It is a cold autumn morning today, as we sit alongside the river in town. A scene that thousands, probably hundreds of thousands will have watched over the years, the river flowing silently by as the fleet of local swans and the marauding geese rushed towards us hopefully or expectant of the late breakfast that we have taken to providing them as visitors, and so their food, has declined due to the panic. It may be the season of mellow fruitfulness but it’s also a time to take stock, to brood or even to muse how previous generations sitting in the same spot saw their lives and way of life threatened.
And threatened it was, often with terrifying and devastating results – words that in those days actually meant something and were used sparingly by generations that were not given to virtue-signalling statements or playing to the gallery, or by people who assumed that their life was a movie with them as the star and that the whole world would want to listen with bated breath and hang on to their every utterance as is so often the case these days, when celebrities and personalities must have the last say on social media and if possible mainstream media, which, bereft of any journalistic professionalism these days, provides click-bait stories for the masses without thought, or should that be with a very definite thought, of how their readers can be manipulated to behave in a particular way. The media seems now only to provide entertainment and propaganda. Even-handed, non-sensational news or factual stories are as outdated as photograph albums and the expression ‘transistor radio’.
Time then maybe to muse. In town, in the windows of now bankrupt shops and business premises, someone has put on display photographs of the then and now variety. Street scenes of the town as it was in the early mid and late 20th century. How odd it seems that we, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, with all the benefits of instant communication, instant knowledge and instant gratification and, as has been shown in the last few months, instant fear, should be brought to a sudden stop, collapse in some cases, by a combination of fear, lack of knowledge, lack of management, lack of leadership, lack of morale and a lack of courage. A once united and great nation cowed in many instances by the power of television, media communications and marketing psychology at its most basic level. The population of the fifth biggest economy in the world, don’t forget, which, thanks to decades of easy credit, lack of standards and lack of self- and collective discipline, is now only able to act when somebody, it doesn’t matter who in most cases, tells them what to do, or, in the newspeak of the day, provides clear guidance – hopefully in words of few syllables and even fewer words to a sentence – so that they, apparently the most educated generations in history, will find statements or directions easy to understand.
Actually, understanding has little to do with it. People do understand, assuming that it’s their first language (for which in many cases these days, as we all know, it isn’t) they always and without fail have no problems with guidance and understanding until, horror of horrors, something affects them, and unless they agree, they will not – to use a popular word of the moment – ‘comply’. Why should ‘they’ agree when all around them ‘others’ are doing their own thing, and when some political activist, masquerading as a journalist or lawyer, will be most happy to arrange for them their moment of fame in the media, or failing that a few photoshopped pictures in social media which will have the same effect, fame indeed.
This last week has seen yet more mixed messages from local and government ‘sources’ who seem, these days, to want to bypass Parliament and due process – something else we only hear about when it suits government or media narratives – but it seems, to me at least, that announcing government policy which affects all of us, either by some unelected civil serpent leaking a document or by the now usual ‘government source’ or by a mandatory ‘Cabinet leak’ is hardly the way an advanced economy or democracy should function. If that is the case, why bother with the sham of elections at all? Last December, the present government secured a huge majority, based yet again on a manifesto that seemed, to the majority of voters, to be far better than what was on offer from the other political parties.
Since March we have seen one government debacle after another as the crisis unfolded, money created by some sort of computer generated process, which if nothing else has kept the millions employed by the public sector happy, while causing the collapse of business and industry which – wait for it – creates the money to pay for it; not that it seems to bother either much of the political class or the wider population, who apparently think that safety and security can be guaranteed by spending money, preferably provided by someone else.
Now we are told by the medium of polls and polling that the ‘majority’ wants another lockdown, presumably as long as it doesn’t affect them personally and that all the little people out there who had no choice but to work during the great ‘lockdown’ continue to do so, which is an interesting proposition, and, as time goes on may prove not to be the case.
For months, the cry in the media was ‘what about education?’ It was as if the Blair Terror had come back to haunt us. Children were not being educated, would suffer untold psychological harm, schools were apparently unsafe, or safe, who knew? Unions and parents demanded guidance and assurance as the posturing and theatre continued. Eventually schooling resumed with, it must be admitted, some rather odd rules enforced by head teachers, the latest being parents must wear masks during the school run. As I’ve not seen a parent or child running to school since about 1982, I assume they mean while driving the kids to school.
After a few weeks of schooling, following months away, it now seems the unions want a ‘circuit breaker’ during the upcoming half term. Excuse me! No school for much of the year, the shambles of the GCSE and A level examinations, accusations of serious damage being done to the education and future prospects of millions of schoolchildren, university and college students (the latter now up in arms about paying for courses which are being provided on-line with restrictions on who they can visit and when, no wonder they have taken to the streets after visiting pubs and bars).
School leaders apparently now need a two-week half term holiday now termed a ‘circuit breaker’ (I wonder what marketing genius thought that one up?). To do what exactly? Enhance the future prospects of pupils and students who a few weeks ago were, it was said, suffering untold damage to their future prospects.
But now, we are told, were and remain largely unaffected by the virus and as far as those older ones are concerned, having returned to their college or university, seem more than happy to do what students have done for decades without any effect on either their well-being or education. Confusing to the onlooker at least.
Part 2 of The past is another country will be published here tomorrow.
Photo by Timewinder