Archive for September, 2020

mr smithThis is Mr Smith. He’s a floating balance clock with an hourly and half hourly strike. You could also describe him as an ugly old wind up from the late 1950s that nobody wanted any more. But he endures, and, except for the occasional melt-down, he’s reliable. He’s also symbolic of a bygone era. If that era has anything to teach us now is open to debate, but I think it has, and it’s nothing to do with nostalgia.

I paid fifteen quid for him off Ebay, then spent the best part of a year scratching my head about why he ran five minutes fast. He’d been doing it all his life, so far as I can tell, because the problem appeared to be a manufacturing fault. He must have driven a variety of owners mad and I’m surprised he avoided the tip for as long as he did. That’s another thing about Mr Smith. He’s sixty years old, but for all his imperfections – and they were clearly considerable – he keeps going.

My grandma used to say: buy second hand and you’re buying other people’s problems. She had a point. So, when dabbling on Ebay, you’ve got to gamble you’ve the ability to fix a thing someone else has given up on. When it comes to clocks, for me, that’s both a technical challenge, and an appeal to my anthropomorphic tendencies. Normally, you’d settle an old clock into its environment, then you’d regulate its time-keeping with whatever adjustment is possible. But Mr Smith was at the end of his adjustment, and still running fast. So I bonded a couple of microscopic screws from an old watch into the holes on his balance wheel. That was enough to settle him down and bring him back to within the realms of possibility. He can still be eccentric in other ways, but he does tell good time now.

Naturally, a professional clock and watch man will pull a face at such a repair, I mean one involving glue, no matter how precisely measured. They’re a fussy lot, rightly proud of their skills. But their skills are dying out because they charge the earth. It’s only worth their while touching the rare Rolls Royces of clocks now – you know, the sort you’ll find in stately homes. Sadly, that means your cheaper relics like Mr Smith get thrown out, or they fall into the hands of Bodger Bills like me, and with mixed results.

mr smith balance

Floating Balance Movement – 1956-1960

The floating balance appeared in 1956, licensed to Smiths by Hettich, a German maker. The balance wheel runs with its axis vertical, suspended on a piano wire to reduce friction. The balance spring also features a curious double helix that helps compensate for temperature changes. Smiths redesigned it in 1960, made it smaller and easier to adjust. My Mr Smith has the older version, which is a bit fiddly. Both types are very accurate, though accuracy is relative.

We take time for granted now. Glance at your phone and there it is, to within a split second. The machines have championed precision at our behest, and now they crack their whips at us. But humans have no emotional need of the split second. When Mr Smith was made, so long as a clock was a within a minute per week, and you could bring it back in to the BBC’s pips, you’d still make it to the bus on time.

I’ve had him in bits more than once, cleaned him, lubricated him, restored some of the shine to his case. He’s been fine until recently, when his bonger went berserk, and he just wouldn’t shut up. I realise this was my fault. I’d forgotten to wind him, so he’d drifted off into silence and reverie. But when a clock stops, and especially a striking clock, you should set it by winding the fingers forward, not back. I’d wound Mr Smith back.

I could stretch a metaphor here and say that trying to reset the beat of your own times, by winding back into the past is never a good idea. There’s always a risk you’ll break something in the process. Stretching the metaphor even further, from a point of stillness, it’s best to look forward, to what might be, rather than what has been. The former we can change if needs be. The latter is too late. Sure, the past can be a pleasant place, happy memories and all that, but it can be dangerous too because there may be regrets lurking. But I don’t think this is what Mr Smith is trying to tell me here, at least not entirely. There’s more.

The past has utility if it remains useful. Much of the anguish and the violence we’ve seen in recent years has been in large part a rage, as we fight over simple explanations to impossibly complex issues. It’s been a petulant desire for simpler times, times when we imagined we knew how the world worked. We didn’t, and we certainly don’t now. Indeed, the world is so complicated now – our technology, our tools – there’s a feeling of things running away with us. But there’s no going back. We have to become more advanced in ourselves to deal with it, to transcend the melee, and deploy these miracles more wisely, and with far greater moral compunction.

mr smith mechanism

Strike mechanism, Smiths Floating Balance clock

As I contemplate Mr Smith’s mechanism I can get my head around each component and understand its contribution to the whole function of time-telling. If I watch it in action for a while, I can figure out how it works, what’s gone wrong, and how I can put it right. The only dangerous element here is a fully wound mainspring, and I know how to deal with that.

