300. ‘Half Sister’

Writing anything here has been problematic for some time. Yes, looking after my father every other day for the last 16 months has been increasingly draining. But it is more than that.

Every sense and instinct prods, gnaws and pinches. Nagging insistently that that a train crash is coming. Any words I find to try and describe this cannot begin to capture what is hurtling, still quietly, down global tracks. And writing about anything else usually seems pointless, frivolous.

Maybe Iain M Banks got near to nailing down the massive force that I sense approaching, with his last few chapters in the ‘Consider Phlebas’ sci-fi novel, where a group of space mercenaries land on an ostensibly deserted planet. An enemy hides within a complex of subterranean train stations. One protagonist sets a train for a collision course into a station. The slow build accelerates, steadily, into an atomic finale, mind-blowingly presented, maybe even a little orgasmic to my odd sensitivity.

What might be coming in our realm? Truth, for sure, say my guts. In bulk. Hundreds of tonnes of it, like a giant bog brush clearing a miles-long U-bend.

Which brings in Protomartyr, a US band that has come to my attention in recent months. Making this 64-year-old feel like a teenager again. The ultimate compliment to any band!

To me, their music speaks and resonates like no other at present. Check out their last two albums: ‘Descent into Relatives’ and ‘Ultimate Success Today’. Powerful art, cutting away all shite. Music and lyrics that say, quite beautifully, how darkly and direly we are positioned in time and situation. Maybe in terminal decline – social, political and economic – as things stand.  

So many brilliant tracks, rendered so poetically, but one stands out. ‘Half Sister’. Located at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sd9nEpqVOQ&list=RD5sd9nEpqVOQ&index=1.

Resonating with every part of me, it contains an opening line that any inventive writer might happily die for:

In ancient Palestine a Roman middle manager dresses down a radical.

Don’t lie. You didn’t expect that little scene-set. Teeing up par excellence. Backed by urgent guitars, bass and drums. Fucking listen, it says. Sounding like the Smiths and Mark E Smith bumped into Nick Cave and Nirvana.

I have a backlog of so-called prophets
You are of a multitude
The offender said, “I witness truth”
Perplexed and filled with pique the jailer replied,
“Truth, what is it?”

Now the second verse leaps into the near-present, stepping up the imagery with surreal crafting. Hats off to singer/writer Joe Casey. Tying together more and more themes.

Outside of Darlington in 1963

On certain mornings a specter appeared
In a well-appointed back garden
Its voice was still heard after the sun had burned away its image
Consulting physicists and mediums, the man he realized
It was a relative, living 1000 miles away
Half sister was thinking of him very poorly on those mornings

Quite a story already, huh? The wall of sound building, circling, guitar still going forwards, promising a shift up in gear. Joe belting it out with everything he has, because it’s his job to relate that things are looking decidedly dodgy.

In Northern Michigan there was an incident in winter
A horse was hit by lightning and began to speak in a foreign language
When he was finally understood, it repeated, “humans are no good”
So they shot it behind the shed and stuffed him
He’s now on display as a lesson for the kids to always do your best
Do your best always
Always
Always

Just 3 minutes in, and it surely can’t get any better. Eternal truths, from the poor horse’s mouth, as Protomartyr rock your nuts off. You fleetingly think of being lucky enough to witness this in a live audience, moving your body and feeling your soul lift to something very unique.

And then the bass crosses a bridge and the band hit fifth, a truth train rushing into the world’s blocked colons, dipping into an even richer, gorgeous riff that they have been saving up, more urgent than ever.

Truth is a colicking horse
That serves no purpose
Truth is a babbling prisoner
You’d rather not kill if they confess

Electrifying. And they ram it to the hilt, at a time when almost every newspaper you read and virtually every brownnosing TV and radio presenter you hear is full of utter shit.


Truth is the half sister
That will not be forgotten
Truth is the half sister
That will not forgive

She is trying to reach you
Trying to reach you

As my mate Jono says, they are THE band of these times. The final message insistently knocks on the door:

She is trying to reach you
Trying to reach you

Joe Casey says she won’t forget or forgive. Forgive me, but I’m keenly anticipating that day.

299. Freedom tickets

For years, virtue-signalling and persuasion have been slyly inserted into BBC news and current affairs programmes, cajoling viewers and listeners in how and what to think.

The shite stream also flows at a deeper, more subliminal level in some of the Beeb’s drama. But they threw the stealth out of the window on Monday night’s edition of the ‘Eastenders’ soap opera. Unashamedly, the scriptwriters dusted down their worst cliches and threw the kitchen sink at a character who had made the choice not to vaccinate.

As Karen wandered away, browbeaten and faltering, I wondered if the ghost of Joseph Goebbels might have revived. Did it sit up, grinning, alerted by the BBC’s shameless use of propaganda, that depicted a normally strong character as a feeble-minded “anti-vaxxer”?

In my imagination, Joe’s phantom went one further, in its excitement at the shallow platitudes slapping millions of TV faces hard. As two other characters made it clear that vaccination is most certainly not a subject where we have the luxury of choice, I envisaged Joe’s spectre jacking itself off, breathlessly. Ghostly sperm billowing through some parallel Nazi universe, like acid rain.

  

**

My wife went for her first Covid vaccination on Wednesday. Dad has received his. So have my brother, sisters-in-law, and a host of friends. There have been a few adverse reactions in the first 24 hours, but nothing to prick up your ears. Everyone safe and sound, Lord love ‘em all.

