Sunday 25 April 2021

A Group of Conspiracy Theorists Descend on London.


Vanessa and I arrive in London like the crazy crackpots that we are.
I was joined by nearly a million people yesterday for a stroll around London town.  The instructions were to meet in our bubbles near Hyde Park, Green Park and Victoria, so as not to draw attention to ourselves. The start point of the walk (which was over seven miles in the end) would be made known minutes before it began, and we were instructed to link arms to form a tight unit of bodies so that law enforcement couldn't get at us and make us stop.

What actually happened was that everyone tried to gather as instructed, heads down and obediently separated, for about thirty seconds.  Firstly, most of us had arrived by public transport and were ridiculously conspicuous by having a whole face.  Secondly, there were so many of us that we simply fell into each others bubbles and gave up.  Thirdly, the sun was shining, something exciting was afoot, and everyone was loving being close to like minded others and so began to party.  Nicely.  

There was no need to link arms.  We were such a huge number of people we would have got in each other's way, under each other's feet and fallen over each other in a million strong rugby scrum and so without further ado, once the starting flares went up, we all started to walk.  "Hooray," we all shouted, and those with horns blew them, those with drums banged them, some with saucepans and spoons bashed them and off we went like the jolly conspiracy theorists that we are.  And actually, for conspiracy theorists, the people around me during the five hours of marching that I did, were very moderate.  They just did not want to see their freedoms spirited away from them with weasel words by the Government.  They did not trust all the figures, did not like children wearing masks (did not like anyone wearing masks).  They were furious about the old people left to fade away and die in despair and loneliness, for their own good.  They did not want to be forced to have vaccines and no one, absolutely no one wanted vaccine passports.  "Wake up!" we all wanted to say, "much of this Government and media stuff is madness!"

I did go to the anti Iraq war march on 15 February 2003.  I am not a great march goer, but I did feel very strongly about the Iraq war.  There were coordinated anti war protests across the world, the London one was called the million march.  I was very glad to have joined it though it did no good at all.  War was declared and everyone went about their business as planned, we marchers had had our say and it was nice of them to allow it.  Yesterday, as I met up with, walked alongside, chatted to and laughed with the ever changing sea of people around me, I thought that perhaps we won't change our government's minds but we will show each other we are not alone.  We are jolly well not alone.  For all of us who feared we would be the only person in the supermarket without a mask for ever, we saw we are one of an enormous crowd of like minded others.  

There were all manner of ages, sizes, colours and types with us yesterday.  There was not a typical freedom protester.  You could not look at the miles and miles of marchers and say Ha!  Knew they were all freedom protesters!  You can tell!  The banners were a give away, that is true, but the people carrying them ranged from a young woman with beads in her hair and flip flops to an older woman who looked like everyone's favourite granny.  That really was the point of the march.  It was not just a crackpot minority who believed that this virus came from outer space helped on it's way by winged dragons.  It wasn't simply a fringe group who wanted to change the world into a place where everything is free and who dance in the streets to tin whistles.  We were, are, a collection of people for whom the facts do not add up.  For whom, once the cracks in the story appear, cannot disappear.  What we see and experience do not match the things we are told are happening all around us, and now that the cracks in the story cannot be unseen we notice how mad everyone has become and how that is applauded. "Stop it!" we want to say, and yesterday, we did say it.


Ha ha ha

Many people yesterday said how difficult it was to think differently to their friends, families and neighbours.  Our voices and opinions, they say, are removed from the public space and we are made to look like the baddies that are causing all the trouble but because we are banned from being heard, we cannot always argue back.  And so the misrepresenting, the tarring and feathering, the wholesale silencing continues not only unchecked but officially sanctioned.  This is hard enough for we, the common plebs, but we see people we trust and want to listen to, officially removed from the airwaves, from social media platforms and from the print media.  Not only are they officially shut down, they are put onto a metaphorical ducking stool and ducked into the water to shouts of raucous abuse.  We, the hoi poloi, fear that if it can be that hard for the scientists, virologists, doctors, epidemiologists and other such professionals to speak up, then we do not stand a chance if we disagree with the official line.  We feel we are being lied to and sold a pup.  It is hard to deal with this alone, knowing that everyone else thinks all the nonsense is fine while we make little forays into the darkness of non compliance, and we don't wear our masks.  Or we don't get a vaccine.  Or we veer into people on purpose who are trying to avoid us on a windy walk on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. 

