• Tiger Lily Raphael

The Lights Are On & Everyone’s Home (a 'listen & look' blog)

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

For optimum experience, listen whilst you look at the pictures, videos, quotes & sources...

As always, we are each seeing the world through our own eyes, under the umbrella of beliefs we hold up, wearing the shoes that have walked us through our lives, to where we are standing now. Whichever side of the conversation we usually take, we’re probably taking in this one, pushing the agenda we usually push.

I am a mostly white, millennial, 4th generation Londoner, of middling-middle class. Although not ‘wealthy’, I'm definitely privileged, and feel more so than ever this Spring, as I enjoy some quiet time, personal space, good company, healthy food and sunshine, with no children or other major responsibilities. I’m as free as a person can be under lockdown.

From where I stand, the green Covid goblin ran round turning all the lights on in all our houses as it locked us in. So, now we're finally forced to look and listen, what do we see and hear?... Tiny questions that I’m lucky enough to have had time during this Spring lockdown to ponder over and try to encapsulate here as broadly as possibly possible.

As we retreated into lockdown, it became clear that nothing is under control (even if we did, once upon a time, take it back). Some struggled against the impossibility of making plans [23] whilst for others, ‘anxious rumination’ was ‘eclipsed’ by real events that offered ‘a sense of perspective’ and opened up a wider space for not feeling ok [19] - I'd be in team two.

Served with an unnerving reminder that the future is uncertain, and always was - "we didn’t see this coming or not coming… we can’t even plan to make plans!”, said my sister Mahla. Dragged kicking and screaming into the present moment, we've been given a chance to reflect on the lives we live, whilst life as we know it has shifted under our feet. Time seems to have sped up with the pace of change, whilst somehow also stretching itself out across two months that felt like a century.

Illustration by one of my greatest friends of all time, Rebecca Sainsot-Reynolds

There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen”, said Lenin.

They took some honey & plenty of money...

As Coronavirus swept us out to sea, we found ourselves riding the same wave all over the world, as it became very clear that “that boat in which you’ll be sailing, will not look the same to everyone nor is it actually the same for everyone: it never was” [1].

This crisis hit the first world hardest first for a change, as opposed to the third one, where we’re all too used to humanitarian disasters and people living below poverty lines drawn by empires. Only this time it was the gaps within our own borderlines refusing to be ignored.

The UK has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world. During the last 10 years of Conservative leadership, the richest grew richer whilst the poorest got poorer [2], and the homeless more than doubled [3]. A ‘Budget of Prosperity’ ushered in to meet the Covid crisis, may mark the end of austerity, but for too many it comes far too late.

Already, in 2019, 1.6 million people relied on food banks, following a 73% rise in the last 5 years [4], and that was before the surge of 122% seen by the end of March 2020 [26]. Whilst the rest of us stockpiled, and Madonna told us the tale of ‘The Great Equaliser’ [18] from a candlelit, rose-scented bath, poorer people were twice as likely to catch, and die of Covid [17]: a story as old as time.

Many were already living in crisis, and, as it would have become with any disaster, life is now near impossible. Meanwhile, some of us can weather a rainy day, but how many? And yet still 1% of the world’s population owns 20% of all its wealth [2].

Jack and Jill ran up the hill...

When ‘business as usual’ came tumbling down, it became clear how steep that hill is. The system we rely on requires constant fuel, making it fundamentally unreliable, and capable of consuming us when we run out of steam. The UK economy was predicted to shrink a record 35% (at least) by June [5] because we stopped feeding the fire for just 8 weeks.

As some run faster than ever up that hill - those with jobs that were unglamorous, under-paid and unappreciated until the real 'heroes' of society became celebrities - some stop to catch a breath, and face a collective existential crisis (a relief for anyone already having one on their own): what we do and have had become who we are...

So, who have we found ourselves to be?

People don’t grow on trees...

The threads holding the tapestry of our society together just became very translucent. A prime-minister who first threatened to give the NHS £30 billion and then to sell it, (ooohhhh... that's where the £30 bill was gonna come from!), has now ordained it the ‘beating heart of our country... powered by love’, and ‘this country’s greatest national asset’, worth sacrificing our freedom to form a ‘human shield around’. Yes, he did say that.

Before-Coronavirus (B-C), we didn’t applaud the citizens who save lives every day, and now risk their lives to do so. Key workers, care workers, the ones keeping hospitals clean, rubbish collected, shelves stacked, fruit picked, letters posted and other essential services, weren't even given PPE, let alone bonuses, even if they get a clap and the seat on the bus that they deserve - wherever they’re from.

