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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. 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.

 

COVID COPING CHRONICLE No. 3 April 8, 2020

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

 

As we roll, or rather begrudgingly slide into week three of lockdown, questions are rightly being asked about an exit strategy and answers from our servant/masters are evasive and ambiguous.

Logical though it is, it’s not enough to say as D. Raab did yesterday, that we, i.e. they, will have to wait until the effects of the lockdown manifest themselves before a strategy can be formulated. And whilst he assured us that the government are working on various scenarios for when that day arrives, I think what an increasingly anxious nation needs to know is what options there might be, especially in the light of the plans already in place or announced in, say, China and Austria.

Indeed it’s the lack of transparency – a clichéd phrase but one bearing much resonance right now – that irritates both the media and the public as the virus tightens its indiscriminate grip. The longer this goes on, the greater the public stress and anxiety, and the further down the toilet the economy will be once its all over. Although the media seems to’ve dropped the baton on this, the shocking lack of testing and confusion over test formulae and execution mean that the government’s possible exit strategies will surely be far more limited than, say, Germany’s or South Korea’s. And now Boris is in an ICU – which of course is of great concern – let us not forget that millions of his subjects are also in a perilous situation and many thousands have already succumbed to this insidious illness and over five thousand of them, died. Surely they – we – deserve some genuine clarity about how and if possible when it all might end, which may thus provide hope and the fortitude to continue our enforced incarceration?

Talking of which, I thank Mark E (again!) for providing this little gem which make’s salutary reading.

And TOW #2, I can’t forget that being over 70 I am evidently in a ‘vulnerable group’ which means that self-isolation is, or should be, especially critical. But like many of my friends, I don’t feel or think like 70-somethings in some cultures and societies seem to behave – at least judging by the assumptions and images dished up by the media and especially their advertisers. You wouldn’t catch me dead (sorry) on a cruise ship, buying beige, elastic waistband  trousers or easy-on loafers and I certainly don’t intend to stop dancing like a fool when the opportunity arises or stop riding and driving as fast as I can as often as I can. Irresponsible? Peter Pan-glossian? Well so be it, but with relatively little time left after this is all over, I intend to live life to the max and if the worst comes to the worst and I do croak from Corona, then at least I had a decent crack at it.

Finally, whilst I’m still astride my high horse, mention of the media reminds me that this lockdown is inevitably hastening the demise of print, especially local newspapers and freesheets. How long can it be, for example, before Metro and London’s Evening Standard go under? Or the local weeklies that do their best to take local politicians and vested interests to task and provide vital glue that keeps communities together? True, we are suddenly all hugely using digital media to communicate during this wretched plague, but in the main it lacks the resources to adequately investigate and challenge what the ruling classes and commercial interests are doing and, conversely, renders us all vulnerable to conspiracy theories, misinformation and entertaining distraction.

But talking of the latter, here are few links to some of the many amusing vids that are currently doing the round – so take a look and enjoy them… whilst you still can!

https://www.captiongenerator.com/1747872/Lockdownfall?fbclid=IwAR1TteTozjU25j7npNdsAwPSXzlkJR5tmHm8rE77p-hjkJj6GbJdjntVODk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUrl3W8GwpE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojrtwXqqc6g

Thanks for reading thus far, do sign up to get more of this stuff if you like it (see panel on the right), and take care.

MW

BACK FROM THE (LIVING) DEAD September 3, 2017

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

It’s been three years since I last penned one of these blogs, something anyone who’s still with me may recall I abandoned because I’d finally realised that it was a bit of an arrogance to assume that anyone would be interested in my pontifications. And on top of that there was also the rather less worthy realisation that I was running out of steam…

Well the steam has sort of returned, if only because after a strange but not unrewarding few years and a couple of false starts (which included nearly launching a custom ‘bike which simply had too much online competition, and failing to get the editorship of a ‘bike mag I wrote for, probably ’cause I’m too old and too bolshy), I’m launching another magazine – the same one I threatened to unleash three years ago!  In fact it’s the ninth title I’ve thrown at an unsuspecting world in a what I laughingly call my 45-odd (very odd) year publishing career, albeit some 26 years after Frank Westworth and I launched the amusingly-named but ill-fated Jalopy. And Frank and Jalopy now have a certain spooky resonance because my new periodical is also aimed at drivers (rather than riders, as most of the others were), and Frank’s writing for it. It’s called The Classic Motoring Review (CMR) and flying in the face of reason in this wilfully digital age, it’s a print magazine, and only available on subscription.

