Category: opinions

Green Breakthrough?

Following on from my previous post, you might like to hit the link below for some positive news.

Well, it’s a start! Good to know ‘people power’ can have a favourable outcome, anyhow! And unlike the result of the UK referendum, this popular vote does at least have the benefit of some solid scientific expertise. It’s not a complete leap into the dark.

Could schemes such as this, I wonder, help us bridge seemingly irreconcilable social and political divisions?

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-breakdown-rewilding-petition-carbon-nature-recovery-a8940701.html?fbclid=IwAR2-dty9OhG8YUXlEPoav4NmtxVPdN4aLZ4XPLpqYPohP5x_8mD3P5AdQtk

 

Image result for rewilding

 

Image: http://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk

Advertisements

Sweet Dreams

Image may contain: people sitting and plant

Ouch!

The brutal truth behind this comic representation is hard to face – any laugh the cartoon evokes is likely to be a bitter one.

By way of preparation for my own writing I’ve been reading the poems of John Clare, an agricultural worker whose life was blighted by the forced enclosure of common land almost two hundred years ago. People fled the countryside in droves for the towns and cities.

In his rough verse with its gentle dialect, Clare describes somewhat sadly how a sustainable way of life lasting many centuries gave way to the first stirrings of capitalist agribusiness. With hindsight we can glimpse in his words the beginnings of the process whereby relatively balanced ecologies mutated into sterile farming factories run by machine.

Is it too far-fetched, I wonder, to imagine a future where this process is reversed – where humankind and the natural world have once again learned to co-exist in symbiotic harmony? I read this from a report on the Hay book festival in today’s Guardian Review:

Climate is at the forefront of the minds of novelists, particularly John Lanchester and Amitav Ghosh, the latter recalling being caught in a freak tornado … ‘In novel after novel, I tried to write about this … and I could never do it … What happens in real life is more improbable than what happens in a book – and this is the paradox of the modern novel,’ he said.

Lanchester … championed the ‘moral obligation to be optimistic, because … if we despair we won’t act’. Most of the people set to be affected by the climate emergency are yet to be born. ‘That’s why works of the imagination are so important,’ Lanchester said. ‘In effect we are having to imagine these people into being and then act on behalf of their interests. This is a new thing.’

In the spirit of this, I wonder if it’s possible to read John Clare’s words not only as the chronicle of a tragic past but also as the prophesy of a more hopeful future?

 

The Moors

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed spring’s blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown, and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all – a hope that blossomed free,
And hath been once, no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave
And memory’s pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came, with evening morn and night,
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep, unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now all’s fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors, loosing from the sight, far, smooth, and blea
Where swoopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay
As poet’s visions of life’s early day
Mulberry-bushes where the boy would run
To fill his hands with fruit are grubbed and done
And hedgrow-briars – flower-lovers overjoyed
Came and got flower-pots – these are all destroyed
And sky-bound moors in mangled garbs are left
Like mighty giants of their limbs bereft
Fence now meets fence in owners’ little bounds
Of field and meadow large as garden grounds
In little parcels little minds to please
With men and flocks imprisoned ill at ease
Each little path that led its pleasant way
As sweet as morning leading night astray
Where little flowers bloomed round a varied host
That travel felt delighted to be lost
Nor grudged the steps that he had ta-en as vain
When right roads traced his journeys and again –
Nay, on a broken tree he’d sit awhile
To see the moors and fields and meadows smile
Sometimes with cowslaps smothered – then all white
With daiseys – then the summer’s splendid sight
Of cornfields crimson o’er the headache bloomd
Like splendid armys for the battle plumed
He gazed upon them with wild fancy’s eye
As fallen landscapes from an evening sky
These paths are stopt – the rude philistine’s thrall
Is laid upon them and destroyed them all
Each little tyrant with his little sign
Shows where man claims earth glows no more divine
But paths to freedom and to childhood dear
A board sticks up to notice ‘no road here’
And on the tree with ivy overhung
The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung
As tho’ the very birds should learn to know
When they go there they must no further go
Thus, with the poor, scared freedom bade goodbye
And much they feel it in the smothered sigh
And birds and trees and flowers without a name
All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came
And dreams of plunder in such rebel schemes
Have found too truly that they were but dreams.

