This is the weekend when the human transhumance switches: the end of the summer season and the last of the visitors leave and most of the cafes, restaurants and shops supporting them, and supported by them, close and most of their staff are not locals so they leave too. The last week has been very quiet which is normal for the last week of the summer season I think, and some of the restaurants have already shut. Well, l’harlequin, run by George and Monique, closed on the 18th. Mostly I eat my own very simple food here but I said goodbye to them with lunch (usual thing: click on that if you want the full glory of it!)
I ordered the wine (really splashing out) but the kir was free. The food is tartiflette: very much a Savoie staple of cheese sauce on potatoes with lardons and strips of reblochon cheese on the top. Very much food for hard working labourers. I confess I was too happily replete to work after that for several hours.
Yesterday I legged it down to Plagne Centre to get my last purchases from the fromagerie which shut in the evening. Also yesterday and today I’m stocking up from the SPAR up here in Aime 2000, buying a reserve of heavy or bulky things (loo roll!) that should mean I have less to carry up weekly from the SPAR in Plagne Centre which is the only shop for 2000 vertical metres from here from Monday.
The six weeks since I got here have been a bit mad with a series of disasters back in South London that J has had to cope with with a bit of support from S: it was as if the house and cat waited until I’d gone to throw a series of challenges to J to remind us both of our unusual geographical choices. Not just back in London, up here and in my virtually global work life there have been other challenges, not only the regular ones but also more than the usual run of unexpected ones. I think against the backdrop that August for much of the world is at least in part a holiday month, with the influx of visitors here, has all made this feel odd and a bit unreal. It feels as if this weekend is a pivot point and from next week all the usual and unusual challenges are going to be that more real, somehow there will be fewer distractions.
I tend to associate these real punctuation points with an aspiration that I’ll be more efficent and produtive as I move on. We’ll see! I’ll leave you with some recent images of my beloved mountains and clouds. You should be able to click on any one to get the full sized image (to the extent your browser allows) and you should be able to page through them if you want.
Just looked round the monitor and can’t see a thing for bright white cloud enveloping us! In case anyone reading this doesn’t know about my timelapse videos which show how the cloud drama up here plays through from sunrise to sunset (around 4 minutes in the videos and getting shorter as the days get shorter), the recent videos are here. I think dipping into one can be quite meditative. I’ve given them a very crude rating out of 5 so go for ratings below 4 if you want mindfulness. The full set, starting back in 2018 can be reached from here.
It’s August, it’s summer. Up here at a bit over 2,000m that can be pretty capricious but we’ve had a run of gloriously sunny days with lovely sunrises. These mornings I take my first coffee out onto the terrace and squat down with it. It’ll be somewhere between 07.00 and 08.30 I guess depending on what I’ve got done by the time the first coffee takes me and the amount of sun will be very different depending on that timing. The flagstones under the bum are cold as they are in the mornings all year round but the dark brown painted, wooden clad, wall behind my back will was already too hot to lean on without a t-shirt or something between me and it.
I was squatting there this morning, soaking up some sun, with my eyes closed against it. I was oscillating between pondering my day, task list etc. and something rather more “mindful” I supposed (it’s not my forte). Opening my eyes at some point I was squinting against the sun, still very low but awesome in its relatively little filtered intensity and for a moment or two I just soaked in the silhouettes of the brutalist concrete of Aime 2000 as it rises the other side of the terrace as it does behind me, and the mountains in the distance. I thought I should try to share!
I wondered about the word “squatting”: we own the apartment so I’m not technically squatting in that sense of the word. Perhaps more importantly, this coming Friday I hope a trip to the préfecture will clinch my acquisition of my “Carte de séjour” (or “Permis de séjour”, I’m not sure which is the official term), i.e. my initial, but renewable, right to remain. That feels even more important than ownership: being granted permission to stay as long as I want, whenever I can and want, despite Brexit, despite anything that might make the French state reluctant to have me!
