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ROBOTS STOLE MY FREEDOM February 6, 2023

Posted by markswill in About me, Cars and Bikes.
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5 comments

Listening to Mathew Crawford, the American futurologist on R4’s Today prog (Feb 6th) got me thinking about my own transports of delight past, present and sadly, future. He discussed the underlying fallacies of self-driving cars which, although research affirms there’s no public appetite for,  manufacturers seem determined to foist on us. It is, he points out, part of a wider tendency to infantalise us with AI solutions to problems we never knew we had – e.g. self-guided vacuum cleaners, fridges linked to online supermarkets, robot pets – a tendency accelerated by years of lockdown immobility during which our self-determination and physical abilities became atrophied.

Crawford also argued that although road safety is touted as a major benefit of self-driving cars, if so-called ‘drivers’ become inured to not having make judgements whilst traveling in them, it’ll further increase a dangerous tendency for us all to rely on big tech, big business, and ergo big government, to manipulate how our lives are run, and ergo how our brains work. He pointed out that Tesla’s own internal report on the efficacy of its self-driving cars was woefully short of the practical, never mind that as regular reader Terry Kreuger pointed out to me, it costs far, far more in energy consumption and precious metals to build the blighters than it does normally aspirated vehicles or, for that matter – and it does matter – there isn’t the electricity generating capacity to fuel them in the sort of numbers we’re led to believe are necessary to save the planet.

And that all had resonance as I just back home after a rather frantic week in London which it’s almost impossible to drive to now both because economical parking within the North/South Circular is unfeasible, the ever expanding ULEZ means we must buy new cars we can’t afford,  plus one gets easily caught out by CCTV driving down once familiar roads and end up, as I did previously, paying £195 in fines for thrice mistakenly entering a Low Traffic Neighbourhood.  Needless to say, these LTNs are controversial, with many local businesses losing desperately needed custom and some councils on the receiving end of judicial reviews, but the alternative to driving is of course train. And as our railway system, like our road maintenance regime steadily descends to third world level, reliability and affordability are things of the past: the last three times I traveled to London by train three were cancelled at short notice, two were seriously late and aboard two it was standing room only in just two jam-packed carriages.

All of which finds me musing on the contrasts, perhaps disparities would be a more honest term, for the life I, and indeed some of the friends I spent time with in London, live.

Time was not so long ago when admittedly thanks to luck and hard won income I felt equally at home in the metropolis and the rural backwoods I’m now writing from. For almost 50 years I managed to combine work in London and recreation in the country, and sometimes vice versa, enabling me to enjoy the benefits of both, especially social and cultural nourishment. Indeed many of the friends I had – still have – here in Wales arrived via the late ‘60s/early ‘70s diaspora when we hippies went off to “get it together in the country, m-a-a-a-n”, the joke being that the Welsh Marches was where the petrol in our VWs and Ford Cortinas ran out. And as recently as the mid-noughties my film reviewing job had me spending half my time in London, and the rest building and writing about motorbikes in the country. Of course then, and to varying extents always, I was lucky enough to have both rural and urban domiciles, usually shared, which made that possible. So it seemed entirely natural to spend Thursday night at the Almeida Theatre or Brixton Ritzy, and Friday night getting well-soused listening to Dave Luke’s band in the Farmers Arms before hiking somewhat bleary-eyed up Hergest Ridge on Saturday morning.

And back in the ‘90s my international publishing job often saw me flying off to Milan, Paris or Barcelona on a Monday afternoon after a weekend’s bucolic bliss. Of course I was far from alone in straddling two lifestyles, two cultures: the wealthy of this world invariably have homes all over the place, although are often seen as parasites, uninvolved in the cultures and economies of wherever they lay their metaphorical hats and wilfully displacing the locals on the housing ladder. And even the not-very-wealthy, amongst whom I count myself, managed to zip between town, country and even countries but perhaps on not so regular a basis, and deliberately involve themselves as best they can in both, or all three.

But for me, and for many of them, too, that’s changing. Partly it’s due to money, because now late in life we no longer have careers and consequently decent incomes, partly we don’t have the energy to gadabout so much, partly because we’ve decided to settle in one location for family reasons and, certainly in my case, maybe because all or any of the above mean we don’t have the physical footholds in the city that we once had.

And so our city sojourns are governed by the limitations of AirB&B or prevailing on friends in their often downsized homes during which we cram in as much essentially ‘catch-up’ socialising, gallery, cinema and if we’re lucky, theatre hopping, and for some the sort of retail therapy impossible in the country save for Amazon-ing which I personally try to forswear. So I think my days of embracing both town and country life may be coming to an end unless, of course, my fuel duty- and traffic violation-exempt self-driving camper van can keep driving around town whilst I patronise entertainment venues and dine with friends and carry on doing so whilst I sleep in it.

