By Henry Bradshaw - 29th March 2020 6:07am
A thought for the day,
or potentially a complete waste of it.
A personal view by Henry Bradshaw
History is defined by the idea of 'bookshelves'. This may seem a vague, irrelevant, and perhaps even obnoxious statement, but it is in my view highly relevant in this new world. The first way the idea of the 'bookshelf' might be considered is the time between, or of, events. Written history is littered with these references which attempt to provide structure to understand the past. Looking at recent history, you might read 1914 — 1918 (First World War), 1939 — 1945 (Second World War), and 1945 — 1989 (Cold War). Any factor or series of factors can influence the structure of these timeframes, though, they have typically been constructed by historians around military endeavours, the rise of fall of leaders, and more recently cultural events. A second way in which the historian might demarcate the past is by using defined dates to consider existence before and after an event. In this school of thought, the date is the turning point or catalyst of change. Examples of this which spring to mind are 7th December 1941 (Pearl Harbour), 11th September 2001 (Attack on the Twin Towers), and of course — 23rd June 2016 (Brexit)! Life before and after these dates was forever changed for the people involved, and for historians, they provide a defined marker to which they can (proverbially) hang their hat.
Using this as a framework to consider the current pandemic — how significant will this be as a 'bookmark' in our lives? How far reaching will it be for separating matters of politics, economics, sociology, the environment, health and wellbeing, and even the number of students considering careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects? I don't think it is uncontroversial to overstate the importance of the current crisis engulfing the UK — we have seen a series of wartime like economic measures from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the effective closing of the entire hospitality sector across Europe, and post-apocalyptic like scenes in all major supermarkets with nil stocks. It is hard to think of a precedent for this within our nations' collective memory. More locally to Audlem, we have seen the bells stop ringing on a regular basis (something that has not happened since the Second World War), community groups not meeting in alignment to the government's advice to socially distance, cancellation of regular guided worship at St James, and our local shops reducing their customer intimacy.
Locally, nationally, and globally, the Coronavirus will be a moment we all recall as lived experience unto which we will undertake learning, share hardship, and derive meaning. This latter point will be especially interesting for those concerned with the study of the qualitative. In the future, the historian will attempt to understand what Covid-19 meant for people. What range of experiences did people have during the 'Corona days'? How was the role of the family impacted by the government instructions to stay at home more? What mediums did people use to seek resolution to their spiritual desires despite being restricted access to religious teaching? How did businesses cope with these changes? Each of these questions will in no doubt be asked by students of the past, and will, with no doubt in my mind, be answered in as many ways as the number of people who lived through it.
I am currently enjoying a book — Audlem: A history of a Cheshire Parish and its Five Townships — in which I am noting a common theme not uncommon to the historian: how the historian must sometimes refer to fragments of information to summarise broader conclusions. Linking this back to the earlier questions in the paragraph above — what role can Audlem play in these stories? Will Audlem be a community grouped within a general 'rural' experience, or can it be a case study through which future generations can understand the effect this virus is having on our lives? It is with this final thought to which I turn directly to the title of this article — what can we do to retain sanity throughout this period:
Document — buy a notepad and write stuff down — how do you feel? What are you missing? How many hours did you spend watching funny cats doing silly things on the internet today? These sources, if properly managed and kept will be invaluable to historians in the future.
Support local businesses — think about how and where we can support local businesses. Short of sounding paternal (for which, it is worth noting, I have absolutely no intention), Audlem has some incredibly talented members which could substantially help business in the local area — so collaborate where possible!
Vent your frustrations (in a healthy way) — going into a period where it is likely social cohesion will be tested like it has never been so before, it is important for our mental health that we can vent these hardships (a method through this might be done can potentially be found in the Document point above?).
Embrace self reflection — Pre-Corona, society indulged in excess — 1/5 of all food produced went to landfill. It was reported by Radio 4 on Thursday last week that Tesco might ask its suppliers to rationalise the amount of different sausages they make, in order to produce more of the ones which are instant sellers! What are the excesses in our lives? What is superfluous, and what is essential?
The UK is certainly not alone in fighting this virus, and it will almost certainly be a 'bookmark' for which we will all be recounting as life before and life after. We can all play our part by caring for one another, and being resolute in our commitment to our local community. It is without question that at one point or another, normality will return (hopefully sooner rather than later). For the time being, I will personally try and follow the points above to try and get through the next period of the Corona days.
By the way, has anyone got any spare loo roll?
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