Travelling without moving

Occasionally there’s that parent who is living – or at least experiencing – their frustrations, ambitions, dreams, goals and what-have-you through their kids lives. The more train-wreck end of the documentary market feasts upon these instances where these families are famously dysfunctional. Let’s be honest, it makes good (if not wholesome) telly. Indeed, there are some mighty famous names from the UK and to an oft more dramatic degree – where else? – the USA.

How I scoff, tut and shake my head. Who would do such a thing?

Me.

Turns out COVID19 has changed the world to such an extent that my travel plans/ambitions have been put on ice. My eco warrior halo shines brightly with a tally of zero flights since March ‘twenty. Google Maps monthly summary shows travel limited to local villages, often by bicycle. (Although I have been from Mumbai to Dubai to Durban to Dubrovnik via the ol’ haunted fishtank. Aka Zoom/Teams/BlueJeans/GoogleMeet. I have traveled the many corridors of corporate video software that’s for sure.)

From my desk I am so a globetrotter dahling.


Firstborn, however, is doing it for real.

She can tell her own story in her own way and I look forward to it immensely in due course! In fact, some time in mid June my role as airport chauffeur will afford the earliest first-person opportunity since April. Hmmm. That’s ages. While we wait for her tales of derring do, what’s to be done?

Fret, apparently.

What I didn’t expect to be so anxiety inducing? A new sensation: powerless parent. Silly really, because she is thousands of miles away, across a vast ocean, seven time zones distant: what on earth did I expect?

(To releive any potential stress for you dear reader, she's better-than-fine: thriving and having the proverbial good time. She is starting her voluntary work this week... super cool.) 

Expected or not – thoroughly planned as we were – a couple of minor hiccups set my blood pressure soaring. When she struggled to get cash and a SIM card? I simply couldn’t sleep. And here I was thinking when the bambinos grow up I can stop worrying…

While I have acted as travel agent, destination consultant and administrative assistant I neglected to manage my own neuroses. Full marks for being a fool! Thankfully, she’s got a solid head on her shoulders so her Dad’s worrying will have approximately zero affect upon her.

The challenge now is not to over-react to the next, inevitable, travel hiccup. [Sigh.] I dearly wish I had my own travels to worry about…

Bon voyage!

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Eggscuses eggscuses: lessons in supplier management

In the absence of high-falutin’-corporate-power-gigs of the old world, I appear to be having some sort of withdrawl symptoms. So it’s high time I applied some gold-standard-top-tier-blue-chip business rigour to the household, forthwith referred to as BeerCo.

This tale of high anxiety, woe and bitter industrial intrigue relates to one of my – it’s always “my”if you are that guy in that corporate – flagship local supplier arrangements. Now we at BeerCo have a strict moral code of ethical something or other. It’s brilliant – I wrote it obvs – and we have it on a giant brass plaque in our oppressive reception area, alongside the glass cabinet of industry awards wot we purchased our way into being awarded. Point five, or seven (or whatever) clearly states “we commit to reduce our food miles* in our canteen where possible (whilst turning a blind eye to a penchant for winter Strawberries and Tomatoes and simply don’t ask about avocados).”

Herein lies the local supply issue I wish to highlight and explain how our world class Agile Lean Methodology disciplines averted a short term nutritional disaster.

We have struck a supply chain agreement with a local domesticated organic fowl artisan production collective. This comprises of a call off system for high protein organic orbs in MOQs** of six. These products are rich in selenium, vitamin D, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper. The packaging is bio-degrateable and we have even trailled a system of returning unsoiled packaging to the factory door. Orders have reached a standard dozen per transaction and the run rate has been two, perhaps three orders per week. As recompense there has been a credit and deposit system adopted where overpayment is accepted as is limited time debt trading terms.

Until this week.

Without a single word of pre-notification the implied run-rate standard SLA*** we had in place has been broken. The immediate implication is an additional item line order to be placed in the regular restocking missions that are undertaken to the back-up supplier distribution centre****. An unintended knock of this is the increased wear and tear on the transport infrastructure*****. Our JIT digital ordering system***** has been distrupted and this has stress tested our failover modes to the extreme.

