The sands of time run thin

The sands of time run thin

Interest rates on mortgages in the UK hit double figures at the end of the 1980s, and for some reason, I decided 1989 was the perfect time to buy my first house. When I look back now I wonder what on earth I was thinking.

I’d graduated from Liverpool Polytechnic with a teaching degree majoring in Outdoor Education in 1985, and had bummed around Europe for a while teaching climbing, canoeing, sailing and caving to kids in outdoor centres.

In 1987 I landed my first “real” job, working for British Rail at their residential centre for youth trainees. We used outdoor activities to build teamwork, leadership and communication skills.

I was well paid, and within a couple of years I’d saved up enough for a deposit for a small terraced house in town, and towards the end of 1989 I took my first step onto the property ladder.

A dream of freedom

I’d bought into “the dream”.

It was a bad time to buy, because with a bank base rate at 15%, the interest on my mortgage was ridiculous.

Despite the costs, I loved living in that house.

It offered me a form of freedom I’d never really had before, and many parties were held there... the house was easy staggering distance from the town centre pubs, and lots of friends would come back on a Friday or Saturday night.

One of my favourite bands from the late 80s / early 90s UK music scene were called The Levellers, and they would often feature on the turntable on those wonderful evenings.

The lyrics of one of their lesser known songs, Dance Before The Storm, have been on repeat in my head since I wrote my previous blog post:

Well you dance before the storm
And don't look back to where you've been
The horizon’s getting further
As the sands of time run thin
Well you dance before the storm
As the machinery breaks down
You watch the sky go black with anger
No one makes a sound

The machinery breaks down

Vanessa and I have been watching the coronavirus crisis unfolding now for almost two months, and as every day passes I feel the sands of time running thinner.

The machinery of our society is truly breaking down, and metaphorically speaking, the dark clouds are gathering.

However, here in the UK we have continued to dance before the storm.

We have done so for weeks and weeks as the sky has grown blacker, but few have paid attention to the gathering storm clouds, even at a governmental level.

Just last weekend the Cheltenham Festival (horse racing) went ahead, and a quarter of a million people gathered, 65,000 people each day over the 4-day event, to enjoy a “last slice of enjoyment before reality hits”, according to UK newspaper The Guardian

I can’t think of a better way to help spread a virus across the length and breadth of a country, just as neighbouring countries in Europe were taking serious measures, and going into lock-down.

Apparently, according to the government, “the science” didn’t support the prevention of mass gatherings at the time. Using the same “science” a lot of other countries decided that mass gatherings weren’t a good idea at all.

I suspect that it was more a case of “the economics” not supporting the idea of cancelling such huge events.

For the past few days we’ve been “advised” not to go out to pubs or restaurants, not to gather in social groups, not to travel on buses or the Underground in London. But these places have remained almost as packed and busy as usual, people trying to squeeze out that “last slice of enjoyment”.

In Italy, now under complete lock-down, the police are needed to enforce the new laws in some areas. Some people simply aren’t obeying, preferring to continue on as if nothing is happening.

Freedom and responsibility

I have long been an advocate of personal freedom, and have always begrudged any form of unnecessary governmental interference in an individual’s life choices, as long as those choices aren’t adversely affecting others, of course.

However, this current crisis really does warrant this level of interference. To truly see what is coming, you need to understand the nature of exponential growth, which I covered in this post:
The astounding nature of exponential growth

Extreme social distancing is the only way to avoid this huge explosion of numbers of cases, and to reduce the overwhelming impact this is going to have on our health system.

This responsibility now falls on the shoulders of every single one of us.

Anyone who thinks they are young enough or healthy enough to avoid the worst-case scenario, if they do become infected, is just not seeing the bigger picture.

To continue to socialize, and potentially help continue the exponential spread of this illness, is selfish beyond measure.

So much so that in Italy it is now possible for anyone with symptoms, who breaks 14-day self-isolation requirements, to be arrested, and if their activities result in the eventual infection and death of others, to be prosecuted for murder.

Just last night (Friday 20th March 2020) the UK government finally found the fortitude to legislate the closure of all bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and other places of social gathering.

Obviously asking the UK population to behave in a responsible manner wasn’t enough.

I suspect it won’t be too long before the police, maybe even the military, will be out on the streets, needed to enforce social distancing measures, as those who obviously don’t care for the safety of others continue to “dance before the storm”, just as some continue to do in Italy.

As The Levellers say, these are dangerous times we live in, the sky grows black with anger, and the sands of time are now running very thin indeed.

It’s time for us all to do our part, to change our habits for the good of ourselves, our loved ones and everyone else around us.

There’s a storm coming and the time for dancing is over.

Dance before the storm

The Levellers (1991)

These are dangerous time we live in
I heard a man once say
If you're prone to flights of fancy
Your dreams can fly away

See the sights around you
Of breakdown and decay
Wrought by the greed for a better life
For which you have to pay


Well you dance before the storm
And don't look back to where you've been
The horizon’s getting further
As the sands of time run thin

Well you dance before the storm
As the machinery breaks down
You watch the sky go black with anger
No one makes a sound

From Glasgow Town to London
Down the motorways
There's some people standing in the rain
Looking for any way

To take them down to where they're bound
It's all part of another way
It's called the art of survival
In a modern age


From Albion Hill to the Old Chain Pier
You can hear a person say
Spare some change for all my pains
The world has gone astray

Down the road another flat got burned
Where a friend of mine once stayed
So another squat in Brighton
Needs to hide another head

And if your head spins round, go underground
Away from the games they play
There’s some people down there who are trying to care
Let each one have their say

It's not revolution tactics
It’s not cause for anarchy
It’s just a natural fight for a natural life
Of which systems are afraid

And if it all surrounds you
Seems like there's no escape
And there's people stood in front of you
Saying do it in their way

Well, turn your eyes towards the tides
And see how they never change
The sands of time will break their mime
Just like riding on a wave


The Levellers

While researching for this article I was very pleased to discover that, 30 years later, The Levellers are still together. A new album is due out later this year.

They will also be touring, but of course, current gigs have been cancelled. They would have been playing in Margate this evening.

I hope that when this crisis is over and we come out the other side I'll get to see them play live again, and re-live those wonderful days of youth and freedom.

Find out more about The Levellers here:

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