132: last bastions of Englishness?

Last Sunday I had an urge for some proper Sunday night telly – the kind of telly you need when you’re full of roast dinner and want something that won’t tax your brain too much. In the 80s and 90s it would have been Last of the Summer Wine or Heartbeat, something gentle and Northern. Saturday nights had Bergerac or Casualty (aka ‘accidents waiting to happen’) once The Dukes of Hazzard, WonderWoman or The A-Team were out of the way.

In the early noughties I became hooked on Midsomer Murders: an increasingly bonkers range of suspicious deaths committed in picturesque English villages, allegedly based on Slough (of all places) and with varying body-counts-per-episode. My all-time favourite death was the one where a bloke was squished in a printing press, complete with the lettering on his chest. And possibly the one where Tiffany from Eastenders got squashed by a cheese, unless I was imagining that one.

In 2011 one of the producers claimed the show was the ‘last bastion’ of Englishness and that he intended it to stay that way: the murdered and the murderers (and the forces of law and order) were invariably white and usually firmly middle-class. In recent seasons there has been more diversity – in 2021, the production company said that 37% of guest roles in the last three series had been played by people of colour. So, a good thing, right? Definitely more reflective of British society. Right?

Hope no one reads anything into this

But is there such a thing as toxic diversity? The episode I watched on Sunday, The Scarecrow Murders, was an exercise in conscious bias: a trio of murderers, one of whom was Black, one Asian and the other homeless. The trio of victims were… white and middle-class. Another episode was set up to suggest a Black suspect from the start, though it turned out he wasn’t whodunnit in the end. For comfortable Sunday night viewing this did raise a few questions, and I hope someone starts to rectify this as I really do love this series. While I agree that, with its constant round of flower festivals, village fetes, bell-ringers and rose-covered cottages, Midsomer may well be the last bastion of Englishness…. English does not, these days, equal white. And for those of you who care, I prefer Dudgeon to Nettles. So there.

This week, however, the ‘last bastion of Englishness’ – well, Britishness – award must go to the Queen’s funeral with all its pomp and processions. My beloved hurled himself in from the garden at 11.05 as he was ‘missing it’, annexed the remote control and settled in to watch the Queen’s send off. And some send off it was too: we didn’t watch the funeral itself as gazing on people’s obvious grief felt wrong. I carried on watching the proceedings until the coverage moved to Windsor, when it all got a bit silly and they started interviewing Alan Titchmarsh.

Later in the week I found myself at another British institution – the Children’s Society, which was formed by a man outraged by children from his Sunday School begging for food on the streets. The occasion was the launch of The Good Childhood Report 2022, which shows that children’s happiness continues to decline (for a number of reasons, and social media is only one of them) and in the context of the cost of living crisis this will only get worse. They made the point that the UK is the sixth largest economy in the world and we have the highest number of children living in poverty in Europe. Mental health is in decline, and 80% of NHS funding for this is spent at point of crisis rather than in prevention; swingeing cuts to all youth services mean children are slipping through the net.

There was hope, though: a panel of young people from all over the UK spoke eloquently and bravely about their own experiences. They stressed the need to be genuinely heard and seen by the adults around them and consulted about how they can help. My own daughter’s experiences with CAMHS supports this: the automatic recourse to CBT rather than anything actually helpful; the immediate discharge if they’re ‘not engaging with’ a counsellor; the waiting lists and the lack of child centred approach.

We also heard from the amazing Bernadette Eugene-Charlery who is working with police forces in Haringey and Enfield to ensure police dealing with young people are seeing the child as separate from the crime and making what is going to be a frightening and traumatic process as understandable as possible. The police at these stations now let the team know as soon as a young person is in custody with three-hourly reports, and they are provided with a support person who will explain what’s happening and what will happen next, who will listen to them and help them. More to the point, they are also working within the system to identify children and families who are at risk of being exploited – county lines and so on – and work with them to try and prevent them ever getting to the custody stage. I didn’t expect to end up quite as emotional as I did!

What I’ve been reading:

A Promise of Ankles – Alexander McCall Smith

Dishonesty is the Second-best Policy – David Mitchell

Life in Pieces – Dawn O’Porter

Sure of You – Armistead Maupin

What Abigail Did That Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

Week thirty three: here we go again

You know, I’m tired. I’m really, really tired. And fed up. And angry (though regular readers will have spotted that this is becoming a far more frequent state of mind for me). And resigned. And sad. And all sorts of other emotions that are probably common to a lot of us right now.

On Thursday, we entered Lockdown: The Sequel here in England. Wales and NI very sensibly started their ‘firebreaks’ a couple of weeks ago, before half term so the kids were off school anyway. The trouble is, like many sequels, this one just doesn’t seem to be quite as good as the first – I mean, it’s not as bad as High School Musical 3, but it’s still a bit rubbish.

The kids are still in school, for a start, which means that they’re mixing with their friends: admittedly within their bubbles but, logistically, this means that in a multi-form entry school those bubbles can have just under 100 children in. Those children may have siblings in other bubbles, so no bubbles are sealed. They also have parents and carers, who may still be working – some in schools, with other bubbles – and using public transport and things. But apparently it’s fine because those children aren’t allowed to see each other outside school, and we have all got the message that Covid-19 is only contagious in your house or garden, or where no money is changing hands or being made.

