April 2020, the month of coronavirus lockdown. My breathing exercises in spring views of East London, UK

I would like to start this blogpost acknowledging this has been one changeable mood kind of a month.

It begun in semi frustration and acceptance: this is what we need to do and we commit to it. Blindfolded into commitment, no questions asked. Then days, then weeks passed. The exhaustion of changing habits in and out of home. The disappointment of realising you can’t walk into this pub, or straight into the shop, they are either shut, or there is a queue. You can’t hug your friend or pat the back of your neighbour. And that cycle route you always thought as the best, is out of bounds, too many runners using the tow path and daddies training their little ones to cycle. So forced into rediscovering your vicinity in new conditions, you get to become the tourist again, and that is cool.

Then the important stuff happening unnoticed until you think there’s value in the time you have saved from travelling and all the social stuff you can no longer do. So talking to friends and neighbours you end up rocking up to a community space in a church build on the ruins of one that was built in the 1600s, thinking you’re not the religious type but there are enough Muslim kids and white working class families about to take the edge off.

Next thing you’re committed and talking to new people. That guy is familiar, of course he is in and out of my block, and we chat, I hear the news and off we go.

Those who are organising everything, early on in the outbreak, with little knowledge of the impact yet without hesitation, they set up shop quickly. They asked and got donations, listened unjudgmentally to the community’s input, and attracted people of all ethnicities and faiths to help. They reassigned resources quickly. The initial food was delivered to 40 odd people three times a week and now it has grown to double of that.

Today, the last day of April feels like a halfway point on a long holiday. It’s been thrilling, confusing, too long, too short, too busy, and now seems to be going too fast and to be true, I don’t want it to end yet, but I do want to be able to make plans for the future.

Somehow the reality is: I can’t, and none of us can.

As we will gradually re-enter a version of normality in the coming months, there will be plenty of vulnerable people who will still not be able to leave their home. This help will not stop with our needs being met, and not until they have their fully met. It has been challenging at times running up and down unfamiliar estates, motivating oneself to get out, cover up, do your deed, run home, take everything off, clean everything, shower. Yet it’s been worth it. The smiles, the chats, the waves, the odd requests, or the kind wishes and offers. It all makes it so special.

This month has also been one where I covered nearly 200km cycling. It’s not a lot, however in addition to my training, and the bursting energy of spring colours and smells, there was plenty of visual richness to record.

The blog and the photos are dedicated to the community leaders, and those who need their swift action. They are being both my inspiration and motivation throughout the past six weeks and the very out of the ordinary month of April 2020.

Canary Wharf

Even more so, this month I hope does not go by forgotten. Everyone has been affected by it and I purposely included the empty canary wharf development. No one is immune to this and I hope this chance for a level playing field is finally grasped like the breath of fresh air we so much need.

Herd politics

Let’s clear up a few things.

So there are a lot of generalised assumptions and fear tactics by media and fake media out there. There has also been pressure on populist political leaders to begin taking scientific advice seriously. There is often more than one scientific advice, based on different modelling approaches. An acquaintance’s COVID-19 modelling presentation has been misrepresented by the news and slaughtered as if it was political advice. Let’s get this right, political decisions are not made by science researchers. Researchers, do exactly this, they research and present their findings. Politicians then, in theory, should compare it with other researchers’ advice, compare it under socio-economic contexts and implications, and make policy decisions. Scientists and boards can make ethical decisions on research pieces involving directly the community, more often than not, in clinical settings. As the COVID-19 virus is not a domestic issue, but one that requires international cooperation, I quote the World Health Organisation’s principles on the ethics of bioethics. The most commonly identified
principles are:
1) individual autonomy (the ability to make decisions for oneself);
2) beneficence (the obligation to “do good” for others);
3) nonmaleficence (the obligation to avoid causing harm to others);
and
4) justice (the value of distributing benefits and burdens fairly).

Now I won’t go into much detail on how elastic these can become in domestic policy context, but I refer to them as a signpost of considerate practice.

