How a pair of Beeston creatives joined forces to keep the flame flickering

We are, as this and every previous issue will attest to, a wildly creative town. Artists, musicians, crafters, writers et al keep kicking out staggeringly super work which we happily try and inform you of.

A global pandemic and fundamental shift in how the world works isn’t a reason for despair, it’s a chance to innovate. Say hello to Nottingham Stories: Separation and Serenade.

When she realised that the third annual Nottingham Chamber Music Festival was not going to be going ahead due to lockdown, the festival’s director Beestonian violist Carmen Flores didn’t just retire her instrument and bow while it went on. She instead picked up the phone and rang a local professional filmmaker, Tim Bassford of Turbine Creative. Together, they cooked up a brilliant idea.

Like the best ideas, it’s startlingly simple. They would visit a well-known Nottingham building, closed due to lockdown, and film Carmen performing Bach within. As Carmen rings out beautiful music to fill the empty spaces, Tim’s camera provides an accompaniment, highlighting the locations beauty. It’s not a film about music, It’s not music with film. It’s a synthesis. Carmen may be performing solo, but the overall feeling is a duet of eye and ear. Nottingham Council House, Delilahs, The Royal Concert Hall, St Mary’s In The Lace Market, Nottingham Contemporary and the High School all feature, each familiar, each filmed in ways that make you see them anew.

During the film’s individual premieres, donations to the Help Musicians charity (https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/support-our-work/make-a-donation) were encouraged, to support musicians who have struggled to earn a living while the COVID crisis grinds on.

The videos were shot in July and released on a thrice-weekly basis during September. They proved to be, as the best music does, able to bring out emotions you weren’t previously aware existed. Personally, I felt initial melancholy – I missed these places – hope. While the empty buildings still wait to fill and surge with life again, a flame of creativity burns, and it burns bright.

The films are available to watch for free here.

MT

Working nine till five (in your dressing gown)

One of the consequences of Coronavirus is that many of us have had to start working from home. As a stand-up comedian, this hasn’t been easy, you can’t just start doing an impromptu gig at the dinner table, treating your kids like drunken hecklers. You can’t do “your mum” style put-downs when you’re married to her.

If you ever wanted an insight into what it’s like to be married to a comedian, my wife Jemma once came to a gig with me. Afterwards, I overheard her talking to an audience member who said, “was that your husband on stage earlier?” “Yes,” Jemma said. They then said, “oh it must be great living with him, I bet you never stop laughing!” Jemma sighed wearily and replied, “oh yes, it’s hilarious…”

Over the last six months, social media has been flooded with pictures of people’s home office setups, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some people have a set up like the HQ of Google. Two monitors, a perfectly positioned desk, expertly lit so they can slay all those crucial Zoom meetings.

Others are perched on the toilet, naked from the waist down, with their laptops balanced on an Alibaba laundry basket, trying to stop the cat from flashing its bumhole on the webcam.

When I worked in an office I kept the fact that I did stand up comedy a bit of a secret. The two worlds don’t really mix, an office isn’t a comedy club: “Give is a cheer if you know how the photocopier works!”

“Right, are you ready for your next meeting? let’s start the applause…..build it up, stamp your feet, go wild and crazy and welcome to the Projector a very good friend of mine, Kevin and his monthly sales figures!”

The government have tried to encourage people back into the office, but it hasn’t been easy. They assumed that people would relish the chance to get back to normal, pick up where they left off all those months ago. But they forgot one small point. Most people really hate their jobs.

We’ve all had a taste of a different life and now we don’t want to go back.

In this month’s article, I take a look at some of the things many of us wouldn’t miss about working in an office.

Wasted time

There used to be the mindset that working from home meant that you were skiving. Rolling over in bed to hit send on an email before going back to sleep. This pandemic has shown that to be nonsense. Studies have shown that people are more productive when they are at home, because they feel like they’re on their own time. Forget promotions and pay rises, nothing is more motivating than your own inflatable hot tub, a box set and an ice-cold beer.

It was all about trust. There wasn’t any. The manager wanted you at a desk where they could see you, like a toddler in a tie. At their disposal, so they could drag you into pointless meetings that went on for hours, where the only outcome was “I think we need another meeting”

The commute

Nothing starts your day like a two-hour journey nestled nose deep into a strangers armpit. Or perhaps you’re pinned against the glass of a train window, as the person next to you unfolds their morning paper like they are trying to change a duvet. Only a psychopath could miss the morning commute. Even in your own car, it’s miserable. Sitting there in that little metal coffin, staring at the exhaust in front, listening to Heart FM and wondering what happened to your dreams.
The rush hour just seemed to get earlier every day, with Friday afternoon seemingly the exact point in the week where everyone would synchronize their car accidents, causing hours of tailbacks all across the country.

