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On Staying Alert

Didn’t sleep well last night. There was the heat of course and mozzie bites, the annual adjustment to Summer – I could blame it on the seasons. Even that was tinged with disquiet though. A few days ago it was reported that East Anglia has received just 6% of the average May rainfall, making it, currently, the driest May on record in a series back to 1862. Around here, it hasn’t rained since then either. Last weekend also saw a new all-time daily record for humanity’s time on planet Earth, as 417.93 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere was recorded at Mauna Loa.

Just before bed, I read news from the Southbank Centre that they couldn’t afford to reopen, that the National Theatre was looking at cutting a third of their staff. It’s all part of a pattern of cultural devastation taking in hundreds (thousands?) of other arts organisations – which in itself is just part of a larger pattern of the crisis facing all kinds of businesses and organisations. The SBC and NT news hit harder though as the fate of my employer, and my own job, currently hangs on the future return of income from their cinemas, concessions and gift shop on London’s south bank that sit between the National Theatre and the South Bank Centre. Cultural and financial capitals are pretty linked for me.

Then there was that Crooked Cummings piss-puffinry: Stay Elite/Control the Lies/Save Yourself. The collapse of ‘Lockdown’: the beaches filling, the second homes on my street taking receipt of their remote owners, a new general laxity of distancing fuelled by the government’s mixed messaging. The protective shield placed around Cummings depends on his right to ‘interpret the rules’ which, reasonably, many others heard as their own right to interpret the rules. Rather than the sensibility held in common that was originally appealed to, we are instead directed towards private sense-making. A laissez-faire attitude that should come as no surprise given the bunch of Britannia Unchained radical ideologues now on the front bench. I’ve thought a lot lately about Robert Putnam‘s description of the bridging/bonding social capital distinction: bonding social capital is good for “getting by” and bridging is crucial for “getting ahead”. ‘Finding the others’ only gets us so far.

With millions facing their own economic disasters, others are probably sleeping easier with every easing, every hint that ‘normality’ is on the way back, every message to just do what you think best. Lockdown is getting filed as a culture war issue: remainer-climate change concerned-stay at home folk on one side, leaver-climate change denier-open the economy folk on the other. The social media filter bubble bonds but does not bridge. Of course, we need this like we need a hole in the head – but trepanation continues to be the mode du jour.

A couple of weeks back, in response to some on-line moaning by me about stuff going on, Mark Simmonds wrote that in getting through the next period ‘local mutual support networks will be crucial and they may well be resisting bailiffs as well as doing your shopping.’ Which sounds grand and revolutionary but I had to reply: ‘I’ve been shopping for folk through the local MA group, but after the lockdown novelty wore off, the true-blue majority around here got all #BackBoris, and everything died back apart from a kind of poundshop Stasi centred around #clapfortheNHS, monitoring ‘who is out’ and sharing apologia for the regime. I reckon the scales locally are just about tipped from apathy towards supporting ‘ordinary people renting out homes’ to evict ‘difficult tenants’. This, as Mark noted, is ‘a design challenge’.

The task may be necessary but it is certainly not appealing; it takes a lot of will to walk half-way across some of these bridges. When you find that you’ve actually got to walk all the way across to even enter the conversation it’s hard not to walk away instead. Somewhere in my head, I’m still thinking about that line from Roland Barthes: ‘there is only one way left to escape the alienation of present day society: to retreat ahead of it’. Maybe these are just excuses to avoid the real work though.

John Ayto and Ian Crofton – Brewer’s Britain & Ireland (2005), p.76-77

With my sleepless mind tuned to calendar thinking I’m thinking about the world we’ll wake up to on January 1st 2021 – skint, in-debted, vaccine-free, counting the dead, no-deal Brexited, another record-breakingly hot year closer to the climate change point of no return, still blaming each other.

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