All We Have Is Each Other, Robb Johnson's Blog

Let the Tescos Workers Sort it— By Robb Johnson

By Robb Johnson
April 2nd, 2020

We’ve just come back from doing the weekly boring essentials shopping. We’re lucky, because there’s the International Food Stores a three minute walk away, where I found an industrial size tin of chick peas the other day, which generally keeps us going if necessary on a day to day basis, but once a week we get a bit more adventurous. We got the vegan cheese, the vegan imitation Polish sausages & some remaindered quality bread from the local Bohemian health food shop, but most of the basics from the local big Tescos. Usually I try to avoid Tescos, & as a massive corporation with a dodgy track record, I usually don’t have much good to say about them, but as wandering about in & out of various small shops is probably not a good idea at the moment (& Abdullah’s has closed for a fortnite anyway), once a week we drive to the supermarket. These days the car park is unusually empty. You don’t have to spend ten minutes trying to find a parking space (another good reason for avoiding shopping at Tescos under normal circumstances) and – another surprise – Tescos aren’t charging you to park in their car park either. Instead, the Tesco workers have set up what looks at first sight like a maze, makeshift barriers that guide punters from the car park to the periphery where you queue at suitable social distances marked out by yellow & black tape on the pavement. There are workers helping you out by telling you where to go, where to wait & when it’s okay to enter the shop. You could also clean the handles of your trolley or basket on the way in too. This week they’d evolved a new system inside the shop where people queue up to pay around the peripheral walls, again with suitably spaced markings on the floor & workers helping you out by guiding you round the store. They’ve also put plastic screens up at the tills to protect the workers there. Our son Hari works at a small Tescos that serves one of Hove’s outlying northwest frontier estates; he said last week he’d heard that screens were being put in place there, & returned from work yesterday saying the store was going to receive 5 visor-like face masks for workers presumably not sheltered by the screens at the tills.

Even the lovable local CoOperative store – which basically has sod all even when there isn’t a pandemic on – had managed to install a bank of self-service machines to distance their workers from customers when I ambled in last week to buy a bottle of finest Nicaraguan Flora de Cana rum (aubergines & peppers are a bit beyond them, but cheap Nicaraguan rum remains happily in plentiful supply). Everywhere, it seems, has worked out ways to try to ensure everybody stays as safe as possible, & ordinary workers are the people developing & putting these strategies into practice.

Now – let’s compare these initiatives being put into place by workers with the strategies being implemented by the Bodgerment.

Well…. Ermmmm….Ahhhhhh….. Hmnnnnnnn…

Well, the Bodgerment is finally getting round to the idea that testing people – particularly health workers – might be a bit useful. I just found some figures online (Our World in Data) that say per 19 million people the UK is testing about 2,000 people, the US just under 4,000, & Germany has tested over 10,000 samples. What this means in practice is that as of yesterday the government, according to The Guardian newspaper, had so far managed to test 2,000 “front line” Health Workers. Half a million people work in the NHS. The Daily Mirror today commented: The Government’s pledge to perform 25,000 coronavirus tests a day has unravelled into a fiasco. The country is still struggling to test 10,000 people a day for Covid-19 nationwide, weeks after the pandemic reached British shores. Meanwhile Germany is conducting 50,000 tests a day and the country has a much lower death rate than that of the UK.

And meanwhile, front line shop workers, & presumably non-frontline NHS workers… just have to get on with it. There aren’t any face masks so…hold your breath? This is presumably what we’ll have to do while we wait for British made ventilators to turn up, because the Bodgerment flat out refused to be included in an EU scheme to source & provide ventilators quickly & cheaply. The Bodgerment pretended it didn’t get the email (no, really, that was their first “the dog ate my homework” response), but really Bodger decided to bung the contract to his Tory-funding chums of the Dyson company who don’t actually manufacture ventilators as such, but – hey – vacuum cleaners are the same sort of thing, aren’t they, & if plucky British boffins, their Great British Potential unleashed since Bodger freed them from the constraints of the European Union, can just work out how to turn suck into blow, we’ll have plucky British ventilators for plucky British workers in no time at all. How many people are going to die in no time at all, do you think? Reports from hospitals, as opposed to from Bodgerment mouthpieces, are grim, to say the least. NHS workers are asking school science departments to provide them with goggles, because Tory “Health” Minister Jeremy Hunt decided a couple of years ago it would be too expensive to lay in a stock of medical goggles, just on the offchance that something like a global pandemic might occur. Far more sensible to carry on laying in a stockpile of nuclear missiles, loading them onto expensive nuclear submarines, and have them prowl round the world just on the offchance that something like global mutually assured destruction might want to occur.

