A Very British Lockdown: Reflection Numero Uno.

The U.K. initiated lockdown-mode on 27 March 2020. Here are 10 weird and wonderful things I did during 12-weeks of isolation.

  1. De-cluttered the house – the house was full of so much old junk from over the years, this took absolutely ages to complete, and I ended up booking a waste removal company to take all the unwanted things away! It was also a nice walk down memory lane.
  2. Tidied up the garden – unfortunately the garden is often neglected and needs more love than I give it, this was a chance to get my hands dirty and remove weeds, sweep old leaves, tackle thorny bushes, yank crawling vines down from the house, saw mini trees and clean grubby patios. Very sweaty and laborious work, and it just keeps growing back!
  3. Grew potatoes and carrots – I grew a large, decent crop of red potatoes but unfortunately the carrots turned out miniscule! In addition to root vegetables, my garden variety consists of rocket, parsley, tomatoes, basil, mint and thyme. My plot also has an apple tree which fruited very well this year, as well as the blackberry bushes, grape vines, and a very tall pear tree which the pigeons claim every year without fail!
  4. Learned how to set up an extended wifi network – the internet connection is patchy around the house, so I learnt how to connect the wifi router upstairs to an old wifi router downstairs, and configure it to extend the range of the wifi network. Using the MAC terminal to ping IP addresses is not something I knew or understood how to do before!
  5. Created a 10-part vlog series – off the back of my desire to edit the holiday videos I’d recorded on my last two trips, I figured that creating a vlog would be a good use of my spare time during lockdown, because this pandemic is such a unique and memorable experience to look back on, and the bonus is that I’d also pick up some filming and editing skills along the way which may come in handy in the future.
  6. Installed a security camera, fridge door, and roof repairs – the security camera was a straightforward job of drilling and connecting, but the fridge door proved to be more challenging. According to the instructions, changing the opening from right to left was a case of unscrewing and rescrewing the door, but I ended up having to drill holes through metal! The roof repairs was a full day job, which involved applying strong adhesive weather-proof tape to gaps and holes in a flat PVC roof susceptible to rainwater leaks.
  7. Installed a new garage door – well I can’t say this involved any real effort on my part… but the door looks absolutely wonderful in a lush forest green colour! And it has an electric motor opening/closing.
  8. Made tofu from scratch – this was something that I’ve always wanted to try and make, I even have a book called ‘The Book of Tofu’ which I purchased years ago. I am a huge fan of making fresh soy milk already, why not use the discarded okara to form tofu? My first attempt was a firm tofu, which ended up creating a delicious Mapo Tofu dish. Asides from this I love cooking and found that I became more creative and resourceful in the kitchen with what I had. I also made a bubble tea inspired birthday cake, a raspberry meringue cake, and did my first spatchcock-jerk-chicken on the BBQ!
  9. Changed the inner tube of a bike tire – I haven’t cycled in a long while, and my bike needed serious servicing as there was a problem with the brakes being stiff. I learnt how to detach the tire from the bike, remove and replace the inner tube, re-align the tire, and change the brake cables. With much assistance, of course!
  10. Practiced piano regularly and started reading more serious stuff – I gave my old upright piano away to a mother and her child back in 2016, and after a 4-year hiatus bought my very first digital piano last summer. It has been a joy getting back into the swing and learning songs I love listening to. It’s a great feeling when you can finally play a piece from start to finish at speed, regular practice pays off. I also added some more heavyweight material to my reading list, and took out a trial to The Economist magazine.

Well that’s it, hope this made enjoyable reading. Every experience comes with funny stories, such as that time I accidentally locked myself out the house, and had to climb on the roof and roll sideways through a window on the landing to get back in. But I’ll save these stories for another post!

Leadership in Times of Crisis.

You do as you’re told either because you’re scared or inspired.

A good leader knows how to inspire every person, at every level, in the system.

A good leader knows that everyone plays a part, and should be recognised, and celebrated for it.

During this time my heart goes out to my former colleagues in the food and drink industry.

When the world stops, I imagine them self isolating at home, whilst recalling their tireless discipline over 16 hour shifts, to keep the food they make for the world to enjoy, clean and safe to eat.

And then I thought about the leaders who supported me, and my former colleagues, on our journey towards culinary art and mastery.

One particular leader stands out in my mind, and whilst I cannot read his mind, I do know that he is a devoted visionary.

A memory I am fond of, is when he joined me downstairs in the basement kitchen, together with the kitchen porter and and a few others that could offer support, to crack out hundreds of handmade gyoza with love.