John Clare

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I’ve voted Labour all my adult life, in every single election – whether local, national or European. But on Thursday I’m going to break the habit and vote Green.

I’m attracted by their coherent policy on Brexit, sure, although I’m equally drawn to the message so clearly given below by this remarkable young lady and endorsed by so many of her peers around the world. It really is time to listen to those who will be most affected by the future we are giving them.

Rabbiting On Again

Words.
No shortage, is there?
Words, words.
Dictionaries and thesauruses are full of them.
Words, words, words.
Airwaves are abuzz with them.
Words, words, words, words.
Persuaders, hidden or otherwise, bend our ears and break our spirits.
Words, words, words, words, words …

And so, before contributing a further fourpenny-worth to the existing word-mountain, let’s pause a moment to consult two world-renowned authorities on the higher arts of human communication … Chas ‘n’ Dave … whose cheeky erudition goes some way to excuse a whiff of political incorrectness:

You got more rabbit than Sainsburys … honest to goodness, has a better line of poetry ever been written? And if it has, might it have come from the pen of this cheerful geezer?

Talking in Bed

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.

Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why

At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

by Philip Larkin

Putting two and two together – and probably coming up with five! – it appears that too much rabbit and related background noise from outside can drown out the delicate inner promptings that allow for meaningful human communication. And if you’ll forgive the comparison of blogging into the blank aether with talking in a darkened bedroom, you may also accept the notion that uncertainty about reception can make it hard to string words together online.

As a little kid I had an invisible friend. I only ever confided in him while sitting on the toilet. I called him Naughty Man and his supposed worldly wisdom must have made him an ideal audience for my secret confidences. Perhaps I was aware that the real people around me could only take so much. Communication breakdown begins early and always remains a possibility, which is probably why I (and, may I suggest, we?) need art to bridge the gap. And comedy. Both bring perspective.

Here are some more rabbits if you have the stamina, though a minute or three might be enough to give you the idea!

Unsettling, isn’t it? That bloke Kafka hardly knew what he’d started, shuffling off his mortal coil before most of his work was published and after leaving strict instructions that it should all be burnt!

It’s easy to view the wind out there as cold and unforgiving. So it’s a comfort to know that people whose talents I admire and even envy can also struggle to express themselves. But where I whisper into a zephyr, in the intimacy of a personal blog, they often have to shout into a maelstrom.

Image result for joni mitchell quote on music corporations

Another musician-turned-painter was Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart. The short film that follows offers a great insight into what made him tick as an artist – it’s also, at least to my ear, hilariously funny. The wobbly footage shouldn’t impair enjoyment too much.

He dedicates his music to animals and children. How cool is that? If I’d known about Captain Beefheart as a kid, it would certainly be him I’d have confided in! He would have known all about the glory of words as well as understanding their limitations.

Hmm, maybe there’s a connection …

No Sex, Religion or Politics

These five words – according to my dad, a conscripted soldier in WW2 – constituted the unspoken rule that helped prevent unproductive arguments in the officers’ mess. I can see why. Vital to get on with people you don’t really know when you have to work alongside them in hazardous conditions.

Perhaps blogging isn’t all that different. No point falling out with each other over minor cultural differences when we all face major threats – largely of our own making – such as gross inequality, environmental damage and international conflict. I don’t know about you but all my instincts cry out for cross-border cooperation, our only real defence against these common enemies. As the age-old saying goes: United we stand, divided we fall.

It’s eight whole days since my previous post and high time to publish again. I was planning something uplifting, even utopian, only to find there’s an elephant in the room. It’s a big one, maybe a bull, and the smell of dung is now overpowering. I sure in hell can’t step round it so will tread very carefully and call it … the ‘B’ word!

Not that I’ve anything original to say on the subject. Like many others – on both sides – I’m all talked out. But here are two items I’ve found in the vaults. No idea where they come from but each, in its own way, is rather striking.

The UK Referendum in June 2016 asked:

Should we

Leave the EU
or Remain in the EU.

