Summertime – to spend on holiday or in self-Isolation, depending on which rules and gateways you are following. The news channels are searching for stories that can wake the public out of a lethargy from the recent heatwave and flash floods.
But in Japan the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are taking place, a year late and bound to be more than a dollar short. But Japan is a proud nation and will hold its head up high no matter what the financial outcome is from these precious days. The empty stands are a grim reminder of what is and is not at stake in the world today and for the 11,000 athletes gathered with their coaches and staff from over 206 countries. Those of us who can, are watching – just a little bit. With the COVID restrictions in place and without the huge crowds roaring, there is a visible difference in the atmosphere. There seems a real focus on the athletes, their sport. Glimpses of the cross-country comradeship between the competitors. Alex Yee, the Asian English Triathlon runner, who came in second is genuinely smiling as he congratulates Kristian Blummenfelt the winner from Norway. The sweet young skateboarders are proud of their countries, yet more deeply excited to be here with each other. An extreme version of summer camp, that, being teenagers, they will take in their stride to adulthood.
This could be the time for a little news item while everyone is too distracted to notice. The television shows a nurse ironing her home-laundered scrubs. I recognize myself in her, a good woman, a good nurse, trying hard to make ends meet as she works at her chosen profession. The government is to give the National Health medical staff a 3% pay rise. Given, so says the statement “In recognition of the important courageous work done by the medical staff through these last terrible months of the Coronavirus pandemic.” No junior doctors or dentists still in training, most of the medical staff, will receive that rise and the nurses are exhausted. The question remains are the nurses too worn out to consider a some kind of action?
A 3 % raise sounds good – but it equates to a 7.6% decrease in today’s economy for nurses who, more than most public sector workers, have been consistently underpaid. As if tending the body of the sick and oft-time dying is still looked upon as an unclean act. And yet – tending to the body of another is the greatest and first, according to Margaret Mead, sign of a civilized society. All nurses understand it is a privilege, and in a cruel way those who eke out the pounds, shillings and pence also understand that we care for our privilege. But this pay rise remains an insult that is getting harder to ignore. 3% they say, because of all the hard work and dedication you have shown through the pandemic. Hang on, that is what nurses do – all the time. And the police and teachers are to have their pay frozen for at least this year. I can remember being given ten shillings more a week, knowing it would be eaten up in a heartbeat.
Now that Freedom day has come and we are all following government guidelines that say it is safe to go out – carefully – we cautiously took the train to Oxford. This was for a long overdue visit to friends with whom we had promised to bring a fish pie. And so we packed up a picnic, fish pie, champagne to celebrate a beloved mutual friend’s passing, home-grown and home-made blackcurrant jam, and home-brewed elderflower cordial.
The Saturday train to Oxford was packed. Every seat was taken and strangers sat beside each other, some carefully, while for others, within the comradeship of youth, conversations began with today’s pickup questions for a new piece of computer software. The train hauled out of Paddington and into the countryside. Buddleia-covered concrete giving way to ragwort and fireweed alongside of un-ripened wheat fields. Our friends live on the outskirts of Oxford and we walked our way from the train station to the bus stop through the town. The river holds, the narrow streets remain the same, the pavements are hard for wheelchairs and the city looks as weary and beaten as any city that is trafficked by students, and where COVID has lain bare the worn cobblestones normally covered by tourists. There are empty store-fronts and as it must be after any war, it is hard to see if they will return fresh and hopeful for the students of the future. It is only when you look up at the massive yellow stone, with its the carved beauty leaning down on you in the narrow streets that you say, “Ah yes, Oxford.”
Oxford has been battled over, lost and won again over many centuries. The University was founded 800 years ago and since that time has remained one of the seats of higher education in England. It is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, though, lest we forget, as the English are wont to do, there have been and remain other ancient dynasties throughout the world. In England and at Oxford, church and state were intertwined throughout the centuries, with scholars and politicians emerging from the monasteries and bishops burnt as traitors and martyrs. It was heady stuff. Church and education marched hand in hand and, to enter Oxford, never mind graduate, remains a path to many doors of power. Which brings us to today’s politicians, those who walked the hallowed halls, crossed the sun-shone quads and have too easily assumed the mantle of entitlement that does not become them. But it is these men and women, who hold the purse strings of tax-payers pounds and whose education and political persuasion have led them to justify the equation that plus 3 actually equals minus 7.
This has been A letter from A. Broad
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch
First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org
Web support by murchstudio.com