The COVID Diaries (Weeks 3 & 4)

Here in rural Lancashire we are still a couple of weeks (decades?) behind London & Birmingham so we’ve not seen the direct impact of COVID-19 as yet, but the indirect impact on day-to-day life is now with us just the same as the rest of the UK.  Without doubt it is strange, but after two weeks under house arrest the ‘new normal’ is getting to be fairly well bedded in.

How to light a campfire

How to light a campfire, a great way to also teach the fire triangle and an introduction to combustion chemistry.

Home Schooling turns out to be a much better experience than I expected. With Junior being six I guess I have it easy.  He doesn’t have exams ahead of him and is missing his friends more than it matters that he missing his formal education.  I am finding that a project based approach, akin to the  Montessori  approach is working well for both of us.  Each week we have a project, or two, which acts as the framework for discovery and learning the skills needed to carry it out (maths, science, dexterity) and record it (maths, English).

We have been blessed with great weather thus far meaning that bike rides (twin solo, or with the tag-along) have been possible and have been a little longer than most folks 20 minute walks.  However around here it’s easy to self isolate on the back roads.

I am delighted that I was able to restock my (mini) alpine garden before house arrest too, and am starting to see the results of old and new.

dsc_1054

Church life has changed again.  My ‘live streamed’ drumming to an empty church  was not only the first but probably the last time this will happen.  Since then church buildings have themselves been closed and now our church, amongst many others, is streaming sections of each service from different members homes.  All credit to the people organising this at St James who are doing a grand job.  Canned music didn’t work as well as it might last week, the difference between performance (what you can get from YouTube et al) and leading a congregation, albeit virtually, is actually very significant.  For Easter we had a multitrack of keys, guitar and vocal, complete with video, from two different homes.  Much better. Next week there should be drums as well.  This afternoon I laid down four drumming tracks for someone to mix into next weeks multitrack song recordings.  I’m feeling the benefit of having an electronic kit.  Whilst it’s perfectly technically feasible to mike-up every drum and cymbal, it’s neither easy nor cheap to achieve this.  I can mix my drums within the Roland ‘brain’ and output the drumming track straight to a .wav file on a memory stick.  In theory this is a perfect recording. I can even choose my ambience!

Home Multitrack Recording setup

I’ve found some voluntary work on the day I’m not home schooling and it’s good both to be busy and to be ‘doing my bit’ for the community.  Finally, the wheat malt I ordered has arrived and I have been able to set up my home office and do some informal development work.  I cannot sell the results as I am on furlough, and then there is also the small issue of being unlicensed.  However, it’ll keep my tasting panel happy and keep my brain and taste buds ticking over.

Isolation Pale Ale

Brewing an IPA – Isolation Pale Ale!

Cheers!

The COVID Diaries (Weeks 1 & 2)

We are certainty living in “interesting times” and when writing in a newspaper in 1936, Sir Austin Chamberlain first coined the phrase, this was meant as a curse rather than a blessing. The world has seen pandemics before, but the last one was over 100 years ago and thus not part of my experience or that of my family for three generations. So, so as not to forget and to have something to pass onto Junior other than memes, I thought I’d keep a COVID-Diary.

Andrex Rear Gunner pic

Here is rural Lancashire COVID-19 had no obvious influence on life until the w/c 9th March (week one) when we all started washing our hands more often and with more care. (about the same care in my case because I work in a food factory) Apart from that, everything was running as normal at work, socially and at church. By the start of week two beer sales started to drop because of the uncertainty of whether pubs would be open by the end of the week, with our Boris asking that we stop going out to social venues. Work life as a vet for Mrs W remained as normal. Then in four days we went from normal to ‘all change’ with all the acceleration of a Bugatti Veyron. On Wednesday it was announced that schools would be closing, thus limiting my ability to work to two days per week (the days Mrs W doesn’t work – yes, I know we are very fortunate). This turned out to be OK with my workplace who wanted to reduce all of us to a three day week anyway. My two day week was agreed as I went home at 4pm on the Friday. Then an hour later, Boris announces that all pubs, restaurants and cafe’s are to close that evening until further notice. Over 80% of what Bowland Brewery makes goes into cask, so that put the tin lid on the business. We’ll be back, but no-one knows when.

