COTTAGE INDUSTRY

ScroogeWhilst trying to put it as politely as possible, it’s still difficult to put it any way other than: ‘What the f**k did they expect?’ If you as the powers-that-be spend the best part of a year and-a-half persuading people that coming into contact with their fellow man in an enclosed space could very well lead to their imminent death, should you be surprised that, after eighteen months of ingesting a relentless stream of Project Fear propaganda that has reduced every Lucy to a Linus, they don’t all rush back to that enclosed space? After all, they’ve foregone bidding farewell to loved ones on their death beds; they’ve foregone funerals, weddings and gatherings of every imaginable nature; and they’ve done all this whilst being exposed to the fact that Matt Hancock and his wandering hands – not to mention St Obama and his birthday bash – have ignored said propaganda and have carried on regardless whilst continuing to preach the mantra of mask-wearing, double-vaccinated social distancing. The powers-that-be seem to have forgotten that trust is earned, not God-given.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s entreaties to Britain’s workforce to return to its traditional workplace now that the pandemic has been jabbed into a mask-free safe space appear to be mysteriously falling on deaf ears – I wonder why? As has been pointed out previously, there are many amongst our cultural commentators and political movers & shakers who have enjoyed a ‘good pandemic’ – those metropolitan, cosmopolitan sages whose regular missives from the North London frontline have been dispatched to the barbaric provinces as a design for life in the wake of their own belated realisations that filing copy from a gated community is preferable to commuting on pleb-polluted public transport.

As long as essential deliveries to their doorsteps continued to be carried out by the great unwashed under the guise of ‘key workers’, this lockdown thing wasn’t such a big deal after all. If anything, it opened their eyes to the possibilities of an economic model in which the old-fashioned workplace could be reserved for the minimum-wage proles and they themselves could issue each fresh proclamation from the comfort of their family-friendly suburban enclaves. The problem now beginning to surface is that they’re not the only ones in the country who’ve had the veil lifted.

Unsurprisingly, the Freedom Day message has failed to connect with the majority of the people whose blood, sweat and toil ordinarily keeps the economy ticking over. The naive anticipation of a rush back to the public workplace post-19 July has not materialised, funnily enough. The furlough scheme probably helped, but there’s a little more to it than what was effectively a newfangled state benefit paid out to those in actual employment. Could it be that those expected to return in their droves after over a year of forced adjustment to a lifestyle in which the work and home environments have become interchangeable have actually realised the futility of their working lives as they existed pre-2020? Or could it be that permanent exposure to a 24/7 tsunami of pandemic propaganda via media of both the mainstream and social variety has left them terrified of their own shadows – a dubious wartime government tactic that is proving difficult to shake-off in this brave new post-war world?

Most sane folk regarded the lifting of lingering lockdown measures in July as an overdue necessity, though we shouldn’t forget that many had been so severely psychologically affected by the experience of the past year and-a-bit that the thought of suddenly setting foot in mask-free, overcrowded environments has been received with abject horror. Visiting the local supermarket is now a scary enough prospect; the thought of returning to an office full of people that requires a journey on a mobile sardine tin is a bridge too far. Government and its irresponsible advisors only have themselves to blame. Yes, some of us view all media outlets with scepticism and thinly-veiled contempt, but the majority accept the broadcast message as Gospel; this Gospel preached the same mantra for well over a year and the mantra was absorbed to the point whereby the unvaccinated are now regarded as unclean or selfish (© Michael Gove) and a threat to the future security of the nation; to therefore expect those who have unquestionably adhered to every edict to drop everything and pick up where they left off at the beginning of 2020 by mixing and mingling in a contaminated social situation is a tall order.

An anonymous Cabinet Minister quoted in the Daily Mail has criticised workers who have shied away from a return to the workplace and has aired his/her opinion that anyone preferring to work from home rather than the office now that it’s no longer mandatory should have their wages deducted and that failing to do so means they’re enjoying ‘a de facto pay rise’. ‘People who have been working from home aren’t paying their commuting costs,’ declared this expenses-claiming voice of reason. ‘If people aren’t going into work, they don’t deserve the terms and conditions they get if they are going into work.’ Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock that Ministers are especially affronted by this lacklustre response to Freedom Day because it’s directly affected them on account of civil servants being noticeably reluctant to toe the government line, leaving Whitehall short on Bernard’s if not Sir Humphrey’s. Even old IDS has been prompted to comment, ‘Civil servants need to get off their backsides and into the office, and they need to do it pretty quickly.’

‘Hybrid’ is the current terminology to describe those workers who split their working lives between the office and home. Rishi Sunak is apparently not keen on ‘remote’ workers or ones with a foot in both camps, urging the young to resume their places in city centres as the impact of their absence is beginning to be noted by the Treasury. But why should they? If the past twelve months or so has shown anything it is that a vast swathe of professions that were always deemed to require workplaces can be undertaken from the comfort of home – mid-morning pyjamas and all – and the inbuilt fear of coming into contact with strangers (vaccinated or no) has left many workers reluctant to heed the Chancellor’s call. Again, whose fault is that?

The great working-class moniker of Zachary Gauge belongs to someone whose job title is that of UBS analyst. ‘You can’t operate offices at just 10 percent occupancy,’ Zak observes. ‘From September time, we’ll start to get more of a feel of what that actually looks like. Most people will have had two jabs and that’s the point – the corporate world will start to take more of a hardline approach to people coming back into the office.’ Zak shouldn’t neglect the impact of the so-called ‘pingdemic’ when it comes to his forecast either; the effect of Smartphone commandments ordering workers to abruptly self-isolate at the drop of a hat is playing its part in the economic fortunes of the nation at the moment, of course; any cursory glance at sparse supermarket shelves will tell you that, extending any expected recovery well into the autumn and beyond. But, as I so succinctly put it at the beginning of this post, what the f**k did they expect?

According to the stats, near enough a quarter of the working population worked from home in the month of July, whilst those who made the journey from home to workplace for at least one day in the week dropped from 61% to 57% – and the whole Freedom Day hype probably won’t alter the stats much in the coming weeks. Too much terror has been drilled into the work-age population to expect them to revert to the pre-2020 default position when it comes to earning a living. In order to ensure compliance, their heads have been battered by ‘The Science’, and wiping those heads clean of all that SAGE scaremongering so that they will resume drone-hood like nothing ever happened is pure pie-in-the-sky. Reaping and sowing – it’s a funny old game, innit.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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PARDON MY MEANDER

Blow UpFour days tends to be the average maximum between posts on here, though I have nothing to really say today – nothing concerning the usual suspects, that is. I haven’t been sufficiently motivated by either Covid-related stuff or Identity Politics to compose a post since the last one; and that’s how it usually works – I never intentionally sit down and think ‘I must write something about coronavirus transgender racism.’ Whatever gets written usually just appears; it’s rarely premeditated, but I know when a post is on its way. Inspiration when it hits is a bit like seeing the Bat Signal in the sky; suddenly, without warning, it’s there and I spring into action. Well, when there is no Bat Signal hovering over Gotham City that’s generally when we get to the four-day mark. I can’t even default to my familiar standby of reviewing an obscure TV series from the 70s today, as I’m not currently watching one of them that I haven’t already written about on here. However, rather than this ending up being the shortest Telegram from the Winegum of all time, I shall instead ramble and meander a little, just as I sometimes do when I venture outdoors.

Of late, I’ve found ‘the walk’ that we were all encouraged to indulge in during Lockdown Mk. I (as a means of presumably preventing the nation from sinking into couch potato obesity) has become something I succumb to maybe just once a week, mainly because I’ve more or less been everywhere within walking distance now. I suppose I’m more amenable to the idea when it’s a nice day, naturally, and after a few drizzly and chilly interludes bearing a closer resemblance to October rather than August, the weather feels summery again. Therefore, today I decided to embark upon a stroll with no specific destination in mind; I did, however, find myself being drawn back to a location I’ve walked round several times this summer – the empty grounds of a nearby university campus. I say empty only in relation to its term-time tenants, for most students are obviously absent this time of year. Indeed, much like the hospital staff on the episode of ‘Yes Minister’ who don’t feel the need to fill their workplace with actual patients, I can’t help but note what pleasant places campuses are without students getting in the way.

