Category Archives: Thoughts

Getting better…

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I’ll be fine…

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Thought

Romance, like beauty, is very much in the eye of the beholder.

A big romantic gesture is only that if it will be received as one. Otherwise it’s a bit stalkerish and weird.

It turns out that life is not like the films.

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Covid, Lack of Sleep and What’s Next…

Today New Zealand announced that they officially have no cases of Covid-19 at all and so have lifted nearly all of their lockdown restrictions.

Here in the UK we can’t say the same.

Although I’m going to try and be calm while I write this post, I’m incredibly angry about the way our Govt has handled all of this.

Firstly of course, there is the years and years of neglect of our key services – the NHS, social security etc – by successive Tory governments. This has led to the fact that all our services were effectively being held together by the goodwill of the people that were [over]working within them.

Secondly, there is the fact that the government front bench was selected based on the strength of their support for Brexit, rather than their actual suitability to run a government department. Pick your favourite incompetent minister from Raab, Hancock, Patel, Jenrick, Rees-Mogg, through to Boris himself. All have, so far, proved themselves to not being up to the job of actually governing.

Next there is the delay in acting, the initial promotion of the herd immunity strategy, the lack of PPE, the shipping of patients from hospitals to care homes, the failed track and trace, the weak messaging, the ‘urging’ people back to work before it was safe to do so, the mixed messages about schools, etc etc.

At this point I need to point out that I am clearly not an expert on this and I’m not suggesting that the situation the government was in was anything other than incredibly difficult. I’m not even suggesting that I could have done a better job of it – but then again I didn’t ask to be Prime Minister. The difference is that Boris did ask to be Prime Minister and then has failed dramatically. I’m not saying that *I* could have done better, but there are plenty of people who could have done.

But now of course we get to the Dominic Cummings situation.

What I am angry about here is not so much what Cummings did – I mean obviously I am a bit – but how it was covered up, lied about and generally excused by the government.

If Cummings had come out and said:

“I’m sorry. I did what I thought was best for my family in the circumstances, however I now accept that it was wrong and I should have stuck to the lockdown rules.”

then all of it would have blown over within a couple of days. But instead we got the “good father” bullshit in pre-packaged quotes from the government and they twisted and contorted all the previous ‘rules’ to ensure that Cummings hadn’t broken any.

It was the absolute contempt for the rest of us that came through during that episode that has of course been the root cause for all of the delays and poor performances so far. What is really the issue here is that this government actually doesn’t give a shit about you and I. They care about their own interests and that’s all.

From a personal perspective for the last four weeks or so (ever since Boris went on TV ‘urging’ people back to work before it was safe to do so because he was more concerned about the economy than people’s health) I’ve struggled to sleep. I suspect that it is to do with my brain trying to process my anger at the situation – but whatever it is it’s horrible and not something I’d like to go through again. I’m knackered.

So what’s next?

Well, our numbers are coming down, but I expect there to be a second spike. This will be caused by the V-E Day celebrations, by people being ‘urged’ back to work and by idiots congregating on beaches on bank holidays. It will of course, however, be an opportunity for the racists to come out of the woodwork and blame it on the recent #BlackLivesMatter protests.

— As an aside on that – if you spout white privilege nonsense about ‘all lives matter’ then please take some time to read up on the subject and think about what black men, women and children have to go through every day. While I know that I’m not perfect and I have a lot to learn I will call out as bullshit comments from my friends and contacts on social media as and when they need calling out. —

But with such a feeble government that has shown it has no plan and cannot communicate clearly the policy it does have it will be left to ‘the people’ to make their own decisions about how and when we come out of this.

For me that will be about keeping as much physical distancing in place as possible – I don’t like the term social distancing as I want to be sociable with as many of my friends as possible, although I accept that it’s not possible to be *physically* close and to hug them. As opportunities to take part in ‘normal’ activities slowly open up again I will join in if I am confident of that physical distancing can happen. For me this will mainly be tennis and swimming.

I think that I and others will look to meet more friends at a distance – no packed beaches, but maybe a distanced picnic, glass of wine in a back garden, or a walk.