But my ‘phone? That teller of precise time. I doubt there’s a single person alive who understands every part of it, even the people who made it. As for its dangers, there are many, and mostly unseen. For a start its potential function goes way beyond what its ostensible purpose is. It spies on me, and reads my mind – at least judging by the adverts that pop up on it. It tracks my movements and sends that information to be stored on computers half-way round the world. I don’t why it does that, but tailoring adverts to suit my needs, like it says, sounds a bit flimsy to me.

By contrast, there’s an honesty about Mr Smith. He doesn’t do anything underhand. He doesn’t get his time from “the cloud” and share it with me in exchange for my personal details, so he can sell them on. He tells the time. So if the past has any utility at all in this instance it is to remind us that honesty is a virtue. It’s not just that our technology used to be so much simpler. It was simply so much more trustworthy. Until we can recover that, we’ve a rocky road ahead.

As for Mr Smith’s bonger, it was just a simple adjustment. He’s back to counting the hours properly. There he sits, ticking away cosily, doing nothing but what he’s supposed to be doing, minding his business, while I mind mine.

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mr sunshineThis is Mr Sunshine. He’s missing one of his rays, between the six and seven o’clock position, but you’d have to point that out before anyone would notice, and it certainly doesn’t dim his enthusiasm. I’ll make a substitute one day, but his essence lies much deeper than the mere look of him. Beneath the wood and the tin, and the plastic, Mr Sunshine is a very special clock indeed. Except today, he’s feeling poorly, and not running at all.

I sort of rescued him. He was about to be thrown into a skip during a house clearance and I said: “Hold on! That’s a Smith’s tuning fork clock.”

“But it’s not run for years,” came the reply. “And who’d want to give a thing like that houseroom these days? It’s as ugly as sin. You want it, it’s yours.”

Well, it’s definitely a period piece, early seventies, and clearly not to everyone’s taste. The tuning fork movement was a real innovation though, an electro-mechanical device that predates quartz, but is just as accurate. You have a tuning fork that’s made to sing. The vibration induces current in a coil and that’s picked up by a slotted wheel. The wheel, made of mu-metal, rotates in sympathy, at an incredibly precise rate.

Smiths is a venerable British make with a long history. Their clocks sat on mantle-pieces throughout the empire, they went into sports cars and flew in Spitfires. Post war though, the industry suffered the same decline as many others, victims of economic reality and  far eastern innovation. Still, Mr Sunshine is a beautiful piece of engineering, as well as something of an extravert. The original specification says he’s good for a few seconds a month. That’s quite an achievement when even a modern quartz watch does well to manage ten seconds.

It’s not a Smith’s movement though. The design was licensed by Bulova, and manufactured for Smiths by Jeco, in Tokyo. Good examples are getting rare, and fetch good prices on Ebay. I remember being nervous as I stripped this one down to see if I could diagnose the initial problem. In the end all it took was a good cleaning and a little soldering to have it humming again. It’s been in my vestibule for a decade now, suits the space and the light, I think, and it just works. Well, it did until today.

I have dozens of old clocks, clocks I’ve tinkered with and badgered out of retirement. Most have names, but Mr Sunshine is a favourite. He’s the one I see every morning as I set out for the commute. He may not be to everyone’s taste, but to me he’s a statement of optimism, the last smile before I set out into my day.

That Mr Sunshine has stopped troubles me. My stopped clocks are a metaphor of other troubles, present and impending, not so much technical as personal and professional. But all of these things are related – I mean metaphysically. We have need of optimism at the moment, and every little helps. This isn’t just about old clocks you see? This is about time and being.

