Andy Hallam: co-owner, Hallams Grocers

There are few people who will one day look back at 2020 and not see it changed them in some way. We wanted to find out what lockdown (the first one) was like for a variety of the population, and how they have emerged as different people. One phrase that was said in nearly every interview was “the new normal”. That means many things to many people, as we discovered:

“Lockdown was pretty horrific.

“It turned our business upside down: people wanted home deliveries, so we had to create a website to manage that.

“The Barton family kindly let us use the Garage as a packhouse as we simply didn’t have the space in the shop to get the orders up while maintaining social distancing. We lost all our catering contracts as the businesses we supplied all closed. Because of supply and demand, prices rose, lots of products became difficult to get hold of. People were panic buying things like potatoes – it was a hard time for us all, really. Footfall dropped dramatically, but while we had far fewer customers, people were buying more, often shopping for shielding neighbours.

“I’d be working up to 9 pm, after being up since 4 am. We didn’t have a single day off – in fact, we worked Sundays for the first five weeks of lockdown to cope. We had – and still have – early morning slots for NHS workers.

“In the first few weeks, we had to employ a doorman – the first time Hallams has had a bouncer in 110 years!”

“Things feel like they’re slowly getting back to normal now. Home orders have dropped right off and people are coming in more, though as many office workers aren’t in Beeston, the lunchtime trade – they grab a sandwich from Boots, then see a punnet of lovely strawberries and buy then on impulse – has not recovered.

“We thought the social distancing rules would be a lot more difficult than they have been. Everyone seems to respect it. We’ve not had anyone come in causing trouble about masks, or anything. People police it themselves now as they have become used to having to queue outside, but in the first few weeks, we had to employ a doorman – the first time Hallams has had a bouncer in 110 years!

“It’s still difficult work.

“We have to clean down so frequently, and have to deal with new routines and habits, but there is a normality settling in.

“The new normal, as people keep saying.”

MT

Ellouise Roccio: manager, The Bean

There are few people who will one day look back at 2020 and not see it changed them in some way. We wanted to find out what lockdown (the first one) was like for a variety of the population, and how they have emerged as different people. One phrase that was said in nearly every interview was “the new normal”. That means many things to many people, as we discovered:

“Lockdown was short and sweet: I was furloughed for two months before we could reopen and Alex (owner of The Bean and the city-centre Cartwheel) worked out how we could do it safely.

“Initially it was good: we’d just see people at the door and they’d keep their distance; it was quite nice that way. It’s been more difficult since we opened the inside.

“Everyone knows you leave track and trace, everyone knows the rules on hand sanitiser and masks, but not everyone seems to follow them. They’ll walk in, not wearing a mask and then say, “well, I’m in now, so no point in putting one on”, or they’ll think that sitting outside means they don’t have to fill in the track and trace forms.

“Trade has been good though – very good. The Bean’s really picked up, even before the Eat Out to Help Out scheme began.

“With people spending so much time at home I think it really helped to have somewhere to go”

“We were one of the first places in Beeston to open. With people spending so much time at home I think it really helped to have somewhere to go, to have somewhere open for them.

“We’ve got our Beeston trade back, and the university trade has begun to trickle back in, using our space upstairs to work from due to a lack of space on campus.

“I’m optimistic, but I’d not like another lockdown: I’ve ran out of things to do at home – I would probably just sit at home and cry” *laughs.*

MT

Unearthing a treasure with Jo Norcup

The Detectorists, that excellent slice of telly that bought a gentle, thoughtful and very funny slice of bucolic rambling to our screens from 2014 to 2019, was a surprise hit. On paper, you can see why: the story of two shy men who spend their free time wandering around fields digging up ring pulls and old nails doesn’t exactly scream glamour and intrigue. As for humour – well, what com’ can be squeezed from such a sit’?

As anyone wise enough to tune in, gallons. Mackenzie Crook’s writing was light touch and observant in the way the best comedy is: letting the comedy realise itself by shining a light on those idiosyncrasies that make us human: male friendships, obsession, commitment and growing up. Watching would bring laughter, often accompanied with a lump in one’s throat. It is, like much of our country, a bubbling lake of weird and feeling beneath a seemingly trivial soil.

Great. But what has this got to with Beeston? Since it was set in rural Essex, and rarely strayed far from the small village it was set around, it seems not much. So step forward Jo Norcup, and her co-edited new book, Landscapes of the Detectorists (Uniform Books, ISBN 978 1 910010 24)

Jo has been a regular at The Beestonian, writing thoughtful and revelatory pieces on local trees and how they form part of our emotional as well as physical landscape. In this series of essays, she works with her collaborator Innes M Keighren to explore how the show embodied some deeper issues. Jo and her team sweep the ground to dig these up and give them a close examination.

If you’ve read Jo’s pieces in this magazine, you’ll be wanting this. Her essay on gender, expertise and knowledge is fascinating, whetting the appetite for a rewatching of the series, and once again getting lost in the mechanisms of Danbury Metal Detecting Club. Add in a heartfelt foreword by Mackenzie Crook himself, and an afterword by producer Adam Tandy and you have a real treasure. If you’re a fan of the show, buy this book. If you’ve yet to discover the show, buy this book, and you’ll soon be rushing out to find out what the fuss is all about.

MT

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