Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Aye, Corona










What a time to be alive. There is no time to punctuate thoughts. Information flows through without stopping to latch itself to anything resembling an opinion.

We are not good at doing nothing. It defies all expectations we have of each other and of ourselves. Late stage capitalism demands hustle, and the devil in our deep-seated Lutheran work ethic niggles at us until we get up and do something. Anything. Now. But this is a time when inaction is the only acceptable action.

Sit tight.

The news from Italy is disturbing. I listened to the Talking Politics podcast where a respected political commentator described being stopped by police for taking a stroll with her partner in the woods. She was threatened with a fine. Is there any scientific evidence that walking in the woods is a likely means of transmission? At the same time people are going to work in enclosed factories to create non-essential items. This seems upside down.

The Italian PM , Giuseppe Conte now has a 70 per cent approval rating.

Some version of a lockdown has finally arrived in the UK. We can go out to exercise once per day, non-essential shops are closed and we’re being asked to do grocery shopping as rarely as possible. We are asked to work from home if possible, and interact with no one outside of our own household.

As a runner, this is an interesting time. It’s making me realize how at odds we are with the communities we live and work within. When the authorities say ‘stay home’ they’re working on the assumption that leaving the house invariably leads to social interaction.

That’s not the way runners live their lives. We leave the house alone, begrudge stopping for anything, and limit social interaction to a curt nod, or a lifted finger as means of acknowledgment.

We have perfected the art of being alone, together.

Life under UK lockdown reflects my life pre-Corona pretty accurately. Get up, take kids to school, work from home, run solo, work from home, buy groceries, collect kids, spend the evening at home as a family. I never knew I was missing out on essential freedoms until the government told me my freedom was being sacrificed for the greater good.

The big difference is that I have the youngest with me now - the 3yr-old gets to go to pre-school as Laura is considered a key worker. He’s nearly 14 months old, not quite walking, but silly and adventurous all the same. It’s been nice to spend some time together with him, just the two of us. As a father, when your second child comes along they are naturally tied to their mother at first, so you find yourself spending more time with the eldest child. With their needs being so different, it’s not easy to break that routine, and natural division of labour becomes the norm. This disaster has given us the opportunity to bond in a way we never normally would.

I quit drinking at the end of 2019 and I’m so glad that I broke the habit in advance of a pandemic. I can imagine that if alcohol was still on my radar I would find it all too easy to justify drinking every night. If you’re interested in quitting drinking, Allen Carr’s Easy Way book helped me put it in perspective.

Speaking of alcohol, there’s a letter doing the rounds purporting to be from F Scott Fitzgerald on the outbreak of Spanish Flu. The author makes a gag that Hemingway has dismissed it as just flu. That was the giveaway for me. Having worked in a field hospital, Hemingway wouldn’t have been so flippant, surely?

Spanish Flu became known as such because Spain, which was neutral in WW1, was one of the only countries reporting properly on the pandemic - the partisan press in the UK, Germany and France was still censored under so covered up the deaths. The comparisons to Trump and his ‘Chinese virus’ are obvious, but even here in the UK, where testing is non-existent unless you end up in hospital, there’s a very real comparison. How can you know how widespread an illness is if you don’t test for it?

The sooner we have a cheap antibody test the better.

I was listening to a Radio 4 show on existentialism and cinema on Saturday night and it got me thinking about Dada, the deeply political, absurdist art movement that came about at roughly the same time as the Spanish Flu. In fact, Guillaume Apollinaire, the mentor to Andre Breton, one of the founding members of the group, died of the disease in 1918. Breton was a writer, poet and anti-fascist, and the group he was part of was staunchly anti-war, radically left wing, and anti bourgeois. What movements will this pandemic inspire? In the UK, the suffering of WW2 led directly to the Attlee government, social welfare and the NHS that we enjoy today. Will Covid-19 lead to a new era of as-yet-unimagined creativity and greater funding for socially just causes? Even from the confines of our homes, you can feel the mood changing - America is gradually beginning to demand healthcare as a human right and here in the UK, it’s beginning to be understood that you can’t pare services back to a minimum and expect them to be world leading in times of crisis.

Change is coming.

Now more than ever running is a privilege. Strava recently conducted a survey on why we run and I was asked to contribute. This current situation reminded me of one of the questions and my answer:

Sometimes running sucks – but we love it anyway. Can you tell me about a time when your relationship with running felt especially strained and how you managed to get back in the groove?

Honestly, I don't think I've ever felt like that. To me, running is a privilege. Not everyone has the capability or the time to do what I do - even if that's only a few miles at 9pm on a Saturday night when the boys have gone to bed, I can't help but feel grateful that my wife is happy to stay at home with them while I do something for me, or that I'm a middle class white man and I feel safe to go out running after dark, or that I'm nearly 40 and - touch wood - my body is still able to do this. The older I get, the more I recognise that I'm extraordinarily fortunate to be able to do this.

