52 things I was thankful for in 202011 minute read

This is a massive list of 52 things that I was thankful for in my newsletters of 2020.

  1. The man in the panic-buying supermarket who, after staring aghast at the empty shelves, turned to the shop assistant and beseeched him: ‘Do you not have any… pistachio oil?’
  2. The refugee in Turkey who emailed my mum, urgently asking whether our family were okay.
  3. The NHS and everyone who took part in the spine-riffling Clap For Carers. I really didn’t think Bournemouth would be much into it, but I could hear claps, cheers, whistles and whoops echoing all around town, from pier to pier, from neighbours near and far.
  4. Fossilisation. On Bournemouth beach (I spent a lot of time marching up and down Bournemouth beach) there is a tree fossil that is 140,000,000 years old. You can see the impression of the bark and the roots and run your hands over another epoch. Puts another twist on time.
  5. Viruses that infect other viruses. I don’t know why, but I find it comforting to know that obnoxious little snotrags like Coronavirus can themselves catch a virus. In fact, this is how all life began. We are nothing but an ecosystem of symbiotic relationships, including fungi, bacteria and, yes, viruses. You’ve heard of the human microbiome, and perhaps even the fact that there are more bacteria in our gut than stars in the galaxy, but now it’s time to learn about the human virome.
  6. Everyone who has had, is having, or will have a birthday during lockdown. This may well be the most contemplative anniversary you’ve celebrated yet. (24 June, thanks for asking — save the date.)
  7. The moon and sun. Hasn’t the moon been spectacular, keeping us company on the bright nights? One of my favourite sights this year was a spectral gibbous moon rising against a cobalt sky. The sun too has played its part, especially with the spring haze that gives soft focus to the horizon and draws the song of the birds closer. It’s like listening with headphones on.
  8. Portugal. In response to the coronavirus, Portugal has given refugees and asylum seekers full citizenship rights. Unfortunately, this liberation will last only until June 30, so rather than full marks perhaps it’s more like a B-. But still: this move shows how easily human lives can be loosed from their imaginary chains, with the merest stroke of a pen.
  9. Everyone who’s found their way up onto a rooftop. Give us a wave!
  10. Usama and Omar. Two kids who were stuck in their school accommodation in Bournemouth during lockdown, making the most of the extra English practice while they wait for flights back to Palestine. Except, of course, there are no airports in Palestine, so they’re waiting for flights back to Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt — or pretty much anywhere.
  11. The postal service, which made many of my days this year in both the sending and receiving of gifts Thank you, posties. (And special thanks to the cross-stitchers of this world.)
  12. Rain after a dry spell. Much as I enjoy the sunshine, full marks go to rain showers for making the trees happy.
  13. Over in Cholsey, full marks to my little tree, which sprung some flowers in spring.
  14. Paul Powlesland. The barrister rescued 1,000 oak saplings from a nursery that had to abandon their plans to plant 750,000 of the trees due to a change in government policy and our old friend the coronavirus.
  15. The Zoe Covid-19 symptom tracker app. Every day, along with a couple of million other people, I’ve been logging on to the Zoe Covid-19 symptom tracker. The data is fascinating and shows predictions of how the disease is progressing. Every week, the scientists behind the project give a public webinar to explain the science.
  16. Robigus, the Roman God of Wheat Leaf Rust, who could destroy a year’s harvest if displeased. As Salman Rushdie wrote: ‘Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.’ The moment of our conception, the arcane decision-making processes of university exam boards and, not least, governments, but also the diseases that gather on the periphery until the day they strike at our daily lives. The Romans went in for dog sacrifice, but I wonder what offerings we could make to the invisible powers that circle our lives?
  17. The NHS — but not (only) for the obvious reason. Twelve years ago an NHS GP told me that I wasn’t unfit, lazy and bored of life; she told me, rather, that I had an underactive thyroid. It was that NHS GP who first looked at my pathetic jumble of symptoms and recommended a blood test. An NHS phlebotomist took the sample. An NHS lab analysed the results. An NHS endocrinologist lost his trousers with excitement and diagnosed me. And NHS pharmacists have been packaging up prescription drugs for me ever since. Thank you for keeping me alive.
  18. Kimchi. Packed full of enough microorganisms to defeat an invading army, vegans may take my cheese, may take my yoghurt — but they will never take MY KIMCHI!
  19. I’m gonna say it: Zoom. Yeah, I know about the security flaws, but as well as hooking me up with pub quizzes galore, Zoom connected me with family flung out all over the world.
  20. Sensible World of Soccer… 2020. After listening to Quickly Kevin’s interview with game developer Jon Hare, I had to look up to see how teenage timesink Sensible World of Soccer was faring. I wasn’t expecting to find a vibrant community bringing the game, first published in 1994, into the twenties. I can reveal that SWOS is as much of a timesink as it was 26 years ago.
  21. Riding for speed. The long evenings mean I can do a full day’s work, a full afternoon’s reading and still have time for a sundown cycle, riding hard and fast to Sandbanks and back. Buzzing.
  22. My friend Alex King for making a film about conditions in Greek refugee camps under Covid-19.
  23. Thighs of Steel for making the best of a bad show. Instead of cycling from London to Athens, we cycled 2.5 times around the world and raised over £130,000 for Help Refugees. Epic!
  24. Down time. As sleep researcher Sara Mednick explains, an afternoon nap is as restorative as a full night’s sleep. She also proposes that, for our productivity and health, we should not only take every Wednesday afternoon off work, but also take unlimited holiday, ad libitum. I wonder what she thinks of our enforced furlough?
  25. Charities helping refugees beat tech inequality during lockdown. Can you imagine not having the internet right now? Staff and volunteers at Bristol Refugee Rights are calling up to a 100 elderly asylum seekers, single mothers, people with disabilities or mental health issues a week to provide wellbeing services and combat isolation. You can help fund their work.
