Not the Casio calculator I was so proud to get for my 10th birthday you understand – that is long since lost – but mistakenly trying to call someone using the calculator function on my smart phone…
Is my phone smarter than me? Not yet, as I am the one that has to eventually notice my error. You’d think that any self-respecting phone of today could figure that what I really want to do is call someone…
What’s more worrying, however, is that it is an error I have made more than once.
That preamble is because I am still thinking about the role time plays in the human experience. Is it a concept, an experience, a reality, or (as I suspect) just a bunch of numbers that do not help us to understand our subjective experience any better at all?
Is this a mid-life crisis?
No-one in my particular echo chamber has much good to say about 2016.
Glad to see the back of it seems to the general sentiment.
It being a number, two thousand and sixteen, this one-off number that we humans have chosen to overarch this particular span of time, a stretch we like to call a year.
I’m not sure how I feel about this.
Gonna sleep on it.
I wrote this post 5 years ago. It’s a long post, but I think it was prescient. In it I demanded radical responses to the problems created by the failed capitalist model and the binary thinking of economists. Since then we’ve had some new thinking, but the responses of electorates have been to make sure the ‘selfish’ element of our experience is allowed to take precedence.
By the closing paragraph of this, the rise of the right and Donald Trump looks, if not inevitable, then less surprising at least.
I am no economist, as the state of my bank deficit can testify, nonetheless I have taken some time to try and understand what the hell has gone on with the global economy in the last few years. I lived through the boom and bust of the late 1980s and early 90s and my experience with credit then, gave me a good grounding in how fragile life becomes when we live on a play now, pay tomorrow basis.
On the other hand I still live in a Western capitalist economy, some people live without debt, but they are probably the minority. I learned from the 1980s but I could not entirely mend my ways. I did learn one thing though. Don’t buy a buy now, pay later sofa – that’s just stupid.
And that’s where Friedrich August Hayek comes in. His economic theory can be loosely applied to DFS, MFI…
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This article is all about mental health in the farming community. Please help in breaking the stigma by tweeting in support of farmers who suffer from mental health, using the hashtag #FarmerMental…
So… I could go on.
It’s a new grammatical unconvention isn’t it, to start a sentence with so. Your purist grammarian would be all up in arms about it, but I reckon, after a week that delivered the world the Donald as President-Elect for the not-so United States of America on a harried shallow in breath, and released Leonard Cohen on the exhale, it will stand.
On June 24th 2016 my brain had to do some heavy cognitive lifting, and quick, to rearrange some neural networks so all this shifting had a place to go. The world as I thought I knew it had altered radically. In my mind, Britain was a beacon of multiculturalism and tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people in need. I was wrong. Britain had ignored the needs of too many citizens outside the metropoleis for too long. Beyond our mixed and multicultural cities, people felt ignored, left behind, slighted even. Despite efforts (I will not write best) the political party (Labour) that purported to represent their views was not just part of the disconnect, it had driven some of it along over the years.
The internet, the media: you find the same disconnect between various realities, but also increased identification and connection with people like you. These days, if you hold a view, it is not hard to find someone, somewhere who will reinforce it. If you should happen upon someone or something that might challenge your feelings about how your part of the world is going along, the easiest thing to do is simply click away. Quickly. Thus we have the world divided, as was described this week into red feed / blue feed. Thus we have a world where an appeal to the facts of the matter simply bounce off a set of existing feelings and beliefs like hailstones on a tin roof. We have, my friends, arrived at the Post-Truth staging post.
So Trump. So Trump can say whatever he likes; whatever he likes about African Americans, whatever he likes about women, whatever he likes about Mexicans, whatever he likes about Hillary Clinton, or Obama. He can say whatever hateful things he likes because the people who voted for him say* they aren’t motivated by any of those things – they are interested in his main, simplistic, nostalgic and essentially undeliverable election slogan:
MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN
It’s the same ploy the Brexiteers used in Britain to good effect:
TAKING BACK CONTROL
Both campaigns were notable for their policy vacuum, and real-world strategies to deliver meaningless soundbytes (beyond the immediate appeal to the emotions). Sufficient numbers of both British and US electorates liked not just the sound of the slogans, but the feel of them too. The overt racism, sexism, divisiveness? Well, that just wasn’t the line in the sand those of us who study history and have hope for the future of the planet and humankind hoped it would have been.
The hurt this experience engenders in the ‘losing’ side has been likened to a bereavement. The population that voted to Remain, or for Hillary, instead wake up to a country that is not what they thought, or hoped it was. First we find someone to blame: those who voted for Trump or to Leave, those who did not vote at all. We look at the numbers. Hillary won on the popular vote; Brexit was not voted for by the majority of the nations that make up the United Kingdom. Those facts comfort somewhat yet highlight that the system is messy, inconclusive. In the UK, the question was wrong. In the US, the candidate was wrong, the electoral college is an anachronism. Those on the ‘losing’ side are told not to frustrate the will of the people. Those in power like to quote that a lot. We end up in the ridiculous situation where the will of a minority of the people is treated like holy writ and the law of the land is berated for being as it is, not as this group of people want to be.
