A.J. Walker

writerer

The New Normal (Not So Much)

What's the new normal going to be like? Clue: it’s not.

So this weekend, on the 4th July, a normality is to return. With pubs and restaurants to reopen. And almost more importantly... barbers. I for one can’t wait. 

Or can I? It’s been over three months since the pubs closed the door because of Covid-19 and one of my major pastimes was given the heave-ho. Have I got into drinking at home instead? Will I stay in and save money with a few bottles rather than going down the pub for a couple? Will I hell.

I love my beer, don’t get me wrong. But beer comes with the pub, it's not for watching the TV. Not in my book at any rate. Can’t wait to get back to doing little five or six pub crawls around Liverpool city centre. Or getting on the train for the Southport run, or a CAMRA coach trip to Derby or Leicester (?).

Apart from it’s not going to be normal yet at all. If you live in a village with a lovely old coaching inn with big gardens then you’ll be okay, maybe you won’t notice much difference at all. But for the 99% of us who live in an urban area–particularly a city–we are going to be buggered. Or, more importantly, the pubs are. 

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The rules are such that there can’t be more than 30 people in a pub–however big it is. I mean one size does not fit all. Asking pubs to serve outside where it is safer is all well and good, but how can a little pub on a city street accommodate that? Taking names and details from all the customers is going to be fun. Minimise contact with the staff, but take their life story (okay, not life story–and it does make sense). No live music, or football to be shown: nothing to get the customers excited lest they spit out their germs everywhere. Then there's the PPE, the hand-washing and the one way system and one in/one out to the toilet. No standing at the bar chatting to the staff. No... well no anything.

So pubs are reopening and normality is returning. Apart from the pubs can’t attract enough people to survive. Can’t generate atmosphere. Can’t entertain. Can’t make their customers feel comfortable. Oh yes, definitely back to normal.

How can the pubs survive with so few customers? Without the joy of a group of friends out for the evening? How can the music economy (the proper gig economy) survive this? It's all a matter of time before more and more establishments fall at the wayside. This will damage individuals who work or own these businesses and harm the towns and cities we live in. The impact of this virus is going to go on for years even if a cure falls into our laps this year.


We put a lot of faith in everyone not to catch and spread this most strange of viruses. And seeing the recent footage from parks, beaches and of course our Pier Head, that faith is not held tightly. If we look at what happened in the US where hardly anyone wears masks, and they opened up businesses as if there was no virus, it is rampant like never before. Trump's inability to say 'Wear a mask' has fucked them. They opened bars like they were normal in many respects so it was no surprise what has happened, and we are not doing that so maybe we will be a lot better of in terms of the virus. But in terms of the business it is untenable without government support.

Whenever you do go out, be sensible. Follow the guidance. Because if the Covid-19 numbers get out of control or even just take longer to come down then it'll be a longer time before the new normal becomes the old normal. It's simple folks:
keep your distance; keep your hands clean; limit touching your face; wear a mask in enclosed areas or in close proximity to others. That's it. It ain't rocket science. Be calm and patient and be very, very nice to all the staff looking after you.

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So far I’m not sure which if any pubs are open on Saturday–obviously when I say pubs I mean real ale pubs and not the Concert Square or Wetherspoons variety. I want to give my custom to my favourite pubs that I used to go to: they deserve it, even if I don’t. I am going to head into town first thing though to see if I can find a barbers to deal with my problem and then I’ll see if I can find a pint in an environment that doesn’t make me want to cry.  I may well come back with no luck on any front at all. Watch this space.
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There Is No Sanctuary Anymore 

Well this weekend brought the news that the Sanctuary on Lime Street is to close its doors permanently. One of the first confirmations of pubs in Liverpool to be closing as a result of the damnable pandemic: it won't be the last.

It goes without saying that I wish the owners and all the staff all the best at this time.

It has been a great little boozer for the last few years for me. One of my most regular haunts. Often I would pop in at the start or the end of a wee crawl–or even both ends of one. It was always laid back. There was always music on (I’m not saying it was always to my taste, but hell yeah. Music!). The decor was ‘interesting’ if built-in distressed is your thing. From outside if looked like it could be a wine bar with the logo on the window, whilst inside it was spit & sawdust. It was a contradiction in many ways.

Beer choice could be a little up and down, but usually there was one or two–sometimes even three–that were worth staying for–or else I wouldn’t have, would I?

There wasn’t a big turnover of staff. And all of them were friendly and outgoing. Going out of their way to look after the customers (even giving me control of the music on several occasions. Yeah, an evening of Frank Turner, Wilco or Magic Numbers anyone?). One of last year's highlights was going in there for a few pints whilst waiting for the parade for the European Cup. We watched the progress of the parade on my phone so knew exactly when to leave to catch the buses, got some fab photos and then went back into the Sanctuary within about twenty minutes or so. A perfect afternoon, which unfortunately we won't be able to repeat for any parade for winning the league.–more's the pity.

