Rambling through the grey and rising above it …… occasionally

I’ve written before on the psychology of time, about which I read initially in Thomas Mann’s book ‘The Magic Mountain’ when I was in the 6th form and more recently in Claudia Hammond’s ‘Time Warped’, published 2012, exactly 100 years after Mann started his classic.

Basically, if time as you pass through it seems to drag, when looked back on has flown by, whereas time which goes slowly as you pass through seems to stretch back a long way in retrospect.  It’s all to do with interesting things happening – or not.  Events which interest or excite us, capture our imagination, act as milestones in the memory.  Hammond calls it ‘The Holiday Paradox’.

The effect of the pandemic exemplifies this graphically.  Locked-down, seeing no-one, going nowhere, the weeks drag.  It seems hardly any time at all since I arrived home from my daughter’s where I spent Christmas.  Yet it’s 5 weeks.  Five weeks of nothing.  Five trips to the supermarket for food.  30 treks to the top of the ridge. 45 evening meals cooked. Sporadic picking vegetables, winter digging, cleaning the house ….. not a lot.  

Why haven’t I made any progress on the next book I’m working on?  Why haven’t I written to friends – especially those who have been good enough to write to me?  Why have I not done any more woodcarving?  Made any more clocks?  Cut the hedges?

Finally, the light came on.  It’s to do with how I’m wired.  I have known for a long time that I perform best under pressure.  Hard deadlines focus the mind.  A report to write by tomorrow morning?  No problem!  Sometime in the next 3 weeks?  Ooops!  Now, with time stretching out uninterrupted into the unknown, hazy future – no chance!  That’s the effect of lockdown.  It’s difficult to break the shackles on a mind torpid from lack of stimulus.

I read a book some time ago whose main thesis was that to be truly content, we have to learn to be happy ‘being’.  That’s fine for those who can, I envy them, but I can’t.  I have to be ‘doing’.  But I can only ‘do’ if there is a goal, a deadline.  Since I retired there has not been a problem, my time has been full of activity. Until now.  Now, what we can do is severely constrained, especially in winter in Grey Britain..

As well as engendering chronic procrastination, the pandemic has had even greater effect. It has changed horizons. Being confined close to home has meant narrow spatial horizons.  When I went to the North of England for Christmas it was as if I was Magellan in fear of sailing off the edge of the flat earth. The sameness of every day has the opposite effect on temporal horizons, pushing them further into the future.  The planned trip to Greece in May is far into the future with nothing in between except more of the same grey.  May has never seemed so far away in February.

So, when overnight snow was forecast and being a chionophile, I set my alarm for 07.30 and set out up the mountain soon after, knowing the forecast was for rising temperature and sunshine so a rapid thaw.  I’ve known ever since the one-and-only time I made the mistake of changing my afternoon run to before-breakfast that my metabolism doesn’t do early starts.  It makes me ill.  But this would be worth it.  It was.

Before I set out, trees in the garden were decked with snow – and grumpy jackdaws.

The air was crystal clear, the initial part of the walk alongside the canal dramatically coloured after days of greyness.

I was under clear blue sky but ahead of me I could see a wall of mist.  Looking behind was another which seemed to be pursuing me.  As I started the climb towards the ridge-top, I was racing the pincer movement as the two advancing banks of mist met and started rising behind me.

Then it stopped and as I climbed, I was out of it again.

The ridge top was glorious.  The snow on the trees had melted by now but there was still a covering of a couple of inches on the ground which hid the morass of mud which the ridge-top path had become with the passage of many feet in weeks of wet weather.

By the time I dropped off the end of the ridge on the way back, the mist had dispersed and the garden was in sun.  A milestone day in a weeks of greyness.

Posted in Grey Britain, Hiking, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Pontypool, Reflections, Wales, Weather, Wildlife, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Greece, Symi: Remains of the past and a hidden valley

There are parts of Symi which are rarely seen but which at one time were hubs of activity.  I have long taken an interest on going ‘off-piste’, wandering around away from marked footpaths. In recent years I have taken an interest in the Northwest of the island and find it fascinating.  I have put information together in the attached PDF about two derelict fortifications, an agricultural enclosure, and a hidden valley.  Because they are near Toli Bay I’ve called it ‘Konda Toli’.  The document is a work in progress.

