Late Night Stargazing

Here’s three words I never thought I’d type: Dubstar are back!

You remember Dubstar, right? Had a couple of successful Britpop-era electronica pop records: Stars, Everywhere, Not So Manic Now and a really rather great cover of Billy Bragg’s St Swithin’s Day? Yes, that Dubstar.

When I say they’re back, they actually resurfaced in 2018, released an album called One which totally passed me by.

But now they’re back! Back! BACK! with a new album of mostly new material called Two.

I’m always a little wary of bands returning: I genuinely can’t think of a single band who has reformed and released records of the same standard as they did first time around. Don’t give me Take That as an answer, I’ll be dealing with them some other time.

I’ve not really given Two anything more than a cursory listen yet – it sounds just fine on first listen – so I may be wrong and this is the triumphant return one hopes for.

But it does include, as a final track, a cover version which is a pretty bold selection:

Dubstar – Perfect Circle

I’m undecided what I think about that.

Here’s the original:

R.E.M. – Perfect Circle

I have many different versions of R.E.M. performing that Bill Berry composition live, but on most of them something is not quite right – either Stipe’s lead vocal or Mike Mills’ backing vocal is just a little bit off.

This is the best the version I have, recorded for VH1’s Storytellers show, after Berry had left. Not only is it pretty much perfect, it includes Stipe saying “Hi Bill!” towards the end, an acknowledgement of the songsmith on this one:

R.E.M. – Perfect Circle (VH1 Storytellers)

Just beautiful.

More soon.

Home Furnishings

It’s a Bank Holiday (again) here in the UK, so (and again, with apologies to those who do have to work today) there’s no need for the usual New Mood on Monday post today.

Instead: a while ago, I briefly had a series on here called Art (I say brief: 2 posts in total is probably beyond brief) where I talked about some of the various pop culture references which adorn my walls – predominantly, but not exclusively, prints of album covers I love.

Since I’ve moved home though, I found the need to buy something my old flat never had – a doormat. But I didn’t want just any old doormat – I wanted something which fitted in with the pop culture feel of the stuff that covered the rest of the house. ‘I have pop culture references on the walls, so why not the floor too?’, I reasoned to nobody but myself. (Regular readers will be aware that pop culture is not just limited to the walls in my pad, for I own a pair of these, courtesy of my brother. I bought him a Sisters of Mercy clock for Christmas, but there’s not a song about that, so it’s not nearly as clever.)

So the search began, but nothing I found fitted the criteria, all too bland, or too “nice” and a bit too welcoming. No, I wanted a doormat which reflected my personality and, more specifically, my love of music.

And then I stumbled upon a place who do bespoke doormats; just send them what you wanted to have printed on it, and they would oblige, stamping your design on to the bristly little dog-dirt wiping bugger.

But now, faced with this blank canvas, I had to decide what should decorate this otherwise bland household item.

At first, I toyed with the idea of having the blog’s DJing Elvis logo on it, but wasn’t convinced a picture would come out so well on such a canvas, so I rejected that idea.

Words, that was what was needed. Something to replace the “Welcome” one normally finds on such things.

My next thought was to get one with the word “Binky” written on it, in reference to this tune, from (arguably) R.E.M.’s last if-not-great-then-at-least-pretty-good album:

R.E.M. -Binky The Doormat

Knowing how much I love R.E.M., you’ll be surprised to learn I rejected this idea too.

Instead, I plumped for a reference to this old skool banger:

Kicks Like A Mule – The Bouncer (Original Mix)

And here’s the frankly ruddy marvellous cover from Klaxons – 2007’s Mercury prize winning, next big thing (and promptly never heard of again) – which, if I’m totally honest, I prefer to the original:

Klaxons – The Bouncer

All of which means that in the unlikely event that anyone ever visits, this is what they will see when I open the door (with apostrophes in the right place):

Yes, you’re right: I am cool, aren’t I?

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Time to feel old again.

On Thursday, it was twenty five years since R.E.M. released what is arguably their last truly great album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi (or, as one of my mate Martin’s mates inadvertently and innocently used to pronounce it: New Adventures in Hee-Fee).

Recorded during the band’s 1995 Monster tour, it proved to be the final album to feature the original line-up, with drummer Bill Berry departing shortly afterwards. Funny how collapsing on stage with a brain aneurysm can effect people.

