Chapters 30-35

It’s an often recurring realisation of mine that the more I find out the less I feel like I really know. The older I get and the more I experience, the more I question things. It makes sense I suppose. Until you find a reason to question something, then why would you do so. It’s that classic, Socrates-inspired adage again: You don’t know what you don’t know, because you don’t know it. Each and every one of us have our own set of a billion things which we don’t know yet, and it’s both a little scary yet also achingly exciting to know (or do we? ha!) it. Astonishing lessons we’ve yet to learn, impactful experiences we’ve yet to have, and people we’ve yet to meet are floating around us like rubber ducks with hooks on their heads, waiting to be caught, and if we can manage to do so, we stand to win a prize. Hopefully a good one, perhaps a rubbish one, but either way, we get to keep it forever.

Shortly after turning thirty, I wrote a post here which seemed to resonate with a lot of my peers. It was a post that essentially celebrated the liberation in jumping off that high speed train which herds its passengers to each of life’s mainstream milestones without diversion. It was a post about seeing beyond the numerical context of age; and feeling more free by doing so. Turning thirty was an absolute highlight for me, predominantly for that realisation. It felt akin to removing the high heels after an evening trying to recreate Stomp on the dancefloor, and replacing them with comfortable flats for the walk home. And also because it was an excuse to throw a big party and eat tonnes of Frazzles and cake.

I still believe and stand by everything I wrote in the post, but in the same way that turning thirty taught me a lot, so too have the following five years. I continue to be mesmerised by the ways in which humans grow and develop, and how our experiences shape the people we become and the dreams we dream. I continue to believe in keeping well away from that high speed train and laying your own tracks instead, even if they do take you to somewhere that feels quite remote once in a while. If there’s one thing I’ve never had any reason to question it’s that you just have to be yourself and follow your instinct no matter how challenging and/or lonely it can sometimes feel. You can go to as many fairgrounds as you want but there’s no rubber duck out there that will tell you anything different to that, and if there is it’s the sort that’ll win you a really shit prize: think a counterfeit fiver, or a Dip Dab without the lolly.

But I suppose what I didn’t bank on discovering was how much more conscious of my age – and critical of my choices – that I would become, the closer I got to my mid-thirties. How much I would start to think a bit more about those numbers, and how historic “1985” would increasingly sound. I couldn’t have predicted how unsettled I would sometimes be by the connotations of the additional seconds it would take to scroll a drop-down menu when entering a year of birth, combined with the notable prevalence of grey hairs and frequent need to apply the Nice’n’Easy.

I had never wanted to engage my biological clock in a race, and I still don’t – and won’t – but I do have to concede that the prospect of old Clocky bothers me now much more than it used to. Mainly because it’s ticking louder, and the increased volume of that is just generally annoying. I’d really like to just take the batteries out of the blasted thing and bury it for a decade, in all honesty, so that I can unearth it in the future and look at it in the same way I look at a trouser-skirt, a clunky cassette walkman, or a glittery green jelly shoe now. Throw in a pandemic at the same time, and that’s a lot of reflection opportunity, and reflection, whilst important to do, isn’t always an easy experience.

When you’re reflecting in your twenties, all you have to really look back on is your childhood self, and so it’s easy to feel like you’re growing, but your mid-thirties is the first opportunity you really get to look back over a time in your adult life, when you thought you knew everything (or at least, a fair bit). And that can be a tougher match. We all felt “old” when we turned thirty, and that we had life and the world all figured out. Nowadays, we have the ability to both laugh at that idea but also know that our future forty year old selves are laughing at both of us from 2031. The eighty year olds have even more to say; and hopefully they’ve got a massive glass of sherry and a huge piece of cake in their hands as they say it, because I can imagine this calorie-counting-to-keep-healthy game will get really boring after a while.

As I approach my thirty sixth birthday, which will officially herald in my “late thirties” (urgh), I find myself wishing I could write to the girl who wrote “The Truth About Turning 30” and tell her that there have been lots of things she’s been right about, but also lots of things she hasn’t been right about, so to go out and embrace the new knowledge that’s out there for the taking, and never just assume that “this is it“. Explore the other carriages on the train. Look out of the windows a bit longer. Get out at one of the random stations and linger there for a bit. Understand that you won’t always get it right, and that there are a number of things you’ve got pretty wrong despite feeling confident in the ideas at the time. Own those mistakes. Accept reality: Be prepared for the fact that life gets indelibly more expensive and you’ll often feel like you have both your head and your heart clamped within a financial vice, no matter how much you vehemently believed that money shouldn’t matter. Be prepared for the fact that there will be certain stages coming up where the tracks you have laid – and continue to lay – feel very far apart from the main line, and it won’t always feel as easy as you think it should, so be sure to have a destination to focus on. Be prepared to acknowledge that your youth is gone and so too have some of the opportunities that come with it. In other words, be prepared for challenge, and the fact it gets harder, and have a response to that.

