After more than a month of coronavirus lockdown nature is reclaiming the earth. Goats have taken over the town centre of Llandudno, deer have wandered into the centre of Paris, cougars have reclaimed the Chilean capital Santiago, dolphins have swam up Venice’s Grand Canal ,wild boar have wandered down the Ramblas in Barcelona and coyotes have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. So, what do we have in Bridgwater? 2 porpoises and a dead cow. Well, that was the sum total so far in the murky brown river as the Easter weekend arrived here in Parretgrad. In 1658 a whale swam up the river Thames and within 3 months the dictator Oliver Cromwell had died and the English Republic teetered on the brink of collapse. So, just what lessons should we be learning? Throughout the CV crisis, Bridgwater Town Council has continued to meet online and discuss all the ramifications of the daily developments. However, this wasn’t one of them.
Following the online porn shock of the South Somerset Zoom council meeting where Cllr Ben Dover (Littlehampton, South) interrupted the proceedings with an audio sex tape, councils across the country jumped at the chance to set up their own online meetings. Bridgwater Town Council was quick off the mark and we hold regular meetings now online even waiting for several minutes to start but still no luck with the online porn.
But finding things to do are the least of our worries. Although, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to listen again to that radio programme about the Beirut Hostages Trapped in a tiny room with the same company for years on end. Chained to a radiator. Well, I have to brighten Fridays up somehow. But I can’t help feeling sorry for Ulsterman Brian Keenan. He’d just left Belfast to get away from the troubles in the 80’s and had chosen to go somewhere less dangerous. So he picked Beirut. And to be sure he’d ditched his UK passport and got himself an Irish one. Then on his first day of captivity whilst explaining this to his kidnappers who should come on the radio but Margaret Thatcher announcing he was British……cue a further 5 years in lockdown.
All in it Together
Of course, in this national emergency we are all working together. Labour councillors are supporting Tory Councils and the Labour Party nationally is supporting the Tory Government. This is what you do in times of national emergency. It’s not that there’s nothing to criticise, but it’s very important right now to show solidarity with our NHS staff who are the frontline in this war against the virus and need to know the people are with them. That’s why we get out of a Thursday and clap loudly. Much like the Tory MPs did in 2017 when they voted against a pay rise for those same nurses. But we won’t be mentioning that right now. Like we won’t be mentioning the years of Tory austerity that meant we started this whole crisis from a position of incredible weakness with a completely underfunded health service, a social care system in crisis, a police force reduced to barebones and local councils scraping the bottoms of their barrels for funding.
We won’t be mentioning those things.
So instead we soldier on ‘in the circumstances’. We rely on people like 99 year old Yorkshire veteran Capt Tom Moore who is still walking round his garden to raise money for the NHS and so far has hit £21million….someone needs to get there and tell him that Rishi Sunak has actually already promised to pay the NHS ‘whatever it needed’…if they can catch him that is….But it’s a tonic for the nation and the media loves a feelgood story…which is a bit of a shame for 98year old Owen Hillier from Somerset who was also walking round his garden at the same time but didn’t get the media spotlight on him and has only managed £1,000 so far. Come on faster, faster!!
Mustering a Land Army!
And , of course, the next frontline will be agriculture. We’re quickly approaching the harvest and the success or failure of that will be crucial to what happens next. Whether we get the crops in and turn them into food or whether they stay rotting in the field for the crows to pick. So, before the local Tories propose creating a giant Wicker Man and sacrificing Cllr Rodrigues to appease the Gods, let’s look at the alternatives. Well, we’re off to a good start as what usually happens is we have literally 10’s of thousands of fit and transitory European workers who drop in, earn a bit of cash, pick fruit and then magically we don’t starve. But ‘oh no!’ this year, with Brexit there’s less of them around. They’ve all gone back home! Just because we said we didn’t want them here! Touchy or what! And now with CV there’s precious few able to travel back here anyway. So, it’s down to our own plucky British bean pickers! Come on out Nigel Farage, you won’t get your beer brewed unless you get out into those Kentish hop fields and pick those juicy grains. You should be marching out at the head of a Brexit Party Task Force to pluck those beans yourself. Head towards Eastbourne and turn right at Beachy Head, that should do it.