So going back to the politics. Assuming the politicians understand the principles, they have been called to make political decisions and introduce relevant policies. Policies are drawn on the elites’ understanding of the value of social investments. Social investments are education, health, livelihoods, self-determination/individual voices aka sustainable communities. To date, we have seen the third market crash was no longer dependant on corporations, and that the corporate market may not be salvaged by cash injections alone. Corporations are always dependent on the people that work for them. When people can’t go to work, or refuse to, and corporations can not replace them by informal or imported or illegal labour due to travel restrictions, the value of the local labour offer increases. Thus the involuntary small cash injections from populist governments to the people’s hands.

Their objective remains the same: feeding the corporate machine to jump-start the economy. The value of sustaining a trained workforce, on basic income streams, state-funded, is worth investing so a) corporations don’t fold, and continue funding the political elites and their parties and b) subduing existing breadline populations from rioting against corporations or striking. I believe as long as corporations keep running, things will go back to normal at the end of this pandemic.

Interestingly enough in Germany, the policy decision, after a consistent containment of the virus and early-on testing, smaller businesses will open for business next week. Germany’s policy decision tells us two things: a) they have backed up their scientific modelling with clinical and community-based research and b) the independence of small and medium-sized business owners is the bedrock of healthy and thriving communities. In British conservatism, this would translate into a lesser dependency on state-cash injections directly to the individuals when they are out of work.

In summary, get people safe, provide them the assurances they need to return to work and the community aka let the economy trickle-sustain with prioritising average Joe, because average Joe is doing all the hard work of keeping the fine balances on a local level. Without the local level of support sustaining economic reproduction, there will be no feeding loop.

Interestingly enough populist politicians are looking at Germany for guidance yet without having invested in social care protections in their own domestic policy decisions. They are suggesting opening businesses as usual however ie USA’s and UK’s economic systems are structured entirely differently to that of Germany. A German factory worker is directly linked in value to the German stock exchange. The US or British worker is owned by the corporation they work for, who calls the price of their labour, hence less worker rights and so on. Now the outcome of this means, it is in Germany’s interests to keep this worker secure, and import more workers that can be developed to this capacity, vs the model of disposable workforces in UK and the US (Windrush in the UK, abandoned industries in the US, minorities leading the populist moment against other minorities/xenophobic sentiments).

Furthermore, many of the populist politicians are coming up to election time or will be soon enough. We know, the lax policy adoption of herd immunity without the social investment, is economic suicide for corporations and corporate funded political systems. We also know those very political elites will be left unscathed, unless the corporations pull the rag from under their feet. We also know those corporations will move on to the next guy that will have them, and will sponsor the next guy’s campaigns instead.

So how do those populist politicians intend to close the gap between the average local Joe in the UK and the US and a sustainable community, when we know the cash injections are in fact an insult of a gesture when social-care infrastructure has been disassembled bit by bit (Obama care, NHS and so on).

The supporters of populist ideologies, aka no or limited state investment, may have not realised that without state-funded infrastructure, there is no monitoring, no data (ie lack of health free healthcare services), no statistics from the community (no outreach healthcare services) that can serve the interests of the community.

So scientists can model all they want, but without data, modelling is pretty useless. To put it plainly, these people in the communities don’t exist, or have any chance of benefitting from designs that could be made for their benefit. They will not account towards any losses other than some economic by their corporate employers, who might find/informalise/eventually import a replacement or may not depending on the level of loss and risks to corporate business.

Bio-scientists, then can get together with vaccinologists and jump hoops and do their uttermost best (privately or state invested – doesn’t really matter right now, beggars can’t be choosers).

Even when they come up with the ‘solution’, politicians will still need to drought in the social care investment of distribution, prioritisation and access. And we also know populist politicians have interests in specific balances. And these balances are clearly becoming more about patterns, not who is the perceived winner ie who markets themselves as being the top dog, but perhaps a multilateral consensus about who sustains their position better and leaves average Joe the least unscathed.