And with this in mind, it’s very hard to approach thirty six and feel excited about it in the same way one might an 18th, a 21st or a 30th birthday. These days I feel knackered after two beers and don’t have quite the same energy that youth enables. Yet, there is somehow a lot of comfort and security to be taken from this realism. To be prepared, to be ready, to make time count, and to know that the final passage from a particular chapter does not give away the plot of the whole book.

So, mid-’30’s peers, let’s take a look and see which ducks are floating around this particular ‘ground.


Song of the Day: Sufjan Stevens & Angelo de Augustine – It’s Your Own Body and Mind

This is just exceptionally lovely. Sufjan nails it again in this brand new release which Spotify has completed my Sunday with.


“One hand holds the candle
The other onе holds the flame
Infinite with it’s guiding light
Illuminating all things thе same”

An Own Goal from your Own Goal

In the 1990’s, when I chose to support Aston Villa, I certainly wasn’t choosing to make my life any easier. At that time, and probably still now, Villa were an unfashionable club to support if you lived in the South of England, and I would often experience ridicule for it in school. “So what if you beat Nottingham Forest!” retorted a classmate during one year 8 Maths class in 1999, “Your shirts are still really ugly and your team is still shit.” That was the typical high-brow way in which the debates went. I responded by using my Aston Villa-branded biro with pride for the remainder of the day. Take that. My pen is better than yours.

Villa certainly weren’t about to win the Premiership any decade soon, but still, I really liked them. They were different. Understated. Interesting. To support a team which won when it wasn’t expected to, felt more special than supporting a team that just expected winning and trophies and took those things for granted when they got them. I came from a family of Spurs fans and whilst I liked them too, they just didn’t pull me in like Aston Villa did. I suppose in some ways, I also just wanted to be different, and instigate lively discussions around the dinner table about whether John Gregory was a better manager than George Graham (he was, by the way).

Anyway. Once you pick your team you’ve picked your team. I’ve followed Villa throughout, though I would never class myself as a die-hard football fan. Sometimes I even withhold from telling people, simply because in that moment I’m not up for the inevitable arduous football chat once I do. It’s fun to follow but it’s just a game, and if I took it as anything more than that then, well, I’d probably be pretty depressed. In over twenty years I’ve yet to see my team lift a trophy, and apart from an exceptional few years in the late ’00’s they’ve pretty much constantly been linked with relegation, and even became victim to it in 2016, taking two years longer than expected to gain promotion to the top tier again. They’re the sort of team who concede a late equaliser just as you start getting a bit excited, and if it weren’t for a huge financial injection from a couple of billionaires in 2018, they’d possibly not even exist anymore. Magpie-eyed supporters of either of the two Manchester sides, or Chelsea, Liverpool etc.. probably don’t realise how easy they’ve had it by comparison.

But once you pick your team you’ve picked your team.

In the past couple of years, Villa have progressively improved and these days are a team that others genuinely fear playing. In an era when the game is dominated by greed and money, there’s been something hugely romantic about supporting a team both managed and captained by boyhood fans of the club, Dean Smith and Jack Grealish respectively. It’s just not something you really see anymore, and it’s something every Villa fan takes / took (spoiler alert) a lot of pride in. You can be paid to do a job and you can do your best at it in return for picking up a wage, but if it’s for a cause or company you always believed in, you’ll not only do your best but you’ll excel, without even trying. That’s what Jack Grealish did for us. He wasn’t just “a really good player”, he was an excellent player and as a fan of the club, he was also “one of us”. Every time he scored a goal, you just knew it meant as much to him as it did to the fans.

This month, 11 months after supposedly committing his future to Aston Villa (“My City, My Club, My Home!” he waffled on at the time, as he put pen to paper on a bumper new contract), Jack chose to leave his club for the Premier League champions, a team who win things all the time. He chose to move because he too wanted to win things all the time, and whether us Villa fans like it or not we can’t argue with the fact that he’s more likely to win things with his new team sooner than he would with us.

