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The Lockdown Days – Heroes and villains

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a fairly well-known philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception. So how about: Is a bridge over the Thames illuminated if there is no one there to see it? Well I’m going to be of little help answering the central question but before we get deep into Schrödinger’s cat territory I can reassure everybody that the 3 bridges over the Thames – Millennium, Southwark, and Cannon Street Railway – included in stage 1 of the Illuminated River project are still lit up in the evening.20200521_205426 Furthermore, that on a Thursday they are illuminated blue in support for our key workers across not only in the capital and the UK but also the world. You are never far from a reminder that London is proudly multi-cultural and the exemplar of a world city.

The Illuminated River is a long-term public art installation on an unprecedented scale: a scheme to light up 14 bridges of central London and transform nocturnal views of the city. An orchestrated series of light works that evolve at the stately pace of the river itself, Illuminated River draws inspiration from the spirit and history of the River Thames and celebrates the diverse communities that live along its banks. The project was developed through a collaboration between the Rothschild Foundation, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Mayor of London and a large number of stakeholders along the Thames.  Once complete, this will be the longest permanent public art commission in the world at 2.5 miles in length.

Last summer in collaboration with Inner London Ramblers and the Illuminated River Foundation I led 3 evening walks spotlighting the project, showcasing the bridges IlluminatedRiver walk with Inner London Ramblers, photo Milo Robinson (1)currently lit and discussing future proposals. These free walks were, flatteringly, popular and ‘sold out’ on the day of listing. They were immense fun to lead and in that tradition of learning as well as sharing knowledge I learnt so much about engineering, who can be awarded Freedom of the City of London and the brief incarnation of the Millennium Bridge as the ‘wobbly bridge’. Among the many personal regrets mounting up as we struggle our way through Covid_19 is the fact I will not be able to repeat these walks in the summer of 2020. I loved them and the public seemed to love them as well.

Right now, however, I’m working with the Illuminated River project on some remote commentary so you’ll be able ‘re-live’ these walks online. Watch this space and we’re hoping this’ll all be online by July.

Central London barely has enough people abroad to qualify for sparsely populated. I’m up here checking out, as much as I am able, the ambitious suggestions on offer under the car free Central London proposals. (See next blog, People Get Ready.) At 6pm for every worker, commuter, walker there are 2 joggers and all of us are enjoying the freedom and space and quiet in the realisation we will never experience the like of it again while at the same time painfully aware of the suffering and sacrifice so many have had to endure to arrive at this.

I pause at the Millennium Bridge on the north bank in front of Tate Modern. As is my wont I glance up to chimney to see if I can spot the roosting peregrines. I always look20200521_192229_2 although I know I’d need binoculars to clearly see them. I look at my watch and realise it’s going to be at least an hour before the sun goes down and that normally I’d be in the nearby Swan, the pub attached to Shakespeare’s Globe, which is one of my favourite Thames-side pubs in London drinking while staring at my phone scrolling the news.

Tonight, the news is all about the Government U-turn on the NHS surcharge, described by even flint hearted Tories as “mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty”. A £400 annual levy, rising to £640 in October, would be applied to workers coming from outside the European Economic Area. In an act of almost breath-taking political insensitivity alongside stupidity, this levy was to be applied to those currently working within the NHS. In what is fast becoming the USP of this shoddy Government just 24 hours after defending the policy in Parliament, the Prime Minister changed course after reflecting on the care he received while in intensive care recovering from coronavirus and asked the Home Office and Health Department to remove the charge “as soon as possible,” with details on how the change will be implemented due to be announced in the coming days.

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As the clapping for key workers began at 8pm it was not hard to imagine members of this tawdry Cabinet piously standing on pavements and ostentatiously applauding these very immigrants at the same time as dreaming up ways to penalise them. We don’t have to look very far these days for examples of the mask slipping.

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Well if I thought that was ‘shoddy’ I was in no way prepared for the circus that developed over the next couple of days. We all know the barebones of the Dominic Cummings Durham episode by now and, surely, all decent people must be scandalized by them. But the response from senior members of the Cabinet alongside the Prime Minister truly beggar belief. Even an old cynic like me who expects little better from those in power has been shocked by these revelations and the responses engendered.

A world where Church of England bishops call Johnson’s defence of Cummings “risible”, accusing both of having “no respect for the people” and “lacking integrity” and IMG_20200525_181855suggesting they could decline to work with the government during the crisis “unless we see clear repentance, including the sacking of Cummings.” And Daily Mail headlines scream: “What planet are they on?”. And the official UK Civil Service twitter feed tweets: “Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters.” As a few examples of responses to the Boris Johnson hosted news briefing, is truly a world turned upside down.

