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3rd Edition, May 18th, 2020 Toks Francis

“…And the people stayed home”

“We (all) have gifts. It is a good reminder that whatever your gift is, however small it is, keep using it. This is a really good time for that.”

― Kitty O’Meara, ‘Poet Laureate’ of the Corona pandemic

Just as I was wrapping up my final Social Work placement, COVID-19 struck. This diary is my ‘therapy’, my attempt at understanding our present world. 

Barely a short month ago, life was good… 

My placement was progressing well; my PE and I, perfectionists both, had the rest of my learning planned to the very last minute. We had everything sorted. So, we thought.

Hiccup #1 was a call on March 17 when PE advised me not to show up for work the next day; my placement was suspended! What?! Suspended? What for? What had I done wrong? What, who, how…? The questions could not come out fast enough. This did not make sense. All I wanted was to get this placement over and done with, focus on my dissertation and, hopefully, make early submission. Now this!?

It was nothing I had done, PE continued. The agency had simply decided to get as many employees as possible working remotely, in line with government guidelines in the wake of a rising pandemic and there was no room to accommodate students working remotely. Really? Why not? I thought in my head but dared not voice. If regular staff whom we had been working alongside could, why “discriminate” against students?… Anyways, that was it; placement was suspended. Period. 

Barely a short month ago, life was good…

It crept up upon us and then hit us with a colossal bang – COVID-19, corona virus, CV-19, whatever you choose to call it. This demon from the pit of hell was on a rampage and has not relented since then. Lives, livelihood, families, even the monarchy(!) Nothing that it could possibly lay its evil claws on was exempt. It is on a ‘killing spree’ and nothing seems able to stop it. Its primary mission is to take as many lives as possible; however, in doing that, CV-19 was also taking families – their joy, their hope, their sources of livelihood and income, everything that people naturally held most dear vaporized overnight. As of today (April 20, 2020), CV-19 had infected just under 108,000 people in the UK with 16,509 reported deaths. And the worst is yet to come. 

Barely a short month ago, life was predictable…

Governments were run by (supposedly) the most powerful intellectuals and nations thrived on economies dictated by the world (stock) markets. The ‘high and mighty’ i.e. the stupendously rich, in collaboration with their white-collared bourgeoisie counterpart, were the keyworkers. They knew it all, they made all things happen. This was in contrast to the blue-collared workers, i.e. the humble, low-skilled, manual-labourers, the proletariat whose main claim to economic significance and/or viability was that they served the dictates of the powerful. They knew nothing, they made nothing worthwhile happen. They “merely” provided services that were needed but did not impact too much on world economies; they are “wage-earners whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power” (PayrollHeaven.com, 2020). So, we thought, until a month ago…

Barely a short month ago, life became different…

COVID-19 promptly put an end to all our grandiose fantasies and idiosyncrasies; redefining once and for all, the real “keyworker”. Where are the powers-that-be now? Where are the so-called “professionals”? When push came to shove, what professional can we absolutely not do without? Who actually drives the economy and keeps it (and us!) going? Who is wearing the “white-collar” now?… Suddenly wearing a uniform has become the fashion statement and a Hi-Viz the indisputable acknowledgement of your crucial role. No longer are their individual skills/abilities referred to collectively as unskilled; no longer is their labour seen as common and/or cheap. No longer are they ‘forsaken’… 

So, who are these keyworkers? Who are the essential workers who keep the country (and economy!) running while the rest of us sit tight at home? You guessed right – the cleaners, sweepers, refuse collectors, farm workers, truck/bus drivers, grocery store clerks, factory workers, firefighters, post-persons/delivery workers, construction laborers…pretty much all the professions society had hitherto looked down on and turned their noses up at. The jobs no parent would normally want their children to aspire to. 

Barely a short month ago, life was hunky-dory…

People went about their businesses without any apparent concern. We felt safe, untouchable. After all we are the 1st World, the 5th most powerful nation in the world. Yes, we were it! Sure, we had started hearing rumblings from across the pond, people dying from his yet-unexplained “viral infection,” but it could not touch us in the same way. We had our act together and taken as much precaution as necessary. We were invincible; CV-19 could neither find us nor touch us…Really?

