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Giving back a little of what I’ve been given

On a sunny and bright January Sunday I escorted my elderly Mother to her local church.

A confirmed Christian, my dear old Mum has been attending the same church since I was a child.

I attended this very church until I started work; I was confirmed there when I was about thirteen. 

My Parents continued as paid-up practising Christians, but I lapsed over the years, perhaps because I came to realise that, in my own very humble opinion, most religions (with the exception of Buddhism) are possibly the root cause of most types of conflict – best summarised as “My God is better than your God, so I will persuade or force you to believe in My God”.

I reckon that over the centuries, this has probably caused more wars than everything else combined. So, I got heartily fed up with it and decided that whilst I do believe in a force of good and evil, I stopped subscribing to any belief system that punishes people for being human.

That’s not to say that I don’t believe in a supreme infinite being.

I do.

I don’t think for one moment, that the perfectly integrated natural world in which we live happened by some cosmic accident. That would be akin to me taking a 5000-piece jigsaw, and throwing the pieces into the air, and then have them all land in the form of a flawlessly completed puzzle.

Folks, that just ain’t gonna happen is it?

Somehow, I feel more connection these days to ancient paganism.  My Great-Grandfather was a Senior Druid. The limited amount of research I have conducted into both my Great Grandfather and Druidism shows them to be cognisant and respectful of the seasons – the natural flows and rhythms of the planet.  Living in harmony with nature, and looking for ways to co-exist with our fellow inhabitants of this lonely rock we call home.

Stonehenge – A Place of Beauty and Tranquility.

I don’t go to church that much these days, mainly family “duty” missions – hatchings, matchings and despatchings.

Having said that, whenever I visit my dear old Mum on a Sunday, I willingly take her to morning service, as I know it gives her great pleasure, and that in turn makes me happy too.

I normally combine this with a pleasant and relaxed drive through the beautiful Sussex countryside, through forests and heathland, traversing the undulating folds of this green and pleasant land, passing through villages that were already old when the Doomsday Book was still in draft form.

The High Weald of Mid Sussex Home to writers such as A.A. Milne, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and… Me!

The trip normally routes via a small farm where we stop, and collect a dozen fresh eggs from the tiny stall at the gate, leaving a couple of pounds in the honesty box.

The last port of call before home is normally into a pleasant country golf club that serves the best coffee for miles around according to Mater.

Nestled in a quiet valley of the Sussex Weald – the home of the best coffee in Mid Sussex – allegedly!

But back to the story…

Having attended Sunday school since I was old enough to walk, I have a relatively good understanding of the Christian faith and see that it gives a lot of comfort and support to a lot of people.

I, therefore, believe that I am not a total charlatan or hypocrite when I take my mother to her local church on a Sunday morning. In some respects, I find it quite cathartic.

So – coming back to 0830 on that January Sunday. 

It was a beautiful, crisp, clear morning, with azure blue skies; sporadic fluffy white clouds, and a cool wind, stirring the bushes as I walked the route to the church, over paths and roads that were etched into my memory over fifty years ago. 

However, the speed at which I walked them was considerably slower than way back then.  Echos of my childish laughter bounce back from the weathered brick walls and moss-clad fences.

I now meander, rather than stride. Mum is now much slower since her falls and as it’s a beautiful morning, I am content to wander next to her, as she regales me with an endless stream of chatter, telling me all that has happened in her busy week.

I greatly admire my Mother. My Father was her rock, and when he passed away 8 years ago, I thought that the strain and grief would kill her as well.  However, the old girl is made of much sterner stuff, and it wasn’t long before she bounced back. 

However, I know the amount of grit and strength this demanded of her.

She now enjoys an active social life, working part-time in the church cafe, attending various church groups – and up until recently, driving every week to meet up with her “old ladies” (all, of whom were younger than she was!) in one of the local towns, a short drive away.

She is now a regular bus rider and travels all over the counties of Sussex and Kent to visit different towns and shopping centres.  Far from becoming a hermit, I now almost have to make an appointment to see my own mother!

Where next?

