Big John’s Blog

9th November 2020

Week commencing 09.11.20

As if last week was not exciting enough, hot on the heels of the entertainment from across the pond, comes the sacking of Johnson’s uber creepDominic Cummings: the man who chose, during a lockdown, to drive around in his car to see if his eyes still worked! I mean, really, most people would simply pick up a magazine, or look out of the window, or look at something in their house to check if it is what it was when they last looked at it. But not Dominic, no, he regards the general public with such disgust and contempt, that he holds a press conference to explain his absurd web of lies, confident that his mesmeric Svengali hold over Johnson will protect him from public criticism, and it did, to a certain extent. After all, people voted for Johnson and his Eton Mess cronies and so it follows that those people at least believe that its Ok to flout the law, if you are a fully paid up member of the privileged white elite, (with absolutely no sense of sartorial eloquence).

As a ‘remainer’ or re moaner, as I’ve no doubt some would prefer, I cant tell you how pleasing it is to see this architect of Brexit publicly humiliated. 

Of course, it doesn't change the fact that we have got ourselves chucked out of an institution that may not have been ideal, but will be far preferable to whats coming our way soon in the way of tariffs, exclusions and ill will. Its just gratifying to see that one of the tiresome old characteristics of Cummings, Cains and their ilk, misogyny, is possibly one of the very factors that did for them. The way they treated their own Conservative Party press secretary and by extension, the partner of the PM, changed C&Cs departure date from ‘around the New Year’, to ‘with immediate effect’ and saw them scurrying out of the side door with their scruffy chic flapping in the wind.

I would dearly love to report news about Karate, but obviously, being unable to train, it has become difficult for us to share news and comment. However, the lives we live when deprived of the thing that unites us, are of equal interest in my humble opinion. I will say though, that practising Kata every day, as I honestly do, helps me to feel that this thing we do is ongoing, if dormant, and will return to help us very soon, hopefully.

2nd November 2020

Week commencing 02.11.20

Phew! the swings and roundabouts of life flail wildly around us once again, as if we need more drama in our lives!

In a week that has seen so much happen, I barely know where to begin. Maybe I’ll start with the bad news, training was cancelled for the foreseeable future, and spirits plunged downhill like a supermarket trolley full of goodies, heading straight for the canal.

In an attempt to cheer us all up, Sensei Dave delivered a one and a half hour session that was pure class. Drills that pushed us all to the edge of exhaustion before an in depth examination of Kata Gangaku through bunkai, thus enabling all to understand this truly beautiful Kata.

Next up, whatever you think about America, the next bit of news must surely be good for those of you concerned about mankind’s impact upon ‘The Environment’. Apologies up front to any of you who actually admire Donald Trump, but, and this is not just my opinion, it is fact: this man has wriggled out of or rather simply quit any attempts to protect the environment, tearing up the various climate accord agreements engaged in by the rest of the developed world. Furthermore, his copyists around the world for example Bolsanaro of Brazil, simply owned up to the wanton destruction of the Amazon rain forest, claiming that the roads to nowhere and savage clearing of flora and fauna was all done to ‘protect jobs’.

Anyway, unless you’ve been asleep for seven days straight, you will know that he’s gone. He of course thinks otherwise, as he mopes around on his golf course in-between bursts of twitter claiming ‘we was robbed’. Now, i’m not particularly a fan of Biden, I mean, were he and Trump the two best people the USA could find to lead them? But, if he is the alternative to Trump, then so be it, give the guy a go. Simply to see the arrogant, racist, mysogynist bully knocked off his perch and forced to embarrass himself, was worth the entrance fee alone as they say.

Coming back down to earth, each day brings more evidence of the mishandling of the pandemic by our Government. While ‘clapping the NHS’ they continue to stab it in the back by stealth privatisation, actually it is less stealth and more ‘bleeding obvious’ if you actually pay attention. Take the ‘Track & Trace’. A ‘world beating’ operation, according to them. In fact its been outsourced to ‘SERCO’ and just how well is that doing? yeah, not very well at all, ask SAGE.

So, by way of a brilliant smokescreen, to mask the rising stats of infection and deaths, they wheel out (drum roll)……….. THE VACCINE!! By now, the silver bullet of a vaccine feels more like a catapult made of twigs and knicker elastic. But hey, lets not end on a dull note, all the buddies of the Eton Mess in charge of the Government, will no doubt be lining their pockets like they have been with Track & Trace and countless other ways of diverting public money in to private bank accounts. Hooray!!

