Covid Diaries – Weeks 8-12

It seems that at this time people are finding themselves in one of two categories.   Mown out (uber-busy) or bored.  For those of you wishing there was a 25th hour in the day, perhaps you could delegate something to me, for I now find myself in the latter category.  Lancashire have back peddled on allowing primary age children back to school.  This prompted Mrs W and I to investigate the status of key workers wrt schooling a little more closely.  We knew that as an (emergency) vet that she had been upgraded to key worker status, but closer inspection showed that only one parent needed to be a key worker for a child to be allowed school provision.

I really enjoyed the home schooling, but I reckon I had covered more than all his syllabus for Year 1 and that what he was needed more now was social interactions with his peers.  Further I could feel the dark fingers of depression starting to claw and my ankles.  It was time to be proactive for both our sakes.  He is now coming to the end of his first week back at school which he is loving.  I have applied for temporary work in the brewing sector with breweries I expect to be busy brewing for the bottle and can market.  So far two great conversations with brewers who didn’t need another pair of hands and no further replies.  Next week I’ll spread my net a little wider if I need to.

With important household repairs and upgrades behind me I was still in need of a project.  So I set about ridding the lawn of moss and dandelions.  And that sound you can hear…   …that’s the sound of the bottle of a barrel being scraped!  Anyway, we have a lush, almost weed free lawn as a result.  However, for those who would seek to criticise my reduction in biodiversity I would point them to our herb garden which seems a veritable Mecca to local honey bees.

In week 9 Mrs W had a dry cough for 24 hours so went to the local COVID drive through centre for a test.  Thankfully this came back negative.

I’ve stepped up my brewing at home in the last two weeks which has been good.  On Saturday my second Bx 23 Grapefruit & Hibiscusattempt at Hibiscus and Grapefruit Ale will have conditioned enough to try.  This is an exciting project because whilst version one did not hit my ‘design spec.’ both myself, my tasting panel and the neighbours all liked it very much.  And the colour was to die for, or should that be ‘to dye for?’

Right now some session “Isolation Pale Ale” is just finishing its primary fermentation.

More interesting still has been a commission from a friend / former colleague to brew a beer for their wedding.  They liked my idea of combining aspects of their character, background and tastes to produce something which should reflect something of both of them. It could be fruitful if I could think of a way of making such projects commercially viable rather than just fun because then I could make some income from something very creatively enjoyable.  For now, in this season of house arrest I am delighted to have a fun challenge to work on.  Design one is ready on paper, awaiting some speciality malt to arrive in the next couple of days, then ready to brew next week.  I hope it does not seek combine too many flavours and become confused.  If it does I know the first thing I’d drop, so I have a plan B.  This is what I always enjoyed about developing chemical processes, that ideas beget ideas.

So as we wait for the pubs to open, and with it the opportunity for me to return to my missed routine of work and banter with the other brewers / dray-men if you have a beer design commission in mind, drop me a line and I can give you a quote.

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?

Mars – a healthy snack?

Never mind the Curiosity rover, the real Mars news today is that the firm has written to a Scottish chip shop explaining that deep frying their product is not condoned by them because it is not in line with their healthy image.  So let’s understand this a little more – the virgin product is 60 % sugar and 17 % fat, and they suggest that the addition of a little flour and vegetable oil significantly impacts it’s health giving properties?!?  Eat one every day and sure it will shorten your life expectancy, but I wonder how much more life you would lose if each one was deep fried? And even then, would the ‘healthy’ option enable you to live longer or might it just feel that way?

£17 For a Pizza base – time for a more palatable solution?

It was reported today – BBCNews – that the NHS has been spending £17 on gluten free pizza bases and £2.50 for comparable loaves of bread.  Typical of a ‘big organisation out of control’.  This is our money they are wasting – not that the need is not valid, but the approach is not appropriate.  But one should not just complain unless you have a better suggestion – so here is mine.  Why not launch an NHS special food’s website from which people can order what they want.  Subsidize the prices as before but use the power of a partner like Amazon to manage the logistics for you.  For sure the £2.99 books I buy from them cannot cost the same to deliver as these NHS foodstuffs – reported to be 3-4 times the cost of the item itself.  What do you think Mr Lansley?