It’s odd how people can interpret things differently. Intellectually it’s not a hard concept to grasp I know. It’s the basis of a whole branch of intellectual thought. Postmodernism relies on each reading being a rewriting of the discourse. But in the real world too it works. (That sounds as if I don’t think postmodernism is ‘real’ doesn’t it?) We all bring our own experience, outlook and prejudices to the reading of anything, from a major intellectual movement to the back of a cereal packet.

But when it affects your own work it makes you sit up and think a little harder.

It’s not that I don’t think about it as I write. Obviously I want to direct the reader in a certain direction and I try my best to make those directions as clear as possible when I want them to be and as obscure as possible if I am applying a little misdirection for plot or comedic effect. But when you’ve put the words out there the reader takes them and does with them what they like. I’ve read things I’ve written out loud to groups and had immediate feedback that suggested I had written something completely different. Sometimes suggesting I may be some kind of unknowing literary genius (thanks everyone who has read more into my stuff than I knew was there), and sometimes suggesting I find it hard to string a subject, an object and a verb together (thanks for that too – sometimes I don’t). I’m not talking about whether something is ‘good’ (meaning what? Discuss) but rather did someone who isn’t me get roughly the meaning I had in my head when I wrote it?

I have a feeling that prose is slightly less prone to major misunderstanding in this sense than poetry. That may be because I feel that poetry encapsulates such depths of meaning and emotion in a very sparse form that it only needs one small word to be out of sync to switch meaning completely, or it may be that I do not feel as confident with poetry, not having practised it as much as prose. Or it may simply be that I am bad at it.

I wrote a poem and posted it here last week – ‘Clapping in the Dark’ which has apparently made a few people in the UK feel that I was being less than supportive of the NHS in its few words.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was indeed prompted partly by the current practice in the UK of going out to the front of one’s house or flat/apartment and clapping every Thursday at eight o’clock in the evening, in praise of NHS workers. It was about much wider thoughts and feelings about how we respond to fear and isolation but the allusion to clapping was about that practise and how we may do it to show solidarity in a diffuse society.

I’ll stick to the one thing for now however, as otherwise I’ll ramble on for thousands of words.

It was not intended to be derogatory towards anyone who wanted to go outside or stand at their window and clap for the NHS and care workers, and is certainly not intended to be less than supportive of anyone in the NHS.

I am however, just a little suspicious of the media driven obsession with calling NHS workers ‘angels’. They aren’t. And thinking that showing our appreciation by applause means we have acknowledged their efforts sufficiently is a mistake, we haven’t. As my father used to say ‘Never mind the recommends, what we wants is make and mends’ (an RN thing where they wanted a half day off and not a recommendation for promotion that was unlikely to amount to anything practical).

To call NHS workers angels suggests they are somehow more than human. I think their efforts have been magnificent, I think that all the time. But they are humans, with human strengths and weaknesses, and human needs. Thinking of them even for a few minutes each week as somehow superhuman means we can tick a mental box that says ‘done that’. And I won’t knock the positive feeling that gives people in times of trouble.

But we need to remember that these key workers are people, people struggling in many instances to put food on the table, pay rent, clothe children and stay sane in a system that still thinks twelve hour plus shifts are an efficient and sensible way to work.

Clap by all means but remember that we need a health service that delivers care as needed regardless of ability to pay, by people we value: from Consultants via junior doctors, nursing staff through to ancillary staff. Remember it and be prepared to protect it now and in the future from those who want to turn it into a profit machine for their shareholders and CEOs. Clap for people, for human beings who rely on us as we rely on them. And make sure our respect remains part of normality when all this is over.

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