Winter – 3

Winter would have brought a period of enforced leisure for our ancestors. Their days would have become shorter with the increasing hours of darkness, until in midwinter the daylight hours would make up only one third of the time.

All outdoor activities would effectively cease in the darkness, and even during the day the worsening weather would limit what could be achieved outdoors. But other than those tasks that could be carried out, what did they do in these times? how did they pass those long hours?

At times, no doubt, there would have been feasting and merry-making because they would have required some cheer and a sense of well-being to help them get through the winter. But they must also have been mindful of husbanding scarce food resources through those long barren months.

it may be that they played games. Although archaeology hasn’t furnished us with evidence of board games or dice or variations on these, it is still possible they would scratch, perhaps, some form of grid into the beaten soil of the floor and play games of skill or chance. It is not beyond possibility that some flat rocks with strange scorings and lines on them were used for that purpose.

With no TVs or books or computers, it might seem to us that time would have weighed heavily on their hands. But you are used to what you are used to, and they would have seen things differently. They may have looked forward to a period of relative inactivity; long hours of no talk, sitting or lying down, the mind slowing down until hours were passed in no thought. Did they then also pass unusually long hours in sleep? A kind of semi-hibernation as a way of conserving energy?

But long hours also, of talking. They must have talked: of daily life and plans and past disasters and glories, of gossip, and told stories both new and handed down from previous generations. These stories would have been incredibly powerful tools for the preservation of the tribe. With no written word, the spoken word becomes the only way knowledge is transmitted. And thus it has to be memorised, both for use and also to transmit in the future. As aids to memorising, powerful tools are repetition, rhyme and rhythm. We cannot know exactly how this was utilised, but it cannot have been long before poetry and song evolved.

It can be no coincidence, but in all the early societies we know of who had no written records, those of which we know about through records left by others – such as the Romans writing of the Britons – it is clear that poetry and song were important, and the bard a highly valued member of that society. Indeed, the writings left by Romans, who tended to denigrate anyone not Roman as barbarian and primitive, violent, and uncultured, still make it clear these ‘barbarian’ tribes valued poetry and song highly. Partly, this must have been for educational purposes, but they seem also to have been valued for themselves, for their beauty. It is taking things too far to suggest this proves the same would have applied in Neolithic times, but it is certainly possible. At some point, there would have been music. I imagine this developed out of ritual, perhaps through repetitive chanting and the beat of drums…

And so, I can imagine this at first being perhaps the preserve of the shaman, until becoming a specialised ‘post’ – that of the bard – and acquiring the value of entertainment, as well as instruction.

The Language Barrier

As part of its strategy to counter extremism, the British Government has today announced its intention to fund a plan to help all migrants to this country learn English. For once, I think that this is a plan to applaud.

For the inability to speak and understand the language of others around you fosters fear, misunderstanding and distrust.

Having lived in an ex-patriot community myself, I remember how easy it is to become persuaded by others that you are somehow surrounded by ‘enemies’, and to develop a laager mentality. This mindset takes it as a given that everyone outside of the circle does not understand you, they are somehow ‘against’ you, and forever plotting to attack or undermine you, so you sit there muttering darkly about these ‘outsiders’, and voicing your dislike and prejudices against them…it becomes a cycle of mistrust that can possibly become violent.

It is another example of the saying that we hate what we fear, and we fear what we do not understand. And when someone is trapped in a limited social circle because they cannot understand anyone outside of that circle, their chances of becoming a full member of the wider community are severely limited.

Having travelled in non-English speaking countries, I realise how much easier life becomes for me when I make the effort to learn even a small amount of the language.

There will be some who refuse to learn the language on the grounds that they feel that they are there temporarily, possibly working on a short term contract, and can get away with using their own language in a limited circle of work, shopping and socialising.

And there will be some for whom it is a matter of pride to use only their birth language.

I think that both of these viewpoints are mistaken.

Writers understand only too well the importance of language. We worry over whether to use this or that word or phrase to get our meaning across; we worry over whether the way we have worded something may be misunderstood. But when you are attempting to communicate with others in a language that you only vaguely understand, every single conversation is full of these fears.

And when that is the norm, it becomes easier just to avoid any situations where you have to try to use that language.

But it does not actually take much to overcome these fears. Perhaps accepting an invitation to visit to someone’s home, or their place of worship, will lead naturally to conversations where people can learn about each other. But the essential thing is to be able to communicate, which becomes next to impossible without at least a few words of a language in common.

The Liebster Award

Goodness, what’s that?