The Bank Holiday weekend was rounded off with a 10 Downing Street Rose Garden press conference for today’s modern pantomime villain Dominic Cummings. This despite the UK code of conduct stating: Special advisers must not take public part in political controversy, through any form of statement whether in speeches or letters to the press, or in books, social media, articles or leaflets. They must observe discretion and expressdomc comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks, and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department. His frankly risible explanation of his family trip to Barnard Castle delivered alongside no apologies or regrets was accompanied by a veritable stampede to our coast and other beauty spots by a population desperate to enjoy the sun.

The fallout from this will likely mean thousands more people will lose their lives needlessly, an economy which is going to need immense care and attention to detail with sure handed responses will be further torched and burned and, perhaps even more seriously, the actions of all who are everyday heroes have not only been visibly held in contempt by those supposed to be in charge but will be obscured by the selfish deeds of those few. It is shameful.

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The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

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The Beach Boys – Heroes And Villains

Mary Chapin Carpenter – Heroes And Heroines

David Crosby – Hero

Little Feat – Time Loves A Hero

Bonnie Tyler – Holding Out For A Hero

David Bowie – Heroes

Édith Piaf – No Regrets

M People – Sight For Sore Eyes

Downshire Brass – Barnard Castle

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The Lockdown Days – We need to talk about trees

The Urban Tree Festival 2020 launched at the weekend, it’s online and runs from Saturday 16 May to Sunday 24 May. This year, for obvious reasons, it is wholly virtual, and I’m sorry to not be able to lead my City of London Tree walk originally scheduled for this week. Go online, follow on twitter & Instagram, check out all the great things they have to offer and get involved. It’ll be a treat with lots of surprises – you’ll love it.

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I was an urban walker before lockdown. People who know me, have probably heard me say so many times that your walk starts just outside your front door. Urban walkers20200517_093211 more often than not think of their walks as first walking to a form of public transport, riding to your start point and walking. Even with that mentality I was probably so familiar with the walk down to the Thames Path, which for me is very close, that I didn’t always notice the trees or birdlife or flowers on this stretch. Well lockdown as changed all that. I take a lot my notice of all the things just outside my front door these days, including trees. I’m not sure how much my tree knowledge is improving – it still probably hovers at novice – but my interest has definitely blossomed.20191006_142803 (1)

A couple of times, over the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting street tree walks with Paul Wood, aka @thestreettree, and I really recommend his books, London’s Street Trees and London is a Forest, as well his talks and blogs. They’ve been a lot of fun as well as informative. These walks allow the space and time to talk about the trees in situ and perform a sort of field study. Sadly, these opportunities are not available to us right now. But trust me, once we are able to meet in groups again, I’ll get something going out there on the streets. Until then when you’re out and about local walking remember to check out the trees.

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Round the corner from me is a highly influential 1950s development of flats and houses, but mostly flats, by the pioneering architects/developers Eric Lyons and Geoffrey Townsend, the Parkleys estate. As well as the architecture, the tree planting is spectacular. It is integral to the landscaping and if you know anybody who deals with landscape, they will tell you some simple solutions adopted at the start of any property developing will improve the outdoor world immensely and is the most cost-effective time to adopt it. This estate is such a delight because there are so many different trees, I don’t really know what a lot of them are but it’s fun trying to find out.

I’m experimenting with different identifying apps with differing results and have so far found one of the better ways to walk with trees in mind is to visit the TreeTalk website.20200515_151543 You can enter your postcode and get a walk from your door with the trees of note listed. Me and Clare, aka @innerlondramb, did one of these the other week that was incredibly enjoyable. There’s also an app TreeTalk that you can use when you’re out and about. It’s pretty self-explanatory and well worth a download and, of course, you can follow them on twitter but I don’t think there’s an Instagram account.

As well as Parkleys, a little further away from me is the Ham Riverside Lands estate. This time this is predominantly a 60s built estate of 2 or 3 storey houses with off street parking for the cars. (Probably not enough parking for the number of cars but20200515_143930 that’s for another day and maybe another blog.) There is plenty, perhaps defined in today’s terms, a ridiculous amount of green space with trees, shrubs and flowers planted. And I can’t wait to ‘do’ a TreeTalk walk around here even if lockdown gets lifted tomorrow. (Lockdown won’t get lifted tomorrow though.) If you like, or think you’ll like, tree trails try @ticlme on twitter. For those of you familiar with walking in the City of London, especially visiting their pocket parks, you might have noticed the tree trail. As well as being informative it’s also easy to follow and playful.

As the lockdown evolves, with its now even more confusing and often conflicting information, I’m being encouraged by the Government to drive to exercise. At the same time many of these places that might be potential sites to visit are urging me to stay 20200515_143144away. In London, I see buses, trains and underground trains empty or sparsely passengered, rattle by all day but I’m discouraged to ride them, but I could drive, on my own, adding car journeys and pollution if I wanted, even outside rush hour. I’ve never been convinced by this ‘all in it together’ guff and daily it becomes more clear that the poorer you are (and trust me I’m very privileged) the worse lockdown is for you but probably nothing compared to the horror show you’ll have to endure on the journey out. It looks like local walking is on the agenda in London for a good while longer, so why not take more note of the trees as you wander around and then lobby your council to plant more and better ones.

