As a weekly reader of (and occasional writer for) the NS for more than 30 years, I wish to nominate my “all-time favourite article”. It’s called “The Peak” (29 May). Over the past two months I’ve watched several TV documentaries with access to intensive care units made with sensitivity, and read good journalism, too. But nothing compares to this genre – if I may call it that – of observational writing in the hands of an imaginative novelist. I’d like to quote one passage: He enters the last bay in the converted operating theatre and pulls back the curtain. He stands a moment in the semi-darkness. The very air seems crushed in here, as if the very night is struggling to breathe. Life has shrunk and shrivelled to almost nothing. He has the momentary feeling that this is the very centre of the disease; the inner chamber where the virus sits enthroned, preening and sneering, malign, intelligent. In the crude but effective phrase of Boris Johnson, now “I’ve got it” – and I shan’t forget it.
I’m not sure I’ve ever wept over a New Statesman article before, but I did over Edward Docx’s brilliant coverage of Dr Jim Down’s work in the intensive care unit at University College Hospital (“The Peak”). Bravo. I really want to know if David and Beth made it, and how Jim Down is doing now.
“The Peak” by Edward Docx must be one of the best pieces of short literature I have read in months, maybe years. Informative, sensitive and moving, it painted a picture of an ICU consultant. It was reminiscent of first-class fiction – yet this drew an acute reality most of us can barely imagine.
I’m not ashamed to say I shed tears reading Edward Docx’s brilliant and important cover article in the last issue. It was writing of the highest order, bringing together journalistic and novelistic insights.
In many ways it embodied similar ideas to Lyndsey Stonebridge’s piece on Hannah Arendt (Observations, 22 May) “The value not only of the work we have to do, but of the work we do together in order to be human.” The NS prompts the questions the crisis begs of all of us: how do we live more authentic, sustainable lives? The answer is a reconfigured sense of community and respect, which the editor writes about more generally.
Thank you for the generous-spirited and humane article by Edward Docx on the experience of Dr Jim Down. It illustrated the ravages of Covid-19 but also the impossible circumstances facing those working on the front line. It leaves many of us older folk, still safely self-isolating in our homes, humbled in the extreme by the sheer courage exhibited: dedication beyond the call of duty, honesty in the face of harsh realities, compassion for our fellow creatures, and – above all – lack of self-regard.
I have read the New Statesman for 40 years and never in that time has an article had such an effect on me as Edward Docx’s “The Peak”. To think this was just a day in the life of the current NHS staff. It was incredibly forceful writing.
One factor behind the “The humbling of Dominic Cummings” (29 May) is a prosaic one: the mix of emotions aroused by his unconventional style of dress. Keir Hardie wore a cloth cap – a symbol of the working class – when he arrived at the Commons in 1892, and was then pilloried by the press for refusing to bend the knee to the sartorial expectations of Middle England. Michael Foot never recovered from his decision to wear a donkey jacket at the Remembrance Day service in 1981. It did not take long before the grey anorak worn by Jeremy Corbyn during his early days as Labour Party leader was left to hang forlornly on its peg. Cummings, Hardie, Foot and Corbyn have all experienced the punishment meted out to public figures who contravene fashion norms. As the Japanese say, “the nail which stands out shall be hammered down”.
I enjoyed Andrew Marr’s level-headed analysis of the possible future course of British politics (“The Great Moving Left Show”, 22 May). However his recommendation that we reconsider the position of “regular flying as a basic human right” ignores data from 2014, which shows that 15 per cent of Britons take 70 per cent of all flights. Perhaps the increased social solidarity he mentions can be brought to bear on this particular inequity, so as to create a more sustainable future?
Many thanks for all your hard work in putting together the magazine. It has provided me with much satisfaction in these difficult times.
Not all men
It is fantastic that Jess Phillips has championed the Domestic Abuse Bill and she is correct to point out the importance of the lockdown for bringing the issue to public attention (The Diary, 22 May). But it is a shame that she uses it as an opportunity for a diatribe against violent men. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, men make up a third of domestic abuse victims. To perpetuate the myth that only men are perpetrators and women victims does not help the cause of gender equality.
Power of prayer
Further to Canon Pitt’s response to Tracey Thorn’s column (Correspondence, 29 May), it is worth noting that in his autobiography, Leaving Alexandria, Bishop Richard Holloway reminds us that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty: doubt has an essential part to play within the Christian tradition. Furthermore, the power of prayer within the tradition is subversive. In an article for the Times in 1983, the late Father Ken Leech wrote that prayer may be “an important way of undermining the structures of evil, and if religious and political establishments saw this, they would increase their efforts to discourage it, and urge people to return to the safety of conventional religion, which opts for comfort rather than transformation”. Amen to that.
Canon David Jennings
Market Bosworth, Warwickshire
Peter Wilby hits the nail on the head regarding the circus of the daily press briefings (First Thoughts, 22 May), where the ministers are not challenged with credible alternate views and discussion, and the Prime Minister only appears very occasionally. The proper place for this is in the House of Commons, where they can be questioned by the opposition.
A world of good
I recently had the pleasure of catching up on my New Statesman issues. A key theme ran through Paul Collier’s “Capitalism after coronavirus” (8 May), Andrew Marr’s “The Great Moving Left Show” (22 May) and Ailbhe Rea’s interview with Anneliese Dodds (22 May): learning from other countries. Challenges we face as nations are global in scale – climate change, migration and the pandemic are just a few examples – and we can shed light on domestic issues by looking elsewhere. As the post-Covid-19 crisis looms, it is urgent that we learn lessons from other jurisdictions and think about how to translate them to the UK context.
Dr Jo Ingold
University of Leeds
Jason Cowley highlights the defects in government policy for those in residential care (Editor’s Note, 22 May). The susceptibility of the elderly was established before the virus took hold in Britain and should have been a major planning consideration. A standard approach to the whole population has meant inadequate attention for those who have since suffered most. The aim was to “save lives” but it is apparent from international comparison that this has not been successful.
Eaglesham, East Renfrewshire
The subscriber of the week of 29 May has reversed for me two discontents at once: both the customary banality of subscribers’ responses, and the lack of appreciation in readers’ letters for the contributions of your Left Field columnist Ian Leslie – frequently the most original and thoughtful in the New Statesman’s pages.
Dentists don’t bite
Fergus Walsh (Q&A, 29 May) ought to have thought more carefully about describing dentistry and surgery as “terrible”. As the BBC’s medical correspondent, he should have considered the likely effect of these words on patients, potential patients and particularly children.
Dr Bernard Dixon OBE
Ruislip Manor, Greater London
Amelia Tait makes an important point about the paradox of idleness (Out of the Ordinary, 22 May), which is part of daily life and has been proven to enhance our well-being if we can let go of feelings of guilt. Perusing the programme for this year’s online Hay Festival, I was drawn to Claudia Hammond’s discussion on the art of rest. Hers were the same arguments: those little pockets of time when we don’t do much are essential for keeping us balanced. The evidence is there, so why do we find it so hard to take it on board? And how has lockdown become yet another arena of competition where we must flaunt our achievements?
Michael Prodger’s series on landscape painting, The Greats Outdoors, has been perfectly timed for our recent few months in lockdown, and I now feel enlightened about art on so many more fronts than before. As an art philistine, it has been compulsory reading for me and I now turn to it first. Long may it continue.
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This article appears in the 03 Jun 2020 issue of the New Statesman, We can't breathe