Friday Flash Fiction – 800 – Hot Meals

Cassie was worried about James; even though their town was still a medium risk area his mental health felt like a high risk area. She bit into the tender flakes of haddock; Friday evening fish and chips was one of her Covid comforts; the pandemic had come down to appreciating the simple things. Five of them, plus Sam’s dog, sat well spaced out in the staff canteen of the MPJ building; few staff had used the canteen since March, but this week it had been well used.  Sam had honed his cooking skills catering for the small group of fellow homeless folk sheltering at MPJ and it had been his idea to provide meals this half term for children entitled to free school meals and at risk of hunger every holiday. James had been reluctant to agree, but the MPJ bosses had seen a further opportunity to be seen as part of the community and not fat cats. James had been reassured that he would not have to meet any real children. He had the perfect excuse to steer clear of the whole operation as he was still frantically busy coordinating who was coming in to work at the offices and who was working from home. There was still an international company to run in the midst of pandemic uncertainty that seemed never ending.

But it was not work stress that was taking its toll on James. Though their homeless project could not be described as wildly successful, he had proved the homeless could be housed in empty or near empty office blocks. But an office block was not home; the man who had lost his home to divorce and lived with his mother during lock down wanted his own comfortable place. Cassie didn’t blame him, she was thankful to be working at home and thankful she had her own house. She had no intention of sharing it, at least not with James. If there had been a spark earlier, when they could only talk on line, she now knew a relationship was not what she wanted; there was a limit to how much she could help him, it was up to him to work out how to move on.  As for Cassie herself, Covid had been a positive experience, discovering new strengths, making new contacts, happy to have James and Sam as friends. Doubts about her actual job, what she really wanted to do with her life, were now put aside as she helped with the homeless. Being Sam’s assistant cook for the children’s meals had made her feel she was really contributing to society, part of the Covid Community.

When they had finished eating and debriefing the week’s project it was time for Sam to walk the dog and for Cassie to cycle home, not quite so pleasant now the clocks had gone back. They stepped outside into a dark, wet and windy evening. She wheeled her bike to the park with Sam and despite the weather they were so busy talking they reached the other side of the park without her mounting her bike. He had important news. While James was now in a bad place Sam was in a far better place. Cassie had no idea what the dark years had been like after his wife left and took their little boy, but he was determined to make the future positive.

‘It’s strange that Covid has made it easier getting in touch. I suppose his mother knows there is no chance of us meeting up, no chance of me getting up to the wilds of Scotland. Well I guess she reasons that if he finds out how little his real father has to offer, he will appreciate his stepfather.’

‘But you have got a lot to offer, sounds like her second husband only knows about deer and salmon fishing, he can’t help with on line science lessons like you can.’

‘Yes I really think my son might be taking after me, he knows enough to understand what an excellent job I had, or should have had. But I’m glad I was up front with him about what happened; I think it appeals to his teenage rebellious streak that he has a father who has to sell the Big Issue and run a dog walking business.’

‘Socialist leanings perhaps, young people can see how Covid has revealed terrible inequalities and it’s not his fault if he’s been given everything and has never had to worry about food or money.’

‘As long as he doesn’t try and do anything stupid like run away. I told him to knuckle down and study now, not use Covid as an excuse, if he wants to get somewhere. The world is going to need scientists more than ever.’

The Good The Bad and The Ugly

What if the biggest computer ever designed was switched off, could it be rebooted? Earlier this year the human world was switched off for a short time and ever since, people have been trying to reboot it, while others think we should just leave it switched off.

Can we talk about Covid 19 or pandemics without mentioning countries or politics? Yes. Good things, bad things and ugly scenes have happened this year all over the world, but we might not all agree on what is good or bad, right or wrong.

