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LOCKDOWN LORE May 3, 2021

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

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:

THE GOOD

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…

THE BAD

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…

THE UGLY

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

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CELEBRATING THE IMPROBABLE February 13, 2021

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.
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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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LET’S GET PERSONAL THIS CHRISTMAS December 23, 2020

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.
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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.
9 comments

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.
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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.
2 comments

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:

https://steemit.com/wales/@azra/fron-goch-wind-farm-or-radnor-fforest-wales

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

EnergyPolicyMailbox@gov.wales

Kirsty Williams kirsty.williams@assembly.wales

Fay Jones fay.jones.mp@parliament.uk

Jennifer.Pride1@gov.wales

julie.james@gov.wales

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.

Beyond Coping With Covid August 17, 2020

Posted by markswill in About me, Corona Lockdown Lore, Media, Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.
4 comments

For me personally it’s been a miserable week or more, but where there’s a will and cheap vodka, there’s a way to keep at it… although last time I stumbled down this metaphoric road, I threatened that it might be the last time I scribbled about Covid-19, but as ever, I lied. Our lives are so governed, or at least hugely affected by the virus that it’s impossible to get through a day without referring to it in emails, texts, phone calls and if we’re lucky or brave enough to venture beyond our four walls, real life conversations.

And as far as the latter is concerned, it’s quite amazing that there are many people, I’m tempted to say still many people, who are resolutely and completely locked down. True, those that I know do have ‘underlying health issues’ which were they to contract the virus, would certainly put their well-being and possibly their lives at risk, but I wonder – and I have asked them – if they’ll only emerge from their self-imposed purdah when a vaccine is available? If so, they could be in it, or more precisely out of it, for a very long time.

Which inevitably raises questions about the quality of life we should all be contemplating as the pandemic marches on? Accounts of theatre companies, art galleries, restaurants, pubs and now cinemas closing down grimly pervade the media, and although many of us gratefully socialise in small groups in our gardens and homes that will surely end come late autumn. What will replace all that social and creative nourishment if the virus is with us forever?

I must thank Roslyn Byfield for quoting journalist Andrew Rawnsley in her latest Diary of a Therapist in Lockdown blog, (https://therapistinlockdown.co.uk/) who has similar concerns but suggests that our government just wishes this whole thing would quietly disappear: ‘They dreamed of returning to that prelapsarian age in which you could eat out with your family, go drinking with your mates, commute to work, celebrate a religious festival or jet off to a holiday somewhere reliably sunny without having to worry about catching or spreading a deadly disease… The fear swirling around Number 10 is that the public will be much less tolerant of a resurgence, especially if it looks like the result of incompetence and recklessness’.

That may be true but metaphoric hand-wringing about the government’s mishandling of the Corona pandemic and everything that’s flowed from it is frankly better articulated by serious politicians, journalists and especially informed experts – such as Ms Byfield – although both Philip Collins and Max Hastings separately in The Times last week angrily bemoaned that Boris deliberately built a cabinet of weak ‘yes’ men entirely unsuited to govern in times like these. Meanwhile I think like some of my friends I’m experiencing a kind of cerebral fatigue, or at least an information overload: those of us who gaily posted witty YouTube vids about supermarket hoarding and Trumpian risk denials have long abandoned their social media frolics as the grim realities of the long haul set in.

What now exercises me far more, and which I’ve touched on previously, are the societal shifts that we may witness during and following the massive economic recession that just this week the Bank of England and others are now predicting. This was presaged by an unprecedented 20.4% fall in economic activity over the last quarter, and 2.2% in the previous quarter, i.e. before Corona, with more to follow and talk in the financial press of ‘a depression’ which is distinctly different to, and worse than ‘a recession’, the last of which we endured after the banking crisis of 2011.

Already 730,000+ jobs have been lost and up to 7million more, or 24-25% of the UK workforce, are being predicted by some, admittedly gloomy economists, but even these figures don’t begin to predict the effect this may have on our lives, albeit as hinted by Rawnsley.

It looks very much like the performing arts as we once enjoyed or even understood them, will be virtually extinct unless an effective vaccine can be made universally available by early next year. Since ‘easing’, my sister’s Picturehouse cinema chain, is recording audiences of less that 20% of what they were before lockdown (breakeven was about 65–70%), which given the extent of the company’s debt, and overheads, means that they’ll likely be forced to close down within months, a situation common to most of the cinema industry. Bars and restaurants, at least those that haven’t already gone bust or closed for good, are hurting for business and, as our oh-so-wise leaders have suggested, could suffer a further lockdown if Covid infections rise again once the schools re-open. The travel and holiday industries are already teetering on the brink of collapse, and with them hundreds of thousands more jobs, the potential end of the aircraft manufacturing industry to be followed I guess by automotive manufacturing because people want or be able to afford to keep buying cars. (This is already happening with motorcycles, of which I have more intimate knowledge).

