'Swampy' branded 'reckless' for allowing his son, 16, to stay with him in makeshift tunnels

Rory Hooper, 16, (left) has joined his father Dan, better known as 'Swampy,' by staying in makeshift tunnels underneath Euston Square Gardens. Experts fear the tunnels are at risk of collapse.
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Amazon opens first cashless London no-tills grocery shop
Amazon is to open its first grocery store on the UK high street, with customers shopping without the need to queue at a till.
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Jim Crocket Jr dead aged 76: WWE, AEW and more mourn wrestling legend
Such sad news.
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EU vaccine rebellion: French and Germans unsatisfied with Covid jab rollout - poll
THE EU's slow vaccine rollout has sparked frustration from people in France and Germany, recent polls have suggested.
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England rally through Stokes and Bairstow after early collapse against India in fourth Test
England drop two seamers after disastrous third Test, but still carry baggage into final match of series
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Classical reviews: Granados and various artists
The cellist Alessio Pianelli’s debut CD is a tribute to his native Sicily, while the pianist Xiayin Wang explores works by Enrique Granados
The Independent | News | UK and Worldwide...
UN envoy: Myanmar army is 'surprised' at opposition to coup
The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar says the generals who have seized power in the Southeast Asian nation indicated they don’t fear renewed sanctions, though they are “very surprised” that their plans to restore military rule without much opposition isn’t working
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Escape To The Chateau's Dick Strawbridge reacts to worries about attic discovery
Dick Strawbridge has responded to Escape To The Chateau fans' concerns on after his wife Angel has a near miss in her attic treasury
Mirror Online: The intelligent tabloid....
Gillian Welch: ‘If you keep artists away from their art for too long, we start to go insane’
The Nashville singer-songwriter, who paved the way for Phoebe Bridgers, is up for a Grammy with an album recorded in lockdown. She talks to Leonie Cooper about making acoustic guitar cool and facing down tragedy with music
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Neville hints at imminent "big decision" on De Gea's Man Utd future
David de Gea is still the number one goalkeeper at Manchester United, but Dean Henderson's fine performances have put some serious pressure on the Spaniard this season
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Adrian Lam shares his thought process behind using the loan market
The Warriors could loan some of their younger members out for experience.
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South Korea’s first transgender soldier found dead after she is forced out of military
Byun Hee-soo launched a landmark legal battle against the military to challenge her dismissal
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Thousands of people 'receive wrong jab dosage' at mass vaccination site
People received too little of the Pfizer doses of the vaccine at a mass inoculation site California, US on Monday. Reports say about 4,300 people had given their jabs incorrectly
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Your morning briefing: What you should know for Thursday, March 4
Budget receives broad welcome from voters despite looming tax rises - opinion polls
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India spinner Axar Patel continues grip on England top order as Fourth Test gets underway
Lunch, day 1: England 74-3
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Prince Charles favourite meal laid bare by Royal chef – 'He was a foodie'
PRINCE Charles' favourite meal comes with a specific request from the heir to the throne himself, a former royal chef has said.
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Gary Neville's response when quizzed on Premier League's most underrated player
The topic of the Premier League's most overrated and underrated players is one that is always highly debated, and Man Utd legend Gary Neville has had his say on the biggest unsung hero
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The Sex Column: ‘Where has all the lust gone?’
'Sex feels so disappointing in comparison to what it was.'
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FTSE 100 set to fall as fears of interest rate rise stalk markets and Rishi Sunak tax hikes hit big companies
UK shares set to slip after bigger falls on Wall Street yesterday
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Bond hearing for man who killed ex-Saints star Will Smith
The man who fatally shot former NFL star Will Smith after a 2016 traffic collision is set for a bond hearing, now that his manslaughter conviction has been vacated
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Mum dies just months after giving birth to 'miracle' baby during cancer fight
Danielle Kelley, 30, and her partner Liam, 25, were told against all odds in March 2020 that she was pregnant, after undergoing months of chemotherapy for breast cancer
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With Biden's backing, Dems revive bill to overhaul policing
House Democrats rushed to pass the most ambitious effort in decades to overhaul policing
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House passes sweeping voting rights bill over GOP opposition
House Democrats approved sweeping voting and ethics legislation over unanimous Republican opposition, advancing to the Senate what would be the largest overhaul of the U.S. election law in at least a generation
The Independent | News | UK and Worldwide...
