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Posted by markswill in About me, Corona Lockdown Lore, Media, Politics, Schmolitics, Uncategorized.

My last blog was five months ago in June which in turn was five months after its February predecessor, proving that I’m nothing if not consistent, which is nothing to be proud of.

As ever, and if anyone’s interested which they probably aren’t, the reasons for this are legion and for once have little to do with Covid except that the easing of the last lockdown prompted many of us to gingerly try returning to the lives we once led, with varying degrees of success.  For myself, I’ve done some house-sitting in London which enabled me to resume friendships, attend art shows and film screenings that I’d sorely missed but the social cautions and anxieties that I mentioned back in June haven’t really diminished and if anything here in the Welsh Marches with an aging population which I’m obviously part of, they’ve become slightly compounded… or maybe that’s because as a lonesome old singleton I expected too much.

However I’m writing this not to compound my carping, at least not in that department, but to comment on the bigger picture which unfortunately means politics and society in general. I find it genuinely baffling that despite its top-down bumbling, obvious deceits, blatant corruption, lack of foresight and planning, a government characterised by knee-jerk strategies remains so popular. And thus it’s tempting to make parallels with Trumpism or, more odiously, the autocracies of countries like Brazil, Turkey, Hungary and more blatantly, Russia and China.

My own but hardly original view is that the leaders of such governments surround themselves with largely inadequate henchmen whose obedience, and thus personal security is guaranteed by fear and/or favour and that trickles down through the judiciary, armed forces and business which I now see happening here. Johnson is, as Keir Starmer correctly noted, a trickster, yet his tub-thumping, wise-cracking persona is now so universally well-liked, grudgingly or otherwise, even by friends of mine who’d previously known better.

And without effective leadership – and I once admired Starmer when he galvanised HS2 and Brexit dissent – and facing a huge parliamentary Tory majority, I fear that barring a major economic collapse prompting real civil deprivation and thence unrest, we’re saddled with Boris and Co. for a long, long time, possibly even the rest of my life–time.

Compounding this we-are-the-champions/we-can-get-away-with-anything political landscape is the fragmentation and impotence of traditional media which in order to stem dwindling sales of newsprint and diminishing terrestrial viewing audiences relies on celebrity and frippery so that power is decreasingly held to account in a way that reaches and thus informs the national conscience.  And arguably the national conscience, both here and globally, doesn’t really seem to care, and with a generation glued to their mobile phones for mostly free input largely designed to occupy their frontal lobes with meaningless but often harmful ambrosia I fear that we may be on the brink of an Orwellian dystopia.

The only glimmer of hope that this may be averted are the outrages that follow a rape and/or murder by an authority figure, or a Grenfell Tower fire, but they are quite  soon forgotten and seem to provoke only slightly more fury than a student union denying free-speech, or a transgender pressure group insisting that 12 year-olds be allowed to change sex without parental consent.

Bringing this back to where I started with comments about post-pandemic ennui, it seems clear to me that stuff like the relaxation of planning laws, the imposition of charges to motorists for entering major conurbations and the withdrawal of income support for poorer families are implemented with little effective protest or even awareness because we’ve all become too, even understandably, concerned with ourselves and our loved ones just surviving in a fearful, virus threatened world.

I see this even in my beloved little rural township: housing estates being built, traffic systems being altered for the worse, public facilities closed, curtailed and even erected with little or no input from local people who no longer seem to give much of a damn and what passes for a local press publishing mainly heartwarming tales of fund-raising, jolly days out and reprinted press releases where once they campaigned against social ills, council and corporate skullduggery.

Yet more personally I can’t get friends to join me for an occasional pub night, there aren’t any music gigs and few go to the cinema as they’ve all bought 75inch screens and streaming subscriptions during lockdown and no-one seems to get invited to supper anymore (unless it’s by me!), which I find fuels the worst aspects of self-isolation and seems endless.

So yes, this is just another lament for life as we knew it, and in five months time you, dear reader, might get another but meanwhile any suggestions as to how we might improve things for our selfish little selves, as well as what used to be called the greater good, would be gratefully received courtesy of the Comment button at the bottom of this page.

Not unconnectedly, does anyone know how a borderline digital refusenik could produce an effective online medium to circulate news, views and comment on local matters which the local press no longer effectively provides… a virtual parish pump if you will… because I sure as hell don’t?

So yet again, if you’ve enjoyed this rant, or even if you haven’t, why not sign up for email alerts to future ones using the link in the RH column, and/or bung me a comment using the button below.


Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

I recently made a WhatsApp call to my friend Philly who now lives in small town Bolivia, and a rather depressing call it was, too.  The Bolivian healthcare system, such as it is, appears to be characterised by corruption with GP’s double charging for the simplest of tests, supplies of the Sputnik vaccine – the only one available there – erratic and costly, oxygen tanks for those hospitalized by the virus hideously expensive if and when they’re available and suicides now commonplace amongst those whose already meagre incomes have collapsed during the pandemic and lost their homes. Philly, normally a relentlessly cheery soul I’ve known for some 55 years, had become resigned to her dismal ‘new normal’ and actually thought herself lucky that at least she had a house and a limited income from her translation and teaching work. And that made me realise that perhaps my own lot isn’t too bad at the point when I was about to scribble a very personal blog reflecting quite the opposite.

Because the past few months have been pretty depressing. The fall-out from my divorce had, as suddenly and unexpectedly as the marriage itself ended, brought on hostile denunciation, some of it borderline public, so that just when I’d believed relations had become amicable the metaphoric black dog returned to my bedside.

The realisation that due to an industry collapse accelerated by the pandemic, my paid magazine journalism will never return and I lack the skills, the contacts and, also quite frankly, the inclination to re-invent myself as an online scribbler, which pays appallingly anyway unless you’re an 17 year-old ‘influencer’ selling snake oil to gullible teens who can barely read. (Bitter? Yes, of course!).

Then there’s an ongoing health scare which I won’t go into here, at least not until after I’ve had an ominous-sounding test early next month, a test that has been thrice postponed due to Covid-wrought staff shortages, quarantine rules and given the state of the current out-of-control escalation in infections, may well be again.

