They’re Getting Dressed

At the end of Covid, when we are all back to normal, whatever that is. We will all look back at the absurdities of this time. Yes, we will mourn the losses of loved ones and rightly so. But this blog is not about that it is about the silly things we have come to accept as normal.

I was at the dentist today. The receptionist said, ‘They won’t be long, they’re getting dressed.’ Now, I had assumed dentists spent their time between patients fully dressed; obviously not. They must practice naturism in the surgery between patients; who knew? Don’t shout at your smart phone or tablet or PC; I know they were putting on protective gear. At least I hope so. Talking of which, on my arrival in the examination room; having checked they were decent first of course, I was met by two space suited staff. Well, they looked like space suits to me, I’m sure they could survive in space, at least for a few minutes.

Queueing, that is something we have always done well in the UK. So, the extra queueing systems introduced for Covid, we have taken in our stride. In fact, we have probably secretly enjoyed the extra space. No more problems with people invading our personal space. Add to that we have people at the doors keeping order; it’s like an English dream. But how have other countries coped?

In the early 1980’s we went to Israel. They have not heard of queues. We went into a supermarket, picked up our goods and found a till. A lady was paying and one was waiting, so we stood patiently behind the waiting lady. Along came a man with his trolley and pushed in front of us. Well obviously, we apologised for being in his way. Then we looked very hard at the back of his head; showing our displeasure. Then we coughed and hummed a bit. Eventually we realised that he wasn’t taking any of our messages of displeasure seriously and we were forced to speak to him. I know, unheard of, right? Speaking to a stranger and not just speaking, but complaining. I took all of my courage and spoke:

‘Sorry, excuse me, I think you have just jumped the queue.’

He looked around, glanced up and down at my muscular stature. Obviously realised that he was no match for my manly physique and for some unexplained reason ignored me anyway. It is beyond me how Israel is coping with any new queueing system. There are many countries that don’t understand queuing like us Brits.

Masks, I have got so used to wearing a mask, I feel naked without it. Perhaps that’s why the receptionist said the dentist and assistant were getting dressed; she feels naked without her mask? In winter masks are a positive benefit, keeping me warm and cosy. Just think of all those bank robbers who will have to go back to wearing tights over their heads.

Then there are the plastic screens which have sprung up everywhere. Buses, taxis, shops, dentists etc. We were used to talking to banking staff through a plastic screen, now we have that same experience with all staff. It’s like watching TV in real life, everyone is on screen, or at least behind one. Will they all go post-Covid or are they now permanent?

Don’t even mention touch. When I see someone touch someone else on a movie or TV programme, I have a panic attack. I don’t know how I resist phoning 999 or at least 111. I don’t think people have ever had more alcohol on their hands than in their stomach in the history of mankind. I find myself reaching for the alcohol gel when I touch anything in our house. I am going to have to invent a constant drench mechanism for when we go out. A bit like those auto wheel gritters you get on train wheels for icy days. My system will be a bottle up each arm that runs gel constantly over my hands. Am I being over cautious? However, will we get used to not washing our hands every 5 minutes or touching a stranger at the end of all this? I don’t know about you but this is our first winter without a cold. It certainly stops the spread of germs.

We are also in for a huge shock when normality returns and all the people who moved from cities out to the countryside wake up to what they’ve done. Will there be a stampede back to the cities? Will people wake one morning, look out their window at a field of cows and say, ‘I miss the London traffic.’? Or will it just be the returning theatres, cinemas, restaurants, shops and other facilities that draw people back to towns and cities? Meat is a little too fresh when it’s still walking around. Sorry, that was uncalled for.

What will be the surprises for you? We had a survey to fill in recently. It asked about what we had changed due to Covid and whether those things would stay post-Covid. To most of them, I said no. I am a realist and I know that most things we have changed because we had to.

I know many companies have had to change to home working. But I wonder if they will stick at that long term? I guess productivity will decide. Even the ones who have closed offices, may well re-open them.

A month or so and we will start to find out what changes.

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Did You See A Bear?

I have noticed that people tend to fall into one of two main categories when disaster strikes:

1/ Action/panic, they run around doing stuff. It’s as if they feel the louder, they are, the more active, the better things will become. This group can get lots done quickly and if the disaster is fast moving, they are ideally suited to save the situation. They certainly move ahead of things.