26th October 2020

Week commencing 26.10.20

With the pandemic come new ways of looking at everyday things, we cant help but think about how all the various aspects of our lives will be affected. Some of these issues are immediate and others less so. Occasionally, thinking about certain things lead us on to ‘bigger picture’ ideas and it was just such a connection that happened to me as I unpacked our weekly vegetable box from Riverford, who are a family farm that have been working the land out near Dartington for several generations.

By chance, I had noticed some statistics put out by the ONS (Office for National Statistics) recently about how spending on food by families has changed over time: and Guy Watson from Riverford had probably seen it as well, because he incorporated it in to his weekly newsletter, and this is what led me to expand upon the idea and share it to a wider audience.

Put simply, the amount of our income that we spend on food has changed dramatically over the last 75 years, and by change I mean a relentless decline. Unbelievably, in an age of overwhelming choice, we have chosen to spend less and less on food, and more and more on (in order, greatest first) manufactured goods, services, and then information and entertainment. So, all these things come before the basic notion of putting food on the table for our family. 

Statistically speaking, in the 1950s we spent 33% of household expenditure on food, now its 10%, one of the lowest in the world. And what we do spend on food is not going to farmers, it goes to manafacturers, distributors and retailers, and this is because of the rise of processed foods, brands and extended supply chains. 

Unfortunately, the Government have encouraged unsustainable farming practices, presided over a fast food revolution and more recently, vetoed any amendments to Agriculture Bills in the House of Commons that might have prevented the chlorinated chickens flying in from America. By cosying up to the ‘States in a post Brexit nightmare, food is once more becoming weaponised in a war on health, and the only way we can fight back is through our rights as consumers to make choices. So, think about what goes in to your shopping basket and where it comes from, after all, you don't really need to have two chickens for a fiver, because if you are what you eat, as they say, aren't you worth more than that?  

19th October 2020

Week commencing 19.10.20

It has been said before in these pages that watching “The Walking Dead” during a ‘global epidemic’, or ‘pandemic’ (please note, rather than use the tautological expression global pandemic, the word global being unnecessary if followed by pan) : is perhaps not the smartest choice of entertainment when considering the grim parallels between the fictional series and our unprecedented predicament. Thankfully, TWD is an extreme narrative in comparison to the slightly more mundane Covideo Nasty, a cartoon or animation as opposed to a realist drama.

However, there are many striking moments which snag and remain in the mind, like sheep’s wool in a barbed wire fence. Fortunately, the zombies or walkers as they are known, bring a strangely camp element to the proceedings and remind the viewer that it is entertainment, almost akin to playing an adult computer game like GTA or COD (Grand Theft Auto/Call Of Duty to all you grown ups).

In one scene, a character who has witnessed and experienced one appalling incident after another, and is talking to someone who does not now the true extent of what is happening, says, “there isn't anybody coming! no one is going to arrive and make this better!” Knowing what we know, that statement is a creeping paralysis of fact. Every day is a lethal game of survival, a hunt for food and shelter against the backdrop of a plague that promises death instantly followed by an eternity of wandering around making slobbery noises and trying to eat living tissue of any kind whatsoever. 

Now, there was a point in the early stages of the lock down when the Government were playing catch up with everyone else's reality.  In other words, they were behind of, instead of in front of, the curve, as usual. 

It was around about this time that the wilder corners of my imagination began to consider what might happen if  mass unemployment suddenly drenched the land in hopelessness. Evidently concerned with the potential of “The Devil makes work for idle hands”  or suchlike, the Government introduced the ‘Furlough’ scheme. In what amounted to the most expensive mass bailout in history, truckloads of taxpayer’s money was handed to employers up and down the land to allow those who could not risk working, to put food on the table: thus pouring water on to the flames of my overworked imagination and keeping the mean streets of Devon zombie free.

3rd October 2020

Week commencing 05.10.20

Summer is well and truly over and a re appraisal of the Covid situation is underway. The outdoor training sessions were unusual and much appreciated. 

