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Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

Ten days since my last scrawl and not much has changed hereabouts virus-wise, although as my original intention was as much to reflect on my personal experience of lockdowned life as well as venting my mounting fury of how our government are handling it, perhaps I should try and do that for once?

In truth, Welsh Marches small-town life hasn’t much changed. I still take long walks and/or cycle rides in the ironically glorious weather, still go to the local shops when I need food, drink or a new bicycle saddle, still sit in the garden and read (just finished Graham Green’s rather ponderous End Of The Affair, now onto Rick Gekoski’s brilliantly funny Darke Matter), still tinker with my cars and ‘bikes, still drink and watch television too much and still have now not-so-sneaky drinks and tea parties in gardens with friends. But there have been some developments.

Evidently no longer a ‘vulnerable’ septuagenarian, I volunteered to help control the number of people visiting some of the eighteen odd businesses in our high street – itself a very civilised even jolly endeavour – which has now permanently lost two hairdressers, an estate agent and although it could now technically re-open, our local fish’n’chip shop. Some of our eateries are doing take-aways or delivering telephone orders, but others show no signs of ever returning and of our three pubs, one landlord told me he never expects to re-open, whereas the two mini-marts are doing a hugely increased trade in bottled beer.

Our nearest bookshop in what has become even more of a ghost town some 16 miles distant (www.rossiterbooks.co.uk) has long been closed and although they’re doing phone orders, it took weeks to get a copy of the aforementioned Darke Matters because the publishers were apparently consigning most copies to Amazon, who I try on principle not to use. All of which suggests to me that the retail sector will never, ever be the same again if and when this is all over. Many will gleefully continue to buy everything from groceries to clothing online, but I bemoan this not just because I love the human contact and sample-the-goods choice of the high street, but also because the national and local exchequers will lose billions of pounds in taxes which Amazon – the ‘Stuff Central’ of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – and their ilk, simply don’t and won’t pay. And with no advertising left to speak of, local and eventually national newspapers, and probably commercial t.v. channels will disappear. But you argue, personalised social media will keep us adequately informed. Oh really? Then welcome to Trumpland. As for the BBC, who’ll want to pay the licence fee now that so many voices are being raised against it… and we’ve all been subscribing to Nextflix and Amazon Prime to keep ourselves entertained during this interminable quarantine? Brave New World order? Well it won’t be fair, democratic or pretty.

I’ve noticed that people, including me, are getting tetchier with each other, grumping at those who do, or conversely don’t, wear face masks and gloves in shops, or when you pass too close to them on pavements, and a veiled threat that I’d become a social pariah if I return here from doorstep-visiting much missed relatives and friends in London (the Barnard Castle of the South East). IMG-20200525-WA0003 (1)And there’s the general air of ‘this-has-gone-on-for-too-long’, evidenced by the dwindling number of us hitting the street to applaud the NHS and carers on a Thursday evening as lockdown fatigue sets in.

At which point I might again rail against our shoddy, disingenuous and clearly battle-weary servant/masters running the show, in fact a tiny cabal of Bo-Jo arse-lickers who now barely even involve the rest of the cabinet. But others have and continue to do it far better than I, most recently Janice Turner in Saturday’s Times (see below) crisply deriding the iniquities of the so-far-not-working Track & Trace system. I also reproduce below the first para of Roslyn Bylfield’s latest blog and urge you to read the rest of it and indeed subscribe to it. (www.therapistinlockdown.co.uk)

“What a terrible news week it’s been. With COVID deaths moving towards the 40,000 which sounded horrific when first estimated months ago and still does, there’s been the Dominic Cummings debacle and further erosion of confidence in the PM on continuing to back him despite 44 of his own MPs including former ministers calling for Cummings’s resignation; 61 speaking up against his retention; the resignation of Under-Secretary of State for Scotland Douglas Ross; absurd defences of Cummings offered by numerous ministers and others; the removal of Emily Maitlis from BBC2’s Newsnight; Durham Police deciding, contrary to evidence, to take no action against Cummings and the PM insisting the matter is closed; Matt Hancock exhorting the public to do their “civic duty” and stay at home as he launched the new test and trace system despite local authorities lack of appropriate involvement and powers; continuing delays with the contact tracing app; the PM effectively silencing the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer at the daily press briefing; and eased lockdown rules which are riddled with inconsistencies, not least with the lockdown rules in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

And in a further ten day’s time where will be – reeling from a massive spike after public transport and schools have returned, Track and Trace and testing generally still woefully wobbly, or what? One thing I am sure of is that we will still be the worst European country in terms of infections, deaths and general mismanagement, and that, in itself is beyond shocking.

