Tag: current affairs

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.

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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

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Out in the Open

Confession time … oh, nothing you might read about in the newspapers, no shameful lapse into avarice, bullying, callousness, demagoguery, envy, folly, gullibility, hopelessness, idiocy, jiggery-pokery, know-nothings, lip-service, myopia, nastiness, ostracism, prejudice, quiescence, robbery, stupidity, terror, unfairness, viciousness, woe, xenophobia, youth-quake nor zealotry.

That’s the A-Z of stuff-in-the-news from my previous post, by the way, published a week ago. All that ugly stuff out there – nothing to do with me!

Well, I might confess to a touch of hopelessness – a modicum of quiescence – a degree of woe. It’s all that other stuff, see? 3 letters of the alphabet, you might say, at the mercy of the other 23. The clue is in the phrase ‘published a week ago’. The truth is – and here’s the confession – I’m finding it hard to think up posts and even harder to complete them.

It’s not for want of trying. My back catalogue contains 129 drafts, each one more half-baked than the last. For all I know, this is #130.

So far, the signs aren’t good. Who the hell wants to read about somebody else’s reasons for not doing something? You’ve probably got enough feeble excuses of your own. Perhaps you tried some of them out on your teachers. The dog ate your homework. You’re wearing the wrong trousers. The doctor has diagnosed amnesia.

My crummy alibi is that I’m too nice. I gave that idea a dummy-run in the previous post. Weaned in the liberal 1960s, you see, I love everybody. Live and let live, each to their own, horses for courses, whatever floats your boat … yeah, do your own thing, man! Whenever I hear that track where Jimi Hendrix says It’s all freedom my fingers still make an involuntary peace sign.

I know, what a paradox! No way is freedom to wage war on my wish-list. Freedom from war, maybe. The conundrum is only solved by remembering that freedom is just one of the essential human rights. The other two, equality and solidarity, are no less important. How to get the balance between them is the $64,000 question – more like $64bn after inflation! And I’m no philosopher so it’s time to enlist the help of one.

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The other day I watched a remarkable film about intolerance. It was Rupert Everett’s tour-de-force about the final years of Oscar Wilde. Its title – The Happy Prince – comes from one of Wilde’s radiant, life-affirming fables. Somehow Everett manages the triple feat of writing, directing and starring – his passion shining through to make it a movie like few others I’ve seen. OK, no others.

Another confession – several times I was surprised to find tears rolling down my cheeks. Wilde’s suffering becomes symbolic and the film achieves that rare thing in these days of CGI insincerity – catharsis. For once you can believe the reviews. I cannot recommend this film too highly.

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Two scenes stand out – two emotional poles which couldn’t provide a more powerful  contrast – one where he has to endure the abuse of a crowd, the other where he finally stands up to his tormenters. At risk of running on empty, I can only repeat what I wrote in my previous post:

There comes a time when the worm has to turn and fight. Or a mouse, when there’s an elephant in the room.

Tolerance can’t be infinite, as Karl Popper says, any more than freedom. But what made growing up in the 1960s such a gas was watching one after another side-lined social group achieve – or begin to achieve – parity. Once the Beatles had made it groovy to be young and northern and working class – and in the USA to be white and into blues and soul music – other glass ceilings beckoned. Race, gender and – with Oscar Wilde now a counter-cultural hero – sexual orientation. As a white heterosexual male whose mum taught him to look beneath superficial differences to the person beneath, I always knew that what mattered was character – not characteristics.

The movement was international in outlook and, for many of us, its substantial gains remain firm red lines against any retrenchment. Public displays of intolerance should always be challenged. A phrase variously attributed to Jefferson, Paine and Lincoln runs: The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Well, I don’t suppose I’m the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about that. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a whole lot better than being woken by a sudden knock on the door.

Hmm … if confessing stuff isn’t good for the soul, at least it helps write posts. May try it more often.

Command and Control


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Two days ago my wife and I met up with two old college friends – now married and living abroad – whose chartered canal narrowboat had finally reached our town. After many years we had a lot to catch up on and conversation naturally focussed on children and grandchildren. Delights and disappointments were celebrated and lamented – achievements, anecdotes, adversities shared.

