The pastoral challenge of the ‘gig economy’

The pastoral challenge of the ‘gig economy’

Is swearing a moral issue? In the past, we were taught that invoking “the Holy Name” blasphemously was indeed an offence. But there are so many expressions of “Christ!” and “Jesus Christ!” in the public realm these days that it passes almost unnoticed. Christians are told it’s prissy to fuss and that there are bigger issues at stake. 

Swearing in all its manifestations has clearly become more widespread – and,  it seems, more acceptable. The comedian Jo Brand was criticised last week for using the f-word in connection with the Queen, but it’s water off a duck’s back. Every television drama now has a full complement of effing and blinding – take a look at  The Dublin Murders on BBC One, where the cursing is particularly egregious.  

It’s a tricky subject because sometimes strong language is justified to underline or stress emotion, or, indeed, to reflect a degree of realism about the way people actually talk. Such is the case in Ken Loach’s affecting movie Sorry We Missed You, currently in UK cinemas (and released in the US next March).

This is a most distressing tale about a Geordie couple, Ricky and Abbie Turner, with their two children, who are doing their best to keep their family life afloat while Ricky (played by Kris Hitchen) works in what’s now known as “the gig economy”. This is something similar to self-employment – that is, being an independent worker, rather than an employee of a firm or company.  

But the Loach movie grittily demonstrates that this new “gig economy” can be much harsher than mere self-employment: as a delivery driver, Ricky is working in exploitative conditions and under pitiless deadlines imposed by a brutal supervisor, Maloney (Ross Brewster). The f-words, and all the rest of it, fly back and forth mercilessly, at home and at work, even though the gentle Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), a care worker, says at one point that she really hates being sworn at.  

Loach is a veteran socialist and there’s an element of polemic in the portrayal of the characters. But it is still a heart-breaking narrative about how families can come under tremendous strain through bad luck and tough circumstances, in an economy where, as Maloney says, the client “only cares about price and delivery”.  

But the swearing is endless, and it does make you wonder whether all this verbal intemperance doesn’t actually increase the stress and amplify the frustrations  – rather than alleviate or diminish such feelings. Even for dramatic purposes, if any currency is over-used, does it not lose its value? 

Sorry We Missed You does make you ponder about the circumstances of drivers bringing parcels from Amazon and the like. It also makes you think that a family like the Turners need some serious pastoral care.  

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Guy Fawkes, the Catholic gunpowder plotter whose death is annually marked in England on November 5 – traditionally, with bonfires burning “the guy” in effigy – would have voted against Brexit. 

So claims his most recent biographer Nick Holland, author of The Real Guy Fawkes. Guy had been serving Spain, where he was known as Guido Fawkes, and was keen for the King of Spain to launch a new invasion of England, to make it Catholic again. In that sense,  

Guy Fawkes was indeed very “European”. He would surely, as Holland claims, have been a Remain voter. 

However, poor Guy – who was executed after horrible tortures in 1605 – didn’t live in an era of voting. Had he possessed a vote, perhaps he and his fellow conspirators might not have turned to gunpowder, treason and plot. 

What surprised me was Holland’s revelation that Guy was originally a Protestant, as were many of the 13 plotters.  

Guy Fawkes lives on, in mask and memory, and is often invoked as a symbol of resistance to overweening power, as in Hong Kong, where Guy Fawkes masks are donned to affirm democratic rights.  

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Attending Mass at the lovely Sacré-Cœur church in Calais last Sunday, I noticed that one of the altar servers was a lass with Down Syndrome. She carried out her duties perfectly, and it was very nice to see her so prominently on the altar.