Lunch

Why sit in your own garden eating home-cooked food you’ve lovingly prepared, when you can spend a tenner on a floppy cheese sandwich, which has been thrown together by someone in a factory who has just recently tested positive for COVID?

The amount of money we wasted on Coffee and lunches was staggering. Of course, there are the smug people with a fresh pasta salad they made the night before. But the rest of us have woken up fifteen minutes before we have to leave and we’ve had to brush our teeth in the car park.

You have to have a think about what lunch you bring in to the office. A tuna salad may seem like a fairly innocuous, but not when it’s in a poorly sealed Tupperware. Tuna juice is one of the most potent substances known to man and it’s got a longer half-life than Novichok. Even a small leak makes your rucksack smell like a fishing trawler. It gets into your skin, on your clothes, everywhere you go you’re followed by hundreds of stray cats.

Smelly food, in general, should be banned from an office. Anyone who brings in a curry to reheat in a communal microwave needs to get in the bin. That’s not lunch, that’s social terrorism.

I stopped taking a yoghurt to work. I had too many accidents. Is there anything more stressful than opening a yoghurt when you’re wearing a black suit? They are so highly pressurized, peeling back that film lid is like trying to defuse a bomb. No matter how gentle you are, it just fires itself at you, spitting the stuff everywhere like an angry cobra.

Making tea

When you’re working from home and you get up to make a brew, it doesn’t condemn you to an hour at the kettle, working your way through more orders than a barista in Starbucks. There is always that one person in an office, who waits until someone gets up before asking for a drink, never offering to make one themselves. I feel for them when working from home, just staring at an empty cup, gasping for a drink but not having the skills to make it happen.

Some of the orders are ridiculous too, “Make sure you leave the T-Bag in for thirty seconds, stir three times, sweetener and no sugar. Make sure you use soya milk for Susan as normal milk will kill her!”

Hot Desking

I’ve never been keen on the idea of hot desking. Why do I have to share custody of a mouse with Bryan? It’s not the school hamster? We’ve all seen him idly scratching his testicles near the water cooler. Is it called a hot desk because after he’s been on it I’d like to set fire to it?

Banter

“Office Banter” or as it’s now more commonly known “harassment” is another thing I think we’d all like to see the back of. There is nothing wrong with having a laugh with your colleagues, but the phrase, “Is just banter mate!” has been used as a defence by so many bellends over the years.

There is a place for humour in the workplace, but it has to be well-timed and well balanced. A witty remark or an inside joke always goes down well. Saying, “It’s nearly Friday!” at 9.30 am on a Monday morning, quite rightly makes the rest of the office want to strangle you with a printer cable.

Cakes

An unwritten rule in any office is that when it’s your birthday, you bring in cakes. This is part of your contract. I was once working in an office when someone decided to buck this trend and bring in a fruit platter. People looked at her like she’d left a dog turd on the desk. There was genuine anger. I swear I saw people taking their money back out of her card.

Team building days

Team building events, for when eight hours a day five days a week just isn’t enough for some people. If you don’t like these people now, standing in a cagoule in a forest in the pouring rain, trying to make a den out of twigs certainly won’t improve matters.

Boring people

The worst thing to have in an office is that painfully boring person, who sucks the life out of everyone. If you’re thinking that you haven’t got one in your organisation then it’s probably you.

As soon as they start talking, you’re just thinking of ways to get out of the conversation. You wonder if you could fake a heart attack? Or secretly text a family member to ring you with an emergency?

There was a guy I used to work called Alan Koch, it was a German name I think, ironic really because people called him that anyway.

He’d box you in in the corridor. He knew you wanted to leave, so he never stopped talking. I think he could probably play the didgeridoo because he was doing circular breathing. Getting away from him was like trying to pull out into traffic at a busy junction. You can be polite and wait for a gap, but at some point, you have to just got to put your head down and go for it, otherwise, you’ll be there all day.

Wherever he went people would dive into meeting rooms to avoid him, it was like watching a tornado sweeping across a plain.

My boss once got trapped by him near the door, he had nowhere to go and Alan had him in the tractor beam of one of his long anecdotes. With a look of despair on his face, my boss spotted me over Alan’s shoulder and, with tears almost welling in his eyes, mouthed the words, “help me.”

So that concludes the meeting for today folks. Please don’t forget to read the minutes when I send them through. It’ll be tomorrow though, I’m off back to bed now until the school run.

SB

Lockdown writing

When I retired three years ago I looked around for something to fill my time and joined a WEA Creative Writing course that happened at the Pearson Centre every Thursday morning. It was a good choice for me, making new friends and having a writing project every week to keep me on my toes.

