Edward Colston Statue in Bristol

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During today’s ongoing worldwide anti-racist demonstrations, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was toppled and unceremoniously dumped in the harbour. You can see the BBC News report of the demonstrations here.

For now though, let’s park our thoughts about the rights and wrongs of tearing down a statue, and simply seek to empathise with how black people would have felt walking past Edward Colston every day. In this highly-charged atmosphere, with the added tensions of coronavirus, we need to keep our focus on the deep issues of racism and white privilege. Let’s discuss these issues respectfully and communicate with grace.

Knowing the history of Bristol, I personally feel that the statue should have been taken down officially and (possibly) placed in a museum long ago. Such an official act could have acknowledged the hurt of the past and brought people together. It could have been a profound moment of repentance, redemption, reconciliation and renewal. Sadly, that moment has been lost.

In these difficult and challenging times we need visionary leaders in all countries and at all levels, unfortunately they currently they seem to be few and far between.

Note: I attended a Yes concert in Colston Hall in the 1970s. They played Tales from Topographic Oceans in full before the album was released in 1973.

Maintaining Mental Health

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Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Looking after our mental health is always important, but especially so during the lockdown associated with the coronavirus pandemic. As this BBC web page says: Coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty and the constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless. All of this is taking its toll on people’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD.

How has the lockdown affected your mental health? I asked this question on Facebook and the following are some of the responses I received. They have been sensitively edited and permission for sharing given.

Karen: I’ve been struggling big time with not being able to talk to people properly and my depression has hit an all-time low, but I feel it’s not fair to speak to my doctor about it because they’re so busy with everything else. We have a houseful, so it’s not caused by loneliness, simply not having breathing space and time to think. I’m finding I sometimes just have to walk around the garden alone and talk myself out of the way. I feel we’re all grieving as well as my nana died recently, so keeping busy is my only way of getting through it apart from my 10 minutes out time. Not sure how helpful this is, but helps to share how I feel and not feel like a failure as a person and mother.

Joy: For a couple of weeks leading up to lockdown I was really anxious about going into lockdown. I stood and cried in the chemist queue. I knew I was getting very low and feared what lockdown would do to my mental health. To be honest I envied two people I knew who had passed away before this. I was becoming forgetful, forgetting things like bringing the washing down in the morning which i do I every morning, and forgetting to take my daily medication which included anti-depressants which also didn’t help my mental health! Once I realised this was an issue I gave hubby permission to remind me every morning. First week of lockdown I woke up feeling quite panicky, but got better as the day went on. I’ve had to learn not to put myself under pressure to achieve anything great. Getting through the day is in itself and achievement. I always use my one allowed walk each day. Three weeks into lockdown and I’m doing better than I thought I would. I can now get my head round cooking proper meals, but still can’t keep on top of housework. Initially, I was more anxious about lockdown, now I’m probably more anxious about the virus. Sorry it’s a long one but it’s done me good to share.

Paula: I’ve found it hard, but have found incorporating daily exercise and limiting the wine has helped! I’m still working, and so is my husband, so that has helped keep some sense of normality!

David: I’ve not struggled as much as some, partly because I’ve been working from home for three years now. I have my own business, so actually having work to do every day has filled my day. So, in a sense, I didn’t expect to struggle, but there have been a few for me, just the unsettledness of the situation has had an effect on my concentration levels. I’ve been used to my daughter being out at school every day and my wife in and out all the time. Now there are three of us rattling around this modest 3-bed semi, it’s really strange and has taken some adjustment for me.

Kate: I’ve been up and down through this so far. Trying to keep busy, but there’s only so much to do. It’s the isolation that’s the hardest. I’ve been exercising a lot, which helps, and playing lots of music. And also allowing myself to feel a bit rubbish, because it’s a rubbish time. It’s ok to struggle a bit, it’s really hard.

Kevin: It hasn’t really affected me, I’ve spent a lifetime social distancing anyway. I think though if you are suffering, it probably helps to keep busy. Writing a blog or an online diary documenting your feelings and day-to-day experience is a good idea. Something you can share that might help others, who in turn can help you. There’s always cooking, gardening and a myriad other hobbies that needn’t cost a lot.

