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!”

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

The show goes on…

Let me tell you where I am readers. I’m here in the only place I feel safe at the moment… my shed. The first is a group called the “Men’s Shedders Association” But this isn’t just any garden shed, I’m not perched on a lawnmower with my feet on a bag of charcoal. This baby has carpets, curtains and even a coffee maker.

I’ve been self-isolating way before it was trendy. Although I didn’t call it that, I called it “hiding from my kids.”

This shed is quite compact, about six foot long by four foot wide, about the size of a downstairs toilet in the North or a one bed flat in Central London. On the 14th March BC (before Corona) I did my last live Stand up gig. Now I can’t get on stage, so like everyone else, I’ve decided to start working from home. Every week I do my own live stand up gig to a webcam here in the shed for the people on Facebook, it’s essentially a cross between Babestation and B and Q.

In Italy they sang songs from balconies, it was tender, it was beautiful. Here in Nottingham you’ve got a Yorkshireman bellowing punchlines in a wooden bunker at the bottom of his garden.

The response has been amazing, I’ve been on BBC News, Sky News, Five Live, over twenty thousand people have watched the first show as it was streamed live. It seems one man’s pandemic is another man’s career break. Someone even asked me who I’d got to do my PR! What?! PR? I didn’t plan this!? I didn’t think, forget “Live at the Apollo”, I want to be the acceptable face of the Coronavirus!

I think people were looking for a distraction though, which comedy certainly has the power to be.

Doing these jokes now feels a bit like missionary work, I don’t think of myself as a comedian
anymore, I’m basically Bob Geldof with punchlines.

My friends have said, how can you do stand up with no laughter Scott, isn’t it weird? No, I’ve performed in Doncaster, I’ve been here before.

I’ve got one physical audience member in the shed with me, my wife Jemma. Her role is sound engineer, morale officer and when she lays down a draft excluder. She also makes sure I stick to time, by frantically tugging on the leg of my jeans when I start waffling on. We go live every Thursday night and on that day I put a bit of extra effort in. I empty the dishwasher, I cook, I clean the entire house, I deal with the children, the last thing I need is my only audience member turning against me.

Roy and Margaret, my parents, also feature. My dad plays the ukulele and my mum sings. Listening to them do a rendition of The Urban Spaceman with my mum playing the Kazoo, was the first time since this crisis began, that I realized, just what a long haul this would be.

But It’s been amazing to see how my parents have embraced technology. Before the pandemic they were useless. It’s all changed now though. I’ve got my mum inviting me to three-way video conferencing sessions on Zoom, dad is in the spare bedroom, with a headset on, streaming a live vlog to his followers on Twitch. By the end of this pandemic, even your Gran will have a podcast.

“These days feel like a little window into my retirement years and I’ll be honest, it’s not looking good. I’ve got no money, no pension, no social life and the worst thing is, the kids are still at home.”

I’m trying to embrace this downtime, to see it as a moment of reflection a time to take a breath. These days feel like a little window into my retirement years and I’ll be honest, it’s not looking good. I’ve got no money, no pension, no social life and the worst thing is, the kids are still at home.

I’ve felt something these past few days that I haven’t experienced in years. Boredom.

Last Tuesday all I did was griddle some aubergines, that was it, a whole day and that was my only achievement. I needed the toilet, but I decided to hold it in, just so I could have something to look forward to on the Wednesday. I can’t wait for Friday, that’s the day I finally get to top up the bird feeders.

We are trying to ration our food at home now. We are down to our last pack of pasta and our delivery slot is still two weeks away. If things carry on like this I’ll have no choice but to go up into the loft and strip all the fusilli from my daughter’s primary school pictures.

We did a freezer eat down last week, clearing out all those leftovers. It feels very cathartic, but those were some weird meals. It was like Heston Blumenthal was on the pans. On the menu were potato waffles, sweetcorn, falafel and some unknown accompaniment, which I’m now convinced was breast milk. Either that or cod in butter sauce?