Naturally I have raised this unannounced interruption of SLA with the relevant executive of the producer in a one-to-one-face-to-face-socially-distanced-meeting-scenario******. His entirely unacceptable corporate response was that a “chicken had died” and they shamelessly expected BeerCo to absorb supply delays due to (frankly forseeable) inhouse supply chain distruption fundamentals. (This beggars belief. Far be it for me to consider here where our internal supply-chain-technical-audit team stand on catastrophe management in this case. Questions will need to be answered at the highest level******* and court action will likely be considered. Procedures will require immediate review. We may be exposed in other supply arenas: this could be the tip of the iceberg lettuce.)

Rest assured that death of elderly poultry will not stop a full review into supply procedures herein. A BeerCo all-hands will be called at short notice******** and motions will be put before the committee. The contigency measures are now to be tested to the full as we ride out the inevitable backlash from consumers********.

Again, quick witted, British ingenuity came to the rescue with the junior team prepared to accept beans on toast as a fallback strategy.

Thank heavens our exceptional BRITISH exceptionalism of stiff-upper lip has held firm in these trying times.

I leave it to you dear reader to leave comments wherein you propose the moral or learning we might take from this sorry tale.********


*miles, not kilometers. We’re British and therefore special. We don’t do forrin distances.

**Minium Order Quantity

***Service Level Agreement

****Waitrose

*****maybe an extra bag for life gets used, but it is definitely around 200g more per shop carrid to the car.

******JIT digital ordering system = When we run out of eggs we send Will a WhatsApp Just In Time, or wander over and knock

******Will and I went for a walk

*******Gilly & Debbie

********Dinner tonight. I’m making veggie meetballs with a roasted-tomato sauce.

*********when the boy fancies an omlette he might have to have a toastie instead today

**********best stupid egg pun wins.

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Love thy neighbour? At least introduce yourself.

Blessed are we with some splendid neighbours here in the rolling valleys of Wiltshire. With lockdown 3.0 dragging its heels, a cheery hello on a walk is a tonic. The village WhatsApp group is helpful and good natured. Need eggs? Someone has chooks. Flat car battery? A charger.

You just know there is a “but…” coming and you’d be right.

When do blogs turn into rants? [Checks notes] About, ooh, now.

Next door was a derelict farm building and is now a bijou dwelling. Freshly filled with good, decent folk who are settling in well. This post is not about them. It is about another neightbour who is directly across the street.

I encountered the latter on yesterday’s daily fresh air fix and was bluntly cross examined about the new arrivals. Who are they? Where have they come from? Being a helpful sort, a cordial member of the community I answered, nodded at his supposedly pithy responses and – not a moment too soon – carried on.

Seconds later I experienced that “dammit” moment. What our French friends encapsulate gorgeously as L’esprit de l’escalier.

Dear reader: I know you are bursting with a question! How did yours truly know all the information about our newest neighbour? Well – hold on to your pyjama bottoms, put down your tea – the day after they moved in we knocked on their door, handed over a bottle of “welcome to the neighbourhood” fizz and introduced oursevles. We had – drumroll please – a chat.

Why can’t Lord Snipealot go say “hello” FFS? Am I doing this wrong? When a next-door are new, pop over and say “welcome”, no?

My uber-wit, mic-drop, way-too-late comeback skills need work I’ll grant you. So for the record, here is the energy I should have conveyed at the casual interrogation:


“Why don’t you ask them yourself you dick?!”

THINGS I DIDN’T SAY, FEB 2021

Other words have been edited from the above because I am a grown up. (This I keep telling myself. As if the mantra will somehow make it true one day. Because it has totally worked in other areas of life. Like, totally.)

[FYI: Dude has lived in the village forever, is not on the WhatsApp group and is minted. His conversation is always tilted to gaining/retaining the upper hand (as opposed to a more humane, appreciative inquiry). Next time I see him, I hope a little more cynical readiness will be with me.]

And there it is. We live in strange times. Times where a little empathy goes a long way. Where reaching out to people helps us all.

It’s not diffiuclt to be nice. It’s not about wealth. You just have to make a teensy effort.

Worth it if you want community.


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Rewatching the movies in 2021

Odd how with all this time and the gushing availability of telly it’s taken me until now. Am slow to notice what my brain is doing unbidden.

