Guest Post from Jonathan Merrett in Sallèles d’Aude, France: three activities …

In February I had three activities lined up:

our house was already rented out for six weeks over the summer holidays, and we expected the gaps would be filled in;

I had six weddings booked over the same period (I officiate at weddings at a local chateau); and

I was due to go and inspect schools in Nepal for a week in May.

By the end of March, the Nepal trip had been cancelled and so had the house bookings. As I write this, one wedding has moved to October, one has cancelled, and the remainder are waiting to see what happens.

Looking at the house bookings, since the French government has loosened the travel restrictions, we have had a number of French families and groups book the house (about five weeks’ worth currently). This reflects the government’s move to encourage French families to take holidays within the country. They have not gone as far as the Polish government, for instance, which has given out financial incentives to people to holiday in their home country, but the message in France has been to encourage people to stay within the country and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities here for rest and relaxation. With beaches now open and restaurants and bars being able to serve food and drink (with a one metre distancing rule and clear instructions about table service) the local tourist industry can operate, partially, and hopefully survive.

The wedding situation is much less clear as all of the couples and their families are UK-based. Will borders be open or not for what might be classed as non-essential travel? The bizarre introduction of a 14-day quarantine by the UK government has made things even more complicated – families don’t know whether to book their travel or not and don’t know whether they will have to fulfil quarantine rules or not on their return home. I say bizarre as so many of the rules in the UK at present seem to be not rules as we know them but sort of ‘indicators to follow if you feel like it’ – thank goodness most people are sensible and follow the rules and resist driving to Barnard Castle.

Over the past nine years I have travelled to southern Africa, South America, Nepal and various bits of Europe inspecting international examination centres for Cambridge Assessment. What will be the future of international exams now, or even exams in general, now we have had a summer without them? Students have graduated and will pass on to universities (though what are they going to look like in September?) without having sat or passed exams – perhaps this already suspect way of assessing students will change?

And what about international air travel? When will we feel safe to travel inside that oversized sardine tin again, breathing each other’s air for hours at a time? Will countries that have reduced the effects of Covid welcome guests from countries where it is still rampant (the UK, for example) and will we want to visit countries where the virus is still active in the population?

All three of the above are income streams which the virus has affected. None is our sole income, all are significant; but what of the future?

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Intrinsic and Extrinsic

June 18.  I recently had a discussion with a Dean at a university I am reviewing, about intrinsic versus extrinsic reward.

She was arguing that in her faculty, staff found such satsifaction in their teaching and research that external validation was not important. 

There is a truth in this view.  One of the great privileges of a career in higher education is that it is full of people who found a passion in life, and a form of employment that enabled them to pursue it.  Most academic staff pay little attention to the exact length of a working week, or indeed very often to their maximum holiday entitlement.  They work long hours because of their commitment to the progress of their students, and their desire to push back the boundaries of knowledge in their chosen field.  A smart or lucky institution will align the enthusiasm of staff with the interests of the organisation without imposing a formal regime of mission statements and coercive strategies.

And yet, from a PhD onwards, every move is subject to peer review.  Projects are initiated and completed as part of a conversation with fellow researchers, and their response will range from the supportive to the terminally destructive.  And however much an academic’s labour is driven by personal enthusiasm, mortgages have to be paid.  Everyone in the trade has either experienced or witnessed the colossal demotivation a failed or delayed promotion can cause. 

There is a contrast with the passions that get you out of bed in this lockdown world.   Where there is no remunerative labour to undertake, what is the purpose of the day’s activities? 

Take for instance gardening.  My village takes part in a national open gardens scheme, where on a given summer Sunday, people can visit private gardens for a small fee which this year is donated to a nursing charity.  We have always refused absolutely to take part, however worthy the cause.  This is partly because in normal years we lack the time to arrive at a point of weedless perfection, but more fundamentally because what we grow is no-one else’s business.  We are happy to show it to visiting family and friends, but our pleasure in our achievement is, in management speak, entirely intrinsic.  Even between the two of us, each has their own programme of work, and we choose whether to tell the other what we are doing and how well it is going.

There are, of course, those who treat gardening, or some other recreation, as a form of work or competition.  Targets are set, outcomes are measured.  A brother-in-law runs every Sunday, recording his performance on an app that allows him to compare his times with runners of the same age around the world.  Gardeners have been forming themselves into societies and awarding prizes for fruit and vegetables for more than two centuries in Britain.  This was not just the practice of the well-heeled.  A survey of working-class gardeners in the industrial north in 1826, identified fifty auricular and polyanthus shows annually, together with twenty-seven tulip, nine ranunculus, nineteen pink and forty-eight carnation competitions.  The committee of the society would meet for a leisurely, alcohol-fuelled judging dinner, and then award prizes.

It is, nonetheless, one of the reasons why the pandemic lockdown has been bearable for those lucky enough not to be struggling with working and child-teaching at home.  We have always pursued our recreations for our own satisfaction, and it is a minor matter that, in my case, the best of my garden will be over this year before anyone else gets to see it.

That said, were I to win a prize for my sweet peas at the Shrewsbury Flower Show, all my promotions and all my books would be set at nought.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: a brief interlude

June 2. This week our society in South Australia opened up a little further. It’s quite exciting.

Here is the breakdown of our ‘stage 2’ rules:

Intrastate travel restrictions were eased on May 8.

  • Larger venues allowed up to 80 patrons, so long as social distancing is followed
  • Smaller venues allowed up to 20 indoors
  • Alcohol can be served to seated patrons without a meal
  • Funerals increased to a maximum of 50
  • Cinemas, beauty salons and gyms reopen for up to 20 people, however gym classes are restriction to 10
  • Driving lessons allowed to return
  • Contact sport, including indoor, to resume on June 25’

https://7news.com.au/lifestyle/health-wellbeing/sas-pubs-reopen-as-stage-two-of-easing-restrictions-begins-c-1070886

Suddenly, the shops are open and the lights are on in the pubs and restaurants. This evening, my husband and I met another couple for dinner. It was quite special although the ambience was not quite there as we were the only guests in a large room with 3 other distant tables. Our waitress was excited as well and we received a lot of attention.

The retail shops are busier and the traffic is stacked up at school pick-up zones once more.

However, the other news brings this week into perspective. Flights from Singapore airlines will be arriving into Adelaide next week. I assume this is to bring back overseas students to our financially strapped universities. Others will come to join their families. I doubt there will be many tourists on these flights.

Sure as anything, these full flights will bring in the virus. All the discussion in the press seems to indicate that it is hard to put in place systems to prevent the spread of this virulent virus inside an aeroplane. So, I fear, once flights start arriving, we must retreat back to the safety of our homes and get back onto the delivery services once more.

But for a little while, we can relax.