From Steph in London: Age shall not wither us – or has it? Apologies to the Bard

July 31. Eighteen years ago a group of 7 of us, who met only at parties (will we remember what they are?)  decided to meet for lunch to organise a 60 birthday party. We duly booked a table at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge and vaguely discussed the impending party. (Which incidentally never happened)

Moving forward to now – we have met every few months since then, visiting good and supposedly good restaurants in London and  the South East. It has become de rigueur to be together and share the things going on in our lives- the good and the bad and sadly, sometimes, the downright ugly.

Since then we have acquired several daughters and sons in law and 34 grandchildren between us. We have all gone from working full time to part time, to being active members in our communities.  3 out of 7 were magistrates across London. We were busy and active, interested and interesting.

We decided to  Zoom twice weekly and whilst we were locked down completely it worked-ish. However, as time has gone on our institutionalization has thrown up a few worrying observations…..

Our worlds have shrunk however hard we try to remain part of wider society. News has become almost parochial and whilst I hate to admit it some of us are ageing too quickly. Health has become an obsession, total self interest has come to the fore and the cohesion of the group needs a reboot.

If we are allowed we will do a socially distanced lunch in a garden in a few weeks time, when hopefully we can rebalance and entertain and be entertained by each other.

We don’t of course know whether this would have happened anyway. Age has a funny way of hitting you when you are not watching and when, in your head you’re still 30.  It’s an affront  to be labelled elderly and to have to be extra cautious about being sociable. It’s something else to realise that you (never!) and those around you may be sliding into another stage of elderlyness.

On that note I’m going to find a pair of flared trousers and a flower power shirt and dance barefoot in the garden……..

From Steph in London: Zoomed out

24 July

I’m not sure I can do many more large Zoom gatherings, so the couple I join may become victims of my irritations. It’s fine when there are only a few people because then you converse as normal. With more than 4 you are at the mercy of the few who want to hold court continuously. Whereas normally one would naturally be having side conversations at large gatherings, there is nowhere to hide in big settings. Feigning a bad connection seems a way out but the guilt of leaving people you are individually fond of takes over. Small beer in comparison to those in power but not in control……

If this is really an observation of life at present I’m appalled at the ineptitude of the government- but to what purpose other than to rant with like minded people?

Life has certainly taken on a new normal. Pressure to join groups in gardens, go out for coffee and meals and go to work on public transport are all part of the plan to pretend it’s all ok and safe….. I’m not sure about that and am struggling with an open invitation to Holland to look after the
grandchildren. They appear to be much more gung ho in The Netherlands with less social distancing, and everything open – but still loads of hand washing..Their figures are better than ours ( where in Europe isn’t!) so theoretically all will be well if we brave driving over.

Going back to Zoom and the transformation to face to face- or should it be side by side? It was a life line for some, it gave us time to adjust to solitude together and probably gave us a false sense of security about the future. We may indeed need it again if the winter is as dire as predicted, but in the meantime seeing people face to face across the garden is a joy- and I even got a birthday hug from some of the grandchildren. Bliss.

From Steph in London: A World Beating system … and absolute incompetence

June 19

Hurrah, with a world beating system the NHS and the country will be saved…

The new track and trace scheme is now up and running.  The management of it has bypassed local public health teams and it’s controlled centrally. So- from a very reliable source …. somebody gives information after testing  positive for Covid on May 31.  The team starts phoning round but can’t get any  joy so on June 10 contacts the local PHE team to take over the contact tracing ….only 10 days wasted and heaven knows how any more infections..

Fortunately, we are on top of the track and trace(!)  and are going to give Google/ Apple a try at the phone app-creating world beating systems temporarily shelved! We’ve only wasted about 3 months and millions but the boys have all the answers.

And now we move to education, where the leadership has been spectacular. Thank goodness we have Heads and staff working their socks off trying to work out how to get children back into schools realistically..

My daughter in law is a data manager for a 1600 plus secondary school. Normally at this time of year she will have done the timetable for September and head of departments will have ironed out any issues (like double A level Physics on a Friday afternoon!)

This year she has created 2 timetables – a normal two week timetable with all subjects getting their allocated time in the right rooms with the right staff and a shadow timetable that can be slotted in for all pupils…..for simplicity and to ensure all pupils get time in school, they have decided to offer Maths, English and science only on a part time basis if necessary …..It’s the Options that create problems for bubbles and social distancing.

Given the school leaving age is now 18 it may be time for the curriculum police to think about a broader offering for all students for longer.  No Options or GCSE exams at 16, (which no longer makes sense as everyone stays in education beyond that.. the end of year 11 is not a definitive time anymore) Perhaps International Baccalaureate type education?