The Enduring Lie of a Golden Age – Part 2…This is Personal

Two weeks ago I wrote of the idea so many people have that somewhere in the past there was a ‘Golden Age’ when everything was so much better than today.

I am now going to post what might seem a bit of a contradiction to what I wrote then.

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More and more, we are losing our connection with the natural world.

Everyone would have a different opinion on what is meant by the phrase ‘quality of life’, but for me if I am surrounded by concrete structures, with a lack of trees and flowers and birds, animals and insects, if the building I am in consists of electronic devices, plastic, steel, and artificial floor coverings, if my engagement with the day to day tasks of this building consists of pressing buttons, then I feel my own quality of life is much diminished.

A common post appearing on Facebook is of a picture of a cabin or cottage in the wilderness somewhere, with the caption ‘Could you live here for a month without TV or phone signal or internet for $25,000?’

Could I do it? I’d bite your hand off for the chance to do it. And I wouldn’t even need the money as an incentive.

No press-the-button entertainment. Setting and lighting a log fire instead of switching on the heating. No dishwasher. No constant barrage of emails, texts and phone calls. No street lights – or streets.

I’d bite yer hand off.

Whether I am at home, working, or walking in the country, always there seems to be the sound of aircraft passing overhead. Day and night. Constantly.

And unless you’re in the middle of a national park, there always seems to be traffic noise. Even when I’m walking in the midst of woodland, or through fields, it’s always present as a background noise.

And anywhere near a road or street, it is just constant. And I find that extremely stressful.

This is one reason why I love being amongst mountains. Usually, they are remote enough that the traffic noise is finally silenced. Frequently, they are away from air routes. And, of course, there are far fewer people around. And those that are there don’t usually seem to be glued to mobile phones or playing music.

And I’m nostalgic. Well, I’m in my sixties now, I’m allowed to be. And that brings us back to the post about a supposed golden age. Nostalgia is a yearning for the past, with the inference that it was better than the present day. There are, of course, many things about today that are much less than perfect – I’ve called out a few of the things I don’t like earlier in this post – but only a fool would deny that huge medical advances have improved all our lives for the better, social security has largely alleviated the horrors of abject poverty and, at least in the affluent west, our lives are not subject to the whims of despots.

But although I can expect to live to a greater age than my forebears – at least in theory – I would be willing to trade some of that for a time when life was less complicated, a life where I didn’t feel constantly bombarded by social media and advertising. A life that was lived more slowly.

Not a Golden Age, certainly, but one I would happily live in.

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Refuge

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The first time she ever set eyes on the sea,

She was forty seven.

 

It was a long road there.

She set off with little enough,

And arrived with much less.

 

She had a home, once.

A house,

In a well-to-do area of the city.

Life was good.

 

But fear came,

In the form of bullets, shells and bombs.

Once, gas.

 

Her house is rubble, now.

Memories and possessions buried,

Alongside her husband.

 

Alongside her daughter.

 

Alongside her middle son.

 

Her hands are scarred from the digging.

For weeks,

Her palms were raw and bloody,

from blocks of masonry,

Too large to move.

 

Dust and tears.

The pain came later.

 

It was bad enough to lose her home,

But when you’re caught in the cross-fire,

And the food runs out,

What else can you do?

 

Her eldest son paid for the crossing,

With borrowed money.

 

Somewhere,

He is ‘paying off’ the loan.

A bonded labourer.

A slave.

 

Her youngest son was washed away.

The dinghy was too small,

The passengers too many.

Fear.

You could smell it,

Alongside the despair.

The panic.

There were fewer of them when the sun rose.

 

There is shelter here,

Of a sort.

But when the wind blows she shivers,

Drawing near the oil drum blaze.

 

There is food,

Once a day.

Of a sort.

 

There was a welcome.

She soon learns what sort.

 

Now, she walks down to the sea.

 

She wonders whether she should,

Whether she should just,

Just, slip under,

The waves.

