Sam Wilkinson and myself have been orbital around the new Traveller festi-scene for many years. In more normal times, we used to cross paths at a variety of the smaller, more alternative festivals. Like some of the best things in life that we tend to take for granted, she’s just there…and the world is much the better for it.
Sam has continued to travel in Europe in a live-in vehicle during the whole period of the Covid pandemic lockdowns. I’ve not been travelling out of the UK and the last festival I worked at – was indoors in Stepney, London. That was ‘London Re-Mixed’ at the very beginning of March 2020. Since then, apart from one party night at the Golden Lion in Todmorden, alongside virtually all other promoters, venue owners, bands, performers, sound and site crews, photographers and writers – it’s been business-as-‘abnormal’! On-line events, zoom calls, recordings done on phones and in home studios, and interaction mostly via social media networks. Strange times, unsettling and sadly riddled with bad-news stories of physical and mental illness and worse. Plus, more and more issues dividing individuals and communities, such as what constitutes a ‘substantial meal’, Covid passports, vaccines, Covid Tier levels, travel restrictions and bans, causes and effects of the virus and more.
I look forward to the times-a-changing and future opportunities to help in the building, creation and nurturing of a better ‘normal’, a more compassionate and creative, co-operative, eco-centric world.
A theme close to Sam Wilkinson’s heart-lands.
In the meantime, a few images which have been shared recently with me by real friends and colleagues, folk who I cannot meet up with in this dysfunctional time. Plus one or two of my own images relating to these extraordinary days, weeks and months that we are trying our best to live and survive through.
Hopefully, one or two will raise a smile.
Luv Om. Alan.
Life on the Road during Covid-19 – Part 3: Portugal
A few months ago while on lockdown in Morocco I wrote a couple of pieces about how life was like on the road there for myself and my partner and the effect the pandemic was having in general to van dwellers. We finished off our Moroccan adventure with a few days in Essaouira and then a few days in Chefchaouen, both normally very touristy. We felt very lucky to visit just as lockdown was easing with no other tourists in sight!
Waiting for the Ferry to Spain
We were also lucky enough to make our way back to Portugal fairly painlessly with the help of the UK embassy who got us and our van a place on a ferry carrying mostly French nationals out of Morocco. Cases of Covid-19 were on the rise in Morocco as they started easing the lockdown, and we felt it was time to head back to Portugal which is where we are normally based most of the year. Portugal had done fairly well in keeping cases of the virus fairly low compared to other EU countries and deaths were also low. As we travelled through the south of Spain from the ferry we found people subdued, Spain had suffered many cases and deaths and their lockdown had been strict. The normal loud chatter of the Spanish in the bars was almost non-existent.
On entering Portugal things seem more relaxed and people generally happier. For us personally we were happy to be back in Portugal. It was mid-July and the summer was quieter than usual. There was a definite increase in the amount of rental campervans about for the whole summer. At a guess I imagine the growth in campervan holidays in general combined with the pandemic had led to an increase in people choosing holidays that are more self-contained. On the whole though, things were very quiet with what seemed like mostly Spanish tourists around.
A Quiet Beach
A lot of our friends from the alternative community in the western Algarve had been posting online their views on the pandemic, from it being a hoax, being planned, being no worse than the flu, to more outrageous claims like 5G causing the pandemic and even that 5G had been installed in the street lights of the village where we spend a lot of time. I had ‘un-followed’ many Facebook friends so as not to see the more outlandish claims. One friend had shared a video claiming that 5G was incredibly dangerous. When I questioned the contents of the video, particularly the people who claimed to be ‘experts’ and pointed out that the video-makers were right-wing Trump-loving Americans, he took offence and blocked me, but not before telling me he thought Trump had some good policies.
We were reluctant to go back to the village where we used to spend a lot of time due to all the people who seemed to have been sucked into online conspiracies. A lot of them were in denial about the pandemic and so had been having parties during lockdown and had not been social distancing at all. We were much more of the mind-set that although the governments worldwide were definitely not always giving out correct information, the laws that had been passed were not necessarily necessary and the advice confusing, we believed that there was a dangerous virus and we wanted to make sure we protected ourselves and others.
What made us believe this is that every government in the world agreed that there was a pandemic of a virus that looked like it was more deadly than the flu. When do all the governments of the world agree on anything? Trump and Bolsonaro were high profile leaders that downplayed the pandemic, but there was no denying that this was real and happening. We also made sure we took in a wide range of news reporting and looked up reputable websites and journalists as well as listening to experts in their field. We researched many website articles and YouTube videos that our friends sent us and many came from conspiracy websites, info-tainers, or, people saying they were experts when they weren’t.
So we arrived back in the western Algarve where we generally park-up over the winters and as there were so few tourists we parked at the beaches. Inevitably we bumped into people we knew which sometimes was OK with everyone being respectful and keeping a distance, but more often than not we were in the minority with our views.
A Quiet Beach Car Park
Friends tried to hug and kiss us, and the first couple of times it was so quick that we let it happen! Two male friends even tried to kiss me on the lips! We then became ready for the huggers and kissers and turned them away before they got too close, with the exception of a couple of very good friends. Despite not judging any of our friends on their views or saying anything negative to them we had a few snide remarks. One friend said, “They got to you then”, when we refused to hug him and another said, “Oh you’re one of them”, for the same reason!
We also were disappointed by some of our friends’ reactions to the Black Lives Matter protests. One friend when asked what he thought of the protests said they were all Marxists. Another, when asked whether he had seen the Colston statue being taken down during the BLM protest in Bristol said, “Are we going to take down all statues then?” When I said, “Yes, any which cause offence”, he didn’t understand that concept and went onto say, “Well everyone was racist before 1900.”