Cover front 170815 copy

I won’t blether on too much about CMR because if you’re remotely interested you can check out the website, www.classicmotoringreview.uk but I will just observe that the idea behind it is that car buffs of a certain age and inclination do, I believe, still like to hold magazines and newspapers in their hands and have attention spans not denuded to a few hundred words by a young lifetime of being glued to their smartphones. So CMR has long articles, averaging about 3000 words, by some of the motoring writers I’ve admired literally since my youth, including Steve Cropley, my ex-Melody Maker editor Richard Williams, Douglas Blain (who as Car‘s editor in 1971 helped shepherd Bike into existence), the late Leonard Setright and yes, good old Frank Westworth.

Mentioning the estimable if eccentric Setright affirms that CMR will publish great writing that’s appeared in books and magazines, often from decades ago, which will help set its literary tone. And something else that setting it apart from mainstream classic car magazines is that there won’t be any adverts or glossy photographs. Yes, it will be all about the writing, although publishing CMR is giving me an opportunity to commission some wonderful illustrations and paintings from some of my long-standing artist friends including Mikki Rain, Philip Hood and John James.

However rewarding this editorial process has been, I must admit it was overshadowed, and not in a good way, by the monumental and grossly time-consuming frustration of creating a website to market CMR and its subscriptions. I trusted the building of the site to a suitably web-savvy friend, but the obstacles  to getting it to do what I need, and especially the vital e-commerce elements, have taken many weeks and driven me crazy. The lesson learnt here is that inky old farts like me who still believe in the power of print need to choose their internet options very, very carefully and be prepared to pay accordingly. The print media mindset is almost anathema to digital fluency.

As it is, producing 47,000 subscription leaflets which are being distributed  in other mags, club journals, books and simply stuck under windscreen wipers at classic car events was a breeze compared to my onerous online antics. And it’s perhaps telling that coupons from the leaflets, accompanied by old fashioned cheques, account for two out of every six subscriptions thus far received.

But I’ve still got a long way to go to break even, so I shall shamelessly invite you to spread the word to anyone (or any website) you think might be interested in reading about motoring’s classic heydays.  Because I really don’t think they’ll be disappointed when The Classic Motoring Review appears in early October – which’ll be my one last throw of the publishing dice before I finally pop my clogs.

 

 

PUBLISHING FOLLY AHEAD: HELP WANTED June 12, 2014

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

If you love the printed word, skip the next eight paras. Otherwise…

Reporting in the Guardian’s Media Blog on May 18th, the sainted David Hepworth reported comments proudly made by Zillah Byng-Maddick, the newly anointed CEO of Future Publishing, after announcing hundreds of job-cuts as the company rushes onto a digital-only, erm, future. “Now,” he noted, “a single content and marketing team would produce all content.” Zillah Byng-Maddick – who oversaw Auto Trader’s transition from print to digital – claimed  ‘our expert, trusted content enables us to attract large communities of highly engaged customers who want to buy things, and that’s exceptionally appealing to our clients’.

“No mention,” notes Hepworth,  “of either readers or advertisers there. Instead it’s customers and clients, two words that an editor used to be able to go through an entire career without allowing them to sully their lips.”

In fact Future, which is the only publicly quoted (what used to be called) magazine publisher in the country, and thus beholden to shareholders who give not a fig about anything but profit, is busy selling off its titles to whoever’ll buy them. Most recently this means Immediate Media, who also acquired all of BBC’s magazines in 2011 and has re-energised them, especially the once considered moribund but now hugely profitable Radio Times which sells 830,000 copies an issue.

I used to work for Future in the ‘90s and greatly enjoyed doing so but under a succession of hard-nosed CEOs and CFOs  the “digital transition” means blood on the carpet and a lot of creative types wondering what’s hitting them. The story’s the same right across magazine publishing with the emphasis on providing what advertisers rather than readers want, based on the assumption that as Byng-Maddick slyly implies, readers will buy anything editorial tells them to buy because at least in the short term, editorial is trusted. That, in my view, is because the instant availability of information in today’s Wiki-world seems to infer an aura of authority.

And then we have Robert Peston writing in the London Evening Standard that, “The relentless cycle of cost-cutting at traditional news media is giving growing and potentially worrying power to the public relations industry.”

He then bemoans, “the fetishisation of hiring young people who supposedly understand the digital world… but (who have) few proper contacts. Now newspapers are filled with reports based on spurious PR-generated surveys, because they lack the resources to generate their own, high-quality stories.”

And yet at the recent Hay Festival, there was an overt ‘Print Isn’t Dead’ theme – a bit rich coming from an organisation which avidly embraces digital readers. Nevertheless an interesting item in its promo-bumf virtually celebrated the fact that we spent £93million less on printed books last year than in 2013, but in the next breath reckoned that “by producing high-quality editions, traditional publishers can shore up sales and retain the loyalty of self-confessed papyrophiles.” (I assumed ‘papyrophiles’ are readers who like ink-on-paper). A claim possibly justified by the statistic that sales of hardbacks rose by 11.5% in America last year.