Checking my emails, I noticed that I had a new message on the comment thread of my most recent post, from Dave, the fellow who blogs at Plying Through Life

Dave comes over and leaves a comment on my posts every now and again, and in return I go and look at his regularly, because I enjoy his tales of scuba diving, travel, and life in general, told with a dry and droll humour. He is also the only person that I have come across so far who really does herd cats in the course of his work.

Anyhow. I went and took a look at his comment, and found that he had nominated me for the Leibster Award.

Goodness, what’s that? You ask.

See, I’ve got you at it, too, now.


Well, I’m going to nick Dave’s explanation, because I don’t think I can better it: ‘It’s an Internet based award, given by bloggers to other bloggers.  It’s intended both as a way to recognise the work of bloggers you enjoy, and by publicizing links to their blogs help others discover those blogs too.  The emphasis should be on newer bloggers.  The nominees are also put on the spot, as the nominator can ask them any questions they find interesting, which helps us learn a little more about the blogger and extends the sense of community. The payback for this grilling is the nominee can then nominate other blogs they think are deserving.’

Then there are the rules, or guidelines. Again, I’m going to nick the wording from Dave (really sorry, Dave!), mainly because a large chunk of it is technical detail that he has laid out clearly:

1) Thank the person in your post who nominated you for a Liebster Award and link back to them.

2) Answer the questions he/she asked you.  Or don’t, if they make you uncomfortable.  Or emulate Mark Twain: “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.”

3) Nominate other great bloggers for a Liebster Award, and notify them by leaving a comment on their blog, with a link back to your nominating post. Not sure how to put a link in a comment?  Type the HTML for links in as follows (the HTML tags will not show in the posted comment):
<a href=”insertYourURLhere”>Your Linked Text Here</a>

4) I’ve seen anything from 3 to 11 nominees recommended.

5) Some variations suggest the nominees should have less than 200 followers, as the intent is really to showcase newer blogs.  How do you know how many followers they have? The best way I’ve found is to use the Manage Followers page in the Reader.  (You are following these people you like, right?)  Then, click on the title for the blog you’re interested in (not the web address), and you’ll be taken to a reader page for that blogger with a list of their posts and how many followers they have noted at the top.

6) Give your nominees a list of questions you’d like them to answer.

7) Include the award guidelines in your post.

8) Include a copy of the award logo in your blog.

9) Recipients have the option of declining the nomination.

So, I suppose that I had better answer Dave’s questions. Here goes…

What inspires you?

I am inspired by all sorts of random things. I tend to read or see or hear something, and my thoughts fly off at an odd tangent and by the time that I’ve caught up with them they’ve begun to wander down all sorts of alleyways and dodgy looking side streets that I wouldn’t normally even dream of going down. And by then it’s too late to do anything about it, so I just have to go with the flow and I find myself writing all sorts of stories or political pieces. Of course, I suppress a lot of them before they can get out and do me any lasting damage.

What got you started blogging?

I’d been thinking about it for a while, really since I had made the decision to self-publish the novel that I‘m currently editing. I knew that I had to start the process of promoting said book, and so it began as shameless advertising and self-promotion. Naturally, I then found that there were all sorts of things that I wanted to write about and share, and so it grew from there.

Which are your 5 favourite blog posts?

Now that’s really putting me on the spot! I assume you mean ones written by other people and not ones what I writ. In which case, I’m going to cheat and just suggest that you take a look at any post by each of my nominees – they will all repay the trouble!

What’s been the most rewarding part of becoming a blogger?

That’s easy; it’s the connections that I’ve made with other bloggers. Once you begin to follow comment threads on both your own posts, and those of other bloggers, you get drawn into conversations and quickly find similar like-minded bloggers. I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to say that you begin to forge friendships.

Name 3 things on your bucket list

1) Publish my first book; I really will do that within the next six months!

2) Go back to India and Nepal yet again. Each time I come back from a trip there I think that the next time I get an opportunity to travel I ought to go somewhere completely new, but by the time that I do, I always have this overwhelming urge to go back.

3) Take more photographs. I love taking photographs, but never seem to have the camera with me at the right time. I know that I really need to set time aside to do this, but…hey, where did that time go?

What is a favourite quote?

I could name quite a few, but one that has been in my mind rather a lot recently has been the quote from Edith Cavell, the British army nurse who was executed by the Germans in the First World War for helping prisoners to escape:

‘I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’

I think that a lot of people would do well to muse on that.

What is a favourite book or genre?

I don’t think I could possibly answer that; I read and enjoy so many genres, and my favourite book changes frequently. At the moment, if pressed, I might answer ‘Siddhartha’, by Hermann Hesse. Or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Or ‘The Old Ways’ by Robert Macfarlane. Or…you get the idea, I’m sure.