I get to go to work three days a week in this lockdown, because there is work that’s impossible for me to do from home: assessing and decanting thousands of handling collection objects, for example, and packing up the office ready for the move. I didn’t go in on Thursday but from what I hear from those who did, there was little difference in transport and travel. When I do go in, I’ll follow the guidelines: social distancing as far as possible on the tube and in the museum, wearing a face covering properly, washing my hands frequently and so on. I’ll carry on travelling outside peak times – I’m in the office at 6.30am and leave at lunchtime, logging back in at home to finish my day and picking up Thing 3 from school so he’s not going to childcare.

I will follow the guidelines, not because I trust our government or because I like to do what everyone else does, but because in 2020 so far I have missed my niece’s first confirmation, my sister’s 40th birthday, my family holiday, going to live music events and author talks, and being able to see my London sister with the kids. I’ve missed my culture and cocktail afternoons with my best friend. I’ve missed pink-wine-fuelled Chinese meals with the Pink Ladies gang. I’ve missed my own birthday barbecue. Things One and Two couldn’t have proper birthday celebrations. I’ve missed impromptu Friday afternoons in the pub garden. I’ve missed sneaky weekday lunches with colleagues and walks round Victoria Park to see the dogs and ducks. I’ve missed my stepdaughters and grandson being around the house whenever they want. I haven’t seen my parents or the Irish contingent in more than two years, and I miss them. My dad is going to be 80 in February and I’d really, really like to be there.

In the grand scheme of Covid-19, I’ve been very lucky: no one in my family has been hospitalised. None of my friends have either, though many of my friends are nurses and they have lost friends and colleagues. I’ve been able to swim outdoors regularly (though that was cancelled this weekend). I live in the countryside with a lovely garden, so I have outdoor space. I’ve had an unexpected six months with my children, which has been wonderful. Christmas will happen, whatever the red-tops are saying about ‘saving’ it: it’s never been about the parties for me. It might look a bit different this year, but it’ll still happen.

But I’d like to believe there’s an end to this, and until an effective vaccine is in place that’s not going to happen. So until then I will wear the face covering to protect other people, and I will wash my hands, and I won’t hug my friends even though this year we have needed hugs more than ever. And I expect I’ll carry on being angry, and tired, and sad. But it won’t be forever.

Onto more cheerful things…

This week hasn’t been all bad, really. I’ve fitted in a fair bit of making, including finishing the Marble Floor cross stitch design that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I decided to include rainbow colours, as they have become a bit of a symbol for 2020 and the museum has also collected a lot of Lockdown Rainbows for a display that was due to open at the V&A this month. I’ve also included a phrase which comes from Ren & Stimpy but has become a bit of a catchphrase at work. It needs a bit of an iron, but I think its turned out OK – the geometry feels quite elegant, and I really like the effect of the colours across the middle. I used 18 count ivory aida fabric and DMC threads – two strands for the black (310) and one for the colours (from left to right: 666, 740, 973, 907, 3845, 336, 333). You can find the basic chart here if you’d like to make your own.

I have also been making progress on the Hydrangea blanket: the colours are muted and lovely, and the pattern is simple and repetitive but effective.

I really must sew in the ends.

On the tube I am making socks from one of this month’s crochet magazines. I frogged the first attempt as they were too big, but the second attempt is coming up better! I’m using a Cygnet Yarns wool-rich patterned sock yarn in shades of pink and purple.

One good thing about not swimming this morning was going out for a walk through the very misty woods. We sensibly wore wellies and stayed off the paths a lot, as they are quite churned up after the very soggy October we had. There’s some beautiful fungi in the woods again – you can see a Fly Agaric in the cover photo this week that I spotted up near the fishing lake yesterday, and today’s spots are below. I have no idea what they are but I love the autumnal colours (and don’t plan to pick or eat them!).

It would be remiss not to mention the best news of the international week, which of course is the American presidency: I am more excited about Kamala Harris than Biden, but mostly I’m just happy for my US friends and colleagues. I’ll never forget going into work the morning after Trump was elected and finding my American colleague devastated and googling how to renounce her American citizenship.

My plan for the rest of the day is to finally bind the Bento Box quilt after backing it yesterday, and then settling down with cross stitch and Midsomer Murders. We are watching recorded episodes at the moment and the adverts really give you a sense of who is watching ITV3 of an afternoon – mobility aids, life insurance for the over 50s, charity appeals, and conservatory blinds. Still, it’s always entertaining to see just how bonkers the murders can get! It really is a guilty pleasure, and good company on a crafty afternoon. Thing One is now getting into it as well.

See you on the other side of week 34, when I promise my normal cheery service will be resumed. Everyone is entitled to an off day.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Now you see them (The Brighton Mysteries) – Elly Griffiths

The Spook Who Spoke Again (Falco) – Lindsey Davis

Nemesis (Falco) and The Ides of April (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)