Lockdown Lite

It cannot have escaped your attention, if you’ve even so much as poked your nose out of doors, that this lockdown is much busier than the last. In March you could walk down the middle of main roads; no-one was about, nearly all shops were shut and the schools were eerily silent. This time there’s a lot more traffic on the roads, more shops are open and we know that many more children are in schools because the government have said it’s OK to send them if you need to. Nurseries are still open and don’t even get me started on football: why is that still happening?

As Jon so astutely pointed out (see comment on previous post) money is at the bottom of it. I sympathise with a great many people over this; it’s one thing to suspend your livelihood for three months but quite another to build it up over the summer only to have to shut down again over the winter. And we’ve still no idea when the end will come; this thing could go on for eighteen months or longer. It could be years before it’s gone – if it ever does go.

I don’t mean to be gloomy. But if we learn one thing from the pandemic surely it has to be that money is not the most important thing in life.

These are strange times; we’re all getting used to a new normal but surely by now the risks are clear, so the idea that wearing a mask or social distancing is an infringement on individual liberty ought not to be given credence. Wearing a seat belt in a car or a helmet on a motorbike is also an infringement on our liberties: I don’t like doing either of these things but I do them, not only because it’s the law but because I see that it’s necessary: if I come off my bike without a helmet or crash the car with no seatbelt on, chances are I’ll die. But Covid isn’t just about me, it’s about all those with whom I come into contact. You might argue that you can put yourself in danger, but putting others in danger is not your decision to make. Not to mention that you’ll be putting the NHS under an even greater strain.

The trouble with where we are now is that we have a government that is not trusted by the majority of the people and which doesn’t lead by example. Dominic Cummings did huge damage to public compliance and Johnson’s refusal to sack him compounded that damage. And now, as millions stay in lockdown, there’s a question over whether he should have been cycling seven miles from home. OK he could have been on a long bike ride but the thing about being a leader who sets the rules is that you not only have to do the right thing but also to be seen to do the right thing – and this is something Johnson utterly fails to grasp. It’s a bit late to start invoking public spiritedness when you’re in a government which espouses libertarian values and awards massive public contracts to its cronies just because it can, not to mention a government which has dithered and delayed to such an extent that people no longer know what the rules actually are.

There will be a reckoning for this government but in the meantime stay safe out there and if you need someone to talk to be aware that I always respond to comments. Failing that, chat to someone on Facebook, phone a friend or call the Samaritans. Don’t suffer in silence.

Kirk out

Mind the Gap

Anyone who’s ever lived in London prior to 2012 will probably hear those words in the same voice that echoes in my mind, which is this one:


I didn’t know until I started looking into it that there’s a genuinely lovely story behind this Mind the Gap message, and a reason why since 2012 the voice saying it is different on Embankment from that on other Northern Line stations. It’s this: the messages were originally recorded by a man called Oswald Laurence, a RADA graduate, but he died in 2007 and in 2012 the voices were changed to digital ones (why? Just because they could, I guess – the old ones were clear enough but hey, that’s progress) – then one night in 2012 the staff at Embankment station were approached by a woman in a state of distress asking what had happened to the voice. They must have thought she was psychotic at first but to their credit they listened as she explained that the Mind the Gap voice belonged to her husband and that she’d often lingered on the platform to hear him speak just one more time. The staff explained that the recordings had been changed, and you might think that would have been that, but no; they tracked down a copy of the original recording for her and not only that, they switched back to it on Embankment station. So if you travel on the Northern line be sure to listen out for Oswald still telling us to mind that gap. Here’s the Guardian story from 2019.

That phrase has become iconic, particularly in London where it’s used to refer to all kinds of gaps. There’s the gap between rich and poor, the gap between knowledge and understanding and the gap I was going to talk about, between echo chambers.

I think it’s high time there was an overhaul of Facebook and Twitter; the fact that they foment controversy like a cook stirring an evil broth, the fact that they encourage the manufacture of outrage; and worst of all, the fact that they have allowed powerful people to spread disinformation and fake news unchecked. True, they can’t monitor every story put on their sites but when someone in a position of such power and influence uses that influence to manufacture a false scenario they should do something about it. Mainstream news media, though more responsible in checking stories (mostly) are not blameless in this regard; they encourage adversarial debate and try to provoke interviewees into saying something controversial which then becomes the headline.

The gap between world views can sometimes be staggering. I’ve recently been debating with someone I know in real life (I wouldn’t bother otherwise, but I know and like this person) who has totally bought into Trump’s narrative. They’re a Christian who believes Trump was sent by God and part of that narrative is not particularly how virtuous Trump is (that’d be hard but I’m sure they’d give it a go) but the supposed evils of the Democrats, whom they accuse of all manner of vile practices (Communism’s the least of it) and have now decided that Mark Zuckerberg is a Marxist for suspending Trump’s account. I pointed out that if that were so Facebook would be owned by its employees and Zuckerberg would earn about £30,000 a year. Wouldn’t that be nice? (Just for the record, I’m a socialist not a communist, but if people are going to use words like Marxist they should know what they mean. Otherwise everyone is going about being Humpty-Dumpty and words have no meaning any more.)

The gap is vast and it’s getting wider. Trump’s supporters are now fragmented but the more extreme among them are developing an ever-stronger martyr complex and preparing for armed attacks on inauguration day. Warnings have been issued and I certainly hope they take them more seriously than they did last Wednesday. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with people who don’t accept facts. There’s no common ground for debate at all.

Mind the gap, indeed, especially the gap between the ears.

Kirk out