SNARE

Part 2

They dropped down to the side of the field out of sight of prying eyes in the almshouses, into the shade of high old hedgerows. A shallow depression lay between the hedges forming a dark, green lane that ran up the hill by the side of Chucker’s 30 acre and on into Dumbar’s wood. Tom kept up a good pace in the warm Spring air and Ed was sweating by the time they got to the top of the rise.

‘Right, we can slow down now.’ Tom said, his voice quiet.

‘What we doing Tom?’ Ed asked in a whisper.

Tom stopped and crouched by the side of the lane.

‘Right, we’re going to go down the other side of the hill in the wood. There’s a few runs I put snares on last night. Need to check ’em.’

‘Snares? Shit we’re going to be in big trouble if we get caught. That what the bag’s for?’

‘What do you think?’

‘Tommy, what do you want rabbits for?’

‘Dad likes them, nice with a mustard sauce’ He laughed. ‘And old Carslake the butcher takes them for a few quid each.’

Ed considered this news.

‘People still buy rabbit then?’

‘Lots of farmed rabbit about.’ Tom nodded to the woods, ‘But these beauties? Wild, natural, sustainable, organic, all that old bollocks. Sell for a premium to the right type.’

‘Who?’

‘Weekend Barbour brigade. Hippies who aren’t Vegan yet. Knit your own yoghurt types.’

‘Must be mad.’

‘Keeps me in fags. Now are you coming or not?’

Ed looked back down the hill and then at the gap in the bushes leading to the wood, then at Tom. They’d had good fun with the fishing and the money had come in handy. He wondered if Tom might cut him in on some now. He was always skint these days.  Be in big debt if he went to Uni.

‘All right, go on then.’

‘Good lad, let’s get on.’

The two of them rose and crossed the lane, disappearing into the deeper shadows beneath the canopy.

‘Bit creepy Dumbar’s, never liked it.’ Ed confided.

‘Why?’

‘Dunno, feels funny. Lots of kids at school said so an’ all. Loads of bad stories about it.’

‘That’s why I like it.’ Tom said.’ All them daft stories keeps folk away. Lots of things in here you don’t get other places with people crashing about scaring ’em off.’ He stopped, and as if to prove his point a fallow deer buck walked across the path ahead of them. It stopped, half in, half out of the shadows for a moment, sniffed the air and walked on, unconcerned, to disappear in the undergrowth.

‘He’s kept his antlers late.’ Tom said ‘April? Should be shed by now.’

‘Big beggar wasn’t he? Ed said.

‘He was. Maybe he’s come to have you?’ Tom said, making a scary face and raising his hands in claw like manner.

‘Sod off Tommy. Let’s find these rabbits.’

Tom let his hands fall to his sides. He nodded down the track to where the buck had crossed the path. ‘Follow the big lad then’

They moved off down the trail to where the sun dappled the bushes and the path, and turned off to the left into the shadows of the undergrowth. There was a crash of something moving hard through the bushes and Tom pointed as the white patch and black horseshoe shape of the buck’s rump disappeared into the woods’ gloomy interior.

‘Should be lying up, daft animal.’

‘Forget him Tom, let’s find these rabbits.’ Ed said

‘Bit odd though isn’t it?’

‘What is?’

‘Bloody big buck wandering about bold as brass in the day, still got his antlers this time of year. Weird.’

‘You’re not scaring me Tom. It’s just a deer.’

Tom was about to say something else but stopped and moved off.

‘Come on then.’

They descended into the deepening gloom of the trees. There was no more noise from the buck, and no birdsong broke the silence. Tom and Ed moved through the undergrowth as softly as shadows. Tom had said no-one came here, but they both knew game birds lay up in these woods. There was no game shooting this time of year and the rearing pens were on the other side of the valley, but Chucker’s gamekeeper could be planning out drives and seeing what was what anywhere on the land. Both listened for the sound of movement and their eyes swept the depths of the wood for a sign of the keeper. They carried on in this fashion, cautiously following the path across and down the hillside for a few minutes. Careful, silent progress. Then Tom held up his hand and pointed at a small ‘V’ carved into an Ash trunk.

‘Down this way.’ He whispered and slid off the track to the left.

Ed could see the animal run emerge onto the path as he followed Tom.

‘Why didn’t you trap it at the end?’

Tom stopped and looked at Ed. ‘And have Chucker or one of his boys see it? Don’t be daft Ed. I thought you was a country boy.’