Kerrie: I’m an introvert and enjoy time at home anyway. I’m never bored and could often go a weekend without speaking to or seeing anyone, but having a two and a half-year-old on my own, and as a key worker also trying to work from home I’ve found it very hard. I don’t have time to do all of the things I can see others doing, such as reading and other hobbies. My mum can’t come and help at all as she’s on the vulnerable list. Getting shopping is difficult. I don’t drive and I’m a single parent now, my daughter also has a heart condition, so don’t want to risk taking her into shops so I rely on friends to get what I need and just muddle through. I feel huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my daughter and also huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my work. I’m a Domestic Abuse Practitioner and I know this is increasing at this time, but there’s little I can do with no childcare and a toddler on my own. My mum doesn’t have any facility to video call and we both don’t drive so are cut off. But I think of Anne Frank, Terry Waite and others who had to endure far worse and know we have to keep on keeping on.

Heather: For me physical exercise truly helps. As a nurse I encourage grounding techniques, there are many suggested. I also recommend: Headspace. Helpful techniques.

Finally, Sarah helpfully suggested some advice being given out to students:

  1. Reach out before you freak out! Call a friend, a family member, pastor (teacher in our setting) or a hotline – it’s better to talk before it’s too overwhelming.
  2. Be gentle with yourself. If all you managed to do today in this pandemic was make it out of bed to go to the bathroom or grab a glass of water or something to eat, well done – your survival brain is working hard enough for you so take the time to rest.
  3. We are all in this together – no one has it all together right now no matter what Facebook or Instagram says, this is an unprecedented time we are all trying to figure it out.
  4. Stand outside and ground yourself for at least 5 minutes (15 is better). Feel the sun/wind on your face. Touch the plants. Take your shoes off and let your feet feel the earth below you. This is a scientifically proven technique to assist mental health, grounding is vital.
  5. Finally, just know that you are not alone. Reach out before you Freak out!

Thank you everyone for your contributions, feel free to add any more thoughts in the comments. Be affirmed, John.

Digital Wellbeing (Sue Thomas)

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Our lives crossed when I lived in Leicester and we’ve been Facebook friends since. Sue Thomas has some important things to say about digital wellbeing and I’m pleased she agreed to write a guest post for me. Her book is excellent, click here for details.

I have spent the last 15 years researching the connections between nature and our digital lives, trying to find out whether it is possible to get a real connection with nature through technology. After speaking with and studying many important thinkers in the technology industry, environmental psychology, design, and urban planning, I felt certain that it is.

At times, my findings have been seen as controversial, but today in the COVID-19 epidemic that has changed. Now, digital wellbeing is becoming a lifeline for people stuck indoors for days and weeks on end. Some of the techniques I learnt about, such as watching nature on screens, following wild animal webcams, and listening to recorded birdsong, are being recommended by health experts. More and more researchers now know that such activities reduce stress and anxiety. Even playing a video game with natural landscapes can promote mental wellbeing!

So here are a few tips to help you get the benefits of nature while you’re stuck indoors during the epidemic.

  1. First things first – what can you see from your windows? If nothing much, consider moving the furniture around. A good view of greenery, trees, or even just more sky, can slow your heart rate and help you relax.
  2. When you’re browsing through Instagram, don’t swipe too fast. Take a moment to stop and appreciate the breath-taking sunrises, evocative dusks, gorgeous landscapes and intoxicating blooms. Imagine the texture of those leaves and petals. Recall the scent of that bluebell wood. Remember running your fingers along the bark of that oak tree? The sensuous outdoors is right there in your phone.
  3. Choose a new wallpaper for your phone or computer screen. Research has shown that pictures of dense groups of leafy trees are very calming, so why not search for a jungle or forest? Then make sure you set time aside on a regular basis to just be with that image and sink into it, perhaps even meditate for a short while.
  4. Do you usually ignore your houseplants? Now you have the time to give them some love and be rewarded with a relaxing biophilic experience. Gently clean their leaves with cotton wool and warm water, make sure the pot is moist and they have the light level they need. Chat to them if you like. There are benefits for both of you.
  5. Search for recordings of birdsong. They are everywhere online but the BBC is a good place to start. If you can listen with headphones that’s even better. Just allow your senses to fill with the memories of all the times in the past when you have wandered through a wood, sat in the park or just been out in the garden, yet never paid proper attention to the birds. Now you have the time to do just that. Enjoy!

Other Information: Sue Thomas is the author of Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age, available from Amazon in Kindle and Paperback. Visit her Facebook Page. She’s also on Twitter: @suethomas and Instagram: Digital_Wellbeing.

