What have we learnt over the last year?

 

It’s a very broad question and, of course, we all learn differently. So what have I learnt? {Yes, it’s all about me. me, me}. I have been deeply impressed by the kindness, forebearance and bravery of others, particularly in the context of the Covid 19 pandemic. The suffering and loss has prompted deep compassion and continuing, everyday examples of innate humanity, despite the backdrop of an incompetent and complacent government. But, then again, that’s what I would expect because most people, under the most trying circumstances, would endeavour to act responsibly and sensibly and follow rules designed to alleviate the current crisis. The severe restrictions may have brought financial hardship, increased poverty, unemployment, loss of movement, prevented social interaction with family and friends and  stopped activities we took for granted but life, although curtailed, carries on. Nevertheless, the cost to many is huge.

So far, so positive. I don’t find the above remarkable. It’s what I expect. It’s not an eye opener. But some of the responses to the Covid pandemic and the American presidential election and its aftermath do turn a spotlight on a number of disturbing beliefs and an apparent willingness to act upon them.

Covid and Trump’s America have exposed and highlighted the existence of a willingness to embrace fantasy as fact and condemn unacceptable facts as fake. Both Trump and Boris Johnson trade in arousing negative sentiments and heightening emotions to influence people. Trump in particular is skilled at exploiting resentment and amplifying feelings of loss, unfairness, anger and hatred. He points the finger and creates targets for the aroused masses to focus their attention. In America, Trump has been able to sidestep reality and construct his own elaborate conspiracy theory to explain his defeat. He blithely faces down any kind of fact based argument, rubbishes anyone who disagrees and tramples democratic norms. In the Uk Boris Johnson doesn’t have to go to such lengths because the levels of anger and seething bitterness in the UK are much less virulent. We tend to fall for wealthy right wing stand up comedians to pull the wool over our eyes instead.

Why do so many people fall for politicians like Trump and Johnson? Why are they able to marshal such negative passions in so many of us? Their supporters are not psychologically minded. They are primed to react, to be aroused, to release their anger, aggression and sense of losing out, of being tricked. Their focus isn’t on community or fairness but on loss and identifying  who has taken it from them. They don’t think, they feel. That’s the nature of right wingers. Even if you feel I have presented an exagerrated caricature the evidence in both America and the UK is that the middle of the road conservatives will hold their noses and still support a fascist narcissist or someone who makes them laugh. Theses politicians are able to stir the deep well of aggression and negative emotions a lot of us obviously possess.

Phew! Back to something less controversial. Despite my dodgy right knee I’ve managed to run around 32k each week. That’s three 9ks and one timed 5k. My knee is still weak and stiff but running isn’t problematic. Part of my run is along an old Roman Road called Mere Way (currently threatened by the construction of a waste water treatment plant}. It’s exceedingly muddy for most of its length. We’ve had a lot of rain and the ground is saturated. It won’t be drying up any time soon. We are still in partial covid lockdown and there are no races on the horizon yet apart from Cambridge half marathon scheduled for October. Entry is by competitive ballot this year. I’ll do it if I can, Covid allowing.

I’ve just had a phone call from my GP surgery offering me a Pfizer vaccine. It’s the only advantage to having heart disease. Yippee!

 

British Understatement : 2020, a funny old year

 

Or rather, not funny at all. Certainly not funny ha ha and funny peculiar hardly describes it. But humour is a complicated thing and frequently misunderstood. I tend to spontaneously half gasp, half chuckle when I hear something outrageous or emotionally upsetting as related to me by others talking about their own unfortunate experiences. Surprisingly, no-one has ever found this response disrespectful or upsetting because they recognise my empathy and sense of outrage on their behalf. I reacted strongly because of my sense of unfairness and appreciation of their emotional hurt. Professionally, when I was working, I did a great deal of half chuckling, half gasping, sometimes even laughing out loud. I heard many accounts of emotional suffering, often spoken with sadness and resignation and they were never less than shocking. My responses never caused offence.

