Have the jabs made you invincible?

Today marks a milestone for me. Two weeks after my second vaccination means that my immunity to Covid is about as high as it will get. My chance of getting the disease is much lower now, and even more importantly, the chance of me getting seriously ill and dying is very small. It makes me feel invincible.

Yesterday lunchtime Mandy and I felt invincible enough to go across the road for lunch at our local bistro. This new café opened at the start of last year and the owner, Kumar, was immediately faced with months of lockdown, and yet no reduction in costs for things like council tax and licensing. We have really wanted to support this local business but it is a small room and we were honestly scared, so yesterday was the first time. Kumar could not have been more welcoming. I had their oriental vegetarian burger, made with lentils, lemongrass and coriander and it was delicious. And maybe because we have both had two jabs/jags now, we did not feel nervous at all. Thanks Kumar.

I was reading this morning a report from the Bank of England, saying that the UK economy is growing rapidly as we have opened up again. That is good news and I guess we all need to put particular effort into supporting local businesses. Amazon has had quite enough of my trade this past year.

The other thing I should have been be getting excited about this week was our expected trip down to England with our narrowboat. We were meant to be leaving our marina on Tuesday for a little tour of the Scottish lowland canals, before lifting the boat out of the water near Glasgow, and taking it down south. Unfortunately Scottish Canals have a big problem this week with the main water feed into the Forth and Clyde canal, and all boat movements have been stopped. This is immensely frustrating because there is nothing we can do. Even being invincible is no help.

Grrrrrrr.

How are you feeling this week? Invincible? Frustrated? Excited?

Enjoy your weekend, Pete

Of the world population, what percentage lives in low-income countries?

I have been reading a book this week called “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling. It is a fascinating read because it uncovers many of the misconceptions we have about the world. For instance our brains love the simplicity of splitting the world into haves or have nots, rich and poor; while the truth is that most of the world is in the middle. We also tend to have a negative view of the world because we hear many more negative stories than positive ones. As Hans says, a journalist would not last long writing stories such as “plane does not crash” or “child does not die early”. And us slightly older people tend to romanticise our memories of youth, remembering the great days playing out, rather than the nights we went to bed hungry.

The really positive news in the book is that key measures across the world continue to get better. When you read the title of this blog, what percentage did you come up with? Typically people choose a number well over 50%. That was true until about 1990. But it has been decreasing from around 85% in 1800 and the decrease has accelerated. The figure today is around 9%. I have spent a lot of time in India over the past twenty years, and a common comment from me is that alongside the wealth you see so much poverty, But I realise now that comment is based on what I first saw. When I started visiting, around 40% of the Indian population were very poor. The figure today is more like 10%.

The book was written in 2017 so does not have as clear a view as we do today of climate change and the pandemic. Do they halt the progress in its tracks? No, but they are both catastrophic events. Global warming is too late to reverse and some of the same challenges to how we think stop us paying attention. Newspapers in the UK this week have had headlines about the hot weather, but all in a positive light. And the pandemic continues to cause larger numbers of excess deaths than we have seen for years. But if the stats from the UK and US are to be believed, vaccination can break the link between transmission and death, so I remain optimistic that in 12 months time we will have bounced back. And the underlying improvements in society we have seen will continue – less poverty, less hunger, more gender equality, cleaner and available energy, improved health.

There are a whole range of free online quizzes on this subject available at gapminder.org. Go and have a look. You may well find your view of the world needs an upgrade!

Have a positive weekend, Pete

What should I do with hundreds of old newspapers?

Last weekend I went to stay with my Mum in Salisbury. The main reason was to see her for the first time in eighteen months, but it was also to try to sort out a move of nursing homes for my Dad. He has advanced Alzheimer’s dementia and needs 24 by 7 care. It is a sad situation and it is important for me to remember him how he was, rather than how he is now.

So while I was in Salisbury I went up into the loft and reclaimed eight or nine boxes of my Dad’s old newspapers. Now before you think that my Dad was a slightly strange hoarder, these are not just any old newspapers. It was his hobby to collect papers from many years ago. They are fascinating to read, partly for how the front page headline stories were portrayed, such as when the Titanic was sunk, or when the world wars ended, or when we landed on the moon. But also equally for the inconsequential stories and adverts throughout the paper. Who knew so many corsets were sold a hundred years ago?

