Clap for carers adds to the divisiveness ripping our country apart - Jayne Dowle

As a refusenik of most communal activities, I’ve never felt comfortable clapping in public for carers, heroes or anyone else for that matter.

Members of the fire brigade, construction workers and members of the public, clapping outside the Nightingale Hospital at the Harrogate Convention Centre in Harrogate

It’s not that I’m selfish or ungrateful, I just find the whole business of standing on my doorstep making a self-righteous noise highly questionable – distasteful even. Second time around, it feels utterly ridiculous and adds to the divisiveness ripping the nation apart.

Yet, despite the rancour surrounding the resurgence of the ‘Clap For Carers/Heroes’ event, I’m glad there has been a furore. It is opening up a painful, yet vital debate.

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Shouldn’t we all be quietly commemorating the fact that we are still here, and counting our blessings? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we are all ‘heroes’ as some suggest, but anyone who has got up every morning and dealt with situations unthinkable 12 months ago should send up a little prayer to their god.

And isn’t the whole public showcase thing just a little bit too competitive? Last summer, I heard of neighbours attempting to outdo each other with musical instruments, or organising bake-offs to demonstrate their sourdough skills. I’m not sure how any of this was helpful to staying home, saving lives and protecting the NHS, except to underscore the chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

For every front door thrown open, and every shiny family lined up to beam proudly for television cameras, there will be a house where the curtains remain drawn day and night, and where no one ever sees the children, or their mother. What of those people? Who cares for them?

Putting on a show of solidarity does nothing to highlight the plight of the millions of individuals forced to endure terrible living conditions during the pandemic, including those compelled to share their home with a violent and abusive partner or parent.

No doubt the founder of the ‘Clap for Carers’ initiative, Annemarie Plas, a yoga teacher from south London, had wholesome intentions when she came up with the idea at the start of the first lockdown.

Her heart was in the right place, but I’m not sure that place is Great Britain 2021. Last week she was forced to publicly distance herself from the whole event, after she was trolled on social media by NHS workers, who told her in no uncertain terms that the best thing she and her acolytes could do would be to stay indoors and campaign for the pay rise the Prime Minister promised nurses months ago.

Hate to say I told you so, but I’ve been saying this all along.

I only submitted to banging a saucepan last year because my teenage daughter persuaded me into it. She’s a kind girl with a social conscience, but I suspect her enthusiasm was highly influenced by the opportunity to make videos of the exercise to share with her friends.

Cut off from school, dance classes and social events, I guess she just wanted to feel part of something. The so-called ‘snowflake’ generations are bearing the mental health toll of the pandemic out of proportion to their age and experience.

Teenage years and the early twenties should be when young people experiment with life, make progress, attain qualifications and gain work experience, taking step after step towards their own personal goals.

I worry about my two constantly; my son’s part-time supermarket job is his only contact with the outside world now that college is entirely online, my daughter is by turns overwhelmed by her GCSE workload and fearful of not learning enough.

The horizon is dark and clouded with doubt. Is it any wonder youngsters look for ways to anchor themselves to any kind of reality?

Lizzie is 15, however, not fiftysomething like her mother. She is still idealistic. If I was weary and cynical in May, I’m beyond reasoning with now, in January, at the start of the third national lockdown.

I caved in to clapping eventually, muttering about how it was pandering to the Prime Minister’s questionable grasp of ‘all in this together’. I argued that he should focus on supplying adequate PPE for NHS staff instead of making a spectacle of himself in front of Number 10.

Our near neighbours, decent as they are, opted out altogether. There was no one for us to acknowledge except a chap who lives on his own across the way; he tried it once, sheepishly, and never appeared again.

As my family stood there alone, I felt the very opposite of community spirit. Clapping and banging echoed back to us eerily in the falling evening light; it seemed to me that each individual house was marooned like a lonely ship lost in a foggy ocean.

Forgive me then, if I prefer to close the curtains and to be thankful and grateful by lighting a candle of hope.