Janice Turner – May 30th


Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

When I began this blog my intentions were two-fold. Firstly, to offer a kind of diary about how the lockdown is affecting me and my small country town and secondly in doing so I might be able to cut down on the number of lengthy emails to friends and family who’d been enquiring after my wellbeing by offering them a blog instead.

But of course the latter was selfish, rude and borderline impersonal and the former, as it turned out, somewhat repetitive and of minimal interest. So I quickly turned to offering my thoughts on how the virus was affecting the country at large, and its consequences were being handled by the government – which as a news junkie one inevitably does – and that, too, has become repetitive and better accomplished by the media.

Solipsistic though I may be – which is apparently one reason I’m now single again – I cannot but deny that I relish emails from friends in the midst of this isolation and if anything am spending more time communicating with them than before I began this blog. And as each foray into the digital ether with my snidey rhetoric reaches fewer and fewer people each time, I’ve decided to give it a rest, at least for a while.

But I have to admit that another reason to desist is the increasingly complex technology involved in such endeavours. When I first began blogging using the WordPress (WP) platform eight years ago it was, like FarceBerk which I also used a fair bit, pretty straightforward, if sometimes rather fiddly. But in the name of commercial appeal (?), WP has added myriad bells and whistles that are thrown up at users, often with purposes that are unclear unless – as I’m not – one’s a ‘digital native’.

Confronted with this after my long hiatus, and after advice from a friend who is, I tried what was apparently a simpler platform, BlogSpot – only to discover that the one additional feature I did need, namely a facility for readers to subscribe and get email alerts whenever I posted more of my twaddle, was almost impossible to orchestrate. But returning to WP I soon discovered that the ‘Subscribe’ box (see RH panel) was linked to a third-party system called Feedburner, in fact owned but long since unsupported by Google, and which was glitchy and wildly inconsistent in doing what it said on the tin. A little, ahem, Googling revealed various other third-party alerts software, all of which claimed to be a breeze to ‘plug-in’ to one’s WP page, but I spent almost 90 mins yesterday failing to do just that, which ultimately also involved several MacBook Pro crashes and re-setting my Apple ID, and in the end I gave up. And as mentioned last week, similar hair-tearing frustration arose when I tried to negotiate a third-party ‘plug-in’ that would allow me to insert MP4 videos into my page. And don’t get me started on Zoom management.

I mention this not just as a reason why I’m giving up bloggery, at least for now, but also to underline the sorry fact that those of us who communicated in our formative years with pens, paper, typewriters, face-to-face chats and landlines – and managed quite nicely thank you – have been to varying extents left behind and frustrated by the technology that later generations embrace naturally. And as this technology become more sophisticated, i.e. complex, our frustration and the implied, if unfounded, sense of shame become worse.

But now we septuagenarians are of course being ‘culled by Corona’ (© Penny C.), the brighter, younger things who live by the smartphone don’t have to listen – if indeed they do – to Luddites like me whining on about digital marginalisation, which brings me sort-of neatly and back to the wretched virus.

I felt oddly smug when the Sunday Times published a long feature on the government’s woeful unpreparedness for the onset of CV19 which in fact reflected much of what I’d written in my previous blog. Since then various ministers have defended their and particularly Boris Johnson’s slow reactions, Michael Gove calling such criticism ‘grotesque’ – which was a bit rich coming from the man who last year said Johnson was ‘unfit to lead a government’.

