Sunday, 28 February 2021

Coronavirus streets in Manchester - XXIV

Out for a walk

It looked like an early spring day, the temperature not too high but comfortable enough for an outing, I dressed up and stepped out to enjoy the weather. The route I had planned on taking which would have been through St. Peter’s Square was sealed off by the police, fire engines everywhere, and a cherry picker over 5-storeys high had crew looking over the roof of a hotel.

The curious crowded around to see what was going on from all the sealed off with tape areas, I did not think it safe to wait around as I retraced my steps to my standard walking exercise route. Soon I was at Trinity Way, over the bridge towards the Meadow and then into Peel Park.

We are close to enough

For the first time in quite a while, people were out for leisurely walks on bridges, towards parks and in parks. It was unusually lively; we had been on lockdown for so long we were not going to let the good weather escape the wealth of our pleasure, come what may.

Obviously, there were too few people with masks outdoors apart from apparent foreigners and those going into supermarkets. We are finding ways to manage the lack of social interaction imposed by this pandemic and I know that eventually, we would get on with our lives despite and in spite of our government. We have tolerated so much; they risk taking us for granted with dire consequences.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Seeking sanity indoors or outdoors

Caring less of the outdoors

I must be getting too comfortable sitting indoors when it appears the weather is getting better out there. It was sunny most of the day today, but I was not keen on getting out into the chill even to get the air blow in my face.

Apart from when I stepped out on Wednesday for my vaccine and took a long detour back home, I have not been that driven to make my 10,000-step daily goal for quite a while. It is something I expect to return to doing hopefully in March.

Making the best of indoors

It is not like there is no desire to get out there and get fit, it just seems that this lockdown scenario in the UK saps you of any excitement if all you are left with is walking the same route, all without the assurance of socialising, adventure, or event.

In any case, it is not all indolence at home, you find something to do, whether watching, listening, or learning. I am just finding ways to cope better with the restrictions we are under because of this pandemic without losing any sense of purpose or being. I think I will be fine; I really do.

Friday, 26 February 2021

The sheer willpower of typing

What I would want

I have not necessarily set myself the goal, but there is a sense of satisfaction in getting to post at least one blog a day. It just happens that it is not an easy task, you are never always going to be inspired to write a masterpiece of extraordinary thought and psychology just on the whim, at least not in my case.

There are times when it appears there is so much to write about, yet you are stumped at how to start to make sense of what you want to relay before a jumble of words typed out becomes a means for others to question your sanity.

Then it just happens

Then, I have decided not to be too hard on myself, I will not always succeed in knocking out a daily blog just as I have not broken my old record of writing 5 blogs in one day. You get to a point where when it flows you glow and when it does not, another time will come with thoughts to sow.

I guess another thing about blogging is sheer willpower and discipline, switch on your laptop, and just start to type, in time, it all begins to take form, make sense, and before you know it, a blog is complete, and four paragraphs is a blog done indeed. Thank you for coming to my blog. 

Thursday, 25 February 2021

James Anderson (1956 - 1994), The Opera Queen

A brief and enduring encounter

James Anderson was a friend of mine, we met one evening some 30 years ago at the old Brief Encounter pub on St. Martin’s Lane in London’s West End. I cannot say why he took a liking to me, but we got chatting, he got me a drink and then invited me back to his place.

Quite an intriguing guy, he lived in Bermondsey and his little apartment was crowded out with vinyl albums, 5,000, he told me, mostly to do with opera and operetta, he was a walking encyclopaedia of that genre of music and entertainment, long before I had any liking for it.

I left his place in the pouring rain to return to an apartment I shared with others only to find that I could not get in because I did not have the keys and I could not rouse anyone to open the door that late in the night. I went to find a phone box as this was before mobile phones became commonplace and called James about my predicament, still wet from the rain.

He kindly invited me back, gave me warm clothes, made me tea and we went to bed. That is how we began a friendship and I learnt that he was HIV+ with his health just about holding up. Over the next few years, I met up with James on all sorts of occasions. A humorous wit, a cheeky smile and almost always up to mischief.

Praying for the time

He also had a sense of urgency, he wanted to finish the second edition of his published book, The Complete Dictionary of Opera & Operetta and he did not know how much time he had left to get it done. He did get it all done and published.

