A woman fiddles with her hair in the mirror; we see the view she sees, so we express the same terror when the reflection suddenly shows a figure appear behind her – a menacing intruder in a gasmask. Despite the well-documented wealth of 1970s TV and film archive I own on DVD or that I’ve simply seen repeated over the decades, I’ve still never found out what this terrifying scene was from, a scene that impacted on my imagination as a small (not to say traumatised) child. We all have such moments when our exposure to cinema and television expands during those formative years, and this was mine. It defined the gasmask as a sinister object in my mind forevermore. I recall a ‘Doctor Who’ adventure a few years later called ‘The Deadly Assassin’, in which Tom Baker’s Doctor spends an entire episode in a nightmarish landscape called The Matrix – and a man in a gasmask appears in that. Oh, and for good behind-the-sofa measure, there’s a scary clown in it too.

Their undoubted practicalities (and reason for invention) aside, this whole gasmask thing has long been recounted by me before numerous friends ad infinitum; it’s why one of them purchased an authentic WWII gasmask for my birthday a couple of years back. That’s me wearing it on the image accompanying the post called ‘Interior Designs’ a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, when I took that photo the delicate object had already been damaged by yours truly, with the brittle rubber strap snapping as I attempted to fasten it to an ear. I guess that rules out my wearing it to pop to the shops in Lockdown Britain, which is a shame. Not only would I be enjoying the ultimate protection from the toxic breath of my fellow shoppers, but I’d also scare the shit out of a few in the process. As Paddy Consindine demonstrated when donning a gasmask in the memorably malevolent Shane Meadows movie, ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, the object has not lost its power to send a shiver down the spine.

The humble gasmask would, I imagine, do a better job than those flimsy surgical masks that are becoming this season’s key fashion accessory on the high-street. I first saw some Chinese students wearing them a couple of months ago, but thought it merely understandable caution considering where this bloody virus emanated from; like most, I hardly anticipated the article being adapted as regulation sartorial equipment. So far, wearing one in public spaces has been optional – which is just as well if PPE is in as short a supply for those who need it for work purposes as we’re constantly being told by the media. However, the latest edict from that ‘alternative administration’ north of the border recommends the public wear the masks when out and about, if stopping short of enshrining it in law.

Post-Alex Salmond trial, it’s hard not to come to the cynical conclusion that every pronouncement to emerge from Krankie Towers is either intended to deflect attention from all the unsavoury rumours circulating the former First Minister or is simply another example of Ms Sturgeon’s opportunistic habit of trying to upstage Westminster. The UK Government, for all the mistakes it has made en route to where we are now, seems to have imposed the most severe restrictions on civil liberties with a fair share of reluctance – only finally enforcing the lockdown when the situation left it with little option. Making the same recommendation re the wearing of masks that was today made by the Scottish Government is something one can imagine it entering into as reluctantly as it did the lockdown, and for the moment the masks remain optional rather than compulsory – which is how it should be.

On the whole – at least going by my own experience – the public appear to be sticking to social distancing and are prepared to queue outside supermarkets and other stores with the patience of Soviet shoppers back in the USSR. Again, I can only go by what I’ve seen myself, but the mutual dance of distance on pavements and down Sainsbury’s aisles whenever a stranger approaches adheres to every guideline we’ve had drilled into us ever since this thing got serious. People don’t want to give it and, more than anything else, they don’t want to receive it. I don’t really think I’ve been close enough to another mask-free person to feel threatened so far. When it comes to those whose jobs involve constant exchanges with the public, the wearing of masks and/or gloves seems to me a sensible precaution the majority would take in their shoes; for the public themselves, whose visit to a supermarket may well be their sole contact with other people all week, I still believe the choice of head and hand-gear should be theirs.

The SNP’s slightly different take on the guidelines is – as already stated – a predictable development that is entirely in keeping with its habit of occasionally issuing statements it knows will garner headlines beyond Scotland. Especially at times like this, when attention has naturally been on the recovery and return of the man who remains Prime Minister of the whole country, the SNP is a bit like that middle child having to shout louder than its siblings to remind a distracted parent it still exists. But it is at least in a position to do so, unlike the sorry old Lib Dems. Not only has Britain’s forgotten party been hinting at the resurrection of the not-missed-at-all Jo Swinson, but it has also been virtue-signalling to the max on social media this past week in the absence of anything else to do. I have to admit I couldn’t recall the chronically pointless Ed Davey being elected successor to the dumped Swinson, but he and his similarly sad colleagues have been falling over themselves to stress solidarity with the nation’s Muslims by patting them on the head and ‘fasting’ for Ramadan. How bloody patronising. I look forward to the Lib Dems co-opting all of Britain’s myriad faith festivals over the coming twelve months, then.

Oh, well – let the Lib Dems get on with it. I should imagine most Muslims are laughing at them as much as those of us who subscribe to a different religion or none at all. Basically, nobody cares. It’s not like we’ve got other things to think about right now, anyway. The terrible toll the coronavirus has taken on the country’s care homes – now that the elderly residents are actually being regarded as people and added to the stats – is something I suspect we’ve only scratched the surface of so far; but it’s not come as much of a surprise considering how lowly the institution of social care for the old and infirm has figured in the policies of governments of either colour in recent years – and how much this unfashionable bedfellow of the super-sexy NHS has lingered in the shadow of its pampered partner. And if what used to be called Old People’s Homes have barely registered on the radar until the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard next to nothing of those equally at-risk homes housing the mentally and physically impaired, many of whose residents are amongst the most vulnerable in society. We shall see.

As we crawl towards the end of an April unlike any April any of us have ever experienced before, the situation seems to be at something of a crossroads. The lockdown can’t go on indefinitely, so when to tentatively lift some of the restrictions and apply a drop of oil to the static wheels of industry before it’s too late? If the SNP is recommending the wearing of the mask for reasons other than political point-scoring, maybe we’re not there yet.

© The Editor


As I’m not really watching much television at the moment, I wasn’t aware until it caught my eye in the Radio Times listings that there’s actually five minutes set aside every Thursday at 8.00pm on BBC1 for live coverage of people clapping. Yes, you heard that right – it’s apparently for real; under the name ‘Clap for Our Carers’, this show simply as a concept sounds uncannily like one of the numerous silly pretend programmes I myself have invented in the endless spoof TV trailers I’ve put together over the years. Having never tuned-in – I might wait for the box-set – I can’t help but be curious. Is there a lengthy build-up beforehand, featuring interviews with retired ex-clappers and clips of classic clapping moments from the past before we join our commentary team and enjoy the latest event? Suddenly, ‘The World Sleeping Championships’ and ‘International Tongue-Holding’ (both of which I trailed around five years ago) don’t seem so far-fetched.

I’ve no idea what the ratings are for ‘Clap for Our Carers’, but it’s ironic that the viewing figures for mainstream TV channels have soared over the past month due to obvious reasons; this upsurge comes at a time when production on all of ITV’s and the BBC’s big-budget dramas and ongoing soaps has been suspended for the same reasons. Once all this is over, will both broadcasters look at their schedules and wonder if it’s worth investing in such productions if the public will just as easily flock in huge numbers to watch the likes of the far-from expensive ‘The Repair Shop’ – an innocuous, small-scale show designed for daytime and now promoted to primetime? Even though most of the programmes requiring writers, directors and actors are so depressingly formulaic that the plot can be anticipated in advance simply by seeing a trailer, a modicum of creativity is still a necessity.