With the majority of this particular campus having being built in the 19th century, it does have an easy-on-the-eye aesthetic appeal in terms of its architecture, and the vast expanse of greenery surrounding the buildings also adds to the ambience. The grounds border a public park, which means the whole site conjures the illusion of being somewhere a long way from an urban environment; the fact it’s not much more than ten minutes on foot from my front door proves that it’s a lot closer than the serene mirage suggests, however. What also plays its part in making this place such a pleasant spot to stroll through is the fact the absence of students reduces the noise levels. This time of year, the campus is like a benign vortex, a silent oasis that it’s hard to believe is just a stone’s throw from a ridiculously busy thoroughfare; living on said thoroughfare means most of the day the only sounds that penetrate my den are manmade: car engines, car horns, car alarms, in-car sound systems, and more than anything else, sirens – bloody sirens. I therefore notice it when I’m somewhere that has none of these sonic abortions, and the campus in question has none of them.

The phrase ‘Whispering Grass’ may evoke memories of Windsor Davies and Don Estelle if you’re of a certain age, but it also fits this place. That’s how lovely it is when all you can hear other than birdsong is the gentle ripple of the lawns in the breeze; what we would call silence can only really be referred to as such when it has something to be compared to; and when compared to the cacophony I’m accustomed to most days, this is silence. But, of course, it’s not silent; it’s merely softer than the norm, and it’s blissful. There are tennis courts in the grounds, but they’re all bolted up and packed away until the more sporty students return; there’s also a space that looks big enough to contain a fair-size football pitch, though the whispering grass there isn’t currently short enough for a proper kickabout and there’s no markings present; I suspect that’ll be attended to by September. That none of the areas catering for students into sporting pursuits are maintained as such when they’re away means these areas are amongst the most quiet and utterly deserted on campus. Anyone familiar with the scenes in seminal Swinging London movie ‘Blow-Up’ when David Hemmings’ photographer character wanders through an empty park without any dialogue or background music getting in the way will recognise just how striking the sound of ‘silence’ is; in fact, this part of the campus reminds me a lot of those scenes bar the bit where he finds the body in the bushes.

The only other people I tend to see out and about up there are either mothers with pushchairs and toddlers who are at that age when they want to walk rather than be pushed, or dog-walkers. I saw a walker with a six-strong pack a couple of weeks back and laughed to myself when I spotted the one dog that every pack has, the obstinate bloody-minded one in possession of selective deafness, the one who always drifts just that little bit too far from the rest, the one whose name is called out more than any of the others; he had a bell on his collar precisely for that reason, I guess. He also caught my eye on account of him being a miniature schnauzer, which happens to be one of my favourite pedigrees; this breed usually produces memorable characters and I used to know one who was indeed just that. It didn’t surprise me that the pooch in this pack stubbornly doing his own thing happened to be a miniature schnauzer.

A cartoon in the last issue of ‘Private Eye’ pictured a man walking a dog being asked by another man what breed it was, to which the dog-walker replied ‘Dunno, I only got him so I don’t look like a pervert when I’m down the park.’ I got the joke because it is true one can feel a tad self-conscious when walking through a park alone and without even a canine companion; I probably feel this more so because there have been times when I’ve had dogs and my presence in the park has therefore seemed ‘legit’. Bereft of a dog, I ordinarily wouldn’t be there, but ever since the first lockdown there’s been a greater impetus to be out for reasons other than simply shopping. That said, self-consciousness when one doesn’t have a dog matters less when strolling through a quiet campus; for all anyone knows, I could be a post-graduate drifter with no home to go back to – or even a slightly eccentric tutor.

There’s a definite out-of-season seaside town vibe to a campus in the summer, though I should imagine anyone else who ventures into this delightful vacuum in July and August will be as conscious as me that our little secret garden won’t be secret for much longer. Once the gates of academia are reopened, the character of the campus will inevitably alter and it’ll cease to be such a tranquil retreat till next summer. I feel a bit like Looby Loo, knowing she can only dance around when Andy Pandy and Teddy are elsewhere; the minute she hears them returning, her brief window of self-indulgence slams shut and she reverts to a lifeless ragdoll. Never having been a student myself, I’ve only understood the appeal of dreaming spires as I’ve matured; and though this campus isn’t Oxford, it nevertheless has a similar atmosphere I’m partial to, as long as it’s empty of students. Hope you didn’t mind this meander, by the way; I’ve never considered travel writing on account of not doing much in the way of travelling (bit of a hindrance, that), so this is as near as I’ll get for the moment.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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THE TRACKS (AND TRACES) OF MY TIERS

Bisto KidsScent – that was what hit me yesterday. The scent of fruit and the scent of veg; the scent of freshly-baked buns and bread; the scent of girls walking past with their perfume reminding me what women smell like – indoor odours I haven’t inhaled on foreign soil for over a year. My sinuses weren’t even smacked by any unseemly B.O., which has long been a traditional and unfortunate by-product of venturing into a supermarket during a Great British heat-wave. To set foot in an interior outside of my home and not have the ability to smell my surroundings utterly constrained by a bloody mask was intoxicating as I became reacquainted with a sensation I’d been denied for too long; what a relief it was to expose this neglected sense to something other than my own breath. In fact, it’s frightening how quickly and effectively I had forgotten the aroma of freedom of choice; like the sudden restoration of so much we’ve been deprived of since the first lockdown, being reunited with such a simple gift it’s so easy to take for granted is something worthy of celebration – even if the awareness that this particular democratic right will probably be taken back with the same speed it was stolen in the first place remains uppermost amidst the celebration.

For me, being forced to cover my nose and mouth impacted more than any other Covid measure. Social distancing I could deal with, not being especially fond of crowds or being claustrophobically crammed into a confined space with other sardines; the initial queuing outside a shop I could deal with, as Brits have all had to queue somewhere at one time or another and are good at it; not being able to receive visitors or indulge in hugs I could deal with, as most of my friends being scattered across the country already negates playing regular host – and no longer being intimate enough with anybody anymore meant an embrace was but a memory, anyway. Add the difficulties I’ve long had breathing through my nose, and the prospect of having to hinder my breath via a suffocating cloth whenever I stepped into any indoor arena bar my home essentially stopped me going anywhere unless I absolutely had to. Yesterday, for one brief brilliant moment, monochrome Kansas was transformed into Technicolor Oz; that I could even utter such a statement about something so seemingly trivial perhaps shows just how deep the most apparently innocuous privation has cut over the last year.

Whipping off a mask as soon as I step out of a shop has been the usual routine since face coverings were imposed on shoppers, but smell dissipates in the great urban outdoors, where the black hole of traffic fumes swallows up individual odours. It’s different when you set foot in a supermarket, when smell has less escape routes; yes, it’s no great surprise viruses do better indoors when one thinks of all that breath circulating with nowhere to go. But the status of a mask as little more than a psychological comfort blanket is pretty well established now, so there was no way I was going to wear imaginary armour when it was no longer mandatory. I saw perhaps half-a-dozen fellow shoppers prepared to take the plunge, which was a relief. I almost felt a shared sense of kinship there, an unspoken, nodding recognition and admiration of their determination not to submit now they could no longer be fined for resisting. After all, I’d had silly images of walking into Sainsbury’s sans-masque and being chased straight out again by a pitchfork-carrying masked mob calling me a granny-killer.