Don’t forget – please have a look at Urban Tree Festival 2020.

If you like the flavour of this blog why not try: https://talesfromhansonstreetw1.wordpress.com/2020/05/18/the-state-of-soho-lockdown/

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The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 

 

Snow Patrol – Talk To The Trees

If Trees Could Talk – The Giving Tree

The Leaf Library – Eyes In The Trees

Legends of Country – If I Knew What I Was Doing

Flowers – Young

Young Romance – Room To Breathe

Jetstream Pony – It’s Fine

The Field Mice – September’s Not So Far Away

Charlie Myles – How The Trees Talk (To Me)

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The Lockdown Days – Manifesto

According to Transport for London (TfL), prior to lockdown there were 4.6 million car trips on an average day in London and 1.4 million car passenger trips. Many of them were for short journeys. And when TfL say short, they really mean short!

  • 14% were under 1km (0.6 miles)
  • 21% were 1 – 2km (0.6-1.2 miles)
  • 15% were 2-3km (1.2-1.7 miles)
  • 10% were 3-4km (1.7-2.5 miles)
  • 7% were 4-5km (2.5-3.1 miles)
  • 33% were over 5km (3.1 miles)

Half the car trips, or 2.3 million, in London, go less than 2 miles!!!

I’ll leave that there for it to sink in.

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When the London National Park City conducted its audit of space in London it discovered 48% could be defined as green or blue. A number that not only surprised a lot of people (including me) but is one that London should be proud of. It’s high compared to other world cities and a very decent platform to work from to increase that percentage. For me the most effective way of visualising this is the excellent Urban Good London National Park City map.

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As you would expect a closer examination of the figures revealed even more surprises. One of them was that there are a lot of golf courses in London. They are undoubtedly green open land used by the public but it is reasonable to ask the utilitarian question, if they provide the best use of this land for as many people as possible? A question that more people have been asking during lockdown.

So, leaving aside where you stand on the question of green and blue space usage let’s start with a good news story.

Alerted by a Ramblers Surrey Area Facebook post, me and Clare headed to Coombe to check out the arrangements made by Coombe Wood Golf Club during lockdown. I think the golf club should be applauded for their stance. In many ways it would have been20200426_145922 easier for them to maintain a private property, no trespassers stance, which they are entitled to do. Or they could have allowed partial access, which physically because of the layout of the course they would have been able to do. Or they could have turned a blind eye to the odd dog walker or member strolling around at different times and challenged others as they chose. Instead they elected to open up the whole course to local walkers and advertise the fact, albeit locally, with plenty of unambiguous signs round the edge of the course. And the day we visited it was very well used, with all the folk we saw able to maintain social distance with no problem, strolling about and treating the course with respect. We also got to see Gallows Tamkin, that used to be part of the Hampton Court water supply.

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I’m vaguely aware of other golf courses doing the same but would be very glad for some firm information about this sort of lockdown access. This isn’t shared use in the traditional sense but perhaps we might consider it shared use in a lockdown sense. So if you personally know of any similar arrangements ‘comment me’ at the bottom of this post or drop me an email to walkingclasshero@gmail.com or leave a message on my twitter or Instagram accounts. I’m intending to contact Coombe Wood Golf Club to thank them and ask how the experiment went in their view.

Following the Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, appearance at the coronavirus briefing Saturday 9 May to announce the Government’s Walking & Cycling strategy, Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s commissioner for walking and cycling, tweeted: “We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities… …in 2017-18 over 40% of urban journeys were under 2 miles – perfectly suited to walking and cycling”.

Is this the moment when active travel – walking and cycling – returns in considerable numbers? In London, the mayor‘s existing transport strategy is to get 80% of all journeys to be made by public transport, walking or cycling by 2041. There were four million Tube journeys a day before the lockdown, now it has dropped to 200,000. There were even more bus journeys at 5.5 million, falling now to about a million journeys a day. What a public transport service running at 15% of capacity does to those projections is anybody’s guess.

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I believe the best set of circumstances to create a meaningful environment for urban walking includes either drastically reduced motorised traffic or zero motorised traffic. Whichever set of figures you choose, or if you use your own personal experience, you can see there is plenty of scope to achieve this if there is the political will to do so. If you don’t believe me investigate the London Borough of Waltham Forest’s approach to better streets.

Having nailed my colours to that particular mast let me now say I hold no brief for cycling, it seems to me they do a pretty good job without any help from me. I also hold no grudge about cycling, or cyclists, but I see my position to advocate for walking. So, although nearly all walking and cycling proposals seek to arrive at a position of reducing motorised traffic, or minimising the impact of motorised traffic, not all walking and cycling proposals necessarily result in a better environment for walking.