In July 1993, we had a big 37th birthday party at his place in his honour, quite a few common friends were there, some I had also met before at the Brief Encounter. I did not realise that it was almost like a farewell party. James had been ill and developed AIDS, he seemed his jovial self but was probably putting up appearances. It was a rather jolly time.

A life cut short

Sadly, in early 1994 there was a two-page spread, a recognisable picture of a handsome and youthful man in a newspaper, I think the London Evening Standard, and there was a long tribute to the man we fondly knew as the Opera queen, James Anderson had died the night before due to complications of AIDS at the young age of 37.

I did not find out any details pertaining to his funeral, I just mourned privately, sad that such an amazing man had been taken from amongst us, like many others who I met and befriended after James. I cannot find anywhere James has been memorialised, not even on the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Remembering the times

Of recent, I have been viewing memorials that have garnered some interest after the airing of the television series, It’s A Sin which documents a decade of lives of some young gay men affected by the AIDS crisis in London in the decade from 1981 to 1991. I have from time to time also searched online for James’ book, just to see if it was still in print.

However, this morning, reading a review of the book posted by a buyer in 2013, they complained the book was dated and some information was incorrect. This was a book researched long before the days of the Internet and I was almost ready to respond, that the only reason why the book had not been republished, updated and had current events and personalities were because, the author, died some 27 years ago.

All I have now of James Anderson is pictured in my mind, flashes of moments that defined our friendship, the danger that in my naivety I was unaware of and then accepted. He was the first person I knew who had the disease, it did not make him any less a wonderful person, he just passed on at a time when there was little to help his situation, as did many in the 1990s into the early 2000s.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

This boy is on Pfizer

Preparations for the jab

I was a bit apprehensive about going for my vaccine just soon after work. I had prepared in more ways than one, gone online to find out about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, what drug interactions it might have with my medication and if there were things I needed to be concerned about as someone in the vulnerable cohort. [SPS-NHS: Interactions information for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine]

Then, I changed from a long-sleeve vest and shirt to ones with short sleeves, took leaflets of my current medication, and my passport for identification. As I was unfamiliar with the location of the vaccination centre, I called an Uber cab and was on my way. The driver knew the centre, apparently, he had received his own first vaccination there last Thursday, he had nice things to say about the staff.

Formalities in questions

On arrival, I was ushered in after answering two questions about whether I had any symptoms or had tested positive with the Coronavirus in the past 28 days. Having answered in the negative to the questions, she squirted sanitiser in my hands and gestured towards the line for registration.

At the desk, I was asked for my name and time of appointment before she confirmed my date of birth and affixed an identity label to my COVID-19 immunisation card and then told to wait to be called up for my vaccination.

Soon, I was called to a vaccination pod where I was asked a series of questions about what medication I was on, if I suffered severe allergic reactions, or if I had taken any other vaccine in the last 7 days and whether I had participated in a Covid-19 vaccine trial before.

Only Pfizer will do

Satisfied with my responses, I asked if I was getting the Prizer/BioNTech vaccine and explained why I was particularly keen on it as a frequent traveller to South Africa. Volunteering my understanding that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was said to be less than efficacious on the South African variant of the Covid-19 vaccine.

I believe they had been briefed to shutdown any misgivings about the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, even an officiously looking lady came round and said the study was poorly set up and that I should stop reading conspiratorial ideas. Now, for South Africa to abandon that vaccine with their wealth of expertise, that is not something I would ignore. [BBC News: Covid: South Africa halts AstraZeneca vaccine rollout over new variant] [The New York Times: AstraZeneca’s Vaccine Does Not Work Well Against Virus Variant in South Africa]

Putting aside argument

There apparently is little confidence in the same vaccine across Europe. I am not here to wave a jingoistic flag for British technology when it comes to my health, I would not have taken the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine if it were offered today as I had the choice of getting it elsewhere. I did not have to face that battle. [iNews: Europe’s reluctance to use the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine slows roll-out, and isn’t backed up by data]

That put by the side, the nurse drew a dose of the vaccine from a vial and I was given the jab on my left arm, then advised to wait in an observation area for at least 15 minutes before leaving. The overseer of the observation area took my name and recorded it on a clipboard whilst adding 15 minutes to the time as when to ask if I was feeling fine before I could leave.