One Thursday earlier this year before lockdown, our brilliant tutor Debs Tyler-Bennett, showed us a press cutting that she had found about a box of memorabilia found in the loft of a house that was being cleared ready for sale, the owner of the house sadly was now in a care home suffering with dementia. The memorabilia showed that in 1934 a Mr and Mrs Fuller from Derbyshire had bought a motor home and trekked to the Sahara desert, taking their maid with them, Mary who slept in a tent outside the caravan all the way to the Sahara! The box of photos and press cuttings was sold at auction, which was why it had come to the public eye. We talked about the article as a group and then Debs said ‘ok you’ve got 10 minutes to write something about this story – go!’

It was amazing how, after the 10 minutes had passed, the ten of us in the group had each come up with a different take on the story! I had put myself in the shoes of the maid, Mary, thinking she was probably a young girl with limited education who had never left Derbyshire in her short life and now found herself leaving home for an indeterminate length of time and camping out all through Europe to the African continent at the bidding of her employers.

I found I couldn’t stop writing about this epic journey and the result is this short story, ‘Dear Mam… ‘ which is available to buy on Amazon and Kindle.

I have been a volunteer at Attenborough Nature Centre for many years, behind the reception counter and am sad that I can’t be there at the moment, due to COVID. So to keep involved as much as I can I have donated a number of copies of my book to the Nature Centre for them to sell. So please pop along to Attenborough and help them out by buying a copy of ‘Dear Mam…’

You could read it while you’re having your coffee there!

GH

Game, set and match Beeston!

I shouldn’t be writing this. I should, right now, be sitting in front of the telly with a glass of red booze, watching as men and women in Persil-bright white clothes whack a ball over a net while grunting.

Alas, another casualty of the virus is Wimbledon, that late June, early July distraction that sees Sue Barker and some former, gone-to-seed players try and keep viewers rapt at scenes of hurtling rain and disgruntled punters scowling under posh brollies.

Not this year. No French open, no US Open, no Queens, not even our own little Open over at the tennis centre that straddles the Beeston/Nottingham border. And with it, no crowding at municipal tennis courts.

It’s a familiar thing each year that coincides with the first strawberry served at Wimbledon: people dig out their dusty rackets, roll a wristband on and hit the courts that pepper the area: the ones on the Uni, the ones at Priory Island. Chilwell, Town Street in Bramcote. Perhaps, for the more committed, the excellent facilities of the two local tennis clubs in Chilwell and Attenborough.

“There is still much to do in getting it ready for the future Federers and neo-Novaks amongst us…”

Despite this, Beeston itself does not have a single court – or so many thought, and would have continued to think if those great folk down at Beeston FC hadn’t uncovered one beneath a thick woody blanket of ivy and bramble.

Beneath this overgrown mat, a fine, well surfaced and clearly marked court lurked, and when revealed was found to be usable. However, a net is fairly essential to play, and a little research by the team discovered the manufacturer of the correct one to fit the posts snugly.

There is still much to do in getting it ready for the future Federers and neo-Novaks amongst us, but for Beestonians the loss of watching the British seeds crash out in the first round down in North London is more than mitigated by the Rylands getting its own court. Game, set and match Beeston!

MT

Student retention and the economic effect

Following a recent report conducted by London Economics for the University and College Union, figures suggest that UK Universities are expecting over 230,000 fewer students in September as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This reduction could potentially decrease the incoming finance of universities by billions, putting an estimated 60,000 jobs at risk, both in the universities themselves and in the surrounding areas. Many universities in the country were struggling financially, even before the pandemic, and as a result, they could face serious long-term financial issues.

The University of Nottingham’s financial position has a strong influence on the economic fortune of surrounding towns, most obviously affecting that of Beeston. In previous years, Beeston has greatly relied upon the University of Nottingham to introduce a large number of visitors and students into the area, and to bring money to local businesses. Most recent figures suggest that over 3000 jobs in the Broxtowe area rely upon the University of Nottingham’s presence, whether they are directly linked to the University or not. Additionally, over 4200 University of Nottingham students and 1620 staff members live in Broxtowe, and therefore frequently provide the area with an economic income. International students to the University of Nottingham contribute £17 million to the Broxtowe economy annually, with the University supporting over 500 local businesses. Without the university or its students, it is clear that there would be detrimental effects to all surrounding economies if there were a strong decline in the number of students.

One of the biggest reasons behind the potential loss in finance is a lack of student retention, and university students opting to either study virtually and study from home, or to defer their place at university for the year. Both will have a negative effect on the local economy as students will fail to invest in the local communities and economies. For students starting university in September, the pandemic is still clearly their priority.