World Book Day: five simple costumes anyone can make, even in lockdown
Are you left scrambling for paints and glue-guns every year? Never fear – here are some options that Donna Ferguson and nine-year-old Flora put together in less than 30 minutesIt’s World Book Day in the UK and Ireland today, one many parents approach each year with a stomach-clenching sense of dread. I know, because I used to be one of them. I cannot sew, I am useless at craft and I am not the most organised parent in the world. Or even in our house.But my daughter Flora is nine, and I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. Armed with just four essential items – a professional face-paint kit, safety pins, a stash of coloured card and ribbons – I can throw together a World Book Day outfit in minutes, using the clothes in my daughter’s wardrobe. Here are five options using things most of us will already have in the house, and a good daytime activity that will cheer up those still remote-learning in the UK. Continue reading...
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Naomi Klein: how big tech helps India target climate activists
Companies such as Google and Facebook appear to be aiding and abetting a vicious government campaign against Indian environmental campaignersRepublished with permission from The InterceptThe bank of cameras camped outside Delhi’s sprawling Tihar jail was the sort of media frenzy you would expect to await a prime minister caught in an embezzlement scandal, or a Bollywood star caught in the wrong bed. Instead, the cameras were waiting for Disha Ravi, a nature-loving 22-year-old vegan climate activist who against all odds has found herself ensnared in an Orwellian legal saga that includes accusations of sedition, incitement and involvement in an international conspiracy whose elements include (but are not limited to): Indian farmers in revolt, the global pop star Rihanna, supposed plots against yoga and chai, Sikh separatism and Greta Thunberg.If you think that sounds far-fetched, well, so did the judge who released Ravi after nine days in jail under police interrogation. Judge Dharmender Rana was supposed to rule on whether Ravi, one of the founders of the Indian chapter of Fridays for Future, the youth climate group started by Thunberg, should continue to be denied bail. He ruled that there was no reason for bail to be denied, which cleared the way for Ravi’s return to her home in Bengaluru that night. Continue reading...
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Shopping is a whole new world now I have to wear a mask | Adrian Chiles
I’ve been snubbed in the DIY store and pampered in the pet shop. And for once it has nothing to do with my being on TVMasks have opened up a new world to me. Due to the amount of television work I used to do, my face remains pretty widely recognised. In terms of my retail experience this skews matters somewhat. If I’m being served nicely, I suspect it is because the sales assistant has clocked me, even if they didn’t say so. Conversely, if I’m treated less well, I assume it is because they have either not seen me on television, or have seen me and not much enjoyed the experience.Shopping, masked and anonymous, has therefore been quite a revelation. Obviously, with most shops closed, my research has been limited to supermarkets, pet shops, DIY stores and petrol stations. Incognito, I’ve been met with marked indifference, which is just fine. Not infrequently, this indifference seems to dip into disdain, but that might just be my imagination. Continue reading...
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Europe's unusually warm week breaks temperature records
Mild end to February saw Germany record sharpest temperature rise in a week, going from -23.8C to 18.1C Europe experienced well above normal temperatures last week, with the cold conditions at the start of February all but a distant memory. The mild and very dry conditions developed thanks to an extensive area of high pressure, combined with south to south-westerly winds from Morocco and Algeria. A number of all-time February temperature records were broken, most notably in Sweden where 16.8C was recorded in Kalmar on the 25th. On the same day, 22.1C was observed in Maków Podhalański, surpassing Poland’s record. Göttingen in Germany also recorded the country’s sharpest temperature rise in one week, with -23.8C on the 14th, and 18.1C recorded one week later. Continue reading...
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Florian Zeller on The Father: 'Anthony Hopkins took me in his arms. We knew the miracle had happened'
The French director and dramatist reveals how he pushed Hopkins into giving one of the most wrenching performances of his career in an unflinching dementia drama also starring Olivia ColmanWhen Florian Zeller set out to turn his harrowing hit play The Father into a film, he made a minor, talismanic tweak to the main character. André is an elderly man with dementia, who suspects his daughter of plotting to steal his flat. This meatiest of roles – which demands sudden waves of confusion, charm, rage, terror and sobbing helplessness – has been quite the awards magnet: Kenneth Cranham won an Olivier in 2016 for his performance in the London production, while Frank Langella took home the Tony in New York.Zeller had a dream actor in mind for the movie version so, as he embarked on the screenplay, he switched the character’s name from André to Anthony. “It was a way to make my unrealistic idea a bit more realistic,” says the 41-year-old, Molière award-winning French playwright, with the sheepishness of a grown man confessing to penning Anthony Hopkins fan fiction. Continue reading...
