Wales Arts Review asked some of Wales’s top writers to pen some thoughts on the future. This new series brings together a wide variety of perspectives and ideas in a vibrant array of styles and forms, expressing hopes for a new way of doing things when the Covid-19 coronavirus is finally overcome. Political, personal, sociological, ecological, cultural – this is an evolving tableau of ideas. Here Niall Griffiths examines the recognisable virus within a virus what he coins the June2016 Germ.
She had it bad, the voxpop woman in southern England somewhere; the pathogen had burrowed down very deep into her. Asked why she was defying the advice on self-isolation, she said (and I paraphrase only slightly): ‘I’ve got the Blitz spirit. This country never gives in. If I stay indoors, it’s like I’m surrendering to it’. She was referring to the covid19 virus, of course, which, if it could be said to actively ‘want’ anything, wants only to propagate itself (towards which aim the woman was unwittingly helping), but she was completely blind to the other pathogen that had found a receptive host in her – that of exceptionalist nativism, to which there is no known serum that can counteract the vectors of media and governmental transmission. Might as well call this germ ‘June2016’, because that was its Moment Zero. So here we are, all doing our bit; ministers clap for the NHS when, mere months ago, they clapped themselves for voting down a pay rise for the same NHS workers who they now call ‘heroes’; now they charter flights to bring in Rumanian veg pickers who for 4 years have been scapegoated and demonised as parasites, as pollutants in the body politic. So the germ June2016 has deflected and protected itself.
So here we are, all doing our bit; ministers clap for the NHS when, mere months ago, they clapped themselves for voting down a pay rise for the same NHS workers who they now call ‘heroes’; now they charter flights to bring in Rumanian veg pickers who for 4 years have been scapegoated and demonised as parasites, as pollutants in the body politic. So the germ June2016 has deflected and protected itself.
What will change, when all this is over? Will we really re-think capitalism? Will we really afford the warranted value to those workers – ‘low-skilled’ and ‘low-value’, don’t forget – without whom society would starve, sicken, stagnate? Well, I write this on the day following the 31st anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, which event and its subsequent fallout illustrated, with rancid starkness, the ferocity with which the establishment looks after its own. When covid19 recedes, the national deficit will be colossal; who will pay? Rishi Sunak has stated that ‘taxes will have to rise’, and I’m sure they will, but for whom? Look, for the answer, at how politicians have demanded that footballers give up some of their wages whilst saying nothing to the hedgefunders and oligarchs and inheritance billionaires on their own benches. Soon, the vultures will be able to descend on a crippled country, reeling from bereavement. And they’ll do it. They’re vultures, after all, and what they’ll demand of a weakened populace in the name of ‘getting the country back on its feet’ will be horrendous. But June2016 will be rampant.
Well, maybe the abomination that is Trump will be dispatched; standing atop a pile of corpses as he is now. And, when we perforce cease torturing her, Mother Nature hauls herself from the sickbed onto which we have shoved her and re-asserts her wonders (she has far prettier children than the coronavirus); dolphins have returned to the canals of Venice. In La Peste, Camus wrote that ‘the path to follow to attain peace is the path of sympathy’, and also that ‘a world without love is a dead world’, and the same could be said of hope, which is what I cling to when every morning my partner leaves for her shift in the local hospital; our leaders, obeying the needs of the June2016 bacterium, have, on 3 occasions, refused the EU’s offer of PPE for the NHS (‘we can source our own as an independent country’, said chief vector Michael Gove), but tonight they’ll be out clapping for her. So that’ll keep her safe, won’t it?
Stay healthy, everyone.
Niall Griffiths was born in Liverpool in 1966 and now lives in Wales. He has published eight novels: Broken Ghost, Grits, Sheepshagger, Kelly + Victor, Stump, Wreckage, Runt and A Great Big Shining Star.