All of which as a single old fart further compounds, or rather deepens the sense of isolation and consequent loneliness I whined on about in my last missive, so I won’t do it again. But on a wider, more socially general level, what is the new-normal going to look like, and will it be like the old normal but with face-masks and vaccination ‘passports’?

As for the former, I spent a week in London last month which was supposed to provide selfish old me with some much desired social balm and cultural diversion, but for a variety of perfectly understandable if unpredictable reasons, didn’t, but it did unwittingly provide me with snapshots of how others are coping, or not, after 16 months of Covid.

For starters, there seemed to be an ugly tension in the air. People snapping at shop assistants and even at fellow shoppers, as one did with me when I inadvertently join the wrong queue in a Poundstretcher (don’t ask), shouting matches on the Tube, two of which I edged nervously away from when young-ish non-mask wearers – of which there were legion – were challenged by middle-aged conformists, and an obvious increase in the number of genuinely distressed-looking beggars on the streets. An obvious increase, too, in the number of discarded masks and general litter, even in middle-class comfort zones like Hampstead Heath, Regents Park and along the canals where I took my exercise, as if social responsibility and good manners had evaporated along with the hope that we collectively once had for a better future, however slight and incremental that might’ve been.

And don’t get me started on fat people who seem to exhibit a tetchy entitlement refusing to budge from their trajectory as they waddle along crowded pavements or block an escalator. It might be that I am ‘fattest’ and vain, but obesity costs the NHS £6.1million last year and at 63% of our population we have one of the highest rates of overweightness in the world – the USA’s rate is 42%, surprisingly – but as Covid and other fatal conditions adversely affect the overweight and the NHS trying to treat them, perhaps I can be forgiven for that. But the government seem to think a sugar tax will solve the problem, shying away from the ‘Fat Kills’ messages that some admittedly radical healthcare commentators advocate should be put on sugary products and foods… which certainly worked with ciggies.

Some of this perhaps is the consequence of a government who increasingly display their one-rule-for-the-rich-and-entitled and another for the rest of us, a government riddled with tax-payer funded cronyism who when criticised for their woeful handling of the pandemic with its massive loss of life and U-turns constantly trumpet the success of the (now stuttering) vaccination programme which, let’s not forget, was the one thing the NHS rather than greedy private companies rolled out.  

I don’t want to witter on too much about this incompetence, the wilful, myopic self-aggrandisement and the malaise it has fostered, a malaise that we have somehow come to accept – the real ‘new normal’ ? – and that the other political parties seem unable or unwilling to effectively counter, but I fear it gives me little confidence that the future will be better, or even more bearable than what we’re living through now. So if that’s to become the new normal, then I want none of it but fortunately I’ve been able top up my dosage of anti-depressants although even so, I fear that even that won’t enable me to mirror dear Philly’s gracious stoicism and we will all have to seek out, savour and celebrate the smaller things in life that give us pleasure and hope…

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Post Pandemic Stress Disorderliness June 6, 2021

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

The fact that my last online rant was back in February is an indication of something, though I’m not sure what: terminal ennui, a rich and busy life, grave illness, deep despair? Well I’m keeping schtum about that but a feature in last Saturday’s Times and a sidebar column by the always thought-provoking if sardonically amusing Polly Vernon prompted the following musings on what life holds for us as we s–l–o-w-l-y emerge from the latest, but probably not final lockdown.

The article was entitled ‘Have You Got Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder? ‘ and with the benefit of medical research asked readers if they might be suffering from PPSD. According to psychotherapist and ex-NHS lead for mental health, Owen O’Kane, the symptoms include, “struggling to function… not sleeping well… your diet is impacted (under- or over-eating)… your relationships are struggling… you’re not concentrating and you’re noticing that these symptoms are beginning to move in or you’re acutely anxious, on guard or avoidant.”

Being untypically honest with myself, I realised that several if not all of these symptoms applied to me and Ms Vernon added to this self-recognition when she admitted that she suffered from, “this befuddled, wary, half-in half-out, over tentative, joy-limiting, angst-addled utterly knackered limbo of a mood,” adding that it was “exacerbated  by the recent lifting of restrictions, the gingerly restored normality that serves only to give us  a context by which to judge how odd we’ve become, how beaten down, how socially awkward.”

What neither O’Kane nor Vernon alluded to was how different or marked PPSD has affected singletons living alone, which for over a mainly locked-down year, I’ve been. And echoing another of Vernon’s wry observations, “I put off seeing friends I missed terribly because another night of Netflix feels… easier.”

Actually, that’s not entirely true for I was able to spend several weeks of the latest lockdown in London where I was able to go for long, socially-distanced walks every day – sometimes twice daily! – with friends I hadn’t seen in an age, and wonderfully reviving it was too. But think that for them I might’ve been novelty value, whereas in my rural hometown all my friends are in couples, often with grown-up off-spring and/or grandchildren to engage and amuse themselves in discrete household bubbles whereas, once again, I do not.

I have fessed up this new sense of social isolation with one or two of my single friends – and now we’ve passed our three score and ten, there actually aren’t many of us left – who also admit to feeling increasingly lonely since lockdowns began which unlike in the past hasn’t been ameliorated by the sort of group  activities we took for granted, e.g. art exhibitions, theatre, cinema, gigs and yes,  the odd soiree to which single people were invited. All that’s disappeared during the pandemic although during the first lockdown it was somewhat offset by a sort of ‘we’re-all-in-this-together’ blitz spirit which at least had us banging saucepans on the front steps of a Thursday evening, and a huge increase in emailing, WhatsApp traffic and to perhaps a lesser extent, phone calling.

Interesting, isn’t it, how that all dropped away after a while and it’s become de rigeur to book phone calls with friends and family we long ago stopped seeing by text or email as we’re fearful about intruding… or rejection?

And this is all especially problematic for children and adolescents whose education provided the social glue that’s so important as they grow into adulthood and the cultural norms that come with it. Their mental health has become a key element in the recognition of PPSD and Dr Mithu Storoni, author of Stress Proof, notes that the consequent stress for them as well as us oldsters, “affects all aspects of your physiology, including your metabolism… that in turn will affect sleep, emotional reactions (and cause) difficulty focusing.”

