In beautiful downtown Banchory, people are busy stocking up for Doomsday by buying huge quantities of household items. In Tesco, the lady valiantly trying to restock the liquid soap shelves told me that customers were complaining that the soap had been moved from its usual position. 'Seeing as we moved it over a year ago, I was wondering how often they washed their hands in the meantime!'
Apparently one irate customer had been told she could not buy 15 packets of pasta to take with her into her self-imposed isolation. She didn't have the virus – it was just in case. One shopper I observed had 10 packets of sugary cereal, six loaves of bread, and something like 25 large packets of crisps. Not a diet rich in vitamins with which to strengthen the immune system!
Presumably not everyone is so self-absorbed – although I did notice that shoppers with the most toilet rolls also had the Daily Mail
in their trolleys – but I can't imagine Banchoryians doing what the villagers of Eyam in England did when the bubonic plague arrived there in the 1660s. They voluntarily quarantined themselves to avoid spreading it and in spite of several deaths, stayed resolute, collecting necessary goods at a point where people from the next village left them.
It's interesting that when the plague finally burned itself out, the 17th-century writers announced that hardly anyone of 'the Quality' – posh people in other words – had died, presumably because they had been able to escape to their country retreats. The non-Quality were considered expendable, a trend that some current politicians and 'celebrities' seem to be repeating, jetting off to their Caribbean islands while the rest of us die quietly.
Being on the wrong side of 65, and definitely not of 'the Quality', Mr B and I are of the expendable sort, and it's forgotten nowadays that even 'ordinary' flu can lead to complications and deaths. He has a damaged immune system, so what began as flu developed into full-scale bacterial pneumonia, and if not for the prompt attentions of the local GP who ordered an ambulance to remove him rapidly to hospital, he would not have survived. It's a fact of which he needs to be constantly reminded when after two weeks' hospitalisation and two weeks at home he complains that just getting to the bathroom leaves him exhausted.
The NHS staff are, of course, highly professional and helpful, but even before the full impact of the virus they were clearly stretched in terms of numbers. The Aberdeen Royal Infirmary is described as a health village, and it is the size of a small one. There are advantages in having so many professionals on the one site, but when you live 20 miles away as we do it is challenging to visit every day, especially when negotiating the new free car park is like trying to escape from Dante's nine circles of Hell. It's worse for relatives of sick people who live on Orkney, who may have an on-site hotel to stay in, but in most cases could not afford to be away from home and work for several weeks while their relatives are treated. It's these situations which will become challenging for people who develop complications from coronavirus and their relatives.
As he won't be reading this, I can describe Mr B as a very demanding patient and I'm not surprised the staff were willing to release him somewhat early as they were fed up with his escape bids. I cannot fault Dr Rough at the Banchory Group Practice who responds to Mr B's constant requests and queries with tolerance and calm. I just complain to the cat when Mr B isn't listening. Sir Ernest Shackleton, our enormous tabby cat, is the same age as his human colleague in cat years, and he thought he had seen the last of Mr B when he was stretchered off to hospital. As the chief rival for my affections, Shackers was extremely miffed at the latter's reappearance. Of the two, Shackleton is the more biddable patient as he takes his thyroid medication without a murmur, presumably as he likes the taste – or he is still hoping to outlive his rival.
No doubt the perceived threat from coronavirus will enable more unscrupulous self-styled managers to bully or dismiss staff in even greater numbers. I have recently had to listen to the stories of three ex-colleagues from three different organisations who have suffered campaigns of bullying by managers and in each case have now been told their positions are 'redundant'. The fact is they are redundant, not because the job is no longer needed, but because in each case the individual is highly talented and professional and has given effort into being good at their job, as opposed to managers who have spent most of their time schmoozing to other managers to get into a job where they do nothing but bully their staff.
And so-called human resources departments are worse than useless, often actively conniving with managers. One colleague asked to speak to an HR person in confidence about their bullying manager, only to discover that that individual went straightaway to inform the manager in question.
I have managed people (I found it difficult to do, as it should be if you try to do it well) and have also taught the subject to postgraduates. It is interesting that there were concerns as long ago as the 1950s about the standard of managers in organisations. At the time, the American psychologist Douglas McGregor wrote about the 'human side of enterprise', suggesting there were two ways of managing people – Theory X, which held that most people were lazy and dishonest, and Theory Y, which proposed that most were keen to do well and actively sought responsibility. His research showed that managers who believed in the second way consistently had better results.
Much as this ought to seem common sense, it seems today that we have reverted to Theory X and Theory X managers are actively rewarded for bullying behaviour. Most people, of course, have bills to pay so find it hard to challenge. When you have retired and have some sort of pension income it's much easier to say what you think. In my last but one part time job, I was able to tell the manager he was a bully, a coward and an affront to humanity. Interestingly, he didn't try to refute this description of himself but spluttered 'You can't speak to me like that, I'm the manager'. I responded by marching up to his office with my resignation, and when he saw me coming he literally ran away and hid.
When managers are good they add value to the organisation they work for: when they are bad they are simply leeching off other people's efforts, and trade unions should be developing more assertive strategies to challenge their bad behaviour instead of focusing on salaries and less vital working conditions. Looking after Mr B may currently present a challenge, but then he was one of about three excellent managers I ever worked for, and Reader, I married him.