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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.
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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.
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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.
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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

 

 

Covid Coping Chronicle No. 14 July 2, 2020

Posted by markswill in About me, Corona Lockdown Lore, Politics, Schmolitics.
9 comments

It’s Not Almost Over… ‘Til It’s Really Over

Just under a week ago I scrawled my last rant and I see that in that time the stats tell me almost 100 curious souls with probably too much time on their hands have read it. But that’s a fair few less than read the previous one which was still less than the one before that, and apart from the questionable quality of my prose, this maybe reflects the steep decline in activity, much of it admirably lighthearted, within the two Covid-related WhatsApp groups I’m part of, all of which is perhaps evidence that lockdown fatigue is still with us, and steadily increasing – which is doubtless driving the irresponsible behaviour we’ve seen on our beaches, in beauty spots, at political demos and will arguably increase once the pubs are open this weekend.

However before I get to lash out at Bozo the clown and his circus of fools who are allegedly managing the pandemic and its economic consequences, I’ve noticed that in my little Welsh border town life is slowly changing, and not always in a good way, as a result of this. Fewer people than ever are wearing face-masks in shops – the only places, sadly, where communal activity is really evident – although paradoxically I see many drivers wearing masks in their solely occupied cars – which seems bonkers to me, and on my daily cycle riders I also see fellow pedallers wearing ‘em too. Weird or what?

Paradoxically, I try and remember to wear surgical gloves whenever I go shopping for as we’ve been told, the virus sticks lovingly to hard surfaces which of course includes just about everything we pick-up in Spar, Premier and the chemists – yet almost no-one else seems to follow suit.

I’m still stewarding/monitoring entry into high street emporia, usually in the mornings, and reckon that fewer and fewer people are using them, which is in inverse proportion to the increasing number of Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons delivery vans that seem to float around town – few if any of their drivers wearing face-masks, incidentally. It would be ironically hilarious if it wasn’t so vexatious that the county council chose this week to ban parking in the high street so that pedestrians, who hitherto managed quite well enough thank you to politely distance themselves from others will now be able to walk in the road itself, which they did anyway. Of course this will further decrease already diminished footfall and further imperil what shops we have left, and all because some council pen-pusher thinks it’s a good wheeze to appear concerned about the health of a small town that has yet to have a Covid casualty. When that same do-gooder will think we’re sensible enough to visit the library again – which would personally do quite a bit for our mental health and the life of the town generally is another matter – but I’m not holding my breath.

And since my estranged wife left our generally companionable joint quarantine to go and inhabit a bubble with the extended family she understandably much missed, I’m finally experiencing self-isolation for real, and the lack of garden tea- and drinks-parties that passed for community life in recent months. But then she was always a bigger social draw than I and the upside is that I can return to the sort of selfish and occasionally squalid bachelor life that I last enjoyed, ooh, over a decade ago. Which means watching t.v. ‘til the small hours, showering only every third day, playing Brian Wilson and Ben Folds at max volume whilst I cook my sad little evening meals (and sometimes whilst I’m composing these rancorous communiqués at a time when most god-fearing folk are tucked up in bed with a good read. Or better still, asleep). Thank gawd this is a detached dwelling, then.

Talking of detachment – and don’t worry, I’m almost finished and I haven’t even had a drink yet – it now must be clear to any half-sentient observer that the government has lost the plot and with it what little control it had of the pandemic. As I wrote last week, much of this is due to the realisation that the economic cost of keeping the country as safe as possible from the virus is so staggeringly huge that they’re taking equally huge risks in the ways that they’re easing the lockdown. They seem to be naively hoping that Covid-19 will not spike again, or at least not nationally, and fire-fighting localised outbreaks in places like Leicester, where they can’t or won’t even give local councils the data and tools to combat them, just underlines how desperate they are.

Meantime at the time of writing some 11,000 job – that’s eleven thousand – have been lost in just the previous 48 hours which again underlines the threat to our economy, cultural and mental health and ultimately I fear, social stability which I foresaw last time. So be afraid, be very afraid.

On which note I think it’s time to shut this down and reach for a bottle of Spar’s finest own-brand vodka.

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Don’t forget if you liked this, and haven’t done already, you can get alerts to future ones by clicking on the link in the right hand panel.