Not that this hasn’t happened before – one thinks of such successes from the 90s as ‘Ground Force’ or ‘Changing Rooms’, which were daytime TV programmes in all-but name that ended up attracting unexpectedly high ratings when being given an evening slot. The popularity of these pioneering makeover shows helped blur the previously-clear demarcation lines between daytime and primetime, so that we today have a situation in British television whereby so many of the programmes that clog-up primetime schedules really belong on screen at a time of day when anything intellectually stimulating or even something that gets the adrenalin going is not required. And as a result of recent events, this pattern could well be set to continue indefinitely.

Not only has this strange situation seen daytime fodder abruptly fast-tracked to the evening in order to plug the plentiful primetime gaps, but even those post-watershed mainstays managing to stagger on are doing so in reduced and wholly unsatisfactory forms. I only saw the first in the new series of ‘Have I Got News For You’, but it was so bad I haven’t bothered with the rest. A long-running panel show dependent upon a studio audience and the close-knit banter between contestants in order to generate an atmosphere is now run like a self-consciously ‘light-hearted’ business meeting via Skype or Zoom; all four panellists and the presenter are speaking on screens from their respective homes – verbally stumbling over each other and laughing uncomfortably at one another’s jokes because there’s no audience to react to them. In entertainment terms, it’s about as much fun as watching a rep give a speech with a slide show at a sales conference.

One could perhaps argue the best days of ‘HIGNFY’ are long behind it now, anyway; but surely putting it on ice for the time being would have been preferable to this. Ditto ‘Question Time’. The replacement of David Dimbleby with Fiona Bruce – for whom ‘Antiques Roadshow’ has always seemed a more fitting platform for her particular presenting talents – didn’t initially suggest that great a change in tone when the bias towards a specific political perspective via the chosen panellists was more of an issue. However, the studio audience has now vanished, replaced by pre-recorded questions from members of the public; for some reason, this evokes memories of ‘Points of View’; I almost expect said members of the public to be complaining that there’s too much sport on television – only, they can’t because there isn’t any on anymore. Observing social distancing, Bruce and the panellists sit several feet apart in a semicircle minus a table, and the atmosphere is excruciatingly polite and so bloody nice it’s like an informal coffee morning at a village church hall, one in which Bruce the vicar hands out the Rich Tea to bored parishioners. The programme has been brought forward to directly follow ‘Clap for Our Carers’, as though it’s all part of some benign public service, like Soviet propaganda with the ubiquitous rainbow flag replacing the Hammer & Sickle.

News programmes, of course, are having to adapt to the new normal as much as any others; however, speaking to a reporter via satellite from a distant corner of the globe is such an established aspect of the genre that it isn’t too radically different to adapt the cliché to those who’d normally be in a regional outpost if they couldn’t make it to the same studio as the host. Indeed, the sight of interviewees carefully positioned in front of a bookshelf has become a news trope in itself now, and part of alleviating the boredom comes from trying to read the spines behind the figure who may (or may not) have carefully arranged the volumes on display in order to impress ala Dominic Raab.

None of this matters when it comes to radio, as you’re never entirely sure if presenters and guests are in the same studio, anyway. Although presenters are now at pains to state their guests are elsewhere – presumably lest the BBC incurs the wrath of the Met by breaking the guidelines – I can’t say I’ve noticed any great differences in presentation as a result. One’s imagination has a habit of painting the picture one is hearing as compensation for what the eyes are denied, which is an advantage radio has over television that is currently being reinforced as a real strength of the senior medium now that TV’s limitations are so evident.

The daily Downing Street coronavirus briefings are also apparently a regular fixture in the TV schedules now, though like most, I tend to catch a snatch of edited highlights online. From what I can gather, they appear to have already fallen into a cul-de-sac of ‘gotcha’ tactics from journalists that are more about boosting the point-scoring egos of the hacks than posing potent questions. Again, I’ve no idea if these broadcasts can compete with the mighty ‘Repair Shop’ when it comes to smashing the ratings, though those that do naturally do so because the landscape of broadcasting is as upside down as everything else at the moment.

Yes, it’s possible all of these shows are attracting disproportionately massive audiences compared to what one would expect for the same reason programmes in the pre-deregulated and pre-satellite/cable/digital era used to boast huge viewing figures – because there’s nothing else on and there’s nothing else to do. When the normally dependable standbys of sport and royal events can’t even be called upon, the next best thing is Woke Aid – in which The Biggest Names in Music sing their greatest hits from their kitchens, or the BBC’s Big Night-in, in which suspicions that we are all trapped in a 24/7 broadcast of Comic Relief are merely confirmed. Coming next – Crap for Our Carers (the nation takes a simultaneous dump) and Slap for Our Carers (social distancing is temporarily suspended as we are allowed to hit the nearest person to us for the NHS). Hey, don’t mock it. You never know.

© The Editor


I’m not going to deny it; as a gentleman with no loved ones and no responsibilities, I’m liking the lockdown. Yes, I’d be buggered if I was hospitalised, what with no next-of-kin to nominate; but unless we go out in the fatal crash of a packed passenger vehicle, we all go out alone anyway. Sod it, then. I’m only venturing outdoors a couple of times a week at most, but after a month of this, I’ve noticed the slightly unnerving ambience of the initial alteration to the standard structures of society has been superseded by classic British stoical acceptance. The panic-buying hysteria that opened proceedings has mercifully abated and the supermarket shelves are stocked again; you still have to stand in line to get indoors, but the queues aren’t as long as they were and everyone appears to be absorbing the social distancing guidelines without much in the way of fuss. The no-cash policy at Sainsbury’s means I’ve also become accustomed to the self-service system and I suspect I’ll stick with it when all this is over.

Mind you, I reckon a lot of things won’t simply revert to how they were pre-lockdown. There’s been much discussion this week of what will happen when some of the restrictions might be relaxed a little in a month or so. I suspect all those public venues most rely upon for unwinding won’t necessarily pick up from where they left off before the country closed down; after a month of such a dramatic change to social habits, I’m guessing business will be slow to gather pace again as people express understandable reservations about gathering in large numbers. Small business-owners undoubtedly have a case for a pivotal role in a cautious and measured re-opening operation, however; they certainly deserve preferential treatment over billionaires remortgaging their private islands as a means of seeking a tax-payer bailout for companies that don’t actually pay them, for one thing. Boo! Hiss, beardy-weirdy!

As jellyfish infiltrate the Venice canals and hopefully persuade the governors of that uniquely aquatic citadel that their waterways have an appeal to tourists beyond the usual boat traffic, a slightly different but no less aesthetically appealing transformation of the urban environment has been something many city-dwellers here have taken note of. Living as I do on what Google, no less, has certified as the most congested main road in the metropolis come rush-hour, last week I was nevertheless able to stand smack bang in the middle of said thoroughfare around noon and take some snapshots of Her Majesty’s deserted highway. I did so to a chorus of languid lunchtime birdsong ordinarily inaudible above the din of a dozen infernal combustion engines, and noticed another pedestrian with a camera engaged in the same activity. The novelty of the scenario is something many feel needs to be captured before it vanishes as a collective hallucination. But will it?