Dad has papers from as far back as the seventeenth century, but his biggest collection is from the year of his birth – 1936. They paint a real picture of a year that mixed everyday stories with what we now know was the preparation for a war that changed the lives of everyone across the globe. I wonder if in 90 years time, someone will be reading the newspapers from the start of 2020, fascinated by what was being said about a little virus in Wuhan and how that contrasted with page after page about how we were all so cross about Brexit.

I have brought the newspapers home to Scotland and over the next week I plan to curate them, rebox them and hopefully find time to read a few. I do not have so long before we set off on our summer tour of England on the narrowboat, so much of that reading may have to wait.

As I have begun going through the boxes, I came across a speech my father had given to the local rotary club about his hobby. He tells a story about how he was travelling back on a train from London reading one of his old newspapers about the death of Queen Mary. A fellow traveller asked why he was reading a fifty year old paper. My Dad replied “I guess I am just a slow reader”. I am looking forward through my ongoing retirement also to become a slow reader.

Did your parents have any unusual hobbies? What do you think of them now?

Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or is that a narrowboat coming towards you?

I have been walking through a couple of canal tunnels this week. Some of the most exciting and scary times on a narrowboat are travelling through tunnels. Most canal tunnels have very little space around the boat profile. This is deliberate because when the canals were designed, the boats were pulled by horses, and the horses would not go through tunnels, so the boats were “legged” through by two strong men, lying on either side of the barge roof and using their legs to “walk” along the tunnel. These days we have engines and we have to steer 50-60 foot long boats through the tunnel with often less than a foot space on either side.

Falkirk Tunnel

There are two keys to success. Don’t be overconfident and don’t panic. Fluid mechanics give us a big advantage because the water being pushed either side of the boat as you travel through the tunnel, gives pressure to keep the boat away from the walls. But if you are overconfident and drive too fast, or if you panic and over-react to each boat movement, then before you know it, you are bouncing the boat off the walls side to side.

I wonder of there is an analogy. Here in the UK the Covid numbers have fallen right back. Deaths and hospitalisations are very low, since so many of the population are now vaccinated. Society is reopening, with shops, bars, gyms, cinemas now back or soon to be back. In a month or so we will be nearly normal. There is talk about Coronavirus treatment in pills taken at home next winter. It really feels that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

But two things could get in the way. One would be overconfidence. If we relax the rules too fast, give up on social distancing, refuse to self isolate, then it will be back. The other would be to panic. There are some horrible new variants out there, but the science is working and we can steer our way through this perilous tunnel.

Have wonderful weekend. Let me know hat you think.

Ten reasons to get the Vaccine

On Sunday my wife and I had our first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it made me reflect on why we all should be vaccinated if we are able.

  1. It can save our lives. Admittedly, as an overweight mid fifties man, I am more at risk, but the evidence shows that the vaccines prevent near 100% of deaths from Covid-19, in all age groups.
  2. It will save other people’s lives. There is clear evidence now that the vaccines reduce the transmission of Covid from you to others and therefore helps stop the spread of disease to those that are not yet vaccinated.
  3. It protects the health service. Sadly we have seen some health services across the world come close to breaking down in recent weeks. In the UK, we got pretty close in January. None of us want to see people get sick and die without the support of doctors and nurses.
  4. Even for young adults, Long Covid is a real risk. The vaccine helps stop the disease and protects you against long term symptoms.
  5. The vaccine does not discriminate. Unfortunately the disease is more prevalent in some ethnic groups, The vaccine however, is effective for all. In Scotland, the biggest challenge with vaccine take-up is amongst Polish and some Black communities. We need to protect them too.
  6. It gives our children a future. Not only does the vaccine for adults mean that fewer children will lose their parents, but it means that they can have normal lives at school and with their friends. There has been more than enough damage in the past year.
  7. Any side effects are well worth it. My wife had no real side effects at all. I had a pretty bad 24 hours, with fever and muscular ache. But a day later I was feeling fine. And the benefits far outweigh any issues. If I got Covid it would be so much worse. If anyone is worried about the risk of getting blood clots for instance, the most likely way of getting a clot that will kill you is to catch Covid.
  8. The vaccines have been properly tested. Some people are suggesting that because the vaccines were approved in months rather than years, there is more risk. This is not true. No corners were cut. Instead, literally billions of pounds were spent accelerating the testing.
  9. All the vaccines work. In the UK we have Pfizer and AstraZeneca with millions and millions of jags now given safely. The other approved vaccines are also rolling out effectively – Moderna, Sputnik, Sinovac. I am looking forward to the new French vaccine Valneva being approved because it is manufactured a couple of miles from where I live. The evidence I have seen is that against hospitalisation and death, they all protect equally well.
  10. It is better than another lockdown. I have written before about how fed up we are all getting with the restrictions. We have a clear route map out now, but it can only happen with the extensive vaccine rollout.