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The Great British Art Tour: Marie Laurencin’s Vase de Fleurs at the Royal Academy of Music
With public art collections closed we are bringing the art to you, exploring highlights from across the country in partnership with Art UK. Today’s pick: Marie Laurencin’s Vase de Fleurs at the Royal Academy of MusicThis ethereal canvas hangs in a teaching room at the Royal Academy of Music, where it vies for space with works by Chagall, Pissarro and Miró. Continue reading...
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'Families are struggling': Britons react to Rishi Sunak's 2021 budget
We ask people about what measures on furlough, universal credit, property and more will mean for themThe coronavirus crisis has hit household finances after Covid restrictions froze key parts of the British economy. Wednesday’s budget included measures designed to help first-time buyers and the self-employed, and news that a temporary increase in universal credit would be extended. We spoke to people about what it would mean for them and their families. Continue reading...
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This year's World Book Day set to be most popular ever
Books That Make You LOL hosted by rapper Kenny Baraka ‘liked’ by 112,000 young peopleOrganisers are predicting that Thursday’s World Book Day will be the biggest ever after a pre-event on Wednesday saw a record 20,000 children taking part online – more than 20 times more young people than attended a single event in previous years.Books That Make You LOL – which is still available to watch on demand and was hosted by the south London rapper and lyricist Kenny Baraka – was “liked” by 112,690 young people who were unable to engage in World Book Day’s traditional, annual attempt to spark children’s interest in reading by encouraging them to dress up in the costumes of their favourite book characters at school. Continue reading...
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Westminster warned as poll shows record backing for Welsh independence
Survey for ITV News Tonight reported ‘dramatic uplift’ with 40% backing independence and most support amongst young peopleA poll suggesting that backing for independence among Welsh citizens is at a record high should serve as a warning for the UK government and prompt it to work harder at its relationship with the devolved nations, supporters of the union have said.Just under 40% of Welsh people polled who expressed an opinion said they would vote for independence, citing feelings that their country has different social attitudes to the UK as a whole and unhappiness at Westminster’s response to the Covid pandemic. Continue reading...
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For Sri Lankan reporters, the ghosts of violence and intimidation loom again
The terror of earlier crackdowns taught me to write between the lines as a journalist – now I see repressive tactics returningTerror tore through me when I heard that my friend and editor of the Nation newspaper, Keith Noyahr, had been abducted. It was May 2008; the civil war was raging and Sri Lankan troops were chalking up victories against Tamil Tiger separatists in the north. In the fog of war, government critics were being terrorised all over the country. We had learned to expect the worst when a journalist went missing.Outside Noyahr’s home that night, through his six-year-old daughter’s screams, I heard phone calls pleading with diplomats and politicians to save Keith’s life. The journalist was released by his abductors shortly before dawn and staggered home, his head matted with blood, legs unsteady from continuous beatings. Continue reading...