Jessica Croft, 21, from Nottingham, is due to start postgraduate study at the University of Nottingham in September but admits she has reservations: “I do have various concerns about attending University in September. However, I trust that student safety is the priority of the University; I am confident that I will not be put in a position where I am at risk of contracting the virus.

“I know of people who are hoping to start their first year in September, as an undergraduate, and a lot of them are considering deferring for a year. They don’t believe they’ll receive the full student experience during the pandemic and its repercussions. For that reason, I do believe that there will be a decline in the number of students attending University in September.

“I know that if I can work under these circumstances, I will come out of this academic year as a dedicated and adaptable individual – something which is invaluable to potential employers.”

“It will be a challenging year for me as a postgraduate student – particularly in terms of my mental health. However, I am trying to make the best of the situation. I know that if I can work under these circumstances, I will come out of this academic year as a dedicated and adaptable individual – something which is invaluable to potential employers.”

Whilst the University of Nottingham is busy making preparations and safety measures to welcome their students back in the new academic year, it is possible that their ‘blended approach’ could hinder the recovery of the Broxtowe economy. A spokesperson for the University of Nottingham said: “All of us at the University of Nottingham look forward to welcoming all of our students back to campus in September. We are committed to ensuring our students can remain safe and make the very most of the opportunities that studying for a Nottingham degree offers. We know that, in turn, our students will support our University community and neighbours in the city by following all government guidelines and local safety measures. Life at university, as much as everywhere else around the globe, will feel different for a while, however, our students’ time at Nottingham will be enriching and exciting, nonetheless. We have successfully welcomed more than 5,000 students back to our campus in Ningbo, China, and we are using that experience to inform how we approach things in the UK.

“We will use a blended approach to deliver teaching, using a combination of digital and in-person sessions to ensure students have every opportunity to engage with our world-leading academics. Social distancing measures will be in place across our indoor and outdoor spaces including dedicated entrances and exits, one-way and queuing systems, and distance markers that have become a familiar feature in other areas of national life.”

They continued: “We are working closely with the city and county councils, and landlords’ associations, to help bring students back to the city safely and efficiently. Lakeside Arts, our gallery and arts centre, is expected to resume its programme in the autumn, and will also put on its events and cultural activities in new spaces such as live-streaming performances on the Portland screen at the Students’ Union. The University and the Students’ Union is working with societies and student groups to develop safe and exciting opportunities to experience what our city and region have to offer.”

Regardless of whether students choose to return to the University of Nottingham this September, the economic impact on Broxtowe is almost inevitable and it is important we work together to mitigate the effects of this to the best of our ability.

FP

The end is in sight…

As the government start to relax the social distancing laws, it looks like we might finally be coming out of this nightmare. The year 2020 will forever be known as the time when your wheelie bin went out more often than you did.

The same people who told us to stay inside are now telling us to go out again. It might be because the infection rate is going down or it could be to help get the economy moving again so that their rich mates can make a return on some of their investments. It’s hard to know the truth, isn’t it?

As I write this, the two-metre rule has been reduced to one metre (except for people who you don’t like) and the pubs are about to re-open. If you listen carefully you can just make out the sound of thousands of webcams being slung back into desks.

So I thought this month I’d do a retrospective review of the whole lockdown experience and reflect on how it might’ve changed us and our society, what the future holds and ponder if this whole experience might’ve been the reset the world needed?

New Terminology

I’ve known people who have been social distancing long before it was trendy, I mean they called it divorce, but it was effectively the same thing. These are terms that are now part of our everyday vocabulary that we had never heard of before March this year.

My children, who are 10 and 4, were playing with their Barbie dolls the other day, I could overhear them talking, “are you coming to the party Chelsea?” “Yes, but we must keep two metres apart and don’t forget your face masks!”
It’s amazing, I’ve got so good at estimating what two metres are now, that I reckon I could plan out an extension without even using a tape measure.

We have had so many new words. “Furloughed” sounds like a medical emergency involving some farming machinery and scientists were constantly talking about how important it was to “flatten the curve” something which I used to do when we were allowed in the gym.

“Stay alert, we don’t want a second peak” I agreed with that, I put on so much weight during the first one, I don’t think my body could take anymore. I’ve already seen my second peak, although you’d probably call them “moobs”

Booze and Baking

It’s been a toxic combination of constant drinking and home baking that’s been my downfall. I went into this pandemic quite healthy, now I’m drinking at midday and my blood group is basically Banana Bread.

When I go for my next health check to the doctors he’s going to ask me how much alcohol I drink. I’ll say “BC or AC doctor, before Corona or After Corona, because those are two very different statistics. I barely drank before, now I’m putting away more units than a kitchen fitter.

