When it comes to high-street discount stores handy for basic toiletries and the like, Studio 54 doesn’t immediately spring to mind. However, the notoriously stringent entrance policy of the exclusive New York nightclub of the Disco era – in which the only guaranteed name on the list would usually be that of Andy Warhol – came into my head this morning. I had no choice but to wait in line as a makeshift doorman at my local branch of Wilkos wouldn’t allow any shoppers in until another shopper had exited the store. The oddness of this particular shopping experience was compensated for via the purchase of my first pack of loo rolls in a fortnight; but it wasn’t unique to the expedition.

Sainsbury’s has also instigated a new queue policy whereby shoppers need to stand several feet apart – though when I recall some of the BO I’ve been forced to inhale in tight-knit shopping queues over the years, I can’t say I mind too much. That said, this system does invite unknowing queue-jumpers who see a wide gap and assume there’s no queue at all. We’re all adapting, I guess. It’s now cards-only at the manned tills too; cash-carrying peasants were redirected to the automated self-service machines. Having slipped into a routine whereby I venture outdoors every four days, I notice the changes more on each occasion I brave the pavement; the way things are going, I can’t help but feel it’s only a matter of time before supermarkets convert to a drive-through method ala McDonalds. Bit of a bugger for those of us without cars, mind.

I was out not long after 10.00am and had to pinch myself that it was Saturday morning, which is normally the busiest shopping day of the week. I must have passed no more than a dozen people, and even the traffic on what is usually something of a bottleneck was minimal to the point of invisibility. A main road generally impossible to cross without summoning assistance from the green and red men was today witness to the kind of casual pedestrian strolling unimaginable at times when society hasn’t been turned upside down. Even the post office – which we were informed would remain open – has closed its doors; and that was the main destination which prompted the excursion. One week and one day on from the moment most doors closed to the public, the public is being made very aware that the only place to go is home.

Part of me thinks I should carry my camera with me, to capture the refashioned urban environment while it lasts; but images of congested streets as they were before the lockdown increasingly look stranger than what is now the new norm. I’ve experienced numerous times in my life when my fellow man has consciously avoided me as though I were contagious, but this has suddenly become commonplace for everybody. On one hand, the sight of it could be mistaken for polite courtesy as two people on a collision course step aside in a manner that would demand the raising of hats were hats in place; yet everybody is now so hyper-aware of how apparently easy it is to become infected that a bizarre dance can be seen up and down supermarket aisles and on pavements. You can’t help it. Every individual you spy heading towards you is accompanied by a sonorous Central Office of Information narrator informing you that person could be infected; pass too close and you could be infected too. I wonder how long it’ll take before people stop being scared to come into contact with other humans again.

It’s certainly a weird experience being out after four days of being in, and my only real concern when it comes to this whole isolation & distancing thing is that I personally find it harder to re-engage with folk the longer I’m deprived of their presence. Have no doubt – I can cope with my own company; I’m more than accustomed to that. But reverting to social skills when they haven’t been used for a while is for me a bit like restarting inactive machinery that has been switched-off during an industrial dispute; it ain’t like riding a bike, trust me. Skyping is the next best thing, I guess; and I’ve done a fair bit of that over the past week or so. And it’ll have to suffice for the time being. At least it’s better than it must have been during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918; the best most could manage then was to send a few telegrams.

So, we’re left with our imaginary TV schedule whenever the printed page and the soundtrack have momentarily exhausted their appeal. If you don’t subscribe to streaming and all those other newfangled means of accessing escapist entertainment, there’s always the humble DVD. And what, you probably won’t be asking, has kept me entertained since Boris issued his command? Well, it may not be the most comforting of programmes to revisit, but it’s undoubtedly timely; I’m talking ‘Survivors’, Terry Nation’s dystopian BBC drama from the mid-70s. I might be a masochist, but I couldn’t resist coming to the series again with such an unexpected new perspective.

Just the opening titles struck me as remarkably prescient. Brilliantly summarising what the show is about by using that visual exposition characteristic of opening titles back then, we see a Chinese scientist in a surgical mask drop a test tube we instantly know contains a lethal chemical that then explodes in slow motion. Cut to repeated shots of planes zooming across the screen as we see said scientist collapse in a crowd whilst a sequence of passports are stamped with the names of the planet’s major capital cities. Okay, so within 30 seconds we learn some sort of biochemist from the Far East has accidentally released a new killer virus that is spread around the globe via air travel. And remember, this is 1975, not 2020. Yes, the programme’s 45-year vintage is evident as the rapid deterioration of society is portrayed with echoes of the Three-Day Week, fuel crises and fear of right-wing militias seizing control typical of the period; but the sudden collapse of the infrastructures keeping everything ticking over courtesy of a plague originating in China is hard to watch now without every recent news bulletin re-entering the viewer’s head.

In ‘Survivors’, a band of good guys eventually come together and form what is essentially a pre-industrial agricultural commune as a means of rebuilding the world for those who survived the plague. They do so whilst regularly fighting off less community-minded bad guys – and one thing that dates ‘Survivors’ is the fact that the bad guys are always working-class, as a counterpoint to the middle-class heroes. But that’s just a sign of the times in which it was produced, as is the absence of a patronising diversity quota amongst the cast; indeed, the main character whose progress we follow throughout the first series is female, and a tough, resourceful one at that. And Terry Nation created her without having an edict imposed upon his creativity from on-high.

Perhaps reflecting the broad brushstrokes of BBC drama in 1975, I’ve also recently been re-watching the first series of ‘Angels’. Maybe the incessant focus on the NHS at the moment prompted me to return to this prime-time serial about student nurses, one that is another well-written and well-acted example of the era. One only has to watch an episode of a mainstream series from 40-odd years ago and then do likewise with a contemporary equivalent to witness how low standards have sunk in all departments. The last time I saw an episode of ‘Casualty’ about five years ago, it was like revisiting every shit daytime Aussie soap you’ve ever seen. Not so ‘Department S’, which is gloriously far-fetched Swinging 60s ITC adventure at its finest – and it gave the world Jason King; what more do you want? That’s my other current vintage televisual aid. None of these were planned viewing; the situation demanded them, so I submitted. These are mine; feel free to enjoy your own.

© The Editor


I think most assumed his increasingly shagged-out demeanour was down to the stress of being Prime Minister during the kind of national emergency that only comes along once every half-century or so; but it would appear other factors had a part to play, as Boris Johnson – along with his Health Secretary Matt Hancock – has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now self-isolating at Downing Street. I suppose it’s no great surprise, however; his job is one that makes self-isolation a little harder than most, though Boris is probably finding out that modern technology is proving to be as useful a means of staying in touch as everyone else at the moment. Still, it must be frustrating to glance across at Rishi Sunak, whose infuriatingly immaculate appearance makes the Chancellor look like the ‘after’ portrait in one of those miracle diet ads you notice on the back of buses when stuck in traffic jams.

So, whilst Comrade Corbyn has little else to do but ensure he’s captured on camera applauding the NHS, the PM is forced to direct actual events from his bunker; but there’s no real reason why he can’t. Bar those highly important ‘reserved occupations’ such as construction work and telesales, all business is now being conducted from home as my own personal ‘normal’ is adopted as standard practice for the rest of the world. Of course, levity aside, the overall public response to the situation can be measured in several ways. Whilst those either serving Her Majesty or being detained at her pleasure in similarly cramped quarters are raising understandable concerns at their prospects of becoming infected, the Chancellor’s rescue package for the self-employed is focused on the grave economic impact that has forced a record number of applicants for the already-beleaguered Universal Credit, mirroring the similarly unprecedented 3.3 million filing for unemployment in the US.

