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.

Pandemics know no gender, but people still discriminate through a gender lens

I was reading yesterday the public outcry and condemnation of the actions of the Chief Medical officer of Scotland; she was caught traveling to her second residence and also walking her dog with her family. Yes, it was after she advised us to stay in. And after she estimated the number of cases in Scotland could be as high as 65,000 and not the reported ones. To be honest, I do not think we will ever know the real figures…who is tested, how it is reported, how numbers are collected and validated are way more challenging than we would ever know. It is evident that people are even struggling with putting the figures in a chart as it happened with the one publicised from Fox news where the y-axis had no constant measure but equal distance between the units.

Leaving statistics aside, what impressed me was the response of this (admittedly) naughty action by the female Chief Medical Officer. I do not condone the actions but let’s back track for a while: the lockdown rules state stay at home. No explicit explanations were made for which home to account for the case of lucky ones that have multiple residences (I know, the tyranny of merit…). So, the standards and operating procedures were wide open to interpretation due to their lack of adequate information (I am a quality engineer and it shows). It can be argued that this is a cheeky approach or a loophole but it does not make it go away: there was not enough definition. Not for the only one mind you…can we go for a walk for 500 miles, how can we stay 2 meters apart from the till operators (another set of heroes) in the shops – who has such long arms?

What is interesting now, is that Dr Calderwood is not the first one that did that but the first one who was shamed for that. Prince Charles travelled during the UK lockdown from his main residence in Clarence House, London while reportedly showing mild symptoms, to his Balmoral Estate. Which is obviously more than 1 hr drive – the duration between Dr Calderwood’s residencies. The duration is more than 1 hr flight, even with the private jet actually. I did not see any front line pages condemning the Prince of Wales’ move. I did not see any social media hashtags trending asking for explanations or more. Coincidence, you say?

If we look a bit closer we will find more examples of how gender does matter when it comes to how the public judges political figures. How the unconscious bias (hmm, perhaps conscious) even report on events and crimes during this time through a biased gender lens. The Secretary of Health and Social Care was reportedly showing signs of COVID-19 but he did not self-isolate for 14 days as he instructed us to do. Which, I think is much worse on impact than escaping to the countryside. He was also seen outside the Nightingale hospital with people behind him not exactly social distancing.

Then it is the wonderful press with the sometimes dramatic headlines: “man struggles with lockdown and kills his wife..”, “frustrated man, unemployed during the lockdown knifes his partner..”. Words used to alleviate the responsibility from the actions and the gender. But then you have the other side “humiliated Nicola Sturgeon”; “she defended her choice”, words that make a strong woman look less than that. This is not a political statement. This is a call to stop the witch hunting…funny that it was not branded as wizard hunting.

Oh, and stay safe…in your main residence. We are lucky to have one.

Evi Viza, CQI, MIET.

Lifebuoy

During the Covid-19 pandemic, mindfulness, video calls, checking-in on friends and neighbours, social distancing and exercising, have become the norm of daily life prescriptions.

Recommendations on finding meaning in small things and appreciating the moment of what we have, to adjust from our fast paced life, have been a challenge for many. Yet, there is beauty around that for those operating in high levels of anxiety or to-do projects and achievement-oriented mentality, has been marginalised in view of personal gratifications and quick wins.

The Covid-19 situation has highlighted the reality of our unsustainable living, exemplified in shopping habits, sociopathic needs, drama karma, and neediness for external gratification.

Yet, the ample emergence of existing situations that have been in existence parallel to modern human material and immaterial condition, are increasingly claiming a place to the forefront of service and significance.

In the current re-adjustments of living and requirements new pressure points can afford us to look and really see.

Squid, remodelling needs

In one of my last dissertation supervision sessions, my supervisor asked me which animal species are thriving at present?

I took a couple of guesses none of which were right.

I was trying to join the dots between his question and my dissertation topic, which was a comparative study between the political economy of the Sami and the Inuit. I just couldn’t see where he was leading onto.

Jonathan went on to say it is the squid. And the reason for it, is that whilst fishing has focused on other species, the squid had the opportunity to multiply in swarms.

He went on to explain that the obvious answers are not always the correct ones. I suppose he was trying to tell me by focusing on one thing we assume as the path to survival, there are emerging occurrences we leave unnoticed.

I since then took to noticing squid more often.

Walking down SE Division Street. Portland, OR, past Whiskey Soda Lounge with Tim, I took this.