Then, for the sake of managing a global issue, there’s a call for serious investment in international knowledge-sharing, energized by today’s very real post-Westphalian conditions.

Judy & Punch film preview – spoiler alert

I went to the UK launch of the Judy & Punch movie at the Picturehouse Central near Picadilly Circus.

The event had a live puppet show and actors portraying the audience husslers you’d get in the 17th century pre show crowds.

Drinks flowing, the pre movie event was comic, dark and intense with high pitched call outs and bashing noises, floating between comedy, with hints of tragedy, to fairy tale like medieval perkiness.

Now onto the movie.

Set in the mountain village of Seaside, the scenes are made in 17th century English/western European surroundings with a forest, unwavering views over the mountains and further away and filled with all the weird and wonderful characters you’d find in the dark streets of London mid century.

The story of the name Seaside goes like that. The villagers believed the sea would rise to near the top of the mountain, making their village a seaside settlement. They went on as far as building boats, which coincidentally and comically the housekeeper of Judy & Punch wonders what happened to them.

The script takes you through the success of a puppeteer couple who have returned to Seaside after the money and drink thirsty husband burned through their earnings from the big shows in the Big Smoke.

They start very successful shows at the village, waiting on the day talent spotters will come through and open up a new chance for a show in the city.

Whilst all of this rolls out, the husband keeps on failing. Whilst the wife (Judy and female puppeteer) goes out for the day, he gets drunk, nearly forgets a crawling baby to the fireplace, chases a dog for stealing his breakfast sausages and trips over throwing the baby out of the window into the dense thick forest down the mountain.

The wife returns (Judy) and the fight kicks off where he leaves her for dead in the forest. Nearby travellers/White witches find her, bring her back to health and before they move on their next journey, go back to the village to tell some truths about Mr Punch, who is about to hang the elderly housekeepers to clear his name of his wife’s and baby’s disappearance.

I won’t spoil the finale. From second to second I couldn’t predict what would happen. All I can reveal is that’s the first movie that I watched mesmerised without noticing how the time went past.

Go check it out for yourself and tell me what you think.

Seaside shenanigans at the Judy and Punch preview at Picturehouse Central, London

Masters degree as a mature student, a review

I’m writing this blog to help you understand what to expect from studying a masters degree later in life. Did I find it useful? I met some really interesting people that I hope to keep in my life in the future. Would I recommend it? Only if you’re super bored with your life and work but expect no easy ride. If you want a break from life, you’ll be better off spending that money travelling and taking up surfing lessons.

I have to admit I was super excited to have secured a place in one of the top universities in the world. As a senior management professional, I knew others that had tried but didn’t get in. The only thing I hadn’t realised was the amount of work it required.

On a weekly basis, I’d have four to five classes to attend in lectures, read 100 plus pages for each to discuss in small group tutorials as well as hold in-class presentations twice per term and write 2,000 – 3,000 word assignments per module/class twice a term.

Another thing I was not prepared for was academic writing. The way arguments are framed, in perspective of other arguments and how limited your own poetic license is. This is predominantly a British education system approach to teaching which hints to post colonial education, drawing out what has been laid out before.

At the university I went to, I also realised each module had its own parameters for good framing and presentation, largely set out by the lead tutor. Irrespective of how many additional classes I took for example on how to write a book review, how to write a critique etc the central student learning and development was misaligned to the individual module requirements. That left me frustrated and as a paying student, annoyed at the power game academia has over the students, and leaving its huge weaknesses unacknowledged.

This last point was a point of discussion throughout my studies. Academics thinking they got it all worked out whilst they lack real-life experience in the field of their expertise. More dangerously, they advise and often participate in political life based on what they read by someone who written something fifty years ago. Academia is a dangerous ground to walk on when seeing right through its weaknesses yet having to abide by its rules.