Former doctors, nurses, coppers, fire-fighters and ambulance drivers have been coaxed out of retirement to join the thousands of volunteers heeding the call to bolster the battle against the coronavirus. Is this David Cameron’s Big Society realised at last – or merely proof that people will always respond to a crisis if they believe it to be genuine rather than SPAD spin? Even the unacceptable face of capitalism himself, Mike Ashley, has undergone a ‘moral U-turn’ in the past 24 hours, though Emperor Fat Head Tim Martin has yet to follow suit as his Wetherspoons workforce line-up outside Tesco’s. That said, recruits to the cause shouldn’t be hard to find; after all, there are millions of people who not only currently have no job to go to, but they have also suddenly been deprived of a social life and don’t even have any TV sport to plonk themselves in front of for hours on end. And maybe their partner and/or kids encroaching upon their personal space 24/7 has already pushed them perilously close to one of those tabloid obituaries that end with the famous last words ‘…before turning the gun on himself’.

Although it remains debatable as to how many global deaths can be solely – and accurately – attributed to Covid-19, the figures nevertheless continue to escalate across the world. Spain seems to have superseded Italy as the latest European hotbed – 769 deaths in the space of the past 24 hours have raised the country’s roll-call of dead so far to 4,858; 2,378 of an infected 32,322 in Iran have now died; in France, the number of deaths is currently at 1,696, with Paris hospitals claiming they’ll have reached their capacity at some point in the next 48 hours; meanwhile, the US has now superseded China in recorded cases, standing at more than 82,000 (including over 1,000 fatalities), with New York the current focus of America’s crisis. The infamous lists of weekly deaths in London that were published during the eighteenth century and often prove beguiling to modern readers with the odd and eccentric causes given for many demises now appear to have been rebooted for the 21st century as the first item on the agenda of every news bulletin echoes the grim tradition.

But for the living, resisting the temptation to venture out into the blossoming spring is largely being observed – for the moment. Naturally, online news outlets thrive on the expected ‘curfew-breakers’ such as the typical teenage groups of either white chavs or Asian hoodies; but from what I’ve seen in my own neighbourhood, the streets have been pretty successfully shed of people. Yes, it could be because I live in a heavy student area and many of them have returned to their hometowns; but it’s so lovely and quiet. Even traffic has been reduced down to levels reminiscent of a street scene in some TV drama produced in the 1970s; the main road outside my window is normally nose-to-tail around the late afternoon/early evening rush hour, though with so many workplaces closed and all places of entertainment locked-up, it’s no wonder a majority of motorists are keeping their wheels in their garages.

A public faced with the unfamiliar novelty of so much time indoors has so far seemed to be keeping itself entertained. The anticipated glut of annoying and unfunny DIY videos flooding social media hasn’t abated; I suppose they’re intended to do what the likes of Gracie bloody Fields allegedly attempted to during the war – i.e. keeping the pecker up and all that. Fair enough if you need it keeping up; such distractions are available if you want them. But it’s still early days, and unless the weather takes a turn for the worse and a snap cold spell makes even chillaxing in the garden impossible, I do wonder how long the public will be able to maintain its relatively good spirits. The abrupt removal of routine can have a marked effect on some, for when the desired alternative is unexpectedly promoted to the norm it can often reveal itself to be less desirable as reality than it is as fantasy.

Clarification appeared fairly straightforward during the PM’s address to the nation at the beginning of the week, though it would seem not all of Britain’s police forces have grasped where they stand. A sinister Derbyshire Constabulary drone hovering above a small handful of visitors to the Peak District was employed to ‘out’ said visitors online, though it very much looked like they were mostly middle-aged couples walking their dogs – a ‘gathering’ hardly in need of dispersal and one that Boris told us was perfectly legit. The footage implied these were townies selfishly bringing their infections to the countryside, but they could have been locals eager to stretch their legs in the widest open space imaginable – certainly a more sensible option than being shoehorned into a crowded tube train, anyway. Get a grip, Plod.

Yeah, well, here we are – not quite lockdown, but a Great British compromise, a breather from the relentless grind of the treadmill; but an opportunity too. Maybe this is the moment when some people will start to assess their lives and whether what they want from them is what they were getting before this began. Only the suddenly plentiful natural resource of time will tell.

© The Editor


I, like most, watched one of those rare television events last night – the Prime Ministerial address to the nation. Back in the day, these direct announcements by the tenant of No.10 from his/her Downing Street bunker were regular affairs, transmitting simultaneously on all channels (along with bog-standard party political broadcasts): Wilson assuring the shopper that devaluing sterling wouldn’t affect ‘the pound in your pocket’; Heath inaugurating the Three-Day Week by asking householders to cut their consumption of electricity ‘to the absolute minimum’ in line with industry; Thatcher responding to the 1981 riots by falling back on the short-sharp-shock rhetoric that was tough on the crime without addressing the cause of it – these were tried-and-trusted means of speaking to the individual viewer at a time when grandstand performances at PMQs were restricted to those present in the Commons and (from 1978) listeners on Radio 4. Otherwise, Our Glorious Leader would only be seen walking in and out of their front door and offering the electorate a jolly wave.

As someone once pointed out many years ago when ‘Match of the Day’ was hosted by Des Lynam, viewers always knew when something serious was poised to be discussed if Des donned his glasses; the sudden appearance of those austere specs meant the subject of Eric Cantona scissor-kicking a spectator was to take precedence over the mercurial Frenchman’s latest wonder goal. Similarly, the rare sighting of a Prime Minister directly addressing the nation from Downing Street rather than an audience of pressmen from the doorstep lectern signified this was something a cut above routine announcements. The preferred method of Cameron and May was ditched in favour of a traditional route unused since Blair confirmed we had invaded Iraq, the last such occasion in which I can recall a PM adopting this neglected means of messaging the public. But, even more than in 2003, the situation demanded it.

It may seem a trivial fact when one considers the purpose behind the broadcast, but overnight ratings suggest Boris Johnson’s remarkable address has already been enshrined as one of the most watched programmes in British TV history. Upwards of 27 million viewers tuned in – the kind of figures that place it in the same ball park as the 1966 World Cup Final and various landmark royal events; being transmitted across all networks helped, of course; but it perhaps demonstrates the default impulse the British public still have in turning to the mainstream, traditional television medium at times of crisis. Moreover, reserving one of the Prime Minister’s oldest methods of imparting news to the electorate exclusively for emergencies only re-emphasises its effectiveness in getting an urgent message across to a receptive audience anticipating something serious.

As for both content and delivery – well, it was certainly shorn of any soft-soak spin; Boris made his point with concise, unambiguous clarity; he had no choice. Despite the draconian imposition on individual civil liberties – something that is severely at odds with his own personal preferences – he was presented with no alternative following a weekend in which some people reacted to a bit of sunshine by flocking to the coast and countryside in a carefree Bank Holiday manner. As with the insubordinate child ‘spoiling it for everybody else’ by not owning up to his misdemeanours as the class is forced to remain in the room despite the bell, the selfish actions of the few have dictated policy to the rest of us. The PM’s options were limited and unavoidable.

