I spent a lot of time in church in my youth and sometimes had to memorise bible texts including, as a small child, the end of the Noah story. In this the rainbow appears as the covenant between creator and people following the promise that – as I remember it - while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. This troubled me. I’d been shocked by TV pictures of Biafra and it seemed to me that seedtime and harvest were particularly unreliable in some places. The question is still indelible and unanswered in my head: what sort of promise was this?
Well, rainbows are about hope, both in the present and the future. A rainbow says, ‘there’s a problem here which we can solve with goodwill on all sides.’ So, given the scale of the current problem, how do rainbows help?
It's good to show solidarity with fellow public-servants working very hard to mitigate our problem. Thursday night pan-banging does the same. But forgive me for saying that neither rainbows nor pans solve the pandemic nor should they be used to distract our attention from sober analysis of its lessons. I can’t watch the news at the moment because it’s heavy on speculation and distraction and light on science, supplies and politics. Even with a pan in my paw and a rainbow shopper on my head on my doorstep, I’m still furious - if a ridiculous sight.
Why? If you look on their website, the NHS describes its foundation thus:
‘the NHS was created out of the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. When it was launched by the then minister of health, Aneurin Bevan, on July 5 1948, it was based on 3 core principles:
- that it meet the needs of everyone
- that it be free at the point of delivery
- that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay
The NHS Constitution of 2017 says goes on: the NHS belongs to the people and:
It is there to improve our health and wellbeing, supporting us to keep mentally and physically well, to get better when we are ill and, when we cannot fully recover, to stay as well as we can to the end of our lives. It works at the limits of science – bringing the highest levels of human knowledge and skill to save lives and improve health. It touches our lives at times of basic human need, when care and compassion are what matter most.’
The NHS is founded on a common set of principles and values that bind together the communities and people it serves – patients and public – and the staff who work for it.’
Yes, that’s what rainbows and the noise celebrate, but funding’s been an issue these ten years and no amount of clapping should distract us from that. There are too few staff and not enough money in the hospitals and surgeries of the land. No wonder government love us using ‘hero’ rhetoric – treating anyone under these circumstances is heroic, but that’s not how public services should function.
My last blog mentioned the silence of Tallis-the-building while Tallis-the-school works from home. I heard Larkin’s Churchgoing on the radio last weekend, about an empty building, and it spoke anew to me. While the opening line ‘Once I am sure there’s nothing going on’ is true for vast tracts of the Tallis estate, it’s this last verse that speaks to my rainbow fury.
Imagine the poet speaks not of churches but schools and hospitals:
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
We have full hospitals and empty-ish schools. We want to get to a position of emptier hospitals and full schools. We need so to fund and respect both of them that their founding purpose can be fully realised, day by day, in a better world, not glued together and patched up for the short term in every crisis. Our schools and hospitals are serious sites, proper to grow wise in.
I sit quietly in London sunlight. Parents email me, teachers phone and our little band of children go by on their daily mile. I’m loosely listening to a leadership webinar and reading the Department’s daily briefing. I think we’re doing a decent job under the circumstances but if we took our public services seriously and funded them accordingly when all this is over, we’d do better than that. We’d honour the hopeful rainbows with better hospitals, a serious memorial to the so many dead.