Whatever you make of all this, now might not seem the time to be launching a print magazine, especially so if you’re middle-aged and somewhat phobic towards digital media. So of course that’s exactly what I’m going to do. And I need your help.

As occasionally reflected in these blogs, I’m a big fan of old cars and ‘bikes. (I was going to witter on here about the monstrous consequences to my Citruin XM after recently hitting a badger at 80mph, or replacing the catalytic converter on my Twingo money-pit, but you’d only laugh). My career in automotive journalism began in 1972 in the offices of Car magazine where I’d conceived a bratty little motorcycle magazine called, with vaulting imagination, Bike. And extraordinarily, after many incarnations it remains the market leader. But Car’s staff taught me that original prose and careful editing mattered, and in its day it was superior in both respects to anything else around. Its stellar writers included Doug Blain, L.J.K Setright and Mel Nichols and their descriptive powers, love of both language and machinery inspired and instructed me.

Now I am old I miss those great writers and their freedom to let their knowledge and critical enthusiasm run wild over 2, 3, or 4,000+ words. Today’s motoring (and motorcycling) magazines rarely contain articles over 1500 words long and have become tediously formulaic. And this because their writers are constrained by the short attention spans of a digital constituency, or as Peston implies, because the emphasis is on young hacks who don’t know how to craft a long-form essay.

But I believe that those of us who grew up with cars in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s – i.e. today’s classics – still know how to read more than a page of bland text displayed on a desktop and who appreciate the informed opinions of people who can still write it. So this autumn I’m investing, if not squandering my savings in what will be a small, but perfectly formed periodical full of great writing about great cars, the great men and women responsible for them, and their great escapades and achievements.

I already have some fine contributors onboard, but I’d ask any of you who have such stories to tell, and who can really write as well as read, to contact me – or recommend appropriate others. If nothing else, in these strange and difficult times for the printed word, it should be quite an adventure: williams.mark1@gmail.com

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Age Concerned June 4, 2014

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

I’ve been trying to finish this blog since the end of April but work, hedonism and indolence have proven effective hindrances. However a slight lull in the proceedings now allow me to wrap it up and as long as the lull continues – which it looks set to for a few more days – another one might well ensue before you can say “Whining Willy”.

I recently attended a protest meeting in opposition to HS2, albeit specifically concerned with the hideous blight the initial part of the route will have on North London. Most of the speakers were well-versed on their subjects, whether it be the damaging effects 10+ years of constructing the railway will have on health, housing, small businesses and the environment but only Frank Dobson MP, who represents part of Camden, alluded to the bigger picture. HS2, he pointed out, was conceived “on the back of a fag-packet” by the previous Labour government with almost no consideration for its likely negative effects or, indeed, its alleged economic benefits, a conception the Coalition government has subsumed with little more serious research and such as been done has concluded that the planned route was deeply flawed and the economic benefits decidedly sketchy.

But I am not about to rant against the whole misguided, damaging and invalid waste of taxpayers’ money that HS2 represents, rather to offer some more peripheral observations that the protest meeting prompted. Held in Britain’s home of folk music, Cecil Sharp House in Camden, it was almost entirely if well attended by people in their 50s, 60s and beyond, the baby boomers who, depending on your viewpoint, are largely responsible for Britain’s economic and social ills or alternatively, its cultural virtues. Naturally I subscribe to the former belief, but in my quite considerable experience as a bona fide silver serf  I’ve learnt  that us lot tend to run the committees, the pressure groups, the local charity organisations and the like that arguably make life worth living in a society where successive governments have capped or reduced funding for anything remotely related to quality of life.

I worked out that most of my friends and more intimate acquaintances sit on committees or help run voluntary outfits of one sort or another, many several times over. Then again, I actually gave up chairing a music and events charity recently for reasons that will probably be familiar to many of us who engage in such activities, namely a wearying clash of personalities with one particularly vociferous individual who was a disruptive element. Which underlines the inherent weakness of working for a voluntary body where there’s no coherent chain of command: lazy-bones or troublemakers can’t be sacked, and the only reward for your often quite significant labour is the satisfaction of goals achieved… or not as the case may be.

Unsurprisingly then, over the years I’ve noticed that in each of the outfits I’ve been involved with there’s been a steady turnover of committee members who for whatever reason couldn’t hack it any longer and who felt they had better things to do with their time. And attending that HS2 meeting, I was reminded that in many cases “life’s too short” could often be another reason for bailing out, because I fear despite all logic and all the protests, the government is going to railroad – sorry – this white elephant through in order to save face… and provide jobs for the boys and the bankers.

