I’ve just been out to see if I could hear the clapping for the NHS and the carers and the key workers, and my fingers are so frozen I can hardly type. But I’m going to try and write something, because I want to remember this always.
I live a little way from the village, and it’s been blowing a hooley all day, so I wasn’t certain that I would be able to hear anything. The bitter west wind was still bitter, but it had died down just enough so that the sound might carry.
I got out my camera to record the moment. The dogs slightly ruined the atmosphere by chomping on special snacks that had dropped out of my pocket and my fingers froze so quickly that I could hardly hold the camera straight and I thought the whole thing would end in bathos.
But suddenly, there it was, very faint but unmistakable – a clap, and then a whoop, and a holler, and the high, hollow note of someone banging a tin pan. For a second, it sounded as if they were having a party. ‘They’re clapping,’ I told the camera in delight and wonder.
They were clapping. And then the wind whipped in and snatched the sound away and the dogs and I were left alone. But I went inside with a smile on my face and a sense of profound gratitude.
I know that there are sceptics who say this is all sentimental posturing. I understand why it makes them furious. They want decent pay and proper recognition for the people who keep the country on its feet, not a bit of a clap and then in for a fish supper. But I think, in these atomised times, that any communal act is something worth cherishing. I did not see a single human today, in real life. I had a couple of video sessions for work, and I spoke to three dear friends (we are all madly ringing each other up, to get that precious sense of warmth that can run down a telephone line), but all of you know that it’s not the same.
Anything that reminds us we are not alone is, I believe, a vital balm to the jangled spirits. The clapping does that.
And there’s so much furious disagreement going round, now that everyone is an expert in epidemiology. Be like Sweden, don’t be like Sweden. Look at the Germans, don’t look at the Germans. The Chinese are fudging the numbers, the Chinese hold the answer. And South Korea! Why can’t the entire world do whatever it is that South Korea is doing? The government is doing its best; the government is a bunch of incompetents. The scientists are fantastic; the scientists are all saying something different. The arguments go on and on, swinging away in a discordant carnival of vitriol.
When the world has gone mad, you don’t want everyone to be shouting and fighting. Or at least, I don’t.
But there is one, beautiful, heartfelt thing on which everyone can agree, a roaring virtual camp fire to gather around – and that is that the carers and the porters and the ambulance drivers and the posties and the people who collect the rubbish and the doctors and the nurses and every single person who is keeping the dear old NHS on its life-saving legs are owed a debt of gratitude that the country can never repay. Everyone – right, left, up, down, round the houses – everyone agrees on that. And so we clap. And I love it that we do.