I’m hopeful that by adding a bit more ‘normality’, a bit more social contact that I will be able to relax (and sleep) and that life will get on and not feel on hold. Obviously, I want to hug, to go to the pub, to go out for meal, to date, to take my son to the cinema, but for many of these things I will hesitate even when they are opened back up.

But of course the most important thing that I will do is not forget this time and vote against this government, these individuals, that party at every opportunity I can in the future.

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Small worries

We’ve all got some big things to worry about at the moment – our health and that of our friends and family; and for many people financial worries.

However, even in these times, we all have small worries.

Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

We know that they’re not as big as the ‘big’ ones, but they are still there, they still affect us, and for some people struggling to cope with the big worries, it can be the small ones that tip us over the edge.

I’m no expert, but I’m fairly sure that the brain can’t really distinguish between a big worry and a little one – they are still worries and still take up brain space and gnaw at us.

Let’s help

This is where we can all help, this is where a little kindness could really come in useful. Can I suggest two ways that we could help?

  1. Don’t be that person that comments on a post with, “there are people dying and that is all you have to worry about.”
  2. Let’s actually promote people to get their small worries of their chests. It may be the we can help them with advice and support, or it may just be that by sharing them they feel better anyway.

We know there are people dying, but whether the window cleaner can still come round is still a worry.

So let’s create a new hashtag on social media #smallworry and get people to post their worries. Then let’s search for that hashtag and offer help and support where we can.

What’s your small worry?

#smallworry

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Not all men, but all women

I’m compelled to write this following the recent Harvey Weinstein allegations.

Admittedly we haven’t heard this much on this occasion (or at least I haven’t), but a phrase that is often repeated when a sexual predator is found out is “not all men.” The not so subtle subtext to that is that hey, come on, we’re not all like that, most men are ‘good guys’, so women you’ll just have to learn which ones to ignore.

But I’m going to call that out as bullshit.

It’s bullshit because it puts the onus on women to learn / cope with / avoid the ‘bad guys’ and it doesn’t challenge or try to stop the men’s behaviour.

It’s bullshit because even without blatant sexual assaults there is a lot of behaviour by many men that women find threatening, uncomfortable, invasive and just downright icky. The ‘not all men’ mantra stops men from challenging or questioning their own behaviour.

But it’s mainly bullshit because while it is true that not all men are sexual predators it is true that all (or nearly all) women have a story that is about, at best, inappropriate sexual behaviour by a man towards them, but very often is about downright sexual abuse.

If you don’t believe this, then check out the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter (and I think you’ll posts with it on Facebook) too.

And men, you don’t have to have a wife / daughter / mother to be appalled at this – be appalled because it is wrong.

– – –

Just over 12 months ago I wrote a similar post to this after Trump’s admission about “grabbing”. It’s amazing that it needs writing again.

Last year’s post (which you can read here: Men – it’s time to get angry) was inspired by a Twitter conversation asking women for their first sexual assault – not the only one, because the female author of the tweet knew that most women had suffered multiple assaults. You can still see the thread here: https://twitter.com/kellyoxford/status/784541062119456769.

In last year’s post I talked about four things that men (actually anyone, but I was directing it at men) can do:

  1. Stop
  2. Step up
  3. Step in
  4. Support

Unfortunately it’s still appropriate and I suspect that there will be many more of these stories to come out in the future.

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Sleep and happiness

The two best diet aides are sleep and happiness. 

Sleep is an obvious one. When I’m tired I crave extra energy, extra food and often extra sugar. Extreme tiredness morphs into extreme hunger before I even know what I’m doing. Chocolate equals energy. 

When I swim I need food to fight the cold, to keep me warm. When I don’t swim then I need food to keep my soul warm. Happiness needs to be nourished. 

I can cope better with sadness if I’m well fed – or badly fed, just as long as I’m not hungry and sad at the same time. That’s a tough combination that multiplies both feelings. 

And of course the two are often linked. Sadness can lead to an inability to sleep or at least to sleep well. While adding weight (or not losing it) leads to a feeling of worthlessness, which is rarely followed by happiness. 

