6 May 2020
I haven’t got much to complain about, it’s true. Certainly as compared to many of my friends- waiting out the pandemic in squats and caravans, with no money and slowly going mad in cramped or overcrowded conditions- I’ve got it pretty easy. I’m living in a family home with three square meals a day, hot water, electricity and space of my own. I’m in continuous work and the longer lockdown goes on, the better-off I’ll be when it’s over. But I’m also living in a cognitive-dissonance-induced nightmare, locked up with a pair of backward bumpkins in racist suburbia and there’s a good chance I might not last until lockdown is lifted.
When it looked like Coronavirus might actually take hold in the UK, and not having any family responsibilities or rental commitments, I offered to quarantine with the family who’s profoundly disabled son I look after. They are a family of four; two parents in their late fifties and two children in their early twenties with severe learning and physical disabilities. To make matters worse the father of the two children has COPD, ME and- to my mind- chronic depression. They couldn’t do both children’s round-the-clock care alone, given that they have at least one carer in the house at any one time and preferably, three.
I knew when I offered to move in, a week before the lockdown was announced to reduce the risk of infection to near zero, that these were somewhat… backward people. Casually racist bullshit drops from their lips without even the slightest provocation but I had previously ignored it on the basis that as a professional what is important is that the kids get the care they deserve, not whether I like their parents. But since moving in I have had to accept exposure to a growing amount of racist,, thick-as-shit tabloid bullshit as a condition of my employment.
I have also had to accept working every day, not being allowed to leave the house even for exercise, and living in a house permanently filled with fresh cigarette smoke courtesy of the father.
I know that my situation is nothing like as dangerous as someone working in a hospital or even a supermarket. I know that my life is not in danger. I’m grateful I don’t have to load lorries from a warehouse filled with scores of potential super-spreaders, stack shelves while trying to remain socially distant from entitled hoarders, or face waves of new patients with nothing to protect myself or them from infection than a hastily re-purposed bin bag. I know I’m lucky.
Nevertheless I, like many working class people, have had to choose between poverty and destitution or the possibility of death. Before I became a carer I worked as a rigger on temporary structures for events. Then, I risked mundane injury or death all day every day: from unsafe or absent equipment, drunk colleagues or simply overwork in extreme weather. Today and in my present situation, the conditions of my employment do not include the risk of physical injury. They instead carry the risk of psychological torment and loneliness.
Just as working people all over the country are forced to accept new and additional risks to their wellbeing, I am forced to bite my tongue while my employers trot out a constant stream of jarring hateful nonsense I didn’t realise anyone actually thought:
(after having the plot of Noughts and Crosses explained to them) “So it’s like Planet of the Apes?”
“At least if it’s Romanians doing it [picking crops], it doesn’t matter if they get coronavirus. As long as they don’t go to a British hospital, that is”
“I don’t know why they don’t force people on the dole to pick the crops”
“If they [the children] get sick, we won’t be able to get them treated because of all the P—s clogging up the system”
Each little nugget of tired fuckwittery hits me like a series of half bricks. At first there’s disbelief that a human, a real human, not a columnist rent-a-gob but a human person standing right in front of me has said these things, and in such a conversational tone. Then comes the realisation that they have, and insofar as they ever consider anything, this is their considered worldview. And then the crushing conclusion that I can’t challenge them because a) it’s their house and they can say what they like, b) I have to keep the mood in the house sweet because the gods alone know how long this thing will go on for, c) if I speak up I might lose both my job and my home and d) if I leave, the boy will spend all day strapped into his pushchair like something off of a tearjerking Comic Relief segment from the 90’s.
And that is the source of my cognitive dissonance. I’m a committed anti-fascist! I’ve bashed the fash from London to Preston! I have never in my life let anyone get away with chatting this kind of confused nonsense unchallenged. And to have to hear it and just bite my tongue is killing me.
But at least I won’t actually die, eh?