Applauding our NHS heroes

GENEVIEVE Booth was our neighbour from the day she was born until the day she flew her Pyrford nest – all the way to Birmingham Medical School – to become a doctor. She is now registrar paediatrician Dr Gennie Booth, writes John Ashcroft.

Dr Gennie Booth on the night shift after the public’s applause

She lived three doors away where her parents, Delphine and Peter, still live. Delphine emailed me last Thursday. She asked if we would join her and other residents in opening doors or windows at eight o’clock. Then clap for Gennie and everyone working within or alongside the NHS.

And oh boy, how we clapped. I have never experienced anything like such neighbourly togetherness.

In the 1970s, before we lived in Woking, we lived in Chelsea. We and our old art college friends worked in publishing and advertising. Other people we were close to worked in design, film and TV production. We had dinners in each other’s apartments. We had so many great nights out together.

But we didn’t know who lived next door. Or in the flat across the corridor. Or anyone in any of the flats on any of the four floors above. We would nod occasionally in the bus queue to those we recognised. But never a word was spoken.

Strangely, all this came back to me last Thursday night. We received a second email from neighbours Sandra and Marcus Alexander. “We will be applauding from our upstairs front window,” they said. “We look forward to seeing other supporters, and to admiring the many different styles of clapping.” Support was building up.

Now Woking is not Chelsea: we know our neighbours well. But leaning out of a window in Woking at eight o’clock and making noise into the dark night sky is a bit much. Children would most certainly be doing it, but adults? Maybe one or two, but that would be that. I mean, this is Surrey.

Then it was eight o’clock and we opened the door to quite an extraordinary happening. It was more than that: it was a truly humbling moment. Everyone was at a door or window. Gently and politely clapping, but with emotional respect.

And then it started. The quiet, respectful, friendly applause got louder. Then the cheering commenced. Then metal dishes were being banged. Then car horns were sounded. Then there were crowd chants of “NHS – NHS – NHS”.

A quick glance up and down the road showed that just about everyone in both directions was joining in. Boisterous, joyous solidarity everywhere. It was quite remarkable. More, it was absolutely magical.

There has always been a very specific sense of solidarity with the NHS, but Thursday night showed how emotionally attached our whole society is to our doctors, nurses, care staff and everyone else who plays a part in looking after us.

I have never witnessed such a sense of common purpose towards an organisation which, on paper, belongs to the government. But it doesn’t, of course: it belongs to us. I have never before felt like I was a part of something so enormous as I did last Thursday night.

“It was so emotional having everyone clapping for the NHS,” said Delphine. “We think of Gennie having to wear a mask and double gowning for certain respiratory procedures, and just hope the protection keeps her safe.”

I know of no NHS worker who has ever sought any kind of recognition for the work they do. I’m so glad they got it last Thursday.

And Dr Gennie was at home to see it all in her road, as well. She was deeply moved. Then life went back to normal: 13-hour night shifts.

For more community spirit stories, see the 2 April edition of the News & Mail

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