Goat Willow

Goat Willow

I find it very difficult to express the differences that have occurred in my life over the last five years but this pick-up full of goat willow might help. It might not be obvious on first glance but bear with me.

About a decade ago I experienced a crisis of faith. I had progressed well in life. I had a well paid job as a consultant in the NHS, I had fairly good health (or so I thought), my children were grown and doing well for themselves, my marriage was sound and I had no debt. I enjoyed regular holidays and gained pleasure from the status of my work. I was a technophile and the Koreans could not invent gadgets and novelties quick enough for me and, fortunately, living in the centre of the town I could shop at any hour of the day or night. No appetite needed to wait to be sated.

However, despite this I found that I was often unhappy, frequently disgruntled and usually felt aimless and bored. I thought that my relative affluence was part of the problem as was the inauthentic nature of my life. I lived most things though the eyes of others. I had realised that many of the moral and political views I had were incorrect and unhelpful. I decided that I need to change; so I left my post, headed out of the town, and sought a new life. I often think it has worked and my current happiness seems to support me in that belief. However, it was my neighbour’s goat willow that let me know how much life had changed.Untitled picture

My neighbour has a great deal of what she calls pussy willow (salix caprea), but which is also known as goat willow. It has the latter name because in Heironymous Bock’s herbal it is shown in a drawing being eaten by goats, and I can confirm that goats are very partial to it.  Now my neighbour needed to clear her garden and saw the goat willow as garden waste destined for the bonfire. When she told me I felt my spirits jump.

With the very poor summer, with little sun and very few dry spells, we have not been able to take a crop of hay. As a small scale enterprise we can not use silage and big bales of hay, we require to  make small bales of hay by hand.  This has left us short of goat food and sheep food for the winter ahead, so the idea of all this forage going free was exciting. I was round within minutes to collect it and get it back to the goats. They, in turn, picked off every leaf of the first batch at their first sitting leaving me shafts which I can dry over the next year or two to create kindling (Willow needs seasoned for a long time before it burns satisfactorily). I was feeling very pleased with my discovery thinking, I’ve saved my neighbour work, reduced waste, fed the goats, saved some of our hay for the sheep and started to provide fuel for 2019.

Not a leaf left
Not a leaf left

Then it struck me. Five years ago I could never experienced such pleasure from such a simple days work. At that time, I would have been trying to convince myself I was happy while  unpacking a gadget I had bought following yet another shopping excursion.  I would have been trying to convince myself that the increased speed or memory size the thing had would improve my life, but would still be vaguely aware that it was simply another gewgaw that I’d replace with a newer version next year. Now finding simple pleasures in simple activities lets me lead a freer, more settled, life. It has allowed my appetites to shrink to more normal levels so that now I can gain as much pleasure from finding a supply of edible leaves as I did before at much greater expense. This may have been the insight that William Morris had when he wrote “Free men must live simple lives and have simple pleasures

 

 

 

 

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Just hope no-one describes you as “loyal”

Just hope no-one describes you as “loyal”

I have become aware that I hope no-one describes me as loyal. This would not be a good sign. Although many people file the word “loyal” away in their memory beside the virtues (alongside courageous, true, steadfast and reliable), nine times out of ten when the word ‘loyal’ is used it really means stupid, hoodwinked or shortsighted.

Think about it. Remember the last story about a politicians “loyal wife” ? She may have been virtuous but she was being so described as she was standing beside a man who had betrayed her and her trust. Who are the “loyal subjects” ? They are but the cannon fodder who are marshalled by kings or emperors to lay down their own lives so that the ruler may become richer yet. And what about “loyalty cards” ? These are the tricks used by companies to keep us using them when we could get better deals or services elsewhere. And “loyal fans” ?  Those are the ones following the teams that continually loses.

Therefore I am quite certain that if I am unfortunate enough to find myself described as “loyal” then something has gone badly wrong. Either someone has cheated on me, deceived me, or has made me put my interests below theirs. It is possible to share a vision and, when doing so, it is wise to stick with it (and those sharing the vision) through difficult times.  Love doesn’t require constant revalidation and love survives through the thin, lean times  as well as the easy days. But when the word loyal is wheeled out you can be certain that we are no longer in some, temporary blip and that love may have long gone.

“Loyal” – listen out for the word and, unless you are a dog,  be ready to change you plans if you hear the word applied to you !

 

 

 

Every single lash .. ..

Every single lash .. ..