With victory in the back pocket of the rich (posturing to care about the poor) the facts of the matter, the rule of law, the mechanics of the thing are mere inconvenience. Post-truth, post-fact, we and they simply change the channel.
I fear backwards. I hope I am wrong.
I hope that these swings to the right, that seem destined to continue to play out across Europe in the coming year, are simply the sting in the tail of the death throes of the 20th century. That they are the last chance saloon of angry white people who whilst still in the majority feel they are not, and also feel that their rights are somehow more than their fellow beings due to accidents of birth.
The alternative is ugly and dangerous and it’s already here.
*I’m afraid I don’t believe them
A few weekends ago I realised that although I have spent much of the year writing and writing, it has been all the wrong kind of writing.
I thought I might have gotten away with it though: day after day, tapping away, all wrong.
Just this once, I thought, I would be earning enough to make giving up my days to the wrongness right.
It was a fallacy of thinking. I am what I am. My writing is not simply a knowledge product. It is what I think, and what I do. If the writing is too much wrong, too often, then so is the thinking and so becomes the doing, in the end. As I said: I am what I am. And I must make the time to do that righter than wronger.
Which makes me feel a bit like a cross between Winnie the Pooh (existential bear philosopher) and Russell Ackoff (organizational theorist and systems god).
But that’s good.
I do not like a corner. I find myself in them, often.
A Snarly Corner life is that back against the wall, stomach-churning sensation that suddenly comes upon one, without forewarning.
The way out of such Snarly Corners is present but somehow not a route easily, or obviously taken. The thing is to not worry about that, the route that is; not to worry if it is scenic, or direct. The thing is to get moving.
Get moving and think about it later. After all, reflecting on action is probably less cognitively demanding than reflecting in action when there is no-one else to reason with except oneself and the Snarly Corner.
So that’s my advice. Take a step out into the wide yonder and think about it all another time.
Alternatively, live in a round house.
I am considering that.
Yesterday morning I tweeted about Brexit (as I’ve done a fair number of times), and it went just a little bit viral. Here’s the tweet:
It was an off-the-cuff Tweet, and I had no idea that people would RT it so much, nor that it would provoke quite as many reactions as it has. I’ve replied to a few, but, frankly, it’s not possible to reply to all. The responses, however, have been quite revealing in many ways. As usual, people read Tweets in different ways, and of course this particular Tweet is far from unambiguous. I was asked many times what is the ‘this’ that I’m saying is the fault of the ‘Brexit people’. And who I meant by ‘Brexit people’. I was told I was wrong to lump all Brexit people together. And that we should be looking for unity, not stoking the fires of division.
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An expanded version of a post from August. Or a middle-aged portly woman finds herself in a tin bath.
I haven’t had a bath in years. Really. It’s been so long that I can’t remember when I last had a soak in a tub. I know some people swear by bathing for its relaxing properties, candles, bubbles and all that jazz, but the vague memories I have formed of that type of endeavour involve only constant struggling with the hot tap with my toe to top the water up, dropped books and rapidly vanishing foam leaving me face-to-face with all my glories. It only takes 5 minutes for me to go from feeling like a Zen mistress to a puce and blowsy woman from a Beryl Cook painting. Cue heaving myself out, strongly channelling, not chilled-out bliss, but instead vibes reminiscent of the poem The Kraken by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
That doesn’t mean I’ve been soap-dodging for a decade. Hell no. I am as much a sucker for sweetly-scented body condiments as the next person (have you ever tried the divine Korres shower gel range?). It’s just that I did not have a walk-in shower in my life until I was 37 and since then, the whole wallowing thing (which to be fair I did almost exclusively for nearly 4 decades) has totally lost whatever charm it may have held – which to be honest – is not a lot.
So after nearly another decade of showering in splendour in Essex, I found myself this morning, somewhat to my surprise, sitting in an enamelled metal bath in mid-Wales. Wales was not a surprise (something to do with the summer holidays), but the bath was.
I don’t know for sure, but it seems like I may have uncovered some kind of special and hitherto secret talent in myself, because booking a modest holiday let with no shower seems like it should be an impossible feat. Try it sometime – everywhere has a shower. Everywhere.
However, I do not preach the TED brand of positive psychology for nothing, so I was not to be defeated, although the horror of the situation I had placed myself in had already led to going unwashed for the full 24 hours since arrival. The 24 hour delay had enabled me to do two key things: discern how much hot water there was likely to be available for a thorough sheep dip, plus decide when such an operation might be best timed, considering I was in competition for the scarce resources with two teenage girls (a species not known for general abstemiousness in the ablution department).