I apologise for writing a preachy blog. I also apologise for winding up those that really want the vaccine and have not yet been offered it. But this is important. If you have been offered the vaccine, please take it up. I respect people who choose not to take up the vaccine. But I think they are mistaken.

And if you are not sure, rather than listening to internet guff (even this blog!) please talk to a healthcare professional.

Will this pandemic be the end of extraverts and introverts?

Throughout my career I have engaged in personality tests as part of team building with my colleagues. One of the key traits that is tested is whether people are extraverts or introverts. Extraverts gain their energy from interacting with others. Introverts get their energy from themselves. This is important at work and at home because often introverts can be ignored by the loud brash extraverts, and extraverts can be seen as thoughtless by the introverts, who prefer to consider before speaking.

When I have done the tests I usually get confusing results. In some situations I am strongly extravert. There are few things I like better than to stand up in front of hundreds of people to make a speech. But I am also at my happiest by myself on a walk with my dogs in the quiet countryside and I have some strong introvert tendencies.

This week I heard about omniverts and ambiverts. Omniverts are just like me – in different situations they respond differently and get their energy differently. Ambiverts are happy in all situations and don’t show preference either way.

Under lockdown, very many of us are missing other people and long to be back in crowds. For extraverts this must be particularly painful. We just want the energy from interacting with others. We talk about how we will never complain again about busy bars, queues, jostling on public transport.

But I have noticed this week that as the rules are loosening and the paths and open spaces have got more busy, that I have felt almost claustrophobic, and glad to get back to my own space. So I wonder if this pandemic has changed us all into omniverts or ambiverts. Introverts will have realised that they do miss time with people. Extraverts will have realised that they can get energy from the peace of being alone.

What do you think? Which personality type are you and how has a year of isolation affected you?

I need a short term hobby for the New Year

A week of good news and bad news. I really do think the Oxford / Astra Zeneca vaccine will be a game changer. Everyone in the UK will be able to be vaccinated this year, and one jab gives decent immunity which means it can be rolled out more quickly before a second jab is administered three months later, And because it can be stored at fridge temperature, distribution will be much easier. So there really is light at the end of the tunnel. We will get back to normal this year.

At the same time the new strain of Covid-19 is spreading very rapidly and causing more people in hospital and more deaths, Inevitably this has resulted in an ongoing tight lockdown. Mandy & I were meant to be travelling to Orkney for six weeks from next Friday, but that has been cancelled by lockdown, and realistically I can’t see that improving till the vaccine has extensive rollout, maybe end March.

If I were still working, work would have given me identity and frankly filled my hours. So I need something else to focus on that I can do at home. Some goals for the first quarter of 2021. A hobby perhaps.

Any ideas what I should do? I could do with getting fitter. Long walks with the dogs are still allowed so long as I stay away from crowds. I could also do some more strenuous exercise. I could do with losing some weight, so maybe cutting out the bad food and drink for a month or two. But I also want some fun. I think I will get my old euphonium out of the loft and learn to play that again. It will probably annoy my family and the neighbours but one day it would be good to rejoin a band.

What ideas do you have of things I could achieve in the next three months while staying at home? Let me know.