Apologists for the Bodgerment favour a range of excuses; some insist that no-one could be doing a better job, because this pandemic is so unprecedented. But I would have thought whether you affected the lazy cynicism of those who profess to have no faith in politicians, or favoured a principled political opposition to the concept of central state government, you would seriously have expect government, even a Bodgerment, might have done a better job of organising a response to the pandemic. Back in January, my fiend Reina was saying that corona virus was something we ought to be worrying about. Reina has of course written a fine novel about the Spanish flu pandemic (Reina James “This Time of Dying” – maybe save reading it till this is over though, it isn’t very reassuring), but if Reina could spot the signs of the oncoming storm, you’d think the Bodgerment – whose job is supposed to be Being In Charge Of Running Things – might also have noticed. The Lancet, the journal of the UK’s medical profession, was agreeing with Reina by the end of January, and on March 28th it was categorical in its criticism of the Bodgerment’s response:

When this is all over, the NHS England board should resign in their entirety.” So wrote one National Health Service (NHS) health worker last weekend. The scale of anger and frustration is unprecedented, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the cause. The UK Government’s Contain–Delay–Mitigate–Research strategy failed. It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to “test, test, test” every suspected case. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. They didn’t contact trace. These basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored, for reasons that remain opaque. The UK now has a new plan—Suppress–Shield–Treat–Palliate. But this plan, agreed far too late in the course of the outbreak, has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients that will soon come. 

In the UK, you know you’re in trouble whenever Gove, the turd that will not flush, turns up affecting to be in charge of anything. Now here he is, flanked by flags to remind us we should be rallying around them rather than critically evaluating what the Bodgerment’s message is actually saying in the daily briefings about “our fight against the corona virus”. Bodger of course, having presumably been tested as a front line fighter in The Fight Against The Corona Virus, along with other Front Liners like Prince Charles, & tested mildly positively, is conspicuously absent from our screens. This is fortuitous for Bodger, who had been clearly increasingly bewildered by having to try to appear competent on a daily basis. Instead, with a note from matron, he’s hiding in a convenient fridge again (classic moment the day before the election, Bodger hides in a fridge rather than talk to a journalist), as the number of people dying escalates.

Meanwhile, the real workers, the underprotected and the underpaid, will be driving the ambulances, careworking with the elderly, collecting the rubbish & the recycling, helping you out at Tescos, & generally keeping things running a fucking sight better than the Bodgerment.

Do us all a favour, Bodger: stay home, & let the Tesco workers sort it.

Robb Johnson has worked as a classroom teacher by day and a songwriter by night since 1980. As a songwriter, he has received widespread critical acclaim:  “one of this country’s most important songwriters (no argument!)” (fROOTS), “An English original”(the Guardian), “one of our best singer-songwriters ever” (Mike Harding), and his songs are covered by many singers. “Gentle Men”, Robb’s family history of World War One is a particular career highlight. In 2016, PM Press in the US released “A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands”, a 5 CD career-retrospective. In 2018 Robb released “Ordinary Giants”, a 3 CD song suite based on his father’s life and times – the 1930s, the fight against fascism, the creation of the post-war Welfare State and the reaction of Neo-liberalism.

Check out Robb’s music below:

A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands: The Damage to Date 1986-2013

The Liberty Tree: A Celebration of the Life and Writings of Thomas Paine

No Gods No Masters: Live in Concert

Back to Robb Johnson’s Artist Page