Which is why we now reading about depression in the under 25s and also, of course because in coping with this ongoing altered reality, “the brain’s perception of the situation is far more significant than the actual situation. Your mind (during lockdowns) is creating a perception of reality from the input it is getting from TV (and from) social media. Your mental expectation of reality often supercedes your actual physical experience of it.”

Which is why so many are now locked (sic) onto their smartphones virtually 24/7 ­but does that make them happy, or even satisfied with their status quo? And can even that relieve the chronic depression Storoni alludes to especially when as Vernon asks, “staring at your distended nose on Zoom has convinced everyone they’re grotesquely ugly,” which means they can’t flirt their way into new romances as we’re “all terrified everyone else is going to think how fat or old or bald” we’ve become.

So what to do in order to regain the sort of control over our lives that we once took for granted or, as seems more likely due to restrictions not being eased come June 21st and, in any case, as Covid isn’t even going to totally disappear, the new normal?

Well from improving our fitness to eating more cake the media is full of bright-eyed if contradictory suggestions but I honestly can’t see how in the short term our collective and individual mental health, riven as they increasingly must be with anxieties about both our futures and especially those of the generations behind us, fifteen minutes with Joe Wickes every morning and amusing little concoctions in the kitchen can really help anyone. Yes, as La Vernon points out, “we don’t really know if we’re post this pandemic at all.”

For more and indeed better informed comment on the above and much else Pandemic-related, as ever I recommend  Rosylin Byfield’s blog: https://therapistinlockdown.co.uk/2021/06/06/sunday-6-june/

And if you’ve enjoyed this rant, or even if you haven’t, why not sign up for email alerts to future ones using the link in the RH column, and/or bung me a comment in the box below


Posted by markswill in About me, Corona Lockdown Lore, Navel Gazing.

Or the pleasures and pitfalls of the pandemic

For those of us that still read newspapers, and for all I (don’t) know, on social meeja and online news platforms too, the Covid pandemic has revealed the resourcefulness and, paradoxically, the inherent indolence in all mankind, or at least in highly-paid columnists who’ve had damn-all else to scribble about this past year. So being an erstwhile columnist whose never-very-well-paid work has totally dried up thanks to Covid, or possibly ‘cause I wasn’t very good at it, as lockdown gradually eases I found myself musing on how it’s changed life in the Marches, to whit:


More sleep – there’s much less to get up in the morning for, except the early shift stewarding punters outside Premier

Stewarding punters into shops on Presteigne High Street – which provides one with a slightly virtuous sense of Doing Good for the community and possibly diminishing the spread of the wretched virus, although that didn’t stop two shopworkers actually catching it, and invites occasional hostility from some of the punters one’s trying to protect. Interestingly  (or not), no other local town has adopted this tactic, which town councils seems oblivious to

More time to read – although diminishing attention spans appear common amongst those addressing Tolstoy, Roth and Danielle Steele after years of willful neglect, but seed catalogues, colour supplements and accumulated back-issues of magazines one no longer subscribes to seem to fill the literary void

Enhanced culinary adventures – although the growth of ghastly, vacuum packed meals by mail from the likes of Parsely Farm is one sinister consequence of Covid, the evening meal has assumed greater importance hereabouts and thanks to my ex-colleague, Lindsey Bareham’s daily recipes (www.lindseybareham.com) one can try exciting new stuff. However as most of these are for two people there are lots of leftovers sitting sadly in the freezer, and/or trying to make soup out of yesterday’s ginger and lemon pork croquettes can be a bit of a challenge… and even Deli Tinto doesn’t have chorizo chipolatas.

More exercise – rambling hither and yon in the hills that surround us is good for the soul as well as the body, but remarkably few others have slots in their busy Covid-wracked schedules to join one which, in the case of we singletons for whom was almost the only (legal) way of socialising, was a bit of a bore. But my smart-ish phone tells me I do at least 10,000 step most days, plus 150 sit-ups and 10 minutes of upper body weights, all totally undermined by…


Increased consumption of boozo the wonder drug – Long gone are those two or three smug, alcohol-free days a week and Tuesday morning stewarding outside Premier as they unload two pallets of beer, cider and cheap red wine at least reassures us that we are not alone. And then there’s chocolate…

Cinemas, music venues, art gallery and theatre closures meant a loss of the cultural nourishment we once took for granted, and also denying me a happy day each month delivering Broad Sheep to welcoming venues from Newtown to Builth,  the upside-downside of this being…

We’ve all become t.v. addicts, hooked on dramas that bespeak deep human nastiness (Unforgotten, Intruder, Succession, Spiral), deep human selfishness but witty with it (Call My Agent, Ozark, Schitt’s Creek) and/or mindless froth (TOWIE, Temptation Island), much of it on terrestrial channels which soon won’t exist  because we’ll all resent paying our licence fee on top of the all-important Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky etc. subscriptions… and the BBC’s new director general is a Tory donor

Housework – we’re not doing it because no-one’s allowed in except us and we’re slobs who don’t now have to pretend otherwise anymore, although I did dust down the DVD player last week when the wi-fi went down.

Personal Hygiene – see above, and anyway, we’re saving the planet by consuming less gas, water and whatever hideous chemicals go into making roll-on deodorant.

Supermarket and Amazon delivery vans – which have proliferated during lockdown and will make Leon’s, Deli Tinto and the rest’s survival even tougher once the lockdown gloves come off. Yes, Every Little Helps (kill off the High Street)

Loneliness – isn’t everybody suffering to some extent from this? Still, YouTube is full of cuddly little critters doing amusing things with knitted goods to keep us company, and I’m hoping the frog spawn in my pond will eventually yield some amphibian companionship

Getting on a bit – because The Economist magazine predicted that due to the societal and commercial changes wrought by lockdown that by the end of 2021 Britain would become 2030. Which means I’ll soon be in my early 80s and further cluttering Hereford Street on my mobility scooter and instead of the mere 50% now, the only topics of conversation will be about ill-heath, ill-fitting dentures and the passing of friends. Which brings us to…


Willy-waving Boris Johnson and his cohort of ill-equipped, duplicitous, Brexiticious but fiercely loyal cabinet chosen for exactly that last reason. The only thing they got right was the vaccination programme, which they’ll use as a smokescreen for everything else that they didn’t, not least their insultingly low NHS nurses pay rise, cronyism and infidelity. And if you can handle more on this, try my friend Roslyn Byfield’s witheringly forensic blog http://www.therapistinlockdown.co.uk

I must shamelessly admit that I originally wrote the above for the Lugg Blog, a wonderfully idiosyncratic and entertaining compilation of words, photos and vids from friends and neighbours in and around my hometown of Presteigne which has helped many of us smile our way through the pandemic… unlike much of my own rantings. See http://www.luggblog.co.uk

But should you care to follow my own, less frequent and invariably quite antsy efforts, do please sign up using the link in the righthand panel, or make a withering comments as below.


Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

These blogs are getting fewer and further between appearances, which given their increasingly solipsistic nature may well be a good thing, but my birthday earlier this week augured a few home truths which for what they may be worth, which is probably sod-all, I’m going to pass on.

In fact having heard Joan Bakewell – the thinking septuagenarian’s crumpet – on R4’s otherwise invariably execrable Saturday Live giving her tips for surviving lockdown as a singleton, and an aged singleton at that, I started trying to do as much back in January. Establishing a routine was key for her as, I then recognised, it had become for me.

Setting and achieving modest, even facile little goals throughout the day had become my norm – from shouting at R4’s Today programme upon waking up and over breakfast, then an hour or two attending to emails, texts and phone calls, usually followed by a short walk around town where the odd pleasantry might be exchanged with fellow travelers on the High Street, before buying and reading a newspaper, followed by a modest lunch, R4’s World At One (more shouting), then if the weather’s ok, a decently long hike in the hills, maybe some messing around with motors in the workshop and/or a bit of reading and/or more emails and phone calls before a restorative voddie and tonic, doing something amusing with leftovers for supper then settling down to watch far too much television with a glass or two of red before reading in bed and lights out around midnight. All pretty mundane of course, but I wonder if any of that rings true with you, dear reader?

As I mentioned, I started scribbling about this three weeks ago but lost the will to continue because even by my standards, it just seemed too affectedly narcissistic, and the last thing I wanted to elicit were comparisons, however slight, to Messrs. Trump, Johnson, Patel et al.  But the unexpected avalanche of cards, emails, texts, phone calls and even indeed presents I received on my birthday – one of Cuban origins which I’m happily puffing on as I write – made me realise how many good and real friends I’ve made during my three score years and ten (and then some).

Which prompted a further thought about the pandemic and its consequent lockdowns – four of them here in Wales if I count my NHS Track’n’Traced imposed quarantine – which is that we’ve all had plenty of time to evaluate what matters most to us in later life. Especially, and this is a double-edged sword, if we haven’t got anything much better to do (I haven’t) or we’re lucky enough to have enough money to see our way through this wretched hiatus (which I am, just).

Yes, man is by nature a selfish animal but endless navel-gazing is neither attractive nor good for one’s mental health and as I noted during the first of these blogs during the first lockdown, there was a blizzard of communication between friends and family, in many cases those we’d barely contacted for months, years, sometimes even decades. I figured then that this reflected the fact that Covid and the rapidly rising hospitalisations and death tolls were a blunt reminder of human frailty and mortality and it’s certainly true that once we became accustomed to life under lockdown and for many of us, enforced solitude, that unspoken need to make contact with our nearest, dearest and indeed many others steadily diminished. Instead we shifted our fixations to online feel-goodery with Joe Wicks, Lucy Wyndham-Read, multiple podcasters, bloggers and vloggers who offered shelter from the storm of cruel reality raging beyond our four walls, and those who had to coped with the bored demands of stay-at-home schoolkids by dialing up endless escapist screentime.

It also seems true that during this latest and current lockdown there’s been less feverish communication ‘twixt all and sundry which I suppose tells us that we’ve got used to an abjuration of our freedoms and perhaps indeed internalising our thoughts and feelings, so I was truly touched, astonished actually, at the reaction to this latest birthday of mine and the extent to which people got in touch to congratulate me that I’d somehow made it this far. True, some of this was courtesy of a FarceBerk algorithm, but its still took some thought, and some effort, and for that I was dead chuffed.

But right now although most of my friends and I have had our first jab, our servant/masters in Whitehall are drip-feeding us the intelligence that we’ll have to live with Covid in one shape or form for years to come, which for some of us may mean we’ll never stride those metaphoric sunlit uplands again in our lifetime. And on the eve of Valentine’s day with its cozily romantic if not larky prospects for a life with those we love, I am wondering if people generally, never mind us isolated singletons, need to re-think our expectations of what human relationships can, even need to be?

I’m certainly going to give it a go, but in the meantime here’s a snap of my table groaning with cards, booze and even a bunch of unseasonal, if fever-free tulips  (dark in-joke) which have prompted that process… and never mind the edibles in my fridge and the books by my bedside. May you all be so lucky come your next numerical milestone.

My Table Groaneth

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Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

Writing just a couple of days before the BIG day, I feel moved to make some very personal observations about the recent past and likely future, because that’s sort of a tradition we all pay lip-services to at this time of year, right?

And I should begin by stating what’s obvious to most of us, namely that this has been the worst year I can remember, save perhaps for my enforced sojourns in the penal systems of the two great countries who imprison more sorry individuals than any other developed nations… but the less said about that the better. However those periods have a cruelly ironic relevance in the Year of Covid during which the vast majority of us have to varying extents been incarcerated, and having spent time behind bars and indeed as a child at boarding school, I was better prepared than some for lockdowns. Nevertheless I’ve personally felt the mental and emotional strains of endless solitude increasingly onerous just, I imagine, as have you. And with the new and more infectious Covid variant rapidly escalating I’m afraid we’ll have to get used to more of the same for perhaps many months to come.

And whether, like the virus, our individual coping mechanisms will mutate or simply become consolidated remains to be seen but I’m wondering if the boxed sets, streamed movies, enlightening documentaries and nightly half-bottles of wine will suffice because with no paid work and even less meaningful mental diversions, my paradoxically shortened attention span has meant reading escapist literature and attempts at uncommissioned scribbling have descended into ‘why bother?’ territory.

As some of you will know, all this has been exacerbated in my case by an unexpected, emotionally draining and thoroughly upsetting process which only this week reached its Divorce Nisi conclusion, the one compensation being that for all concerned, it’s finally over.

