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Lockdown slowdown
In a much-delayed blog, Slarek reflects on some unexpected effects of the current lockdown, its impact in his health, how that has led to a delay in the posting of reviews, and why digging out his tools and some wood to build a plinth has really helped. Oh, and why you should never trust this government on anything...
10 May 2020

Ever since the current lockdown began I've been meaning to get the site blog back up and running, but almost nothing has gone as expected. Given the current world circumstances I think you can safely call that an understatement.

I get the impression that people who know me personally assumed that I'd adapt to the stay-at-home order (currently being preposterously rebranded as 'Stay Alert') far easier than many others, and to a degree they were right. I live alone, work alone, and due to previously detailed full-time caring duties have all but stopped socialising in recent years. Not a big change then. At least that's what I thought. Despite working in isolation, the simple process of getting up and cycling to a different location each day to work was something I soon found myself missing. I do have exactly the same computer at home as in my office and full access to the same software, but there's something about that change of location that made it easy for me to make the switch into work mode. When all I have to do is limp downstairs and switch on the iMac, it takes a special effort to kick myself into the appropriate frame of mind. And while I don't have many conversations with others during the course of a normal working week, not having any with anyone over the course of a month, save for the landline calls to a girlfriend who doesn't have an internet connection in her home or a mobile phone – is proving more disconcerting than I would have anticipated. Isn't this the sort of isolation that prompted seemingly ordinary people to develop into serial killers? Best not to ponder too hard on that one.

I have, I'll admit, chosen an odd day to write this. Just a few days ago, a number of disreputable but still disturbingly popular newspapers were almost encouraging their readers to ignore the official advice on staying safely at home (advice they were a few days earlier chastising people for not following) by throwing headlines on their front pages proclaiming that we'll all be 'set free' on Monday, despite no official announcement on the subject. Of course, this yahooing for a theoretical lifting of restrictions failed to acknowledge that doing so has the potential to allow a still very active virus to infect and kill considerably more people than it already has. A friend who has about as much faith in the current government as I do (erm, that would be none) even suggested that this is actually a covert government policy to reactivate Dominic Cummings' so-called 'herd immunity' plan, but in a way that would allow those in power to later shift the blame onto 'irresponsible' members of the public for any subsequent rise in cases. It's disturbing to me how many seem willing to go along with this thinking in the genuine belief that they and their family will not be affected, and how easily some seem able to distance themselves from those they mistakenly believe will be the likely victims. I wonder how keen they would be to end the current safety restrictions if they thought that one of their children would die as a result of doing so rather than some elderly man living alone in Hackney. And as my friend pointed out, the owners of these irresponsible newspapers are not shopping down at Asda and gathering in parks and on beaches with the great unwashed, but tucked securely away on private islands and in remote hideaways with their families and their private physicians, encouraging us to put our lives on the line to protect their stock portfolios. Excuse my Anglo Saxon, but fuck the lot of them.

The whole idea that the economy will restart in a heartbeat if the restrictions are lifted has also been seriously called into question by those who actually know what they're talking about. It's been noted, for instance, that despite choosing not to implement a lockdown, Sweden's economy has taken a similar hit to the rest of Scandinavia and Europe and has experienced a far higher death rate than neighbouring countries. And think about it, if all of the current restrictions were lifted tomorrow, how many of you would rush back into places in which you would be in close contact with potential carriers of a virus that is still out there and resulted in the UK having the highest death toll in Europe? Not me, mister.

I'm fully aware that we are entering a new normal, one that will likely require a few serious lifestyle adjustments even those of us for whom it has not presented such a drastic upheaval. I may live and work alone and cycle to work, but not being able to swim has resulted in the re-emergence of a genuinely crippling sciatica pain I have for years been controlling with nightly floor stretches and regular swims at the local health centre (oh, the irony of that name). I genuinely didn't realise how much good it was doing, and now the pain is so severe that I genuinely cannot sit down for more than five minutes at a time and spend most of each day and evening standing up or pacing around, not ideal for someone with peripheral neuropathy in his bloody foot. The pain killers I've been prescribed aren't making a serious dent, but even if the health centre reopens I can't see how getting changed in a room full of heavily exhaling exercise buffs is going to be a sensible course of action for someone whose sister has been warned that the virus would likely be lethal to a person with her health condition. And while having my own small office makes returning to work technically safer than for any of the lecturers or students who would be put at very real risk by a reopening of schools and colleges, it's located in a particularly busy corridor and directly opposite a classroom outside which students tend to gather and wait. Given the option, I'm thus likely to stick with home working even when the schools do open, at least until the summer break kicks in and the corridors are largely free of other humans.

