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Lockdown Britain - Are We Downhearted? (updated 17th April 2020)

In normal times we Brits are notoriously a nation of grumblers and nay-sayers.

In times of adversity, like the dreadful virus that the whole world is suffering from right now, we seem transformed.

We look out for each other, we look on the bright side of what is far from bright, and we really appreciate everyone working to help and support others, especially (but not only) those on the front line of our National Health Service.

As an example of great British humour in adversity, it would be hard to beat the Marsh Family's viral-video adaptation of Les Misérables.

The original video is no longer available, it seems, but if you click the above image you can play a version with only a little bit clipped off the front (which included the family having a hilarious argument before settling down to singing).

I guarantee that you will fall off your chair laughing, and maybe wipe your eyes afterwards.

Then there's this:

It's an established event now that at 8PM every Thursday, the entire country unites around #ClapForOurCarers - click the image above to see this phenomenon in action.

Originally a one-off gesture of appreciation for our frontline NHS staff, it has grown each week into a national "thank you" to everyone who supports other people, especially those who are sick or in isolation. We lean out of our windows or balconies or wherever we can, and give them all a well-deserved round of applause.

We are also thanking people using their home 3D printers to create masks and face shields, the people who worked like Trojans to construct the two massive Nightingale Hospitals in a few days (bigger than Heathrow Terminal 5) and many, many more.

Many young people (among others) have volunteered in their off-duty time to do a whole variety of things, from taking food to the isolated elderly to helping out on sanitation vehicles to assisting nurses with anything that the nurse doesn't have to do herself or himself.

When this is over, their stories should be enshrined in some kind of memorial.

And then, there is the astonishing story (still ongoing) of one of Britain's oldest inhabitants, the veteran Captain Tom, who decided to try to raise £1,000 for the NHS by walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday at the end of April.

As I write, the total has passed £4,000,000 with donations from around the world. Tom has passed his target and is still working on improving it.

He has truly inspired the nation. If you click on one thing today, click his image to the left for the most uplifting story you will have heard in a long time.

When we win the war against COVID-19, and we will, I hope that BBC Breakfast (whose excellent featuring of this story added more than £1m of contributions in a few hours) receives some kind of medal also, for their so-positive contribution each day to national morale and information.

Update 17th April: Tom reached his 100th lap yesterday, and was treated to an honour guard by members of the regiment that is a descendant of the one in which he fought.

He also had a special call from our William and Kate, surely the nicest Royals on the planet. Oh yes, and a day after I first posted this, the total raised is somewhere in excess of £18,000,000!

As before, click on the image below if you would like to see BBC Breakfast's coverage of this wonderful event.

And then, there's the great British sense of humour, never better than in a time of crisis.

And if you're in need of a pick-me-up, there's lots more COVID humour here.

Britain isn't alone, of course (and no better place to get a good world view of what's happening than watching Al Jazeera, as we recently discovered).

Our neighbours in Europe have suffered greatly in different ways, and for different reasons. Italy, for example, is a country of gregarious and affectionate people, and dealing with COVID-19 has been particularly painful for them.

If we look across the Atlantic to our friends there, we can only count our blessings that our government, for all its faults, is doing its damndest to help people rather than corporations, and is basing all it does stricly on science.

From the latest daily government briefing, which is so different from the Trump version that it makes the eyes water:

If the madman in the US White House, who has spread and is still spreading lethal disinformation about COVID-19, encourages or compels a premature return to work, and the people who support others and save lives are overwhelmed, then America is lost.

We can only pray for sanity prevailing and his removal from the office that he has disgraced.

The good news is that we now have a succinct way to sum up all the wonderful people fighting COVID-19, saving lives, and helping others:

They are absolutely everything that Trump is not.

There can be no higher praise.

"There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds" —G.K. Chesterton

Photo and quote by my great friend Sandy, who over the years has given me beautiful things like these

* A great star just burnt out *

Stephen Hawking

8th January 1942 – 14th March 2018

I will always associate Stephen Hawking with the truly wonderful opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics, which (like the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics) celebrated many things about the human spirit (sadly, things that the current leadership of the USA obviously cares nothing about).

He opened the Paralympics ceremony (click either image above for my full coverage) with this:

“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world: why it is as it is, and why it exists at all.

