The Joy of Unknowing (1)

We have just returned from a few days away in Shropshire, which is one reason you haven’t heard from me recently.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and spent the time walking and reading and mooching around towns and villages. And finding time for the occasional meal and cold beer, of course.

Yes, we did some lovely walks. And I find it a natural thing to be constantly identifying and photographing whatever I see when out for a walk. I have always been interested in all aspects of the environment, be it the plants and animals, the geography and geology, the weather, or the historical impact of people on the environment in forms such as old trackways, deserted buildings, or ancient boundaries.

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And we have spent several fantastic days surrounded by an environment rich in all these things, as we have walked through woods, fields, and open hillsides, seen ancient settlements, butterflies, birds, and many wildflowers, and all this in an area of some of the most complex geology in the UK.

But sometimes I feel myself tiring of the constant need to identify and record everything; it is really a way of trying to own them.

And when you post on social media too, it can feel at times a little like a competition to put up the best pictures of this or that wildflower or bird or mountain, which naturally need to be identified and named. Especially on Twatter, whose format seems to encourage this.

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So, on our first morning away, as we walk up a track heading into the hills above Church Stretton, under early morning blue skies with the air crystal clear and beautifully cool, I decide that for now I am just going to exist in the moment.

Because by doing this, I am relieved of the constant necessity of deciding whether this bird is a rook or a crow, or whether that flower is greater stitchwort or lesser stitchwort.

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Because it doesn’t really matter.

And for now, instead of having to always know whether it is this or that bird singing, I can allow myself to simply think there is singing. There is birdsong.

Or, even better, there is a sound I find melodic, and it pleases me.

By doing this, I can relax and centre myself, which is something I feel has been badly lacking in my life recently. I have struggled with social media in any case, feeling a huge pressure to post new material and to read the many I follow, even when I don’t feel up to it.

It feels like a return to a much simpler time in my life. I can enjoy the views of the hills, the sounds of the streams and birds, and just concentrate on being.

This must have been part of the pleasure I felt as a child on every occasion when I could roam outdoors. Certainly, I was curious about what I saw, but since I knew so little about them, there was always an openness to the experience and the excitement of discovery. I would see butterflies I had not seen before, and I would just get the thrill of seeing them without having to know anything more about them. I would see wildflowers I didn’t recognise and just enjoy the shapes and colours.

Naturally, you cannot really unknow things in that way, just as you cannot really return to that point in your childhood, but it is possible, even if for only a short while, to let go of the need to identify and quantify (and therefore own) everything, and simply exist in the here and now.

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The People’s March

There are a number of big marches taking place in the UK today, demanding that the public get a final say on any deal made to leave the EU.

Despite what many people think, these marches are not demanding a stop to Brexit.

Surely, there cannot be anyone who is unaware of the original referendum and the result, as well as the resulting chaos and discord that followed it, but just in case there is…

The British public was asked in 2016 to vote on whether they wished to leave the EU or to remain. The results were as follows:

Of those who voted, 17,410,742 (51.9%) voted leave, and 16,141,241 (48.1%) voted remain.

The turnout was 72.2% of a total registered electorate of 46,500,001.

This means that 37.45% of the electorate voted to leave and 34.72 to remain.

So to say that the result was an overwhelming one (as has been frequently claimed) is clearly untrue. Not much over one third of the electorate declared their preference for leaving, and just over a third to remain.

One thing that is obvious in hindsight, and really should have been blindingly obvious at the time, is that if you offer a referendum on an incredibly significant and life-changing choice such as that, you should also state there should be a very clear majority for change (such as over 50% of the total electorate, or a margin of over (say) 15%)

And parliament has been utterly unable to come up with a workable, realistic plan to manage this exit.

It is true you are on shaky ground demanding a re-run, even if you think there is convincing evidence (as in this case) that everyone was lied to. And this is not about a re-run.

The initial problem, which has been the great stumbling block all along, is that nobody knew what they were voting for.

Politicians canvassing for ‘leave’ promised everything from completely halting all immigration to channelling massive sums of money to the NHS, all of which they knew was completely undeliverable, and naturally many people believed them.

So, what are the people taking part in the march demanding?

The official march website states its objective is that any Brexit is put to the people so that we can have the final say.

What it does not demand, is a stop to Brexit. Yet that is a theme I see everywhere in social media at the moment; we’re marching to stop Brexit – repeal article 50.

How about the petition?