So here I am. And here are more views from squatting, from bum on the flagstones level. I think my photography might improve if I got down and dirty more often! I think you should be able to click on the images and that should open them in “lightbox” mode enabling you to click through the full size images one by one (tiny right and left arrows to right and left of each image to select next or previous image).
Well, well. I learned from my mother this morning that today is the UN International day of Friendship, see https://www.un.org/en/observances/friendship-day. I also discovered the rather less idealistic wikipedia page: “Friendship Day (also International Friendship Day or Friend’s Day) is a day in several countries for celebrating friendship. It was initially promoted by the greeting cards’ industry,” Oh dear. Actually, there’s lots more there and the history doesn’t seem to be all as grimly commercial/capitalist as that opening suggested. How often are wikipedia pages not worth reading. Perhaps wikipedia is a glorious piece of international friendship in itself.
I did feel that in a world that seems to be to rushing rapidly backwards and towards national militarism, xenophobic hate and to politicians and the very wealthy fanning these trends for all they are worth, that international friendship is vital. So some lovely ‘photos offered from the Alps by an old cynic who has long called himself “romantically Welsh” (partly to sidestep the old National Front and more recent iterations of disgusting English nationalism), who now ticks “other” on UK forms asking about ethnicity and fills in “White European since Brexit”. I think I should complete the final stage on my journey to my “Carte de Séjour” (residence permit) on the 20th of August, it really looks as if, at last, I only have to turn up with the right bits of evidence to take the last step to getting my crucial piece of plastic. That’s a pretty petty and selfish bit of international friendship but that really is part of my determination to get this and be able to move between the UK and France as and when I want … and perhaps to move on and apply for dual citizenship. I do feel it as a small strike against nationalism and xenophobia.
More positively, I now work with people on a “gift relationship” basis in many countries, over the last two decades: Ecuador, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Estonia, France, Italy, Greece, Japan, Albania, Finland, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Korea, China, Pakistan, Wales, Scotland, Romania, Malta, Slovenia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Lithuania, Portugal, Colombia, Russia, Iceland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey, Canada and yes, even the USA and England. (The order is pretty arbitrary and arguable, if you think I’ve omitted you, get in touch and accept my apologies.)
Hm, it’s not a bad list. It led to total overload from which I’m only slowly recovering but it’s been brilliant and hugely productive but that’s moving us from friendship to work. I’ve been incredibly lucky I guess. I worked hard on it, but now I look at it, it really has been international and mostly very friendly: thanks to all for that.
So now back to friendship: here is a a typical Chris selfie of me taken up here looking across the terrace at the glorious brutalist 1960 architecture that is Aime 2000 and to “Sue’s run” (OK, that’s not it’s local name but we’re being internationalist and friendly for today eh?) You should be able to click on this and get the full glory of it with a rather less selfie-ish width!
And, in the spirit of international and interspecies friendship, my very bouncy local wagtail (again you should be able to click on these and see the full image, or as much as your browser will give you, and you should be able to scroll through the shots):
[Posted 30.vii.21, header image of Mont Blanc 21.15 CEST, 28.vii.21 selfie 20.vii.21, wagtail 22.vii.21]
As of a long travelling day on Monday I’m back up in my Alpine eyrie. I’m hoping to use this new phase for a bit of a realignment to make my days less dominated by work so I’ll keep this simple. Most of the week I was in the filling of a sandwich between mostly white cloud above and below and the filling was pretty damp and sometimes pouring rain so it was lovely to see Mont Blanc become visible for the first time last night and to have a roasting day of clear blue sky today until late afternoon. Today also brought the first parapente of my stay. Photos only from here on. Oh damn. I’ll have to go back to working out how to make them show as I’d like: never fixed that last year. Timelapse videos may restart in the next few days.
Early Friday evening the cloud finally lifted and parted enough for me to see Mont Blanc.