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Any quick scan of daily stories/statements about how the world plans to emerge from this pandemic has news of urban ‘walking and cycling’ schemes to take up some of the slack. You don’t have to get far into these reports to realise these ‘walking and cycling’ schemes are mostly just cycling schemes. From a headline that says ‘Walking and cycling…’, the substance of the various stories talks of cycle lanes, bike sale increases, more people cycling (very few women taking up cycling as a solution as far as I can see) and ‘walking’ soon just becomes an occasional ‘…and walking’ inserted into sentences.

Last week, Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, said: “With IMG_20200204_215045London’s public transport capacity potentially running at a fifth of pre-crisis levels, up to eight million journeys a day will need to be made by other means. If people switch only a fraction of these journeys to cars, London will grind to a halt,” Who could disagree with that? The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and TfL have unveiled their London Streetspace programme which will rapidly transform London’s streets to accommodate a possible tenfold increase in cycling and a fivefold increase in walking when lockdown restrictions are eased. This prompt response should be applauded but I’m intrigued where TfL are getting their fivefold increase in walking figure from, because in my experience they have no idea of the total numbers walking pre-pandemic only estimates and best guesses. Let alone why, and where to and from. As I say, they have some estimates but the emphasis is heavily on the estimate here.

Walking has plenty to offer in this discussion but not as just an add on to cycling. Walking as active travel is not the solution to commutes of over 10 miles but then, for different reasons, neither is the car or cycling, that is why we have public transport. Walking, invariably offers the best and cheapest options, when we want to look at reducing the 67% of car journeys in London, which are currently under 5km (3.1 miles).

So, with John Shaar‘s quote in the forefront of my mind – “The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.” – I think it’s high time for a Manifesto for Walking in London.

Here’s some initial, not in any order, thoughts from me:

  • Walkers count – let’s start actually counting them
  • The Government, the mayor, the boroughs to ask, and keep asking, everyone to not drive journeys that can be walked in 30 minutes or less
  • Temporary widening of pavements at scale and for long distances to support more walkers making more journeys
  • Enforcement against cars parking over pavements
  • Longer crossing times at all forms of automatic crossings
  • More zebra crossings
  • Better signage on London’s iconic walking routes
  • Development of signed green walking routes to parks & green spaces

There’ll be more ideas, lots more ideas – if you think the idea of a manifesto is a good one, drop me an email with the things you’d like to be included.

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As one incoherent contradictory Government coronavirus statement follows another – go to work, don’t go to work, don’t use public transport, go to work, don’t go to work, wear facemasks, facemasks don’t work, wear facemasks on public transport, don’t use public transport, go to work, it’s fine to sunbathe 2 metres from a perfect stranger, don’t picnic with more than 1 friend 2 metres away from you, go to work, don’t go to work… and so on, continues to be the order of the day we can expect little clarity, or thought, on active travel. Let’s face it a Government whose care home strategy led to hundreds of unnecessary deaths is hardly going to be able manage to get people out walking safely. Whilst not ignoring regulations and guidelines perhaps it might help if we all adopt one overriding principle when we’re outside sharing the various means of getting around – be more kind.

 

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 Frank Turner – Be More Kind

The Ting Tings – We Walk

U2 – Summer of Love

Fischerspooner (featuring Caroline Polachek) – Togetherness

Pete Astor – Walker

Saint Etienne – London Belongs To Me

Roxy Music – Manifesto

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The Lockdown Days – The Long Way Round

If you are a keen walker, or have become a keen walker, lockdown, with its confusing instructions, has forced you to be inventive. Once a week I have been combining a fairly long walk with shopping. I have been alternating these trips – once a fortnight to Richmond, while the other week I’ve been exploring other locations.

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My walk to Richmond takes me through Richmond Park, along some of the Capital Ring and a little stretch of the Thames Path. Going home I do more of the Thames Path then cut up by Ham House through some of the Ham Riverside Lands estate bordering Ham Lands to home. A shade under 7 miles in total which takes about 3 hours including the actual shopping.20200506_125122_2

I’m absolutely loving walking through a car free (and almost bike free, as only key 20200506_125937worker cyclists are allowed right now) Richmond Park. The route I use for this walk isn’t really affected by roads but the lack of traffic noise not only allows you to hear birdsong but also woodpeckers drumming away in the trees. There’s an overall quality of feel that the park is getting back to what it was originally intended for – people strolling around admiring the flora, like the rhododendrons and fauna, like the deer.

It’s a joy for walkers and I really hope that the Royal Parks think long and hard about how they can remove, or reduce significantly, motorised traffic in the park and then put adequate measures in place to ensure the cycling is monitored and regulated. As a charity, surely their mission is for park users not cars and vans using the roads as a through route. It must be possible, and relatively easy to do, to reconfigure the road system to prevent this. My question would be: If not now, when?

