I read the newspapers avidly. It is my one form of continuous fiction.
Nye Bevan, quoted in The Times, 29 March 1960
I’m living in a house of pain at the moment. That’s because my wife is recovering from major surgery. She’s in physical pain. I’m in emotional pain, watching her go through it. She’s healing well but it’s gonna be a long road. I’d like to thank all our well wishers, including her friend who turned up unexpectedly today with flowers, but also ask that they wait for us to invite them around. We’re not really geared up to receive people at the moment. The timing of today’s visitor was superb but it might not always be like that. We’re not expecting to be receiving any well wishers for the next week or so. Then the invite floodgates will open! Bring flowers for my wife and beer for me. *waves joke flag*
My wife has been very lucky to receive such excellent medical treatment on the NHS. These days are coming to an end. The service on offer will deteriorate as soon as the private sector gets its grubby hands on our pride and joy. How could it be otherwise? The private sector is not motivated by the pursuit of health care but by profit.
The real tragedy is that the British people don’t care about the NHS. Whether that is because there are so few left alive who can properly recall life without it or some other reason, I do not pretend to know. However, the plain facts are that in recent elections the vast majority of the population has voted for parties who have steadily dismantled the NHS by privatisation over many years. In the recent Eastleigh by-election, the only party truly dedicated to defending the NHS collected only a few hundred votes. Much as though we might protest, the fact is that the NHS hasn’t been betrayed by the commanding heights of political capital, it has been abandoned by its patients.
Nye Bevan must be turning in his grave. In the meantime, the stealth attack on the jewel in the crown of our civil society will continue. By the time the many wake up to what they’ve allowed, it will be too late. We’ll all be living in houses of pain then. Most of us will blame someone else but, as with various other pressing crises at the moment, in fact it will be our fault for encouraging those determined to destroy one of our most treasured achievements.
Suddenly being a drifter has turned out to be the best way to live forever. It turns out that countless epochs of biological evolution has actually worked out how to do it. The trouble is, us humans, we’ve gone down the wrong path. A particular species of jelly fish, the Turritopsis nutricula, has now developed to the point where it can revert to its immature state and simply start growing again. Aside from being eaten or otherwise fatally injured, this means that each one can produce more of itself, as well as itself live forever. Unsurprisingly, this ability to transform its own cells (transdifferentiation) has led to an explosion of its numbers. Luckily, they’re only 4.5mm wide.
Closer inspection of the Immortal Jellyfish’s storming of the marine world reveals mankind has played a helping hand. Though not apparently destined for immortality ourselves (probably just as well), it seems that the Turritopsis nutricula has benefited from our global industrial traffic. Ships passing through ports around the world discharge ballast water and with them, the ultimate being. How humble our story turns out to be. Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve been, has been geared to help a jelly fish from one pond to another.
I felt pretty good this morning, after a good sleep, finding the weather finally feeling like spring. As regular readers will know, I’ve been battling with doubts about my capacity to undertake an electrical rewiring job but in recent days I’ve got sick of the constant mental struggle of dealing with it. I’ve popped out the other side and found a pool of mental calm. This morning’s optimism probably has more to do with the weather than the worry fatigue…
I don’t know what the secret is for the best way humans can wake up in the morning but these three certainly had a fantastic start to the day.
The first two lads are in their forties and lass behind is thirty three years’ old. My neighbour picked them out of their hibernation hutch, dusted them down and placed them in the sunshine. What an excellent way to deal with winter! Once they’ve stretched their legs, they’ll get a bath and then a truly spectacular breakfast.
This one’s done the rounds already but it’s so enjoyable that I’m posting it here again. It’s a poetry battle between a 17 year old upstart who calls himself Blizzard (no personal website) and a teacher called Mark Grist. The occasion is a youthful venue, entitled Rap Battle and the audience is definitely aged closer to the boy with the fancy name. That doesn’t stop them laughing out loud for the older man, whose punchlines, wordplay and lyrical mastery humiliate the lad. All the judges voted for Grist over Blizzard. Watching this made me think of seeking out a poetry slam, as these things used to be known as (showing my age). Haven’t been to one for a while.
