Politics, Psychology, Science, Society

It Was Bound To End In Tiers

I’ve just heard yet another news report about anti-lockdown protests in London, people chanting “take your freedom back.”  What freedom has been taken away exactly?  The freedom to contract a potentially deadly virus and then pass it on to someone else who might then die or perhaps the freedom to die yourself?  Such people say it’s their responsibility if they catch it, or they don’t believe it exists – one man, when asked if he had a face mask said he hadn’t and was asked to remain behind the screen instead at which point he said “it’s sad that you’ve got to believe in this crap”– and this attitude demonstrates the levels of sheer selfishness in modern society and ignorance in the face of overwhelming evidence – ask someone whose relative has died from it if it isn’t real.  Their protest is not about freedom, it’s about ego.  It’s about being told they can’t have parties, go to the pub and show off to their friends.  If they wear a mask then it means accepting, visibly, that they’re not able to do whatever they damn well like, that they’re not so badass and indestructible.  They’re terrified that they’ll look silly in a mask, weak, or afraid of the virus.  They’re terrified they’ll look boring, subservient or submissive, it’s not cool to follow rules.  They want to show that they’re too special or tough to be affected, that even if they catch it it won’t bother them, when this attitude is demonstrated by so-called celebrities who should be setting a good example then it’s all the worse.

What they’re also showing is that they care not a jot about anyone but themselves.

Since we started wearing face coverings in the UK I’ve seen quite a few people, men and women, wearing a mask over their mouth but not nose – a fundamental misunderstanding of the plumbing inside their own heads and the nature of Covid-19, preferring to live, as it does, in the lungs not the mouth, it’s not fatal halitosis.  I also saw a young couple, of the type you see on so-called Reality TV shows – all gelled hair and excessive makeup.  He was wearing a mask and at first sight she wasn’t, until I noticed she was wearing one – on her wrist.  I know she might have had a good reason to take it off but you have to wonder if she was instead taking the definition of “wearing” at face value, or not face value.  In our shop a man came in with what appeared to be a scarf covering his mouth and when he started to talk he pulled it down to around his neck.  I saw the same thing in another shop.  I wonder what they think the face coverings are actually for.  Similarly during the Tour de France and Giro D’Italia there were spectators stood in the road on the slow climbs, leaning in to within a couple of feet of the riders, shouting “encouragement” at them, many with their masks worn round their neck or on their chin at the most – potentially one big dose of the virus sprayed into each cyclist’s face.  No doubt it would have been the same at other such events.  I’ve even heard it said that “it’s ok, I’m outdoors” – hence large groups travel halfway across the country to see some snow.

The first lockdown was imposed because something had to be done fast to keep people apart as face masks weren’t readily available.  But it was also because of the reason the subsequent lockdowns have happened – because a large number of people won’t follow rules and as such they have to be legislated into doing so.  We’re told to wear masks, many won’t; we’re told to stay two metres apart, they won’t; we’re told not to go to each others houses or gather in large groups, people gather in large groups and have parties at each others houses, or just continue to visit their friends and family like nothing’s happened. 

The lockdown measures aren’t the fault of the government or scientists but the arrogant and/or stupid who refuse to follow simple rules, who can’t compromise for a year – to go without socialising, to go without their holidays like most of us have.  If they’d be sensible then the pubs that they complain about being closed could still be open.

Those crying about losing their freedom would still expect the NHS to make them better if they catch the virus, they’ll probably also be the ones shouting loudest to get the vaccine first too. Our global situation needs cooperation not selfishness – we’ve seen plenty of the former but sadly too much of the latter.

[For those outside the UK the title refers to our Tiered Lockdown system, where we’re mostly in Tier 4, or is it 5?]

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Music, Productivity, Science, Tech, Work

The Technology of Staying Apart

high angle view of woman sitting at desk

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

Traditional industries such as the one I am in don’t allow working from home, we sell glass, I haven’t got the room for the cutting table. Cloud based working though has allowed many businesses to continue through the current pandemic, many of whom have been critical. The internet of course has been fantastically useful at home for entertainment, education and information. It has been amazing how a number of technologies which once seemed niche have suddenly come of age.

