On my radar Jan 21

It’s a long time since I’ve written one of these and with lockdown too many experiences are off limits so you’ve really got to work hard to come up with a good list. However that’s just an excuse so here goes.

Book(s): I’ve always read a lot but if I’m not on an aeroplane or otherwise on holiday I tend to read in short bursts so it takes me some time to finish a book. I’ve got two on the go at present and one’s non-fiction which I’m making/motivating myself to read during the day especially when I’m enjoying my regulation coffee and tea breaks. This one is Agent Sonya, as non-fiction goes it’s pretty light, by Ben Macintyre. It was serialised on the BBC last year and is the saga of a fierce German woman who became a communist in pre-war Germany and then embarked on a life time of spying for Russia ending up in the UK where she facilitated the almost industrial scale transfer of state secrets to Russia. She left for East Germany in 1950 just as it seemed she was going to be arrested and died, apparently unrepentant, there shortly after reunification at the age of 93.

In parallel I’ve been reading Typhoon by Charles Cumming. It’s a good ‘spy thriller’, supposedly in the John le Carre mould, based firstly on Hong Kong in the years before the 1997 handover and then inside China. I lived in Hong Kong in the late 70s so that part of the book resonated with me. Reading the two books at the same time was a tad confusing when Sonya was also spying in China, albeit several decades earlier.

Whilst we’re talking about reading on aeroplanes there was a time when I travelled frequently on business and I was fortunate enough to sit in the front of the plane. I had this idea then that I could partly justify this by reading a business book. That’s why I’ve got so many of such books withe a bookmark a third to halfway through.

TV: the program makers have taken some time to adjust to the challenges of making good drama within the constraints of Covid and so much of what we’ve got to watch is unexciting. However there has been some good stuff in the pipeline which has just not been broadcast and that’s the case with Spiral, the Parisian crime drama. I don’t pretend to understand the French legal system so there’s much that confuses me but the characters are well developed, over several series of course, and the interplay’s between the different stands of justice are fascinating. You get a real feel for the challenge of policing in those poorer parts of Paris with large immigrant communities. There’s lots of grit in the portrayal and it leaves our Law & Order looking a little shallow.

There’s been other good stuff too. I’ve especially enjoyed Queen’s Gambit, was it worth the Netflix subscription, and The Undoing with Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman on the BBC.

Photography: I take lots of photographs especially when I’m travelling and/or meeting people. There’s limited scope for either at the moment and although the photo magazines etc would encourage more ‘creative’ indoor photography that’s not, maybe not yet, for me because I take photographs to chronicle my life and not primarily as an art form. The void is doubly challenging because of where I live. Cambridgeshire is flat and there are few interesting buildings in Histon. I’ve done my best however and have taken a number of ‘photo walks’ around the community and done my best to come up with 12 interesting shots from each one. Click here for a collection of my Lockdown walks

In parallel I am doing my best to improve and there are several good video bloggers whom I follow. Perhaps my favorite is James Popsys who provides a nice balance between getting out and taking good photographs and using Photoshop etc to smarten them up. He’s just moved to North Wales and has the knack of making fairly ordinary opportunities look special. His secret seems to be careful framing of the shot. He’s also got a nice line in self deprecating humour which makes him easy for me to like.

Reminiscence: I wrote a blog post recently which referred, inter alia, to the time when I was responsible for mining chemicals as a part of my marketing portfolio at Dow. My technical lead at the time was Simon Isherwood with whom I enjoyed a trip to South Africa in the late 80s. That was my first trip to the country since my early years there in the late 40s and it was still apartheid era South Africa.

I thought I should check my facts so googled ‘Simon Isherwood Dow’ and it came back trumps with a reference in a mining magazine to a company which Simon has run in the days since we worked together. I emailed the company and got a phone call back from Simon the next day. It would be nice if all Google searches would be so quickly successful.

We’ve since exchanged emails and brought ourselves up to date with each other’s lives and careers. I told him about my stent and he told me about his two and the blue light journey to the hospital post heart attack. I’m forever finding people with more dramatic cardiac stories than me.

In recent years I’ve hunted for my three close friends from my Jakarta days (mid 70s). I’ve successfully found Chuck Adams in California but Phil Judd in New Zealand seems to have died and the trail to John Finnegan went cold after he left a senior position at a Mongolian private bank.

Music: I grew up with music in the 60s and have sadly not really stayed current with developing genres in pop and rock. I’m beginning to realise what I’ve missed as YouTube recommends videos to watch. Because I’ve not taken out a paid-for subscription its AI robots send me recommendations which are generally relevant, sometimes bizarre. Just recently it’s introduced me to St Vincent aka Annie Clark.

St Vincent is an American singer, song writer and guitarist. She’s been around for about 15 years and it’s fair to say that her style and stage presence has evolved over time. Nowadays at a mature 38 she takes the stage on her own favouring thigh boots, a leotard and a range of strongly coloured guitars. She commands the stage but what impresses me most about her is the delight she appears to show in her art and the almost surprised rapport which she has with her audience.

Covid: as a consequence of my local political activity I’ve found myself involved in Histon & Impington’s Covid-19 response whereby we do our best to ensure that people have access to food and medicines, that our community observes the rules and does its bit to bring infection rates down and, when it’s allowed, that full support can be given to local businesses. Until the second wave we enjoyed low infection although we didn’t know it at the time and enjoyed a summer with limited constraints on our local freedoms. However wave number 2 has changed all that and our local infection soared from the start of December peaking at 80 in the weeks after Xmas and the New Year. It’s now down to 48 and the County Council’s Director of Public Health cautiously suggests that the situation may now be stabilising.

Our local Covid-19 response group meets weekly and during this wave we’ve been able to operate and guide our activity with good data. We have a compehensive network of volunteers who pass messages out, provide support and feed information back. It seems that the lessons of wave 1 have not been forgotten and despite the much higher infection rates there are limited calls for extra support.Fingers corssed that we will have a benign perfect storm of good behaviour, vaccination and warmer weather leading to a little more freedom in the Spring.

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