In the short and medium term, online sales of everything from food to fashion will continue to enjoy the commercial upturn that the pandemic handed them, but that of course means the high street shopping will become more or less history, and the effects on the environment, the ‘gig economy’ and the drain on natural resources of third world countries will be as yet incalculably disastrous.

Newspapers, magazines and t.v. newsrooms are closing, or severely cutting editorial resources, inevitably leading to social media as the main source of information for many, especially the under-45s, and how reliable will that be?

Local councils will have their budgets slashed even further, with consequent cuts in healthcare, cultural and housing services and our roads will become even more potholed and dangerous than they already are. Can it be more than a year before banks start going bust, our savings become relatively worthless and the property values so many Brits tacitly count as their financial refuge will tank after the current, temporary upswing driven by middle-class urban flight? (The Office for Budget Responsibility predicts a fall of 6.4% this year and up to 16.4% in 2021). Crime will likely rise hugely, both on street and more organised levels: lock-up your Land Rovers and laptops, never mind your daughters.

Of course we’re not alone in this: Brazil, India and other less economically developed states are already going backwards and one consequences of this is the unrest and oppressive governmental responses we are now seeing all around the globe. Can it in fact be too long before our standards of living are majorly, if not irrevocably diminished?

Sorry to be such a harbinger of doom, but if anyone can show me signs of hope beyond the qualities of friendship that most of us enjoy amongst our nearest and dearest, then I’d be grateful to see them – the Comment box is on the right – and my motorcycling-related scrawls can be found at http://www.runningoutofroad.uk

Covid Coping Chronicle No 16 July 28, 2020

Posted by markswill in Corona Lockdown Lore, Media, Navel Gazing.
6 comments

This, my sixteenth Covid Coping Chronicle, may be my last before I revert to more randomised rants and in fact this one is itself only slightly focused on the miserable virus and its consequences both locally and beyond.

On the plus side however I’ve noticed more of us hereabouts have a spring in our step as lockdown easing continues, whilst still continuing to exercise care about social distancing and higher levels of protective hygiene. Any day now we’re told that the Welsh government will allow us to visit pubs and sit in restaurants and I must say that my first visit with friends to a restaurant just over the border and an art gallery a few days later were, in their own small ways, very uplifting and oddly reassuring.

However within days I was wringing my hands at the government’s latest Corona fiasco, namely the sudden announcement of 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving here from Spain, which they could’ve prepared us for a week ago instead of at 24 hours’ notice. I mention this not because of the hugely ironic fact that Transport Minister Grant Shapps had just left for his Spanish hols, but because the son of a friend is shortly due to return from his Spanish hols – albeit via France – to start a new job, which on current form he won’t be able to do. And there is also the despair that the travel and aviation industries are expressing with warnings of wholesale collapse if Something Isn’t Done… and done soon.

I have wrung my metaphoric hands about the potential economic damage of Covid-19 and our government’s approach to it before, but as the weeks pass by we are starting to see it’s actual manifestation. British Airways selling off its entire fleet of Boeing 747s, its considerable art collection and sacking thousands of staff are in my view the tip of the iceberg in travel industry terms, but closer to home – well my home, anyway – we have the failure of the magazine publishing trade, which sure as night follows day, will be mirrored by newspaper publishing.

The internet, with its endless supply of free material on any subject available to anyone had, for a decade or more, chipped away at magazine circulations and advertising income, and as someone whose spent my entire working life editing and scribbling for print on paper, I saw my income dwindling as payment rates were cut back as a consequence, and once commercially buoyant and then borderline solvent magazines succumbed to closure. But with lockdown and the closure of approx. 5,500 retail outlets that sold them, and the absence of rail and air travellers who often made impulse purchases, circulations have tumbled further and many once iconic titles have closed. And as maverick editor James Brown (Loaded, GQ, Jack) noted last week, “The essential properties of magazines – the feeling of being in a club, of being given information or humour – you can get those things on Instagram, TikTok or wherever.”

As well as my own now non-existent income from journalism, I was further reminded of how media has changed by the death last week of Tony Elliott, a dear friend and colleague who I first met and instantly bonded with back in the late 1960s when he’d just launched Time Out and I was music editor of International Times. Tony had been ill with a second bout of lung cancer for some months and when I last saw him in June, he was frail and having breathing difficulties but still with his sharp humour and spot-on recall as we joshed about old times and mutual friends made over five decades of publishing.

But Time Out had already long succumbed to online publishing’s relentless slaughter, its once vital listings content and the advertising that it generated being the major fatality and although I had been personally involved in an effort to persuade Tony to put elements of the magazine online in the mid-90s he, rightly I think, believed that the then still lucrative printed version had plenty of life left in it. But come mid-noughties income was fast dwindling and despite a huge international presence thanks to licensing, debts were mounting and Tony was forced to sell most of the company to an outfit that until lockdown, still published a freesheet given away at tube stations but made most of its income from online listings. And with Covid-19 putting paid to virtually all metropolitan entertainment, dining and the like, how long can even that remain the case?