Remote working has evolved quickly in the last few years thanks to Cloud Computing – information and even applications that you access on a computer being stored on servers somewhere else in the world, connected via the internet rather than being in the same building or on the computer itself – from the old days of clunky low-bandwidth video calling and rudimentary remote control to full team working and sharing of screens and data enabling full real-time collaboration where all participants can manipulate data in a shared space while discussing it as though in the same room. The most important area where this technology is critical is the efforts to develop a vaccine where data can be shared instantly.
  The advent of internet phones and internet based systems used by large companies has allowed call centres to be distributed, you might ring British Gas or Severn Trent Water – as I did about a blocked drain – and it seems like you’re talking to a chap in a big room full of people but maybe the background noise doesn’t seem the same, maybe that’s because he’s in his kitchen at home, in his slippers. Because the booking system for the engineers relies on internet-connected servers rather than the old wired connections within a building the computer used can be anywhere. Internet phones are the same, plug one into any internet connection and the traditional landline phone number associated with it can be used to ring it, anywhere on the planet.
  It was also a momentous day when Prime Minister’s Questions was carried out for the first time ever with barely any MPs present in the house of commons – most of them attending via video link. This could be a hint at how to do things in the future, cut travel costs and make sure that all the MPs can be there wherever they are. In fact already there are rumours (some are calling them conspiracy theories already) that universities are looking at this situation as a model for future methods of delivering lectures and that this could usher in a new business structure where companies have their workers at home all the time and wouldn’t need large offices just facilities for the servers and spaces for face-to-face meetings. The number of people commuting could be reduced too reducing road traffic and pollution as everyday work, meetings and even conferences and presentations can be done online as more people have now had to learn how to do it, the tv joke of someone sat in a suit and tie up top with pyjamas below the desk could, in the future, become normal. The nightmare flipside is being asked to take your phone and laptop on holiday with you – just in case we need you to take a few calls – ha, don’t think so.

Beyond work video calling, such as by Zoom, Skype or Facebook’s standalone devices keep family and friends in contact alongside normal phones. Online shopping allows people to get essentials while in isolation. Even volunteering, whether on a local scale or the NHS’ system has enabled volunteers to be notified on their mobile apps if someone needs medication delivering, taking to an appointment or just needs a chat with someone. Technology has truly enabled everyone to pull together and feel closer together while staying apart.
  Radio stations have set up micro studios in presenters houses, TV presenters have similarly done shows from home, adverts for TV and radio have been made remotely, many using footage from smartphones including shows specially for the lockdown including cookery and craft shows. Stock footage and image libraries have clearly been plundered for many of these lockdown-specific adverts.
  Have I Got News For You, which I just happened to see on the BBC the other night has the usual studio setup with the presenter in the middle and the two teams of panellists either side but with the guests on superimposed monitor screens instead of being present which looked surreal as they still cut to each guest as if they were there rather than showing their image full-screen.
  BBC4 have made a short series of programmes “Museums in Quarantine” featuring art experts exploring closed museums either via their online presence or via special permission to visit on their own providing a different viewpoint and something interesting to watch.
  Then there was the remotely recorded, distributed benefit concert Together At Home, which seemed to gether more comments on the artists’ homes, or home studios, than anything regarding their performances.
  Formula One and Formula E have held simulator based virtual races, using the already realistic training sims the drivers use before each race to practice for the first practice on the real thing. And even the Grand National was held virtually, all thanks to the still increasing power of computers that pack the graphical power of what used to fill a room into a desktop box – or rather a server rack full of them.

Magazines such as Fortean Times have been able to distribute their operation to their staff’s homes, having prepared years ago to be able to do so so apart from the printing and distribution the magazine can still be produced – and were even prepared for if it had to become online only for a while as they provided temporary free access to the digital edition for us subscribers. Again this is thanks to being able to create the various bits on PCs at home and then bringing them together via the Cloud, or email, into a print magazine via Desktop Publishing which is then sent digitally to the printers where the ethereal finally becomes the physical and drops on our doormat without any hint of disruption.

Home schooling has become the norm and there are numerous online resources for all ages, many of which have either always been free or have been while our lockdowns have been in place, with even the BBC providing what they’ve called Bitesize Daily – short educational programmes, as well as other online courses being provided free for people staying home to have something educational to do.  Online gaming has continued to bring people together, even if they are marauding across a virtual battlefield.  If there’s been nothing to watch on TV then there’s been the seemingly infinite resource of learning, entertainment and cat videos, YouTube to fall back on. 