The Enduring Lie of A Golden Age

It seems that huge numbers of people have an impression that there was a ‘Golden Age’ at some previous point of their, or some other, society.

They may not define it in those words, or even acknowledge it as such, but it seems to be very common for people to yearn for another time. Sometimes, this is nostalgia – for the days of their youth – but frequently it is for some far-off time that they feel to be somehow better than the time they live in.

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Fantasy books frequently encourage this sort of thinking. Regardless of the actual storyline, the heroes and villains and cast of other odd characters tend to run around and fight and go on quests and sit around in quaint thatched inns quaffing head-splitting alcoholic drinks and everyone is jolly and no one ever dies of dysentery or bubonic plague in misery and agony and squalor.

The Lord of the Rings is a fine example of this. It is a favourite of mine, but it is very noticeable how no one dies of disease, but mostly lives to an exceedingly old age unless chopped into pieces by Orcs.

Hollywood, too, plays its part in this. To take a film at (almost) random, an old version of ‘Robin Hood’ (set in medieval England, remember) depicts a group of merry men dressed in very strange attire living in the depths of a forest and merrily ambushing the Bad King’s men, merrily dining at long tables out beneath the spreading branches of merry oak trees under starry skies and everyone looks clean and clean shaven and everyone is merry, and it never rains.

Pah!

This is meant to be medieval England. Life expectancy at the time was around 30 years. Huge numbers of people died of dysentery, mainly because there was no concept of hygiene. Occasional plagues carried off massive numbers of people, emptying entire towns and villages. There were no antibiotics or anaesthetics. Disease was sent by God and the only way to cure it was considered to be prayer. Or witchcraft. Women routinely died in childbirth, in great pain. The majority of children never reached their teens. Every peasant in every village was effectively a slave under the command of the local lord, who held the power of life and death over them, and might exercise this on a whim at any moment. The threat of famine was ever present.

Pain and misery was a given.

The majority of people lived, too, in a very real terror of the Devil and the threat of eternal damnation.

The list of horrors is almost endless. The phrase ‘life was nasty, brutish and short’ is an apt description of those times. Certainly, I would not wish to live under those conditions.

There are plenty of other ‘Golden Ages’, of course. Almost any time in history can exercise a fascination on us, if certain aspects of it appeal to us and there are things we dislike about the society we live in. And it is natural to yearn for something better; something more than we have.

And this is not to suggest that every age was a living hell for everyone in that society, but that life in most of these times was reasonably decent for the very few on top of the pile, and pretty miserable for the rest. In fact, the measure of how ‘Golden’ an age was, tends to be the conditions of the upper echelons of that society, and perhaps those of a middle class, if such existed.

There is much wrong with our world today. But the huge advances seen over the last hundred years or so, especially in medicine, have meant that our lives have been improved out of all recognition. No longer does surgery equate to filling the patient with a quart of whisky and then sawing off a leg or an arm. No longer do those patients routinely die of infections after surgery, thanks to antibiotics. High blood pressure is controlled, rather than routinely killing. Children usually survive all the diseases of childhood, rather than being most likely to die. Women rarely die in childbirth, and the pain can be somewhat controlled.

Women and children are no longer the legal chattels of men.

Work conditions are hugely improved. Children do not go down mines or work at dangerous looms 14 hours a day. Instead, most receive a proper education. Adults, too, work fewer hours and under far better conditions than previously. When they are too old or frail to work, the state provides a certain amount of dignified support. People do not as a rule die these days of starvation. We do not execute children for stealing sixpence, or poaching rabbits on the Lord’s estate.

In most cases, for most people, today is the Golden Age.

Bob on Holiday

Just in case you were wondering where he was, Bob has been on holiday. He’s back now, though.

And actually, he’s rather cross.

Now, lot’s of people return from holiday having had a wonderful time and feeling a bit tetchy that they have to come back to the daily grind, but it’s not like that.