Saturday left me feeling rather shell-shocked and melancholy. I tackled this by going out for a long walk in an unpopular part of the Yorkshire Dales to see plenty of hills and sunshine and very few people. I am reminded at times like this of the verse from Psalm 121

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help

Perhaps many would consider this a quote taken out of context, but given that I believe that God made and gave us a bounteous supply and variety of mountain-scapes, the hills speak to be of the creative generosity of the divine. I returned from my walk, without a post walk pint, but feeling a good deal better adjusted to the coming week.

All churches were closed for public worship, but again I was blessed. I was on the rota to drum in the band and had the privilege to be part of the first Live Streamed Service from our church.  It’s things such as this which I want to record.  It was very strange to be in a church with just a band, the Rector and a sound / video engineer. Mrs W and Junior watched from home and church started to prove itself to be a body of people, not (just) a building. At its peak Mrs W noted viewing figures of 120 (accounts) which given each viewing was probably from a group of at least two people suggests that the whole congregation was ‘virtually there’ along with a number of extra ethereal visitors as well.

So as I write this we are entering week three and I’ve been put on furlough (a term previously little used outside of missionary circles) and 80% pay. This is good news for us as a family, at least in the short term and for the business. It also means that rather than going to work to mark time I can look for opportunities to volunteer within the community for two days a week. It will be good to be continuing to directly enhance our community, albeit in a different way to making peoples Friday evening treat. Now also I can relax into the role of home teacher, even if this is not something I ever saw as my vocation.

I wonder what the rest of week three will hold for us…   …watch this space…

Have we passed ‘Peak Specialization’ ?

interpretation-of-hyperspecialization

Over the past few months something about the current structure of our society has disturbed me. I’m a deep ponderer not a quick thinker and I’m not sure if I’ve yet got to the root of what is disturbing me or whether I need to take a fresh perspective. Are my concerns valid? The benefit of blog is that I can float my ideas and take listen to the feedback.

So what is disturbing me? I think that we are seeing too much specialization in the skill sets / job roles within our current society. The trigger for this was to compare the job roles I held up until 2017 verses today.

Consider these juxtapositions:

(a) A professional person with a desk based role, using part of their high salary to pay for an expensive gym membership so that can get the exercise their body needs after work. vs. (b) Someone who has physical work integrated within their job, who when they finish work, they do so fit without need for the gym, having more time with their family.

(a) A similar professional person who deals with the mental stress of working within a top down driven silo like existence who lives and earns to be able to go on their next holiday. (b) Someone whose job role is their vocation so the satisfaction of what they do work something they actively want to do, who can blur work and free time to their benefit and enjoys but does not ‘need’ holiday down time.

The human body and mind has certain core needs (link). These have been summarised in the form of the following connections

  1. Exercise / The Natural World
  2. Status & Respect
  3. People & Community
  4. Hope for the future
  5. Good values

It seems clear to me that the over-specialization of job roles has a strong tendency to weaken a number of the above connections rather than strengthen them. We are noticing a rise in mental illness. Between 2003-2014 the prevalence of common mental health issues in the UK rose by 20%. Additionally, the prescription of anti-depressants has doubled over the past ten years. Is there a link?

For an employer, increased specialization gives higher productivity and this improves revenue, and in a well managed firm profit. So is the rise in specialization simply the fuel desired by those who seek to sell more and higher margin products back to society for financial gain? Is it good for the individual, for the family or society as a whole or simply for those at the top of large corporations (of those who profit on the trading of their shares)?

I am not suggesting that we have left behind a golden period when everything was better than today. One can clearly see the benefits of how we have specialised since we moved away from subsistence living. Healthcare, culture and the arts, travel and free time have all given us an enhancement in our lives today vs. say 1000 years ago. What I want to ask is: Have we passed our peak?

What if something happened to cause societal collapse? How many of us would be able to cook from raw ingredients? Who would be able to start a fire or know how to best source clean water from the wild? Who would be able to repair their own clothes, house, bike, car etc. And how many people would be stuck without being able to seek the advice of Siri or Alexa?

We all have a basic set of needs: Clean air, water, food, shelter, security, good health, sleep, clothing, companionship and the option to reproduce. And beyond that we have a reasonable set of desires; Friendship, community, friendship, comfort, expression and appreciation of creativity (music and the arts), freedom for personal growth and the like. But do we need a trophy car, the latest mobile technology, a television larger than our bookshelf, sculpted eyebrows, this years trainers, all examples of the fruits of a growth driven, technology enabled, specialist made and target advertised economy? Or would we be better off with connections which we fracture to achieve these material goals?