We were in a Whatsapp group for our street, wasn’t everyone? You’d see messages at three in the morning, desperate people on the hunt for yeast. At any one time, there would be at least five people walking up and down the road with little bags of white powder, leaving it in plant pots and behind gates, like a really middle-class drug deal.

Motivational pressure

There were, of course, those people who said at the start of this, “I see this time as a gift, I’m going to write a novel, I’m going to paint, I’m going to learn a new musical instrument.” No. To those people, I say this, has any crisis in history been improved with the addition of a Trumpet?

Time wasn’t the issue for me, I’m just lazy. If being productive was just down to time, then why hasn’t every serial killer doing a life sentence written a bestselling novel?

Keeping fit

Who would have thought letting humans out for one walk a day, would be the key to solving Britain’s obesity crisis. We were up at nine, doing lunges in front of the fireplace with Joe Wicks, then we were out for our daily walk, like prisoners on death row wandering around the yard.

Poor old Joe Wicks. As the numbers dwindled he desperately tried to hold onto viewers. He wore fancy dress, had music playing, asked people to write in with shout outs. The only way he could have kept us Brits committed would have been to introduce exercises that involved using KFC bargain buckets as dumbbells.

Zoom Quizzes

The family zoom quiz became a regular feature in everyone’s calendar. Our children haven’t been educated in months but luckily we have been filling their heads with pointless trivia. They’ll not get any GCSE’s but at least they’ll be able to tell you the depth of Lake Tahoe to the nearest millimetre. If Oxford University do a degree in “Disney facts” my daughter will pass with flying colours.

You think you’re popular now, try and organize a Zoom quiz after this pandemic, see how many people are interested then. “No thanks Bryan, we only let you do it because you had the best broadband, we’re off out with our real friends tonight, this is one round you aren’t going to be involved in pal!”

Retail therapy

There are a few people who for them this pandemic has been an unparalleled success. Delivery drivers. I’m not saying I’ve ordered too much online, but the Amazon guy now has his own key.

There have been so many “essential” purchases haven’t there? New trainers. Gallons of fence preserver, Pizza ovens and Chimineas. Can you imagine the conversation I’ll have with my grandchildren in years to come?

“Tell me about the great pandemic of 2020 Grandad.”

“Oh, it was awful son, six weeks we had to wait for that inflatable hot tub and don’t get me started on that rattan patio furniture!”

Homeschooling

People have had very different lockdowns. The people without kids have appreciated the downtime, whereas those with kids have appreciated the teachers.

A lot of things will bounce back after this pandemic, not teacher recruitment though. No-one is going to want to pick that profession, mainly because we have all realised what our own children are actually like.

I never wanted to be a teacher. Let me tell you that there is nothing more humiliating than having to google maths problems aimed at a nine-year-old. Some of the concepts were lost on me, what the hell are Phonics? I think I saw them support the Chemical Brothers at Rock City in the early Nineties!

The new normal

In my last stand up show, “Relax”, I talked about how frenetic the world was and how, because of the pressures of life, humans have forgotten how to relax. Well, I clearly had a direct line to God himself, because along came Corona, and we’ve had three months of sitting on our butts in our jogging bottoms watching boxsets.

In a recent survey, only 10% of Brits were actually looking forward to going back to their old lives. It seems that this pandemic, although terrifying and unprecedented, is nothing compared to the fear of “normality”

This tells me one thing, we were living our lives all wrong. Working endless hours in jobs you could do from home, lives wasted sitting in tin boxes on the A52 listening to Sarah Cox. Meals missed with our children, no time for exercise and no time for each other.

The environment is better, the air is cleaner, the rivers are blue and the birds are singing. Maybe this is the only way we can save the planet? By stopping the human’s living on it.

This is what’s leaving us all so confused. We are all less anxious now, yes we’ve all lost money, the more unfortunate ones amongst us may have even lost our loved ones, but we have all learnt a valuable lesson. We lost sight of what was important and we now need to start making time for ourselves.

Let’s build a new normal, something that improves our quality of life. Although if that involves playing a trumpet, frankly I’d rather we didn’t bother.

SB

The more things stay the same the more they change

I used to get/find/stumble upon inspiration for my Beestonian columns on my commute to work, either peering, half-awake, from the window on an Indigo or pottering along towards the West Entrance after a coffee in Greenhood. It gave me time to think about something to say and how I might go about saying it…

My current commute is about 3 seconds.

I thought it might be witty to just stop there but 1) the Beestonian’s (other?!) Yorkshireman is the funny one and 2) I’ve got a page to fill and an editor wanting copy.

So, words I shall write and if your lockdown’s not eased too much, you can keep reading if you want.