No, Bob thinks we’ve all been lied to.

He went away to a holiday enclave in a West African country – or so he says. Bob’s sense of geography being what it is, I wouldn’t be too certain of the destination without checking his passport stamps first. And I wouldn’t do that. So I’ll take his word for it for now.

‘Now, I’m no fool,’ he said, looking at me.

‘No, of course not, Bob,’ I replied. ‘Absolutely not. Anything but. In fact, anyone who says…’ My words died away as I heard Bob’s wife, Gina, laughing somewhere behind me. ‘Go on,’ I ended, lamely.

‘Well, we read all the time that this is one of the poorest countries in the world,’ he continued, ‘yet I’ve never been to a nicer place! The hotel was really luxurious! Food was brilliant. All the staff were wonderful – they were smartly dressed and they couldn’t do enough for you! There were masses of security men all around the perimeter, mind you, but I don’t know what they were there for. And the beach was fantastic!’

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‘Was it just you on the beach?’

‘No, there were dozens of us.’

‘Any local people?’

‘No, they don’t go there, apparently. They don’t like sitting around on the beach like we do.

‘Did you go outside the hotel grounds at all, Bob?’

‘Yeah, we went to a village to see local artists at work. I loved the village. It’s such a minimalist lifestyle. They don’t waste time or money on all those pointless things that we think are so essential in the west.’

‘Like what?’

‘All that rubbish we don’t need!’ he said, heatedly. ‘They live a simple, healthy, lifestyle, and what matters to them are the things that are really important.’

‘Like what?’ I repeated.

‘Well, simple food, for example. It’s much healthier, you know. You don’t come across any of the locals there who are overweight.’

‘What is this diet, then? Do you know?’

‘Well, mostly they make a sort of porridge out of some local grain, apparently.’

‘Is that it?’

‘Oh, no. Of course not! They usually have it with, er beans. And onions.’

‘It doesn’t sound very exciting.’

‘Food doesn’t need to be exciting! It’s there to keep you alive!

It was a side of Bob I’d never seen before, and, to be honest, it was a bit scary. I never realised he could be so evangelical. At least, not about things like that. I’m used to him banging on about how wonderful a new beer is that he has discovered, or about his favourite pizza topping (which I’m not going to talk about here, but…pineapple on pizza…how could you?), but now he had all the fervour of a fresh convert to some extreme religion.

‘And then there are the houses they live in,’ he continued.

‘The houses?’

‘Yes. Gloriously simple and uncomplicated!’

‘As in small and built of odd pieces of driftwood and plastic sheeting?’

‘Exactly!’ He smiled warmly. ‘I love the way they make use of what’s locally available to build with. It keeps the costs down, and reduces the environmental impact of transporting thinks like bricks from far away. Simple.’

‘But would you want to live in one of those?’

‘I wouldn’t mind. I mean, what else do you need? Just some sort of bed in there and, oh, a table, I suppose. And a couple of chairs.’

‘But you just told me how luxurious the hotel was, and how much you enjoyed it.’

‘Well, I wasn’t going to turn it down, was I? But apparently it’s because us Westerners are all just so soft and pampered. The native people don’t live like that at all.’

‘So you say. Does this mean you’re going to change how you live, then, Bob?’

‘Well, I don’t think it’s particularly practical in the West.

‘I suppose not. Tell me about the artists you went to visit, then.’

‘Ah, yes. Mainly carvers. Lovely wood; mainly animals and masks. I bought a couple. Look, that’s one of them.’ He pointed to a beautifully carved and polished elephant in black wood, standing on the mantelpiece. ‘It cost the equivalent of about two pounds in our money.’

‘That seems very cheap.’

‘I know, but it’s a lot to them. And it’s putting money into the local economy.’

‘Who did you give the money to? The chap who carved it?’

