The truth about lockdown madness, Lineker, and Mystic Meg
This week in my Moodring roundup: it’s time to score your lockdown-induced mental fragility; why Gary Lineker is the Princess Diana de nos jours; and remembering Mystic Meg’s legacy.
I’ve enjoyed the contradictory tales flooding in after a BBC News story claimed the various lockdowns during the height of the pandemic had ‘mininal’ effect on mental health. People organising pet weddings, or painting eyes on eyelids so they could sleep through Zoom calls, or building miniature gameshow sets. It almost became a competitive sport. I’ll admit I never felt entirely comfortable with the idea of lockdown – the first, especially – as some replenishing ‘pause’ allowing us to explore our creative freedom or take time out, because for many, it wasn’t like that. It was a terrifying slog. I didn't go mad, particularly; I knew it was important to keep my head, even though I was worried.
I found comfort in routine and getting on with the work I’d managed to hold on to once the cancellations had stopped rolling in. I hired Santander cycles and clocked up 25 miles a day roaming deserted streets. I found solace in shopping, even though money was tight. I looked forward to supermarket trips, ambling through a post-apocalyptic Westfield as chart hits blared out of the speakers to indifferent, empty malls. Easter eggs were dirt cheap that first lockdown, and I used to struggle home with huge ones, picked up for £2 or something. I bought ridiculous things off the internet too: a clothes steamer (don’t bother, just don’t, they’re useless); a weird kind of heated hairbrush that turned my hair into wire wool; very ugly woven masks by some west London designer; metal Alice bands for my hair, at its longest since my ill-fated 2005 Brandon Flowers era (let’s never speak of this again). Strangest of all, I wrote weekly advice articles for my former GQ column on how to cope with lockdown, all the while perhaps not realising I was slowly unravelling myself.
I remember most those first couple of weeks, the terror that this was it, for ever, that life as I knew it was over, that I may never see my parents again. Boris Johnson fumbling through his speeches, Rishi Sunak’s veiled threats about the consequences of the government’s financial help. A huge police truck shouting through a loudspeaker at people sitting in Hyde Park while I cycled past. People on Instagram enjoying their gardens or their parents’ houses. I remember being glad I wasn’t alone. I remember how quickly the weirdness became normal, and how I began to dread the return of the past I’d barely had time to romanticise. And that terrible version of ‘Imagine’ trilled by a chorus of clueless Hollywood midweights, barely a week into global shutdown. That was lockdown madness to the extreme. At least I didn’t flip my lid that far.
MOOD: WHATEVER THE OPPOSITE OF NOSTALGIC IS
Gary Lineker is your typical centrist dad, really – too woke for the right-wing; too fash for the left. He seems a decent-ish enough egg, I’m sure he’s generous with the barbecue tongs on Easter Sunday and adds a ‘secret ingredient’ (Lea & Perrins) when he cooks a bolognese for his sons. The row over his tweet, perhaps strangely, reminded me of news events like the death of Diana, Princess of Wales: a huge, entertaining and unpredictable story that was strangely exciting yet had something unpleasant at its core that tells us more about ourselves than we’d like to admit. For Diana, it was her motherless children and a life extinguished too early; for Gary, it’s not only the government’s horrific rhetoric but their vigour for making refugees’ lives as horrendous as possible, and, in a way, the fact that Gary Lineker’s right to tweet overshadowed the enormities of the policy he was originally highlighting. Lineker himself acknowledged this:
The buzzword of the row was ‘impartiality’, whose meaning is fluid and complicated. For the BBC, impartiality hovers in a strange, airless zone between censorship and alleged ‘balance’. Witness the umpteen ‘debates’ about the basics human rights of trans people with panels utterly devoid of trans speakers, or similar discussions about racism which might include one person of colour to counter the incessant snarl of white attack dogs. Impartiality is pretty much a myth anyway. We’re all influenced by our principles and prejudices, and it takes a certain amount of talent not to allow them to leak into our actions, so instead, impartiality becomes a censoring or oppressing of your true feelings, for good or for ill. The uproar was not about Gary Lineker’s impartiality. It’s the glaring truth that only a certain type of impartiality is insisted upon, generally.
The BBC backed down, and Lineker will return to Match of the Day and, I assume, tweet what he pleases until the ‘independent review’ into the corporation’s social media guidance is completed – but that’s not the end of the story. For refugees, nothing has changed. Nobody has won.