It’s easy to blame a lack of commuting time for a lack of inspiration but I think actually I’ve just hit some kind of lockdown stasis. It’s also been marking season at work and it’s not my favourite part of the job. I enjoy ‘teaching’ but in most cases, marking is the one part of learning facilitation that I find a bit of a drag. There are notable exceptions, I was marking dissertations over, what was technically speaking, the spring vacation and it’s great to see the original research work that our students undertake – they do a great job. The added bonus marking wise is that every dissertation is on a different topic.

I think I’m also suffering a bit from hope. Hope of what exactly I’m not sure, but as discussions begin about things easing and recovering, my own emotions seem to do the opposite. Maybe our copy deadline is just bad timing, and in a week’s time my clarity will be restored, and words will flow from my fingers like something that flows easily. But at the moment lockdown actually appears more straightforward than what might come next. Shutting down was/is a much simpler process than opening up again.

My own research is about benchmarking Earth systems, it’s based on the idea that by going further and further back in time we can find out how a given system can respond to a given forcing, and what happens if and when it breaks. There’s always a no-analogue problem though. That is, it’s possible the system can go into a state it’s never been in before; that however much we try we’re not going to find a perfect time in the past to explain where we might end up next.

“We’re not approaching a new normal, we’re heading for complete unknown.”

And at the moment it feels we’re moving day by day, more and more into a no-analogue space. We’re not approaching a new normal, we’re heading for complete unknown. Our current lockdown is unsustainable, but the forcing isn’t going away anytime soon. So how do our existing systems cope with that? If we’ve time/space/stimulants enough to worry about it further, should they?

What we hope (i.e. argue with confidence for in grant proposals) is that we understand the present and past systems enough that we can project what will happen to them with confidence in any potential future scenario. My guess is that our scenario testing will be substantially examined in the coming weeks, months and years.

We also, though, relish the challenge (clearly not personally this month!) and trust that we can find new ways, technological, philosophical or other, to keep going and keep growing. Maybe we focus on the positives, of which there are many, or re-scale our horizons and gain new perspectives. Maybe we churn out words into the ether as something selfishly cathartic…

If you know please contact my editor.

MJ

Parenting in the apocolypse

Hey Beestonians, I do hope you are doing well and are safe at home. That’s how we start our sentences now isn’t it? Not, ‘what have you been up to?’ or ‘been anywhere nice?’ Now we chat to people like we’re Victorian novelists.

Every communication begins with ‘I sincerely hope this letter finds you and your family in good health.’ Mr Darcy is spinning in his grave with excitement at it all.

Those of us with children at home seem to have fallen into one of three categories.

  1. Diligent home-schooling and regular work sent to school for marking, routines adhered to and alarms set in the morning.
  2. Maybe we do a couple of lessons a week and send a photo of a drawing to assure the school we are still alive, no alarms and very little diligence, a few arguments per day but no throwing things.
  3. The kids are feral/unsure as to location.

We have settled into category 2 at the moment. We do a couple of bits of school work and send a picture when we remember, but mostly do our own thing and try to stay sane. Our daughter’s school topic was Vikings, so instead of scholarly research and reading we built the most amazing Viking settlement out of Lego and had a full on war. No one learnt anything, but we will remember the fun we had. I reckon that’s the goal in a time of our lives when goals are paused. Just getting through the week sane and healthy, and maybe doing a couple of fun bits and bobs that the kiddos will remember.

By far the most memorable part of all of this for me is the sheer relentlessness of being a parent. I know that sounds daft because you sign up for that part when you have kids, but you also send them to nursery and then school and regain your time and head-space. My daughter has been going to some form of education for the last 7 years, and now she is HERE ALL OF THE TIME, AND WOULD LIKE ANOTHER SNACK PLEASE. I’ve taken to faking needing a wee just to get a few minutes alone upstairs. It’s not that I don’t love her company, but if she asks me another question about Roblox I’m moving into the back seat of my car.

I’m hoping her memories of this period of her life will be positive. We have tried to strike a balance between maintaining school contact and allowing her the freedom to make videos about balloon modelling in her room and send us endless edits. I hope that her main memory is that we were all together for a while. Both my husband and I work long hours and the kiddo is foisted upon grandparents a lot, but she will have had months with us, and got to know us a bit more. I hope that this makes us respect each other a little more and look forward to long weekends of doing nothing when this is all over.

I have a feeling that we will miss this little isolation bubble when we can choose to leave it. It’s either that or we go full Category 3 and teach her how to hunt the local cats with her teeth.

DL

A Zoom with a view

As soon as you get that email, your heart starts pounding, “please join Zoom meeting in progress.” Fantastic, yet another chance to be scrutinized by thirty people all at once. That’s not a meeting, that’s an audition. This is a growing phenomenon phycologists have termed, “Zoom Fatigue.”

