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 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?

The Loneliness of the Long Injured Runner Assuaged Only By House Plants

Running marathons could help you live longer – but how do you start?

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2020/jan/07/running-marathons-help-live-longer-how-do-you-start?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_WordPress

The call of the marathon! Seductive or easily dismissed? There have been lots of articles recently on how running is beneficial to your health. It joggles the brain nicely to ward off dementia, creates new brain cells and neurone pathways, strengthens joints and aids mental health. You don’t have to do marathons or even run. Exercise and activity are the fundamental components. Since my knee injury has stopped me running more than 5k, and at a more relaxed pace, I’ve been walking more and very enjoyable it is, too.

But it’s running I want to get back to. No Cambridge half marathon this year and no 10k race entries (yet). My knee remains weak and puffy but I think there is a slow improvement. My running fitness has appreciably declined, unfortunately. It will return, hopefully, when my knee is stronger.

Hold the front page! I’ve just returned from a five mile run and my knee held up. Not sure what it will be like overnight, but that’s hours away. At the moment it’s okay. New plan: register for 10k races immediately. What can go wrong?

I appear to have become obsessed with house plants (note that I am implying that this has been imposed on me from above. I am just a helpless plaything manipulated by a higher intelligence to enact their whims). Someone or something has pressured me into setting up nearly forty plants and it’s a real headache trying to provide the right amount of light they require in a cottage that’s on the dark side. These first world problems are really under appreciated. Additionally, it’s very easy to overwater, one of the main causes for plant death or terminal decline, and, conversely, to under water. I’m still feeling my way forward. It’s not too difficult as long as you consider the individual plant’s needs on a DAILY basis. Like having children, really, except they don’t talk back.

Politically, we’ve fallen into the Dark Ages again. Boris Johnson has a cabinet of poodles and absolute power. Like Trump he is able to sidestep integrity, truthfulness, consistency and any authentic concern for the needs of people outside his own elitist class. Like Trump, he has a large number of angry, prejudiced, uneducated and disillusioned voters who succumb to hard line, nationalistic policies which identify culprits and demonise minorities. Their styles are very different. One is a bullying white supremacist, the other a stand up comedian. But their nasty, vicious,cruel outlook is shared.

UK renamed Mordor by Johnson government as Tory-orcs run rampant

This is a pic from the top of the Tor at Glastonbury, overlooking the Somerset Levels and taken last summer when the evil Tories weren’t so blatantly evil.

The Bridge of Sighs, St. John’s College, Cambridge, taken just before the UK General Election, and prior to the onset of Perpetual Shadow Tory Rule.

With the self destruction of the Labour Party, I should be running frantically and often to contain my fear and anxiety concerning an extreme right government. Unfortunately I remain injured, not seriously, but sufficient to impair speed, distance and frequency. I have been doing parkrun consistently but my knee still feels uncomfortable and weak. On New Year’s Day I did two parkruns, ninety minutes apart, 5k each run. On the last kilometre of the second race my right knee felt very odd and my left calf started to hurt. For the rest of the day I could only walk stiffly and gingerly. Nevertheless, I’ll do parkrun again tomorrow and probably walk most of it.

So Brexit, xenophobia, racism and outright stupidity won the day. The Right don’t really think, they feel. They feel anger, resentment, hate contempt, fear, sentimentality and prejudice. They tend not to have any arguments. The emphasis is on keeping what they’ve got, increasing it and making sure there’s minimum sharing or redistribution, particularly to the vulnerable or economically unproductive.

The Left tend to have arguments and explain, often with a historical perspective and with nuance. They employ concepts like inclusiveness, empathy, fairness and a sense of community. They look outwards and are not threatened by all and sundry. I could go on but I’m watching Shrill at the moment.

Hopefully I’ll write a few more blogs before Trump causes a nuclear war.

Would you Adam and Eve It*? UK General Election and I’m still injured (but not quite as much)

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My first attempt at kokedama (moss balls fashioned around a plant and bound to keep the moss and growing medium in place.) I’ve bound it crudely, with thick green garden wire. This will be replaced by less visible finer wire.

My first open top terrarium. My daughter has made a succession of closed terrariums and has give me advice and equipment to make my own. Better get on and do it then!

My relation with house plants has dramatically improved. Like many people I have tended to neglect them and their overall health goes into a slow decline. This is no longer the case. I find I’m much more motivated to care for them properly. I suppose nurture wouldn’t be too strong a word. Why is this? Well, plants enhance the environment. They’re natural, alive and respond to attention, creating a sense of being in control and achievement. Fascinating in themselves and their various forms, they give enjoyment and a feeling that you have a small bit of nature in your own home. Much less demanding than pets but more difficult to take for a walk.

I wasn’t running when I wrote my last blog two months ago. I am running now, tentatively, but my knee is weak and I’ve lost a lot of fitness. The NHS physiotherapy assessment appointment came through eventually, and was thorough. It was established I had a mechanical, not structural, injury and I was given a set of physio exercises. By the time of the assessment, my knee was improving very slowly. Despite being theoretically highly motivated to do physio exercises, in practice I didn’t take them up. I started parkrunning again (5k) but didn’t run during the week. My knee has continued to be problematic. There is continuing slow improvement and I want to run during the week. Strangely I am now motivated to do the prescribed physio exercises. Doh!

Regretfully I’ve missed a number of half marathon and 10k races and I won’t be doing the Cambridge half marathon in March 2020.  I think thirteen miles of hard road won’t be good for my knee. Possibly the following year. I’m pleased my son Dan has got a place so I’ll be able to spectate, cheer him on and hopefully keep my envy in check.

The UK general election is set for December 12th and party electioneering is in full swing. The evil Tories and the Brexit party are in bad tempered alliance, Labour has failed to gain the upper hand ( riven party and too many Brexiteer voters) and the Lib Dems, somewhat in the ascendancy, but probably not enough to make a difference. If Labour and the Lib Dems formed an alliance, there mght be some hope but that is not likely at the moment. Possibly the SNP might help labour keep the Tories out. It’s all up in the air! I don’t feel Jeremy Corbyn has put any effort into being personable and attractive to voters. He’s clearly anti European and the party is dangerously split. A substantial minority of Labour voters are xenophobic, racist and anti semitic. It’s not looking good.

*Cockney rhyming slang. Adam and Eve = believe it.  (American readers might associate the London cockney accent with Dick Van Dyke playing Bertie the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins in the 1964 film. This would be a grave mistake) Of course, Brexit is the modern version of the biblical Adam and Eve creation myth. When the evil Tories agreed to a referendum, the period of debate and day of voting was akin to eating of the Tree of Knowledge. It brought forth all manner of lies, deceit, self advancement, bigotry, xenophobia, nationalism, prejudice and hatred which hitherto had laid dormant. To mix metaphors, the genie was out of the bottle, Pandora’s box was opened. I’m sure you get my drift. On a daily basis we hear ignorance, anger and plain stupidity being voiced by people with the narrowest of interest for society at large but possessing a large range of cliches and jingoism to support their unkind, aggressive views. The Brexit debate has been very revealing and wholly disturbing.

Why do the Europeans seem so much more sensible than us Brits? Probably because they are.

 

 

 

 

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

WHITBY

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.