Here’s bass player Mike Mills in an interview with Mojo magazine:

“We got into the studio feeling very happy and relieved that everyone was okay, especially Bill. It brought us all much closer and made us realize how important we are to each other. Once we’d been through a crisis like that, making a record was a piece of cake. We discussed making an album of on-the-road stuff a year and a half before we went on the Monster tour. We wanted to get some of the looseness and spontaneity of a soundcheck, live show or dressing room. We used all the good songs. ‘Revolution’ – a song we did live – didn’t make it onto this record, just like it didn’t make it onto Monster… It usually takes a good few years for me to decide where an album stands in the pantheon of recorded work we’ve done. This one may be third behind Murmur and Automatic for the People.”

Many of the elements which we had come to expect were all here: down-beat lead single (E-Bow The Letter)? Check. Cool rock star celebrity guest appearance (Patti Smith)? Check. Seemingly pointless short instrumental (Zither)? Check. Absolute swoonsome beauty, drenched in feedback, sandwiched between two rockier/poppier numbers? Check.

This one:

R.E.M. – Be Mine

As is the record industry norm, a 25th anniversary edition is scheduled for release in October. Genuinely excited about this one.

More soon.

Friday Night Music Club

For quite some time now, I’ve been pondering what it is that is preventing me from posting with the same regularity as I was last year.

I’ve worked it out.

Regular readers will know that I generally sit on a Friday night, have a few drinks and write posts for the next week. But for a while now, I’ve become preoccupied on doing a new mix.

Warning: artist at work excuse incoming.

See, whilst they seem remarkably unpopular, I really enjoy piecing together a long playlist/mix/call it what you will, and that inevitably means a few drafts which don’t quite, to quote Echo & The Bunnymen, cut the mustard.

So, I’ve been working on this mix for some time now, but somehow something always seemed to prevent me from finishing it, be it me tinkering with the running order, or thinking of new tunes to toss in, or some kind of technical calamity, or (more often) listening to it and realising I’ve utterly messed up a mix and I simply can’t bear to have anyone else listen to it.

I’m not going to pretend all of the mixes between tunes here are perfect – there’s at least one which I know isn’t – but I’ve reached the point where it’s close enough to let it go and move on to something else, before I drive myself mad searching for perfection.

So here’s my latest mix, imperfect though it may be; frustrating as it has been, I really like this one, which starts off in the usual way – slowly – before getting into a groove which includes Kings of Leon from before they went stadium and knew how to use a cowbell, a new(ish) track by The Chemical Brothers, an obligatory Soulwax remix, two of the finest female pop stars going: Miley Cyrus & Dua Lipa (not on the same tune, sadly), the occasional hidden ‘joke’ (by which I mean it seemed funny when I first put the songs together, less so now), via Madonna having a short chat with Johnny Cash.

It’s the usual mix of songs you love, songs you’ve forgotten about, and songs which make you think “What the hell has he put this on here for??”. Some might say eclectic, but I couldn’t possibly comment. Think mainly Indie guitar stuff, with a few dance tunes, 80s pop songs and a couple of timeless classics – at least one of which you probably won’t have heard before – thrown in.

As always, no track-listing – I like to imagine your faces when the next song kicks in – but there’s a list of featured artists on the right hand side in case you want to see what you’re letting yourself in for. Which is a treat, obviously. If you desperately need to know what a track is, either Shazam it or, if you’d like to feed my ego, ask me via the Comments at the bottom of this post.

Usual disclaimer: any skips and jumps are down to the mixing software; any mis-timed mixes (and, as I say, there is at least one) is down to me. Either way: Sorry!

One more thing: you may recall that last time out I mentioned that my brother had said he managed to predict what I was going to play next, which annoyed me greatly. No such criticism of the last mix, although he told me he listened to it whilst out on his morning run, so some of the sudden gear changes weren’t helpful. I’ve tried to rectify that this time, with a relatively steady beat and tempo maintained throughout (after you’ve got past the traditional slow start) for those of you who listen to this whilst doing your exercises (not that I really understand what that means). The danger was that it would denigrate into either a Ministry of Sound pumping dance mix or a Top Gear/Best Driving Songs…in the World…Ever! playlist, but I think the song choices just about keep us on the right side of that happening.

Let’s say it starts slowly, gets into a groove, and then has more false endings than a Status Quo single.

