Statues, U-turns, and the need for a siren-wailing app

*Photo: Jane’s sarong becomes a mask…

First published in the Isle of Thanet News of Friday 19th June 2020

Jane Wenham-Jones in week whatever of the dissolving ‘lockdown’

I WAS SORRY to hear about Dame Vera – still singing in tune at 103, bless her – but the day-long coverage of the much-loved wartime singer’s death at least meant one thing. We weren’t talking about bloody statues.

The pitching of an effigy of Edward Colson into a harbour was, I felt, a rather splendid act of symbolism. It was also vandalism, which is, of course, to be deplored, but what the hell was a known slave-trader still doing there anyway?  And for anyone bleating on about white-washing history, it’s not a case of wishing to re-write – we should all damn well remember – but choosing not to honour someone who committed atrocities against his fellow beings. As I said in a somewhat heated debate on FaceTime – oh I how I miss a pub table to thump – you wouldn’t retain a figure of Jimmy Savile, would you?

Take Cecil Rhodes down by all means, is my view, and stick him in a museum, the better to educate with, but starting on Winston Churchill is surely fudging the issue.

Because, whatever unpalatable comments the wartime Premier made eighty years ago, the problem with cries for him to be toppled from his plinth, is that it brings the far-right thugs, in all their hideousness, out in force, and fuels their vile fire. Distracting from the conversation we SHOULD be having. Namely how we can put a stop to racism now. Today.  The bestselling novelist, Dorothy Koomson, has written a sobering open letter to the publishing industry, detailing the way, despite all her success, she has experienced life as a Black writer.  Saying: “We do not want special treatment, we want a level playing field, equality of opportunity, the chance to write books and explore as many subjects and genres as our white counterparts.”

It’s not an awful lot to ask, is it?

GREAT IS THE MAN who can change his mind. This was a saying my late father was fond of, delivered with unfailing (and often unfathomable) regularity throughout my youth. I think he made it up, although it was possibly an adaptation of “A stubborn man can’t change his mind…” from Winston Churchill, of whom he was also a fan. (Let’s not get re-started on that one!)  I recalled the words on Tuesday when Boris Johnson performed a welcome U-turn in response to footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to get free school meals extended over the summer. (A small gesture at a cost of £120 million, in the face of the 80 billion spent on the furlough scheme.)  

I would not go so far as to say I now think the Prime Minister is “great”, but I would never sniff at any politician changing their mind for the good. Frankly, we could do with it happening a lot more. Now he’s got the flavour of it, perhaps Boris will spend his 56th birthday celebrations today, considering other ways in which he might also undergo a volte-face. Maybe he could reverse the threat of chlorinated chicken, for example, see Trump for the dangerous idiot he is, or do a bit of a rethink on Brexit…

SO THE SHOPS ARE BACK OPEN and rumours abound that some eager bargain-hunters started queuing at Westwood Cross from 3am, while others actually camped outside Primark. Are they insane? It is bad enough having to physically shop in ‘normal’ times  –  the crowds, the crush, the having to riffle through the hangers to discover they have every size but yours, the uninspiring view of all your blotchy, blobby bits magnified under the terrible strip lights if you want to try something on, or the dispiriting journey back again if you don’t. Anyone who can stand more than 20 minutes in a large chain store without getting hot, cross and running screaming for their favourite website, is made of sterner stuff than I am. But as for lining up for hours for the pleasure, with the added bonus of the chance to catch a deadly virus thrown in?  I’ll stick to searching “bargain” online…

AND THE MUCH-PROMISED Coronavirus app has hit the rocks. I don’t pretend to understand technology but it seems to me that the fatal flaw in any tracing app goes deeper than its dependence on Bluetooth. First, you have to rely on people using it, then being honest about their symptoms and finally the ‘contacts’ carrying out what the ever-hopeful Matt Hancock calls their civic duty, and going into isolation. Even if they feel perfectly well and were on their way to a mate’s house to watch the crowdless football. Since the biggest threat to us all is getting too close and failing to wash our hands, how about a very simple app that just wails like a siren if we move within two metres of anybody else in a public place (it would have been going like the clappers in Margate last Saturday) or shrieks UNCLEAN to those with suspiciously dry fingers?  You’re welcome, Boris. Happy Birthday. 

Lockdown gift of the week

Knowing I wouldn’t be going on holiday any time soon, I donated my favourite sarong to a local mask-making initiative. This week, a piece of it came back in a face-covering for me, from Kerry Millett, one of the group who have made over 10,000 mask for key workers. Thanks guys – and well done you!

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  1. Love the mask! Have made mine from old cotton lawn, snugly fitting and not (too) badly sewn.
    Re: Colston’s statue. Was born and raised in Bristol, and statue’s demise has been under discussion for decades, if not longer. About time for that dunk in the harbour!
    My feelings are that we shouldn’t be distracted by the fate of Churchill’s nor any other memorial, since there’s plenty already demanding action: Windrush, Grenfell, David Lammy’s report…. sure we could go on….

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