Granny’s mouth remained covered, which was to be expected; but the vast majority of shoppers I saw were no older than 25 and very few of them were uncovered. Living in a large student area means visiting a supermarket on ‘Freedom Day’ is a good barometer of how the young are actually reacting to the loosening of restrictions. Despite the MSM stereotype of young ‘uns as irresponsible ravers partying like it’s 1989 even when the rest of the country is masked-up and socially distanced, what I witnessed yesterday were fully paid-up consumers of Project Fear not willing to risk it. Considering the latest Covid Passport U-turn by the Government, it’s no surprise. Youth – a demographic least susceptible to the lethal elements of the coronavirus – are now in their sights. After months of denial that such a corruption of a free society will ever be contemplated, Boris announced yesterday that ‘proof of a negative test will no longer be enough’; taking a leaf out of President Macron’s book, the PM said that once all over-18s have had the opportunity to be double jabbed, full vaccination will be required to gain entry into nightclubs and ‘other venues where large crowds gather’. Looks like Freedom Day was so called because it marked the day when freedom was outlawed as a right. Show me your papers indeed.

Compulsory vaccination is something I’m sure many would approve of, and even though the powers-that-be haven’t quite crossed that line, by preventing anyone from approximating a normal social existence without the jab they’re essentially forcing perpetual vaccines on everybody who isn’t a professional hermit. Under this prohibition of life, don’t be surprised if new ‘speakeasies’ begin to appear as what used to be the kind of freedoms the citizens of Eastern Bloc countries viewed with envious eyes go underground in the very nations that used to boast of them as a selling point. If a Covid Passport is produced as a physical object rather than a mere app, will we eventually see them being publicly set alight as happened with draft cards during anti-Vietnam War demonstrations? And will those caught on camera burning them be denounced and demonised as the ‘long-haired’ draft-dodgers were by the American MSM in the mid-60s, before Walter Cronkite’s damning indictment on the conflict in 1968 helped turn the tide of mainstream opinion in the direction of the anti-war movement?

Interestingly, the Liberal Democrats have stuck their necks on the line and come out against Covid Passports. Could this be another small step on the road returning the party to the role of a credible alternative? If the Lib Dems can successfully rein in their Woke elements (in a way the Labour Party seems incapable), perhaps. I personally hope so, because British politics desperately needs an alternative now more than at any other time I can ever remember; and if it has to be a party with a hell of a lot to answer for over the past ten years, so be it; not one of them can cover themselves in glory based on their record in the last decade, anyhow, and we don’t have much in the way of choice at the moment. It’s a shame there are such a small amount of Lib Dem MPs, as it means the likes of the chronically-annoying Layla Moran has a higher profile than she deserves; but name me a mainstream political party that doesn’t have its fair share of embarrassing aunts and uncles. Maybe we just notice the Lib Dems’ madwomen in the attic because there are so few Lib Dems to go round.

There are some who say it’s no big deal to have to wear a mask, just as there are some who feel it’s no big deal to be double jabbed; both things are seen as a transaction in the cost of freedom, a freedom that we have never previously had to pay for; also, the popular opinion lingers that this is a necessary sacrifice to be made at an unprecedented moment in recent history. But wartime restrictions should be scrapped when the war is over. Yes, Covid-19 is still with us, but it always will be; whether through natural immunity or regular vaccination, we shall have to live with it forever. There will never be a time now without coronavirus cases, and placing such heavy emphasis on them when deaths are dwindling is blatant fear-mongering to justify further curtailments of civil liberties. We cannot allow emergency restrictions such as the ones we’ve had to deal with for over a year to become the default government response to any crisis. Whichever side of the divide you reside in, we’re all entitled to be the Bisto Kids if we want to.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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WE’RE ONLY HERE FOR THE FEAR

Scream SupermarketAh, technology. Where would the pandemic have been without it? Across the pond, the sinister clique that routinely reanimates the cadaver of Joe Biden and periodically wheels him out before the cameras of the subservient charlatans masquerading as journalists is hard at work. Sleepy Joe’s team are currently conspiring with their big tech paymasters to ensure anyone banned from one platform for spreading ‘misinformation’ – particularly of the coronavirus variety – will be banned from all of them; what constitutes misinformation, of course, is (in these oh-so polarised times) utterly subjective; one man’s truth is another man’s fake news and all that. But for judgement to be in the hands of the privileged few controlling the flow of media traffic, both social and mainstream – a cyber star-chamber to whom we have no right to reply – is an extremely worrying scenario where those antiquated freedoms involving speech, thought and expression are concerned. In today’s doublethink society, misinformation essentially translates as opinions those on the ‘right side of history’ disagree with – and they are the people with the power to cancel any dissenting voices far more effectively than any fanatical serial censors starting another petition.

Barely a year ago, for example, to air the theory that Covid-19 might actually have emanated from a Chinese lab was enough to guarantee instant dismissal from YouTube, Facebook or Twitter; now it is an acceptable mainstream opinion – though many who spread the word before were banished for daring to express it and remain so. Hell, it’s almost as if this de-platforming thing is just being used as a convenient means of silencing voices our online lords and masters don’t want us to hear. If only certain governments of the past had thought of similarly ‘robust enforcement strategies’ (to quote Biden’s press secretary), eh? The previously-mentioned declaration of the increasingly unhinged Woke dictator posing as the New Zealand PM springs to mind – the one whereby Jacinda Ardern last week essentially told the people of her nation to dismiss any online information not endorsed by her; ignorance is strength, as someone once said.

Over here, those dim enough to have signed the Faustian pact of the Covid NHS app are finding that their every outdoor move being tracked and traced is rather limiting their freedom – fancy that! According to the most recent stats, 530,125 ‘alerts’ have been sent to users so far this month, ordering them to immediately self-isolate for 10 days; they tend to receive them if they’ve been anywhere that all the other Smombies signed-up to the app have congregated at; and the app knows where you’ve been and where you are because you voluntarily handed that info over. Hey, it’s like a mobile HAL! What is being called a ‘pingdemic’ is adding yet another layer of crisis to the hospitality industry in its struggle to recover from lockdown; restaurant, café, and bar staff are being randomly targeted by the ping of the app, forced to drop everything and hide away for a fortnight – in many cases leaving owners of such businesses with little choice but to close their doors once again when they’ve barely reopened them.

The ‘Staycation’ summer holiday boom envisaged as the saviour of under-fire seaside resorts is being severely threatened by the ‘pingdemic’ – Cornwall alone received over 4,000 ping commandments in the first week of July, right at the point when the county was expecting the influx of tourists to begin. And it goes without saying the accuracy of the NHS app cannot be questioned; after all, it’s not as though the Government has a track record of useless tech, is it? But at least naming the app in honour of the beloved national religion was as inspired a move as naming a nihilistic political movement after a valid statement few would dispute. Criticism of the NHS app could be perceived as criticism of the NHS, and that would be perilously close to heresy.

Interestingly, both the PM and Chancellor of the Exchequer have been pinged after coming into contact with Sajid Javid, yet after initially announcing they wouldn’t be self-isolating in the work environment following the Health Secretary’s coronavirus infection, criticism forced them into a U-turn and now they are. Funnily enough, Javid picked up the Chinese lurgy on a meet-and-greet visit to a care home, those Covid breeding grounds apparently ring-fenced for protection by Javid’s illustrious predecessor.

Boris and Sunak’s initial decision to evade the punishment crippling the rest of the workforce echoes the waiving of quarantine rules to accommodate UEFA and FIFA bigwigs flown in from no-go corners of the globe to enjoy the prawn cocktail privileges at Wembley Stadium last weekend. The contrast between their elevated luxury cocoon and the ticketless drunken hordes storming the venue down below is a microcosm of the two-tier Covid society; the fact that the hooligan minority were in such a state by the time the Euros final kicked-off was helped by the virtual all-day sale of alcohol in London, yet who can blame beleaguered pub businesses trying to maximise profits after being pushed to the brink of extinction by first lockdown and then post-lockdown restrictions? On the eve of ‘Freedom Day’, the crowds at Wembley and Wimbledon will be added to by a full house at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix today, no doubt providing the doom-mongers with fresh evidence for their Ides of March prophesy the day before unshackling.