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The Email Subject Lines That Will Help You Get A Job
What you write in your email subject line may be the first words a recruiter or potential colleague will read about you, and you want those words to get your email opened. You definitely don’t want them to be the reason your message ends up ignored. A winning email subject line will help get you the response you want.But Ashley Watkins, a job search coach with corporate recruiting experience, said she’s received CVs with no subject line or even no message in the email body, and she calls that a big mistake.“I have no reference as to what it is for, and a lot of times I didn’t open those emails because I don’t know if it’s spam,” she said. “I’m not going to click and download a document from a source I don’t trust, so you build that trust by letting the person know, ‘Hey, this is what this is in reference to.’”A job seeker could write something like, “Executive director seeking nonprofit leadership roles” in the email subject line, Watkins said. “That way, I know who they are and I know what they want. And then in the body of the email, they back up what they said in the subject line,” she added.Here are lines you should consider in common job-hunting situations.1. If you are making a specific ask, get right to the point in the subject lineWhen you are emailing to ask about job openings or to request an informational interview, lead with that ― and save conversational starters such as “How are you?” and “How is it going?” for the email body. With the subject line, “Your goal is to say, ‘Hey, this email is relevant to you, and you should click it and open it,’” said Josh Doody, a salary negotiation coach and former hiring manager.“People frequently try to get too cute with their email subject lines, and I think it’s much better, especially when it’s a transactional sort of thing, where you’re trying to say, ‘Hey, do you have any job openings?’ to be as direct and as explicit and as clear as possible,” Doody said.Doody said one way to write such a subject line is “Do you know of any good opportunities for a software developer?” This works, he said, because “you’re telling them exactly what is going on: ‘I’m looking for this kind of role.’ And you’re also giving them an explicit call to action by asking them a question in that subject line.” If the answer is no, they can ignore your email, but if it’s a yes, they can reply immediately.Your goal is give the recipient the simplest possible next steps, so if they can help you, they can do it with the minimum amount of effort, Doody said.2. If you’re emailing about a specific role, list it in the subject lineIf you are responding to a specific posting, you can email the recruiter with a subject line that includes your name and the job title, or your name and the job posting number given on the job listing.This may seem like a boring subject line, but it will make your email easily accessible to a recruiter: They can find your email by your name or by the position, Watkins said.“If you list something that has nothing to do with your name and the position, when that recruiter closes the email and wants to refer back to it, they have no idea what they’re looking for, because they don’t remember your name,” Watkins said.She also suggested keeping your subject line short, because you don’t want it to be cut off by an email platform.3. If you have a referral, lead with that as your subject lineMentioning a referral in your subject line is one of your best chances of getting that email opened, said Watkins. “Recruiters absolutely love referrals, especially referrals from high performers,” she said. “There is also that element of trust, because if I trust you, I’m going to trust your referral.”Watkins suggested leading with the referrer’s name in language like “Referral from [their name]” or “Referral from [their name], quick question.” This is because they’re probably going to remember and respect the referral’s name before they remember yours, Watkins said.Doody said he would mention the referral in the subject line with language such as “John Smith suggested I reach out to you about [job title] openings.”4. When you are networking with strangers, keep your subject line request in proportionWhen you are networking for a job with people with whom you don’t have a prior relationship, you don’t want to make big asks, like a referral or an informational interview that takes up an hour of their time.Your subject line should reflect the level of commitment you can ask of someone at this stage in the relationship.“If what I’m asking ultimately is for you to give me an informational interview, then what I would put in the subject line, is ‘Could I have a few minutes of your time?’ or ‘Quick question,’” Watkins said.Pro tip: Don’t start a new subject line for follow-up communicationsIf you are having an ongoing conversation with someone about a job, you don’t need a new email subject line titled “Following up.” In fact, if you write a new subject line, it will probably break the email thread and make it harder for the other person to follow your conversation, Doody said.“I would discourage against starting a new thread, because you’re probably giving that person a whole lot of homework if they’re a busy person. They may not remember all the details,” he said. Instead, stick to the original email thread and let the hiring manager or company contact direct you to new email threads as the hiring cycle moves along.“From your side, you’re trying to start a conversation, get something going. From their side, they’re managing essentially a prospect pipeline ... and you want to let them use their process and their system,” he said.Related...My Kids Refused Their Inheritance. Here’s How We’re Giving It All AwayThese Tips Will Help You Nail Adulting And Make Your Life EasierThese New 'Second Class Citizen' Stamps Send A Powerful Message
