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.

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.

 

Whitby, Cropredy and a persistent running injury. And Brexit?

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Four days in Yorkshire. We visited Whitby where Bram Stoker’s Dracula landed on a deserted ship and bounded up the 199 steps, in the form of a large black dog, to the ruined Whitby abbey on the cliff top. Whitby is now a port of call (pun intended) for all Goths, past and present. These two Goth girl were hardly out of place.

 

Very atmospheric. The weather was warm and sunny but on a cold, misty, gloomy day it would be easy to appreciate why Stoker knew Whitby was the appropriate location for Dracula to disembark from his cursed ship.

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Cropredy, Oxfordshire. Fairport Convention hold an annual reunion festival here. They are a folk rock band which originally formed in 1967 and they are still going with original members and old members regularly returning. They have a loyal following which is just as well because the weather conditions were testing for long standing fans. Except we weren’t standing much. Such is our collective advanced age camp chairs is de rigueur even if the weather is good. This time around we endured a chilling wind, low temperatures and bouts of rain. It felt God was attempting to cull us!

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I’m being persecuted by another chicken. She turns up each day waiting to be fed then does giant poo which we duly tread on. She even became violent, pecking Lorna’s unprotected toes. We’re trying to become predominantly vegetarians but she’s trying our patience.

I’m alive but still not running My knee injury is still persisting and I’ve stopped running altogether. Still not sure of the exact nature of the injury. I had assumed it was a tear or bruising to the miniscus but now I’m not so sure. I’ve had a couple of private physiotherapy sessions and still awaiting a NHS referral for physiotherapy for which there is a fourteen week waiting list. This is not a service. Such a timescale for assessment and treatment will ensure that either the average person’s  problem will have resolved over time or will have become chronic. How has the physiotherapy service allowed itself to become so degraded and marginal? My GP, appparently, is not able to refer me for a scan to accurately diagnose my knee injury. That responsibility is now devolved to the physiotherapy servce, who if they feel a diagnostic scan is required, refer me onto another team who then make that decision. This will take forever. It is taking forever. A good example of NHS cuts and resource rationing. or softening up the NHS for private providers. Or simply dropping a treatment option. Is the NHS safe with the evil Tories? If you are credulous, yes, of course.

Brexit! Divisive or what? Remain or leave, your preference strips bare a predictable set of values and beliefs. In general the remainers live in a world with balmy weather and warm breezes where good humour and friendliness, co-operation and fairness are the norms and everyone is accepted without prejudice. The leavers, in general, inhabit a gloomy, sunless world, permanently chilled and inhospitable, where xenophobia, meaness of spirit, absence of empathy, lack of charity and self interest are endemic. Oh dear!

London Marathon 2019 and other stuff

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London marathon 2019. Spectating, as usual, was very enjoyable but it was cold. We stood between mile 19 and 19 at Canary Wharf, near a Waitrose and loos, a good spot if there’s not a cutting wind. It wasn’t cutting and clearly the runners, after 18 miles, didn’t appear cold, unlike myself. So perhaps I’m the hero! Many did look tired, however, and they had another seven miles to go. Okay, I accept they have the edge in the hero stakes.

Of course, the top runners made it look easy and effortless. Yes, Kosgei and Kipchoge, I’m pointing the finger at you! Then again, it must be annoying to be constantly accompanied by a phalanx of officials and photographers in cars, flat bed trucks and motor bikes with attendant engine fumes being breathed in.

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The London marathon is always a tremendous event. It’s full of wonder, adventure, excitement, stamina, pathos and bravery, a wonderful experience for all the runners and supporters alike. Unfortunately I won’t be doing another marathon but I can still watch one of the best.

My own running is going well at the moment. I train with the club on Tuesdays and this week I ran Cambridge parkrun then chased over (well, drove) to an adjacent village and did another 7k race at 10.45am. Sunday was a rest day and today I did another 5k race. Another club training run tomorrow, a 5k race on Thursday and parkrun on Saturday again. Plus any gym work. Any problems with this? Yes, I’m not doing any long runs so I’ve opted out of the Flaming June half marathon in Impington.

Is one of the consequences of getting older is that you think more about life, issues, consequences, truth, others, your own conduct or do you tend to think less, avoiding analytical modes of thought, reducing interest in events other than those that impinge directly upon our personal lives and opting out of voicing strong convictions? Do we write longer sentences as we age? Are we more likely to ask pompous questions like this?Am I referring to myself? Am I a solipsist? No, I don’t think so but it’s a great word!

Both Brexit and social media, like any substantial issues, have unintended or unexpected consequences. For me it’s been an eye opener to have a fuller understanding  of people’s views, frequently expressed  bluntly and explicitly. So much condemnation and proud unkindness. So much passive and actual aggression. Such limited perspective, so little humour.