So it looks like I can’t wait until I’m skinny to be satisfied and happy with myself…

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DNF DNF

Last weekend I did the 2Swim4Life event – well I say “did” it and the truth is I didn’t.

It’s a 24 hour / 24 mile swim where you swim a mile on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours. In theory it’s a simple concept. In practice it’s a brutal swim. And I only managed 13 miles.

From quite early on I knew I wasn’t going to complete it all – my shoulders didn’t feel right, but perhaps more importantly neither did my head. I just wasn’t enjoying it enough to go through the tough hours at 2 or 3am. I probably could have done a few more miles, but to be honest once I’d done 13 miles I realised that I could stop and go for a curry. So I did.

I wasn’t too disappointed to not finish it. I have done it before and I knew it would be a struggle, so in the end it was probably a wise decision.

I was less pleased with my previous DNF the week before – in fact my first ever swim DNF.

I was on a training camp by The King’s Swimmers in Menorca. And it was a great camp, well run, great location, we were blessed with great weather and a wonderful group of swimmers. We’d swum on the first two days – a two hour swim and then another two hour on the first day; a three hour, followed by another two hour on the second day – and the third day was to be a six hour coastal swim.

A six hour swim is important as it is a requirement for channel solo swim (and many other long swims) and although I don’t have a channel solo to qualify for I wanted to it as part of my training for 2-way Windermere.

The short story is though that I didn’t do it.

I swam for 1 hour and 24 minutes and realised that I just wasn’t enjoying it. I spent the next 36 minutes trying to find something in my head that would allow me to continue – singing, thinking of loved ones, counting strokes, imagining completing the Windermere swim, remembering previous 1-way Windermere swims – I tried it all and nothing worked. So after two hours I got out. I just couldn’t find a reason to continue. I did get ‘persuaded’ to get back in again a bit later and I did the last two hours of the swim, but still – very much a DNF.

Both of these have changed the way that I think about myself as a swimmer.

Firstly, they have meant that I will no longer be swimming 2-way Windermere this year. Even if I wanted to, at this rate I’ll never be ready. So that’s now out. But they also made me think about whether I ever want to go long again, or am I just not feeling it right now.

While I’ve been thinking all of this through, this weekend I caught up with the Mind Over Marathon programme about people with mental health problems training to run this year’s London marathon. It was a great programme and definitely worth a watch. While watching it I thought about my own mental health.

My back was injured last summer. I didn’t swim at all and at times during last summer I could barely stand. At first I put my recent DNFs down to that – down to the fact that I’m still not strong enough after that physical injury. However, the realisation that I’ve come to is that the physical injury also brought about a mental injury and that while I’m physically better (although maybe not completely) I’m not yet mentally better.

Like most people, I don’t talk about mental health issues hardly at all. But watching the programme made me realise that I was probably suffering from depression as well as a bad back last summer. I certainly had suicidal thoughts on a number of occasions. I was numb and couldn’t see the point of it all. I wasn’t enjoying life and wasn’t sure that it was worth continuing with. In many senses I was lucky as I knew that my son still needed me, but I remember rationalising (of a sorts) with myself and telling myself that if things hadn’t improved by the time he was 18…

Watching the programme made me realise that the mental health issue was an injury that I’ve still not recovered from. Just like a physical injury it needs not only to heal, but to be given time to be built back up to full strength – and I’m not there yet, which is why I couldn’t complete my recent swims. However, also like a phyisical injury it may relapse and I need to watch for the signs of that.

So, the rest of this year will be about continuing to build up my physical strength, but also my mental strength. I’ll swim, but maybe not [too] long and not [too] hard.

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Jury Service for Politicians

The results of biggest two latest elections (the EU referendum and the US election) has brought me to two key conclusions:

  • The general public is no longer intelligent / informed / clever enough to decide on complex political issues
  • Anyone that is egotistical / arrogant / selfish enough to want to be a politician should automatically be barred from being one

Now those two things make the current system of electing represented officials difficult, so I have a solution for that:

  • Members of the public should be randomly selected to be an MP in a similar way to the way jury service is done

Let’s be honest, most of us feel that a random selection of people could hardly make a worse job of things than our current MPs are doing, while with enough civil service support the people could learn enough about the issues to make informed decisions – the kind of decisions they can’t make during an election.