With the weather being so inviting for those fortunate enough to have gardens, my window has been open to neighbours in possession of that particular luxury item. A few days ago, I could hear what bizarrely sounded like someone enacting a 1970s edition of ‘Play School’, seemingly addressing an infant audience by singing nursery rhyme-type numbers in the kind of RP that naturally takes the ears back to a time when the accent was compulsory at Shepherd’s Bush. I eventually got up to look and saw a lady a few doors down performing with hula hoops whilst dressed like Mary Poppins. No, I wasn’t pissed/stoned; it happened. It looked as though she was going through her odd act before a camera, so she may well be uploading the end result to YouTube or Instagram as a means of entertaining the young ‘uns. If so, good luck to her. Like many in a neighbourhood with a nomadic population, I have little contact with the ever-changing roster of those who share the street, so I’ve no idea who she was; but she momentarily returned me to the happy days of ‘Hickory House’ and all those other pre-school shows that the BBC and ITV used to produce at dinnertime, so that in itself was a characteristically surreal side-effect of the strange days we inhabit.

Residing within a short walking distance of a substantial high-street, I don’t normally have to go far to find what I want when it comes to a shop, though ever since all this started the only stores still open for business are Boots, Superdrug, Wilkos, Sainsbury’s and a chemists; a little farther afield, the odd non-chain-store café is selling on the doorstep to loyal customers, which is a pleasing sight in the face of the small business apocalypse. However, as someone who regularly likes to decorate his windowsill by counteracting the overpowering dominance of two Triffid-like rubber plants with some fresh lilies, I must admit I miss the local florist. A survey unveiled yesterday revealed garden centres lead the list of places most would be happy to visit again without fear of infection in the event of the lockdown being lifted or at least eased a little, so the perilous backlog of unsold plants and flowers might be spared the skip after all.

I appreciate this is probably the worst period in recorded history for burglars and I acknowledge many keeping their homes safe by occupying them 24/7 are struggling and finding the situation difficult; but, as I’ve stated before, doing what I do means I’m used to self-isolation and going days without seeing or speaking to a soul. The main difference between the norm and now is that I generally tend to operate in a bubble; yet at the moment, I venture outdoors and discover my own peculiar form of social distancing is being mirrored by the majority, which isn’t usually the case in a neighbourhood in which the relentless sonic intrusion of police sirens shape an intolerable soundtrack along with the bowel-shuddering bass-lines of in-car sound systems, car alarms, slamming doors and people talking as though addressing a public meeting. Is it any wonder I’m relishing the sudden retreat into the village roots our big cities sprang from?

Of course, simply making the best of an unexpected and unprecedented development when in a position to do so isn’t something some are content with. Under the smokescreen of ‘holding the government to account’, the mainstream media (and particularly the BBC) seems intent on focusing wholly on the negatives of the lockdown and finding endless fault with the approach of containing the coronavirus so far. Okay, yes, in a democracy – and especially one with such an ineffective opposition (regardless of those showering Chief Auton Starmer at PMQs in desperate praise) – government does need to be questioned and challenged. But it’s a fine line between that and relentless contrarian bashing of a kind that chimes with the Guardian narrative about the nation. Boris is still recuperating at Chequers as we speak, so the new normal seems set to be prolonged for another fortnight at the least. I wonder if it’ll be missed when it’s gone?

© The Editor


‘We are all in this together’. Hmmm, okay. The resurrection of that fatuous phrase in a coronavirus context, whilst clearly intended to foster a sense of national community as the country struggles against a common enemy, cannot help but evoke its previous airing via George Osborne during his stint as the Austerity Chancellor. It didn’t ring true then, nor does it now. After all, according to the Guardian – which, of course, has no agenda whatsoever – non-white folk are more susceptible to Covid-19. Lest we forget, however, the great levellers of penury and poverty play a far bigger part in one’s vulnerability to infection than skin colour or cherry-picked ‘ethnicity’; but as top Fleet Street journos tend not to reside in cramped rented properties with shared kitchens and bathrooms or one-bedroom council flats without gardens, maybe that truism doesn’t fit the theory.

Anyway, the enforcement of the lockdown is evidently in safe hands as long as the government guidelines remain so flexible and open to interpretation by the police. Lucky enough to live near a park where you can mind your own business? You may be moved on by vigilant officers. Lucky enough to have a garden where you can mind your own business? You may be moved indoors by vigilant officers. It’s all about social distancing, innit. Although…fancy gathering in a close-knit crowd to clap for the NHS in front of TV cameras? Come on down to Westminster Bridge and signal your virtue alongside the men from the Met! It could be worse, though; whereas the public have been videoing and tweeting the worst police misdemeanours, the boys and girls in blue themselves prefer to post hilarious clips of officers engaging in choreographed dance routines, just like ordinary people do – what with us all being in this together.

Double standards aren’t the exclusive property of British police forces, mind. Over in the US, it should be remembered that Mr President’s dependably bonkers grandstanding is only partly his own unique response to the pandemic; he’s also electioneering and hoping his combating of Covid-19 will stand him in good stead come November – though probably not in New York. Anyway, if most of the country has sufficiently recovered from the worst of it, Trump will be more than happy to take the credit and use that as a stick with which to beat his Democratic opponent. And he must be delighted that it appears more and more likely that opponent will be the former Vice-President Joe Biden. Perhaps the most interesting and telling factor in the expected nomination of Sleepy Joe, however, is the manner in which it has laid bare the double standards and blatant hypocrisy of the American left.

The arrogant, narcissistic tunnel-vision of Identity Politics dogma blinds those it infects to the truth of its polling station poison; judging by the appointments to Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet – David Lammy?! FFS – the Labour Party over here has still yet to realise this, and the alienating Woke nature of most Democratic candidates under the age of 50 has perhaps led to the promotion of the pensioners. The withdrawal of another ancient monument in the decrepit shape of Bernie Sanders has seen Democrat hopes of defeating the bad orange man transferred to a character who, were he a Republican, would be regarded as extremely ‘problematic’. Eight separate allegations of ‘intimate misconduct’ on the part of the former Vice-President over the past twelve months – including his undeniably creepy habit of hair-sniffing – should surely have set MeToo bells ringing, no?

Just as the coronavirus has already been politicised and weaponised by the Woke brigade as the latest means of making the British feel rotten and racist – share the shame by clapping for immigrants – America’s radical feminist tub-thumpers are rarely slow to seize upon an allegation of sexual harassment by a powerful white man and declare him instantly guilty in the kangaroo court of public opinion as a means of furthering their cause. Remember all that business with Brett Kavanaugh a couple of years ago? Remember how an allegation of sexual assault from over 30 years before, one with no supporting evidence or corroboration, was sold as a foregone conclusion to block the nomination of a Republican to the US Supreme Court because MeToo and its affiliated protest groups insisted all women pointing the finger should be believed without question? But what if the accused happens to be a Democrat? Washington, we have a problem.

Unlike celebrated victim Christine Blasey Ford – the prime accuser of Kavanaugh – whose hysterical, Oscar-winning appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee was promoted by MeToo as proof of the truth, Tara Reade – the woman to have made the most serious allegation against Joe Biden – has been summarily swept under the under-reported carpet by the likes of the ultra-Woke New York Times; her allegations have also been greeted surprisingly sceptically by the usually vociferously vocal instigator and leader of MeToo, Alyssa Milano. If evidence were ever needed as to how much such high profile movements are not necessarily acting in the interests of those they profess to be promoting, look no further. I mean, if sisters aren’t doing it for themselves, who are they doing it for?

Tara Reade is a former staff member of Joe Biden’s Senate office and has previous when it comes to allegations against her former employer. But it’s interesting how deaf the ears of the usual crowd who normally respond so promptly to such accusations have been in her case. Initially, she was dismissed by them as being in cahoots with the Russians – rapidly becoming the default dismissal of the left, it seems; and when Ms Reade approached Time’s Up, a MeToo splinter group allegedly established as a platform for women to air their long-buried tales of sexual harassment by powerful predators, she was similarly fobbed-off.