What has been interesting is how the alternative community seems to have been targeted by the right-wing and QAnon types on the internet. It seems that people who are anti-authority, who often do not believe what governments tell them and what mainstream media reports, are quite willing to believe a website with no authenticity or a stranger on YouTube with no reputable sources. We are trying hard not to let this become a divisive issue and have respect for other people’s views. We are trying to be compassionate and to understand that lockdown has affected people in a number of ways. Having said that, we are reluctant to mix with people who are acting as if there is no pandemic, and so we have shut ourselves off from some of the friends we would like to discuss things with.
We free-park in our van and have been in the same area in the Algarve since we got back from Morocco. We have found most other van dwellers respectful and not many people are mixing as much as they used to. There have been far less van dwellers around anyway so it’s very easy to keep distanced!
Parking in our Campervan
We have noticed the people in the supermarket who don’t wear their mask properly or who can’t seem to understand the concept of social distancing. We try at all times to remain cool and not get wound up by others’ unsociable behaviour. We did have a slight altercation while waiting at the checkout in a supermarket during the summer. We asked a couple who were right up behind us to keep their distance as per the store policy. They refused and said as they had masks on it was OK. We had to just turn our backs and ignore them as it could have easily escalated into an argument!
There has also been a big backlash against wild or free camping this year in the Algarve. Part of the south coast of the Algarve, all of the west coast and the west coast of the Alentejo is all part of a Natural Park. In the Natural Parks parking overnight in any vehicle is prohibited. Many people, not just campervans have always still parked overnight as the signs are unclear and it has always been tolerated. Portugal in general is a very laid back country and as long as you are doing no harm you usually get left alone. There has always been some moaning from some of the public in this area, but this year it seems to have escalated with lots of negative reporting against campervans in the media, anti- free-camping groups on social media and even local vigilantes waking people up in the night to evict them. I’m sure the pandemic has made feelings run higher than usual!
A few Campervans parked in the Natural Park
On a much more positive note there has been some good things to come from this time. My partner now has daily messages with his family in their WhatsApp group and weekly Zoom call with them all. People have had time to reassess their lives and do different things which can only be a good thing. Sadly, it seems everyone, especially politicians, are more concerned with the economy than the health of the people. I personally would be all for a UBI (universal basic income), rather than trying to get everything open again as soon as possible.
Personally speaking I had time to do more writing, update my website, build a website for the nFATs group and learn a musical instrument. One thing I now share in common with the comedian Bill Bailey is that we both learnt mandola during lockdown! While he is already a talented musician and can reel off some great stuff, I am still on 3 or 4 chord songs! I am getting there, can play and sing a few songs all the way through now and despite not being on lockdown any more I practise most days.
Sam Learning the Mandola
What cannot be denied and must be acknowledged in order to move forward is the ‘connections’ in the Covid-19 pandemic, how it spread and how it has, and is being handled, and Capitalism. How making money and politics have got in the way of actually caring for people. How Capitalism and Colonialism are inextricably linked and how Racism, Colonialism and Capitalism are all linked.
Quiet Bars and Businesses
People moaned at the Black Lives Matter protests happening during a pandemic but it was something that had to happen. It was no coincidence that it happened during a pandemic, a pandemic which has been proven to disproportionately affect BAME people more. In such a fractured time it was inspiring to see some positive movements with some white people finally realising the place of privilege they come from and actually listening to BAME people.
With Brexit looming the UK seems increasingly fractured. The Covid-19 pandemic will have an effect on the global economy but Brexit will very much affect the UK more than most other countries. Ireland could possibly also be hit quite badly by Brexit but that remains to be seen, as at the time of writing things are still not very clear. One thing is for sure is that there are new shipping routes opening up between Ireland and France to cut out the drive through the UK that many lorries used to do.
I found it very upsetting to read about the asylum seekers that were hounded down in the hotels they had been put up in during the lockdown by the far-right activists in the UK. The hateful way these people act is beyond my comprehension and as a UK citizen I’m absolutely ashamed that there are people that think it’s OK to act this way. The UK I’d like to see is a welcoming place for all, somewhere known worldwide for its kindness and compassion. Unfortunately all it is known for is its hatred and racism.
A vaccination is in sight, perhaps some will even be having it by the time this goes to print. I do not believe the conspiracy theories against the vaccine and I will have it if necessary. I have never had a flu vaccine as I felt I didn’t need it, but understand this is a different situation. I’m not 100% certain about vaccines in general but I wouldn’t call myself an anti-vaxxer either. I do believe that it’s important to get the correct facts and that are only from reputable resources not from someone on YouTube claiming to be an expert. From what I have read so far I am much more in favour of having the vaccine than not having it. I do also believe in personal choice and would respect people who choose not to have it.
Of course, a bit like the Brexit referendum, people need the true and proper facts and opinions from people who understand. If they don’t get that they may make the wrong choice. I still think many people were ill-informed and not given the whole picture during the Brexit referendum. If they had received accurate information there may well have been a different outcome. The same applies to the measures taken to try and stop or slow the spread of Covid-19 and to the vaccines. People need to understand more about where to find authentic facts and figures, reputable websites, peer-reviewed papers and opinions by qualified people.
Sam Enjoying the Beach!
At the end of it all, whether it’s the Covid-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter, Brexit or something else we must try and stand in solidarity with each other as fellow humans. We need to keep dialogue open with those with different views and try to come from a place of love and compassion.
1 December 2020
Other work by Sam can be seen on her Positive Evolution website.