Clapping is the percussive sound we make by striking one hand against the other. This action is one we have come to associate during lockdown with a way to show appreciation for everyone who works in the NHS and more widely, for those involved in keeping up the services we now value as essential. I expect that I am not the only one who put my hands together for bin men and supermarket staff. The person whose great idea began the 8pm Thursday togetherness wisely judged a few weeks ago, that it had run its course. As readily as we embraced and started it, we respected her suggestion to stop.
We were called to clap once more in recognition of the value to us of the NHS on this 72nd anniversary of its creation. Am I alone in identifying a hint of irony in a call to clap by a UK government of a persuasion that has sought to chip away at its foundations and threaten the stability of its structure? Is there a modicum of hypocrisy in willingness to take hands out of pockets in order to clap, but not to dig deeper in pockets to find funds for the function for which it was set up in the first place, and maintain the level of services advances in healthcare allow? O.K. – mixed metaphors but….
Might this applause for its 72 years of survival and development provide a wake-up call? What we take as a fundamental right, and have possibly taken for granted, may bring with it a responsibility to question how we use it and where our expectations might go beyond what is reasonable to expect. There is no denying that we should expect transparency, close scrutiny and accountability of those charged with delivering, within the means allocated, what we see as an essential service. Few will deny that over the piece, the NHS has delivered everything possible relating to the current crisis, but there will be people who feel their health needs have been unmet while the focus has been firmly on management of coronavirus and some who feel their needs were not being addressed long before Covid 19 became an issue.
I wonder if the return to closer to normal will provide the opportunity to ask ourselves what we are prepared to do to ensure it will be a major part of society for the next 72 years. In my recent blog post Change, I recalled by Granny’s concern that it would never be able to continue if we became too dependent. Certainly when she insisted on paying for her bandage, never would she have imagined today’s routine organ transplants, IVF and surgery by robots, but I am sure she would marvel at the achievements. I cannot envisage the advances to medicine over the next 72 years, but let’s support the search to find answers to the ills that cannot yet be sorted. In today’s daily briefing there was a call to us to express our views on the continued and potential expansion of the Near Me video consultations which have become commonplace over the last three months. My broad view encompasses many benefits while a personal perspective generates certain reservations, but I know that if I don’t accept the invitation to all of us to participate in this effort to encourage public engagement, I forgo the right to complain about the outcome.
We had occasion to clap on Friday at the news of the funds to be made available to offer some security to our Arts sector, and once we get a clearer idea of how it will be applied, give loud applause to the Chancellor for his more recently announced plan, if it provides what is required to guarantee the continuation of what is so important to our wellbeing.
My Granny fostered in me an appreciation of live entertainment during the summer months when I would be taken across the road to the Toon Hall for an evening of music and song, the billboard boasting the appearance of the tenor Robert Wilson or somebody equally revered at that time. Repertory Theatre companies visited too, usually for a week, and presented a programme with something to please everyone. There were no children in the troupe so, because we were nearby and permission could be sought, were often cast in small parts in return for a couple of comps to my Granny and her chum. I have been involved in AmDram over the years and on different continents but I have never met any one else who can claim their stage debut was in the Lossie Toon Hall at the age of five, playing Dopey in a pruned down adaptation of SnowWhite. The applause would have been deafening if I remember rightly.
Clapping inside the theatre is something sorely missed and eagerly awaited, when the noise level and duration of the activity will measure our collective appreciation of the performance we have been able to enjoy. But we are a strange breed really. We expect observance of the etiquette surrounding timing of applause according to occasion. At a concert, any sound except throat clearing and a bum shuffle in the seat between movements would generate at least a glower if not an audible “tut tut”. In a jazz bar, loud appreciation while the music continues, of the improvised solo of the drummer or sax player is expected. On some occasions, applause at the beginning as well as the end is what we do, because that’s the way of it. I like it best when I have been so enthralled by what I have seen that I can’t help accompanying my clapping with standing up to emphasise my delight.
Babies learn to clap before they learn to speak, and usually chuckle along with the activity because the adult present rewards them with signs of unequivocal approval at their achievement. We teach them clapping games and clapping in rhythm which is integral to the music and dance of many cultures. I’m thinking of flamenco, gospel singing, and ask who could resist clapping along to the pop song 3, 6, 9 The Goose Drank Wine? I clap in time to teuchter Scottish music because I’m programmed to do it, accompanied by foot tapping if the situation encourages it.
There can be no discussion such as this without addressing the elephant in the room. A twenty minute diversion to research the origin of what is referred to in common parlance as The Clap, revealed several suggestions, each credible and some with reference as early as c.1500. Let me leave it at that apart from highlighting that test and trace is not a new way of containing the spread of disease. I have no doubt that there will be some folk inclined to object to leaving their contact details at the pub. They might do well to appreciate that it is for this new purpose and not for that which has been ongoing for a much longer time.
Nor do I doubt that if we are called upon again to applaud everyone to whom we should express gratitude, I will be out there with the rest. I have noticed over this lockdown that clapping is something I would normally do as a communal activity. I have found out that although we each start off clapping randomly in applause, our individual actions become synchronised so we are all clapping together. Like many, I have taken advantage of virtual performances of theatre and music, but if moved to clap, felt a bit daft. What felt strange at first has drifted like a few other conventions I would have previously followed, and so until we can clap together again, I urge everyone to do the same. If you’re happy and you know it …
Clap your hands!