I’m a bit annoyed that since I first decided to include it, at least on song here has popped up in an advert – and you know how I feel about them – for burgers, of all things. Rest assured, the advert in question was not the inspiration for the song’s inclusion. You’ll know it when you hear it, I think.

Oh and there are several songs which feature effing and jeffings – “sexual swear words” as Simon Bates used to say at the start of videos – so please avoid if you are easily offended by unfettered vulgarity and sauciness. Look, there’s a Goldie Lookin’ Chain tune which is probably the rudest and most inappropriate (but funny) thing I’ll ever post, so beware.

For a limited time (until I do another one, so y’know, could be months), you can stream or download it via Soundcloud here.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Watching Radiohead’s headliner set from Glastonbury 1997 on Friday night, I was reminded of just how wonderful this song is:

Radiohead – Street Spirit (Fade Out)

I was also reminded of the video:

…bits of which I always thought were ripped off (towards the end) on this video:

R.E.M. – Electrolite

And here, finally, is Michael Stipe dropping a bon mot and a clanging name-drop when explaining part of the lyric on an edition of VH1 Storytellers:

Michael Stipe – Explaining Electrolite

I know, annoying I cut it there, right?

More soon (I promise, R.E.M. won’t feature).

Glastonbury, So Much To Answer For

You may have noticed that this weekend would have been Glastonbury Festival weekend.

Of course, Covid has put paid to that for a second year running – perhaps if it were to have a snog and a grope with someone who didn’t have a ticket, that would be fine? – but the BBC have decided to mark the missing music by showing some of the finest headliner shows. Tonight you’ll be able to relive Kylie from 2019 (not a headliner set, but whatever, she almost was had the Big C not struck her down in 2005) and Artic Monkeys from 2013 on BBC2 from 22:00, whilst Iggy and The Stooges grace the 2007 stage (I was at that! – also not a headliner set) on BBC4, then on Sunday sees BBC4 fulfil it’s remit with a set from Fela Kuti from 1984. All of these concerts book-ended with various compilation shows.

Not sure how they’ve managed to over look Quo’s set from 2009, but they can’t get everything right, I guess.

Last night saw BBC2 show Radiohead’s headline set from 1997, and R.E.M.’s from 1999. I had intended to post some of my favourite sets from years that I attended, and top of that list would have been R.E.M.’s set from the first year I went, 2003.

You may have noticed that when I have bothered to post here recently, R.E.M. have often featured. See, I’m having a bit of an R.E.M. renaissance recently. A R.E.M.aissance, if you will. And I think I can probably attribute this to JC and The Robster’s excellent (recently concluded) series over at JC’s place where they honestly reviewed every R.E.M. single – and when I say “honestly” I mean they pulled no punches and called out the duffers where they occurred, which, as the band got older, was often – and now The (rejuvenated) Robster’s off-shoot series over at his own place where he picks what should have been singles from the band’s mighty catalogue.

Alas, I couldn’t find the 2003 set anywhere (if anyone has any good bootleg sites they care to recommend I’d be very grateful), so instead, just in case you want to check how off-key those Beach Boys-esque harmonies on At My Most Beautiful are, or how the end of Sweetness Follows seems to descend into an out of time (see what I did there) mess, here’s the audio from the R.E.M. show which was transmitted again last night:

R.E.M. – Live from Glastonbury 1999

Apologies for the intro nonsense on that, I haven’t had time to edit it out. Skip to around the 01:40 mark for the actual music to start.

Back in 1999, it seems the Beeb didn’t have the rights to show the entire set live, as we join the group as they are about to go into Daysleeper, which was actually the seventh song on the night. We’ve already missed (in order): Lotus, What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?, So Fast So Numb, The Apologist, Fall On Me, and The Great Beyond – some I’m not sorry were omitted but some….well, I hope whoever missed out on Fall On Me, one of their finest records, sleeps at night. (It would be remiss of me not to point out it does appear on the recent R.E.M at the BBC boxset.)

All of which makes me sound like a real sourpuss or grumpy face, but I don’t mean to be: while we may not get the full picture, we do get a lot of the big-hitters, the crowd pleasers, but we also get a snapshot of just how wonderfully entertaining and bewitching R.E.M. live could be on their day.

God, I miss them.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Continuing a watery theme from yesterday morning….

After the football on Friday night – i.e. just when I needed it – BBC4 aired an hour of R.E.M. live at the BBC.