To make a team of people forget about time, ignore the heat and sweat, hidden away from any sign of daylight, laugh and try harder, faster, better is no small task.

This man did it effortlessly. He made every person feel respected. He reminded everyone to have more empathy for each other, and praised tolerance and professionalism.

There was so much laughter. I cannot even begin describe the incredible sense of camaraderie that exists between chefs, and probably across hospitality.

We are a different kind of warrior. And the great leaders know that the hospitality industry needs to change and fight every day to make it better. The food we produce should respect the planet and bring joy to people. It should value more those that work so hard to make it.

At the top of the game, such as in fine dining restaurants, chefs spend more time cleaning surfaces, labelling food for expiration dates, storing things at safe temperatures, and cooking safely. This prevents the spread of bacteria and viruses. Sanitiser spray is like cool aid. And you don’t want to be caught sneezing irresponsibly! There is so much discipline, that nobody will get food poisoning, or suffer from an accidental peanut allergy. There is so much attention to detail, and I can tell you from experience, it’s beyond exhausting. But they are ruthlessly devoted to their craft.

I left the industry for personal reasons, but I’ll never forget how it felt to come home shattered to the bone, only to wake up at the crack of dawn and do it all over again, with the same level of discipline and passion. Customers will not expect any less.

If there is anything that office workers can take from me writing this, is to step outside your circle and make friends with someone you usually wouldn’t. It’ll open you to worlds you never knew and change your perspective in invaluable ways.

2019 changed me in a big way; and it looks like 2020 is going to bring about even bigger, bolder changes.

Coronavirus and a Visit to the Cemetery: Knocking on Death’s Door.

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The gravestone of Karl Marx, at Highgate Cemetery, United Kingdom

Last month, I was standing underneath this statue of Karl Marx at a cemetery in London packed full of famous dead people.

Last week, I captured a cute little mouse that kindly took residence in my kitchen for the past year, within a ‘Humane Mouse Trap’, and set it free in the wild.

Fast forward to today, Saturday 21st March, the first weekend where this country realises that it was not a drill: we have descended into a pandemic, a viral reminder to the planet that our existence is limited, and can be taken away from us in an instant.

I went to the cemetery for three reasons. The first was to improve my photography skills. The second was to learn about the history of the cemetery, and the famous people buried in it. And the third, was to find answers to life through the exploration of notable deaths. There was a real mixture of folk at this cemetery, from tourists to retired historians and art students, donning a gothic fashion statement.

There is something eerily beautiful about cemeteries. Stones of all shapes and sizes, some immaculate, some grand, others forgotten by time and fallen into disrepair, but with a strangely stoic beauty that cannot be entirely erased. Wonky pathways interrupted by the occasional spot of mud and rainwater, towering trees rustling in the wind, creating a chamber of sound that echoes in a hollow, solemn, but somewhat orchestral way between the musical columns — they run into the distance as far as the eye can see. And finally, so many bright and colourful flowers, nestled softly in unkempt grass, shining light to the fact that the person is remembered, and was respected, loved, and adored.

Karl Marx’s gravestone is the most visited at Highgate Cemetery, for he invented the ideology of Communism in 1848, notably adopted by Russia, China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. And for 100 years, 100 million people were killed in the fight against Communist revolutionaries. It has been described as the greatest catastrophe in human history, and this fascinates me. For I find nothing more curious than the very nature of human beings, the way we think and act, and how this translates to the struggles that we create in the name of what we believe it means to be human in the first place.

In the past 2 years I have been the first line of support for two people who experienced the death of a partner, cycling through the different stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance with them. On hearing news of the next outbreak, and envisioning the suffering in months and years ahead, I have never felt so much dread and grief at the thought of so much collective suffering. Yet I observe the world is in a deep coma, the memories of the last pandemic are buried in the collective unconscious.

I now sit here at my computer, having been in a kind of self-imposed isolation for 2 weeks, whilst the mouse runs free in our quickly emptying streets. I note the chaos and denial of a history-repeating virus descending upon us all and estimated to kill 50 million on Earth. In this fast-developing pandemic timeframe, I battled with a long-list of negative emotions, and it has been mental torture realising that what others do to prepare for it is out my control or influence. For example, the night before a long-awaited business meeting, my supplier calls to tell me that he is within three degrees connection from someone that got infected, so we postponed the meeting, but he planned to go ahead with hosting a house party for his wife’s birthday. I am embarrassed at my speechlessness that night, for the sense of powerlessness had already taken a grip of me. I could have been a messenger, instead I was just scared, battered, and feeling rejected and dismissed by people, the media, and our government for my strong views. I have always been a strong advocate for social justice and mental health, but my mental health was put to the test. Being repeatedly told “you do know YOU’RE not going to die from it, right?” enough times spiralled me in to depression. So I stopped talking.