Yesterday (yes, this blog post was started with good intentions yesterday but not finished) was free of cloud locally with only wisps of cumulus in the valley and on the peaks in the distance. It was roasting and beautiful! Later in the day, though it remained pretty roasting around me in Aime2000, the cloud built up and provided the constantly changing views that I so love up here. Here’s a gallery of some images that I caught, click on any that interest you to see the full sized image and when you do you should see tiny arrows on the left or right of the image which you can click on to move to the previous or next image (respectively!)
Given that the week had been so free of sun, it’s not surprising that this was the day of the first parapente (paraglider).
OK. That’s it for today. No politics, no polemics, no pontificating, mostly just images! More to come and I will play around to see if I can find the best “gallery” system with which to share images. I know I will slip back to those three “P”s: politics, polemics and pontificating!
Oh dear. I started to write something here between Xmas and New Year and got stuck. Cannibalising that and restarting.
Looking back at 2020
At best 2020 has been a weird year for pretty much all the world’s population and for many it has been terrible. I have been very lucky personally through 2020, and even more lucky that it hasn’t been a bad year for any of my family and, as far as I know so far, all my friends and colleagues have survived. One of my two sisters has now had a coronavirus infection twice, ruining her Christmas and disappointing my parents but my parents, now 90 and 93 years old, have been able to “bubble” together with support from their neighbours and visits from my sisters. In my nuclear family tnp had a really tough year with other health problems but finished his degree with a first, passed his driving test and has moved back to Glasgow, where he did his degree, into a shared flat with friends. S finished her, ultimately disappointing, Cambridge masters degree but has a solid relationship and she and F now have their own rented house where they are happy and she has started her PhD and continued her part time third sector job fairly happily. J resigned from a poisoned university post and continues to wind down her practice. Cv-19 meant she moved her remaining clinical work and her consultation and GRC work online. Interestingly, that has all gone well and doing the consultation and GRC work online has opened it up to a much wider, essentially global, customer/participant base. She has started a diploma as part of a major career change that is making her happy. She and the children have been gardening growing a ridiculous amount in the tiny back gardens in London and Cambridge and all have (re)discovered creative activities: jewellery, knitting, sewing and pottery mainly. My creativity was mostly some photos I quite liked, the timelapse videos, and the geeky creativity of work. That was all pretty good really.
So work … I worked in Toulouse for a month and transferred up to our Alpine apartment where I was to meet J & S to ski a week later. I transferred a week earlier than planned as I was finished in Toulouse. It turned out that the day I transferred France locked down, all skiing was off, no meeting with J & S and then I just stayed up there, as my occasional posts through the year record. I worked very hard on paper writing, data crunching and a bit on IT infrastructure.
I did dive into trying to create ways that therapists working online could replace paper CORE measures with online forms (see here). That turned out to be a huge job and I don’t greatly like the fillable PDF forms which seemed to be the main viable and free option but nearly 13,000 of them have been downloaded as I write this (9.ii.21, see here for some not very good charts of that download history). I also threw myself into supporting some bits of work responding to the pandemic in the UK, Greece, Ecuador and Brazil which added up to another huge and unexpected workload. The UK one was overambitious and folded rapidly, the Greek one was great but we failed to publish in the window of real opportunity, but the other two went pretty well and with two great colleagues in Ecuador and Spain I did get a little anecdotal paper out about our experiences trying to help with the pandemic (seems to be open access: here). All in all 2020 was a very productive year for me with nine new peer-reviewed publications (and one accepted in 2019 finally appeared). That’s not a record for me (CV with publication list here) but it’s up near my record (10 in 2002!)
Retreating from non-work people
The bad side of 2020 was that I retreated from pretty much all non-work contact with people outside my family. It wasn’t a conscious choice and it got to the stage where it was getting embarrassing but I still wasn’t making any time to communicate beyond the very infrequent blog posts and then it became a familiar cycle of avoidance of shame.
