While You Were Washing the Dishes

My sister is a hospital doctor. She lives across the road from me with her husband King Russell and my niece Bean. They’re less than a hundred metres away and you can even see my place from their top floor.

The longest I’ve gone without seeing my sister since she was born is six weeks, and that’s only happened a handful of times. Currently we’ve not seen each other in person for about three weeks, and it might be many more before we get to do that again. I’m checking in with her regularly, but I really miss popping over for a quick cuddle with her and Bean each evening.

Tonight at 8pm people across the UK stood on their doorsteps, on their balconies, or leaned out of windows to clap in thanks for everyone working on the NHS and social care frontlines.

I know from my sister that acts of kindness and appreciation haven’t been limited to clapping. All sorts of gifts for staff have been donated, one of which which meant she was able have dinner the other night, and she mentioned being given some honey too!

London didn’t just clap, it erupted with noise – sirens, air horns, pans being banged – in a roar of heartfelt gratitude. It was incredible. But when I checked in with my sister afterwards, she said she’d missed it because she was washing the dishes – she must have excellent glazing.

Later in the evening I did a drawing to try and make sense of this moment. Unusually it wasn’t just an image that emerged – in the process of drawing I also found myself writing down ideas and statements too. What emerged, much to my surprise, was some sort of drawn poem.

A digital drawing of a night scene in South London during the NHS clap at 8pm on 27th March 2020. Overlaying the scene is white joined up writing reciting Touretteshero poem: 'While You Were Washing the Dishes'. You can see many small figures leaning out of windows or standing on their doorsteps clapping and whooping for the keyworkers looking after our communities during this pandemic.

While You Were Washing the Dishes

By the hands of many
For the actions of more
Thanks is emptied into the air

Humbled, rumble, love and grace
Whispered, spoken, shrieked and signed
Standing in doorways unified

Held in hope
While pushed apart
Sonic solidarity connects our hearts

Sibling standing at the sink
Washing yogurt pots with calm attention
You don’t need to hear the noise
The gifted honey sits on the side

I find it so easy to imagine my sibling washing her dishes. I know every inch of her kitchen and what my niece’s favourite yogurt is, but I’ve always found it hard to imagine her working life. The conversations, decisions and situations she must face each day have always seemed so separate from her role as my little sister.

At this extraordinary time, it’s easy to reduce healthcare professionals to one-dimensional heroes. But the reality is that – as with all heroes – it’s not special powers that enable them to achieve incredible things but skill, support, teamwork, knowledge and the right equipment. They’ll also inevitably get things wrong, feel fearful and become exhausted.

To be strong allies of all those putting their lives at risk we must hold our Government and decision-makers to account and make sure that the NHS and those that work within it have what they need to manage this pandemic and beyond.

One response to While You Were Washing the Dishes

  1. barbara.renel says:

    this is a glorious image with a beautiful poem. Love and thoughts, as always xxx

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