I am however cheered by mounting media frustration at, and criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic, especially testing, the supply of PPE and its unwillingness to countenance, much less outline any plans to ease the lockdown – all of which I’ve banged on about here. But thanks to Jenny W., the ever acerbic Polly Toynbee does it with far more concision than me in today’s Guardian, so do take a look:


And if you can handle any more disenchantment, this courtesy of Liz R:


Finally finally, although I can’t pass on some of the many amusing or inspiring virus vids going the rounds (see above), here’s a link that might help anyone who is feeling increasingly lonely in this lockdown, which I know includes a lot of us.





Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

Released yesterday from my self-imposed Covid-19 (CV19) news blackout I can report that living without news broadcasts and newspapers for three days was, erm, interesting… if not life-changing.

On a practical level I found a bit more time for books, magazines and ‘phoning friends, and also thinking more about cooking (and then doing it), housework (then doing some of it) and exercising (and then trying to do it). I also slept better with fewer CV19 issues troubling my slumber. So I can recommend and intend to repeat the process myself soon, and possibly for longer, but in the meantime I’ve been voraciously consuming the news at what seems to be a critical juncture.

Firstly, the lockdown has been officially extended for three more weeks… but Thursday’s announcement was weasel-worded with the usual caveats about ‘following the scientific advice’, not least when Mr Raab was repeatedly pressed about likely duration beyond May 7th and possible exit strategies. It’s worth questioning who this scientific advice is coming from because save for its chair, Sir Patrick Vallance, the members of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) who almost exclusively provide it, are anonymous. We do know that Prof. Neil Ferguson of Imperial College is involved and often airs his views, but this the same Neil Ferguson who got the trajectory of the Ebola virus spectacularly wrong in 2015 and also proposed the scary ‘herd immunity’ strategy initially espoused by Boris Johnson – again on ‘scientific advice’ – but quickly binned in favour of total lockdown. Ferguson always sounds so credible, but why shouldn’t we know who else is delivering this advice?

Other countries have already announced plans, or as with Scotland, dates when they will announce plans for exit strategies but our government claims that to do so now would set unreasonable expectations and possibly lead to further spikes in infections. And meanwhile desperate hospitals and care homes are running out of PPE and lack meaningful testing – both having proven so vital to reducing death rates and heralding the easing of restrictions in, say, Germany and South Korea. Testing, in particular is still woefully inadequate with major UK laboratories reporting that their offers of help have been shunned by the government. But today (Friday), Labour’s Keir Starmer suggested that without Boris Johnson at the helm the Raab-led government is unable or unwilling to push things forward in a positive way, criticism which prompted ‘No comment’ from Downing Street, and which perhaps speaks volumes.

Obviously we hope that Johnson is recuperating well – at his second or is it third home? – and whilst he’s there perhaps he’ll seriously consider cancelling the mad HS2 project on which according to The Times “full construction will start in weeks.” Unsurprisingly, the Institute of Economic Affairs responded that, “the case for (it) was always weak. With the country in (CV19) induced economic lockdown the cost is simply unjustifiable.” And quite apart that the £100billion-plus cost could now be far better used elsewhere, as Bill Gates also said yesterday, with home-working and video-conferencing now the norm, the need for business trips will never be the same, further torpedoing the economic case for HS2. And so if you, too, feel that it’s a shocking waste of money that will further destroy precious rural environments, please sign this petition, and pass it on.


Finally on CV19, Simon B. has sent me a link to screenwriter Dominic Minghella’s latest blog which delivers a far better researched – and withering – critique of the government’s position and I would urge anyone having doubts about our servant/masters’ strategy to read it:

Eleven Days In March

I try and end these bulletins with some light entertainment, most of it forwarded from friends, but as mentioned last time, WordPress won’t allow posting of MP4 videos for ‘security reasons’ (?) and I still haven’t found a work-around, or at least one this shameless technophobe can grasp. Also, Google’s Feedburner system that WordPress uses to send alerts to those who’ve hit the ‘Subscribe’ box (see RH panel) seems to work only sporadically since Google stopped supporting it in 2014 and WordPress haven’t produced anything to replace it, which is very tardy. Perhaps by next time I’ll have solved these probs, if not lost the will to live, but in the meantime here are a few simple images that might amuse.

IMG-20200416-WA0002SUN & MAIL



Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

Well we’re well into the third week of lock-down and I’m over halfway through my second day of news blackout.

