by Callum MacCleod, from the Provost’s Chair
Well, that took us all by surprise! Two editions ago I was describing our plans for the year – the ever-popular Bandstand Concert Series, the return of the Gardens Competition, the search for sites for the 400 trees we intend to plant, and much, much more. Life in the town was unfolding as it usually does – pupils, students, teachers preparing for exams, rehearsals for concerts, plays taking place, plans being made for festivals both sacred and secular, sporting matches, and competitions being enjoyed by players and spectators alike while construction projects like the new Madras and the Laidlaw Music Centre were making steady progress. Readers will, no doubt, find it easy to add dozens, if not hundreds, of activities to this list.
Oh, and some mention in the news about a particularly nasty bug causing concern in the Far East….
Then suddenly, seemingly overnight – and already feeling like an eternity ago, though even now it can still be measured in weeks – a national state of emergency declared, schools closed, exams cancelled, students instructed to get home if they could, shops and businesses closed, disruption to travel and local services, prohibition of gatherings, even – hardest of all, perhaps – funerals, which could only be attended by a handful of close relatives.
There were fears that the NHS would be overwhelmed, that the economy would crash, so giant field hospitals were established while interest rates lowered. Terms like “furlough”, “self-isolation”, “social distancing”, “lockdown” became everyday words. Those of us whose scientific knowledge was modest learned the difference between a virus and a bacterium. There were the usual ill-advised actions of public figures who should have known better, with foolish and selfish behaviour by members of the public. And we knew it was indiscriminately serious when the Prime Minister found himself in intensive care, as, most tragically and poignantly, it was reported that doctors and nurses began to die “with Covid-19”.
It is the end of May as I write this and the first steps are being taken to ease restrictions. This will have a hugely positive impact on people’s mental health, also on business, but it remains to be seen whether it really is too early to be allowing so much personal interaction. How apposite are the words of Winston Churchill, whose oratory was so much to the fore at the time of the VE75 commemorations, “This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning”. We shall see….
My natural Scottish pessimism prevents me from celebrating yet – there is still too much distress and grief to come for that. But I shall return to all the positives, which have emerged in recent months when the “new normal” is finally established. For the moment I simply want to highlight proudly the ongoing selfless activity going on in the town – the generous contribution of time, talents, money; the scientific research; the efforts of key workers; the cottage industry of making visors and face coverings; running messages and keeping in contact with the isolated. The Community Council itself is allocating all the money it is saving on events and bookings to community support.
Finally, on a more positive note, I was much struck by the words of Rev Graeme Beebee, Minister of St Leonard’s Church, in one of his early “Wee Words” messages, posted daily on the church’s Facebook page. Graeme mused on how only a few months ago it looked as if it would be utterly impossible to reverse the damage done to the environment. Yet, within days of the admittedly drastic reduction in vehicle use and the closing down of industry, there were already signs of improving air quality. Is it my imagination, or were the colours of the spring flowers brighter and more intense, and did the cherry blossom not last a lot longer than usual this year?
As ever, I welcome hearing from you on any matter at: email@example.com
or on 01334 478584.
dum spiro spero