In essence, I have been less-than-consciously re-evaluating what shows/movies are telling me. (Not just on the haunted fishtank, I find myself doing this when I re-read a book and when I listen to people speak…) A rare night when we agreed to watch a “classic” – en famille, instead of separate screens – is when the penny dropped. Also, our household conversations about characters – fictional or otherwise – have soared/raged to new heights as teenage perspectives blossom.

Am going to use a couple of case studies to attempt an explanation.

[WARNING: Contains spoliers.]


Alien (1979, Ridley Scott).

This fabulous movie scares me witless. Still does. But now I see it differently. (Spolier alert!) Now, I see a social bubble who have hitherto been super strict. Somewhat unwillingly, they venture outdoors for the first time since lockdown. When they do, what happens? They pick up a novel organism, bring it back within their bubble and fail to adequately quarantine the host. He – dramatically, as patient zero – shares (?!) the thing and it rampages. They have no idea what it is and have no idea what to do about it nor how to stop it. Almost everyone dies.

If only they’d stayed strictly in lockdown. Tsk.

Then the survior self-isolates for fifty-seven years.

I’ve just realised that in the sequel – Aliens – the protagonist awakes and tries to warn everyone. Then, because people are so smart in the future, there’s a whole “whatevs: it’s a hoax, you’re making it up” theme and they refuse to believe her. Except shadowy, powerful folk do know all about it.

Turns out they did all along, d’oh!

Then it all gets icky. Again. Only moreso. Will we humans never learn?

When I watched the film years ago? Things that struck/geekily-bothered were a cool spaceship had stupid CRT vis-screens, poor graphics and dreadful fonts: was it retro-fitted to have a 1970s video-game aesthetic? Or, with it being a commerical vehicle, when they bought the Nostromo – more likely the bean counters at Weyland-Yutani Corp’ refuse to tick the option box for “futuristic”. No way the crew would have spec’d it thus. Just like company car choices from my days in corporate Britain.

USCSS Nostromo VDU/1994Cavalier CDX dashboard

I know. I’ve changed.


Superman (1978, Richard Donner)

It has been pointed out that – viewed from the Twenty Twenties – the most unrealistic plot element of the Superman story is that the newspaper his alter-ego works for is profitable. The rest of it is all rather normal.

Really?

Yes.

Consider the characters starting with Superman/Clark Kent. He’s a super-talented illegal immigrant, forced to be his true self only in secret. A guy who happliy wears lycra when he’s not at the office. His colleague is a super-sassy, intellgent lady who takes no BS. The boss? Bit of a dinosaur. No, lot of a dinosaur but seems to be unquestioned in his position of power. The bad guy? A greedy property developer who could oh-so-clearly benefit from counselling to resolve rather obvious childood trauma. He is rich, entitled, privileged and sexually frustrated because Lois doesn’t “get him”.

And they say comic books are fantastic, ridiculous, irrelevant.


La La Land (2016, Damien Chazelle)

I can’t abide a musical. Would rather stick pins in my eyes and in the very first scene the cast burst into song and dance in a traffic jam. I was transfixed when I should’ve projectile vomited. Why didn’t I smash the TV? Well, whilst, yes, it is a completely, utterly absurd scene it also transports me to that overpowering energy, nay, feeling that grips my chest when stuck fast in traffic. IE: hysteria. Albeit with frustration, not song and ensemble dance routine.

Watch it here.

Now imagine a dark, rainy UK motorway in January. Ground to an engine-off-halt on – say – the M4 has such a hulking infinite critical mass singularity of hopelessness that you might as well jump onto the roof of your car and scream your lungs out. Oddly, it makes La La Land alternate-universe-compelling viewing.

Then we are treated to a (quite brilliant) tale of folk who have to give up on their dreams to achieve success. [Audible sigh]

Talented, single minded Seb (Ryan Gosling) laments how nobody understands nor values (his) art. In fact, he is forced to sell out to succeed*. This is resonant not just in these pandemic times but illustrates how music has been suffocated by big business with Simon Cowelly-Spotification. Talented artists are demeaned to play brainless pop and paid fractions of a penny for streaming of their creative genius.

I would suggest the latter plot point was a vivd and deliberate howl of anguish from the writers.