The global pandemic has made video conferencing the most important tool in business. I wish I’d have had the foresight to buy shares in Zoom or Skype before the world caved in. Back in January they were worth pence, now you could sell them and retire in the Algarve with your very own butler.

When recruiting new staff for the office, historically a boss would look at your experience, or your ability to work as a team. Now it’s how good your broadband is and the resolution of your webcam. This lack of physical human contact isn’t normal though, in fact I think it’s an invasion of privacy.

When you’re in the office, you can avoid boring Colin when he’s walking towards you down the corridor. You do a tuck and roll into an empty meeting room, pretend to have another phone call, fake death, anything to avoid his mood hoovering demeanour. With Zoom its impossible, eight hours a day, seven days a week, he can be there with you, sat in your own living room, staring into your eyes and slowly eroding your will to live.

Having to be on guard all the time is tiring, you can’t relax. People often Zoom in front of a bookcase, to make them look intelligent. Always remember though that the other viewers are looking at what is behind you, so play it safe. The Dictionary, a couple of Bill Bryson novels, a few cookbooks. Don’t sit there with fifteen copies of Mein Kampf in the background and a Haynes manual for a Volkswagon Beetle; you’ll be furloughed faster than you can say “COVID.” It’s tapped into our love of being nosey. People are speaking but we really aren’t listening, we’re looking at their houses. It’s like an episode of “Through The Keyhole.”

Karen will be giving a presentation on the latest sales figures and all you can think is, “my god, she’s got a rubbish sofa. I think the springs have gone on that. What wallpaper is that? Al Fresco I reckon, someone got their bonus this year, look at the dust on her telly; disgraceful!”

The tidiest place in your house now is anything in the range of the Webcam. Down that lens is the life you aspire too. Clean lines, fresh flowers, perfect lighting, it’s like an Apple advert. A few millimetres either side; crack den. Piles of dirty plates, last night’s takeaway boxes and underwear hanging from light fittings like voodoo trophies.

The worst bit is when you are waiting to go into the Zoom meeting. All you can see is your own horrible face and hair. You look tired, greasy and have jowls hanging down like a fat badger.

I’m starting to detest the “join with video” button. I don’t want to “join with video” can’t we do audio? You know what I look like. They should have a button that allows you to “join with someone else’s face” that would be wonderful. Imagine doing a meeting to discuss the new company logo with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

There is no good camera angle. I’ve seen more nostrils these past few months than a toddlers finger. You can try putting your laptop on books, hanging the webcam from a light fitting. You could send a drone with a GoPro hundreds of feet up into the air, but you still look ugly.

It’s not normal conversation either, because you are acutely aware of everyone’s body language. Even the slightest facial expression is registered. You feel like a Police Officer, watching a press conference, where you just know the person making the appeal is as guilty as hell.

“Janet rolled her eyes then, she hates me.”

“Now Keith looks bored.”

“Great, I’ve offended Carol.”

“Did Dave just swear at me?”

You can’t speak properly because of the delay, you just constantly say, “No you go first, no after you.” Are we talking here or holding the door open?

“You can get trapped in these Zoom meetings, because the worst thing is, everyone knows that you can’t go anywhere.”

Everyone is shouting at each other, it’s just mayhem, it sounds like a football match. It’s the internet, you have a microphone, stop bellowing at me like Brian Blessed you moron.

You can get trapped in these Zoom meetings, because the worst thing is, everyone knows that you can’t go anywhere. You can try and leave but no-one will let you.

“I’ve got to go guys sorry.”

“Where, where can you go, we’re in Lockdown!”

“Err, over near the plant for a bit.”

Every Zoom meeting ends the same way, doesn’t it? People frantically looking around their phone or laptop to try and find the “Leave meeting button” We are then all treated to ten minutes of waggling fingers in full 3D, coming towards us like pink tentacles as they fumble around the screen.

They’ll be a lot of people realizing how much their friends actually hate them now. If they don’t make an effort now it’s unlikely that they’re going to when the world returns to normal. People are literally spending all day sitting around staring at the walls and waiting for deliveries, they’ve had hours of free time and they still don’t call you. Imagine getting stood up now for a better internet offer, that would be brutal.

“Sorry mate I can’t come to your Zoom birthday, my third cousin is doing a Disney Quiz!”

Speaking of quizzes, please someone save me from this hell. Every single day there is another one, it’s absolutely endless, I feel like I’m in a never-ending edition of Mastermind. Our kids aren’t getting educated now, they are just learning loads of pointless trivia. They will grow up with no qualifications, unable to get a job, but at least they’ll be able to tell you what the depth of Lake Tahoe is to the nearest metre.

What I would say is that if you’re a quizmaster enjoy this moment in the spotlight. You might be popular now, but try hosting a zoom quiz after lockdown.