2/ Calm/non reaction, and here I have to admit I fit. We take stock, think and then act more slowly. It might look cool and collected, but it must annoy group 1 like crazy. Plus, it has the disadvantage of being such a slow reaction that events can overtake you.

I am being deliberately extreme in my categories. I am sure that not only is there overlap, but there are other groups too. But the reason I have set out my stall in this way is to examine a fundamental human response to danger and disaster. The fight and flight response.

I am not a psychologist and therefore no expert. Don’t use my words as the basis for a new way to live. Although there are many people, equally unqualified, who have spouted half-truths and created swathes of followers to their ideology. I am not suggesting that path. In fact, if you are following one of these self-declared gurus of life, I would suggest you stop!

Where was I? Oh yes, I am no expert, instead I have a fair amount of that useful commodity: common sense. It’s something that seems to have gone out of fashion recently. Common sense teaches me that a fight and flight reflex is a useful response to danger. After all, if a bear runs at me, I am going to think, ‘what on earth is a bear doing on Wellington High Street?’ after I have thought that, I will want to get away from it. Unfortunately, my wheelchair is limited to about 4mph, so the bear is going to outrun me. Fortunately, my first thought about bears and Wellington will be accurate and such an occurrence is unlikely. Although, who knows, what with global warming and the re-introduction of extinct species to the UK….

Back to common sense, which I seem to remember claiming an excess of. Fight and flight is a useful thing and running, in my case wheeling, from danger, is another valuable thing. In this modern world we don’t meet many dangers that need us to run away. There are spiders of course. I wouldn’t want to underestimate their capacity to incapacitate people with fear. Mice, rats, clowns, actually when did clowns become an object of fear. I blame all the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s horror movies. All the young people who snuck down to watch them, or watched them secretly. Or are clowns just scary anyway? Must be the red nose. I always find Comic Relief scary.

Back to running away. Actually, in my case and anyone else in group 2, looking and thinking about it first. The adrenaline is pumping, you can probably feel it with all that mention of clowns… terrifying.

What was my point? Because I was bound to have one when I started this. We have gone through an extended time of worldwide difficulty. There has been stress, disaster, death, panic, fear, anxiety etc. We have reacted in many different ways, disbelief, supportive, brave, courageous, fearfully, encouraging, helpful, generous, in laughter and tears. There has been no right or wrong way to react, we are all different. I guess that is my point, if I have one. At the end of all this, when we can finally take off our masks and actually touch each other again. Not in a weird way. We will have all forgotten what each other look like. Just think what a shock we are in for. Our last memory of how friends and extended family looked was months ago. The only updates are social media images and we all know how accurate those are. Who knows, we might get a fight and flight reflex when we see our friends again. As we run of down the road we might well meet a bear; then what? Pick it up and cuddle it? Return it to the child in a pushchair?

Now let’s be serious for a minute. Will we look back at our reactions in surprise or satisfaction? As I said there is no right or wrong in our reactions, we don’t choose our emotional reactions. There will, I think, be a time to reflect on things. Our rose-tinted glasses will come out and we will remember how well we did, how calm, collected and cool we were. At least group two will. Our memories will probably emphasise the generous and obliterate the selfish. We are human, we are imperfect, we tried, OK maybe we sometimes failed. But in the end, it is best to be realistic in our expectations from ourselves. That’s about a minute, we can be silly again.

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Freedom, it’s not just a word

I was playing a game of cards on my tablet. Quite a common occurrence for me. It’s a free game… who am I kidding, what games are free on phones, PC’s or tablets? They all treat you to a barrage of advertising for other, ‘free’ games. Even if you pay for a game these days, you only pay for part of it. There are add ons, adverts for extras, it’s not really paid for. Free is not free and ‘paid for’ just means an excuse to advertise more.

Free has become a very strange word indeed. Freedom has become an odd concept. It used to be that slavery and freedom were two opposites. You could tell one from the other. It was obvious which was which. Slavery was and is abhorrent, terrible and inhuman. Freedom was and is desirable and wonderful.

But are you free? How can you tell what freedom is? What does freedom mean?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines freedom like this: “The condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say or think, etc. Whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited.”

Colins Dictionary says “Freedom is the state of being allowed to do what you want to do.”

So, I ask again, are you free? Can you do, say or think, etc., whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited? Can you do whatever you want to do?