A month later, I feel even more fortunate.
I hope you’re able to feel so fortunate too.


Saturday, December 07, 2013

New home

Hi, thanks for stopping by. You'll be able to find more up-to-date stuff from me on my new site andywaterman.info and my new portrait and interview project london-athletic.com.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Loughton Veterans Cross Country

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I just bought a new camera, a Fuji X-Pro1. It's lovely, it really is, so I wanted to get out and shoot something this weekend. I've been running a lot recently too, and in researching running clubs, I discovered that there was an inter-club XC race taking place in Loughton.

Those were all the details I could find though - a time and a nearest tube station. After a bit of digging I discovered last year's race had been held in Roding Valley Meadows, which I googled and got a vague reference to a nature reserve. I rode my bike there in the hope that 60-odd runners would be pretty obvious.

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After twenty minutes of riding around, I eventually discovered the race, albeit, the final half.

I got chatting briefly to one of the marshals who told me they don't need to say where it is because everyone who needs to know, knows. He wasn't being an arse, just stating a fact. It made me think how good cycling is nowadays, with one online events calendar (that I use at least, as I'm not bothered about TT's) that tells you exactly what's going on, when and where. When I first started road racing back in the mid-nineties, it was still in the predicament running is in now.

And for all that, I really fancy giving competitive running a go again. And I think the first thing to do will be to join a club so I can find out exactly what's going on.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Thatcherism and "getting on your bike"

Another day, another columnist taking a pop at cyclists. This time it’s Rod Liddle in the Spectator; in the recent past it’s been Matthew Parris in the Times, Melanie Phillips and James Martin in the Mail and Harry Wallop in the Telegraph. There are more of course – regional papers have noticed the cycling lobby’s speed and agility when it comes to jumping on any bandwagon of outrage and they’ve begun producing inflammatory columns of their own, rarely well-written or passably sincere, but profitable linkbait nonetheless. Clicks, comments and shares are the currency of the modern media, and a column condemning cyclists a kind of quantitative easing. Need a quick fix for flagging page impressions? Knock out an anti-cycling rant.

One noticeable trend in all this is that the criticism comes universally from the right – it’s rare to see cyclists criticised in this way in the Guardian, the New Statesman or the Independent.

So how did cycling become a political issue, and particularly one of right against left?

I ask this because, as a child of the eighties, I see a direct correlation between cycling and Thatcherism. For example, Thatcher was quoted as saying:

“A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”

I couldn’t agree more – bus travel is horrible. As an able bodied young man I’d far prefer to be on my bike, in charge of my own destiny, not reliant on handouts from the state (because although I’ll use roads, paid for out of taxation, on a bike I can travel over virtually any surface. If Upper Street in Islington suddenly returned to dense forest, I’d enjoy the singletrack – I can’t see taxi drivers being so happy) and progressing towards my destination unhindered by bureaucracy, like traffic jams caused by poorly timed traffic lights. Because let’s face it, traffic lights are a purely bureaucratic invention to stop car drivers killing each other and other road users.

The argument made by the right is that cyclists are stuck up hypocrites, too poor to drive, too lazy to walk and too stupid to realise that they’re not actually saving the world.

“They think that they are different. No — you’re not. You just can’t afford a car or are deluded about the impact cycling a few miles makes to the environment. And you can’t be bothered to walk.”
Rod Liddle, the Spectator

Can’t afford a car? False – I even pay road tax and insurance, I just can’t afford to park the bloody thing. Or find the time it takes to get anywhere through London’s revolting traffic. Deluded about the environment? Far from it! I own enough bikes made overseas to recognise that any saving in CO2 emissions made by my cycling over driving, has probably been negated by the shipping and manufacturing process of all those bikes and components. Can’t be bothered to walk? Well, you’ve got me there. Time is money, Rod – we can’t all get by on the income accrued from a 500 word weekly column.

To be a cyclist is to associate yourself with a libertarian ideal, one of individual freedom, and personal responsibility (contrary to the columnist’s schtick, most cyclists don’t take crazy risks on their bikes because crashing hurts and tends to be deadly), an ideal ensconced within Thatcherism. I’ve never voted conservative, but I did grow up in the eighties, and like many people who grew up under Thatcher I see no shame or contradiction in riding a bicycle in my thirties and I can’t see why that will change as I get older.

Is cycling a political issue? If it is, it’s as right wing as it it left, and draws in right thinking people from both sides of the political divide. And Boris Johnson. Maybe its time the columnists got on their bikes for once?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Big Walk


Big Walk, originally uploaded by Andy Waterman.

Via Flickr:
18 miles into Essex, sleep, return