A Sad Time – Some Rambling Thoughts

I feel like it would be almost remiss of me to not write about Coronavirus. As a planet we’re all fighting it and, as with Influenza (Spanish Flu, if you must), this is something we will see in history books in the future.

I’m normally pretty up to speed on news. I try to keep myself in the know. You can’t always catch everything, though, and the rise of Coronavirus was actually one thing I’d not noticed. In fact, the first time I heard of it I thought it was a joke. Even then, when I read up on it, I wouldn’t have predicted what has happened.

I apologise in advance for if this post is a bit all over the place…this is all just a bit off the cuff.

I work in food retail. Due to this, I’m now classed as a ‘key worker’ in the UK. Someone that, if my kids were old enough, could still send his kids to school. Someone that has to keep working. That’s fine. I agree with it. I totally understand it…people need food to live. People need to shop.

I’ve been off work this past week due to holiday time. The week prior was when panic buying started. When I finished up for the week on the Saturday I left saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” I was, and still am, incredibly proud of my team during this time and proud of my friends in other stores working equally as hard…this is absolutely unlike anything any of us have ever seen. I’ve been in retail for nigh on 15 years. Going in to the shops this week has been eye opening and has made me think that, potentially, I’ve ended up being off for the worst week of panic shopping.

But what will next week bring? Who knows? All the retailers have been asking shoppers to stop panic buying, think of others. They’ve put restrictions on. But people are still panic buying. People are still buying far more than they need to. Today’s government press conference included a member of the retail consortium. The message? Think of others and stop panic buying.

I fail to understand how that message will change public behaviour any more than retail bosses have by saying the same thing. The mentality of people now is “We need to get this before they run out”…not everybody would have been thinking that way but the behaviour of others will have definitely forced it. Even for myself, I sit here knowing depots have got stock – I know some of the plans that will be put in place…can probably guess at others – but I worry about things my kids need. Thoughts of “if I see the correct size nappies for them I’d best get them before they’re gone”…it’s fear, anxiety and panic not bought on by the retailers, but instead by the actions of the public as a whole. The government message today does nothing, really, to alter that.

I’ve found myself walking around the stores this week when I’ve been getting food and found myself on a few occasions feeling almost emotional. Massive greed and selfishness will have hurt people. When I am shopping and thinking about the food my kids like but those shelves are empty…what do you do? I feel fortunate that I’ve seen some great generosity this week otherwise, potentially, I’d also be panicking for the weeks ahead.

As I’ve stated before, I’ve been in retail for about 15 years…both food and clothing/home. In that time, I’ve had the chance to get to know so many people – people I wouldn’t normally talk to – and you get to see a side of humanity, both good and bad, that you don’t see in any other job sector. Looking at the bare, empty shelves has me thinking of a customer I used to serve years ago when I was a part time deli assistant. His name was John.

I have no idea if John is still alive. He was getting on a bit and clearly had some issues. He’d come in, pretty much, at the same time every day. Albert Einstein hair style, an old blue coat that had tears in it and patches of dirt. His facial expressions used to remind me of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. Anyway, he’d come in every day and ask for “two slices of honey roast ham on one and a half. I don’t have a fridge so this way I don’t throw it away.” Every day. Without fail. I found John quite an interesting character. He had a good job before retiring, but once he retired he slipped. Clearly had signs of dementia, clearly very lonely. The trip to the shop was as much a social thing as it was a necessity for food.

I look at the shops now and think of John and the countless other John’s I’ve met, served and got to know over the years and it genuinely saddens me. It saddens me because I don’t know how he would survive. Food counters have shut to allow supply chains to focus on key deliveries – a correct decision – but for John that would probably mean spending more on pre-packed items. And, even then, it’s only if he could get it. I’ve noticed how, in several areas of stores, the cheaper and average priced items have all sold meaning only the expensive alternatives remain. If you shop at the wrong time, you’ll spend more and, probably, for less. For people like John…could they even afford that? I worry that, for those people, it won’t be Coronavirus that kills them…it’ll be malnutrition. And, again, it saddens me because that’s not the fault of the retailer as there is stock at depots…there was just no need to panic buy and put depots in a position whereby they simply can’t get enough of the stock out quick enough. We’ll undoubtedly see shoplifting increase, too, as people find only expensive alternatives and find they can’t afford it.

And what about when people do find themselves in a place of not being able to afford food? Food Banks? Well, no…because people aren’t donating. Some are being stolen from. Help from the banks? Unlikely, unless you’re a business affected by things. So, bankruptcy? Unpaid rents and rise in homelessness? Maybe. Anxiety? Depression? Further mental health issues? Most probably.

The behaviour of people has lead to this. That is why Supermarkets are now having to put in place designated hours for vulnerable people, NHS workers…but, the reality is that it should never have really needed to get to that point.

