COVID diaries – Month 5.

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First day of term selfie

It occurred to me last week that it’s August and that we’ve been under the cloud of COVID for five months . It feels like the thick end of a year has passed and I’ve missed it. For us, a few significant steps have been taken towards regular life again in past few weeks. I was called off of furlough in week 21.

Two weeks after that Mrs W’s work rota returned to it’s pre-lockdown pattern again, meaning she is back on call for the first time in five months. She says she prefers working the odd all-nighter to extra time in the day. I fully understand her point of view, but it wouldn’t work so well for me.

The purpose of this diary is to ensure that I don’t forget how this period has been and so that in years to come I can look back to what happened and how I felt about it at the time. As I said, I’ve now been back at work for just over three weeks after four months away. It’s the longest intra-job hiatus I’ve ever experienced and whilst initially it was odd to be back in the brewery, the big thing that has hit me is tiredness. Sometime in the four months I’ve been away, someone seems to have worked out how to get more that 9 gallons of beer in a firkin! Surely that must be why they are a lot harder to lift now that they were in March? Jesting aside, brewing is a very physical job and whilst I’ve been lucky to be able to do lots of good hill walking and keep fit, my ability to heft 50 kg casks about has clearly rather reduced due to lack of practice.

Another shock to the system this week was to find that the brewery is cutting back of staffing and four of my colleagues will very sadly be leaving us. I’ve been spared, so it looks like hard work and enthusiasm has carried me through again. In a small close-knit team whoever doesn’t make it through the process will be missed. In this role it’s the quality of the company of my colleagues rather that the technical challenge which is a key pleasures of the role.

At home all the DIY jobs, even those I’ve been putting off for 10 years have been completed and I’ve even added a new alpine crevice garden to the front of the house to hide an ugly manhole cover out front.

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Childcare is another oddity. Clearly it is more difficult, but it looks like Junior’s school are using this opportunity to work reduced hours for reasons which are impossible to link back to COVID itself. So whilst I’m back at work, I’m on short hours. This does help me easy back in however, so there is a silver lining. How the new term, in three weeks, turns out is something we are watching with interest. The gap between the best and poorest performing children will only have widened, with committed parents having covered all of the planned syllabus and more, with those at the other end of the spectrum having done nothing at all. We wait and see if those at the top are left to get bored whilst the focus goes on those who need to catch up, the reverse or a healthy balance.

Recording memories

This time of house arrest gives one a lot of time, and sometimes I’ve been able to put it to good use doing things I should have got around to many weeks / months or even years ago.  One of these way to make good my lack of photographs of our wonderful moggie and faithful companion, Henry.  And what did Time Berners-Lee invent the internet for if it was not for the sharing of cat photo’s?

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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’ ?

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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?