Well, that states ‘revoke article 50 and remain in the EU’. Which is probably why so many people seem to think that’s what the march organisers are demanding, and consequently what is being repeated all over social media.

Now, although that might be something I’d like to see happen, you cannot get away from the fact that the result of the referendum was ‘leave’, and you cannot simply set that aside because you disagree with it. If it is something that is going to happen, it has to be because the majority of the public decide it is the right move.

Emotions are running very high and many people seem unable to even allow the other side to put their case without shouting them down. The name calling is ludicrous and disgraceful. And to have national newspapers with headlines calling MPs ‘traitors’ for voting against their (i.e. the newspaper’s owner’s) views is nothing short of repellent. And the unpleasantness is certainly not confined to just one side.

There is also far too much political posturing and point scoring. Not just from politicians, but from the public. Looking at social media, for example, there are many people who see this whole thing as Labour against Tory. I’m not going to attempt to dissect that, except to point out that the leadership from both parties has been derisory.

To be fair, there have been a few voices asking how it will be possible to bring both sides together when the dust has settled, but they have been largely drowned out by the clamour of those demanding their ‘rights’ and deriding their opponents on the one hand as treacherous cowards who want to see Britain ‘taken over’ by the EU, in a somehow similar manner to a country occupied by an invading army, or on the other as fascist bigots who want to expel everyone not white and Christian from the country.

There is only one way I can see out of this impasse, without the very real danger of violence and long-lasting bitter divisions. After all, once this is over, one way or another, we have to find a way to coexist with each other.

Parliament needs to either pass the deal the government has got, or alternately vote to leave with no deal, and then put that back to the people in a referendum that asks Do you accept the terms of this deal / no deal to exit the EU or do you wish to remain?

And the result of that referendum needs to be both final and legally binding. I can only speak for myself, but if the vote is still to leave, then it should be accepted since this time the electorate actually know what they are voting for. This is also, as I see it, the only way to respect people on both sides of the divide. And respect is something that seems to be in incredibly short supply at the moment.

A Christmas Carol – 1

I haven’t seen much of Bob, recently.

To be fair to Bob, he’s been rather busy. But he came round to my house the other day. Well,  the other evening, really. He was carol singing. And it was only just December.

‘What on earth are you doing?’ I asked him. He look puzzled.

‘Carol singing, of course. Why?’

‘Why? It’s only just turned December, that’s why.’

‘Well, all the shops have their decorations up now.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘And some have had, for the last few months.’

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‘True, but…’

‘And they’re all playing Christmas songs.’

‘Unfortunately true…’

‘And half the kittens on social media are dressed in red and white and chasing Christmas baubles around on the floor and then batting them with their cute little paws…’

‘Stop it, Bob!’

‘So why can’t I go round carol singing?’

‘Because there’s only one of you and it sounds awful!’

‘Oh…sorr…eee!’

‘And what are you collecting for?’

‘Huh?’

‘That tin you’re rattling. What’s it in aid of?’

‘Our Christmas lunch.’

‘Bob! You can’t do that! You’re supposed to be collecting for charity!’

‘Am I? Who says so?’

‘I…er…I don’t know. You just are, that’s all.’

‘Well, I’m collecting for our Christmas lunch!’ He rattled the tin meaningfully towards me. ‘Silent Night…’ he began again, his voice rising suddenly about two and three sevenths octaves. I shuddered. The kittens left their baubles and ran for cover. ‘Holy Night!’

‘Shut your bloody racket!’ Came my neighbour’s voice – slightly muffled, but carrying a clear threat of violence.

Bob left quickly.

 

In other years, I’ve written a few short stories for Christmas, but not this year.

Bob has inspired me to re-imagine a few Christmas Carols for the twenty first century.

Here is the first one.

Strident night,

Angry night,

Down cheap booze,

Get into a fight.

Punch and scratch and kick and bite.

Tell the other bloke he’s just a shite.

Sleep in a prison cell…oh!

Sleep in a prison cell.

For those of my readers who do consider Christmas to be a holy festival, I must point out that these little offerings are intended as my rant against the excesses and the commercialisation of Christmas today. I hope you will not take any offence, for none is intended!

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.

A Short History of Blogging – reblogged!