Good things happened for Gaia and for a lot of people. With everything at a standstill the air was fresher, the skies bluer, people in cities could breathe and see mountains on the horizon for the first time. Wildlife thrived and found new playgrounds. If any proof was needed, this was what climate change protestors had been pleading for; why was it okay to switch everything off to save a few people, but not to save the whole planet? The harsh truth is that Covid 19 may be terrible, but it is not a threat to the human race or the planet, while accelerated climate change affects us all, including our unborn descendants. Those of us whose lives and homes remain unscathed by fire, flood and famine cannot be complacent. Covid 19 won’t destroy the human race, but it is another symptom of the way we treat the planet and other creatures and we have all been affected by it.

Can we halt rebooting and unplug our giant computer at the mains? The beginning of pandemic panic is already taking on a rosy hue in our memories. Silent roads and empty skies, no road carnage or plane crashes. Spending more time with your family, discovering you can work from home, no commuter traffic, empty office buildings with the potential to house the homeless and key workers. The Pope calls for ceasefires and peace all over the world, people are nice to each other and appreciate the forgotten workforce, the cleaners, delivers and carers. Volunteers make an unprecedented effort to help their local communities. Governments and councils, in days, bring all homeless people off the streets. There is a splurge of on line creativity, people across the globe connected.

There was also a catastrophic loss of jobs and businesses, the world of live arts and entertainment devastated. Hunger, loneliness, domestic violence and mental health problems for those isolated in cramped places. We weren’t all in it together, those who had the least had even less. Big cracks appeared to divide people over long standing issues, people started arguing over new issues such as facemasks and there were vitriolic on line comments by those certain they alone knew how to deal with a pandemic.  And nobody took any notice of the Pope’s plea.

Is there any chance our world leaders know what to do next, how to organise societies that must live with a virus that will not go away, create a new fair normal. Perhaps someone will come up with new software to change how the Big Computer runs everything. The newly unemployed will be trained to build solar powered airships and homes, grow environmentally friendly food for the whole world and boost the care sector into a respected well paid profession. Maybe this software will conveniently delete any powers that threaten the new compassionate, sustainable world norm…

Big Christmas Issues

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It’s hard to believe three years have gone by since I wrote a blog about the Big Issue. A lot has changed since then, Bob the Cat has become famous… and a lot has not changed. The price of a Big Issue is the same, £2.50 and £3.00 in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Sellers buy it for half that price.  Homeless people are still with us. Not all Big Issue sellers are homeless, but I’m pretty certain they are not living at the better end of the housing market.

James, the chap I bought my first Big Issue from, was on his pitch for a good while and was easy to chat to; Big Issue sellers are as varied as any group of people and the ones standing up, who are easy to talk to make it more comfortable. It is better to be looking up to someone as an ordinary person earning a living, than looking down on someone huddled on the pavement.

One day James wasn’t there any more, then another chap, Mark, appeared and said James had got a job and a place to live. The page I first turn to is the seller of the week, giving a glimpse into lives on a positive note. Mark has somewhere to live, but it doesn’t sound very secure or salubrious.

Of course the issues remain the same as in my first blog, you pass other Big Issue sellers and feel guilty because you already have this week’s edition. We have a woman at our local shops who I often buy from and have ended up buying the same issue from her and Mark. But buying the Big Issue is a much simpler issue than our attitude to the homeless or those who approach you asking for money.

Shoppers, eyes lowered, pass hurriedly by people huddled in shop doorways; they are embarassed or not sure, or wonder why people from all over the world have jobs in their local shops and restaurants, while this young able bodied person is just sitting in a doorway. Perhaps they would rather spend their hard earned money buying goods for the food bank box. The local council has homeless outreach teams, but people aren’t always easy to help. On local Facebook groups it is always a topic guaranteed to raise disagreement; give food or money? Genuine or con artist?

If we have very cold weather this happens…

Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP)

St Mungo’s, the rough sleeper team, will be making every effort to offer shelter to all people sleeping rough during extreme weather.

Does that make us feel less guilty because we know for sure  something is being done?

 

As for the magazine, it is a good read, so if you have never bought a copy try it, spalsh out three pounds on a Christmas edition. The cover in the picture was the winner of a competition for children to design a cover and had many entries.

Read my blog from 2016.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/christmas-issue/