‘No, there was a bloke who showed us round. Nice guy in a suit. Looked very smart. We paid him.’

‘I don’t suppose the carver was in a suit.’

‘Of course not! You wouldn’t wear one of those while you were working, would you?’

‘Describe him, then.’

‘Well, he was wearing a pair of shorts.’

‘What else?’

‘Nothing else. That was it. they could have done with a wash, though, I must admit.’ He put his head to one side and stared into the distance. ‘And a bit of sewing.’ He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘Really, he could have done with a new pair of shorts. They were pretty ghastly.’

‘Maybe the nice man in the suit will buy him a pair.’ Bob smiled happily.

‘I’m sure he will!’

Going Green

On the morning of the 26th August, 2019, every single person on earth woke up to find that their skin had turned green.

For a few hours, there were an awful lot of people trying to find a way to change it back again, to try to dye it, rub the colour off, swallow lots of strange potions, try magic spells, see doctors, priests, scientists, mystics, druids, and all sorts of other experts and so-called experts, all of whom claimed they could cure the problem.

But all of whom had green skin as well, so they didn’t come across as very convincing.

Finally, someone thought to bellow up to God ‘Oi, God! What on earth have you done?’

There was a rumble of ethereal chuckling, and then God replied: ‘I am just so totally pissed off, like, with your saying how some of you are better than the others, like, just because of the colour of the skin I gave you. It’s all pretty random, after all. So now you’re all the same, and you might as well just stop it.’

‘Yeah…but…green?’

‘Yes, green. If I make you all white, then the ones that were already white will make out that was because they were superior in the first place. Same with all the other skin colours. So…green. None of you were green before.’

‘But…’

‘Plus,’ and here God gave a little Godly snigger, ‘you all equate green skin with aliens. So now you’re all aliens. And, even if I say so myself, that’s a good one.’

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Nothing’s ever simple, though, is it? Within a couple of weeks, once everyone had realised there was no mileage in everyone claiming to be a Green Supremacist, all the major religions started working overtime to fire up extra feuds and wars and to persecute anyone within reach who thought differently to the ways they did, anyone they considered heretical, those who some thought might be a slightly different shade of green, or cut their sandwiches in a non-prescribed way.

And then the sound of the loudest ever irritated sigh filled the skies and echoed around every valley and mountain and city on earth. It rumbled across the plains and seas and everyone stopped what they were doing and muttered ‘Oh, crikey. Now what?’

And God roared out ‘I thought I was angry before, but now I’m really pissed off! What on earth makes you think you can speak for me? This is all, quite frankly, rather insulting! I made this lovely planet, and put you on it so you could enjoy it and look after it and be nice to each other! How dare you presume to say that I hate people who you disagree with? How dare you say you have authority to kill in my name? And, while you’re at it, you can stop all the servile bowing and scraping, too. I mean, what sort of an image do you have of me?

‘Oh, and I almost forgot (‘cos I’ve got a lot of gripes with you lot!). Men are not superior to women in any way whatsoever. So you men can stop paying them less, treating them differently, forcing them to hide themselves, denying them education, declaring them inferior or evil, or discriminating against them in any other way at all, or else I’m jolly well going to visit a few plagues on you that will really make your blood run cold!

‘Now, start to look after my bloody planet, treat women with respect, and stop trying to find more cowardly ways to exterminate anyone you think different to yourselves!’

Blimey. Better do as She says.

Go On A Journey!

Everyone should go on a journey; a journey of discovery.

Even if they only do it once.

The journey will be different for everyone. No two journeys will be the same. But what they will have in common is that they will all be journeys where the traveller discovers something about themselves, as well as the environment where they have chosen to journey. The essence of the journey is that it gives the traveller both time and space to think; that on the journey they allow themselves to be open to new sights and thoughts and people.

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For some, it will be a carefully curated tour to a country with a different culture to their own. Perhaps a Westerner travelling to Nepal or Cambodia, or an Indian visiting Spain or Iceland, with a carefully prepared itinerary designed to help them get the most out of their journey.