The aforementioned New York Times, which wasn’t exactly slow in reporting the allegations against Kavanaugh in 2018, eventually – not to say grudgingly – reported the Tara Reade story by pointing to holes in her account, despite them being no more gaping than those it chose not to point to in Christine Blasey Ford’s tearful tale. The NYT has subsequently reacted to accusations of double standards by claiming they gave handsome coverage to Ford’s sob story because, compared to Biden, Brett Kavanaugh was ‘already in the public eye’ – what, unlike a former Vice-President set to run for the top job against Trump, then? The likes of the New York Times made Brett Kavanaugh front-page news in tandem with MeToo because it perfectly fitted their blatant agenda; the allegations against Biden don’t.

Overnight, MeToo guru Alyssa Milano has miraculously been converted to the novel notion of ‘due process’ when a woman now makes an allegation against a powerful white man – sorry, I should have said powerful Democrat. In the wake of her candidate Biden being accused, she’s posted a series of tweets contradicting everything she has supposedly stood for since she grabbed the spotlight with her opportunistic hashtag. ‘There is something to the idea that people are going to weaponise #metoo for political gain’ she tweeted recently; just as well the thought never crossed her mind when she was gunning for Kavanaugh, I guess. But the left’s goalpost-shifting when it comes to the Biden allegations not only underlines its fanatical obsession with ousting Trump at the expense of any principles – see the impeachment trial – but also penetrates the smokescreen of Good Causes and reveals a bunch of people that simply want power. Fancy that.

© The Editor


Some line-ups seem to just roll off the tongue like they were meant to be. John, Paul, George and Ringo is perhaps one of the most obvious; then there’s the Trumpton Fire Brigade; perhaps a certain running order of nautical locations on the Shipping Forecast; and how about Sprake, Madeley, Cooper, Bremner, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Giles and Gray. Anyone of a certain age or raised in a specific geographical region will instantly recognise the starting (and finishing) eleven of the Leeds United side that played in the legendary two-match clash of the titans with Chelsea in the 1970 FA Cup Final. Three of that Leeds team – goalkeeper Gary Sprake, versatile ‘utility man’ Paul Madeley, and ginger midfield dynamo Billy Bremner – had already passed away before the death today was announced of defender Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter, coincidentally just a few days after Chelsea’s keeper from that bruising encounter, Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti, also left the pitch.

It’s easy to forget that the young players constituting a football team which made such a sizeable cultural impact and still carries an air of immortality about it bestrode an era that is now half-a-century ago. The odd ingenious purchase aside, most members of that team had come up through the Elland Road youth ranks together in the early 60s; but the survivors are now old men whose loss of pace courtesy of natural causes is often exacerbated by the scars of the more physical game they played in the 1960s and 70s. Leeds United under Don Revie had something of ‘a reputation’ when it came to the physical game; but let us not pretend this was unique to Leeds or to Norman Hunter. After all, Liverpool had Tommy Smith and Chelsea – despite being ‘Soft Southerners’ (joke) – had one of football’s most lethal hatchet men, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris. Some players from that time retrospectively sound like characters from a war comic, but in an age in which heroes were largely home-made, they were indeed larger-than-life – or as large as Captain Hurricane.

Purely by coincidence, I downloaded both the FA Cup Final and its notoriously combative replay of 1970 from YouTube earlier in the week with a view to watching them in full at some point over the weekend. Back when live football on TV was restricted to three fixtures a season – yes, a season! – the unprecedented rematch between two teams of such contrasting styles following a 2-2 draw at Wembley was an unexpected bonus for armchair supporters when Leeds and Chelsea met again at Old Trafford for the decider. 28 million viewers tuned in – which remains a record for the competition and places the broadcast at No.5 in the roll-call of most-watched programmes in the history of British television. April 1970 was a good month for Event TV, mind; one place above the game in question on the all-time list is the dramatic splashdown of Apollo 13, which took place less than two weeks earlier.

With England’s ultimately doomed defence of the World Cup scheduled for the intolerable climate of Mexico in June, the players could have done without two energy-sapping matches lasting 120 minutes each; but the tough game they played back then bred tough men capable of fulfilling a fixture list that could total well over fifty games a season. Indeed, the league programme consisted of 42, whilst Leeds had also progressed to the semi-final of the European Cup as well as hoping to get their hands on the FA Cup. Both they and Chelsea had never won the trophy at this point – each suffering defeats in the Final over the previous five years – and coming away from the Wembley mud-bath to go through it all again was a prospect that resulted in the boiling-over of long-standing enmities between the two sides. A contemporary referee viewing the replay in 1997 concluded modern rules of the game would have led to the awarding of six red cards.

In the end, nobody was sent off and it was the men from the King’s Road that walked away with the cup; Leeds had to wait another couple of years before they finally lifted the trophy with a line-up that included just two changes from 1970. In the brick wall of a defensive partnership he formed with Jack Charlton for a decade, Norman Hunter’s job was to prevent anyone getting past that wall with the unforgiving efficiency of an armed sentry in East Berlin. However, as with the likes of Liverpool’s Smith and Chelsea’s Chopper, to assume the Gateshead-born hard-man was a one-trick pony would be a mistake. All three had long careers that being limited to a solitary skill on the pitch wouldn’t have facilitated. Hunter played over 700 games for Leeds in all competitions from 1962-76 and played over a hundred more for Bristol City. He was also capped 28 times for England – a member of the 1966 World Cup squad – though spent the majority of his England tenure as underused understudy to Bobby Moore.

Norman Hunter followed the familiar route into management following retirement, though he later followed an equally familiar route by becoming a match summariser when his former team were covered on local radio. Although two of the moments on the pitch Hunter would no doubt have preferred to forget are bound to be resurrected for his obituaries – his misjudged tackle that enabled Poland to score and thus deny England World Cup qualification in 1973, and his punch-up with Francis Lee when tempers flared during a Leeds game with Derby in 1975 – neither incident sums-up a man whose playing career spanned twenty years. But the early 60s to the early 80s was not like the early noughties to now in footballing terms. Football doesn’t make men like that anymore because the game isn’t like that anymore.

Hunter had been hospitalised with the coronavirus last week and his name at the age of 76 has been added to the list of famous faces from the past to have died with Covid-19 in their bloodstream. Whether or not it was the virus that killed them will perhaps remain as debatable as all the other deaths attributed to it. Information seems as mixed as ever a month into a lockdown we are informed will probably carry us through at least one more. A mainstream media relishing the sudden upturn in its appeal appears intent on indulging in an ongoing inquiry that feels more like a premature post-mortem, constantly telling us where we (and the government) went wrong and how we should have done this or that differently back in January or February; but of course, it is always easier to be wise after (or during) the event than before it, and speculation is never a substitute for the facts that can only come when the dust has settled.

So, as the NHS – sorry, I’ll start again; I should have said OUR NHS, like the army become OUR BOYS when there’s a war on. Yes, as OUR NHS is reborn as a cross between a charity and a church, Britain remains the sleepy pre-war village it has unexpectedly reverted to thanks to this surreal state of affairs. I walked a friend’s dog today and – judging by the sudden high visibility of dog-walkers jostling with joggers for pavement space – I’m not alone in exercising my right to exercise in a way that beats aimless strolling for the sake of it. Throwing a ball down a hill for a dog that will eagerly bring it back and then demand an action replay is a rather pleasant method of enjoying the wind in your housebound face again. And unlike Norman Hunter, the pooch in question doesn’t bite yer legs.