Sidestepping the shame/guilt, I can see that I just seemed to want to be very alone. As that slowly became clearer I’ve thought about it a lot. I think part of it was a reaction to the horrors of the pandemic. I am sure some of it was about my anger with how badly I think many countries, including what will always be my first country, the UK, handled it. That the USA and Brazil, and a very few other countries handled it worse didn’t seem to help my disgust and bitterness about that (nor should it have I guess). Then there was the more general horror show of the politics in the UK becoming blatant nepotism: “I and my friends who went to the right public schools are OK and the only ones we reward and work with”. That sat alongside so many other relentless political terror stories in (in no particular order nor any sort of exclusive list) the USA, China, India, Hungary, Poland. I felt I was seeing terrifying shades of pre-WW-II Germany (and Italy and Spain) rising again. I think at some level all I could handle was to work, to try to celebrate the natural beauty around me up in the Alps, and to retreat.
I am sure there were threads about my own ageing and that of my parents and that takes me to this …
Ending 2020 on a bad health note and worse in 2021!
Just before Xmas I had a “posterior vitreous detachment” in my R eye and a rather scary day before it was confirmed that it was only that, not a retinal detachment or tear. There’s a slightly increased risk I may one day have one of those. (As I understand it, crudely, the bag of jelly, that “posterior vitreous” that fills the space between the lens and the retina in the posterior compartment of the eye is no longer pressing the retina against the outer globe of my R eye). It has left me with a lot of floaters in my vision that weren’t there before and can really irritate, as now, when they show up intrusively against a lot of blank white screen. Then in early January I had a very painful L eye which was totally unrelated to that first scare: this was an inflammation of the cornea and again it worried me until it settled down rapidly with steroid eye drops. Now I’m on 3x a day “eye cleaning” and artificial tear drops probably for life to prevent it happening again … and both eyes apparently need that. That’s nearly 30 minutes a day gone!
Then, just to make sure that 2021 started badly, in the early hours of the morning a few weeks back I found myself in abdominal agony again (as per 2019). Yes, renal stones again, now L not R. That’s settled but perhaps two weeks have been lost when I was utterly failing to work and felt pretty grim. So five or six weeks into 2021 I am waiting to get the advice on the stone but I am sure it is lurking inside me waiting to start kicking me again!
So, to try to look forward with some hope …
Well, I have finally managed to finish this summary of my year and view forward. I think that will help me now Email the people I should have been in touch with regularly last year. I am rebooting my work and it looks as if our book will come out in November which means some work for me to do to create online support materials for that but that feels good. I have found a good way to create pages about my work with R (https://www.psyctc.org/Rblog/) which also feels good and I am about to get back to number crunching and writing with some huge and potentially very exciting large projects and also to dive into what will be three or four busy years on one full size project which, a year of gestation and three of initial data collection can move to analyses and writing. Those are the big things and there’s a frightening pile of smaller lumps of work, overdue, or that I dream of doing before I stop work (at 70, if I make it).
Less solipsistically, I hope the world will get luckier in the battle with cv-19. I pray that global politics will change: BLM surely must help; surely, surely cv-19 has helped us all see the inequalities and madness of short term capitalism; perhaps we really can start to slow climate change and global environment destruction and our annihilation of so, so many species other than our own. I will try to hope but I won’t hold my breath.
So can I crawl out of my social, interpersonal retreat? To be honest, I really don’t know, I know I am ambivalent about that as so much that is driving it still feels unclear and certainly unresolved. However, I will try and this may be a start.
To cheer me up, here is one of the last shots I took before leaving Aime. It’s the full resolution version of the one at the head of this post.
And a couple more from that day.
I was incredibly lucky to be able to live much of the year up there, able to work, in stunning scenery, almost the safest person on the planet from the cv-19 point of view. Who knows when I will be able to get back up there. Will I manage to fix residency and perhaps, eventually, dual citizenship? This last image feels more bleak, still beautiful but perhaps more how things feel for me.