Thoughts?

– – –

So I’m joking about the above, but only half joking. I do think that these two recent elections have seen a shift in the democratic process and how information is shared, understood, accepted or rejected by the electorate. I think, not just because I don’t like either of the two results, but because of how both campaigns, from both sides, were run, that something might well need to change.

How they were the same

Obviously the two elections were for different things with different protagonists, however there were a number of similarities.

One of the first is that general commentators discounted what turned out to the final result, “don’t worry, this could never happen.” In fact that line was being repeated right until the count, in both cases, showed that actually it just had. Some of that is due to the inaccuracies of the poling (joke: for people voting in the US election the polls were wrong; for those voting in the EU referendum it was the Poles that were wrong!), but much of it is due to the natural bias of the commentators (me included) meaning that they just couldn’t believe it would happen, instead of analysing the facts.

Another similarity is the way the voting patterns were split by age – in both cases the older generations voted in the final result, while the younger generations were on the losing side.

However, some of the commentary I’ve seen today would suggest that it was the split by educational level that was more influential – those with lower educational attainment voting for Brexit and Trump.

From what I can see, the biggest similarity is that a very large proportion (a majority of those that voted) used their vote as a vote against the ‘establishment’. In the EU referendum it was the establishment of Europe and the fact that most of the major politicians were supporting it. In the US Hilary is seen as one of the most establishment figures and her very experience for the job counted against her as she was seen as one of ‘them’.

Now, I would argue that the result of that anti-establishment vote has produced a worse result for those that wanted a change. In the UK what we’ve done is handed even more ‘power’ to the Tory government that can now claim a mandate for almost any right-wing policy they want claiming that it’s what the ‘people want’, without the checks and balances that the European parliament provided, or as they’ve tried to do, without any checks and balances from the British parliament. While in the US they have elected a man that has shown less than zero interest in the rights of the ‘common person’ so far as he has ridden rough-shod over people to run his businesses.

It’s here now

I was angry after the Brexit vote and while anger is easy to understand it’s not going to solve anything. What we may to do is accept.

Now that I’ve calmed down a bit, I don’t agree with the moves to block the triggering of Article 50 in the UK. I don’t want us to leave, but I think it is more important that we respect the result of the vote. Nor would I agree with any blocking or disrespect of Trump becoming President (I don’t like the #NotmyPresident hashtag).

That doesn’t mean that we should ‘do’ something, but that something isn’t to be bitter and reject the results. I’m not saying that I know exactly what we should do, but just being angry is the wrong thing.

The Causes

For a while the narrative amongst the Remain voters was that the Leavers were misguided, that they didn’t understand the ‘real’ issues, that they were only ‘protesting’ and didn’t mean it. In a similar way most commentators didn’t believe that Trump would be elected as those people that were claiming that they would vote for him would somehow wake up or come round and realise their mistake before the actual election.

Maybe now is the time to accept that some people really do feel that these choices are the best way forward. Maybe they voted with conviction after looking at the options and actively made this choice. Maybe the alternatives presented to them they considered to be worse for them.

We may have to consider the possibility that these results were active choices by people.

For the EU referendum vote I strongly believe that the Remain side made a huge mistake in not clearly demonstrating the benefits of the EU (that could be a separate post of its own), but what they didn’t do was address the concerns of the people who were against Europe. It would seem that for both elections there was quite a strongly divided electorate and in both cases both sides really only talked to their own ‘team’. Certainly the losing sides failed to understand that there was real anger – and I mean real, even though it may not be ‘justified’ that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t real to those that felt it – and therefore failed to even attempt to address it.

The left needs to take some blame for this – and not just during these election cycles, but over the last 20 years or so. The view that multiculturism, gender equality, open borders etc etc are good things just hasn’t got through. These are the issues that have been roundly rejected, yet are the basis of much of left-wing politics.

Another key cause has been how the media and social media have been used. The reporting that someone said something, with limited, if any, fact checking by the mainstream media and the spread of memes and conspiracy theories on social media have greatly affected how people have received and processed the information they needed / wanted to make a decision.