© The Editor


It’s perhaps a measure of where we are after approaching a month of this that the famous names who routinely pass away are now having announcements of their deaths placed in a coronavirus context. Every celebrity obituary provokes the question ‘Did they die of it?’ The Marquess of Bath – he had it; Honor Blackman didn’t; Stirling Moss didn’t; Peter Bonetti didn’t; Tim Brooke-Taylor did. When we are informed the UK has now experienced over 10,000 deaths connected to Covid-19, it seems almost naive to feel sad just because some of those to have gone during the lockdown happened to have been strangers who nevertheless felt like friends on account of them being in the room during our formative years. But it’s only natural, whatever the circumstances; and in the case of Tim Brooke-Taylor, it’s one of those deaths that it’s difficult not to feel sad about, particularly if one is the wrong side of 50.

It’s not been the best year for characters associated with comedy whose training grounds were now-vanished comedic academies, namely the music hall and the working-men’s club – Nicholas Parsons, Roy Hudd, and Eddie Large being prominent casualties. Added to that list of long-gone schools could be the one-time ‘intellectual’ alternative, the Footlights. Tim Brooke-Taylor was a Cambridge graduate from an especially fruitful Footlights era, making his mark alongside the likes of John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle as well as a duo with whom he would eventually cement his household name status, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie. Smoothly traversing the then-obligatory route to television, TBT (as he was known to his friends) ended up working with his fellow graduates on 60s TV, starring with Cleese, Chapman and Marty Feldman in ‘At Last The 1948 Show’.

His association with the nucleus of the Pythons meant TBT apparently came within a whisker of being asked to join the embryonic team in 1969, but he had already embarked upon a new series with Garden and Oddie called ‘Broaden Your Mind’. The programme was a sketch show with humour dovetailing between slapstick and the surreal; this winning combination was then carried over into the sitcom (in the loosest meaning of the phrase) the trio premiered in 1970, ‘The Goodies’. The only TV comedy series that spanned the entire decade from beginning to end, ‘The Goodies’ when seen as a time capsule accurately evokes so much of what constituted Britain in the 70s – good and bad – that it probably serves as a better guide for those who weren’t there than any documentary or heavyweight volume. Few expressed that belief for years, but it’s good that ‘The Goodies’ recently received a long-overdue appraisal that all three of the team lived to see.

Every fad, fashion, craze, cultural, social and political development was lampooned, satirised and spoofed throughout the ten years the show aired on the BBC – everything from Apartheid South Africa to Punk Rock and from feminism to Fleet Street. The programme may have been absent from TV for decades, but the entire series was finally (if belatedly) issued complete on DVD a year ago. Coming to it with fresh eyes via the box-set, it’s surprising how sharp the satire is when the main childhood memory is of the silent movie-style film sequences, which were akin to live action equivalents of what the Pythons relied on Terry Gilliam to animate.

Each of The Goodies displayed clearly-defined personas on screen. Graeme Garden was the brainy boffin, an eccentric inventor producing the same kind of implausible gadgets Wile E Coyote regularly purchased from the Acme Corporation. Bill Oddie was the anarchic idiot who was often looked down on by his colleagues as an uncouth pleb, but whose refusal to compromise was especially popular amongst the show’s huge audience of children, many of whom identified with his childlike obstinacy. In contrast with Oddie’s working-class ruffian, TBT represented a rather wet upper-middle-class patriot; in his trademark Union Jack waistcoat and unswerving loyalty to the Crown (one episode ended with him marrying Prince Charles), TBT’s character would often stick ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ on the turntable and embark upon a rousing speech whenever the country was confronted with another crisis. Ironically, compelled to watch an episode last night, I randomly selected one in which Britain has become a virtual police state as the boys in blue are out of control zealots, arresting people on the flimsiest of pretexts.

This unintentional serendipity aside, The Goodies are generally rooted very much in place. Whereas Monty Python combined basic silliness with timeless highbrow references that retain their relevance, The Goodies focusing more on whatever happened to be in the moment has perhaps prevented the series from having a longer life beyond the massive success it enjoyed at the time, for nothing dates quite as quickly as the recent present. The fact The Goodies capitalised on their appeal to children by venturing into the musical arena and becoming as much a fixture on ‘Top of the Pops’ as The Bay City Rollers and David Essex also helps preserve them in 70s amber; but Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden had a parallel career on another medium that is impervious to changing trends, the radio.

From its inception in 1972, TBT has been the one mainstay of that sublime oasis of silliness, ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’, outlasting original host Humphrey Lyttelton and remaining a permanent fixture of the antidote to panel games even when fellow veterans Garden and Barry Cryer routinely take time off. I’ve been lucky enough to see the show live twice, first around seven or eight years back, when the aforementioned trio were all present, and again when TBT was the only member of the core team there; the latter occasion was just three months ago, even though January already feels like another lifetime. Tim Brooke-Taylor was on top form, giving no indication he’d be taken from us by April; but nobody in that audience could have imagined where all our lives would be by then, anyway.

Amidst a mounting death-toll that included a childhood hero in its depressing numbers, the PM has finally re-emerged into the spotlight after a week in which his own mortality received a dramatic jolt. Despite accusations largely emanating from journalists still in search of points to score, Boris Johnson’s condition seems to have been reported to the public with refreshing candour. Certainly when compared to the manner in which serious health issues afflicting past US Presidents such as FDR and JFK were hidden from view, there appears to be little evidence there has been any ‘cover-up’ or conspiracy to deny the public the truth of Boris’s battle with Covid-19 – though, of course, we shouldn’t refer to him as ‘a fighter’ in case that casts aspersions on the failure of others to overcome the virus. Is it racist? Not sure. I’ll have to consult the Guardian. Give me strength. I bet The Goodies could have satirised it brilliantly.

© The Editor


So, yes, it’s been another strange week-and-a-bit in these strange days. Boris ending up in intensive care; Brenda addressing the nation with her first message outside of the festive season in a long time and even paraphrasing Vera Lynn for that extra Blitz Spirit/Britain Can Make It vibe; Matt Hancock shaming easy target high-earners like footballers whilst conveniently neglecting to bring off-shore Oligarchs off the bench; oh, and Emily Maitlis attempting a ‘Walter Cronkite on Vietnam’ moment by abandoning the threadbare vestiges of BBC impartiality and delivering an impromptu Reith Lecture as a novel new ‘Newsnight’ intro. Yeah, Lockdown Britain is everything Remoaners promised Brexit would deliver – and even weirder.

The mainstream media reporting of events has become so wearingly sensationalistic and speculative that it’s no wonder the reaction of some has been to abandon initial ambitions the lockdown inspired; rather than learning a new language, a musical instrument or starting to write a novel, many have simply slipped into the junk-food/binge-watch routine and steer clear of the daily death-toll roll-call. On the other hand, social media being the maternity ward for the more outré conspiracy theory has unsurprisingly provoked a descent into medieval madness. Burning 5G masts in the baffling belief these objects generate evil is straight out of the dark children’s serial of the 1970s, ‘The Changes’, in which the western world undergoes a violent rejection of its dependability on technology by smashing all machines because they’re ‘wicked’.