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How Uni Students Can Claim Covid Compensation
Studying at a university in the UK will set you back around £9,250 a year – and up to £39,475 for International students. These tuition fees don’t factor in other costs, like accommodation, living, travel, and studying materials. So it’s no surprise that, during the coronavirus pandemic, students haven’t been best pleased with how much they’re paying, considering many have switched to online teaching. Lectures have gone digital, and many hands-on practical components of people’s courses have been paused during lockdown. Anna Jones, 20, a Cardiff university student, says it’s been even trickier for those who aren’t able to work part-time. “Most students live off their loans, but many need jobs on top to keep themselves going,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Coronavirus has meant part-time work in pubs, cafés, shops and restaurants where students usually work are non-existent because they’re all closed, leaving students jobless and hopeless.”On top of her studies Jones is a self-employed nail technician, but the studio where she works has been closed. “We can’t go to work, can’t go to university, or even go to the student’s union for a drink to meet new friends, but we’re still expected to pay rent and full whack on tuition fees. Surely, this isn’t fair?”More than half a million people signed a petition to call for a reduction in tuition fees to £3,000 a year. But a spokesperson responded that the government “is not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000”.So, is it possible to claim back any money from the past year?In 2020, it was announced students could be awarded financial compensation for the lost teaching time and the University and College Union (UCU) strikes, as well as if they feel like they’re not receiving the quality teaching they expected. And recently, it was revealed one university was ordered to pay a student £5,000 in compensation for lost teaching time during England’s first lockdown. If you, or your child, falls into any of the criteria above, you may be entitled to compensation. Here’s what you need to know. How do I complain and claim compensation?The first step is to contact your institution, a tutor, or a student representative body to voice your concerns and questions. The sooner the better, so that they have time to look into your complaint, which can take up to a few weeks.Most universities will publish complaint procedures on their websites in sections about “regulations” or “procedures”. If you and a group of students complain together about the same thing, you may get a response quicker.If you haven’t heard back after a few weeks, remind them you’re waiting for a response. If there’s still nothing, get in touch with The Office of the Independent (OIA) who can step in to help. Read through OIA’s FAQs to see if the information, support, and advice applies to you. In some cases, your university will reply and not uphold the complaint. It should send you a “Completion of Procedures letter”, says the OIA, when it’s made its final decision. Once you have this letter, you can complain to the OIA. You need to fill in their form, and send them a copy of the letter. Complaints must be filed within a year and it’s advised to do this as soon as possible.“I’m in the process of applying for compensation,” says a law student from Goldsmiths University, who wishes to remain anonymous. “It’s a slow and painful process, but so many other fellow students have found this situation highly stressful. I’m fed up with how my university experience has been delivered. This is not what I paid for at all – can you blame students like us?”Felicity Mitchell, independent adjudicator from the OIA, says: “Where possible we try to reach a settlement and we are pleased that in many cases providers and students have been very open to this.”What can I complain about?It might seem obvious, but know the specifics of what you’re complaining about and have a clear, concise idea of your concerns. It’s worth narrowing down your complaint to brief points and use evidence to back up your claim.Some of the most common reasons for legitimate and successful complaints the OIA has received include accommodation where students aren’t able to live due to coronavirus restrictions, disruption caused by the pandemic, and missing practical experiences that play an important part in university courses.One MA international student had a significant practical element part of their course. Whilst the theory components of the course were delivered online the practical side could not be delivered, the university agreed to waive the final installment of the student’s tuition fees. You can view case summaries of people who have complained and whether they’ve been awarded compensation, to see if their experience matches yours.“Some students have complained to us about the cumulative effect of disruption caused by industrial action and the pandemic,” OIA said in their latest statement. “In those cases we have considered whether the provider did enough to make sure that the student was not academically disadvantaged by the disruption and could meet their learning outcomes, and whether the provider delivered something broadly equivalent to its usual arrangements.”What criteria does the university have to meet in order for me to claim compensation?Compensation and refund policies differ from university to university, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with their terms and conditions. Using London Southbank University’s guidelines as an example, you may be entitled to compensation in cases where:The university has failed to ensure you have met the learning outcomes of your programme of study;The failure of the university to effectively minimise the distress and inconvenience caused;The university not making an obligation to take sufficient steps to make up for students’ missed learning opportunities. In their FAQs, on the topic of tuition fees, the OIA states: “If your provider has offered you different but broadly equivalent teaching opportunities in a way that you could access, it is not likely that you will get a fee refund for that.