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Best of all I was in one Thursday evening reading a book when I noticed someone walk upstairs with a guitar and found out it was Open Mic. I popped up to watch, telling myself if they weren’t all shit hot I’d get up and play a song–partly on the basis that I didn’t know any of them and I need not show my face again if it all went tits up. I nervously strummed a couple of songs in super fast time and sweated like a pig… and since then I’ve hardly missed any. I hadn’t played in front of anyone for about twenty years. Unfortunately I hadn’t been practicing much either. But rediscovering the guitar was great and it has been the highlight of many a week since.

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The continuation over recent weeks of the Open Mic online has been a lovely way to break up the week, especially the monotonous evenings (so much TV watched). Our little Zoom Sanctuary has been great, but it’s not a pub. It’s not the same.

It won’t be the last pub to go and I’m fearful for which of my other favourites may not survive this most painful of years. I’ll miss meeting up with the Open Mic crew at the Sanctuary. I’ll miss the banter with the staff and customers. I’ll miss sitting there reading or writing. Hell, I’ll just miss the Sanctuary.

RIP The Sanctuary. It was good to be in you.
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A Very Good Evening

Last night was Open Mic #4 of the Sanctuary Zoom Open Mics. It was the oddest one. Lots of people couldn't be there due to life commitments and/or watching Chelski v Man City. So as it was there were only three of us online rather than the usual nine or so. In addition to myself there was Matt Holland (.author.com) and Rebecca. Matt does stories and Rebecca does audience–and does it very well. Yeah, I was the only 'musician'. At least until the end of the night.

It was almost nine when I logged in. Despite the low attendance there was never the question of cancelling it and we had a good night. Matt read a couple of old stories and gave us a trial run of a new one he's working on. And I did at least eight songs, which I'll list below. Other than that we reminisced about pubs and drunken exploits and talked about if and when we'd go back to the pub again.

All this with one eye on our phones to see how the footy was going. When I left the commentary after twenty odd minutes City had been on top. But football is a funny old game and if they failed to win Liverpool, after their 4-0 thrashing of Palace the day before, would be Champions for the first time in thirty years. As the designated old git at Open Mic I'm one of the only ones who was alive and going to watch Liverpool back in the 1980's when we won all that came before us. I could understand the excitement of the youngsters not there at the evening's possibilities.

As it was, of course, Chelski scored first and it was 1-0 at half time. City equalised with a worldy free kick… and then a sending off and a penalty gave Chelski the game. Liverpool were fucking Champions of absolutely everything (currently holding the European Cup, the Super Cup, the World Club Cup and now the Premier League Champions): it's not been a bad year. If you discount the coronavirus (or indeed only count the footy).

At this point the Zoomers all left to go to their doors or windows to hear the singing, watch the fireworks and hear the street noise. It was brilliant. I just wish my dad was here to have shared in it. A day so long in the waiting. Back in the early 80s before I had a Season Ticket myself my mum and dad would take it turns to take me to the game with the parent and child ticket. As well as going to several games with both mum and dad. Mum was a red, dad was a fans of the Sons (Dumbarton to you). He'd have enjoyed the day and celebrations immensely.

Getting back onto Zoom it was time for another bottle of beer (I was drinking Platform 6.1 and Oakham Citra) and I played another song or two.

Niall came on from Dublin looking suitably very happy and gave us a rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone–which the rest of us did our utter best not to wreck, but probably failed. The night ended after much talk about football, beer, celebrations, fireworks, car horns and the wish to be able to celebrate it properly at some point.

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We all decided 1:30am was late enough and called it quits. We'll probably change the day next week as next Thursday it is the Man City game–guard of honour and all that. So maybe it'll be on Wednesday or Friday. Either way I'm sure there will be more than three of us (with a late a guest appearance). We shall see.

My setlist (for it must be as set once you're over five songs, surely?) comprised:

  • Homeward Boud
  • You Ain't Going Nowhere
  • Down By the Water
  • Congratulations
  • N17
  • Hotel California
  • Somewhere Down the Road
  • Sweet Carolina
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Argh. Almost Painful

This morning I found out I'd looked my website up. I'd done some housekeeping on my laptop and as part of that it appears I deleted an important Rapidweaver file (an .rwsw one). This meant that while all the main files were all fine the thing that basically holds it all together was gone and there aint no way of creating it backwards from there. Argh. Had me worried a bit during the day. But realised that I did have a back up from a month or so ago.

