Sunday, 1 December 2013

The price of humanity and public service

#clutha When the helicopter came down on the pub in Glasgow I was about 800 yards away. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. But a few minutes later on the train the tweets started coming through. A sad end to a wonderful meal with treasured long-time comrades.

Such as is life these days, the conventional media were playing catch up with people on the ground who were already tweeting. It didn't take a genius to realise that, at the very least, hopes for those in the police helicopter must be dim. What must their families have been going through? What about the friends and relatives that knew their folk would be in that pub? The people celebrating a well-earned Friday. The locals in their usual seats.

Twitter was inundated with shocked but descriptive front line 'citizen journalism' accounts. But before we create an idealistic view, a good number of egocentric idiots were tweeting pathetic jokes. The cyberworld has a sad and unpleasant unreality at times.

In the real world, men and women were helping their fellow men and women, whether ordinary folk like you or me, or the emergency services soon to arrive on the scene. All of them confronted with a horror none of us wants to experience and will last in the mind for years to come.

If an experienced politician like Jim Murphy, who was there as it happened, could not hide the shock when interviewed, you knew there was worse news to come.

The firefighters, rescuers and ambulance crews. The police. Facing up to horrific scenes. Just a job? Taking responsibility for others' lives. Just a job? Backed up by a close knit well-oiled machine but alone in their thoughts. Alone in the pictures they will take home with them.

The media focus on a man in despair who has lost his father. He is angry because the worker on the helpline can't give him an answer because she doesn't have it, ironically probably due to systems intended to ensure consideration for relatives. No-one in the media explains that or explores that. Away from the camera, the workers and the son are both left with the pain.

And as the day goes on, we hear just a little of the building control workers, the housing staff, the social workers, all the council staff pulled in to support the city and its people.

Watching, you want there to be a link. "I've had a drink in the Clutha loads of times. Usually when I need the loo on the way back from Hampden". As if it associated you with the tragedy. The disassociated horrors on the TV come home when you know the place, the people.

Why doesn't that happen with Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Bangladesh? The same people as us dragging each other out of the fallen buildings. Are they so different from the Glaswegians on Friday?

Burdzeyeview writes a moving account of the people who responded, relating it perhaps a bit too much to qualities in a nation. They are qualities we'd all want to see in a nation and we certainly saw them from Glasgow folk on Friday night. But they are not national qualities. They are universal qualities displayed by people who have remembered how to relate to people. It is the human condition uncorrupted.

The people who stood by each other are priceless. The public service workers still facing the harsh reality on the ground, grieving for colleagues and treating the traumatised in hospitals and in the community, are priceless too.

Politicians heap praise on the workers. But, to be harshly political at what might be seen as an inappropriate time, the attacks on jobs, pay, pensions and the very ethos of public service says a lot more about the real value put on them.

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