Ed nodded. Tom always made him feel like this. Never quite as smart, quite as sharp, quite as at ease with the wilder end of life as Tom. Tom hadn’t been phased at all by the police calling about the fish. Never bothered about the teachers on his back. Never directly rude but always challenging. Always one better behind the back of anyone in authority. Hadn’t got him a job though. Hadn’t got him out of the village. Hadn’t got him the exams to go to Uni. He was smart in other ways; ways teachers and coppers didn’t approve of. Ed wasn’t sure he did any more. There was something attractive about Tom’s wildness but it scared Ed at the same time. Tom was like the buck, part of the same natural system, but unusual, larger than life, belonging to a disappearing world. Whereas Ed wanted to get out of Dumbar’s wood and away from the buck whose antlers should be long gone.

SNARE

Part 1

Ed thought he recognised the figure almost as soon as it turned into the narrow alley behind the almshouse cottages. His immediate reaction was to jump off the wall he was perched on and escape down the path at the side of old Mrs Joiner’s place. He could get back to the road that way without having to speak to Edgworth. It wasn’t that he disliked Tom Edgworth. He didn’t. They’d been friends of sorts at school, not that long ago, but Tom was an odd one Ed thought. Not aggressive as such, not mean really and not even particularly unruly at school. Some of the teachers had had it in for him. Bit odd of them really when you thought about it. They were ‘green’ and ‘animal lovers’ but didn’t seem to like Tom’s country ways at all. Ed remembered a ‘show and tell’, some daft American idea, where Tom had brought his ferret. Didn’t like that animal did they? Ed smiled. Not really that bad a bloke Tom. They’d spent one summer fishing for trout and selling them on. Trouble was they’d gone fishing with gunpowder packed in tins. ‘Bang!’ and all the silvery bodies floated up to the surface of old Turbemere’s lake and you scooped a nice bit of earnings. Tom said his granddad had showed him that trick. Better than sitting there all day with a line and getting nicked for poaching and no licence. One bang, five minutes frantic netting and off before Turbemere’s water bailiff could get a look at you, never mind catch you.

Ed looked up the alley again. Definitely Tom. You could tell by the strut in his step that he’d seen and recognised Ed too. Couldn’t walk off now without offending him.

 Problem had been the police were a bit hotter on explosions than in grandad’s day. Lot of bother, but no charges in the end. Couldn’t prove it, and Tom and Ed had just denied it all. Tom reckoned they just visited all the kids in the village. Ed hadn’t liked it. His mum and dad had been furious having police round the house. ‘I told you them Edgworths were no good didn’t I boy?’ his dad had yelled at him. Ed had nodded. ‘And that Tom is worse than any of ’em.’  Ed had nodded again. ‘Stay away from them boy. Won’t go wrong if you stay away from them. Weird buggers they are.’

‘Why weird Dad?’ Ed had felt emboldened to ask now Dad’s ire was turned elsewhere. His father had glanced at his mother who gave one small shake of her head. ‘Never mind boy. You find some other friends that’s all.’ So he pretty much had. Couldn’t avoid Tom completely in a village mind. But there had been no more fishing trips. And now they’d left school and both found that there was no work in a village anymore, with good exams or no exams. Time lay heavy on Ed’s hands. He’d more or less decided to go to Uni next year after all. Tom didn’t have that option.

Tom bounced down the alley between the back of the cottages and the tall yellow limestone wall of the old Sterven estate, long ago split up into its constituent farms and the hall sold off. Tom drew level with where Ed was sitting.

‘You going somewhere Tom?’ Ed asked.

‘No, rooted to the spot me.’

‘Sarcastic bugger.’

‘Well don’t be a prat then Ed Bayfield. Course I’m going somewhere. Why would I be walking down here otherwise?’

‘Going for a walk?’

‘I’d be going somewhere then, wouldn’t I?’

‘Nah, you’d be walking, but not to anywhere. ‘Cept back where you started of course.’

‘Well I’m not. I’m going somewhere.’

‘Where you going?’

‘What’s it to you? You me mum are you?’

‘She doesn’t care where you are.’

‘That’s true.’

Ed jumped down from the wall he’d been sitting on and fell in step beside Tom Edgworth.

‘Where we off?’

‘Oh it’s “we” now is it?’

‘Don’t mind a bit of company do you? I’m bored out of my skull.’

Tom looked his companion up and down.

‘No, that’s okay Ed. You can make yourself useful though, carry that.’ And with that he slung the old fashioned haversack he’d been carrying at Ed.

