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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 


In defence of the floating voter.

In defence of the floating voter.

I have become aware that sometime during the last decade I have become a ‘floating voter‘. Prior to this I had always identified myself with one or other of the main parties, either Labour or the S.N.P., and cast my vote loyally for their local candidates. I was aware that floating voters were always looked on with a degree of derision; as poor fellows lacking any political philosophy and being politically un-engaged. The quote below, by Ann Coulter the right-of-centre political commentator pretty much sums up the common impression.

Swing voters are more appropriately known as the ‘idiot voters’ because they have no set of philosophical principles. By the age of fourteen, you’re either a Conservative or a Liberal if you have an IQ above a toaster.

However, despite this statement being witty , is it accurate and reasonable ? Taking first the idea that floating, or swing, voters do not have a political philosophy; is this really likely to be the case ? If one has a well developed sense of political principles then it is quite unlikely that these will line up neatly with those of a single political party. While my desire for people to have the ability to determine their future might tally nicely with the SNP’s plans for and independence referendum but not with the Labour Party’s opposition. My internationalism may find favour with those pursuing worldwide class solidarity in the Labour Party but would jar with the nationalism of the SNP. My recognition of the importance of freedom of speech might be welcomed in the Conservative Party but cause consternation to those in left leaning parties who place greater emphasis on the dangers of “hate speech”. However, if I have well developed opinions I am going to have to drop some of these and compromise if I want to be a loyal party voter (though I suppose I could establish my own party !). If I have political principles I am going to have to weigh these up against the offerings of the political parties at any given time, as priorities and situations change, and decide which party looks the best recipient of my vote at that time. In short, if I am principled I’d be better being a floating voter.

I remember when I was active in political campaigning how little respect the parties had for their loyal voter. Their votes were “in the bag”, all that we needed to do was “get the vote out, in some of our more certain constituencies we’d joke that we could put a red, or yellow, rosette on a dog and it would win handsomely. In essence we knew that these votes were loyalty votes, unthinking votes, knee jerk votes that we didn’t have to work for as they were not forged out of discussion or principle but because “I’ve always been Labour/SNP”  or they were voting “like my father and his father before him”.Even when parties acted against their best interests (Labour has neglected the fate of the white working class, the SNP has ignored the best interests of the youth in Scotland, and the Conservatives are ignoring the economic havoc they are about unleash on the business community) the loyal voters keep coming back. Like store loyalty cards, even though you can get a better deal elsewhere, it coaxes you back to the same old fare.

Secondly there is the idea of intelligence, that floating voters are in someway a bit more dumb than those who have made up their mind. For the reasons above this is unlikely, but there is a further reason. The world constantly changes, the challenges we face differ, and our priorities need to change to match this. Intelligence comprises recognising change and adapting to it, changing our responses and dealing with it. It is stupidity to continue to try the same approach no matter what the problem. The old adage that when you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail  comes to mind. Consider the problem facing loyal Labour voters, their conference has just jubilantly proposed harsh measures which will  undoubtedly worry large businesses (they know this because they have started to plan for a run on the pound should they win). Now this is quiet understandable in the light of their general principles but, with Brexit just around the corner when everyone’s main priority will be to maintain business in the UK and try and avoid its flight to Europe, the smart labour voter might recognise priorities have changed (at least temporarily) and feel that they need to put their vote elsewhere – it would be the intelligent thing to do.

Indeed, being a floating voter requires more intelligence and more involvement. Voting on party lines means you are leaving the decisions to others, you are abrogating your democratic duty to consider the arguments and make a choice. It is more work being a floating voter but you can feel better knowing that your vote was actually a considered one and is more likely to have had an effect on the outcome (Floating votes are disproportionately important in election results). Our system with its reliance on political parties damages our democracy.  The tendency of political parties to try and develop these “loyal voters” has lead to increasing pork-barrel politics with the right trying to expand its power by promising tax relief or advantage to its crony capitalist friends, or the left promising increased benefits in the welfare state to bribe its followers to keep in line. All of this concentrates political power and influence into a small number of hands, it reduces the choices we are given and influence of our opinions, and it weakens the flexibility and efficacy of our subsequent government.