If you can ignore the fact that it jumped from second album Reckoning‘s Pretty Persuasion to sixth album Green‘s Pop Song ’89 it was a reasonably career- encompassing show.

The highlight for me was a performance of Nightswimming, lifted from an edition of Later…with Jools Holland; to the best of my knowledge this has never seen a commercial release (and I’m sure The Robster will correct me if I’m wrong). It certainly doesn’t appear on the R.E.M. – Live at the BBC album which came out a couple of years ago..

And so here it is, just Stipe’s unmistakable vocal, Mike Mills on piano, and I think something that’s supposed to sound like a cor anglais parping along beautifully. Thankfully Jools doesn’t rock up with his trademark boogie-woogie piano:

R.E.M. – Nightswimming (Later… with Jools Holland 14 October 2003)

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

I’m sure, like me, you’ve been following with great admiration Jim and The Robster’s collaborative effort going over all of the R.E.M. singles in chronological order over at The Vinyl Villain.

It’s been a really interesting and honest read, especially seeing the point where patience began to where patience began to wear thin (the Up album), where it finally ran out (the godawful Around The Sun album) but it’s also been heartening to read many people in the comments who also gave up on them at around the same time, now giving the Accelerate album a listen for the first time and very much liking what they heard – the R.E.M. of old.

The series is fast approaching the end, with just the singles from the farewell album, Collapse Into You to go (I think…The Robster knows best), but I thought I’d duck in with this little beauty which features as an extra track on the career spanning Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage compilation album. This was released as a single elsewhere in the world but not in the UK, so I hope I’m not treading on their toes by posting it.

As a rule, I’m not a fan of bonus tracks on Best Of… albums, viewing them as manipulative way to get us fans to part with our hard-earned cash once more for songs which we mostly already own.

The other two bonus songs on the album – A Month of Saturdays and Hallelujah – are, to put it kindly, nothing special.

But We All Go Back To Where We Belong is just gorgeous, all parping horns, beautiful strings and Stipe’s restrained breathy vocals; it practically twinkles as it come out of your speakers. It’s a thing of such beauty that when I first heard it I remember thinking: “There you go, see: you can still do it.”

R.E.M. – We All Go Back To Where We Belong

There would have been a few more tears shed when the band split if more of their late-period records had sounded like that, I think.

Had it been released as a single in the UK, it would have been a fitting swansong to a glorious career. But instead we got…ah, no. I’ll leave it to Jim and Rob.

More soon.

Friday Night Music Club

I was beginning to think this mix was jinxed.

I’ll explain, with some back story.

Firstly, I wanted to do a mix unlike the Not Christmas one, which I thought strayed a bit too far into the territories of cheese or chart music. Whilst it served a purpose, it wasn’t really indicative of the sort of tunes which usually feature here.

This one, though is a corker, even if I do say so myself.

Regular readers may recall that way back in the late 1980s, I started DJ’ing at college because I was fed up with being able to guess what song the indie DJs would play next. So imagine my annoyance when my own brother told me that on a previous mix he’d been able to predict my next choice a couple of times. Grrr.

But this mix has proved to be such a pain to complete; when I came to do it today, it tells me that some of the tunes have been played 22 times, which gives you an idea of how many times I’ve tried to get this one right. Pretty much once a week, since Christmas.

What’s gone wrong all those times? Well, on more than one occasion professional pride kicked in: I’ve messed up a mix between tunes, so have elected to start again.

On more than one occasion, preoccupied with playing Solitaire or Candy Crush just to have something to do whilst recording the mix, there’s a sudden, irretrievable silence where the next record should be. Oops!

Once I forgot to stop recording until an hour later, and, triumphant at how the mixes had worked out, I couldn’t understand why the mix lasted over 5 hours, until I listened to it.

The other problem is booze. More than once, I’ve taken drink to such an extent that I’ve forgotten I was doing a mix until the silence after one record has finished hits home and startled me awake.

Last weekend, I got to the third record from the end, and suddenly woke up to silence and realised I’d messed up again. That’s not an indictment of the standard of the mix, by the way, more an example of how drunk I’d gotten.

Even last night, when I finally nailed it, it was my second attempt of the night, having got through most of the mix when I had a drink-spillage event, which I thought I’d sorted, until, four records from the end, suddenly the sound cut out whilst the tunes kept playing and I had no idea if it was still recording the sound or the sound of silence.