Earlier in the week, our local GP surgery reminded me to book my appointment. I politely told them ‘no thanks’, although I will keep considering the offer.

Not rejecting it outright: but sensibly seeking a good reason to be jabbed. Maybe one will appear? If it does, I will. No drama. I have given it months of quiet thought, assessing the reward and trawling through the risk. Paying attention to a set of moving uncertainties. Like you would.   

An easy comparison is the flu jab. As a kid, I scarfed up all of the standard vaccinations: MMR, meningitis, diphtheria and so on. No problem. Then, as an adult, yellow fever and malaria jabs for trips abroad. All good. But flu? I have had it on countless occasions, and my T-cells and antibodies know what to do. Why take a jab for something my immune system deals with competently?

Wouldn’t there be at least a couple of hundred better things to do, for me and the seriously over-burdened National Health Service?  I have done my damnedest to take responsibility for my own health in recent decades. Probably two calls on the doctor over the last 20 years.

Clearly Covid-19 is a more unknown opponent. Terribly nasty to suffer, and awful to die from. No disputing that. In January 2020, Maureen and I were knocked for six, for a day or two, by a bug hitherto unencountered. New and dizzying sensations of illness were fought off. Daughter Lauren and husband Chris had something similar, wiping days from their lives.

Two months later, my son Rory attended the final day of the Cheltenham Festival races, amid 60,000 other gambling, sweaty humans, at a time when we were told that the novel coronavirus was hopping from body to body at rocket velocities. He came home the next day. We were all fine.

Those two sets of events were enough to convince me that my immune system had grappled buck-naked with Covid, and sent the nasty little toad scampering. “You can fuck right off, SARS-Cov2,” I like to think my system said, mimicking its host.

My immune system would definitely be talkative: “If you come back, twat, our T-cells know how you operate, even if our antibodies lose their power over time. You can mutate all you like shithead, but don’t forget we have been kicking the fuck out of coronaviruses for decades before you sprang out of a Chinese bat turd. We‘ve got your family blueprints, motherfucker. Do one.”

I love my immune system. What a pal. Always there, fighting my corner, remembering the weak points of my assailants, and defending mine. No surprise that I big it up. Boost it with vitamins C, D and zinc, plenty of sunlight, turmeric and garlic, and, recently, a daily juiced up half-pint of celery, pineapple, lemon, apple, ginger and cucumber. And less alcohol. Far less. Lots of walks and fresh air. Long sleeps. All told, a cracking defence, guarding me like Kev Costner shielded Whitney.

In contemplating a Covid vaccine I also gazed upon data from the illustrious and mighty World Health Organization (WHO), which cites an average 99.95% chance of surviving the virus for those under 70 who contract it. More precisely for my age group, the rate for beating infection among the 50-69 bracket is 99.5%, according to the US Centre for Disease Control. Official scientists. Not the so-called tinfoil hat brigade.

Given those brilliantly favourable odds, and my pugnacious inner minder, the need to vaccinate against something that is relatively innocuous for my age group is not clear. How is Covid-19 more of a threat to me than falling down a flight of stairs or being involved in a terrible car crash? Life inevitably carries some risk. Correct me if that is wrong.

I do get it totally, understand completely that the elderly, chronically ill and otherwise vulnerable want the jab. Of course. And anybody else that wants to feel ‘safe’ or seeks to get out again in crowds during the spring and summer. I would be gagging for it, in their shoes.

Take my missus as one example. Maureen has respiratory issues; and works with children, an environment where vaccination will be expected. So she took the jab. Fair play. Her choice. Totally respected, always and forever.

Among our three kids, Rory is up for the vaccine. Not because he fears for his health, but due to his lust for pubs, gigs and festivals when his freedoms return. Daughter Lauren is similar, feeling no need for an injection but concerned about the possible exclusion from the travel required for her job. Daughter Josie sees little reason to be vaccinated, but worries that she may be coerced by workplace dictates.

That spectrum of opinion among my nearest and dearest makes me proud. We have fed on fascinating debate and counter-debate, without sanctimony or fear. Proper conversation, no name-calling. Wit and kindness flying around. Family operating like a democracy should. Consideration, individual choice, the right to disagree. Good, respectful attitudes, enshrined in our Western ways.

Aren’t they? You might dwell on that question, if you pay any heed to the one-sided media ‘debate’ about vaccines in the UK, or the slime of Eastenders. Toxic doesn’t begin to describe the almost universal dismissal on TV, radio and printed media of anyone who quite reasonably says ‘thanks but no thanks’ to the jab. The only narrative in town says: ‘Just get vaccinated’. Never mind the tiny mortality rate for the young and healthy. Move on, nothing to see there.

You can only hope that the current generation of mainstream journalists will wake up one day and hang their heads in shame. Most of the writers for the Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, Mirror, Express and Sun. Almost all reporters for the BBC, Sky, ITV and most radio stations. As they recall the taste of their tongues deep in fathomless government and corporate rectums. And try and explain to their children that they took money for gaslighting on behalf of vaccine manufacturers and politicians.

A good journalist is duty-bound to inform. No more, no less. By that measure, it is fair, reasonable and NECESSARY to tell Joe Public that the risk in declining the jab may be matched by an equal risk in taking it. It may. The vaccines still being rushed to market represent new medical technology, whose longer-term outcomes are unknown.