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OLDER, WISER… OR WILDER? January 20, 2023

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.
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Only because it was too long to segue, as originally intended, into yesterday’s epistle, here comes another – and marking the shortest ever gap between rants,  something of a record! But the fact of that itself underpins today’s subject which, I’m afraid considers getting on a bit or, as Ken Loach – now aged 86 but still enthusiastically making films – recently put it, the frailty of age.

As the hidebound old inky that you know I am, I still subscribe to several magazines, some of them admittedly taken out on a four-issues-for-a-fiver ‘inertia renewal’ deal that I then cancel before they rise to thirty quid a year if I find them not to my liking, and the Oldie was one of them. Actually in that case I was interested to see if they might need a motoring correspondent but rather annoyingly they already had one. So that learnt, I cancelled my sub although for some reason it keeps arriving and as I flick disconsolately through each issue before moving on to Readers Wives Monthly* or Thrasher** what a sobering, even depressing experience it is. For starters the Oldie is chock-full of ads for care homes, walk-in baths, stair-lifts and mobility scooters which are woven around numerous obituaries of minor-ish celebs, politicos and arty-types and reminiscences by and about what used to be called the ‘great and the good’.

True, nostalgia is a growth industry these days and one I dabbled in with my sadly short-lived Classic Motoring Review. And indeed one or two of my younger family and friends – yes, I have some – have an unaccountable appetite for stories from my own chequered if hardly impressive past, but as much as possible I personally try to look forward rather than backwards, which is becoming ever harder to do.

Perhaps it’s a commonality of mortality awareness amongst my peers that’s diminished their collective enthusiasm for socialising, gigging and spontaneous jaunts, although that may be a hangover from the enforced introversion of Covid, or a combination of both. However a chance email exchange with a sometime paramour who is also a deeper thinker concluded that for those who have children and now grandchildren there’s an often unspoken meaning to life that those without offspring are denied, a void that I’ve always filled with what I laughingly call a vocation, or at least some absorbing and rewarding toil.

Musing over this recently I realised the malign influence of serious illness and death which, now I’m into my 70s circle around like covered wagons in the wild west. Never mind the Christine McVies and David Crosbys of this world, in recent times several friends and acquaintances have died, and several more diagnosed with serious illnesses the terminality of which they’re stoically resisting. And it’s that realisation which I’m sure subconsciously drives me towards Dr Google – see the link to yesterday’s rant? – every time I suffer a new ache or itch which years ago I’d have ignored or laughed off. 

As with others I know, even those who do have kids, with work now pretty much dried up, to some extent we fill our hours with voluntary work or, if we can afford them, hobbies. But flicking through yet another magazine, this time donated by a neighbour, Vintage & Classic Motorcycle, I was disheartened to read not just the inevitable obituaries, but also the classified ads for ‘bikes whose owners’ illness or infirmity obliged them to sell. But then I thought about my own riding which has become a bit slower, more cautious even in the last couple of years and the (minor) accident I had last autumn might’ve been down to the poor judgement or diminishing spatial awareness that a doctor recently told me comes with age. So is that a remaining hobby, once virtually a way of life, which age will oblige me to abandon and are you, dear reader, finding yourself in a similar dilemma?

For if so, the oft-expressed trope that the idleness of retirement leads quickly to expiration is something we should repel at all costs. Now the aforementioned Ken Loach in his excellent interview on Sky Arts referred to “the energy and mischief of youth” which I like to think still lurks within many of us once insubordinate baby-boomers, qualities I think we should give all possible rein to if we’re to stave off the inevitable shuffling off mortal coils… even if the flesh isn’t quite as willing as it once was. And if it comes down to it and with no disgruntled offspring to attend to my incontinence or immobility, I’m damned if I’ll be riffling through the pages of the Oldie to find a care home to submit myself to… After all, that’s what large, powerful motorcycles, Jack Daniels and brick walls were invented for!

* Sadly no longer in print   ** Not what you might think it panders to, but the world’s No. 1 skateboard magazine – and I say that as respectful ex-publisher of No. 2 !

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NET GAINS… AND LOSSES January 19, 2023

Posted by markswill in Media, Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.
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I’d intended to focus today’s self-indulgent bleating on the perils and pluses of the internet but after a surprisingly productive budget meeting last night, a drink in the pub with fellow town councilors prompted some not unrelated thoughts on equally relevant matters, well relevant to me, anyway.

Whilst bemoaning the dismal records of the county councils’ and Welsh government’s road maintenance, planning and flood defence policies hereabouts, and their huge and unregulated overspend and under-performance – about which several blogs could be scribbled – one of my colleagues in the know pointed out that these public servants spend so much more time dealing with stuff online, much of it parrying legal issues resulting from their incompetence, than they do actually, well, doing stuff to remedy what ails us tax payers. So the roads don’t get repaired (and they’re in third world conditions locally), the flood defences are in danger of collapsing and buildings get built in the wrong places, and/or at hideously excessive cost or don’t get built at all when and where they’re needed.