The two fortifications are less than half a kilometre apart, Kato (Lower) Toli close to the sea, Pano (Upper) Toli at the top of the hill.  It’s probable that they were built by the same community of people as they are identical in size with the main entrance on the short side to the north.  Kato Toli is to some extent hidden behind a small hillock.  However, both are difficult to see because they are made of stone from the immediate vicinity so blend in remarkably well.  Access is difficult as the ground is loose underfoot and footpaths have all but disappeared through lack of use. Built of large ashlar blocks, some remain in place but others lie around, having fallen or been pushed over.  From the amount of fallen dressed masonry it’s not clear how high the walls would have been and it is possible that the large, cut blocks were topped by random stone walls.

The area marked as Louria on the SKAÏ map is a hidden ‘valley’.  280 metres from Pano Toli over very rough ground and XX metres lower, though it is certainly hidden, critically important in some periods of history, it’s not really a valley.  The land rises on all sides, so unlike either fluvial or glacial valleys there is no outflow channel for water.  My guess is that a seismic tremor caused a localised downwards shift along a fault line.  So, instead of a stream bed draining the valley in times of heavy rainfall, there is what can best be described as a geological plug-hole at the lowest point, a cave entrance.  The cave is likely a ‘fault’ cave rather than water eroded so may well be blocked by dislodged rocks – but I hope to explore and confirm.  Whatever, the valley is certainly well hidden from the sea and so comparatively safe from raiders and has a good-sized area of flat agricultural land.

There may have been little everyday contact between these locations and the final remnant structure, Kato Kokkinhoma, which is a kilometre and a half away over difficult ground and more easily accessed on foot from Nimborio and Agios Nikolaos Stenou or by sea.  It is probable that it was inhabited more recently than the other locations, the house having wooden cupboards built into the walls and roof timbers, decaying but still roughly in place.  This is reminiscent of houses in Micro Horio on Tilos abandoned in the 1950s.  Construction of the walls of random stone rather than dressed ashlar blocks and the enclosure of smaller areas within the perimeter is an indication that it was for agricultural rather than defensive purposes.

As with Kato Toli the principal access would have been by sea, the main entrance being towards the beach.  Apart from access by foot to the immediate locality, field terraces and the like, it is probable that movement between settlements was most frequently by sea.  For centuries this was the case in Britain, communities having only infrequent contact with each other, focusing on the all-consuming processes of everyday living and in the immediate locality.  The sea would have been of primary importance both for communication and trade, but also for fishing, the staple of the economy together with agriculture.

If you haven’t come across what3words it’s a great app for locating places anywhere in the world, identifying 3-metre squares precisely with three random words.  Click on any of the links below and it takes you to the location, then click on the Google Earth icon in the bottom right of the screen – and pan in or out from there to see the structures in context.  Of particular interest to look out for are the many vestiges of long-abandoned agricultural terraces on the steep hillsides – and the proximity of beaches.

Kato Toli: https://what3words.com/impatient.unresolved.closes

Pano Toli: https://what3words.com/banknote.gardener.remake

Louria A: https://what3words.com/diviner.bottler.recited

Louria B: https://what3words.com/windbreaker.economies.landlords

Louria C: https://what3words.com/roulette.walkway.twinkly

Kato Kokkinohoma: https://what3words.com/recitals.huddled.delegating

Posted in Greece, Hiking, History, Landscape, Mountains, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rising above the grey

Rather than ushering in the Mediterranean to the UK, climate change is bringing increasing greyness interspersed with ‘extreme weather events’.  Gradual descent into winter in November used to be marked by a week of hard frosts, sometimes with temperatures lower than the rest of the winter.  Not in recent years.  It’s just been boringly uniform greyness with Covid-isolation, the slow-march to the Brexit guillotine, cronyism and incompetence in Number 10, and the blatherings and attempts to subvert democracy of Donald-the-Terrible (Loser) of the Disunited States of America, further darkening the gloom.

My way of easing the grey out of my brain is to get out into the fresh air and up the mountain behind the house.  Even when the weather is wet, windy and overcast it’s very therapeutic.  I do it most days.  But few were as exhilarating as Friday 27 November.

I woke to cloudless sky and shagpile carpet of frost.  No gardening in this.  Great for going up the mountain.  Leisurely breakfast.  Checked e-mails and newsfeeds.  Checked the conditions before changing to leave.  Shock. Thick mist had filled the view.  I could barely see across the lawn to the Blue House (40 feet) nevermind see the sky or across the valley.