And now, in 2020, I’m still unable to stifle grunts, gasps, sharp intakes of breath, groans, sighs and bewildered expressions. I spend a lot of time feeling incredulous and disbelieving. While I’m at it, throw in pained expressions and open-mouthed shock as well.

Am I exaggerating? Of course, but not greatly. The events and behaviour, provoking these reactions are all around. Boris Johnson’s UK and Trump’s America provide countless examples of right-wing cultivation of people’s fears and prejudices which produce unkind, cruel and partisan policies .Both are populist governments heavily reliant on the populations’ deep reservoirs of anger, resentment, xenophobia and sense of betrayal. Lip service is given to the needs and welfare of the community and individual vulnerable groups. Maximum emphasis is placed on loss, damaging cultural change and ethnic groups or countries taking unfair advantage.

Brexit is a prime example in the UK. Another was the UK government’s determination not to fund free school meals for the children whose parents lost income during the pandemic restrictions or would normally be eligible if schools were open. The government, in the first pandemic wave, was responsible for the wholesale neglect of the elderly in care homes which resulted in many thousands of deaths.

The Trump administration demonstrates that absolute power can corrupt absolutely and how the normal checks and balances embedded in a democracy can be found wanting. He has wantonly and effortlessly degraded the office of the President, given succour to racists and the extreme right wing, run rough shod over normal and decent values, crudely whipped up violent and disruptive groups and lies without compunction. Trump is a single individual who has contrived to prove fascism is not only alive and kicking but can also accrue widespread support. A shameful, vicious and extremely embarrassing episode in American politics.

On the positive side, Covid 19 vaccinations are over the horizon, crazy anti vaccinators notwithstanding, and my running is stepping up. Despite my right knee remaining puffy and a tad stiff, I can run every other day. I can do 5k and 9k without obvious problems and I recently did 15k successfully. That means a half marathon is within range and I’ve pre-registered for the Cambridge half which is scheduled for October 2021. I’ve got high hopes that parkrun will recommence by the Spring when the vaccination programme is up and running.

Last gasp of summer as second covid wave arrives

The little sunflower is still intact but summer in the UK came to an end today with plummeting temperatures and rain in the south. It’s coinciding with an upsurge in positive corona virus infections, a growing increase in hospital admissions, more severe restrictions on social interaction, limiting pub and restaurant opening times and government advice to work from home (again) wherever possible.

It’s pointless to speculate how a Labour government might have managed the impact of covid 19 on society and the economy. We only know and experience how the present Tory incumbents are handling the unprecedented challenges. We know, for example, that substantial lockdown measures were introduced far too late in March, that the Tory government abandoned test and trace measures around the same time and care homes, along with their vulnerable residents, were disasterously left to fend for themselves. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, famously asserted that he had thrown a “protective ring” around the care home sector, a claim that was competely hollow and a willful, cynical misrepresentation.

The government mantra is they are led by the science but the measures they announce to combat the virus are political and with an eye to their popularity.

Governments worldwide are having to manage unprecedented circumstances and formulate contingency plans. In essence, it’s a balance between saving lives and saving the economy. At present, without an effective vaccination available, in any given population, there are loud voices giving  emphasis to personal and family risk while many oppose severe measures because of the resultant loss of economic demand and consequential unemployment.

This UK government has a history of spin, bluster, slick presentation and dependence on feel-good bromides and platitudes. They are massaging the covid statistics and their “NHS”test and trace programme is not fit for purpose. Boris Johnson has the temerity to give it give it the prefix NHS but in reality it should be termed Serco test and trace. Led by Dido Harding, it’s a good example of Tory nepotism as is her appointment.

Currently, the running has come to a dead halt. Until recently I was running 9k every other day and my weak, stiff knee was coping well. Unfortunately I pushed it bit further by adding a 5k session in without sufficient recovery. Result? A painful unrunnable knee. Now having at least a week’s rest. Oh dear! But I can walk. Phew!

 

 

Covid -Fools rush in where angels fear to tread (where you exert personal choice). Or are obliged to take risks and return to work with inadequate safeguards?