Onwards … and apologies to those I’ve neglected this year: you know who you are.
The last four days have been pretty dramatic up here, we seemed to jump most of autumn and plunge into winter. You may be looking at the image that is, I hope, above this post and thinking “The mark of Zorro” or “Harry Potter was here”. No, that’s the rather lovely mark made by an icicle falling off the balcony above the terrace here into the snow. I like the strange shapes and the precision with which the punch into the snow. I think the sharp angles come from the bit that held onto the edge of the balcony coming off as the sun loosened its hold. (As ever, I think you should be able to click on them to get bigger views.)
So here’s my shadow as I do like a good selfie, well, I like a rather weird one.
I like that you can see the fallen icicles and the big ones still hanging above me. The snow was from mid-calf to knee deep across the terrace and I didn’t want to wade across not just as I was going to end up very cold and damp, but also because I loved that it was marred only by falling icicles. The lighting creating my spooky shadow is from the strong sun reflecting off the window behind me.
It’s nearly three months since I last posted anything so it’s almost as if I’ve missed out on the summer and the reality is that I have been working pretty hard. On the really sunny days I generally got myself 30-60 minutes in the sun reading and just soaking it up and before and after the actual summer season (4/7/20-29/8/20) I walked down and up to shop in Plagne Centre (I wasn’t doing that last Friday when the snow had hammered in: I think bits of the walk would really have been salopettes and snowshoes only). What have I achieved? Well, I am a bit less, no, significantly less, behind with the many long overdue collaborative bits of work that sort of buried me over the last ten years. Somewhere between a year and seven years from now they’ll all be done! With colleagues in various countries I’ve started to be more successful in terms of getting papers accepted and published and I think my infrastructure in terms of hardware and software I use, backups etc. are in better state than they were. “The book”, familiar to some, is with the publishers and about to come back to us for final revisions before going to press. However, blogging, social Emails and chatting and getting out into the Alps around me all went by the board as one urgent pressure followed another. To the many people I’ve neglected: apologies.
The work is still screaming at me so no more words. Just some images starting with icicles still hanging against beautiful sky before they drop to make runic inscritpions in the snow.
I love the way the peaks can seem to float above cloud and how windows break through the cloud. At other times I got brighter views, not looking through cloud: stunning blue skies but less my sort of aesthetic.
And some links to the better timelapse videos from these snowy days:
I never seem to find time to post things here: work has been crazy for the last few months. Some of that is the chronic backlog but much is down to cv-19. Back in got involved in cv-19 related projects using bits of the CORE system in the UK (project’s lead’s ambitions outstripped his capacities: waste of time), Ecuador (great project, my involvement valued and probably good, settled into low weekly input), Brazil (emerging monthly survey apparently well appreciated there) and Greece (inexperienced by enthusiastic co-leads’ ambitions matched by huge input in one huge initial burst and now we’re working to digest the data). Alongside those was the project to make CORE measures available for online use for free: see my CORE site page or the ResearchGate project. That’s supported over 7,000 downloads as of this morning (daily update page here!) With Clara & Pablo I have even, already, managed a paper out some of this which we think is free to read while the cv-19 pandemic continues and publishers feel generous: here. All that is on top of the regular work and that is slowly speeding up as I settle into my freelance researcher life.
Hah! Hot off the press: no sooner do I publish this post than LinkedIn reminds me of one of those regular pieces of work (the biggest one: so many things to be reported out of the ITAMITED study over the next one to five years I guess. LinkedIn post (hm, immediately broken I think: own goal LinkedIn!). Anyway, this courtesy of Joan Carles, Guillem and Toni … and it is visible in ResearchGate. I really must learn to use these channels … and to tweet!