(As quickly as possible, we are told the new vaccines by-pass the traditional injection of dead or live virus. Instead, cells within the body are forced to manufacture a protein that resembles the ‘spike’ protein from SARS-CoV-2, so that the immune system swings into action and produce an antibody response to that mimicking protein. In short, setting up a defence for any future coronavirus intrusion. Maybe this is a brilliant innovation. Time will tell. But, to repeat, nobody knows, yet.)

What has been terribly under-publicised or just plain ignored by media is that Covid-19 vaccines have been distributed under ‘emergency use’ authorisations, issued by bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency. Whether you like it or not, every jabbed human is taking part in a still unlicensed, and highly experimental final phase of an immense clinical trial, set to finish in 2023. Maybe that is all fine and dandy. I genuinely hope so.

But would you buy an untested car? Just because others were? Because the Queen and Dolly Parton or your favourite celebrity each bought one? Maybe you would. Whatever, you at least have the right to be told in the clearest terms that you are something akin to a guinea pig. The right not to be bombarded with unfounded reassurances that “this is completely safe”.

The Nazi Germany parallel nags a little. The Nuremberg trials at the end of WW2 gave rise to a set of principles governing human experimentation. It was deemed that without “informed consent” from those being experimented on, a war crime is committed. Is that relevant? I don’t know.

There is good reason that vaccine trials typically take a long time, and that trial volunteers are traditionally observed for years after they receive their injections. The last time that a vaccine was rushed, for swine flu in 2009-10, recipients died of narcolepsy. It is neither theory, nor conspiratorial, to underline that the current vaccine manufacturers and regulators can have no clue as to what the ‘gene therapy’ contained in Covid-19 jabs might do to people’s immune systems in 12 months, 2 years or 10 years from now.

One giant hill of shit that fouls the horizon is how vaccine manufacturers have been given legal indemnity preventing them being sued, in cases of liability claims. There are government funds from which it is possible to claim, but the bottom line is that you bear the risks of the vaccine yourself.

All good journalism would point out this uncertainty. Every day. Unremittingly and unapologetically. Instead, we are spoon fed a narrative that a Luftwaffe equivalent is bombing our bodies. An “emergency” that leaves no time for research. Deliberately creating unwarranted tension, keeping the fearful on their toes, infantilising swathes of the population. Genuinely useful and informative news about Covid-19 can sometimes seem as rare as eunuch sperm.

Some medical professionals have forecast that instances of auto-immune disease will be triggered by the vaccines. Health Secretary Matt Hancock stuttered and dithered in Parliament yesterday when asked how many recent UK deaths have occurred with potential links to the vaccine. In the European Union, as of 25 March, there had been 3,964 deaths from vaccine adverse reactions, according to the official EudraVigilance database. In Israel, where the vaccination rate is the highest in the world, the fatality numbers after two months of intensive inoculation with the Pfizer vaccine look to have soared when gauged against the preceding period.

My personal take – irrespective of what anyone says – is to watch from the sidelines. For the time being. To try and get a handle on this grand experiment in molecular mimicry. Yeah, I know, there could be some hefty consequences, including no ‘vaccine passport’, no access to pub or cinema. Oh well.

At least I don’t live in Israel, where the refusal to vaccinate is already leading to the termination of employment contracts, and effectively becoming a second-class citizen. Creating a world where being able to produce the right notification, or piece of paper, is necessary. The historical irony is almost too much to bear.

How did it get this way? A partial explanation is that journalists stopped throwing out tough questions. Such a query might ask how the unvaccinated can be a threat to people other than themselves. “How does that work Minister, once the vulnerable have the jab?”

Another might ask Mr Hancock about the peer-reviewed study in Wuhan that found a 0% asymptomatic virus transmission rate in a survey of 10 million people. In short, that healthy people were not transmitting the virus. “Minister, do we need to tweak our view of lockdowns and masks?” (I might have to reconsider that Rory brought the virus home from Cheltenham.)

At the end of this long and tortuous road sits one obvious question. One that everyone with any spirit of enquiry in their DNA should be asking of ‘authorities’ that have shot down our freedoms, irrevocably screwed up the education system, murdered thousands of recovering elderly in care homes, shut down our entertainments and pleasures and lifted mental health and domestic violence to new heights.

Here’s the question. What absolute certainties will the Covid-19 vaccine bring, what new benefits that we can rely on to compensate for the Himalayan range of time, money, energy and life shoved down the tubes over the past 12 months?

All I can honestly see, for sure, with 100% certainty, from the manufacturers and governments, beyond all the constantly-changing percentages of death and hospitalisation risk, is that it will ………help ease the symptoms of the virus if you ever happen to get it.

What? Is that the promised land, the ticket to freedom awaited by so many since floppy Boris declared the need to ‘flatten the curve’ for a few weeks? Our symptoms most definitely will not feel so bad. Chapeau! Let’s break out the champagne.

What has been made abundantly clear is that after receiving the ‘shots’ you will still have to social distance, wear a mask in shops, stay away from strangers and sanitise. Same old new normal. On with the zombie show, in the open-air prison. Maybe you think it’s OK to be misled non-stop?

And what about saving lives? That jury is out, standing by a closed pub, still watching the death figures. A ‘Third Wave’ of virus is being talked up by government advisers and media like a movie booked for the autumn. Beware the ‘variants’, say the experts. ‘Vaccine refuseniks’ are already being blamed in some quarters.