It’s a great advantage being very near to the Emmaus Cambridge community, a charity which accommodates homeless men and women and runs a substantial social enterprise accepting donated goods and selling them in their large store. I picked up this wonky glass flute, just right for this peperomia. Perhaps it’s too near. More than half our furniture came from Emmaus. It’s a good source of everything including books.

I’m running along Mere Way, a Roman Road near my village. This continues to be my current running route and is so much more enjoyable than pavements. Access to it is from a long farm road cul de sac with few cars and occasional large farm machinery. Fairly well used by runners, cyclists and walkers, it’s currently under threat by proposed A10 rerouting plans which would go right through it and the surrounding farm land.. Possibly this might call for militant environmental protest in the future. We’ll see!

My knee injury seems to have improved. I gave cycling up because it was too time consuming and running feels so much more time efficient and natural. I was doing 12k every other day but I found this knocked me out a bit. I am now doing 9k every other day with a 12k occasionally and this seems to work well. My problematic right knee remains a little swollen, and feels stiff initially when I get up but causes no problems when running. So, good result. If I put too much pace in, I do feel it aching at night but not enough to wake me. Additionally, with this running regime I have lost weight, around nine pounds and this has helped my knee.

Of course, the temptation when running is going well is to do more and I have revived an interest in fell running. I have never done this before but the urge to travel to a suitable fell is almost irristable. The nearest would be the Peak District national park, about two hours drive away or the Lake District, about four hours. It goes without saying I would need fell running shoes like Inov8s. At least I would be seen to have the right kit when I break my ankle or my knee snaps in half. For the moment I’ll just watch those very seductive fell race you tube videos.

Indoor plants have taken over the model making at the moment and I like to customise my teraccotta pots.

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We visited the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens in Hertfordshire recently and it was wonderful to see the monumental sculptures in an open grassland setting. The house was shut but most of the outside studio spaces were open and there was plenty of room to socially distance. A beautiful, creative place for thinking and relaxing.

Do say : What a phenomenally talented, innovative man that Henry Moore was.

Don’t say : What the bloody hell does it all mean? He’s an odd fish and no mistake!

Right wingers, Conservatives, Republicans white supremacists, fascists. Oh, and throw in the Christian Right evangelicals (a genuine oxymoron} They are all characterised by xenophobia, homophobia, racism, a fear of loss, anger, a huge sense of their own entitlement being under threat and an overwhelming concern with their class welfare alongside an absence of empathy for society at large, other cultures and vulnerable minorities. It’s a long sentence but could be longer. These people and some groups share these characteristics to a greater or lesser extent. For examples, see any of Trump’s outbursts/tantrums/tweets. For the the UK Tory goverment take the example of how the elderly in the care homes were abandoned by the goverment during the Covid pandemic and died in their thousands. See how the government was forced into a U turn by footballer Marcus Rashford after they were shamed into continuing food vouchers for the poorest families during the school holidays. Or how a Syrian asylum seeker, working in a hospital in East London, made an impassioned plea, on behalf of immigrant NHS workers shockingly excluded from the government’s bereavement compensation scheme and forced to pay a premium to use the hospitals they were risking their lives to keep going. Boris Johnson U turned the next day. Just everyday cruelty courtesy of the Tory party if they can get away with it.

Covid for the credulous? Take your pick: Tory daily media briefing or Johnson speaking at the Select Committee on the Impact and Science of Coronavirus

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This handsome fellow wanders about in the fields behind our cottage, in nearby gardens and recently into the road, luckily depleted of traffic. He’s very self composed, curious and doesn’t alarm easily. You can come across him anywhere. I’m thinking of dressing up as a pea hen so he fans his tail feathers.