Conversation then turned to rural policing, an issue raised when what were supposed to be three local officers attended a recent council meeting to supposedly reassure us about tackling an upsurge in local vandalism, none of whom it turned out actually had the power to arrest such miscreants because they were either merely support offices or trainees! Again, one fellow councilor pointed out that even at a local-ish, i.e. county level, so much police time nowadays is spent shackled to a computer dealing with cyber crime and CCTV surveillance, or sitting lucratively behind hedges catching speeding motorists – recently including, I have to admit, yrs. trly. – rather than, well, policing the streets.

And hence the relevance of the digital world which has become our world, or at least a massive part of it to, I contend, our mental, physical and emotional cost. Three-plus decades ago, communicating with friends, family and the businesses we worked within was by phone, fax and even letters. It made for a wider understanding of those we dealt with, and what they were up to or suffering from than the brief WhatsApp messages that are now the default means of contact and the misunderstandings and slender realities they sanction. And when the internet really got into gear some 20 years ago, I began my days attending to emails which, whilst not demanding the brevity and one-dimensional currency of texts, largely replaced the need for actually talking to people, gauging how they felt, what else they were up to etc., etc. So now I regard all this as harmful to our mental, even emotional wellbeing and an even loftier claim, mankind’s progress and the root of so much that’s contributed to the grim state of the world.

On the other hand of course, websites like Google have transformed the lot of us journalists who in times past had to ring up the Daily Telegraph’s information service  – which I actually enjoyed because one spoke to human beings! – and enabled the worried well to angst over what might be a heart condition… or just heartburn. And of course I can instantly listen to the works of favourite musicians, albeit who get paid sod-all for providing it, and if  I want to buy some blank CDs or a clutch cable for a motorbike I can do that with a few clicks of a mouse because there are now no longer any appropriate physical retailers within a 50 miles radius, largely because the internet has put them out of business. But that same internet has become the source of mental despair and disorder thanks to so-called influencers playing on physical and mental insecurities, and those addicted to Twitter, TikTok etc.  – which I am not – are prey to equally damaging trolls and sexual predators.

I do, however, occasionally use FarceBerk, although mainly to promote these blogs and respond to a few friends who use it to amuse or inform us about  shared interests. And I recently turned to Linked-In, which I lazily joined many years ago now in the mistaken belief that it might lead to some income. And according to Linked-In I have 463 ‘contacts’, most of whom I don’t know from Adam, who seem only to send ‘messages’ boasting about their achievements which mean damn-all to me. However having had almost none this past two years, and feeling spiritually if not financially bereft as a consequence – rather sadly, I’ve always largely defined myself by my work – I posted a modest appeal for writing/editing/editorial management work, and of course came back there none.

Larky pieces occasionally appear in the national press written by bored hacks who elect to take an on-screen hiatus for a week or so but who rarely manage more than a few days, which just confirms that it has changed the way we live our lives and interact with other human beings. Obviously from the thrust of this little rant, you’ll gather that I consider this a Bad Thing, so if I ring you up announced – and our internet life now requires us to make a text appointment to do so – which I’m increasingly trying to do, I hope you’ll respond with good grace even if you’ll curse me when you’ve put the phone down and you can get back to Googling jam roly-poly pudding recipes.

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CHRISTMAS DREAR December 28, 2022

Posted by markswill in About me, Media, Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.
6 comments

I’m scribbling this between Christmas and New Year, that strange limbo when many begin worthily working off the excesses of the former whilst others gear up for the next bout of overindulgence. It’s also a time when friends and families frantically dash from one end of the country, or indeed the world, to spend a brief period of gluttony and teary reunion with loved ones. And given my cynical credentials, needless to say it’s a period that I have mixed feelings about.

By way of partial explanation if not excuse, I should admit that like many previous years I’ve spent this Xmas and will spend New Years on my tod, which I actually don’t mind at all as I can watch as much bad telly, drink as much boozo the wonder drug, cook decidedly un-festive fare, go for long walks, read my books and anything else that crosses my mind, exactly how and when I feel like it. Which isn’t to say that if I’ve been in a loving relationship when, wrapped up in her own festive reveries and kinships, my beloved encourages me to be part of it all, I haven’t enthusiastically done so. Indeed, I’ve usually really enjoyed it and hopefully parlayed some bonhomie to those I’m sharing it with, too,  But that said as each year passes I become more convinced that this whole festive business is one giant sham, if not scam.

This was emphasised in 2022 by an almost palpable sense of relief on so many levels – familial, social and of course commercial that years of restraint imposed by Covid had come to an end tempered, however, by the waves of strikes that years of government mismanagement and ten months of a brutal European war with all its economic consequences have had on us all to varying degrees. And that relief is surely self-evident not just in the ramped-up advertising campaigns and the flurry of ‘festive’ entertainments and media offerings but also in my immediate bailiwick where, after what seems like a dark age, there were gigs, film shows and even a few parties where smiling faces and social warmth returned. So why and where is that sham I mentioned so prevalent?

Well the inevitable and well-meant salutations of ‘What are you doing…? And ‘What did you do for Christmas?’ prompt the equally inevitable if gracious, ‘Not much’ on my part disguising the fact that I’ll be and was on my own, but as revealed in my first para, perfectly happily to be so.

