Before and After (27.2021)

I’m disappointed that I’m late again with getting this week’s post published. Sorry, but my weekends that should be my writing and reading time are being eaten up by jigsaws.

Pointless gesture of the week: the Queen awarded a medal to the National Health service (NHS) on the occasion of their 73rd anniversary. Not on their 50th or 75th but their 73rd. This needs comes just a few days after NHS staff were protesting about their lack of pay rises. I will point out here there are people who can save your life, care for you when you’re sick, treat your cancer, deliver your babies, organise a vaccination programme for the whole damn country at short notice. We should be in awe of these people and be shouting in support of them getting better pay. In fact the NHS have been on 0% pay rises for several years, and last year, as a gesture to the heroic effort put in to deal with the Covid 19 crisis, they got 1%. And some clapping, let’s not forget all that clapping people did, which must have been very helpful for the lowest paid staff. I’m sure that clapping went a long way in paying bills and rent.

I would be angry. Some applause, a medal I don’t even get to see, and 1% pay rise. I would point out that Members of Parliament (MPs) salaries increased 3.1% in 2020, above the inflation rate of 1.8%.

I know there’s a difference in volume – there are 650 MPs vs 1.3 million NHS staff (so 2000 NHS staff for each Member of Parliament) – but if I am suffering a life threatening illness or injury, I will not be calling my MP.

Surprise of the week: I had an appointment with my optometrist bright and early on Monday morning. So early in fact that they weren’t even open when I got there. So I took advantage of my 10 minutes of spare time to take a short walk and I found a green space that I’ve never really walked in before: Finsbury Circus. How can it be so close to my office and I’ve never spent any length of time here in 20 years? It was calm and peaceful in in the morning but I’m sure it must fill up with workers during sunny lunchtimes.

As I was in the City anyway, I spent the day in the office. On my way there from the optometrist I saw a black cab driver shouting at a cyclist, and after more than a year of crazy, there seemed to be something so normal and everyday about this that I wanted to laugh.

Covid-19 has made me question things. No, I’m not part of “the big resignation” (or at least not yet!) But Covid-19 has raised questions in my mind about how we used to do things in The Before. Like at my optometrist appointment: he was wearing gloves, did he used to wear gloves? why would you let someone touch your face if they were not wearing gloves?; we’re both wearing masks, and now the little machine where I put my chin so he can shine a light in my eyes has a plastic screen between us. Why wasn’t there a screen there before to keep both of us safe because your faces are just inches from each other and you’re breathing on each other. Why wouldn’t we have done this in The Before to keep Optometrists safe from catching anything from their clients?

London had a burst of monsoon weather. I’ve never actually lived in a monsoon country but I grew up in the sub-tropics so I’m familiar with heavy rainfall. It’s quite a different animal to the ‘wet air’ that so prevalent in UK precipitation. But this week we had what I’m assuming monsoon weather is like – a sudden heavy downpour of rain followed by blinding sunshine followed by another heavy downpour of rain followed by sun, on and on all day. It was a difficult day – I had to switch the lights on then off then on again. And then it would be humid, then cold, then humid again. I had to go out in the evening and saw the roads were still affected by what the weather people call localised flooding because the rain has come down so quickly and built up deep puddles and had no time to drain away. And when you’re out walking there is always that fear that the car going past you so quickly is going to spray that puddle of water all over you.

Night out part 1: My friend got a job after being unemployed for nearly a year which is good news! She got a job at a cinema which means free movie tickets for friends – double yay! So I met up with her to see In The Heights. It’s a film based on a musical, and that’s about all I knew about it before I went to see it. It was fun, it was bright, it was a little bit like a holiday in New York in the summer, but like many musicals, the characters were thin and there was no real sense that things would not work out for everybody. But it was fun – and more importantly it was free.

The cinema is in a part of London I used to go to to get my hair cut, back when I spent a lot of money on haircuts. It was a fancy and chi-chi neighbourhood back then but is even more so now. The high street is pretty small but it has two smoothie bars. And a shop that seems to be selling nothing but ceramic pots for indoor plants. And the hairdresser I used to go to is gone now, replaced by one of the smoothie bars.