Anyway, we’ve got here, and this has been a real pain, so if you could take a listen, that would be great.

I will confess that I have broken the golden rule of not featuring the same act more than once in this mix; this wasn’t intentional, but as the various run-throughs progressed, I simply forgot said acts already appeared as “featuring” acts. One is deliberate. Sue me (Please don’t).

Time for the usual disclaimer: any glitches, skips or jumps are down to the software or the uploading/downloading process, and nothing to do with my limited mixing skills.

Oh, and the usual “effing and jeffing” warning applies; it seems I’m incapable of doing a mix which doesn’t include more than the occasional swear.

I’m not posting a link to download here, other than the one to Soundcloud, where you can either download or stream it.

I couldn’t be bothered with the last ones, but I’ve done it this time: you’ll see a list of all the acts featured in this mix at the bottom of the page, so you can check whether this one’s likely to be your cup of tea before going to the hassle of actually listening to it. If you’re particularly short of things to do, you can try to guess which song I’ve picked by which artist. There’s fun.

But by way of a description: pretty much all life is here, from indie rock to 60s California hippy-shtick, some Old Skool dance classics, some hip-hop and some soul classics via some Northern Soul belters via some TV show theme tunes (sort of); there’s some hoary old rock and some psychobilly, and a couple of tracks which should have featured in a New post by now, but the bands in question played the 6Music festival last weekend so you’ll probably know them intimately by now. And, of course, there’s The Fall.

Easy on the cheese this time, there’s even some poetry so we can all pretend we’re intellectual. You’ll have chance to dance, sit and recover for a few moments, before getting back on it again.

Available for a limited time (i.e. until I do the next one), you can download or stream this on Soundcloud here:

Friday Night Music Club (Volume 4)

I hope you have as much fun listening to this as much as I had putting it together. And I found it utterly frustrating, so you’d better.

Oh, and it ain’t over ’til the fat bloke sings.

More soon.

Rant O’Clock

Jesus, where do I start?

When I last sounded off, one of the many topics was students and the utter fiasco which was their A-Level results, so let’s pick up there.

Now, this may come as a shock to many of you, but what you achieve at A-Level pretty much decides what happens next for you. Do badly: start looking for a job.But do well and you can start thinking about what university offer you want to accept, to continue your education.

So before I go any further, congratulations to all who achieved sufficiently impressive grades, despite the interference of Gavin Williamson and his blessed algorithms.

I don’t think this will come as much of a surprise to many, but what happens next is that those who have achieved the required grades travel to live at and attend the university they had been accepted by.

What actually happened next was also no surprise: a spike in those away from home for the first time, now diagnosed with Covid and impelled to self-isolate.

I have a lot of sympathy for the students here; they had been told that they were of an age-group unlikely to be susceptible to virus, and were happily told to pack themselves off to college to enjoy themselves. There has been much talk of “The University Experience” and what that means: you live away from home for the first time, you study but you also meet lots of new people from different parts of the country. You bond, you may go on to party with them, and if you’re very lucky, you might sleep with at least one of them.

There was no need for them to leave home at all: the lectures could have been engaged in at home online, rather than having the students leave home and then be confined to their rooms. So let’s be clear: these students are not attending lectures: because of the ongoing crisis, it’s all being done online, via Teams or Zoom, all of which could have been done from the comfort of their own homes.

Try telling me, in those exact same circumstances, if it were you then you wouldn’t try to meet up with people, and I call bullshit.

This was, of course, not the Goverment’s fault. Nosireebob. Here’s Dido Harding, and just to fill you in on her qualifications: Diana Mary “Dido” Harding, Baroness Harding of Winscombe is a British Conservative Party businesswoman who served as chairwoman of NHS Improvement since 2017, current head of the Test and Trace programme, and acting Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection since 2020.

She is also the former chief executive of the TalkTalk Group where she faced calls for her to resign after a cyber attack revealed the details of 4 million customers. A member of the Conservative Party, she’s married to Conservative Party MP John Penrose, and is a friend of former Prime Minister David Cameron. Dido was appointed as a Member of the House of Lords by Cameron in 2014 and she holds a board position at the Jockey Club, which is responsible for several major horse-racing events including the Cheltenham Festival. (That’s the same Cheltenham Festival which was allowed to take place this year, despite the obvious Covid risks it presented.)