There had been initial problems with systems for remote working struggling with the extra demand, such as with Microsoft Teams, but the providers have been able to quickly adapt to cope. Zoom has proved controversial too due to government security concerns concerning the encryption keys sometimes going through Chinese servers.

On the inevitable dark side of things criminals have been trying to use the pandemic to con people but again technology has also helped against the online threats, Google’s Gmail for example has blocked 18 million malware and phishing attacks per day through use of machine learning to teach the system what to look out for. A massive number of emails and messages have been pretending to be from the WHO so much so that efforts have been made to specifically filter such messages to confirm authenticity.

Other technology that even I have dismissed in the past has suddenly become very useful and even I’ve used it. Contactless payment is particularly useful when food shopping, I criticised this when it came out for its potential for theft from your cards but even I have used it throughout. Online banking – which I still won’t use personally – is undeniably useful in reducing the number of people needing to use physical banks, where you have to use the ATMs for all transactions now – which of course can now take deposits, carry out transfers and so on as well as doling out cash.

It’s not only tech that seems to be, by good fortune, in place just when needed the TV channel Dave in the UK has been partnering with the Campaign Against Living Miserably for a number of months now to make people aware of the importance of staying in touch with those friends or family who are alone and at this time it’s an all the more important cause.

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Health, Meta, Politics, Society

The Lighter Side of a Global Pandemic

Right from the early stages of this Covid-19 Pandemic there has been a number of film and TV show selections of the schedules that have been, shall we say, interesting. I’m not sure if these were deliberate, I know schedules are worked out in advance but, as we’ve seen with the plethora of lockdown-specific TV shows, can be changed.

The ones that I noticed have included:
  Channel 5 showing “28 Days Later” regularly
  Channel 4 showing “The Return of The Black Death”
  Channel 5 showing “The Great Plague: Digging Up Britain’s Past”
  ITV2 showing “Contagion”
  Horror Channel showing “The Andromeda Strain” – the obligatory “it’s aliens” story.
  Another channel showed a documentary “Pandemic: 1918” about the Spanish Flu outbreak.
  Horror Channel showed “Daylight’s End” “In the aftermath of an outbreak that turned humans into rabid creatures” – much like the scenes in supermarkets shortly before the lockdown.
Either it’s a sick sense of humour or an attempt to say “things could be worse”… Elsewhere DMAX have been showing first Paranormal Lockdown UK and then Paranormal Lockdown US. Which I’m sure is a coincidence but if anything can be called a paranormal lockdown this can.

I have noticed that shopping has ceased to resemble Supermarket Sweep and now feels like the start of a Tour de France time trial or a World Rally stage – being let go into the aisles at intervals – at least they don’t time you, or if they did what would you win? A bottle of hand sanitiser?
  There was a man in a shop who was offered his receipt by the cashier and his reaction was to insist that she put it on the counter before he then picked it up, saying “you can’t be too careful” despite the fact that she’d already touched it, she’d put it down on a surface which could have even more contamination on it than her hand and if he’d taken it from her he’d know which end she’d touched and as such he could have just stuffed it in his wallet uncontaminated. In the same shop they’d had to put signs on the shelves where the handwash had been, and had been replaced with loads of bar soap, saying, effectively “this is soap, it works the same as handwash, it’s just solid.”
  In a light-hearted post the photographic film manufacturer Ilford suggested stockpiling rolls of film not toilet roll.

In Psychology there is an effect whereby if you touch and object you want to own it, supermarkets have now reinforced this with their instruction to not touch anything you’re not going to buy therefore if you pick something up to see what it is you feel you really should buy it – or is that just me. Ok, just me then.

The Grand National was replaced by a virtual version and bookmakers profits were donated to NHS charities. For years we’ve been saying that some motorsport has become more like a video game, in 2020 Formula One and Formula E literally did, and finally the fans who were convinced they could drive better than the professionals got a chance to try to prove it.

TV and radio have become strange as many programmes presenters have taken to the equivalent of “phoning it in”, sat in their living rooms, occasionally interrupted by kids or pets while some new shows have been made specifically for lockdown such as Jamie Oliver’s cooking tips and Kirsty Allsop doing a programme on crafts you can do while at home.
  One of the channel idents for the UK’s Dave said “Who’d have thought that staying at home and watching TV would count as saving the world?”