Sue also blogs here: https://suethomasnet.wordpress.com

See also: Recognising Birdsong

The New Doctor (Carol Service Talk)

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I’m a big Doctor Who fan, and I love Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor. She was a great choice and for many children she’ll be their first Doctor; this is the case for Freddy and Matilda, as we let them see a recent episode that wasn’t too scary. How wonderful to see a woman in that role! (See also here).

How far back do you go?
Who was your first Doctor?

Show selected PowerPoint slides of past Doctors.

William Hartnell was my first Doctor, and I can vividly remember watching the first ever episode as a nine-year-old boy on an old black and white television.

I have my own particular favourite Doctors, but I’m loving the new Doctor; a perfect combination of courage with compassion, confidence with humility, and strength with vulnerability.

Having those characteristics in balance is really important; not just for the Doctor, but for all of us in life. And we see that balance of qualities in the life of Jesus.

• In his life he had the courage to fight for what he believed in, but it was always done with compassion for the poor, the disenfranchised, and the outcast. We see him fighting the oppressive religious and political system, yet having time for those who were victims of it.

• He was confident in his mission of bringing God’s Kingdom of love and grace, but it was always expressed with humility. We see him firmly setting his face towards Jerusalem and certain death, but never forcing himself on people or using violence to get his way.

• He had a resilient strength about him, yet at the same time he was vulnerable. He willingly faced great suffering and death, yet chose to go through with it for us.

The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:5-11) tells us to be like Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus became one of us, as the Apostle John (John 1:14a) puts it, in a modern paraphrase:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.

Everyday Sexism

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A news item on BBC News caught my eye today: An “alarmingly high” number of girls and young women feel unsafe outside their home, according to annual research for Girlguiding UK. The survey of 1,903 13 to 21-year-olds in the UK found nearly two-thirds either felt unsafe, or knew someone who was fearful walking home alone.

It reminded me of the Everyday Sexism project which exists to catalogue instances of sexism experienced on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest. It encourages women to share their stories to show the world that sexism does exist, that it is faced by women everyday and that it is a valid problem to discuss.

It’s a sad state of affairs that millions of women and girls are sick and tired of constantly being treated with disrespect as they simply try to live their lives.

But what is the answer? Firstly, take the issue seriously. Secondly, listen to what girls and women are saying and feeling. Thirdly, don’t judge them by what they wear. Lastly, teach boys (and remind men) to treat everyone with respect and not abuse positions of power.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/giuseppemilo/22951197762

How to Build a Universe

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I always like to be reading a popular science book, and I’ve recently finished this excellent book by Professor Brian Cox & Robin Ince. It’s based on the acclaimed BBC Radio and podcast The Infinite Monkey Cage. It’s witty and comedic, an irreverent celebration of science and the wonders of the universe; totally silly in places and incredibly thought-provoking and mind-blowing in others.

Having three young children has meant that my reading habits have declined of late, but this was one of the books helping me get back into it; not least because this one is in a magazine format with diagrams, photos and lines drawings enhancing the text and dividing into manageable size chunks.

The title The Infinite Monkey Cage comes from the infinite monkey theorem which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In fact, the monkey would almost surely type every possible finite text an infinite number of times. However, the probability that monkeys filling the observable universe would type a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low (but technically not zero). Wikipedia

Jodie Whittaker IS the Doctor

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It was announced yesterday that a female actor has been cast in the lead role of the classic BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who, a role previously only played by men. As someone who watched the first ever episode back in 1963, and as such might be considered a traditionalist, I was absolutely delighted to hear the news, especially as the announcement was made on my daughter’s first birthday.

There’s been speculation around this announcement, not to mention several clues in recent episodes; as the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) recently said, “We’re the most civilised civilisation in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes”.

There have been howls of protest from some, but who said the Doctor has to be male? Last evening, much to my wife’s amusement, I found myself shouting at the radio when a man (on a phone-in programme) suggested it was a subversive left-wing plot, and that Jodie only got the role because she was a woman rather than acting ability [shakes head & facepalms].

The fact this has caused such a reaction demonstrates how far we still have to go in order to achieve equality within society. It’s one thing to accept the decision, whilst at the same time having a preference for a male Doctor Who (this is my mother’s view), it’s quite another to express displeasure in a negative, sexist manner.

[Sarcasm alert] I can believe he’s an alien with two hearts from another planet, who travels through time and space in a police box – smaller on the outside than the inside. I can believe he often regenerates into a new body, has a sonic screwdriver and regularly saves the earth from total destruction. But I can’t believe he could be a woman; a step too far, political correctness gone mad!