*But wait! His dream does come true in the movie (albeit in cleverly revealed) bitter-sweet fashion. Alas, the least believable part of the film is that Seb’s jazz club is a viable enterprise. In 2016 it was doubtful. Viewed from 2021? Outside of the major global cities, will there be any (non-corporate) music venues left?


Conclusion: I am old, cynical and grouchy. But we knew that already hey?

Any suggestions of what I should re-watch next?

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Scarcity and the subtle art of staying at home.

As of early January [checks notes for year…] ,er, 2021 the inhabitants of England are told, again, to stay at home. A simple instruction, with – as I understand it – a simple aim. That is, an easily transmissible contagion is afoot and keeping people apart will limit it’s spread. Do that effectively, with discipline, for long enough and people will cease to get sick from it. Job done.
Of course, simply retreating into the bunker and locking the door isn’t going to work because you’d run out of provisions and die. Sub optimal. A case of…

“Doctor, how was the procedure?
The operation was a success!
How is the patient?
Mmm? Oh, they died.”


Hence we have exceptions. We are given legitimate reasons to go outside, to leave the compound, to blink in the watery winter sun. The government have detailed these exceptions. Ergo, it’s a simple case of following the rules and “job’s a good’un” yeah? Any questions? No? Good.

Except apparently not. If 2020 has taught us something – and by “us” I don’t include the Johnson government – it’s that when you make something scarce, swathes of people start to defy the laws of behavioural physics. 2020 itself is not our teacher, nor is COVID-19. We are merely being reminded and given vivid illustration of what many already know rather than being schooled. I choose language carefully here because some people are being taught over and over, but what they are refusing to do is learn.
(Clearly, many people are not in need of a lesson, they nod sagely and comply with lockdown because although they don’t like it, they get it.)

I am moved to write this piece because I have left the house today. Given the short hours of northern hemisphere daylight, the (unusual) absence of precipitation, noticeable midriff excess and sheer frustration I have been inspired – probably not the right word – to get out and take the permitted exercise. IE: A convoluted marched lap of the locality here in rural Wiltshire.

“Hello… yes, bit chilly… and to you too” summarises the flavour of each conversational exchange en route. Not stopping, I encountered several locals on apparently similar constitutional missions. Recalibrating the radar then takes in the can’t-do-this-from-home-workers people. Telecoms, electricians, plumbers and even a thatcher in evidence – their liveried commercial vehicles – plying trades. The local farmer paving over more of paradise for no apparent reason. An all but empty bus. On the main road, larger trucks. No school run today.
Recalibrating…

Noticing: there’s still a lot of traffic.

Eventually a mildly ta-da realisation. Not all of these people need to be out.

Then a question: why the flip-flop are they not at home?

People are not at home because… ___________________________________________________________________


[Space left intentionally blank for your answer in 15 words or less: use the comment function. No prizes, just for fun.]



A lifetime of answers rather possibly.

(An awful lot of judging motives rather probably.)

Yet a fascinating phenomenon. Why go out?
I mean, it’s January in England. IE: it’s bleak.

Christmas is but a memory (apart from the extra weight which remains). Back to work (notionally) this week. Bills to be paid. Summer an impossibly long way away. In essence, January is a zero-laughs, rubbish month and many of us happily wish it away for a spring morn’.

So – in an admittedly narrow sense – this winter lockdown is a gift right? January has been banished!

Wrong. It seems that people cannot bear to stay indoors and simply do the right thing.
It’s been less than 24hrs and the madness has set in: “We have to get out!”

(Imagine the answers the police are getting when challenging motorists as to their reason for their journey. I recall a rumoured 2020 Swansea seafront summer lockdown incident where the family from Birmingham had come to see the sea: an essential 200mile round trip. Then there was that chap who had to drive to Barnard Castle to check his eyesight…)

In a parallel universe 2021 it is business-as-usual January where everyone is – oh the irony – self-locked-down making hygge: box-set-binging with hot-chocolate and blanketed snuggles, riding out the winter by not going outside.

So if January sucks, just why do people want to go out?


Part of the behaviour lies in the influential nature of scarcity. There is the human condition that generates an increased desire for that which is rare. Simply that if you threaten to take something away, then oh-my-days, hells bells, heavens to Betsy people want it more. Step in economists to tell us all about supply and demand. And yet… and yet…


Many people are defying the economists. They are defying rational behaviour…


Summary thought: Scarcity. It makes people cray-cray.

