Pull The Ladder Up
by Ruth Moss
The English are a petty people. Did you see the YouGov poll? The majority of us believe that we are sticking to the rules; the majority of us also believe the majority of others are breaking the rules. The poll was about the pandemic, but in England, that opinion is as evergreen as the rhododendron, an invasive species that is not, in fact, English, but is everywhere, which is what the English think about anything foreign.
If you offered us a clipboard and a free pen we would jump with glee at the chance to join the Stasi, to snitch on our neighbours, whose children, we believe, are “feral,” “dragged up,” “need a clip round the ear, like in the old days, before health and safety,” where our own children are the opposite, until we are cursing them to our friends on Facebook, when they become “little arseholes.”
In March last year, the Prime Minister sat, leaning forward, on national television, and told us that many of our loved ones would die before their time; the English shrugged and said, oh well. When finally he acted to stem the flood — the deaths of people drowning in their own lungs, too little, too late — and locked us down, half-heartedly, half-arsedly, we blamed the continued deaths on sunbathers, park-goers, ramblers, rather than the man in charge.
Later, though, that same year, an unelected advisor broke the rules and we begged for his head. Not so much pitchforks as letters; more people wrote to their MPs over this than over anything else. Picture a cartoon with steam rising from a typewriter. More missives sent than over the fact that people could not afford to isolate and so shed their virions in cramped food packing halls. More ink than over infectious elders sent back to care homes to spread the virus to their vulnerable peers, death himself weeping as he watched his own reluctant actions. More anger than over climate breakdown, bigotry, refugees freezing to death in lorries.
We watched as right-winged cosplayers stormed the American capitol and the truth is, we felt glad of the distraction, like the meme where a woman looks on, horrified, as her boyfriend ogles a hazy figure in a sleeveless dress. Our petty English shitshow disgusted yet lapping up the blurry red fury of a mob. We are not generally prone to mobs and fake furry horned hats — we prefer the poison pen letter, the quick phone call to 101 to report a minor crime, the sly, quiet word in the ear of the boss: “it probably isn’t anything, but I’m just a little concerned,” that gets a junior colleague sacked.
We think our anger is funny and twee like scones and tea, all “bloody hell” and signing an email “regards” without the “kind,” but it is petty and venomous, it lets people starve, it shrugs over deaths, it pays little mind to those soaking on the streets, because it believes, on some level, that those people deserve it. Perhaps they broke a rule? Perhaps they did not lick the boots of the leaders, the landlords, the managing directors quite enough.
I’m all right Jack — pull the ladder up. Let the bastards drown; they didn’t fill in a form.
Ruth Moss is a 40-something writer and mother from Liverpool, UK, and has been complaining about her country since the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, which began when she was six. Ruth blogs sporadically at theeverythingiknow.wordpress.com and has also written and performed folk-inspired music at venues across Merseyside.