From a point in early spring when we wondered when we would ever train again to now, when we seem to have re discovered a strong desire to keep the club going, has been a strange journey. Looking for the ‘new normal’ has produced a variety of consequences that have left us all questioning our very ways of being. 

The young seem to adapt pragmatically, like they do to changes in IT, whereas the older generations seem to be either more resistant and cynical, or simply plain terrified.

Its probably not a great time to be watching the box set of “The Walking Dead”, again but there it is. I wont be the first to have noticed a parallel (if extreme) between a humanity in which panic buying and survival are at the forefront of their minds, due to a virus tearing through the more vulnerable of the species: and one in which the dead are forced to continue ‘living’ in order to spread the virus. 

Indeed towards the end of the first series, having visited the equivalent of SAGE, namely a laboratory manned by one remaining scientist known as CDC, the ‘leader’ of our group of survivors, Rick, is told by the scientist whispering in his ear (although we don't get to find this out until several episodes later) that even though apparently you have to be bitten or scratched to become a Zombie, in fact, all  humans carry the virus and it could suddenly blossom unexpectedly, as it does those few episodes later, with ‘Shane’ .

Although ‘TWD’ is of course an extreme example of a violent pandemic that would never happen, the dead will not stalk the land, there are definitely shared experiences around the ideas of isolation, misunderstanding and panic, but thankfully nothing quite like that!! 

So it is no surprise that in trying to continue to train against the odds, as we have over recent months, navigating the Government’s ‘guidelines’ and shambolic management of the crisis, we have seen Karate as a representation of that which is ‘normal’. Meeting up, training, feeling tired yet exhilarated, these are all things that help us to feel ‘normal’ and to help that continue we all have to play our part and be responsible.

17th to 24th August 2020

Week commencing 17th, 24th, 31st August

One thing that doesn't mix well with camping however, is being on crutches. So when our Son Max broke his ankle on the coastal path with a week left on site, our camping holiday became a slightly different kind of recreation. Getting in and out of a tent on crutches during the rain, or at night and during rain is an unremittingly bleak experience. Coping with covid is one thing, breaking your ankle is another, but then howling gale force winds and biblical rainfall with a broken tent finally forced us to end our holiday prematurely and so we slunk back up the A30 to enjoy some home comforts before the return to work in September.

However, despite the sad ending to the holiday there were many highlights to make it all worthwhile. The campsite being open was wonderful news after months of wondering what was going to happen. There were of course limitations around showers and the reception/shop area, but for the puritans amongst us (ie Me) that only added to the retreat - like nature of the whole camping experience. If it was easy, you wouldn't appreciate it, you would just take it for granted. Plenty of days were spent on the beach, which, being secluded and difficult to get to, is one of the best in the country. And until the accident, there were miles and miles of coastal path to walk along, populated by wildlife either rare or unique to the area. Alpine Choughs had bred in the cliffs above the beach for the first time ever, the shoals of grey mullet were present in the surf around us and I had an exciting encounter with a rather beautiful Adder. I look forward to next year. 

10th August 2020

Week commencing 10.08.20 

Camping under canvas. We’ve all done it. But have we? Many people, it seems, have not been camping and do not understand why anyone would want to. As one commentator drly put it, why would you have a holiday in a crappier place than the one you live in? Its all relative I guess and I can kind of see that point. If you live somewhere rubbish, why would you go somewhere with even less facilities, or perhaps more basic? And therein lies the whole purpose of it, in a nutshell. Campsites, traditionally, are in vaguely rural or coastal settings, they don't tend to occur in built up areas, although Bristol does have a motorhome or camper van site at Spike Island in the City Centre, I know because Ive been there.

So if, for example, you want to make a hot drink; at home you tend to put the kettle on, select a mug, and look for tea or coffee all at the same time as checking texts and emails or packing a bag, whilst thinking about your lunch or whatever you need to pick up later for tea. Then you move to the fridge and check which one of your various milk options (dairy, non dairy, etc etc) smells ok, check the kettle again, send a text. The tedious roundabout goes on and on, all the while you are checking the time counting down the minutes before you have to do something else.

However, when you make a hot drink on a campsite, yes you do the same sort of things, but somehow time stretches. You don't really have to ‘be’ anywhere, and that kettle, well, you might have to find a water source, maybe even walk to a tap, even to refill the water you already have in a supply somewhere in your tent or van. 

