Alton towers and social distancing?

On Sunday I went to Alton Towers as the park was open from 10am – 8pm (this is normal hours in Europe for most theme parks). Part of me wishes I didn’t bother, but as the UK is on the brink of another national lockdown I decided to drive there and back. Its not the first time I’ve done it and this time at least it wasn’t pouring with rain.

As I drove in to the car park I could see the huge long queue to enter with social distancing. I think the monorail was closed because of social distancing too. After 40mins, a bag check, temperature gun check and a check of my eticket I was in.

First stop the Smiler. This is when I spotted the sign about single riders. There will be no single rider queue due to social distancing guidelines join the main queue. I knew then it was going to suck…

Social distance markers in Alton Towers

Standing in the queue, which was extended up and around the top ridge of the Smiler compound. You could see markers on the ground of where you are meant to stand. Problem is most people were not standing on them no matter how much Alton Towers staff shout over the loud speaker system. Heck they even called out a few people and it made no noticeable difference.

One of the biggest problem with the Smiler queue is it exists underneath the ride structure and its setup to be like a maze for mice. Of course this isn’t good for social distancing at all. You could see there were obvious gaps to allow distance between the fences but people just took it as they were 2 meters from the people in front and back and that was enough.

The Smiler queuing system

I got on the ride twice and I’ll be honest twice I had to glare at the people following me to back off. I really should have worn my mask, which you only need to wear when entering the station. I honestly didn’t feel that safe while queuing. Of course all this queuing means you are in close contact with people for a long time. A hour each time for the Smiler.

The Smiler train has 4 rows of 4 seats (16 riders), I shared a row with a couple the first time (there was a seat between us) then had a whole row to myself the second time. You can easily see why queues were so long.

With two rides I looked around and saw the horribly long lines for food so decided to head over to Nemesis and Galactica (I didn’t bother going to Rita or 13). The queue for the cable cart was 60mins (Imagine it would be 1 household per cart), so I walked over. Nemesis had a queue time of 55mins and they had opened the line up to include the extended line right up in the field, last time I been up there was back in 1999! Usually Nemesis’ queue is no more than 5-10mins. The bunch of men/lads/idiots behind me stood within 0.5-1 meter. I did tell them to back off and they made stupid faces and silly noises. I couldn’t be bothered so popped my headphones on, pretty much ignored them. On the ride I had a whole row to myself again. No wonder it was such a long wait. For all that waiting, Galactica was only 30mins wait which isn’t that far off the last time I was in Alton Towers. I did share the row with another couple like the Smiler.

The killer for me was Wicker man which I have never been on and finally got the chance but there was one hell of a time cost. Almost 2 hours of queuing in to be fair a socially distance observing line. The line was moving so slowly, most people had given up standing and were sitting around. It was dire, make no mistake. After listening to 2 hours of the Guilty Feminist’s audiobook I finally got on the ride and it was clear why things were so slow. Each row had 2 seats and they were seating every other row. Meaning a maximum of 12 riders per turn, not the usual 24.

By the time I got my ride on Wicker man I decided I was fed-up and close enough to the entrance to drive home before the sunset and I didn’t fancy  driving at night through country lanes.

I’ll be frank Alton Towers is a horrible place to be during a pandemic, I felt a lot safer going to Blackpool Pleasure beach. The staff seemed a lot more knowledgeable, gels (for example there was no gel in the line for the smiler over 2 hours) and cleaning was a lot more visible.

I’m not the only one who had worries about Alton Towers.

Maybe I’ll revisit next year out of season…

#56blackmen in the age of #covid19?

Me in my mask

I remember when I first saw the 56 black men project, its impressive and well thought out. But with the recent (not soon enough) governmental push to get all UK citizens to wear masks in public indoor spaces.

I was thinking maybe its time to rerun 56 black men but using face masks? The reaction I received to my Bain mask during Blackpool was interesting to see.

Ian or Bane

Its also a shame I missed this call out a while ago.

https://twitter.com/56BlackMen/status/1269360379693608961

John Ashton on Boris Johnson’s sick responsibility

This is quite a powerful monologue by John Ashton as part of Double down news’s great coverage. He’s right all that good will during the lockdown is going to be massively tested as the furlough scheme comes to an end in October, a second wave for winter (although we haven’t finished the first one honestly) and the aim to get us all out is fine but eating junk food is almost laughable.

This government is a sick joke and John Ashton is right, the messages are mixed, muddled and deadly!