That transcribed to loving some classes, those mainly taught by open-minded people who not only loved their craft but they loved teaching and interacting with their student debates too. In too many cases, the majority of the academics failed to do that. They focused too much on point scoring, coming across like some sort of activists despite being solely research based, and pushing arrogance in their game.

Lastly but not least, consider and ask what practical skills a masters will provide you with. I got stuck into a situation where the theory was central to most discussions but excluded current affairs unless it was Trump or neoliberalism bashing or glorifying Marxism.

This is how anachronistic academia can be, and yet it is expected we build a future through it.

In all truth, it’s not more than another subscription service, that will get you more views and remove the ads.

It’s good for visibility, but it can also make you feel invisible at the same time.

In my shoes

It all begun late at night walking the streets of Rome.

Me and a bunch of Italians, in our 20s where walking to a place I can’t quite remember now.

I can recall the excitement of the new experience ahead, a new thing to discover, having fun, drifting from one place onto another.

Coming back to art school, developing the photos, I realised having taken a photo of our feet, walking. This small and unimportant detail became the point of recall of what the hang out felt like at that point in time.

The style, became a thing over the years.

Photos of shoes on feet in places. They were taken when there was time to absorb the moment. When life paused. A documentary without the documentation, yet a personal moment of just being.

The following photos follow the trail of moments over the past twelve months or so, from early 2018.

This is something I wanted to do for awhile. There may be more from the past in blog posts to come, or of moments from further back into the past.

Take a walk with me…

This was taken in Methoni, in summer 2018, walking through the village late evening

Taken at my stylist’s back garden in North London

This was taken inside the beautifully serene riad, in the heart of Fez, Morocco

This is an odd one, but the stone paved ground rings Camden Town Market to me, at the Stables.

A Friday night at the Star in Bath “when in Bath…”

Leaving Stansted Airport after landing from summer holidays, full of vitamin D

At the Blues Bar, on a night out with Dad, Carnaby Street London

In Tromso, Norway, looking up at the northern lights

Attending a lecture by a friend in Central London, the Strand

Waiting for the train ride accross Cinque Terra, West Italy

Climate change and security

 

This presentation was produced by Athina Fokidou for the MSc Security class (combined) at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2018.

The Case study is the destruction of the Dawlish seafront railway in the South West coast of the United Kingdom by climatic events and the consequent political battlefield of unmet promises.

The objective of the presentation is to raise awareness of the players in responses to climate, their intentions and unknown coercive strategies in the nexus of the state and individual contractual exchange.

 

Bath and Wiltshire

So I decided to pull this guide together after having visited Bath and the wider Wiltshire a number of times over the last two years, visiting friends who moved there from London, for a change of lifestyle.

Wiltshire is a true representation of rolling English countryside, opening up to create the setting for the landscape of fields further afield in Devon and Cornwall, and to the end of the land of the British Isle. Scenic drives, quaint old cotsworld like villages dot the landscape, however note these are increasingly interrupted by new housing developments.

The area is knows for its afluent resident demographics. Housing is as expensive as it is in London, and Bath is a catwalk of contemporary design options, found in inoffensive gorgeously lit boutique shops. There are a lot of options to choose from, and an equal amount of cafes and foodie options to satisfy the pickiest of the souls out there.

Some of my favourite moments are both in Bath and the surrounding Somersetian countryside. When I get there, on a Friday, we head for the Star, the only – I believe – authentic pub, a mix of old and new, music or not, regulars and all embraced in a coffin shaped building. The walk there is equally cool, strolling past residential windows of yellow brick roman dwellings, sitting on the rustic raised walkway above the passing traffic passing below.

On days out, more recently I discovered Corsham. The walk through the tiny village, or the walk of the green space outside the stately home, are true to form of cutiness. The home itself and the gardens are architectural highlights so pick based on the season, trusting both will be a very rewarding experience.