Misinformation, or at best the poor communication of information, has also been responsible for the misconception that the humble domestic moggy is possessed by the virus. From what I can gather, misguided advice to keep cats indoors was actually specific to felines living in infected households; their coats when stroked by outsiders would still bear the residue of Covid-19 as much as any surface touched by someone with the plague, so preventing the prospect of the cat coming into contact with strangers was deemed sensible. My own personal worry is the same yahoos that thought 5G masts were spreading sickness may well single out cats for the same reason. Again, this is pure ‘she’s a witch’ mentality it would be nice to think we outgrew centuries ago; amazing how close to the surface such superstition actually is. Yes, the source of this virus does come from animals, but nature’s payback – if that’s what it is – stems from the disgusting trafficking and menu-adding of endangered species so commonplace in the Far East, not next-door’s cat.

When Benjamin Franklin said ‘Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety’, he probably couldn’t foresee the populace of a free and democratic society prepared to accept the severe restrictions of civil liberties currently being imposed upon it. However, I think most people are content to go along with these restrictions for the moment by viewing them as a contract between the state and its citizens, a personal inconvenience done with a greater good in mind; the delicate equilibrium can be maintained as long as both play their part and the sacrifice is regarded as a just one. Reports of some law enforcers exceeding the traditional ‘policing by consent’ foundation stone of the police force in this country are no more helpful in maintaining the equilibrium than those who continue to irresponsibly gather in groups.

Of course, it’s difficult at times like these to discern how widespread the abuse of police powers is when the most OTT examples will naturally be seized upon by the media (both mainstream and social), even if these are not representative. But anyone with half-a-brain is well aware that certain constabularies have a reputation for over-zealousness, and if their officers have been given the green light to wander into public parks and disperse a couple catching a bit of sun that they might not be able to access at their place of house arrest, it’s no great surprise that these individual constables are becoming ever-more officious in their ridiculousness. Threats of roadblocks or demanding to rummage through the contents of shopping bags are undoubtedly overstepping the mark; in the case of the latter, no policeman, policewoman or Community Support Officer has the right to be an authority on such a subjective subject as what is or isn’t ‘essential’ when it comes to the supermarket shelves – even if you’re lucky enough to find some eggs. And not even the emergency legislation rushed through Parliament without question gives the police that right.

The sudden high visibility of the police is either an indication that the PM’s recruitment drive has borne fruit in record time or that they’re relishing throwing their weight around without having to worry about difficult things like catching burglars or solving murders. Maybe if they were always this omnipotent they’d actually act as a deterrent in neighbourhoods plagued by crime. I suspect there won’t be any choreographed clapping rituals for the boys in blue just yet; but maybe not being elevated to the status of secular saints currently occupied by NHS workers helps to keep them in check. I remember when the military briefly received a similar elevation around the time the bodies of dead soldiers were being driven through the streets of Wootton Bassett during the Iraq War; and just as politicians back then would tediously preface each reply on ‘Question Time’ by ‘paying tribute to the wonderful job our armed forces are doing’, they’re at it again now – only with NHS workers.

Whilst the recognition and acknowledgement of those doing a bloody hard job is perfectly laudable, the overnight establishment of the mass clapping does make me a tad uncomfortable – perhaps because the compulsory participation seems just a little reminiscent of the forced tears North Koreans had to publicly shed when Kim Jong-il died. How long before the police are knocking on doors at 8.00, demanding to know why the residents of the house aren’t standing on their doorsteps applauding doctors and nurses? As with the public display of appreciation for the army fifteen years ago, the ring-fencing of any service as beyond criticism can act as a convenient smokescreen to obscure the shambolic state of the institution that employs these heroes and heroines, and how little it pays them for their troubles.

Then again, perhaps clapping for the NHS is only able to fully function as a new national pastime due to the fact all universities are closed; the ritual has the potential to provoke a panicked rush to the nearest safe space, so if this is to continue after the lockdown, maybe a jazz-hands compromise is in order. Recognition of how difficult being on the NHS frontline can be should be a given, anyway, as should free parking in the grounds of hospitals for staff. And the abrupt determination to ensure rough-sleepers have a nightly roof over their heads is something else that didn’t need a pandemic to institute; the fact they were on the streets in such high numbers in the first place should have alerted authorities to an already existing emergency that needed sorting.

Oh, well. That’s the state of play. Herd immunity might have worked as an alternative had it not been rendered impossible due to the poor health of most western nations – especially the special relationship fatties of the US and UK. As it is, we are where we are. The previous post may well have appeared to be dealing with a trivial topic; but it was refreshing for me to do so. I need those moments of light relief because otherwise there’s only the one subject right now.

© The Editor


Considering the current domination of mainstream cinema by the superhero genre, one might understandably imagine the industry that spawned this multi-million dollar franchise is one of the few right now with a guaranteed healthy future. Outside of its dedicated fan-base, most would come to that natural conclusion. Speaking as someone for whom the American comic book industry played a significant part in fuelling nascent childhood imagination, it’s not really one I’ve stayed in touch with much as an adult, so I pretty much thought the same. I’ve purchased the occasional graphic novel in recent years, though these have tended to be non-superhero titles, such as Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s breathtakingly beautiful take on erotica, ‘The Lost Girls’. I’ve no interest in the Hollywood incarnation of the superhero either, though it’s worth pointing out that this began in earnest when Marvel Comics was purchased by the Disney Corporation.

However, what has been a marriage made in money-spinning heaven for Tinsel Town accountants has helped kill the comic book, along with other crucial factors all-too familiar where most branches of entertainment and the arts are concerned. But let’s just backtrack a little.

The rise of the comic book as a cultural touchstone in the 1940s and 50s completed the triumvirate of creative outlets absorbed and transformed into a global phenomenon by American energy in the American century – the other two being cinema and popular music; as with those, the comic book industry was built via a combination of maverick visionaries and opportunistic shysters; the creators were usually ripped-off by the ‘dollar-signs-for-eyes’ philistines assembling the talent, but the coming together of these uneasy bedfellows worked. Indeed, the greatest and most durable products of all three industries – movies, music, and comics – appeared when the friction between art and business was at its height.

The nature of comic book distribution – which had mainly targeted newsstands and drug stores – altered in the 1970s as a large chunk of the traditional prepubescent readership didn’t grow out of the habit once it grew up. As well as a maturity of content in the actual product, the change was also reflected in the growth of the specialist comic store, something that increased in its importance to the industry throughout the 80s and 90s. By the dawn of the 21st century, comic book distribution had become something of a monopoly, in the exclusive hands of a single company recognising the profitable relationship between manufacturer and comic store. Independent creators may have been prized out of the mainstream market at the expense of Marvel and DC dominance, but the two giants of the US comic book industry were at least supplying product the reader wanted to buy. And then everything went tits-up.

In line with other creative industries faced with the perceived threat of the internet, the Silicon Valley manual was adopted as a business model; and this came with a political narrative. So, there was a swift sea change around a decade ago which has now bore extremely poisonous fruit that places the survival of the mainstream comic book industry in peril. And the industry did this to itself via the most demented act of hara-kiri ever committed in the name of diversity. Under online attack from the usual suspects, the industry dispensed with hiring on the basis of talent and/or merit and began to invite the very people that had been virulently critical of it to essentially take control. And we’re talking the nastiest, most extreme Identity Politics hardliners – men-hating radical feminists, fanatical far left cheerleaders and Salem-like finger-pointers who see racism everywhere; basically, the kind of people who think Antifa and Extinction Rebellion are freedom fighters and Trump is Hitler. And the mainstream comics industry put them in charge. Guess what happened.