Does any of this matter? Will print publishing, like coal mining and cotton spinning disappear and new trades and industries emerge to replace the employment it once provided? Possibly so. But when Tony died I cried inconsolably and metaphorically shed even more tears for other foot soldiers who cut our publishing teeth in the alternative press and have also departed in recent years – Richard Neville, Felix Dennis and Andrew Fisher (Oz), Keith Morris, John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, Mick Farren and Sue Miles (It) and others, names the current generation of social media wheeler-dealers may never have heard of, and would have no reason to care about.

But in many small and in the case of Felix Dennis and Tony Elliott not-so-small ways, we changed and influenced the world of publishing for decades, and directly and indirectly forged many thousands of jobs and careers. As I fear we’ll soon see with other once great industries, Covid-19 may well have accelerated the death of print but old farts like me who grew up with it will doubtless cling onto it until we, too, finally disappear.

If you liked what you just read, you may want to get future blogs automatically using the link in the right hand column… Or even read my motorcycle blog, Running Out Of Road at http://www.runningoutofroad.uk

 

 

 

COVID COPING CHRONICLE No. 15 July 10, 2020

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

Here we are again, surfing the waves of medicinal fate and to continue the ghastly metaphor, hoping we can swim rather than sink as the tide drags us away from the certainties of shore. But for my loyal if increasingly exasperated followers, I’ll try and keep it brief this time.

And since last time we’ve had Rishi Sunak, the preternaturally young-looking (and tiny) chancellor, has thrown another £30billion into the economic recovery package that already stood at £120billion… depending how you define it. I’ll refrain from commenting on the details as you’ve probably heard, read or quite possibly wearily ignored them, but I will just reiterate that we are somehow going to have to pay for this in the long run, and that will be in addition to facing the economic and social fall-out of unemployment on a truly unimaginable scale. I’ll also refrain from lambasting our beloved leader for his crass and insulting claim that care home workers were responsible for the high death rates amongst them and their wards, but his inability to simply apologise underlines just how the pandemic is returning us to politics as usual, e.g. where those who make errors of judgment always blame someone else.

What I will note is that as parliament passed the first reading of the much-delayed Domestic Abuse Bill, our previous leaderene, Mrs May, today eloquently, even angrily (by her pindered-up standards) pointed out that such abuse has soared by over 40% since lockdown. And quite apart from the direct economic damage wrought by Covid-19, we have yet to fully appreciate its mental and emotional costs. Loneliness is the most obvious issue, especially amongst the older and more vulnerable, but even amongst the young(er), the lack of human interaction, never mind touch, will doubtless take a huge toll which, again, the health service will have to pay the price for. Mind you, if you’ve got shares in Big Pharma you may benefit from the spike in anti-depressant prescriptions. Okay, that’s not very funny, but neither is life generally for many of us who’ve muddled along okay during lockdown.

Speaking personally – oh, yes, that’s what this blog is supposed to be – like quite a few friends I’m increasingly fixated with keeping fit and as well as cycling and sit-ups I’m now using dumb-bells to try and excise the flab – fat-chance, ho-ho-ho. Others swear by Joe Wickes, who I can hardly begrudge the route to riches the pandemic has given him.

And talking to friends recently on the high street – now happily restored to random parking, BTW – we noted that attention spans initially interrupted by an unexpected need to contact almost everyone we’ve ever known driven, I think, by a sense of heightened mortality, had now improved to the point where we are reading more books and having longer if less frequent conversations with those we love most. Dreams have also become longer and more vivid amongst some of us, and happily they aren’t now so anxiety-riven.

However the biggest change I’ve noticed in myself is the growing and vexatious dichotomy between how I should approach life now that lockdown is being eased. The Times, which I buy most days, has stopped printing daily totals for new infections and deaths, and so apart from seeing the latter on News At Ten, I’ve no idea whether the streets, shops and public transport are getting safer or not. So should we now be socialising indoors with friends? Dare I travel to London by eco-friendly train instead of my car or motorbike, never mind visit much missed cinemas or restaurants via the tube?

SAGE spokespeople tut-tutting at the crowds thronging Soho streets when the pubs re-opened and delayed, cack-handed government plans to re-open schools – oops, there I go again – should remind us that the pandemic is far from over, yet we are being encouraged to behave as if everything is on the up. Indeed locally I’ve been stood down from stewarding High Street shoppers because everyone’s got used to queuing – yet another sign of our changing behaviour and that we’re getting used to the ‘new normal’?

But what exactly is it, and will we? These are the questions that constantly bedevil me and I bet I’m not the only one, so any thoughts you might have on the subject using the Comment button below, will be eagerly read… if not shuddered at.

Please click on the button in the right hand panel if you’d like to get alerts to these blogs, and if you’re of a ‘biking bent, try my Running Out Of Road blogs at http://www.runningoutofroad.uk