And if you’re a bit of a biker, have a go at my other blog which is re-publishing some of the hundreds of motorcycle magazine columns I’ve scribbled since 1971 at http://www.runningoutofroad.uk

COVID COPING CHRONICLE No.13 June 26, 2020

Posted by markswill in About me, Corona Lockdown Lore, Politics, Schmolitics.
1 comment so far

It’s Going To Get Better… Before It Gets Worse

Anybody keeping count – although why would they? – will note that this is my thirteenth Covid Coping Chronic, and also that the gaps between them are getting longer and longer. That in itself is an indication of the ennui that I think is affecting many of us as we’re now into the fourth month of lockdown, something that for me, anyway, has had other unexpected effects which I suspect many of you may also be suffering from – if ‘suffering’ is the right term. (Clue: it isn’t – at least not in relative terms).

Anyway, have you stopped spending hours every day emailing, texting and even phoning family and friends who in many cases you had little regular contact with before lockdown, and forwarding them amusing little videos and if so, why?

And without a second thought you probably and  happily stopped cheering the NHS of a Thursday evening, but why?

And have you spent less time than you did previously watching boxed sets online and hiring films on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and if so, why?

Also, is the attention span that once was erratic due to the demands of social contacting and streaming t.v. slowly returning to the point where you can now actually sit and read seventy straight pages of that challenging little novel raved over in the Sunday Times by a first time transgender Hispanic author? Or are you playing Scrabble again, and can actually manage a 1000 piece jigsaw or maybe return to knitting? I know I am… or at least some of the above?

If any of the above rings true, it may also be a consequence of the tea and drinks parties you’ve been having with anything up to five other souls in your lovely garden, or the trips you’ve made to see Auntie Jean or your darling wee grandchildren in the Oxfordshire vicarage they’re self-isolating in with your hedge-fund manager daughter-in-law… before she loses her £160k job in the city this autumn – which she will (see below).

In other words, not only are we pretty much all suffering from lockdown fatigue, but we’re also trying to emulate the realities of pre-Corona life and, indeed, are less and less worried about actually catching the bloody virus than we once were. And of course to an extent I’d hesitate to try and quantify, this must be due to the government’s haphazard and worryingly rapid easing of the quarantine ‘regulations’ which I believe are increasingly driven by the harsh economic imperitives of a Treasury that’s seen its borrowing spiral out of control rather than the medical realities which are seeing vast crowds on the Sussex beaches and huge illegal street parties. Two points then: well over a 1000 people are still contracting the virus and over 100 people dying from it every day, and we are still the sickest man in Europe as far as this pandemic is concerned; the absolutely devastating economic impact of this, and our government’s shoddy response to it are going to augur a social disaster that it’s almost impossible to imagine.

Remember how we, or at least many of us reeled at Jeremy Corbyn’s approx. £89billion spending plans during his 2019 election campaign, which is but a mere bagatelle compared to leaked Treasury documents that suggest the cost of the pandemic will be £337billion. Simplistically speaking, Corbyn proposed to re-jig a relatively healthy economy so that it favoured the poorer members of society, but Johnson’s mob will likely have to spend nearly four times that just to keep the country going. Which will mean many local councils bankrupted – several of the larger urban ones squealed this week that they’re already almost skint – and so we can kiss goodbye to non-essential services like libraries, leisure centres, road maintenance, most care homes etc., etc., and with major companies such as Rolls Royce, British Airways, Swissport. Royal Mail, BT etc. already shedding tens of thousands of jobs which will become hundreds of thousands once the furlough scheme ends, I genuinely fear that major civil unrest based on joblessness and its ugly bedfellow, homelessness are all but inevitable.

And if Corbyn was ridiculed for having a magic money tree, this Tory government, and indeed many others around the world, are going to need a whole bloody forest of them. So where the money is going to come from is but one major question that so far no-one serious is seriously talking about.

Okay, if I’ve spooked you a bit with any or all of the above, it’s only because I am, too, and having just returned from a social bubble in London – I had to drive there to test my eyesight, you understand – where I found adherence to the lockdown rules much less scrupulous than here in (so far) Covid-unscathed rural Wales, I confidently predict a spike in infection rates pretty soon. And that, whilst it may not return our coping mechanisms and communally inspiring behaviour to, say, April levels, may make us a little less cavalier about social distancing, stash our savings under the mattress instead of in banks… and keep a baseball bat by the back door.

Oh, and if you inexplicably liked what you just read, do please click on the Subscribe button and get alert to future rants, and if you didn’t, but like ‘bikes, try my new Running Out Of Road blog at http://www.runningoutofroad.uk

COVID COPING CHRONICLE No. 12 June 15, 2020

Posted by markswill in About me, Cars and Bikes, Media, Politics, Schmolitics.
1 comment so far

As we cruise disconsolately into the third month of lockdown it feels, well, not really like lockdown anymore. The government’s on-the-hoof announcements regarding easing or, in the case of schools, not actually easing restrictions on social distancing – see my June 5th blog – and in most cases their unwillingness to consult much in advance with the authorities and trade associations who must implement the new rules, has been as shocking as ever and my only consolation is that Bozo the Clown’s popularity and general trust in his government has steadily drifted downwards.