On exiting the centre, I decided to walk back and did feel a bit of tingling in my fingers. I stopped by the supermarket to get analgesics just in case. even jam doughnuts that I had shied away from for about two years and returned home to rest.

I've got the Pfizer in me

A jab invitation

Early last week, I received an SMS Text Message from my General Practitioner (GP) Practice inviting me to book my first COVID-19 vaccination. The message included a URL to a third-party website working for the NHS.

I thought I will be walking up to my GP Surgery some 350 metres away for the jab as I had done just about 4 months ago for my influenza and pneumonia jabs, but that was not the case. The website was offering two locations just about a kilometre and a half away from my home. One of the locations did not have available slots, so I was left with just one option.

Appointed to a long walk

The earliest day for the jab I could find was 9 days away and just not to mess up my day at work, just in case I have an adverse reaction, I took a late slot and that happens to be today, a Wednesday. I received a confirmation message and then a reminder yesterday.

Meanwhile, last Thursday, I got a call from my hospital where my consultant runs her practice asking if I had been contacted about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Whilst responding in the affirmative, since I have a better rapport with my consultant who I see much more frequently than my GP who I have never met, I had some concerns.

Choices for protection

Being a frequent traveller to South Africa, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine would not provide the best protection against the South African variant of the COVID-19 virus, it is said to be less than efficacious that South Africa abandoned the rollout of the vaccine. [BBC News: Covid: South Africa halts AstraZeneca vaccine rollout over new variant] [GOV.UK: Information for UK recipients on COVID 19 Vaccine AstraZeneca]

As a member of a vulnerable group, I had to be vaccinated but also with a view of knowing I am protected against strains in locations I might visit. My best option was the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and I had to be sure that was what I was getting. The hospital offered to give me that, but I did not want to cancel my earlier appointment just in case they had it too. I obtained details of how to access the alternative before breaking off the call. [GOV.UK: Information for UK recipients on Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine]

Happily, what’s needed

Calling the other clinic, they did not know last week which vaccine will be offered this week, but they suggested I call sometime this week to find out. Thankfully, they were giving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this week, which means I do not have to exercise my option just yet.

I left home with a lot of time to spare and got the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. 

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Work from home does not make you a dullard

How things have changed

In conversations with an ex-colleague, I was amused to learn of some exploitation of engagements being contemplated by certain clients employing freelance consultants.

During this pandemic, the employment market is a bit fraught, for some, they are well placed to take on interesting opportunities and certain circumstances have closed up availability that competition is keen. What this can do is weaken both the resolved and bargaining clout of the consultant as they have to weigh the options amongst the various choices.

One given change to the workplace dynamic is working from home or working remotely. People are only going into the office if there is no way that they can do their work from home. I, for one have never visited the premises of my office since I took on this role in May and it is unlikely I will for the term of my contract.

Home and away, the same

Whether working from home or in the office, the same expertise is still required to do the job. For subject matter experts, what they are hired for is knowledge, know-how, and experience, bringing much of their wealth of insight and ability to bear on situations in the environment where they are engaged.

What I have heard is some clients are considering paying a lower rate to consultants who are working remotely, maybe in the misguided view that unsupervised consultants who cannot be micromanaged with some jobs worthy manager watching over their shoulders to ensure they are mercenaries to the core mean a loss of productivity.

This forgets that consultants are by and large professional and dedicated to getting things done effectively and efficiently. My further argument is that consultants are paid for their expertise regardless of where they are working from. A consultant is not suddenly a genius at work and a dullard at home.

The skill is the deal

I have not heard that permanent staff will be subjected to this stupid idea, not that it can happen without a fight, a dirty one at that. In fact, if you do expect a consultant to come into the office during this pandemic, you should be paying danger-money. The organisation I work for had over 500 COVID-19 infections in the time from September to January with one death registered. I fall into a vulnerable group, so, I cannot attend the office at all.

One thing I know is that I have been able to do my job remotely as best I can within the strictures of the permissions and rights that have been awarded. I hope that alone makes me worthy of my remuneration and hopefully is a testament of a good workman that no one will countenance an idea so reprehensible and expectant of utter and complete repudiation.