And so to running. I’ve managed to consistently run 8.3k every other day for five weeks. My dodgy knee has held up (just). It remains swollen and stiff and unfortunately this really hasn’t changed much in the last year. I had an video assessment by the musculo-skeletal clinic and the physiotherapist took me through my knee x-ray. He showed me areas of mild to moderate age related arthritic changes which would account for the problems I’m experiencing. He suggested strengthening exercises, rest, cross training, cycling and perhaps a steroid injection in the future. I’m still hopeful the swelling and weakness will subside and I will try to expand my excercise regime as suggested. Update: I’ve had a rest from running and did a bit of cycling instead, one 18k and one 31k. I could still feel my knee but less so. I went for an 8.4k run this morning and it felt much better. Who could possibly have guessed that a rest and some cross training might be helpful?

Due to the covid lockdown the roads are relatively traffic free and a lot more people are running and, particularly, cycling and walking. Being required to essentially stay at home except to exercise and forgo work and a social and cultural life forces a change of perspective. The sudden  drop in pace has given an opportunity to think about how we conduct our lives and prompts us to think more critically. It can help us to appreciate what we hitherto took for granted or take up activities to express our creative potential. That’s on the positive side, of course.

Unfortunately the pandemic has shown  how precarious our lives and livelihoods can be, how quickly we can fall into a financial crisis and how dependent we are on economic stability and on strong government to plan for and manage in a time of crisis.

This Tory government, brought to us by Brexit supporters, is truly the government they deserve. Inept, short sighted, mean spirited, intoxicated by spin and slick presentation. The daily Covid updates are a masterclass in political embroidery, designed to give a confident presentation of the government response to the crisis followed by an equally confident question and answer session wherein the right questions are posed only to receive answers to a soft questions the politician wish they had been asked.

These briefings are clearly intended to convince the credulous and the critically unthinking, that is, the Brexit demographic. The litany of statistics is not particularly enlightening to most people and the emphasis on so many millions of personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by government, in the face of so many reports of shortages, in the early weeks, was shocking.

The government clearly left the care homes to their own devices. They received little assistance with PPE and hospitals discharged care home residents back without testing for covid infection or didn’t admit them in the first place. For weeks the daily number of covid deaths did not include those from care homes or outside hospitals.

The government was recently shamed into dropping the National Health Immigration Health Care surcharge, currently at £400 per person annually, rising to £624 in October. Boris Johnson defended this surcharge at Prime Minister’s Question Time, despite the thousands of frontline health workers working in the NHS and dying in their work.

The goverment dropped testing and tracking in March. They failed to heed the findings of the Operation Cygnus simulation exercise carried out in October 2016 which showed a pandemic would cause the health system to collapse from lack of resources.

They delayed a comprehensive lockdown.

Their emphasis on “following the scientific advice” has more resonance if we read it as “following the political science”.

As for Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief adviser, and  high profile breaker of lockdown rules, I can’t really get too incensed. What else would you expect from this amoral, self serving government.

Johnson at the Select Committee. More waffle, more bromides.

And to top it all, my good crop of gooseberries have got powdery mildew.

 

A different reality now. I’m grateful to be able to run

Under the UK Covid -19 restrictions we are allowed a daily period of exercise, up to an hour, and within a reasonable distance of home as long as the journey does not exceed the period of exercise. I am in the lucky position, living in the countryside, of not having to negotiate my way past people on narrow pavements and maintain social distancing. It’s much easier to run around walkers by running into the road now that there is much less traffic. The density of population is far less so there are fewer people around.

Nevertheless there is a heightened fear and anxiety, in some,  of runners spreading contamination by coughing, spluttering, spitting and heavy breathing when they pass. particularly if they do not give a wide birth. All runners and cyclists have a responsibility to behave with care and consideration, especially at the present time. There is a running etiquette to observe and this includes not alarming people. In previous times it was good manners not to startle pedestians by passing too closely or by coughing to announce your presence if there were few peope about. Coughing, of course, is wholly inappropriate now but all runners need to think ahead and behave sensibly.

My knee injury is coming up to a year old. It’s still stiff, weak and a little swollen. My appointment at the Musculo-skeletal clinic is on hold indefinitely. Nevertheless I am able to run up to 8-9k every other day without experiencing discomfort or pain. So it has improved and unless I ask too much, hopefully it will continue.