Simple. Well, for the 16.1 million who said Remain it certainly was, as it meant no change. All 16.1 million who ticked remain knew exactly what they voted for.

But the 17.4 million who voted to Leave without any true facts, figures, analysis or research voted for a personal version of “leave” as they could not possibly know what the end result would be. Hence all the Remainers spoke with one voice but the Leavers presented the Tory government the absolutely impossible task of reconciling 17.4 million different versions of Brexit.

After two years we have now seen this for real. It was never possible to deliver an exit that would satisfy all the Leavers.

In other words, here is a complex issue reduced to a simplistic binary choice and Parliament – the authorised decision-maker in a parliamentary democracy – reduced to the lowly status of a rubber stamp. No wonder they’ve fallen asleep on the job.

Image result for rubber stamp

Today’s cancelled MP vote means this unfunny farce is certain to rumble on through the so-called season of good cheer. Perhaps we ought to keep calm and turn the whole bally shooting-match into a Panto, along the following lines:

 

Image: CharityLawyer

Never Jam Today: a little something for Halloween …


Image result for we are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time alan watts

Ah, I thought, after reading this – so that’s why I’m finding it hard to come up with a new blog-post!

Once upon a time is out of bounds because it’s all done and dusted. What if can’t be imagined because it’s too damn scary. Now is being squeezed to death by all those memories and expectations. And to cap it all, my conscious mind is nothing but a helpless hoarder who can’t see through his windows for mounds and mounds of useless clutter.

Actually, it comes as something of a relief to know this. Turns out it’s not my fault at all. Living in such a crap culture, well, it’s only to be expected! And at least that means it’s not just me. Now, all we need to do is find the hypnotists who have turned us into preoccupied zombies and get them to click their fingers. Snap out of it, they’ll say, and we will … won’t we?

Or maybe it’s like one of those dreams where you know you’re dreaming and want to wake up but you can’t. Or, worse, one of those dreams where you think you’ve woken up but you’re still dreaming. My favourite film version of Alice in Wonderland was directed in 1966 by Jonathan Miller, who captured this uncertainty to perfection. Where does reality end and dreaming begin?

Ha, if I knew that, I’d be able to write this post … wouldn’t I? Perhaps this clip will shed some light …

Lewis Carroll’s satirical genius was to reflect the topsy-turvy illogicality of Victorian adults as if it was no more than a strange dream.

“I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!” the Queen said. “Two pence a week, and jam every other day.”
Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said, “I don’t want you to hire me – and I don’t care for jam.”
“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.
“Well, I don’t want any to-day, at any rate.”
“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.”
“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day’,” Alice objected.
“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”

from ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’

Thank goodness the adult world is so much more sensible nowadays!

Mind you, there are still one or two little confusions that need explaining. Two world wars, for starters, the first a mass sleepwalk into jingoism and the second a nightmare of political extremism. Since then it’s been communism versus capitalism – collectivism versus individualism – and the dubious triumph of neo-liberalism and rampant globalism. (That’s enough ‘isms’! Ed.)

Aw, one more, please! Always room for a little idealism, surely? A world where freedom, equality and solidarity co-exist. Nothing airy-fairy about that, I hope. But getting there will take some hard thinking and plain speaking. And if the price of liberty really is eternal vigilance, we should be on our guard against …

… those who conjure a mythic past that has supposedly been destroyed. Such myths rely on an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for a past that is racially pure, traditional and patriarchal. Beware those who position themselves as father figures and strongmen who alone can restore lost greatness.

… those who sow division; they succeed by turning groups against each other, inflaming historical antagonisms and ancient hatreds for their own advantage. Social divisions in themselves—between classes, religions, ethnic groups and so on—are pre-existing conditions. Opportunists may not invent the hate, but they cynically manipulate it: demonizing outgroups, normalising or naturalising bigotry and stoking violence to justify … repressive ‘law and order’ policies, the curtailing of civil rights and due process, and the mass imprisonment and killing of manufactured enemies.

… those who attack the truth with propaganda, in particular a kind of anti-intellectualism that creates a petri dish for conspiracy theories. For such people, truth doesn’t matter at all.  In such an atmosphere, anything is possible, no matter how previously unthinkable.