 

I blame Audrey Hepburn

I blame Audrey Hepburn

I blame Audrey Hepburn. Alright, she wasn’t actingBreakfast_at_Tiffanys on her own but had a number of accomplices. Alongside her winning looks and performance, Henry Mancini’s composition “Moon River” and Blake Edward’s direction make “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” one of the great films.  In fact in 2012 it was recognized as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry . I’d agree with praise lavished on the film as it is one of my favourites. However, due to the film’s success I thought I could accurately, anticipate what would be in the book and, as a consequence, I had never bothered to pick up Truman Capote’s novella and read it. Yesterday, in preparation for the book club later on, I got around to reading the original and was pleasantly shocked.

There are many times when the book and the film are closely related. For example I doubt anyone could find many important differences between the cinematic and literary versions of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451“. Anyone having read, or seen, one could anticipate the other and there would be no surprises; one art form has held a mirror up to another, created its sibling,  and managed to double our pleasure. Sometimes films do take liberties with the content or intention of books and, while the result may be pleasing, they must be seen as two quite separate entities, related but separate, as the messages communicated are potentially very different. This film is so different to the book as to be almost unrelated. Perhaps it is a second cousin twice removed from the original book.

While they have taken the name and the beauty indexof the Holly Golightly character they have cleaned her up and washed away all the complex and untidy aspects of her nature. They have changed the era in which the story takes place. The novella occurs in wartime – a time of austerity, a time of death and uncertainty and it has the wise-cracking dialogue of the time. The book occurs in the post-war period – a period of optimism and growth and abundance. Holly in the book is a very complicated character, lively and enticing as in the film, but much more free in her spirits, partially a libertine and partially a lost soul. She uses her looks and youth to survive though it is clear that she is a character who has many other strings to he bow – she can act, she can sing and speak other languages – but she can not face being tied down or  to live in the mundane world.

“I’ll never get used to anything. Anybody that does, they might as well be dead”

Both the book and the film convey Holly’s beauty indexand attractions. It is difficult to imaging the character Holly Golightly without imagining Audrey in her sunglasses, elbow length gloves and cigarette holder. In the film the sunglasses carry the glamour of Jackie Onassis and the mystery of the mask. In the book we know that masks do help to hide ourselves  but that also the sunglasses can hide the effects, or black eye, from the night before.

She misses all her opportunities for contentment,  as to be content is inadequate for her. This leads her to a life possibly overful which makes her question her own, and society’s morals, and wonders if she is a prostitute by living off her appearance and favours :-

“Really, though, I toted up the other night, and I’ve only had eleven lovers — not counting anything that happened before I was thirteen because, after all, that just doesn’t count. Eleven. Does that make me a whore? ”

“Of course I haven’t anything against whores. Except this: some of them may have an honest tongue but they all have dishonest hearts. I mean, you can’t bang the guy and cash his checks and at least not try to believe you love him. I never have. Even Benny Shacklett and all those rodents. I sort of hypnotized myself into thinking their sheer rattiness had a certain allure”

She recognizes that love is more important than sex and it is clear that other characters, who have no libidinous interest in her, do indeed love her and, over a generation ago, she suggested that all love should be considered valuable.

“I’d settle for Garbo any day. Why not? A person ought to be able to marry men or women or — listen, if you came to me and said you wanted to hitch up with Man o’ War, I’d respect your feeling. No, I’m serious. Love should be allowed. I’m all for it”

However, her fears of restraint  or curtailment hamper any attempts at forming deeper relationships. We always know this is going to be a picaresque tale and unlike the film there is to be no happy ending. In the book we know that she will be an ever fading beauty who will slide from view as her looks and allure weaken. It is in this area that the book and film differ most markedly. Both are romances but the film is a romance of fairy tales and dreams coming true, while the book is a tale of loosing your heart to someone while you try and live your dream

 

 

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.