Dido – head of Track and Trace, remember – said “I don’t think anybody was expecting, to see the real sizable increase in demand that we’ve seen over the last few weeks, so none of the modelling was expecting that, and that’s why we all need to think really hard about how we prioritise the use of these tests.”

No, Dido. Nobody could possibly have predicted that students would go to University at the start of term in September. Absolutely unforeseeable.

Think about this too: most of the people who had been helping with testing over the summer worked for universities, and so when they returned to their full-time jobs, said testing positions were left vacant.

You’ll be shocked to learn the Government hadn’t thought of this and, like Roy Hodgson as England Manager (sorry for the comparison, Roy) had no back-up plan, no Plan B. Just surprise: suddenly we have less people to administer the tests at exactly the time where we’re encouraging more people to get tested. This, of course, could not have been predicted.

Which leads us to the situation where people who needed to have a Covid test suddenly found that they were instructed to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest appointment. That’s travelling at Cummings-grade level.

See, the thing one thing everybody agrees on (now) is that keeping the virus in check relies on having a fully working Track and Trace system. The Independent published this handy, cut-out-and-keep chronology of our dabbling with the idea of tracking and tracing:

‘January 2020 – deadly pandemic breaks out.

February 2020 – World Health Organisation issues three word advice: “Test. Test. Test.”

UK’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries responds by saying: “There comes a stage in a pandemic where testing is not an appropriate intervention.”

March 2020 – Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer,  advises people with coronavirus symptoms to self-isolate at home and don’t get tested.

April 2020 – Matt Hancock decides testing is in fact important. Launches drive to “100,000-tests-a-day” target.

May 2020 – Matt Hancock announces his own success in reaching his 100,000-a-day target, which turns out to have been through putting 35,000 tests in the post the previous day.

Dido Harding is put in charge of test and trace programme. Boris Johnson promises it will be “world-beating”.

July 2020 – government starts bribing people to go to pubs and restaurants, and threatening people with redundancy if they don’t go back to the office.

August 2020 – infection rate begins to soar. People going to pubs are blamed.

September 2020 – schools reopen. Infection rates rise to more than 4,000 a day. The “world-beating” test and trace system is running at full capacity. Parents in London with coughing children are advised to drive them to Inverness if they want a test. If they don’t get a test, the child can’t go to school and the parents can’t go to work.

Dido Harding tells a House of Commons select committee: “I don’t think anybody was expecting to see the really sizeable increase in demand that we’ve seen over the course of the last few weeks.”

Harding continued to explain that she had no real idea how many people were trying and failing to get a test. The system capacity is 250,000 a day. The only way to know how oversubscribed it is by measuring “how many people are visiting the website and calling the number”.

She did acknowledge that there would be some “double counting” involved, which indeed there would be, as anyone who has ever tried to use a website or call a phone line that is not capable of coping with the demands placed on it will testify. “Between the years 2011 and 2019, for example (The Independent journalist writes), “I would estimate that I personally represent over a quarter of a million people attempting to buy a ticket for the Glastonbury Festival. One would hope a “world-beating” test and trace system would have rather more robust metrics in place for gauging how many people in the country think they’ve got coronavirus.”

Look, I know I’m a raving Leftie, but I do not dare to claim that things would necessarily have been any better had Labour won the last election, especially when you think about who would have been in charge if “we” had won. But Jesus wept, I’d like to think there would be at least an element of transparency, of learning from mistakes, which is not what we’re seeing now.

For a start, don’t be fooled by Conservative MPs referring to what we do have as “NHS Track and Trace”. The implication in them referring to it as such is that the NHS is at the heart of it, when in actual fact it has knack all to do with the the NHS.

In fact, it is an outsourced service provided to the NHS. The contact tracers are employed by Serco, who were paid £108 million for the first phase of the work, up to late August. The call centre is operated by American specialists Sitel, who were paid £84m for a similar period.

Money well earned.

So why do Conservative MPs continue to refer to it as NHS Track and Trace? Call me a cynic, but I think it’s because they want you to believe, when this is all finally over and done with, that it was the NHS that failed the nation, rather than one or any number of the privately owned firms who are actually culpable, and to whom our most precious asset will doubtless be sold off.

Who, when reading this and seeing the name Serco did not feel their heart sag? Oh that lot, we thought. For Serco have a bit of a reputation: in July 2019, a fine of £19.2m was imposed on them for fraud and false accounting over its electronic tagging service for the Ministry of Justice. This is where they were found to have charged us – the British taxpayer – for tagging a number of prisoners temporarily and legitimately released from prison, whom they hadn’t tagged at all. The company was also ordered to pay the Serious Fraud Office’s investigative costs of £3.7 million.

