July In Retrospect

Although I have written some annual reviews of my posts I’ve never previously produced a piece for the past month. Usually that would just highlight the fact that I don’t post very often, but over the past three months I’ve posted nine times (twice) and eight (once). So I’m giving it a try, in case there was anything you missed and might otherwise have been distraught not to have extricated from that veritable deluge of drivel.

A couple of months ago I edited and updated my About Me page. While I was at it I also amended the tagline in my blog’s header, to reflect the fact that I was posting more often about music. This was in part due to my Tuesday Tunes series, which began on 24 March – the day after the UK was consigned to lockdown, in case you needed a reminder! But, looking back at July, I noticed a couple of other music posts in there too. I may have to give some consideration to changing that header again, but I would never make this just about music: there is more in life about which I am prompted to write, particularly mental health. I won’t lose sight of the importance of that as a theme for me – after all, it is why I started this.

So, what might you have missed during July? Well, there having been four Tuesdays in the month, there were of course four Tuesday Tunes posts:

Tuesday Tunes 16: Joke

Tuesday Tunes 17: Mask

Tuesday Tunes 18: Confusion

and the snappily named

Tuesday Tunes 19: Lockdown Music – Part 1

I’m never at a loss for a succinct title!

There were also two other musically themed posts. I began the month with a piece to mark the USA’s Independence Day. Given that many of my readers come from there, it seemed a good idea to play to the crowd! This was that post:

#SaturdaySongs No.18: Independence Day

As it was a Saturday I thought it a good excuse to include that piece in my very occasional #SaturdaySongs series. In doing so, it made me realise that I have a list somewhere of other songs which I had considered for that series: I must dig it out some time. That series began on a weekly basis and has now become approximately an annual event. Whilst I’m doing the Tuesday Tunes series it might be overload to restart #SaturdaySongs, but who knows? I sure don’t!

The other musical post was a sad one for me. Ever since I was a teenager getting into music I’ve loved Fleetwood Mac, both in their better known incarnation but also going back to the early days, when they were known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – in all honesty, I think I prefer that previous, blues-based version of the band. Sadly, Peter Green died last week and, as I have done for some of my other musical heroes, I wrote a piece as a tribute to him:

RIP Peter Green

I’ll readily admit to finding that one hard to write, as has been the case with others. Sadly, as they and I get older, my musical heroes are succumbing to the passage and ravages of time, and I fear that will not be the last such piece that I write.

The first of my two non-music posts last month was Taking Stock, in which I reflected on life, mental health and COVID-19. I consider it one of my more serious posts, one of those that shows me to be capable of moderately coherent thought – which is always a good thing for me! If you haven’t seen it please do take a look: it is important ground for all of us, at present.

The other non-musical one was rather different. I have in the past written about the amusement to be derived from the contents of our spam folders, and I thought I’d give it another go. The upshot of this was Spam, Lovely Spam, which includes what I think might be my favourite spam comment ever. A fairly frivolous piece, but I enjoyed writing it!

Whilst looking back at last month I was also prompted to check my stats. I was hoping to be able to find my most read post of the month, but due to WordPress’ insistence on lumping most new posts into their ‘Home Page/Archives’ category this was impossible. This category comfortably headed the top ten most viewed posts last month, and the July eight – which will also, of course, have contributed towards the figure in the top category – made up eight of the top ten places. The intruder, as it has often been since I wrote it, was a piece from last November which came in at no.2 for the month: Under The Covers. I’ve no idea why that one keeps popping up – probably something to do with the way search engines operate – but I rather like its continuing popularity. It is also in the same position for the whole of 2020 to date, accounting for just under 10% of total views: go figure!

I hope this has been a helpful reminder for you of what you might have seen, or missed. I’m not sure if I’ll do this again – that rather depends on the response I get! But it is, I think, always worth trying out something new – well, new for me, anyway. On that note, I am also considering a couple of other possibilities for new themed series. They may not come to anything, but you’ll see them here if they do.

Have a great weekend, and don’t forget to wear your mask if you go out anywhere it is required: this pandemic is far from over! To re-emphasise that point for me, here again is the final song from this week’s Tuesday Tunes:

 

Tuesday Tunes 17: Mask

This week’s theme was kindly given to me by our government, from this headline on the front page of last Saturday’s The Times:


That was the noon update of the paper: the original headline was, simply, ‘Wear a mask.’ I mention that as it is rather symbolic of the way the government has handled the pandemic as a whole: indecision, lack of clarity, and a sense that they are unsure about what they are doing. Sure, I get it: none of us has ever seen anything like this and I wouldn’t want to be the one who has to take these decisions. But then I’m not the one who became Prime Minister by letting his ambition triumph over his ability, am I? Sure enough, by Sunday morning the vague message had been watered down again. We went from ‘we think it might be a good idea to wear a mask, but probably only where there are other people, and we’re not completely sure so we’ll get back to you on it’ to hearing Michael Gove on TV telling us that wearing a mask is ‘good manners.’ So there you have it, our government’s new message: ‘wear a mask, it would be rude not to.’