But for myself and many others this situation prompted an ethical debate which transcends the footballing context within which it’s placed. Somebody who professed to love the club, had been a part of it for twenty years, and played an integral part in its progress, was ultimately swayed by the promise of immediate riches with a team that his historic Tweets had suggested he disliked. Grealish choosing to leave Aston Villa is not just bad news for football and any other football club trying to improve, it’s a harrowing indictment of society: victory and prestige obsessed. Willing to jump ship at the thought of personal promise, no matter how much the remainder of those on board supposedly mean to you. There’s this fixation with winning and the mistaken assumption that if you didn’t win a medal you didn’t succeed, so do whatever you need to in order to make sure you take it home. Verruca Salt’s worn out father frantically instructing hundreds of workers to spend all the hours under the sun opening up chocolate bars to find a golden ticket.

Whatever happened to choosing to stand by those you love no matter what personal gain you might miss out on? Is it better to lose with those you love, than win with those you feel nothing for? Somebody on Twitter put it very well (I know, I hate myself for saying that too), but what’s the point in showing off that you’ve reached the peak of Mount Everest if you took a helicopter up most of the way?

Putting football, Jack Grealish and Twitter to one side, this is a really important question, and given the nature of the responses on social media it seems that many are divided on it. “But he plays so well, he deserves his chance to win medals!” reads a very reasonable argument. “But he promised his boyhood team – the one he professed to love – that he supported their project to progress and wanted to be a part of it. The team that supported his talents and nurtured him to grow. The fans who loved him” reads a very reasonable retort. So… which is the right answer? Is there even one at all? Perhaps not, but I know which angle I sway towards.

Jack Grealish, had he stayed with Villa, would have become a club legend no matter how many trophies we won (or didn’t). Us fans had thought he was loyal and loyalty is what really pays. Loyalty is what makes one really stand out and be remembered for years to come. Instead, he’s off to win medals but become a forgettable part of Manchester City’s history, and if you don’t believe me on that, have a read-up on Fabian Delph. A few years back, he made what was virtually an identical choice, but is now still renowned more by neutrals for his time at Villa than City, regardless of the medals he won at the latter. Delph barely contributed to that success, but he still got the medals. Is that really something to be proud of?

Ultimately it’ll always be hard work and loyalty that makes you a winner no matter what jangly things you do or don’t have to show for it at the end. Taking shortcuts to the top doesn’t make you a winner, whether you’re a professional footballer or a person who cheats or buys their way to any form of success in life.

Ultimately, it’s not about what you achieve, it’s about how you achieve it. It’s how you achieve it which determines whether you are a true winner.

Song of the Day: The Delgados – Child Killers

Scotland has produced so many excellent indie bands over the years. Teenage Fanclub, Trashcan Sinatras, Belle & Sebastian, my guilty pleasure Bis, and we can add the Delgados to that list too. Their existence was relatively short-lived from the mid-90’s before disbanding in 2005, but they produced so many excellent songs during that time.

Child Killers is a classic example of, “songs you listen to over and over then forget about for fifteen years, before Spotify chucks it back at you”. It’s also a classic example of a song which has such unhappy-sounding lyrics yet remains such a beautiful and uplifting piece of music. I have loved being re-acquainted with this song. People need to hear it.



Hello, Fluorescent Dawn


Well, hoorah!

The sun is shining, the birds are probably singing (a car outside has been revving its engine for ten minutes and so I can’t actually tell) and the lockdown restrictions are easing and easing. After a year of misery for all, it’s finally a more exciting time, an upbeat time, a time for happy reunions with everything: friends, family, indoor seating, even the dead plant in the office. There are so many reasons to feel positive right now and among those reasons, I am feeling positive that I have absolutely no intention of approaching life in the same way I did before this thing came along.

I wouldn’t have dreamed that I’d ever find myself saying that sort of thing during the difficult Spring of 2020, but that was because there’d been no reason until then to have to review what “normality” really was. It was just: normal, something we were accustomed to, a sequence of unchallenged processes repeated day after day, month after month, year after year. Now if you were to try applying that same practice in the workplace, your organisation would quickly begin to fall behind and fade away, hence why every year we spend time reviewing every policy, procedure and strategy. We routinely embrace change in our professional lives, but when it comes to how we live there has rarely been such dramatic annual review like the one imposed upon us by COVID. There may have been the odd personal reflection here and there, whilst sat under a tree or looking out to an ocean or something, but there was nothing in the way of an overhaul to our “procedures” like the one we’ve just experienced.