At the same time, a curious trend has been reported this week, one that suggests the European nations with the largest vaccination intake have all experienced a fresh upsurge of Covid cases whilst the 15 lowest vaccinated countries haven’t. In short, those with the highest level of vaccinations also now have the highest level of infections; weird innit. Cyprus has the highest case count per capita in the world, yet prior to the latest wave had already given the majority of its population the jab; Malta has the Western world’s highest rate of vaccinations, yet the infection rate has shot up since the rollout. Israel decided to investigate and its findings were that Israelis whose only immunity came from vaccination were more likely to be infected than those who had been previously infected and had developed a natural immunity to the virus. Perhaps the misleading daily roll-call of cases as opposed to deaths – which are rapidly diminishing – should cease forthwith; all it seems to do is intensify panic and continue to vindicate the advice of advisors shortly to be rendered redundant.

Indeed, a seemingly renegade SAGE associate has thrown a spanner in the narrative works by rubbishing claims of face coverings as effective coronavirus protection. Dr Colin Axon, an expert in the field of ventilation, says masks are little more than comfort blankets that do next-to-nothing to reduce the spread of Covid particles. According to Dr Axon, the official cloth masks contain holes that cannot be seen by the naked eye but are apparently 500,000 times bigger than yer average Covid particle. This unwelcome opinion was published just as supermarkets appear set to recommend their customers continue to shop in masks (even if they can no longer legally demand it of them) and the Government’s own ‘Freedom Day’ guidance agrees – as does London Mayor Sadiq Khan when it comes to the Tube. My own personal feeling is that most people – at least to begin with – will indeed continue to mask-up in Sainsbury’s. I certainly don’t think we’ll be back to where we were last year before masks became mandatory; twelve months of forced face-covering will have left too strong a legacy of fear to persuade every shopper to add their mask to the latest fatberg.

For a man with a track record of changing his mind at the eleventh hour, one hopes Boris sticks to his guns and doesn’t abruptly cancel tomorrow. The Project Fear apocalypse we were promised when we exited the EU has now been rescheduled for 19 July – according to some online sources, anyway. Ah, technology. Where would the pandemic have been without it?

© The Editor

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CARRY ON EMMANUEL

MacronPerhaps it’s a comment on both the limited online attention span and just how momentary sensation has now become. When the striking images of the first global lockdown – all those eerie photos of the world’s most famous capital cities deserted of people – went viral just over a year ago, reaction swiftly shifted from open-jawed shock at how these landmark locations now resembled the set of a Hollywood movie about the apocalypse to jaded shoulder-shrugging, suggesting everyone ceased to find the imagery remotely strange with 24 hours. Yeah, whatever, seen it. Yet what those empty tourist spots inadvertently highlighted was how a persistent headache for certain beleaguered world leaders had been unexpectedly resolved overnight. It’s almost hard to recall now – because life before Covid seems so distant and unreal – but prior to the coronavirus, many of those streets now devoid of a human presence had been teeming with people who hadn’t come to take selfies in the shadow of an iconic monument. Pre-BLM street protest was geographically localised and concerned with issues that concerned the majority; remember all that trouble in Hong Kong? China at least had something to thank its clumsiest scientists for there, for sure. And what about Paris?

By the end of 2019, the coalition of anti-Macron forces that went under the collective moniker of Gilets jaunes protests (courtesy of their adoption of a recognisable blue-collar dress-code) had established themselves as emcees of weekly shindigs in the French capital, evoking memories of 1968 and placing the waning authority of Emmanuel Macron in peril with each increasingly angry battle between yellow-jacket protestors and the gendarmerie. 45 consecutive weeks of this in Paris had reduced the centre of the city to a no-go area for tourists at weekends as the economy took a nosedive with every smashed restaurant and luxury store window in and around the Champs-Élysées. After a year, the protests had also spread to other French cities such as Strasbourg, Montpellier and Rouen, and it was difficult to discern an end in sight until Macron was delivered the lifeline of Covid-19.

In an instant, the democratic right to protest, which always seems so integral to the French character, was abruptly taken away along with every other civil liberty. As those images of the world’s great capital cities had shown, Paris was far-from unique in this sudden clearing of the streets; but for President Macron, a convenient by-product of the emergency measures was the painless removal of an obstinate thorn in his side. When one final attempt to revive the protests took place in defiance of lockdown in March 2020, even some of the movement’s leaders stayed at home and advised their followers to do likewise. The boil, it appeared, had been lanced. The power and authority of Monsieur Macron having been unexpectedly salvaged now gave the President the opportunity to flex his muscles and the past week has seen the outcome of this existential bodybuilding.

On Monday, Macron confirmed to the French people that they were living in a two-tier society and one presumes he knows which tier his detractors belong to. An existing rule applying to nightclubs, whereby proof of a negative Covid test or vaccination is required to gain entry, was to be extended to leisure and cultural centres, shortly to be followed by everything else people might wish to engage in when stepping out of doors. Anyone employed by the French hospitality industry as well as those working for airlines, hospitals, care homes and railways will now be legally required to submit to vaccination or else will find themselves out of a job. Macron hasn’t quite reached the extremes of St Jacinda of New Zealand’s North Korean-style assertion that the only trustworthy guardian of the truth is government, but he’s capitalising on the convenient suppression of dissenting voices by laying down the law while he can.

Maybe what’s so striking about Macron’s authoritarian stance is the fact that our Gallic cousins have been especially sceptical when it comes to the vaccine. Clinging to the quaint belief that control of one’s body should be an autonomous choice, just under half of the French population have so far resisted a medical procedure that is now being thrust upon them as compulsory if they wish to continue being active members of society. In addition, Macron has also indicated mandatory jabs will no longer be free of charge as of the autumn, rubbing (one might say) salt in the wound of liberté, égalité and fraternité. We think we’ve got it bad here when it comes to a worrying lack of Parliamentary debate on issues that affect us all in the current climate; but Macron has excelled in evading such debate altogether by using (abusing?) his status, rushing through the law on Covid passports for access to nightclubs by invoking Presidential decree, and it’s highly likely he’ll do the same when seeking to turn his latest proposals into law. Gives you food for thought whenever the subject of republicanism on these shores rears its head, doesn’t it.

At one time, both the French and the British people could be relied upon to admirably resist the kind of totalitarian measures more familiar to European neighbours such as Germany or Italy; bloody-mindedness seemed to be characteristic traits we shared with our brothers across the Channel. But the disappointingly compliant response to Project Fear on this side of the Continental divide has perhaps persuaded Macron that he can get away with it on home soil; yet he’s clearly figured he can push the boat out even further. What he’s now proposing has taken post-lockdown restrictions into unprecedented territory that one cannot help but suspect are being studied by other European leaders as a possible blueprint for the way forward. Basically telling the French people that no vaccine equates with no life, either of the working or social variety, is a bold statement that feels as though it goes against the grain of everything we associate with the French and their history of rebelling in the face of such decrees from on high.

The long-running Gilets jaunes protests were familiar in their characteristically French response to authority overreaching itself, though it’s hard to see how resistance can now be manifested when confronted by rules and regulations that place the people in a position where choice is no longer an issue if one wants to survive in this brave new world. Is there a whiff of triumphant revenge in this move by Macron? Neutered by the protests that wrecked the capital city for the best part of a year, Monsieur President has reasserted his authority by exceeding any demonstrations of it he was able to call upon before he received the powers to shut society down and redraw the map of discourse. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of vaccines being hired by the state as a kidnapper holding freedom hostage, Macron’s actions seem to remove the option of personal choice figuring somewhere in the picture. If you want to resume living your life, you’ll have to take what the state is offering you…or else.

Maybe to get me in the mood for writing this post, the penning of it has been complemented by a compilation of Serge Gainsbourg’s finest moments playing in the background; as I reach the final paragraph, his reggae-fied interpretation of ‘La Marseillaise’ has just burst out of the speakers. Provoking the ire of right-wing veterans from the Algerian War of Independence upon its release in 1979, Gainsbourg’s controversial version of the French national anthem said something about the nation that hadn’t been addressed before. Not unlike some of this nation’s most famous, contentious (and sadly absent) sons we can no longer turn to for guidance, the French must be wondering what Serge would say if confronted by the current proposals to emanate from the Élysée Palace. Probably problematic…and unprintable, God bless ‘im.

