Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 20, 2020

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 20, 2020

Ian Haysom, a veteran journalist and writer, is a news consultant for CHEK. His coronavirus diary will appear here regularly.

So now we know what World War 3 looks like.

We thought the next world war would be fought with nuclear bombs and missiles and here we are fighting the enemy with Purex and toilet paper. Go figure. All those anti-war marches we went on 30 years ago should have been directed instead at better hygiene. Wash your hands, world, and we might be saved.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that the crisis has the echoes of wartime. And we’re all in this together.

And there was British Columbia’s medical officer of health, Bonnie Henry, yesterday beseeching us to:

Be Kind

Be Calm

Be Safe.

That’s eerily familiar to Stay Calm and Carry On. Our new world war mantra.

Oh, and obey the rules, added health minister Adrian Dix with a suitably stern face that suggested total lockdown would result if we don’t behave ourselves.

The difference in this world war is that we’re all on the same side and we can’t actually see the enemy. He’s (and I figure for some unscientific reason that the virus is a he) out there somewhere, but he’s invisible, lurking in the shadows, in the workplace or outside the front door and at a distance of under two metres. At least in the Second World War, you knew what the enemy looked like. He wore a tin hat, carried a gun and had a swastika on his arm and kept shouting Sieg Heil a lot. This enemy is a quiet figure, stealing up on us while we aren’t looking.

So now, like in the Second World War, we need that inspiring figure, a modern-day Winston Churchill, to help us fight this thing on the beaches, on the landing grounds, on the streets, in the fields and on the hills and never surrender.

Trudeau is doing his best, with quiet calm and reassurance. Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump, so he doesn’t count.  And Boris Johnson is trying to impersonate Churchill, his hero, but he’s mostly all huff and bluster without much reason. I expect to see him wearing a siren suit shortly, and lighting up a fat cigar. “How do I look, darling? Suitably Churchillian? Do you think I should develop a lisp?”

And then, yesterday, along came Vera Lynn to save us all. She did it in the Second World War, inspiring the Empire with We’ll Meet Again and There’ll be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover (though to be pedantic there were never bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. The song was written in America, where they figured there must be bluebirds over somewhere or other, so why not Dover). But the songs were truly inspiring both at home and on the front, where soldiers dreamed of coming home.

Vera Lynn celebrated her 103rd birthday yesterday and released a lovely video of her singing We’ll Meet Again with virtual flags surrounding her (including ours) and she ended with a small contemporary message: “Keep Smiling and Keep Singing.”

So now we have that mantra to add to the list. Be Kind. Be Calm. Be Safe. Keep Smiling. Keep Singing.

And wash your hands.

I once interviewed Dame Vera, in Ottawa, when she visited a veteran’s home and sang the iconic song. An elderly woman accompanied her on piano and in my subsequent report, I wrote that she had “tinkled on the ivories” for Vera. I’d meant to say “tickled the ivories”. The pianist wrote to the paper to say she had certainly not peed on the piano. Not in front of Dame Vera.

But what I remember most was how generous Vera was. I was called by the veteran’s home the next day by a staffer who told me one old chap was in hospital and had to miss the visit, even though he loved Vera Lynn. They wondered if she might send him a message. He was very sick and he was heartbroken.

She went one better. I called her hotel and spoke to her wonderful husband Harry Lewis (who, incidentally, used to play saxophone with the small musical band on the comedy show The Goons. He blew the Bronx cheer, or raspberry, during the comic mayhem). Harry, a cockney, shouted out to Vera in their room at the Chateau Laurier. “Oy, Vera, there’s an old chap needs helping out. Have we got a few minutes?”

An hour or so later Vera Lynn was at the bedside of the veteran, holding his hand and singing him We’ll Meet Again while he had tears in his eyes and a smile on his face.

Yes, we need a little more Vera. To help us sing and smile.

This world war is certainly different. We have to stay indoors instead of in bomb shelters. And the doctors and nurses and health officials are in the front lines, not the soldiers.

But what was that other mantra in the last war?

We should all do our bit.

That works too.

Now keep calm and carry on. And stay healthy.

Read the earlier diary entries here: 

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 18, 2020

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 19, 2020

Ian HaysomIan Haysom

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