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AN ILL WIND… ONLINE AND OFF September 13, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EnergyPolicyMailbox@gov.wales

Kirsty Williams kirsty.williams@assembly.wales

Fay Jones fay.jones.mp@parliament.uk

Jennifer.Pride1@gov.wales

julie.james@gov.wales

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

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

Beyond Coping With Covid August 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID COPING CHRONICLE No. 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.

 

COVID COPING CHRONICLE No. 9 May 20, 2020

Posted by markswill in Corona Lockdown Lore, Media, Politics, Schmolitics.
4 comments

I’ve put-off scribbling this blog for several days, largely because my anger at the deceit and ineptitude that characterises the government’s handling of the pandemic grows with every passing day’s dismal news, rendering it harder and harder to offer even a vaguely objective commentary on the situation. That hasn’t changed, but when Tory apologists such as Lord Sugar widely disseminate statements like the following on social media I feel moved to offer a counter–invective of my own.

Of course it’s the duty of the media to challenge our elected politicians, and even more so when the stake are so high, and Sugar should be ashamed of himself for suggesting otherwise. But then both Alistair Campbell and Tony Blair – neither of whom I usually have any time for, and Ken Clarke, who I do – have pointed out, and I’m paraphrasing, that the current cabinet are all lightweights chosen for their subservience to bumbling Boris and his Brexit mantra. Raab, Hancock, Patel etc. are strangers the great offices of state or indeed have little wider socio-cultural grounding, the latter essential in understanding the human cost of a country going through a massive crisis, the former essential in managing it. Moreover as the parliamentary Science & Technology Committee now tersely concludes, there is “no transparency” in what is guiding ministers in dealing with the pandemic, and “it will be difficult to corroborate the government’s assertion that it always follows scientific advice.” With minutes of SAGE meetings not published – or even a full list of its members – as the incoming president of the Royal Society, Sir Adrian Smith, noted in yesterday’s Times, there remains an “extraordinary amount of uncertainty” in how decisions are being made. Which is key to our continued support of the government’s confused, often hugely damaging and apparently made-on-the-hoof strategy.

But there is no sign that even easy-going, I-don’t-work-weekends Boris is going to change key members of his inner cabinet even though some of them, Hancock in particular, are clearly exhausted and running out of excuses for their failures. And whilst I’m at it, apart from PMQs (at which Kier Starmer reliably and refreshingly punctures Boris’ bluster), or his twice-recorded speech to the nation ten days ago, our leader has been noticeably absent from press briefings or live media. Is he frit? Or too distracted plotting to blame the scientists or his bum-licking colleagues when the final reckoning comes? Is he too busy goo-gooing with young Wilfred? Or dashing between his various homes and playing much restorative tennis?

That almost shocking dereliction of duty in favour of a bunch of weary second- (or third-) divisioners and images of hitting balls across well-mowed lawns prompts another woeful observation: almost all the lockdown-easing measures thus far announced exclusively favour the well-off: you can play tennis, have your nanny, your estate agent or your cleaner into your house, whilst low-skilled (and paid) workers are allowed to pile onto public transport so that big business can sort-of resume operations, and schools will shortly be re-opened so that parents can return to work. Which is jolly nice for little privately educated Melinda and Dylan where high fees allow small classes and permit costly protective measures, but not much good if you’re a low-paid worker in a council flat obliged to send your kids to a broken-down inner city primary with 35 to a class.

And who is going to pick the fruit and veg our farmers are due to harvest, that is the ones who aren’t having to dump tens of thousands of gallons of milk and flog off at a loss prime beef and lamb due to the closure of commercial catering as we know it?