‘What’s in it?

‘Nothing.’

‘Why you carrying it then?’

‘I’m not. You are.’

‘Very funny. You know what I mean. Why am I carrying it?’

‘Cause you’re a prat and you’re bored.’

‘Ta very much.’

Tom turned left at the end of the walled pathway and vaulted the gate that blocked the way. Ed climbed after him.

‘This is Chucker’s land. He’ll go spare if he catches us.’

‘Well he isn’t going to is he? It’s Tuesday, he’s up the market in town.’

‘I thought they’d shut that?’

‘Nah, they closed the old one, the one that sold useful stuff. It’s what they call a farmers market now. Chucker takes stuff up there.’

‘What, lambs and stuff?’

‘Can’t.’

‘Why not?

‘Can’t kill his own these days, gotta go to an abattoir.’

‘What’s he sell then?’

‘Few veg his missus grows, few birds he shoots, potatoes, and a load of crap he buys in and slaps Sterven Farm labels on.’

‘Cheeky bastard.’

‘Ah well, gives us a chance for a little enterprise, doesn’t it?’

Ed hefted the canvas sack and looked at Tom.

‘Enterprise? What? Like the fish?’

‘You can chuck us the bag and go back if you like.’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Good. Let’s get down in the lane.’

CROSSING

[I decided to clear out some old hard copy content this lunch time. I know you shouldn’t, there will be things you may want to use at a later date, alter, rework, inspire yourself with, leave to posterity(?really!). But there are limits and this actually proves the point of not throwing things away (I think!). In the copies of copies of copies of stuff I have multiple electronic versions of, there was this short piece. I can’t remember exactly what it was. It may have been an exercise or a piece I sent or intended to send somewhere when ultra short fiction became a big thing. Whatever it was, it has all dialogue, (one short narrative sentence) and no he said/she saids etc. I think the idea was to differentiate the characters by verbal style alone. Not sur it worked but here it is:

‘It looks like you’re in trouble there. Can I help?’

‘Er, no thanks, I’ll be fine.’

‘Are you sure? Because I don’t want to worry you but there’s a train due in a minute.’

‘A train? Fu…! Sorry. I didn’t think this line was used. Have you got a mobile? Can you ring someone?’

‘I don’t think there’s time. We need to get you off the crossing now. If we both push we should be able to move it’

‘Can’t.  I dropped the keys into the engine compartment and they must have hit the button and locked the doors.’

‘Brakes on?’

‘Yes’

‘Can you get the keys?’

‘They’re too far down for me.’

‘Let me try, my hands are smaller.’

‘You can’t. I’ve got my finger stuck down by the wash bottle.’

‘Have you got any spare keys? I tape one under the rear wheel arch.’

‘No. What’s that noise?’

‘Hell! It’s the train.’

‘Oh God what am I going to do? Get me out of here!’

‘Okay, I’m going to pull. It will hurt.’

‘No! Oh, yes go on then. Stop! Stop, you’re tearing my skin off.’

‘It’s jammed tight. Wait there.’

‘Don’t leave me!’

‘Just getting something. It’s okay I’m a doctor. Right. Look down there. Can you see the train?’

‘Where? Hang on what are you doing? No don’t…! Aaaargh! Oh my God! What have you done! Look at the blood. Fucking hell you maniac!’

‘Move. Away from the car. No, you idiot, over here. Get down!’

The freight train smashed into the car sending debris flying down the line.

‘Oh my God! What happened to my car?!’

‘It’s just a car. Press that cloth on the stump while I see if the driver’s okay. This skirt is ruined.’

TL;DR?

Can people read more than 280 characters?

I was reading an article on the internet this morning:

https://sunilsuri.substack.com/p/gamingforgood

which I had been referred to by a gaming acquaintance. It is a fascinating article (to me at any rate) about using games for purposes other than straightforward entertainment. The obvious additional purposes include education – both in getting children to practice maths, engage with the concept of probability, social interaction and action/outcome ideas.

But there are bigger aims in some games, for example emergency response, planning, disease control, social planning etc. Whilst this is all good stuff, it may not be related even remotely to writing (although writing the scenarios, putting the results of gaming actions into stylised reporting/ narratives surely require authorial skills?). Something did leap out at me however which triggered a little thought regarding current writing practices and received wisdom about length of articles, stories, novels etc.

This is the quote which swapped tracks for me from a games to writing.