**

I find myself out of step with most people. At the most basic level, the word ‘pandemic’ continues to be bandied about, yet hardly a single acquaintance knows anybody who has died. It is difficult to be optimistic when intelligent friends say that they lack ‘permission’ to travel more than 5 miles for a walk, or that the most destructive British public policies of the past century that also trample on inalienable human rights are somehow worth getting behind. And when the Labour Party that I once voted for bends over and gives the Tories a free pass.

Britain’s Parliament has just voted to extend the draconian government powers enshrined in the Coronavirus Act 2020, with a huge majority of 484 to 76. In the background, the world’s richest people are ramping up the talk of an economic “Great Reset”. The Financial Times just ran a headline arguing that the “EU must prepare for era of pandemics”. Guess the FT has a really good crystal ball.

When the propaganda wrinkles my nose, I sometimes return to April 2020 words from Chris Whitty, the UK government’s chief medical adviser. I’ve mentioned his clarity before.

“The great majority of people will not die from this and I’ll just repeat something I said right at the beginning because I think it’s worth reinforcing: Most people, a significant proportion of people, will not get this virus at all, at any point of the epidemic which is going to go on for a long period of time.

Of those who do, some of them will get the virus without even knowing it, they will have the virus with no symptoms at all, asymptomatic carriage, and we know that happens. Of those who get symptoms, the great majority, probably 80%, will have a mild or moderate disease. Might be bad enough for them to have to go to bed for a few days, not bad enough for them to have to go to the doctor. An unfortunate minority will have to go as far as hospital, but the majority of those will just need oxygen and will then leave hospital. And then a minority of those will end up having to go to severe end critical care and some of those sadly will die. But that’s a minority…the great majority of people, even the very highest groups, if they catch this virus, will not die. And I really wanted to make that point really clearly.”

Never underestimate the horse’s mouth. Whitty reiterated similar themes a few days ago. Yet the British government has just advertised a £2 million tender for a company to undertake a Covid public information multimedia advertising campaign. The last two words catch the eye. As did the length of the contract, until 2023. Do they know somehing that we don’t? Are there time lords working for Boris?

It is hard to resist the image of the spectral Goebbels reaching for his Nazi helmet and spraying more jism out into the ether, as the new PR team goes about its wretched business. Meanwhile, a full four years away, in March 2025, the World Bank expects to close its Covid-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Programme. What balls of crystal they must have rubbed over in Washington DC, to insert that precise date. Maybe Joe rubbed his.

There are no conspiracy theories above, just facts and a few opinions, belted at you with a straight bat and a lashing or two of humour. Have to admit, though, to a rising admiration of Frank Zappa’s decades-old conjecture that the “illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion”. Did anyone notice that the world economy has tanked? While we all fretted about our breath.

What else Frank? “At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”

Now there’s a thought.

298. Ghost in the machine

Life after death? Let’s face it, there is just the one way to find out for sure. But here is a story.

My elderly father is no longer able to drive, so he has kindly given his car to my daughter Lauren.

It was off the road for so long that a new MOT was required. Lauren’s husband Chris drove it to a nearby garage four mornings ago for the test.

Chris walked back to Dad’s house to pass the time. He sat in his own vehicle on the driveway. In his own words, “I had this insanely cold chill pass through me so I tried to put my passenger window up and it wouldn’t budge. Took a few tries then it went up really slowly. Thought nothing of it.”

He tells more of the story: “After it passed, and I went to collect the car, I 100% checked around the car for damage and such and the windows were all shut. On the drive back, I had no radio or fans going (to hear the engine) and I would have heard the back passenger window go down. But I didn’t. I was really confused as to how it was open when I turned off the engine on the driveway but, again, thought nothing of it.”

Something else he noticed was a craving for a cigarette. “I even told Lauren while I was waiting that I had the biggest urge in my life to go and buy a pack of fags. It took a lot of determination not to visit the newsagents just down the road.”

Later that day, I went online and taxed the newly-tested Nissan Almera, so that it could be driven away. Then I went to Dad’s. I parked my Ford Focus next to the Nissan, shut the driver’s window, and locked the car.

When Dad was up, I looked out of the window and saw that Chris had come to collect the Nissan. He was checking under the bonnet. A minute or two later, the alarm went off on my car.

I went downstairs, opened the front door, and was about to unlock and re-lock my car – to disable the alarm – when my eyes did a double take.

All four of the windows were open. The only way to open them is manually, from within the car. WTF? But the priority was to stop the alarm, so, like Chris, I didn’t dwell on it.  

Chris later reasoned that all of these car windows opening for no reason constituted a pattern. He told the entire story to Lauren later and she said: “Maybe Nanny was trying to have a cigarette.”

My mum died 15 years ago, when she was still regularly driving the Almera. Mum loved to smoke. If lighting up in the car, she would open a window. In the years after her death, I would detect a faint smell of tobacco in my study.  

I do try and keep her memory alive. Every new moon, such as today, I light a candle for her, and will make an offering before her photo of (variously) coffee, cake and cigarettes – some of her favourite treats.

A few days before the car incident, she had appeared in one of my meditations, wearing sunglasses. I have no idea what to make of that. A few months back, I was meditating at Dad’s while he was asleep. Something quite solid, like a hand, very lightly and quite tenderly brushed my neck and shoulder.

If you buy into the ‘ghost’ theory (and it is tempting), was Mum saying a clumsy hello from a ‘between-worlds’ zone? Opening ‘windows’ into wherever or whatever she is? Trying to keep them open? I would have to consider those ideas. Car windows are not designed to open themselves.