The former of course began as our government’s slightly panicky response to an epidemic, now pandemic, that they hadn’t adequately prepared for – remember the first COBRA cabinet meeting was only convened on March 2nd when UK Covid-19 (CV19) cases had already reached several dozen and Italy’s death toll was, to use that time-honoured phrase, ramping up – the latter upon a whim.

My aim was to see that if bereft of any information about the progress of CV19 and the government’s – our own and globally – handling of it might affect my mood which, I have to say, was becoming progressively gloomier regarding its current effects and portents. And for a news junkie who listened to Today, World At One, PM, watched News at 10 and Newsnight and devoured one or two newspapers every day, this cold-turkey has thus far proven remarkably painless. Whether it has lightened my mood it’s too early to say, but it has given me time to do more reading – just finished A. A. Gill’s marvelous if self-eviscerating autobiography and embarked on Tessa Hadley’s latest, beautifully-written novel, Late In The Day… if anyone’s interested – and far too much mindless t.v. entertainment (e.g. Quiz, Twin, Better Call Saul, Killing Eve and lots of rather less undemanding art progs and docs) and films: Who You Think I Am, Elle (for the second time), The Lady Disappears (third), Holy Motors (fourth) and Heat (fifth).

Such solipsism only serves to fill a vacuum left, temporarily I’m sure, by the lack of barely concealed anger at the way CV19 has thus far been handled and my consequent fear for our collective future. But conversely, what has not subsided is the heartening response to the lockdown that’s evident all around us, specifically a neighbourliness that now embraces food shopping, are-you-okay? phone calls and dog-walking. Plus of course contact with friends and loved ones that’s far more frequent and couched in genuine concern than was hitherto evident – although counseling them not to impart CV19 news in my direction has sometimes caused bafflement.

This, we now know, has become the norm right across the country and let’s hope it doesn’t end when CV19 does – whenever that may be. And because of my self-imposed news media embargo when that might be is, for the moment, not actively troubling me … but wait ‘til I fire-up Radio 4 again on Thursday morning!

In the meantime, I had planned to included several MP4 vids that various friends have emailed me, but WordPress won’t allow them to be uploaded unless they’re tagged as YouTube files. I’ve spent 20 mins trying to find a workaround for this but have lost the will to live, so for now I’m afraid the only one I can offer you is this:


Finally, Sally B., Pete M. and Alison P. have come up with a blog which although firmly based on the considerable talent pool we have in our little border town seeks to lift all our spirits and stimulate the cultural juices away from the gloomy realities of CV19, and which I recommend you subscribe to… as well as this one of course! (See box towards the end of column on the right). So go to https://www.luggblogg.co.uk/




Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.
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I count myself extremely lucky not to be quarantined in a fifth floor flat in, say, Tottenham with three small children but even in my small rural town, the fear seems to be rising.

Yesterday the police were called when a woman physically attacked an assistant in our local Spar, and the initially fairly casual social distancing on the High Street has been replaced by public-spirited volunteers managing queues outside shops, tables across doorways across which goods must be ordered, and hazard warning tapes stuck strategically on floors two metres apart. (Which, BTW, Roslyn B. tells me are being ignored in large London supermarkets). Moreover people are increasingly wearing the paper masks long since deemed ineffectual by medical authorities behind which they frown nervously when you pass them out walking the dog on metre-wide footpaths in open country!

Which is, of course, just abiding by government strictures, strictures that are now being policed with wildly variable rigour by, well, the nation’s police. Attracting various degrees of approval, concern and opprobrium, the lockdown which has led us to this, and indeed far worse outcomes – e.g. increased spousal and child abuse, suicides and depression – shows no signs of being lifted anytime soon – and for all the perfectly sensible reasons parroted by our servant/masters.

However the clamour for an ‘exit strategy’ currently much occupies the media, just as the demand for more CV testing and PPE kit did two weeks ago, and I’m worried that although answers are offered, action isn’t readily apparent and the media then moves on to the next gruesome consequence of Covid-19. However I’m guessing that those who read this scrawl will feel similarly concerned about such matters so I’ll move onto a couple of consequences that haven’t been wildly articulated in the UK press.