Naming and Praising
But British people do like to volunteer for things. It’s something that foreign visitors always comment on -the ‘voluntary sector’ here in the UK. Whilst they don’t seem to have this sector abroad (usually because they’ve got a working system in place anyway) over here, people with some time to spare like to devote it to some worthwhile community event. And let’s face it, right now we have a LOT of time to spare. So in Bridgwater where we already put on the worlds biggest free show every carnival night and throw a party at the drop of a hat, it’s no surprise that within seconds of the emergency being declared a ‘Coronavirus Community Help Bridgwater’ was set up. Administered by Food bank volunteer Simon Bale (the man for who ‘sleep’ is something other people do) local folk have signed up to it in great numbers and as I watch the email chain come up each day you can see people literally falling over each other to help. ‘Pick Me’ ‘No pick ME!’ and it’s Simon’s job to say ‘ok Dave your turn today’, ‘YES!!’. Our own councillors, Kath Pearce and Hilary Bruce have been out there taking food parcels to people, Westover resident Sue Golden is another name that pops up a lot, Eva Kam, Richard Adams, John Hardy, Raegin, David Dick, Sue Hill, Tyne, Nicky Biddiscombe, the names keep coming and more often than not the tireless Cllr Leigh Redman , biking it around not just Hamp but out into the sticks clocking up a virtual Tour De Sedgemoor of kilometres. These people don’t do it for praise – but sometimes they need to know people appreciate them.
Pulling Together Nicely
Around Somerset things are pulling together nicely. We have the established helpers and microproviders working on the frontline starring such existing workers as former Nurse Elaine di Campo whose pre virus workload of medicine delivery to vulnerable people has gone into hyperdrive since the lockdown, and we have the Village Agents, fronted by Lauren Giddings who put together teams of qualified and DBS checked workers in key specific areas and have also networked with the surgeries and pharmacies to make sure people get what they need. Then there’s the district council workers who are charged with getting out supplies to what is known as ‘shielded’ individuals. Community focused workers like Teresa Harvey, Julie Cooper and Rob Semple are working with databases and emergency hampers, and dispatching key supplies from Bridgwater House via Clean Surroundings and working with BAM and with the school meals network. And this confederation of organisations is all managed through a single number 0300 790 6275. This ‘front door’ number was set up so that everybody knew one number to call and then the switchboard could direct you to the right place.
One World, One Number, One Nil
Bridgwater Town Council is of course playing it’s full part in this and, at the suggestion of Cllr Redman, we paid for 22,000 leaflets to make sure that this number got delivered to every household so that no one was left out. That leaflet will be going out in the next few days…and can I just say what a rigmarole it was…You’d have thought it would have been simple to get them printed at Purnells (in Friarn street) and then handed over to the Sorting office (in Friarn street) (in fact next door). But no, they had to go to Swindon to be sorted and sent back. So that sounded like a job for Leader of the Town Council (as I was doing bugger all else) and got special ‘essential worker’ status for the day and drove them up there. Well, I assume I got the right place…seemed like a vast empty warehouse with workers hiding as soon as I arrived. Still that’s social distancing.
That’s what we have to do. And, of course, I remember from my years as a multi drop delivery driver that as soon as you turn up at a warehouse the staff disappear right until the moment you’ve hand balled the last item onto the pallet. So, I thought I’d take a photo to prove I’d got them there…and then one appears “Oi! You can’t take a photo! Property of the Royal Mail that is!!”. It’s a fair cop. I lathered up my hands, removed my gloves, realised that I should have done it the other way round, and left them to it.
So you WILL get your leaflets….(I hope).