Was she sadly protesting the loss of one of the last legacies of her 43-year marriage to Dad? Some of her bits and pieces (shopping receipts, vehicle vacuum cleaner) were still in the car when it finally left Dad’s front drive.  

Was she telling Lauren and Chris to look after the car? Wishing them courage and luck in the years ahead?

Who knows? Nobody. But contemplating these things made me feel unexpectedly happy and buoyant.

Here’s the Almera, sitting outside its new home.

PS. The first two letters and the last on the numberplate include both my consecutive initials (Kevin Lawrence Godier) and Lauren’s (Lauren Rose Godier). For what it’s worth.

297. Fear and loathing in North Essex

During one of the last days of 2020, with daylight in short supply, Maureen and I drove about 15 miles out to Coggeshall, a small town in north Essex where some friends had lived a couple of decades back. Still allowed to exercise by walking, we went primarily to beat back the coronavirus ennui and sense of isolation.

Coggeshall is a beautiful town, with hundreds of listed buildings that are delicious on the eye.

With few people out on the streets, the architecture dominates. Alleyways, shops, houses and pubs with facades and features that take you back in time. Ghosts lodged in the freezing air. It made me sad to never have lived in a visibly historic town. But that’s another story.

In this one, I realised at some stage that nature was calling. Left my wife browsing shop windows and followed a sign indicating that relief lay ahead. No surprise, though, that the public conveniences were closed. I saw two elderly couples chatting, and assumed they were locals. Walked across the road and spoke to the nearest woman. “Excuse me, do you know of any nearby public toilet that is open.”

I started my question about two metres away from her, as recommended. I have been shielding my father for almost a year. Hence I stay distant from anyone except family. Nonetheless, with each word she shuffled backwards. When I got to “here” she had at least doubled the distance between us.

The fear in her eyes, above her mask, was palpable. I don’t wear a mask in the open air. Maybe that scared her, which would never be my intention.

The poor woman knew of no other public facilities. Thanking her, I set off for a small park I had seen earlier. Hoping to discover a large bush that might shroud my debladdering.

No good. Bush-free. Coming back, a woman (also masked, maybe in her late 60s) appeared at the other end of a path that skirted a small grassy area. It’s best to be kind whenever you can. I decided to walk out onto the sodden grass before we passed so that she would not have to come close.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at what happened next. Well before our passing point, she stopped, turned, and bent over the waist-high fence bordering the path. So that her bum poked up and her head was as far away from me as possible. So as not to inhale any of my breath.

I found out later that Coggeshall was hit by the Black Death back in the 14th century. Maybe those ghosts were urging her to avoid me like the plague.

“Thank you”! I said. To her buttocks.

The only suitable place I could find was a path alongside a Presbyterian church, away from public gaze. Gratefully emptying my bladder, I thought about the coronavirus for the thousandth time.

Being alive comes with risks. Always has done. One option that I choose is to take Vitamins C and D3, combined with zinc, to strengthen immunity to respiratory illness. Walk long distances. Eat well. Avoid close contact with strangers. Simple common sense.

If SARS-Cov 2 does somehow come knocking, then such is life, or perhaps death. The Grim Reaper comes for us all in the end. But when he swings a cleaver stained with Covid, his victims have already lived one year longer on average than those who expire from other causes. Encouragingly, there is something like a 99.7% survival chance, for those contracting the virus. In a life that comes with no guarantees, those are good odds. Happy odds. And so I worry about passing the virus to Dad far, far more than for my own wellbeing.

The image of the protruding arse will stay with me. To repeat a past opinion, the widespread depression and other forms of mental illness stemming from the government’s Covid-19 lockdown policy are affecting so many more people than the virus itself. Including the woman who kindly bent over for me.

The prime culprit behind the terror some people are experiencing is in many cases not the virus itself. It is the unsubstantiated fear porn vomited out by local and national media, underpinned by government sponsorship, and perpetuated by people still paying heed to the fuckwits on the TV.

And now the promise that vaccines would end lockdown is gradually being reined back, a notch here and a tweak there. But that’s another story.

296. Moondogs

The full moon has long fascinated me. Ever since my twenties and thirties, I have experienced deep and often very negative mood swings in the days leading up to the monthly event. Sometimes it has been frightening to realsie just how out of control my emotions have felt.

I know I am not alone. And that there is no precise explanation for why this happens. We all know that the moon is responsible for the earth’s tides; and exerts its most ferocious pull when at its brightest. Given that our bodies are at least 50% water, why would a full moon not have some type of effect upon us?

On Thursday, 28 January, Maureen told me that the full moon that evening – the first in the calendar year – was known as the Wolf Moon. She said she had read of a (human) group that would be out howling at the orb.

“I’d like to do that,” I said. “Fancy it?”

I reckon most wives, certainly those of our age, would say (or think) “grow up”. But Maureen isn’t that partner. She agreed that it might be fun.

We togged up for the cold night and went into the dark back garden. The moon was shrouded by cloud, but no matter. The allotted time was 8.16p.m so I gave a few warm-up howls in the preceding minutes. Letting the lungs, diaphragm and throat work a little more each time.

Then came the moment and we let rip. It felt joyous, expressive, purging and at times hilarious. Not unlike sex. None of the neighbours came out and joined in.  