Even if the country goes in to lock down – which, you’d believe looking at others, it will – Supermarkets will still be open. I’ll still be going to work. People still need food. My brilliant team, myself and others will still be working to provide for the people. We have online deliveries. To repeat what the retail bosses, and the government, all say…there is no need to panic buy, there is a need to think about others.

But what is the answer? Honestly…I don’t know. We’re asking people to change. There is a likelihood that these past two weeks will change some people’s shopping habits for good, anyway. I don’t know what the future will look like.

Are the government doing enough? Again, I don’t know. Hand on heart, I couldn’t say if I think they’re doing the right things or not. I think today felt like a checklist press conference – a way to say, “we’ve talked about it.” I think offering to pay 80% to workers that find themselves out of work due to Coronavirus is admirable. I think the negligence to the self employed and zero hours contracted people – plumbers, freelance journalists, PR people, writers, musicians and so on – is shambolic. I think we’ve been slow to respond to the virus…still think there’s an element of people underestimating how serious it could be…but I think we’ve eventually got to doing the right things, such as closing pubs.

I still don’t think information on the virus itself is clear enough. We don’t do enough testing. How do you know the difference between a cold and the coronavirus? What makes a “persistent cough”?

I don’t pay for Spotify premium. Don’t really use it enough to warrant it, plus I love physical copies of CDs etc too much. But, during the Brexit talks, there were public service announcements about the changes coming. For Coronavirus, I’ve heard none at all.

We have to trust in those above us and believe they are doing the right thing by us…even if I think, you think, or anybody else thinks more could be done…we have to have faith in them.

And then we have to look at ourselves, too. We have to think about other people. Not just look at the news, read words online and say “That is a shame, isn’t it? How sad.” but seriously look at ourselves, our behaviours and ask if we are doing the right thing, too.

Eventually Coronavirus will pass on and go…but it is our actions that will dictate just how damaging this pandemic is for people in the years to come.

Wrestling For The People

Let me take you back to 1997. The WWF (as they were known back then) were due to be hosting their first UK show in years, ‘One Night Only’, in Birmingham. My home town. The headline match was Shawn Michaels vs The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith for the European Championship.

I’d started to get in to wrestling. It was having a bit of a revival and, aged 10, I was swept away by the characters. Larger than life, yet, at that age, completely believable. I was incredibly excited to find out that Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog were doing a promo event at Birmingham Town Hall on August 31st…and my Dad was going to take me to it.

But, then…tragedy. Princess Diana dies in a car crash overnight. The country comes to a stand still. I still remember getting up early, seeing writing crawling across the bottom of the TV when watching Nickelodeon advising to put on the news and going to wake up my Mum and Dad to tell them. I look back now and think they must have been fuming with me for waking them up at 7am on a Sunday for that.

The Michaels and Bulldog event is postponed out of respect. My opportunity of seeing these people in real life is gone. Or so I think. A week later, they do the promo event in some run down industrial estate on the back of a van. From the Town Hall to that. All just to make sure the fans had that moment. That little bit of entertainment while promoting their event.

I remember when I saw The British Bulldog. He was massive. He looked more like a super hero than a real person. Even Shawn Michaels, regarded as fairly small in those days, looked huge. They were larger than life in character, larger than life in person.

The first match that truly got me addicted to the WWF was a few months prior to this event. It was at Wrestlemania 13. Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin. They’d had quite a rivalry and this was the key moment in it. Hart entered as the babyface (good guy, for those not in to it) and Austin the heel (bad guy). It was a submission match, the winner would be whoever made the other quit. It was fast, it was hard hitting…it was incredible story telling.

In trying to win, being so desperate to win, Hart started to do things associated with heels. He used dirty tactics. Austin wouldn’t give up. He showed determination and grit. He kept getting up, kept going. The fans started to change tact. The final shot of the match was Bret Hart holding his sharpshooter finisher on Austin, Austin screaming in agony with blood pouring down his face…but he still never gave up. He passed out. The match was ended. Hart won, but Austin never quit. After the bell, Hart tried to attack Austin again…the crowd fully turned against him. The hero had become the villain, the villain became the hero.

Obviously, this is all planned. Whisper it quietly…but wrestling is fake. However, that really doesn’t matter. The story they told was unlike anything else. It was convincing, it felt real…and it created a superstar in Steve Austin.

It was the storytelling that got me hooked. I loved seeing how the stories unfolded and then how those stories transpired in to the ring. Austin would go on to have a legendary rivalry with the owner of the WWF, Vince McMahon. Disgruntled colleague vs terrible boss. It worked because so many people could relate to it. McMahon, when behind his people, would be abrasive to Austin…but when Austin broke through and got to him alone, he’d cower. Character based stories.

