THE seismic strangeness of the Covid lockdowns might feel like a lifetime ago, but we’re only just starting to get our heads around the aftermath.
Good, bad, mad and weird stuff is happening all around us.
Covid has kicked off a wave of adults working from home and kids ditching their lessonsCredit: Getty
For a start — and most importantly — the kids aren’t alright.
The latest figures on school absences are terrible.
In the last academic year, it’s thought more than a fifth of pupils in England were “persistently absent” — missing at least ten per cent of school sessions.
Then there are the children who have just completely stopped going to school.
My first reaction was, “C’mon parents, get a grip, for heaven’s sake”.
But when I did an item about this issue on my radio programme, I was staggered by the response — and not just while we were on air.
For days afterwards friends, and friends of friends, and complete strangers continued to contact me, almost pathetically grateful to hear their nightmares getting airtime.
Their stories were all the same.
Distressed kids point-blank refusing to go to school.
Parents veering between anger, sympathy, shame and despair.
Schools wholly ill-equipped to engage with the issue.
Over and over again.
This isn’t an entirely new problem, but it’s got an awful lot worse.
If you think of the natural order of things as a snow globe, it’s like Covid gave it a violent shake.
For a while we couldn’t see through the snowflakes at all.
‘Daft habits we can’t shake’
Then, slowly, they cleared.
Our problem now is working out how and where the pieces have settled.
Everything looks calm enough on the surface, but underneath lurks chaos.
Once upon a time, Monday to Friday, children went to school and grown-ups worked.
This was generally how it went.
We knew where we were with it.
But now it seems to all have become kind of optional.
Maybe I’ll work, maybe I won’t.
And if I do work, I’ll let you know whether I’ll be doing so from home.
And I think I’ll give Fridays a miss altogether if you don’t mind, and every other Monday.
Don’t get me wrong, some of this might not be an entirely bad thing — work-life balance and all that — as long as the numbers add up.
But I’m not sure anyone’s worked out quite how the world’s going to function.
Even the dogs on the street know there’s a problem.
And some dogs on the street are themselves a problem.
Dog attacks are on the rise.
Hopeless, idiot owners are to blame but a major factor may be these animals not being socialised properly during lockdown.
These things are all big issues, but there are also countless irritations arising out of daft habits we got into because of Covid and now can’t shake off.
One such annoyance is queueing at the bar in pubs.
No longer do we spread along the bar trying to catch the attention of a server.
Oh no, now an orderly queue forms.
What’s that all about?
There are those who think this is a better way of going about things.
They are wrong.
It’s un-British and needs outlawing.
I just want to go back to the way we were.
EARLY on a grey autumn morning this week, all was quiet outside the BBC.
But a turn of a corner revealed a splash of noisy colour in the shape of hundreds of people behind crush barriers outside the Radio 2 studios.
There was something close to hysteria as Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald paused to take some snaps with Take That fans after appearing on Zoe Ball’s breakfast showCredit: Zuma Press / eyevine
Who could be coming? Stormzy? Taylor Swift?
Someone on-trend I’ve never heard of? Nope.
It was Take That, appearing on Zoe Ball’s breakfast show.
There was something close to hysteria as Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald took snaps with fans before announcing a new single, album and 2024 tour.
Welcome back, lads.
IF you happen to be a fan of the work of the Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic, you’ll be interested to know there’s a major retrospective of her art opening today at the Royal Academy.
And even if you’ve never heard of her, you’ll still surely be interested to know about how you physically make your way into the exhibition.
Ever wanted to squeeze past naked models to escape an art installation?Credit: Rex
There are two ways of entering.
One is just, like, normal. A doorway or whatever.
But that’s the way in for cultural cowards.
The main access is rather different.
Two people stand facing each other on either side of a narrow entrance, their noses about a foot apart.
And you have to squeeze through the gap between them.
And, oh yes, I nearly forgot – they’re both stark naked.
Hmm. At first I took this to be a cheap gimmick designed to generate interest in the exhibition.
But far from it.
This is high culture.
The idea is that you’re being forced into a “confrontation between nakedness, and the gender, the sexuality, the desire”.
Oh, I see, I get it now.
One critic said far from taking all this on board, he was “too preoccupied with not stamping on their toes”.
I must say that there are parts of their bodies I’d be much more concerned about touching than their toes.
Would I be brave enough to squeeze through this entrance, or chicken out and go in the normal way?
As I’m a bit broad in the beam I’d have to go through sideways, in which case would I face the woman or the bloke?
Either way, where would I look? Into their eyes? Should I say hello? Enjoying yourself? How did you get this gig?
If I wasn’t sure I’d quite grasped the artistic meaning of it all, would I be allowed to go back for another go, perhaps facing the other way?
And what must it be like if you’re one of the models, having the public brushing past your bits?
If the idea of art is to make you think and ask yourself searching questions, then this exhibition has worked a treat for me.
And I haven’t even been. Yet.
I WAS at a primary school in Leicester looking at some crumbling concrete.
The nippers, already using temporary classrooms, looked incredibly sweet and vulnerable in equal measure.
I came across this book while looking around a school in Leicester
In the school library I came across an old hardback picture book called Dad’s In Prison.
I couldn’t get the book out of my mind – the very idea of kids trying to get their little heads around where their dad was.
Or, God forbid, their mum.
Because, as one expert told me: “When it’s the mum who’s in prison, everything tends to fall apart.”
I spoke to a charity called Children Heard And Seen.
It’s thought more children are affected by having parents in prison than by marital/relationship breakdown.
I thought this sounded far-fetched until I looked up some numbers.
It turns out around 200,000 children have a parent in prison – tellingly, no one knows the exact figure.
So much chaos, confusion and shame.
Whatever your moral stance on crime and punishment, we can agree none of it is the kids’ fault.
There’s precious little support for them.
Children Heard And Seen do an awful lot of good work trying to rectify that.
AN early morning drive along what used to be a 30mph section of road west of Swansea.
I’ll be specific: This is the B4295 road between Penclawdd and Crofty along the north of the Gower Peninsula.
New 20mph speed limit road sign in Swansea, South WalesCredit: Rex
On the left are a smattering of houses and a sports pitch.
On the right, beyond a sea wall, stretches the magnificent Loughor estuary.
I get a better look at it than normal because the speed limit there is now down to 20mph.
I checked my mirror to see half a dozen cars behind me, crawling along at the same speed.
I swear I could see the whites of the drivers’ eyes, their grinding teeth and the steam coming out of their ears.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if one of them had combusted in anger and exploded into orbit through a sunroof.
I’m not sure the Welsh government’s going to be able to hold the line on this one.
THERE’S something special about champions of individual sports taking part in team events.
Golf gives us a couple of great examples.
Golf’s Solheim Cup is being played this weekendCredit: AFP
The Solheim Cup is this weekend.
Let’s hope Europe’s women take the trophy.
And it will be the Ryder Cup this time next week – another fabulous, hotly contested event.
So, both are great competitions, but I’d love to see two become one.
Let’s make it a single, mixed event with men and women playing together.
Seriously, why not?
Mixed fourballs; mixed, er, four- somes?
OK, we’ll have to find a different word but, seriously, the gender politics would be fascinating.
You can bet the women would do most of the legwork while the blokes got most of the glory.