In one way, the story is that of silver linings behind a cloudy day. We are seeing changes to our lives that we have not entertained in detail of how they will be affecting our emotional needs and resilience.

Making a smoothie cocktail with Craken is my resilience recipe for the odd night now we are spending a lot more time at home. And enjoying it over a long video chat to the wee hours of the day.

We know in times of uncertainty there are certain parameters we can measure against, and work towards, to meet those needs.

 

Our needs are not only our own. They are universal values our humanity exists by. When these are threatened, or placed in new unfamiliar conditions, there’s a couple of things we can do to refocus.

The top ten commandments of emotional needs are:

Connection

Attention

Privacy

Autonomy

Security

Wider community

Friendship

Competence

Achievement

Meaning & purpose

The overarching point I see across the list of emotional needs, is intimacy.

Intimacy in a non sexual way.

But the space where two people connect over a unique shared experience that rings emotions of belonging, and trust, for both of them.

We are all interconnected. Even at times when we may feel that life becomes unfamiliar, rather than trying to regain a sense of control, our biggest strength may be in our capacity to reflect, learn and evolve.

I don’t know much, but situations like today’s offer a unique chance, that of a lifetime, to improve and rejoin community with renewed values of what we need and how to approach what we have and what presents itself before us.

 

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.

American man

I grew up thinking of America as this homogenically superficial space fuelled by ignorance and ultra-arrogance imposed by the sound of mad dogs and gun shots in the background. A war within itself.


In the politics and economics of the past thirty years, the trajectory of individualism is a response to the controversy of sharing all, in post anti communism, Cold War era.

This skewed anti reality brewed the covering of the reduction of basic human rights, presented as anti-terror securities to the average folk, and messed up the minds and values of many alike. This was easily absorbed by a weak societal structure in the US that without free access to health, education or meaningful work opportunities, beyond the concept of self-sale, left people scraping by for the ‘mana’. The lack of cultural references, families or friendships providing emotional support systems can not be bought by insurance companies.

In adulthood, we are all paving our way on our own but the multilayered toxicity of American neoliberalism has easily spread a virus with the language of non sense – what people can’t understand conceptually, can’t analyse and therefore are open to manipulation, misinterpretation, abhorrent expressions – they don’t even make sense to those that speak of them.

Today, this translates into the extremist mini-anti-cultures surviving by a bashing each others’ existence in perpetuation.

Jamali Maddix got a few of them covered for Vice.

Bunches of incoherent folks at each other’s throats, caricaturing a very simple and singular dimension as a version of society. We can critique the social movements for not establishing fundamental change but they are not ripping cultures apart or marginalising what holds as a resource of existence to the average folk.

For many on the outside of US, the scene is hopeless and bleak. For many on the outside, we can’t help but romantisize for a mind shift by the immense phoenix like male figures that despite the union’s level of absence in communal conscience, they have held a string light for long enough to beam their connection with and faith in humanity and in hope for a realignment of the American dream. They have the knowledge that one’s resources are equally owned and interconnected by everyone on the planet. Physical and emotional cultural references matter, the intangible connections energise the common pool.

Ultimately, isolationists are believing that by fighting everyone off to protect their patch of land, they will not end up finding out they are fighting against themselves, which they know its not only unsustainable, but plain self destructive and stupid. Sum it up in the simple lesson of the flowers and the bees.

My gratitude goes out to the two American men that know too well where the concept of the American dream really can stem from and what it could really translate into in the daily routes of American self identification. It is a work that will take a generation or two, and these men hold the tortch for the way there.

Respect to Neil Young

Respect for Bernie Sanders

Francesco Clemente pastels, an Art show review

Can’t say I knew much about this artist. A big fan of Levy Gorvy gallery, we went there unplanned to check what wonderful work they would have had on show.

Linking the concept of body and mind, Clemente, with soft pastel presentations, unravels stories of primal desires and sexual exposures whilst taking on representations of portraits and bodily figures on their own or in intimate interactions to challenge the angle of societal and cultural assumptions of the psyche.

https://www.levygorvy.com/exhibitions/francesco-clemente-pastels/

Esmerelda, Ben Howard

Everyone has that one song they go to for a reflection of their innermost feelings.

Mine is Esmerelda by Ben Howard, the video in particular.

The waves unrolling back in reverse is what gets me every time. It may be for the symbolic value of rolling back time and rediscovering today’s desires by the method of review.

