders
Now walk from one far away zone to another,

While at the same time keeping distance
From the clatter of traffic, and the greasing
Of wheels. I have doubts. I have proper visions

Now of the past as pennyfarthings crest above
Scooters. I see pony traps, horse and carriage
Crammed across Kilburn High Road. And on

The Uxbridge Road a relay from Hillingdon
Down to Acton, as frustrated plumbers
Stop and start and stop. Hope’s borrowed.

Tonight’s lecturer stunned with his lack of clarity
And false promise. It was a tease, a temptation
To make the rabbits twitch in the hutch.

Hotel owners despaired, along with restaurateurs
And pub landlords. As others had no idea
Of what happens when you have moved so far

Beyond what’s enough. Give the public what
They want is the trick, while you in fact
Give them nothing. People will not be as tidy

As you think or expect them to be. For further
Traps can be set if you encourage past
Experience as nostalgia in yet another attempt

To win over, the fact deprived who stay squeezed.
The toothpaste tube empties out, as does the piggy
Banks and the wallet. Those eager to live risk reversals

If a false start yanks their frail lead. And Scotland
Does not agree, along with Wales and Ireland.
A four nation state hung, drawn and quartered,

Along these badly sketched lines can’t be freed.
Stay Alert: More design from the slogan smeared
Cummings. Stay Alert Twats is more like it, as you

Can see the sneer as he writes, on his little
Whiteboard, or iphone, containing pictures perhaps
Of the gravestones, each empty space filled

With scribble, which is conditional, naturally.
And so the rhetoric came. And the lecture screen
Remained empty. Devoid of real information

He talked to us, liminally. Everything remained
Vague or faint despite the overarchedness
Of his acting. He was both Henry the Fluff

And a Falsestaff roaming around ruined fields.
Which he almost ‘Blaked’ or ‘Dunkirked,’

As he tried to rouse the long fallen. Who must not
Rise but keep rocking. Pass our tests to keep failing.
Numb yourselves down. That’s the deal.

VE Day
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

VE Day

Published in Poetry

VE Day

by Paul Francis, with image by Laura Moore

After it’s over, time to pause for breath.
It takes some working out, the “what comes next?”
The grim familiarity with death
can not be cancelled with some pious text
and we don’t want to end up like before.

Yes, it was give and take, but too much give
from us, and too much take from them; the war
exposed that gap, and we don’t want to live
as nodding donkeys, doing as we’re told.

We’ve done our bit, and now we want our say
in sorting out the future. When we’re old
we want our children to create a better day,
using a fairer portion of our wealth
to build foundations for the nation’s health.

After the pandemic, culture should not be the same again
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

After the pandemic, culture should not be the same again

Published in Cultural Commentary

Jack Newsinger continues the series, jointly published on Culture Matters and the Morning Star, on the effects of the Covid-19 crisis on culture, sketching out what needs to change and why. Can artists, writers and other creatives form closer alliances with the labour movement? The accompanying image is by Jonpaul Kirvan.

Culture matters more than ever, as Mike Quille pointed out in the introduction to this series of articles. Yet  pandemic has completely shut down public arts and culture in the UK. Theatres, cinemas, libraries, music venues (including Glastonbury Festival’s 50th anniversary) – all closed until further notice, and likely to be some of the last to be allowed to reopen, with enormous impacts on the people whose livelihoods depend upon functioning cultural and creative industries.

We are all used to the glamour of the film and television industries, or the pomp of the theatre and opera, but it is worth emphasising that many of these workers are precariously employed on short term contracts often with little security or savings – the arts and creative industries are disproportionately reliant on a highly skilled, dedicated and passionate, but precarious workforce.

The people who serve coffee in the cafes are very often also the people on the stages; the guitarist in the band has also lost her other income teaching music lessons in a school. This ability to quickly contract when income disappears is how cultural organisations have learnt to keep functioning in Britain’s competitive cultural economy, but it can be brutal for many of the people who actually make culture, just like the stresses and strains faced by workers in the NHS, care homes and other public services which have suffered years of exposure to austerity economics and the imposition of capitalist rationality.

As in the rest of society, the COVID-19 crisis has made visible the weaknesses and inequalities in the arts and creative industries that were already present under the surface if anyone cared to look hard enough. Unsurprisingly, the way that the crisis has so far played out has mirrored these inequalities. There is increasing evidence that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people are suffering a disproportionate financial and employment penalty due to the lockdown. These inequalities will intersect with class, age, disability and region to compound and deepen the already significant disparities that exist in access to the arts and culture, for both producers and audiences. The danger is that commissioners used to seeing ‘minority arts’ and working-class participation as something of a side endeavour will retreat into the ‘safe’ zone of the ‘old boys’ network’ with a resulting narrowing of participation, vitality and cultural diversity. 

The COVID-19 crisis has shown the cracks and weaknesses in the system. But it also might reveal ways to overcome them. ‘Lockdown culture’ is forcing makers and audiences to find new ways to connect with each other. Some of these seek to reproduce existing capitalist relationships of production remotely. For example, the Artists' Support Pledge, in which artists sell their work through Instagram, promising that once they reach £1000 of sales they will spend £200 on another artist’s work.

The crisis pushes to the forefront new ideas about how we should fund the arts. Do we want a precarious commercial model that mirrors the inequalities of the market, or can we find more egalitarian ways of providing stability for cultural producers? Can this be an opportunity to overcome the pathological elitism and lack of diversity of the arts and cultural establishment? The Arts Council moved relatively quickly to announce a package of £160m to support cultural organisations and individuals. This is an essential lifeline but it appears to be targeted at maintaining the existing cultural landscape, with larger, prestigious organisations that serve metropolitan middle-class tastes taking priority (as they always have).

