If you have any knowledge of the geography of south Birmingham you may well be familiar with the Lickey Hills,  Beacon Hill rising to almost 1000 feet above sea level, affords, on a clear day, impressive views of the city of Birmingham and what’s left of the surrounding countryside. Walking across the Beacon – almost thirty years ago – with a then long-time resident, I remarked on the view, ‘yes‘ he said, ‘you should have been up here during the war,  the views of the fires caused by the bombing raids was more than impressive I can tell you, as were the streams of people making their way out of Birmingham each evening, in cars too, we often wondered where they got the petrol from but never did find out, must have been ‘black market’, it’s amazing what you could get if you knew somebody who knew somebody, ‘it wasn’t all ‘share and share alike’ I can tell you, the shelters were always full and not just with locals.’  

This came back to me the other day when the first stories of ‘panic buying’ (or hoarding as our grandparents would have called it) started to appear in the press, who were, as they do these days, parroting ‘stories’ that often originate in the ‘Me Me‘ areas of social media.  It seems to me that people taking ‘pic’s ‘ of empty shelves in supermarkets have either nothing better to do with their time or just like causing a stir, which soon turns to panic, or like spreading this ‘fake news’ that we keep hearing about.    

Why it’s called social media is lost on me, unsocial media would seem to be a better title, with its daily diet of mindless trivia and rumour spreading which take on the appearance, in a very short time, of Chinese whispers, “don’t let on where you got this from, but a friend of a friend saw this video so it must be true”.  Nothing new of course, during the war there were all sorts of stories doing the rounds, the invasion had taken place or was about to, German paratroopers dressed as nuns was another and some were just farcical, like the Russian troops marching from the dockyards, still with snow on their boots.  

Now apparently we are all being urged to ‘keep calm and carry on‘, supposedly a widely used 2nd World War poster that was displayed everywhere to bolster morale, a potent reminder that’s trotted out by politicians and journalists when they want to engender the ‘plucky Brit’, ‘We are all in this together’, or remind us of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ which would be all well and good until you realise that these ‘influencers’ were probably born in the late seventies and eighties, in other words have no clue what they are writing about and although the poster was designed in the war the ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ meme as it’s now called didn’t see light of day until 2007/8 when that previous ‘world changing’ event that most did not notice, the ‘financial crash’, took place. 

So we are all urged to ‘carry on’ mostly by some pundits or politicians wanting to be seen to be doing ‘something’ but who, in many cases, have  no experience of anything more dangerous in their entire lives than swim 50 meters in the school swimming pool and until very recently were preoccupied with such world changing events as gender education, climate change, or bullying of adults by, goodness me, other adults, and who think ‘twenty something’ students need ‘safe spaces’ in an educational setting  and trigger warnings in case their emotions are aroused and they start to panic.

Panic is an emotion – you control it, like that other emotion, love. We are all aware of  every emotion these days, you can’t help but be, emotions are rammed down our throats day after day by the very people who are now telling us lesser mortals to ‘keep calm and carry on‘ and whose idea of writing news rather than opinion often revolves around, for example, a video which went ‘viral’ with the title ‘shocked Mum 37 secures the last 4 dozen bottles of hand wash from supermarket shelves’, or somebody’s horrified facial expression captured on a selfie as they discover the hand sanitiser has been stolen from a relative’s bedside in hospital. One regional ‘newspaper’ this weekend, presumably never having heard of the word ‘obituaries’, ran the front page headline “Death Notices for March 13th – 14th”. Nice.

There was a time, in the not too distant past, when there was something reassuring about being British. The British Standard Kite mark meant something on products ranging from paint to heavy engineering, the ‘Union Jack’ displayed on service vehicles, aircraft, products from fine needles to digital technology, and nearly every technological advance of the time bore the legend ‘Made in Britain’. Climbing aboard a distinctly British V.C 10 or a  Bristol Britannia or a Vickers Viking aircraft at some far distant location and seeing the RR motive on the engine nacelles, the flag on the fuselage, gave you confidence, as did the uniformed flight and cabin crew going about their various tasks in that quiet professional manner that was, well, just British. Taking your seat and suddenly you were on your way home (actually you felt at home) watching the white cliffs of Dover loom into view from a ferry, or even better from that uniquely British form of travel the Hovercraft – you somehow relaxed as the journey, however long, was nearly over and as the old song went ‘there’s no place like home’ 

No place like home? Well home is now increasingly out of control. Much of the population is glued to the next instalment of often hysterical and panic inducing, not to mention inaccurate, reports of some click bait story the media are pushing while areas of our major cities are crime ridden and dangerous and our laughingly called ‘market towns’ are increasingly falling prey to ‘county lines’ as drug dealers make, it seems, fortunes by selling to young people and their parents and who are now apparently buying and selling ‘loo roles’ and ‘hand sanitiser at inflated prices. Where much of the population treats what appears on social media as true and reacts with often faux shock, horror, hysteria or panic before going on to read or participate in the next twitter storm.


[To be continued with Part 2 tomorrow]


Photo by train_photos

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