But In the midst of this trauma, there are things to celebrate. There is a real sense of community now, people are pulling together. We have a WhatsApp group in Nottingham, where people shop for those who can’t get out. Everyone is very reasonable on there, you have to think about what you ask for. You can’t have people risking their health just to pick you up some fresh peppercorns. “We’re in a state of national emergency Malcolm, I think you might have to accept that your food might be a little less seasoned from now on!”

No one knows what the world will look like when we come out of this. I was watching a video of a concert on YouTube the other night and something didn’t seem right. At first I thought it was the lack of mobile phones, then I realized what it was, people were stood in a crowd! It freaked me out! I wanted to yell at the television! “What are you doing guys, are you insane! you should be 2 metres apart, come on, social distancing! where is your hand santiser, where are your masks! Is this an essential concert?!”

Close contact could soon be a fetish. They’ll be underground cuddling clubs, proximity perverts hanging around in alleyways in long trench coats. “Come in here and stand next to me, go on, breath on my neck, that’s it, touch it, go on, you know you want to, touch my face, shake my hand, let’s go down to the basement for a game of Twister!”

Humour is one of the best tools we have to get through this. Only a fortnight ago, we were laughing about how we were having to greet each other. We touched elbows, we saluted, I even did a fist bump with the pensioner across the road. It was the most gangster thing ever. When all this has blown over we’ve made plans to pimp us his mobility scooter, then go down the old folks home and start dealing Viagra.

But I’m really missing my job. I’ve done shows every weekend for nearly a decade and I feel lost without it. I miss the hen parties and the stag nights, the punters on their phones and the drunken heckles from the shadows. I’ve done gigs where I’ve driven for four hours on a Tuesday night, in torrential rain, to perform to two people and a dog, for no money, at Bobby Wingnuts Cackle Dungeon…..and I even miss those ones now too.

I can’t keep doing jokes to my wife in the shed, it’s not normal. If you carry on like that you won’t have a career, or a wife.

After all, when this is over I think we will all need a laugh. Comedy is going to be in such demand and I can’t wait to be on the frontline, back in that comedy club where I belong.

But until that day comes, I guess this shed will just have to do.

@scottbcomedyuk | scottbennettcomedy.co.uk Find The Scott Bennett Podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes

SB

Motherhood in a pandemic

WELL. GUYS. What a year we are having. I hope you’re all doing ok, and I really hope you are all reading this at home with the curtains tightly closed in case that creepy neighbour walks past again and waves. If you don’t have one of those, it’s you. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

There are rainbows in windows everywhere, thanking our key workers for their brilliant efforts, and behind each one is a parent who is relieved to have a half an hour activity with their bored offspring. Homeschooling started weeks ago with an enthusiastic bang, parents with well-meaning lesson plans all sat down on that first Monday and smashed through a day of spellings and maths, with some colouring-in for balance. Now, 3 weeks into the lockdown, we rarely know where the kids are and aren’t entirely sure if we’ve fed them today. Lesson plans have been replaced with shrugs and a glass of red. Minecraft is now a STEM activity and Roblox ticks the maths box because, I dunno really, it has numbers in?

“There is a lot of talk of mental health and wellbeing around on the internet at the moment, and for people with kids who are themselves at huge risk of losing their livelihoods (HELLO!) I think it’s for the best that we don’t try to be superhuman through all of this.”

I really thought I’d be fine with homeschooling. Keeping the kid on track, not really teaching but allowing her mind to stay academically active. No. Nope. Not even slightly. Right now she’s sat in a bucket of what I suspect is rainwater, Skyping her best mate on an old phone we’ve agreed she can use and eating what looks like raw frozen chips. I’m indoors watching Bargain Hunt and writing this. We started well, but the Easter Holidays arrived and it felt a bit unfair to force her to do school work, so now every day is a Sunday afternoon and I’m not sure that time exists any more.