But such responses also conceal are a welter of concerns that all is not well in a world that we all inhabit. I mentioned the strikes which bedevil the UK and which show no signs of abating anytime soon and promise worse times to come. The economic consequences of these are ever-heightening inflation with its miserable effects on household incomes and the shocking reality of hundreds of thousands of key workers struggling to exist on in-work benefits and food banks. Don’t know about you, but I’m shopping more carefully for food and drink, cutting down on my energy consumption, travel and entertainments, prudence that will continue and doubtless intensify for the foreseeable. And this is against a backdrop of escalating uncertainty about our government’s inability if not dumb-ass unwillingness to end it.

In fact there is a creeping realisation that this government’s almost wilful impotence to manage things for the benefit of its citizenry exists within a global turmoil that’s becoming the norm, and of course exacerbated by climate change. Despotic regimes such as those in South America, Russia and most especially China where quoshing freedom of speech or political choice have grim knock-on effects for democracies who rely on them for our own economic and – better watch out – personal freedoms are becoming ever more powerful. And our own little island no longer tethered to a European union which if nothing else provided some overall stability perforce if unconsciously looks increasingly towards a USA that could well fall prey to another Trump presidency, or one held by a successor keen to outdo even his autocratic madness.

Which finally brings me to that which enables and fuels much of what I’ve just wrung my hands over: social media. From those 19 year-old overnight millionaires flogging metaphorical snake oil with their happy-clappy online baloney to the manipulation of political realities by malign governments and their conspiracy theorist bedfellows, distinguishing what is worthwhile, what is  truth and what isn’t becomes increasingly difficult. And the traditional media we once turned to for at least a more accountable reality is dying, not only because of our denuded attention spans and inherent need to feel ‘part of something’, but also because the incomes they generated from advertising and retail sales to keep going have migrated wholesale to the interweb. Yes, that’s a miserable old inky talking, but as the woke-ism, partisanship and the dilution of certainties wash over us it’s undeniably true.

So where does that leave us for 2023? Well it would be arrogant of me to assume where it leaves you but in the face of all this deprivation, fear and doubt my advice is to try and adapt to your realities, seek out and take pleasure in the things you can control. I do know that for this old scrooge it finds me facing a huge change in my own life which paradoxically if only for very personal reasons, I’m actually relishing. And so I hope, change is a’going to come to you, too… and despite the aforegoing, change for the better, big or small.

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Michaelmas Madness December 13, 2022

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.
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I know, I know, it’s been well over a month since my last, but a combination of personal mayhem, a world gone so mad that it almost defies sufficient comprehension to merit considered opinion, much less coherent comment… But when has that stopped me in the past?! So here goes.

Clearly the fact that the UK is on the brink of a national strike in all but name is crippling the economy, jeopardising healthcare, knackering postal services, seriously messing up Xmas travel, social and family activities and revealing, if we weren’t already aware, the divisiveness and weaknesses of this shambolic tory government. And that alone is sufficient to lower our collective spirits which the current ‘cold snap’ – as the media keeps referring to it – does nothing to raise.

As a grumbly aside, I’ve got chilblains for the first time since I was a tot and this morning the water supply was cut off, presumably due to a frozen and then burst mains somewhere hereabouts. Also personally, the strikes and the weather have combined to prevent a visit to London before the dreaded Xmas although if I can arrange parking I may yet drive there for a couple of days whilst hoping I’m not in a pile-up on the M40.

However my personal life pales into the inevitable when compared to the state of the nation referred to above but try as I might yet again I cannot come up with an insights or commentary that better those of my friend, and perhaps I should admit, long ago briefly a paramour, Roslyn Byfield’s extremely well-researched, and considered, Therapist In Lockdown blog https://therapistinlockdown.co.uk/2022/12/11/sunday-11-december/

So my own ramblings here will be blessedly short save to say that RMT secretary Mick Lynch’s forensic taking apart of the usually fair-minded Mishal Husain on R4’s Today programme this morning (Dec 13th) and the Royal College of Nursing secretary Pat Cullen’s equally articulate explanation of what ails both the NHS and her beleaguered colleagues on yesterday’s Newsnight – both worth catching on iPlayer – admirably described what’s gone wrong and why the relevant ministers are evidently in denial about that and politically unwilling to compromise all in the name of inflation-busting.

Ken Clarke, who is one of the few Tories I have any time for – well he gave me a small cigar once during a long, slightly well-lubricated discussion about our appalling prison system! – told Evan Davis on R4’s PM yesterday that to give into the strikers would return us to the dark days of the ‘70s and ‘80s when one annual strike almost inevitably led to other the following year. But what he didn’t seem to acknowledge as an intelligent man, or certainly admit, was that our current state of affairs is not just the consequence of  hitherto exceptional if unimaginable external forces like Covid, Brexit, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and yes, climate change but also 12 years of tory short term-ism which favours the wealthy at expense of those who are not. And it’s that deadly combo that our Whitehall servant/masters need to reccognise and plausibly address with a proper, long-term strategy get Britain back on its feet again.