Actually, after that little lot, a dose of gothic horror comes as light relief!

Happy Halloween, folks!

 

Image result for halloween

 

Image: Freepik

Vault Finding #7

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.   –  Joan Didion

Stories give our lives shape and significance. They connect us with others – family, friends, workmates, community members. I read somewhere that there may be an upper limit to the number of people with whom I can maintain stable social relationships – relationships where I know who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. The number suggested was 150.

Not sure where that leaves me when it comes to social media! I have 238 Facebook  friends and 649 WordPress followers so, statistically-speaking, I’m way out of my social depth. In practice, of course, Facebook’s main attraction is private messaging and only a small fraction of my WordPress followers ever respond to my posts. My circle is surprisingly – and perhaps comfortingly – intimate.

Beyond that, I view social media as an extra pair of eyes (and ears) to tell me more about the book of the world – to discover stories that help me find my place on the page. And maybe tell a few of my own.

My previous post told the story of how I responded to a story on Facebook with a different story of my own. If stories seek to shape us, we can shape stories. Our online world may be heating up – verbal warming, you could say – but story competitions are as old as the hills.

When you’re in a bar or café, listen to any group of friends trying to top one another’s anecdotes and it’s easy to envisage a similar healthy rivalry between our hunter-gatherer ancestors around the camp fires. Who has the best stories, the ones that capture past and future in a timeless moment? Who can perform magic and banish, if only for a while, the dark?

The brighter our lights, however, the darker appears the night. Michelle at The Green Study ended her response to my previous post with a resonant thought:

I feel strongly that we must curate what feeds our minds, lest we fall prey to the same ignorance and ugly strategies.

This reminds me of something Scott Fitzgerald wrote:

Either you think — or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.

We think best by constructing stories – our own accounts of how the world works. Every sentence contains the germ of a story that could grow into a whole world. Try it with any of those I’ve quoted. As Fitzgerald implies, storytelling is like a muscle that weakens with disuse. We can forget how to tell good stories and also how to tell whether other people’s stories are any good.

Looking back through my unused drafts, I found this wonderful little video of a storytelling master sharing a few secrets of his craft. No jargon and no jiggery-pokery, just a piece of chalk and some cheeky humour.

How good a writer is Vonnegut? One of my favourite passages comes from his novel Slaughterhouse Five, loosely based on his experiences as a prisoner-of-war:

It was a movie about American bombers in World War II and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers , and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans though and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

Fact or fiction? Like many either/or questions, this presents us with a false dichotomy. The phrase true story is itself an oxymoron. Vonnegut offers an untruth but, by running factually accurate events backwards, he presents us with a deeper truth.

You can always trust Friedrich Nietzsche to muddy the waters still further. He believed there are no absolute truths, just different perspectives:

There are no facts, only interpretations.

To take a topical example, a climate scientist who maintains that global temperatures should not rise by more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels might raise an eyebrow over this – but even science is a story constructed around observed evidence. I should add, in the interests of balance, that other stories are available.

The question is, however, whose story do you believe?

Image may contain: text

Our common sense, allied to a skilled reading of stories, rejects this ludicrous scenario – unless, of course, we have shares in fossil fuels …

Complacent? You betcha! Almost certainly, my pension depends upon investments in all manner of dodgy doings. The complexity of the modern world means we’re all complicit in catastrophe. This morning I heard climate-change activist and former Ireland president Mary Robinson admit that she was ‘a prisoner of hope’ in her belief that we can avoid disaster. Everything, it seems, depends on the story you choose to believe.

To end this ‘story’ on an upward curve, I’ll end with two amusing ‘stories’ from Private Eye magazine’s Pseuds Corner:

Xenofuturists unite! Join the Antivoid Alliance in the pink space of fugitive rationality. Explore how technology, inhumanism and the agency of noise meet a burning demand to re-open the possibilities of a divergent now.

                                     from the Hastings Arts Festival programme

 

Amelia Singer will offer guests wines that have been specially paired with sections of Sue Prideaux’s upcoming biography of Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘I Am Dynamite!’

                               a wine-tasting event at the publishers Faber & Faber

I’ve signed you up for both of them, OK?