Most of my pieces post-date 1960, the year I was born. So, keeping them going is like encouraging all the formative periods of my psyche into making an harmonious and ongoing contribution to our joint adventure in time. What I’m doing with my clocks is I’m keeping all the various parts of myself going. It’s akin to alchemy.

As we get older, there’s a risk we make decisions that lose the support of little bits of our soul. We compromise our ideals, sacrifice them on the altar of expediency. Thus, parts of us remain locked in the past with their arms folded and scowly expressions, refusing to lend us their energy. Without them, we struggle to reach the heights to which we aspire. 

So what’s the problem with Mr Sunshine then? What’s he trying to tell me? Is it something deep and serious? Or is he just lacking energy. I know I am, too many late nights and early get-ups. Fortunately, a change of battery is all he needs, and then he’s off, humming away again. Problem solved – which goes to show,  it doesn’t do to assume the worst in every situation. So then I look to Mr Sunshine, and I ask him how we’re doing. He smiles, and says we’re doing just fine, tells me I’ve got to find energy from somewhere, get some early nights maybe, got to keep smiling through, you see?

And then he says: Look, it’s a material world we live in, right? There’s nothing wrong in that if we can still find the metaphorical meaning, the poetry, in the material. Otherwise, it’s simply dust, and it doesn’t mean a thing.

Sure, dust is rather a negative concept to have to contemplate. We are all dust, said the clergy of my childhood, and not much cure for it, not much optimism in it either. I only found optimism in my later years in poetry and mysticism. The seventies were a turbulent decade, but not all doom and gloom. Mr Sunshine reminds me of that.

Now, let me introduce you to Mr Smith. He’s a fine old mechanical floating balance movement with hourly and half hourly strikes. His case is somewhat oddly shaped I think, very sixties, but he’s a reliable old curmudgeon – well, he was. No sooner had I sorted Mr Sunshine out with a fresh battery, Mr Smith’s bonger went berserk.

mr smith

I suspect he’s trying to warn me of something, but we’ll leave that for another day, and another story. 

I shudder to think. 





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Rumour has it,….


Photo by sl wong on Pexels.com

I’ve worked most of my life in huge bureaucracies, so I’m no stranger to the pleasures of a juicy rumour. In big organizations it’s often impossible to see how the whole structure works, or even who makes the decisions. We can feel overwhelmed, invisible and powerless. So a good rumour is comforting. It takes a complex situation and provides a plausible pattern of causality. And the more people you hear sharing that rumour, the truer it seems to you. Plus, to be in possession of a rumour grants you a feeling of power over others. You’re in on the secret. It makes you feel street-savvy and well-connected.

But there was something else I noticed about rumours. Certain mischievous individuals took pleasure in starting one, say in a distant part of the organization. Then they’d wait and see how long it took to make it back. Why? Well, it was a kind of sport, a combination of boredom and ego, I suppose. But the level of psychological sophistication required to pull this off was impressive. Plausibility seemed to be the main ingredient, regardless of how outrageous the claim. It was clear also, the choice of first contact was crucial or the rumour would die at source. There would be no contagion, you see? So any person or groups known for critical thinking or scepticism were to be avoided. They were not good incubators, let alone spreaders. You had to home in on the vulnerable, on the known pathological gossips. Seeing how this works in action is sobering. It always makes you question any story you pick up off the grape-vine. It makes you question the source.

Another interesting fact about rumours is they suggest organizations are always operating with a certain percentage of their staff labouring under a cloud of self-generated misinformation, and that can’t be good. The degree of it is in proportion to the amount of trust and coherence invested in the corporate hierarchy. Poor organizations run by a hated and utterly distrusted management are almost entirely delusional. Is any of this beginning to sound familiar?

Of course, the phenomenon of the rumour is not confined to business organizations. Indeed, in recent times, it has grown to epic proportions, and found ample breeding ground in popular culture. We call them conspiracy theories. That the world is flat, and the moon landings faked are both vintage examples, though – it has to be said – both of these are still circulating.