Wolves apparently howl for numerous reasons. To define territory, locate pack members, reinforce social bonds, and coordinate hunting.

We howled for sheer pleasure.

This little clip that might give a flavour of how enjoyable it was.

295. The Bowers re-up

From age 7 to 19, I lived in Bowers Gifford, a drowsy Essex village on the outskirts of Basildon. Memories of that semi-rural home are very happy, give or take a few exceptions.  

Along a very quiet road (Church Road) near to our house, you could cycle or walk south, fields on each side, towards the Thames. After a half mile, the land dips down to square miles of marshland which stretch out to the river. As kids, brother Neil and I would cycle down the hill at breakneck speed, usually halting along the flat by St Margarets church.

Rolling back the decades, I pulled up outside St Margarets again two weeks ago. This time in the car. It’s a beautiful building, believed to be about 600 years old.

Smiling, recalling my two years as a choirboy. Swinging on the long church bell ropes, climbing up into Father Ford’s belfry. Giggling in the pews to ease the boredom of the Sunday morning service.

50 yards away, the sight of the railway bridge brought back the time when a few of us – probably 10, 11 and 12-year old kids – scrambled up the embankment.

For a dare, I placed a stone on the line. Wondering how easily the next train would crush it. Never a bad lad…..but I did like to try stuff. The driver probably shat himself. The police were there in 10 minutes. The coppers and my parents both tore strips off me. I could have de-railed the train, they reckoned. And so of course young Kevin wondered (fantasised?) what that would have been like.

The road beyond the bridge once led out to some farm buildings. 50 years later, it has become a car park, serving the newly-created Bowers Marsh Nature Reserve. It’s the first time here for Maureen and I.

No café or toilets or play area – just an RSPB bird sanctuary that does what it says on the tin by bringing together several different wild wetland habitats ringed and interspersed by a series of trails to walk. Even if you know very little about wetfowl (ie me and the missus) it’s a glory to be out in the fresh air under a sky that always seems bigger when out by the estuary.

It was cold, so we wrapped up all warm and cosy.

I think we found the 5 km Wetland Trail, more by chance than any planning. It turned out to be a long circular route that encompasses a series of saline and freshwater lagoons. Some are fenced in to stop foxes intruding.

The odd sign or two pointed the way.

Following the path, we saw reedbeds and wild red berries.

Occasional benches scattered here and there. The odd lone birder peering through their bins. Everyone keeping their distance.

And the birds of course. We thought the one on the fence was a raven, but it could have been a crow.

Loads of Canada geese are around, as well as mallards, lapwings and plover. Lots more, but my eye is amateur and my binoculars low class.  

Then there is the thing on a nearby ridge. Is it a watering machine?

It makes me think of the orgone machine in the Kate Bush video for ‘Cloudbusting’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRHA9W-zExQ).

There is a deep quiet out on these marshes. Beautifully interrupted at one stage by a goose flying overhead. The sound of its wings cuts the air with a magical energy.  

Now and again a train moved along the Fenchurch Street line, in the distance. At one point two met, silver tubes seeming to merge and shorten before extending and disentangling.

Here are some other sights. The play of the light out here is liminal.

At one stage, Maureen bent to do something below my waist. I love my wife.

Eventually, after several miles, the path swings back around towards the car park and church.

We went past a tree with a hole.

Up on the distant hill, we could see Pitsea.

Kids there were tougher than their Bowers Gifford peers. I used to take the train from Pitsea to East London, to watch games at West Ham, my darling football team.

The farmer who once owned the buildings at the top of the next pic was not a fan of the young Kevin.

More than once he knocked on our door because I had been turning his haystacks into creative buildings, chopping down a small tree or two or rolling gleefully in his corn. Kids will be kids. I’m genuinely sorry, if it makes any difference all these years later. He didn’t much care for my dad either, after the old man burned the plastic from copper wire at the back of our house…right by his barley fields.

The church came into view again.

It reminded me of how I joined the choir so as to get in the football team that Father Ford had assembled. We didn’t play very often. Instead – I somehow got to be head choirboy – they must have been so short of decent singers! Then I discovered T Rex and David Bowie, and said my goodbyes to cassocks, chasubles and swinging thuribles.

By now Maureen needed a wee, so we found the car, and headed away. To Pitsea. Where there were once toilets in Howards Park. But they were absent now.

Had my first proper fight in this park, aged 8. I got pummelled by a bigger kid on a roundabout. Decided there and then that it was a mug’s game.  

We found toilets in an Aldi, then pulled in at Pitsea Broadway, for a bag of chips.

Hot, salted and vinegared. Munched them in the car, people watching. A perfect way to finish, before another trip down memory lane, driving back to Chelmsford through Basildon’s cramped houses and strained-looking streets. A huge contrast with the open sky of Bowers marshes.

It is so difficult to have any kind of day out right now, but we did. It made me throb with contentment for the next 48 hours.

Simple pleasures can bring great happiness.

294. Dad’s gift, amid the maelstrom

Ignoring the war-like barrage of Covid-19 news that has decimated 2020, my year has been dominated by the need to look after my dad. Nearing his 93rd birthday, and taking a range of medications, he is vulnerable to the virus. No surprise that my brother and I have kept him far away from most situations where Covid transmission is a possibility. It is impossible to make his ‘bubble’ watertight (he very occasionally wanders to his local newsagent while we are absent), but we have done all we can.