We may feel we are hunkering down and waiting for the Covid crisis to pass but there is no justification for suspending our critical faculties. You would hope that your government would act with integrity and in good faith. That they would take timely decisions acccording to need and necessity and the process would be transparent.

The daily government, medical and science press briefing are a wonder to behold. Boris Johnson, before he became seriously ill with Covid-19, was gung ho, up beat and clearly didn’t take matters seriously enought to practise social distancing. The government maintained the fiction that he was only mildly unwell and still fully in charge up to the point he was taken to ITU.

Each  briefing brings an avalanche of numbers concerning items of personal protective equipment suggesting the government is meeting supply needs despite the clamour from hospitals ,nurses, doctors and others anxiously reporting the complete opposite.

The care homes appear to have been abandoned in terms of PPE. Not only do they have an appalling lack of PPE, the government has failed to include their high level of mortality in the numbers dying from Covid-19.

Covid-19 have caused a disproportionate number of deaths among the black, asian and minority ethnic population. The goverment was very slow to acknowledge this fact. They have also substantially under recorded the number of deaths among health care workers and people working in health care. Their preferred focus is on doctors and nurses to whom they readily pay lavish homage. Porters and ancillary staff don’t quite cut it.

The press/media questions after the briefing do not bring any clarity. The minister of the day, flanked by medical and science experts either do not answer the relatively tame questions or resort to generalities, spin, platitudes or just plain praising their own efforts.

I believe the government was very slow to react to the virus threat initially and several weeks were lost. I think a lot of decisions are made which are politically inspired despite the mantra that they have always been led by the science.

Covid 19 has changed everything

The Cambridge half marathon took place on the cusp of more Draconian measures to combat the corona virus, on March 8th. So quickly have we been conditioned to self distance to protect ourselves, it feels unsettling to see these images.


Cambridge and Coleridge come in first and second (middle and right side C and C’er respectively). There should be a law to ensure they are putting in maximum effort and suffering at all times. I know this is the start of the race but they still looked composed at the end of it.

 No family member took part this year. I’ve still got a dodgy knee and my eldest son was unwell and had to forgo his place

In the UK, at present time of writing, we are allowed to exercise once daily, outside our homes, and appropriately observing social distancing requirements. My knee is still problematic, and my referral to the muscular-skeletal clinic has probably fallen into a black hole but I’m able to run short distances each day. The roads are very quiet and lots of people are walking around who wouldn’t normally be on the streets. Plenty of us are running. Personally, I feel the fitter I am, the greater resilience I will have if I contract the virus. I’m in one of the vulnerable categories because of heart disease so I am particularly careful. I feel fit and my lung capacity must be good. I don’t feel at risk but, of course, I risk others’ health if I become ill.

The middle class are about to discover the cruelty of Britain’s benefits system

The coronavirus crisis ignites a bonfire of Conservative party orthodoxies

Coronavirus exposes society’s fragility. Let’s find solutions that endure once it’s over

It takes a whole world to create a new virus, not just China

The above links are to Guardian or Observer articles and offer analysis to these drastically changing times. It’s ironic that the Labour Party’s manifesto, before the last Uk election in December 2019, was roundly criticised for its profligacy on spending plans to transform British society. We are in a crisis now and there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of financial help. This may be vital to maintain confidence in our economic system and prevent societal unrest and civil disorder. But the same Tories have presided over swingeing cuts to the NHS, education, social services, children’s services and local goverment for well over a decade  I had an argument with an idiot in a hospital outpatient clinic who kept on repeating “Where’s the money coming from?” The right wing have done such a good job in subverting the concept of public good and replacing it with fear and condemnation and personal threat, a large number of people can’t see the wood for the trees.

So galling seeing the Tories and their scientific and medical friends, standing at lecterns which proclain” Protect the NHS”, during the daily press briefings. As if they believe that.

I believe there will be a reckoning when this present emergency subsides and hopefully the evil Tories won’t succeed in spinning their own version of events.

Pity the poor Americans. Trump living on another planet and unable to string a coherent sentence together and suffering  wholly inadequate health care and social benefit systems. Where’s the humanity?