In my old office days, rumours had an element of fun about them, but modern conspiracy theories less so. Some, like the anti-vax and the plandemic theories have actually killed people. Latter day conspiracy theories are more than mischievous games, then. They are a contagion that can grip the world. Indeed, it turns out we’re so vulnerable to having our minds bent by them, any number of clever actors can use them against us.

One theory on the reason we’re so prone to infection by juicy rumours/conspiracy theories is down to formative psychology. We have adapted over millions of years, building on the more primitive layers of our evolutionary past. But the psychical wiring we once used to protect ourselves in a violent and uncertain world, a world thick with warring enemies and predatory beasts, is still there. It renders us adept at extracting patterns from chaos, even when there is no pattern. But that there might be a pattern, like a tiger or a snake in the grass, or an ambush up ahead, reacting to it anyway – just in case – might save your life. It conveys an evolutionary advantage, and forms the bedrock on which modern humans stand. This translates into modern times and renders us all potential suckers for those persuasive patterns of apparent explicatory order amid the chaos, whether they are true or not.

For a substantial percentage of the population to be in thrall to misinformation presents a problem for politicians trying to steer a country through a crisis. And the fact we all have a window on disinformation now, via our phones and the big-tech platforms like Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, renders even the nation-state helpless to the weaponization of conspiracy theories by other nations, or even simply by the charismatic idiot.

The greater the chaos, the greater the potential numinosity of the conspiracy theory. Right now we’re approaching winter with a second wave of the coronavirus about to crest. We’ve already had six long months of disruption, and everyone I know is weary and upset. The rules are constantly changing, and maybe necessarily so, but it’s hard to keep up. Even true-blue conservatives are beginning to curse their own government at the prospect of renewed social restrictions. The landscape before us is thus fertile ground for misinformation. So we should be on the lookout for the conspiracy theories then. We should be sceptical, and of good humour when anyone on or offline says: hey,… rumour has it,… But remember, they might just be pulling your plonker. Or they might genuinely believe it, or they might genuinely be wishing us all a bag of harm.

Personally, I’m still inclined to trust in what’s left of our public institutions. That’s what they’re there for, and why they need protecting against the forces of misguided, or just plain evil neo-con conspiracy malarkey. Anything centralised to the seat of power – i.e. London, or anything privatised by virtue of crony capitalism,… yea well, least said.

So let’s be careful out there. Watch your back, and respect the fears of others. Lend them a hand, socially distanced of course. Team-work and empathy.  We’ll get through it.

Okay who remembers this?

That means you’re at least as old as I am. Happy days.

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The Clapham Omnibus – Courtesy Wikemedia Commons

Dear sir,

As I grow older, the less I realize I know. Perhaps you feel the same? It’s more than simply forgetting what I’ve learned. It’s realizing what I know is of vanishing consequence in a rapidly changing and morally dubious world. If the trend continues, it suggests I will soon be waking to find the rise and fall of my own breath is the only certainty I possess.

Such feelings have had a sobering effect on my writing, which has now slowed to a ponderous circling while I look out of the window for a safe place to land. But since I know less with each passing story, it’s harder to wrap them up in neat conclusions. As for a safe position, I doubt there is one, and would value your opinion on that. Where, dear sir, lies the hope?

Casting our eyes across the pond, the situation in America is perplexing. Climate change is accelerating the desertification of California while, politically, our dear cousins seem to be approaching an authoritarian dictatorship, replete with rag-tag armed militias. Thank goodness we do not have the right to bear arms here, or we might be following down the same rocky path. Still, all is far from well at home. Our proud nation is to be awarded the dubious crown of pariah state, as we break international law, reneging on an already ratified BREXIT position. Can this be true? And is it also true, we are now stripped of our European identity? True, our country is now facing the likely break-up of its precious union? And of course, to cap it all, we have Covid, warming up for its second wave, while conspiricists – who have evidently never ridden the Clapham Omnibus – are still saying it’s a hoax.

