Welcome 2021

1 Bird3

Recharge, reset, revitalise! The pharmacy newsletter is enthusiastic about 2021, the perfect time to be the new you.

It's all about the pills and potions of course. This stuff will whiten my teeth, this cream will make my skin look younger, especially if I use the big name brand and, of course, colouring my hair is a given because I'm worth it. There was a stage when all my previously brunette friends fought the onslaught of grey hairs by adopting my streaky blond look. I resented it, not because I doubted that imitation is a sincere form of flattery, but because I didn't want people to think that my never-touched natural blond hair was achieved by a couple of hours at the hairdressers at the cost of two weeks' grocery bill, when in fact it took a lifetime plus twenty minutes at the barber.

But wait, there's more! The pharmacy offers the pseudo-science of collagen to roll back time on my skin (I shudder to think what part of a dead animal is involved here) and a sale price on liver detox medication, as if my liver wasn't perfectly fine detoxing in its own way.

The goal, they say, is a 'new you' for 2021. That would be a pity. My current me has been gained through 69 years of experience, connections with family and friends, reading and reflection. It probably shows in the lines on my face, the grey, or now mainly white, hair and a certain unreliability of memory but I wouldn't change a thing. It's all hard earned and in many ways I'm better than I've ever been: fitter, because I have more time to exercise, more relaxed because my time is my own, less prone to angst because somehow aging calms the chatter and self-doubt.

That newsletter headline, along with other opinion pieces and editorials for the new year, also implies that we're glad to see the back of 2020, keen to kick it to touch and forget about it. That too would be a pity. There is a lot to learn from 2020. At the simplest level, 'wash your hands thoroughly and stay home when sick' is a message for all times – and lo! the number of flu cases was at an all time minimum last winter. Let's do it every year. There's no excuse for filling the community with your germs.We found that working from home is not that hard for many office jobs (not so effective for cleaners and checkout operators and a mixed blessing for teachers and therapists, but still...)

We learned that where there's a will, money can be printed, the homeless housed, jobs redesigned. I hope we will all keep an eye out for other positive changes that could be made if we wanted them badly enough and make sure those in power know we expect them to show the will to achieve them.

We learned that if virtue is its own reward, the other side of the coin can also apply. During and after the US election, Trump poked a hornet's nest and got more than he bargained for, which may yet result in some of the criminal charges he deserves. Whether that leads the US to make changes to their unwieldy and not very democratic electoral system is up to them. I laughed recently when an African comedian offered a team of observers from Malawi for the next US election, suggesting that the African experience of actually corrupt elections makes them experts. Truth in jest.

We learned that the skies clear and CO2 levels drop when we take cars and trucks off the road. Well, we knew that but there's nothing like a real time demonstration to be convincing and 2020 was nothing if not a major experiment in so many ways. As the pollution cleared, people in Kathmandu could see Everest for the first time in decades. Deaths from poor air quality were prevented. But sadly, dolphins did not appear in the canals of Venice, nor did unicorns return to the forests of Britain or pigs fly over New York.

We can't joke about the unnecessary deaths from the virus, deaths which unfairly came to the most vulnerable – the elderly, the health care workers on the frontline, the poor, people who could not reach hospitals for the care they needed when they were severely affected. What can we learn from them? That universal health care keeps us all safe. That science has something powerful to offer. That given the opportunity to collaborate and the necessary funding (to save wasting our best minds on grant applications), dedicated scientists and medical experts can come up with the goods in an amazingly short time.

We found too that kindness matters because he waka eke noa – we're all paddling the same boat. The virus ignores wealth and privilege, so allowing it to breed and mutate in a neglected sector of society will ultimately lead to stronger versions which can infect anyone.

The narrative seems to have changed as we moved through 2020. At first, magazine articles and Facebook posts expressed hope and a sense of opportunity which would emerge from the worldwide lock downs – who remembers Tomfoolery's beautiful bedtime story 'The Great Realisation'?* But now the theme is more about getting back to 'normal', where normal is rose-tinted with nostalgia and it's easy to forget there was a lot wrong with it.

Like anyone, I'd love to push the refresh button and have a shiny new year, full of promise. But let's remember, dates are a manufactured idea for human convenience. The big things, like nature, community, love, and the little things like viruses, are continuous and need constant vigilance. Let's have a good 2021 by all means, but let's make it part of a good forever.

*  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nw5KQMXDiM4