Time to talk about Covid 19 and ethnic minorities…

A Face protection

There has been a quite a bit said about the fact ethnic minorities are more likely to catch and die of Covid19. The UK office of national statistics recently released a study which was quite shocking and hard to read.  Its a harsh reminder this virus was never a equalizer and as BBC newsnight said, shows the widening divisions.

t discovered that after taking into account age, measures of self-reported health and disability and other socio-demographic characteristics, black people were still almost twice as likely as white people to die a Covid-19-related death.

Bangladeshi and Pakistani males were 1.8 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white males, after other pre-existing factors had been accounted for, and females from those ethnic groups were 1.6 times more likely to die from the virus than their white counterparts.

Personally I am taking a lot of sustainable steps to stay safe. I say sustainable because unlike some people who think we are going to revert back to the old normal, I know this isn’t going to happen. Without going into too much depth about PPE, contact tracing and an actual vaccine. If you want that, its worth listening to the Manchester futurists podcast which is going up in the next few days.

I’m washing my hands with liquid soap pretty much all the times, not touching my face (I know its really really hard but not impossible and I have managed it but don’t have long hair and have a deep routed thing about dirty hands) and I’m disinfecting everything I have touched and brought back into the house including my headphones, smartphone, pebble watch, keys, etc… However I am not using alcohol hand sanitizer, unless essential because it makes my hands so bloody dry I hate it!

Even before the recent theories about Vitamin D, I have been taking Vit D as its generally good practice for darker skinned people living in northern hemispheres.

I’m very conscious I am at higher risk being a black male, having a survived a bleed on the brain, asthmatic and all with high blood pressure. But I am however very fortunate to have a career which means I can work from home while living in a city centre where I can go out and get exercise and food. I’m not socio-economic disadvantaged thats something which I have going for myself. I have been getting Tesco delivery again (maybe once every 4-6 weeks again). Been avoiding the large supermarkets and going to local high street shops, Booths and M&S food market (This is certainly not true of a lot of people!). I do pop into Aldi but am always aware people are much less likely to social distance unfortunately. Especially around the fruit and veg isle.

There was a decision made not to wear a mask, when the one I ordered for the holiday to South Korea and Japan never came (according to Amazon its still on its way – 4 months later). Me and my partner decided we didn’t want to be the westerners not wearing a mask, when we still felt we could go. But for me personally I decided there was more risk in having a mask than not when out and about in Manchester. I expect there will be places in the future where I will have to wear face protection/mask to enter, and thats fine (maybe my mask might actually arrive) but till then taking the mask on and off is just much more risk than not touching my face at all. I’m also very conscious about not coughing, sneezing, etc in and around people.

Whats happening is no joke and clearly points to the horrible inequality. I’m very fortunate to be born in a country which (at least currently) has a national health care system.

But there are clear problems/differences and the people with the power to change the fate of millions are doing little about it! Some would say it could be to the benefit to certain governments even?

Films and TV for the lockdown or films you may have missed in late 2019/early 2020

Uncorked

Someone recently said to me, there can’t be that much films since all the film studios are shut due to Covid19? There will be a delay but people forget how much media is made everyday (no idea where the hours of youtube videos per hour is now).

Anyhow there’s a lot of media to watch and here’s a few noteworthy ones

Films

The assistant

Empathy, Inc

Quite indie sci-fi shot in black and white, its a interesting  pretense which plays out to a surprising  ending. Well worth seeking out.

Vanilla

Romantic comedy as such but with a edge, quite fun and charming.

The half of it

Another romantic drama/comedy which although not as edgy as Vanilla, still has something different to bring to your mind. The end church scene is some divine intervention.

The Rhythm Section

I quite like these films like Anna, La Femme Nikita, etc and this one is well told and executed well.

She never died

Never really a horror fan but I like this indie horror/thriller which has a great feel to it. The film feels like Black Mirror’s Metalhead crossed with Jessica Jones.

Official secrets

My friend recommended this one to me and its quite something. Always love these court room battles but know this is very true is just insane. No wonder there was such a worry about the UK – American relation.

Just mercy

Like official secrets, court room battles around real cases is always compelling. Just mercy touches so many emotional levels and does it without actually tugging on them.

The assistant

Slow and calculated film timed perfectly around the movement. What I find interesting is to see the everyday attempts by women to stop harassment knocked back in subtitle ways.  This won’t be a surprise for most women and any minority of course.

The platform

Most people have heard of this one and its actually quite a interesting take on the nature of human and kindness. Well worth watching a couple of times once you get over the shock value it provides.

Uncorked

I liked this one because of the relationship with the father. It could have easily been a whole film about prejudice but its so much more.