© The Editor

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THE FINAL WHISTLE

BorisThe Bank Holiday Monday that never was – not unlike the airport that never was or the garden bridge that never was; it’s not as if Boris Johnson doesn’t have a history when it comes to grandiose promises he fails to deliver on. I suspect his numerous wives and mistresses could testify to that. Mind you, in this particular case his promise proved to be wishful thinking, probably made when he slipped an England football shirt over his normal clothes – as you do. This was a promise dependent upon England winning Euro 2020 and, as everyone no doubt knows by now, we didn’t. I suppose it could be seen as an addition to the ‘we’re all in this together’ narrative that has run through the government response to the pandemic ever since the PM’s historic television address to the nation. Incidentally, that particular broadcast famously gatecrashed the long-held list of most-watched TV broadcasts ever in the UK when it was seen by almost 28 million viewers in March last year, and it’s now been joined in the top ten by the Euros final, coming straight in at No.4 with only the 1969 ‘Royal Family’ documentary, Diana’s funeral and (of course) the 1966 World Cup Final ahead of it. Seems the boys of ’66 will forever be the unsurpassable yardstick.

As every politician does when seeking to be seen as being at one with ‘the people’, Boris enthusiastically embraced the excitement stirred by Gareth Southgate’s team going one step further than any England side in 55 years. And who can blame him? It was the briefest of breathers as society came up for air before resuming the drowning-by-division that has characterised the past five years. And, as crassly opportunistic as Boris’s attempts to exploit a rare ‘feel-good factor’ have been, he was beaten to the finishing post in the toe-curling stakes yet again by the hilariously hapless Keir Starmer. The leader of the Opposition posed for several photos where he was pictured ‘enjoying the match’ with a pint strategically placed in front of him; the pint had been initially absent, then mysteriously appeared, and then when Starmer’s aides belatedly realised it was full, one of them no doubt took a sip (probably provoking the same appalled expression a child wears when given its first taste of bitter) and placed it back on the table to prove what a real man Sir Keir is. Mate, you’re a middle-class London lawyer who’d much rather be at Glyndebourne than Wembley; pretending otherwise just makes you look an even more disingenuous prat than you already are.

The fragile sense of togetherness marked by a great sporting occasion that captures the public’s imagination is never destined to last, and the swift resumption of where we were following the defeat of England by Italy on Sunday was swift even by the low standards we’ve come to expect. General Southgate’s baffling tactical decision to send the youngsters over the top at the climax of the penalty shootout was especially strange considering his own youthful exposure to the pressure of the spot-kick; but the way in which the failure of the trio in question to convert the vital penalties then saw the deflation of some manifested as depressingly predictable racist abuse aimed at the players has been exceptionally unpleasant. Of course, it has also curtailed the suspension of hostilities towards football’s fan-base from the chattering classes; quietly genteel empty stadiums, knee-taking and rainbow flags created the perfect environment for the middle-class dilettante to pose as a lover of the beautiful game, but then the barbarians that were greeted with similar horror when they descended on the Oval for the very first FA Cup Final in 1872 were let in again and look what happened!

Those that are fond of bracketing all genuine working-class football fans as frothing-at-the-mouth racist bigots and Brexiteers had the perfect excuse to rant as a tiny handful of brain-dead trolls took out their frustration on England’s black players. There has always been a small section of football followers who think this way, though let’s not pretend football has the copyright on them. Grafting the ideological cancer of Identity Politics onto the sport, with its incessant emphasis on race as the single most important characteristic of any individual, is something that stokes instant division by highlighting a factor that most decent people don’t even think about. In the build-up to the final on Sunday, social media was awash with statements pointing out how many members of the England team had ‘immigrant’ backgrounds, as though this not only somehow vindicated the divisive immigration policies of the past 20 years but was also responsible for the players being able to kick a ball in the first place; as long as the latter skill is good enough to warrant selection for the team, that’s all that matters. Attempting to portray a football team as ambassadors for free movement within the EU is hardly something that will inspire unity; the Left once again turning on the daughter of immigrants who has actually achieved her own success story by becoming Home Secretary just seems to show the hypocritical cant at the heart of this mindset is as toxic as any online racist halfwit throwing a virtual banana in the direction of Marcus Rashford.

So, ‘unity’ via an impressive run in a football tournament is over, so where does that leave us? Well, whilst there may have been a brief moment of genuine unity amongst the population when the first lockdown took place – back in those innocent, halcyon days when we trusted our elected leaders to do the right thing in a situation few of us then understood – that unity has subsequently dissolved and dissipated as warring factions and rival camps have asserted their opposing stances on the Covid issue. Pro-vaccine/anti-vaccine, pro-mask/anti-mask, pro-lifting of restrictions/anti-lifting of restrictions – the new frontline causes stepping into the space temporarily vacated by the Leave/Remain debacle. The Covid unity – if indeed it can be called that – fractured fairly early, probably at the point when lockdown was breached by BLM marches that seemingly had cart-blanche to break all restrictions without any of the over-officious response from the police that ordinary law-abiding folk were being exposed to on a daily basis.

The hypocritical activities of Dominic Cummings, Neil Ferguson and Matt Hancock lifted the lid on the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach to restrictions by the powers-that-be as much as the supine reaction by the forces of law and order to rule-breakers sharing the same ideology as them. As the restrictions that came with the initial lockdown have been extended way beyond the projected timeframe we were originally promised and the goalposts keep being moved in a manner many wished had been the case on Sunday night, people’s frustrations with the situation are perfectly understandable. Earlier on Sunday, I watched the men’s singles final at Wimbledon. After winning before an audience of non-socially distanced and largely unmasked multitudes in the stands on Centre Court, Novak Djokovic was then interviewed by Sue Barker, who appeared to be standing half-a-mile away. I couldn’t help but think of the Python sketch when a TV presenter interviews someone on the street with a hand-held microphone, pointing the mic at the interviewee when asking a question and then pointing it at himself when receiving the reply. Am I the only person whose increasing exasperation with the ludicrous rules and regulations still governing interaction with others makes me feel as though I’m now living in a permanent Python sketch?

Despite desperate pressure from the SAGE soothsayers and their media cohorts, the PM is to be commended for standing his ground and insisting all restrictions will end as of next Monday. Even if caveats keep being inserted into the promise – whether pub passports intended to coerce the young into submitting to the vaccine or the threat of continued mask-wearing – this is still the one promise Boris cannot shirk from delivering. If he doesn’t deliver, the fear is we’ll be living this way forever – and, let’s be honest, some have been so successfully conditioned they’d be quite happy with that. When divisions over the vaccine and mask-wearing run so deep that they are creating schisms between families and friends reminiscent of the Miners’ Strike, you know it’s time to curtail this social experiment. If only it were that simple to do so just by ending restrictions. They may think it’s all over, but sadly, it isn’t.

© The Editor

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MEASURE FOR MEASURE

RestaurantI guess the extent of wartime rationing was belatedly brought home to me when I read ‘War and Peace’ a few years back. Naturally, this doorstopper of an epic requires a lot of pages – 1,334 the number my own copy can boast. But the edition in question was published in 1943 – indeed it has one of those lovely handwritten dedications inside it (‘To Ronald, from Auntie Nina, 25.XII.45’), the kind that always prompt me to ponder on the identities of these mystery people and what became of them. However, what really makes this volume unique amongst the many old books I’ve picked-up over the years is that the thickness of each page is so flimsy you can almost see through the paper. I’d been aware of paper rationing on top of everything else rationed during the Second World War, but I’d never encountered the realities of it before. Newspapers, comics and magazines were hit more or less as soon as hostilities broke out, reduced to 60% of their pre-war strength, and when the rationing of paper was tightened even further as of 1942, George Orwell looked at the way in which paper supplies were distributed from the perspective of the author.