As with most of these first-world activists, the majority emanate from a middle-class background of privilege and elitist university education, and have a compulsion to offload their white guilt onto everyone else; in the case of the comics industry, that includes the audience. Contempt for the readership has been evident from the off. The customer is always wrong where these enlightened souls are concerned; otherwise, why should the customer react so negatively to the wholesale rebranding of decades-old superhero titles to suit the new religion? Overnight, long-established and iconic male characters had sex changes or were suddenly gay or black or Asian or…you get the picture. The toxic masculinity of the white superhero patriarchy had to be eradicated. The narcissistic arrogance of the Woke writers and artists recruited by Marvel in particular has meant any justifiable criticism of their woeful output by those who can see straight through it is naturally ‘Nazi’.

Badly misjudging the audience that has kept the comics industry afloat throughout every economic downturn, the box-ticking minority have alienated the majority by using the comic book as a platform for preaching a political agenda that has nothing to do with what made the industry or what makes the public want to invest in it. Someone of a paranoid persuasion prone to conspiracy theories could discern a master-plan behind this, of course. They could cite what Identity Politics has already done to ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’ and could also highlight the fact that Brits have nothing to be smug about by pointing at the appalling decline and fall of ‘Doctor Who’. Each of these long-running and successful franchises have lost their (largely, though not exclusively) male fan-bases as a consequence. After all, if one wanted to destroy, say, McDonalds, then make the president of the company a hardcore vegan and see what happens.

When a successful business prioritises those whose talent is mediocre at best but whose political beliefs chime with the consensus, it is flirting with disaster. But the situation is particularly poignant for the comics industry, as the monopoly employed by the sole distributing middle-man between manufacturer and store won’t accept a sale-or-return system, which means comic stores have been losing money at an alarming rate since this madness took hold; nobody wants to buy the useless new Woke titles Marvel and DC are churning out, and the prime outlet for the product is being run into the ground as a result.

Faced with a crucial link in the chain teetering on the brink of collapse, the industry’s reaction has been to bury its head in the sand and add further rich boys and girls for whom this comic thing is a nice little hobby to the payroll. DC has just published ‘Gotham High’, which is Batman retold as a high-school soap, penned by an author of ‘Twilight’-style Young Adult fiction, whereas Marvel announced a new, non-binary superhero team many mistook for a premature April Fool’s, featuring a duo called (I kid you not) Snowflake and Safe Space. The only thing that has prevented these wastes of paper being delivered to comic stores, where they would no doubt remain unsold, is a little virus by the name of Covid-19. The sole distributor has ceased all operations and the Woke crowd have created a hashtag advising everyone to ‘down pencils’. A pity it took the coronavirus to down them.

The crowd-funded independent creators whose product has an enthusiastic audience sell the kind of numbers that Marvel and DC can only dream of now; and one wonders if they deliberately hired such poison to kill off the comic book side of their operations so they could focus exclusively on the movie side. That’s not much consolation for the owners of comic stores as they watch their livelihoods go up in smoke, nor is it for those who once derived enjoyment from such toxic entertainment as movies, music or comic books. But, hey, the objective of the revolution has been achieved.

© The Editor


The country is in crisis; the people are struggling to cope; they’re scared and afraid for the future. Yes, Sir Keir Starmer has been elected leader of the Labour Party. Faced with the alternative of either Rebecca ‘Mrs Merton’ Long-Bailey or Lisa ‘Trans-rights for Wigan’ Nandy, the membership opted for the architect of ‘Believe the Victim’. The joke is, outside of Guardian-Land, nobody gives a flying f**k. And anyone who celebrates the election of the Alpha Auton simply because it marks the end of Corbyn as leader is no better than those who cheered when Crazy Frog kept Coldplay from the No.1 spot a decade or so ago. The victory is just as meaningless. What Starmer’s ascent to the top of the greasy pole says about where the Labour Party are in 2020 isn’t something especially concerning the populace right now, for most are too busy clapping for the NHS to contemplate an opposition led by a shop window dummy manufactured in Brussels.

Probably no election of a major political party leader has provoked less interest since Iain Duncan Smith rose without a trace back in 2001, and the opposition’s irrelevance is further enhanced by the fact it can’t even grab the headlines when the Prime Minister is incapacitated by illness. Mind you, he’s not the first; both his hero Sir Winston and Harold MacMillan directed events from their sick beds at various times during their respective premierships, as did Anthony Eden – though perhaps the latter is not a comparison Boris would relish. The daily press briefings the PM was fronting until the coronavirus caught up with him now appear to be operating on the kind of rotation basis pioneered by José Mourinho back in his first spell at Chelsea. I half-expect some kid who won a competition to host one at some point in the next few weeks, though the far-from soothing Matt Hancock and his rabbit-in-the-headlights expression appears to have taken charge at the moment.

Occasionally, we extend our interest from the home front and receive reports of how the rest of the world is dealing with this unprecedented global situation. We hear how bonkers macho Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at first regarded Covid-19 as if it was some threat to his masculinity, implying that confronting the virus with caution was a sign of gay-ness; his East European equivalent, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is treating the crisis like it’s his audition to be a Putin tribute act; and there’s the inevitable Trump take on events, providing the usual stand-up entertainment as the Donald confidently recovers from early misjudgements in preparation for a confrontation with doddery Joe Biden later in the year – if the former Vice-President makes it that far. And, of course, there are also the anticipated suggestions that perhaps the Chinese authorities haven’t been quite so straight in their stats when it comes to how many lives the coronavirus has claimed in the place where it began.

The Identity Politics brigade, largely (and mercifully) muted by public concerns above and beyond gender pronouns, have sought to cling on by targeting the traditional classification of diseases based upon the location of their initial outbreak and declaring any reference to Covid-19 as ‘the Chinese Virus’ is racist; but other than those in their usual social media safe-spaces, few are paying attention to their Woke bleating. Ditto the self-isolating celebrities whose sudden separation from the spotlight they can ordinarily command is clearly having a terrible impact. Weeping superstars in mansions have actually become one of the few genuinely hilarious distractions at the moment, whether an almost-unrecognisable Madonna inadvertently exhibiting the frightening extent of the hideous work she’s had done on her face, or the pass-the-sick bucket ensemble rendition of ‘Imagine’ that was like every 80s charity single rolled into one tone-deaf ball-sack and smothered in syrupy pus.

The sight of mountain goats strolling around the empty streets of Llandudno and wild deer chilling out on front lawns in London boroughs has undoubtedly been a novel development and maybe an indication of how swiftly the beasts we share our planet with will reclaim our surroundings should we ever vacate them permanently. It’s also a reflection of how quickly the public seems to have largely adapted to the dramatic change in circumstances; the 27 million viewers who tuned into Boris’s landmark television address a couple of weeks ago evidently took his advice on board and have on the whole stayed indoors. The promise of better weather on the horizon poses a threat to this new nation of recluses, but as somebody pointed out the other day, do we really even need a weather forecast right now? Never has it been more apt to dismiss the institution by recommending people simply look out of their windows to see whether or not the sun is shining.

The panic buying that characterised the pre-lockdown atmosphere appears to have receded a little too, though unless the majority of those who indulged own a series of warehouses, it’s hard to see how much more they could have stashed away for a rainy day. Supermarket shelves are closer to their normal state again, though the policy of only allowing in a limited number of shoppers at a time is still being applied at several stores. As someone becoming accustomed to weekly stocking-up rather than popping out for food on the day I intend to eat it, I once more have to admit that every time I venture outdoors I’m increasingly warming to the quieter ambience of the urban environment in its new guise. Yes, shops remain unpredictable in the extent of their adherence to the latest emergency regulations, and there’s the persistent worry one might encounter a Jobsworth copper excited at the prospect of making up the law as he goes along; but the absence of the madding crowd from the pavements is bliss.