Partly this is down to the fact that we now have a credible Labour opposition led by Kier Starmer who, whilst arguably a bit lacking in charisma is proving to be a serious and seriously-minded foe. But it’s good to see that Tory back-benchers are also starting to voice their dismay and frustration with Boris and the small, tight-knight group who appear to be running (down) the country in the face of the ongoing pandemic. Both Robert Forsyth and the ever-reliable Mathew Parris in Saturday’s Times and a major feature in yesterday’s Sunday Times rightly excoriate these bumbling intellectual pygmies who, let’s face it lack any significant experience of managing the affairs of state, much less so in times of severe crisis, and even more surprisingly both the Mail and Johnson’s ex-employer, the Telegraph, appear to have had enough of their deathly and economically damaging bumbling.

The latest harmfully delaying issue is the reduction from 2-metre to 1-metre social distancing rule being demanded in particular by the leisure industries, many of whose business, e.g. pubs, restaurants, theatres etc. will likely go under if Something Isn’t Done. Boris of course categorically stated last week that the arguably arbitrary 2-metre rule was not negotiable, but as is the way of things in this dangerous farce, we are told today that it is ‘being reviewed’. So let’s add that to the growing list of Covid-19 u-turns and failures, e.g. opening schools, the track’n’trace smartphone app, testing rates, lockdown start date etc., etc.

However there will, someday, be a day of reckoning which you can bet the cabinet, or rather Dominic Cummings who seems to be running it, will delay for as long as possible, or even longer, but when it comes you can also bet that the ‘scientific advice’ which they’ve always and emphatically claimed informed all their thinking, will be loudly blamed. (Parris has also recently written eloquently about the fallacious nature of much of this so-called advice).

That said, I am slightly doubtful that reducing the social distance measure will not augur a rise in CV-19 infection rates, as I fear that the recent mass street protests may also do and which the government, rightly or wrongly were unable to stop on the same medical grounds that they’ve stopped all other mass gatherings.

Broadly speaking then, the ‘easing’ of quarantine regulations continues to be more haphazard and perhaps unnecessarily delayed than in other developed countries, with the aforementioned dire economic consequences is driving such concern, especially on the Tory backbenches. The worry is further knee-jerk policy-making, often made without parliamentary scrutiny like Priti ‘it wasn’t my idea’ Patel’s border restrictions, will only worsen, not improve the country’s ability to recover economically, but also lead to prolonged infection and higher death rates.

Here in Wales, the devolved government is operating with even more unexplained and economically damaging obfustication, which at the time of writing means no schooling ‘til at least September, non-essential shops remaining closed and travel of more than five miles from one’s home is banned.

I’ve noticed that people in our town are increasingly ignoring Plaid Cymru’s ‘rules’ – and not just because we’re a couple of hundred yards over the border from Shropshire. No, people are just fed up, don’t believe or trust British governments of any stripe, and with just one isolated CV-19 victim in a town of some 2500+ souls – thankfully fully recovered – we’re all creeping towards a new normal, whatever it may ultimately turn out to be. And now…

As for myself, well after ten days of wrestling with the technology, I’m finally launching my new, motorcycling-related blog today, June 15th. Now the popular blog-platform, WordPress, which hosts what you’re reading now, has added numerous bells’n’whistles over the past few years which for aged non-geeks like me made it far harder, hair-tearingly complicated in fact, to produce something even vaguely similar to this. It’s done this in the name of offering more ‘control’ over presentation but of course this means WordPress can charge more whilst ironically, for me anyway, making it more difficult.

Anyway, having launched Bike magazine in 1971 and grandiosely describing it as ‘the motorcycle magazine that dares to be different’ – its current publishers claim it as ‘the magazine that invented biking’ – for nearly fifty inglorious years thereafter I’ve continued scribbling my apparently controversial views, wild claims and mindless nonsense in some of the other magazines I launched, edited and/or published, and several I didn’t, whilst occasionally contributing to the magazine I started all those years ago, most recently as its Custom Bike Editor.

However the wretched Covid-19 pandemic and its consequential lockdown has left me with even fewer opportunities to perpetrate my dubious views and so-called humour. And to a compulsive scribbler and committed biker like me, this has prompted me to re-publish, with contemporary comments and even the odd fresh tirade, some of my several hundred columns from 1972 onwards under the original Running Out Of Road banner… even though there’s no bloody money in it.

