Cover Up

It's been two weeks since I last put my fingers to the keyboard, due partly to the fact that my schedule has fattened up considerably in that time. The country seems to be slowly resuming it's daily routines, and it's clear to me that nothing will change for the better of humanity, or our environment in the long term - the rich have pulled up their drawbridges, resulting in the poor floundering in the deep, cold waters of the moat. I listen to the talk radio station LBC regularly when I'm out and about, and it was an observation by Majid Nawaz which resonated with me primarily - In the space of 3 months, the UK government has, perhaps unwittingly, created a whole new generation of servants - mostly black, Asian, and poor, white working class folks, who are being forced to work in low-paid, risk-ridden jobs, while the white middle classes enjoy the safety of their own homes at the expense of the taxpayer. I'd never thought of it like this before, but there's no denying that every single decision and policy coming out of Dominic Cummings' book of enlightenment is designed to save the interests of white Conservative voters, and those who are in the enviable position of having property, investments, and white-collar employment that can be conducted without the risk of coming into contact with others for the time being.

The "non-reality" of furloughed life in our household, but which seems to apply to everyone I know on the Facebook platform.....funny that.

This freelancer has never had to rely on state handouts to survive (although that time may yet come), and I'm happy to say that I've come out of this potential financial catastrophe relatively unscathed (although it's still early days, since my turnover year on year is currently down by 39 percent ). One of the benefits of being self employed is being able to see events happening in advance, and the ability to effect changes designed to mitigate the effects of those events. In my case, it was to effectively hibernate the business and reduce my expenses almost to zero overnight. Making hay while the sun shines means setting aside a third of any invoice that's paid, and keeping a reserve of six months worth of overheads (at least) in a deposit account.  Luckily, my business sector was one of the first to be allowed to re-engage, so I had a head start. I can sympathise with the tens of thousands of portrait, wedding, and boudoir photographers out there - often with expensive studio spaces - who are still unable to ply their trade. It's debatable as to when those thousands of businesses will be able to start up again, and if customers will even want to return given the anxiety among the general population. It's a long, hard road ahead - and only time will tell. In the meantime, everyone can take heart in the amount of online articles about mental health deterioration among the self employed - featuring a generic stock photo of some dude with his head in his hands, slumped over a computer.

One strange, typically English element of our current crisis happens to be the uncertainty, and discomfort  around the wearing of face coverings in public places. My working day is largely spent in other people's homes - many of them in moderate risk groups - and I always gear up beforehand into nitrile gloves, disposable shoe protectors, and a disposable face covering to give the occupants a sense of reassurance at least. I'd say that almost half of all people will tell me not to bother, which is typical of the "stiff upper lip" English thing that runs right through our national psyche. I may have visited 10 different households that same week, visited supermarkets, got petrol, and been at home with a wife who works full time in a secondary school. The quick donning of a few bits of protective gear really shouldn't be something to be embarrassed about in the context of reducing the overall risk of any viral transmission in the community. I'm frankly amazed that senior members of the government (that wet-lipped Gove mainly), should publicly state that there are no plans to make face coverings mandatory in enclosed spaces, despite the actions of the Scots who have already put that policy in place. The people in charge are now selling a myth that this is all over, and everybody needs to get a grip and get back to work. This horrific, incurable, and unpredictable viral illness is still waiting to destroy random lives, and sticking a bit of cloth over your face while in a public indoor space doesn't seem like too difficult a task in order to reduce the risk to retail staff, transport workers, NHS personnel, and anyone else you may come into contact with on a routine basis. Mandate it before the transmission rate begins to increase once again. I've got mine sorted.

Me in my "public" face covering
Me in my Cloffice, with my "public" mask on.

The housing stock I'm photographing at the moment seems to be limited to empty property, ex-tenanted stuff, and larger houses currently in the hands of down-sizing boomers without any mortgage debt. The stamp-duty holiday seems to be useful only to those in the middle of the system who don't really need it, as the first-time buyers who provide the entire property eco-system with new blood were largely unaffected anyway. It is becoming apparent that some sellers are just going to increase their sale price by the amount of SDLT saved in the knowledge that potential buyers have extra to spend. Greed always wins in the world of property ownership.

One of the "downsizers" gaffs shot last week

The holiday accommodation industry has now risen from the ashes of "lockdown", and the coastal villages of Northumberland are being bloated with early holiday-makers much to the relief of all concerned in the industry. (although I won't thank you for the Friday afternoon's on the A1 single carriageway sections). I've not actually ventured to any pub or cafe nearby, as I'm not that eager to have a plate of stodgy carbs and a pint served by someone in a Hazmat suit in a windy beer-garden setting, whilst being glared at by all the childless pensioner couples every time one of the kids shuffles in their chair. Call me cynical, but I can't help but think that this crisis has further deepened the distrust between generations, ethnic groups, and levels of social status almost to the extent of the USA in some form or another. The prospect of ending my career by getting a "track and trace" call, and having to totally isolate for two weeks while someone replaces my brittle position instantly, also plays a part - incidentally, this is the reason I can never have a holiday as long as I have the need to work."

According to newspaper reports, some tool who probably gets paid lots for probably doing bog-all has done a survey to find out that over three quarters of the population don't want things to return to the state of pre-Covid. I could have taken the cash, and given you the same results if I'm honest, but I can reassure you that things will return to normal - with bells on. The £350bn spent so far on supporting UK workers and industry falls well short of the estimated £500-£900bn gifted to UK banks in the wake of the 2008 crash (caused by the absolute greed of the banking industry, and not some deficiency of the Labour government as touted by gammons everywhere), and like before, the talk is already of substantial tax-rises and further spending cuts - except in the construction sector of course (rip up planning restrictions, and build, build, build). Another half a million £450K houses on freshly released green-belt land is just what we need to get everyone back to normal - as well as a train track between Birmingham and London, and some new nuclear missiles of course. 

And that's that for another week. My forthcoming working schedule is lighter than usual - partly due to the upcoming summer school holidays, meaning that my holiday-let jobs will dry up for six weeks or so. Keep safe, get out there if you can, and I'll update again soon.

Brian Young shoots all aspects of the built environment for a range of clients throughout Northern England and the Borders.


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