As I am now informed I’m allowed to venture outdoors for essential shopping and a brisk bout of exercise alone (no worries there for yours truly), I took advantage of my few remaining rights this morning. There was a detectable difference in the atmosphere today. As someone highly sensitive to whatever happens to be in the air – a minor super-power, I admit; but it’s a handy radar system – I discerned an unpleasantness yesterday that reminded me of being around someone who’s exceeded their recommended alcohol intake and is about to turn violent. Nothing was said or done by anyone I came into contact with; but I could just feel it. This morning, however, the mood wasn’t quite so tense; perhaps now people have received clarification of what they can and can’t do, the situation has been helped a little. Mind you, contact was restricted to sharing supermarket space – and, ironically, the quieter aisles were more abundant in goods (minus the gold-dust that is toilet paper) than they have been in a week, right on the very day I withdraw from outings until next weekend. I guess the panic buyers can’t cram any further excess goods into their garages and pantries and the greedy f**kers might be forced to start eating them.

As for the street itself, I had to pop something through a friend’s letterbox today as well, so I attended to that after dropping off my shopping. A leisurely twenty minute walk was a bit like being out on Christmas Day if 25 December had been relocated to that welcome burst of warmth that constitutes the best of spring mornings. Traffic was still in evidence, albeit slightly less hectic than usual, and people were few and far between – the odd dog-walker, a stray old biddy, the occasional smug jogger et al; but I actually found the tranquillity preferable to the norm. The window that offers me a view from the desk I’m working at as I write this looks down on a busy road that has been uncharacteristically quiet all day – and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t better this way. The village roots are beginning to show through the big city highlights.

I can understand the sudden appearance of social media ‘support groups’; so few are accustomed to this kind of lifestyle that the need to remain in constant contact in ways that only contemporary technology allows is probably a lifeline for many. Being suddenly deprived of the right to roam and network in person is bound to come as a shock to those for whom such activities form the core of their daily routine. Wealthy celebrities keeping us updated on how they’re coping I could do without, however; yes, they’re doing their best to demonstrate how they’re just like us, but mass self-isolation is only a leveller if all those abruptly pulled out of circulation can survive without fear that their absence from the workplace puts the paying of rent, bills, and mortgages at risk.

Yes, these are extremely strange and unprecedented times; but I suppose I’m fortunate that I can cope with being stuck indoors for days on end as I’ve had plenty of practice. I’m also lucky in that I’ve nobody’s tits to get on and vice-versa. It’s just me, the keyboard and the box-set. The most surreal part of this for me is that an ill-equipped world has now been forced into giving my lifestyle a go at extremely short notice. And while I’ve no real need to raise my own spirits, I appreciate others might feel differently. Therefore, I shall attach a joyous pick-me-up to the end of this post and just say be careful in there. After all, more accidents take place in the home than anywhere else…

© The Editor


I was watching a silverfish swim across a wall earlier today. No, things aren’t already so bad in social-distancing, self-isolating Britain that I’m reduced to observing obscure insects because there’s nothing else to do. The silverfish going about his business was exposed to the light due to a board that forms a small section of my living room wall being temporarily removed as part of a lengthy investigation into the dripping of leaks from my flat down into the flat below. It’s a long, boring story connected to a rotting roof, decaying gutters, broken pipes, and the routine papering over of cracks that accompanies the cost (and corner) cutting when residential properties are purchased by landlords and converted into separate dwellings. I’m not certain, but I’d hazard a guess my one-time grand Victorian home underwent that kind of conversion perhaps around thirty-forty years ago; and I reckon this was probably the first time decades of neglect had been examined up close.

Anyway, what – you may say – has any of this got to do with the coronavirus apocalypse? Not a lot, other than I joined a few imaginary dots between that silverfish speedily slithering in and out of the damp patches of newly-exposed plaster and the bewildered-looking pedestrians I spotted dotted about the streets this morning. Like the silverfish, they’d been quietly getting on with their lives until they were rudely interrupted and now the fragile thread by which those lives had long been hanging had laid bare their vulnerability. Unlike the overexposure afforded Global Warming and the trendy Climate Change bandwagon yer average virtue-signaller is all too eager to hitch a ride on, the ever-present threat of pandemics – along with the permanent precariousness of the world’s financial markets – has long been an issue swept under the discourse carpet; yet now both are fixed on a collision course with the potential to do far more long-term damage than even little Greta could conjure up in her worst Doomsday scenario.

For a man barely in the job long enough to boil the kettle for a pot of Yorkshire Tea, Rishi Sunak has made something of an instant impact as Chancellor. Reactions to his inaugural ‘end-of-Austerity’ Budget were still being written when he was suddenly forced to return to the money orchard only accessible via a secret portal in the back garden of 11 Downing Street. He rapidly re-emerged with an emergency financial package that must have caused John McDonnell to hover between laughter and tears; here was a Conservative Chancellor announcing the most comprehensive programme of state interventionism ever seen in peacetime Britain. As if thrashing Labour in last December’s General Election wasn’t humiliating enough; now the Tories had taken the most fiscally-socialist aspects of the Labour manifesto and expanded them to deal with the kind of crisis that separates the government men from the opposition boys. Cameron must be turning in his caravan.

Today we are told all rail franchise agreements have been suspended, with measures implemented for a provisional six month period in order to prevent the rail companies going under in the absence of passengers; operators will transfer revenue and cost risk to the Government and in the process will receive a modest fee to run services as glorified Fat Controllers. It’s not quite nationalisation, but it’s as close as we’ve come since the railways were privatised in the 90s. We are also informed plans are afoot to try and financially assist the self-employed, who were the notable absentees from the Chancellor’s rescue mission offering grants to businesses to cover 80% of employees’ wages alongside increases to both Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits. Of course, all of this will have to be accounted for at some point in the future, but for now it offers the millions who suddenly found themselves without a job to go to a better deal than the pitiful alternative of sick pay.

It is the self-employed and those trapped in a perpetual cycle of what has been called – with a detectable sneer – ‘unskilled work’ who need to be quickly included in the Chancellor’s otherwise laudable attempt to prevent the majority of the country’s workforce being plunged into a black hole. A survey published before events gathered pace last week revealed that 47% of self-employed workers and 51% of those on zero hours contracts would most likely carry on working even if they were diagnosed with Covid-19. They have no choice, which is why they need assistance as much as anyone else, even if providing it is a more complicated proposition.

These measures, if indeed they are extended to everyone, will certainly help balance the more draconian legislation concerning curbs on civil liberties that are proposed as we perch on the cusp of the anticipated full-scale lockdown. The coronavirus bill, which is expected to gallop through every stage in the Commons without being saddled with annoying democratic inconveniences like being put to the vote, is intended to cover a two-year period. Once enshrined in law, it will give the Government legal powers to ban gatherings and forcibly quarantine the infected as well as making the closures of schools and places of entertainment a legal enforcement; but it will be subject to review every six months.

To be fair, imposing too many stringent restrictions wasn’t part of the initial plan; but it quickly became evident that offering the public the chance to retain their autonomy wasn’t working. Too many were carrying on as usual and flagrantly ignoring the advice; and even now, the bulk buying at supermarkets remains one of the most immediate headaches non-arseholes have to deal with in this crisis. The impounding of trolleys and the enforcing of baskets wouldn’t go amiss. Anyway, concerns voiced by opposition MPs and civil rights groups have resulted in the concession to review the measures in the coronavirus bill twice a year. It must have been tempting to resist it, though. One only has to consider how effectively the coronavirus has removed the thorns in the respective sides of the French and Chinese governments; street protests in both Paris and Hong Kong that have severely disrupted the smooth running of life over the past year have been quelled overnight.

