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 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.

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.

 

Running, races, interesting injuries, recovery and Brexit sadness

Here I am, running to partial victory (I would have won if I had succeeded in getting ahead of the several hundred people in front of me). This is the Cambourne 10k, just outside Cambridge. It was overcast and cold but good running weather for most. I should have worn gloves. More importantly my right knee and hip held up well. At the beginning of March I ran the Cambridge half marathon, a hard road surface and about ten days later my right knee and a right finger became swollen. I self diagnosed osteo arthritis. I was advised not to take ibruprofen because of my cardiac medication but I could take Voltarol (diclofenac diethylammonium,a topical gel, which I did. Result? Both knee and finger swelling quickly reduced. Like a lot of people of a certain age I get occasional arthritic local flareups particularly in my hands and they often disappear. But my swollen knee ACTUALLY STOPPED ME RUNNING!

I’m now back to running fairly normally and regaining lost form. I also took the decision to rejoin Cambridge and Coleridge Athletics Club (C&C) and went training with them this week. I gave up C&C nearly three years ago because I thought I was getting too slow to do the type of training I wanted to do with them, mainly road running. I’m still the slowest in the group but I’ll see how it goes. Some sessions will be more suitable than others and I’ve always got the option of doing track sessions instead.

 

Two running chums. Both beat me in the Cambourne 10k. I eat my banana, place the skin on the edge of the pond, my pal steps on it, skids and falls in. It doesn’t happen.

Brexit. It’s a Pandora’s box. Mostly we gravitate towards people whose views are similar to our own, if we know or suspect them. A lot of the time we don’t know people’s views and they may not know mine but because little clues suggest they might be substantially different, we avoid argument or friction. We get along by not challenging each other we don’t fall out because certain issues are avoided.  Brexit has sidestepped this pragmatic arrangement and frequently lays bare a range of beliefs, attitudes and values which are shocking.

I’d find it more than acceptable if the arguments for staying or leaving the EU revolved around economic or business considerations but I believe the majority of the peope who voted to leave Europe did so for racist and xenophobic reasons, underpinned by their anger at the  bewildering pace and changes of modern life and aided and abetted by the  fascist Daily Mail.

To put it mildly, it’s utterly dismaying to hear people rubbishing Europe, wanting to leave at any cost, desperately fearful of immigration and the loss of “Englishness” and feeling we are helpless under the weight of crazy European laws usurping our British (superior) sovereignty. The Little Britain mentality of most Brexiteers are in extreme contrast with the the humanity and common sense emmanating from the Europeans. Bring on a second referendum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.