When we were first told that we were pretty much barred from seeing anybody we care about, or going anywhere we like, it really hurt. For most people it was a real struggle, a lonely time surrounded by incessant quiet, incessant bad news, and incessant efforts to try and replicate every real life activity through Zoom. We craved “normality” and we felt so very distant from everything when we knew we couldn’t have it.

As the weeks went by we believed lockdown was well and truly isolating us, and by the very nature of it of course it was, but as we now sit shoulder to shoulder with “normality” again, the realisation I’ve come to is that maybe we’d been spending decades doing that to ourselves anyway. Pre-March 2020, we were desperate to live in our own separate homes in separate towns, so that we could be held financial hostage by separate bills for separate cars and separate mortgages, whilst using separate lawnmowers and cooking biannual meals in separate slow-cookers that spent most of the rest of the year gathering dust. We were consumed, mostly, by what was going on within our own four walls, mentally and physically: Home-life, work-life, social-life. Lockdown came and put fences all around us then suddenly we were each living in a fortress. On separate islands. How different could it have been if we’d chosen to live in the same fortress, though?

Pre-March 2020, it often felt like there was barely any time to really think, or any time to really reflect.  Daily life often felt like a tampered-with Waltzer ride: you’d pay a silly fee without question then rush to get on and belt-up in time, then rush to clamber off once it finished, before it started going berserk again and risk tripping you up.  Round and round, and round and round, the colorful structure would go. Eat, sleep, work, repeat. 

Lockdown forced us to take a break from the ride.  A long break.  A really long break. Not just a, “Aow I’m back from mah two weeks of bliss in Mauritius” type break, when the holiday glow would fade within only a week of returning to one of the wettest Mays on record. It was a distressing time for so many nasty reasons, and given the choice we’d all rather it had never happened in the first place, but it did, and you can either unequivocally lament that or you can choose to make something from the ingredients stuffed at the back of the cupboard.  And I’m not just talking about all that pasta we stockpiled.

Pre-lockdown, it wasn’t very often that we’d set aside a day to really sit and stare out of the windows of the homes we slept in every night.  We were too busy looking either internally, or dead ahead, at just the immediate surround: the bills we had to pay, the jobs we needed to keep and the fence panels we needed to paint. We lay heavy decisions on decaying foundations, guidance proffered through handwritten scrawls etched onto recycled paper bound together by treasury tags in beige ring-binders. Take one and pass the rest along. We set life goals around what we felt was the societal norm. We chose where to live on the basis of its proximity to our work.  We chose where to work on the basis of its reward:  salaries, satisfaction, prospects… but rarely would we choose it on the basis of how well the job and its associated conditions – like hours and paid Leave – tessellated with everything else we hold dear. 

We let our job titles define us, which is perfectly fine (and in many ways admirable) if you want it to, but it’s not fine if there are other things you care about and want to be known for just as much.

I would say that life pre lockdown was often more solitary than life during it.  Too busy stuck in traffic to take a call from somebody who obviously wanted to chat. Sorry I missed your call. Too tired to chat as much as we should do.  A busy calendar consisting of things we maybe sometimes didn’t even want to do but felt obliged to, and just like that that, another weekend would go by. Sorry, it doesn’t look like we can find a day we can both do.  Maybe we can meet next year instead?

I sometimes wonder about the things that never got to happen because we were too busy losing entire afternoons to pilgrimages round ring-roads to buy Ronseal and Windolene, or making up the guest numbers at some loose acquaintance’s 32 and 3.5 months birth-week party in bars where the cocktails cost the same amount as a week’s worth of groceries from Lidl. Mornings lost to hangovers. Weekends lost to sofas whilst fawning blankly at forgettable box-sets because we were too knackered from spending hours brushing Ronseal onto fence panels that were promptly shat on by birds to do anything else.

In tedious exchanges of small talk which we hoped would help expedite the socially-awkward queue at the printer, we’d frequently ask our colleagues where the year was going. It was one of those safe topics of conversation, a bit like the weather, that we’d know everyone could empathise with. Facebook newsfeeds would groan each August as somebody proudly became the year’s first to post a meme about the dwindling number of paydays left until Christmas. “At this rate, we’ll start putting our trees up in January!”, somebody else would comment, in an equally irritating honk of a response. Time would whizz by and we’d wonder how it managed to go so fast. Well, see the previous couple of paragraphs. Ronseal. Windolene. Sickeningly-priced stuff and fings funded by a perceived obligation to buy them.

