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In Episode 29 of his new book, author Julian Roup listens to his soul music in Covid-19 lockdown.
In case you missed Episode 28, click here.
Life in a Time of Plague
Sussex, 4th May 2020
By Julian Roup
My sister Jay in Cape Town sends me video items and cuttings she knows I will enjoy and which also turn a knife in my chest, the knife of homesickness and longing – heimvee. She knows me very well. And she has often encouraged me to make the move back home.
I have been sorely tempted, many times. The thought of walking those beloved beaches with her and Guy again is always a wonderful prospect. Cape friends, culture, humour and soul food still call loudly to me. Some day I might take up that invitation, so that my ashes can lie on the slopes of Table Mountain, above my boyhood home.
This morning Jay sends a video of two women singers, Karen Zoid and a neighbor of hers, Zola, on a rooftop of a block of flats in Seapoint, Cape Town. They play a Yiddish-Afrikaans medley aimed at the Jewish and Afrikaans community of this cosmopolitan seaside suburb, who stand in the lit windows of their apartment blocks at dusk to hear this skyline concert.
And it stops me in my tracks, as the cultural mix is my exact heritage, and I’ve not seen it fused in this way ever before. When my Afrikaans Christian mother married my Jewish father in the late 1940s, their union caused a huge ruckus on both sides of the family. My formidable Jewish grandmother, Esther, on being told of the wedding by one of her other sons, said: “If you had told me that Leon had died I would be less upset.” And on the actual wedding day, one of my mother’s brothers-in-law, husband of her sister Mabel, cursed her for marrying a Jew, and once more, when she raised us, her children, in the Jewish faith even though she never converted to the faith herself.
It has taken Covid-19 to bring this strange fusion together, the sounds of Russian shtetls and the African veld. The audience in Seapoint flatland stand by their brightly lit windows, rapt, listening. They may be locked down in one way, but are freed in another, to enjoy this cross-cultural celebration. Their shared story is one of two tribes who came from Europe centuries ago to make Africa their home, a challenge that makes a few weeks stuck at home seem like a tea party in comparison.
My brother Herman in California sends me a video of the country and western song, Green Green Grass of Home, shot against a Cape Town backdrop. And much as I fight it, there are tears in my eyes once more by the end of the song. I’ve been gone from my birthplace for 40 years, but my roots remain intact and the pull of that flat-topped mountain reaches me here in Sussex effortlessly and enters the stent-corrupted chambers of my heart all too easily.
This sharing of music in neighbourhoods around the world is one of the bittersweet symbols of this time. From opera sung on Italian balconies to Yiddish songs sung in a Cape Town, the world is singing to its neighbours and this can only be a good thing.
Last evening at 5pm, Jan and I were invited to drinks, courtesy of Zoom, by Gail and Tich, my sister and brother-in-law in Bristol. Couples are even getting married on Zoom in this strange time. A risky business at best, as going online for your wedding runs the risk of bringing that girl you dumped in New Zealand out of the closet to shout from the back of the virtual church that she objects to the marriage.
I must admit that I was intrigued to see how this Zoom party worked out. In fact it works very well. The technology behaves perfectly and we all sit with glasses of wine and catch up on each others lives. It is very relaxed and one wonders if this is the new normal way of social intercourse. We are all great talkers, but try hard not to talk across each other. Normally, a conversation like this would have required a three-hour drive from Sussex to Bristol, a three-hour drive back home again, and a weekend of catering by our hosts. As Tich, a retired GP, is an inspired cook, that is no hardship for us. Zoom is fun, but not as good as being together under one roof. But it is great to see them and talk.
Our major shared concern is about when to leave lockdown, even when lockdown is lifted. Tich, I sense, is keen to get back to playing some golf. He says we should look at the Irish plan for easing lockdown, which seems to make a lot of sense. Both say that at present it looks like it will be September before we can think realistically of getting back to some kind of normality, seeing children and grandchildren and maybe having a meal out. Tich and Gail have been braver than us, ordering a pizza from an Italian restaurant around the corner which they collect themselves, wearing nitrile gloves. It was delicious they say. Pizza, now suddenly the food of freedom.
We are only too aware that not everyone is eating pizza. Simon Tisdall, writing in The Guardian, says: “People in low-income and conflict-affected countries have so far largely escaped the high levels of Covid-19 infection seen in western Europe and the US, although this may be changing. The pandemic is killing them in different ways: lost jobs, ruined businesses, increased poverty, rising malnutrition and risk of famine, and a prospective increase in untreated, non-Covid preventable illnesses.
For many of the most vulnerable, the developed world’s cures are proving worse than the disease. At the extreme, families must choose between going hungry and getting ill.”
What a hellish choice this is.
Here in the UK, the focus is now on technology for the Track and Trace phone app to control the spread of the virus until we have a vaccine. But the government’s plan to exit lockdown through a tracking app will need detailed justification to satisfy human rights and data protection laws, a report has warned.
One can only imagine how this technology might be used by law enforcement agencies. It will be the final straw of our personal freedom and privacy. We will in effect be ear- tagged and traceable each second of every day unless we leave our phones behind.
An NHS Track and Trace app aimed at limiting a second wave of coronavirus will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week.
It will be the first place where the new contact-tracing app will be used before being rolled out more widely this month, said transport secretary Grant Shapps.
The government will be asking the whole of the UK to download it, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “That will help with a lot of the automation of the tracking.”
Epidemiologists advising the NHS say that about 56% of the UK population – equating to about 80% of smartphone owners – need to use the app in order to suppress the virus.
And now, too, there is talk of health passports. Tech firms are in talks with Government ministers about creating health passports to help Britons return safely to work using coronavirus testing and facial recognition.
Facial biometrics could be used to help provide a digital certificate – sometimes known as an immunity passport – proving which workers have had Covid-19, as a possible way of easing the impact on the economy and businesses from continuing physical distancing, even after current lockdown measures are eased.
The UK-based firm Onfido, which specialises in verifying people’s identities using facial biometrics, has delivered detailed plans to the government and is involved in a number of conversations about what could be rolled out across the country. This, too, has human rights implications.
Meanwhile at the pandemic coalface, in hospitals, doctors are wrestling with a condition known as ‘Happy Hypoxia’, a mystery condition which sees patients still breathing without much oxygen in their systems.
It is a mystery that has left doctors questioning the basic tenets of biology: Covid-19 patients who are talking and apparently not in distress, but who have oxygen levels low enough to typically cause unconsciousness or even death.
The phenomenon is raising questions about exactly how the virus attacks the lungs and whether there could be more effective ways of treating such patients.
A healthy person would be expected to have an oxygen saturation of at least 95%. But doctors are reporting patients attending A&E with oxygen percentage levels in the 80s or 70s, with some drastic cases below 50%.
It seems strange to be even thinking of lifting lockdown when we still understand so little about this terrible virus that is wreaking havoc across the world.
But running through my mind are the songs of the Jews and the Afrikaners and the hope captured in the phrase ‘Einde goed, alles goed’. ‘All’s well that ends well’.
This too will pass, this pandemic.
Click here for Episode 30.
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