But the singleton status that I’ve found myself in during the ongoing and woefully mismanaged lockdowns puts me in a slightly different position than many of my slightly luckier coupled-up friends and families, thus emphasising a reliance on phone calls, emails and texts whilst (perhaps not) strangely enough making me more cautious about undertaking such remote-access contact on a casual or impromptu basis. Are we, in fact, becoming more fearful of such communications just becoming boringly repetitive litanies of complaint about personal and political matters and indeed, about intruding on friends and family who may be having an even worse time than us without being able to offer meaningful sympathy or spiritual uplift?

I must apologise if this sounds like solipsistic hand-wringing but the unknown shape of a collective as well as a personal future may be troubling many of you and although until I met my ex-wife and happily threw myself into the instant family celebration it then became, I was no big fan of Xmas which, as I began this by noting, is a time when taking stock and forward anticipation are useful traditions. The former I’ve spent much of this blog gloomily reflecting on, whilst the latter is almost an impossibility, but that won’t stop me pontificating on it.

Forward into our digital future…

The ‘the new normal’ cliché is one we’ve all become tediously familiar with but which is surely now redundant because situations both personal and collective have changed so much and so quickly and will continue to do so. What seems clear to me is that the world we took for granted is now irrevocably transformed. The long predicted death of the high street is suddenly upon us, at least in the sense that most department, clothing and specialist stores will never return, the void taken up by impersonal, tax avoiding online retailers. Theatres, cinemas and art galleries, libraries and sports facilities won’t re-open on the scale we were used to, neither will pubs, cafes and restaurants. Many already ailing magazines and newspapers will disappear for good and foreign travel will also become a thing of the past except for the very well heeled, as will driving to, from and within cities.

Now some of this, at least for we Brits, is a consequence of Brexit and looming punitive local taxation but globally the fallout in human terms is, in my view, unquantifiably massive. And for why? Well the unemployment of many millions due to the aforementioned closures is not, as our political servant/masters like to pretend, a temporary thing. Retraining those many millions for non-existent new careers that they also like to predict is pie-in-the-sky optimism and the strain all of this will put on the exchequer, along with higher food prices and shortages will greatly impoverish our lives practically as well as spiritually.

Some of the more serious pundits like to say that post-war Britain and parts of Europe went through similar upheavals and eventually recovered, and there’s some truth to that, but the digital reality we’ve all become inured to does, I think, mitigate against a collective determination to strive for the common good.  This is largely due to younger generations being glued to their phones and tablets to the exclusion of almost all else in a (perhaps) subconscious need to insulate themselves from any other reality, and the nature of the social media they’re wedded to is horribly polarising, almost entirely subjective and intellectually shallow.

The likes of Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, anyone?) and Shoshana Zubof (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism) have reflected on the dangers of where all this might lead but I’ll try and end this catalogue of despair with a few suggestions of how we oldies might successfully deal with the new future, if not the new normal: keep fit and stay fit by whatever means you can; eat well and enjoy the means of doing so; actively challenge rather than wearily acquiesce to political edicts both nationally and locally; drink less but drink better; try and rediscover hobbies that once engaged you, albeit ones that embrace solitude, or take up new ones; spend thriftily; patronise companies and shops that do still exist rather than automatically clicking on Amazon and their ilk; if and when it’s possible  have as much physical human contact as you can and above all, look outward and offer a smile rather than a scowl to those you are still able to see on the street, in your homes or anywhere else – they, like me, will appreciate it.

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Pandemic Parochialism November 30, 2020

Posted by markswill in Corona Lockdown Lore, Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.

I’m not sure what this tells you about anything, but in contemplating another of these blogs I realised that it’s almost a month since my last effort and yet when I started them I was churning out two or three per week! I do however think their declining frequency is as much about a universal and growing sense of despondency as it is about a lack of anything new or interesting to write about: Covid having both repressed us and dominated our  collective psyche for 10 months now.

Indeed it’s true that little has changed in the pandemic landscape since my last outing in early November save for encouraging announcements about vaccines (hurrah), confused and confusing outcomes re. regional lockdowns (boo), the departure of divisive Spads from No. 10 (hurrah), an imminent exit of far more importance from the White House (big hurrah), a predicted spike or third wave after families rush en masse into each other’s arms over Xmas (erm, boo and hurrah?), and the ongoing back-of-fag packet policy making, u-turns and self-serving, pathetically populist bluster from Boris and his cohort (multiple boos). Considering all that, I find myself directing you once again to proper pundits like John Crace in The Guardian and Mathew Parris in The Times and the aggregated and forensically researched observations of Roslyn Byfield at https://therapistinlockdown.co.uk

But I’m not going to let you off that lightly because I still can find a few things to witter on about, parochial though they might be… which in itself suggests that along with a national Covid weariness, one’s concern for the common good has diminished in recent months fuelling a festering fractiousness – run for the hills, it’s an alliteration alert – that may also be a by-product of living endlessly in what for many of us is an gloomy solitude.

So let’s consider cycle lanes! As any visitor to London in recent months will know, many major thoroughfares have had two and sometimes three lanes normally used by motor vehicles reduced to one due to the provision of cycle-only routes. Supposedly this has been done by local councils keen to provide safe travel for everyone who’s taken to pedalling to work etc. instead of risking Covid-infection on public transport, but given that some boroughs, Camden for example, had instituted such restrictions years ago, air pollution is also given as another reason for these sudden, large-scale roll-outs. Similar validation is given for the many residential streets that have also suddenly become no-go routes for cars and vans. The lack of joined up thinking allied to knee-jerk policy-making is evidenced by the consequences of all this; namely massive jams of near-stationary motor vehicles pumping out exhaust fumes, motorists suffering hugely longer journey times and the resultant anxiety and increased fuel consumption and all for what? Well a recent Daily Mail survey in various UK cities showed that on average just a few dozen cyclists using these routes per hour whereas motor-vehicles using the remaining lanes numbered the many hundreds, many of them forced to crawl along spewing out the aforementioned fumes. Indeed when I was driving with a friend along Euston Road from Kings Cross to Paddington in September, a journey of normally 10 –12 mins, then took almost 35.