Meanwhile I’m dreaming of a right-on Christmas.

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HEADING DOWN A SLIPPERY SLOPE October 22, 2022

Posted by markswill in About me.
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Mindful that my last outing was back in mid-September, I’ve since made several stabs at scrawling another, but personal and political events have left me gasping for air, never mind coherent subject matter.

In case it may have resonance with my reader, and maybe justify my journalistic indolence, I’ll begin with the sudden death of a very dear ex-girlfriend, terminal illnesses announced of two other nearests and dearests, the stalling of my efforts to move house as pressured, and humiliating so, by my ex-wife, my failure to find close companionship very specifically elsewhere, expensive dental woes, my inability to even get an interview for a job I would’ve loved and felt eminently qualified for at the hands of those I thought were friends, and the ongoing physical consequences of my ‘bike accident back in July… these all being some aforementioned personal impediments to scribbling. And they were set against the realisation that now in my seventies, there is little to look forward to save aloneness, frustrated hopes, ambitions and, yes, shuffling off the mortal coil sooner or a bit less sooner, than later.

However setting all that aside, I’ve been spiritually paralysed by the sh*t the  country has been cast even deeper into by Johnson, Truss and their cohorts, and the current scrabble to find replacements almost that defy belief, except my own that Britain is becoming a third world economy with all the damaging effects that’s having on its people, i.e. thee and me.  The huge increase in food banks, families having to choose ‘twixt heating and eating, hungry schoolchildren, a broken, strike-ridden public transport system, thousands of small and indeed larger businesses going bankrupt due to a lethal combo of rocketing costs and punters who can no longer afford to patronise them are all phenomena that we, as a once mature and yes, great western power would never have countenanced, much less accepted, even a decade ago but which we and our idiot, uncaring servant-masters in Whitehall seem unbothered by.

Against that deplorable backdrop what we find is a Tory party so fixated on holding onto what we must loosely regard as government that the true state of the country matters little in the surely vain hope that somehow everything will miraculously come right, or memories will be conveniently short, before a general election in two years time that they’ll win again.

And in the meantime our income tax-wrought coffers are being squandered on idiocy such as not exporting migrants to Rwanda, the massive, environmentally reckless white elephant that is HS2 and just announced here in Wales a country-wide 20mph speed limit in all cities, towns and villages the signage alone for which will cost tens if not hundreds of millions. That’s money that could be used for, say, warm public refuges for people this winter which at our town council meeting this week we were hastily trying to organise ourselves, and for the first time in my living memory, just this morning (Oct 22nd) there was a beggar on the high street of what just eight years ago the Sunday Times tagged the best small town to live in Britain.

Fuelled by the weird, febrile troposphere that Brexit, a pandemic and a European war has seemingly obliged us all to breathe, the priorities of government which at least once paid lip-service to have almost entirely disappeared.  And so we can only wonder where it might all lead?

Since we are barely a manufacturing nation anymore, Brexit has weakened our trading position not just with our European neighbours but most of the rest of the world, credit ratings agencies, for what they’re worth, have lost faith in an economic structure dependent on so-called ‘service industries’ that can quickly move elsewhere and the grim realities of a full-scale recession are just around the corner it is surely unrealistic to hope for, much less expect national salvation anytime soon.

Instead I’m starting to think that mass unemployment and a ever widening gap between the ‘have-not’ and the few smugly wealthy ‘haves’ will lead to large scale civil unrest and/or a national strike, perhaps led by an modern day equivalent of the Jarrow Marches – because we no longer have a properly functioning or affordable railway system that could deliver the impoverished protestors to Whitehall.  There are those on the hard left who of course would relish this and a Labour party that would be conflicted into stasis by such a turn of events, but at least it would bring things to a head, albeit an ugly one.

And talking of head, I think I’m heading for an amusing little Merlot that I can still just about afford.

Thought for the day:

When a clown moves into a palace he doesn’t become a king, the palace becomes a circus – Turkish proverb

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UNSOCIAL MEDIA September 16, 2022

Posted by markswill in Media.
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Although always as a side-show, I occasionally rail against social media simply because it’s an example, if not a direct consequence of digital media and, as my weary reader may also know, I think the latter is the spawn of the devil if only for the deeply selfish reason that it’s put me and many of my inky old peers out of work.

However a few events this past week (it’s now Sept 15th) now move me to lambast the likes of Twitter, TikTok, Instagram et al directly.  The first was somewhat innocuous, if not downright shallow on my behalf, but then why change the habits of a lifetime? It stemmed from a Ch5 documentary about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s troubled marriage which of course I only deigned to watch because it also covered Pitt’s first marriage to Jennifer Aniston who, as some may know, is second only to Isabelle Huppert in my lust-goddess dept. And what was mentioned en passant is that all three of these Hollywood A-listers do not use social media. And that I found both remarkable and instructive, for in forswearing the constant attention, adulation and aggressive threats that come at you with the swipe of a finger, they have room for a bit more Real Life… good, or in the case of Pitt and Jolie these days, bad.

