Still learning? John Fielden, Tadcaster

Still learning?

A few days ago I happened to watch a programme on measuring intelligence. It included the sad evidence that as one gets older ones capacity to learn new things shrinks significantly. This has led me to ask: “What, if anything have my wife and I learned during this lockdown?” The answers are not very impressive.

  1. We have mastered one or two of the means of communicating online. Years ago from about 1988 to 2010 I thought I was reasonably in command of technology. But now the communications world seems like a land of Babel with no common language like Esperanto, except possibly Zoom, in sight. So we can now use  (or be at the receiving end of) Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime, but fail when it comes to things children and grandchildren prefer such as Whereby, Teams, Meet or whatever.
  2. My wife Claire has rediscovered the joys of having about 1,000 cookery books (The Nation has not been told yet, but it may sometime receive it as the National Collection) and I benefit from very imaginative meals, including some following the traditional model of getting four meals from one joint of meat.
  3. One very esoteric skill I have acquired is deciphering tightly written Victorian letters. For some years I have been looking at an old box of family papers from the 1840’s that contains letters to/from my great, great grandfather  a radical factory-reforming MP. Finally, with the time that is now available I have catalogued and summarised them. It fills me with awe that busy people like him could not only write very long letters (and take neat copies of their reply), but in all cases do so within 24 hours of getting the letter.
  • I have learned more about the wildlife that surrounds us in profusion. I can now identify the bullfinches, goldfinches and greenfinches that use our bird feeder – as well as all the usual tits and an unusual woodpecker. As for the friendly blackbird that watches me dig with eager eyes, I wonder at its ability to look at me, while hopping around uneven clods of soil and at the same time spotting hidden worms. This is more than triple tasking!
  • With the help of Monty Don I am becoming a little more professional in my veg patch. We have had only 6ml of rain here in the last seven weeks so making holes in the earth (even with the blackbird’s help) is hard. If it ever rains, my veg could be rather good.

There are also things that we have forgotten in our isolation. Yesterday I found some round metal things in my pocket. I think they are called “coins”. Perhaps someone can remind me what our civilization used them for.

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