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I exit using Petersham Gate and follow the Capital Ring which runs down the side of the Dysart. As we were considering traffic, I have to say that over the last 2 weeks I’ve noticed a gradual increase in car numbers. Don’t get me wrong it’s still nothing like a ‘normal’ day but it’s becoming increasingly odd to see buses trundle by with a couple or more usually no passengers on board with a stream of traffic behind. People in south west London are already relaxing their ‘lockdown’ rules and car usage is creeping up. It is a worry that one of the few benefits we seem to have reaped from this approach, markedly improved air quality, is being eroded day by day. Two weeks ago, I could easily exit via the gate and cross the road straight away with barely a check left and right. Now I have to briefly detour to the crossing and press the button to wait for the ‘green man’ like the old days. Not much of a new normal here.

The Capital Ring takes me to Petersham Meadows where I join the Thames Path. It has to be said that although the route is wide here it is undoubtedly crowded with all sorts of users. Usually it would gladden my heart to see walkers, families with buggies, kids on bikes, and joggers weaving in and out of the folk eating ice cream. It all just about works at the moment but you can see the distress on some people’s faces as they’re not sure what to do to maintain a safe distance and trying to work out who, if anybody has the right of way. When I keep reading and hearing about all the people who are scared to go out, it’s this picture I see in my mind. I’ve varied my route every time on this part of the journey to avoid this congestion because even the act of observing it is changing the dynamic.

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After a visit to the shops, Marks & Spencer Food Hall this time, thanks for asking, I head back home along some of the Thames Path. I used the pavements, not very wide here and a problem even before social distancing, as far as River Lane and follow this down to the Thames. The path is very wide here and copes exceptionally well with walkers, joggers, family groups and cyclists. I leave the path at Ham House, the local authority car park by the river is more crowded than a normal work day at this time but although this is a shame because again it points to increased car usage it is sort of understandable given my comments above and the fact that there is a lot of green space round here.

It is my understanding that, pre-pandemic, according to TfL, 68% of car journeys in greater London were 3 miles or under. I’ll be writing more about this in my next post but it would be such a lost opportunity if a combination of lockdown relaxation and a need to restart the economy with reduced public transport led to an increase in this already horrific number. We should be aiming for a drastic reduction.

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Thinking about inventive. David Fathers, author of London’s Hidden Rivers and Bloody London (Ramblers’ members in the south east can look forward to my review of this20190502_130941 (1) book in the upcoming South East Walker) amongst other titles, is using the lockdown to walk every street, alleyway, highway and byway in N12. You can follow his progress on @thetilbury or his Instagram account. In the interests of full disclosure, he is a Spurs fan but unusually for that tribe his follow through is total and if he’s started, he will see this through to successful conclusion. He’s an illustrator and I recommend his books not only as walking guides but also to spot the Spurs references, he artfully (see what I did there) slips into the drawings. He’s also become a good friend of mine as we co-host walks regularly and we had big plans for 2020. Curses – shakes fist at the coronavirus.

And while we’re on inventive. As part of the Government’s ‘test, track, trace’ strategy, this week it soft launched its smartphone app on the Isle of Wight. So, I’m no data expert but I am wedded to my smartphone and this is how I understand it, with thanks to friends who know more than me about this. Tracking and tracing comes in 2 approaches – centralised and decentralised. The decentralised model is supported and recommended by the major suppliers and providers of mobile operating systems. You know, the ones who have made $billions in the last decade or so and deal with this stuff every single minute of every single day. The centralised path takes you to a permanently accessible database of your data. This system will be built by the UK Government via NHSX (and who knew this lot actually existed until a couple of months ago) and the Government have, it seems to me, never developed and built any system to budget or timetable or has actually worked.

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Unsurprisingly this Government has opted for the centralised model despite most other countries choosing the decentralised route. (And I don’t know, but the contract has probably been ‘given’ to one of Dominic Cummings’ mates, who didn’t do anything like abuse the use of personal data in the Brexit referendum debacle, did they?)

And, even more unsurprisingly, having launched Tuesday 5 May by Thursday 7 May the Government were said to be ‘pivoting’ to the decentralised course. We used to call this a U-turn. You really cannot make this stuff up. No news on the 20,000 actual tracers that will need to be employed to make all this effort worthwhile. Guess that contract will go to SERCO or Group4 or another those multi-nationals who have trousered £millions not delivering services to the UK population. Same as it ever was.

My exercise/shopping walk combination on Strava: https://strava.app.link/505oQqsa55

 

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 Dixie Chicks – The Long Way Round

Supertramp – Take the Long Way Home

Bonnie Raitt – Can’t Find My Way Home

Stephen Stills – Go Back Home

Anne Müller – Drifting Circles

Faces – Richmond

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The Lockdown Days – Keep on running

I take supplements these days. There’s the glucosamine with chondroitin recommended by Mark from University College of Osteopathy (formerly the British School of Osteopathy) that helps me keep the chronic arthritis in my left knee at bay for as long as possible. There’s the organic turmeric which is an anti-inflammatory recommended by my friend Nadia. And there’s the 50+ vitamins and minerals for us olds. Since lockdown started I have now reached a point in my life where I spend more per day on these tablets than I do on beer. WT actual F – where did it all go wrong?