And I don’t need to personally know people who are glued to their smartphones 24/7 – though I do – to understand that social media is a legal and highly commercialised drug which, just like any drug, determines the behaviour, attitudes, beliefs and culture of billions worldwide. And I find it hard to accept as benign the role of ‘influencers’ who with no more authority nor talent than the ability to Photoshop their images, turn their phones onto themselves and hit ‘Video’, yet in so doing can earn bazillions and cow lesser-looking and cash-strapped mortals into buying stuff that they purport to have carefully chosen themselves but which complicit multi-nationals have showered on them.  It’s as if in the days when I roadtested them for a living, I concluded that, ‘This is a great ‘bike because Kawasaki have just paid me big bucks to say so’, but didn’t admit to it.

However spoilt brattishness has become an ambition to strive for in this crazy online world and although serious academic papers have doubtless already been written about this, the influencers and the companies that facilitate them won’t take a blind bit of notice, and certainly not from me for whom social media’s addictive Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is passé… hopefully!

That mightn’t be quite so true of campaigners trying to change the world, or their little bits of it, using Twitter and TikTok, but needless to say I have serious criticisms here, too. This was yet again made obvious when a Twitter storm – see how that’s already become part of media parlance? – raged against the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, who’d suspended an armed officer prior to an ‘official’ investigation into his killing of the unarmed rapper Chris Kaba.  Using social media, within hours of his suspension apparently thousands of policemen condemned his decision on the grounds that it would seriously harm police moral, many of them calling for a national police strike! And that’s even though (a) Rowley acted so decisively in order to try and re-build public trust in a force bedeviled by gross misconduct much of it, not uncoincidentally via misogynistic social media postings, and (b) the police are not legally allowed to go on strike.

Arguably, when considered against the behaviour of deluded malcontents like, say, Trump and Bolsannaro, or a deeply flawed genius like Musk, the Kaba/Rowley affair is small beer but demonstrates how feelings of unjustness or prejudice, however slight or dubious, can almost instantly snowball into campaigns which authorities, or for example in the case of Centre Parcs’ equally recent volte face about expelling their holidaymakers in deference to the late Queen’s funeral – and don’t get me started on that – companies feel obliged to defend or rescind. Is it healthy, is it fair, does it breed deceitful commercial and political stratagems? Well you decide.

So FOMO aside, perhaps you can understand why I’m taking a lone, typically self-righteous stand against social media… but you’ll just have to excuse me now because there are a few friends who I spend far too much time with on WhatsApp who’ll be dying to know that I’ve just posted another blog.

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RETIRING GRACELESSLY September 8, 2022

Posted by markswill in About me, Navel Gazing.
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8 comments

I’ve been trying to think of something to write about our new, unelected Leaderene, her cabinet choices and her crude, unaffordable price-cap solution to the cost of living disaster, for which read energy crises, and I’m really stymied. Whilst that may be good news for my loyal put-upon readers, it leaves me mired in the slough of despond, (™John Bunyan) that has permeated most of my recent blogs, and am I not alone in wishing we all could envision the slightly more metaphoric sunlit uplands (™Winston Churchill) ?

On a more personal level, following another hospital visit this week, I’ve just glimpsed one: apparently my broken foot has now healed – heeled?! – to the extent that I can now trying walking short distances minus the surgical boot and should be striding the hillsides again by, ooh, maybe Xmas. But that said, my sprained arm refuses to play ball and remains bloody painful in certain positions and my knackered thumb isn’t much better. So no more spliffs and online porn for a while (joke).

And I must say that enforced immobility has been a mixed blessing but in the current slough here are some upsides which others might take heart from especially if, as they seem to be in my case, they’re relevant to those who are in retirement, unwilling or otherwise.

Firstly, I’m reading far more than I used to and I think anyone with time on their hands should do ditto, especially as the steady closure of local libraries is likely to be stalled as local councils are obliged to offer warm spaces to those in fuel poverty.  Secondly, I’m writing far more than I’m used to, albeit not for money nor indeed anyone’s else benefit other than the few lucky (?) blighters who receive my long, rambling emails, blogs and and yes, letters which if nowt else are testament to extensive use of the thesaurus. And come on you lot, isn’t it nice to receive a letter in the mail now and again, especially an air-mail one, and even though the bloody privatised Royal Mail keeps rising stamp prices, withdrawing services and causing strikes, we should do our tiny bits to keep it going. 

Finally, there’s endless fantasising to indulged in: will Rooney Mara be overcome by lust when by extraordinary coincidence I bump into her in my local Spar; will the ticket to win a Ducati Multistrada I was conned into buying at Gatwick Airport prove to be the winner; will the many literary agents who turned down the novelisation of my nosedive from grace suddenly realise their errors and begin a bidding war…? Well the list is endless and each new dawn brings new fantasies and surely could do for you, too?