‘Consider news consumption. The Reuters Institute found that younger generations “do not want to work hard for their news.” In practice, news is often consumed on smartphones in small amounts to fit around other activities. Such consumption habits do not necessarily lend themselves to deeper engagement with the issues of the day.’

Well yeah. Difficult to get the nuances of anything in 140 characters (now 280, but 140 has a certain ring to it as the limit of human attention span in a digital world). Now most social media content is longer than that, but not by much.

Ah the horror of the modern world! Kids can’t concentrate. Millennials are so needy and have no depth! We’re all doomed.

Well I remember the heady days of proper print journalism and news that contained news on Television and radio.

And hardly anybody bought broadsheets, watched extended news programmes or listened to current affairs on the BBC Home Service.

There are more opportunities to read, hear and see extended, in depth, insightful news reports on thousands of items which would never have made it into the old ‘quality newspapers’ never mind red top tabloids or scandal sheets.

Attention span may have shortened but I remember many people consuming their news from ‘newspapers’ which had pages of hardly any content and masses of filler and still believing made up lies about European legislation which would ban bendy bananas and the British Banger.

The internet and social media may have made such gibberish slightly more available and a few more people than before may not have realised that reality checks need to be applied to anything, wherever you read, hear or see it. That doesn’t mean that any fewer people than before deeply engage with the issues of the day. I suspect there may be slightly more engagement in fact. Young people weren’t that bothered when I was a child/young adult. All those pictures and film clips of protestors on marches and rallies show the active minority, not the majority who were sat at home, or playing sport or working for their exams.

We shouldn’t get suckered in by fuzzy memories of halcyon days when everything was better. Goodness knows I have my doubts about the uses and abuses of digital technology but let’s not overstate them or use the idea as yet another stick to beat younger generations.

As for writing and reading, there seems to be a lot of appetite for reading about. Just because traditional media publishers haven’t always been up to speed on response doesn’t seem a good reason to bemoan the state of modern readers, or writers. Nor is it necessarily a reason to insist on brevity to point of meaninglessness. Yes, micro-fiction is a demanding and entertaining art form when done well, but its brevity is no more likely to get readers on the strength of its size alone than any other length of work. The good thing about reading is you can stop and start at will. Not many of us sit down and read a great slab of a book in one sitting no matter how good or engaging it is. I am however quite capable of remembering where I left off and resuming. I am sure ‘young’ people today are quite as capable of that feat if they wish as anyone else.

HAPPY ST DAVID’S DAY!

DYDD GWYL DEWI SANT HAPUS IAWN I CHI GYD!

Hoping everyone has a terrific St David’s Day.

After the way the last three Six Nations Rugby matches have gone for Wales I would guess that God, if not a Welshman, certainly has some sort of deal going with Wayne Pivac.

If  he/she/it is Welsh – just look after the rest of things as well as the rugby eh?

 

Thoughts On ‘Your Call…’

Odd short story. Arrived out of nowhere that one.

I suppose it was a bit trite wasn’t it?

A grumpy old person’s pop at things changing from their past.

Never mind grandad.

Of course I’ve felt like this from at least the early 1980s.

Not I suspect an accident that period of realisation that history was not an unchallenged Whig progression to English glory.

That initial realisation that things didn’t always improve was prompted by a friend trying to contact someone in the council to get something done. I can’t at forty years remove remember what it was, but I do remember his frustration at discovering that, due to the changes in local government funding being foisted on councils at the time, they no longer dealt with whatever it was because, if it were outsourced, it came under a different budget heading and they wouldn’t get grief from Westminster.

Victoria Park Flats

 

I walked past the monolith of the facade of Victoria Park Flats in Macclesfield thinking about how he could maybe persuade someone to tell him how to deal with this problem. And failing.

I mention Victoria Park flats as a cunning acknowledgement that change, ‘progress’ can be good and bad. Victoria Park flats replaced a demolished area of very tightly packed brick terrace mill workers houses. They had a sub Dickensian charm but must have been hell to live in. Victoria Park flats, ‘Viccy Park’, were medium rise concrete rat runs built in neo brutalist style that even the architect probably hated. But they were better plumbed, heated and not as rapaciously landlorded as 19th century mill owners tat.

The fact social disintegration set in shortly afterwards and the physical design encouraged that alienation beloved of social realists was the down side.

There were lots of good people in Viccy Park, but the drugs and the criminal minority got the headlines and the reputation was forged.