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There are days when I’m sure the stretching, strengthening exercises I do before going for a run take longer than the run itself. Since lockdown started I’ve now reached a point where I’m not sure what I miss most, parkrun or the pub. Well that’s not quite true but I miss parkrun so much more than I could ever have imagined.

It all started at school. I probably cherish the memories more fondly than the actual experiences at the time of ‘cross country runs’ in PE from my school in Blackheath. We’dpagoda go up Heath Lane and just before reaching the heath we’d swing left past the Pagoda. Then loop back to the school. The first part avoided roads but the return route certainly encountered traffic. Notwithstanding the serious issues surrounding air pollution in London pre-pandemic in the 21st century, I can’t imagine anything like this being countenanced today. But hey it was the Sixties. (I recently asked @running_past if he would duplicate some of this run. He was more than happy to and if you’re interested you can check out his twitter feed or instagram for more info. Actually give him a follow anyway because the posts are a super chronicle of modern city life in south east London.)

Next came a few abortive attempts to establish a running routine while I attended the LSE but although I can recall very little of the routes I took I vividly remember the Dunlop Green Flash footwear I used in those days. Ah the innocence and the naiveté of dunlopthose pre-Nike days in the UK. So, I can probably date my running life beginning back to working life in the Eighties. I worked shifts in what we called, data processing back then, for a high street bank. (That bank, NatWest, now supplies the pension that enables me to live this life of Riley.) Having taken the decision to invest in, what seemed at the time, an incredibly expensive, pair of Adidas trainers, I decided to stick with it.

Blimey, this post is turning positively Proustian.

When available, workplaces with shower facilities helped me shift a lot of my running to lunch times. The innovation that made the most difference to me wasn’t a 20200104_085349‘kit’ development but the arrival of the ipod and similar devices.  With the dawning of the 21st century I worked in ‘Charity Towers’ next to MI6 with showers and was able to carry an almost infinite supply of music in my pocket. Now I could with stand the boredom of running more than an hour. Soon I was entering events like the Cabbage Patch 10 as well as other 10k’s, 10 milers and then half marathons. My training regime for a half marathon was run most days and just not drink the night before the race.

After running a half marathon in Fort Collins, Colorado in 2005 I entered for the Adirondack Marathon in upstate New York a year later (doesn’t everybody celebrate turning 50 by running 26.2 miles?) The race motto is: “The most beautiful 26 miles 385 yards you will ever run.” Well as it’s round a lake and in the mountains that is probably true but defying the laws of physics most of it seems to be uphill! I finished, with no walking, in a little under 5 hours but that was the start and end of my marathon career.

For the next few years I did the occasional 10k or half marathon – I highly recommend 20200202_120122_2the Royal Parks half marathon and I wonder when others will be able to run these events again? Injuries from years of contact sport began to catch up with me. My left ankle went from being an occasional problem to a near constant issue when running or walking. (I can’t understand how that happened playing footie ‘cos I really only used that leg for standing on.)

Then came smart phones and running apps like nike run club+ and strava. I ran on and off, nursing my way through various aches, pains, strains and sprains but became more of a jogger than a runner. Then 2 years ago I decided I’d try again and do more than amble round the block. I ran regularly and gradually increased distance. I ran through pain and in this world of running apps wondered how on earth I managed before without knowing how far I’d run, how fast, average pace and so on. Forgive the virtue signalling but I can tell you on 9 October 2018 I ran my furthest – 15.86k; 25 October 2018, I ran my fastest 5k – 23 minutes 42 seconds; and had run my fastest 10k of 49 minutes 57 seconds on 30 September 2018.

10k run clare

All these are times and distances I’ll never see again because on Saturday 1 December 2018 it all came, quite literally, to a juddering halt at parkrun Harrogate. I pulled up after a mile with what I thought was a hamstring problem in my left leg. That hamstring was actually sciatica, which was followed by 3 months of pain and not being able to walk let alone run some days. It hurt to stand, to sit, to lay down and to move. Putting my sock on my left foot on my own was a thing of the past.

One comeback programme after another came and went. I remember running parkrun 20200118_094850in Weymouth on 22 June 2019 with Clare. I had to get a coach back to London because of a rail strike. I hobbled off the coach and my left knee has rarely been pain-free since. After been diagnosed with chronic arthritis as I wasn’t able to get any physiotherapy on the NHS (which is fine but rather confusing if you ask me) I visited the British School of Osteopathy and that worked wonders. Right before lockdown I was getting back to running parkrun regularly, albeit in a time of 35 minutes which will take some getting used to but it’s great to be able to.

There is still a runner in the house though. Two years ago Clare took up couch to 5k and has now done 50 parkruns, one 10k event and is training (in hope) for the Royal Parks half marathon in October. We haven’t run as many parkruns together as I’d like but she loves running now and continues to exceed all expectations.