Thus, as the virus settles in and the panic escalates, I realise that I must simply accept that it will have to reveal the ugly, though hopefully not primal, but completely human side of man, in order to serve a reminder that the only way to survive this as a species is through teamwork and collaboration. And that we need love — of the unconditional and non-economic variety — to fuel and supercharge the formula leading to our ultimate success. All the things that I have been curious about man are displayed right in front of me through a catalytic and fatal blend of evolutionary biology, psychology, society, culture, and spirituality. Humanity.

I realise now, that visiting Highgate Cemetery was part of an exercise in which I needed to temporarily lose faith in humanity to test my firmly held belief in the human potential, in order to regain my faith with an even greater strength and conviction than previously held. The difference between the fight against Communism and the fight against Coronavirus looks obvious now, in two ways. First, a Communist approach to tackling a pandemic is highly effective but totally authoritarian and abusive in its approach, with little regard for human rights. However, a Democratic approach to tackling a pandemic is too relaxed and places too much value on freedom, which then wastes precious time first fighting against the innate stubbornness of man to change for the better. The second, is that we are not fighting amongst ourselves for a political ideology, even a virus would end all wars, and perhaps even our very existence one day. A virus is one those rare things that makes it compulsory that we put our differences aside, in order to work together.

Those that follow religion will be renewing their faith, but there are also those that choose not to, many of whom will continue to work through the crisis with a combination of blind faith and a sense of duty or sacrifice. To put oneself at risk to an unknown enemy — that could mutate and permanently damage one’s organs — is no small ask. I was just about to start an exciting internship opportunity combining my love for art + science before this happened, instead, I have contacted my former employer in the food and drink industry to ask if there is any way I can support the effort on the front-line. I have evaluated the level of risk for myself and others and it is low: I am not vulnerable/immunocompromised, my family are all the way in Asia, I live alone with my brother, I have already self-quarantined to the greater extent for 14 days and unlikely to be infectious if I was, and I can drive to places to ensure social distancing. I do not consider this a selfless act or a call to arms, I am simply operating in alignment with my values. Everybody is now going indoors, so the streets are quieter and reduces transmission, and people are operating with a collective conscience.

It is in this moment, that I feel I am not powerless at all.

LIVID-19: Acknowledging my Mental Health during the Coronavirus.

[I originally shared this with the online community at Reddit at r/CoronavirusUK because I was feeling lonely and had nobody I felt like I could to talk to about my feelings]

I’m having a hard time dealing with this.

I am confused because I am not an expert, I don’t know which source to trust, so I have obsessively sought out facts, as if it were my job.

I am drained because I have watched the situation unfold, week after week.

I am scared because all the cases that first came to this country landed on my doorstep.

I am frustrated because Europe does not seem to be following the same actions as Asia and I don’t know if it’s an intentional strategy or not.

I am stressed because I have seen it coming but have not been getting information, updates, and a public response I needed to hear to be reassured.

I am angry at those that have displayed ignorance, lack of interest, even worse — were in denial or dismissive, thought/acted in a selfish way, and lacked humanity or compassion.

I am disappointed that apart from one friend, none of my close circle have asked after my parents, who reside in Asia (but it is not entirely their fault — I also blame the media).

I am worried that it may be a long time before I can be reunited with my parents again; they are old, and I want to be there for them but I can’t, and I know I should stay away from them since I’m in a country that seems to be letting it spiral out of control.

I felt isolated long before people started self-isolating.

I am anxious because I can’t even bring myself to go outside knowing how I feel.

If I can feel all this in the comfort of my own home, I can’t even begin to imagine how health workers have felt all this time waiting on the front lines.

I have felt many things, but I have not felt panicked at the thought of starvation, or myself dying from this.

The lack of certainty has not affected me much either, rather the lack of control over how others have behaved.

My First Experience of Meditation.

The most frequent piece of advice I’ve received this year is “you should take up meditation”. I struggled to grasp it; having tried and failed twice via a popular online app, but months later I learned it from the most unusual experience. It all...