I had seen these conditions before though not for a few years.  A module on climatology and weather forecasting in university gave an inkling of what was going on.  Even more excited now.  I don’t always carry a camera when I go out but I packed my Canon EOS in a rucksack and pocketed my SX720.  If this was going to be as good as I hoped I didn’t want to miss out.  A brief pause to photograph frost-fringed leaves in the garden.

I strained my ears crossing the road to reach the farm track.  The mist was so thick that ears gave more warning than eyes as the road is used as a rat run, cars rounding a blind bend and not bothering to slow from 60mph as they come into the 30 limit.  I could barely see across the width of the Mon and Brecon Canal but as the track rose towards the farm at the top I knew I was right, blue sky appearing vaguely through the whispy top of the mist. 

Climbing the field towards the ridge, the sun was breaking through, copper coloured beech and oak at the edge of the wood leading up to bright blue.  Looking back the entire valley was filled with mist.

By the time I crossed the track halfway up the slope and into the next field the colours were intense, partly because the air was so clear but partly because eyes were dazzled coming out of the grey.

The Folly Tower was bathed in warm sunlight, the whole of the Vale of Usk to the east an undulating grey-white sea.  In the far distance a pencil-thin black line marked the top of the western edge of the Wye Valley.  The end of the ridge disappeared into the mist, marked only by a small clump of trees above Pontypool Park. To the South the entire the urban sprawl of Pontypool-Cwmbran-Newport was gone.  Further south again, the Severn Estuary and beyond that England, where on a good day you can pick out individual fields, were lost.

I was soon joined by another guy who, like me, had anticipated the same phenomenon and taken his camera for a walk.  We exchanged friendly banter about the relative merits of Canon and Nikon, reluctant to leave the ridge-top.    Descending into the thick mist didn’t appeal , the temporary cure for SAD was too alluring and the warmth of mid-day winter sun intoxicating.  

But eventually it had to be. The way back along ridge drops, heading towards the gloom.  Looking back, the Folly Tower was still bathed in sunlight. 

It was still clear to the west but the great sea of mist on the east was rising and as I dropped down further it swept over in a long tongue and started crossing a field on the other side of the ridge-top path.  Within minutes I was in the grey.

I had watched the mist licking across the ridge-top but then, even more rapidly than it came, it disappeared and I was in the sunshine again.  A brief but pleasant respite before I turned to drop steeply back down to the valley and the mist-shrouded house.

But at least I had got the grey out of my brain.

Posted in Grey Britain, Health and humour, Hiking, Landscape, Monmouthshire, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Pontypool, Reflections, Wales, Weather, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Locked-down in Wales

Since I arrived home from Greece in early September there have been various shades of lockdown.  It would be more pleasant and safer to have stayed on Symi but unfortunately not to be.  I would have been tempted to stay there over Christmas and into next year.

As it is, I’m still trying to stay out of the way of the virus, not because I’m afraid of catching it, sadly I think that at some point that is an inevitability (then we’ll then find out if I have natural immunity or not), but rather to avoid putting pressure on the health service unnecessarily.  For the first time, the health problem which led to my early departure from Greece resolved itself without hospitalisation with the result that I’m firing on all cylinders again and functioning normally within the changing parameters of Covid restrictions.

Basically, that means the same pattern of activity as during the main lockdown: walking to the shops early on a Monday morning to avoid the crowds; working in the garden; and going up the mountain every day.  Reflecting on it, though it means that horizons are significantly smaller, I’m very glad that I have a large garden with more than enough to keep me occupied and being at the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park means I get to the top of the ridge for my daily exercise, a reasonable workout.  

Autumn means another change to the landscape (see), with greens replaced by golds and browns and fungi replacing flowers.

Early return home and good weather for the first few weeks meant that I was able to complete repair and painting of the outside of the Blue House as well as enjoy the dazzling colour of giant blooms and intoxicating smell of the now 15-foot high Brugmantsia planted in it last year, still in flower in November.  I cut back the hundreds of suckers from the agave, revamped the electrics and I’m rather pleased with the result – by day and night.

The Vegetable garden, planted up with winter veg is keeping me suppled with cabbage, kale, sprouts parsnips and beetroot, and a few autumn raspberries to augment the 250 portions of fruit put in the freezer during the summer. I harvested 80 lbs of Pink Fir Apple potatoes, enough until next Spring. The bottom quarter of the garden, planted up for my decrepid old age, which I pretentiously refer to as the ‘Acer Glade’, is brilliantly coloured even when it’s pouring with rain.  

