Many years ago, I remember getting an early morning phone call from my dad. I’m not sure about you but when the phone rings out of normal hours my mind always goes into overdrive as to what crisis or disaster is waiting for you on the other end of the line.
His first words were ‘Maldwyn, tell me, what exactly did you say?’. I could tell by the slight chuckle in his voice that it wasn’t a serious crisis, but a crisis, nonetheless.
My dad had opened his paper to read a headline that quoted his son, Maldwyn, as having described Swansea as being ‘the red light capital of Britain’. Now obviously my quote had been taken somewhat out of context to make a catchy headline. I had been asked what I thought about the growing number of traffic lights in Swansea city centre and without thinking about other meanings I came up with the red light capital response.
This week I found myself front page news again. It took me by surprise, and I have to say I found it unsettling for quite some time. The Evening Post had reprinted extracts from my blog written in May 2020 and the frontpage headline read ‘MAL’S ANGER OVER PARTY AT NO.10’.
I had written that blog about the passing of my father in a care home. Aged 96, we knew he was near the end of his life. With time running out the sons were offered the chance to visit in him in what would turn out to be his final week on earth.
I decided that because of the pandemic I would stay away from my dying father so as to reduce the risk of me passing an infection to him, or into the care home, or of the care home infecting me and me passing it on to someone else.
I did get a chance to say goodbye to my father, but it was via an iPad I had given to my mother. My mum was also living in the same care home. She used the iPad so that she could have regular contact with her 3 sons, 10 grandchildren and umpteen great grandchildren because we hadn’t been allowed to visit her either for the previous few months due to lockdown.
My father’s funeral. May 2020
The rest of the blog talks about how we only had 7 people at the graveside. We could have had 10 but with my mum, my two brothers and our wives we only had three spaces left and we didn’t think it was fair to offer the final spaces to only three of the grandchildren.
Seeing my mum take a rose from her wreath, kiss it and throw it into the open grave broke my heart. The rules meant that we couldn’t hug her, we were only allowed to hold her hand and for that we all had to wear rubber gloves. Just before she was driven off in the back of the mini bus, alone, she told us she had kept her vow…after 71 years she had done everything she could for my dad.
Looking back, I have to say I don’t think we would have done very much different given the circumstances. I know my dad would have been more concerned about his family than himself. If he had had a voice he would have insisted we stay away and stay safe. We didn’t obey the rules because someone in a No 10 Downing Street Press Conference said we had to or face the inevitable legal action, we did it because it was the right thing to do.
I was angry, very angry…I still am.
In many ways one of the reasons for writing a weekly blog is that it also serves as a diary. So, just like so many people in the country I decided to look back and see what I was doing in May 2020.
If I’m honest the last 2 years have blurred into lockdown after lockdown, cancelled events and family gatherings and working from home. My blog was entitled ‘I was angry, very angry…I Still am’ but 2 years on I couldn’t quite remember, if I thought we were doing the right thing, why exactly was I angry and not just sad?
The reason I was angry was that we had been let down by those running the country who should have known better.
Looking back, it has become accepted wisdom that no one could have predicted what was going to happen, no one could have been prepared for a global pandemic. The thing is they should have been prepared because they knew what could possibly happen when the inevitable Global Pandemic came.
In October 2016 The UK Government carried out a three day exercise named ‘Exercise Cygnus’ which explored what would happen with an influenza style pandemic on the UK.
It has been reported that the results of the ‘simulation’ were too terrifying to be revealed.
In early 2020, as the news came in from Italy that people were dying in large numbers from a new disease, somehow it felt unreal. When my daughter who had just become a mother herself, went into early self-imposed lockdown I think we all thought, she was over reacting.
I mean, the Prime Minister was on television telling us how he was shaking hands with COVID patients in hospital.
But people knew. In my blog from May 2020 I shared a message my daughter had been sent from an old university friend on 13th March 2020. He was a Director of a major Metropolitan Emergency Department.
He suggested his friends should share his advice in an attempt to…
‘Save your neighbour’s / mate’s / dad’s / grandmother’s life in the following ways:
1) Start taking this seriously now
2) Socially distance. Stop going to meetings, parties or shaking hands. Work from home if you can
3) Wash your hands
4) Don’t let your children with coughs and colds play with other children or adults
That’s it, thank you for keeping someone off a life support machine.
…Everything you plan for before a pandemic seems unnecessary and overly dramatic but after the pandemic it will not seem like enough’.
As I said at the time.
This was from a young man worried about friends and trying to get the message out as best he could. Ten days after he sent this message, the country went into lockdown. There might be reasons why we weren’t all told that message, but when the change in government policy finally came and the daily death tolls rose, I was angry, very angry…I still am.
This week, after nearly 2 years of silence from those who are at the heart of government, we are finally getting daily updates on the parties being held in Downing Street when the rest of the country was obeying their rules.
Would I have changed the way I acted if I had known at the time…no! Even when we knew they weren’t obeying their rules most of us stood firm.
After that other 10 Downing Street event, the garden press conference where Dominic Cummings told us all that he had driven to Barnard Castle to ‘test his eyesight’ I’m sure some people thought, stuff it, I’ll do what I want…but most of us stuck to the rules because we wanted to look after ourselves, our families and our communities.
In May 2020 I was angry…after the news this week, I still am!!!
3 thoughts on “I almost forgot why I was angry…the parties helped me remember.”
I have been thinking of you this week, knowing what you all suffered back then. We lost my dear father in law at that time too, but like your family, we all obeyed the rules.
In the December of 2019, I remember reading anxiously about how a deadly virus was spreading rapidly in China, and I cannot understand why it did not prompt the government into earlier action. So much suffering might have been prevented, but perhaps they were too busy partying…
On a lighter note, I’m looking forward to listening to you again tomorrow on Radio Wales, where you belong, and are so very much missed.
With love to you and your family,
I think that everyone who lost someone, or were stopped from being able to visit loved ones, during the lockdowns feels increasingly aggrieved at the news coming out of Downing Street.
I could not visit my mum and dad for months. My mum was my dad’s sole carer and all support from day centres and respite had been stopped. It was equally heartbreaking that I could not support my mum, nor see how much my dad’s dementia had declined with no socialisation opportunities other than with my mum. (Don’t get me wrong – I am eternally grateful that we were able to keep him at home.)
When he passed away peacefully just after New Year 2021, it was soul destroying to telephone my dad’s remaining older family members and friends (of 60 years plus), to hear that they dearly wished to say farewell but were isolating, or to have to give them an online code to watch virtually because of number restrictions.
Nothing can bring back being unable to hug those family members who were there, socially distanced, after not having seen them for many months; but grateful that by then, my mum could be in my family bubble, so she at least had 3 of us to support her. All while those in Number 10 were partying regularly.
Words fail me.
Beautifully written but heartbreaking read….Jan whitland…X
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