It goes without saying that I’m in a better position than many, however. Working alone from home with the kind of social diary designed with self-isolation in mind, very little has changed for me, and any inklings of depressive tendencies cannot in any way be attributed to the factors that might be stirring them in folk unaccustomed to such conditions. Lest we forget, those trapped in prisons and care-homes don’t have the luxury of solitary confinement, and they can’t even take the permitted daily walk. There are also those with challenging children of various mental and physical disabilities, whose full-time presence at home must be placing an unimaginable strain on parents usually reliant on the system to at least give them a few hours off. Maybe the next celebrity to signal their NHS-friendly virtue by donating to the cause via their press office should spare them a thought – or lend them a hand.

How much longer any of this will last remains the province of guess work – everything from weeks to months has been mentioned – and the lack of mass testing means most have no idea if they have it or have already had it; personally, nobody of my acquaintance has – or maybe they had it and just never knew it. The accuracy of the deaths credited to Covid-19 is still questionable and the predictable sensationalism of the media reporting is probably wearying as many people as the severe restrictions imposed on the public are. That said, few of us can hardly compare our individual situations to Anne Frank, so we may as well grin and bear it – or enjoy it.

© The Editor


As someone for whom outdoor occasions are rationed even when the rest of the world is partying like it’s 1999, I didn’t anticipate the closing down of society would impact much upon my routinely threadbare social diary – and overall, it hasn’t; but I did have something pencilled-in for today that has sadly had to be postponed. Yet, unlike the roll-call of sporting events whose absence, though strange, can nonetheless be compensated for twelve months from now as this year is written-off as a unique post-war anomaly, I had something planned for today that won’t mean quite the same once this day is done. The personal significance of 3 April 2020 for me cannot be replicated a day from now, let alone a month or two, for only this day will mark a particular anniversary I felt I needed to observe in a specific way; and because of where we unexpectedly find ourselves, I can’t.

Ten years ago today, my friend Alison died alone of heart failure as flames engulfed her candlelit home. She was three weeks short of her fiftieth birthday and was living a breadline existence with no electricity and very little money; what money did pass through her hands was inevitably exchanged for alcohol to quench her long-time thirst for the demon drink, a curse that had left an indelible, destructive mark on her life and person. Alison’s sad story was comprehensively covered both in a blog I ran from 2014-17 as well as the book, ‘Looking for Alison’, which originally appeared in 2015. I stopped posting on the blog when I felt I’d more or less said everything that could be said on the subject; and I’d come as close as anyone could in constructing a biography for a life in which there remain numerous gaps that I filled with what I felt to be plausible conjecture.

What I now tend to refer to as ‘the Alison project’ occupied the majority of my time for a good couple of years and entailed exhaustive research of the kind we’re all accustomed to seeing in detective dramas but rarely turn our hands to. Nobody could have tried harder to piece together the fragments of a life that initially appeared to have left so few traces behind, and whilst the fruits of my labour are far-from perfect, I really couldn’t have done much more. I had a brief correspondence with Alison’s youngest son, who almost acted as a ‘Deep Throat’-like source of information to point me in the right direction, and by the end I felt I’d come to know someone far better than I ever did when she was an actual physical presence in my life. It was just a pity it took her absence for that to happen.

But I was very conscious from the start that a great deal of what drove me to rescue Alison from unwarranted obscurity was guilt. Despite the sadness that casts its posthumous shadow over her memory, Alison in life was a uniquely entertaining eccentric – witty and unpredictable as well as endearingly sweet; she will always be one of the most original individuals ever to cross my path, quite unlike anyone else I’ve ever known. But she caught me at a bad time in my own life (as most people who catch me tend to do) and I wasn’t always in a position to help her when she needed it. The fact that I didn’t learn of her death until four years after it happened – we’d lost touch in the way that friends do – meant that the shock was immediately overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that I’d let her down and hadn’t done enough for her while she was still around. In all honesty, I don’t think anyone of her acquaintance could have done enough; but that didn’t stop the guilt on my part.

The guilt gradually subsided as I eventually completed a project intended to ensure Alison wouldn’t be forgotten as I applied my natural creativity to honour her memory. And I gave it my best shot. The blog is still available to view, the book is still available to buy, and her final resting place received a makeover I thought she deserved. It was this location I’d intended to visit today after a too-lengthy absence, accompanied by the kindred spirit and occasional Winegum commentator who goes by the name of Gildas when in his online guise. Alas, it wasn’t to be on the one day I really wanted to pay my respects; but perhaps the fact that I haven’t visited her grave for more than two years demonstrates that the living sometimes can’t help but be distracted by the one thing the dead are spared. Besides, Alison’s afterlife made arguably an even greater long-term impact on me than the eight years in which we shared an existence, and maybe that was her most significant legacy.

Alison’s afterlife began for me when I belatedly discovered she had died, and that afterlife acted as the catalyst for a seismic shift in the way I saw both myself and the bigger picture. She was the first person I’d made a connection with who’d left the stage, and when that happens, you invariably take stock of where you are and who you are. The determination to evade regret and recriminations in the future is an unrealisable aim, but it can alter your perception and imbue momentary courage. Such a landmark loss also helps prepare you for the losses to come, and I wasn’t to know more would follow far sooner than I’d anticipated. Everyone of importance who’d recently entered my orbit in 2014, and (even more so) those who entered it swiftly thereafter, are emotionally entwined with the memory of Alison in my mind now, and are just as irretrievable. It’s as though the ghost of Alison had placed us all on a celestial chessboard and directed the following episode – beginning, middle and end – from wherever her spirit resided. And when I speak of her spirit, I do so from a secular, agnostic perspective that nevertheless believes science has not entirely explained everything.

Today I can’t help but ruminate on all that Alison missed by passing away in 2010. As a person whose political leanings were very much to the left, she probably wouldn’t have been impressed by the outcome of the General Election that took place just a month after her death. She missed the Coalition and Austerity; she missed the 2011 riots and numerous terrorist atrocities; she missed Brexit and the election of Trump; and she missed Covid-19. Yes, one could say she timed her exit well, I guess; but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t criminally premature and tragic, all the same. I often play the morbid game whereby I consider the moments in my own life when I’d really had enough and then think of everything I would’ve missed had I done the deed. The first two examples that spring to mind would’ve robbed me of experiences which improved that life no end, whereas the most recent finds me struggling to think of anything that vindicated my decision (or cowardice) to stick around. But, hey-ho.

I guess what the loss of Alison taught me was the kind of life lesson everyone receives at some point. Not before time, I realised one has to cherish what one has whilst one has it, because nothing is permanent, however much we want the good stuff to last forever. Granted, even adhering to that truism doesn’t make it any easier whatsoever once the good stuff has gone; if it mattered, one never fully heals; there is always a hole in the heart that can never be filled in quite the same way again. The eternal optimist could say these devastating losses, which often appear totally random and without reason as they clear decks we were content to remain comfortably cluttered, happen in order to refashion us as a different person, but the trick is then learning to like that different person; and that ain’t easy. Perhaps it’s inevitable that we simply prefer the people we were when we were happy. And as Alison herself must have known only too well, the transience of happiness is what makes it so bloody elusive. That said, wherever you are now, Alison, I hope you found it in the end.

© The Editor