So thirty odd years after being ‘the finest housing development in the country’ according to Anthony Greenwood, Harold Wilson’s Housing Minister, demolition began. Traditional low rise buildings replaced the experimental work, but we should remember, that cool as those black and white photos of mill workers in their quaint dress standing outside Coronation Street style houses may look, the flats were a vast improvement for many. The sense of social togetherness and improvement that engendered the idea of replacing those terraces with the flats, may have been let down by the architecture and system build design of the private company that constructed them to the borough architect’s plan, but the recognition of owing the public something better than slums was good.

Under what social ideal were they demolished and replaced? Social justice? Better welfare? Or a desire to have a better facade for the town for visitors on the train.

So I don’t want to return to the terraced houses. Nor the collectivist vision of Viccy Park flats, but I have reservations about why they were replaced.

What worries me is that you can knock a concrete estate down and rebuild. Can you do that with a society? We’ve been through a period where the vision was; ‘no such thing as society’, and defenders of the person who said it can claim as much ‘misrepresentation’ as they like but it was taken as a mantra. A mantra that justified rapacious, devil take the hindmost excess in deregulated city firms that eventually led to the 2008 crash and a near collapse of capitalism. Oddly enough a world system saved by the intervention of governments led by Gordon Brown. A system that fell over its own greed, swallowed the state intervention medicine, kicked the doctor who saved it, and started chanting about the benefits of ‘small government’ and misquoting Ronald Reagan to say government wasn’t the solution it was the problem.

So when I looked at what was going on in the high street, in the offshoring of support services, in the crass manipulation of the language of ‘customer care’ from the viewpoint of someone looking at trying to save the world from outside the world, it became clear that maybe we, at least the western anglo-saxon version of how it works, ain’t worth saving. Even our supposed cures are nightmares: the internet of things, total digital integration to be exploited by monopoly global companies, dehumanising support chains with algorithms masquerading as artificial intelligence, and worse; the spectre of real AI hovering over us.

This isn’t an old git looking back, but a rational humanist perspective that realises there is no Whig theory of history that is going to save us. Unless we get our fingers out and make it clear: progress works for us or ships out, we are stuffed. We tell history where it goes not the other way round. We need to make sure those telling us that ‘X’ is inevitable get told where to go before they take us all to the cleaners.

Then again maybe it was just a trite bit of fun.

Your Call Is Very Important To Us

All Allinson needed to do was speak to someone. He might as well have wanted to be the Queen.

There was a telephone number he had kept from an earlier time.

He’d rung it on his legacy landline. The only reason he’d still got it was because he’d ignored the promises, offers and threats to change to a mobile. Same as he’d ignored all the increasingly aggressive communications about having his heating and lighting and kitchen appliances connected to the Net. They had tried to make him feel as if he were personally responsible for killing the planet. Each appliance he refused to connect was supposedly individually, directly, responsible for overheating a Polar Bear or choking a Dolphin. The role of the power companies, the motor manufacturers, Chinese coal fired industry, everyone else on the planet was apparently irrelevant. His gas fired central heating, installed under the slogans of efficiency, cleanliness and sustainability was now going to be cut off. No he didn’t have choice.

Everything was connected now, didn’t he know.

Everything until you wanted to ask a question, get an answer, tell someone something different.

He’d rung the number. It had redirected him. It was no longer staffed. An automated voice, possibly a human recording but most probably these days a computer voice simulation told him to go to a website or text a number or email but most answers could be found on one of several social media platforms which now supplied information which satisfied over ninety per cent of client enquiries. It offered to repeat the contact details and then terminated the call.

Allinson went for a walk into town. Or where the town had been. The place he had grown up thinking was the centre of the town, the place where you could get all the requirements of life; food, drink clothes, shoes, access to the offices of those supplying amenities like water, power, telephone, had been gutted like a fish. No worse than a fish. There the spine and ribs remained. Here there was nothing. There were some takeaway food shops, some betting shops, a couple of charity shops recycling things, an opticians and some hairstylists. The remaining food shops were supermarkets on the outer ring road. The council offices where you could pay your rates in the old days, your council tax now, were closed to the public. There was a website and a mobile app to pay. A building that used to be a labour exchange, then a Job Centre and now a place where terminals scrolled online jobs, lowered over the end of the street. Inside euphemistically named jobs coaches threatened to cut your benefits if you didn’t attend the indoctrinations to indentured non jobs and enslaving zero hour contract treadmills

Allinson considered firebombing something but you couldn’t get the petrol and the 24/7 total coverage face recognition cctv guaranteed capture, probably before the crime was committed.

In shops he’d been able to have conversations. To talk to people.