The first response to rising Covid infection rates in Wales was a ‘local lockdown’, imposed on my area on 23 September, meaning that people in areas with high infection rates were not allowed to travel outside their local authority, nor anyone else travel in. This meant that I couldn’t see my son and his family who live a mere 18 miles away but in a different local authority.  Bizarrely, my daughter who lives in the Greater Manchester area with  very high infection rates could travel all the way down to the edge of the borough but not come in.  In theory we could have seen each other 2 metres apart at the border 2 miles away, she having travelled 180 miles to do so as travel restrictions were not imposed in England.  Even more bizarrely, at that time a coachload of 30 people travelled over 200 miles from the worst affected area in the North West to Tenby in Pembrokeshire where low infection rates meant that restrictions were not applied. I’ll stop there before I get into a rant.

However, under local lockdown rules I could meet a friend from the same borough outside in the garden.  Not a very appealing prospect normally as colder, wetter weather approached, but as there is a covered area in my garden, we could sit there socially distanced, warmed by a blazing fire in a cheminierre.  A couple of evenings a week were thus spent very pleasantly putting the world to rights over a beer.

Sadly, infection rates continued to rise and so on 28 October all Wales was put under ‘firebreak’ regulations which banned all social contact inside or out. Thus my shopping/working/walking routine continues but evenings are unbroken boredom.  Indications are that when the ‘firebreak’ ends on 9 November meeting friends or family in the garden will not be allowed but four people from different households can meet in a pub.  How crazy is that !?!?.  I guess I’ll pass on going to the pub at the moment which is a sight more risky than meeting in the garden.

I’ll stop before another rant comes on.

If you are bored in lockdown and want something to read, or want an idea for Christmas, you can try my books. 

A small life in twenty memories

On Kindle:

paperback direct from me, £3.99 plus P&P

Greece unpackaged

On Kindle:

paperback direct from me, £3.99 plus P&P

Greece by Bus

Very limited edition: A4 hard copy only, 153 pages, copiously illustrated with photos and maps, full colour.

£30 plus P&P


Posted in Autumn, Grey Britain, Grumpy Old Men, Health and humour, Hiking, Landscape, Monmouthshire, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Pontypool, Reflections, Wales, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Eleven years. Still remembered. Seems like yesterday

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo. Horizontal heavy rain driving into the camera lens

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Greece, Symi: there ……. and back!’

Despite a few nervous twitches as the UK government had Greece on the ‘watch list’ for potentially banning all except ‘essential travel’ I made it safely back to Symi, via Athens and Rhodes.

Great to be there again.  Some things different, some the same.  Strange not to have handshakes and hugs from friends.  Strange to put a facemask on going into shops.  But going into the mountains the same as ever with no need to bother about social distancing as there was no-one else around.

Temperatures high for the end of August /early September. Not having acclimatised to the heat gradually from early Spring as I usually do, the pace was a bit slower but walking under cloudless sky again was a pleasure.

One day I trekked over to the beach at Toli, going off-piste to revisit a fortress and check out an opening I had seen in a small hillock close to the sea.  Turned out to be nothing ancient or very exciting, a WW2 machine-gun emplacement giving coverage of the bay.  Found another one hidden in a steep gulley on the climb back up to the track.  Had lunch with friends at Toli and then walked back.

See https://www.relive.cc/view/vAOZxwMgNyq

More walks when friends came from the UK.  To the ridge-top then down to Nimborio via the gorge, gouged out and scoured by The Flood a couple of years ago. To the deserted village of Gria via the monastery of Zoodohou Vrisi with warning of contamination of the water supply by rats.  Agios Vasilios and Lapathos Beach with the last drop down the cliff with less scree than usual.  Agia Marina and back via Pedi and the valley path to Horio.

Then things took an unexpected and unwelcome turn.  I suddenly stopped firing on all cylinders again.  Sorted out twice previously in the hospital on Rhodes I decided it was not morally defensible to impose on the Greek Health service yet again so returned to the UK.  No reflection whatever on the quality of health care in Greece for which I have the highest regard, just that with all the pressures imposed by Covid it was not the right thing to do.

So a planned six week stay curtailed to two.  I managed none of the exploration I had intended but it was great to be back in the mountains in sunshine again and to meet up with friends.