“Your provider may do several things to try to ensure you are not disadvantaged because of the pandemic. They may be able to offer a different way to deliver the content from in-person teaching. Providers are also likely to take the pandemic into account when deciding how to carry out assessments. Providers may be able to rearrange some elements of learning, so that, for example, opportunities for in-person laboratory work that have been lost during 2020 can be put in place in 2021 or subsequently.“You might not be entitled to a financial remedy if the provider has been able to take steps to put things right another way.” What do I want as an outcome?If you’re serious about going ahead with a complaint, ask yourself: what do I actually want to get out of this process and what am I seeking? An apology for the distress? Tuition fee discount? Cash settlement?It’s important to consider this, as the process could turn out to be quite time-consuming. Put together some clear demands that you believe would compensate you fairly and be reasonable and justifiable – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Remember, even if you do go through with it there are no guarantees of the final outcome that could swing in your way, so be prepared for that.In a statement, Universities UK (UUK) said: “Universities have acknowledged the challenges caused by the pandemic, including the impact on those studying practical and practice-based subjects, and have continued to make extraordinary efforts to ensure no student has to put their education on hold.”The higher education representative group has spoken to the government on how they can best work with universities to support this year’s graduates as they enter a challenging labour market.“Universities are developing plans to support students to have the fullest possible experience when they return,” a spokesperson explains. “All universities are committed to providing a high quality and engaging educational experience for their students, while prioritising their physical and mental wellbeing, and have invested heavily in Covid-19 safety measures, enhanced digital learning platforms, and additional learning and wellbeing support.”Related...Opinion: Covid Derailed Young People’s Lives. Here's How We Get Them Back On TrackOpinion: Wondering How Uni Students Are Feeling? Like We've Been Thrown To The WolvesShould All Kids Wear Face Masks At School? The Pros And ConsUniversity Was Supposed To Be My Escape. The A-Level Algorithm Could Rob Me Of That
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It's Not Just You, We're All Feeling Mega Awkward Around People
“I like your hair!” a woman tells me as we sidestep each other in the street on my way home from the post office – an outing that doubles up as my dai;y sanctioned local exercise trip. “Oh! Um, yes! Wow! Cool! Okay!” I reply, not knowing how to take the compliment and forgetting I have two strips of pink hair framing my face (dyed when I was bored during lockdown one). The woman gives me a puzzled look and walks off. That was a few weeks ago now. I haven’t left the house in eight days. Each morning, I log on to Google Hangouts with my colleagues, as I’ve done five days a week for nearly a year. After work, I FaceTime my mum’s ear – she can’t hear me properly and doesn’t realise she’s still on video. At weekends, I have a beer and join a murder-mystery-Zoom-birthday-party with a mix of friends and friends of friends. That’s a social invite I wouldn’t have received pre-pandemic. Is it any surprise I’m awkward as hell on my few occasions out in the wild?Small talk and strangers make me uncomfortable at the best of times, and Covid times aren’t those. It’s not that I don’t like socialising. I love being out, in a group. But groups aren’t a thing right now. And even when it comes to friends I’ve known for years but haven’t seen in a long time – cheers, Corona!– I’m nervous and unsure what to do with myself or say to them.The pandemic and its ever-shifting rules and restrictions have changed our social structures and stripped us of even the most everyday exchanges. Whether it’s missing those non-verbal gestures or the very real absence of physical proximity and touch, we’ve become accustomed to a feeling of social awkwardness. Navigating basic interactions online or off can feel like a quagmire. And I’m hearing similar from introverts and extroverts alike.Could it be possible that social distancing has made us forget how to interact? Has a year of isolation eroded our social skills down to a point of no return?Blaming the techFour voices are speaking over each other. It’s impossible to understand or get a word in. Someone’s screen has frozen during a key part of the conversation and no-one can hear me. Oh wait, that’s because I’ve forgotten I’m still on mute.Video calls are terrible. I hate them. They’re exhausting and uncomfortable and ever multiplying. And after a year of looking at small pixellated faces in squares – our own and other people’s – they’ve made us more self-critical than ever. As psychotherapist Kelly Hearn, co-founder of the Examined Life therapy collective, explains: “Having to stare at each other face-to-face for every encounter rather than being able to take in the entire scene, we are left without the myriad gestures and non-verbal cues which means our brains have to work harder to try and read a situation and with relatively less information.” And that’s the external bit. “There is also the constant ‘mirror’ of a tiny ‘self-view’ window vying for our (critical) attention,” she adds. “The whole process, repeatedly, has been pretty emotionally draining, so it’s no wonder some of us are feeling an element of social anxiety now more than previously.”As time has gone on, the novelty of video calling has also worn off. A weariness and heaviness has set in and our inclination is often to retreat – which is more likely to impact our social calls (optional) than our work ones (not so much).