Now the monitoring of staff performance by chips, key loggers and video meant staff were part of the machine and if they wanted to outcompete their automated replacements for a few more paydays, they threw the purchases at you and didn’t have time to say even please and thank you. Most of the checkouts were automated anyway and only security guards patrolled the line of pay desks. He’d tried using cash once to exercise his legal right to pay using coin of the realm, only to be told that didn’t exist any more and besides the company’s commercial considerations  rated higher than his poxy rights. He’d complained until they had thrown him out and then complained some more until the police came and moved him on for causing a disturbance. He’d tried to complain about that, but the town ‘hub’ computers wouldn’t let him download the complaint form or complete the online version as it was not within the purview of the authorities IT remit. He’d tried complaining about that but…

And now he wanted to warn them of something.

He wanted to speak to someone about something the FAQs and circular non-contact contact links hadn’t bargained for.

The police station was closed to the public.

The contact numbers didn’t contact anyone.

Emergency  numbers only turned out responses for immediate threats or occurrences of violence. Longer term or lesser threats were logged on another system but it would be better if you could fill in an online form.

Allinson went back home.

The alien was still there.

The translation machine hummed and it said;

‘Any luck?’

Allinson shook his head.

‘No.’

‘They won’t negotiate?’

‘I don’t know I can’t get through to anyone.’

‘Same as us then?’

‘Afraid so.’

‘We shall have to mark this species as too primitive and self absorbed to be preserved you know?’

‘You said.’

‘We’ll be off then.’

‘Okay.’

‘Would you like to come with us? You have been most helpful, within the limits of your system.’

Allinson thought about it a moment.

‘Can I take my dog, Lexxy?’

The alien paused for a moment, spoke into a small cube, then listened to a metallic crackling.

It switched the translator on again.

‘I’ll need authorisation, but there’s no-one staffing the desk at the moment. Can you fill in an online form to request the transfer?’

Allinson stared.

‘I think I’ll stay where I am thanks.’

Action Monday

A news presenter on radio has just wasted several precious minutes of air time wibbling about ‘Blue Monday’. Apparently that is today, 18 January 2021.

The slot started off moderately light heartedly but rapidly drooped into the usual misery about the ‘last year’ and how we can all avoid our suicidal depression.

Well I’m not in one.

I’m sure there are some people who are down about life, and I sympathise but there are obviously a lot of people who are not and designating a day at random as ‘the low point of the year’ isn’t helping anyone.

I’d never even heard of ‘Blue Monday’ as a concept until today, and thirty seconds of searching online revealed what I suspected. There is no evidence for this as a real thing at all. It was a creation of a psychologist, Cliff Arnall who was suckered into the idea by Sky Travel in 2004. They were seeking a way of getting people to book holidays early for that summer and used this concept to prod people into parting with their hard earned cash. Arnall has since asked people to ignore the whole thing as irrelevant to real life. But as Dr Frankenstein found out, these monsters are harder to slay than create.

So here we are then on the most depressing day of the year (not). And you would, under the current circumstances, be mad to book a sun packed overseas beach holiday any time soon. So do you end it all now?

No.

Lift your head up and look at the glory of creation. Whether you ascribe the wonders around you to a God, or to a Gaia type concept or to the random chance events of scientific evolution they are pretty amazing and so are you. Your sheer existence is a wondrous victory over chance. Celebrate it.

Vaccines are on the way to offer a hope at least of a path through the Covid-19 minefield for many of us fairly soon so we should bear up under the strain and keep a clear head.

Actually if we are looking for something to be less than happy about, it might be that idea of vaccine rollout.

I am fortunate enough through happy circumstance, nothing to do with me, to live in a rich, self absorbed country, that had the money and opportunity to bung loads of cash relatively early on to pharmaceutical companies and ensure fairly early access to large numbers of doses of these lifelines. But what about the rest of the world? There are billions of people out there who will not have lifesaving vaccines for months, probably years the way things are going. The Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine is being made available to low and middle income countries at cost. Which is great but still expensive and supplies are currently being snapped up by rich ‘first world’ countries before they can rollout to these other needy areas.

So if you want to shake off the imaginary Blue Monday lethargy, write to your MP and suggest we stick a couple of billion in the pot to help pay the ‘cost’ price for our fellow human beings to be safe. And maybe we could build and licence production facilities elsewhere to stop countries rich from the previous exploitation of other countries snaffling all the available doses first?

‘No man is an island…’ and all that.