He is also terribly frail. And increasingly impacted by dementia. So we have kept the house clean, cooked his meals, changed his sheets, cut his hair and shaved him, done the shopping, and generally acted as his arms, legs and brain.

The great reward is that I have come to know his softer side, once-hidden. He loves to chat, above all else. Although huge gaps blight his memory, he still talks very clearly and with great relish about his first two decades. Listening, I have come to understand how he became somebody that naturally sides with underdogs and takes a contrarian view. As his offspring, I’ve inherited that gift.

I’m not sure that Dad ever said to me that if you see 95 people walking one way, tag onto four heading in the other direction. But that was usually the gist. The older I get, the more disinclined I am to follow any crowd.

That genetic trait kicks in even while doing my best to keep his house and personal space Covid-free. The journalist in me sees a wider, starker picture, one where much of the world has handed over its collective mind, unquestioning, far too easily, to the coronavirus narrative.

My thinking goes this way. Brother Neil and I have taken responsibility for Dad. He is one of the vulnerable. So we distance ourselves from people, with a few close family exceptions. Have done for 9 months. We are especially careful with our hygiene. And he sees nobody else inside the house. None of this is rocket science.

Here’s the question. Why would we – or other carers – need businesses and schools and pubs and borders to close, or the healthy to quarantine themselves? Or ‘tiered’ social restrictions decided by a divided SAGE committee. How can any of that help the most at risk, who are already shielded? Isolation and atomisation is not how the healthy sections of a population build natural immunity to infectious diseases. (Remember immune systems? They are amazing, and you have one, whatever the newsreaders may try and tell us.)

To protect Dad from a virus whose fatality rate is slightly worse than a bad flu season, Neil and I do not need lonely people to be confined in their homes; nor the NHS to postpone its cancer operations. It does not matter if Covid transmission speed accelerates 70%, because it can come to him only through us, and we keep our worlds tightly limited.

End of. There is nothing complex or far-sighted in any of this opinion. It is common sense, traditional practice for disease control.

And yet every day, I watch our world being shaken upside down, to combat a clearly measurable foe. I was hesitant to call out insanity at the beginning, as the UK seemed to be in a unique, very frightening situation. Maybe the March lockdown was necessary so we could take stock. But in recent months a shedload of peer-reviewed studies have emerged showing that the downside of lockdowns far outweigh the benefits, including long-term fatality numbers.

The world economy has been torn to pieces by the lockdowns. Tens of millions of people’s livelihoods ruined. Poverty and mental illness rising steeply. Health and education services shrunken. Holidays and gatherings and socialising curtailed or gone.

And for what? Globally, there has been around a 1 in 4,000 fatality rate ‘with Covid-19’, and a much smaller death rate ‘from’ it.

Back in blog 287, I relayed how the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledged that only about 6% of the reported Covid deaths in the US by August 2020 were due to Covid alone, as in “died from the virus and no other causes.”

The other 94% – mostly elderly people – had prior medical conditions that were potentially lethal on their own, the CDC said. This sifting reduced the death-by-Covid-only number in the US from 185,000 to about 11,000 over an 8-month period. In the same period, about 30,000 people died in US car wrecks. Them’s the official facts.

If you are healthy and not elderly, that is the strength of the risk in the world’s most afflicted country. Even if you add in the numbers of fatalities in the subsequent four months, there is clearly more chance of dying in a car crash. There sits the reality upon which our world has been collapsed.

In the UK, basic freedoms have been eliminated to be replaced by curfews, house imprisonment, border controls, travel restrictions, prohibition of worship, limited access to doctors, the army on the Liverpool streets, suppression of free speech, arrests of protesters, and neighbours encouraged to shop one another. All fed by a mainstream propaganda blitz worthy of wartime. Driven by people in lab coats. Strikes me as a bit, what’s that word…….Nazi? Too strong? How about disproportionate?

In a genuine pandemic, to complain about any of this would be daft. In reality, nobody (thankfully) has died from Covid-19 in my village of around 500 people, which has a greater than average number of retired people. Some individuals have become ill, as will happen with all major respiratory viruses. The sole fatality I have any connection to, anywhere, was my cousin’s father-in-law, who died in Sussex of a heart condition in a care home. But because he had showed positive on a test he was labelled as a ‘with Covid’ death. This enraged my cousin’s husband, who is a retired GP, and had observed his father’s medical situation until the end.

I spoke to a friend yesterday who knows many hundreds of people in the UK. He knew of one Covid-related fatality. “Where?” I asked. “Paris” he said.

The excess death statistics around the world at the end of the year will be fascinating, particularly if they match up with previous years. The money spent on furloughing people will be equally interesting. Imagine if it had all been spent on building new NHS wards and training fresh staff, to cope with some very serious capacity issues.

Best leave it there. The facts speak for themselves. If the fatality trends change, I will change my mind.

To round off, I’m wishing anyone reading this a seriously healthy and happy Christmas.

Thanks very much for looking in on the blogs. That helps keep me going.

PS. Does Matt Hancock resemble a British cousin of Agent Smith, from the Matrix?

292. Relishing Richie

Until quite recently, reaching 10 p.m. on a weekday night signalled a clear end to the day. The TV drama or Netflix film or football live stream was over. The options were to watch the TV news, which would be shite, biased and presented by muppets.  Or to go to bed and read until sleep descended.