“Zoom fatigue means we are recoiling from yet more time online,” says Hearn. “We’re left not feeling especially connected to friends and uneasy about what this means for relationships moving forward.”Ultimately, she suggests, “it’s this lack of connection and uncertainty that makes interaction awkward, as we fear the worst and judge our attempts.” The lost art of small talkI used to think exchanging pleasantries was a time waster, a tactic I used to fill awkward silences when I didn’t know what else to say. But, as it turns out, I miss small talk, we all miss small talk – the chance to chat mindlessly about random things, and flex our social muscles. To interact, not just transact.It’s reached the point where I’ve not only forgotten how to respond appropriately to someone I don’t know (as with the hair compliment), I’m overthinking even the smallest facial movement on a Zoom call. How on earth did I used to smile and casually talk at work events and parties with ease?  We may feel we’ve lost that in-person spark somewhere along the way, but all is not lost, says life coach and author Ruth Kudzi. The first step, she advises, is to recognise that social anxiety lives inside all of our minds rent-free. That awkwardness has the potential to impact our confidence, relationships or everyday activities, from parties and social gatherings to busy workspaces and meetings. These days, it can even make going for a walk a tall order.“Pre-pandemic, many had put coping mechanisms in place and often day-to-day living and what is called ‘exposure therapy’ would help alleviate some worries and fears,” Kudzi explains. “However, during lockdown those who suffer social anxiety are not gathering experiences that disprove these worries and fears. We’ve also had time to dwell and over worry about the future, meaning that socialising, reconnecting, and getting back into the world is overwhelming and feels harder than ever before.”In short, it’s made us all feel like awkward teenagers again – consumed by newly troubled thoughts of going out and managing in group situations.As one usually extroverted colleague told me after a socially-distanced meet up in the summer with work friends: “I came away cringing at myself, undecided whether I’d said too little or too much, and worrying whatever I had said was unbelievably uncool or off-key – like I was back in school or something.”“We need to be kind to our inner awkward teenagers; we went through enough back then!” Hearn responds, adding that as adults, we can “depersonalise the awkwardness” and appreciate that everyone has struggled in some way over the past year. “We’re all a little nervous about re-finding our socialising feet,” she says. “We no longer need to put on a ‘cool kid’ facade and can instead speak more truthfully about how we’re feeling – awkwardness and all.”The best way to get over the discomfort is by addressing it – it can be enough to neutralise any pressure or pretence. “Breaking the ice allows others to share their own awkwardness,” says Hearn. “Humans connect in our vulnerability.”Getting back out thereHearn’s main advice for reclaiming our social lives is to “keep our intentions simple but sweet”. A good place to start, she says, is “reminding ourselves of freedoms lost over the last year: the pleasure of the other’s face not obscured by a screen, the ability to enjoy a hot beverage or meal prepared by someone else, the sound of laughter and the warmth of the spring sun.”Self-confessed introvert Sarah Shuttle, 33, a Berkshire-based brand stylist, initially felt relief during lockdown at not feeling obligated to socialise in situations she didn’t enjoy – but she says she is surprised how much the pandemic has made her miss in-person interactions.“It’s made me appreciate the way they enrich my life,” she admits. “I took for granted that I would always have the opportunity to socialise in real life, and now I’ve seen what it’s like without that choice.”As lockdown lifts and life gets going again, Shuttle won’t be diving headfirst into socialising just because she can. Instead, she says she is planning a gradual reintroduction – ie. as restrictions ease up, she’ll ease herself in. “I am a little anxious about socialising because it feels exposing,” she admits the start of the end of lockdown. “The less I go out, the less I want to go out. So, despite my appreciation for the freedom it will bring, there is a heightened anxiety. I definitely won’t be alone in that though!”And she’s right. It’s understandable to feel awkward post-lockdown, even with our close friends or everyday colleagues. We’ve been robbed of normal social interaction for the best part of a year. But while taking baby steps in our social lives might feel weird or uncomfortable, soon enough we’ll bounce back.“I’ll start slowly and with people I know well,” says Shuttle, who has no plans to go clubbing come June 21, for example, but might show her face at a pub. “I know any awkwardness won’t last forever, I need to allow myself to feel it and realise that it won’t kill me – there are worse things.”Covid-19 is more than a news story – it has changed every aspect of life in the UK. We are following how Britain is experiencing this crisis, the different stages of collective emotion, reaction and resilience. You can tell us how you are feeling and find further advice and resources here.Related...It's Normal To Want More And Less Lockdown At The Same TimeWhat A Year Of Staring At Our Own Faces On Zoom Has Done To Us'There Isn't Enough Air In The Room': What Social Anxiety Feels LikeHow To Rekindle A Friendship When You Haven’t Spoken In A Long Time19 Little But Life-Changing Things We'll Actually Be Able To Do This YearFinally, Here's When You Can (Probably) Have Casual Sex Again
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