There is a lot of talk of mental health and wellbeing around on the internet at the moment, and for people with kids who are themselves at huge risk of losing their livelihoods (HELLO!) I think it’s for the best that we don’t try to be superhuman through all of this. Getting through each day as peacefully as possible is the most we can ask of ourselves. Feel free to learn a new skill, but also feel free not to. It turns out that ‘not having time’ was never the reason I didn’t learn to juggle or learn another language. If you want to clear out your underwear drawer, brilliant. If you want to eat ice lollies for breakfast, also brilliant! Do whatever you and your kids need to and ignore the pressure to do more. This is a pandemic, not The Real Housewives of Beeston.

DL

How has the lockdown affected our universities?

The last few weeks have obviously seen a change in how Universities have been working, or indeed how they have been able to work, but working they have been…

Teaching

In the days leading up to the ‘lockdown,’ much focus was on ensuring that students could continue to access the learning they needed to complete this academic year. The last few weeks of the teaching semester have moved online. We commonly record our lectures anyway, but teaching online is more than just providing an audio file to accompany a set of PowerPoint slides – and it is the important interactive elements of our learning support that led to many staff doing a bit of a crash course in various online platforms towards the end of March.

Universities have also been putting things in place to ensure students can get the marks they need to progress through their degrees, or, most importantly for final-year students, graduate with a degree result that is a fair reflection of their efforts. Graduation ceremonies themselves have been postponed but there’ll be little delay in final year students getting their degrees. Some have even already graduated, as you may have seen recently on BBCs The One Show, some University of Nottingham final-year medical students graduated early this year so they could start supporting NHS work immediately. A heartfelt round of applause to them, in particular, this week along with the final-year student nurses who have signed up for extended placements at this particularly challenging time.

Research

The move to a more virtual world has not stopped research across the University either, although in large parts of it there has been a shift to writing up work rather than doing new experiments, or a (re) new(ed) focus on desk-based work. Most of the University’s laboratories cannot be accessed at the moment, and travel restrictions have also paused some research programmes. Many of us have research networks across the UK and overseas and meeting these colleagues has now become a similar experience to meetings with people in our own department. There’s been a debate for some time in my own academic circles about how much we should be travelling anyway, given short- and longer-term environmental impacts of international travel. The coming months will see an increase in online workshops and conferences and it will be interesting to see how people take to these as an alternative to meeting in person and if behaviours remain changed in a post-COVID-19 world – no doubt someone will be doing some research on that.

Service

Laboratories that have remained open in the University have largely been those that have been working on COVID-19 related work, for example as part of a national effort to understand the genetic code of the virus. Equipment from both Nottingham universities was also loaned, early on in the shutdown, to the national testing effort. About £1 million worth of Nottingham PCR machines are now in the new Lighthouse Laboratories being used for running COVID-19 tests.

What next?

As we settle down into the rest of this academic year with a clear plan of what we are doing (and a big thanks to those colleagues who put in significant shifts to ensure those plans were in place), thoughts also turn to next year. Our big sisters and brothers in the national press have been speculating and reporting on concerns for university finances over the coming months, the sector will likely be hit substantially along with many others. We also wait and see if Freshers’ Weeks in the autumn are likely to be seen as a good idea, or if we’ll still be operating largely virtually for the new academic year. As with us all, we’ll just wait and see on those things and in the meantime keep supporting each other and others as best we can.

Take care.

MJ

Healing a town with shoe-shop chat

An issue that for some time neatly divides a community directly down the middle, cleaving them into two camps that seems intent on destroying all common ground between them. A debate that very rarely gets deep into facts before the ad hominem attacks, insults and threats. A political class that knows divide and conquer is a low but effective technique. A seemingly irreparable division that toxifies all it touches…

Nah, we don’t do Brexit on these pages, we’re talking about the tram. It’s hard to remember how divided things were then. We stuck down an editorial line of not being pro or anti as we could see how divisive it was, but still were accused from both sides of being a propaganda tool for the others. It was a pretty nasty time and was best summed up by the NET Tram Ranting Room on Facebook, an area of much heat and little light. Here, the loudest voices were amplified further over the quiet voices of reason, and dissent was not welcome. It was a hateful, horrible place serving to make the situation increasingly febrile. So well done to unassuming local guys, Jon Speed and Steve Orton who decided to do something about it. They set up a new group and called it ‘Beeston Updated’.