We assumed that busy-ness was the antidote to loneliness when often it was actually the cause, because it was the kind of busy-ness manifested from all those procedures inked out in a beige ring-binder that, it turns out, had stopped aligning with our souls long ago but just never had the time to be re-written. Because we were too busy following it without question, just like how we paid that silly fee at the Waltzer.

It wasn’t lockdown that made us feel isolated.  It was us, and all of the habits we had fallen in to over years and years, frantically treading water to keep afloat whilst the important things slowly sank to the ocean bed.

We might soon be able to return to a life without restrictions, but there’ll be some rides I’ll be keeping away from for good.

It’s a fluorescent new dawn.

Song of the Day: Weezer – Aloo Gobi (Guitar Version)

You think you have a favourite song. You listen to it all the time. Then you hear a cover of it. Then you have a new favourite song.

Going Sno-where

There’s something so rare about heavy snowfall that each time it happens, you recall vivid memories of the few occasions you’ve experienced it before:

  • A canal-side walk with my older brother one late Sunday afternoon in the early 1990’s, and watching him pound away at the ice with his heavy black Doc Martens to show me how easily it could crack.
  • Careering down the steepest verge of a snowy hill on a sledge circa 2000 – in an awful effort to impress some boys – and whacking straight into a tree, before limply falling out of the side of the flimsy plastic transportation and groaning on the ground for ten minutes whilst said boys crowded around in an embarrassing concern.
  • Meeting a friend at her house during a lunch-break from my temp-ing job – and her revision-break for her Law exams – and making a snowman with blueberries for eyes, in 2009.
  • Sliding down the grassy verges of the Dane John Gardens with some friends one Friday evening in January 2018, after several beers in a cosey pub

The older you get, the more wary you become of snow. It’s dangerous to drive in. It’s perilous to walk on. It wreaks havoc with public transport and it makes everything wet. At thirty five, the thought of heavy rain washing all of the snow away fills me with some relief when as a child it could make me cry. That’s exactly what happened this week; a Winter Wonderland flushed away overnight, the snowman over the street now a beheaded ball of black ice alone on a bright green lawn, and no more fretting about the need to walk anywhere.

But, my word, did it look beautiful during its short stay, making the town look like a Christmas cake with Viennetta footpaths and glacier mint waterways. At a time when we’re tethered to our homes, the snow was a welcome distraction from the reasons behind that, which have dominated our lives for the past year.

The snow was a reminder of a few things, really. How an alluring appearance can sometimes conceal danger. How different things can suddenly look after a few conditions collide, and then how quickly the things we like can melt away.

The Pandemic Snowfall 2021. One which won’t be forgotten in a hurry…

To Be A Cat in a Pandemic

This little fuzzy face has absolutely no idea that there’s a global pandemic happening at the moment.

She wouldn’t even know what a “pandemic” is, let alone any of the things that come with it:

Lockdown? Fine by me. I don’t really venture beyond the sofa or back garden anyway.

Isolation? Also fine. Can’t stand other cats. They make me hiss.

Furlough? Is that when my fluffy coat starts malting in the heat?

Vaccine? Ah… know of that one, sadly, but fortunately my next trip to the vets isn’t for a good while yet.

Stock-piling? Never heard of it. My servants take care of all of that sort of thing anyway and if I’m still hungry I can either stare at them long enough for them to question whether they’ve already fed me, or just catch another mouse or bird.

Why are all the human things looking so glum on the television? Why do I never get the house to myself anymore? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m loving all of the additional snuggles and cuddles, but in a year I’ve seldom had the opportunity to crawl across the kitchen worktops in the quest for any edible scraps. Anytime I try now I just get spotted quickly, and snapped at.

Strange times indeed. Better take the twentieth nap of the day. Had a great dream about a frog earlier. Hoping for something similar this time.

Pandemic? Purr.

People – 1, Technology – 0

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I had been staying in what felt like the middle of nowhere, in the Shropshire hills, on my way back from Wales.

I had known nothing of this area beforehand, but had quickly come to realise that it was the sort of place in which you could so easily get lost; where the name of each settlement was either ridiculously long or ridiculously short. “Twindlebury Bigbum” or “Fum” would have been quite acceptable words on the map here, and when you’re from a county where places have boring names like “Ashford” or “Chatham”, this is a particularly amusing source of entertainment.

Unsurprisingly, I knew very little about how to navigate my way around the likes of Twindlebury Bigbum and Fum, so when it came time to leave my little shepherds hut in the hills and go home, I had no choice but to put all my faith into my 2014 Satnav to direct me back to Kent.