The first is the decimation of small retail businesses, the majority of which probably won’t survive the pandemic. Friday’s BBC Horizon Special on how society may be changed post-pandemic focused initially on pubs and restaurants which may disappear by the tens of thousands, but – and I’ve only seen this mentioned briefly in Saturday’s Times’ Thunderer column – Amazon has abruptly cancelled its contracts to service 300,000 small online retailers in the UK, and 2.9million globally, so that it might concentrate on delivering a massive increase in ‘basic goods’ to locked-down households.

Understandable though that commercial decision might be, it bodes badly for the future of independent online retailers, vast numbers of whom will be bankrupt by the time Amazon restores its fulfilment service… if indeed it does. My friends will know that I’m something of a online-shopping luddite, savouring as I do, or rather did, the interaction with human beings and the handling of likely purchases before I get the goods, but post-pandemic not only will the high street be unrecognisable, but it seems that we may be one giant step towards the ‘Stuff Central’ solus supply chain of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or pre-glasnost Russia, and prey to the whims of the world’s richest man.

My other dismal concern is that whilst the lockdown has had the comforting effect of us communicating more frequently and with more of our family and friends than ever before – partly because we have more time to do so – will the social equivalent of ‘compassion fatigue’ set in if this quarantine goes on for months? And if it does, will those who we enthusiastically connected with earlier on, then feel ignored and unloved? I ponder this because the closure of youth and social clubs, pubs, sport centres, libraries, cinemas, theatres etc. hitherto funded by buoyant commercial enterprises or conversely by already stretched local councils, will probably become permanent once this is over and we’re in what’s now widely predicted to be a full-on economic depression, and social unrest may then become a massive and frightening reality.

But that’s enough of my personal doomsaying for now, so I’ll leave you with a few hopefully instructive, if not entertaining links.

This first, courtesy of Terry K, came of all things from the otherwise egregious Mail Online, but check it out anyway:


And if like many of us you miss being able to visit art galleries, then the Arts Society are running online lectures which may increase our appreciation of what we love.


And Jenny W.  reminded me that both the Tate and the Royal Academy are offering virtual tours of shows that have been cancelled, e.g. Warhol at Tate Modern, so go Google and sign on.

Finally, a couple more vids which are going the rounds, but worthy of a giggle.



‘Til next time then, and enjoy what you can of the Easter Weekend, thanks to those of you who’ve subscribed (see RH panel) and remember that we’re in the safe hands of the leader of the free world…


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


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!




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.



Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

Apologies to all and sundry but the Blogspot platform upon which I scribbled my first Corona Coping bulletin proved reluctant to provide a means which you, dear reader, could use if for some reason you wanted to receive further missives. So after tearing much of my remaining hair out following fora and friends’ advice on how to remedy this, and to no avail, I’ve decided to reinstate my long dormant Mark’sSparksWillFly blog using WordPress, but with Covid Coping as a running heading, and here we go. And if you would like to receive alerts to further scrawls, there’s a box in the right panel to enable just that.

Anyroadup, Bulletin No 2 is a cause for some personal celebration but conversely some fear and loathing. Good stuff first then – just call me Dr. Pangloss – for it’s just over a fortnight since I arrived back in rural Wales from Deal, by way of 24 hours in London, and despite spending time in Sainsburys, Aldi (merely for their organic Pino Grigio obviously) and a busy builders’ merchant (I yield to no-one in my ability to roof a woodstore), I appear to be Covid-19 symptom-free.

Moreover the more genuine health-scare I mentioned not in my first blog for fear of hypochondria accusations, has also passed: the worringly low pulse rate which had caused near-fainting, dizziness and occasional sweats this past month was diagnosed as mild Bradycardia (see Dr Google, if arsed), which has been effectively cured by a major change in the blood pressure meds I’d been on for years. I was reluctant to approach our local surgery, much less the dreaded Hereford County Hospital – which, fellow music cryptologists, has elements of Hotel California, but not in a nice way – for fear of weaning resources away from the current pandemic, but two phone calls and a fresh prescription seem to’ve done the trick.