So, it was on this lovely day that we sat down in the small Methodist chapel, resplendent in its gleaming white paint.

The modern contemporary Church. Light airy, and fresh…

I recognised many of the folk in the congregation. Some I knew from years ago; the parents of some of my contemporaries, now aged, stooped, wrinkled and infirm. Some were my age, in their late fifties or early sixties and at least one nodded to me and smiled a greeting.

I joined in the hymns – somewhat unenthusiastically I admit. I have never been a great fan of Charles Wesley, and this service merely reinforced my views that he should have been taken away and summarily pecked to death by ducks for writing such appalling dirges.

I have more affinity with the happy, loud hymns created at Gospel churches. They seem to know how to really enjoy their worship.

The service was officiated by the incumbent vicar. His sermon gave me the inspiration to write this article.

His lesson was actually quite interesting and contained one very important quote. He was referring to the offertory, and he made the statement “you are only giving back a tiny fraction of what the Lord gave you”

This fragment of his sermon stuck with me, and my thoughts kept returning to it, unbidden throughout the following weeks.

Yes, for the comparatively paltry amount of a fiver, which is what I furtively chucked into the collection plate, I have always been on the upside of the equation.  I am fortunate in so many areas of my life.

Giving a little back…

I am relatively fit and whilst I am no Einstein, I do have a reasonable level of intelligence and education. I hold down a good job, and as a result, I live in a nice house in a beautiful part of Southern England, surrounded by nature and enjoy a good standard of living.

I have been so privileged, that through my accident of birth, I was born into an age of good medicine and healthcare and into a temperate and civilised country.

In addition, the country in which I live, has a decent democratic society, with a generally compassionate and caring nature.

I could have so easily been born into poverty and disease, or a totalitarian society with brutal law enforcement, where there is no such thing as individual freedom or a free media and press.

What value could be placed on these fundamental privileges?

So, yes, the old padre was correct in his sermon.

My fiver, will hopefully go to aid those so desperately in need of it; medical relief in sub-Saharan Africa? a school in the slums of Brazil? clean water in the hinterlands of Tanzania?

It matters not where it goes.  I do know that it will be sent where it is needed most – and hopefully will make a difference to someone’s life.

Go Well…

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Corona Virus COVID 19 Econonomy Elderly English Culture HEALTH local economy Panic Buying Society Work

a baby-boomer – but i ain't seen nothing like this before!

When all things are connsidered, I have had a good life. A life that so far, has lasted almost 61 years,

I was born in 1959, one of the “end of the line” baby boomers.

To qualify as a baby-boomer you need to have been born between the years 1944 and 1964. That gives a current age range of between 56 and 76 – and I am a proud and upstanding member, of the baby-boomer club.

Disregarding my near-fatal brush with Scarlet Fever as a five-year-old, I have survived many global phenomena, some natural, and some man-made.

When I was ten, there was a pandemic of the H3N2/H59N influenza virus, known at the time as Hong Kong Flu. This outbreak spread through Eurasia and North America, killing about a million people in its wake.

In 1976, Ebola, a particularly frightening haemorrhagic fever broke out in South Sudan and the Congo. Unlike other deadly diseases, this one did not spread across the globe like wildfire and was mainly confined to the tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

Ebola – Still taking lives in Sub-Saharan Africa

1981 saw the arrival of HIV -1 (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), a condition leading to AIDS (Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome). My research seems to indicate that in 2018 about 37.9 million people were living with HIV and it resulted in 770,000 deaths that year.  

An estimated 20.6 million sufferers live in Africa. Since AIDS was first identified until 2018, it is estimated that it has taken 32 million lives globally.  This is a bullet that I have dodged, although I have known individuals who have contracted the condition through transfusions of infected blood products.

So far, all biological catastrophes. I dodged them all by chance – the capriciousness of fate and being born into a developed country with good standards of hygiene, healthcare and climate.

Don’t be disappointed! There are plenty of man-made disasters.

On the 26th April 1986, the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl Near Kyiv in Ukraine suffered a serious accident when one of its reactors exploded, creating the worst nuclear disaster in history. The open-air reactor core fire burnt for nine days, releasing huge quantities of radioactive dust, including Caesium 137 and Iodine 131.