I would be extremely surprised if anyone can answer yes to that unequivocally. Surely, we all have limitations. Limits caused by expectations, money, family, physical ability, intellect or at least the law.

Freedom is not as the Cambridge nor the Collins Dictionary describes it at all. We can’t do whatever we want and yet most of us would say we are free; wouldn’t we? Or would you say you are in bondage? A slave? But a slave to what? To whom?

Is it society, work, commitments, money, physical limits, the law, expectations, gender, other people? What are we enslaved to? What stops us being free? If the freedom we are seeking is to do whatever we want, whenever we want then it could be any and all the above. But if we see that the bondage, we are in is really deeper than that. A bondage to something else. Then the question is what? Could it be that we are really held captive to our very nature? Does who we are and how we think limit our freedom. Are we in bondage to the guilt we feel because of our actions? Do we feel held back by the pain and regret from our past? Are we in a prison of sorrow and grief?

Sometimes, we look outside ourselves to find blame. Sometimes, that is justifiable. Often, we need to see where we must change. If we want freedom it won’t come by just pleasing ourselves.

I would describe Freedom as to live in peace and harmony with others. Freedom is to be able to live your life without the weight of guilt, pain, regret and sorrow. Freedom is to be able to choose to do that which blesses you, but also blesses others. If in your freedom you hurt others, that isn’t freedom. If others freedom hurts you, that isn’t freedom.

The Dictionary definitions of freedom could lead to anarchy, lawlessness, riots, widespread fear and panic. If everyone just did what ‘they’ wanted, without constraint, that isn’t freedom, that is hell on earth. Freedom, absolute freedom to do whatever you want sounds great, until you think of the consequences. There’s a word we are not keen on, consequences. It gets in the way of freedom. If only we could do what we like and it had no consequences. If eating and drinking whatever we want didn’t affect our bodies. If staying awake all night had no after effects. If any of the things you thought about had no effect on you or others, apart from fun that is.

But life is not like that. Much of the regret, pain, fear, hurt, anger, guilt, shame and sorrow we feel is a consequence of things either done by us or to us. Things that others felt they had the freedom to do, or we did. We live in a society that is more invested in fixing the problems caused by individual freedom, than in seeing not everything is right. In other words, we are lost in a desire to be ‘free’ individuals without understanding that true freedom can be a communal experience. We don’t have to be selfish, to be free.

If our freedom hurts others, it can never be right. If one person’s freedom causes pain, death or distress to another, they have robbed that person of freedom. There cannot be a justification for that.

We have become so wrapped up in the concept of individual freedom, that we have lost sight of communal freedom. It is not about whether one or two people are free to do what they want at the expense of others. Society must act in a way that benefits everyone fairly.

If this sounds political, then it is, with a small ‘p’. Because politics just means ‘group decisions.’ As a group of human beings, we should care enough for each other that we don’t just, ‘clap the NHS’ or look out for our neighbour, or give to charity. We should care enough for each other that we don’t allow our freedoms to limit theirs. That is the kind of freedom I believe in and champion. It is a freedom that ultimately leads to a truly free society.

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Dr Livingstone, I Presume?

You’ve all heard the famous line, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” I’m probably quoting it wrong. I could check on Google, but who’s to say that’s right. I presume it would be; but I don’t know with certainty. On balance it probably is.

I have had reason to contemplate presumption a lot the last few months. We all do it, we presume things and we also assume things. They have similar but subtly different meanings.

Presume means: “Suppose something is the case on the basis of probability.”

Assume means: “Suppose something to be the case without proof.”

There is some reason behind our presumptions, we are basing it on probability; of course, we can still be wrong. Whereas assumptions have absolutely no evidence to back them up. That’s why it has the easy to remember mnemonic “Assumption makes an ass of you and me.”

This blog is about presumption. Because even though there is often reason to come to the conclusion we do; we are so often wrong. Think of all the detective stories you’ve ever read or seen as a film. All those ‘red herrings’, things are not always as they seem. We can have a lot of facts and evidence and still draw the wrong conclusion. Our presumption can still be wrong.

