Signs of the Times


Reflections on life and many universes from Alan Dearling


Been down in Todmorden and around the Valley in West Yorkshire for over a week now. It really is like being on a different planet – or perhaps ‘planets’, plural. Very, very different than where I was in Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders for the four months of lockdown.

Music is beginning to be played on the streets – buskers and jammers; public transport is running – but face coverings can make it hot and extremely unpleasant, especially on the buses. My friend Oliver and myself did a bit of back-of-the-fag-packet, unscientific statistics’ gathering. Despite the mandatory wearing of face-coverings, we reckoned a third of passengers were wearing something, a third were not, and a third were wearing something that only covered a part of their nose and mouth. Perhaps more worrisome, the majority of the daytime buses we travelled on were carrying passenger numbers well beyond their restricted capacities, so, in reality, little or no social distancing. A significant number of passengers were just ignoring the locked-down seat signs. This was an evening bus – you can see the yellow bands which denote a ‘closed’ seat.

A lot of pubs and eateries are now open with varying levels of social distancing and a baffling range of rules, signs, advisory notes, instructions. More are open in Tod than nearby Hebden Bridge. Post-Covid Tod even has a new hostelry, the quirky Nan Moor’s (Anarchy with a Witch’s Hat!). It led me to pondering what a visiting Martian would decide were the actual legal regulations? What’s going on, on the Planet of Earthlings!

  • Social distancing – what is it? One metre, two metres, no metres?
  • Cash or plastic cards for payments?
  • Logging in with Facebook or a signing-in book. Name, address, telephone number, email. Names of everyone, or, just one per group/household? “We can only request that you comply, it’s not a legal requirement.”
  • Who can you sit with at your table? Friends and family from ‘how many social bubbles? Two, four, six, eight…Derr?’ Or, if you are on your own, perhaps ‘no-one’, as I was told by the manager in one of my local boozers back in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water; hand-sanitise before and after using the washroom, and on entering and leaving the premises.
  • One-way systems in and out of premises.
  • How many people are allowed inside and out?
  • Table service or queue at the bar? Order on-line?
  • Noise levels. Is there a limit? What is it? Is it enforced?

In fact, my Martian has abandoned all hope of working out any pattern of rationality amongst these strange beings that call themselves ‘humans’. Laws, rules….many…or…none. “We do not understand these Earthlings…Dazed and confused. Bewildered and baffled.”

Meanwhile, back in the pubs and parks, lots of people are busting to play games, be naughty, let off pent-up steam, hug friends and family, even go to the loo. It’s a weird new world-order.

But one thing that has blossomed aplenty during the Covid lockdown is ‘nature’. An abundance of plants, birds, wildlife that is more ‘wild’ – recapturing the built environment – re-wilding. And for me personally, a diverse range of places to go walking. Seize the Moment and Seize the Day. Back in Eyemouth, I’ve been spending many hours outdoors, along the Berwickshire coastal paths and inland rural walks. Now, in Upper Calderdale, out along the towpaths of the Rochdale Canal, and up to the ‘tops’ of the Pennines. All socially distanced, of course!

But, what of the people around the UK?


Many are fearful of the ‘New Normal’, staying put in their lockdown-cocoons, either for health or social reasons; the economy is nearly bankrupt, so the governments of the devolved UK have urged many to return back to work, drifting into versions of their old lives (work-pub-footie, repeat), and a growing number deny that the Covid virus actually exists…

Sadly, a significantly increasing number are facing unemployment as the furlough scheme ends, in addition to the stresses and strains of the actual lockdown. Mental health issues abound. Deeply Unsettling Times ahead, methinks… It’s perhaps more post- ‘1984’ than ‘Brave New World’. Certainly, I’d bet few quid that there will be civil unrest. Maybe and perhaps, some serious riots. It’s a contradictory and potentially incendiary mix of ‘freedom fighters’ against restrictions, face coverings and vaccinations; ‘conspiracy theorists’ who fervently believe that the Covid virus is a man-made ‘weapon’; folk who are striving to create a new ‘normal’ that is less consumerist, more caring and kind, plus some who see the spread of the virus as an ‘ethnic’ problem. Throw in the issues around Black Lives Matter and Climate Change…and it has begun to replicate the divisive atmosphere of alienation and angry disagreements that surrounded Brexit.  An incredible and unpredictably complex story is still unfolding…

As for more ‘signs of the times’, I asked my photographer friend, Colin (Rayner), who takes pics around Bristol and Bath for some of his Covid-related pics. Enjoy!

Phil in Devon told me: “This isn’t a good photo, but as I promised to send you a pic – here it is.  The sign is painstakingly written, back to front, on the inside of the library window.  It says:”


‘CHOOSE AND COLLECT  Contact the library via phone (tel. no.) during opening times or via Facebook or email (address) and tell us what books you would like and we will select, issue some for you and arrange a time for collection.’


As a writer and photographer for ‘international times’ and ‘Gonzo’ magazines I’ve become, hopefully on a temporary basis, something of a Covid-Journalist. No choice, really. With festivals and music/arts gigs cancelled, my creative friends have really been having a hard time. Life in the ‘arts’ may look and sound like a cushy or kushti lifetstyle to those not in it. But, especially at the lower end of that economy, it works in the spectrum of the grey and black economy. The majority of my musical friends are reliant on festivals and gigs in order to just about survive financially. Like me, many are optimists by nature, they’ve created new music and arts online utilising social media, virtual events – but they desperately need to get back out into the muddy fields of life! Soon (we desperately hope) it will be time for All Tomorrows’ Parties! Bring ‘Em On!

In the meanwhiles, time to pop down the bank for a quick withdrawal….




Alan Dearling

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