Finally, I genuinely think that the current state of capitalism is a key contributor to this situation. What most people are angry about is the loss of their jobs, or the fear they will lose jobs. That we are not as affluent, as a society, as we once were or as we were promised we would be. They have been looking for someone to blame and the ‘others’ become an easy scapegoat. Yet it isn’t European or Syrian immigrants (in the UK) or Muslims (in the US) that have caused this. Instead as a society we have allowed spiralling salaries and the profit at all costs culture – and most of the costs are the workers and their jobs, or if not their jobs then their salaries.

A Trump win may be the best result

Having thought about this all day I do believe that a Trump win is possibly the best result from last night. Not for a moment did I want him to win, or support anything he has said through the election. But I’ll explain my two key reasons for thinking this:

If he had lost, and his supporters had lost, then the rhetoric of the final few days of the election would have immediately resulted in ‘a fix’ being called. If Clinton had won almost half of the US voters would have felt they had been cheated yet again by the establishment and I dread to think how that anger and disappointment may have been expressed. On top of that the Republican dominated Congress would feel obliged to restrict and hinder President Clinton as much as possible.

However a Trump in the White House might not be as bad as he was on the election trail. I’m still pretty sure he’ll be terrible, but I suspect that a combination of his lack of experience will mean he will need to rely in advisors and his ego will mean that he’ll actually want to be a popular president.

This may just be a vain hope, but we can just hope.

– – –

Caveat – I’m not a professional commentator, in fact I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about. This is just a rant in the aftermath of what, to me, is a truly shocking result. I’d be happy to hear more thoughts…

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Men – it’s time to get angry

You’ve probably all seen and heard the recording of Donald Trump talking a few years ago. In it he talks about he feels entitled to grab women and sexually assault them because he was what… famous? Rich? Or just a man?

I’m assuming that it was inspired by the Trump news, but a woman on Twitter then decided to ask women for their stories, she tweeted this:

If you haven’t already go and view the responses to this tweet. Thousands and thousands of women recounting truly horrible stories. Gird yourself, but do read it.

But note one important thing – the original request was for stories of women’s ‘first’ assault. Not only, not if they ever have been assaulted. No. It asked for their first assault. Already implicit in that is that nearly all women will have been assaulted and that it will have happened multiple times.

This is horrific.

It obviously doesn’t need me to say that it is wrong, but I’m going to say it anyway. THIS IS WRONG.

It’s time for men to stand up and do something about this. If you’re a right thinking man you have probably heard the expression “every man is a potential rapist” and been appalled by it. How can they think of me like that? Well if you see all these stories and understand the fear of assault that many women live in, so any man – every man – can look like a potential assailant. By allowing this sort of behaviour to continue, or to be explained away as ‘boasting’ we are not only putting all women under threat, but we are also reducing men to potential rapists.

So, what can we do about it? Well, I think there are three key things:

  1. Stop
  2. Step in
  3. Support

Stop
Obviously the first this is to stop behaving like this. You may not think of yourself as attacker, but analyse your behaviour and amend it if need be. It is ok to find women attractive if that is your sexual persuasion, it is not ok to feel entitled to act upon that or expect any response to your attraction. Keep your hands, but also your eyes and comments, to yourself.

Step in
Don’t allow this to happen to women in your presence. We don’t have to be offended about this in relation to our daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, granddaughters etc. We can just be offended by this because it is wrong. So let’s not let others get away with it. Call it out in real life and on social media. In real life it can be harder and it can be hard to step in without looking like another potential attacker, but it seems that the current advice – for verbal attacks at least – is to step between people and provide cover. If it’s not aggressive then sit next to the person being attacked and chat about something else, or just stand in front of the abuser to shield the victim.

Support
Listen – and hear – the stories woman tell. Believe them. Don’t belittle them. And DO NOT put it down to just ‘boasting’ by men, or boys being boys.

UPDATE

It has been suggested to me by some people that know this subject a lot better than I do that I add an extra step into the process, it is:

Step Up

This is a more general attitude shift. Don’t wait to see abuse before you step in (although still safely do that if you do see it), instead try to prevent abuse in the first place.

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