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.

Hiking in the UK

For outdoorsy adventurers, hiking is a much-loved choice of activity taken close to one’s place of habitat or place of visit.

The subtle differences between hiking in different parts of the world are on the type the equipment, the style of the hike like the intensity of the walk, and the distance covered. This reveals a lot about the flora and fauna, the weather conditions expected in general and the end objective for the hike.

This article presents a short oversight of hiking in the south of the United Kingdom, and towards the end of the winter. The overall equipment relevant message is to wear comfortable waterproof boots, bring a change of cotton t-shirts, carry 1-2 litres of water, prepare lunch snacks and carry cash for group saver fares, the pub lunch option and pub celebration at the end.

I have hiked in India, the Pacific North West in the US, in Scotland, in Bali, in Italy, in the Arctic part of Norway, in Morocco, on the north coast of Trinidad and in Tobago and in Fuerteventura and every single hike was different on many aspects.

In the south of the UK, hikes tend to be longer, often including a couple of very steep climbs up hills and the same dissent. The most recent hike took me up and down Pitch Hill in Surrey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, twice climbed it on the same day, a near-vertical and rather muddy aspect, and over a distance of 30km round trip on foot.

Walking sticks were encouraged whereas in other parts of the world they are prohibited as it can attract lightning strikes in tundra conditions. UK’s well known cloudy skies, even in winter, require sunblock as there is still plenty of exposure doing outdoor sports to cause skin damage.

20 min stops every two hours are also encouraged to take in the views from higher viewpoints. In contrast, stopping for this long or any period of time longer to a couple of minutes, in the middle of the winter, in the northernmost part of Norway, will cause your body temperature to drop really quickly and dramatically and make the focus of the latter part of your hike an effort to warm up instead of watching the path or scenery. This can make the body feel very uncomfortable, and rather demoralising, in severe sub minus C conditions.

The photos in this post are from my hike in Surrey this week.

It looks mud messy but it was a great all round exercise. I could not recommend anything else more satisfactory to do outdoors this time of the year. Hiking engages people in community spirited discussions, recharges the body with a full-on exercise uptake, and in the UK, it is rewarded with log fires in the pub, local bitter brews, and new memories and vistas to take away.

British Election pun

Cousin no. 1: what did you vote for?

Me: the ecologists

Cousin no. 2: the sexologists, both are biological

Me: 🤭🤫

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

I live in Tower Hamlets and in the poling station queue I could tell which was the one guy that voted Tory.

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

Me at the Radisson Blu polling Station:

I remember now why we were here on our date last month.

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

If you had a choice between two PMs which one would you choose?

: Corbyn, he’s more disillusioned to Bojo.

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

Exit polls:

Good evening the weather is looking very unsettled in the following days.

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

Rich kids go skint?

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

9pm exit poll: Shutter Island

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

Bercow on Sky News: Order!

Me (in thinking bubble): waiting to hear something funnier

Bercow: spare us the theatrics

Me (in thinking bubble): you got it

Bercow: The state of my throat which is very temporary is not down to the consumption of a gangrenous testicle.

Sky news: what are you going to do now you are out of politics?

Bercow: have some fun

Me: mic drop

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

#youthquake

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

Glasgow door incorporated. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Fact: Jo Swinson still knocked on that door 😭😭😭

🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️🗳️

Travel updates

It’s been three months since my last overseas trip and in the past weeks, I’ve been considering where my next escape will take me to.

The options on the list are between a couple of towns in Europe, east and westcoast US, Africa and South-East Asia.

Sorting through the checklist of where to prioritise includes the outdoorsy options for the time of the year, ie hikes, coastal walks, swimming/surfing etc, the people I know there including how important they have been in my life recently (it’s always sweet connecting with loved ones), the local culture, will it enlighten me and challenge me in positive ways?

I no longer use Airbnb, for political reasons as much as having encountered some very troubled individuals whilst hosting and being hosted by. For example in the US, from around 8, but two hosts were recovering from drug addiction, violent breakups and required attention from me that the experience and after taste did not justify the price I paid for (energetically and materially). With all due respect, everyone deserves happiness and to make some extra cash but air BnB is a problematic option for those seeking short term solutions as it distracts from the bigger picture. It only works when everything else is running well ie having a high income anyway, and meaningful interactions with neighbours and society as a whole. And it worked well for me when I was on that vibe, hosting. However, when it is not, either hosts or hostees can end up being dragged into someone else’s story whilst travelling and paying to stay at their home, which is not a price worth it. Symbolically, the best two Airbnb stays were in Portland up on the hill surrounded by greenness, before being dragged into another drama situ afterwards linked to hosts’ troubled present, and on my last stay in Seattle, in a beautiful attic to the sound of, funnily, death metal from my host’s son. Both stays were hosted by people who presented clarity in their intention to stay out of my way, had everything set up and in order for my arrival and appeared to not exhibit controlling or overly self-absorbed behaviours during my staying there. After all, as they say, first impressions matter.