Dark waters

This one dropped under the radar but it very apt as we all discuss the importance of human values in our capitalist society. Is the money worth peoples lives?

The good liar

Such a smart and compelling story. I can’t say anything more about it than just find it and watch it. You won’t be disappointed if you like thriller dramas.

The coldest game

Good fun drama around around a chess game during the cold war. The tension and cinematography are great  and well worth your attention.

TV series

Gangs of London

Devs

I mentioned here already. Fantastic TV series by Alex Garland (the creator of Annihilation, Ex Machina and other great films. Stunning to watch and lots of deep routed theories.

Gangs of London

I was tipped off to this currently running TV series by a friend. I usually find some of the UK production lack the levels of realistic violence (sounds weird saying that) but I’m impressed with this TV series as it has the right balance of standout moments, character development and narrative.

The last dance

A documentary about Air Jordon? You got me! Annoying ESPN have spun it out over 10 episodes.

Watchmen

If you haven’t seen the Watchmen TV series, I highly recommend this to all, especially those who are fans of the original comic and film. I won’t spoil this TV series but its as deep and meaningful as the film and comic book.

10th Anniversary of #mybrushwithdeath

I honestly can’t really believe its 10 years since my brush with death.

Its been a long time and something I will never ever forget, 10 years ago after the general election of 2010. Will never forget how different the world was after I woke up in hospital and someone (pretty sure it was my sister) told me the liberal democrats have gone into collation with the conservatives.

5 years ago I did a catch up of what happened 10 years ago.

Even closer to the time, I wrote a reflective blog with thank you posts (part 1) (part 2)

I still have the cards and plan to put them up again, so look out for them if you happen to be on a zoom with me.

As we are still in lockdown due to Covid-19, there won’t be a party. To be fair last years 3 birthday celebration was pretty epic. But I do have plans for a zoom call or something later in the month. Look out for the invite…

The secret episode of Seinfeld in the age of Covid-19

I mentioned how weird it is seeing films with lots of touching and no social distancing.

Someone decided to pull together a bunch of Seinfeld into a Covid-19 special.

How would Seinfeld look like in a world taken over by the coronavirus? Well, Jerry would probably disinfect everything. Kramer would try to find his own cure. George would think he’s dying all the time. Elaine would try to take everyone in her path. Lucky for us, there’s a secret episode that was never finished to find out!

Illegal zoom bombing is out of control

Zoombombing

This is part of the endless story of zoom, a story which is true as it happened to me and about 100+ other people.

The open rights group run an event every Friday afternoon related data privacy and ethics. Its been hosted on zoom for the last few weeks and the guests have been good. When I heard Lilian Edwards and Rachel Coldicutt were going to talk about a possible way forward for the debate around covid-19 contact tracing. I was onboard to watch again.

It centers around this proposed legal document which Lilian spearheaded with Rachel and others.

The Coronavirus (Safeguards) Bill 2020: Proposed protections for digital interventions and in relation to immunity certificates

I highly recommend you have a read…especially since some promises seem to be broken.

Back to the incident on the zoom call…

I joined a bit late but setup my chromebook casting to my TV via the chromecast. Settled in to watch while working on my Dell XPS laptop. As Lilian finished her presentation, someone drew a cock and balls on top of her final slide. Lilian laughed it off while the hosts the open rights group went about blocking, booting and changing the permissions of the zoom call.

As things moved forward, someone was attempting to draw a swastika on the video. Someone was using the zoom overlay feature or something but it was removed before it was fully drawn. It was about then when we moved to Rachel and before she could really get going someone hijacked the video and showed child abuse/porn. It was shocking and I couldn’t believe it. I looked at the chat room and people were equally upset. It lasted about 10-15 secs but it was just vile/horrible.

Someone pleaded that the hosts take control, and they replied they are ending the whole thing now. Then it was all gone. The lasting effect was felt and although I felt truly shaken by what I had seen, I also knew I had to reach out to others.

Since then, I called my partner for support, line manager to report what happened and check he wasn’t on the call too. I also wanted to check other BBC staff wasn’t on the call I knew. I had previously shared the link around our internal slack and with others interested in contact tracing. I’m lucky the BBC has a employee assistance programme, where I was able to talk to a trained professional who suggested I might feel some comfort in blogging about it (hence this blog)

I noticed while blogging, theres a twitter thread about the whole thing now. No ones blaming the openrightsgroup but this guide written by Michael J. Oghia. But there is a good list of all the things to lock down and change on zoom for anyone before it happens again. Its likely the people behind this illegal act were going zoom to zoom.