Why say this? I know it’s a sort of apology for not communicating more with many friends and relations, and apologising to myself for that, and the tottering pile of ‘photos I could have posted here, and the almost equally tall pile of topics about which I’ve wanted to post. Anyway, the image at the top of this post (I hope) is my sort of selfie with the early morning sun behind me and the door of my eyrie open letting the air in. I like my sorts of selfies (as ever you should be able to click on these to get them full sized).
That’s enough self stuff! What about skies? Well, the sky up here is always changing. In the space of an hour we can go from seeing nothing really, just about the next nearest building as the cloud has enveloped us, to clear blue sky and roasting sun, and then to a thunderstorm with dramatic lightning (one day I will try to work out how to catch that on camera). Here is some mackerel cirrus I find curiously beautiful.
And now juxtaposition of cirrus from a different day and time of day with smoe some towering up of cumulus on the high ridge across the valley.
Then there are times with relatively clear blue sky overhangs a little low, rapidly changing cloud and below that mist in the air creates the “atmospheric perspective” I love. (The term is one photographers and visual perception people have for one of the ways we see distance and depth in 2D images: objects in the distance are hazier and lose contrast.)
Then some evenings the sunset is gently beautiful …
And some other evenings it’s anything but gentle …
And I’ll sign off by recommending that you watch at least the first one minute and forty seconds of the time lapse video from yesterday: a truly dramatic sunrise and early morning. The remainder of the roughly four minutes are nice and convey what a lovely day it was but they can’t match that early morning drama. You should be able to click on the image to start it running. Do hit the little icon down at the bottom right (next to “vimeo“) with the four radiating arrows: that should give you the video in full screen mode, it deserves it!
It’s been a family story for as long as I can remember that early in my forays into language the one word I couldn’t get right was “helicopter”. To me it was “kellihopter” (or however you spell that). That was a long, long time ago and maybe I should be writing about the horrors in the world, and the good things emerging with BLM, but for now, no, I can’t really find any words to do that any justice so I’ll just share some little things from the last month up here in my rather hermitic retreat.
One thing is that I’ve discovered that I am not, as I used to think, phlegmatic about the weather! I’ve really come to hate over two weeks with almost no sun or blue sky at all. On the 11th we had some of both, but not much. Yesterday we had more but it was still damn cold in the morning during the best of the sun. Today we had real warmth for about an hour: the first for well over two weeks but it’s gone back to cold now as the cloud surged back over.
However, in the early bits of blue sky yesterday morning we did get our eardrums battered for over an hour while the local utility helicopter lifted what I think are new flat roofing tiles up from the car park and dumped the old roofing down there.
It was pretty loud even with double glazed windows and door shut and playing music was out of the question but it was also impressive. There was a strong wind and you could see the helicopter bucking in it as held steady to drop the waste into the skips and allow the workers down there to disconnect the lifting line and then connect it to the next palette of tiles to come up. I did try to film it but it was bitterly cold in the wind and I wasn’t terribly successful. Here’s about 12 seconds of the helicopter hovering above the nearest terrace across from me. (I think my own terrace has already had its tiles replaced, though not I think since 2004 when we “moved in” as I now think of it.)
That captures its repeated hovers just over the western peak of Aime 2000 from me. I was less successful capturing the much more entertaining events down in the car park but this gives a sense of it (1’34”).
I’m not sure if there’s a standard team who work with the helicopter but there’s always the co-pilot down on the ground for these things (I think he’s visible: the one with the helmet). I think the others come and go depending on the task but it’s the second time recently that the team has been mixed gender though this isn’t the same team that were working down there the last time the helicopter came in for work renewing the cable rollers for the “golf” ski lift.
My sense is that back when I was calling helicopters kellihopters women doing this work would have been highly unusual. Perhaps I should hope that younger people now wouldn’t even notice but I doubt it, we’ve still got a long way to go on pretty much all forms of equality, gender, ethnicity, sexuality. I am starting to recognise that it seems the only way out of these inequalities, these gross inequities, is through fighting … but I was never much good at that and I am, as I say, still really silenced, failing to find words that don’t just seem trite.