Not that a few disgruntled Remoaners have presented Boris Johnson with social unrest comparable to that confronting Macron or Xi Jinping, though some shameless souls are exploiting the current climate to demand Brexit negotiations be suspended – probably indefinitely, I should imagine. The performance of Rishi Sunak has even provoked some to propose the ousting of Boris and a…wait for it…coalition administration run by the incumbent Chancellor of the Exchequer alongside the charmless man who’s odds-on favourite to become Labour leader, AKA the charisma vacuum himself, Keir Starmer. Please, I know we’re in weird times, but come on! Most people had probably forgotten Labour were even engaged in a leadership election, what with it being a never-ending experience on a par with listening to ‘MacArthur Park’; but it’s difficult to see the call going out to Starmer or the two other contenders to return to their constituencies and prepare for government.

Anyway, as Alex Salmond strolled away from court a free man, I strolled along the Sunday-esque streets and found no eggs in Sainsbury’s or Waitrose, but eggs in Aldi’s! No decent chardonnay in Sainsbury’s, but plenty in Waitrose! These days, more than ever, it pays to shop around – and not knowing what will (or won’t) be available is now part of the daily fun. Maybe life would be so much simpler if I were a silverfish…

© The Editor


With the cool kids loudly declaring on social media that they’ll be unwinding on a 24/7 diet of Netflix soup whilst sealed-in for the foreseeable future, the response of mainstream terrestrial television to the dramatic change in circumstances has served to underline its increasing irrelevance as a source of go-to entertainment. The abrupt cancellation of sporting fixtures that can ordinarily be depended upon to pump up the ratings has left them looking utterly clueless. When the Beeb had no ‘Match of the Day’ to broadcast last Saturday, did they think of the audience and perhaps replay a classic FA Cup Final from the archives, something that would still have featured 22 men kicking a ball about but would also have been imbued with the kind of nostalgia factor that surfaces when the future is suddenly so uncertain and the compulsion to cuddle the familiar figures highly? Of course not; they opted for a ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ double bill. Just what football fans were hoping for as they instantly changed channels.

Concerns over the coronavirus spreading through the sets of the BBC’s small elite band of long-running drama serials has provoked a swift cutting back on such productions. Thanks to that dodgy geezer by the name of Covid-19, ‘Eastenders’ has now apparently been reduced to a mere twice-weekly outing of dreary, depressing cock-er-nee gangster fetishisation, though the last time the programme came anything close to being remotely watchable was back in the days when it was restricted to Tuesdays and Thursdays. As a one-time viewer of both this show and its older Salford sibling, for me the rot really set in when the decision was made to spread them thinly over the whole working week ala cheap ‘n’ cheerful Aussie soaps.

This decision was made when the soap opera was one of the few TV genres still capable of commanding high ratings, though as viewing habits gradually altered, the schedulers failed to recognise they’d overstretched their one-time safe bet. Increasingly melodramatic and gimmicky storylines devised to desperately entice the diminishing audience – along with an influx of forgettable, interchangeable teen archetypes straight outta Hollyoaks – served to hammer the first batch of nails in the Walford and Weatherfield coffins. Perhaps the restrictions imposed by the current crisis might be a blessing in disguise for the remaining viewers; pruning the bloated beasts that ‘Coronation Street’, ‘Eastenders’ and ‘Emmerdale’ have all become has been necessary for years, but whatever the schedulers select to replace the absent episodes could be crucial to how they fare when all this is over.

A good example was the landmark 1987 technicians’ strike at ITV’s original breakfast franchise-holder TV-am – effectively the last stand for militant unions within the television industry. As the picket-lines sought to flex the same muscles that had successfully blacked-out ITV screens for two whole months in 1979, Bruce Gyngell – the blunt Thatcherite chief executive imported from down under by Kerry Packer – substituted the normal TV-am schedule with daily repeats of the classic 60s Batman series. As TV-am was the most watched of the two breakfast shows then broadcasting on British TV, whatever replacement Gyngell had chosen would have commanded a large audience; but the relentlessly entertaining adventures of Adam West’s caped crusader proved to be a bigger hit with the viewers than the usual Anne & Nick sofa waffle. The show’s unexpected popularity was one of the first indications of a widespread appetite for vintage TV that would eventually result in whole satellite channels dedicated to it.

Whether or not they know it – and I suspect they probably don’t – both ITV and the BBC have a treasure trove of archive shows they could exhume to plug the gaps, and ones that could well capture the audience’s imagination far more than wheeling-out repeats of recent programmes nobody gave a shit about first time round. No football or rugby, no Grand National and not even the Eurovision; ‘Question Time’ forced to go ahead without a studio audience and ‘Newsnight’ having to speak to the majority of its guests via Skype or satellite link-up; production on drama scaled down or suspended. There are going to be many hours to fill and something worth watching will have to fill them if viewers are to be prevented migrating to the alternatives in droves.

With schools out for a premature summer, families cooped-up in confined spaces as though replicating the claustrophobic holiday experience on home turf are destined to rapidly get on each other’s tits; but it’s doubtful few of the Smartphone-addicted school-kids would consider turning to TV (other than the iPlayer) during their legally-endorsed truancy from the classroom. Therefore, why don’t the Beeb and ITV make available the hundreds of educational programmes both produced for decades, so that the long-neglected public service remit British TV once honoured with such dedication could be revived as a key element of its DNA?

Personally, one thing that could persuade me to switch-on during the day would be the chance to catch some classic schools programming – even some hirsute Open University outings would be welcome; and unqualified parents lumbered with home tutoring could at least point their sullen brats in the direction of ‘How We Used to Live’, ‘Watch’, ‘Look and Read’ or ‘Experiment’ as a means of educating with entertainment. The kids would probably be bemused by the alien presentation style and amused by the fashion crimes, but there’s always the outside chance they might learn something. No, I know it won’t happen anymore than the test card will make a comeback; but then, I don’t have to concern myself with any of this anyway, being spared parenthood. It’s a weird enough world when you’re on your own.

I did venture out today after a bout of self-isolation yesterday, and the effects of the public response to events were more noticeable than even just 48 hours ago. My local Sainsbury’s had all the look of a store on the last day of a closing down sale, trying to flog the few remaining items and knowing what had already gone wouldn’t be replaced. A few doors along, Wilkos didn’t even have the empty shelves where the loo rolls used to sit; they’ve stuck other goods on there now, almost as if they’ve given up on stocking toilet paper ever again. To be honest, I’ve all-but given up on ever buying it again as it is. Unfortunately, with the enforced closure of all cafés, pubs and restaurants as of tonight, supermarkets will remain the sole source of edible articles for the majority, putting even more pressure on them. I’m just hoping booze hasn’t been unduly affected in this mad rush to purchase pasta. I could really do with a drink.