A staggering 400 times more radiation than that released by the atomic bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the war! The contamination drifted all over Western Europe, reaching as far afield as the Welsh Mountains.

I escaped that too…

I think…

2003 brought us the arrival of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Luckily for us in Western Europe, the SARS outbreak was predominantly confined to mainland China and Hong Kong. I say luckily, as according to the figures I came up with it had a fatality rate of 9.6%!

There is a more sinister aspect to this, as SARS is actually a strain of Corona Virus.

March 2011 gave us the Tsunami and Earthquake that caused three of the nuclear cores at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station in Japan to meltdown. The meltdowns caused three hydrogen explosions which blasted huge amounts of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. The breached coolant system released contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.

What was left of one of the Fukushima Reactors

I could have been living in Japan…

In 2013, Asian Flu rampaged through China and Vietnam, but spread no further.

Most of these pandemics and disasters have been reasonably self-contained, and appeared to burn themselves out fairly quickly, and whilst they caused significant drops to the financial markets (which eventually recovered), they certainly haven’t caused the huge societal impacts that COVID 19 seems to have done.

Boris Johnson gives a Corona Virus Update to the nation…

This is the first time that I have personally observed panic buying to the obscene levels that are currently occurring in Britain’s high streets and shopping centres.

My local Supermarket – Stripped bare!

The first time in my life that I have seen our normally well-ordered society starting to unravel. The UK Government putting the entire country into lockdown. People were ordered to self-isolate. Public gatherings prohibited, with those choosing to ignore the legal ban facing fines. Ports closing, public transport shut down, and the NHS becoming overwhelmed. Shools closing and restaurants and leisure venues shutting their doors.

Thousands of workers being allowed, wherever possible to work remotely.

It must be truly bad, because even MacDonalds is closing its “restaurants” because of the dangers to staff and customers alike.

MacDonalds in Petersfield – Shutting Down

More seriously, my local branch of Costa Coffee has also closed its doors…

Ah well… Back to a Mug of Gold Blend in the Kitchen then…

Adversity always brings communities together; volunteers helping neighbours, local businesses assisting their community, very often for free.

Those of us who are baby-boomers benefited from a reasonably good education; some of us had the privilege of attending grammar school where we were taught the values of self-reliance, respect and self-discipline.

It appears that some of the “snowflake” generation – those in their mid-twenties have such a level of ignorance and an over-inflated sense of their own self-worth that they feel it is their “right” to breach the social separation rules instituted by the government to reduce the transmission of COVID19.

Some younger adults in the UK are even holding Corona Parties despite the risks of infecting each other, and the obvious collateral damage to older people who have less resistance to the virus.

Its not just younger people who consider themselves above the rules. Older individuals, who, theoretically, should know better are still choosing to travel on packed commuter trains to go in to work in defiance of medical advice. I suppose that working as a middle manager in a stockbrokers office confers superior medical knowledge about the spread and control of contagion.

So now, we, in Britain, are facing a governmental lock-down – where we are now forced to confine ourselves to our own homes for the immediate future.

A deserted Hampshire High Street

This is the worst situation I have ever faced. And I’m not referring to the loss of a local coffee shop.

As baby-boomers, we may not have the stoic resilience of our parents who lived through the blitz, and the horrors of World War Two. They faced their deprivations with good humour and the proverbial stiff upper lip for over five years.

As a posting on Facebook put it, we are not asking anyone to go to war, but merely to stay in the comfort of their own homes.

Unlike them, we have access to much better communications and infrastructure than they did. We have the internet, giving us access to the outside world and its many entertainments, Netflix and Amazon streaming services, Skype and Face Time for video calling, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and online shopping and food delivery.

We have fridges, freezers and microwave ovens. We have a huge variety of tinned and dried foods. The world hasn’t come to an end.

We have friends, neighbours and communities.

Maybe this is an opportunity to re-connect with better values.

So it is now time to just Man up and get on with it.