The simplest, maybe the only way, was to copy the file from the last back up from May. This meant I'd lost my last six blogs and, more worryingly the Seedling Challenges from 71-75. Of course I could copy the text from the online website and paste it back in the website creator, but it would mean I would lose the comments (stories from those Seedling Challenges I needed to update. Luckily and sadly in the last month there have only been stories from me and Sal - and one last week from Nina. I've copied all these and can upload if required, but assume Sal and Nina will want to put there's up from their address. We will see.

Main thing is it could have been a lot worse. And I'm glad I do backups occasionally. Keep up with your backups people - and do be careful deleting shite from computer. Schoolboy error.

In the meantime if you fancy doing some writing then check out the
Seedling Challenge. Don't leave it to Sal and me. :-)
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Surprise! Zoom Open Mic 3

Last night I noticed a WhatsApp message from Bobo with Login details for a meeting on Zoom, and I realised there was bloody Open Mic on. Hell, yeah! I'd had no idea that it was on. I think the guys and gals message about it on Facebook and just assume I know these things through osmosis. The Open Mic at the Sanctuary is every fortnight so after having it last Thursday I’d assumed the next one was next week. So I was pleasantly surprised -  and late.

Rushed-ish upstairs and logged in to Zoom and found five or so peeps already there. There was no Olly this week so I volunteered to play first. Started with
‘Homeward Bound’ (which last week was missed through a Zoom muting issue), then went on to ‘Couldn’t Get Arrested’ (which I fooked up last week), then finished with ‘Somewhere Down the Road’. 

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Later on after songs from Bobo, Dave, Niall, John and Anthony - and stories from Matt - I played three more songs: ‘Sweet Carolina’, ‘Heart Breaks Like the Dawn’ and ‘Take Me Down (to the Infirmary)’.

I ended up staying on from around 9 until 12:30am. Still glad of not needing a bus home afterwards. In the morning I found out that several of them stayed on Zoom till 3am. Defo longer than a standard lock-in.

A good time was had by all and at least now I know that there will be another Open Mic next week, and I'm already looking forward to it.
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Guitar is Back (and I need to practice)

At the end of last year, before my father passed away, and before this year began - and brought us this hellish pandemic, I made plans or at least the skeleton of them for this year. 

The fundamental one was get a proper job. Others included writing aims and getting guitar lessons to bring me to another level (not difficult you’d think). Of course the virus has likely put paid to the job thing with little going on but growing unemployment rather than jobs galore. Writing has stalled due to concentration going out of the window in the first half of the year, and guitar lessons are not exactly possible with social distancing. Or maybe not.

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I’m starting to write stories again (one of my next blogs will say more on that) and now I’m looking at doing an online guitar course rather than lessons. Having done a couple of Zoom Open Mics getting lessons via computer seems like not a bad idea. Not that I’m going to get one-on-one lessons. I’ve done a bit of online research on what’s out there and feel that the style of the teaching and the one-off payment model for Jamorama suits me best. The vast majority of the courses are a monthly payment model and would soon mount up above the cost of the Jamorama course. The cost is just shy of £80 which isn’t bad when you think that this is the cost of 3-4 guitar lessons locally (guitar lessons locally are generally around £18-25/hr).

I really can’t see it not being money well spent. We shall see. Watch this space... I aim to get better and hope to see it show once proper Open Mic is back.



Check out the website at:
www.jacorama.com 
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Footy is Back (and I need to watch some)

Well hello, it’s 17th June and it’s been so many long days since the last Premier League game (they say it’s been only three months but bloody hell it seems much longer). This morning I was thinking I’ll get Sky Sports for the month. Liverpool are on Sky a minimum of three times and at the moment just the first one - the derby on Sunday - is Free to View. 

Assuming that there will be at least four Liverpool matches on Sky over the month and then there are other interesting matches so I may end up watching six to ten games for £18 not bad; so £2-3 is a no brainier really. I’m not one for using dodgy streaming sites unless I’m full on desperate.

It’ll be strange to watch without an atmosphere from the fans. But we are in a strange place in all walks of life. I’d rather the league continued this way than  it be sorted by Points Per Game.  

We’re going to win the league one way or another but not being able to celebrate it like we did last year for the Champion’s League will be the strangest thing. Having a parade when it is safe to do so will be well weird. Can you postpone euphoria?

So it’s not going to be normal but boy I can’t wait for the build up, the matches and the post match autopsies of every game. Bring it on.