The times are indeed uncertain, and the great despairing roar of it has me looking instinctively for shelter while I try to work out what’s going on. Answers on a postcard please, for I am at a loss. I am certain only that, in the grand scheme of things, it makes little difference what I think or write, if I tie my stories up with a neat little bow, or leave them flapping in the chill wind of existential oblivion. Having explored the nature of the times we’re living, in my present story, the only conclusion that makes sense, is to have my hero and all his friends crushed under a rain of ruthless hammer blows. But surely, sir, that cannot be right.

Indeed, my characters have been grumbling about this, demanding I keep going until the way is clearer. Try harder, they say. But they have forgotten that’s not how it works. I just take notes. It’s them I look to for the answers, and it troubles me to see them as bewildered as I. Ask the man on the Clapham Omnibus, they say. So here I am, sir, asking.

The only meaningful conclusion I can draw, and one that is half-way hopeful, is we should stop groping for external solutions to perceived threats, the nature of which, we know nothing about. It is to stop gazing up at the sky, and to look instead to others, to friends, to family, to whatever grounds us in reality. This is not to seek answers to the world’s ills, more we seek personal meaning, and all in spite of the turbulent moral landscape we find ourselves abroad in. It is to rediscover and to encourage what is honourable in all our selves, and let our story close with the whisper of that, because that’s what honour does: it whispers. It does not go out with a bang of righteous indignation.

Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad conclusion. What do you think?

The movers and the shakers have decided the best way to change the world is to move fast, and break things, to make a fine art of lying about it and to blame others for the resulting mess. But the solution to such duplicity is not a golden trumpet blasting out a revelatory truth – whether we are blowing it ourselves or not. We all know any reasonable attempt at the truth will be cut down at the gates by rabid trolls, before it’s even got its pants on.

Thus, the last bastion of moral rectitude resides with each of us and, as it always has, with you, dear sir, the man on the Clapham Omnibus. But if you’ll forgive me, I’m thinking the best we can do right now, is shield our flame lest the ill winds puff it out. We should plant our honour like a seed in the earth, then cover it and hunker down for better times, and a different season, because this is not that season. Come spring, who knows? But who knows when spring will come?

Writing in his farewell book “A man without a country”, that genial, old curmudgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, said: “If there’s anything they hate, it’s a wise human. So be one anyway. Save our lives and your own. Be honourable.

No, dear sir, sadly neither you nor I can influence the potential disasters of BREXIT, or Covid, or the coming US elections. But then, however these things turn out, they aren’t going to provide anything by way of lasting meaning to our beleaguered souls. All we’re looking at, in whatever future unfolds, is more division, tribalism, and shouting at one another, because there’s always someone who doesn’t get what they want. Our world is defined by self-identifying victims – genuine or otherwise – whose purpose in life is to nurture only their sense of perpetual hurt, and to cast for perpetrators to be vilified. But if others have forgotten what it means to be honourable, right-minded riders of the Clapham Omnibus, or have simply abandoned it as an inconvenient anachronism for these, our modern times, it doesn’t mean we should all do the same.

Perhaps then, I have answered my own question.

What do you think, sir?