Guess that’s it for this year.  Potential trip to Canada knocked on the head by the border being closed.  Have to see how Covid pans out over the winter and into next year.  Spanish flu lasted three years from January 1918 to December 1920 with three spikes in infection  – not that I remember it I hasten to add.

Hopefully pull together satellite images and photos of some of the hidden places on Symi over the next few months.

In the meantime, a few images of Rhodes and Symi:  


Symi views

Small things

The sun goes down

Posted in Greece, Hiking, History, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Greece, Symi: here’s hoping

I usually come back from Greece to the UK for August, partly because of the heat but mostly in order to sort out my garden, harvest fruit and veg and store it away for the winter months.   In the throes of doing that now.

Then I usually fly back to Greece at the end of the month, taking advantage of cheap fares as airlines fly empty planes to pick up summer-visitors returning for the new school term.  I’m hoping to do that again this year.

To say that I’m looking forward to it is an understatement.  But there is a sense of preparing to step into the unknown, mask-wearing off the edge of the known world.  However, in the last 24 hours a potential dark cloud has appeared on the horizon for when I return.  Having been accused (rightly, in my opinion) of being too soft on international movement Boris is now over-reacting and the possibility has been mooted of requiring quarantine on return from Greece as well as France, Belgium, Spain etc  Given that both the infection and the death rate in Greece are an order of magnitude lower than in the UK it’s difficult to see the logic.  Given the lack of competence and integrity of this Government nothing is a surprise.

But let’s not be negative.  All being well I’ll be flying as planned and September/October is perhaps the best time of year to be over there.  The sea is warm after heating up under months of sunshine and colour is starting to emerge with ‘autumn’ flowering plants.  There is the prospect of the occasional black clouds of thunderstorms but that only serves to freshen everything up, accelerate the emergence of Autumn crocus and the exquisite, very shy Biarum marmarisense, following the vast sea of Squill.  Wildlife also starts to emerge, free of the burden of hammering summer heat.

So, a few photos of what to look forward to.

Flora and Fauna



And you might want to take a  look at my book about independent travelling in Greece:



Posted in Autumn, Greece, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Reflections, Uncategorized, Weather, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Virtual Symi: Summer solstice and Covid optimism

Summer solstice, 21 June, and for the last 10 years I have been in Greece to celebrate it.  With the sun at its highest, at the zenith (13.00 with adjustment for summer time) I’ve made a point of taking a photo of my shadow, the shortest me.

This year like everyone else, except senior Government advisers, I’m stuck at home.  But I go up the mountain behind the house every day for my daily dose of exercise in an attempt to keep myself relatively fit and sane while staying out of the way of the virus should it be lurking around.  No need to go out for a drive to test my eyes.

On my solstice jaunt this year the sun came out from behind shower clouds briefly and gave the opportunity to take a photo of the shortest me in the UK.  Not unexpectedly, at 15 degrees further north and the sun correspondingly lower in the sky, it shows that I’m significantly taller here than in the Greek islands.

Rumbles and rumours about international flights and the re-opening of borders means that I harbour a hope of getting back to Greece September/October.  The talk is of ‘air-bridges’ with countries which have a low infection rate for the virus.  Greece certainly fits into that category with a total of 190 deaths, a rate of 18 per million population.  But why would any country want to establish an air-bridge with the UK with a death rate from the virus of 628 per million, the highest in the world (as at 22 June  see )?  Still, I’m mildly optimistic.

In the meantime, I periodically look back at the islands at this time of year where there is still some colour left before everything crisps up, swallows and  swallow-tails are swooping around and tortoises have not yet hidden from the heat.


Posted in Greece, Grey Britain, Health and humour, Hiking, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Weather, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring in the Brecon Beacons: The long and the short view of The Covid Lockdown

September 1961.  I started in the Sixth Form and my GCE ‘A’ level course.  Perhaps more importantly, I now had access to the Sixth Form Library which hitherto I didn’t even know existed.  It was like Aladdin’s Cave.  The only books we had at home was a small collection of Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanac which were the bane of my life.  My uncle was dragooned into helping me with my maths and got me working out batting averages.  Wisden’s were good at propping up your bed but not stimulating your imagination. Now, in the library, there were hundreds if not thousands of books by authors I had barely heard of.  And I read.  And read.  Voraciously.

