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Meet the new Dickens character for our Covid-19 age

Posted on: July 16, 2020 by Ian Murray

The winner of the Journalists’ Charity/Dickens Fellowship competition to find a new Dickens character for the 21st century was revealed last night as a formidable B&Q queue organiser who takes her role very seriously. (Cartoon by MAC and courtesy of the Journalists’ Charity)

The character – Barbara Copeland, created by David Whewell – was chosen as the most apt by judges from almost 300 entries.

The competition was created to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Dickens.

David describes his character:

“Barbara (Barbs to the few who know her very well) is not a tall woman but enjoys weightlifting and breeds German Shepherd dogs, her animals being much sought after by the military police”.

The competition was used to raise awareness and funds for the Journalists’ Charity which, having begun his career as a freelance Parliamentary reporter, Dickens helped found over 155 years ago.

David’s winning entry:

Barbara Copeland organises the customers waiting outside B and Q. In her lighter moments, she likes to joke that she is the B of the Q and everyone laughs.  She also supervises kitchens, bathrooms and plumbing supplies. When she is on Customer Sequencing duty, she stations herself at the automatic doors, feet slightly apart and watches. The queue shuffles uneasily. She is severe of eye and manner and takes the job very seriously, a Peregrine Falcon of the customer car park.

Barbara ( Barbs to the few who know her very well ) is not a tall woman but enjoys weightlifting and breeds German Shepherd dogs, her animals being much sought after by the military police.
Breathless and self – consciously patient, the line waits, wary and watchful. They know Barbara, either through experience or reputation, and they know that any infringement of social distancing will not be tolerated; that it will be called out with no concession to any embarrassment. Care is required. 

Suddenly, she’s had enough of silence. She looks at no one but addresses them all. Everybody listens. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you are here for more than a tin of paint. I’m a single mother and if I die, my boy will be in a care home. He’ll be an orphan. I’m putting my life on the line for your DIY! “

She adds, ( some might say unnecessarily ), “ So, stay away from each other and stay away from me! Two metres, for those of you in any doubt, is about the length of a coffin.“

Barbara now stares at them in turn and dares any defiance. None comes. Her tight- fitting, orange pinnie bristles with supportive outrage. The line doesn’t know whether to murmur support or go home. They consider their options and the various risks. They all stay though some decide to select a bigger trolley, that is, when Barbara beckons them forward to indicate that their time has come.

Listen here to a randomly selected 150 of the entries including the Judges’ top twenty, all read by Journalists’ Charity trustee, Charles Garside and brought to life with the aid of his son, photographer and creative director, James Garside.

Visit here to make a donation  to the Journalists’ Charity.