I normally steer clear of issues of gender politics. The arena is so toxic and tribal that it is difficult to have constructive discussions of how we might improve matters. This is not because the subject is inherently difficult, indeed it is blindingly simple ; all humans are born with the same few inalienable rights, which apply equally, and their gender and race play no part in this. Unfortunately this is not enough in this area where tribal loyalties and blind dogma seem to rule and ensure that all discussions degenerate into bad-mouthed squabbles.405

It is therefore with trepidation that I write to complain about the current cover of “Glamour” magazine and its false #poweredbywomen tagline. This caught my eye in the supermarket and was successful in that it made me think about gender disparities in the workplace. I note that they stated that in these issues the magazine would be 100% made by women” and that “Every photo in our pages? Taken by a woman. Every hair coiffed. Every lash curled.(by a woman)”.  Which made me think about the divisions of labour. While I am fairly certain that “every lash curled” was curled by a woman I wondered how different this was to another day of the week. I have a sneaky feeling that in the world of lash curling or hair coiffing there is already a female preponderance. But what about other areas of the magazine’s production ?

I think we can sleep easy that the gender disparity in forestry has not been tackled.  In this hazardous industry with an appalling death rate amongst its workers 99% of those working outdoors are men. We can bet safely that is was a man who clambered up the hill in the rain or snow, to use the chainsaw, to cut down the trees to make the magazine’s paper.  Another industry with a dreadful record of safety for its workers is the haulage industry. Of those people working outdoors in lonely lives, often having to sleep in their lorry’s cab in a car park far away from their families, 99.5% are men. I think we can be sure than glamour magazine was not shuttled by a fleet of women lorry drivers from the factories to the shops.

While there is better gender ratio in the printing industry as a whole (70:30) this masks a wider split – white collar office jobs are predominately held by women while dangerous factory jobs are overwhelmingly male. All of this is before we step further back in the supply chain to prinking ink and those who obtain the pigments, the miners who mine the ores that create the metals from which  the machinery is made, and the assembly line workers to create them. There are lost of jobs where there is a disparity and none of these will have been tackled by Glamour’s mock feminism.

The cheek of this magazine to put its model on the front page with her fist of solidarity at odds with her winsome smile, perfect coiffure and model good looks. She is no ‘Rosie the Riveter’, no image of female strength and ambition;  just another model on the front page showing women how they should look. It really does take exceptional degree of irony to to take up the fight for increasing the proportion women in the workplace in one of the few industries where this is not a problem. I think that fashion journalists, glamour consultants, fashion models, hairstylists, make up artists and the rest have already cracked this problem. Indeed we should perhaps be arguing for more male models to try and reduce the effects of the objectification of women by this industry. I don’t think I have seen a worse case of “virtue signalling” since the campaign to give away tampons at Glasgow Airport to end period poverty;   if one group of women are less likely to suffer from this, then it is wealthy people stepping off aeroplanes –  surely “To those that have, shall be given“.

How could this campaign got off to such a ledebad start in missing the gender disparities in its own industry and how could it be so crass and blinkered. Perhaps a look at the group behind it will give a clue.  This group of predominately white, young middle class women will have a biased view of the world.  Where are the people of colour, does the cosmetic industry  feel that this is too poor a market ? Where are the older people, the glamour industry doesn’t tolerate the elderly? Where are the plain people,  this industry ejects you when your looks fade ? Where are the disabled, its hard to break into this industry if you deviate from accepted definitions of beauty ?

We do have pressing issues on inequality of opportunity and pressing issues on inequality of remuneration for work, but boosting the cosmetics and glamour industries profile is not one of them. This industry does enough damage to all of us, but especially women, as it is and we don’t need them to steal feminism to create a marketing strategy. Lets campaign for real changes, equal pay, equal parental leave and responsibility and pick some priorities. Here in the west they might be the lack of male teachers to give our boys a role model to encourage learning and academic aspiration, the lack of female taxi drivers to widen the choice for passengers, the lack of male nurses to encourage men to come forward more readily with health problems, and the lack of female manual workers in the days of mechanisation there is no real call for brute strength, look at our female athletes they are clearly the match for men. And lets get rid of magazines that tell women how they should look, how they should dress, how they should use cosmetics, and , increasingly, how they should think. It is not a woman’s lot to “curl a lash” any more than it is a man’s to fell a tree. Stop pigeonholing us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cof a llithr, lluniau a geidw

Cof a llithr, lluniau a geidw

Mae ‘na llawer o sefyllfaoedd pan mae hi’n addas i gwyno – am y tywydd, sut dy dîm wedi chwarae, am y cynlluniau llywodraeth, achos dy wraig mynnu edrych ar “Strictly”, llawer o resymau. Ond mae yna  un adeg  pan nid yn addas yn cwyno, sef ar ôl dderbyn anrheg. Does ‘na ddim ots os ti’n derbyn sanau tartan,  tei porffor ,neu CD Richard Clayderman – jyst gwenu a dywedwch “diolch”. Mae’n groes i’r drefn i gwyno.