Meanwhile, here’s something a little more lighthearted and, perhaps, more accurate to political life on our planet in 2012. Yes, folks, it’s the 11th edition of Rap News which proves that Blizzard is wrong to imagine speaking quickly is somehow clever. This edition contains a special guest appearance by Noam Chomsky. His gravitas means he doesn’t have to rant, although he is being thrown the feeder lines…
Might as well bring Rap News up to date. Know I won’t be offending my own Australian family with this hard look at their national day…
In my case, there’s only three syllables because my parents chose not to lumber me with a middle name. I’ve been endlessly grateful to them for that. Although its been somewhat annoying living in England with a name which the English persistently choose to reverse (Duncan Roy into Roy Duncan), it has been anglo-centricism that has annoyed me, rather than my parents’ choice of name.
These days many parents seem to want to name their child as a tribute to their self-perceived creativity. I know a couple who have invented every one of their children’s names, with the result that the names are hard to remember. It comes as no surprise that their children are unruly and a real pain in the arse. Hopefully, they’ll grow out of the ill-disciplined home they’ve been born into.
Children are a blessing I haven’t received in life. Perhaps that is why it irks me when I see them treated as accessories to lifestyles. Britain’s famous liberty allows any name to be given to a child. Some other countries control what is allowed. Years ago I knew an American woman who lived in The Netherlands. She wanted to name her child “Calico” because the Dutch names all seemed foreign to her and it was such a lovely word. Initially the Dutch authorities wouldn’t let her but she persisted and they relented. Where are you now, Calico? It would be great to hear from you. You’ve been blessed with a beautiful name.
We’ve all heard of the child from New Zealand who had her name changed by a judge during a custody battle when she was nine years old. It had been Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii. That is just plain malicious. New Zealand seems to struggle with parental liberty. The names Fish and Chips (twins), Yeah Detroit, Keenan Got Lucy and Sex Fruit were banned but Number 16 Bus Shelter and Violence were allowed.
My all time favourite misnomer was reported in the Guardian many years ago. I cut it out and pasted it to a piece of cardboard, which I carried with my possessions for many years. It was stuck to my wall in many of the 54 addresses I had in period spanning 19 years (I am less of a Traveller now) and often brought much amusement at parties. Last year I suddenly realised that there was no need to carry it around any more – we’ve got the internet now! The name was bestowed on a hapless child by a Swedish couple but they were prevented from having it officialised by the authorities. Hardly surprising since they had really pushed the boat out. It is the closest thing to a random name I have heard of. The preferred name was Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 which was to be pronounced Albin. Apparently this was a political protest against Sweden’s strict naming laws. Sweden’s tax authorities have to bless first names and surnames before they can be used officially. Consequently, Sweden has also banned Metallica, IKEA, Veranda and Q. Google got through the net for some reason.
I’ve got a friend called Rick. Nothing odd about that. He’s got four brothers. Their father decided that it would be too difficult to remember different names so he named all of his five sons Richard. Luckily that is a name which can be altered easily. They are now called Richard, Rick, Ricky, Rich and Dicky. Can’t think why none of them wanted to be known as Dick.
The Danes take the business of naming more seriously than the Swedes. Parents are given a list of seven thousand names to choose from and told to get on with it. Danish parents can deviate from the list but only with special permission. Perhaps these laws are required in Scandinavia? Perhaps their populations need to be reigned in for the sake of the children? Ethnic names, odd spellings and compound surnames are forbidden. I’d be in favour of banning compound surnames over here in the UK. Luckily for the child, Anus was rejected.
ITV serves up Downton Abbey on a Sunday night. With great acting, luscious settings and a reasonable script, what’s not to like? It’s the sort of dish we British like to eat on a Sunday evening, leaving us with that warm comfortable feeling before we start the week.
It’s also propaganda for the thieving Tory bastards. It is disingenuous fantasy that says life was wonderful when the Liberals were last in power. A place for everyone and everyone knowing their place! In fact life was very different back then. For the vast majority of us, life was harsh. The poor were downtrodden and abused by the ruling elite. The best example of which was the way in which they were sent in their hundreds of thousands into the trenches in the First World War. They were, literally, regarded as cannon fodder.