And then a friend told me she had been crying tears of laughter earlier that evening, listening on the Internet to the Richie Allen show. I had heard Richie now and again down the years, as I cast around for reliable forms of news alternatives, away from the growingly moribund, corporate-controlled mainstream. But I didn’t have much of a view either way. If a memory persisted, it was of a booming Irishman who sounded confident but polite as he talked to various people and tore apart what the TV and papers were saying.

From his dwelling in Salford, near Manchester, Richie puts out his show live from Monday to Friday, usually starting at 5p.m. I saw that the recordings were available later in the day on Podomatic, and so tuned in for the first time about six months ago. I didn’t know then that (if Richie is telling the truth, which he prides himself on) the show has the biggest audience for any independent European radio programme.

He has been a broadcast journalist for most of this century. It soon became clear that he focused on stuff that interested me. In particular, the sheer ineptitude of most news media. The endless number of well-paid journalists who lick arse and duck from asking the hardest questions. The frailty of our democracy. The corruption of global institutions. And, of course, Covid-19. Pulling the subject apart every night in a way that digs far deeper than the talking heads. ‘Covering the stories that the MSM won’t,’ is the show’s brand line.

Just as good, Richie likes sport and music. He likes ideas. And he tells jokes. He talks about his French partner, Carolyn, with an exquisite mix of love and wit. He talks about his friends, and his beloved Irish roots, alongside his despair at Ireland’s current situation. And he mercilessly mocks the people that run the world, without censoring himself or worrying about the PC/’woke’ communities. I like that about him more than anything else.

Generally, Richie talks for about 45 minutes, and allocates around an hour for his guests to talk. Every few weeks there are phone ins from listeners, often with unpredictably fascinating topics.

It’s definitely one of those shows that people will either love or hate. You cannot feel indifferent about the guy. Richie strives for balance, by lacing his show with a spread of fascinating guests, from all walks of life. His politics are leftfield, but he has no problem with talking to those on the right. As journalists should be, he is more interested in the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ rather than political choices. Take it from me though, it might be better to steer clear if you have fixed views or are easily offended.

I am anything but. Hence the last two hours of the day are looked forward to with relish. It has made the second half of this awful year so much more enjoyable.

291. A man walks into a bar

The last three blogs on this site all involve visits to pubs and bars. I have enjoyed nearly 50 years of that pleasure. Not because I crave alcohol. I can go for weeks without.

It is the other people, the chat, the lifting of self-consciousness, the sheer sociability. The smell and taste of the alcohol plays its part, but the possibilities opening take centre stage. Maybe Germaine Greer will talk to you. Could be the guy next to you at the bar once met the Queen; or was in prison for tax evasion. Your eye becomes more lustful with each drink. You might need Dutch courage to ask your brother or friend for a temporary loan.

That sense of freely merging with the new and unpredictable is enshrined and embodied in the classic joke opening where a man (or woman) walks into a bar. Perhaps he/she will then encounter an Englishman, Scotsman and an Irishman. Maybe a horse will be serving the liquor, or a dog will be sitting alone with a bowl of beer. The drink may have a transforming effect on the characters. Disrobing may occur. Vomiting or violence could ensue. The dog may show astonishment at the horse’s fluency in German.  

A couple of months ago I interrupted an afternoon countryside walk in mid-Essex by entering The Compasses hostelry, in the remote hamlet of Littley Green. I waited at the bar to be served, standing as proscribed, at a social distance from other punters. I must have been 9 feet from the nearest person, lost in so many good memories of the place.

Something I have always done without thinking is to lean on the bar. Deep in thought, I inadvertently stepped past a green line on the floor, placed both elbows on the dark panelled wood, let my eye rove along the optics and the various photos adorning the back wall.

It was a terrible mistake. The visored guy behind the bar almost leaped at me, barking out that I needed to stand behind the green line. Wow.

I complied, apologising that “old habits got the better of me”. He didn’t reply: but set about spraying the infected area and vigorously wiping away my dangerous germs.

I bought a pint. He served it sullenly. I understood. Maybe he was genuinely scared.

He was certainly being paid to observe official hygiene protocol as part of his job. I had just provided him with an unexpected and unwanted pain.

The regulations he was observing have subsequently tightened. When I started writing this, you could not enter a pub in Essex – nor go to the toilet – without wearing a face mask. You could sit outside with a friend, but not inside, after Essex was moved to the UK government’s Tier Two alert grading. Pubs closed at 10 p.m.

I suppose there were jokes waiting to be discovered somewhere in all the bureaucracy; they don’t spring to mind easily. Maybe a man tries to enter a bar but has forgotten his mask. So he sits outside and tries to order a pint using his phone app, but the horse brings him a bourbon. Four Jack Daniels later, he tries to kiss the horse, which is looking ever more attractive, but is wearing a visor. About to go home, he sees a mass of tiny Covid-19 particles congregating 50 yards away, waiting until their 10 p.m. moment, when they will pounce.  

Not funny. I know. It really isn’t.

For the past week or so, all British pubs have completely closed their doors, until the government declares an end to lockdown. When I drive to see my father, or take my daily exercise, they sit empty and unused, no sign of life.

Many of Britain’s 60,000 plus pubs were already under hefty financial pressure. Some will clearly not survive this time in our history. I can’t help wondering if the pubs that make it through will ever be the same. Will there be restrictions on who can enter, linked to taking vaccines or flashing a ‘health passport’? Will there be screens all over the place? Arrows on the floor? Service at the tables? Card-only payments?

If so, I might call it a day. Keep the good memories. Leave the new pub experience to others.