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

Ten reasons to meet people again

I have been on a bit of a tour this week. From Scotland I drove down to Sheffield for a walk with my son, daughter in law and dog, and then on to Market Harborough for training courses in plumbing and electrics at the Narrowboat Skills Centre, Debdale Wharf, working in a classroom with four other students and an instructor. Since I was in England, I took the opportunity to meet up with a friend from when I was working, and I visited an aunt and her family. Both live relatively close to where I was training. I have eaten in restaurants and pubs. I have even been to a cinema. Then tonight I head on to stay with my Mum for the weekend. We talk most days, but as with my son, it will be the first time I have been with her in eighteen months.

With Simon at Hambleton, Rutland Water

I have to confess that after so long being generally isolated, it has felt very strange to be with people again – strange and a little scary. In some ways I would like to retreat back into my safe bubble at home. News from countries like India continues to be frightening. But there are good reasons to start meeting people again:

  1. Isolation is not great for my mental health. I know that everyone has reacted differently, but now is the time for me to come back blinking into the light.
  2. The economy needs growth. Forecasts are for a huge “bounce” in the second half of this year, but that will only happen if we get back to work and back to leisure activities.
  3. I need to relearn social skills. I have written in a previous blog that I have introvert and extravert traits. This last year has made me more introvert and now I need to get out there, or hide in a corner.
  4. There are many things I want to do in my retirement and I can’t do them if I am scared of being with other people.
  5. The vaccines work. Even where the faster spreading variants are prevalent, vaccinated people seem to be relatively safe from severe symptoms.
  6. Gossip is fun. I am not sure if you have found the same, but remote conversations lack nuance and body language, and so the “water cooler” gossip doesn’t happen the same way. I know it is naughty but we all like it!
  7. If not now, then when? I can’t wait for everything to get fully back to normal, because I think that may take decades.
  8. Teams work. Next week I am meeting a couple of fellow narrowboaters to see if we can travel the river Clyde together late in June. It is a big tidal river and frightening alone on a flat bottomed boat, but as a team we will all feel safer and can help each other.
  9. People are interesting. I have always been a people watcher. I love the ways we are all different and can learn from each other.
  10. I have really missed my friends and family. Zoom, FaceTime and Teams are great, but are not the same as being with people.

What about you? Have you sneaked out of lockdown to meet people, are you still prohibited, or like me are you now just beginning again?

What day is it?

I was out walking along the coast in Fife yesterday with one of my sons and my sister in law. I realised that I was not sure what day it was. One of the benefits of retirement is that I can do anything on any day. No longer do I need to wait till the weekend to go for a long walk, or go shopping, or fix the crack in the bathroom tiling, or visit my new great nephew for a cuddle, all of which I did yesterday. Rather I have the flexibility to avoid crowds and do what I want when I want.

The wonderful coastline of Fife in Scotland

But the downside can be that every day is like another. I chatted to my sister in law, who has been retired for seven years. She deliberately builds routine into her weeks to help provide some structure. She eats fish on a Friday. She cooks a roast Sunday lunch. She tries to make Friday evening as relaxing as it was when she was working. Maybe I should do the same. But I am in that honeymoon period of retirement when the freedom to do anything on any day feels simply wonderful.

I know when people say “they have no idea what day it is” they often mean that the person is losing it. Sadly, my father has advanced Alzheimer’s dementia and really does not understand the world any more. And I am wary of the naysayers in my old work, who told me not to retire because my brain would turn to mush. And I am aware that even though my life now has few meetings and appointments, I recently missed a meeting with my financial adviser, not because I was too busy, but because I was not busy enough. But it honestly feels great to wake up in a morning and know that today I can do pretty much anything I want.

Especially now lockdown is easing in the UK, those freedoms are widening. On Sunday I head down to England for some narrowboat training. I had better not miss the course because I forget what day it is!

What about you? If you are retired do you always remember the day? If you are working, do you long to be freed from the constraints of routine?

Have a great weekend, Pete

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?

Ten reasons life is sh*t. Ten reasons it isn’t

I can’t decide whether to be glass half full or glass half empty this week.

Let’s consider the facts. First looking at the bleak side:

  1. We have given up hope that the Scottish government will allow us to travel in March or April for the Orkney holiday we originally planned for January.
  2. My wife Mandy and I have not received a vaccine invitation, but our younger son, Tin, who is just 31 years old, has. No idea why.
  3. The sunny weather promised for this week has turned into low cold cloud. So much for spending time in the garden.
  4. The backup disk for my PC has failed, and the new one does not work.
  5. We bought 3 cubic metres of wood for the fire, and it will not burn.
  6. The heating is not working in our boat.
  7. My niece is going to have her first child in a few weeks, and we aren’t allowed to see her.
  8. Having spent several days last week trying to sort out funding for my Dad’s care home, I still do not know whether the council will allow him to stay in the one where he is now.
  9. The things I have been doing this week, such as painting and reading, are a waste of time.
  10. I am really missing the people contact I used to get at work.