So back to the walk yesterday.  My friend Vanessa and I walked happily for five hours.  We left before there was a bit of police action at the end, but looking for any mention of the march at all on any kind of news outlet later, we only heard about the police bit at the end.  We also read that a group of covid deniers were marching down Oxford Street trying to make people remove their masks.  Not sure that actually happened because Oxford Street was completely shut down and very few shops were open.  But it was telling that about a million ordinary citizens marching against bizarre, restrictive and frighteningly damaging and illogical rules in their own country, was passed over.

This went on for miles and miles.

What we did not hear was how wonderful it was to meet so many people who were not afraid of being together.  To laugh at how things like having a hug was not only bad for you, but possibly both illegal and lethal, and how many of us were simply not complying, quietly ignoring all the rules, and not only remaining alive but all around us remaining alive too.  Fancy that, we all said and carried on walking side by side.

My friend Amy and I giving out copies of the spoof tabloid newspaper The Covid Chronicles


See the Covid Chronicles spoof tabloid newspaper on my website here.  Paper copies are £3 each.  A work of art, words and drawings by yours truly.  Contact details on the website.

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Sunday 11 April 2021

Kitting myself up as an extreme athlete. Preparing for the Macmillan Mighty Hike.


Not really me, but very much an extreme athlete. Click bait. Sorry. 

I am having a great time kitting myself out as an extreme athlete.  I just bought myself a peacock blue, tiny, all weather, all singing and dancing rucksack; the man wearing it in the advert was on a bike and meant business with his stern face and lantern jaw, with his muscly legs and aerodynamic cycling helmet.  His rucksack was black, and streamlined, and I imagined he could get his lunch and a flask of tea and a change of socks in there without compromising his aerodynamics.  That's just like me, I thought, and I must have that rucksack.  When I went to investigate it online, I saw that there was a bright blue one.  Oh!  I thought, I will look so good in that.

So much about exercise is in the mind.  I remember in 2003, when I was training to run (wobble) the London Marathon in Spring 2004, being told that my only question on waking each morning while training should be, "How far am I running today."  Only when that was sorted could I look after the children, paint my paintings and have my breakfast.  I remember those long months of running, whatever the weather, and feeling like giving up at least five times a day.  But I didn't give up and I learned what a subtle thing the mind is and how, at the drop of a hat, it will turn you round from your training, and make you go to the ice cream shop and then on home to bed.  You have to resist.  Oh boy, it was tough.  But the actual marathon was truly an amazing experience, and I did complete it after about six hours.  I was beaten to the finishing line by a womble, three hippos, a teddy bear and a birthday cake.  And a famous Indian marathon runner in his seventies who zipped past me on the final stretch.  Most people zipped past me on the final stretch.

I have chosen to walk twenty six miles on June 5 this year for Macmillan Cancer.  It is called The Mighty Hike and when I signed up a year ago, I thought I had plenty of time.  I did have plenty of time, then, but now as the date looms ever nearer, I don't have much time any more.  So I am channeling the extreme athlete I once was in 2004 and making myself walk on the Downs every few days.  I am joking, I never was an extreme athlete.  Calling myself this is all part of the mind games I play to get myself out there and moving.  

The South Coast Mighty Hike 2021.

On the 5 June about 500 of us will walk along the South Downs from Brighton to Eastbourne. There will be coaches to drive us back to Brighton where I, at least, will try and drive in a straight line back to Bognor Regis.  It is possible I will have worn myself down from 5'9" to 4'10" but at least I will have done it. And for such a good cause too.

Walking like this is a serious business.  I have invested in proper walking boots and I have bought some fancy new insoles that tell me I will feel I am walking on air.  I realise that socks are very important, and so have found some that are great for ladies, for the summer, and for fairly flat feet.  And, oh bliss!  I just ordered for myself that peacock blue tiny rucksack for serious and super focused walkers.  I am that thing, I say to myself, so I need this bag.

Yesterday I walked ten miles.  I planned an extra hilly route on the South Downs, packed my (large) rucksack with tissues, a pooh bag (wet wipes, loo roll, nappy bags, spare pants etc for all those stops behind bushes), sandwiches, a flask of hot soup, water, mobile phone, bluetooth ear phones, mobile battery charger and the hat that Gill, my dear friend, knitted for me.  I planned a very early walk just after the mists of dawn have faded and the early morning bird song was at its newest and loudest.  Striding across the South Downs, I would have proved how strong my mind is now, for my second marathon training event. 