Castle Combe is another little wonder to check out. I loved the walk from the car park to the village itself, hanging branches of tall trees canopying over the road. Prettily decorated door fronts, stone buildings, stone brick bridges, and water streams would have you thinking you are visiting Smurf land. It is not too far off that, hoping no offense caused by this description.

My earlier experience of Wiltshire was visiting Avebury stone circle. If you haven’t, this is a piece of british ancient history that equals Stonehedge. Avebury stone circle is the largest, with a village in the middle of it, supported by numerous super natural stories. I think my dream home is also in that village. Walk around the circle, but also do go for a walk through the village. I am sure you will get lost.

Box is known for the train tunnell and Thomas the tank. There is an underground town down there built out of sight to evacuate local residents on occassion of need.

Devizes has an eerie story of its own. The Black Swan is known to harbour ghosts of past times, and I did stay in room no 4 where numerous signtings and disturbances are known to take place. I must say I did not enjoy neither slept much and things happenned that I can not explain. The landlord soon sold the pub and moved on, like many others. However can’t fault the pub food and the atmosphere – warm, cozy and lively.

Devizes is also known for another trouble – that of its locks. If you own a riverboat, you will know the ladder of locks one has to wait through to get one side to another. A friend that did it told me that it took them around 9 hours to do Caen Hill. Not a feat for the lighthearted boat dwellers.

There is a lot more to see in this wonderful area however I will leave you with these pointers to begin with. I am sure you will be soon returning for more.

What I learnt from not running the marathon

On Sunday, London hosted the annual marathon event, with thousands of participants running the 26 something miles.

The weather was a sizzling 24C with clear skies posing a number of health risks even for the most experienced athletes.

I stood by in Canary Wharf, planning initially to stay only for a few minutes, which turned into hours, after seeing, and being mesmerised by the Kenyan athletes. Their energy is unfathomable, unaffected by the elements, running solidly on their feet, unstoppable towards their own personal target to a medal. Following closely a number of vehicles with cameras indicated the presence of someone important and there you had it, Sir Mo Farah powering through. I was saddened to hear nearing the end of his run that he was seeking a bottle of water, only to be ignored by bystanders wanting to take the best shots as up close as possible. The inhumane treatment of fame, in full display.

Kenya’s Elliud Kipchoge followed by camera crews during the Virgin London Marathon 2018

Wheelchairs, the visually impaired, following through continued the display of incredible strength of spirit.

Not too long after, people aiming for the 3 hour finish mark, powered through. Pouring sweat and having sustained a considerable amount of sun exposure, gradually more and more were slowing down, even stopping to a walking pace. That was the point, the energy of the crowds and their value, really shined through. At the point where really experienced runners were stopping crowds gathered to encourage on, shouting names of people they didn’t know, edging them to continue on. Strangers, flooding their energy to strangers. The effect was magic happening before our eyes. The runners’ faces lightening up, pace quickening, invaluable seconds saved.

The human endurance has layers unexplored by the majority of us. It doesn’t entertain fear or weakness as concepts. It merely facilitates strength. The psychological status is about completing the task with ease, and resourcing a little more energy for overachieving, unravelling that extra bit of energy as it replenishes itself from the invisible source of confidence.

The fear, and doubt gradually appeared in the lesser trained athletes. You didn’t need to have a discussion. Their feelings stood in front of their faces, attached like a bubble of energy, with rights restricted to the owner exclusively.The take over of these feelings, may as well had been rolled out in a banner. External conditions had made their internal challenge furthermore complex.

This in itself is a very intense experience. It places the human spirit and our conditioning, in the heart of the matter. Challenging mental energy and channelling as well.

Every year I forget… Until I stand by again to watch. And every year I read another layer, of someone running past, a different story, equally important as the very first one, let it be that of the Kenyans or Mo Farah for that matter.

The invaluable value of encouragement. One step at a time, through the stages of being and feeling.

Everything has to do with the mind, and with the limits we have put in and the fact we can overcome them to break them. And what I have done is doping of the mind.

Until the next marathon, exploring the well of our course.