Hold on, though. Johnson is now reported as having said again yesterday that we should wear masks in shops, and they’ll be telling us something about that ‘in the next few days.’ Do you think he’s told Gove this? What should we do? Confused? You will be.

Hold on again, though: I now read that there will be an announcement later today that masks will be compulsory in shops from 24 July – if only we could have avoided all the apparent dithering and incompetence along the way, in getting to where we should already have been. But why the wait?

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the three worst-performing countries on the pandemic – the US, UK and Brazil – are all led by right wing governments who have ignored and decried the science, even to the point where two of the three leaders have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Fingers crossed for the third one, anyone? If he gets it, no doubt it will be ‘the best coronavirus, no one has had this any better than me.’ A common factor in all three countries has been their reluctance to accept the likely benefits of wearing masks. Here, they have been compulsory on public transport since 15 June, but even the pronouncement that gave rise to The Times’ headline was couched in ‘we’ll tell you what to do soon’ terms. You could be forgiven, I think, for believing that they and the other two worst-performing governments view their people as disposable plebs, getting in the way of their mates making money. These are all individual lives, and every one of them that is lost leaves friends and families in mourning. Call me cynical, but I don’t think that thought counts for much with them. Never has the great word (I have the best words) ‘kakistocracy’ been so appropriate. In case you aren’t familiar with it, it means ‘government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.’ This guy somehow typifies the behaviour that results from the ignorance promoted by that kind of leadership:

I rest my case!

Now to this week’s two tunes on the theme: Mask.

I could only think of two songs that bore the theme word in their title and, unsurprisingly, neither of them was written as a message for a pandemic. Having done some research I did come across a couple of ‘songs’ specifically written for our current times, but they fell a long way short of meeting my definition of ‘good music’ so I stayed with the two I first thought of. The first of these is one which has been recorded in several versions, of which this is my favourite, by a distance. This is a performance from the Prince’s Trust concert in June 1987 and Eric appears to have assembled a pretty good backing band! See what I mean:

The song has an interesting back story. It was originally an instrumental, written by Ryuichi Sakamoto for a Seiko advertisement in 1978. Lyrics were added to it and it was released as a single by Sakamoto’s band, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, in 1979. Michael Jackson got hold of it, added some more lyrics and recorded it for his Thriller album. But it was left off the final release, and his version didn’t see the light of day until the posthumous album Michael, in 2010. In the meantime, Eric Clapton’s version was released on his 1986 album August, and was subsequently a UK single, reaching #15 in early 1987. Quite a history just for one song!

My second Behind The Mask song is this one:

That was from Fleetwood Mac’s 1990 album of the same name. To the best of my knowledge it has only ever been an album track, but I don’t think that devalues it: I still think it a lovely song, and this lyric video with images is fantastic. Like a lot of the band’s best songs it was written by Christine McVie, who took lead vocal – as band members usually did with their own compositions. The album suffered in comparison to its hugely successful predecessor – Tango In The Night – but still sold a respectable million plus copies around the world, including 500,000 in the US and 300,000 here, where it reached #1 on the albums chart. Not bad for a relative ‘flop!’ Even the Fleetwood Mac fans among you may not be familiar with this song, which I think shows how many goodies there are to be found lurking in bands’ back catalogues.

And there we have it for this week. Hopefully by next Tuesday the UK government will finally have made its announcement, won’t have changed its mind and, for once, will have given some firm, unambiguous guidance. It would be a first, but we can but hope. It will also be good for them to be following the scientific advice, to which they have previously given lip service without appearing to be committed. If you are going out please wear a mask in confined spaces: it protects others as well as you.

I’m not claiming to be giving you scientific advice in saying that, just sharing what I believe to be common sense that our government finally appears to be accepting. From the horror stories in today’s news about the rapid escalation of cases in a number of US states it would appear that we can’t be too quick in relaxing the lockdown.

Until next time, as always I wish you well and do please keep safe. Take care.