Searching for today’s date in my todo list I thought that it was a year ago today I doubled up with pain and got admitted to the hospital in Bourg St. Maurice with renal colic. It isn’t a year on! That was me searching for “19.v” and finding 19.viii.19 and not noticing that I’m only nine months on! Oh dear, concentrate boyo!
It was odd then to see that I was in there for three days, that half day, two whole days and another half day before the consultant chucked me out! In my memory it was longer than that. I think that also confirms that this time last year we hadn’t had the rather wet run of rain and cloud we’ve had the last week or so. (Or do I just remember things through rosy coloured specs?) I remember that I had to make my way back up here in Norwegian felt slippers as, in the pain I hadn’t thrown any outdoor shoes into my backpack (though I remember I did throw a laptop in and did manage some work down there, not much.) I remember the young girl at the train station pointing at my feet and her mother explaining, I gather later when we shared a taxi, explaining that I probably had some psychological problems!
So, just nine months on, a gestation period. Since then cv-19 has put my little troubles into perspective. 318,596 deaths globally when I look at the Johns Hopkins tracker this morning. Ouch. The world has changed and, despite all the wonderful things that humans have done, all the good side of the species that has shown, I have a horrible feeling that we’re really starting to see the backlash of the powerful, the rich and simply horrible who don’t want good changes to come of this. I am only coping with very filtered doses of news the last month or so as that seems so horrific.
OK. On a more positive note, this morning the sky is blue, the sun is out, my washing is drying on the terrace and earlier the view across to Mont St. Jacques and beyond was lovely. (As ever, click to get the full glory, but be warned: it’s a large image.)
On the other side of the terrace my mansion up here in the skies was casting lovely shadows that amused me and made me feel I was in some crenellated castle. (Again click, again, be patient, they’re big images. I haven’t got this gallery plugin sussed so I get two images overlaid though I can still see the top one fine. Contact me if you get worse and it’ll push me to try to get to the bottom of this.)
Two night’s back the layers of cloud created an amazing light and view across the valley. Hard to capture these lights with the camera but I think this gets a sense of it. (Same instructions and warnings as above.)
Down below, in the car park, this is what retreading a piste basher involves.
Enough. Work and the weekly trip to the shop call me!
I seem to be a bit differently blocked about posting things lately. Some of that is just that I seem to have been working rather harder/longer than usual and some of that increase in work came from the cv-19 pandemic and a wish to be doing something useful in the face of such horror and sadness. But another element has been trying to understand a bit more about this “isolation/social distance” issue. Suddenly much of the world has been forced, more or less reluctantly, into degrees of social distance that aren’t normal for them. With discussion with my family, but pretty actively opted for myself, I’ve chosen to react by just starting living up here about two months earlier than planned and I only leg it to the shop once a week. That’s not a huge change from how I’ve lived about half the year for the last two years. So I’m in a social distanced place that I’ve actively sought out for myself for a while but I’m now socially distanced from, isolated from, most of the world who are suddenly also much more socially distanced than is their norm.
I’m sure that the social distancing edicts in most countries have been wise. A sad bit of that is that we can’t trust a huge proportion of the population to do sensible things if those sensible things go against their habits or wishes. I’m sure they will have been “worth it” in deferred deaths and some mitigation of terrible pressures on health services and perhaps social care services. It seems wonderfully clear that they have brought out so much that is good in many people. They also seem to me to have revealed some of the very worst of the people in power in many countries and the speculations about whether not cv-19 is an escaped bioweapon remind us that most of the world is either at war or poised to fight. In the early months of this there was a phase when I dived back into my early career “community medicine” (now “public health”) time (mostly 1983-84 if anyone wants that time perspective on this solipsistic stuff) and I spent hours every day trying to digest the emerging numbers and modelling. I stopped that a month or so ago partly because I had taken up trying to do things that might be useful to therapists having to work online but I know that part of that shift was away from the raw numbers and all the individual and familial, collective, social horror they index. It wasn’t just that the overwhelming majority of this is impinging on people I don’t know, I was concerned about the impact on family, particularly parents who I’m very lucky to still have alive either side of 90 years old and I was starting to learn of friends of friends, friends and relatives of colleagues and then colleagues and family members themselves having had the virus. (So far, no deaths even at those removes in the people I know.) There was something indecent about thinking of human horror in numbers but there always is, take cv-19 away and it’s often more the deaths and maiming we humans do to each other that I try to process in numbers from the latest news. Cv-19 wipes most of that out of the news but there’s always “social distancing” of a psychological kind rather than a physical kind in these numberings.