© The Editor


No, it can’t have escaped your attention that broadcasters, broadsheets and tabloids are desperately clinging to the yardstick of the Second World War as the sole means of measuring the current ‘unprecedented’ crisis; today’s issue of the Sun featured Churchill as its page one boy, no less. Perhaps the climate that fosters the flourishing of such constant comparisons reflects a lack of personal reference points on the part of those falling back on the most bleedin’ obvious scenario; it also maybe helps that only those in their mid-80s (at the youngest) now have any clear first-hand memories of WWII, so there are few in a position of influence to contradict the narrative. Moreover, it could be further evidence of the so-called ‘metropolitan’ perspective of those running the media that great swathes of the country’s population experienced disruption on a similar scale less than 20 years ago – only, they happened to mostly be ‘country folk’.

The 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak was devastating to the country’s rural communities. From the first reported case in February to the end of the crisis in October, over 2,000 cases affected farms across the whole of the UK (893 in Cumbria alone), leading to the slaughter of more than 6 million cows and sheep, cutting off the countryside – including beauty spots like the Lake District – as a destination for visitors, and resulting in heavy damage to the agricultural economy; the overall cost to the country was £8bn by the end of the outbreak. Scotland estimated it lost between £200-250m in gross revenue to tourism, whilst the Scottish agricultural industry as a whole lost around £230m. With 80,000-93,000 animals being slaughtered per week at the height of the crisis, it’s not hard to surmise the deep psychological impact on those directly affected, let alone the personal financial one.

I could just be looking in the wrong place, but I can’t say I’ve so far heard anyone during the latest apocalypse evoke the ghost of the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak amidst the wartime references; 2001 is certainly a good deal closer to us than 1940, but maybe the safe distance of the Blitz is an easier option. I also suppose the predominantly urban outlook that the majority share in the UK plays its part in neglecting the rural foot-and-mouth outbreak as a valid example of what can happen when individual liberties, livelihoods and lives are impacted upon by outside forces.

It’s possible collective amnesia, perhaps a by-product of the fast-food age in which we live, is partially to blame too. Who even remembers that the 2001 General Election was delayed a month due to foot-and-mouth now, the first such delay to have occurred since, yes, the Second World War? I only have to flick back through posts on here from two or three years ago to realise subjects that got people frothing at the mouth when they were written are sometimes ones I’m even struggling to remember now. Maybe that’s because they just seemed important at the time on account of ‘everyone’ talking about them – and they weren’t that important after all. The daily bombardment of information and outrage most of us are exposed to today has a habit of altering one’s perception as to what matters and what doesn’t; it also reduces everything contemporary to the same transitory here today-gone tomorrow status, giving further solidity and permanence to the legend of the war years.

We could select another underused comparison, and though this one isn’t as distant as WWII, it’s still almost 50 years ago. It began in what was one of those rather eventful months – January 1972. In the space of ten days at the end of it, unemployment rose to a million for the first time since the Great Depression; PM Ted Heath signed the EEC’s Treaty of Brussels (doused in ink by a protestor for his troubles); and Bloody Sunday took place. Yes, it was quite a month. Yet, whilst all this was happening, the nation was also in the middle of the first official downing of tools by miners since the 1926 General Strike. Whereas a decade earlier, miners had been in one of the best-paid blue collar professions – earning 7.4% more than the average wage for workers in manufacturing – comparisons had swiftly declined throughout the 1960s (in line with a huge pit-closure programme), and by 1970, a miner was making 3.1% less than his equivalent in manufacturing. Something had to give.

Unlike the more celebrated Miners’ Strike of 1984/5, when only those employed by (and communities sustained by) the mining industry suffered, the strike that was called on 9 January 1972 affected everybody. A polarisation of opinion bordering on near-Brexit proportions was the main impact of 1984/5 beyond pit villages and towns; but in 1972 the success of the miners in preventing the distribution of fuel stocks in and out of power stations – aided by train-drivers and dockers, and culminating in the notorious Battle of Saltley Gate in Birmingham – forced Ted Heath into declaring a state of emergency a month to the day after the strike began.

Schools and businesses closed as they were unable to heat their premises when February was hit by a characteristically biting cold spell; power stations across the country were working well below capacity, and 12 of them shut down altogether. The Government had no choice but to implement electricity blackouts. Industry was forced into working an effective three-day week and householders were advised to heat just the one room. The power-cuts began on 16 February, totalling nine hours on the first day; by the time the strike ended after seven weeks, the public had endured 20 days of living by candlelight. This period is often retrospectively muddled-up with the Three-Day Week of early 1974 that provoked the first of that year’s two General Elections; and while it can be seen as the opening act of the drama that did for Heath, it was still the closest throwback to collective wartime hardship the British people had experienced since the war itself. That’s when these things become actual crises – when they hit Joe Public.

Brexit, for all its powerful potency as the divisive director of discourse over the last three and-a-half years, remained a largely speculative threat to the smooth continuation of life as we know it. Debate in 2018 and 2019 was littered with prophesy and promise rather than evidence of actual damage; we were constantly told (by one side, of course) what was going to happen as opposed to what had happened; it was all restricted to prediction, which allowed the more wilder warnings of the Remainer soothsayers to escalate as it became apparent to them they were losing the argument. We still don’t really know what impact withdrawal from the EU will have on our day-to-day lives, but it hasn’t so far caused the Government to draft emergency legislation that could restrict them in the way events in both 1972 and 2001 did.

With the coronavirus, there’s still plenty of guesswork in abundance, particularly by media outlets; but there is also the death toll, closed schools, cancelled sporting events, abandoned city centres – and the empty supermarket shelves that we were warned Brexit would provoke have instead come about from a different source altogether. This once again demonstrates the dangers of predictions; over-fixating on one specific future often enables another to sneak in unnoticed.

© The Editor


Last year it was the B word; this year it’s the C word; but maybe it should be the A word – A as in A for Arseholes; the Arseholes in question would be those whose pantries or garages or sheds are crammed with more toilet rolls than yer average Andrex warehouse. For the first time so far during WWIII, I was today confronted by the empty shelf when seeking to purchase my usual four-pack of botty hankies. Cheers for that, whoever thought it wise to exceed the purchase of a humble four-pack. I’m sure the manufacturers are producing more than enough to go round, but people are naturally purchasing stocks for their fallout shelters because they’re gullible gits feasting on a 24/7 diet of sensationalistic scaremongering on the part of irresponsible broadcasters and online news agencies.

Not that the streets seemed any emptier to me when breaking the curfew and venturing outdoors for what (in my relative world) was an ‘essential’ expedition, i.e. to acquire food and, of course, cash in exchange for it. I live within a short walking distance of a lengthy parade of shops, so I’m fortunate that my status as a non-motorist is no impediment to getting the job done. I don’t need a car to do ‘weekly shops’ to out-of-town retail parks; I tend to buy what I fancy on the day I fancy it, so visitors often mistake the empty fridge to be a pointer to latent anorexia. What, though, of those permanent pedestrians residing in more rural neighbourhoods or ones in which astronomical business rates have rendered most of the local stores boarded-up husks? Buy online, you might say. What if they’re not online? Some people aren’t, weirdly enough.

So much of the Government advice is a reflection of the lives led by those dispensing it. I can’t say for certain – though I can guess with a degree of high probability – that no member of the Cabinet has ever worked in either heavy industry or in professions that are largely conducted out of doors and working with one’s hands. Relocating to one’s home address is therefore not the same kind of option for a binman, postman, builder or gardener as it would be for white-collar drones or honourable members. I have a friend who walks dogs for a living; the first half of her day when not partaking in the actual walking is spent driving from one suburban residence to another, collecting and then returning the pooches; she can hardly work from home.

