Coffeehouses aren’t for coffee

“The Ottoman coffeehouses brought together citizens across society for educational, social, and political activity as well as general information exchange. Before their introduction, the home, the mosque, and the shop were the primary sites of interpersonal interaction. Eventually, though, there existed one coffeehouse for every six or seven commercial shops. And by the end of the nineteenth century, there were nearly 2,500 coffeehouses in Istanbul alone” – source

People don’t go to the gym to exercise

People don’t go to bookstores to buy a book

People don’t go to the beach to swim in the ocean

People don’t go to concerts to listen to music

People don’t run marathons to get fit

People don’t hang out in coffee shops to get caffeinated

People don’t go to church, mosque or synagogue to worship

People don’t go to meditation retreats to meditate

Humans are social animals. We congregate in places because we crave face to face interactions and bodily contact. The world has made a choice to step into the equivalent of a medically induced coma. We are like a plant that lies dormant in the winter, waiting for spring. Humans aren’t meant to be inactive and alone. We thrive and grow when we interact during the messiness of everyday living. This time shall pass, and then we’ll get back to who we are as a species.

davor-denkovski--qt_TCQxFrw-unsplashPhoto by Davor Denkovski on Unsplash

The art of browsing and lingering

I popped out to the shops this evening to pick up some essentials. We are all meant to be about 2 meters apart at all times, so it was a bit awkward wandering around the shop. I’ve noticed that most people don’t make eye contact and quietly get down to the business of shopping. It’s like a smash-and-grab robbery, they get in and get out, no time is wasted, and there’s no small talk.

One of the things I miss most about pre-Covid-19 shopping is the act of browsing, lingering and lurking. It hit me when I was standing in an aisle deciding what to buy, and I noticed a woman pacing a few yards behind me. I realized she was waiting for me to leave before she could pick up want she wanted. I quickly moved aside to give her space, and she swooped in and picked up what she needed, just like a hungry seagull grabbing a french fry from someone’s plate.

I’m looking forward to some quality browsing and lurking again when the urgency of essential shopping is behind us. Things like:

Browsing the butchery and enjoying the look of all the different cuts of beef and poultry. Checking to see if the leg of lamb is from New Zealand or Sonoma County.

Taking a slow walk through the farmer’s market on a Sunday morning and sampling some juicy fruit and checking to see if the eggs are intact before I buy them. The fresh seafood displays with crabs, salmon, and scallops on ice are always worth a mouth-watering look.

Spending some time wandering through a dusty second-hand bookstore where there is a little table and chair at the back of the room inviting me to sit down and test drive a book or two.

Sitting at a sushi bar and listening to the banter from the sushi chef and a local barfly.

I’m looking forward to supporting small business owners in person again and sharing a quick chat and smile when we all get back out there.

alejandro-duarte-8dwYOzLPCtA-unsplashPhoto by Alejandro Duarte on Unsplash

It’s time to adjust the sails

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” -William Arthur Ward

Putting your head in the sand and complaining won’t make this virus go away. The virus is patient and will wait you out.

Blaming the country where it started won’t create a vaccine and help you go back in time.

Be a good citizen and listen to the experts. Ignoring doctors and medical guidance will endanger yourself and others.

Look after yourself, have a good cry, get angry, vent, and comfort others, but don’t panic and freeze like a deer in the headlights.

Make the necessary adjustments to your life and then get busy. The cure for anxiety is action.

austin-neill-hP7sUT7BaTY-unsplashPhoto by Austin Neill on Unsplash


I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley – 1849-1903

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

matt-artz-4KaY-etsnKc-unsplashPhoto by Matt Artz on Unsplash

Cytokine storms

“Sometimes,” Michael Kinch, from Washington University in St Louis explained to me, “the immune system gets so ramped up that it brings out all its defenses and fires all its missiles in what is known as a cytokine storm. That’s what kills you. Cytokine storms show up again and again in many pandemic diseases, but all in things like extreme allergic reactions to bee stings.” – The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson.

Closing borders, shutting down commerce, grounding airlines, and restricting physical contact during Covid-19 is a country’s equivalent of a cytokine storm. We need to do these things to save lives, but if the lockdown reaction is too prolonged and too severe, then the response to the virus might be what ends up killing us in the long run. Zero trade and zero commerce will lead to civil unrest, famine, and war.

I think helpers will appear in the coming months. These people will be immune to the virus because they have survived and developed antibodies. Serology tests would be ideal. These immune helpers could get issued digital tattoos that give them access to markets and commerce. Over time these helpers will grow in numbers and rekindle the economy while protecting the at-risk untouched population who are sheltering in place.

elizabeth-tsung-pYd6_Iw8TpM-unsplashPhoto by Elizabeth Tsung on Unsplash

Thank you for your service

I wonder if there will be public holidays to honor the teachers, medical professionals, food workers, Grocery clerks, cashiers, delivery drivers, and warehouse stockers. These are the people who are putting their lives on the line every day to keep us alive as we seek shelter in our homes.

I think in the future, we’ll hear phrases like “Thank you for your service” and “Thank you for your sacrifice” when learning that someone was a teacher, nurse, delivery driver during the pandemic.

People have short term memories, and I’m sure the sacrifices of 2020 will be forgotten. That’s why war memorials are erected, and special ceremonies are held. Heroes are commemorated every year so that people don’t forget and don’t repeat the same mistakes.

My school in South Africa has a gray stone war memorial that is full of engraved names of the boys who died in the First and Second World War. The war memorial guards a grassy quad where the school gathers every year for the November 11th Memorial Service.  

At the end of the service, the headmaster reads the famous and sad verse from Laurence Binyon’s The Fallen:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

Everyone then repeats the final line: We will remember them.

I hope we remember the essential service workers of Covid-19 2020. I hope we pay them more, I hope we look after their families, I hope we are kind to them when things get busy again.

One of the ways to honor them is to pay more for something because it’s made locally by people we trust and people we can rely on. We are in this mess because we outsourced our manufacturing and labor to the cheapest bidder without caring about whether we share the same values when the pressure is on. Now we know the real cost, and it’s a lot more expensive.

dan-smedley-K_P6uDekLKI-unsplashPhoto by Dan Smedley on Unsplash

Empty Sky

I took the boys for a walk this evening. We needed to burn off some energy after being cooped up the whole day.

Every evening at dusk I usually see the A380s and Dreamliners, fully laden with fuel and luggage slowly gaining altitude as they head out across the Pacific. The setting sun reflects off the tail-wing, so it was easy to spot the airline. Most of them are heading to the US for an overnight flight. I like to imagine all the passengers settling in for the long haul flight. The headphones and blankets are all wrapped in plastic. The seatbelt sign is on, so people are browsing in-flight entertainment, peering out the windows. The atmosphere in the cabin feels new, exciting, and full of hope.

I looked up this evening and realized that there were no planes in the sky. Not one. The international flights are grounded. Waiting just like us.

It’ll be good to see their glinting tail wings up there again.

chad-peltola-Rch8oP-O5sU-unsplashPhoto by Chad Peltola on Unsplash