“But, even if we do find a complete theory of everything, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations, and makes a Universe for him to describe?”

Stephen's indomitable spirit and his supreme intellect, and the wonderful people who supported him, have been rightly celebrated many times (see links at the bottom of this post).

I particularly enjoyed the 55-minute PBS production Stephen Hawking: A Personal Journey, which you can watch by clicking the image below, and the biographical movie The Theory of Everything featuring an astonishing performance by Eddie Redmayne.

In the screenshot above, Stephen is looking at a newspaper page carrying an advert from Channel 4's Meet the Superhumans campaign, which trailed the London Paralympics that were to change the image of disability forever (except in the USA, whose networks carried almost no coverage).

The PBS programme shows Stephen's considerable humour (I particularly liked his exchanges with Jim Carrey), and has many deep insights into his personal life.

The programme ends with Stephen's appearance at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and with his words there:

“We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spiri. So let us together celebrate excellence, friendship and respect. Good luck to you all.”

Stephen Hawking pushed back the frontiers of our knowlege about the Universe we live (upsetting more than a few followers of anti-science religions along the way), and towards the end of his life laid the foundations for explorations of the possible existence of the Multiverse (no, he didn't prove that the Multiverse exists, although it might).

His ashes are to be interred near the graves of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin in Westminster Abbey, a very rare honour. But the way I look at it, great as those groundbreaking scientists were, they should be honored by Stephen's company.

[Stephen Hawking Quotes]
[A Brief History of Time]
[Tributes to Stephen Hawking]

From my web site...

[London 2012: The beautiful games]
[Science vs. Religion]

America's Finest

From The Good News Network - click the image for the full story

Amy Purdy (a link well worth following) dancing at the Rio Paralympics Opening Ceremony...

with a KUKA industrial robot...

in a stunning 3D-printed dress.

Their bring-the-house-down routine (including a samba from Amy that was able to wow Brazilians) suggested the theme of “disability meets technology”.

However, watching the athletes at Rio, and the many others all over the world that they inspire, we aren't seeing “disability” - just amazing ability.

If you like this, you might want to revisit...

[Breaking the Mold: The London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony]

[London 2012: The Beautiful Games]

This 18-year old Middlesbrough teenager appeared on BBC Breakfast a short while back, and I can tell you that she has a smile that can light up your entire day.

Her name is Jade Jones, and she's a T54 wheelchair track athlete for Great Britain and the British record holder over 400/5000m.

She represented GB at the London 2012 Paralympics, and won the bronze medal in the women's para-sport 1500m in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The London 2012 Olympics were watched by a good proportion of the entire planet. The USA, however, largely missed out on the London 2012 Paralympics, due to a perceived or actual lack of interest by USA viewers (or maybe just by NBC), and so missed out on an extraordinary communal party that equalled or even eclipsed the Olympics.

The sheer feel-good factor of both events lifted the spirits of Britain (and maybe other countries) in a way that is good to look back on now. However the Paralympics also changed forever the view of “disability” for everyone who watched it.

I observed afterwards that the American political system (unlike very many American people) seems to suffer more than most from disability, dysfunction, negativity, under-achievement, non-cooperation and meanness of spirit - the exact opposite of what we watched, especially in the Paralympics.

There has been so much to enjoy in the recent Commonwealth Games, not least the fact that normal and para events have been integrated. It seems quite normal (at least to UK audiences) now. The larger Olympics, at least in 2016, won't be able to integrate the events in this way, but only because (I have heard) they would simply become too large.

The Olympics and Paralympics were the best thing to happen in Britain (IMO) in 2012, and perhaps for many years to come. Because of this, I put a lot of effort into recording the events, with images, commentary and links to some great music, for my own benefit and maybe for others who missed out:

The short version (from my web site):

[The beautiful games]

The full versions (linked to from the short version):

[Olympics opening ceremony]
[International inspiration to young people: Jessica Ennis and Denise Lewis]
[The fabulous Olympics closing ceremony]
[The stunning Paralympics opening ceremony (visit this, if nothing else!)]
[Royal Mail commemorative stamps, one for each paralympic gold medal winner (with links to each winner featured)]
[My review of the Paralympics, and the closing ceremony]

If you happen to be a Brit watching these amazing Paralympics, you will obviously be delighted with our great run of gold medals.