In a tragic paradox, it took ‘social distancing’ to bring us back together. Being social creatures is what got humans this far [11], and still keeps us alive. Maybe we just needed a chance to miss each other, and remember why other people matter so much…

Let us love this distance, which is thoroughly woven with friendship, since those who do not love each other are not separated”, said Simon Weil [10].

From confinement we were forced to connect on a deeper level, as the onset of lockdown caused a frenzy of contact and concern for those without social networks. Being in touch with friends and family helped people cope during lockdown more than anything else [23], as those platforms made to connect us were reclaimed for their original devices.

We lived in bubbles B-C, barely looking up to see the sky as we shuffled between them. Loneliness was something that other people felt [23], but now it’s the norm, so we wave to each other from our windows. In isolation we can appreciate each other.

Given the chance, people want to help; local support groups sprang into action across the country as 750 000 signed up to become volunteers, whilst countless fundraisers made news. 1 in 10 people shared something with a neighbour for the first time [21] as over half of us felt a new ‘sense of belonging’ with our local community [23].

This all sounds like a symptom of compassion, which firstly takes recognition and acceptance of suffering, then learning how best to deal with it, and doing that [6]. With a daily death toll ringing in our ears, we’ve heard of heart-breaking suffering from side effects, as well as the virus itself, all close enough to make us feel differently about life itself and the lives of others.

He left us now so we would listen to all his songs when we most need them’, said my fairy godmother, Mak.

Apples do grow on trees...

Finding and eating food to preserve the energy to defend ourselves is one of the ways we can react to an invisible threat. This fight-or-flight reaction accidentally-on-purpose exposed and endangered the fragile, ‘just-in-time' supply chain that our lives depend upon, possibly planting the seeds for a longer-term response.

The 8 companies controlling 90% of the UK’s food supply that most people rely on, offer our producers a pitiful share. This is perhaps why only 168,000 of 6 million hectares of farmable land is used to grow fruit and veg, over more profitable purposes [9].

Producing less than half of the food we eat leaves us ‘at the mercies of the international markets; and production methods which are damaging to the environment and human health’ [9]... ‘a fragile global infrastructure of monocultures, synthetic chemicals, biotechnology, and transportation’ [42], which seriously jeopardises our survival.

Sacrificing quality for quantity, the soil is stripped of nutrients and so is the food it grows. Yet 9.5 million tonnes of it were wasted in 2018 - equal to throwing £19 billion in the bin and 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the air [12].

As supermarket supply lines choked up, shelves emptied, restaurants closed, and both supply and demand sought new routes to market. 3 million people signed up to a veg box or bought from a local farm for the first time [21]. New initiatives mushroomed locally and nationally [20], like Farms To Feed Us, to get food from fields to forks.

Photo of Dan Cox of Crocadon Farm in Cornwall by Scott Grummett, from Farms To Feed Us

Maybe the combination of survival instincts, scarcity and being stuck at home with more time to make and eat food, made 42% of us appreciate it more, 38% cook more from scratch [21], twice as many get our bake on [22] and 33% throw away less [21].

Meanwhile, outside, 38% of people found calm in cultivating their own land [23], as the sale of seeds soared by 250% [24] and hits on the RHS’s ‘How to Compost’ page by 500% [39]. Hopefully the Covid crisis has been a healthy reminder that food security isn’t guaranteed, even in the first world and even if the logo is really familiar.

Trees grow outside...

The state-sanctioned hour of daily exercise was seized upon by many who wouldn't normally be so regimented. For most, exercise helped us to handle lockdown [23], probably thanks to those magical endorphins and it stopping those busy minds running away with us.

Fitness fever may be another symptom of survival instinct - a literal form for fight or flight, even if inspired by claustrophobia or fear of getting lockdown lardy. The closure of gyms got us off the treadmills as roads emptied, and families, runners, trapeze artists, (I even saw a woman just boogying on down in the middle of Clapham Common), headed outside.

A video I made during lockdown with my Dad (Manasseh) & Badj Whipple for his new album

Originally created to improve health for the working classes and prevent cholera outbreaks [13], parks are still political. Diseases still spread and kill more people in poorer, more densely populated places [17], which is perhaps why parks were left open during lockdown . They have, however, become more of a luxury for those who can afford to live nearby [44].

As people spent more time outdoors, air pollution plummeted as much as 60% [15] and Covid was found to travel on pollution particles, with outbreaks more concentrated in polluted areas [14] (which are also more populated). Any cloudy thoughts that our physical health and the health of our environments are separate were swiftly blown away.