It instructed me to turn right upon leaving the farm where I’d been staying, and from that point I became completely subservient to its commands. “Satnav really knows its stuff”, I thought to myself, internally marveling at how precise its instructions were. For quite a while, I merrily continued along the hills trying to absorb some final bits of natural beauty before I returned back to the reality of Kent, work and thinking about the pandemic.

Around twenty minutes into my journey, a large, red “Road Ahead Closed” sign appeared in the road next to some cones. I ignored it and carried on. Then another one appeared, and I did the same thing. And again. And again.

To not be able to follow the Satnav’s route would mean a very timely detour in a place like this, and I had absolutely no idea where I was, or how to get back on track if I needed to divert. My mobile had lost signal and I knew my Satnav had an unfortunate tendency to stubbornly just insist on u-turns if I ever disobeyed it. Each time I carried on past a “Road Ahead Closed” sign I became more and more fixed in the belief that perhaps I could get away with being a rebel, and that eventually the signs would stop and pay no further threat to my route home.

But then the Highway Maintenance van appeared, blockading the road and instantly crushing my ignorance and naivety. High-viz’ed men stood by the side of the vehicle, to stop people from passing any further. I admitted defeat and wound down the window to ask for their help.

“Excuse me”, I motioned their attention, “I’m not from around here, and really don’t know where to go, since this road is closed”

“That makes two of us then” grimaced the younger of the two men, “where is it you’re trying to head to?”

“Well, Kent actually”

“Kent!?!”

I think he’d hoped I was striving to get to somewhere closer by, like Birmingham or Shrewsbury. But the “Kent” response had thrown a complete spanner in the works, and now we all felt equally awkward.

The two men engaged in chat, and eventually turned back to me.

“If you follow this side-road over here on the left, and keep on it, it should eventually put you back here on the main road at the point at which it opens up again, then you can carry on as planned. Good luck!”

I thanked the men for their help and did exactly what they said. Their suggested route took me through even smaller hamlets and even longer place names. I was surprised to see that one such place even boasted a barbers. “How on earth does that place stay in business?” I thought to myself, “the three people who live here surely don’t need their hair done that often?!”.

Astounded by this, I carried on driving, and the men’s instructions did eventually take me back out onto the main road as they’d promised… only at that point there was another obstacle there, in the form of another Highway Maintenance truck and a colleague of theirs stood beside it waving people away. Knowing nothing of my exchange with his peers, he motioned me back along the main road in the direction from which I’d come. Again, I did exactly as told. And then, a short while later, found myself reunited with my high-viz’ed friends from earlier.

We were all similarly as surprised to see one another again.

“I did what you said, but now I really have absolutely no idea what I’m doing or now need to do” I conceded as I slowed down past them.

By this point it was fair to say I was feeling a little frustrated. I’d been on the road for an hour by this point, and not even left the Shropshire Hills. I had at least another four hours to drive once I was away from there, and I really didn’t want to face any further delays, not only because of the impenetrable fact that there is absolutely nothing useful about those, but I also had a joint of silver-side beef freshly bought from the farm which needed to get into a refrigerator A.S.A.P. A diversion, or to go back the way I’d come and follow a different route home altogether, would have added at least another unwelcome hour to an already tight journey.

The men took pity on me, and instructed me to pull up in a lay-by whilst they whispered together a plan.

“My colleague is going to escort you through the closed road”, said the younger man after they’d spent some time conferring, “just follow him and he’ll take you to where you need to be. But let’s wait until this white car has passed; we don’t want anyone else to get wind of this, or they’ll all be asking to do it. If anyone else should stop you on the way, just say you live here and you need to get through.”

And with that, the Highway Maintenance van set off with its hazard lights on, me pathetically – yet very gratefully – trailing close behind. We carried on like this for several miles along the closed road, until we reached the part where it opened up once more.

I was then able to continue my journey home without unnecessary diversions, because of a random act of human kindness that no Satnav could ever have replicated.

It made me think about technology, and all of the faith we put into it, particularly recently. Technology has been a great saviour during the pandemic, allowing us to still “see” friends and family when rules dictate being physically apart, and it might know which way to turn when exiting a random farm, but there are still a lot of things it cannot do. Bending rules, going the extra mile, and empathising with human need, are but three of those things.