Now the urban cycling Nazis will excoriate me for daring to challenge their smug right to shout and spit at motorists and pedestrians – I speak from experience having been loudly berated by an angry, Lycra-clad woman when walking a canal tow-path last summer – but since those lucky enough to still have jobs are now working from home many of them aren’t cycling anywhere – and certainly not to shops, cinemas, pubs or gigs. Further disincentives to us motorists include costly parking fees and the ULEZ and congestion charges in London  – now the extortionate price Transport For London must pay the Exchequer in return for keeping tubes and buses running during lockdowns. Already one borough, Wandsworth, was forced to rescind its cycle route hell after massive local protests and I can see that happening elsewhere. The bitter irony that we drivers pay tax to use the roads anyway doesn’t seem to matter to the over-zealous autocrats in city halls.

However the bigger picture here is that as an indirect consequence of the pandemic cities are becoming more intolerable to live in unless or even if you are  very wealthy with public transport viewed with fear and work, entertainment and shopping moving almost wholesale online, those lucky enough to spend lockdown in their rural second homes are now deciding to stay there for good.

The main beneficiary of this is of course Amazon who nowhere near enough compensate for the lack of taxes the high street retailers they’ve killed off used to pour into the Exchequer, who in turn will doubtless have to starve local government of the money they need to maintain already tottering services. Evidence of this struck me a few days ago when I took a couple of take-away pizza cartons up to our local recycling hub and found the cardboard bins filled beyond spewing with discarded Bezos-branded boxes. But leaving that aside for a moment – because none us want to feel guilty about our little, or not so little online shopping habits – the accelerating urban exodus will mean more people moving to towns like mine on the Welsh borders where quality of life has always been greater, or at least an agreeable contrast to city living.

And here in Powys the signs of that have been apparent for some years now with rising property prices and new build housing, the latest being a 36 unit site going up at remarkable speed just (mysteriously ?) outside the town’s development boundary. Some of this will be rent-to-own, others the inevitable ‘executive homes’, but the developers assure me that demands on previously strained local water and sewage resources have been taken into account, although how this and other impending developments will affect the social fabric of the town remains to be seen. Will, for example, a national supermarket chain eye up our surprisingly buoyant high street for decimation, or will we just see even more Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s vans arriving here from 25 mile distant Hereford? And will the new residents pitch themselves into what prior to Covid was an unusually diverse and vibrant cultural scene – and will the rest of us avidly encourage them to?

These are all questions that cannot yet be answered, just as the future of our country post-Covid and post-Brexit are anybody’s guess, but neither prospect fills me with hope.

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COMING TO TERMS WITH CORONA MK. 2… Or Not As The Case May Be November 3, 2020

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

My last two scrawls focused as far as possible on non-Covid matters but they were of course written well in the lee of our first national lockdown when all the world looked cheery and bright… happy days, huh? But now England is poised to go into another one and here in Wales we’re ten days into a so-called ‘firebreak’ which today (Nov 2nd) according to our elected dictator, sorry, first minister, Mark Drakeford is to be extended into, well, something else even though he promised it wouldn’t be. And I fear we may be saying the same of Boris come Dec. 2nd, but all that as it may be, I’m afraid it’s time for some possibly apposite reflections on where we are now or, more specifically and selfishly, where I am and how we might all cope with what’s to come.

I’m afraid déjà vu much informs what follows for I’ve found that faced with these tighter restrictions some of the old bunker mentality has kicked in. Like many of us during the first lockdown, I find myself renewing contact with friends old and new, and what little family I have to offer comfort of concerned interest in how they’re doing, what they’re up to and, hopefully and selfishly, vice versa. But this time I feel we’re lacking solidarity with and respect for our rulers, and won’t be banging saucepan lids of a Thursday evening. We’ve become disenchanted with our various governments’ handling of the pandemic, the constant, sudden U-turns and empty re-assurances, and the metaphoric curtain-twitching as we see people less abiding (or smug) than us breaking ‘the rules’ meted out to us.  However I’m not now going to crack on about all that as others have done it more forensically and extensively, most notably my friend Roslyn Byfield whose blog, Diary of a Therapist in Lockdown I once again seriously commend you read (and subscribe to) at https://therapistinlockdown.co.uk

As its title affirms, Roslyn began blogging from her psychotherapist’s perspective and that still features but her brilliantly researched and distilled commentary on how the pandemic is being (mis-)managed has a both an angry and authoritative edge to it which I couldn’t hope to match. However my own experiences this past few weeks may add some fuel to her fire and I hope may inform any interested friends and acquaintances who I must also warn that I’ll be assailing more often in the coming weeks.

It all began a month ago when 36 hours after lunch with a friend and her surgeon son in London I learnt that he’d got the symptoms, and doubtless because he works for the NHS a Track & Trace email swiftly followed informing me that I must therefore self-isolate for two weeks. After the relatively but not blindly laissez faire life I’d been living since the national lockdown (made bearable by the companionship of my estranged wife) to be incarcerated completely alone for 14 days, infused with the fear that I might contract the deadly virus, wasn’t easy. But finally and mercifully free of symptoms I then had to face the Welsh government’s so-called ‘firebreaker’ lockdown six days later. Plans made to socialise and even take an already twice shelved (and much longed for) break on my shared ownership narrowboat had to be shelved again, and with Britain now heading into a full lockdown any thoughts of socialising beyond the token gestures offered by the Welsh government have been thwarted.

So Ms. Byfield’s regular thoughts on lockdown loneliness and isolation are already having resonance, but of course there are many, many people who’ve already had and are going to have it far worse than I, so I’m reverting to coping strategies that you also may find familiar, if not useful.

One of course I’ve already mentioned: the reassurance of regular, lengthy phone calls, Skypes and WhatsApp video calls with friends and family that in more normal times wouldn’t occur. But why? I also find I’m watching more t.v. programmes and films, many recorded or streamed, and dusting off my DVD, record and cassette collections. But why? Feeling sheepish about such lazy media consumption hasn’t yet turned into guilt, neither has my increased alcohol intake. But why? And in an earlier life hope might’ve provided more hope, which this time around it doesn’t seem to be?

I haven’t yet received nor forwarded the barrage of sardonic vids and wittily doctored adverts of yore via WhatsApp and emails. But why not? And I can’t seem to concentrate as I once did on diverting, page-turning books even though I know I should. But why, and why should I?