I read Huxley, Orwell, Steinbeck among many others.  One book I struggled through was The Magic Mountain by the German writer Thomas Mann (I read it in English translation, not the original German).  I guess much of it went over my head but one thing stuck, the discourse on the philosophy of time.  The protagonist, visiting a friend and then himself resident in a TB sanatorium high in the Swiss Alps, experiences the boredom and sameness of every day for weeks on end.

The nub of his hypothesis is simple.  Time which as you go through it weighs heavy and drags because nothing happens, seems to have passed very quickly when you look back on it because it’s devoid of markers.  Time which is so full of activity and events that it flies past as you pass through it, seems with hindsight to stretch out.  Mann began writing the book in 1912, published it in 1924.

A century after he began the book, Claudia Hammond, writer, psychology lecturer, broadcaster, published ‘Time Warped: mysteries of time perception’.  The nub of the book is the same, what she dubs ‘The Holiday Paradox’.

Though not a Swiss sanatorium, the 10 weeks since 23 March have seen most of us in isolation, especially if like me you live on your own.  Days merge into each other.  Same pattern day after boring day: get up, breakfast, work in the garden, afternoon coffee on the balcony, evening meal, TV, read, bed.  “What day is it?  If this is Thursday, it must be   ….. Friday tomorrow.  And it will be the same as today.”  The blessing on the hazy horizon is that when we look back on the Covid Lockdown the time will seem very short, it will have flown by, become a distant unpleasant memory.  Most exciting thing, having The Clap on Thursdays.

The fact that it has been the sunniest Spring and May the sunniest month on record in the UK has helped enormously, not only boosting dopamine levels but encouraging outdoor exercise which does the same thing.  I live 100 metres from the edge of the Brecon Beacons national Park and so I resolved at the outset that my permitted dose of daily exercise would be to walk up to the Folly Tower on the ridge-top or continue to the top of the mountain half an hour further on.  I have now done that every day for 10 weeks, including on the very occasional days it rained.

With my smart phone I recorded the route and took the occasional photo.  It was only a few days ago when I looked back at some of the photos that I realised here was a pictorial glimpse of the truth of Thomas Mann’s time philosophy.  Walking the route every day there is very little change.  But looking back over the whole period the change has been massive, from the beginning of Spring into the beginning of Summer, from bare trees to full-leaf, pregnant ewes to lambs heading towards the dinner plate, a changing palette of spring flowers.

The week or so when the mountain bluebells were in flower was especially marvellous.  Shame they haven’t invented ‘Smell-o-Vision’ yet.  It reminded me every day of the time I was flying my paraglider over The Blorenge, a few miles north of the bit of the mountain I was now on, and ‘cored’, the thermal by staying within the smell of the trillions of bluebells on the slope below.   A particular pleasure this time was coming across a tiny clump of rare white bluebells, the native kind not the imported Spanish variety which come in pink and white as well as blue.  Albino British Bluebells are estimated to occur only 1 for every 10,000 of the conventional colour.

Take a look at the walk in the early days.



Posted in Hiking, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Pontypool, Reflections, Spring, Wales, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Under the Covid Cosh: musings

Five weeks in, under the cosh since 23 March, and the major change is in the weather.

For all that time it has been warm and sunny, the sunniest April on record in the UK.  A single overnight shower two weeks ago softened the soil, compacted by an unusually wet February then baked hard by the sun, enough to be able to complete the digging and plant and sow vegetables in the garden. Visits to the supermarket reduced to once a week because of the queuing, I have climbed the ridge behind the house every day, always in shorts and sandals.

Yesterday, Tuesday 28 April, it turned cold and wet.  The high pressure has moved away and we are back to prevailing westerlies, changeable cyclonic weather blown in from the Atlantic.  So daily exercise now in boots and wet gear.  You could watch the weeds grow in the garden if you wanted to sit out in the rain.

I must admit to getting hacked off with the wildly varying and divergent news and views coming from scientist and politicians.  Wear face-masks/don’t wear face masks.  End of lockdown will begin in the middle of May/Lockdown will have to continue for months.  A vaccine will be available next year/an effective vaccine is unlikely to be developed. At least we aren’t presented with the American System – panic buying of firearms and injecting bleach.

One view, expressed by senior politicians, which does little to cheer me up is that restrictions will continue to apply to the over-70s for much longer because we are more ‘vulnerable’.  That’s both discriminatory and a generalisation.  There is evidence that the virus disproportionately affects ethnic minorities.  Would anyone dare suggest that restrictions should be applied longer to ethnic groups?  There is also evidence that males are disproportionately affected both in terms of numbers and severity of cases. Will all males likewise be targeted?

