You don’t need a medal to prove you are a hero

Medals for NHS workers? Great idea... someone thinks.

A woman walks past graffiti in support of NHS workers
A woman walks past graffiti in support of NHS workers

It's just the sort of thing to give them more motivation. Exhausted, as they toil to save lives as they contend with a tidal wave of coronavirus cases, they will be spurred on by the thought that at the end of all this they will get a medal.

Of course, some will not get medals. Because if all of them were given a medal, what would be the point of the medal? Wearing the uniform itself would be the medal.

Yet if the NHS uniform is not itself to be considered a sufficient badge of honour, and has to be improved by being adorned with a shiny gong, then medals will have to signify something special beyond mere wearing of the uniform, and logically that something special would be a sign that they have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Somebody, or something, like an arbitration committee, would have to assess who would be worthy of getting a medal, and who would not get a medal.

Perhaps that latter group would include some of the lowest paid NHS workers, like cleaners and porters. Or doctors and nurses who have been unable to contribute to the cause because they have been self-isolating.

You might think that might be extraordinarily divisive and, actually, unthinkable.

We're back to the start then, a principle in which everybody working in the NHS, one of the biggest employers in the world, is given a medal. Incidentally this would include my wife, who is not in a front line role and to her great frustration is currently unable to do her bit as she is self-isolating at home.

It's going to be expensive. Handing out medals will cost millions. I can't think of a better use of money at this time, can you?

There could be glittering awards ceremonies.

But I have my doubts about the wisdom of all this. Imagine a scene. A supermarket opens early so that the hard-pressed NHS workers can do some shopping before the shelves are stripped. As they queue at the checkout at the recommended two metres distance, proudly wearing their medals, they are served by people on the tills on minimum wage who for weeks have been breathed over and put at risk.


The implied message of this scenario is that the NHS workers have all done something worth being given a medal, and the people serving them on the tills have all not done something worth a medal.

Similarly, the postal workers and refuse collectors are not worthy of a medal either. Staff at little shops making home deliveries to the old and vulnerable? Nope, no medal. The list of people deserving of a pat on the back goes on and on.

And when it is all over, there will be an opportunity to give gongs to some of those in public life who have led the fight against coronavirus. Matt Hancock can be given a peerage, for example.

A couple of years ago I interviewed a lady aged 100 who during the war had worked at the Bletchley Park codebreaking centre and for MI6, exploits for which she had, towards the end of her life, been given a commemorative badge by a grateful government.

I asked what she thought about being recognised in this way.

"I think it's a waste of money," she said.

You see, handing out medals has to be about the people receiving them, not about the people handing them out feeling better about themselves.

You don't need to pin a medal on someone to show your appreciation, gratitude, and respect for what they have been doing in these difficult times.

Yes, you can say that they all deserve a medal. But that is a figure of speech. It doesn't mean that we have to actually give them a medal.


As I write this I am wearing a shirt and tie.

Nothing strange about that when I am at work. But I happen to be working from home.

I don't need to wear a tie, of course, but it is a symbol and a message. It says: "I am at work. Don't ask me to walk the dogs/do the washing up/do the ironing (for I am a modern man) etc, etc. Although I don't mind a cup of coffee."

It also puts me in work mode. Psychologically I am at work, not at home.

To be honest, I'm starting to think that wearing a tie is a bit silly.

Any day now, the tie's coming off.


If you've heard a nightingale in Bilston High Street, it wasn't a nightingale. Unless it was in a cage.

And when somebody last heard one in Shropshire I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was up to 40 years ago.

They're migratory, and research by scientists in Spain suggests that they have developed shorter wings, so are not migrating as far as they once did.

This was all reported as a probable consequence of climate change. That may or may not be true. But what is it about invoking climate change that results in journalists suspending their critical faculties?

As any ornithologist would tell you, nightingales have been on the retreat for decades.

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