The Government approach to large-scale gatherings to date seems to be a case of withdrawing the usual state support for such events – police, first-aid services etc. – as a means of laying the responsibility at the door of the organisers and those in attendance rather than issuing an official ban. Some, such as this year’s Grand National and the Euro 2020 tournament, have been cancelled and deferred a year respectively by the authorities in charge of them; but they could in theory have gone ahead – only, Government would have then said ‘Nothing to do with me, mate’ if these events had proven to be a fertile breeding ground for further mass infection by the coronavirus.

It’s probably the half-and-half measures that are leaving so many in a state of confusion. Schools remain open for business, yet the parents of schoolchildren are being advised to work from home whilst the grandparents are being advised to minimise all contact with fellow human beings altogether. The Government tells us not to patronise pubs, clubs or restaurants, and theatres are voluntarily closing their doors; the latter are doing so without the prospect of financial compensation, and whilst it could be argued their patrons are small in number nationwide, the creative industries are still a sizeable employer in this country. Across the Channel, Monsieur Macron has declared no business, however big or small, will go under; over here, struggling Laura Ashley has called in administrators.

By sheer bloody coincidence, the profession that leaves me self-isolating even when the rest of the world is enjoying a pandemic-free lifestyle has inadvertently mirrored a highly relevant contemporary scenario with the publication of my latest book. A collection of six short stories in a ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ vein, ‘Solitaire’ is half-a-dozen variations on a theme, the theme being confinement of both an internal and external nature. Each story is self-contained and shares no characters or locations with any other; but what they do share is this very issue – people stricken by loneliness and isolation when alone and when in company, all seeking escape and then finding something they weren’t looking for. Yes, I know any recommendation on my part will lead to you paraphrasing the late, great Mandy Rice-Davies – ‘well, he would say that, wouldn’t he’ – but if you like storytelling with a creepy, unnerving undercurrent, you could do worse than invest in a copy to while away all those long hours of self-isolation.

Now said book is on sale and the next project has yet to smack me over the head with a light-bulb, I’ve spent a good few hours indulging in my usual escapist pastime of the box-set. At the moment, I’m revisiting Peter Wyngarde’s sequel to ‘Department S’, in which his irrepressibly foppish Jason King character is promoted to leading man and stumbles into all manner of unlikely scrapes that nevertheless provide sublime and surreal entertainment of the most joyously preposterous nature. Once the delicious dollybirds and Wyngarde’s hilariously effete hero are taken on board as the norm, much of the fun comes from playing ‘guess what else you’ve seen him/her in’ as the roll-call of character actors that seem to appear in every drama series produced for UK TV in the 1970s is once again called upon to fill out the cast.

Earlier today, I watched an episode in which Lance Percival impersonated Jason King in order to infiltrate a Turkish drug-smuggling gang (don’t ask); but half of the time I was trying to recall which similarly vintage series the villain of the piece had appeared in – ‘Special Branch’? ‘Public Eye’? ‘Callan’? ‘The Tomorrow People?’; the answer was, of course, all of them. I sometimes wonder if there were no more than fifty actors working in television at the time. And then, of course, there’s always good old Pat Gorman – extra extraordinaire, who had the occasional line but usually appeared in the background as a reliably mute presence, a safe pair of seventies hands you could depend on. Yes, watch enough of this stuff and you even get to know the names of the extras. But I digress.

Music, literature, TV, YouTube, handicrafts, the box-set, alcohol, illicit substances, masturbation – yes, there’s no shortage of things one can enjoy when bereft of company. I appreciate the more social animals may well struggle at the abrupt adjustment, but as long as essential household items are available and haven’t all been snatched by the Arseholes, there’s no reason why the Devil should spy an abundance of idle hands. However, novelty has a habit of wearing off quickly, and then there’s the inconvenient truth of an economy starved of its human resources tending to crash – a factor which will outweigh any death toll when it comes to emergency measures. As Karen Carpenter once so memorably observed, we’ve only just begun.

British Emergency TV from Johnny Monroe on Vimeo.

© The Editor


When the 48th season of the Football League kicked-off on Saturday 26 August 1939, Everton were the defending league champions and Portsmouth the FA Cup holders. By the time the season ended, Blackpool were top of the league, though the FA Cup had yet to begin because 1939/40 was prematurely curtailed after all First Division teams had played a mere three fixtures each. The outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September placed the national game in official suspended animation, from which it didn’t emerge until the inaugural post-war FA Cup tournament almost seven years later. Along with all avenues of entertainment that involved mass gatherings, football was an immediate casualty of the instant wartime lockdown; however, as it rapidly dawned on the government that the people needed their distractions, cinemas, theatres, restaurants and dancehalls soon opened their doors again. Football stadiums followed suit, though under somewhat surreal conditions.

The decision of the Football League to proceed with the 1918-19 season despite the outbreak of the First World War was perhaps a reflection of overconfidence as to how quickly that conflict would be resolved. There were no such signs of optimism in September 1939, but even when football returned as the authorities gradually recognised the demand for sport in boosting morale, the interrupted 1939-40 season wasn’t resumed; lessons learned during the darkest days of the Great War were put into practice as clubs participated in regional leagues and tournaments. The limited availability of players as the war progressed meant teams were allowed to field ‘guest stars’ in their line-ups, and the whole wartime football fixtures remain regarded as unofficial friendlies.

The national side played 29 games during the war years, though all were against either Scotland or Wales; none of them are classed as official matches in the record books. For a player such as Stanley Matthews, hostilities spanned what could have been regarded as his peak playing years – from the age of 24 to 30. Despite his international career beginning in 1934 and ending in 1958 (when he was 42), Matthews is in the record books as having a mere 54 England caps to his name due to his wartime appearances not being counted. Similarly, Newcastle Utd legend Jackie Milburn, who made his debut in the wartime league, scored 38 goals that are scratched from his record, thus enabling Alan Shearer to jump ahead of him as Newcastle’s all-time top goal-scorer.

Wartime conditions clearly have a habit of buggering-up the structure of the game, though football in the 1930s and 40s was a different (practically amateur) beast in comparison to its 21st century equivalent. Even the disruption that was a consequence of the Three Day Week in 1974 – when midweek floodlit fixtures were banned and games ended up being played on a Sunday for the first time – didn’t prevent the 1973/74 season from finishing on schedule; besides, the limitations were exclusive to England, and the respective leagues in the major footballing nations of mainland Europe were unaffected by what was a uniquely parochial problem. 2020, on the other hand, is something else.

The unprecedented suspension of all professional football in the UK and Europe as a precautionary measure against the spread of the corona virus may be viewed by some as a sensible contradiction of Bill Shankly’s famous declaration that ‘football isn’t a matter of life and death; it’s more important than that’; but the potential chaos poised to be inflicted upon the interconnected tentacles of the global game – and the vast fortunes those connections generate – is major. West Ham’s vice-chairman Karren Brady has announced she believes the Premier League shouldn’t complete its remaining 2019/20 fixtures – though play is provisionally set to resume in a month’s time – and the season should be rendered null and void as of now. With West Ham hovering perilously above the relegation zone, however, perhaps her opinion should be viewed in a specific context. It’s doubtful whether Liverpool supporters would echo Brady’s sentiments.