MOOD: WHATEVER THE OPPOSITE OF IMPARTIAL IS
Mystic Meg was a big deal when I was growing up. My mum and her sisters are the kind of women who are interested in astrology, but not fanatic. My mum doesn’t exactly believe it all, but finds it entertaining. One sister had a set of tarot cards and did readings, and my mum had a couple of astrology books lying around. Dream interpretations, a dog-eared copy of the weighty horoscope tome Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs – that kind of thing. Like many other working-class women in the 1980s, she might sometimes attend a gathering at someone’s house where there’d be a visiting clairvoyant doing one-on-one readings. When I was very small, a fortune teller called Brian at one such party told my mother that he could see a day where I’d be standing on an elevated platform, in front of a crowd of people, and they would be listening to me. This stayed with me as I grew up. Politician, maybe? Oscar-winner? Embittered tour guide at a provincial cathedral? Who knew? I later worked out that making a speech at my book launch probably fulfilled this destiny.
Anyway, Mystic Meg. The News of the World was the only national newspaper that crossed the threshold when I was a child, really, and even then, fairly infrequently. Newspapers were a luxury to be honest: my mum took the local paper, the Telegraph & Argus, but only because a man came to the door with a special offer and she never got round to cancelling. (My first ever job was delivering that very paper, including to my mum’s house. If I accidentally dropped a paper through the wrong door and was thus one short for my round, my mum’s paper would be its replacement; she used to be furious.)
You may scoff at buying the NOTW but for most people it really wasn’t that deep. It had showbiz gossip, maybe a sex scandal, and a bit of politics on page 2 you could easily skip. And my mum liked the magazine, Sunday, where Mystic Meg resided, on the very last page.
There was something very intriguing about Meg. Before she switched to the dare-I-say iconic black bob and medici-collared capes she wore on her National Lottery appearances in the nineties, Meg sported a lovely perm, and seemed very glamorous in shimmering sequins with glossy red nails. The main feature of her page would see her run through the 12 signs’ horoscopes, reassuringly vague and slightly more spooky than other papers’ stargazing soothsayers. There were lots of sudden knocks on doors and faces from the past lurking in readers’ lives. The best part of her page, however, were the ‘messages from beyond the grave’ section, which ran across the bottom or middle of the page, all in caps, like a newswire transmitting from the afterlife. These ethereal communiqués, never more than one short sentence, started with the name of the recipient – Donna in Doncaster; Steve in Hartlepool; Maureen in Sidcup – and fell into four main categories. You had:
Reassurances from loved ones that being dead was okay really and that they were ready to go/no longer in pain
Reassurances to those left behind that they were loved and/or that the dear departed knew they were loved
Vague observations of pride from the dead about the achievements of someone left behind
and, last but certainly not least – the legacies.
If you say it right, there’s something chic and mysterious about the word ‘legacy’, especially when pertaining to some kind of valuable treasure secreted in the house. At least one undiscovered legacy would be flagged by St Peter’s breaking news ticker once a week, and would usually relate to some random, totally innocent household item. Biscuit tins, supposedly worthless ornaments, plastic clip-on earrings, old pots of paint in the garden shed – you name it, there was a legacy attached, be it cash, jewels, or a hidden value that might get you on Antiques Roadshow. Depending on her predictions, my mum and her sisters might say Meg was having a good week, or that she was ‘a load of sh•te’ but she was always very readable. The only issues of the News of the World with a guaranteed slot on the arm of our sofa were the two or three a year which featured Mystic Meg’s special pullouts: her New Year predictions, her love and relationships specials, and, I think, a money one too.
Obviously Meg became famous to everyone when she was the one highlight of the calamitous and terminally dull live National Lottery live draw on BBC One on Saturday nights, but for me, Meg was always at her best when sending hapless readers routing through every box of crap in their house hunting for a potential legacy. Mystic Meg’s own legacy is assured – the primetime face of astrology and general tongue-in-cheek witchy kookiness.
And, come on, ‘insurance workers, bin men, and a dentist, will be celebrating toooooooooo’ is poetry. Adieu Meg.
MOOD: WHATEVER THE OPPOSITE OF ‘CELEBRATING TOOOOOOO’ IS
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