Originally the ‘NET Phase 2 Discussion Room’, its initial idea seemed to be a refuge for disaffected Rant Room defectors who wanted something less substantial than the usual ‘WHY OH WHY OH WHY fodder’. As it started to attract members, a local woman, Kirstie, was invited on board, and then I was hauled in. ‘We’ll probably plateau at around 750 members’ I predicted, maintaining my prognostic aptitude finely – I’m the anti-Nottstradamus, it seems.

As the tramlines came close to completion and the raison d’etre of the group looked set to diminish, we decided to refocus. I’d early done much work in tandem with the Beeston and District Civil Society and Sir/ Professor Martyn Poliakoff, and others, in trying to imagine what the next phase of the Square development should look like. We had run a process of asking a bunch of the finest, freshest minds in urban development together by setting it as a University of Nottingham project, with staggeringly imaginative results, fully costed and studied, presented openly for the public. Not a single councillor bothered visiting the display, and years on the Square is only just getting built on by the dullest set of buildings imaginable.

What would happen if we discussed, en masse, the future of Beeston development? Have a forum to find out what people really want, rather than the useless and skewed public consultations put out by councils? Beeston Updated took a step into the future.

And what a future it has been. Membership began to rocket and to ensure that it was well-served rules put in to allow everyone to talk in an open, positive fashion rather than the usual fate of forums: The Gobshite Takeover. Balancing this with freedom of expression is a developing, complex issue, yet I think it works, despite the aforementioned gobshites misunderstanding that ‘freedom of speech’ is the same as ‘freedom to be listened to’.

Themes, private jokes – the non-existence of shoe shops / public toilets is a perennial favourite, and memes have grown over time, as has a very welcome effect: despite the board’s occasional frivolity and trivialities, it sometimes serves an important purpose.

When the 12-year-old Rylander Owen Jenkins drowned in the Trent attempting to rescue two girls, the news first broke on BU, and the response was overwhelming. People were desperate to be able to offer help, even if it was just in the form of condolence. Owen’s family were inundated with offers of help, and as the tragedy settled into the town’s consciousness ideas were brought forth: Owen’s favourite colour was purple, so the town mobilised to display the colour all over, to show solidarity to Owen’s family. By the time his funeral happened, the streets from Rylands to Wollaton Road were lined with those wishing to pay respect. Out of tragedy, beauty.

There have been numerous such tales since, though few tinged with such tragedy. The deaths of notable local John ‘Fastlane’ Ciutiskis and busker Percy Brown saw the town come together on the group to ensure that they both received dignified send-offs. Pets have been reunited, friends bought back together, many, many small acts of communal goodness enacted. Oxjam, Street Art, and Beeston Carnival are all enhanced by the existence of the group.

It’s not perfect – what community is? It has, at time of writing, 20,394 members, which represents a vast majority of on-line Beestonians. While some of these admittedly are ex-residents of the town and confused Leeds residents perplexed at there being more than one Beeston, I’m delighted my original prediction was out by 2600%. While time and familiarity have been the greatest healers of the social wounds caused by the tram debacle, I am sure Beeston Updated has been a help in getting to understand who we are as a community, and bringing us a little closer.

And for the record, there are SEVEN places where men’s shoes can be purchased within Beeston, for christ sake.

MT

They’re not ageing, they’re transitioning!

As this issue is about community, I want to tell you about two of my favourite communities, both of whom have a spiritual affinity with one another.

The first is a group called the “Men’s Shedders Association.” I recently did a charity fundraising gig for them, my dream is to be the ambassador, the comedy circuits very own Angelina Jolie. I might even adopt one of these stray men and bring them back home to live with me. In a house full of women it would be nice to finally have a wingman for when my wife and I have an argument.

There is a serious reason that this charity was set up. Men’s mental health is a big concern. The statistics on male suicide make for horrific reading. It remains the most common form of death for men aged 20-49 in the UK. Years of being told to “Man up” and the stigma surrounding mental health has made it hard for men to talk about their problems.

Thankfully things are changing and the “Shedders Association” is one initiative set up to help. Men of all ages, young and old can now gather together in sheds all across the country, it’s a bit like an open prison, except that the only vices they have are the ones holding the wood.

It seems like men find it easier to talk when we are these sort of environments. Sawdust are our smelling salts and a Black and Decker Workmate is just another one of the lads. If you have a BBQ you can see how hard men find it to converse. Women will be sat on the patio furniture with a glass of Pimms, the air is alive with their excitable chatter. The men will usually be stood around the flames with a can of lager in hand, just staring in silence. Occasionally one of the older ones will pluck up the courage to speak: “It looks like you need another bag of lava rock on there Keith.”

I have a shed and it’s changed my life. It’s the only room in the house the children haven’t conquered. I like my kids but I love my shed. It’s my place, my own private temple. It’s not hedonism its shedonism! It’s how men bond too. My mates never ask me about my kids, but they will always ask me about that shed. “How is she doing mate?” “Great!” “I’ve got some pictures on my phone” “Oh, she’s beautiful!” “I’m treating her this weekend” “Are you?” “Yeah, a bit of Cuprinol.”

My wife Jemma got me that shed as a surprise when I became a professional comedian. It was somewhere I could concentrate, a private place away from the chaos of family life. At first, I thought it was a lovely gesture, now I’ve realised it’s just a way for her to get me out of the house.

Some of the men in the shedders association are retired. Their wives send them in there, to keep them occupied and stop them from getting lonely. They spend hours making coffee tables, catapults, and tiny models of cathedrals out of matchsticks, whilst their own homes just fall apart. “John I don’t need another bloody spice rack, when are you going to decorate that back bedroom!”

Another community I am fascinated with are the monks. To the onlooker they seem to have the right idea, taking themselves off the grid, seeking something more spiritual and meaningful in a world of panic and fear.

I’ve met a monk. I know this sounds like the start of a joke, “a comedian and a monk walk down a hill”, but it’s true. I was out for a walk on my own one day, in a country park in Gloucestershire. In the grounds, there was this Monastery. As I walked past the entrance, this monk came out of the gate and fell into step with me. He was in white robes, but he’d stuck on a fleece, bobble hat, and walking boots, an undercover monk, a friar with a wire. Some people find god after a moment of despair, this guy looked like he’d found him halfway through plastering a fireplace. It looked like he was on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition and had taken the wrong bearing, for nearly four decades! He said, “are you walking my way?” I thought, my God, he’s trying to recruit me! He got the calling when he was 25, he’d been there 35 years. He’d left his whole family behind to serve god. I told him I’d just turned 40. He said that is the age we start to look for fulfilment within ourselves, we stop chasing and start reflecting. This could be the moment for you, he said. “Now I’m not saying I’d want to abandon my family, I love my wife and children more than anything else in the world, they are everything to me…however…. it’d be nice to be brother Scott just for a weekend.”

I think that’s what these monasteries are full of, tired dads who said they were going to put the bin out one day and just kept going. They didn’t stop until their heads hit the monastery door. The monks find them there in the morning, just laid out on the steps: “We’ve got some more brother Michael and this one is weeping!” “School holidays Brother John always a busy time!” “Five this week alone” They just prize the Ikea bags out of their hands and take them through to the vestry. I think this is a secret fantasy for most men. As they get older you can see their inner monk slowing starting to come out. They aren’t ageing, they’re transitioning! They get the bald head, the potbelly, start spending all day in their dressing gowns, mumbling to themselves, they take a vow of celibacy, often not their choice. They wake up one day and say to their wives, “Susan, I’m going to put my name down for an allotment!”