Mirror, mirror….

‘The Great Pause’ [25] gave many people a chance to press play; from balcony concerts, streamed gigs, plays, comedy and dance, to the endless supply of recorded film, music, and all the silly videos - this is the food for our spirits, fighting fear as it always has [8].

Creativity bursts out of lockdown, because humans are creative, and being creative, like exercise, keeps our mind in the moment. The first week of lockdown saw online DIY sales up 42%, and that of clothes and shoes fall by up to 38% [24], as we got our old garms out and our hands dirty.

Lockdown gave us the time it takes to make something satisfying, as opposed to the instant gratification created by consumer culture, which cannot cultivate long term happiness, because those are opposites... Less of some things actually is more.

Social media can’t be blamed for its content, we create it as we cause an echo of the cultural values we perform. So, without stuff to buy, places to be, or people to see, FOMO was reduced to the fruits of our labour - gardening, DIY, cooking, painting, parenting, and other things that take time and imagination, things that can be shared.

In its depleted and perhaps more dignified condition, FOMO is something herd immunity does actually seem to work against. Lockdown gave us a pass not to keep up, to accept what we’re capable of from one day to the next, go at our own pace. In light of this, we see FOMO for what it is: the fear of not being good enough.

One study found that once lockdown was finally announced, peoples’ anxiety fell and wellbeing rose. ‘Lockdown relief’ was especially pronounced in those with high levels of internal pressure’ [19]. It's no different as in 'normal life'; the challenge is to be impressed without judging ourselves against each other. It's only a competition if we choose to enter.

Through the looking glass...

It feels like a hundred years ago since we were captured in our castles. How we re-emerge from these chrysalis depends on the materials from which we had to spin our cocoons. Some will be rested, some will be bruised. Many lost loved ones, many worked harder than ever to save them and serve us. What will we take from these experiences back into the world?

Three soldiers return home: one commits suicide, one tries to forget, one seeks wisdom’, said Martin Shaw [27].

This battlefield wasn’t built by a microscopic enemy. We aren’t at war with a virus. The commander-in-chief deciding who survives and how well, is a system that values profit over people. The fight is with ‘the price of everything; the pressures to professionalise and the disavowal of those who do not or cannot comply’ [35].

This book of economics based on the myth of growth has alleviated many from poverty, kept many in poverty, and made few very rich. But it has endangered itself, as well as us - that is boom and bust. By rewarding the highest possible output from the lowest possible input, we have too much of a rubbish thing, and not enough of what we need, or the ability to get it.

Governments, desperate to ‘re-start’ their economies, are either bailing us out of a broken boat or fixing the boat. We will pay the price in the long run and it’s healthy people that create a healthy economy, not necessarily vice versa, as the ideology may promise, but doesn’t deliver (to everyone).

GDP counts how much a country generates but not how evenly it’s distributed - an indicator of prosperity only for some; it measures ‘neither our wit, nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short except that which makes life worthwhile’, said Robert Kennedy in 1968 [40].

The virus reminds us of our mortality, whilst lockdown gave us a long look at what makes life liveable and worthwhile, which workers are key, what products and services are essential.

We’ve had a glimpse of a future we might want and need: skies clear enough to see the stars and mountains, clean enough to smell the roses, and quiet enough to hear the birds sing.

We’ve seen what doesn't work and might want leaving behind: a mutated economic monster that feeds on and breeds inequality, leaving a trail of waste and destruction. We’re witnessing the resilience of human adaption and the force of public opinion, affecting a tide of change that didn’t follow the declaration of a climate crisis.

"To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice", said Charles Eisenstien [36].

A poll in April found that only 9% of Britons want to ‘return to normal’ [34]. In May, asked whether they’d prefer the government to prioritise health and wellbeing over the economy during the crisis, 80% of people agreed, and 60% want it to remain the priority [41].

Whether things do go ‘back to normal’ depends what happens next. No doubt, Coronavirus will change some things and doubtless there are things that needed changing. But what changes, and how, depends what has won our hearts, and whether our hearts can win minds.

They lived … ever after.

‘Crisis’, in medical terms, is the crossroads where you either ‘take the road to recovery or to death’ [10]. But to be able to diagnose, and therefore treat an illness, it has to show symptoms, and sometimes they appear too late, or there are none.

Here is a symptom of an ecological crisis well underway, and an opportunity to treat the cause before it’s chronic, to build societies that support us through crises, so we can survive them. Because they will happen.

