Living through decline

Sun 19 – Sat 25 2020

It’s very easy to think that we are currently living through a significant period in time. But its greatest long-term significance maybe that we are living through national decline. Indeed, my theory is that everyone at any time thinks their’s is not a period of decline but one of significance. This was particularly brought to my attention by a book I read last week – more details below.

Things go down as well as up

It is very easy for us to think everything that is happening now is going to massively influence the future. Perhaps it will but perhaps things might blow over and in a year’s time we will look back with a vaccine in place. No matter how short or long it takes us to get over the pandemic, scars will remain but life will basically return to some form of normality – capitalism will demand it.

Like living in Vienna after 1918

However, I think the bigger picture is that we in London and the UK (for as long as it survives) are living through a period of decline. I would suggest it is what living in Vienna was like after the First World War with the Austro-Hungarian Empire taken away – faded grandeur. We as a country are living through adjusting to being smaller and less significant. And perhaps seeing the end of great cities and close living unless people have no other option.

Cities that are menacing and creative again?

shadowy streets

I remember London and New York of the 70s and 80s – crazy and wild perhaps even a little bit dangerous. But people could afford to live there and there was so much creativity. Much better than the current graveyards of flats bought by dodgy foreign speculators who don’t live in them.

There is nothing inevitable that says things can’t decline again and perhaps the short-lived era of the attractive inner cities is already over. And that may not be a bad thing. πŸ™‚

The optimism of the early pandemic has gone

Covid is impacting on all our lives and all the early talk of not just returning to the bad old ways seems to have gone to the wall. Witness the common place attitudes of ‘I’m alright Jack’ and tossing others to the wolves. But winter and Brexit are also round the corner. Who can really think that in a year’s time they will be better off? Especially when we have lived through so much better times like the New Labour government or the presidencies of Clinton and Obama.

There will be no renaissance

Yes, we certainly live in interesting times but times that probably don’t herald renaissance. Rather they show we are on a trajectory of decline. Certainly of the UK as a significant force in the world (look at the way China brushes us aside), as a beacon of morality (Cummings and the Russia Report), and with London as one of the world’s great cities simply because there isn’t so much advantage in living in such places.

Acceptance is the first step

I say this not as a reason to be depressed but as a reason to be realistic. You cannot live on the past as a person, city, country, or organisation. As Paddy Ashdown said, ‘It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, what matters is where you are going.’ But the first steps are to accept the situation then chart a new course for the future. But all the time understanding when things are in decline rather than kidding yourself otherwise.

Books and Reading

‘The New Achilles’ by Christian Cameron

This is the book I referred to earlier. Christian Cameron primarily writes historical fiction (almost fantasy) focusing on ancient Greece. It slightly ‘boy’s own’ adventure stuff but with greater depth and perception than just being that. Indeed, it reminds me of the wonderful writing of Patrick O’Brian about Napoleonic maritime warfare.

Parthenon

Cameron’s book focuses on the life of the great general Philopoemen of the Achaean League. His battles and struggles were definitely real to him. But we can see that this is a Greece of bitter rivalries between small places with its glorious past long over and even Alexander’s splendour gone. This is the world of bitter national rivalries with Rome’s power on the rise but not yet seen as inevitable.

And the people in this world have no other reference but past glories. Philopoemen himself is ‘the new Achilles’. The Macedonians search around for a way to be as powerful as Alexander. Still this is a world in decline. A world as real and good and bad as any other but in the long-term scheme of things, it is simply a group of people and nations drifting into long-term irrelevance being unable to see beyond their immediate petty events.

Health and Efficiency

My body is in decline, no doubt about it as I get older. And so I am left to accept the decline or rage (ultimately uselessly) against the dying of the light. I still do my jog-runs and enjoy them. I wish my gym was re-opening. And I take my daily cocktail of drugs to keep myself alive.

But I probably ain’t gonna lose weight. I definitely ain’t never gonna have a washboard stomach. My body will continue to decline becoming more like an old man’s and my health will inevitably falter. Sometimes all you can do is accept the inevitable.