But if the price of tranquillity is to give up everything you love, I don’t want it. I couldn’t handle the guilt, it would be unbearable. Maybe they aren’t holy these guys, maybe they’re just really selfish. We can’t all abandon our responsibilities just to save ourselves. It can’t be that good in there either. If it was, then why are they all drinking booze?! Not only that, but they are also making it themselves, it’s like Breaking Bad in there, I bought some of their Trappist Ale, its 9%, that’s stronger than special brew!

When you see them doing those chants in their robes, they aren’t praying, they’re hungover, what are they trying to forget! In this world of pressure and chaos, a garden shed is more than just an outbuilding, it’s a place of sanctuary. All you need is the Pope to pop by and bless it then and you’ve got your own Monastery. You can be your own monk by not even leaving your own home!

Speaking of which, I’ll see you all later, I’m off to rub down some plywood.

@scottbcomedyuk | scottbennettcomedy.co.uk Find The Scott Bennett Podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes

SB

Libtard nonsense

The theme this issue is ‘community’ they said, and that sounded great, until I began wondering exactly what the word means. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the actual definition, my voclab… er… vocable… list of words I know… is pretty good. But what is the Beeston community? Is there one?

Yes, obviously. But is there just one? No, just as obviously.

As I walk down Wollaton Road taking my daughter to school of a morning I see a huge number of people I don’t ever really interact with or know about – people who have different lifestyles, opinions, politics and even languages to mine.

I have my own routines, my circle of friends, people I work with or share hobbies with but how much interaction do I have with these strangers, what do we share?

“We live in the same town, are all affected by some of the same events…”

And yet we do share something, even with people we don’t know. We live in the same town, are all affected by some of the same events (as I type the increase in cases of coronavirus is headline news, who knows what it will be like by the time this is published). But tramworks, roadworks, shop closures, cinema building as well as those perennial favourites of shoe shops and public loos probably affect the majority of us in some way or another.

And you, dear reader – I may not know you personally but I imagine there’s a distinct ‘Beestonian’ community too, people who are interested, involved and have a real passion and pride in our town. You may not all agree on the same things of course – as I’ve mentioned previously our street art certainly divides people as does the number of student residences for instance, but I’m quite sure most readers could happily share a conversation and thoughts on our experiences and lives here.

And I like that – a lot. As a middle-aged bloke who’s lived in Beeston almost all of my life (I’ve had brief periods living in Nottingham itself, London and – for a short time – a castle in Cheshire) I love being part of something bigger than just my experience or limited worldview. The people who make up Beeston now come from the town itself and sometimes much further afield, including our annual influx of students too. We have a wide variety of restaurants – Persian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Indian – pretty much global – run by people who know and have a passion for their own cultures and cuisines but a desire to share that with others to add to the diversity, choice, interest and variety on our doorsteps.

And yet there are also those who don’t have as wide a choice as the majority; it would be a particularly inattentive person who hadn’t noticed the increase in the number of people sleeping rough or at least living on the streets in Beeston. There has been some robust discussion on the Beeston Updated Facebook group about the reasons and causes of this – as I mentioned, politics sometimes differ – but from the incredibly expensive houses of Beeston Fields Drive to sleeping bags on the High Road it can certainly be said almost all human life is here.

As a man who plays at being the country’s most famous outlaw, famed for a rather proactive redistribution of wealth, I’m not advocating anything as radical but I hope we can all realise we’re part of something bigger, to see outside our own narrow frame of reference and help each other – even those we don’t know – to live and thrive in our great town, one I truly believe is one of the best and most welcoming in the country.

TP

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