Yes, I’m going cycling, walking and exercising more with weights but at my advanced age I can’t bring myself to sit in front of a screen and gyrate with Joe Wicks, but why not?

I honestly don’t know the reasons for any of that, but what I’m fairly sure of is that we’re all getting very weary not just of our government  servant/masters and their often disingenuous bungling and double standards, but of there being no real end in sight. On one level it’s the small losses of freedom that have become so miserable – clothes and shoes are wearing out but I refuse to buy them online, thus hastening the death of the high street (and the profits of non-tax paying Amazon) – and on the other its realising that having friends to supper, meets in pubs or weekend trips are now things of the past and a huge regret for a hitherto gregarious singleton like me.

Yet we are tantalised with promises of a vaccine sometimes in the future, but when? And we are assured that test, track and trace is being ramped up to the point where someday the spread of the virus can be controlled, even prevented, but when? On the latter point Boris’ claim of a 500,000 daily test capacity has  – just – been met, but only approx. 280,000 actually take place and it’s worth considering the experience of one friend who had to wait eight days for the happily negative result of his test, but during which he had to sit tight and cancel a holiday.

More ominously another friend signed up for a Govt/NHS Random Covid testing and observation project where he’d be visited every week for 12 weeks, tested, have blood taken then visited monthly for a year to monitor the scheme’s efficacy. “So far,” he reported, “I’ve had one visit from a charming, if slightly clueless young woman, probably on minimum wage, who read out some questions, ticked boxes and decided she wasn’t competent to take blood from me, giggled and left. She kept saying ‘Fab’ to my answers, a word I haven’t heard in 50 years.”

But then: “Nobody showed up for my second appointment. Spoke to someone in the office who said they were a bit behind because, ;so many people wanted testing.’ When I pointed out that they must have had a good idea of the numbers because, after all, they had sent out the invitations, he just repeated that, ‘they were a bit behind.’ I then said, ‘So what you’re telling me is that the scheme has gone wrong in the first seven days,’ to which he said, ‘No we’re just a bit behind because so many people want to be tested.’!

“No point in continuing that conversation: I’m now waiting for the phone call I’m ‘definitely’ going to get to arrange this appointment – eventually/sometime.”

And it’s those examples of ill-planned and incompetently executed responses to Covid-19 that diminish any hope I and perhaps you might’ve had in our collective survival as a psychologically resilient and forward-looking, even optimistic nation. Then again, as Covid-fatigue grows, how compliant will we now be under lockdown, and will that scupper any chance of its success? True, as a (reluctant) septuagenarian, maybe I should be thankful that at least I’ve had an, ahem, interesting and often rewarding life, but to those ahead of me in seriously declining health and those a generation or two behind whose lives may be blighted for decades, I truly fear for the future.

But if perhaps you need a spiritual leg-up after all my gloom-mongering, check out this wee vid produced, filmed and starring my darling niece, Amy: https://youtu.be/O0f6yR0VF9A

And if you’d like to be alerted to further rants from yrs. trly., please click the box in the RH column, and of course I welcome any comments you might have using the link below, and should you be of a bikey persuasion, you might enjoy my other blog: www.runningoutofroad.uk

IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS TODAY… make the most of it – in a few years time, they may look very different October 12, 2020

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.
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N.B. This is essentially a companion piece to my essay in the latest Lugg Blog: https://www.luggblogg.co.uk/blog/falling-leaves-and-rising-spirits

Image: courtesy of Alex Ramsay

Almost a month since my last scrawl and I fear that much of what follows is essentially an extension of that one, namely a warning of what could blight forever the landscape that surrounds my little Welsh town and the area beyond.

Ironically it comes just after Bozo the Clown with his usual chipper, narcissistic  zeal – which he seems to think obscures his bumbling ineptitude in managing the pandemic, Brexit etc., etc. – announced that all of Britain’s homes will be supplied with electricity from offshore windfarms by 2030. And the irony is that as mentioned last time, the Radnor Forest and its adjacent hills and valleys, a swathe of rural mid-Wales renowned for its natural, often tranquil beauty, is under a very real threat from onshore windfarms. So let me just re-cap on what this is:

Local landowners in and around the Forest have been bribed financially by an Edinburgh-based company, Grayling Capital, to support a plan to enable another outfit, Njord Energy, to build a massive windfarm that would cover previously protected areas including the Radnor Forest and Aberedw, and the Welsh Government has just published a re-draft of its National Development Framework (NDF) which doesn’t explicitly offer such protection. I want to avoid, as is so easily done, over-complicating the situation but will just say that Grayling have claimed that the boundaries are “fluid” and their involvement with a firm of lobbyists in Cardiff, Positif Politics who were evidently behind the Senedd’s  about-turn on the Hendy Windfarm does not bode well

(Just to recap: The Welsh energy minister, Lesley Griffiths, controversially overruled her own government’s and Powys County Council inspectorates’ refusal of planning permission for the Hendy windfarm near Llandrindod which I and many others physically protested against two years ago and which, as of now, is not functioning despite huge grants from we taxpayers – except when a diesel engine turns its currently sole turbine!)

Importantly, the formal process of considering the redrafted NDF by the Senedd has begun, the section on Renewable Energy went to the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee (CCERA) on 29th Sept for a 60 day consultation with the aim of finalising the NDF by next April. It is therefore vital that anyone who cares about this makes their opinions felt by the relevant  parties, a list of which follows, but I should emphasise that this should be done in your own words and to that end some of the key issues are outlined below:

  • This landscape with its abundance of wildlife and indeed SSSIs attracts visitors which the local economy depends on, e.g. B&Bs, shops, eateries and pubs, with more and more walkers, cyclists, equestrians, trail riders etc. using the network of Public Rights of Way and Open Access Land.
  • There’s a huge contradiction between promoting public health and well-being and encouraging neo-industrial development of much-loved and well-used, beautiful, upland areas. With wider travel now severely restricted, these spaces are more vital than ever, which huge increase in Radnor Forest visitor numbers confirms. Many enterprises focusing on providing therapeutic respite care for people suffering from stress-related illness are also making good use of open spaces and woodlands
  • Taking up my earlier point, the Welsh Government’s own, originally much trumpeted Marine Plan seems to’ve been quietly forgotten, so how should we interpret the UK Government’s recent commitment to developing off-shore wind energy generation in relation to Wales? In the current NDF there is no discussion of the relative targets of on-shore and off-shore wind energy generation!
  • And finally, The Renewable Energy section of the NDF (in its first draft) seems to’ve ignored most of the comments made by the public during the first consultation period, unlike other major sections over which it consulted. Indeed Powys County Council claim that they received relatively few complaints about the plans when they were first announced. This must not happen again and neither should we allow cynical politicians and interested parties to use the current pandemic to deflect the public’s attention from an issue which could, both literally and metaphorically, change our landscape forever.