Nothing is in a particularly convenient place and all the while you will be partially outside, or trying to do this without waking somebody else up. Then suddenly, you notice a row of birds on a telegraph line, are they crows, or starlings? why don't they get electrocuted? and whats that other bird that seems to be dive bombing them? they all jump up then land again, and the sky becomes a bruised backdrop to it all, tossing a load of white seabirds around as well in a crazy blend of nature. Blimey, the kettles boiling already and you don't have the mug or the tea bag. But that tent over the way looks like its going to take off, its flapping like a matador running for his life from a bull.

None of it matters, but all of it does somehow. You aren't going to be late because you are on holiday. If you cant find the coffee, have tea. No milk? try it black. The thing is, by investing purpose in the most simple tasks and letting them take as long as they take, we are entering into the realm of ‘Mindfulness’, and this, for me, is why people go camping. Whether its lying under a sheet of canvas on an inflatable rubber mat, or lying under a sheet of metal on a foam mattress that doubles as a seat, its just good to remember that the things we take for granted, like water on tap, are not just ‘there’ for everyone. Some people have to walk miles to collect and carry back dirty water to their family, before setting off on foot again to go to school. Going back to basics, which is what camping is,  somehow helps us remember that

July and Early August

Week commencing July & August  03.20 

Having had 4 months of well nigh part time work, your author felt it was about time for a holiday. Bearing in mind how awful the pandemic has been for many people, my ethical compass was spinning wildly as I considered the idea of going on a holiday. Lets not forget that living in Devon during lockdown is quite a different proposition to say living in Birmingham. Then again, living in a tower block of flats in Plymouth is very different to living in a cottage in Shaldon with gardens front and rear, although both are in Devon.

My point is that the lock down has been awful for some people, coping with fatalities and lingering, serious illnesses; but it has also been awful for people with no access to the outdoors in the form of  a garden, dwindling finances, interrupted educational provision and thats not just schools, I’m thinking about higher education and those students paying nine thousand pounds a year in tuition fees. 

Those of us with gardens and access to public footpaths through green field landscapes almost have a duty to make the most of such fantastic resources. Personally, I can step out of my house and garden, cross the road I live in, stroll up an alley between two rows of houses, over a few more roads through the Kingsway estate until I meet the public footpath that runs alongside the Broadmeadow industrial and retail estate. At that point the dog is off the lead and I am making my way past allotments, fruit laden hedgerows, two hundred year old Oak trees and astonishingly tall poplars until I hit open country with herds of dairy cattle (a rare sight these days with the big five hegemony of supermarkets), sheep that resemble lice, and buzzards overhead making their peculiar mixture of whistle and squeak. Further on up the valley on some of the steepest slopes in the vicinity, almost incredibly, we have a vineyard, with row upon row of grapevines just about clinging on to the hillside; watching tractors crawling up the adjacent hills is a phenomenon I personally don't need a closer examination of, but each to their own.

Another incline, up a green lane, brings me to the top of one side of the Teign valley offering glorious views to the south and west. Passing a farm once owned by Matt Bellamy of the local popular music combo known I believe as ‘The Muse’ brings me to fields overlooking the estuary, back beach, town beach, pier and ness. The walk then tails off as I arrive back at the other side of Broadmeadow estate and head back to my house, and thats three miles, great for fitness both physically and mentally.

So, there we have it, all on our doorstep. To not go and interact with that, providing you have time is just a missed opportunity.

However, despite all that environment going on around me, I still feel the need to go on holiday, but thats probably because the type of holiday we tend to go on is more like a retreat than a fun packed extravaganza

13th July 2020

Week commencing 29th/06th/13th/07.20

So as we all begin to adapt to picking up our face mask on the way out, in the same way as we do gloves or scarves in winter, I wonder how much ground the virus is gaining in the new battle of Britain. 

Whether or not opening pubs up on Independence day (in America) was a good idea, who knows? Many of the pubs I traipse past on my daily walks seem not to have bothered, but then I don't happen to either visit, or walk past, the great mecca of mini me Trump that is Wetherspoons. 