Of the people asked, for 72% of those that said that their wellbeing was affected by the Covid crisis, it was due to feeling worried about the future [23]. Well, we should be worried, and many of us already were, some cripplingly so.

Covid, like many diseases, is the product of human exploitation of wildlife [6]. By meat markets and the conditions created by urbanisation and industrial agriculture, wild habitats are destroyed, as well as by the climate change these practices contribute to. The more nature is colonised, the closer it comes towards us, bringing new diseases with it [31].

Climate change threatens our existence, not least by increasing the likelihood of pandemics [30]; it's predicted to force 100 million people into extreme poverty within only 10 years [38]. Yet we have everything we need to capture and draw down all emissions [33]. ‘Saving the world’ is a comic book idea that paralyses us, and the last thing we need is paralysis; only pragmatism will save us.

We weren’t prepared for the Covid-19 storm, despite forecasts. We could only batten down the hatches and wait for it to pass. But the countries that weathered it best were those that achieved ‘early detection and early response’ [48].

Climate change is a chronic condition, currently most tangible to those living in the ‘third world’, rather than we in the first, who enjoy the fruits of the emissions we pay them to produce for us. But we all hear the science.

So, are we animals, that only respond when a danger is staring straight at us? Or are we humans, with foresight as well as hindsight, who have imagined cathedrals, symphonies, Hamlet, the Mona Lisa, chess, bannoffee pie, sound systems, The Sopranos, and so, so many unbelievably great things?

Disasters tend to be a good time for those with big budget ideas make a move, to push a product previously being touted but perhaps not on trend [49]. Like big tech punting a track-and-trace, non-touch world; ideas towards which ‘public pushback’ was ‘surging’, but are now sold as solutions by those ‘leveraging the crisis for a permanent transformation’ [50].

"A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation… not every revolutionary situation leads to revolution", said Lenin.

The 1st and 2nd World Wars combined, lasted over 10 years and left over 100 million dead. This collective experience of suffering led to the creation of the NHS and social welfare. Some temporary solutions also remain, like meat injected with growth hormones and dehydrated foods to feed soldiers on the front line [46].

According to Forum for the Future, there are three trajectories we're most likely to follow: a disciplinarian closed-circuit of tech-controlled movement; a collapse of society in place of nation states where scarcity drives inequality and xenophobia; or a transformative path cultivated by a regenerative economy that responds to multiple emergencies [55].

How the world changes depends who touts their goods the loudest. The winning narrative of common sense will be written into the rule book for future crises. If a transformative movement is to carry the values that have beamed out of our homes during lockdown back into the world, it will depend on ‘the optimists’ ability to transport such moments of solidarity into the broader political sphere’ [54].

This means treating all social and environmental symptoms for their shared root cause: a system that counts profit before people. We need to work together, as citizens rather than consumers, to use our voices, votes and skills on a local and global scale, in the micro and macro parts of our lives, to protect and produce what we need. It's possible to rebuild an economy motivated and measured by its ability to meet needs, because we don’t exist to serve the markets, they exist to serve us.

This is how some leaders are planning to ‘build back better’, like heroine of the day, Jacinda Arden, who proposed a 4-day working week to aid local tourist industries and mental health [45], following her 2020 ‘Wellbeing Budget’. She knows you get out what you put in; the more nutrients in the soil, the more there are in the food and the more go back into the soil; it’s a feedback loop.

"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow", said Audrey Hepburn

Now is the time to be brave enough to accept whichever invitation is ours to receive, to be bold in imagining what an alternative economy would ‘look and feel like’ [57], to step into the new, the unknown, the shadow and the light. "We are the system, we get to choose what the system is", said Jacqueline Novogratz [55].

Isaac Newton discovered gravity during the plague, I was reminded by my Mama Jo. We've had our time to sit under the apple tree, and now it's time to add the strength of our convictions to the dam that holds back the waters. We can each uphold what matters, under our umbrella, in the shoes that walked us through this storm, together.