Their concerns about one of their grandchildren, born with congenital health problems, put our own woes – about the great distances we must travel to visit two of our grandchildren – into firm perspective. And we were glad to hear that the daughter of a mutual college friend, who developed anorexia when her dad died prematurely, is now much better and starting a college course herself.

Swings and roundabouts. Growing older seems to generate interlocking circles like these which bind us ever-closer to life as it approaches its end. Ripeness is all, as the Bard so succinctly put it. The sweetest is always yet to come.

At least, that’s the theory. Eager to revisit our youth, we embarked on a lengthy pub crawl – hilarity ensued, just like back in the day!

Well, there was one difference. Waking up next morning, I discovered my brave attempt to replicate the drinking capacity of former times had been, er, a little unwise. Hearing moans and groans, my wife – who with superior foresight had managed to put her hand over her glass quite a few times – was a tad unsympathetic. No fool like an old fool was one of her kinder comments. So I turned to the previous day’s unread newspaper for solace.

Another mistake. My ‘morning-after’ despondency was compounded by pretty well everything I read. I won’t go into all the gory details here. Unless you live in a cave … on Mars … you’ll know about most of them anyway – but suffice it to say I found avarice, bullying, callousness, demagoguery, envy, folly, gullibility, hopelessness, idiocy, jiggery-pokery, know-nothings, lip-service, myopia, nastiness, ostracism, prejudice, quiescence, robbery, stupidity, terror, unfairness, viciousness, woe, xenophobia, youth-quake and zealotry.

See what I did there? Yeah, A-Z, but behind that I’m treading water. Can’t blame the hangover, that’s gone! Think I’m fighting shy of specifics here. As usual. Maybe that’s a liberal thing. Live and let live, each to their own, horses for courses, whatever floats your boat … yeah, do your own thing, man! I still believe in all that stuff, of course, but there comes a time when the worm has to turn and fight. Or a mouse, when there’s an elephant in the room.

Anyway, it was no hardship to be dragged from the noosepaper by a Skype call – our other grandchild, my little twice-weekly playmate, just now away on holiday and wanting to chat. I had to be Baby and ask her about her adventures. It’s a thing we do where she’s the adult and I’m the junior know-nothing, eager for explanations. Sounds crazy, but it works for us. Helps make sense of a funny old world …

I turned back reluctantly to the real world and read this, in an article by Jonathan Freedland entitled Trump and his allies are taking the world back to the 1930s:

The parents ripped from those 2,300 children on the Mexican border were not led off to be murdered. But there are grounds to believe they may never again see their sons or daughters, some of whom were sent thousands of miles away. There is no system in place to reunite them. The children were not properly registered. How can a two-year-old who speaks no English explain who she is? Eighty years from now, perhaps, old men and women will sob as they recall the mother taken from them by uniformed agents of the US government, never to be seen again.

But the echoes don’t end there. The wire cages. The guards telling weeping children they are forbidden from hugging each other. And then this chilling detail, reported by Texas Monthly. It turns out that US border guards don’t always tell parents they’re taking their children away. “Instead, the officers say, ‘I’m going to take your child to get bathed.’ The child goes off, and in a half-hour, 20 minutes, the parent inquires, ‘Where is my five-year-old?’ ‘Where’s my seven-year-old?’ ‘This is a long bath.’ And [the officer says], ‘You won’t be seeing your child again.’” It’s not the same as telling Jews about to die they are merely taking a shower, but in the use of deception the echo is loud.

To read the whole article, click the link above it.

I read it all, eventually, but – no doubt through a combination of physical tiredness and my heightened emotions just at that moment these two paragraphs moved me close to despair. No more words, I thought, nothing else will do but music – and music of a certain kind where performers play off one another to produce something intricate, rich, strange and beautiful far beyond anything an individual could achieve.

The old ideal of teamwork, I suppose, where two (or more) heads are better than one. I associate this music with a time when you could sit up talking all night and, no matter how much divided you, by the light of morning you’d found something to agree on.