Like many others of my age I’m pretty fit and have a healthy diet.  I’m not averse to taking my chances. I am social-distancing/self-isolating not because of concerns that I might contract the disease but because if we all keep ourselves out of harm’s way it places less of a burden on the health service during the peak infection rate.

And what about the doom and gloom talk of ‘the new normal’ after the pandemic, where we all keep a 2-metre radius around us and wear face-masks?

I found History a boring subject in school and university but since then I have come to realise that it was an invaluable part of education.  There is a series on BBC Radio called ‘The Long View’ which looks at contemporary issues in terms of similar events in the past.  Very instructive.

I don’t pretend to the expert opinion brought to bear on various issues in that series but I can’t help but look back at so-called Spanish Flu.  Dubbed ‘Spanish’ because it began during the First World War and censorship meant it was only reported in neutral-Spain.  With an estimated 500 million infected worldwide, it killed at least 17 million people but estimates put the true death toll at closer to 100 million, far more than the total of military and civilian casualties in the Great War. It began in January 1918 and continued in waves until December 1920.  In the UK it killed 228,000, dwarfing the forecast total expected from Covid-19.

This brief synopsis isn’t to make the point that the Covid-19 pandemic looks to be having a lesser effect than Spanish Flu, acknowledged as the worst pandemic in history.  Rather it makes me wonder about how it changed the way society lived.  What was the ‘new normal’ it brought about.  While doubtless it was catastrophic for those directly affected, life, society soon reverted to what it had been.  There may have been subtle changes but no keeping a minimum distance apart.  No wearing of protective gear.  People shook hands as a matter of courtesy, gave each other a hug as a sign of friendship and affection.  Life carried on much as before.  Within a relatively few years the new normal was much like the old normal even after such a catastrophic death toll.

My point is that the ‘new normal’ After Covid is also likely to revert to the ‘old normal’ BC in many ways within a relatively short time.  We can’t live in vestigial lockdown for ever.  The major effects are likely to be from the economic rather than the health or societal impacts of the virus and those are also likely to recover over time.

I’m a bit Darwinian about this.  The 1918 H1N1 virus affected a lot of people, proving fatal for anything up to 20%.  It is reasonable to assume that those who survived had some level of immunity either from natural antibodies or vaccination.  Mutations of the flu have been a problem since but not on the same scale.  It is also reasonable to suppose that those who survived the Bubonic Plague of the 14th century which devastated Europe, were those who had a level of natural immunity.   Certainly, they didn’t have vaccines and medical care.

It will become clear that when we emerge from the pandemic, those who lived through it will have a degree of immunity to Covid-19 and other forms of the virus into which it will continue to mutate.  There is likely to be a second wave of infection as those who have been self-isolating/social distancing, like me will be exposed to infection. It’s what scientists and insensitive politicians refer to as ‘herd-immunity’, which is when so many people in a community become immune to an infectious disease that it stops the disease from spreading.

I repeat that I’m staying out of harm’s way not to protect myself but to protect the health service.  I don’t want to live the rest of my life on my own, not seeing family and friends, keeping 2 metres away from everyone else. I’m keeping fit by climbing the same mountain every day so I will be ready for a return to the Greek Islands, focusing on the future.  I’m sure I’m not alone in those sentiments.

We are not likely to be out from under the Covid cosh for a while yet.  But people are already showing the inbuilt urge to return to what was normal BC.  That is clear from the ‘Covidiots’ who are ignoring the lockdown rules.  In years ahead, when the pandemic is receding in the memory, we will all gradually regain confidence.  Eventually even the rabbits will come out of their burrows.

I refuse to focus simply on ‘not dying’.  I want to get back to enjoying living.

I quote the final paragraph of last chapter of my latest book ‘A small life in twenty memories’, written well before all this talk of the ‘new normal’:

“I know that at some point like everyone else I’m going to pop my clogs, shuffle off this mortal coil, whatever cliché you want to use.  The only thing which causes me any concern is that I don’t want it to be as a result of making a stupid mistake.  It would be good if it were to happen doing something heroic, though that is very unlikely.  The probability is that, like most people, it will be unremarkable, inconsequential.  A small end to a small life.  But what a lot of memories in the meantime.”

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