Request to you: So next time you’re heading out. Have a word with yourself. Lockdown means stay at home. Are you making an essential journey? Have a rational word with yourself again stop making reasons up, go back inside and have a cup of tea.

If you want to learn more about the principles or scarcity, get in touch. 

And if you want a reading recommendation on the topic? Likewise.


Stay well, stay indoors, don’t embarrass us both okay?

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“To all the girls I’ve loved before…”

In memoriam: Ken Jenkins who passed November 2020 aged 91.

The scene here needs to be set. The backdrop critical, so come with me…

When & where:

It’s the tail of the ’90s and younger self was bringing a new friend on a cultural immersion tour of Swansea. Said friend – Allister – enjoyed a night on the town and we were to imbibe in a Swansea pub crawl from The Robin Hood, to The Tredegar Arms to who knows where. Pints and pints. A kebab shop would doubtless be in the mix.

The Tredegar Arms, Sandfields, Swansea:

Essentially a couple of terraced houses knocked into one: the Sandfields, by the beach, a few streets away from the Vetch Field and HMP Swansea. Think full Phoenix Nights and dubbed with fab-lass Swansea accents. Or for a darker edge, check out the sublime local ’90s movie: Twin Town. These tremendous pieces of celluloid are much more biopic, much more love letter than many viewers realise…

By the time we arrived at The Tredegar’ karaoke night had long set sail. (To be fair, we were several sheets to the wind too. So let’s not worry about details and go with what I remember okay?) A snug affair – a repurposed front room! – with the regular-Friday night crowd. Packed in ladies in spangly blouses, poodle perms. Pints of bitter being handed chain-style from the crowded bar over to the busy tables. The “stage” itself had a bar-stool, a tinsel curtain backdrop and some coloured lights.

Pubs and nights like this pretty much don’t exist in the English home counties. Industrial Britain developed these jovial, raucous, unglamorous, hard drinking, hard partying establishments. From Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Swansea, Belfast, Glasgow… They share a vibe and are absolutely bloody brilliant.

[Full Swansea MC/DJ] “Next up: Ken Jenkins. C’mon Ken…”

White hair coiffured, shirt unbuttoned one-too-many, slacks crisp and slip-ons just so, Ken took his cue and sauntered up to the stage. His practiced air as if we were witnessing his residency at a bar on the Strip in ‘Vegas. Elvis, Sir Tom Jones, Ken… In today’s language, Ken bossed it.

As he took to the stool the music filled the room on cue.

We held our pints and our breath.

“To all the girls I’ve loved before…”

A mellifluous tenor, white teeth, microphone held like an expensive cigar. But none of that describes the perfect pause between the lyric “loved” and “before”. In time with the syncopation and accents of the music. Yet, more importantly, accompanied by a theatrical knowing wink to the “girls” in the front row.

Listen here: Engelbert Humpadink made a good fist of it, but didn’t have the chops to clip the word “loved” with such chutzpah as Ken.

Of course, the “girls” went wild… Bawling “we love ew Kehhhhnnn!”

Our posse included Mum & Dad, Gilly, myself, Allister and very probably Sue, Ken’s wife. (His third.) We cheered his arrival on stage, listened and when he was done clapped our heartfelt applause.

Legend

At that point my friend Allister all but collapsed. Alarmed, we assisted him, but the cause of his doubling over was laughter. The rest of us – locals – hadn’t noticed the cause. What on earth was it? Well, moments before a rotund minicab-wallah had forced his way into the bar and – with a South Walean, matter-of-fact attention getting bellow – in a pause between tunes issued forth the following information:

“TAXI FOR JONES.”

Us Welsh didn’t bat an eyelid, whereas Al’ expected the whole pub to sup-up and cram into the waiting car. After all, isn’t every Welshman a Jones? To be fair, a few minutes later the raucous, frisky, Jones party – all ladies – were trying to bodily kidnap Al’ from the kerbside as he helped collect their half-finished glasses.

Just another night in the Sandfields I guess… but it etched Ken into my memory forever.

RIP.

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Do they know it’s Chrsitmas?