More seriously, I am still appalled at the lack of testing and PPEs available to frontline NHS staff and the weasel words of Messrs. Hancock and Johnson about their reaction to this. The son of one friend, a senior NHS surgeon who might otherwise be deployed to the CV frontline, had been promised a test last Monday but still doesn’t know when he might get one, a disgrace replicated throughout the Service which is putting both staff, staff numbers and patients at risk and it seems unconscionable to me that there has been such a delay in starting to source adequate stocks back in January. The wider issue of running down the NHS – despite what the Tories claimed – over the past decade is equally unforgivable but like so much of industry in Western countries that is also now paying the price, the ‘just-in-time’ management mantra and fiscal short-termism are at least now proving fallacious, and catastrophically so.

For further reading on where and why we are in deep do-do – see, I haven’t lost my talent for erudite metaphor – I’m indebted to Dick Pountain for this link


And I’d also commend you to Dick’s website and blogs which tackle subjects with more research and insight than I could ever muster: http://www.dickpountain.co.uk

For a brief moment of both celebration tinged with concern I must mention Keir Starmer’s election as new Labour leader. One friend questioned whether this was actually a landslide, but his 275k votes vs. Ms Long-Bailey’s 135k looked like that to me, and having seen him perform at an anti-HS2 meeting back in the day, I’m confident he’ll restore desperately-needed faith in the party and present a proper opposition to Johnson, Cummings & Co – but it will require huge energy and a delicate balancing act during this national emergency.

So onto lighter (?) notes with this pic of yrs. trly. wearing a mask made by darling Andi Silvers, wife of the redoubtable drummist. Russell H. from suitably anarchic material – true rock’n’roll protection, eh?


TOW, she may not be a rocker, but all this enforced social isolation brought to mind the concert I saw with dearest Lizzie R. back in 1988 (at Victoria Palace, she’s just reminded me) where Nanci Griffith performed a haunting version of Julie Gold’s ‘From A Distance’. If you can ignore the somewhat leaden religious overtones – and you can – here’s a later recording of it. Perhaps not as uplifting as ‘The Weight’ featured in my last blog, but a reminder that we must all take heart and rise above this wretchedness.


And finally I’m indebted to Marsha R. for this little vid which you may’ve already come across, but which certainly brought some much needed mirth to my workdesk.


So until next time – probably Tuesday – thanks for making it this far, let me know your thoughts and comments, and keep those chins skywards.




Off Again, And To Elsewhere April 2, 2020

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.
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It’s been literally years since I last scribbled random and arguably irrelevant thoughts in this blog but the  self-isolation enforced on us ancients by the Covid-19 virus has given me, and I suspect your good selves, great gobs of time which we’re filling largely with very welcome on-line and other forms of socialising, and to some extent with pursuits and contemplation we had less time for before all this wretchedness.

I’ve therefore found time, and perhaps a better purpose than wild self-indulgence to start blogging again – although this’ll be entirely related to the new circumstances we find ourselves in – and this time I’m using a new platform, Blogger which seems simpler to use. So if you’re at all interested, take at look at my first effort and sign up (bottom lefthand corner) if you’d like to see more.


‘Onwards and sideways, then – Mark


New Year’s Dishonours December 29, 2014

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

It’s Christmas: seasonal cheer, goodwill to all men, that sort of thing. And in the spirit of that sort of thing I’m temporarily reviving my Blarg, specifically with an apology to those who responded to my rather pompous announcement in the last one – way back in mid-June – that I was planning to launch an odd little classic car magazine. So to those who wished me well, albeit with a tinge of justifiably bemused scepticism, and especially those who offered to scribble something for it, I must sheepishly announce that it ain’t happened, and probably never will.

Classic Car Reader – not it’s real title, obviously – was to’ve been a low budget and therefore relatively low risk enterprise, but a major obstacle proved to be a vast media org. who unaccountably felt threatened by its editorial premise. Which proved tiresome, to say the least. And were I twenty, even ten years younger I might’ve called their bluff or taken ‘em on legally, but frankly life is now quite literally too short for such shenanigans.