For some, it could be much the same, but as an independent traveller. They would have the flexibility to either keep to a strict itinerary, or to go off somewhere new as the whim takes them. Because everyone’s sense of adventure is different.

For some, it will be a long, long trek through difficult terrain, pushing themselves physically and mentally every step of the way.

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For some, it might also be a long journey, but under easier conditions, where the aim is more one of contemplation, perhaps a pilgrimage of sorts.

For others, the difficult terrain might be that of their prejudices and fears – the terrain of the mind.

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What starts as a pilgrimage might end up in your discovering that you do not believe in God; well, that is fine. Remember, it is perfectly possible to be a spiritual person without believing in any god.

Although what ‘spiritual’ actually means is not so easy to nail down. I think of it as pertaining to the spirit, rather than to material things. In that sense, I would associate altruism with the spiritual, and greed with the material. A sense of calm and peace with the spiritual, a rowdy hedonism with the material.

For some, the journey might be from their house to a town or village a few miles away, and the journey might take no longer than a day.

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It is essential, though, that the journey is undertaken for the sake of the journey. The destination is, in some ways, unimportant. It is what happens on that journey that matters.

Many, perhaps, will journey without realising that they have done so, or arrive at their destination not realising that is what it is. They might only realise later.

Some will arrive at a totally unexpected destination, and perhaps that is the best destination of all.

Go on, then, off you go!

A Short Letter

To all the priests, doctors, teachers, politicians, atheists, faith healers, snake oil salesmen, dictators, rebels and rabble rousers who think they have the right to tell people what to think or to believe or to not believe: You Do Not.

To all those who think they have the right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body: You Do Not.

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To all those men who think they have more rights than women: You Do Not.

To all those who think they have more rights than others of a different race or caste or religion: You Do Not.

To all those who think they have the right to tell people that they cannot change their mind about what they believe: You Do Not.

None of you.

No matter what you believe yourselves.

It’s really very simple.

Attention! Fantastic News!

Now, this is good news.

Really good news.

Like so many people, I’ve always complained that there are just not enough hours in the day for me to get everything done that I want to do.

Heck, I don’t even have enough hours to do those things that I need to do.

This didn’t used to be the case, though. I can remember when my day used to glide past nice and smoothly; when I would have time to get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, eat and do whatever I needed to do, then maybe go out in the evening, come home again, and that was it! Job done! Time for everything!

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As I became older, though, there did seem to be less time available. Jobs lined up waiting to be done; I seemed to be busier and busier, and the days just seemed…shorter.

I began to wonder where the time was going. I looked in all the usual places; down the back of the sofa, under the bed, behind the stacks of baked beans in the bottom of the corner cupboard beside the sink, but no luck.

But I’ve been looking at it completely the wrong way.

So, the good news? Well, it took a lot of doing, but I have managed to fit a whole hour into just forty minutes.

Now, the consequences of this are pretty devastating, really.

I now have thirty six hours in my day instead of just twenty four.

There is just so much more I can do, now!

I can go to work for eight hours and still have twenty eight left over for other things.

Twenty eight!

Hell, that’s more than I used to have in a whole day, anyway!

I can even get have twelve hours sleep of a night, and then get a full days work in the next day.

And have sixteen hours left for other purposes. I guess I am now time-rich, to use one of these ridiculous modern phrases.

But…it’s odd, though. Despite all this extra time at my disposal, I seem to have more trouble than usual fitting a couple of simple tasks into an hour. Jobs that used to take me an hour, now seem to take an hour and a half to do. It is, as I say, rather odd.

And another downside of this, I suppose, is that I will no longer have an excuse to go offline for a while ‘just to catch up with things’.

Perhaps I’ll stick with the sixty minute hours for the moment, and keep the others in reserve for when I’m really busy.