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Well Dear Reader, this has turned into a much longer, more indulgent post than I’d anticipated so if you’ve made it to the end… THANK YOU. Apologies, it isn’t meant to be a cautionary tale of the dark side of running, the complete opposite in fact. During these days when we are sure of very little, running has not only been a constant it is also a tremendous comfort and consolation to me.

 

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 Spencer Davis Group – Keep On Running

Emmylou Harris – Long May You Run

One Direction – Ready To Run

Martha Reeves & the Vandellas – Nowhere To Run

Gil Scott-Heron – Running

Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill

Jackson Browne – Running on Empty

Leona Lewis – Run

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The Lockdown Days – May the fourth be with you

“A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…”

I’ve never been much of a Star Wars fan – although I am quite enjoying The Mandalorian on the Disney+ channel. But right now when we’re not engaging in working from home, or home schooling, or taking daily exercise, or reading Proust in the original French it seems everybody is binge watching TV on all the various platforms available.

Fuelled by a seemingly unquenchable desire for nostalgia the Star Wars franchise with its theme of the hero underdog overcoming impossible odds to eventually triumph is incredibly popular right now. It’s difficult to remember a time when it hasn’t been popular although it is mostly men who share this obsession in my experience.

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This got me thinking about films and particularly disaster movies. They all seem to start with a scientist – again mostly male – having a dire warning ignored and governments putting all their energies into ‘reducing panic’ or ‘minimising risk’. (Sound familiar). For example, this is an extract from an email from Dr Sarah Jarvis, Clinical Director at Patient Access sent on 1 February 2020 (my bold emphasis): 

If you’ve seen the news at all in the last fortnight, it’s likely you’ve heard of the Wuhan coronavirus. Deaths and serious illness caused by the virus have been seen across China, and now infections are being found in other countries. Understandably, lots of people are panicking. But the risk to the public in the UK remains low, and governments internationally have put measures in place to limit the spread of the virus. As individuals, it’s always a good idea to minimise your own risk of disease, and the same applies here. 

So, it’s probably necessary to mention the zombie apocalypse here. Which as we all zombieknow, is when civilization collapses due to swarms of zombies overwhelming social, law-enforcement, and military structures. Typically, only a few individuals or small bands of survivors are left of the living. In some stories, victims of zombies may become zombies themselves if they are bitten by zombies or if a zombie-creating virus infects them; in others, everyone who dies, whatever the cause, becomes one of the undead. In some cases, parasitic organisms can cause zombification by killing their hosts and reanimating their corpses. In the latter scenario zombies also prey on the living and their bite causes an infection that kills.

In either scenario, this causes the outbreak to become an exponentially growing crisis: the spreading “zombie plague” swamps law enforcement organizations, the military and health care services, leading to the panicked collapse of civil society until only isolated pockets of survivors remain. Basic services such as piped water supplies and electrical power shut down, mainstream mass media cease broadcasting, and the national government of affected countries collapses or goes into hiding. The survivors usually begin scavenging for food, weapons and other supplies in a world reduced to a mostly pre-industrial hostile wilderness. There is usually a ‘safe zone’ where the non-infected can seek refuge and begin a new era.

People, be scared, be very scared when ‘social distancing’ morphs into ‘safe zoning’. And as far as I can work out every ‘zombie apocalypse’ is preceded by a global pandemic.

Just saying…

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It’s not all doom, gloom and frantic sightings of the Four Horsemen though. Last week a 1.2-mile-wide asteroid swept by the Earth adhering to the requisite deep space social distancing. The asteroid is called 52768 (1998 OR2) – who gets to name these things and why can’t they do better? – and it was first spotted in 1998. On April 29, it passed within 3,908,791 miles of Earth, moving at 19,461 miles per hour. That’s still 16 times farther than the distance between Earth and the moon. No mention was made about whether it was wearing a face mask or even had a face to cover. Apparently, you could see this from earth with a telescope. I guess it would have to be a big telescope, and I know I’m a novice at this stargazing stuff, but I still marvel at casual observers being able to locate the space station and differentiate it from stars.

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Binge watching isn’t really doing it for me during lockdown – think I’m more of a binge walker than a binge watcher. I more often than not see the BBC’s daily coronavirus update and the other day when Boris made his return to the podiums (should that be20200503_150935 podia?) I vaguely wondered whether it would all be helped if his ‘walk on music’ was Darth Vader’s Theme from Star Wars. However, when I’m out strolling the local neighbourhood later, not only will I be trying to work out whether the majestic tree by our nearest post box is an Acer Platanoides (Crimsom King), while being confused about whether an Acer can also be a maple. All the while though, I’ll also be keeping a weather eye out for the zombie hordes.

Stay safe everyone and remember: ‘I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.’