The lyrics, when they come, elevate rather than depress. And yesterday it worked for me where nothing else would. A spiritual purification, you could say, which I offer here as a still-efficacious balm in a suffering world.

 

Image: advancedbatterysupplies.co.uk/narrowboat-batteries/

Swings and Roundabouts

Two years is a long time to spend in the blogosphere and I find my thoughts tracking  back over those 211 posts – a little over one a week by my reckoning – to consider what, if anything, they signify. Worth remembering, I think, what I wanted to achieve – here’s a mash-up of the first few posts:

My voyage of exploration begins. I want to recapture the spirit of childhood, when we would set out from home with the deliberate aim of getting hopelessly lost …

I find it sad that children today don’t occupy the streets and open spaces like we did when I was young. There have always been risks in such freedom but we made a habit of going around with our friends, rarely if ever alone. We knew the dangers and were able to avoid them. So many kids were out and about, there was safety in numbers. With more adults around, too, we behaved ourselves most of the time because we didn’t want to get into trouble. In this way, we learned how to take responsibility for ourselves.

Sitting alone in your bedroom is not a healthy substitute, especially when you factor in the online risks and bad cyberspace influences that would shock many parents. It’s a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, I’m afraid. Let’s make the open air a place for children again, providing proper facilities and a sensible but not stifling adult presence. It would be quite a challenge but I can’t think of a better way to create the communities of the future.

I love the idea that when you start saying something, you don’t know where you’re going with it …

Hmm, not sure all those lofty declarations of freedom have borne fruit. More often than not, my writing is tightly controlled: acrostic poems, haikus, hundred-word stories. Such constraints enable me to turn out posts on a semi-regular basis but there is a danger that they can become somewhat glib and formulaic. I’m wondering what became of my desire to go off-piste once in a while, starting stuff I wasn’t sure I could finish with my adult dignity and amour propre still intact!

Two years ago Obama was still in the White House and the United Kingdom still in the European Union. The future – always glimpsed through a glass darkly – at least showed signs of being recognisably and reassuringly like the past. But now all bets are off. I’ll risk a wild metaphor and say we are adrift in a sea of raw emotion clutching at puny straws of reason. At times like these, I sometimes think, only the heightened language of poetry can hit the spot:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
                                        from The Second Coming by WB Yeats
 Anyone dismayed by the surfacing of ugly prejudice in their own societies will find the poem’s final imagery disturbing:
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds …
… And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
A while back I created an imaginary town called Bafflesby because I had a strong urge to send up the sort of blinkered thinking that threatened values I grew up with:  the likes of tolerance, empathy, clarity, openness.
Just recently I’ve found it hard to invent new scenarios because it turns out that truth really is stranger than fiction. What with all these alternative facts and all this fake news, truth is a now a character in a costume drama. Remember those cheesy sword-and-sandal epics where the Romans wore wrist-watches?
Truth is now so strange that complete strangers come up to me and say, You couldn’t make it up! It’s true. I can’t. If I tried, it would be like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Actually I’m hoping he’ll get bored running around and come sneaking back home for some hay and a nice rub-down. In the meantime, I’ll read Private Eye to discover how to poke fun when things stop being fun.
I suppose most countries have satirical magazines which probe wrong-doing and parody folly. What about those in your neck of the woods? It would be good to hear about any.
Private Eye’s covers are an art-form in their own right …
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Laughter is the best medicine, they say. They would say that, wouldn’t they, as it’s also much cheaper? But I don’t want to end this post on a cynical note. I played with my little granddaughter today and we just followed our noses, making it up as we went along. You don’t need toys when the whole world is yours for the taking.

Watching a bit of telly is OK, though, when invention begins to flag. And YouTube is a great way to explore past and present together. She loves the Bill & Ben colour animations – though not the ponderous old black-and-white string-puppet versions we had to endure. But I did get her to watch this little gem from back in the day, when grown-ups could poke fun at themselves without losing their dignity … and we both laughed like drains!