Reconnecting with life, reconnecting with happiness.

There is a lot of focus on mental health in the media at the moment, with people openly asking the question – “Why are the incidence of depression and anxiety rising so rapidly in the Western World?”

My aim in this post is to take Johann Hari’s 255 page “Lost Connections” book and distil a summary from this. Let’s start by outlining his list of connections:

Connections to:

  1. Meaningful work
  2. People and community
  3. Good values
  4. Status and respect
  5. The Natural World
  6. Hope for the future

If you consider the above list you quickly see that the direction that society is taking is reducing many peoples connections to a number of, of even all, of these areas. I have already found my way to items one, three, four and five. Lets unpack, rather more briefly than Hari, the above list, because if you can define the challenge you can look to work on solutions.

Meaningful work

A recent study suggested that only around 1/3 of the UK population enjoy the job which they do. That’s appalling! A key issue here is your extent of autonomy. Whilst autonomy might often rise with seniority that is far from always being the case.  There is a key difference between being told what to do and being told how to do it. Having someone prescribe the ‘how’ is a big problem, or at least it was for me. If you have staff reporting to you, trust them to know what they are doing. Depending on the role they may need different levels of direction, from broad-brush to specific. But within the needs of safety and quality allow them to do it their way. Not only is this better for mental health of the individual, if you are not using the thoughts and initiative of your employees you are missing out on a lot which they have to offer. If you want an automaton, buy a robot.

People & community

As a society we are becoming more individualistic. This is not a new phenomenon, you can see the roots of this in the thinking of the Renaissance, the replacement of monarchy by democracy and the birth of the Anglican and Non-conformist church. It’s not new. One of the key reasons why humans have flourished to a greater extent than other mammals is our ability to co-operate and work together. We have always worked best as a group or tribe, not as selfish disconnected individuals. Hari quotes an interesting study which shows that people who seek to promote the happiness of their community experience greater personal happiness than those who just seek their own fulfilment. Face to face interactions with friends are important too. Better to have 2-3 face to face relationships than several hundred connections via social media. By all means have both, but don’t – he mutes – allow the latter to overwhelm the former. Spend more time looking into the eyes of a friend than at a little screen in your hand.

Good Values

Depending on your cultural and faith background your view of good values may vary. But I’d suggest we could all agree on a list of junk values : consumerism, celebrity-worship, on-line curated popularity (i.e. having the perfect Instagram image), fast-fashion. What would you add to this list? That is a question I am meditating upon. What so many of these junk-values have in common is that their true role is to serve others and not us (or our community). We are becoming increasingly aware that these junk values are not just at our expense but are also at the expense of the planet and thus future generations.

Status & respect

Here Hari highlights that the happiness in countries where the gap between the richest and the poorest is smaller, happiness is greater. Read his book to know more. This one is a challenge, because as individuals most of us cannot influence these factors. However we can learn to be content with what we have and we can be more respectful of others. Also we could choose cast our vote for a leadership that shows preference to the poor rather than just the rich. Your view on who that is may vary.

The Natural World

There is mounting evidence that exercise and time outside is good for all aspects of our health. In addition it gives us a sense of perspective. It puts our challenges in their place and causes us to be less inward looking. If you’ve read much of this blog you’ll see how much I love the outdoors and spending ten months working on a sheep farm was instrumental in my recovery from burn out. Having a faith also helps with perspective, if you understand your position relative to your God that allows you to see things more realistically.  That the good in your life is bigger than your thought and the bad less significant than you give it credit for when you feel down. Even if faith is not your thing, ‘counting your blessings’ has been shown by the work of Dr Laurie Santos at Yale University to be highly beneficial to your well-being. Her interview on Radio Four is well worth a listen.

Hope for the future

Have plans, have dreams, think beyond tomorrow. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Increasingly we are being seen as part of a machine to keep the economy growing year on year. Stop conforming to the goals of the large corporations and set your own goals, challenging ones, and work towards them. But make those goals intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Do things which you love in their own right, not because of what they could lead to. I walk because I love the wild, not because it keeps me fit. I work for the satisfaction not simply for the money. I brew because I love the creative challenge, not because I want cheap beer.

I spent 13 years in school and seven years at University and was never taught any of the above. It’s time that messages such as the above were more widely known. Certainly they are concepts I plan to pass onto Junior. What has reading this summary made you think? I’d love to know.