This morning, around 9.30 a.m. I took the plunge. My first thought was that the bath was not big. Or, worse, I was ample. My second thought as I lowered myself gingerly into the water was deep gratitude for the vintage rubber shower head attachment that I had hopefully jammed on the taps. At least I was not having to press a rented kitchen receptacle into service to rinse my hair. My third thought was: I am awfully fat. On paper, I like to attach this rider – I am awfully fat when, and this is important, when I am folded over like a soggy burrito in a small bath in Wales.
In a shower, I am majestic. I stand at the altar of the apothecary and anoint my hair, face and body with botanical essences and water streams over me at exactly the right temperature (unless someone has put the washing machine or dishwasher on downstairs, or has marched into the bathroom without a by your leave to clean their teeth and turned on the tap) but you get my drift.
In the shower, there is no pale saggy flesh pressed against the side of a cold white enamel tub.
In the shower I think great thoughts and I am triumphant.
In the bath I cannot think about anything except when the hot water might run out, whether this bath is truly small or something worse, and why does so much hair come out of my head when I wash it.
And the learning from all that, seemed to be this. My body is only my body in a shower. In a bath, my body belongs to someone else, some stranger.
How we experience the world in our bodies every day is one of life’s marvels. One only needs to watch a baby fascinated by its own feet to feel this might be true. With the passage of time, because most of us do the same things over and over again, in the same places, we simply don’t notice what our bodies do for us anymore. We sit in the same chairs, sleep in the same beds, drive the same cars, walk down the same streets, go on the same gym machines and so on. Rarely, do we suddenly experience our day-to-day physicality in a vastly different way, unless it’s through serious illness or disease.
And when we do, what do we do? My fear is that in a world sated with images of so-called perfection, we jump into judging ourselves unkindly. We want a body that we know, that we can rely upon, sometimes literally through thick and thin, but how often do we get to forgiving it the vicissitudes of age, those bars of chocolate, the odd cigarette?
For women particularly though there a few high days and holidays to note with a new compassion for our bodies and less harsh judgments – see the baby bump comparison brigade. New lovers, pregnancy and childbirth. The onset and cessation of menstruation. These events allow us to see (if we are brave enough to look) and feel our bodies behaving differently. How we approach these differences is important. Just as I couldn’t make the tub this morning any different from how it was, neither could I dictate how my body would deal with, say, having babies. Yes, there were things I could do that might help, or hinder, but in essence it is what it is. Sometimes things go well; other times, not so much. The control we think we have is, in many ways illusory.
As I approach my 50s, I try to help myself, my actual self that is the flesh and the blood and the bones of me, where I can. Keeping active, eating ok, getting my sleep, not sleeping in cold open fields, as I longed to do for half my life. I also do some things that might hinder at times. But I am aware that I am entering a time in my life where it is better to be kind to my body. To work in harmony with it. To be grateful for how it has served me so far. To use it, as they say, or lose it. Mainly, to notice it.
Yesterday afternoon, high in the green misty hills near our holiday hideaway, I walked down a slippery wet track in the rain, behind a woman who must have been well into her 80s. She carried a stick and wore sensible shoes. Mud was spattered up the back of her navy jacket. The slope was not steep, but the weather was filthy. Underfoot it was all loose stones, leaf mulch and water. The woman must have walked up the hill, and was making her way back down. I fell into step, a short distance behind her and adjusted my speed a little, so as not to overtake her.
She could not have been walking for the purpose of pleasure that day. I had seen her earlier in the morning, also in the rain, also walking back. Not far, but at her age, far enough. It struck me she was walking with and against the weather. The same for her heart, her legs, her lungs: with and gently against. Making her body work, for the good of itself, for as long as she could.
Age and disease is all about the body letting a person down, one way or another. Why wait until that moment to either regret taking our muscles and sinew for granted over the years, or not getting the most out of them all along. So what if I had to squeeze myself into that bath or not this morning. Was it not the same thighs and backside that powered me uphill and down dale for the rest of this day?
Make those bodies work a little people, and notice them kindly along the way. That I suppose is all we could and should do for ourselves, until we can’t anymore. In the meantime, give a little thanks for the service you get and give, and don’t forget the consolation of a hot shower, or bath, if you must.
There not being any suitable pictures of soggy burritos in baths to illustrate this post freely available on the internet, will you kindly forgive my eschewing images to accompany this post.
“The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished spirits…”
Stephen Dillane reads from Heart Of Darkness
The inaugural Estuary festival was launched in dramatic style at Tilbury Cruise Terminal last night as Game Of Thrones actor Stephen Dillane read the opening scenes of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to a hushed audience.
It heralded the beginning of three weeks of brilliant literature, art, music, film and performance inspired by the Thames Estuary that have been organised by cultural organisation Metal, based at Chalkwell Park, in what will be a biennial event.
Starting this weekend (September 16-17) are the…
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