In a slightly mistimed new Lynx Africa advert, a young man at college picks up a can of Lynx Africa in 1996 and immediately he gets transported to 2020 where he emerges on the lawn outside in front of a young woman who sprays the Lynx on his t-shirt then drags him away. The reality of course would be he would either emerge into an empty college lawn or if she was there she’d have told him to get back and observe the social distancing – and either way he’d wonder what they hell was going on.

At mealtimes we’ve all been transformed into amateur Heston Blumenthals experimenting with what we’ve got left in the fridge and freezer until we go and queue up at the supermarkets again. All this aided by the aforementioned Jamie Oliver. After the toilet roll stage of the panic buying came the beer and wine stage while in South Africa they are looking to impose a ban on drinking hand sanitiser. Talking of supermarkets a newspaper in hull shared the amazing news, nearly a month into the lockdown, and even longer since the panic buying began, that you could get most of your groceries at shops which aren’t supermarkets, gasp. I, today ventured into a supermarket after work for the first time in seven weeks, there wasn’t a queue, it was half-past-five of course.

And we’ve gained a new phrase and concept of course – social distancing, two words that we’ll take a while to forget and a habit that we’ll probably still subconsciously maintain after this is over, I’ve even noticed that I’ve seen people on TV adverts and thought “they’re not two metres apart”…

Facebook and Twitter have been a mine of Coronavirus humour since day one, as expected.  Especially as we were told to not stay home anymore but “stay aware” – of what, nobody’s really sure as yet.

Of course there’ll always be songs to keep you going and I’ll leave this post with an appropriate one Radio 2s Liza Tarbuck played on the 11th of April by Ethel Merman, Jack Klugman & Sandra Church “Together Wherever We Go”:
“We may not go far… We’ll always get through this together”

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Health, Psychology, Society, Work

A Crisis Brings Out The Best in People

Flowers

Flowers

I originally wrote a piece about how it felt like our nation had lost our legendary stoicism and blitz spirit and become selfish and cynical in the face of a global pandemic, hence the title being ironically wrong, but thankfully the good has now far outweighed the bad so, the revised version.

We started March with a looming, glowering storm approaching called COVID-19 and numerous selfish individuals made grocery shopping look like an episode of Supermarket Sweep thinking that of course, and I quote, “there wouldn’t be any food in two weeks time”. Though food didn’t seem to be on most of their minds as across the world people hoarded toilet rolls – why they’d need them without food is anyone’s guess. in the U.S. of course people hoarded guns and ammo, presumably in case someone came to take away their bog rolls.

As we know, despite supermarkets telling us that they’d got warehouses full of everything we’d need while being locked away for six months, the hoarding soon extended to milk, pasta, bread and nappies. When the pubs closed down so the hoarders stockpiled beer too, then gin, rum and lastly cider. I drink cider so I’m ok with enough for my occasional can in the fridge. I’m alright Jack (Daniels).

After six weeks we got the queuing back but this time at reopened DIY stores and household waste centres as people were desperate to clear out the stuff they’d been, er, clearing out for six weeks.

I spoke to a woman on the till at the height of the panic buying, she looked exhausted and had had a bad day, it was worse than the pre-Christmas rush and she said she’d had enough of working in retail, it was the final straw. Then the hoarders left an NHS nurse in tears because after working all day to help people she couldn’t get food for her tea. Further it descended into the same people shouting at shop staff because they couldn’t get what they wanted and after limits were imposed on how much you could buy people tried going back with multiple trolleys – one man locally went back to the same till with a second trolley full and was refused, as was a man with a trolley full of toilet roll. It is a sad reflection on these parts of our society that the CEO of Asda had to go on TV adverts asking people not to abuse his staff.

But of course it wasn’t just shop staff, at first a number of Asians in Britain were verbally or physically attacked with comments such as “take your coronavirus home” being spat at them by the idiots, then the shop staff trying to make sure everyone has food, some staff of non-essential businesses had been abused for cancelling work and closing, and then after shops prioritised NHS staff in stores other shoppers had been heard to abuse them too just for being prioritised, commenting “so what” and so on. These people would be the first crying for NHS help should they fall ill, and would be demanding priority treatment.