FirmSal

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Update: looked up offer and it’s £18 for Sky Sports and then
another £18 for the football. And the website is so damn unclear about it all. Grrr. Maybe I’ll just for for a Now TV pass when I want one instead. Umm,,, then again that’s £10 for a day pass, or £25 a month, but for that you need a three month subscription. Grrr… Maybe I’ll go for the NowTV mobile phone option, which is £6. Can only watch on phone - and not cast it anywhere.
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Decision made. Went for the phone option. Went smoothly enough adding the pass and app to my phone, so I'm good to go. It'll be just like being there… not. Better than nowt and all for the price of a pint and a half. Wonder whether the sound will play through my bluetooth speaker. That'd be a bonus.

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Podcasts

I removed the Podcasts page on the website the other day. It basically wasn’t anything I had time to keep live and relevant and was a waste of menu and page. A shame but time is limIted, ain’t it?

It had comments and links to some of my favourite podcasts like ‘13 Minutes to the Moon’, ‘Sodajerker’ and ‘NYT The Book Review’. These are still very much in my regular listening - apart from 13 Minutes to the Moon once I finished it.

The podcasts I regularly listen to and/or recommend anyway, are:

  • The Book Review (New York Times) - weekly discussion on books.
  • The Infinite Monkey Cage - science programme from Brian Cox & Robin Ince and guests
  • The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry - another great science programme from Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry 
  • Sodajerker - interviews and discussions with songwriters 
  • That Peter Crouch Podcast - funny look at footy, footballers lives and all sorts of shit (with occasional swearing)  
  • The Football Daily - as it says on the tin. From Radio5
  • 13 Minutes to the Moon - awesome documentary on the first manned moon landing.
  • Tunnel 29 - documentary on a tunnel beneath the Berlin Wall
  • The Art of Process - with Aimee Mann - discussions with arty peeps about how they work
  • Blank - gentle discussions with creatives
  • No Such Thing As A Fish - chat with fun ‘facts’ from the QI crew. Always fun
  • Forest 404 - nice story with a great vibe
  • The Archers Omnibus - hey it’s the Archers!

And this week I’ve discovered a new one to me, which has been going a long time (over sixty episodes to catch up on), called:
Something Rhymes With Purple - presented by Gyles Brandreth and Susie Dent. All about word origins. 


All in all there’s a lot of listening there for when you’re out and about. Or travelling. Maybe even commuting... it is coming back isn’t it?
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Boom! We Made It On Zoom

For the last couple of months (yes,  it’s only been than long) I’ve had to listen to so many people on the radio and TV complain about working form home and then extol the possible long term virtues of it thanks to getting used to using Zoom from everything between Zoom Work Meetings to Zoom Quizzes.

Zoom Session

Working, delivering shit all day to the masses, I had not used Zoom and most my mates would have no interest in calling into a remote quiz or drinking session. For me communication remained phone calls, texts and WhatsApp group messages.

But finally on Sunday, after two aborted attempts, the guys and gals who sort out the fortnightly Open Mic at the Sanctuary arranged a Zoom Open Mic session. It had been a long day at work for me in the sun and I was bushed, but called in at around 9pm. It took a bit of messing about as I got a WhatsApp message with the connection link and couldn’t enter the details on my iPad, which I was going to use for the event. In the end I had to copy and paste the invite into an email to myself and then open it up on my iPad from there. Already there were five or six logged in when I joined.

Being the first time I’d used it I had just propped up the iPad on my desk in the spare room. There was still some natural light to begin with but as evening fell I  had to use the desk light. Considering I hadn’t put too much thought to it the set up worked okay. I  had plugged the  Blue ‘Snowball’ mic into the iPad. It’s difficult to know how much that helps with the sound as you count hear how it goes out. Suffice to say that some of the others had problems with the mics in their complex terms/devices and the sound came and went some rather randomly. On the positive side for me that meant some of the others were brought down to my level in terms of results. Hurray!

Despite sound and stuttering issues and the effect of replying not quite in real time, the event went really well. Nine or ten of the regulars came in and played or told stories, and the time and beer flowed quickly. The main issue was having to serve your own beer and not getting our loyalty card stamped. But at least at the end of it I didn’t have to get the last bus home (particularly as I would have missed it - I left the ‘meeting’ at 12:30). I’d had five beers, played four songs, went for three toilet breaks, wore two different tops, and had one big grin on my face.

Zoom Meeting


Many thanks as ever to Bobo and John - and their better halves - for the organisation and time involved in events - both online and in the Sanctuary. Everyone who attended it really enjoyed the opportunity to meet up again. It's not the same as down the pub, but needs must at this strangest of times.

We’re hoping to have another Open Mic in the next week. And I’ll definitely be phoning in.


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The songs I played were:
‘Mostly Water’ - Bap Kennedy
‘Homeward Bound’ Simon & Garfunkel
‘Somewhere Down the Road’ - Chuck Prophet
‘Sweet Carolina’ - Ryan Adams



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