I will always be grateful to these two men for bending the rules and their professional protocol for me. They took pity on a damsel in distress and safely navigated an alternative way for me to get where I needed to. Satnav, Siri and co would not have been able to do this for me. In fact, if I’d been reliant on just technology to help me, I’d probably still be there right now, in the Shropshire hills, driving back and forth between red metal road closure signs, and desperately pointing my phone to the heavens to try and get a momentary shred of signal.

At a time where we are having to turn to the online world even more than ever before, it’s important to remember that even the cleverest, most advanced of technologies are not without their limitations.

No app can ever quite rival decent human nature and a bit of heart.

Song of the Day: Lemon Demon – Eighth Wonder

This is a pretty catchy number from musical project, Lemon Demon. I never tend to understand what his songs are about but a quick gaze at the YouTube comments suggests this one is about a mongoose who believed he was the eighth wonder of the world. More surprising still is that this is actually a true story. The mongoose was apparently called Gef, and he lived with a family on the Isle of Man in the 1930’s. I need a drink.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeXE6lo2dzI

Music of the Outdoors

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I’m not sure how many hours I’ve spent walking around Faversham since March, but it’s easily a three digit figure.

And since Faversham is not exactly a large, sprawling metropolis… that’s meant a lot of repetition within the routes.

Crazy then, that each day I still manage to see something that takes my breath away.  Usually a sunset.  Often a cloud.  Sometimes a boat.  Occasionally a cow.

Once a wayward balloon knotted round a tree, whose eulogy will tell the long, complex story of its fateful travels from Card Factory to the Creek.

And each time I walk along the same old paths and streets, I wonder what it is exactly, that makes it never feel boring?

I often imagine that within our mind there is a set of piano keys which is struck by fingers strung-up to whatever our senses pick up on.  In recent months it’s felt as though there have been a few too many sounds coming out of the bass clef; but in a way those have only made their opposites more melodic and tuneful whenever they are heard.

And I often hear those opposites whilst walking.  When I see a sunset or a cloud or a boat or a cow or a tangled balloon in a tree.

And that’s why it never gets boring.

Nature seems to have a magical knack of playing the right notes every single time, a combination of keys – sounds, scents and breeze – that permeate the soul and rejuvenate spirit.  Beautiful chords which double-up as the better songs from the soundtrack to living through a global crisis.

And, of course, actual music helps too.

Song of the Day:  Parov Stelar – Silver Line

This brand new release is some seriously sensational sound.  This is the sort of song you want to listen to whilst sat underneath the stars on a balmy night whilst eating a piece of 90% cacao chocolate.

And I’m cherishing it as much as I can before it gets overplayed and ruined in car commercials or in the background of cutting edge BBC documentaries.

C-19 Internal Monologues Part 8: Not Quite The Same Boat

There’s a quote going round on social media at the moment which is quite zealously dividing opinion.

David on Twitter: "If you don't come out of this quarantine with ...

 

It essentially implies that if you’re not using the lock-down period to pick up and perfect a new hobby or skill, you’re not making the best of the time.

I completely understand why some people love the quote.

And I completely understand why others hate it.

So to me, all that quote successfully achieves is to highlight that though we are all experiencing the same pandemic, how we are able to cope and react to it differs massively from person to person, and isn’t the sort of thing that can be compared or judged.  Universal standards really cannot be set on how to live your best “lockdown life”, no matter what any quote, meme or inspirational speaker has to say.

Remember back in science class, when we were taught the concept of a “fair test”?  Examining two elements to identify their differences only had value when all of the wider conditions were exactly the same, otherwise there was no point in carrying out the experiment.  The same logic applies here.

If you have been made redundant from your work, or you live alone, or perhaps you are just generally feeling a massive sense of anxiety from the pandemic, then learning a new skill or developing a hobby is a really effective coping mechanism.  It distracts your mind from the fear and the worry, and gives you a timely confidence boost.  Seeing – albeit on screen – your fellow classmates from your online language course can help you feel less alone, and composing music on an instrument might make you think that little bit more positively about the current time.

On the other hand, if you are struggling under the pressures of full time work, in services where demand is at an all-time high due to the pandemic; or you are having to juggle a job with homeschooling your children; or your living circumstances generally don’t dictate any time to focus on a new hobby, then I can also understand why instructions like this might seem like a bit of a sucker punch.  Life is much busier and manic than normal, not the opposite!

Either party may feel that the other one is better off.

Jobless people who live alone might give anything to experience the lock-down with company, or to have a job that is clearly necessary and valued when their own has been rendered just the opposite – and taken away their financial security in the process.