Liverpool, top of the Premier League by a staggering 25 points, have undoubtedly earned their first title since 1990, playing some breathtaking stuff this season, and are within a whisker of getting their hands on the big prize; but would it be fair on them should their dazzling endeavours be rewarded with nothing and their results abruptly erased from the record books? And what of the club at the top of the Championship, Leeds United? 16 rollercoaster years exiled from the top flight finally appear to be drawing to a close with the team playing the kind of football that would be more than welcome in the Premier League. The financial and legal implications of the season being curtailed with less than a dozen match-days remaining are quite a minefield to contemplate, but the investment of hardcore supporters in clubs on the cusp of success then being denied everything they’ve waited many a lean year to see would be one hell of a blow.

Down in the lower leagues, any prolonged stasis could prove fatal; this season has already witnessed the disappearance of Bury FC from the roll-call of league football, and who knows how many other clubs already hang by a thread so threadbare that this crisis could kill them off altogether? This season’s FA Cup has only reached the Quarter Final stages, so that also stands as unfinished business – ditto the Champions League and Europa League; and then there’s this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament. In order to breathe new life into the European Championships, the competition has been restructured so that ties will be played across the continent rather than based in a sole country, with the final scheduled to take place at Wembley in July. Considering the fixture congestion there’ll be when Europe’s domestic leagues eventually resume, the best solution would seem to be delaying the Euros for a year, as league football is the bread-and-butter of players and clubs alike when all’s said and done.

The losses that stand to be incurred by sponsors and broadcasters – not to mention TV subscribers paying for games that aren’t being screened – will only spiral into unimaginable areas if this suspension continues beyond the hoped-for month. The ‘winter break’ the Premier League clubs lobbied for doesn’t seem like such a smart move now, does it? And, lest we forget, this situation isn’t solely a footballing crisis. Rugby, cricket and Formula One are also on ice. The Grand National and the Epsom Derby are the great racing events still to come, and there’s the small matter of a certain four-yearly mega event pencilled-in for Tokyo this summer.

The potential financial fallout associated with the postponement or cancellation of occasions that have gone from mere sporting events to multi-million pound cash-cows for global business could perhaps be viewed as emblematic of how sport has become far too big for its boots. And maybe football fans are receiving a taste of the domestic disruption to come when the money-driven decision to stage the next World Cup in Qatar takes place in November/December 2022. At the same time, these sports remain watched and enjoyed by millions who will now have to find new hobbies to occupy their weekends. The most popular pastime associated with self-isolation might explain the rush to bulk-buy bog rolls, but where it leaves the beautiful game is anyone’s guess.

© The Editor


Self-isolation? They only had to ask and I would’ve gladly provided the expertise; but maybe the Gove suspicion of experts lingers. Last year – or was it the year before? – I went a full week without speaking to another soul in person; and I didn’t even have the flu. It’s a talent of sorts, and one that makes doing what I do that much easier. But it’s been there a long time. The fear that closed schools will naturally entail stay-at-home parents minding the little ones means fewer employees available for the potential coronavirus battlegrounds. How much easier it was for my own parents when my school shut its gates for the actual holidays. They worked; I stayed at home – alone; a younger sibling had to accompany my mother to her workplace, but one of the few advantages of my seniority came into play and I was entrusted with the responsibility of being daytime housekeeper aged ten.

It’s easy to underestimate the expanse of the canvas presented to an imaginative child when he has the whole house to himself from breakfast till teatime; next to being locked overnight in a sweetshop, it’s about as good as it gets. The possibilities certainly seemed endless for me. With little television output and none of those newfangled video-game things to keep me entertained, the normal no-go areas were opened as temporary adventure playgrounds. The greatest battle of WWII never fought spanned several interior continents as the Airfix infantry climbed mountains (the staircase), fired down on the enemy from the hills (the sofa), fought crocodiles in the kitchen sink, waded through father’s Cossack shaving foam cunningly disguised as Arctic snow in the bathroom sink, patrolled thick, dense jungles (mother’s potted plants), and requisitioned the record player in order that Holst’s ode to the Bringer of War could provide a suitable soundtrack.

The dramatic exploits of toy soldiers and their Action Men brothers-in-arms was one outlet; but of more lasting significance were the tape recorder and the pencil-and-paper combo. The tape recorder, enabling the production of DIY TV and radio programmes, was the midwife to the not-so secret identity of Victoria Lucas 38, the reprobate responsible for the likes of ‘Buggernation Street’ and dozens of other wholesome videos that prompted YouTube to place me on their blacklist of demonetised undesirables; the pencil-and-paper combo, on the other hand, eventually led me all the way to this very post. Neither of these modest achievements could have been possible had all that home-alone time been exclusively devoted to kicking a football or riding a bike – both figured, but were secondary pastimes.

Fast-forward to a tacky 80s drinking den-cum-nightclub, the kind of venue where Del Boy and Rodney might have sipped cocktails they imagined made them look sophisticated. T’was there that the four-piece electric band I’d been the frontman of were booked to perform in 1989 – only, the band had collapsed the week before and the gig was honoured with just the two of us: me on vocals and Paul on acoustic guitar. I wore a feather boa. It wasn’t up there with The Beatles at Shea Stadium, but enough friends were dragged along to clap and they did their duty. Somebody saw fit to record it and there still exists, somewhere in my possession, an audio cassette of said performance; I can’t bring myself to listen even 31 years on, but at least it no longer remains the last occasion in which your humble narrator stood before an audience.

It’s been a strange week, mind. At 2.30am on Thursday, I was to be found braving the long-neglected top shelf of the kitchen cupboard, searching for a bag of brown rice that an online recipe reminded me I owned. It was there, but I had to remove all the other half-finished foodstuffs fighting over limited shelf space to get to it – lentils, flour, soya sauce, hundreds-and-thousands, Ovaltine; indeed, all that was missing was that one-time back-of-the-cupboard staple, Bird’s Custard Powder. Alas, like everything else, the brown rice had bypassed its expiry date by at least two years. Items purchased with the optimistic anticipation of future feasts that never happened had met the sad fate that befalls the relegation of a healthy appetite to the lower leagues. It was an oddly melancholy ceremony, rooting through what felt like the belongings of a deceased relative and then binning these now-inedible articles once imbued with the promise of banquets that went uncooked; finally, I was confronted by a shelf that would’ve shamed Old Mother Hubbard. I said it had been a strange week.

Stranger still, three decades on from a pale-skinned Shirley Bassey and his acoustic sidekick, the week began with yours truly standing up and reciting a trio of self-penned poems before an audience that applauded. And I didn’t even know any of them. The venue was a local arts/community centre I only realised existed this year, and it was hosting the monthly event that is known in poetic circles as an ‘open mic night’ – i.e. anyone can get up and read aloud something they’ve written if they get their name down in time. I was just a spectator last month – my first visit; but I wasn’t intimidated, the atmosphere felt welcoming, and I figured I could do it. Therefore, this month, I got there early and vowed to do it. So I did.

Pre-match preparation focused on both the right poems and the right voice. The latter was finalised via recording several poems as though broadcasting them on the Third Programme; it was important to me to ensure my diction was top notch and that every word was clearly heard. Some poems are better read in the head than read out loud, and it was through recording and listening back that I discovered which had the best rhythm for a public airing. Content mattered too. I deliberately selected a couple of poems looking back to childhood listening and viewing habits, ones I figured might chime with an audience whose average age appeared slightly more advanced than my own; sandwiched between this pair was one dealing with the annoying habit time has of moving the goalposts of perception – and that’s not a reference to an imaginary collaboration between Aldous Huxley and Gordon Banks.