Jog-run

My lovely Sunday morning jog-runs continue. My body, my life, my city may be in decline but I can still get some enjoyment through this. It’s funny how I’ve always enjoyed running ever since I got into cross-country at school after losing a load of weight. Big problem now is my knees but I will keep going as long as I can.

animation of a fat man running

Fairly normal time now for my 5K is around 32 and a half minutes. So about 6 and a half minutes per km. What is really good is that my new watch tells me that my metabolism is raised for the rest of the day after the jog-run. So I end up burning far more calories than normal throughout the day. πŸ™‚

Sleep

Still living with a recently developed problem of waking up ridiculously early, often around 5am or even before. Perhaps I’ve simply got too much going on in my head at the mo. πŸ™ I wake up and I need to do something I can’t go back to sleep.

Knock-on is that during the day I am often very tired. Sometimes I have a siesta / nap but other times I fight this to try and sleep through the night. Plus I can’t really afford short naps during the day with so much work to do.

My beautiful Friday night experience – like being on holiday

Off to bed around my usual time of 9pm – I’m normally knackered by then. I read and listen to music for an hour or so. Friday night is great on Radio 1 for good dance music by Danny Howard and Pete Tong. It was a cool evening so the window was wide open. On a nearby balcony was a party and people were laughing, drinking, and smoking dope.

Gran Canaria Hotel Neptuno

Around 10.30, I turned off my light and laid in bed. With the music, the party noise, and the smells, it felt just like being in our hotel room in Gran Canaria on holiday. I drifted off and woke intermittently feeling very contented. πŸ™‚

Personal Development

Our brains decline as our bodies do though the latter normally goes faster. I am determined to arrest the decline of my intelligence for as long as possible. πŸ™‚ And I want to carry on learning and experiencing. This is an area where I will not go quietly into the night.

The joy of multiple language learning

Children communicating

So I continue with my language learning. One of the joys of learning multiple languages at once is simply to work out where different words and grammar connect: ‘Ah, so the verb for x in language y is almost exactly the same as in language z’. Real innovation and learning is expressed through ‘that’s interesting’ or ‘that’s strange’ rather than ‘eureka’. πŸ™‚

Update on Gutenberg

No real progress on my tech skills apart from continuing to ruthlessly control my emails to not be overwhelmed by them and deleting unneeded files and emails – the beauty of digital minimalism. However, Jamie at Pootlepress ran another one of his excellent webinars last week. This one was to go through the upcoming changes in Gutenberg, the main editing tool used in WordPress.

Family and Friends

Time spent with mum as per usual

Good to be with her but I can see how she is getting older – aren’t we all though, the inevitable personal decline? Unfortunately I am also often working when I am with her which means I am distracted in my own room. But she understands and I think she just likes to know that I am around. Though the other week she did walk across the camera whilst doing the dusting in her night gown LOL.

Holland Park is lovely

I also pop out for walks when I am with her just so I can get some exercise and give myself a break. Holland Park is the nearest walk and one of my favourite ones. I love the wooded area though it is quite small. Sometimes, if no-one else is around then for a few minutes you can pretend you are in a forest miles away from anywhere. πŸ™‚

Mum is getting more confident going out

Retirement

These walks also enable me to pop to the local shops and get mum some of her shopping. Though I’m noting she is starting to feel a bit more confident about going out. Key thing obviously I tell her – try to keep your distance, wear your mask, and wash your hands as soon as you come in as well as through the day.

Art and Culture

Still not getting much of a culture fix beyond reading, and listening to the radio. Me and Dave are thinking about booking visits to some of the newly opened galleries and museums. I have still been watching some good TV like ‘Glow Up’ as I talked about in last week’s blog (read here). When I’m with mum it’s normally ‘Super Vet’ or one of the ubiquitous programmes about the emergency services. πŸ™

The Week Ahead

  • It’s mine and Dave’s 10 year anniversary from when we had our civil partnership. We’re going to stay overnight in a hotel to mark it. πŸ™‚
  • Busy at work as ever and all via zoom of course
  • Will carry on reading the essays from the Warmer Collection that I mentioned in last week’s blog. And continue with the book for the Velvet Page book club.
  • Sunday morning jog-run to look forward to plus lots of walking
  • Carry on with the language learning that I enjoy so much
  • Time to be spent with mum to make sure she is OK

And Finally

Ignore idiots on Covid

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