So if you’re vaguely interested, do check out www.runningoutofroad.uk and tell me what you think… better, still follow it!

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My friend Jenny Walters, who does important and challenging work for the Freedom From Torture organisation, has asked me to add a link to FFT’s campaign to support torture victims who are disbelieved by governments and other authorities, which I’m happy to do, so please check out: https://beyondbelief.freedomfromtorture.org/

CODVID COPING CHRONICLE No.11 June 5, 2020

Posted by markswill in About me, Corona Lockdown Lore, Politics, Schmolitics.
1 comment so far

One thing I’ve particularly noticed over the last fortnight or so is how adherence to the lockdown strictures – one can no longer really call them ‘rules’ – is steadily diminishing.

To whit: many parents initially told that they must send their children back to school on June 1st soon made it clear that they wouldn’t; people who were told that they couldn’t gather together, even outdoors, with more than two family members began doing so anyway and thus it was that numbers were expanded to six, and not necessarily kith and kin; driving to beauty spots to exercise Rover was happening despite stern warnings, often from the rozzers, yet people did and so that, too, became ‘acceptable’… and so forth and so on.

Arguably much of this constraint-flouting was a consequence of anti-elite supremo, Dominic Cummings – probably the most powerful man in Britain due to his sinister stronghold over his nominal masters – visiting his family estate on Co. Durham, where, incidentally it transpires that he stayed in a house which probably didn’t have planning permission, and consequent public disdain for rules handed down from, yes, an elite he was a key member of… But otherwise it seems to be an example of a growing lockdown fatigue.

This in itself could prove catastrophic, for weren’t we repeatedly warned by our blonde clown of a leader that if restrictions were lifted too early, there’d be a devastating spike in infection and deaths – which for once we’re already world leaders in, save for America – and thus even worse economic calamity? But perhaps, nay probably to deflect attention from the Cummings fiasco, restrictions were substantially eased before we had a fully functional Track, Trace & Test regime in place – which we still don’t – and perhaps next week we’ll see the start of a spike that puts yet more pressure on the NHS and thence the return of really draconian quarantine ‘rules’. But in the meantime, another symptom of this fatigue, namely the Thursday evening applause for nurses, carers etc. has quietly (sic) ended and with it I think more general respect for what our government, and the scientific advisers they increasingly shelter behind, tell us and tell us to do.

As several senior medical and teaching officials, and even some less compliant SAGE members have already warned, this is truly dangerous, as dangerous perhaps as allowing major sporting events to happen and the abandonment of Track and Test back in March, and keeping our borders open to all until dim-witted bully Pritti Patel decided effectively to close them as of next week.

But let’s hope I’m wrong, let’s hope the tetchiness I mentioned in my last Chronicle and vigilante snitching on the socially distancing disobedient fade away and – okay, this is a really massive leap of faith – that anecdotal evidence from Italy that the Corona virus is actually mutating into something milder and less deadly proves credible. Then we might indeed see a political landscape that does indeed justify an easing that’s not based on knee-jerk reactions to changes in public mood and the failure of half-baked strategies.

However I and several friends are experiencing fatigue of a more psychological and less tangible nature. The lock-downed weeks having long since merged into a miasma of small tasks and goals and meals and exercise and t.v. that render each successive day much the same as the previous and next, I’ve found my motivation and concentration seriously slipping and a growing sense of pointlessness governing everything I’d otherwise think about doing. The initial flurry of phone and online social contact has also waned because, I think, there’s very little new to talk about save to rail at the government’s handling of the pandemic, and even those lonely, anxious singleton friends with underlying health issues living in city flats have, like any half-intelligent actual prisoner, learnt to live with incarceration. No, this is not by any means real depression, because I and many of the similarly afflicted, are not actually distressed by such ennui but perhaps with no clear end in sight we are becoming too inured to the idea that even our small acts of lockdown altruism– shopping for others, hand-making PPE, stewarding on the high street – are fairly meaningless in the great scheme of things.

But we will continue to sharpen our gallows humour, shout at the broadcast news, fail to consume more than 15 or 20 pages of our otherwise diverting novels at a throw, and hope that we’ll eventually emerge from it all mentally and emotionally unscathed. But I’m not betting on it.

For more (and better written!) commentary on giant haystacks and his risible management of the pandemic, read this piece by the Guardian‘s John Crace:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jun/03/no-hiding-place-for-boris-at-pmqs

There also a great Mathew Parris column in today’s (Saturday) Times, but I can’t give you a link because there’s a paywall.