And what do we do with companies who have failed to adhere to the very basic terms of a contract? Give them another one, that’s what.

Incidentally, Serco have also been accused of an extensive cover-up over sexual abuse of immigrants at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire, and, together with its consortium partners, failing to develop a strategy for managing Higher Active radioactive Waste at the Atomic Weapons Establishment. I think that’s a Full House, isn’t it?

So, Serco are exactly the sort of people one would expect to have been awarded such a lucrative and important contract as the Track and Trace one. I could go on about how these contracts, and many others, which have wasted millions, if not billions, of pounds since Covid kicked in, were awarded without going through the proper tender process and just so happened to be awarded to companies which are owned by, or who have shareholders who are Conservative MPs or their main fund providers, but you’re all smart cookies. You can look it up.

And get this: the government backed Track and Trace app, which you’ve doubtless seen advertised this week, encouraging us to download it and help beat the virus, isn’t actually compatible with Covid tests done by the NHS.

World-beating, my arse.

Let me just say this: there are parallels to be drawn between the money which has been made by Tory benefactors since Covid, and those that a record company makes when a star on their books dies:

At the time of writing, the Goverment has wasted £3,895,556,000 since March. This includes unsafe testing kits; face masks that don’t work; broken tracing systems; useless antibody tests; contracts to sweet manufacturers and dormant companies with no employees, to provide PPE that, well who’d have thunk it, never arrived.

Three words: Magic. Money. Tree.

At the end of July 2020, debt was £2,004 billion, £227.6 billion more than at the same point last year. Just remember that next time Labour is painted as the profligate party.

Yeh, yeh…these are unprecedented times of national crisis…I get that. Extra money had to be spent. Agreed. But that should not be seen as an opportunity to line the pockets of your already stinking-rich mates.

Meanwhile, as various areas – the North East, the North East, South Wales (fuck it, anywhere but London) – saw spikes in those who were diagnosed with Covid, the Government implemented regional restrictions in an attempt to curb the rise. The problem here was that nobody in Government seemed to know exactly what the rules were from one area to the next: when questioned junior minister Gillian Keegan was unable to explain what the rules were in the North East. You can maybe excuse her for not being all over the detail (were she not being interviewed on a local radio programme in one of the areas in question), but surely one could expect the person who had imposed, or at the very least sanctioned, said measures to be all over it like the proverbial tramp on chips, no?

No. For later the same day, our PM when asked got it wrong too, prompting this hastily written (by someone else) Tweet:

Fair play for admitting he got it wrong, but via the medium of Twitter is hardly the way to announce it, is it? He may as well have hidden in another fridge. Get out in front of the press again, man. I brought eggs.

And “Misspoke”…? Miss-speaking is when you accidentally refer to someone as Mrs rather than Miss. This was not him miss-speaking, this was him getting it wrong. Politician-speak, see: where the words “I’m sorry” are followed by the word “if…”; where you have to make it seem like you’ve said what is expected or anticipated, but where you leave yourself enough wriggle-room to amend, backtrack, clarify or denounce as deemed necessary later on.

This is where the whole matter of trust comes into play. Now, more than ever, it is essential that the people of the UK trust and believe in those who rule over us, and yet what we constantly get is the breaking of rules we’re supposed to adhere to, and the flim-flam justification for doing so, followed by errors and cover-ups. I’m not necessarily advocating another nationwide lockdown, but what I am asking for is for consistency. Is that too much to ask?

An example: new rules state that pubs and clubs must now shut at 10:00 pm. Putting aside the implied idiocy of thinking that the Covid virus is only active from 10:01 pm, and the actual idiocy of having all pubs turf people out at exactly the same time, to travel home on public transport where social distancing is simply not possible, what was not widely advertised was that one particular set of bars were exempt from the rule: those located in the House of Commons.

In the meantime, regional spikes – and we should really start calling it what it really is now: the second wave – led to our Government asking us all to work from home where possible, when only a matter of weeks ago they were encouraging us to go back to our offices to work, under the pretence that local sandwich businesses were struggling. Let’s call that what it was too, whilst we’re at it: it’s no coincidence that the people who were losing out on rent for vacant office buildings just so happened to also be major contributors to the Conservative coffers. And we can’t have those billionaires being out of pocket, now can we?