Barely a short month ago, life was redefined …

All who could were advised to work from home. One after another, offices closed. Buildings closed. Sole businesses closed. Restaurants closed. Schools closed. GP-surgeries closed. Multi-agency businesses closed. Places of worship closed. Grocery stores and (even) hospitals half-closed! Overnight the world became a ghost town. Being anti-social became the new social – you saw your neighbour walking towards you on one of two allowed personal “essential travels” and you immediately crossed the street to the other side to avoid undue contact. Your latest fashion accessories became your face mask and gloves, your shield from any cross-contamination. The thicker and bigger, the trendier. Keeping your (2m) distance became civil and considerate – you could no longer help your elderly neighbour with their groceries (not in the same way we had always known). Forget visits! You spoke to (even) your folks from a distance. In a nutshell, our lives were redefined.

Barely a short month ago, life got good (again!) briefly…

A brief detour back to the past… I was still reeling from my placement suspension news when I got another call from my PE, desired this time – the gods were working in my favour, the powers that be had reconsidered and decided that I ‘qualified’ for home-working (thank you Jesus!) So, I needed to attend the agency to get myself set up. Wow! I was on my way before PE dropped the phone – how good is God?! So, my personal story got good and interesting once again. I immediately determined to pack every available day/hour into completing my placement before things got worse and/or I suffered another ‘hiccup.’ 75 days gone, I needed 25 more; actually only 15 – because once portfolio was submitted at Day 90, the rest of the journey was mere ‘cooling off’ period.    

Things got worse generally… But not for me/placement, we got better. Unbelievable how much you can pack into two weeks, before my university decided to terminate all placements anyway and decide our progression by however much we had accomplished up until then. Phew! The sun shone bright – 86 days completed, no concerns, all bases covered, all PCFs/SoPs/KSSs ticked off, I was good to go with a PASS recommendation. Sweet music.…

Barely a short month ago…

Back to the present. Devastating and unwelcome as CV-19 has been, perhaps it is not all doom and gloom and there are positives to glean from this destructive pandemic. We might have forgotten the true essence of life and was (living) too long in life’s fast lane; we needed to slow things down somewhat. Unfortunately, it took CV-19 for us to achieve this. It took CV-19 for parents to learn to start parenting their kids again and for families to get to know one another. The stillness of CV-19 helped us to rediscover lost passion and hear the unspoken words of our hearts; it assisted us in re-learning (new) ways of being, new ways of appreciating one another. CV-19 unleashed our creative juices, causing some of us to revive latent skills. CV-19 helped us to, once again, become our brothers’/neighbours’ keepers and forget self for the moment. CV-19 helped us to find life once again, and (re)learn gratitude. So, for this moment, we are re-living life and growing to appreciate the simple essences of life. We are finally living the life we were made to live. And dare I say: “thank you” COVID-19…?

Has there been inconceivable damage, irreparable losses? Yes! Do our hearts ache when we think of families and friends that we (including this writer) have lost to CV-19? Totally! Do the songs die in our throats as we remember? You bet! Do we wish this demonic plague away, never to surface on our earth again? Oh, Yes, absolutely! Rest assured; this too shall pass. And when all is done, it will be a new beginning.  

Life is hard, no doubt. I am relearning this daily as I progress my learning. We find ourselves in situations we are totally not prepared for and we just have to learn to “go with the flow.” The implications of this are far-reaching and something that will probably take me the rest of my career to make sense of. For now, I am humbled to have been part of this experience-of-a-lifetime. Social work has not passed this way before. I will always remember and be grateful that I ‘passed this way’ as part of my learning. 

Life is hard. But this, too, shall pass.  

Toks Francis, Social work student, Brunel University April 20, 2020

Reference

Proletariat. PayrollHeaven.com. Available at: https://payrollheaven.com/define/proletariat/#cite-term