And here’s a list of appropriate recipients:

Powys CC Principal Planning Officer: tamsin.law@powys.gov.uk

Kirsty Williams AM kirsty.williams@assembly.wales 

Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government Julie.James@senedd.wales

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee (CCERA) members: Chair: Mike Hedges

AM Welsh Labour Mike.Hedges@senedd.wales 

Andrew RT Davies AM Welsh Conservatives AndrewRT.Davies@senedd.wales 

Llyr Gruffydd AM Plaid Cymru Llyr.Gruffydd@senedd.wales 

Neil Hamilton AM UKIP Wales Neil.Hamilton@senedd.wales 

Jenny Rathbone AM Welsh Labour Jenny.Rathbone@senedd.wales 

Joyce Watson AM Welsh Labour Joyce.Watson@senedd.wales

Further information about the proposal can be found on the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales’ website at www.cprw.org.uk/news-and-events and about the Radnor Forest in general on a new, dedicated ‘friends of’ site at www.radnorfforest.co.uk.

AN ILL WIND… ONLINE AND OFF September 13, 2020

Posted by markswill in Corona Lockdown Lore, Politics, Schmolitics.

Well this is my first post-Covid Chronicles blog although as with everything in what we must new recognise as the ‘new normal’, it is not uniformed by the pandemic. Indeed many professional media commentators have touched on how society had changed, perhaps even irrevocably as a consequence of Covid-19, most recently – i.e. this Sunday, September 13th – Zoe Strimpel on R4’s ‘A Point of View’. I can proudly say that I’ve never read The Sunday Telegraph for which she writes but her monologue about the polarising effects of social media, exacerbated by the isolation of lockdown, hit a nerve.

Pointing out that we have become a nation, nay a world of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in which tolerance of different and certainly opposing viewpoints is ebbing away, fuelled by the instant, kneejerk and adamant digital facilities of Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp etc. The nature of these discourages us from thinking through our own positions, much less opposing one when we embark on or are taunted by live feeds into airing our opinions.

Hardly anyone write letters now, although during lockdown and indeed into this weird, semi-confinement that Boris and his halfwit school prefects now subject us to, I began mailing postcards and letters to friends which seemed to surprise as well as sometimes please, indeed some of them actually went to what few post offices we have left, bought stamps for the first time in years and did ditto. And even composing a postcard obliges you to think about what you’re writing before you mail it, although of course it’s aimed at an audience of one.

Not so of course social media, where it seems to be a badge of honour, if not a self-aggrandising goal to have as many readers, or ‘followers’ for heaven’s sake, as possible. Ms Strimple also opined that only a few years ago those living in households and larger families, could hold different political, social and cultural views without launching into dogmatic and/or vitriolic abuse whenever they were declared. Not so now, of course, and the main beneficiaries of this of course are the huge, multinational (but not multi tax-paying) media outfits who own social media.

In the meantime those of us who are of an age, an elderly age I must wistfully add, where we could read about current issues at some length in the ‘papers, hear about them on a handful of news channels and subsequently debate them with our friends, foes and family – run for the hills, it’s an alliteration alert – seem to be long gone.

Whilst only a minimal user, and one likely to become less so since they made it far more complicated, I recently found myself trapped in a FarceBerk exchange about a housing development on the outskirts of my little Welsh Marches town. Those partaking were roughly divided into two camps, those who want more affordable housing (which the developers had to pay lip-service to in order to gain planning permission for the inevitable slew of expensive ‘executive homes’), and those, like me, who fear that such developments will put pressure on already creaking local resources like water and sewage and augur polarisation – that word again – between incomers who have no interest in or feel for what hitherto has been a remarkable rich and mutually supportive community, and we members of it who have fought to keep our high street shops, our library, our cultural institutions buoyant, our streets litter-free and the rest of it functioning in a increasingly selfish and impersonal world.

Having done a bit of digging about the property developers concerned and flung a riposte or two at what I saw as unrealistic claims, I’m awaiting a few barbed replies and realise that I must now back-off, myopically tempted as I was to get involved in an issue that could too easily become toxic.

Another issue which might fall into that category but which, so far anyway, my own involvement has been through ‘phone conversations and one-on-one emails, is the likely designation of a huge swathe of the Radnor Forest, which is an area of immense natural beauty and ecological value to us hereabouts, as a giant ‘energy park’, i.e. windfarm. Local landowners have been bribed financially to sign up for this and around September 20th the Welsh Government will publish the draft National Development Framework which may reveal if it’s up for their approval.

The Welsh Government overruled their own and Powys County Council inspectorates’ denial of planning permission of the sole Hendy Windfarm turbine near Llandrindod which I and many others physically protested against two years ago and which, as of now, is not functioning despite huge grants from we taxpayers (except when a diesel engine turns it!), and the firm behind that, who seem to have an awfully cosy relationship with various Assembly members, are also behind this plan!

Now whilst I am all for renewable energy, there are far better locations for giant windfarms than the Radnorshire hills, but even claiming that may elicit vitriolic response from some quarters on, say, FarceBerk, but if you are or might be concerned about this then I can commend Azra Dale’s blog which, although some months old, perfectly encapsulates the situation:


And if you then moved to contact the ‘powers that be’ – whoever’s pockets they might be in – here are some useful addresses.


Kirsty Williams kirsty.williams@assembly.wales

Fay Jones fay.jones.mp@parliament.uk



And of course, our/your local community councils where appropriate.

Please forward this blog – or at least the last bit of it, to anyone you may know who, like me, would be on the incensed side of the fence on this issue.