I’m not even sure if he furloughed his staff or not, I wouldn't be surprised if he deemed the virus to be ‘fake news’ or ‘just another common cold thing’ in that pancake haired idiotic way that his buddy from over there did. Who’s laughing now eh? Well, no one actually, because dying is no laughing matter. Perhaps now Trump has had to relent and put a mask on, someone could develop a mask that prevents any vocalisation emanating from within it? But he would need gloves as well after all, to censor his twitter rants.

The new normal ‘aint what it used to be, but certainly the weather has held out enough for us to manage a few weeks of training outside. One of the interesting decisions to make has been footwear, or more precisely, to wear or not. 

I have been causing a stir in my crocs and whilst I can see the humorous side of seeing someone knocking out a side thrust kick in a clumpy old foam sandal, it has to be said that unlike on wet concrete paving, where they are absolutely fatal to dare wearing, on grass they hardly seem to slip at all. 

The main reason I turn up in the silly old things is because for many years now I have taken exercise either barefoot in a dojo, or fully booted with chunky socks and a stick, as I tramp the moors and paths of Devon and Cornwall. I simply don't have any training shoes and I don't think I have had any since some time around the mid 1980s. In one of those strange consequences that you occasionally notice, 

I realised that I have not run anywhere other than a rugby pitch for as long as I can remember. In rugby, its all boots and studs and gum shields, so trainers were never absolutely necessary. Unless, of course, you trained by running in the streets or around purpose built tracks, something I never seemed to have done, despite the fact that I did play the game at quite an intense and serious level. 

For the subsequent years of inactivity, until I rediscovered my true love (Karate), I watched training shoes change in design and was constantly fascinated. From the tennis shoes, gym ‘pumps’ or plimsolls (named after the plimsoll line on a ship……) and basketball ankle high things of the 1960s and 1970s, we suddenly had an epidemic of footwear that seemed to echo the design lines of modern cars. 

The chunky soles and wrap around fenders certainly resemble some of the SUVs that are busily fetching and carrying our little children to and from school. I remember once inheriting a pair of used ‘Air Jordan’ Nike ‘sneakers’ while working on summer camp in the states, and wondering what all the fuss was about. I recently noticed that a pair of these exact trainers that were actually worn by Michael Jordan, probably only a few times, went in to auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

It wont be long before we start seeing triple stripes or swoosh ticks on our face masks I guess.

22nd June 2020

Week commencing 8th, 15th & 22nd/06/20

So, we are three weeks into our outdoor training programme. No one has complained about us and we have observed social distancing protocol most of the time. Anyone who reads this but has not yet joined in the sessions, please feel free to come along, it offers a real boost to well being and mental health. You can really sense the purpose and feeling of achievement surging through the group, as if we are collectively saying ‘oh yeah this is what its like training with other people’ after being locked away on our own for three months.

Fingers crossed the weather holds, because its going to be interesting if rainfall breaks out part way through a session. There is an element of endurance and determination that I would love to explore with the group, something like a cross between ‘celebrity SAS who dares wins’ and a rugby match. I’m not allowed to talk about my past in the SAS, its all classified, but, I did once play rugby, usually in winter and often in the freezing cold. My position was wing three quarter, which basically meant hanging around in the freezing cold, waiting for the ball to pop up in front of me so that I could run a few steps and fall flat on my face in a pool of icy mud. So, if I could manage doing that for years and years, I’m sure I can cope with a sprinkling of rain during Basai Dai.

Somebody asked me recently what I will take from the lock down in terms of personal gains. As it was a social occasion I didn't really want to say ‘its allowed me to run through my katas every day un interrupted’ for some reason, and so instead I talked about another aspect of lock down that actually has become a priority which I hope to accommodate in everyday life from now on, and that is walking.

From our own doorstep, we are able to access not only rolling hills, but also moor, heathland and beaches. It really is incredible and I honestly think it has changed our lives. I mean, we always did walk and were aware of how lucky we are, but now we actually factor in our day around our walk, it has become the centrepiece of our day. My wife has an app on her phone which tells us how many miles we walk each day and the last time we looked, cumulatively, it had reached well over 200 miles. We haven't taken phones every time we have walked either, my son and I walked the Templer Way twice, which is 18 miles each time, during which time we didn't have the app. We really are lucky to live where we live, because rather than an inward looking lock down experience, we have been able to look to the horizons and safely stretch our legs. For this I am extremely grateful and aware of the sacrifices others have had to make.

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