The most frequent piece of advice I’ve received this year is “you should take up meditation”. I struggled to grasp it; having tried and failed twice via a popular online app, but months later I learned it from the most unusual experience. It all started off the back of a stressful week. I was so stressed that I went for two consecutive Indian Head massages. On the second visit, I picked up a leaflet for a “satsang” – a large spiritual gathering headed by a spiritual leader from India who is famous for her embracing hugs. I thought maybe I could see, feel, and hopefully experience some form of meditation. So a few days later on a whim, I went together with a supportive friend that was also interested. At the event we were thrown in to the deep end, we were each given spiritual water and found ourselves chanting, touching our heads and shoulders, and twirling around without truly catching what the English translator was saying. A baby knocked my water over and my friends got dirt in it. At the break we queued for masala dosas, a volunteer came by and advised us the wait would be 45 minutes long. We were hungry so we decided we would leave in search for dinner. Before we got out of the line, I said we wouldn’t get a hug from Amma. My friend said to me “I just need a hug” and I replied “Aw, well I’ll give you a hug” – I visualised the loving embrace Amma would have given. It was such a powerful hug that the lady behind us in the queue then questioned whether we were lining up for food or not. That was a proper hug. I couldn’t help but chuckle at what had just happened, and my friend said I’m a good hugger so I guess it worked! And so we left the event, in search for dinner elsewhere and just about managed to squeeze in a food order before close. Afterwards, my friend took me to a special park nearby. When we got there a Japanese garden appeared under the midnight moonlight. It was dark and chilly but eearily quiet and peaceful. All I could hear was the sound of the gushing waterfall feature right in front of me. It sent me in to a trance like state. We were silent. Moments later, my friend asked me how I felt. I responded with the words that came to mind “happy, peaceful, free”. My friend told me that was what meditation was. I was intrigued at the notion but remained curious. After a stressful week I was certainly feeling very relaxed, more so than the Indian Head massages. We lay on stone slabs running across the pond and stared up at the moving clouds in the sky. Being that we are in the heart of London, the sky was filled with moving dots of lights from the airplanes, not an unusual sight from my flat every evening, but looking up, we were amazed by the sheer number of moving dots that my friend wondered if they were stars. We talked about the meaning and importance of freedom and other dimensions of experience. Soon the clouds parted and the sky went black. I readjusted my focus and noticed the planes started hovering. I suddenly realised they were indeed, lots and lots of stars. I felt a childlike sense of wonder at the world. A night I will never forget. Two days later, back in my flat I was sat on my sofa in the morning, as usual stressing out about work and life in general. I looked out my window and told myself to focus all my concentration on the large block of flats across the river in the distance. Slowly I found myself entering a state of complete stillness, and I was no longer aware of any pains or aches in my body. I became increasingly aware of all my racing thoughts as they started to slow down. I also experienced a separation of my thoughts from my feelings. This seemed to allow my thoughts to flow freely with no psychological defence or constraint. I think a good 15 minutes passed. After I came out of it, I felt a renewed sense of inner peace and energy which got me through an otherwise stressful day. It was magical. I meditated.

A Vivid Memory: Creating a Compelling Brand Story.

“The clock struck and the shoot had come to an end. We spent the day dancing around the sun trying to catch just the right light. We shot under giant oak trees, through wild unkempt ferns, in the woods with the deers, around lakes, over grassy rabbit mounds. Finally, the warm orb in the sky waved us farewell and the clouds took over. A windy chill set in and I threw the picnic blanket around my shoulders to keep warm. ‘That’s a wrap, guys’ I said and we all collectively relaxed. With tired soles we used the last of our energy to pack up and haul our gear and props out of the park. ‘Quick!’ Nick exclaimed. I looked up and saw my brother running off through the woods with his stedicam and Shanna, our model chasing after him in her heels. The sun gave a final show and beamed through the trees, casting tall shadows. The light was perfect. She stood tall as a pin striped cape of sun and shadow cast behind her. In the distance he stumbled backwards in to a tree stump and she laughed. ‘You’re in the shot!’ he shouted as we scurried out of view. Looking back at the footage in the flat, we really captured the best shot of the day as well as an outtake of the crew doing their jobs. A job well done.”

I Wrote My First Ever Adult Poem on a Plane.

The mind when it rhymes… so I had a poetic moment last summer. I’m not one to write poetry usually, but the words just came to me whilst I was sat on a plane for 11 hours with no connection to the outside world. Travelling between two homes on opposite sides of the continent. The title is inspired by a song by my favourite musician of all time, Butch Walker.

Mind rhymes: a poetic moment last summer. I’m not one for poetry but the words just came to me whilst I was sat on a plane for 11 hours with no connection to the outside world. Travelling between two homes on opposite sides of the continent. The...