I enjoy hanging out with man’s best friend. Love a cwtch with a cat. Am firmly of the opinion that if you take on a pet, you are signing up for a lifelong commitment and must treat animals with respect: care for their wellbeing, ensure their safety. If you abandon a domesticated animal, you should be a) ashamed of yourself and b) probably prosecuted.

There. Am hoping that is crystal’.

In the batshit – ouch – crazy year that is 2020, we have witnessed all sorts of weird and, just occasionally, wonderful things. Conspiracies have moved up a whole new set of gears, facts are not the dependable currency they once were and the notion of society is (involuntarily) under scrutiny. (I will gesture to the vast debris field that is politics but not go there if you don’t mind.)

Health of swathes of the population has been damaged, many fatally. The impact economically? So very many good, diligent, talented, hardworking people have had their livelihoods whipped away overnight. The “viability” of their trade/profession/business has been upended and skewered straight out of left field.

Breathtaking. Distressing. Heartbreaking.

And yet I have found a bridge too far.

[Perhaps writing about it here will offer catharsis? If you can shed light on or provide a sensible argument for the following, please comment.]

Triggered by a post on local social media:

Do they know it’s Christmas?

It’s the second sentence. (Well, I say sentence in the absence of consistent punctuation. I mean the phrase after the full stop.)

“It gives the animals who haven’t got a family of their own something special on xmas day [heart emoji]”

Wait, what?!

I for one didn’t realise that “rescue” animals – and, am thinking broadly of any canine or feline friends here – are religious, let alone Christian? If Covid wipes out the human population, are we to imagine that the four legged community would celebrate the birth of baby Jeezus?

Forgive my apparent insensitivity here, but this is next-level bonkers.

Aside from those people who are struggling to make ends meet, there are folk unable to get healthcare. Folk forced to live with a plethora of sub-optimal domestic arrangements* and people – actual human ones – of all stripes who are, for no fault of their own, pitiably isolated and lonely.

I could go on.

If I did go on (and on) we would get to a time where Satan would be skating to work before the idea of Christmas presents for orphan pets (during a pandemic) had any credence.

In the twenty-first century-developed-world I am incredulous – against a backdrop of some pretty stiff competition for loss of credulity – that Christmas pressies for pooches would dimly light a single pixel on our collective societal radar ahead of the human wreckage we are faced with.

After all, the creatures in question are in care already right? (Kudos to their dedicated carers are doing sterling work.)

Perhaps if there was light hinting toward the end of the pandemic tunnel then… No. Nope. Nada. Still doesn’t work.

I am left pondering what factors would have to be in place for this to become a valid priority? If every hungry child were nourished? If employment/income was secured for the struggling? If hospital patient operations were being carried out? If key workers were able to be guaranteed safety from contagion?

[Blinks, almost imperceptable shae of the head, thousand yard stare.]

Help me out here… Is it me who needs therapy or those posting these appeals on social media?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

*mahousive understatement.

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Lockdown2:day1

Sit’ rep’

Well, the troops are taking it in their stride presently. Pizza for tea: pimped pepperoni for the boys, stoic margarita for the ladies. Tension around the garlic bread, but the extra cheese may have just swung it.

Just. It’s bally tense alright. How long can we hold out?

Bunce’s have “taken a few days off” – stress and exhaustion I expect, can’t blame the poor dabs – but you never know with social media and the Russians. So coffee from the cafetiere is all we can manage. I can make a brew and no mistake, but dammit man: I’m no barrisata. Wasn’t able to handle hot froth after the ’09 incident.

Never could from that day to this. Never will.

The weather held, enough to dry some washing, which has done a packet for morale. Odd socks, but I think I reached the airing cupboard before the gruppenfuhrer noticed. A close one for sure. Finished the Richard Osman novel which reminded me of the old days. Cups of tea, taking trips to the shop, nipping over to… Stop it. Stop. We can’t torture ourselves. Those days are gone.

