Sunday, March 30, 2008

Herpes Zoster (2)

(A picture of Bilston (near Wolverhampton) Steelworks in the 1940s. Chimneys like this contributed to the term "Black Country". As a small child I thought the place was pitch black, and the people pitch-black in colour like Tar-Babies, and was a bit disappointed to find that they weren't when I passed through with an uncle en route to the Wirral on holiday).

I spoke to Mum on the 'phone today, she had six telephone calls before mine, two from neighbours asking after her and offering help. Mum lives in a very socially deprived and "rough" area of Birmingham. Her flat is in a mini-tower block and Mum is not unacquainted with the pleas of addicts trying to get access to their suppliers via her entry phone. Her neighbours may live on the floors above and below, and they seldom meet, but "walls have ears", word gets around, and a little help is forthcoming.

One neighbour took away Mum's bedsheets to launder (I had changed her bed which was rather more than she could manage but, like many of her generation, Mum has always resisted a modern automatic washing machine). Another made her a sandwich and a cup of tea. The block of flats is like an anthill, a vertical village. Not that relationships aren't often acerbic and even sour. Mum feels she is 'a cut above' many of the rest, especially as she used to "own her own house", was born in Bourneville, the model village founded by the Cadburys, and won a scholarship to the Girls' grammar School (even if she had to go to school in borrowed mens' boots).

She told me that one neighbour scathingly told her, "Oh ar (Yes), we all know yow got twelve coats, Mary" when she went out in a new one (from a second-hand shop) last autumn. But twelve-coat Mary is cut from the same cloth as her neighbours, and it is a cloth of Brummie warmth, candour and kindness.

My own impression of the neighbourhood is that it is socially cohesive and neighbourly in a way that more genteel communities aren't. Every shop I went to in my couple of days in Bartley Green I was met with greetings of "Yow're Mary's boy, intcha?" and "Ow's yower Mom?". The doctors' receptionists were truly receptive listeners, with no trace of bored condescension such as one is used to in surgeries in this better-heeled corner of commuter Essex, and made useful suggestions about support and help without my having to plead or bluster.

The doctor who visited her promptly knew all about her social circumstances as well as her health, sat on her bed and held her hand. He also set in motion a plan to care for Mum over the next six days, including a Community Rapid Intervention Service call to assess her coping skills. This was done by an experienced and friendly nurse before I left for home, and did a lot to reassure us both that Mum was not isolated and alone, and help was available if needed.

It seems unlikely that traditional Buddhism, even in its "Western" form, will ever be planted in neighbourhoods like this, and there are counterpart neighbourhoods here in Essex where it has never gained ground, or not so far. But the wisdom, solidarity, candid speech and openness to how things are needs no lily-gilding from the East. Perhaps communities like this need to be protected from the worst depredations of capitalist consumerism, from onslaughts of media cynicism that belittle and demonise the poor; but maybe they are strong enough, and savvy enough, to survive as they are. I hope so.

1 comment:

Bill said...

I found some interesting information about Herpes Zoster here. Check it out!