‘Mick…’

‘Not now, Bob, I’m busy. I’ll get back to you later. You know, there just aren’t enough days in the week…’

How to Swear

Strangely, I was inspired to write this post after my virtual trip to Nepal with Bob, although ever since the unfortunate and divisive events in the US and the UK, I have been inundated with a request from my follower to produce this guide.

This guide, then, is intended for those who find themselves in situations of such extreme frustration that a safety valve needs to be opened before anything useful and practical can be done about the problem. Or, indeed, before a physical injury is sustained unnecessarily.

I feel your pain, I truly do.

And so I humbly offer you, the reader, this handy cut-out-and-keep Guide to Swearing.

Swearing loyalty, swearing allegiance to something, swearing to tell the truth…that’s not what this is about, even though it’s a related subject.

No, this is about swearing!

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The swearing we might indulge in when someone or something irritates us beyond simply acknowledging that fact.

The swearing we might indulge in to demonstrate to others, or even just ourselves, how remarkably annoyed by that situation or person we are.

Something along the lines of ‘Blistering barnacles!’ for readers of a certain age. Or the mutterings of Mutley in ‘Wacky Races’ for other readers of a certain age. I’m afraid these cultural references will be lost on some…you’ll just have to swear at me for using them.

Firstly, and most importantly, one should choose the correct moment. I would not advocate swearing at any random time, for it is unlikely to have the desired restorative effect and, indeed, leaves the unwary user merely looking like a pillock.

Examples of bad moments might be during a marriage proposal, or an important meeting with your boss.

Whereas an example of a good moment might be, for the English cricket supporter, the following. Let us say that after losing an early wicket, in comes number 3, a contentious choice in any case, given his recent form, and promptly gives away his wicket with an ill-advised and airy shot to the first ball he faces. That would be an excellent time.

I used to find that a really good occasion would sometimes arise when I worked night shifts. Being awoken in the middle of the day, when I had just managed to get to sleep, by an insistent caller at the front door who demanded to know whether I had invited Jesus into my life, invariably worked.

A little bit of research might be helpful, here. Since you are unlikely to be the only person indulging in a bit of swearing (unless you live in a convent, or somesuch…and maybe not even then), you could stand out from the crowd by using some of the less-commonly heard swearwords. You might derive a certain amount of satisfaction, for example, by comparing your unfeeling relative to the intimate parts of a mammal, but how much more interesting for both spectators and participants to employ some rarely heard Viking term for the feeling one gets when an unusually cold gust of wind catches one unexpectedly just as one begins to perform on the privy?

That’s class, that is.

A few key words:

Adjectives. A careful use of adjectives will enable the Swearer to not only modify and enhance the power and meaning of the chosen epithets, but also, with a certain amount of skill, extend the outburst for up to a minute without the need to introduce a new noun, keeping those in reserve in case a second assault is required.

Breathing. Remember to breathe while swearing. Running out of breath suggests that not only have you not given due thought to the composition of your swear, but, worse still, perhaps have also lost control of the entire situation.

Cursing. Now, this is another thing entirely, and outside the remit of this post. Rather than simple (or complex) swearing, cursing implies the actual placing of a curse upon another person, with the aim of causing them injury, sickness or death. I shall deal with this more fully in my up-coming post ‘Getting Promotion at Work and Dealing With Troublesome In-laws’. There are those who hold that the two are interchangeable (cursing and swearing, I mean, not promotion and troublesome in-laws), and that the person who, in a moment of great stress and deep personal antipathy shouts something along the lines of ‘Trip over a nasty lump in the ground and hurt yourself, you frightfully horrid person!‘ is merely swearing, yet all they are doing is actually attempting to curse the recipient, albeit in an amateur and rather un-thought out way, and then tacking onto the end something that is technically a mere insult, which should only be used in other, carefully defined, situations (see ‘Using insults in carefully defined situations‘).

Happy ****ing swearing.