We had people stealing milk bottles from doorsteps. A pub in Scotland delivering free meals to NHS staff received a torrent of online abuse for doing it. And the people who think this is just a free holiday and restrictions don’t apply to them, because they’re special or too “badass” to catch, carry and transmit the virus so they continue to gather together. And as for the people caught licking a phonebox in our town, well in addition to being made to clean it it would be ironic if they caught the virus from the phonebox wouldn’t it.

The latest thing is people believing conspiracy theories that 5G mobile is to blame for coronavirus and destroying the phone masts that ultimately our emergency services also rely on. It doesn’t help that these theories are being peddled by ill-informed celebrities on social media, because of course they’d be an expert on the subject so they must be right, right? As for the other conspiracy theories, well, it’d take the rest of the lockdown period to read them all.

But then the good in our country started to show. I’ve noticed most people being polite and considerate, saying thankyou, saying “morning” when you pass them while getting your government authorised exercise and smiling. Hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered to help the NHS, delivering prescriptions, taking patients to appointments, calling vulnerable people on the phone just to chat. Local groups have launched to help people, do shopping for them, walk dogs. Individuals and supermarkets have helped foodbanks. Pubs have become corner shops, restaurants became takeaways. Private healthcare companies are helping support the NHS, St John’s Ambulance volunteers are operating their ambulances alongside the NHS’ own service, and even Formula 1 teams have offered to build ventilators for hospitals. Airbus have deployed test aircraft to transport supplies. Passenger aircraft have been turned into cargo planes for medical supplies. A McDonald’s has become a drive-through testing station. The response has been amazing.

Like in wartime when car manufacturers made tanks and aircraft fashion clothes factories have started making medical gowns for the hospitals. Individual companies and even schools have donated PPE to hospitals.

The Queen has given speeches to rally the country in unison, invoking the wartime spirit, saying “And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country.” As a nation we are showing that we do indeed still have that spirit in abundance.

Every Thursday night we clap for carers, round here it has expanded to honk for hospitals, fireworks for frontliners too. We see rainbows painted by kids in house windows and attached to fences, even out in the countryside where I ride my bike. My parents saw, the other night, two dinosaurs walking along their street to give people a smile. Whole streets are singing outside their front doors.

People have raised huge sums for the NHS and charities via social media, including a Notts man who raised over £150,000 by camping in the garden, and Captain Tom, the 99 year old Army veteren who voluntarily raised over £30million by completing 100 laps of his garden, then gets a song to number one, the oldest person ever to achieve that. We’ve had improvised comedy nights, adverts encouraging working together.
Organisations supporting the vulnerable and desperately in need of help in this situation have continued to support everyone they can.  Communities have been helping each other to get through the crisis.

Internet services providers have beefed up their services and prioritised users to provide for remote working. Facebook has just announced that they’ll be flagging whether you’ve looked at any misleading information about coronavirus on their platform. The technology companies are enabling communications that enable the world to carry on better than we could otherwise have done, and allowed many who would otherwise be isolated to not be.

Shortly before we were Furloughed I spoke to a delivery driver who was moved because of people thanking him for carrying on and doing a wonderful job in enabling the country to carry on, which extends to posties and lorry drivers, shop staff, bin men and other key workers who we all should be grateful to and thank sincerely.
So yes we have seen we still have a strong community spirit, and judging by the Coronavirus jokes on Facebook, our sense of humour.

I think this characterises us, when times are tough we suddenly stand up and make things brighter, whether it’s a war, or a economic downturn or a pandemic we do what we can to make our country bright – in the landscape of flowerbeds or painted rainbows and our spirits through smiling and joking about it, dancing and singing in the street – whatever we need to do to try to keep each other going.

As Winston Churchill once said “makes you proud to be British.”

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Health, Society

Thank You

Thank you

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

I would just like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all our country’s key workers, in the NHS, emergency services and elsewhere helping us through the Covid-19 crisis.  Thank you for keeping us healthy, saving lives, providing us with essentials in shops from milk to toilet paper, taking away our rubbish, keeping the lights on and drains unblocked, keeping us in touch and entertained, bringing supplies into the country and bringing parcels to our homes and businesses.

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