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High time for a bit more of this…

Wow. Where did the last five months go? I’ve just checked – and my last Drum & Monkey post was at the end of April. How shaming! Or it could be, if I let it. But I’m not sure how many people read this guff anyway – and besides it’s my blog: I’ll do what I want.

And what I want, it turns out, is (as far as possible) to take summers off. Not that we had much of a summer, weatherwise; but, in common with many others I suspect, I experienced an odd kind of burnout earlier this year. It can’t have been pressure of work – I was fortunate that I had just about enough; my workload was eminently manageable and, working from home, was even more so. But I think the stress of last winter – the UK’s rocketing Covid-19 numbers (of cases, hospitalisations and, sadly, deaths) with, at least to begin with, no vaccine in sight – left all of us suffering some low-level form of PTSD.

Whether I still am is for others to judge – but by and large I’ve enjoyed the past few more or less indolent months. I love summer sports, and the return of Wimbledon, complete with crowds, and the well-attended Test cricket series against New Zealand and India gladdened the heart. The results hardly mattered – it was enough just to see people gathered together en masse.

And of course there was football, and Euro 2020: held a year late – but oh what a circus, oh what a show. With matches staged all over Europe it was, to some, a colossal waste of money and an unpardonable splurge of environmentally-unfriendly profligacy. Others (me) found it massively uplifting: an example sans pareil of the resurgence, the indomitability, of the human spirit.

If you were to ask me, do I like football, I would unthinkingly answer yes. And it’s true I like to see Norwich City do well – it’s my home town, my home team, and the city feels a marginally happier place when “the Canaries” are on a winning streak. (Which, at present, they aren’t.) But I don’t get bent out of shape when they lose (which as just as well). I just don’t feel that invested in it, somehow.

Give me the World Cup or the Euros though, and I’m all over it. Especially in the early stages. I lose a bit of enthusiasm once teams start getting eliminated and the whole thing becomes more ponderous; but the first days and weeks… Four matches a day? A riot, a rainbow, of colour, drama, excitement? Massive crowds of people going nuts in the hot summer sun? Bring it on.

Turns out it’s not really football I love; it’s tournament football.

This year especially – partly because it was such a poke in the eye to the pandemic; but also there was England’s performance to sustain my interest. There was no shame in their eventual loss to Italy – just inexperience, and a certain naivety.

Bring on the World Cup.

***

Where there was shame, however – and rightly – was in the widespread reaction to the trolling of England penalty takers Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, all of whom missed from the spot during the penalty shoot-out that decided the match, thus handing victory to the Italians.

Much has been written about the so called “culture wars” being waged in the UK and elsewhere. Pro-vaxxers versus anti-vaxxers. Climate crisis deniers versus eco-warriors. The “woke” versus the “anti-woke”. The list goes on and tediously on; but what characterises these conflicts, these differences of opinion, is absolutism – a total unwillingness even to acknowledge that there might be a point of view other than yours. Simply because of how it works, social media – Facebook especially – encourages this polarisation, this reductive, binary tribalism, devoid of nuance.

And our government, shamingly, has jumped on the bandwagon. Crude populism, enabled by social media, is what brought about Brexit, and what got Boris Johnson elected.

And while culture wars, the extremism of culture wars, does not in itself give legitimacy to trolling, it does provide an environment where it can exist: where trolls feel encouraged to hurl their disgusting insults with relative impunity. And where, if it’s not too much of a reach, radicalised wingnuts can find justification for carrying out atrocious acts, of which last week’s murder of Southend West MP Sir David Amess was merely the latest.

Consciously or not, most of us who use social media (and I use Facebook a lot) are operating in an echo chamber. We become friends with people who share our opinions – and every exchange with our Facebook friends just reinforces our confirmation bias. It’s how the algorithm works. And if someone disagrees with you? Hey presto: just unfriend them.

But it’s not necessarily how friendships work in real life. With real, flesh-and-blood folks, your friendships are yours to make – not down to some bloodless, soulless, sinister piece of computer code.

It’s probable that most of the people you choose to spend most of your time with share most of your opinions – but not all. I have a friend whose views on certain issues trouble me (because they don’t chime with my own) but who is one of the most generous, thoughtful, kind-hearted people I know. Am I going to terminate our friendship because we disagree on one thing (albeit a fairly fundamental thing)? No I’m not. I’ll continue to press my case, and to call my friend out when they say something that I find offensive. And we’ll continue to make each other laugh, to commiserate with one another when needed, and “have each other’s backs”.

It occurs to me that perhaps I need to consciously expand my real-life friendship groups – to extend the hand of friendship to those with whom I might, on some subjects, vehemently disagree. It’s got to be healthier than allowing Mark Zuckerberg to arrange my social life, or access my headspace.

***

Like many cities, Norwich is characterised by narrow streets lined with Victorian terrace houses. I live in one such.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. The street where I live is pleasing to the eye, characterful, and the neighbours are friendly and helpful. As I hope I am to them.

Traffic is a concern. And that problem will continue to grow unless and until laws are passed limiting car ownership, and car sizes, per household (which may be the subject of a future Drum & Monkey). But it’s one we put up with, for now.

Or did. I can’t be the only one whose equanimity has been seriously challenged by the profusion of delivery vans on our streets: an issue that predates the pandemic, but which has become a great deal worse over the past 18 months.

Actually it’s not so much the number of vans that upsets me – I order stuff online myself from time to time – it’s the behaviour of the drivers.

If you’re doing a drop, and there’s no place to pull into nearby: fair enough. Stop your van, do the delivery sharpish, jump back in, and off you go. I can be patient for the couple of minutes or so that that takes, and we’ve all got to make a living.

But when did it become acceptable to just slam on the anchors, stick your hazard lights on, and leave the van in situ for 10 minutes or more while you do a bunch of deliveries? Traffic backing up behind you all the while? Worse: WHEN THERE’S A PERFECTLY GOOD PARKING SPACE AVAILABLE?

DPD drivers: I’m looking at you.

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