More angst this evening over the tellybox viewing. Too much choice you see. When I was young we had proper shows with no oprtion but to have both racism and sexism or that plus xenophobia on a (printed) schedule. Now we have to settle for same in US politics in real time whereas TV is on catch-up/on-demand/streaming. We compromise with the BBC iPlayer: Ghosts. An excellent offering from the (original) Horrible Histories cast. But the subject matter of – among others – plague victims and dodgy MPs gave a dangerous subtext. But of course, no-one said what they were really thinking. There were laughs, sure, but were they… real? Hollow, ghoulish cackles of an embattled unit on a knife edge, jumpy, brittle, taught from a day of sheer nerves. No one mentioned the 5PM press conference. No one ever does these days. (No one says it, but we can’t bear the collective strain of random start times shattering the BBC1 schedules. How do the news anchors do it? Heck: they’re so, so brave. Little Mix may never recover from their tattered Saturday night prime-time debacle. Don’t start about Strictly’ not doing Halloween. Next slide please.)

Of course the fruit are still too green to justify making a banana bread. When I see my first loaf, that’s when we’ll know shit is real.

Used the sunlight to do minor outdoor jobs and gather some covert intel on the populace. Who are these people cheerfully walking past our outpost? Why don’t I recognise them? Fourteen years on site and that elderly man is a stranger to me. Who is he working for? Although I also noticed a lockdown dog or three. They seemed particularly fragile. Stay safe my canine friends. Curl up on the sofas, bide your time, await your calling.

Managed to raise a comm’ link to the outside via the haunted fishtank and engaged friendlies in faraway lands. We spoke in tongues, feverish with “you’re on mute” and “maybe draw the blinds so I can see you?” But we all know what we really meant. Unspoken terror. More prosaically, Andover logistics appear in similar fettle it seems but with access to locally roasted coffee beans. Lucky bastards having artisans and all.

From the international scene no word from across the Severn Bridge. I worry.

Am waiting for the inevitable discussion. We have industrial quantities in stock, but when to start? When are booze rations to be broken out on a school night? Should we binge only on weekends? What’s a school night? What’s a weekend?

My god it’s bleak.

But there is light from down under. The MAGA morons taking to Twitter are meeting resistance. Typically entitled American declarations like “well if the Dems win, y’all can count me out! I is movin’ t’Aust-ray-lee-ah!” have been met with [adopts Aussie accent] “Yah not welcome heee-rr ya COVID riddled, gun toting bigots.”

Vive la resistance: fair dinkum Australia.

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“I can’t work under these conditions…”

Picture the scene: the other day, Marlborough, Wiltshire, UK.

A popular independent English country small town high street cafe, one which is playing by and to the rules of COVID safety in early September 2020. The sun is out, the air still, the temperature conducive to sitting outside and the spaced tables are at capacity.

It is, for want of a better term, a perfect morning for cafe-ing.

A couple of things are surely different though.

If you squint, you can almost ignore the fact that the chipper team are all disguised by face masks. Conversely, you can choose to notice the braided burgundy VIP rope across the doorway giving an air of order, nay exclusivity: we have been permitted, chosen to enter. We are the privileged.

That’s when it all unravels of course…

(Not the rope. That is deluxe kit; suitably sturdy, with handsome chrome clasps attaching it with reassuring certainty to the door frame.)

The crack hospitality team plan, arrange, communicate, disinfect, nudge (socially distantly, obvs), suggest and guide. This is a well run gig. No, it’s not that. It’s more that you simply can’t get clientele like in the good old days. People start breaking ranks: joining friends on tables, sitting in different-to-allocated seats, cordially swapping tables with others to accommodate swelling and shrinking parties. Of course, the staff respond in the only way they can: by quietly letting everyone get on with it.

Intervention level = zero.

In the midst of this sub-chaotic-micro-non-bedlam the (cooler than a igloo housed cucumber) gaffer merely rolls her eyes aloud and calmly, resignedly observes proceedings with the merest hint of a sigh: “I can’t work under these conditions…”

Worse, there is a queue outside. There is demand for “new” tables. This, dear reader, is a recipe for drama! Our party arrives in dribs and drabs, letting themselves in through the VIP cordon. Quelle horreur: In full view of the queue. (Side detail: Ignoring the sign clearly stating “Please wait to be seated.”) Rebellion! This leads to the most British of moments. From my seat – nerves jangling, tension palpable, pulse quickening – I can see angry emotion in the eyes of masked upper-middle-class-quasi-patient-would-be-coffee-drinkers. Indeed, is there anything more affronting to the English than a breakdown in queue etiquette?