OK, Chris, follow that thread for a moment, maybe it matters. Well, my Email contacts collection has 5,146 people in it. Let’s say I sort of “know” or “have interacted with to a point that I can probably remember something of” say 5,500 people and if there are 7.8 billion people in the world (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population) then I have some personal capacity to think of 7.05*10-7, i.e. about 0.00007% of the world’s population. OK, is that a distancing that we all share (I don’t count having 3 million twitter or other “follower” as knowing them). I guess since the 16th Century at the latest (perhaps earlier for the Chinese?) we have been faced with both that our world is huge compared to what we know of it, and that it’s a finite sphere (oblate spheroid!) The physical area we can “know” and the proportion of living humanity we can “know” are both tiny compared to the area and numbers out there. I guess I that sociologically, psychologically, we’re making slow progress (if any) in processing this constructively and tend to collapse into “localisms” and too often into fighting to deaths over these localisms.
A true pandemic, something completely non-human it itself: a tiny accretion of genetic material and protein that only reproduces in and through “higher”, much more complex, lifeforms has suddenly challenged our other great defence against our diminutive and distanced/scattered states: hugely inflated ideas of our omniscience and omnipotence. We have the nuclear weapons to render our planet uninhabitable (certainly to our “higher” lifeforms, we have remarkable abilities to intervene in many illnesses and traumata and we can measure gravity waves and date the big bang but we’re watching this cv-19 thing kill and all we can do for now is retreat into social distancing and do what we can to adjust and cope.
I’m clear that saying that I have some personal connectedness with say 0.00007% of the world’s population, perhaps indirect connectedness with 0.0007% if I allow that each person I “know” might tell me about up to ten other people that I’m not setting a value on that. I think you could “know” a far higher proportion or perhaps just get through your life only relating to a tiny handful of people but if you relate to them well and don’t create a dangerous “us and them” around your niche then you have lived a life as worth living as anyone who can say they related well and didn’t hurt others with “us and them”. (I’m a bit sceptical about true hermits and anchorites but I guess the ones we know of have impacted on many.)
So I started this about “… what’s worth …?” and I meant to take that to “What’s worth doing?” and “What’s worth saying?”. I know that something that has been stopping me blogging much has been a rather despairing question “What’s worth saying?” (and a feeling that I was better with my current “doing”). This blog, as opposed to my equally stuck work blogs, is about trying to stay in touch with people who matter to me when I can’t Email them individually (without stopping my “doing”!) I guess it’s worth saying/writing.
I’ll stop with two experiments in timelapse other than my regular “all daylight hours” ones (timelapse-videos). These are using my camera instead of an old ‘phone, and choosing just one view to follow for a time. They were both six second intervals and they’re 25fps video so speeded up 150x I suppose. I’ve got a very interesting social distance I guess.
I love that soft but scarred bluff which I imagine was a lava flow long ago and I like they way the clouds scud over it and throw everything into alternating light and dark. And here’s my noble neighbour (to the right of the view!)
I’ve not got on top of all the challenges of using yet another amazing open source tool, ffmpeg in this case, to convert many separate images to video yet but I’ll chew away at this!