Downton Abbey’s depiction of the First World War is an absolute disgrace. The trenches are nice clean places, without any mud and with little suffering compared to reality. The depiction of the horrors of that conflict is inadequate. It has been conveniently broadcast after the last man who fought in that war has died. If any of them were still alive, doubtless they would have contradicted the misrepresentation of life in the trenches. We sent children into that hell and murdered them by firing squad when they could not cope. We executed people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Conditions were so bad that widespread mutinies occurred and peace treaties between the troops on the front broke out. The most famous example is the Christmas Truce in 1914, which was instigated by the soldiers from both sides in defiance of their officers and lasted for three weeks. However, that is but one example. There is evidence of other truces. There were millions of rats living in the trenches too, spreading disease and contamination. They could not be exterminated because a single brown rat can produce 900 offspring in a year. No rats in Downton Abbey though. There was also no lice, frogs, slugs, horned beetles or trench foot. This is a sanitised version of life in the trenches. Here’s some rare colour footage. When you see footage of men charging out of the trenches shot from in front of the trenches, it is faked. When the whistle blew, you had 6 seconds to make up your mind as to whether you climbed up them ladders or not. If you just stood there, the sergeant was ordered to put a bullet in your head or else the sergeant-major would put a bullet in his. This old veteran (at 1:11) speaks for his own personal sanity when he says, “It’s best forgotten.” It’s best remembered. Don’t forget that these old clips are also a sanitised version of what actually happened. The media was properly controlled in those days.
It’s also a sanitised version of life away from the trenches. It’s easy to fall in love with a past that never existed. Downton Abbey makes no reference to the economic conditions which existed at the time. Life in early 20th Century Britain was ruthless and cut-throat. There was no NHS and very little social security. The paternalism depicted in Downton Abbey was not as successful as portrayed in the drama. If it had been, we’d be using it as the basis for our society now. Perhaps there were Lords who treated all their servants as well as Lord Crawley. All of them knew that their days were numbered. The few that didn’t know that in 1914 learnt it in 1917, when some communists seized power in Russia. In fact, there were ‘soviets’ (a democratic council representing people by trade, rather than by geography) in Kent in 1921. These game changing events did not occur out of the blue. They were not random events. They happened after years of agitation. The revolutionary mood which had been sweeping through the intelligentsia of Europe in the early part of the twentieth century found its expression in them. How do I know about the soviets in Kent in 1921? I was told about them in 1981 by someone who served on one. As ever, the people’s history is buried under bigger weight of officialism.
Some of the criticism of the series is glib:
A modern conservatory roof in the background.
Yellow lines did not exist back then - parking was not an issue.
Only a Romany Gypsy would have ridden a coloured cob back then.
This isn’t a period drama. It’s a period fantasy. Wasn’t life great under a Liberal government? Some aspects of this programme are true though. Certainly we had Lords back then. Unbelievably we’ve got them still now. Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, the programme’s creator, was ennobled as a life peer this year. He sits on the government benches as a long term supporter of the thieving Tory bastards.
Christiania's Flag: each dot represents one of the "i"s in Christiania.
Christiania is 40 years old today. It is a community of 850 anarchists living in the heart of Copenhagen and living proof that there is an important distinction between anarchy and chaos. The residents claim self-governance from the rest of Denmark. The flag of Christiania was chosen because when the land was first squatted, there was a lot of red and yellow paint left behind by the military. Denmark has regulated the commune under a special law: the Christiania Law of 1989. It began when increasing numbers of young people faced homelessness. They took over the land, which had just been vacated by the military. The commune governs itself by consensus, rather than a formal democracy, and consequently has very few rules. The publicly stated rules include bans on cars, stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests, hard drugs and bikers’ colors. There was a problem with biker gangs at one point but the spirit of the Christianites saw them off, despite the fact that the former were armed with AK47s and the latter relied on non violent persuasion. This precious community is a beacon of hope for us all.
They’ve had their problems, sure. There has been violence. What human society is entirely free of it? I visited the place myself in 1998. I didn’t learn much because I took all my prejudices with me. Although I wandered far beyond Pusher Street (where cannabis was openly traded) and along delightful lanes, I was too shy to knock on anyone’s door, as my guide book recommended, to ask what I should learn about the place. That sort of behaviour is taboo in our society but positively welcomed in Christiania. Since the jurisdiction of the Danish state did not run to the island, I bought some cannabis and adjourned to the pub to smoke it. The barman came over and told me off. “This is a pub“, he said, “you can smoke tobacco in here but not drugs.” I apologised profusely. I didn’t know the rules. “You can smoke it outside”, he said, “and I’ll look after your pint.”