That’s about it on the positives I’m afraid, but there’s still a question which in the cold light of reality I’m keen, even desperate to see answered, i.e:

When are politicians, and not just Britain’s, going to address the actual source of the energy crisis, namely Putin’s war on Ukraine? Borrowing untold billions to sticking plaster the nation’s rocketing fuel bills is all very well, but what if, as with their invasion of Afghanistan, Russia’s unwarranted hostilities continue for almost a decade? Surely at some point there has to be a truce and a treaty and whilst I’m no appeaser, shouldn’t the admirable and often pragmatic Zelensky realise that if there’s to be a country economically, spiritually and physically viable left for his people to live in, he may have to concede some territory in eastern Ukraine to the Kremlin-backed separatists who’d already long occupied it? And does the West have the will, and the resources to keep manufacturing and supplying weapons to a Ukrainian army that will always be outnumbered and outgunned? I do of course realise that there’s no capacity for surrender, and neither should there be, but sooner or later we should understand that a lone madman must not be allowed to control the Europe’s destiny, with the added risk that in desperation he might just press the nuclear button.

In recent months I’ve referred here to a New World Order and now it’s clearly emerging. The rapid disappearance of services, culture, social values and other certainties once taken for granted, the sharp rise in the digital communications controlled by a few big corporations with little or no moral compass but which determine almost every aspect of how we go about our lives, and politicians of every stripe whose greed for power is bereft of intellectual and ethical gravitas…. These I contend are the evidence, and rather than just hand-wringing – for as individuals we have sod-all control over it – I’m just going to continue retiring from it, although in my case it won’t involve golf, bowling greens, luxury cruises on drought-denuded European rivers, claret-coloured corduroy trousers, or at least whilst my bloody foot’s not fully recovered, trekking energetically in search of those sunlit uplands.

Quote to live by:

“The best conversations are with yourself. At least there’s no risk of a misunderstanding.” – Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk

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FAKE VIEWS September 1, 2022

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.
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5 comments

Yesterday (Aug 31st) my eye was caught by a newspaper item about Surrey Police using a satnav app called Waze “to encourage drivers to slow down”. This app enables users to report such things as traffic jams and mobile police camera sightings in real time to advise other drivers to take alternative routes or avoid being caught speeding and the local rozzers are apparently using it to “drop markers at random points” on their patrols which in turn obliges users to slow down.

Now as my motorbikey friend Miss L reminded me recently, when it come to the Queens Highway one’s philosophy should always be, ‘when in doubt, flat-out’, but in these days of 20mph urban speed limits and speed bumps on even the least trafficked roads that’s a distinctly un-PC and even reviled maxim. But surely the whole point of cars and ‘bikes is to utilise their performance to the maximum of your abilities, not just as means of getting from A to B but to enjoy our-bloody-selves, which indeed remains the bedrock of much automotive advertising.

But be that as unpopular as it may, the Waze app prompted thoughts of a deeper and worrying tendency, namely the use of digital fakery to influence other’s behaviour and thinking, which in turn was induced by the new BBCtv series, The Capture and today’s Radio4 programme, Inside Science. The former presumes that in the very near future Britain is poised to buy a facial recognition system for its border controls which was developed by a Chinese company that could be used for surveillance purposes here, but also – shades of Huawei supplying our 5G infrastructure – by the Chinese government for all manner of nefarious purposes. Without going into detail, and although I highly recommend it, I found The Capture a compulsively chilling watch, further echoing the findings and predictions of Prof. Shoshana Zuboff’s 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

Zuiboff, “one of the world’s eleven most original business thinkers” according to  Strategy+Business magazine, examines the emergent “behavioural futures market” and the way the increasing reliance on our digital addiction is being used to monetise and manipulate it, which was also the gist of today’s Inside Science prog. This unsettled me even further by revealing how easy it is to create fake news online. Apparently you now don’t need to be a geek to deploy images or texts to create ‘shallow fakes’, e.g. using existing imagery to claim the existence of events that haven’t yet or never happened. Which is but one step away from the myriad social media ‘influencers’ who doctor their images to increase their appeal to, or in many cases humiliate the dimwits who ‘follow’ them in their millions.

And even the ‘deep fakery’ that the R4 prog (and Prof.  Zuboff) investigated is now becoming so prevalent that wise minds should be suspicious – deeply suspicious (sic) ? – of much of what we read and see online… Donald Trump, anyone?

Now I’ve bemoaned before the decline of print media and the damaging effects this will have, is already having on political credibility and the news more generally, and watching The Capture, where – spoiler alert – entire broadcast interviews are faked to convey the exact opposite of what was being said convince me that we are entering a very dangerous period in humankind’s history. Okay, that’s a t.v. drama and obviously fictionalised, but as with Orwell’s and Huxley’s visions of 20th century totalitarianism which were arguably and accurately prophetic, if you take current day Russia, China, Iran, North Korea etc. as examples, then I think we have much to fear. Can’t happen here? Well we’re already being cowed into some kind of submission by the very real cost of living crises, climate change etc., who’s to say the media we rely on won’t be used to push us further down the road to mass and terrified obedience?