  26. Better protection for cyclists and pedestrians. The UK government has promised us £2bn to help make cycling and walking—let’s be honest—safe. This includes £250m for emergency protection for cyclists and pedestrians while we still have to observe social distancing regulations.
  27. The Israeli billionaire trying to solve Gaza’s water crisis—say whaaaat?! According to this Times of Israel report, Michael Mirilashvili ‘hopes to deliver enough units to meet the Strip’s daily needs within a year’.
  28. Your second self. Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood introduced me to the concept of the ‘second self’, the notion that our habits are so powerful and so estranged from our executive function that they deserve equal acknowledgement alongside our autobiographical, conscious ‘I’ or ‘ego’.
  29. Khora. Huge shout out to everyone volunteering at Khora, helping deliver thousands of free meals to refugees and other vulnerable lockdowned humans in Athens and beyond—especially in 38 degree heat!
  30. The 2,500 council volunteers in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. I helped a man with a gammy leg in Westbourne who needed someone to top up his electricity meter and pop to the shops for him.
  31. The inventors of the bicycle. We’ll never quite know the names of all the inventors who’ve contributed to this near-miraculous feat of engineering, but I thank them all the same. Especially as a bizarre ankle injury meant I couldn’t run for a spell.
  32. Marcel Proust. In Proust’s own words: ‘In reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have experienced in himself. And the recognition by the reader in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its veracity.’ Quoted in How Proust Can Change You Life by Alain de Botton.
  33. Ness Labs, James Somers, John McPhee and, above all, the lexicographer Noah Webster for introducing me to ‘the right dictionary‘.
  34. Protestors. No one would choose the global outbreak of a deadly disease as the ideal moment for a mass civil rights movement, but Covid-19 has certainly brought our disastrous social inequalities to the surface. The effort to protect people from Covid-19 is an extraordinary global collaboration, mustering extraordinary financial, academic and political resources. But where is the extraordinary collaboration, financial, academic and political, to fundamentally change the way this unequal society operates? Is it coming?
  35. The bacteria in my kimchi. The only problem is that, while it takes at least two weeks to ferment one jar of kimchi, I can eat the contents in less than five days.
  36. Lakshmibhai Pathak. Founder of Patak’s—a brand of Indian-inspired cookery foodstuffs. Specifically, Patak’s manufacture an excellent chilli pickle that has been entertaining my tastebuds for the past few months. Pathak was a refugee from Kenya.
  37. Wyclef Jean. Fugees’ 1996 album The Score was the sound of David Charles realising, not only that some people had a very different experience of the world, but that they could put that experience into words and invite the rest of the world in. I never thought of this before, but the clue’s in the name, really: Wyclef Jean was a refugee from Haiti.
  38. M.I.A. Born in the UK to Tamil Sri Lankan refugees, I’ve got to include big thanks to M.I.A. here. Mainly for her song Borders.
  39. George Orwell and the #1984Symposium. On George’s birthday, as usual, Documentally hosted a leisurely picnic of ideas around Orwell’s gravestone. 25 June every year, Sutton Courtenay. Find us on Atlas Obscura.
  40. Mamihlapinatapai. According to Wikipedia, mamihlapinatapai is a Yaghan word meaning: ‘a look shared by two people who want to initiate something, but neither start’.
  41. Train station staff. After taking my first train in three months and arriving back to the chaos caused by the thousands of holiday-makers who swamped Bournemouth in the summer, I have a new respect for the workers who must deal with the consequences of our government’s, shall we say, leadership.
  42. Old Father Thames. There’s nothing like a river swim. I love the sea, but sometimes I crave the certainty of the river. While tranquil, still the river knows well its direction.
  43. Cows. Relaxing in a cradle of oak roots, reading my book as the sun fed through the leaves, a herd of curious cattle mowed the grass to my feet, where one adventurous soul decided to ruminate on my shoes.
  44. Gifts. It really is the thought that counts. Thanks everyone!
  45. The antischedule. I’ve been using pen and paper more often and my timer is lying in pieces on the desk—I think it knew its time was finally up.
  46. The English language. My current toilet reading is The English Language by David Crystal. Published in 2002, the book traces the history of English from ancient to modern. But contemporary language is volatile. While Crystal clearly relishes sharing the millennial vocabulary of new technology with his readers, when was the last time you called anyone a ‘cybersurfer’, ‘netizen’ or—my personal favourite—‘nethead’?
  47. Cycle lanes. Can we have some more please?
  48. The River Thames and navigation in general. In the summer, I spent a glorious couple of days on a widebeam, slowly cruising down the Thames from Laleham to Windsor. Most river vessels or canal craft, whether barge, narrowboat or widebeam, move scarce more swift than pedestrianism: the ponderous pace of my thoughts. ‘Canal mania’ and the golden age of riverine industrial navigation may have lasted less than a lifetime before surrendering to the locomotive, but its legacy was savoured in the soft drizzle.
  49. Big trees. Cruising along the banks of the Thames, I was constantly awed by the gigantism of the riverbank trees. Perhaps it was because our eyes were at duck level, perhaps it was the fertility of the water, but the sinuous ash, the weeping willow and the London plane loomed quite magnificently.
  50. What if this is happening, not to me, but for me?
  51. Playing Out is a great campaign led by parents who want their kids to be able to play safely out on the streets. Like in olden times. The idea is that communities club together to agree a block of time when they won’t drive on the roads.
  52. And of course, all the people who to everyone who hosted me on my cycle around the south coast of Britain – or simply made me smile.

One more thing…

If you liked this post, then you’ll almost certainly enjoy my newsletter. You can check out the most recent issue on Substack. See ya there - dc:

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David

David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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