Having published four collections of poetry in the last couple of years, I had plenty material to choose from – and I must have looked very much the pro, reciting from an actual book rather than the notepads or sheets the other participants clutched at the mic. After two solid decades devoted to prose, returning to verse had been an unexpected response to an emotional crisis that demanded an instant creative response as a means of keeping me sane. I used to write nothing but verse at one time, though most was done with the intention of music being added; it rarely was, and the jottings of the 90s remain buried in a binder. Life experience has promoted me into a different league since then.

After reading my third and final poem, I confessed to the organiser of the event I’d been just a little nervous, though she insisted it didn’t show; she also confirmed my belief that the subject matter of the poems might register with the lives of others, as had a friend who told me she was returned to her classroom in 60s Ireland when she listened to the evocations of my own in 70s England. Reading them aloud was something new, though I’m not getting carried away. I’ve learnt not to cultivate great expectations anymore, and the expulsion of romanticism from my vision means I can see clearly now. An excess of hope only ever spawns false dawns, anyway, so it’s best to resist it. I’ve just finished my first collection of short stories, but I don’t regard myself as the new Roald Dahl; I wrote them because I can’t stop. If people like it, great; if they don’t, I’ll still keep producing it. I’m a one-man cottage industry, and self-isolation comes with the territory – handkerchief or no.

Closedown Poem (BBC2 Revival) from Johnny Monroe on Vimeo.

© The Editor


Post-war social touchstones – true, not a phrase that can be easily tossed into a conversation; but they pepper works of fiction set in the recent past, acting as authentic anchors around which dramas unfold. Whenever a TV series is set in 1970s Britain, for example, chances are the characters will react to the Three Day Week or the Drought Summer or the Silver Jubilee or the Winter of Discontent. We’ve all seen ‘em. When these key events are used as a backdrop, they root the fictional elements in a recognisable reality that makes the story more believable; they also provide viewers who lived through them with instant personal associations and those who didn’t with an education. If the UK is destined to shortly parallel the unique lockdown Italy is currently experiencing, we may well be on the eve of a post-war social touchstone that will be recycled by future dramatists for decades to come.

Coronavirus has already become the first ‘plague’ of the social media age, so its impact as a subject for pass-the-parcel discourse far outweighs its actual threat as a killer; there have been far more devastating and more genuine claimants to the prestigious status of ‘plague’ in Africa, India and the Middle East over the past decade, but now that the coronavirus has hit the West, it’s officially serious because everyone has the luxury to talk about it. China, with its censorious approach to the internet and habit of rationing the dissemination of information to the masses, can’t compete when it comes to Europe and North America as to how this thing is being reported by expert and amateur alike. The extent of the coverage would appear to equate with the seriousness of the virus, though perhaps that’s not strictly true.

Had social media existed in the age of the Black Death, not only would it probably have rebranded the disease ‘People of Colour Death’, but the colossal body-count each outbreak left in its wake would have no doubt led to the few survivors dying of hyperventilation, so giddy would they be to witness Armageddon in person. Mind you, social media’s veteran sibling has been having fun lately too. The stock market tumble provoked by a fuel feud between Russia and Saudi Arabia was bad timing when placed in an already-existing climate of panic; but what a gift for the MSM that timing was! With the official departure from the EU just over a month ago proving to be such a damp squib, Fleet Street and the Beeb must have been rubbing their soapy hands together at the prospect of a new ingredient to be added to the ‘we’re all going to die’ recipe.

Giving so much extensive attention to a virus that could well turn out to be merely an additional seasonal infection can naturally be counterproductive; it gets to the point where the media’s melodramatic perspective is so pervasive that whenever I hear the word ‘coronavirus’ now, I almost expect it to come accompanied by those thundering drums that introduce the BBC news headlines. If viewed dispassionately, the small number of deaths associated with the virus could be seen as a secondary issue in terms of the chaos coronavirus is capable of unleashing; the fear of coronavirus becomes disproportionate to its lethal properties, and panic rooted in ignorance could prove to be the greatest strain on NHS resources as idiots believe the hype and the genuinely at-risk don’t receive the care their condition warrants as a result. The otherwise healthy who awake one day with the sniffles should be able to employ common sense and not rush to their local GPs surgery or A&E in hysterics; but social demographics play a part as well.

The self-isolation advice is fine if you’re in a job that provides sick pay or you can afford to bulk-buy online; but anyone struggling on benefits or on the minimum wage, whose shopping is done at the nearest food-bank or bargain supermarket, probably has no option but to continue venturing into crowded public spaces. Yes, it’s debatable whether the deaths of those who contracted the virus on British soil can be solely attributed to it; all fatalities appear to have been elderly people in a state of poor health, ones who tested positive and then died with the virus rather than because of it. But that fact doesn’t really fit the narrative that provokes panic buying. At the same time, however, it’s interesting that these deaths have almost been written off as not very important.

There seem to be echoes here of the way in which the mid-80s hysteria surrounding AIDS offered solace to the straight by being labelled ‘the gay plague’, i.e. only them poofs have anything to worry about whilst the rest of us can carry on indulging in unprotected intercourse to our libido’s content. We’re told coronavirus will probably be a fatal infection for just 2% of the population; yeah, tough on that 2%, but if you’re not in a position to indefinitely self-isolate, you’re probably poor, old and ill and will die soon anyway – just like the 50,000 who snuffed it in England and Wales during the winter of 2017/18 via respiratory infections compounded by bogstandard flu. And, lest we forget, care workers entrusted to keep an eye on this vulnerable 2% are only engaged in ‘unskilled work’, after all, so it doesn’t really matter.

The first football fixture has now been postponed as a result of the coronavirus issue, though that cancellation had nothing to do with thousands of supporters crammed into the stands and posing the potential threat of mass infection. According to reports, several Arsenal players met and shook hands with the owner of Greek club Olympiakos following last month’s Europa League game; Evangelos Marinakis has since contracted the virus, prompting the Arsenal players who touched him to self-isolate and the club to call off tonight’s match with Manchester City as a precautionary measure. Otherwise, wider precautionary measures mirroring Italy’s lockdown aren’t that evident.

The shelves of the supermarkets in my neighbourhood, for example, appear remarkably well-stocked at the moment, and I can’t quite understand it. It’s almost as though TV crews and press photographers remove remaining goods from the shelves they choose to shoot before setting their cameras up; staging that crucial shot just before the store shuts at the end of a day in which a fair few articles have been sold helps, but perhaps those shelves need a helping hand to illustrate the scale of the panic. Imagine that – a bit of manual manipulation! Mind you, it’s probably necessary, what with cameras being the technological heirs of George Washington’s childhood honesty.

Chances are the majority of us will get through this as unscathed as we were before it began, though the thought that a media desperate to generate panic in order to boost its own fading powers might actually be contributing towards a ‘crisis’ when a teacup storm would suffice is concerning. I can’t help but be reminded of the old adage often wheeled out by the middle-aged many years ago whenever ‘the youth of today’ were proving to be problematic: ‘What they need is a good war to sort them out!’ That’s the yardstick by which the mainstream media generally measures its own relevance; and in the absence of conflict, a virus will have to represent what the likes of Hitler or Nasser or Saddam Husain or Bin Laden once gave a face to. So, be careful out there. In fact, don’t go out there. You might catch something…

© The Editor