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shadow games2I caught a snippet of TV news. It was a politician talking, and it provoked a strong reaction in me. He’s a liar and a sleaze, I thought, which of course he might well be, but my temptation to shout at the TV suggests something else, something deeper. It’s more about my self and my unacknowledged potential for lies and corruption, I think. You see, it’s never wise to be holier than thou.
Then there’s this guy I know who irritates the hell out of me. He blathers on about stuff he doesn’t understand, but like he’s some sort of expert anyway. My reaction to him says there are parts of myself that are also prone to arrogance and bluff, but which I hide from. Then, what about my irritation at the couch potato, the shirker of fresh air, exercise and health? That suggests I harbour a similar penchant for sloth and a warm duvet, to say nothing of a craving for fatty treats.
But I filter these things out of the virtuous image I have of myself. I polish up my mask of perfection for the world to see. Meanwhile, what I judge to be the less attractive aspects of my nature, I push aside. But refusing to own them does not mean I do not still possess them. Instead, they lurk in the unconscious mind, from where they  project themselves onto others. There’s much worse they’ll do, too, if I don’t spot them and own them back.
These are aspects of a psychological archetype called the Shadow, and  we all have one. It forms in childhood as we find our way through early life. We try out various behaviours, looking for attention, or approval from our parents, teachers and social groups. We want to find out what helps us fit in, to be whatever is considered “normal” by our society. Thus, we learn to hold onto those parts that get us liked. The rest of the stuff, the stuff that’s caused us embarrassment, or ridicule, or earned us a good telling off, we suppress.
It’s troubling that we have this hidden, darker side, a piece of us we cannot see. But the bigger danger is if we deny its existence, because then our shadow can have us rejecting people who might otherwise mean well. They just have this foible that enrages us, because we have not recognized it in our selves and made peace with it. It can have us wearing facial expressions we are unaware of, rebuffing or even frightening others. It can also blind us to the real power behind world events and render us manipulable by a cynical media even to the extent of causing us to behave violently and irrationally. Remember, media headlines are hooks, fishing to land our shadows, and when we are in thrall to the shadow, we’re not exactly looking where we’re going. We can get lost in some very dark places.
The shadow is mostly viewed negatively, but this need not always be so. There are public intellectuals and spiritual leaders I have become quite a fan of. I watch them on Youtube, and I project feelings of admiration towards them. This suggests the aspects I so admire lie undeveloped in myself. Sure, I wish I was a confident speaker who could hold an audience. I wish I was better at thinking on my feet, and could explain a complex phenomenon in simple terms. I wish I could exude an air of Zen-like calm, and thereby comfort those around me. So why don’t I? Well, it’s hard, isn’t it? And it takes courage.
On the world’s stage, certain populist leaders operate by deliberately polarizing the population. They attract all manner of projections, both good and bad. The negative aspects of the current US Presidency need little introduction. But there are other aspects his followers find hugely inspirational. Is it more useful then for his detractors to become paralysed by negative emotion? Or are they better withdrawing their shadows and trying to understand how he energizes his following? Then we might see our problems from a more transcendent perspective, and that’s got to be better than simply squaring up and shouting uselessly at one another?
The Shadow haunts every aspect of our lives. Unless we come to terms with it, it will arrest our emotional and spiritual development, have us languishing in adolescence, even into old age. But more than that, it is our inability to deal with our shadows, collectively, that has always rendered mankind the biggest danger to itself. After all, what else can reduce an innocent human being to a figure of collective hate? What else can launch an army to war, if it is not the collective shadow? What else can cause us to view desperate people risking the world’s perilous migrant routes, and speak of them as if they were vermin?
We are all vulnerable to the shadow. We are all thereby vulnerable to manipulation by those who know how to use it to play our weaknesses against us. Only by defusing the shadow do we release its power back into our own hands. But dealing with the shadow isn’t easy. These darker aspects of ourselves can be disturbing to acknowledge. For example, would you be happy to know you have it in you to hurt someone and enjoy it? Even the positive aspects of the shadow can be dangerous to us because they set an ideal that can make us resentful when we realize we have not the character to work towards realizing it in ourselves.
It’s a slow process, unpicking the shadow. Indeed, it’s a life-time’s work, but it begins with that person who annoys you. You feel the emotion rising, and you pause, then ask yourself what is it, that part of me I’m feeling? Then you try to make friends with it, as if it were a sullen child – that is, we do not act it out, but more we say: “Aha! There you are, you little rascal. I remember you. Now come, we’re better than that.”
And so, in the words of Carl Jung:
“Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic unsolved social problems of our day.”*
*Psychology and religion (1938)

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hogarth drunkennessThere are five public houses in my village. One of them, a mile away, spent the day booming out music so loud I could hear it indoors through the double glazing. But it was the Bank Holiday weekend, party time, the year’s last gasp, and all that – so live and let live – or die as the case may be. Unlike me, frolicsome folks were flocking to it for beery socializing and fun. Judging by my brief evening recce, social distancing they were not – and especially not after a long sunny day of drinking.

