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Lockdown survival aids

June 20th, 2020 · Posted by Skuds in Life/Music · No Comments · Life, Music

Let’s be honest here, the lockdown has really ended now hasn’t it? OK, there are no pubs, cafes, theatres, music and sports venues, but otherwise I think a lot of people are now treating it as all over except where it suits them to pretend it is all still going on – I am thinking of parents who won’t let their children go back to school because it isn’t safe but will drag them round the shops. Over the last couple of weeks the roads have been getting noticeably busier day by day, and altough everything is quieter than normal it feels like normal in many ways just because it was so dead for a couple of months.

With shops open, huge crowds gathering for VE day street parties, protests and counbter-protests it is really easy to forget just how eerily quiet it was for a couple of months and how scary it all was at first. It seems like years ago but was only a few months back when there were queues round the block to get into a supermarket that had hundreds of metres of completely empty shelves. After years of being able to get whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, it was pretty anxiety-inducing to go to the shop for food and getting things that you would never normally eat because it was the only thing left.

Throughout it all, there were lots of people doing good work in trying to make it all a bit easier to remain sane during a very strange and uncertain time. Here are the things that made it all better for me personally.

Warning: this will contain some uncharacteristic positivity from me!

Because I have a job that I can do from home, I did not find myself with long days to fill. In fact I had less free time than normal on some days, so I may recognise that somebody called Joe Wicks was doing a lot for morale, and good for him, I still don’t really know who he is, but it was good to know that if I had been furloughed it was an option.

Talking of furlough, it was good that the Government did that and did it quickly. One of the few things they were decisive about. It meant that despite Jayne not being able to go to work, she still had some income. Unfortunately her employers didn’t top up the salary like mine would have done so she was on 80% wages, and because she only finished training recently and had only been working properly for a short time, that income was 80% of her training wage and not the full wage she had started on. It was a drop, but still goof money for doing nothing and better than she had been getting at her previous job, so I haven’t had to subsidise her. It may not have been perfect, but the furlough scheme has helped us out.

At the start of the lockdown I got bombarded with emails and letters from companies I deal with, offering help. I didn’t need any of it, but they were not to know. There was a lot of stuff from my bank about support with paying loan repayments and mortgages, which was not relevant to a debt-free renter who was still getting his normal wage anyway. Virgin told me I had an extra 10GB data allowance on my mobile. I don’t actually use the 4GB I pay for, but it was a nice gesture and if I was a teenager I’m sure it would have been very handy. It was the same with utilities and other companies who all made it clear that if I had trouble paying my bills I could get some support from them. If I was in a less secure situation this would all have been handy.

What really made the difference for me was all those creative types who just made life a bit more interesting and entertaining. Without having the variety of human contact that I would usually get at work, it all made up for that to some degree, whic is why so much of my survival aids have a very chatty, matey feel to them.

Weather permitting, I have spent 60 to 90 minutes a day walking and listening to podcasts. Some of them are ones I have been listening to for ages, like the Bugle, some have been new.

One of the new ones was a podcast called The Album Years, produced by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. It is just the pair of them, picking a year and talking for an hour about their favourite albums released in that year. Sometimes they rave about something I have not heard or even not heard of, which I will then go an listen to. Wilson has set up playlists on his artist page on Spotify, so I can listen to the chat while on a walk and then go to the playlist either on a future walk or back at home.

When not out walking, I have been following Guy Pratt’s series of ‘Lockdown Licks’ on YouTube. He basically rabbits on about life and music for a bit, then plays bass along to one of the records he contributed to and then explains any notable aspects about that record or the bass part. He is an affable and chatty bloke who comes across as a generally good egg. Since I first saw him when he was playing with Pink Floyd in 1988 he has changed a lot, looking more like Andy Hamilton every day now he has a beard, but he has a store of anecdotes and is the self-confessed Ronnie Corbett of the bass with his storytelling. Its a good way to spend 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

I have also been watching the Word in your Ear series of video lockdown videos – Word in your Attic. It is really just David Hepworth and Mark Ellen in their respective attics, having a video call with a guest in their own attic and talking about musical stuff.

And then there are all the Twitter accounts that have kept me amused for the duration. Highlights have been the Michael Spicer  room next door videos. It is always a good day if there is a new Michael Spicer video! For sheer strangeness there are the Toyah & Fripp lockdown videos that never fail to raise a smile. The first one I saw had Robert Fripp in tights and tutu, dancing across a lawn with Toyah, in front of a pair of unicorns. I thought I was having some sort of acid trip. I have always liked Toyah, having seen her live in the 80s and again in the last few years, but never realised that Fripp was such a good sport. They always struck me as an odd couple, but watching the videos they just seem so happy and well-matched and seeing other people being happy makes me happy too.

The other star to emerge from lockdown was, without a doubt, Andrew Cotter and his sporting commentaries on non-sporting events, especially involving his dogs Olive and Mabel. I see them when they turn up on Twitter, but they are also available on YouTube.

Also on YouTube, there were some nice gestures from bands. Every Monday there was a new concert from Metallica put up online. I gave up watching because they are all very similar to each other and to the half a dozen Metallica DVD I have and they are all very long full-length concerts. I do dip in, but because I am still working I don’t have the time to watch the whole lot. On Fridays there was new material from Pink Floyd, including some decent archive footage. I enjoyed re-watching the Delicate Sound of Thunder concert (featuring Guy Pratt of course, and cleaned up a lot for 4K) that I used to have on VHS and never replaced on DVD so had not seen for ages, but they also had the Pompeii concert without all the chat interludes and a US TV appearance that was about half an hour. On Saturdays there was a new concert film from Genesis. These were only the ones that had released on DVD, but I had not seen some of them so it enjoyed watching them, even though I would have liked more archive material that, especially Gabriel-era live footage.

I also indulged quite heavily in Kindle books, making good use of the deals of the day, but also buying some full-price books and catching up on the backlog. During the lockdown I got through the first seven Rivers of London books, four or five Keith A Pearson books, the Pete Paphides book and quite a few of the Chronicles of St Marys books by Jodi Taylor, plus a few other odds and ends. I even read a couple of old-fashioned paper books.

Amongst all this there was always Radio 6 Music. They re-jigged their schedules quite a bit with Steve Lamacq being off-air for a month or so and Craig Charles sitting in, but it was good to have Lauren Laverne, Mary Ann Hobbs and Shaun Keaveny keeping me company while I worked. It has been a shame to have to turn it down for videoconferences. And of couse there is Radcliffe and Maconie at the weekends – usually listened to on the Sounds app rather than live.

I know there is a lot of other stuff out there, if I only had the time for it all. Part of me wishes I had been furloughed so I could catch up with it all, but I suspect that keeping working has helped to keep a sense of routine and sanity. Going out for walks in the empty streets did sometimes feel like being in a remake of 28 Days Later or I Am Legend and having a routine to go back to made everything feel more normal.

It does feel like we are already forgetting how weird it all felt at the start of the lockdown, but I will remain greatful to all those creative types who have been bunging their work online for free and especially to those mentioned here.

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