Time’s Up

Kirsty saw the red light glow on the camera, the floor assistant pointed and the producer in her ear said ‘Go’. She smiled at the dark robed figure relaxing in the guest seat.

‘Good evening.’

‘Good evening Kirsty.’

‘I take it this is a boom time for you?’

‘You’d think so wouldn’t you?’

The interviewer raised her eyebrows

‘You mean you aren’t busier than normal!’

‘I’m not saying that Kirsty,’ the guest lifted his robe slightly and crossed his legs. ‘But it’s not by as much as you’d think, sitting on your side of the equation.’

‘Well I confess I am surprised given what the ONS says is the uplift in the mortality rate month on month over the last year.’

‘I know.’

‘But there has been a15% uplift in mortality rates in the UK alone.’

‘And you’d be right in many ways to express that surprise but you must realise this is a global enterprise. In some regional sectors, the USA, most of Western Europe, China, there has been a significant rise in demand for our services. It is however a much bigger picture and its very much swings and roundabouts.

‘China?’

‘Oh yes.’

‘But they eliminated the virus entirely by the middle of last year.’

‘That’s certainly what they say.’

‘But?’

‘There’s an element of confidentiality involved here Kirsty and I don’t want to discuss individuals or even individual countries in detail, but just let’s say you can’t always believe what you read in press handounts, can you?’ His booming laugh made the camera shake.

‘I suppose not.’ Kirsty put her finger to her earpiece and listened to the producer telling her to move on. ‘But it would seem there has been a significant uplift in numbers for you then?’

‘You have to realise the  uptick from the virus itself and the closing of care services to other users has increased demand but at the same time you have to look at the other factors.’

‘Such as?’

‘Well, wars have slowed down. Seriously. Many combatants are concerned. Even ISIS said they wanted Jihad to be Covid secure!’ Again the laugh. ‘But seriously, reduced transport means fewer travel related deaths, and not just road traffic incidents, all sorts of cases related to moving people and cargo about have reduced in the interim.’

‘But what of this rumour about you taking on new colleagues to cope? The Government was touting this as a way of retraining and offsetting unemployment.’

‘It’s a difficult one Kirsty and I think it isn’t breaking too many rules to say that there is an element of mystical, nay, spiritual activity involved here. I mean I may be just one…’ the figure hesitated and cocked its hooded head to one side, ‘…entity, and bound by the basic laws of thermodynamics and time as anyone, sorry, anything, else, but I do have certain advantages over purely corporeal beings in time management.’

‘Are you saying you don’t need any help?’

‘Well I managed pretty well during all previous pandemics; awarded a significant bonus for the Black Death if you can put up with a little hubris, but I did try some outsourcing during the twentieth century.’

‘And how did that go?’

‘Well on pure numbers on the doors it was okay, but it didn’t free up as much time as I’d hoped, and there were significant admin issues with some of the recruits. People don’t always see the reason for paperwork, but believe me in the event of a head office audit you don’t want to be caught out with poor accounting procedures. Believe me.’

‘So you had to let them go?’

‘I had to terminate their contracts, yes.’

‘And the paperwork?’

‘All up to date, but it took some decades of overtime, and even on a multitasking temporally flexible being like myself, that can be taxing. So I have been considering my staffing options for the immediate future.’

‘If you don’t mind my saying so, it all seems a little unplanned, a little ad hoc?’

The cowl swivelled so that the black void as pointed at the interviewer. Her breathing became a little difficult and she reached for the water glass on the desk.

‘I may be a key player on the team, but I don’t get taken into future event confidences you know. There’s an ineffability embargo in effect. It seems reactive because it is.’ There was a long pause while Kirsty gulped some water and the hood moved aside. ‘Sorry. But it gets a little wearing after a while. A small heads up would be nice now and again. I mean in the Cold War I was on constant tenterhooks. Should I recruit temporary staff or not? Thermonuclear Armageddon could have put a real spanner in the smooth running of the operation you know. The rules say each person has to have a personal one to one conducting operation at the point and moment of demise. Try that with split second multi-million annihilation. But did I know whether it was going to happen or not? Oh no! Not even nudge or a wink.’ There was a shrug from the guest and a rattle from beneath the folds of the robe.

‘That must be very trying?’ Kirsty offered.

The figure sat up straight in the chair.

‘It can be. But mustn’t grumble. Always busy and I’m essentially a people being, so the more the merrier.’ There was a flash of a very white smile in the depths of the hood. Kirsty put her hand to her ear again and got the time warning.