I do not know to what extent Covid 19 is prevalent in my locale. The track and trace apps, now ubiquitous in other nations seem to have passed poor old Blighty by. Thus, we’re giving it every opportunity to settle in and thrive. If those apps should ever appear, they’ll certainly be needed.

Nor do I know to what extent Covid 19 is considered a killer now. I look at the extraordinary economic and social wreckage of the past five months and conclude the virus scared the be-jasus out of everyone. Then I look at the beer-garden of that pub and I conclude it’s gone away, or it’s become a different virus altogether. Sure, it’s nothing more than a dose of flu. But then the world always does look different from the bottom of a pint pot.

I have no reliable data upon which to decide if any of this is a problem, but my gut feeling is it can’t be good. Were it purely a matter for the biological sciences, I’m sure every individual would have a well-informed idea of the risks they’re taking. But since it’s also a political and economic issue, to say nothing of news-fodder, and since both politics and the media have a rep for playing with a decidedly wonky bat, there’s a feeling of rushing headlong into the year’s back end with no more idea of what we’re dealing with than when we began.

Of the politics, my sense is our leaders have been winging it all year, telling us everything is fine, until it’s not. And then the media plays it for sensation, or, at times, as the nudge-nudge, wink-wink of the politicians they have symbiotically subsumed.

What I do observe, objectively, is that objectivity is fading as the nights draw in. But then I’ve also observed people don’t act on objective facts at all. Our motivations are much deeper, psychologically speaking. Indeed, I suspect few of us act at all, under any circumstances. More we re-act to emotional cues, and the nature of that reaction depends on our personality type. This means some people are still scared, while others are bored and don’t give a damn any more.

We were powerless to stop it, and for a variety of reasons. Its novelty and its virulence rank highly of course. But other factors cannot be ignored – our laissez faire leadership, the antagonistic and chaotic state of international affairs, plus the now chronic levels of public provision have all played their part. But by any measure, the UK has fared badly.

As for what comes next, your guess is as good as mine. But we should be mindful of the fact that just because we’re encouraged to go out and do a thing, it doesn’t mean it’s entirely safe to do so. Indeed, I find calls to invoke the spirit of John Bull and to “do your duty” by propping up the hospitality “industry” is crass and hypocritical. Yes, the world looks ever so rosy when we’re in our cups. But remember, the dawn is coming, and with it, the hangover.

Engineering, steel and textiles, all were left to rot throughout the eighties and the nineties, when the going got tough. Millions of jobs were shed, shredding communities that had known the confidence and comforts of a decent wage, to say nothing of humane, unionized working conditions. Now all there is is this ragged-trousered dog-eat-dog grafting, reminiscent of a Dickens novel. I admit I am no stranger to the all-be-it transient Bacchanalian delights, but why must the giant brewers and restaurant chains, and the sandwich shops be saved at all costs, even at the risk of life and limb?

There are frightened people who have not left their homes since March. Coaxing them back into any sort of life beyond four walls will be difficult. High levels of anxiety and agoraphobia will blight the lives of many well into the future. They should not be taunted by the tawdry bait of a half price meal. Thus, the reckless tell the timid to get out, to get a life, go drink some beer. But without faith in what’s true, it’s inevitable the sensible will take a more cautious approach, and swerve the beer gardens.

But it isn’t all bad news. I feel sure another world is still possible. I know this because the one we’re living in now was unthinkable just a year ago. But the lights are still on, and we’ve kept going. So, what would you happily see never return? What, among the many lifestyle changes we’ve seen, would you  keep? Or are we merely to heave the creaking carcass of conspicuous consumption back towards some semblance of its pre-covid normality? Are we merely to return to that time when we look once more upon “key-workers” as no longer vital to life, but as a faceless precariat, trapped in thankless, zero-hours work, and poverty pay? A glance in the brewer’s beer garden perhaps says it all.

So finally, and with apologies to A E Houseman:

Beer man, that’s the stuff to drink,
For fellows whom it hurts to think.
Go on, look deep into your pint pot,
And see the world as the world is not.
Such faith, man, sure it’s pleasant ’till it’s past.
The problem is, see? It never lasts.

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