At the best of times, peeking at Twitter should come with a health warning, but in these plague days it’s like jumping on a Spacehopper and bouncing blindfold across a minefield. And not just because of the vicious scraps and sectarianism now permanently cranked up to 11. For a writer, there are also depth charges of existential guilt just waiting to blow up in your face.
You haven’t started a podcast yet? Launched a Zoom book club? Uploaded some funny/earnest/uplifting little videos? Offered bedtime readings? Organised a fundraiser? Or graciously released your back catalogue at a knockdown rate? You’ve not even attempted a TikTok? What the hell is wrong with you? Do you want to work again?
In the early days of the pandemic, I watched with horror – and a kind of reluctant admiration – as so many of my fellow freelancers smoothly perfected the art of masking blatant self-promotion in the cloak of philanthropy. Aside from one tweet plugging the audio of my most recent book, I remained tongue-tied – not, if I’m honest, out of any great sense of principle, more that familiar feeling of being outflanked by the cool kids.
I am hugely lucky though. If there ever was a moment for an under-employed hermit, living in a remote old house and with a hairline so depleted that he’s not had to pay to have it cut since the last century, then this is surely it.
Others, so many others, will not be so fortunate. The pitiless winds of this pandemic are going to blow away an awful lot of jobs. My heart aches especially for those in their thirties. They were walloped with the financial crash just as they tottered on to the job market, then had to scrabble their way through a wasteland of precarious employment and housing, and at just the point where they might begin to walk taller, they get flattened by this.
But – and there’s no easy or kind way to say this – there are many jobs that fully deserve scorched earth treatment. Over the last two months, we’ve learned the harsh way that there is zero correlation between levels of pay and levels of importance to a decent society. It’s easy to call out the usual panto bogeymen, the hedge-fund manager or rapacious landlord and so on, but there are so many everyday bullshit jobs, embedded deep within society. And it is a sector that Wales is sadly stuffed with.
There are candidates galore, the middle managers and intermediaries useless at absolutely everything except their own advancement, but let’s stick now with the evil twins of HR and PR: Tweedledum and Tweedledumber, if you will.
Some poor sod was moaning last week that they were being compelled to take part in a three-hour Zoom quiz with their work colleagues on Thursday evening. In fancy dress, no less, and with a fifteen-minute break so that they could all go and do their doorstep clapping duty. This is an idea so warped that it can only have come from the fevered brain of an HR manager, desperately trying to justify their pitiful job. Next stop, an online charity fundraiser – “no, it’s not compulsory!” (it is).
And where there’s HR, there’s PR, with its pearly smile and empty eyes. Wales is a land that loves its PR; often prefers it to reality, it seems. Entire news cycles and Twitterstorms that rage for days are spun out of nothing more than a press release or a pretend survey.
For a 2018 piece I wrote in Planet magazine, I monitored the Welsh media, broadcast and online, for one random day. Topping the headlines that morning was an announcement that the Football Association of Wales was in a consortium, alongside its English, Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts, considering a bid to become the European candidate to host the 2030 World Cup.
This meaningless piece of puff dominated all day, in every bulletin. The hype became more excitable by the hour. That evening, Wales Today gave over the first third of its half-hour to the ‘story’, anchored live from the Millennium Stadium. One interviewee, a regular PR smoothie on our screens, assured us that although this was currently the only Welsh ground capable of hosting such big matches, the Liberty Stadium and the Racecourse Ground could also be brought up to speed. The presenter let that pass, but here’s an exclusive: Wrexham will not be hosting the World Cup.
It was only the Welsh arm of the BBC that was uniquely titillated by this fluff. Though equally invested in the idea, their Scottish, English and Northern Irish services relegated this fluff far down the rankings, to an item of sports news, where it belonged. We, it seems, are far more easily fobbed off with PR over real journalism.
Or, for that matter, real politics. In the week that saw Wales clock over a thousand deaths from Covid-19, a rate that puts us in one of the worst proportionate positions in the world, there is more chatter about the changing name of our legislature than what it is doing so badly wrong.
And at such a terrible key moment, when it should be focused like a laser on this unprecedented peril, our main opposition party is training its fire on a pointless and expensive vendetta – again, over names. While the house is burning down, we’re busy fretting over our choice of wallpaper.
Read more in Mike Parker’s series for Nation.Cymru below: