A friend who works for the NHS has been awarded, to add to her one per cent pay bonanza, a memento honouring her invaluable work during the pandemic.
It’s an enamel badge, possibly imported from China, which she likes to call a medal because it sounds more dignified and because otherwise she would have nothing much to show for her contribution to saving the western world except a pile of used PPE.
She will also be able, in her very old age, to thrill young care assistants with tales of her Covid exploits and then, just when they’re beginning to tire, she will show them her 2021 Covid Medal, which will produce such all-round excitement that they’ll have to escort her back to bed.
Of course there’s no call for mockery. I’m sure some NHS staff will be genuinely pleased to have some token recognition of their work; the alternative, given the NHS’s financial state, being no recognition, token or otherwise.
They might also enjoy exploring eBay to check out resale values, although I don’t suppose their returns will start to compensate for the toil and trouble of the pandemic any time this century.
Still, it’s difficult not to sympathise with managers expected to show their gratitude for staff efforts on a budget of nothing whatever, or, if they really stretch things, some enamel badges.
In the 1970s when I was a trainee journalist in Lincolnshire, I worked for an old-fashioned weekly newspaper which made a lot of money but was very reluctant to part with any of it, particularly as a result of paying wages.
The owner, an affable man called Bill, would visit the local office every Christmas and hand everybody a bottle of whisky and, responding to the new pressure for gender equality, a bottle of sweet sherry for the ladies.
Then one year, our National Union of Journalists branch decided that we no longer wanted to be patronised and short-changed. You can keep your cheap seasonal booze, we told Bill, we want a decent wage throughout the year and we want it now!
Bill responded very quickly by assuring us that he would no longer insult us with free booze, but he couldn’t quite manage the decent wage aspect of the deal at the moment, so would it be OK if he didn’t give us anything at all? Which he never did, despite the union bombarding him with some very severe motions.
This, I think, proves that the workers of the world should grab anything they can get, particularly if it’s drinkable and even if it’s only a badge disguising itself as a medal.