I could go on and on but you’re probably as sick of the double-standards, weasel words – e.g. ‘ramping up’, ‘straining every sinew’, ‘in the coming weeks’ – and growing public dismay at the rising and shocking death and infection tolls as I am. So I’ll stop now and once again remind you that other, more assiduously forensic critics are on offer if you are as angry, and scared as I am, most notably Roslyn Byfield’s much more frequent outings at:

https://therapistinlockdown.co.uk/

No, it’s not going to go away, but until it does, if it ever does, I shall still try and offer the odd uplift, and here are a couple of decent ones.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/KgoapkOo4vg?rel=0&vq=highres

https://www.facebook.com/allison.pritchettirons/videos/vb.100000065621285/3271538432858312/?type=2&theater

COVID COPING CHRONICLE No 8 May 7, 2020

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

It’s been over a fortnight since my last blog which I noted would be my last for quite a while because I had little new to comment on, and broadly speaking that remains so. There’s also the fact that other bloggers are more cogent and better researched on the CV-19 issues, most notably my friend Roslyn Byfield who posts daily and I would heartily recommend that anyone with a serious interest in the pandemic and our government’s management of it (i.e. using the seat of their pants), reads and subscribes to at:

https://therapistinlockdown.co.uk/

However both she and I continue to have infuriating problems in offering a chance to get alerts to future blogs using the WordPress platform, and if anyone reading this can suggest an easy(ish) and most importantly effective way of doing so, please get in touch. Roslyn went to the trouble of contacting WordPress, the eventual result of which was a button on the bottom left of her pages, but having clicked on it myself a couple of days ago – nada.

As for the content of this blog, well I’ll start with the original reasons I launched these missives, namely how CV-19 and the lockdown are affecting me and those close to me. But I think we’ve pretty much all settled into a routine of eating-shopping-exercising-reading-goggleboxing and not much else, which makes for a sort of Groundhog Day tedium that only those with proper and engaging work can rise above – which sadly doesn’t include me. That said, I am trying to write a memoir of what led to my nosedive from grace in the mid/late ‘90s and its consequences, but it’s a slow and sometime painful process which the distractions of emails, texts and phone calls to and from friends hinder, abetted by two newspapers a day and, well, other people’s blogs!

What I have inserted into my mundane routine are 60 – 90 minute bicycle rides a day – and remember we have hills around here – as well as dog-walking and 150+ sit-ups, so I am feeling far fitter than I have for years, and I haven’t even had to go to Joe Wicks which at least two of my friends do regularly, but then they’re women, with iPads, and he’s a hunk. So that’s one upside to this bloody lockdown, the other is that I’m cooking more adventurously and drinking more – so it’s not all bad!

But as for the lockdown itself, well I’ll refer you again to Ms. Byfield’s blog (see above) but will just add two comments, the first concerning arch hypocrite, Prof. Neil Ferguson, whose married lover visited him when he was supposed to be in quarantine. As the architect, late in the day, of the stringent lockdown policy, I’m actually slightly less critical of his sexual peccadillos – although his lover’s family life must now be a misery – but far angrier that this man has such a crap record in advising the UK government. To whit: in 2005 he stated that up to 200million could die from bird flu, but between 2003 and 2009, just 282 did worldwide. And in 2009 Ferguson’s ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ was that swine flu would lead to 65,000 UK deaths, when in fact 457 died. Ferguson also influenced government policy during 2001’s foot and mouth epidemic, namely six million uninfected animals being slaughtered on land adjacent to farms where animals were infected, something that the government admitted was unnecessary and cost the taxpayer tens of millions.

But although Ferguson’s departure from SAGE may well be a good thing, it comes too late and was largely responsible for abandoning CV-19 testing in early March in favour of a national quarantine which, as the govt’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance has now admitted, was a Big Mistake.

So as brash Boris and his cronies bumble towards our third month of lockdown with hints that it may be eased a bit – partly a ploy to avert our gaze from their earlier, error-strewn bumbling – what can we look forward to as the economy faces its worst recession in 300-odd years, massive unemployment and huge mental health problems? Joe Wicks, Celebrity Bake-off and an abundance of toilet paper in supermarkets is perhaps about as good as it’ll get.

Or maybe some of the many funny and/or sobering MP4 vids that have been doing the rounds since this all started, but as mentioned previously WordPress won’t let me do that, although these links and images might be worth a minute or two of your time.

https://twitter.com/mayoroflondon/status/1256287263824195584?s=12

However if you’re (or want to become) a WhatsApp user, you can join Mark’s Covert Covid Clan on my mobile which has a plethora of topor-busting MP4 vids that I’d otherwise be including here. Go to: https://chat.whatsapp.com/GZuqKEjNhtA213oJKsa81f

 

 

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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