‘A particularly interesting detail,’ he wrote, ‘is that out of the 100,000 tonnes allotted to the Stationary Office, the War Office gets no less than 25,000 tonnes, or more than the whole of the book trade put together…At the same time paper for books is so short that even the most hackneyed “classic” is liable to be out of print, many schools are short of text books, new writers get no chance to start and even established writers have to expect a gap of a year or two years between finishing a book and seeing it published.’ Whenever wartime rationing is discussed today, the limitations on food and the impact that particular privation had on the nation tends to fall under the spotlight; but, of course, clothing was rationed, as was fuel (primarily coal), as was petrol, as was soap and dozens of other items it’s fair to say we take for granted. When it comes to petrol, many private vehicles gathered dust in garages for the best part of five years, and there are several public information films from the late 1940s offering advice to drivers sweeping the cobwebs away from their old bangers and wondering why they’re no longer roadworthy.

Some rationing ended before VE Day, but peacetime didn’t curtail the entire practice overnight. Various economic factors that were a natural legacy of conflict kept many of the restrictions in place and when disaster unrelated to war struck, such as the wet summer of 1946 ruining wheat crops, restrictions were reintroduced – in this specific case, bread rationing; the notoriously harsh winter of 1947 also saw the rationing of potatoes. The amount of petrol rationed was up and down throughout the remainder of the 1940s and didn’t finally end until 1950. The fact it temporarily returned during the 1956 Suez Crisis seemed to highlight how rationing was now engrained as a default response. Rationing was a major issue the Conservative Opposition fought upon during the General Election campaigns of 1950 and ’51; the Labour Government argued rationing should continue indefinitely, as though this was now the natural order of things, but the electorate sided with Churchill’s Tories in the latter contest and the promises to finally end rationing were kept – albeit as a slow ‘roll out’. Restrictions on sugar and confectionary were lifted in 1953 and everything else was de-rationed as of 4 July 1954, fifteen years after Chamberlain’s radio address.

The reluctance of Attlee’s Government to bring all rationing to an end was mostly a case of the administration trying its damndest to cling onto power, fearful of what the economic ramifications might be at a time when pre-war reliance on goods flowing into the country from the colonies (as well as home production) still hadn’t been fully restored; but it could also probably be said that rationing had become second nature as a policy, despite the population wearying of it. Governments realised it could work and that people would simply grin and bear it without rioting outside Downing Street. When the next comparable crisis reared its ugly head a generation later – the 1972 Miners’ Strike, followed by the Three-Day Week of 1974 – rationing was prepared for to the point of printing petrol coupons, but none were issued thanks to the life-saving presence of North Sea Oil. Still, the public were advised to reduce consumption in the home, and rationing did occur via electricity supplies; power-cuts became a regular feature of industrial turbulence during the period, continuing to randomly wreak household havoc until the middle of the decade. As someone whose earliest memories emanate from this time, power-cuts were normalised from day one for me and I assumed these were (and always had been) a commonplace fact of life; yes, you will be in the middle of watching ‘Blue Peter’ and the TV will abruptly switch-off without warning and you won’t think it unusual. Memory tells me when power-cuts finally ended, the drought of 1976 started the next day and then it was water’s turn to be rationed as the country appeared to stagger from one crisis to the next.

Okay, so it doesn’t take a genius to work out where I’m going with this. What the lesson of rationing taught governments was that they could inflict hardship on the populace and persuade them it was being done for the greater good; in the case of WWII, there was an element of truth in the need for sacrifice, though it must have grated a little whenever a Brit found themselves on an American army-base and had a glimpse of the plentiful supplies in the quartermaster’s stores. In each case in which rationing was employed – the Second World War, Suez, the industrial unrest of the 1970s – an initial crisis had provoked the emergency measures and people generally accepted the thinking behind the dramatic move, believing it would only be a temporary imposition that would be lifted as soon as the crisis had passed. A not-dissimilar approach had been used during the Napoleonic Wars, when the need to fund a seemingly never-ending conflict resulted in a continuous series of new taxes, not all of which vanished in the wake of Waterloo.

Governments tend to allay any disgruntled resistance whenever imposing such measures by adopting the ‘we’re all in it together’ sales technique, playing the victim and urging the nation to unite against a common enemy – whether that be Nazi Germany, Nasser, the miners’ unions, or even a coronavirus. One would imagine the vast majority of people in this country would greet the announcement that the new ‘Freedom Day’ of 19 July is definitely on (give or take a few small-print caveats) with a modicum of euphoria considering the past year-and-a half we’ve endured. Yet the voices of disquiet at this news are not necessarily emanating from the SAGE camp and all those grandstanding doom-mongers who will suddenly be deprived of the prime-time spotlight they’ve clearly grown rather fond of; it seems the pro-vaccine/anti-vaccine, pro-mask/anti-mask divides are now picking up where the Leave/Remain divisions left off – in cyberspace, at least.

In the real world, the legacy of Project Fear is already visible with the comical sight of customers attempting to eat a restaurant meal with masks on, or those who follow the latest infection rates as though watching the football results, or those who believe we should remain under house-arrest until Covid has gone the way of smallpox, which effectively means forever – interesting that the Labour Government of 1950 viewed rationing in the same way. Well, rationing did end eventually, though almost a decade after Peace in Europe was declared. And unlike in the early 50s, Her Majesty’s Opposition in 2021 is not demanding an end to emergency measures but pleading for their continuation, as Keir Starmer bleated yesterday. Even if they end on 19 July, don’t be surprised if their reintroduction is the default response to the next crisis; a precedent has been set.

© The Editor

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RUNNING MAN

Tom CourtenayWell, anybody who fell for that clearly hasn’t learnt anything from the Covid narrative – and if you haven’t learnt anything by now, you never will. Only an idiot foresaw an uninterrupted march towards 21 June in the expectation the last lingering lockdown vestiges would definitely be lifted; of course that glorious liberation has been postponed; anyone with half-a-brain knew a new variant would appear on the eve of Freedom Day and the SAGE boffins would throw a spanner in the works right at the point when their unelected influence over Government policy was threatened. Putting back the final removal of restrictions by ‘a month’ was apparently based on scientific advice re the Narnia Variant – ‘thousands of potential deaths’ or so they say; cheers once again, Professor Ferguson. Incidentally, as the official christening of variants now shies away from naming the latest one after its country of origin, I’ve decided that every new addition to the variant pantheon will henceforth be named after an imaginary realm on this here blog. What the MSM used to call the Indian Variant and now refers to as the Delta Variant will be known as the Narnia Variant at Winegum Towers.

I suppose one could feel a modicum of sympathy for those who did fall for it, but only a modicum and no more. Twitter has been abundant in video statements from the likes of Matt ‘Cockers’ Hancock over the last 24 hours, all emanating from last year and all full of ‘it’ll be over by Christmas’-type promises as evidence of taking each forecast – good and bad – with enough pinches of salt to sculpt a Biblical pillar. When it’s down to Theresa May to make a speech in Parliament that absolutely nails the futility of the Government/SAGE approach, you know the game is up. Anyway, perhaps that tediously familiar phrase ‘herd immunity’ should really be applied to the unquestioning adherence to the advice that the herd entered into with the best of intentions, placing misplaced faith in their elected representatives to deliver. The immunity of the herd is immunity to common sense, willing to sacrifice long-term freedoms for short-term gain, handing over personal data via vaccine passports in order to enjoy a social activity that won’t kill them, never once considering that this info will be collated, catalogued and inevitably leaked.

The pressure to conform has always been a prominent element of every society, especially those that purport to be free ones; basically, they’re far easier to govern if everyone does as they’re told – only, don’t let on this is the case. In a free society, the herd is gently persuaded into conformity not through the strong-arm tactics of a police state, but through subliminal social manipulation, something particularly effective if there’s a moral tone. Pandemic Britain has seen conformity take on a pseudo-patriotic quality in which opposition to conformity is almost regarded as treasonous. The pressure to conform in this unhealthy atmosphere has infiltrated all aspects of daily discourse so that individual choice is secondary to the collectivist consensus, and any deviation from it is tantamount to criminal.