 

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

 LSO – Star Wars Theme

Geek Music – The Mandalorian

Kacey Musgraves – Space Cowboy

Aphrodite’s Child – The Four Horsemen

Don Henley – They’re Not Here, They’re Not Coming

King Crimsom – I Talk to the Wind

LSO – The Imperial March

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The Lockdown Days – Mayday Mayday

Introduced in 1921, ‘Mayday’ is a distress signal used internationally. Fred Stanley, a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the expression “mayday” from the French m’aider (‘help me’), a shortened form of venez m’aider (‘come and help me’). Well it’s like we’re all screaming mayday but there’s no one listening or able to come to our aid.

In a world where the new normal seems to include a chief Scottish Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, resigning after twice visiting her second home in complete FB_IMG_1586257331333contravention of her own advice to avoid unnecessary travel. Do as I say not as I do. Or the UK scientific advice to control coronavirus was predicated on establishing herd immunity in the population until alternative scientific advice showed how that course of action would lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths and an overwhelmed NHS. Or The leader of the ‘Free World’ advocating that taking disinfectant internally could be examined as a possible treatment for the pandemic, even though it is known to be potentially lethal. An example of the cure being worse than the disease. And, as an aside, seemed to show he doesn’t know the difference between inject and ingest. Or a leading world politician saying he didn’t want to wear a face mask because he wanted to be able to look key workers in the eye. It covers your mouth and doesn’t make you blind for pity’s sake.

Still the statement that has surprised me the most has been Rishi Sunak MP, the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, repeatedly referring to the TUC as “social partners”. It’s like the consequences of Thatcherism, followed by 10 years of Tory austerity, could be wished away as if they’d never happened. But then these are the same UK politicians ostentatiously clapping key workers, who clapped and cheered in June 2017 when Parliament voted against these same health workers receiving a pay rise.

The worry is that after the disease comes the debt and it’ll be the same bunch of hypocritical second-raters worldwide trying to sort that out. Public borrowing is set to soar to levels never seen before as economies fall into ruins. The longer homes remain in20200501_160825 (1) lockdown, the more stimulus Government has to inject into the system with factories, shops and offices shut and tax revenues evaporating in front of their eyes. As if this wasn’t enough to keep you awake at night, the driest April on record in the UK reminded us that the climate crisis is worsening and isn’t some distant future episode to worry about, let alone pay for, but one that is present and correct right here, right now.

If anything can be said to be working, it’s individuals, who despite being emotionally drained, are working tirelessly together in small communities trying to solve local problems. Like getting food to your neighbours who need it the most but can’t come and get it because they’re sick or someone in their family is sick. Like care home workers moving into the care homes where they work to limit the spread of the virus. If you’re a vaccine scientist in Oxford it’s the same except you’re trying to solve a global problem with your community. (And everyone is sitting with baited breath willing you to succeed with your first tests.)

All most of us can do is try to get by day to day finding solace where we can, focussing on ourselves and our loved ones. Following the death of his wife, Iris Murdoch, the writer, John Bayley, while grieving for her loss spent a lot of time remembering his childhood. It’s quite a common pain reflex to do all you can to escape the present by living in the past. Even more so if the future looks even scarier than a fairly frightening present.

But I find it’s important that I still try to live in the moment. To take the time to go for a walk and smell the flowers and think about how the environment is going to look in the near future. To marvel at the dawn chorus (it’s International Dawn Chorus day on Sunday 3 May) in towns and cities that you’re able to hear because of the absence of traffic noise. Or go for a short run where you just concentrate on trying your hardest for a few minutes of sweat and hard breathing and ranking that alongside other runs.

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Me I do regular walking and jogging just like before but slightly modified and I’ve started to read Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light (I loved the first two), even though I find it hard to focus on long books right now. I’m trying, with the aid of the Star Walk 2 app and #starentine, hosted by @megoizzy, to navigate the night sky. There’s baking as well of course – big thanks to Wrights Home Baking and my Panasonic bread maker. And of course, Netflix. I missed the first series of Ricky GervaisAfter Life – it’s hilarious – and I’m enthralled by the Michael Jordan docu-seies, The Last Dance, even though I know nothing about the NBA.

It doesn’t work for me but I would imagine finishing that 1000 piece jigsaw that seemed like such a good idea to begin 4 weeks ago is important. Or maybe food and comfortFB_IMG_1586021595008 eating are the things that right now make the day worthwhile. And what about that coronavirus free zone the is The Archers? Maybe you’re doing the odd online quiz or 2 via zoom or facebook? You could give the RSPB’s Adrian Thomas a listen and don’t forget to join in some of the events during the virtual Urban Tree Festival later  this month.

If you’d like, let me know, in the ‘Leave a Reply’ section below, what’s getting you through the day.

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The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

The GO! Team – Mayday

Flogging Molly – The Worst Day Since Yesterday

Dixie Chicks – Something in the Air

Gary Jules – Mad World

LoneLady – Hinterland

Colin Hay – Waiting For My Real Life to Begin

Birdy – Fire and Rain

Jon Allen – Keep Moving On

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