These spikes are, apparently, all our fault: we love freedom “too much” and we “don’t like being told what to do”. I call bullshit once again. There may be small pockets of Covid deniers in the country, or those who consider wearing face masks to protect ourselves and others is either a fallacy or an infringement on our civil liberties, but they are very much in the minority.

The majority of us just want to get through this and will do whatever it takes to do so.

What’s needed here is clear and consistent messaging, and (and I can’t believe I’m about to type these words) strong and stable leadership.

What we’re getting is the absolute opposite.

For once, I agree with Phil and the boys:

******

In non-Covid related news, it was announced that Brexit – ah, Brexit! Remember those heady days when this was all we had to worry about? – and the additonal paperwork which every vehicle will need to have (and have checked) will cause queues of approximately 7000 lorries per day at channel ports. Give or take, that’s 700 miles of tailbacks. And the solution? More staff, presumably. But no: a new internal border in Kent. Genius. Say what you like about Boris’ “oven-ready” deal: we never expected it to lead to the annexing of Kent.

Oh, and the software needed to control the borders won’t be ready until May 2021, months after it’s needed.

And the same applies for the border with Northern Ireland he assured us wasn’t going to happen.

But it’s okay, Boris has a master-plan: all we have to do is pass new legislation which allows us to renege on the Withdrawal Agreement he signed with the EU less than a year ago – which, for those of you with short memories, was forced through Parliament in record time because, it was argued, there was no need to examine the detail of the agreement. “We would never have agreed to this had we bothered to read it first time around” the likes of Ian Duncan Smith exclaimed. (Still no sign of Mark Francois. Funny, that)

And our Premier agreed – and he claims to have written the fecking thing – hence the Internal Market Bill, which has got through two readings in the House of Commons, and which – amongst other things, such as grabbing power back from our devolved nations, and throwing the Good Friday Agreement out the window, so it’ll be a big 70s welcome back to sectarian violence in Ireland – permits us to renege on the Withdrawal Agreement, all of which is of course, in breach of international law.

Here’s Ed Miliband, standing in for Labour Leader Kier Starmer when he was self-isolating, still sounding like an Aardman Animations character, but giving Johnson a proper what-for at PMQs:

If only he could have managed to eat a bacon sandwich properly.

But, of course, it is the EU who are being painted as the unreasonable ones now. Does anyone actually buy that? How outrageous that they might insist on us sticking to an agreement we agreed to only last year, the manipulative bastards.

What this does, of course, is send out a very clear message to all of those countries with whom we are currently negotiating new trade deals (to replace the perfectly good one we had via the EU): Britain can’t be trusted.

Who haven’t I mentioned yet?

You know it: Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

Obsessed with her desire to send any asylum seekers (she continues to call them illegal immigrants, even though they are not) elsewhere, this week two proposed plans were leaked to the press. The first was that we should send them all to the Ascension Islands (hello Australia! Does this sound familiar?), the second was that we should contain them on boats moored off-shore whilst their applications were considered.

Just to clarify the hard-line Patel allegedly proposed: we remove them from the dangerous craft on which they had paddled their way here and either relocate them to an isolated volcanic island, about 1,600 kilometres from the coast of Africa and 2,250 kilometres from the coast of Brazil, or we put them in a much bigger and safer ship than they had been used to thus far.

Or – and this may seem radical – maybe, since they’ve done nothing wrong, we could treat them like humans and let them in whilst their applications are processed. maybe even let them work a little, pay their taxes and National Insurance contributions, to make up at least some of the money the Government seems determined to – and I quote – “spaff up the walls” on Covid and Brexit.

I heard a government minister – sadly, I didn’t catch his name – being interviewed and asked whether these suggestions were true. His answer was that he ‘wouldn’t comment on leaks’. Which is Politician Speak for “Yes, it’s true, but it’s a bit embarrassing so I’d rather you didn’t press me on this.”

One wonders just how persuasive Patel is for these nonsense ideas to be even considered, let alone leaked. With apologies to you all, not least to The Robster for the tarring of a great record with debase connotations:

And don’t even get me started on the US elections, which given the developments over the last 24 hours, I’m steering clear of. I’d hate to speak ill of the dead (until they’re actually dead, and then it’s fair game. Fingers crossed!).

More soon.