I recently noticed that a few organisations are using youtube for broadcasts and discussions, with another system for feedback and questions. It certainly cuts down on abuse compared to zoom and you can easily share the public link out. The idea of switching to jitsu or skype may not necessarily help solve this type of problem. But changing the way its done completely could.

18th April 2020 – 1am

I got a email from the Open Rights Group…

This afternoon an unknown actor severely disrupted our public online discussion about Covid-19 and we were forced to immediately end the call.

We were horrified by what occurred and would like to apologise for having exposed viewers to such horrific imagery. We are deeply sorry that this occurred on ORG’s watch.

If you would like to speak with us directly I am personally available to speak to anyone and everyone that was on the call.

We have reported the incident to the Police and are taking necessary steps to secure our systems. We will be reviewing the way we conduct meetings to ensure this is never possible again.

If you would like to speak to a counselling or advice service, the Police recommend contacting Samaritans. They accept calls from anyone on any emotional issue at this number 116 123.

Sincere apologies.
Jim
_______________

Jim Killock
Executive Director
Open Rights Group

How capitalism is supposed to work?

Thanks to Herb for sending me this clip from CNBC. The news anchor literally can’t believe what Chamath is saying. But there is so much sense in what he saying.  You can feel the old world thinking (pre-Covid19) talking out of the news anchor’s mouth.

Ironically if you put aside the new normal, big companies being bought by others is the way capitalism works. Its super clear capitalism has been warped to such an extent in favor of the 1% of billionaires.

So much for the American dream.

Learning diabolo tricks during the Covid-19 lockdown in Manchester

One of the things I have been doing while in lockdown from the Covid-19 virus, is learning new tricks on the Diabolo. I’m lucky enough to have a nice large shared garden and green spaces around me. So in between working, walking, etc. I’ve been getting better at the Diabolo.

I decided to make use of my GoPro camera and throw together a number of tricks together with some music (Hit The Decks Volume 2 (htd2 A2) Nightfall at the edge of chaos (bonus mix)).

Here are the tricks with difficulty rating

  1. High throw (2x) – Easy
  2. Around the foot – Easy
  3. Over arm rubber arm to stick grind to whip catch – Tricky
  4. Over arm rubber arm to stick grinds to whip catch (3x angles) – Difficult
  5. Vertex – Very difficult
  6. Suicide – Tricky
  7. Stick grind to finger grind to whip catch – Tricky
  8. Duicide (2x) – Difficult
  9. Stick grind to finger grind to big whip catch (2x) – Tricky
  10. Handy grind drop to whip – Difficult

How Manchester’s Northern quarter on lock down looks

Believe these days will pass

I have been staying at home for the last 3-4 weeks but every 3-4 days I go shopping for fresh food. It also makes good exercise walking around. and decided as its my birthday soon, to get a very nice steak from the Northern Quarter butchers.

On the way back I had a wonder through the northern quarter and take some pictures of the usually busy streets in Manchester. Of course I’m not the first to do this… but with my social distancing of over 2 meters from others. I shot some quick pictures on my walk back.

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The public messages instead of adverts were interesting too because frankly advertising has falling through the floor. Nice culture jamming works.

Be kind lets look out for one another

What to do on a birthday during a lockdown?

Me with birthday ballons

I was lucky to have my big 40th birthday last year, I still have the cards up funny enough. I know others who had their 40th birthday in doors.

But one year later under Covid19 lockdown, I’m considering my options. My partner suggested a mass video call which I could cast to my TV. I could buy one of those going cheap cakes or get a nice takeaway from somewhere special. Also been thinking about ordering a very nice steak from the northern quarter butchers and having that with some lovely eggs. Talking of the northern quarter, I would pay some serious money to sit in a coffee shop right now. I’m not the only one…

Talking of coffee, I finally caved in and started having coffee at home after a nice Airbnb left me a bag a while back. Just in the mornings before work.

And the last leap Airbnb, made me a superhost again?!

Airbnb superhost

So weird, because no one is going anywhere right now. I don’t think I could accept anyone if they did actually book my spare room anyway. Maybe I should block out my calendar but theres little point right now.

Anyway back to the point, what to do on my birthday in lockdown.

I’m open to suggestions…?

Living in the age of Covid-19?

My partner asked me how I was doing on the phone. She remarked how I was managing with the changes well and I mentioned a quote I heard recently.

I won’t/can’t take credit but it speaks volume about right now… The quote came from the head of R&D which he was reminded of via the chief scientist.

“Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Be safe and stay connected…