The doctrines of the coronavirus consensus have been embraced by some as choice, whereas many others have opted out and simply submitted. Following the guidelines, shopping your neighbours if you suspect them of not following the guidelines, taking the vaccine even if in doubt, disowning your unvaccinated friends, clapping for the NHS, living in fear for your life and so on and so on; I sometimes wonder if anyone who has stuck religiously to all the advice has actually come out the other end feeling it was a worthwhile endeavour – or are they now too far gone to evaluate their sacrifice? The herd adapts to whatever demands are placed upon it as a misguided means of self-preservation and survival, but imagined safety in numbers often means insulation from those aspects of life that make it worth living. What we have seen over the past year or so has been an extreme example of the state selling conformity as a panacea, though the practice has always been there.

I recently watched the 1962 film of Alan Sillitoe’s ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ for the first time in quite a while, and it has a lot to say on the struggle to resist conformity. The author took the corruption of the amateur ethos central to the Olympic ideal and used it as a metaphor for how the integrity of the individual is sacrificed to the continuation of a society that has done him few favours. The Borstal boy played by Tom Courtenay finds a personal, internal freedom when his athletic ability elevates him above his miserable home life, the petty crime sprees that resulted in his incarceration, and the incarceration itself. The Borstal Governor, however, is essentially training him like a racehorse in order to win a cup on a sports day event against a public school, with Courtenay’s individuality subsumed by him representing the entire institution – just as the society outside its wire fences demanded his submission to a communal conformity.

The sports day sequence itself has an antiquated pomp and circumstance that now looks like the dying breath of the Empire; the film appeared just a couple of years after the end of National Service, and the fact Tom Courtenay had his acting apprenticeship interrupted by the pointless peacetime exercise of playing soldiers perhaps gives his inspired casting an additional edge. Compulsory conscription – rather than voluntary – was a contemporary example of state-sponsored conformity, though Courtenay’s character also sees the era’s ‘you’ve never had it so good’ consumer boom as merely another illusion of freedom, memorably setting fire to a pound note as his mother goes on a spending spree after receiving the money bequeathed to her by her late husband. While the rest of the family sits mesmerised by the novel new television set, the pre-Borstal Courtenay only feels alive when he’s thieving.

As his time at Borstal progresses, Courtenay’s character gives every impression his contempt for authority has been softened by the privileges bestowed upon him when training for the race; yet when he’s within a few yards of the finishing line on the day, he deliberately stops running and allows his posh-boy opponent to catch-up, overtake him and win it. His final and most devastating act of defiance is sealed by a knowing smile aimed at the furious, humiliated Governor. Some are baffled by this ending, but it always made perfect sense to me. After being dispatched to Borstal, it’s the only ‘fuck you’ opportunity the character has left to him.

Another name for Borstal was ‘approved school’, and whilst it’s closer to a cross between a prison and army barracks, there are parallels with state schools of the period. Today, there’s a lot of concern regarding what some view as the ‘Woke indoctrination’ apparently rampant in the education system; were I a parent, I’d probably be concerned too. But to me schools have always been conformist training camps, teaching children to grow up to become good little obedient citizens – Pink Floyd pointed that out over 40 years ago, after all. The majority of kids I was at school with were indoctrinated, it’s just that the ideology then was a different one; but the aim was the same. I rebelled and resisted, and I’ve no doubt there are kids today doing likewise. The rebels are always in the minority, for the majority prefer the herd mentality. I can understand its appeal – I suppose life must be far easier if you simply go with the flow, just as it can be far harder when you instinctively rebel and resist. But I do believe it must be even harder to follow that path today – and, of course, there was no social media when I began my own journey on that path, one which will stretch way beyond 21 June.

© The Editor

FOREVER PEOPLE

Huxley OrwellLast time I re-jigged my bookshelves, I decided to deliberately set aside one shelf solely for books I hadn’t read. I figured stacking the unread together side-by-side would mean whenever I finished a book, I could then return to said shelf and the next one would be patiently waiting for me without my having to root around in various drawers or cupboards, trying to locate a book I half-remembered owning and fancied taking a look at if only I could find it. Bringing some order to proceedings means such a system is a bit like having a miniature public library in my own home, one of which I am the solitary member. Selecting the book – the one that will be sufficiently engrossing to maintain my concentration for probably a good few months – reminds me of when big-money punters are presented with a line-up of delicious damsels of the kind you only get in cinematic portrayals of brothels. I really am spoilt for choice; but at the moment, roundabout a quarter of the shelf’s residents now remain unread, and this week I reduced the unread numbers anew by picking a fresh one out, a 1939 novel by Aldous Huxley called ‘After Many a Summer’.

The blurb on the back of this Penguin Modern Classics edition printed in 1974 proclaims the story is ‘at once grotesque and realistic, farcical and reflective, of an attempt on the part of a rich man to prolong the span of human life indefinitely’. I’m only three chapters in, but the intriguing set-up already has me hooked; and while I don’t want to read any critical assessments or reviews of the novel until I finish it (spoilers etc.), I’m pretty certain the mysterious millionaire who lives in a Californian castle and plans to ‘prolong the span of human life indefinitely’ has more than a touch of William Randolph Hearst about him – or John Paul Getty or Howard Hughes, or any one of the numerous self-made American men that created a large cultural, political and financial splash in the first half of the twentieth century, many of whom I presume Huxley must have personally encountered and observed following his relocation to Southern California in the late 1930s.

Anyway, there was one utterly minor and innocuous, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene I read in the book today that caused the unwelcome spectre of the here and now to gatecrash the escapist 30s ambience – and I really resent the fact it had the temerity to appear. A couple of characters met for the first time and shook hands; so what, eh? Had I read that sequence at any other point of my life, I would barely have given it a second thought and would’ve immediately moved on to the next sentence. But what the hell was my instant reaction when I read it in 2021? Well, I thought of the characters not observing social distancing and actually making physical contact with one another – no gloves, no masks, no hand sanitizer; shit, they weren’t even members of the same household. F**k! It’s really come to this. How pathetic. That’s what more than a year of Project Fear propaganda seeping into and corroding my psyche has done. And I’m ashamed to say it also sometimes barges its way into a movie or TV show from the late, lamented lost world before Covid when I virtually visit – even when the whole point of going there is to get away from here.

I don’t want this way of living to become so normalised that it contaminates the past as well as the present; but if some zealots get their way, it will pollute the future too. Yes, stand aside for a moment, Professor Neil Ferguson, and step forward Professor Susan Michie of University College, London – another member of the motley SAGE crew and a repeat offender when it comes to dispensing increasingly unhinged advice. She has made it clear she will be more than happy for the ‘emergency’ restrictions imposed upon individuals to keep them in a state of perpetual paranoid panic during the pandemic to continue for the rest of our lives. Not for her any optimistic projected deadlines when coronavirus measures can finally be lifted and life can try to reclaim normality – no, Prof. Michie wants us all to ‘stay safe’ until we breathe our last; and chances are that won’t be too distant, because the prospect of restrictions being permanent instead of temporary will probably provoke many into bringing that last breath about far earlier than intended. Prof. Michie has even dismissed the vaccine as the so-called ‘silver bullet’ that can diminish the threat of the virus – something which must come as great comfort to those who made themselves ill submitting to it after the likes of Michie’s crackpot cult demanded everyone must have it pumped into their bloodstream, whether vulnerable to the virus or not.

On the subject of individual responses to living in the shadow of Covid, Prof. Michie has spoken of ‘the behaviour of social distancing, of when you’re indoors, making sure there’s good ventilation or if there’s not, wearing face masks and hand and surface hygiene. We’ll need to keep these going in the long term and that will be good not only for Covid but also to reduce other diseases.’ Well, it beats building up an immunity system in the time-honoured natural way, I guess. Prof. Michie’s vision of this design for life without living is all about normalising it; she compares the wearing of masks and social distancing becoming second nature to the way in which donning seatbelts or picking up dog-shit have now become second nature. ‘It’s not going to be a huge big deal, the kind of behaviours we’re talking about,’ she says. Prof. Michie doesn’t shy away from this ‘long term’ agenda, and her definition of ‘long term’ is ‘I think forever to some extent because this isn’t going to be the last pandemic’. Brilliant. And it goes without saying that we all want to live in Michie-World, don’t we, kids?