Reframing these in a more positive way:

  1. We have rebooked Orkney for the whole of November. As with our original plan, this should be dark enough to catch the Aurora Borealis at least once.
  2. Our son is super lucky to get the vaccine early, and for Mandy and I it should be just a few weeks away. So close!
  3. Monday was a lovely day here and looking at the crocuses, spring is definitely coming.
  4. There are many reasons to hate Amazon, but if something doesn’t work, they replace it without quibble.
  5. I have 3 cubic metres of wood stacked neatly in my wood store, and by the autumn it will be perfectly seasoned.
  6. Pierre, the best narrowboat mechanic in Scotland, has promised to fix my heating this week, so I may be able to get back there at the weekend.
  7. All being well, the reopening of Scotland will allow me to travel up to Fife to see my niece and her new child very soon.
  8. Wiltshire council have agreed to pay for a bed for my Dad, and if his current care home does not have a “council bed” available, we can pay a top up. He will not have to move.
  9. The things I have been doing this week, such as painting and reading, are relaxing and good for my mental health. They are exactly the kinds of things I never had time for when I was at work.
  10. I am not missing at all being on constant zoom meetings. My time is my own.

What do you think? Half full or half empty?

Is lockdown damaging your mental health?

A couple of things have made me reflect on my mental health this week. I read an excellent blog from someone managing depression. I won’t share it here because it is personal but it reflected on how difficult it is to balance taking ownership for solving mental health issues yourself, with the need to ask for help. The author is in the final year of university, with the stress of coursework and exams reinforced by demoralising rejections for job applications. That would be the same in any year, but layer on a lockdown when the opportunity to get out, get away and get support is more difficult, and depression looms all too easily.

The second thing is much more positive for me. For some reason this week I have had quite a few friends reaching out to check in. It is amazing how much difference it makes to receive a message asking how you are. I have certainly found this lockdown the hardest. I am not sure if that is because now I am retired, I do not have work to distract me; or if it is because vaccines make the end seem so close and so far at the same time. But the small contacts with friends have certainly helped. A lesson for me that I should make more effort to stay in touch. Not a strength for me!

My wife and I have been talking about what we do with our plans for this year. We were meant to be staying on Orkney for six weeks and then travelling the English canals in our narrowboat. Realistically the Scottish government seems to be saying it will be summer before we are allowed to travel. Perhaps we should see more of Scotland and postpone moving the boat. Or move it at the end of the season. We are just looking forward to the time we can make decisions without restrictions.

Has the lockdown affected your mental health too? If so, how are you managing it? I’d love a comment to hear from you.

What were you doing 12 months ago?

12 months ago I was in India . It seems a lifetime ago. When I was working I used to visit India two or three times a year and much of it became routine for me. But I never lost the sense of privilege and I would have an adventure to see a new place each time. A year ago it was Jaipur, the famed Pink City. It was very hot but also very beautiful.

Twelve months on, and I am no longer working, and certainly no longer hot. I still feel privileged, because near where I live in Scotland we have beautiful countryside and the snow has made it even more energising. But I do often wake up and think of a new adventure to go on, only to realise that the pandemic rules still get in the way.

I feel as if in the past year everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. We have all been through restrictions that I never thought would happen. We have all seen a level of illness and death that feel more like a war than a virus. But in other ways it feels as if someone has just pressed pause on our lives, and as soon as vaccines allow, we will all burst from our cocoons more eager than ever before to seek out new adventures and live the life that has been denied to us these past 12 months.

I guess in reality international travel is unlikely until the world has been vaccinated but even to travel in the UK would mean so much. I want to meet friends and family. I want to meet strangers. I want a hug. I want to be jostled in a busy pub. I want noise. I want to be able to get in my car or my boat and travel without a destination.

What were you doing 12 months ago? Will it be something that has changed your life, or a year to forget as soon as you can?

Being selfish

When the lockdown came down in Scotland this week, I was on my narrowboat. So rather than rushing back, I have spent the week in quiet isolation here, doing just what I have wanted. No dogs, no wife, no son. Just me, Netflix, several books and my euphonium.

It has been very cold. In the daytime and evenings I can heat the boat well with diesel central heating . But overnight I have tucked up under a thick duvet and woken to ice coating the windows. As I climb out of my cocoon I can hear the canal ice cracking around the boat.

It has been a wonderful selfish time. I have done what I wanted, when I wanted, and had such peace. To start with I felt guilty. I felt I should be at the house doing jobs and helping out. But I have realised that the break has been as good for my wife and son as it has for me. For many years I have worked a lot away from home, and in recent months we have been together 24 hours a day. Too much of a shock for all of us. They don’t need me organising their lives, and I am allowed to want time for me.

I return today, and with lockdown will not be back for some time. But I think I have learned an important lesson this week. Sometimes it is OK to be selfish.

What do you think? Do you give enough time to yourself?

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.