 

400 parkruns and a lot of long straw

Cottage getting a rethatch

I ran my first Cambridge parkrun in February 2010, six months after a heart attack and now I’ve passed the 400 mark. Two other running chums who are both in their late 60s and have had heart attacks are still running. Moral of the story? Stay fit and prosper after a cardiac event. Unfortunately I saw many people attending cardiac rehab who were overweight, didn’t do any exercise and regarded their heart disease as a considerable handicap. At that point, only just over 4 in 10 were taking up the offer of cardiac rehab and the takeup was lower in other areas. Oh dear! I don’t know if rehab uptake has improved much.

Cambridge half marathon in under two weeks. I’m trying to do a long run of 12 miles every week and , by and large, I’ve managed it. It takes some effort and focus but I feel so much better afterward, a sort of good, healthy tiredness.

Finished

I just read that the British teenager who absconded to to the Islamic State group in Syria when she was 15 (she is now aged 19 and has just given birth to her third child), has now had her UK citizenship revoked. She is currently in a Syrian refugee camp and wants to return to the UK. This is a complicated issue on a number of fronts but it is very disappointing that the Tory Home Secretary has placated the credulous and knee jerk nitwits of the Tory electorate who are unable to objectively evaluate any complicated issue. Compare and contrast with Tony Blair who was determined to go to war with George Bush on the flimsiest of pretences, shared responsiblity for tens of thousands of deaths and destabilised whole regions.

Last race of the year -Ely New Year’s Eve 10k

Here’s a recent treat fit for a running god like myself. Fish finger sandwich featuring fish fingers on fresh sourdough bread garnished with raw red onion. Yummy! Probably best to eat after a run rather than ten minutes before. Last run of the year!

Since November I’ve mainly managed to do a weekly 12 mile jog and some gym work plus parkrun. I think a long run is good for me but it’s certainly not improving parkrun times. Then again it’s winter – cold, wind, dreary light, rain and mud. I’m always slower even when I feel I’m running fast.

The numbers running at Cambridge parkrun are around 200 fewer since Coldhams Common parkrun got under way. This is good news because Milton Country Park, which hosts parkrun, was getting very congested. It’s essentially along woodland trail paths which sometimes had up to 600 galloping over them. Today we had 381 and it felt much more comfortable. Coldhams has already surpassed 300 on several occasions and has room to expand. Haven’t done it yet but will do sometime soon, I hope.

A recent UK news item highlighted the cost of hospital car parking charges in England (they are free or being phased out in Scotland and Wales) and have been described as “a tax on the sick”. It seems that a substantal number of hospitals justify the high charges by spending the windfall money on hiring extra essential staff. Another wheeze, of course, to circumvent underfunding and related to the shenanigans the hospitals are forced to get involved in when desperately try to attain government targets.

Discussing the charges at home, Lorna reminded me about the hard time she had parking at Papworth Hospital after I had a heart attack nine years ago. She rushed over, didn’t have change (pre-online app) and the reception staff said they didn’t give change. She was worried that she would get clamped and couldn’t get back to our 12 year old son. Luckily someone in the carpark supplied the right coins. As a close relative (wife) very little consideration was given to her as she waited for an hour without any information about me

Bearing in mind Papworth is a “leading heart and lung hospital” and must be receiving distressed relatives on a daily basis, this clearly demonstrated their corporate lack of concern and empathy. I don’t think things have changed much. The technology has got better but often requires you to have a smart phone and the wherewithall to use it. Additionally, the charges have mushroomed. Concerning regard for relatives and friends attending hospital urgently, I don’t know whether anything has changed. I sincerely hope so. I was very happy with the medical and nursing care at Papworth but  recognition of the needs of relatives was poor.

Hello Julie! How are you? Hope you are well. Missing your blog.

Loving the 12 mile weekly run! At the moment!

It’s been eight weeks since my last blog and summer has turned to autumn. The stark truth is that I’m eight weeks older and more to the point, I’m a first time grandfather. Wonderful! This brings new opportunities to be sensible, patriachal, dignified and generally comport myself in accordance with my new status. I’ll probably work on these aspirations in the New Year or when I get time or possibly never.

Six weeks ago, I did an undulating half marathon and this went well. I only ran a couple of ninety minute runs and one sixty minute run before the half and this seemed about right for my existing level of fitness. Since then I’ve decided to do a twelve mile run each week and this has felt okay. It seems that when I up the mileage I feel less tired or rather it’s a superior, more satisfying type of tiredness rather than simply feeling sapped.

The extra mileage has pushed my parkrun times down, I think. I recently turned my ankle on a root at Cambridge parkrun the day before I was due to do a local 10k. I finished the run but it swelled up in the afternoon, not substantially, but overnight, it felt stiffer and a little tender. Not wishing to believe the evidence of my own eyes, I went for a little trot before the 10k race and decided, using my new sensible grandad hat, that it was inadvisable to run.