We don’t even have a language for this emotion, in which the wonderful comes wrapped in the terrible, joy in sorrow, courage in fear’ said Rebecca Solnit [54]

(You can also hear another white millennial middle class person, called Tom Foolery, say this in 4 minutes, in rhyme, in The Great Realisation)

1 A letter to the UK from Italy, Francesca Melandri

2 The Equality Trust, data from Office for National Statistics

3 The Guardian, Feb 20, ‘Data showing 9% fall in England rough sleeping 'not fit for purpose'

4 The Trussell Trust End of Year Stats

5 BBC, Apr 20 Chancellor Sunak warns of 'tough times' for UK economy

6 Conservation International, Mar 20, Expert: To prevent pandemics like COVID-19, 'take care of nature'

7 The Guardian, Apr 20, 'People want to help you. Let them’

8 The Guardian, Apr 20, Stayin’ alive! How music has fought pandemics for 2,700 years

9 The Observer, Mar 20, interview with Tim Lang – ‘Diet, health, inequality: why Britain's food supply system doesn't work

10 The Guardian, Apr 20, Rebecca Solnit - ‘What Coronavirus can teach us about hope’

11 Sapiens

12 Wrap, Jan 20, Food surplus and waste in the UK – key facts

13 The Guardian, Apr 20, Lockdown has laid bare Britain's class divide

14 The Guardian (and The Sun!), Apr 20, Coronavirus detected on particles of air pollution

15 BBC, Apr 20, Coronavirus lockdown sees air pollution plummet across UK

16 Medium, Mar 20, This Is How Your Immune System Reacts to Coronavirus

17 The Guardian, May 20, Calls for health funding to be prioritised as poor bear brunt of Covid-19

18 YouTube, Mar 20, Covid is the great equaliser' says Madonna from a petal filled bath

19 The Guardian, Apr 20, The lockdown paradox: why some people's anxiety is improving during the crisis

20 The Guardian, Apr 20, Step up to the plate: the people helping to sustain UK food supply

21 ORFC, Catherine St Germains, May 20, Farms To Feed Us

22 The Guardian, Apr 20, Grains of truth: what the flour shortage tells us about who we are

23 Office for National Statistics, Apr 20, Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain

24 The Guardian, Mar 20, Britons go on shopping spree to ease grind of Covid-19 confinement

25 Forge, Julio Vincent Gambuto, Apr 20, ‘Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting

26 The Trussell Trust, May 20, Food banks report record spike in need as coalition of anti-poverty charities call for strong lifeline to be thrown to anyone who needs it

27 Emergence Magazine, Martin Shaw - Is This an Initiation? An Urgent Invitation to Beautiful Learning

28 Forbes, Apr 20, What Do Countries With The Best Coronavirus Responses Have In Common? Women Leaders

29 Farmerama podcast #55: Enlightened agriculture, sustainable economies, and regenerative businesses

30 World Health Organization, Climate change and human health - risks and responses.

31 BBC, Apr 20, Coronavirus: Exploiting nature 'drives outbreaks of new diseases'

32 BBC Inside Science, Apr 20, George Monbiot - Lockdown lessons for climate change and the carbon neutral Cumbrian coal mine

33 BBC Radio 4, The Life Scientific, Myles Allen on understanding climate change

34 Sky News, Apr 20, Only 9% of Britons want life to return to 'normal' once lockdown is over

35 The Furies, Hannah Regal, sent by Rebecca Sainsot-Reynolds on WhatsApp

36 Charles Eisenstein, Mar 20, The Coronation

37 The Guardian, Apr 20, Revealed: Private firm running UK PPE stockpile was sold in middle of pandemic

38 CNN, Jan 19, 250,000 deaths a year from climate change is a 'conservative estimate,' research says

39 The Guardian, May 20, 'It satisfies a nurturing instinct': how lockdown has created a veg-growing revolution

40 CUSP Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, Tim Jackson, Feb 20, Beyond Redistribution—Confronting inequality in an era of low growth

41 The Guardian, May 20, Britons want quality of life indicators to take priority over economy

42 Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation, cited by Old Tree Brewery

44 Office for National Statistics, Oct 19, Urban green spaces raise nearby house prices by an average of £2,500

45 The Guardian, May 20, Four-day weeks could be key to New Zealand's Covid-19 recovery, says Ardern – video

46 BBC Radio 4, May 20, The Food Programme, The Kitchen Front: How wartime food strategies influenced our eating ethos

48 Ted Talks Daily, Apr 20, Larry Brilliant, A global pandemic calls for global solutions

49 YouTube, Mar 20, “Coronavirus Capitalism”: Naomi Klein’s Case for Transformative Change Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

50 The Guardian, May 20, Naomi Klein: How big tech plans to profit from the pandemic

51 The Guardian, Apr 20, Will the coronavirus kill the oil industry and help save the climate?

54 The Guardian, Mar 20, ‘We can’t go back to normal’: how will coronavirus change the world?

55 Food Ethics Council, Food Talks, May 20, Addressing multiple emergencies

56 The Good Life Project, May 20, Jacqueline Novogratz, Manifesto for a Moral Revolution

57 Positive Money, May 20, Caroline Lucas, The Tragedy of Growth

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