Night out part 2: our local comedy club has reopened again for socially distanced gigs. And let’s face it – who doesn’t need more laughs in their life right now? Things have obviously improved since we were last there in December, moments before we went back into lockdown – this time we didn’t have to wear masks when seated, but we still had to order drinks by app instead of going up to the bar. However we are fast approaching the so-called “Freedom Day” when most Covid measures (in England at least) will be lifted – face masks will no longer be mandatory (I’m not ready to give mine up yet though…), nightclubs, festivals and sports stadiums can open at full capacity (hm, doesn’t affect me), social distancing restrictions will be lifted, the seated / table service requirements in bars will be lifted (I will miss that), and work from home guidance is lifted. It seems weird that so much will change so quickly all at once, especially as the Delta variant is supposed to be rapidly spreading.

New exercise routine: Earlier in the year I had one of those moments where I bought something on a whim to encourage me to exercise more: a hula hoop. I had memories of being good at hula (when I was a kid) and it was something that always looks like fun. Unhappily grown up health-and-fitness hulas are much heavier and after a few frustrating hula attempts earlier in the year (Husband laughing himself stupid in the kitchen watching me), the hoop was confined to the understairs cupboard. However I’ve brought it back out again this past week and done short 10 minute hula sessions and now I’ve worked out I need to hula to the left and not the right, I can hula for as much as 30 seconds at a time. And it must have some effect because I definitely had an aching in my core muscles. I might not be doing much other exercise, but I am doing 10 minutes hula four times a week. (Running is still very much on my mind but I’m struggling to connect mind and body right now.)

Jigsaw madness continues: We started a jigsaw on Saturday afternoon and finished it on Sunday morning. We put it away and started another one on Sunday evening. We are seriously addicted and I’ve had to go back to setting a timer when we’re working on jigsaws so we are aware of how much time is passing. We have another three after we complete this one – but one of those three is the monster 3000 piece puzzle that we are going to need a second table for. We’re saving that one for winter.

Holiday hopes: A trip to Madeira may be back in the realm of possible again. Some initial research has been done (we’ve shortlisted flights and accommodation) – we just have to get ourselves organised to book it all. We had discussed some other travel ideas, but for now, the idea of one flight to one place, staying in one apartment is about all I can cope with. I’m not feeling ready for a backpack-and-move-on, six-destinations-in-two-weeks trip.

European Championship football (soccer) final: Husband and I were planning a relaxing Sunday evening with our jigsaw, when I got a call from my friend. “Do you want to come watch the game? I’m at the pub, there is one seat left. I can hold it for you.” I am not a football fan, and I have not watched any of the games from the preceding month of the tournament, but England were in the final of a major competition for the first time in more than 50 years, so I went along to the pub just to see the atmosphere if they won.

The pub was crowded – so busy in fact it took 40 minutes for me to get the drink I ordered (by app – table service rules still apply). The game kicked off and all of a sudden the room is going crazy – England scored a goal, 3 minutes into play! The rest of the first half was kind of dull, even Italy didn’t seem to play their usual dynamic style. Their manager must have put a kick up them at half-time because they came back on and (apart from some poor behaviour with lots of yellow cards handed out) played a sharp, nippy kind of football that made the England players look wooden. The English goalkeeper was kept a lot busier than the Italian one was, but at full-time it was 1-1.

Extra time – the Italians were still outplaying England but were just not able to get the ball into goal. So the game is decided on penalties, something England is notoriously bad at. After 120 minutes of play, the game is reduced down to five players from each side taking a kick at goal in a hugely stressful situation. There were misses from both sides, but in the end it was 3-2 to Italy. And the saddest thing for me was seeing it was the black English players that missed their penalties and I knew, I just knew how this was going to play out.

Sure enough, the racist response on social media was out in moments. Hard core football (soccer) fans in England are generally associated with the far-right, racism, and general thuggery. (While at the same time I work with some dedicated football fans who are very much not like that.) While that kind of racist response is to be despised as much as it was expected, there seems to have been a much larger and kinder response, expressing a lot of love for the whole team. After a long, grim year, this was the best performing national team in 50 years, and for a lot of fans who have grown up never seeing England do this well before, it’s given them some hope.

The manager’s statement reflects how most people have responded. “We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue. We heal together as a team now, and we’re there for them, and I know that 99% of the public will be as well.”

I hope you find a beacon of light in your week.

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