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A rock star, a playwright and a football manager walk into a pub….

Posted on March 15, 2020

Bruce Springsteen, J.B.Priestley and Jurgen Klopp. No, I’m not playing one of those parlour games where you choose your favourite dinner party guests. Besides, are we still allowed small gatherings in our houses? Who knows? The point being, that I’ve chosen this unlikely trio because their words have a clear resonance as we face up to an unprecedented crisis.

First, Springsteen from The River. ‘Now all them things that seemed so important, well mister they vanished right into the air’. Yep, that just about covers it – and at a whole range of levels too. The trivial is shown up for what it is. As Spring approaches if, like me, you’re a football supporter, the tension rises as the main outcomes – championships, cups, and, in my case, the annual battle against relegation – play to their conclusion. Now that we’re over the shock of the cancellation of pretty well everything, the truth of what we’ve always known deep down– that professional sport is a jolly diversion and not important at all – becomes glaringly obvious.

What about important stuff? Exams? Setting up the next stages of the lives of young people? Two things. First, it might be as well to remember that the school and academic year in the UK still runs to a timetable dictated by the harvest. It’s not an indisputable law, written in the stars. It’s a system that has lasted for about a century and a half and, you know what? We might just have to change it. That’s what intelligent people are supposed to be able to do when things go awry.

Second – and related to this point. Our children and young people are looking to us, the grown-ups, to sort this out. To hear all the panic and handwringing about postponing exams and university entrance, along with the possibility of shunting everything along a few months, you’d think we’d been charged as a society with the utterly impossible. We have knowledge, expertise and experience: thinking just a touch laterally and shifting things around a bit isn’t exactly splitting the atom. What must our cowardly fretting look like to youngsters who look to us for solutions? And maybe, just maybe, we could hitch this to another departure from our collective thinking and tell our teenagers that dropping a grade or two will not condemn you to a life of penury and servitude. (Yes, I know – you can get a degree and have the penury and servitude by hooking up with Uber or Deliveroo anyway.).

And then there were all those important meetings, conferences and networkings. As most of us know only too well, we can usually get by quite happily without them or, heaven forbid, use our own initiative to make sensible decisions. In all of the concerns raised so far about how we may have to conduct our lives differently,  I haven’t heard anyone yet having a grizzle about missing a team meeting.

It’s a shame about those coveted tickets for major events and it’s disappointing when it comes to anticipated parties and celebrations. It’s even more of a shame for those whose living is tied up with arranging such occasions – especially the army of low-paid workers whose presence oils the wheels of so much of what happens in our society. The provision made by government for such people will be crucial to how we, collectively, deal with crisis. But for the moment, let’s leave aside the floundering mess that has characterised its inaction so far and concentrate on this notion of collectiveness.

If there’s a spark of hope to be fanned into life from this entire mess, it must lie in the revival of the notion that we have to act together, look after each other and alter how we live to ensure that we look to the needs of other people. Nobody reading this needs a blogger to point out that such an attitude runs contrary to everything this government, and many of its predecessors, have encouraged. What we do over the next few weeks will be in spite, not because, of anything Johnson and his hopeless cronies do. Their obsession with economic issues, rather than the health of the population becomes clearer by the hour. Rent and mortgage freeze or a few thousand dead pensioners? Mmmmm…wonder which way they’ll go here.

J.B Priestley came to mind when I read a friend’s Facebook post this week. As an English teacher, one of my favourite things to introduce to young people was the play, An Inspector Calls. I won’t give away the plot but, broadly, the story centres on a well-to-do family who are made aware that their individual, selfish actions have repercussions for wider society. As the Inspector who has revealed their thoughtlessness leaves, he does so with this warning: ‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.’ I don’t think that requires further comment.

And so, on a grey afternoon with no football to liven it up, I’ll give the final, telling word to a football manager, the admirable Jurgen Klopp. I’m no Liverpool supporter – as you will have worked out by my reference to relegation battles – but Klopp brought together Springsteen and Priestley in his comments this week. Excusing his intrusion into this area of public life, he let us know that this is not a ‘moment where the thoughts of a football manager should be important’ and went on to acknowledge that football matches are an irrelevance  before sending good wishes to all players and supporters of rival clubs. He finished by imploring us to ‘think about the vulnerable in our society and act where possible with compassion for them… look after yourselves and look out for each other.’

Look after each other? Allow ourselves to believe that we can organise ourselves differently from how we always have done? Set examples for young people? It ought to catch on: if it doesn’t, we might just deserve everything we get.

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