(I imagine that when said folks got home later that day, they would have shared with their family (plus assembled staff of nannies, gardeners and sundry) an epic tale of this egregious wrongdoing with the solemn Anglicism of all-but-ultimate outrage: “Do you know what Quentin? I nearly said something.”)

Of course nobody said something. The team dealt with our party in their usual light touch, fab service, great food, splendid coffee, good humoured way. We paid. We left. No one hurt.

I feared the above scene might have turned to a crimson lake of spilled blood but for a miraculously available table. Timely doesn’t cover it. We will never know how close we came to violence that day. I for one salute the brave staff serving coffee while running the gauntlet of permanent queue trashing, violence triggering threat. It truly is a jungle in Marlborough.


I even went back again today and then again the following day.

Why?

Because Bunce’s.

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Crewing a Mission to Mars: we’ll go*

Dear Elon, Jeff, Narendra, Li, Khalifa**

Loving your ambition! Way to explore the Solar System! Mars expects… awaits… is out there… all that jazz.

Anyways, I’ll get straight to it. When you are looking to crew missions to the red planet – after the risky, life-endagnering ones, where you sent those “right stuff” types obvs – then by all means give us a shout. Why us? Well, simply, we have undergone a rigorous dry-run. IE: We’ve been really good at that lockdown business. Surely this qualifies us for an epic adventure in the next chapter of the humankind? (I mean that and the 24/7 evidence of this planet seeming to be fully intent on going to shit, yeah?) Plus, we haven’t missed work as much as you’d think and in space there’s nowhere to spend earnings anyway. Also, can wear a mask, no complaints, no problem. (Am guessing spacesuits have masks in?) Oh, and by “epic adventure” I mean “happy to repeat sitting indoors for several months watching Netflix” now that I’ve proved it can be done on terra firma.

Look, if the Mars thing isn’t a goer, then we’d be prepared to do the “stasis” gig if you have a pop at one of Saturn’s moons instead. God knows, if I’d’ve known we were still going to be this uncertain about the future six months ago… Pop me in a cryo-chamber and wake me up when we reach orbit.

So, to finish. We’d be great explorers. Annnnd we’d teach English to everyone because surely – I mean have you seen Star Wars et al – that’s the language the universe should use by default. Proper, British English natch.

Ciao-ciao

The Beers

PS: Checking question? Can you confirm that your ships have decent coffee? (Union preferred.) Yorkshire Tea? Cups and saucers? Wouldn’t want you to make basic errors in hot drink arena: morale would plummet.


*That said, before we sign up, there are a few provisos. The non-negotiable rider requirements are as follows:

  1. An hour getting out and about every day.

Is it too much to ask? It’s that being cooped up 23hours a day means we can have an hour off right? Nothing too extravagant, just a bit of fresh air. Only we took the government word on “you’re allowed an hour” to mean we had to and it was really good to actually exercise more than normal tbf.

So a “popping out for an hour” system en route for fresh air, a stroll, a bike ride? I’ll leave the details to you.

  1. An “out of lockdown” celebratory slap up dinner.

On arrival at “base” – see, I know all the words – we would like a dinner. Recently, we had our first meal out since UK lockdown and it was bloody marvellous. So, an arrival party – cava is fine as long as the glasses are chilled – would surely be splendid for morale? As a template, you’d do worse than recreating the Crab House Café of the Dorset coast. Now, it’s going to be tricky recreating your own oyster beds but c’mon… you’re billionaires! The décor could be rustic and the kitchen/shellfish tanks are on show. I can’t tell you the joy if sitting down to eat food cooked by another. (Special touch: one of our party found a bona fide pearl in her oyster. What are the chances?! One in ten thousand. That’s the actual number of chances. So, could you arrange? Thanks everso. Any fresh seafood would be fine, we’re not fussy.)

  1. TBC

I haven’t asked the fam’ yet, but they are bound to have their own request-ettes. EG: the boy has enjoyed walking next door’s dog for instance. (Oh hell, no: we don’t want a pet dog. But it is nice taking a dog for a walk occasionally.) Also, don’t cancel major fixtures. No Wimbledon once was accepted by herself under the circumstances. But twice? No, I don’t think so.


**delete as appropriate, I mean it’s not a race – at least not for me – and I’m not fussy whose craft we use. Will universal history give a crap which nation state “won” the space race? No. No it won’t.

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