 

Taking Stock

I think that we should all take stock of our lives every once in a while. The last time I did that here was a year ago today: I posted Missing, Inaction, in which I reflected on the effects of an enforced 15 day absence from the internet, and how dependent we had all become on it. That was the main reason for what had been an 18 day gap between posts, but I also mentioned that I had been having a stressful time in my life, having had to move home – a natural hazard when you are a private renter and are at the mercy of the landlord’s wishes. Reading the post again I noticed I had said that I intended to write about the effects this had been having on my mental health but, in the usual fashion, best intentions went out of the window. Things began to settle down, I was getting used to my new home, and it didn’t feel right to be talking about my mental health when there were many people in far worse situations than mine, people who had real stories to tell. The anniversary of that post does, however, seem a good time to be ‘reviewing the situation,’ as Fagin put it.

Looking back to this time last year I now realise how much the whole episode had destabilised me. I didn’t notice at the time but there were impacts, in particular on my sleep patterns – which were shot to pieces. I’ve had sleep problems for years, and was tested (negatively, I’m happy to say) for sleep apnoea during my long spell off work in 2011-2 with depression. Retirement had helped enormously in stabilising that: no longer being required to get up and go to work meant that if I needed to sleep in I could, whatever day of the week it was. I occupied a lot of my time in the internet break by reading – 16 novels in 18 days – but even so, I found myself nodding off at odd times: I’ve never been one for afternoon siestas, but I had a few then. It didn’t register, but these were probably a sign that all wasn’t as it should be.

Over time, though, I began to settle into a new routine, and into a revised version of life. It’s funny how a move can change your outlook on life, and I don’t mean just the view from the window. But that wasn’t the only important factor for me: I had been able to get the medical treatment I needed for a long term condition, and the benefits of knowing that I was in good hands for that had a positive impact on my mental health.

I got to the end of 2019 thinking I’d done well: I was over the move, my health was improving, and I’d managed to get through some outrageous behaviour by my ex-landlord. 2020 was to be the year I really began ‘taking back control,’ to borrow a phrase, but then along came Covid-19 to show me that my use of those words was about as meaningless as they were in their more widely known context. My mobility is limited, so I don’t get out much anyway, but being told that I had to stay in and couldn’t see anyone – not even my daughters or granddaughter – wasn’t part of the plan. Much has been said and written about the impact of the pandemic on our lives, both in the obvious sense of our being required to stay at home whenever possible, with shops and public venues being closed, but also on the hidden factors, such as the effects on our mental health.

Using myself as a sample of one, I can see how my mental state has changed since lockdown began in March, and it hasn’t improved! I’m not saying that I have relapsed into depression – far from it, thankfully – but I can see that my outlook on life is different. I don’t have to go out much, but I know that at some point in the next few months I will need to go back to my doctor for the periodic testing that keeps me well, and I really will need a haircut! Normally, I’d think nothing of either of these but now, if I’m honest, both of these prospects scare me. Am I being stupid? I’d like to think not. Every day we hear new warnings of the potential for a second wave of the virus, and with the reopening of shops and public facilities there comes a relaxation in people’s minds of the need to be alert to the danger that may be lurking. I know I can do the right thing if I go out, but can I trust others to do the same?

I’m potentially vulnerable, and I don’t think I should have to take risks to go out and do simple things. That plays on my mind: I don’t want to become a hermit, but I can see how easy it would be. Looking at those words on screen they strike me as a little pathetic, but they are accurate. I think back to my dark days of 2011-2 and I know that is how I behaved then: I don’t want to go back there. This may all be in my head, but it’s hard to shift, and I doubt that I’m alone in feeling this way.

This time last year I was looking ahead to what I believed would be better times, now the outlook is very unclear to me. Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will know that the basic level is classed as Physiological needs, which include food, shelter, health, sleep and clothes. Here is the pyramid, in case you haven’t seen it:

Those Safety needs in the second level include factors like personal, emotional and financial security. Somehow, I think that many of us will be struggling with this tier of the pyramid at present, and for some time to come. That will impact on our move up the levels: relationships with those we love will be affected, and there will need to be a lot of rebuilding after enforced separations.

The future is uncertain for all of us. My outlook is very different from a year ago, and I’d imagine that everyone feels that too. I wonder where we’ll be a year from now? Maybe I’ll take stock again then – hopefully whatever passes for ‘normal’ will have returned, given time.

How do things look for you? How does that compare with a year ago? Are you having to readjust your hopes and plans? I expect we’ll all be doing a lot of that now and in the months to come. As I said at the outset, I believe that we should all occasionally take stock of our lives: I don’t think any of us has had to do so in circumstances like today’s.