Here’s a post from a couple of years ago which might be of interest if you haven’t read it before. (I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Blogging has always been about self-promotion. The first known blogs were on cave walls, although they were pretty crude, to be honest, and it is often really difficult to make out what the bloggers were on about. There is speculation, indeed, that to refer to them as ‘blogs’ might be a little misleading. The fact that they tend to be short and that it is very hard to make out what they mean, leads some experts to assume that they were an early form of Twitter. And then the fact that they frequently depict crude human figures, especially exaggeratedly female ones, and various animals, suggest that even in these early times, social media were largely the preserve of the young person.

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‘Share if you think these babes are hot.’

By the time of the rise of the first true civilisations in Egypt, they were beginning to get the hang of it. They have left massive numbers of inscriptions all over walls and columns and pretty well anything else that they could get a hammer and chisel near.

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‘Amenhotep snubbed in Big Brother Pyramid game – LOL’

Some even see the Rosetta Stone as a forerunner of Google, but others don’t.

The first English blogger was The Venerable Bede. His blog is one of the main sources of our knowledge of Saxon times, which is a bit of a bugger really, when you consider how reliable social media are today as a source of modern history. He probably missed out most of the good stuff. But he blogged in Old English, anyway, which no one can understand nowadays so it probably doesn’t matter.

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Leonardo da Vinci did a wicked selfie, but would probably be criticised nowadays for how few he produced. To be anyone on social media, it is probably necessary to post a minimum of twenty selfies in any twenty four hour period, but Leo was never up to that. But most of his blogs were all about what would then be science fiction and art and politics…so he’d have fitted in quite well with today’s bloggers really.

Samuel Pepys’ diaries are, of course, just the notes he took for his blogs. They are a mix of politics and news and what his family were up to, and his ‘conquests’ of various ladies. Wisely, he wrote most of this in shorthand and, even more wisely, put the more salacious bits in code. Nowadays, it is unnecessary to use code, since language is now changing so fast that no one can understand anything that was written more than six months ago anyway.

The Puritans thought blogging might be fun so they banned it, along with just about everything else, except breathing and praying. Well, praying, anyway.

A little later, newspapers were invented. These were not really blogs, since they were filled with news, rather than self-promotion, and it took a number of years before newspaper owners and editors realised that. Once they did, however, they worked very hard to make up for lost time, and now there are very few newspapers in the world that print mainly news.

And quite a lot that do not print any news at all.

In fact, they tend to be full of primitive opinion and often depict crude human figures, especially exaggeratedly female ones, and various animals.

And thus life turns full circle.

 

Photo credit (picture 1): jmarconi via VisualHunt.com / CC BY         

Photo credit (picture 2): PMillera4 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

‘Mr Business Brain’ or ‘Trying to blow my own trumpet without ever having learned how to’.

In today’s alternative ‘Alice in Wonderland: ‘When I use a word,’ Trumpty Numpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less’.

Lewis Carroll obviously saw this fellow coming.

Just thought I’d share that with you. Anyway, back to the task in hand. After two ridiculously hectic weeks, I now have to do my best to catch up with everything. Onward!

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I don’t have a business brain.

I look at my clutter of short stories and paintings, my carvings and photographs and think ‘I should be able to at least make a bit of a living out of all of these.’

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But I don’t. And then I wonder ‘how on earth I am going to do it?’ and go ‘aaargh!’ and run off into the distance.

It really doesn’t help.

And so, if I had to have made a New Year’s Resolution this year, it would have been to sort all this out. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it for any longer.

To begin with, then, how about attracting new blog followers?

Dressed in a loincloth and brandishing a spear (not a sight that sensitive readers should try to picture in their minds), I go charging out onto the lightly wooded WordPress plains, hunting new blog followers.

‘Aha, there’s one!’ I think, spotting a potential follower grazing harmlessly beside the River of Inspiration. I sneak up on them, then hurl a ‘follow’ at them, hoping that they will respond in kind.

Er, no.

It’s just not me, unfortunately. As I have mentioned in the past, I find it incredibly difficult to blow my own trumpet. And I will not ‘follow’ someone just for the sake of getting a ‘follow’ back. I do understand that anti-social media make up the platforms I have to work with, but for some reason I have not yet got my head around using them properly. So for blogs, I shall carry on as I always have. I don’t hunt for followers, I let them find me. Then if they follow me, it is presumably because they like what I’m writing.

Of course, they might simply be after a follow in return, but that won’t happen unless I like what their site does.

I do need to be more professional, though. For a start, then, I have begun to properly update the information on each site I use – such as the ‘Author Profiles’ on Goodreads, Amazon and LinkedIn.

So please feel free to connect with me on those sites – Goodreads LinkedIn. I promise I will put up more book reviews on Goodreads, and try to work out just what the hell LinkedIn is for.