Indeed as the weeks and months passed by towards my entirely arbitrary launch date and the issue remained partly unresolved, plus the whole stressful business of launching a wee print magazine in a world gone digitally mad, made me realise that I simply lacked the appetite for it. Or at least the appetite for doing it alone and risking most of what little money I’d scrimped and saved on something that mightn’t work. I would’ve had to’ve given up my film reviewing contract, too, which means regular money for a job I love – albeit with a wildly irregular workload that makes forward planning almost impossible.

Its premature demise also and with convenient irony provides the backbone of this little epistle, for I have lately been musing on the broken promises of the past twelve months. This has of course been most notable in the political arena with the posh boys who swagger around Westminster casually determining our fates failing to reduce the national deficit, curb immigration, re-balance the economy in favour of manufacturing exports, sort out the NHS, end various costly military misadventures… the list is endless. The major overall consequence is to’ve reduced even further public confidence in politicians, which accounts for the rise of Farage and the other clowns who comprise UKIP. Whether a major protest vote in their favour – bearing in mind that it’ll be a woefully low turnout – will give UKIP an influence in parliament beyond that of short-term scaremongerers remains to be seen, but as a measure of my faith in politics I shall again be voting Monster Raving Loony.

In America the situation is much the same. Obama for all his fine oration and intentions, has failed to deliver on anything except arguably the economy, but that was largely down to the luck of fracking. And elsewhere in the world I can’t immediately think of any government that has successfully risen to the challenges faced. A few despots have disappeared these past couple of years, but only to be replaced by cruel, ruthless and/or religious psychotics whilst totalitarian states such as those in Syria, Egypt, North Korea, Russia etc., etc. have continued to destabilise a world that has little appetite for addressing the damage they do… mainly because we need their energy or they need the arms we can sell ‘em. And organised religion remains the most divisive, inhumane and hypocritical force in the world.

Although many otherwise sophisticated governments remain in denial about climate change, the evidence of increasingly hostile and unpredictable weather patterns is as clear as the irreversible denuding of fauna and flora that’s the inevitable consequence of overpopulation. Mankind’s failure to do anything significant about all of this evinces perhaps the most anguished handwringing of the lot, but closeted in my own little bubble I’m of course more exercised by our ability to let library closures continue unabated, the inability of the motorcycle industry to stop its slow-drawn-out suicide, the sucking of public money for the absurd vanity project that is HS2 at the expense of our otherwise creaking railway network, Amazon and Google’s relentless pursuit of untaxed profits as they speed the downfall of traditional retailers and publishers and the race-to-the-bottom of most cultural institutions and human qualities that I once held dear. Readers of past bloggery may recall what they are so I’ll spare them and anyone else who’s come across this scrawl more recently, or by mistake, any further wailing.

What I will merely list in conclusion are those who have failed to survive a further year and are much missed, at least by me. Felix Dennis, my oldest friend and colleague from underground press days died last summer: his support, loyal friendship and sharp intellect is as much missed by many others who were close to him, and indeed not-so close. Mick Farren, of the same ilk and era also departed earlier in 2014 and other losses in recent years and the serious illnesses suffered by many friends compound the discomforting feeling that we haven’t got too long left to make the most of our lives. So if there’s a positive message to be drawn from the failures and disappointments of the past 12 months, may it be that we’re all still lucky to be here.


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Dubious in Dubai March 18, 2013

Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Politics, Schmolitics, Uncategorized.
1909 Stag at Sharkey's oil on canvas 92.1 x 122.6 cm

An early Bellows’ work of an illegal NYC boxing bout

Before I get into my brief, gob-smacking trip to Dubai, there’s some unfinished business following the catalogue of cultural recommendations which I unilaterally chose to excrete into the ether last week. Misgivings abound about this, but is it any worse than zillions of my peers’ FarceBerk postings concerning the cute antics of kittens, kids and inebriated colleagues ? Erm, probably.

Anyroad up, there was no room to mention a few exhibitions that have thrilled and delighted recently, and even if you live miles away and/or are ambivalent about art, if you go to only one show this year, make it George Bellows at the Royal Academy. Hitherto unknown to me, in his short life Bellows produced a vast body of work in ever-changing styles (think Lowry, Hopper, Rocker, Nicholson etc) including visceral depictions of illegal boxing bouts in his native turn of the century New York to seascapes to rather formal society portraits but with twists that mirrored his hero Manet at that painter’s maverick best. It’s only a small exhibition in the Sackler Wing but there are some hugely moving works there, including some WW1 reflections that are equaled only by Picasso’s Guernica in their stark, powerful anger.