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Felly, roedd hi’n drist pan y llyfrgellydd ysgol hwn  (Liz Phipps Soeiro) wedi gwrthod anrheg gan Melania Trump (Nifer o lyfrau Dr Seuss). Mi wnaeth Liz yn weld cyfle am dipyn bach o “virtue signalling” ac yn sgwennu llythyr sbengllyd i Melania i ddweud “Ni fyddwn ni’n cymryd eich llyfrau” oherwydd  “Dr Seuss yn ystrydebol ac yn hiliol”.

Roedd Liz yn anghwrtais a di-foes. Mi ddylai hi wedi derbyn y llyfrau ar gyfer ei disgyblion – dyna ei swydd. Hefyd, ddylai hi ddim defnyddio ei swydd hi  i wneud datganiadau gwleidyddol. Pe bai’n eisiau ymosod Donald Trump dylai  hi ddim ymosod Melania. (Mae Melania wedi priodi’r hen groesan, mae ganddi ddigon o drafferth beth bynnag!) Ond, uwchlaw bob peth roedd hi’n dwp iawn.

Meddalodd hi “Dr Seuss ydy hen ffasiynol a dylanwad drwg i blant”. Ond, roedd hi’n dweud celwyddau. Yn anffodus, roedd hi wedi anghofioam hen llun yn ei albwm.  Mewn ychydig awr ar ôl wneud ei chyhoeddiad wnaeth rhywun ffeindio a chyhoeddi llun ohoni hi – yn y llun roedd Liz gwisgwyd fel y ‘Cat in the Hat. Roedd hi wedi trefnu a chymryd rhan parti pen-blwydd (gyda brecwast Wyau gwyrdd a ham) i ddathlu’r bywyd Dr Seuss. Roedd hyn parti i ddathlu’r cymorth bod Dr Seuss wedi rhoi’r plant a’u haddysg, trwy annog plant i ddarllen. Yn amlwg wnaeth hi ddim wedi credu Dr Seuss roedd dylanwad niweidiol dim ond ychydig of flynyddoed cyn.

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Roedd Liz wedi dechrau’r diwrnod fel arwr ond daeth i ben y diwrnod fel twmffat.  Cofiwch a byddwch yn ofalus, yr rhyngrwyd byth yn anghofio.

Liar (ITV). Keeping the plebs ‘on story’.

Liar (ITV). Keeping the plebs ‘on story’.

 

There was never any tension in this drama. We knew from the outset that it would be, like all the others, a play in which the woman was the victim telling the truth and the man was the villain. I mean, could you imagine the playwright writing that the woman had told lies ? Think about it. Miscarriages of justice are staple fare for film and television drama; the innocent accused of murder, the unfortunate either deliberately or by coincidence accused of fraud or deception.  Dramas of good people trying to clear their name and reveal the truth are mainstream and common. However, though they will consider many crimes (murder, arson, theft, assault, causing catastrophic calamities) they never involve accusations of rape. That would be going ‘off message‘ and suggest that, however rarely, it is possible that the victim is not the woman but the man having been falsely accused.

This drama never deviated from the standard message. Like all clunky propaganda it beat us about the head with the party line. Listen, it said, it doesn’t matter if she has made unfounded accusations in the past, it doesn’t matter if the evidence doesn’t match her story, it doesn’t matter if she has been psychotic and held erroneous beliefs before, it doesn’t matter how you might construe her behaviour that evening – it’s simple stupid – she says she’s the victim so she is the victim.  Victims never lie.

And, just to be certain (in case you had any doubts) it doesn’t matter how handsome and successful he is , how believable his story might be, it doesn’t matter that he is a caring and kind doctor, it doesn’t matter that he is a single parent bringing his son up alone after being widowed, it doesn’t matter what he says – he is the man and all men are rapists. He is the one lying.