The moving images are taken in the winter, the British winter many complain of. As a surfer, Ben Howard is staring at the swells as he would have done at any other season, reflecting on the conditions, the possibilities. The weather is not a hindrance, but an opportunity for assessment. A million components pulled together; I could ride that wave, I know I can, I can do it this way or that way. Maybe I will come back to it, maybe I will sit it out, watch it and leave it to perform before my very eyes.

The solitary imagery of Howard looking out from the cliff’s edge over the treacherous weather, is a message of renewal. Emerged from the knowledge that majestic moments happen in the most apparent challenging conditions. Our method and approach is the liberating experience emerging from what is on offer. A source and direction of energy that pulls the surfer to float on the surface is also defined by the surfer’s point of letting go and diving into the water when conditions become too much. These are not polarised experiences of bad or good, of success or failure, but of a journey of becoming one with nature, embracing it and re-establishing our relationship with it as our home.

Theorists have made the case for connecting with our histories in our pursue of conserving our natural habitat. Mythologies of Homer’s Odysseus seeking his Ithaca, and the realism of Caribbean slaves fishing out in the open waters on Atlantic Ocean’s edge have required an intertwined interdependent relationship with nature and its elements. The thousands of Syrian refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea escaping conflict. The skill of ‘reading’ nature and floating decisions under different communication needs, on the nexus with the changing elements, is part of the human condition that can not be aborted.

There are thousands of individual journeys to Ithaca, Caribbean fishermen and surfers connecting with nature in that way. The sea is a pool for everyone to explore their search for a home.

Ode to Michael, Andreas and Kostas

I don’t believe in God, not in the traditional way anyway. But I do believe in the power of gratitude and appreciation towards people who have come to your life to reflect a mirror of your self, to ascent and revalue what you hold dearly inside of you.

I will begin with the story of how I met Michael. Some four and some years ago. Through a common acquaintance who knew I was visiting Portland, Oregon.

Michael is a philosopher. One who has jumped the academic ship to share his true passion over the community waves in that beautiful Pacific northwestern part of the world.

Throw Michael a dice and you’ll get the idea back kindly explored twice. His accessible, empathetic yet unafraid to challenge skill says as much about his heart as much as about his mind which is open, loving, honest and growing coffee fuelled day by the day.

I need not to say I feel fortunate to have spent some hours with him and his wife talking through everything and anything, tipping things on their head for the purpose of our own individual truth as much as for those around us.

Next up is Kostas. I met one of his closest mates some 25+ years ago, his wife around 3 years ago, so the journey to him is a little deflected by circumstance.

Kostas is a scientist, with a research project in Svalbard in Arctic Norway, an explorer and a dj by the day.

I will begin my journey with the most recent interaction, coming back from my rowing training to a text from Andreas saying tune in to this radio station, our pal is playing some music.

Kostas is the guy who managed somehow to dig the most beautiful sounding punk rock tunes right uplifting and melodic enough, for a two hour set on a Sunday morning. Towering at 6 feet, this guy curated a set through geography, turned political reflection, turned dedication to his friends. And all with the same passion as he talks about the intricate details of his research lab and in kindness and humour to his team and fellows.

And last but never least, is Andreas. My pal of a lifetime. The person that knows himself so well, that he understands me and is honest as much.

We met in Rebound, the then only dark wave club in Athens, still going with freakishly beautiful human beings rocking to some of the most etheric yet often screetching 80s sounds.

Andreas is kind and generous and has the ability to conversate with anyone whilst maintaining a uniquely unpretentious level. He knows his nuclear physics, no pun intended, and I’ve seen people feeling intimidated by him including my own father who has known him since I was a late teen kid.

For me in many ways I noticed how respectful he is of my partner avoiding to offend by calling or texting, and how subtly he presents he’s there when I’m on my own, not for his benefit, but for an upgrade to a reference point we may have discussed before.

Most importantly, I feel like I can be anyone and everyone around him. After all, I have grown up parallel to his own journey and we have seen each other grow up, change, contract and deconstruct over a fairly long time too.

I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life.

My dedication post to the three men is made in honour of how I grew up by knowing them, and still grow today. Neither of them became who they are today because of their wives, mothers, other women in their lives. Surely their partners have supported their development, but it’s all down to those boys doing it alone and remaining truthful to themselves.

I know there is a lot of material about loving and protecting men out there, but unless they had looked inwardly, there is no way anyone could have done that for themselves.

Thank you for being you.