When they came to the UK for One Night Only, the British Bulldog was the champion. He got a heroes welcome due to being from England…Michaels, on the other hand, booed. In the end, through cheating, Michaels won and became European champion. The crowd threw bottles, programmes, food…Michaels (and the rest of his group) just fed off it. They embraced it. It was amazing heel work, amazing character work. As a viewer, you genuinely hated him…and he wanted you to.

I watched the WWF/WWE religiously in those days, starting to tail off from it all around 2004. I’d still buy the games – just always enjoyed them – but rarely, if ever, watched the shows. I’d normally just end up playing one of the games, feel nostalgic and seek out specific matches on YouTube.

Through doing that, I eventually got sucked back in to the world of sports entertainment and WWE. I became hooked on WhatCulture Wrestling’s YouTube channel…Adam Blampied, Adam Pacitti and others all created content I found hilarious…and also became almost addicted to Brian Zane’s YouTube channel, Wrestling With Wregret. I would watch list videos, get nostalgic over it all, and end up seeking out more videos of matches and promos. Before long, I started to pay more attention to the modern era of wrestling. Without really knowing it, I’d reached a point where I knew about every key character…without actually watching Raw or Smackdown. I still watch those YouTube channels now, along with Cultaholic and Inside The Ropes, and I would honestly recommend supporting them all.

It felt a bit like a dirty secret at first as I started to watch the WWE YouTube channel, watching every highlight video from the previous shows. I kept thinking, “I’m not a kid anymore…I should be past this”…but there I was, spending my days off watching recaps of shows. Now I look at it and think that, maybe, that’s why I watch it. It takes me back. That little bit of child left in me comes back to life when I watch WWE. I can forget about other things by watching something completely ridiculous. I can be the big kid again. From a mental health perspective, the WWE works wonders. It’s almost like a fantasy world at times and it enables you to switch off.

When I was younger, I watched the wrestling for the matches. I wanted the stories but, really, I wanted to see people like Jeff Hardy jump off 30 foot tall ladders more. Now, I rarely watch a full match. There are a few…most recent ones I’d recommend to anyone are any of the AJ Styles vs John Cena bouts, Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne on NXT Takeover and, away from WWE, Okada vs Omega for New Japan…but mainly I watch the promos, the build up.

There are a few stories I’m invested in currently, but the biggest one is that of Bray Wyatt. Over the years, Wyatt has consistently been one of the best at talking on the mic and building a story. You get sucked in by him. Leading the Wyatt Family, he played a cult leader that would use his horror to scare opponents. The issue was…he’d always lose. It made it difficult to believe his storylines because you could guess the outcome every time. Regardless of how dominant he was as a character in the build up…his character lost believability because he’d never follow it up.

Last year, Wyatt went away for a while. On his return, he came back as a completely new character. He wasn’t in the ring, he had a video promo segment. As a kids TV presenter. It was surreal. It was creepy. It included nods to his previous characters and character arcs. He cut a cardboard cutout of his old character in half with a chainsaw. He presented himself as a deranged child’s TV host and it was incredible. Eventually, he started to portray himself almost as having schizophrenia. We then got introduced to an alter-ego, The Fiend. Over the months that followed, The Fiend targeted Wyatt’s old rivals, overcoming them with ease and getting revenge. After each win, the loser would change – often change back to an older version of their character. As we approach Wrestlemania, The Fiend faces John Cena, another person that beat Wyatt…and the storyline tells itself.

It’s unlike anything else on TV at the moment, unlike any other sport. It’s a complete escape from reality. It doesn’t matter that the ending is pre-determined. If you watch a film, it doesn’t matter that the ending is scripted…you can still enjoy it. You can still escape in it. And that’s exactly what wrestling is about…the escape. It’s a soap opera, of sorts, with a sports element.

As the world becomes affected more and more by the Coronavirus, most sports are closing their doors. Seasons have been postponed. Tournaments postponed. Yet WWE continues to go on without a live audience, giving people something to escape in.

At a time where people could do with something to take their minds off the real world, you could do far worse than start watching WWE. It is ridiculous. It often knows it is. Watching Stone Cold Steve Austin ask an empty arena to shout “Hell Yeah” shows that. It mocks itself. It takes itself seriously, but isn’t afraid to lighten up. The promos and acting are as good as anything you’ll see on a soap (watch Bray Wyatt and John Cena on Smackdown from Friday 13th March and tell me otherwise – I dare you) and the stories can take you away.

Much like they gave us something to take our minds away from the death of Princess Diana and the national mourning around that, the WWE are now giving us some kind of sport – even if it does have fixed endings – some kind of story…to take our imaginations and thoughts away somewhere different to Coronavirus. That can’t be a bad thing.

It still has the power to make you feel like a big kid and suspend your disbelief.


Thanks for reading!

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