I used to be a professional photographer, many years ago. Not quite when there were glass plates and exploding powder for flashes, but not long after. I am still keen on photography; I just can’t easily do it. I understand the principles. One of which is the compression of distance that happens with a long lens. In other words, if you use a lens that is designed to make a distant object appear closer it also squashes together all the different distances, things that are close, middle and far off. The effect is as if an object near you is closer to a far-off object than it really is. This effect can be deliberately used in movies for a thriller effect. In a car chase the car behind can seem to be closer than it really is. It can also be used in portrait photos. If you have ever wondered why, you don’t look your best on a phone camera, it’s because they have wide angle lenses. The longer the lens (a lens designed to take far off images) the better you will look. That’s because it softens facial features. Flattens out the angles of our faces. Some new phone cameras have long lenses as an alternative, try using it. You may find that you no longer have to use Fairy Ears, an overlay of stars or the beatify setting. You could even have a photo of you as your profile pic rather than an avatar. Of course I’m presuming you’d prefer that, or am I assuming?

I have gone right off topic, no surprise there. The point I wanted to make was that presumption can get us into trouble. We have some facts, weigh them up and come up with a conclusion. But it can be wrong. It’s not until we are talking to someone who knows the truth that our presumption is shown to be wrong. Now this might only be me, but I find it hard to let go of a pet theory. Which means if I have come up with an idea based on the facts I knew, I am not ready to let go of it. It’s probably why a lot of arguments start. After all who wants to back down? We are often more ready to believe the conclusions we have drawn; even if based on our faulty presumptions, rather than change them.

You don’t have to think very far to come up with examples of what I am talking about. Covid, Brexit, vaccination, race, employment, disability, politics, media, etc.

My conclusion is this. Sometimes it is better to look silly and admit you have got it wrong rather than continue with a faulty presumption. After all for a presumption to be truth, it needs to be more than a series of probabilities. It needs factual evidence and testing.

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The Face that Lunched a Thousand chips

I am watching Troy: Fall of a city on Netflix. I know it’s a tragedy, a Greek one, not the fact I’m watching it. You all know the story. Actually, I bet most people don’t anymore. What most of us know are snippets. Achilles’ heel, he was the super strong hero whose only weak point was his heel. Paris, he who gave his name to the city in France steals a beautiful bride. Helen is the bride, but she is already married. This is sounding more and more like a soap. Nothing new under the sun. Homer, not the guy in The Simpsons, but the writer of many Greek tragedies, got there first.

Helen had a face that launched a thousand ships. By that I don’t mean it looked like a champagne bottle. She was so beautiful that Paris fell in love with her at first sight. He seemed to ignore the fact she was married. Let’s be fair to him; so, did she. They both ignored the fact she had a daughter whom he was supposed to be courting. Listen to me, ‘whom’ and ‘courting’, it must be all these Greek stories making me posh. Getting back to Helen’s ship launching face. The reason that quotes about Helen’s face is so well known is this. After Helen ran away to Troy with Paris (Alexander as he was really called; don’t ask) her husband was not happy. Well, he wouldn’t be would he? This was the days before family courts, arbitration, amicable divorce. It was the days before modern civilisation. Anyone who thinks these ancient times were a golden age at the dawn of civilisation has never read any history.

What did Helen’s husband, Menelaus, do? He gathered his brothers, under the leadership of Agamemnon and went to war against Troy. This is where you are probably getting other vague memories. Troy, who lived there, the Trojans? Hang on, wasn’t there a horse? Something about Greeks bearing gifts? Wait a minute! Were Menelaus and his brothers Greeks? Absolutely, it’s all coming back now isn’t it.

The Greeks attacked Troy. This is a fictional story and Homer is keen to include all of the Greek God’s. Zeus, Aphrodite, Hera, Dionysus, Hermes (no parcels involved) etc. They have a rare old time messing around with the lives of the characters in the story. Paris doesn’t know whether he is coming or going. Although he does a lot of both. He does meet up with a tribe of Amazonian women. Something that has always puzzled me is how a tribe of only women has children? Answers on a postcard to…

While Helen does have a beautiful face. One you might believe could have launched a thousand ships against Troy. Due to spite, jealousy and anger, rather than love, the way Netflix tell it. The majority of the onlookers (Greeks and Trojans) have faces that look like they have lunched on a thousand chips. Much like mine.

What can we learn from all this? Don’t watch Netflix? Don’t take stories too seriously? Don’t take my blogs too seriously? Eat less chips? If you are beautiful don’t run off to Paris… I mean with Paris, it will only end badly. Whatever we learn, be gentle on yourself, smile, don’t take life too seriously.

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