Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The temporary architecture of Covid-19

Mobile Testing Unit, Canada Water

 Is anybody documenting the temporary architecture of COVID-19?

All those pop-up testing, vaccine and booster centres. White marquees in lockdown-emptied carparks. Public buildings grand and shabby transformed into collection points for saliva and mucus. Neighbourhood chemists with queues round the block administering life-saving vaccines.

Testing Centre by Devonport House, Greenwich

In a nation obsessed with memories of a war that hardly any living person now remembers, analogies are often drawn between the Blitz and the pandemic. Absurd in many ways – viruses are not waging war on us, just reproducing in the conditions of the world we have created. But maybe there are parallels with the vanished bomb shelters that sprang up in World War Two- places of huge significance that largely disappeared when no longer needed, evidenced only by fading signs painted on nearby walls. Nobody is cowering in a test centre fearing sudden death from above but there is a quieter diffuse fear. For some people taking that test was the first step onto a journey that ended in hospital and death. For many that injection was what saved their life.

Booster vaccine queue at New Cross Pharmacy/Waldron Centre
Waldron Health Centre, Amersham Vale SE14. Mural reads (in English and Spanish) 'I feel it is my duty to protect myself and my community''

And what of that instant workforce, thousands of people in the front line of the pandemic, a global precariat performing vital tasks on casual contracts employed not by the NHS but by companies like Sodexo. Who is documenting the stories of the ‘Test Operatives’?

We can only hope that one day we will be able to look back and wonder that this was ever how we lived our lives. But for now it sometimes feels that it’s been going on for so long that we risk ceasing to notice how extraordinary this all is.

Walk Through Testing Site, Vanguard Street, Deptford
Lewisham Civic Suite, Catford (and below)

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

All Swell at Camberwell - Women in trousers at the town hall shock (1941)

'All Swell' - 'an unofficial bulletin published monthly by the Camberwell Branch of Nalgo for the special benefit of members serving with the Forces... Edited by David Leggatt, Food Office, Wilson's Grammar School, Peckham Road'. The motto of the old Camberwell Council  - now incorporated into Southwark Council - was ‘All’s well’, so the Union was playing on this. NALGO, the National Association of Local Government Officers, became part of Unison.

Anyway the big news in November 1941 was that the ‘the town hall saw for the first time women members of staff wearing trousers’.  This was something the author approved of: 'trousers are more hard wearing than stockings and more economical at the present time; by their use, women save both coupons and money. It follows then that fewer stockings mean more tanks for Russia'

 [original document is in Southwark Archives]

Monday, December 06, 2021

Mourning the Channel Dead on the Thames by Deptford Creek

Cycling by the Thames yesterday we came across this impromptu memorial by Deptford Creek to the 27 people who died attempting to cross the Channel from France to England on 24 November 2021.

'It is a disgrace that we cared so little that we let you drown.
Let's hope our children have more humanity'

Imagine if it had been 27 English people drowned, say a group of people helping out with a cross-channel swim. Would people have more or less stopped talking about it a week later, would their names have been forgotten? If they had called for help, as seems to have happened here, would the authorities have quibbled about whether they were in English or French waters and left them to drown, or would they have mobilised every resource available to save them?

Thinking here of Judith Butler's question of' 'whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned, and whose lives are considered ungrievable...  An ungrievable life is one that cannot be mourned because it has never lived, that is, it has never counted as a life at all' (Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?, 2009).  Of course these lives are grieved by friends and families, but to many others they are merely migrants whose life or death is a matter of indifference. People attempting to block lifeboats, as happened recently in Hastings,  are basically saying that they would rather people drown than be rescued.   

So well done to the anonymous mourners of Deptford Creek, and let us not forget these names and faces-

Twana Mamand Muhammed

Khazal Ahmed, right, with her son Mubin Rezgar, older daughter Hadia Rezgar and younger daughter Hasti Rezgar

Maryam Nuri Muhamadamin

Harem Pirot

Donate to RNLI (lifeboats)

Support Channel Rescue (monitoring and support): 'We will not sit back and allow the English Channel to become a mass graveyard, like the waters of the Mediterranean'