They’d probably trade their new skill for a salary without hesitation.

Likewise, those struggling with working overtime or having to educate their children might love to be able to have the time and facilities to be doing something good for themselves.  They probably see photos of people relaxing in the garden, or making “lasting family memories” that contrast heavily to the lack of harmony in their own homes, and start resenting their career choices or the fact they might not have as a great a relationship with their family as the people in the photos do.

They’d probably trade their career for time without hesitation.

I could go on with examples such as these; the reality is that this situation has confronted each of us with a myriad of different effects, issues and concerns.

Nobody should be made to feel that their approach is “wrong”.  This is an unprecedented situation.  There is no set of instructions to follow on how to cope with it, and there is no exam at the end from which you’ll be graded on what you did or didn’t do or learn.  The illness itself, and the social distancing, affect us all in very different ways.  Not only that, but the catastrophic, zig-zagged nature of it all make it even harder to deal with it in a consistent way.

One day you might be feeling really focused and complete a bunch of life admin and enjoy quality catch-ups with friends.  Other days you may just want to sit and sob and – as much you miss your family and friends – you simply may not have the energy to speak, even to them.

Both of those things are fine and natural.  This is not the time to have high levels of expectation.

The only approach which is universally “right” is the one which acknowledges the gravity of the situation and how it’s impacting within.  To accept that there will be up days and down days and to follow your feelings accordingly, gaining comfort from whatever you might feel at the time, whether that’s something with a clear purpose or focus, or just staring out the window counting leaves.

And to always keep in mind that it’s not the same for everybody, so perhaps think twice before believing that that meme, quote or inspirational speaker’s video will work for everybody else too.  Perhaps think twice for judging the ways in which other people are coping, and what they are choosing to do with the time, or assuming that they must have things better than you do.

We may all be experiencing the same pandemic, but the specific challenges dribbling down from it vary for us all and we are not always privy to what those are.  This is not a fair test.  To some this may seem a holiday; for others, most particularly those who have lost somebody to this horrendous virus, it’s a living hell.

Now is not the time to judge or to hold expectations; only a time to keep yourself safe, and keep an eye on those around you, as they all fight individual battles.

 

C-19 Internal Monologues Part 7: F-unfair

Recently, I haven’t felt the inclination to write as often as I did when the crisis first broke out, which I suppose is indicative that the situation has seemed to reach some kind of plateau.  We are still in lockdown and the numbers are still staggeringly high, but perhaps we are getting used to this now.  The adaptations we needed to make to our lives are becoming the “new routine”.

“Emotional roller-coaster” is a metaphor frequently used to describe the past few weeks for each of us.  There have been some very low points, but also plenty of encouraging examples of humankind and communities coming together.

Promptly followed-up by more low points.

Then more hope.

But the problem with roller-coasters, though, is that if you stay on them indefinitely, you will get dizzy, and sick.

Over thirty days into the official lock-down and myself – like many – are prone to feeling a little bit fed up.

That’s not to say we disagree with what we are doing and why we are doing it.  I would far rather remain in lock-down and get this sorted for good, than race out under a false start and experience thousands more needless deaths.

But, I am still getting a bit tired and a bit weary of being on the roller-coaster at all.  Especially when it’s one none of us needed to still be on; kept here by a mechanical fault that wasn’t inspected thoroughly enough before they opened up the fair to swathes of thrill-seekers. A failure to adhere to basic hygiene on the other side of the world, or a leaked experiment in a lab (or whatever theory you choose to believe.  My jury is out, to be honest.  All I know is that I’m extremely annoyed by whatever the source is).

Whatever you believe, this pandemic could – and should – have been avoided, and I think that is the most infuriating part about all of this.  Millions of people all over the world have sacrificed their lives, their jobs, their homes, their relationships and their mental health, for something that didn’t actually need to happen.

And I’m not sure any kind of penalty will ever be enough to atone for that.

And so yes, whilst on the whole we may be “coping”, whilst we may be keeping “strong” as we get used to our new normal, I think it’s critically important that every now and then, when we feel a little queasy from the many twists and turns, that we remind ourselves that we are experiencing a global trauma that will impact on each of us in very different ways, for years to come. And we didn’t need to be.  And so it’s perfectly okay to feel piffed off about it every now and then.  Even to cry about it.

I’m looking forward to whatever day we can finally get off this roller-coaster, and head towards something else at the fair which has much less motion.

The candyfloss stand would be perfect.