At least its not raining…

Go Well…

Categories
CHINESE FOOD Elderly English Culture Nostalgia Old Friends Reunions Society Uncategorized

THE CHINESE CONNECTION

As a sixty-year-old, I am very privileged to live in an age where I have been able to maintain contact with old schoolfriends, college buddies and university alumni, in a way that my parents could never do.

I was chatting with my Mum the other day, who was wistfully talking about growing up in the 1930s, the disruptive and irretrievable loss of her youth to the war and the education that she subsequently lost.

She sadly referred to good friends – friends that she had when she left school at just fourteen, to go to work. Friends that she lost contact with over the years, and has never been able to find.

I recall sitting down with the old dear with my Facebook account (When I still had one!) searching, as she went through a litany of names. As would be expected I was unable to find any of her peers. Many were girlfriends, so probably would have married and changed names.

My Mum is reasonably fit and healthy, and is approaching ninety. She is highly unusual as she has a laptop computer, and happily uses email to stay in touch with her grandchildren. She shops on line, and is pretty savvy for a lady of her years.

I couldn’t say the same for many of her contemporaries, so even if they were still alive and kicking, there is no assumption that they would have an on-line presence.

I connected with one of my old friends some years back.

Some of you may remember Friends Reunited, which closed down in 2016 after sixteen years of operation.

Screenshot 2020-01-19 at 10.20.04I was sitting in my back room in about 2003, typing the names of old friends into the search bar, when I finally got a hit. I immediately emailed the lad whom I had last seen in about 1986 when we all went to see Queen supported by the mighty Status Quo at Wembley.

After about six weeks without hearing anything, I accepted, a little down-heartedly, that times move on, and maybe he no longer wanted to catch up with a life that was seventeen years previously.

I was somewhat surprised when some eight months later I received an email out of the blue from my old mate. Yes, he was keen to meet up, and was still in contact with the rest of the blokes.

It seems it was me that fell through the cracks, moved away and followed a different path.

Happily, we all met up at a pub in East Grinstead, and we picked up conversations as if it were yesterday, rather than almost two decades.

Subsequently, we have remained firm friends, and meet regularly every couple of months. We chat on WhatsApp or Messenger, or just plain text messaging.

So it was last Friday. We all met up in East Grinstead – initially in a little independent brew-house called the Engine Room,

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THE ENGINE ROOM, EAST GRINSTEAD

from where we all trooped down through the town centre to the Wing Wah Chinese restaurant.

Every member of our group of 8 has a fond memory of this particular restaurant. For me, it was the place that I took my very first girlfriend to on a date, way back in 1977.

The crazy thing is, that the waiter at the time, a young Chinese chap called Alan is now the owner of the restaurant.

F2704D9C-BA3A-45D4-AB49-54A6CB3D43E6

So – how the wheel turns!

Forty-three years later and I am being served in the same restaurant, in the same building, by the same man and sitting with the same bunch of blokes, discussing motorcycles, politics, and music and putting the world to rights.

Life’s Good!

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Civil liberties Elderly Electric Transport English Culture Motoring Nostalgia Politics Science Society Transport Travel Uncategorized

Elderly Drivers – Good or Bad – I Hope To End Up As One! (Or – Are They Safe?)

I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.

It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.

Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.

I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.

It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.

I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.

I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.

I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.

Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric?  Who knows.

I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.

 

Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.

I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.

According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams[1] drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.

The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.

That surprised me a little.

Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.

Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.

So where does this leave the older driver.

Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats[2] instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.

So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.

The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.

So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.

Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.

 

Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.

Now a quick look at the science.

Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.

The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.

Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.

When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.

But us oldies are fighting back!

It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.

Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.

Now – back to my original thoughts.

As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.

road-safety-character-elderly-driver

Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.

In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.

The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.

This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002[3], where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.

Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.

I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.

Manual-Transmissions  0009e2bb5fd7-3095-4bef-8

So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!

Mark Charlwood© January 2020

[1] Article Click4Reg April 2017

[2] Older Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016 data) Published May 2018

 

[3] Warshawsky-Livine & Shinar (2002)