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I shall sort out the prices on the paintings and photography websites.

What? Oh, Paintings and Photographs – thanks for asking!

Making Friends with the -Crocodile

And I need to find new ways to promote my novel Making Friends with the Crocodile. 

And then, there is this blog. I must regularly update the information on the ‘About’ page and the ‘My Writings’ page.

Do I need to simply be bolder in my approach to all this? Should I put a ‘shop’ on my blog?

I don’t know. But, learning how to properly use the limited anti-social media I reluctantly and sporadically do take part in (other than blogging), is a priority for me.

But I’m damned if I will ever use Twatter, though.

A Letter To The Editor

I don’t write to national newspapers, not any more.

I used to, occasionally, and then I had a short letter published a couple of years ago. An opinion piece, of course.

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And it will not have altered how even one single person thought about that particular issue.

Guardian readers write to the Guardian. Telegraph readers write to the Telegraph. What good does that actually do?

You can open any one one of the daily papers, and be fairly certain of the point of view of a writer to the letters page. There may be differences of detail, but usually not of any substance. It is possible that in some newspapers, the editorial process rejects any letters that go against their particular outlook. I don’t know. I suspect that at least ninety nine percent of the letters they receive agree with what they have printed, in any case.

And to save the bother of reading the letters, you might as well just read the opinion pieces in the newspaper the day before.

I would argue that the letters page is a complete waste of time.

When someone writes to the letters page of their chosen national newspaper, they are doing two things: First, they are preaching to the converted and, second, they are failing to hear any counter argument.

Listening to the counter argument allows us to identify flaws in our thinking, and countering it allows us to strengthen our position, hopefully influencing the opinions of those with whom we hold a discussion. That does not happen in national newspapers, however.

Of course, I am quite prepared to learn that there are some national newspapers that break this mould; I have not read them all, not even in the UK (at least, not for some years, now).

Social media, though. This is where you will reach those who think differently to you. And there are additional advantages in that you can publish your opinions without having to get them through a selection process, and there is always the possibility that many people will share them, so they might reach a very wide audience.

And, naturally, by doing so, you run the risk of having your opinions and theories ripped to pieces and shot down. Assuming that this happens in a respectful way, you then have the option to examine the opposing view and either accept it or counter it.

Where am I going with this? Well, it’s my opinion…

Oh heavens, why on earth did I follow that blog?

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Every now and again I get unfollowed. And every now and again I unfollow a blog. Is it a big deal? Should it be a big deal?

At first, it can seem hurtful to find that someone has unfollowed you on any sort of social media, but really it shouldn’t be. Somehow, I find that I now follow a huge number of blogs, most of which I love, and I do wish I had more time available to read them more fully and comment on them, but I don’t. This means that every now and again I sacrifice one for the common good.

But, never without good reason.

First up, one thing that does irritate me, is when I visit and read a blog, leave a response – sometimes a quite lengthy one – and never receive any sort of reply. One blog that I initially followed was like this, and when I had left several comments that were never even acknowledged, I went through their comments strings and found that they could not be bothered to reply to anyone.

Instant unfollow. I dislike rudeness.

What other reasons?

Okay, so maybe I was attracted to your blog initially by the posts about cuddly kittens and home baking, but now the focus of your posts has shifted to motor vehicle maintenance and origami, and I feel my interest is waning. It’s time to move on. Don’t take it badly – what we had was good, but we all grow and develop and change over the years, and what was once right for both of us now leaves at least one of us empty. I wish you well, but I’m leaving you for another.

A little like the above, perhaps I found your blog through a particular post that interested me, but since then it seems that every post is on subjects that don’t. I’m sorry, I gave it a few months, I gave it a good try, but it’s just not doing it for me. Bye bye.

I unfollowed one blog because every post was a long moan about other people. Sorry, there was no pleasure to be had in reading that one.

Perhaps I notice that where your blog was originally full of carefully argued points and good language, it has become home now to foul-mouthed polemics and crude language in general. Hmm, perhaps you should take this one personally. I won’t be the only one to leave.

So, every now and again I see that my own number of followers has fallen, and that I’ve been unfollowed. My reaction? I do wonder whether I have written something boring or offensive, and occasionally re-read a few of my posts in that light. That’s okay, it’s constructive and encourages me to think about what I’m doing.

Perhaps we should all hope to get unfollowed every now and again, just to make us focus constructively on our posts.