However as with so much in life these days, there is a strong tendency to proverbially fiddle with the minutiae of our own little lives while Rome burns so for me print media, R4 news and living life as flat out as I can even at my advanced old age is the only way to go.

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APOCALYPSE NOW… ISH ? August 15, 2022

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.
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4 comments

Okay, for once this isn’t a flat-out rant but merely – merely?! – a few casual observations. In fact I can blame a couple of old friends for what follows for both of them recently WhatsApp’d their fears of a coming apocalypse, something I’ve had myself for some months now, and which have intensified in recent weeks. So I wonder how alone we three are in feeling a growing sense of doom and if we are, is it an ill-founded consequence of media-driven group-think, or…

Well let’s look at some facts and, because you know I’m relentlessly optimistic, couple them with possible solutions.

ENERGY PRICES have skyrocketed since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and are set to augur a cost-of-living crisis the like of which we haven’t seen since WW2. Some commentators darkly predict that hundreds of thousands of hungry, cold and homeless people will take to the streets. Others, like the current Tory leadership candidates and their blue-rinsed, corduroy-trousered supporters emptily claim that tax cuts are the way out of this, coincidentally nest-feathering their barmy, conservatively valued lifestyles. Others still, and today (Aug 15th) we’ve finally had Kier Starmer’s admittedly bold sticking plaster, think we can borrow our collective way out of this crisis, but I have an even more audacious answer: western leaders collectively pressurising Zelensky to grit his weary if provenly brave teeth and offer Russia the Eastern Ukrainian territories that they’d already effectively partitioned, whilst offering Ukraine NATO membership so that it could not realistically happen again. And that would surely persuade Putin to turn on the taps again? The carrot would be providing billions to re-build Ukraine, the stick ending our military support. Likelihood of that happening? 3/10.

Then we have the CLIMATE CHANGE that has led to a drought that even if rainfall returns to what was once normal, experts say will take years to overcome, with the consequent rise in already skyrocketing food prices (and, even more importantly, me unable to use my narrowboat). Solution? Re-nationalise the water companies which would, yes, line shareholder’s pockets in the short term but enable more effective and universal management of a dwindling basic resource and have a positive effect on leakage and infrastructure investment, e.g. new reservoirs. At the same time increase investment in off-shore windfarms and nuclear, e.g. small, recirculating water self-contained fission reactors are already hitting the market, each one capable of powering 600 to 700 homes (N.B. Thanks for the heads-up, Terry Kreuger). Also, stop building new homes on greenfield sites where water (and other) supplies are unavailable except to the detriment of existing communities and farmers. In addition, stop the manufacture of heavy oil engines which world shipping relies on but which chuck more carbon monoxide into the atmosphere per week than Europe’s entire fleet of motor vehicles emit in a year. And then there are jet airplane engines… Likelihood: 2/10.

Next up is the NHS which I touched on last week when vilifying the fat and the lazy and our government’s refusal to recognise the cost of obesity, and thus far I’ve had no death threats but then again, I don’t do social media. The answer to our crumbling health service’s basic problems, i.e. understaffing and under investment in hospitals, primary care and care homes is simple: means testing. I am far from wealthy but I’d happily pay for my currently free prescriptions and, say, the x-rays and orthopaedic services I needed after my recent ‘bike accident. Several friends who’ve required joints replacements or cancer care, and in my case focussed ultrasound brain surgery and could afford it have done so which, if the NHS were better organised would free up over-stretched services and reduce not only waiting times for those that can’t, as well as the price of what is currently referred to as private healthcare. Likelihood: 4/10

Finally we have the ECONOMY which is already fast disappearing down the toilet. Now I’m no commie, and apart from obvious candidates like water, energy and transport infrastructure see no benefits to the common good in nationalisation, but our fat-cat economy favours the few and relies on short-termism. The wave of strikes we’re already seeing partly as a consequence of inflation is also set to accelerate with effects that will further damage our national industries, cause public aggravation and outrage and dangerously increase our reliance on despotic regimes like China, Myanmar and increasingly India whose often disgraceful moral and ideological governance we’ll therefore have to quietly accept… and look where that’s got us importing Russian energy? Solution: use long-term investment strategies to rebuild our manufacturing, pharmaceutical and agricultural industries and massively increase funding for computer and other hi-tech outfits. This could and should involve finding alternatives to ultimately finite precious metals and rare earths. Likelihood: with further Tory governments 3/10, Labour ones: maybe 5/10.

Actually I could go on and ride out such personal hobby-horses as the immigration debacle, social media toxicity and its attendant intolerances, our damaged education system, the denuding of local government services and the dangerous consequences of social isolation but happily for you, I’ll instead indulge in an amusing little Merlot and immerse myself in a good book… adult fantasy, obviously.

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