Although shielding officially ended at the start of April, I will keep shielding until I have had my second vaccination, by which time I will have been shielding for thirteen months. I look back over my posts from the last year, and reflect on some of the hardships, hopes and little victories.
It’s been hard for everyone. According to the Office of National Statistics, the equivalent of 19 million adults in Great Britain report high levels of anxiety during 2020. Over the last year, my confidence has taken a big knock and the faltering hope for humanity I felt has been crushed.
The way this crisis has been handled by the Government is nothing short of woeful. I have been attending a public independent enquiry into the Government’s handling of the Pandemic. Chaired by a QC with expert witnesses giving statements under oath. Such an enquiry would be able to require politicians to be cross-examined under oath. That such an enquiry has had to be put together by the Public and it won’t be attended by Government Ministers highlights our crisis of governance, lack of scrutiny and accountability. I attended the harrowing sessions on the impact on the impacts of the Government’s handling of the Pandemic on disabled people and frontline workers.
The problem of my not being recognised as CEV (Clinically Extremely Vulnerable) and included in the Government’s shielding scheme which had prevented me from accessing home-shopping slots, returned with getting a vaccination. Once again, I had to fight to correct it. After several requests to my GP, I was finally recognised as CEV and received my first vaccination in phase four.
Much of my voluntary work has been on hold. The MBE I was awarded in the 2021 New Year’s Honours was a very welcome boost to my own wellbeing and was enjoyed by friends, family and my community. A few days later, came a reminder that fortune has two faces. I learned my Uncle had died suddenly and a young woman who lived in our village had taken her own life. Like many, I was unable to go to their funerals, but was able to be there ‘virtually’ for my Uncle’s.
Online meetings are not the same as meeting face to face, but have made the world so much smaller and more accessible for me. I just renewed my Zoom account for another year. Initially, I wanted to encourage my friends to meet up and to host my own meetings, but I hadn’t realised how meeting online would increase my sense of involvement and develop my own activism. I have attended so many events, both here in the UK and all around the world. I talk about this more in We are Citizens of the World.
I was recently a guest on my first Podcast, the subject of which was being a teenager with ataxia. Before we started, I introduced myself to the younger guests as the voice of experience, the Great-Uncle Bulgaria if you will. As I said it, I remembered that young people don’t necessarily know what a Great-Uncle Bulgaria is. I wondered if it would help if I explained his position in the Womble hierarchy but then quickly realised that would be pointless because they probably don’t know (or care) who the Wombles even were!
But despite being a relief and a glimmer of hope, just going for the vaccination showed me how shielding for such a long time had on my confidence. It was a cold day and I had to travel to a nearby town. As soon as we arrived, I started to feel anxious, aware of the number of people. As soon as I transferred out of the car, my glasses steamed up. Not confident of where I was and being unable to see, I let Helen push me to the entrance. The plan was for me to do all this on my own, as all we had the kids in the car. But I didn’t want to be left alone. As we entered the warmth medical centre, my glasses steamed up again. A volunteer in a high-vis jacket and a clipboard was speaking directly to me (which is unusual!). I replied with a frightened whimper, and Helen took charge. Afterwards I was shocked. A confident person like me, reduced to this.
There have been some positives too. On my first trip out with my family, we went to Stratford. Feeling uncomfortable about being in a crowd, I was approached (as usual) by curious folks admiring my trike. But this time they all said ‘Keep Safe’ as a farewell greeting. I’d never heard it said repeatedly by different people, the warmth, sense of shared hardship and genuine concern reminded me that other people are on my side. That is going to help me find the strength to put myself back out there over the coming months.
Helen has developed a real skill for cutting my hair now. She has gradually got faster and more confident. She has her own cape and spray bottle. No more dog-clippers for her, she uses her own professional clippers! Shopping slots have been available and substitutions and shortages have been minimal. I don’t think I’ve seen as many Villa matches on TV as I have in the last year, the fact I watch with my six-year-old son has been great (you get used to the barrage of questions!) I took on home-schooling with him too. I enjoyed this unexpected time we spent together, counting with money and learning about Queen Victoria, whilst becoming increasingly concerned that the Key Stage 2 Curriculum lacks balance and champions an unhealthy obsession with grammar.
I had hoped that just surviving these times would make us how damaging our lives were. How online meetings and working from home were to be retained as we go forward. This hasn’t happened. The global shutdown that emptied our roads and skies has only seen CO2 levels drop to 2006 levels. Our politicians and Industries need to do much more. Much of the UK media has fed upon sensationalism and created panic and division, while enabling corruption to go unchallenged. Sadly, how we treat each other and our toxic political and social systems are very much still with us. Wombles live for 300 years. Where are they? I’m sure they could do better than we have.
Richard Brown MBE