The Royal Mail earned its own award from me (FWIW) by issuing commemorative stamps within a day of each medal, exactly as it did for the London Olympics.

This may not be surprising to people following the London Paralympics, but for everyone it's an indication of how successful these Games have been in changing perceptions about "disability". We haven't seen disability in these Games - just amazing ability. The "Super Thursday" athletics track finals produced the kind of excitement that the equivalent finals in the Olympics did. The only difference was that the excitement (and noise) on that occasion was even more intense than in the Olympics. I say "noise", but one of the most memorable moments of that night was when Jonnie Peacock asked the crowd for silence at the start, and 80,000 people went silent as in a church within about a second. After which, this man (who happens to have only one leg, although we have sort of stopped noticing that) ran 100m in 10.9 seconds, beating probably the best group of 100m athletes ever seen in one Paralympics final.

There are some great stories of human achievement hidden behind these pictures - if you click on any image, you'll get links that will tell you more about that athlete.

Several athletes (like Sarah Storey, our greatest paralympian) won several gold medals and each one was commemorated with a separate stamp - I haven't shown all of those here, and I may have missed some of the team events.

Also, there have been many athletes from other countries, and/or who haven't won a gold medal, or any medal, that have won the hearts of the many people watching - see my post here.

[Images sourced from here]

If you like this...

[All of my posts on the London 2012 Paralympics]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Olympics]

Detroit is a city with many problems, but it is also a source of inspiration to many as its people work together to bring the city back to life (some examples here).

There are few more inspiring stories from Detroit than that of Joshua Smith, who ran a lemonade and popcorn stand (in a neighbourhood where precautions had to be taken against Joshua being robbed) in order to raise money for the city - over $4,000 at the last count.

This story went nationwide (and beyond), proving again that one person can make a difference.

If you like this...

[From Seedlings to Servings: 11-Year-Old Grows Tons of Veggies for the Homeless]

From the page:

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine being a women in the mid 1800s. Your family has decided to try their luck in the west, looking for free land. These journeys across the frontier were far from glamorous - it was a life of arduous toil. Women packed their lives into a wagon and traveled for hundreds of miles across the frontier in search of a better life.

Much of the work in establishing a home, feeding the family, working in the fields and all other manner of domesticity fell into the hands of women. For many of these women - who came from the more established Eastern states, it was an extremely difficult time as they were often left on their own - in the middle of nowhere - with their children and neighbors few and far between. Many of the books that have been written on this subject offer hundreds of first hand accounts...


Aung San Suu Kyi, amazing human being, politician and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, at the age of 65 (she is now 67).
Photograph © Platon (2010)

Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the world's true heroines. I learnt most about her from that wonderful 2011 movie The Lady, where she was played so well by Michelle Yeoh, with David Thewlis as her Oxford-based husband Michael Aris. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

On 16th June, in a very moving ceremony, she accepted the Nobel peace prize more than 20 years after it was awarded to her.

She is currently in England, accepting today an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, and tomorrow on 21st June she will make an address to both houses of the British parliament in Westminster Hall - a rare honour for a foreign dignitary, as will be seen from this list.

21st June 2012:
[Video of Aung San Suu Kyi's complete address to both houses of the British parliament]

It all began in third grade, when Katie Stagliano's 40-pound cabbage fed 275 homeless people. Now, Katie's six gardens have produced over 4,000 pounds of vegetables to feed the needy.

When Katie Stagliano was in third grade, she planted a cabbage in her family's small garden. When it grew to an astounding 40 pounds, she donated it to a soup kitchen, where it was made into meals for 275 people (with the help of ham and rice). "I thought, 'Wow, with that one cabbage I helped feed that many people?'" says Katie, now entering sixth grade. "I could do much more than that."

So Katie started planting vegetable gardens as part of her nonprofit Katie's Krops - she has six right now - including one the length of a football field at her school in her hometown of Summerville, S.C. Classmates, her family and other people in the community help plant and water, and Bonnie Plants donates seedlings. This past year, Katie took her commitment to a new level: she has given soup kitchens over 2,000 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables. Katie and her helpers are now harvesting the spring planting, and another 1,200 pounds will be donated by October.


Thanks to my friend Aline for Katie's story, which is a great example of Pay It Forward.