I was still on the sofa in my pyjamas at 9.30am.  The longer you wait to go out training, the harder it becomes.  I remember this so well.  Oh not today! your mind says, perhaps tomorrow.  Planning is one thing, doing is another.  But I have in my memory the line up in the early morning of the London Marathon all those years ago, and the gruelling training that I had had to do suddenly became a life saver.  I was used to running long distances, in that I had done so for this event, and now I was glad.  Alongside me were all manner of people, all shapes and sizes, all ages.  I was told to notice anyone with brand new trainers, as they would not last long on the run.  There were plenty.  You have to wear your trainers in, to get past blisters and get used to how they feel, in order for them to serve you on a long run.  The pros turned up with old, well worn running trainers and a fierce look in their eye.  Twenty six miles of anything is serious. You need all the help you can get.  And so, I changed out of my pyjamas yesterday morning, told the sofa I would see it again soon, and to wait for me, and drove to Bury Hill here in West Sussex, to begin my walk. 

Something wonderful happens once I am on the Downs.  I feel my spirits raise, I feel my head clear, and my energy expand.  It is, whatever the weather, beautiful.  Even in the pouring rain, even in heavy fog, I am in a place beyond myself where nature just is. I love the colours in the chalk paths, all the shades of white with touches of brown and yellow, I love the way the brown barren fields and mud filled paths are suddenly filling with new green shoots.  What the shoots are, I don't know, but they are popping up everywhere, small and delicate, out of what seems such hard, lifeless brown old earth.  It is true, nature is a mystery, and relentless, and a wonder.  The silence is wonderful, and I realise it is really only silence from people.  The birds are not just singing, they are shouting.  The wind blows around me and the new greenery, and the old trees, rustle and make their own sounds.  And then there is the sound of my own feet tramping along the path.  The sound of my (state of the art) anorak swishing as I move my feet, and when there is no wind, and the birds are having a quick glass of water after yelling so loudly, I can hear my own breathing as I walk.

This uphill bit is so beautiful you can forgive it for being uphill.

 Yesterday I chose a route with loads of hills.  The Mighty Hike, I am told, involves hills.  I had better get used to them.  Oh the Downs has hills, it has hills like a forest has trees.  But this particular walk has two intense climbs up on the way out (nicely down hill on the way back) and one mile long descent (blimmin uphill on the way back).  There is a nice little tree stump in some woods just at the beginning of the long climb up on the way back where I planned my lunch, and all will be well.  When I get there I will be so pleased with myself for coming that far, and I will need my egg sandwiches to give me the impetus to walk this mile uphill so I can be ruler of the world when I get to the top.

I think on these walks.  Or rather, all the voices, conversations, thoughts, plans, worries, speculations, observations and stuff that is in my head, go AWOL while I try to get a word in edgeways.  Problems do get solved on these walks.  Things do become clearer.  I feel my focus shift, and new perspectives and ideas come through.  I am surprised at how little any of it matters when I am so far from anyone else, and from home, and from any emergency services should I be attacked by bears.  (No bears on the South Downs.)  

At the end of the walk yesterday I found that I had only done ten miles. I thought I had done much more than that.  Oh dear.  No wonder I was not that tired, next time I must do more, what went wrong?  And then I thought, I must be making progress - at what point in my life have I ever been disappointed that I had walked merely ten miles?  A paltry ten miles! So in a way, great progress was made in my mind yesterday.  Apart from loving it once I got going, I am making progress.  Yesterday's route felt like more than ten miles because so much of it involved walking up hills that felt like mountains. To put this into context, there are always cyclists on the Downs, who actually ride up these hills.  I may think I rule the world when I get to the top of one, but these cyclists actually do rule the world.  They would easily outdo any bears for speed and strength.  

Today, the day after, I am resting.  My new blue rucksack arrives this afternoon, and I am washing my new, special, ladies with flat feet, summer weather walking socks from yesterday, and noticing that my recovery time from this walk is much improved.  Today, my mind works, my body is not too tired, and I cannot wait (in theory) to get back out for my next walk.

To sponsor me for this walk, please go here, to my Just Giving page 

Margaret, on her ninetieth birthday
Macmillan Cancer support are just wonderful.  I was a Macmillan Buddy for two years, befriending
people struggling with their cancer.  I saw at first hand how much Macmillan do for their clients, and how dedicated and helpful they are for all those who turned to them for help, advice and solid support.  I am walking this Mighty Hike in memory of my first buddy, Margaret Winstone, who became such a close friend despite over thirty years age difference between us.  Margaret, a vicar's wife from Yorkshire, was a mathematics and music teacher.  Sometimes, in her late eighties, she would sing me folk songs from her youth, with such loveliness that brought tears to my eyes. I supported Margaret right up to the day she died.  Margaret didn't believe in giving up.  "Don't fuss!" she would say with a lovely laugh, and so I won't fuss, I will do this walk for her.  

All sponsorship money goes directly to Macmillan, who do such a good job. Thank you all. 

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