“No thanks Kev you weirdo, we only let you do it because you had the best broadband, now we’re off out for a drink with our real friends. This is one round you aren’t involved in!”

“Looking good on Zoom is now a major concern for people, it’s like the nightmare of the Instagram selfie but live.”

The Zoom host has all the power. It’s basically a dictatorship. Sitting there lauding it over everyone, monitoring the screens, like a perverted security guard.

“Obey me or I will silence you!”

Looking good on Zoom is now a major concern for people, it’s like the nightmare of the Instagram selfie but live. I have seen tutorials on YouTube. These American Zoom Guru’s, with their perfect physique, skin and teeth, telling us how beautiful we can look just by switching on a desk lamp. They claim that they can help you “slay your Zoom meeting.”

They offer handy tips like the clothing you should wear (simple and professional) the way you should always look interested, by sitting there with an inane grin on your face like a Waxwork Amanda Holden.

Working from home isn’t easy, especially when the children are trapped with you. But fear not, the Guru has advice for you there too. “Tell the children that when the computer is on, Mummy or Daddy are working. If they are going to choke on those grapes, they need to do it outside of work hours.”

Stop putting pressure on yourself, it’s an achievement at the moment just to get out of bed, just get through the days, that’s all we need to do. This isn’t about winning or succeeding, it’s about surviving.

Just have a whip-round with a wet wipe and put some pants on, that’s all you need to do. Oh and don’t worry about boring Colin, before you know it things will have returned to normal and then you can ignore him in person.

SB

Bow Selector: CoHab-19

Over the centuries and in countless stories, movies, comics, books and performances Robin Hood has fought and beaten a wide variety of foes from the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne to an entire Norman invasion fleet (yes, I’m looking at you Russell Crowe) and even a fire-breathing dragon from another reality (in ‘Beyond Sherwood Forest’ a truly terrible TV movie from 2009. Just… don’t).

Rarely has Robin been bested by anything except at the end of his story when old and wounded his final act is to shoot one last arrow before asking to be buried where it had landed (which rather embarrassingly turned out to be on a top of a van travelling up the A614).

But last year the annual Robin Hood Pageant, set to take place for the first time at Newstead Abbey as the Castle was (and still is) being redeveloped, had to be cancelled due to desperately bad weather – and this year (still at Newstead but having been rebranded to the much catchier ROBIN HOOD LIVE) it was thwarted by a foe that again can’t be beaten by swordplay, arrows, tricks or quips; Coronavirus.

So what’s an outlaw to do amidst a global pandemic (why do people always say ‘global’ pandemic when that’s what a pandemic is, by definition…)? With no spectacular show, St. Patrick’s or St. George’s Day parades to appear at I’m doing my bit along with most other people staying at home, keeping away from everyone else and looking with frank admiration at the *real* heroes we have in our midst; the NHS workers, bus and delivery drivers, shop staff, police and fire officers and all those other essential personnel who are risking themselves to keep us safe.

I said as much in a short video I made for the good folks at NOTTS TV (which I’m told then turned up on the BBC too), me dressed in my Robin Hood kit and sporting my snazzy badger-like lockdown beard, imploring everyone to ‘be like Robin’ and think of the vulnerable and endangered. But having done that… what?

Spending time with my six-year-old daughter Scarlett, for whom this is an exciting adventure filled with bouncing around, having fun, messing up the house and so much more, of course!

Back in the day, when I was a lad and all this was fields (or industry and shoe shops, actually) we had ‘the winter of discontent’ and all I remember about it was things being a bit grim and power cuts. I definitely remember huddling in the dark around a candle – and when it got really bad we used to light it.

So I wonder what Scarlett will make of all of this – at the moment it’s a time when she’s learned to ride her bike and take up roller skating and pogo-sticking (thankfully not simultaneously), enjoyed building a whole village in the ‘computer Lego’ game Minecraft and written, drawn, sung and watched ‘Captain Underpants’ to her heart’s content. I genuinely hope, even though she’s missing her friends and family a lot, that she’ll remember this as a really happy time.

We didn’t have videocalls or social media in 1978-9 either, or streaming movies – but I do recall my having had a lot more energy then too. Maybe that’s because I was 14 then and, as it is now for Scarlett at 6 the world was still a place of wonder and love, even if nowadays Scarlett does ask some serious questions about the virus and wants to know when it’ll be over. Sadly I can’t tell her that, but I do know when she finally goes back to her beloved Round Hill school I’m going to both miss her incredibly – and demand a massive pay rise for all the staff!

In the meantime stay safe, sane and well – and if you can’t stay sane just remember that in the immortal words of Meatloaf, ‘two out of three ain’t bad!’

TP

  • 1
  • 2
  • 9