And talking of Manet, the RA currently has a bigger exhibition of his work, although the numerous deliberately unfinished paintings rather reduced my admiration for him even though his observational eye and subtle use of colour cannot be undervalued. And talking of Picasso, there’s another smallish show of his early work at the Courtauld Gallery which of you’re a Picasso completest (which I am) shouldn’t be missed. Finally in more modern vein the Light Show at the Hayward is worth seeing if only for Anthony McCall’s misty, atmospheric projections and a few pieces by Dan Flavin (who had a literally dazzling solus show there in 2006).  I haven’t yet seen the Lichtenstein at Tate Modern but as someone who sparked my enthusiasm for modern art back in the ‘60s, I’m slavering in anticipation.

And as a postscript to my list of recently consumed literature, I forgot to mention Susie Boyt’s compelling, beautifully wrought new-ish novel, The Small Hours about a plucky, if troubled idealist who in setting up a private school is obliged to confront many of her personal demons.

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Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower – the world’s tallest, obviously

Now Dubai. I’ve been telling everyone that this obscenely rich Emerati state evoked for me the Blade Runner cityscape, but transposed to the desert. The place is awash with skyscrapers, many of which line six lane highways behind which there’s little but desert scrub. Weird. However from the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, even these towering edifices look like bungalows. Unfettered by planning requirements, although some of the architecture is aesthetically questionable, some of it is breathtakingly impressive, especially the buildings incongruously lining the Dubai Creek where traditional dhows load cargoes traded along the Gulf and beyond.

And just in front of the Khalifa there was a huge display of classic cars, all restored within an inch of their lives – mainly big fuck-off Bentleys, Caddies and of course the obligatory Ferraris – because thanks to the talented artisans who’ve emigrated from India and further east, Dubai is a centre for cheap, high-quality restoration work.

This of course raises the ugly issue of immigrant labour without which Dubai couldn’t exist. Living in cramped and inhospitable dormitory suburbs, legions of building and menial service workers spend 50 weeks of their year creating the superstructures and maintaining the lifestyles of the copious ex-pats (some 80% of the 2million population) who’ve made their homes there due to the lack of income tax and a shamelessly retail-driven culture.

Visiting the (in)famous ‘Palm Jumeirah’ estate artificially stretching out into the Gulf felt rather like being in The Truman Show, and then rising surreally out of the shimmering desert, there’s the world’s largest shopping mall, and its largest indoor ski slope… All this said, Dubai’s ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is an apparently canny fellow who seeks to undermine any risk of Islamic (or other) revolution by ensuring all his native subjects are well looked after and regularly turns up unannounced, often driving his own Mercedes G-Wagen, to cultural and other events, such as the poetry evening I attended in a desert encampment where he stayed for a good, er, 20 minutes.

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And the view from the Burj Khalifa

I gather that the Sheik and his family, a/k/a ‘the government’, are tolerant of the many Taliban big-wigs, international criminals and other despots who’ve put their money into Dubai just as long as they cause no trouble or incur debt, in which case they’re out on their ears. Another consequence of his financial strictures was the horde of expensive cars left at the airport, gloveboxes full of maxed-out credit cards, after 2008’s financial crash when their suddenly debt-ridden owners had to flee. And the cars, now covered in sand, are still there…

I spent my final evening with a lively group of young lawyers, digital entrepreneurs  and media-types from China, the Antipodes and Europe who’d made the place their home and who provided sharp insights into Dubai’s still escalating prosperity despite  its lack of oil: it’s become the financial hub of the Arab world, even more so now its troubled neighbours needs somewhere secure to store their capital. But not one of them expected to live there beyond a few more years, and hot, hospitable and intriguingly bizarre though it was, I doubt I could’ve stayed there even a few more weeks.

One final, bleakly instructive thought on where we’re heading economically is prompted by this link (for which I must thank Dick Pountain). How sustainable, I wonder, is a world where such financial inequality continues to exist and indeed, grows?


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