This was not drama. This was not an attempt to show something that is usually hidden from our view, this steadfastly ploughed the accepted furrow. This was not an attempt to subvert harmful stereotypes or caricatures, this play had the standard new-age tropes a plenty. This did not try and foster sympathy for a currently abused or disadvantaged group. It did none of these laudable dramatic aims. This was simply a play to make sure the plebs “get with the programme“. It was preparation for the jury room. If you find yourself on the jury remember there is no need to weigh up the evidence, no need to consider the testimonies, no need to seek the truth. Because, we already know the truth, just stay strong and remember “the victim never lies”.

I have not seen, and may never see, the final episode but I’d wager it will be the last stage in the public education. It will be an episode which shows how terribly wrong things go when the victim is not instantly believed. If the episodes so far have not made it clear enough this is just the warning of the harm you can do when you step out of line.

 

Propaganda like this is so crude in its socialism-vs-capitalism-propaganda-poster-1crafting that it resembles the Soviet posters with capitalist monsters (looking like the fat controller from Thomas the Tank Engine) debasing heroic proletarians, or the Nazi equivalents with hook-nosed Jews preying on the fair Aryans. As they become more  crass they become more transparent, Hopefully people will see through them and they will loose some of their effect. Hopefully, because this is no way to improve society for women and men. Indeed, this probably worsens matters by continuing to attempt to polarise the argument when it is clearly the case that the truth is equally important to women and men.

jew0295e59a781Although the writers, Harry and Jack Williams, may deserve  (for crimes against drama) the unjust and distrustful culture they are helping to create the rest of us don’t – but we may be obliged to share it. A future where prejudice reigns is unlikely to be a better one for our sons or our daughters.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves

Some coincidences are pleasing, a happy twist of fate. They can be a pleasant caprice which brightens your day , for example, the happy coincidence of meeting a friend you had been thinking about when in the town. Or it could be the pleasure of seeing the coincidence of the numbers of your date of birth being present in the winning national lottery ticket. The coincidence of  having actually bought a ticket with those numbers on the same day as they won would be a very happy coincidence ! Yes, it can be great fun to watch the stars align and imagining that the hidden logic of the world has been revealed.

However, more commonly coincidences are a pain in the neck. It seems every time I need any specific power tool for a job; the drill, the plane, the router, anything – by coincidence that is exactly the tool I lent out last week, or which I lost, or which broke. It is uncanny, and it does suggest, that if there is an underlying power guiding my life it has a mischievous sense of humour and enjoys annoying me.

But over the last months my interest in coincidences has taken a more serious turn. I am not concerned about being irked by minor twists of fate but of the  perfect storm  which is developing. We  have seen the coincidence of an election where the most inappropriate Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, more lacklustre than Michael Foot, found himself with the luck of facing the most misguided of Conservative Party campaigns – running a campaign based entirely on personality but using the charisma-free Theresa May.

Next we can reasonably expect the coincidence of Brexit and the election of Jeremy Corbyn. The greatest challenge Britain’s economy is going to face in a lifetime could coincide with Britain having a government most hostile to economic growth – They are already planning for a run on the pound!

I suppose coincidences are matters of luck and perhaps we don’t deserve such bad luck as this, and if it is not luck then perhaps we can do something about it in time.

Fingers and toes crossed

 


Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel ?

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel ?

It now appears that Charlie Gard and his parents have lost their war. It seems that Charlie will die over the next few days and that his parents have decided that all hope of any improvement is lost. All they now seek is to ensure that their son dies with dignity and compassion.

They gave up their commendable battle when they realised it was now, after all the delays, too late to meaningfully help their son. They faced enormous challenges and met them with dignity and were, without any dubiety, an example to many of the power of parental love. The showed a steadfastness that was remarkable and kept on despite many difficulties.

In the last week there was a campaign mounted against them which is likely to have originated  from GOSH’s legal team. Articles appeared in the British press praising at the medical and nursing staff suggesting that they were doing their best for the child and his parents could not wish for better advocates for their baby.

It was then suggested that the staff had been intimidated by online harassment and threats. This is a common strategy by those under pressure as it has the two fold action of both stifling criticism and also suggesting that those on the other side of the debate are associated with violent thuggery. This was especially unpleasant as throughout this dreadful time Charlie’s parents remained dignified and reserved. They never called the motives of the staff caring for their child into question and said no bad things about them.

Charlie Gard will not see his first birthday. But in his short life he will hopefully have opened many peoples’ eyes to the dangers of giving away our freedoms to authorities who tell us that they will look after us. He and his parents will have achieved much more than most of us, they are modern heroes. Heroes don’t need to win their battles they just have to be heroic. Heroes are heroic not because they win but because they fought.