The long-trumpeted ‘Freedom Day’ of 21 June – when we can all express gratitude to our glorious leaders for allowing us to exercise civil liberties that are a right in free, democratic societies – is now predictably in doubt courtesy of the latest invented variant; but the benevolent Prof. Michie evidently has the good grace to keep selflessly planning our futures on our behalf, bless her. And if her recommended sacrifice of individual freedoms, opposition and dissent for the greater, communal good sounds suspiciously…well…Communist, perhaps it’s no real surprise to discover that Prof. Michie is a leading light in the Communist Party of Great Britain and was – according to ‘The Spectator’ – known as ‘Stalin’s Nanny’ whilst an Oxford student, which sounds a suitably cuddly nickname; she was also once married to one of Comrade Corbyn’s advisers. When you’re made aware of all that, her notion that we should remain isolated in social bubbles until kingdom come and suppress any questioning of lockdown wisdom doesn’t seem so radical; it just feels very Soviet – or, more fittingly, Chinese.

Implementing a pandemic strategy developed by a Communist State in Western democracies – and witnessing the complete compliance of the populace – must have filled Susan Michie’s heart with joy. She’d praised China’s hardline approach in a tweet even before the West copied the model, and the overnight media careers of previously (and rightly) anonymous boffins that the implementation of this model gave rise to are something that many of them are clearly reluctant to relinquish – Prof. Michie included. Well, I don’t think I have any other unread Huxley novels standing on my special shelf, though perhaps I won’t need to read them if I have; I’ll just take a cursory glance at the news headlines, for there are the latest works by Huxley, and Orwell, and JG Ballard; turns out they weren’t novelists after all – just journalists with crystal balls.

© The Editor

THE GLOOM IN JUNE

BorisRemember the good old days of the Brazilian Variant? Nah, me neither. Sounds good though, doesn’t it – makes me think of Pele, Jairzinho, Astrud Gilberto and the Girl from Ipanema. Apparently, it was a hip variant a couple of months ago; I only know this from re-reading a recent post a day or two back and it was referenced there. Amazing how quickly we got over that one innit. Nobody remembers the poor old Brazilian Variant now we’ve got the Indian Variant – or is that already passé? That’s the trouble with these bloody variants – fashions change so quickly. If the Brazilian Variant is so last season, does that mean the Indian Variant is still ‘in’ – or has it been superseded because the professional doom-mongers with a heavy investment in Project Fear need their constant supply of Covid remixes to keep them in a job? It seems the chic variants change on a weekly basis and everywhere is entitled to one of its own. Expect the Accrington Variant, the Stockport Variant and the Huddersfield Variant any day now.

Guess what – it turns out the backlog of untreated, non-coronavirus ailments that came about with everything being sidelined for the Covid avalanche that surprisingly didn’t leave the NHS an apocalyptic wasteland means any significant upsurge in fresh Covid-related cases will push our national religion ‘to the brink’ once again. A pity we had to close those empty Nightingale hospitals, really; but I suppose that’s what happens when you rely on Neil Ferguson to provide you with projections. I’ve a feeling had he been around to hear Orson Welles’ ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast in 1938 he’d have been reeling off stats about how many millions the Martians were poised to wipe out. Anyway, another of those pseudo-scientific bodies with abbreviated names that sound like parodies of international espionage organisations from Bond movies has beaten the most infamous lockdown-breaker outside of Dominic Cummings to it this time round. The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group is otherwise known as ‘Nervtag’, and one of its members has issued what Fleet Street and the BBC tend to describe as ‘a stark warning’ as we count down the days to the official lifting of remaining Covid measures.

Yes, for all the ‘almost normal’ behaviour of some and the waiting-with-baited-breath caution of others, only an idiot will have imagined we would approach the D-Day of 21 June free from one more scientific soothsayer prophesising Armageddon, and the Man from Nervtag – who goes by the name of Professor Ravi Gupta – is first out of the blocks as we head towards the final stage of restriction relaxation by declaring the country is in the early stages of a ‘third wave’. For God’s sake, can’t someone just provide them all with sandwich boards and let them loose on Oxford Street to proclaim the end of the world is nigh to their hearts’ content? But we all know that ain’t gonna happen to the academics and scientists whose message is conducive to the narrative favoured by the MSM. Prof. Gupta is based at the University of Cambridge and has been sufficiently impressed by the Indian variant to urge the Government to postpone the ending of Covid measures, possibly by a ‘few weeks’. If a week is a long time in politics, Lord knows how long a few of them are in coronavirus measurements.

According to Prof. Gupta, one of the reasons why a third wave is creeping up on us is due to the vaccine engendering ‘a false sense of security’ – though, to be fair, I think he has a point there; never before has something so new and so untested been thrust upon such a vast mass of people at such short notice and sold as the ultimate pandemic panacea when there’s no way anyone can truly know it will do what it says on the tin. The very authorities that had forecast death and destruction on a scale unseen since the Black Death were evidently exaggerating just a bit, yet we’re expected to take their word at face value when it comes to the vaccine – and people have taken that word in good faith because they’re desperate to return to a semblance of normality. No wonder it risks fabricating a false sense of security. If one were to accept Prof. Gupta’s argument, then it could well be a dangerous state of affairs if people think they can simply pick-up where they left off with their lives 14 months ago in the belief the jab will serve as an anti-Covid suit of armour – though they can’t really be blamed when the scale of the vaccination programme, stretching way beyond all the groups actually vulnerable to Covid, certainly gives the impression to the layman that the Government finally appears to know what it’s doing.

Mind you, its salesmen have mastered the art of scaring the populace into doing as they’re told, generating the uncomfortable feeling of living in a never-ending Public Information Film whereby every step we take brings us into contact with yet another terrifying, life-threatening danger we need to safeguard against. But at least most of those not terrified into a permanent state of cowering submission by more than a year of relentless propaganda are acting as if the lingering Covid restrictions have been lifted as it is. The mental ramifications of lockdown may take a little longer to recover from – and require keeping an eye on; but for many the 21 June deadline is merely a formality that has its greatest relevance for the business world, especially the hospitality industry. As soon as pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants can dispense with some of the more impractical safety measures, ones that are probably preventing punters from returning to their premises in greater numbers, the better for their industry and the economy in general.

There were numerous occasions over the past year when so much of the advice of the Government on combating the coronavirus would have been impossible to follow if one wished to remain sane. At times, the silliness of some reminded me of the ‘Young Ones’ episode where Neil the hippie sits under the kitchen table, having designated the tiny space as his fallout shelter because he’s convinced the bomb is about to drop; when he reads aloud (in all seriousness) from ‘Protect and Survive’, the actual early 80s official Government manual on how to cope following a nuclear holocaust, the futility of the advice is writ large, and the studio audience laughs accordingly. If today’s TV had the balls to produce an equivalent comedy show, perhaps an equivalent character to Neil could read aloud some of the suggestions for keeping Covid at bay and their similarly silly nature would elicit a similar response. Ah, but don’t hold your breath. Switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead.

The idea that nobody would engage in an embrace until Michael Gove gave them the green light was patently ludicrous, though it does make the ambitious assumption that everyone has someone to hug, which is sadly not the case. Social alienation for many will not be so easy to shake off, whether restrictions end on 21 June or a few weeks later; it won’t be easy for those to whom it was a debilitating new shadow falling upon their lives and it won’t be easy for those to whom it was an extended reunion with a dreaded houseguest they’d been plagued by before. Any of the mental health ailments associated with lengthy detachment from one’s fellow man and the world he inhabits – agoraphobia, depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts et al – don’t disappear overnight just because a career bridegroom announces society will reopen on a specific date any more than an alcoholic can completely conquer his addiction in 24 hours. The long-term psychological damage of what we’ve been through probably won’t be accurately quantified for years, though this to me is the real ‘third wave’ we will have to deal with.

© The Editor