So moving on, since I returned to London in August, I have hiked a couple of times in the South East of England, went to the forest, for walks through the parks, by the river, long cycles and with a fare treat burning in my pocket, I am laying out my options for the new upcoming routes.

I believe the best way to do travel is combining the freedom to roam new places for some of the trips and seeing friends and loved ones in combination for other, and of course as a route to self-evaluating where you are at in relation to your home and your views on the workings of society. This should provide you with a baseline of choices on your next steps and aspirations.

So maybe this winter will see me in warmer places, and the early spring somewhere with lots of snow. I have been going to the Arctic for two years now early in the year and craving the purity of the landscape, the escapism of the feeling of being at the end of the earth. I will be returning to the US too to visit friends that now live there for hikes, cafes and coastal walks. My other plans include culture-rich towns and cities, with art being central to the scene.

I think the fundamental aspect of travelling, is living every day’s moment, today. To find the time to make space for solitude, a place where you meet yourself, re-evaluate, focus so you can recharge before you rejoin the updated version of your world again.

More reviews and experiences coming up in the next few months.

Love,

Athina

 

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.

Robert Bosch Stiftung Academy Fellowships (Russia and Eurasia) opportunity

The Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs is now inviting applications for Robert Bosch Stiftung Academy Fellowships (Russia and Eurasia). The fellowships are designed for future thought leaders from  Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. They will run from September 2019 to July 2020.

The Academy is seeking candidates who would like to contribute to Chatham House’s work on the promise and challenge of global governance in the 21st century.

The Fellowships have three main elements:

  • Work on a personal research project (with the aim of producing a peer-reviewed publication)
  • Participation in the Academy’s leadership programme and activities
  • Opportunity to contribute to the wider work of the Russia and Eurasia Programme

Each candidate’s research proposal should consider how their country or region has been affected – positively or negatively – by aspects of global governance.

For more information visit the Academy webpages.

The application window closes on 29 April 2019 at 9:00am UK time.

Please forward this email to anyone you believe may be a suitable candidate.

The Fellowship is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Contact:
Rachel Taylor
Academy Coordinator
academy@chathamhouse.org

Rowing in the East End with its histories and all

Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.

The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.

Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.

The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.

Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.

This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.

Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.

Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.

Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.

The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.

The only brother in a gym in Peckham, London

Written by an anonymous friend, November 2018

I have lived in Peckham from 1994 and have seen various gyms pop up in the area. However, a lot of these gyms did not really fit what I wanted. Recently, I saw an advertisement for a gym of FB and it looked like it hit all the right buttons, more cardio then weights type.

I will now tell you my experience of the gym, as it was interesting to me as I don’t really train at gyms in general.

I was going shopping one morning down Peckham Rye and saw that the F45 Training gym that I saw on FB was advertising their opening, so decided to pop in. I was greeted by a female trainer that was very friendly and was looking to sign me up straight away. The sells pitch was good for a trail membership. Now the gym is purely class based (only downside), meaning you can’t show up and do your own training thing. No big deal for me as I do my own thing with my homeboy and by myself. Goal was to do 1 or 2 hard workouts a week with this gym as it was close to home (main reason for joining.) So back to sales pitch, I would say they had all the right looks to draw people in, attractive trainers, sweet looking new equipment etc.. Now the kicker was the price 189 a month.. Damn am I still in Peckham. Commercial price for commercial gym, I guess.

So knowing it might kill my pocket, I joined as close to home, my type of training and good equipment, sleds, sledge hammers etc..

So I thought the price being what it was that most of the clients would be white as most Peckham people I know ain’t paying that price (Laughing). So attending the classes I noticed firstly more woman than men (no biggy). So I have been to a few classes since joining in August, however, every time I go, I notice that I am the only brother (meaning Dark Skin Black Man) in the class. And first few times only black person period.

Noticed some sistas showing up, but still no brothers. Only brotha I saw was a trainer. So here I am in the middle of Peckham (known to be a so called Black Area) and I am the only brother a the gym, in this day and age gotta make you smile. But this fits in with the Costa and other cafe’s popping up in the area, vape shop etc.. (Gentrification). Luckily I am not bothered about being the only brotha, but now the pressures on to represent (Laughing). So at times it does feel strange, as the only brotha, but I keep my focus, as it is about the work.

Now my theory on why I am the only brotha I have seen is that most guys in general are into the weight training side of exercise more than cardio, so hence less men in general. And most Black guys I know prefer to weight train rather than cardio. So it will be interesting to see if the membership and look of the gym changes over time.

side note- On FB a Sista was looking at the advertisement and said that there were no Black People in the promotional video(interesting). I had a laugh and put in the comment section, that there are a few of us in there including myself. She replied, how come you not in the video, but there is no way I would be in the video as I am not one of there devoted members, I am in and out, so I assume the peeps in the video would be devoted members.

Until next time, Keep on Keeping.