In this vacuum of new ideas, it is the spirit of self-help and community organisation that offers the way forward. Debates around Universal Basic Income have become more relevant. As noted by the artist and activist Stephen Pritchard, “Is the time coming when art will finally embrace self-organised alternatives rooted in ethical practice, equitable living, commoning, fair pay, openness and hope? Can art help rebuild our lives and our communities? Can it reimagine ways of being and living together after a global pandemic that surely changes everything?”

Three things emerge from all this so far. Firstly, professional artists, filmmakers, writers, makers, and all cultural practitioners are also workers, ultimately, and need collective representation and a strong welfare state. There must surely be potential for closer links and mutual support between cultural practitioners and the labour movement, given their shared values and belief that the arts and culture generally can be a liberating force.

Secondly, the importance of looking to the people about how the arts and culture can change. People are showing that they will still put their creativity out there whether they get paid or not, which says something about the importance of the human capacity for connecting through culture beyond commercial relationships.

Finally, quarantine has demonstrated the importance of internet connectivity, and culture is flourishing online, whether it be watching a concert on Instagram live, learning how to paint on Facebook, or home art-schooling your children using the Tate’s online galleries. This is surely to be celebrated. If only we had a government that would guarantee free broadband for all…..

Beak Doctors
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

Beak Doctors

Published in Poetry

Beak Doctors

by Alan Morrison

We're wandering about by day
Keeping each other at bay
Some of us wearing face masks
Carrying out our daily tasks
Of getting some shopping in
Without touching anything -
Wiping down the supermarket baskets
With disinfectant
Like over-scrupulous neurotics
Or priests polishing communion cups

(One wonders if those orange tops
Will ever be back in the shops)

Meanwhile pinstripes in Whitehall
Are beginning to doubt all
Their weird science, Sage guidance,
"Herd immunity", nudge units -

27,000 souls departed and counting -
It's a strange kind of social engineering
Wearing down the generations' engines -

Is it the underequipped nurses
And sacrificial carers
Or the newly departed we're supposed to be clapping?

Is this virus really a leveller
Or simply a revealer?

Our enemy is invisible,
But then it always is, as is evil,
As is the longest serving visitation
That ever descended on this nation:
The Conservative virus -
For which there's never been a vaccination -

Ironic socialism
Of Keynesian economics
Tories can only countenance
If they don't have to see the consequence

We are all anchorites now

We must keep apart to keep together

(Apart from the unemployed
Who are encouraged to be fruit pickers)

And in this strange transparent plague
The shape of our salvation's vague
But a shadow proctor
The grotesque shape of a beak doctor
Pecking at the buttercups
Pecking at the buttercups

The buttercups in meadows

May Day Greetings from California
Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:00

May Day Greetings from California

Published in Festivals/ Events

The Steel Bones of Our Cities

by Fred Voss

The COVID-19 virus is spreading across California
and we are at our vertical milling machines
our horizontal boring mill machines
our 12-foot-long engine lathes
like we were
through 1929 stock market crash
total eclipse of the sun
Einstein overthrowing the universe
with his pen
Lindbergh back from flying across the Atlantic smiling through showers
of New York City confetti
our hands on the machine handles
our feet on the concrete floor
our eyes on the tin walls
a thousandth of an inch is still a thousandth of an inch
chips of steel still fall from the edges
of our cutting tools
carving faucet
and wheel
red-hot rivets still hammered into Golden Gate Bridge
waves throwing their arms around rocks
sailors
studying stars cats
still finding their way across cities back home to bowls
of cat food
the COVID-19 virus has the streets of our cities in its grip
we don’t blink an eye
or miss a beat
making pipe to carry water or easel
to hold canvas
a Gershwin melody is still a Gershwin melody
a falling star still a reason
to kiss as we carve
keys and wheelchair wheels and soup spoons and clown horns
out of shiny steel and brass and aluminum
a laugh is still a laugh
a marriage ring is still a marriage ring
I-beams still the steel bones
of our cities
and a steel block gripped between the steel jaws of a vise on our machine table
might still help make
a new world.

Breaking Through the Tin Walls

by Fred Voss

As our machines chew and slice and groan
through steel and aluminum and bronze
I hope
one of my fellow machinists is dreaming of a union strike
that can make an owner walk into a machine shop and really listen to men
with black machine grease on their hands and heads held high like they’ll never take a back seat
to any man
I hope
one of my fellow machinists dreams of the day when these blank tin factory walls
we’ve been hidden behind all our lives
fall
and we begin to become as famous
as pundits and tv clowns
and kings
I hope
one dreams of the day when machinists don’t have to have grip contests
wrestling each other to the concrete floor to prove
they are men
when machinists can bring bouquets of yellow daffodils into the shop
and proudly set them on their sheet metal workbenches
beside oily shop rags and not
be laughed at
or hang
a Van Gogh on a tin wall because they know Van Gogh would love to paint
our green engine lathes and sweaty faces
I dream of Buddha and Mandela and Whitman
sitting in front of machines on stools in front of us
because nirvana and freedom and beauty
have no need to wear
a white shirt
and the fall of a government can start with a machinist
laying down a micrometer
and I write these poems because Neruda’s father worked on the railroad
Jack London and Herman Melville were sailors and loved the sea
Dostoevsky hauled 150-pound loads of rocks in his arms in a Siberian prison camp
and every man who ever carved a train wheel out of steel
also needs to carve out
a dream.

Author's Note:

May Day greetings from California.

We are the ones at the machines, in the mines, at the desks,
behind the wheels, we are the ones
with the jackhammers and spatulas in our hands
we are the ones waiting for the day
we can make
a better world.

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