I’m now, and regretfully, of retirement age but the slippers, golf clubs and Rhine River cruises that are synonymous with this don’t really appeal, even if I had a decent pension to fund them (alright, I can afford the slippers). Most of my peers and pals also choose or are economically obliged to carry on working and as I said, almost all of us do voluntary work. The National Trust was recently criticised for working its small army of middle- and let’s face it, old-aged volunteers too hard, but without them that organisation, like many other so-called cultural institutions, would simply collapse.

So what I’m getting at is that Britain’s volunteer workforce ought, at the very least, to get tax breaks on what money we do earn, and for those who earn nothing but spend significant amounts of time helping others, then how about a bigger state pension Mr Bloody Osborne?

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Chinese Wails January 28, 2014

Posted by markswill in About me, Media, Politics, Schmolitics.
5 comments

If you live or spend much time in London, one of the less edifying spectacles of the post-Xmas silly season has been ‘Bonkers’ Boris Johnson and his good pal Dave ‘Posh Boy’ Cameron bigging up London as a magnet for global tourism in the Evening Standard.

To some extent this is a grouchy response to France’s claims that Paris attracts more overseas visitors than our capital city, the dark subtext perhaps being that any country whose leader couldn’t make up his mind between his mistress and his, er, ex-mistress can’t be trusted with anything, even its tourism statistics. But beyond such unspoken ridicule, I find it sad if not pathetic that Britain, and in particular London places so much emphasis on tourism for its economic recovery.

Dropping onerous visa requirements for visitors from China, a country which has already decimated our manufacturing base – admittedly with our short-sighted complicity – so’s to get more of them posing for snapshots outside Buck House would be okay if it was reciprocated. Indeed if the people who rule China weren’t so busy stashing billions (trillions?) of yuan in western tax havens and handing out brutal prison sentences to any of their subjects who dare to criticise them for it, or indeed anything at all, well then I might be in favour of relaxing the restrictions.

And as we continue to sell  large chunks of our so-called public services to the Chinese, e.g. energy, railways and the increasingly privatised  NHS to the orientals the answer to the leftie media’s regular hand-wringing about ‘Who owns Britain?’ seems to be  ‘the Chinese, of course.’ Because in the global economy that we must now accept that we’re but a tiny, wee part of, the Chinese have the biggest chequebooks. It almost makes me wish we lived in North Korea or Cuba where foreign investment can’t have any effect on how the country’s run, because by tacitly accepting the double-standards and oppressive nature of its ruling classes, how long will it be before Boris and Dave start telling us that they don’t really have a human rights problem at all with China and we should therefore welcome their affluent middle classes as our incipient economic masters?

Talking of the economy – which of course  I must – am I alone in pouring scorn on the fashion and ‘lifestyle’ pages of the meeja which almost exclusively feature garments and gizmos that most of us can’t afford?

A darling little lampshade from Rothschild & Bickers may be a steal at just £380 if you’re lottery winner with Barratts mansion to furnish, but frankly when I need a new pair of jeans I’m off to Uni-Qlo with nineteen quid in my fist rather than £135 or even, gulp, £500 for something ‘a little special’ from Scotch & Soda or Levis. From my days as a mugazine editor I of course understand the value of aspirational content, but even for ladeez with rich hubbies surely £199 for a pair of kecks from Sandro or an understated frock from the ever-smiley Vicky Beckham at £1,550 are clear cases of the fashion eds having a laugh?

My own female friends, or at least the ones who’re willing to discuss it with a man who isn’t Gok Wan, tend like me to seek out a nice bargain, and even my WIFE (a term I still find a pleasing novelty), also tends to frequent secondhand shops and the aforementioned Uni-Qlo on a regular basis, for although careful with our dosh and quite ancient, we’re still unabashedly vain.

But if print media readers really can afford to patronise these posho brands, most of whom I’ve never heard of, perhaps I’m dead wrong about the nation’s finances? In which case the far eastern sweatshop owners had better up their game and kill off the Italian, Spanish and few other remaining European garment-manufacturing countries if they want to supply the growing number of British fashionistas…  thus guaranteeing their UK visa status.

Finally, now that I’m spliced, duty obliges me to bang the drum for Kiss Me First, the just launched paperback of the debut novel by Lottie Moggach, who is technically my step-daughter!

Bugger the nepotism, it's a fantastic read

Bugger the nepotism, it’s a fantastic read

Anyone even vaguely interested in how the internet can govern, change and indeed create personalities will be riveted by this hugely original psychological thriller, and especially its narrative tone. Worthily shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Prize, it’s right up there with Gone Girl for its unexpected twists, turns and final reveal. Bugger nepotism, it’s a truly fantastic read. Oh, and you can get a better handle on Lottie and her book here: http://www.picador.com/authors/lottie-moggach …or in her own words, here: www.lottiemoggach.com

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