The Distance Project

Getting the Needle

Social Distancing Project 236

Distance Project 32

On Monday I cycled the short distance from my house to the Open University campus, for my second Covid jab, another dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

My first dose had been at Saxon Court in Central Milton Keynes, where I was not allowed to take photos. This time at the OU’s Michael Young building, the paramedic who injected me and the two guides out on the road were happy to help.

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The Flag of Tibet

Tibet flag raising day

The Monday Photo

Tibetans are not allowed to raise their flag in their own country, Tibet being occupied by Communist China.

But once a year the flag is flown in Milton Keynes, and this year, as before, it was raised in the garden of the Buddhist temple at North Willen lake.

Usually 70-100 people attend the event but because of Covid this wasn’t possible. Only six people could be in the temple, and only six runners could take a flag each around the lake. This man was one of them.

The Tibetan flag is full of symbolism. The six red bands on a dark blue sky are for the six original tribes of Tibet, and a pair of fearless snow lions represent Tibet’s unified spiritual and secular life. The lions stand on a great snowy mountain, the great nation of Tibet. Between them they hold two jewels; symbols of reverence to Buddhist principals.

At the peak of the mountain is the sun, shining over all. The yellow border represents the spreading teachings of the Buddha. The flag was designed by the previous Dalai Llama, the 13th, in 1916.

The ceremony took place on Sunday 16th May, the day before the social distancing rules were eased. I don’t know yet how the relaxed rules have now changed for religious events.

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Talking to Strangers

Social Distancing Project 230

 

The Distance Project 31

I went to my regular pub on Monday, the Fox and Hounds in Stony Stratford. I haven’t been in this pub for over a year. It’s been closed; I think you know why.

Not sure what to expect, I turned up, ordered a pint and the barman brought it to my table, along with the card payment machine.

I didn’t have to wear a mask while drinking, but the barman and landlord both wore masks.

It’s been so long since I’ve been in the Fox that I couldn’t remember what I used to drink, but the off duty barmaid sitting at a table in one of these photos recognised me instantly, remembered what I drank (pint of Tribute) and which night I usually came in (Friday).

I was impressed.

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Buddha’s Lockdown Birthday

Social Distancing Project 229

The Monday Photo

You may not have seen this room before. It’s the main shrine room of the Buddhist temple at Willen in Milton Keynes. The monks and nuns of the temple look after the Peace Pagoda and hold their ceremonies there.

Yesterday I was there for a celebration of the birth of the Buddha. The legend tells us that he was born in a park, when all the trees were in bloom, so the day is marked by the Flower Festival.

‘Buddha’ means ‘Enlightened One’. Underneath that mass of flowers close to the camera is a statue of the Buddha as a baby. Four slender columns support the flowers. Of course, this year lockdown restrictions meant only a few worshippers could attend this very minimal event, all carefully spaced apart.

The ceremony began at three o'clock with two minutes silence in honour of Prince Phillip. Then the drum was beaten and chanting began. You can see the great temple drum on the far left of the picture.

As part of the ceremony, everyone present is invited to bathe the Buddha. The statue stands in water and there is a small ceremonial ladle. When it was my turn I knew what to do. I bowed to the Buddhist nun, then to the statue, three times. I filled the ladle and poured the water over the baby Buddha’s head three times. One last bow, and I was done.

Usually this part of the ceremony takes a long time. The shrine room is full to bursting and nearly everyone wants to bathe the Buddha. If I’m their official photographer as I was yesterday, it’s a challenge to try and take photos of scores of people bathing the Buddha that aren’t all exactly the same.

But this year’s ceremony was extremely minimal and just a few invited people attended; instead of  lasting well over two hours, the ceremony ended just forty minutes after it began. I could hardly believe it was over so soon.

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Lockdown Easter

Social Distancing Project 222Groups walk, play, or just stand and talk. But each group stays away from the next one.

The Distance Project 30

Easter Sunday afternoon was sunny and fairly warm, so I went back to the Ouzel Valley Park to see what was going on. There were plenty of people there, some in quite large groups; the atmosphere lighter, more relaxed. Happier.

I’ve come full circle from the first days of the Distance Project, close to a year ago when nobody knew where this was all heading. There was doubt, and worry, and hope. I’m photographing people in my local park again just as I did at the start, but now the end is in sight.

I had no idea then how the project would expand to cover many different aspects of lockdown life; there’s been a few surprises. I didn’t think I’d still be taking photos for it now.

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Park Life

Social Distancing Project 217This young group sat and chatted and played with their puppy. In the background is the very full car park.

Park Life

The Distance Project 29

It's been nice weather and the lockdown has been relaxed, so lots of people have been driving further afield, some of them to visit the Ouzel Valley park in Milton Keynes.

It’s become a popular place to go; the car park has often been so full recently that visitors have resorted to parking on the road outside.

It’s all rather different from the early days of lockdown a year ago. Back then, I was photographing people on their officially allowed one trip out for exercise. It tended then to be individuals, or maybe three people together at the most.

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