‘Well that’s good to hear. I’m sorry but we don’t have your abilities so I’m afraid we’ve run out of time. Thank you for being with us tonight for this unprecedented and intriguing interview.’

‘You are very welcome.’ The hood swung to face directly into the camera and the lighting caught a glimpse of the white dome inside.

‘Goodnight all. See you soon.’

BREAKING POINT

I’d like to end 2020 on an upbeat note.

But I have no desire to stick my head in the sand

Civil society in Wales is not in a good place.

Our Covid figures are the worst in the UK nations and the NHS is falling, or probably has already fallen, over.

And political accountability on a range of issues is non-existent.

Starting with the small stuff first, the idea that the majority of people pay the smallest amount of attention to various enjoinders or rules about the Covid situation is a joke.

I see secondary school children, old ladies and athletic looking middle aged men without masks in shops unchallenged by shop workers while pre recorded voice messages play over the tannoy system telling us all how there is a one way system in force, everyone must wear masks and assistants will enforce the rules.

Families have extended family over to visit from many different households and not just in the Christmas window and way beyond those limits.

And why would they pay attention when the rules change seemingly from day to day?

And when someone writes to ask a question via email about the policy, the system, its implications for a Welsh student studying and living in England and whether they can and how they should return for essential services still registered for in Wales, and might the Welsh Government apply a little more thought to those in that position, they are ignored.

The official system my daughter used to contact Mark Drakeford some months ago specifically says that the enquiry will receive an answer. She wasn’t expecting a personally signed vellum scroll in reply, but not to receive even an acknowledgment, as required, undermines belief in even the most basic lip service to democratic accountability and engagement.

But politicians and officials seem to care little about what the pubic want. We have recently had a new superhospital open in our area, The Grange at Cwmbran – the one recently in the news with no beds for A & E and patients sat overnight in ambulances waiting. Which is odd as it is the A & E hospital now for the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. This has a huge catchment area and is not on the established public transport links in the area. Newport is the focal point for transport links in the area. Cwmbran is up one of the valleys and if you need to get there you have to change buses or trains at least once, in Newport, to get there and then the hospital is nowhere near the station in Cwmbran.

But obviously if you need to get there in an emergency you will use an ambulance to get you there in time to save you without the bother of public transport.

The 86 year old grandmother of a friend of my daughter had a fall a couple of days ago. She was in agony and the family couldn’t move her themselves as they suspected she had broken her hip. They rang for an ambulance to take her to the new state of the art centre of excellence that is the Grange at Cwmbran.

26 and a half hours later an ambulance arrived. The ambulance driver said he would complain as his patient was by then in a bad way and he had not heard about the call until recently. That obviously stops the press stories about waiting in ambulances for a bed.

As suspected, she as a broken hip, and will have an operation tomorrow.

I’d suggest writing to someone to complain, but as nobody is even likely to acknowledge it, it hardly seems worth it does it?

In case anyone thinks Covid and/or teething problems with the new hospital in Cwmbran are to blame, nearly two years ago my GP rang for an ambulance for me when my heart went into atrial flutter and I had a resting pulse of c150 beats per minute. I waited for a couple of hours and rang to see what was happening. There were no ambulances. They sub contracted a taxi.

Fortunately my wife got back from hospital and drove me to hospital. The ambulance/taxi never did arrive.

There were no beds. There were no trolleys. I sat in a chair in the waiting room overnight, eventually hooked up to a drip to see if they could get my heart rate down before I saw someone about sixteen hours later and I eventually got a trolley. I moved up through the hierarchy for a couple of days until I eventually got to a cardiac ward bed, got my heart rate under control and was discharged for cardioversion at a later (five month) date.

There was no Covid. There were no teething problems

I’m not having a pop at the NHS staff, but at the failure to finance, organise and direct their efforts while talking gibberish about how brilliant everything is.

A little less effort on the ‘message’ front and a little more at getting the bloody thing right would help.

It’s not just the NHS, and it’s not just Wales.

Underfunding, poor planning and a desire to egregiously lie about how ‘World Beating’ everything is at every verse end is infecting every facet of public life in the UK. And it is not ‘public service inefficiency’ that is the problem. The efficacy of the Government’s remedy of choice, privatised sub contracting, can be seen in the woeful performance the World Beating private test, track and trace system in England. It is undoubtedly setting records but not at the end of the leader board you’d like it to be.

A little more honesty and genuine attempts to fix problems rather than ‘perceptions’ would go a long way.