With a few further days of rest, it sorted itself out and I’m currently not injured. Cambridge parkrun at Milton Country Park is mostly woodland paths which are strewn with leaves. Thus the numerous raised tree roots are hidden and it’s easy to come a cropper. Are we brave, courageous, risk takers? Are we heroes? Are we daft?

The Guardian newspaper has recently announced that the reader funding model is successful. They claim a million supporters world wide paying subscription apps or monthly voluntary payments to help keep the journalism afloat and the website open to all and not behind a paywall. Anyone can view Guardian journalism on their website and share it freely, even evil, right wing people who seem to be more in the ascendency these days. Of course right wing leaning people have their own news outlets and it’s educational to compare and contrast. The right wing news tends towards condemnation, mockery, anger, alarmism, fear of change and loss and nostalgia for a perceived golden past. They don’t hesitate to vilify ethnic groups who they blame for loss of their cultural norms. They love jingoism like “We want our country back” and “America first!” Anger is often the predominant emotion which their target group consumes ad nauseum. And often there are objectively legitimate reasons for that anger and resentment. Classically, that discontent is easily exploited and often directed at the wrong cause. Best to read Guardian journalism and not risk it.

Upside : I’m running more frequently. Downside : I’m being stalked by a chicken.

Yes, this is the chicken! A hen, actually. She may not have big brain but she quickly worked out I’m a soft touch. All I did was provide a small handful of wild bird seed on two occasions and now she visits daily, occasionally with a cockerel in tow. Is this a problem? It wasn’t initially but she now contravenes normal social proprieties. If we leave a door open, she struts in brazenly. We’ve found her on a sofa in our front room, in our living room and she’s familiar with our bathroom. And she’s not even our hen! She and her pals are free ranging and belong to a farmer fifty metres away.

 

I rest my case!

I’m pleased to report that my chicken based woes are not adversely affecting my running. I’m back to running consistently and again trying to increase distance. I did the Greater Cambridge 10k a couple of weeks ago and I’ve got an undulating half marathon in two weeks. I’m a regular at Cambridge parkrun. I’ve also done a couple of training sessions at Cambridge and Coleridge running club with a view to rejoining. I miss the Tuesday road training. Of the present Tuesday group I’m the slowest which is not necessarily a problem but the effort involved does mean I have to put in maximum effort. Older running gods, like myself, have to be careful! Alternatively, I could do the track sessions which are probavly more manageable/flexible.

I did a 12 mile run today and this went okay. I have to resist the temptation to do another long run without sufficient recovery time. I feel good after a long distance and I want to repeat it but wiser heads object. Memo to self: enrol on that adult education class titled “How to Behave Sensibly for Advanced Years Citizens”

 

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Lips completed! I’ve made quite a few models now and it’s dawned upon me rather late that the bases are not adequate. So, at the moment I’m using,, or replacing previous bases with, reclaimed hard woods.

I made this sculpture over a year ago. I won’t be replacing this base but I need to upgrade it. This won’t be very easy because I won’t be detaching the statue because that would be a bit of a palaver.

So, how’s Brexit going? Not too well for the evil Tory goverment! Labour is hoping for no agreement and a general election. There’s increased talk of another referendum or at least another complete rethink on how to proceed. For my part, Brexit. as voted or by 52% of the population, reflects a very strong strand of xenophobia and right wing manipulation of racist prejudice. I certainly don’t feel the Tories are capable of making humane and compassionate laws and policies. I’ve got more faith in EU law.

Normal running resumed (almost)

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Nice couple of lips on the go! I’m spending a lot of time thinking about modelling/sculptural ideas and execution. I’m particularly exercised by problems concerning improving the bases and ensuring a high standard of finish. Subsequent to these two examples I’m preparing some old reclaimed wood I bought at an exorbitant price from a reclaimation yard with a view to cleaning, sealing and waxing rather than painting.

Running has been a bit neglected over the last 6-7 weeks. My hamstring is still twinging occasionally and I haven’t been doing any runs over 50 minutes to test it. But I have been running reasonably consistently, albeit shorter distance. Parkrun is okay despite not doing the times I managed a year ago. It’s only about 60-90 seconds slower per 5k parkrun so not truly shocking. I have had a nice cup of coffee with running mates after, though. Plan: to slowly up the weekly mileage. I’ve got a half marathon coming up in October so I need to know I’m properly fit for that.

Too much egregious world news to comment on just before I go to sleep. Suffice to say that Boris Johnson, ex British Foreign Secretary ridiculing traditional Muslim female dress in the right wing press is vicious, divisive and cruel. It’s a typical extreme right wing Fascist technique. In this case hidden behind the mask of a clown.

As for the Catholic Church and the Benedictine Order and the damning report into decades of sexual abuse at two “leading” Catholic schools, Ampleforth and Downside, it’s a searing indictment of the corrosive and self serving nature of religion.