Being based at home for a few months, I somehow got it into my head that I'd have more time to watch movies and write reviews, but as anyone who has been waiting patiently for new reviews to appear will doubtless have guessed, it's not worked out that way at all. To my surprise, my daytime workload has actually increased, in part due a sudden demand for online learning materials that have to be created from scratch for the simple reason that they've never been previously needed. And given that my job primarily involves sitting in front of a computer screen, I'm currently bouncing in and out of my tatty and artificially padded office chair like I'm rehearsing for a role in a slapstick comedy. Best not to start on what the pain is doing to my sleep patterns...

So where does all of this leave the site? Well, I've managed to keep the news stories ticking over, largely because they're essentially written for us by distributors and PR companies and just have to be formatted for upload at this end, something that would be doubtless be easier with more user-friendly software. I did have a review of Studiocanal's new Blu-ray release of The Elephant Man almost complete, but had been working from DVDs instead of the expected Blu-rays, and given that a key selling point of this edition is the film's new 4K restoration, DVD is hardly the ideal format to judge its quality. I was promised Blu-ray replacements but they never arrived, so the review is still sitting in my pending folder. Before the sciatica really kicked in I did finish coverage of Indicator's sole stand-alone release from last month, The Strange One, then moved onto the same label's John Ford at Columbia 1935-1958 box set, progress on which has been far slower than I had anticipated due to the above detailed issues.

A sciatica-friendly plinth made from wood liberated from skips

Since review writing only needs a word processor, I'm not tied to my desktop iMac for this and could and do use my iPad instead. The only problem here is one of height, with all of the desks and tables I have at home designed to be used while seated. What I really needed was a standing-height table on which I could place my iPad and keyboard (my laptop is currently knackered) to enable me to work on reviews without having to jump out of the chair every few minutes or stoop in a way that would only exacerbate the problem. I'd been pondering on this for days and unsuccessfully trying to find a cardboard box to place between the iPad and a table top that wouldn't wobble about when I hit the keys. Finally, despite having pledged to spend yesterday breaking the back of the Ford box set review, I ended up instead digging out some of the wood I've been nabbing from skips for years and spending a good part of the day building a sturdy plinth on which to stand a folding desk, whose surface is now at the perfect height for typing while standing. The difference this has made to my productivity is considerable. It even gave me time to bang this nonsense out.

The review discs for next Indicator releases have arrived and I knew as soon as they did so that I wouldn't gave time to cover them all – hell, I'm still on last month's releases. Posting discs to Camus has been an issue lately due to the fact that my local post office shares floor space with a busy chemist, and every time I've been past on my daily cycle ride, the queue to get in has run down the street. Last week, however, I went past when there was no-one waiting outside and I was able to send a couple of discs his way. I've been sent three new titles from Eureka, one of which (due out tomorrow, so coverage will likely be a couple of days late) is effectively a Blu-ray update of an earlier DVD release with the same extras, and have been assured that another two titles are on their way from Arrow, all of which I should I'm aiming to cover now I'm able to write standing up with my back and shoulders straight. Ten- shun! And yes, the Ford box set review is now well under way and should hopefully be posted in the next couple of days.

Those used to my political rants may be surprised that I've got this far without a serious dig at the sheer incompetence of the government's handling of this crisis and the lies they've telling, the reports they've suppressed and redacted, the scientific advisory committee they've undermined, or the series of genuinely mind-boggling fuck-ups they've made when it comes to ordering equipment essential to the protection of the very people who saved the prime minister's worthless life. The reason is simple – there just isn't enough space. So frequent are the screw-ups and so common is the propagandist bullshit tossed out that a detailed breakdown would take forever, and by the time I'd finished writing there'd probably be another ten things to add – I genuinely can't write fast enough to keep up with this avalanche of ineptitude. If you're looking for a more concise breakdown of the timeline of governmental failings on this issue, then I'd highly recommend this excellent piece by appeasement.org, and while there are some encouraging voices of protest and reason across the pond at the moment, for me there's still no-one able to blend comedy and political comment quite as wonderfully as Michael Spicer does with his utterly inspired The Room Next Door sketches. Do check him out if you've not yet seen his work.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy (well, healthier than this particular walking disaster) and question and double-check everything that comes out of the government's collective mouth on this issue. Your life could genuinely depend on it.