We’re on the brink of a massive housing crisis in the UK. The recession is making lots of people homeless. There are lots of empty properties. Will our young people, who are most affected by the recession, take a leaf out of Christiania’s book? Meanwhile, over there, a ten day birthday party is beginning. Promises to be quite a bash.
Yesterday morning, at 6:41am, I set off from the top of Hollingbury Hill on the outskirts of Brighton and walked to Lewes, via Blackcap. This week, I recorded my entire route using Google’s MyTracks app:
Obviously this isn’t a perfect record of the route. I certainly didn’t turn around in little circles on top of Hollingbury Hill. It gives you an accurate line to follow though. Don’t forget you can zoom in on the map above and pan around. Apart from the pavement on the bridge over the Brighton Bypass, there was no need to walk on the Ditchling Road. That was a mistake, as you can see from the satellite view. This is route is generally considered to be the second best way to walk between Brighton and Lewes. The best way starts in Woodingdean and goes to Kingston. However, I don’t live in Woodingdean, so that’s not the best way for me. Besides, I like to aim for second best, always. The best of everything is always far too popular. I wanted solitude on my early morning walk.
Statistics, maps, films and even poetry can’t convey the spiritual bliss of a walk alone through the early morning in plenty of space. Here’s the statistics:
Total Distance: 10.7 miles (17.25 km) Total Time: 2:52:31 Moving Time: 2:40:40 Average Speed: 3.7 miles per hour (6.00 km/h) Average Moving Speed: 4.0 miles per hour (6.44 km/h) Min Elevation: 378 ft (115 m) Max Elevation: 843 ft (257 m) Elevation Gain: 575 ft (175 m) Max Grade: 22 % Min Grade: -9 % Recorded: Sun Sep 18 06:41:29 GMT+01:00 2011 Activity type: Walking
I’m not sharing poetry this morning, sorry. On arriving in Lewes, I immediately went to Southover Bonfire Society’s fire torch making Sunday Service. In a little more than two hours, we made 862 fire torches – a new record!
Conscious that a map can be somewhat abstract, slowing the walker down, and keen to encourage others to take up walking as a method of travel (The original and best!), I also made a short film which details the various turns the route follows:
Sunday services are a members’ only event in Southover, Lewes. We’re gathering every Sunday morning from a couple of weekends ago until the 5th, to make our fire torches. On Sunday 11th September, I awoke very early. My natural clock has begun to wake me unsocially early these days. There I was, wide awake and lying in bed at 4:30am. ‘There’s enough time to walk to Lewes’, I thought, and that’s exactly what I did.
No more can I claim to my wife that it is only five miles from Brighton to Lewes. Stupidly, I forgot to turn my GPS recording on (I used Google’s MyTracks) until I got to Stanmer Park, although obviously I don’t actually live there. Here’s the digital record:
Total Distance: 18.68 km (11.6 mi) Total Time: 2:52:54 Moving Time: 2:10:19 Average Speed: 6.48 km/h (4.0 mi/h) Average Moving Speed: 8.60 km/h (5.3 mi/h) Max Speed: 92.23 km/h (57.3 mi/h) Min Elevation: 63 m (207 ft) Max Elevation: 243 m (797 ft) Elevation Gain: 274 m (897 ft) Max Grade: 6 % Min Grade: -14 %
I think this is mostly accurate, although the maximum speed can be discounted. Call me old fashioned but I do wish that these things would put the Imperial Measures in front of the Metric. Why should I have to rearrange them?
The digital record fails to properly describe the joy of traversing Hollingbury Golf Course free of golfers, of not seeing the autumnal sunrise but still seeing that qualitative change in the light, of taking my time and dilly-dallying along the way. Photographs also can only go so far. As per usual, click on the images to enlarge them.
On top of Hollingbury Hill, looking South, 5:00am, 11th September 2011
Smoke signals of the nearby Sussex University
Looking backwards and forwards at the same time
What luxury in the busiest corner of England to enjoy four hours of solitude and wide open spaces! I’m endlessly baffled by how few able-bodied people walk anywhere. It’s what we’ve evolved to do!
Enjoyed a wonderful weekend of fire torch making near Lewes, courtesy of Southover Bonfire Society, which I am a member of. Camping in a secluded field near Lewes, would be monks, pirates and smugglers made the first 1,000 fire torches (to be used on 5th November) by day and made merry by night.. !