Name one place or person you’d like to visit

Well, if I could possibly tear myself away from another visit to India or Nepal, I do rather fancy visiting Ethiopia. I’d love to see the highlands there, and the Coptic churches.

And I’m going to cheat by also suggesting a person, and I’m assuming that this is intended as one of those ‘if you could meet anyone who had ever existed’ type questions, and admit that I would love to have had the opportunity to sit down with Gandhi and talk politics, philosophy and religion.

But…even as I write that, I am reminded that no one ever learned anything by surrounding themselves with people who thought like themselves, so perhaps I should plump for a long talk with someone who had a totally different outlook on life to myself. I have had a few such interactions on blogs with other bloggers, and we have managed to keep the discussions civil, and so I think that we have all learned a little about the others’ points of view. Maybe no one was converted to anyone else’s point of view, but I like to think that at the very least we came away with a little more respect for the others.

Have I twisted around this question? Sorry…

What talent do you wish you had more of?

Lots, really. But if I’m only allowed to choose one, then I suppose it must be writing.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on a vacation?

Trekking in the Himalaya. Definitely.

And now for my nominations. So many of the blogs that I follow have been running for a long while, and have many followers. And many of the others that I would have liked to have chosen either blog only rarely (too rarely!), or have blogs that are not structured suitably for the award, specifically just blogging episodes of a longer tale. So I have tried to pick out some newer ones that I have found. With one exception.

And so, my nominees are:

The Eurphoric Single Mom who blogs on her struggles to lead a normal life as the single mother of 2 young children, one of them autistic.

A year of living kindly. At the beginning of the year, Donna embarked on a year of consciously using kindness to change the world about her.

Yesterday and tomorrow. Another blogger who writes on her struggles to live a normal life after life has administered a good kicking. I have nothing but awe and respect for these amazing people.

Bun Karudo’s Scribblings  This one is the exception. It has been running for some while, and how it has not had this award so far is completely beyond me. I just hope it’s not because he hates the idea! Bun’s blogs are a most humorous antidote to feeling down.

So, nominees, I hope that you accept the challenge, and these are the questions I’ve set for you:

1) What do you find most difficult about blogging?

2) What would you like to learn?

3) So what inspires you?

4) Have you got a philosophy of life?

5) Any big event on the horizon for you?

6) Have you a favourite place?

7) Couch potato or Olympic athlete?

8) Name 3 things on your bucket list.

9) Have you had a life changing experience?

10) Name 3 people you would like to meet.


We need to talk

I want to continue the thread that I explored in my previous post; in that, I wrote in favour of reasoned discussion as opposed to bigoted diatribe.

As an exercise, one could take a topic on which one holds strong views, and then honestly attempt to find arguments that support the opposing view.

As an example, let’s look at the ‘little local difficulties’ currently occurring in the Ukraine. The narrative in the west appears to be that the Russians are entirely to blame for both the tensions and the conflict there, and it is difficult to find much sensible consideration of the Russian view of the matter.

So here goes.

In 1945, at the end of WWII, Western Europe was divided from Communist Eastern Europe by a border that ran between what was then West and East Germany, giving the then Soviet Union a large protective buffer from what it viewed as the aggressive Western powers. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, virtually all of the eastern European countries joined both the EU and NATO. Gradually, Russia then began again to make threatening noises, feeling that it was all but encircled and under attack. When the Ukraine applied for a pathway membership of NATO, strongly encouraged by the West, many in Russia felt that this was the last straw. The Ukraine has a long and complicated historical relationship with Russia, and about a quarter of its population see itself as Russian. The Crimea, which Russia effectively sized in 2014, had been historically part of Russia since 1783, only given to the Ukraine in 1954, and the vast majority of its inhabitants wanted to return to Russian rule.

So the Crimea, then, was viewed both by Russians, and also by many in the Ukraine, as historically Russian territory. The west was regarded as an enemy who was attempting to drive its tanks right up to the Russian border, and who had already subverted most of the old Soviet states.

This was the situation when hostilities began to escalate. Does it justify Russian actions in the Ukraine? Probably not. Does it help to explain them? Certainly. Might there have been a different narrative if the Western powers had understood the Russian point of view? Probably.

(There is, of course, the possibility that the Western Powers understood it only too well, but felt that it might be in their interests to foment unrest. But let’s assume that’s not the case.)

It may be that after looking at these arguments, or ones that you might come up with when interrogating another question, you decide yes, these other folk do have a point. Or you might think well, I can see why they say that, but I’m not impressed with the argument. Or even, who knows, you might be convinced by their point of view. But whatever the outcome, at least you should feel that you have thought about the problem in an honest and intelligent manner. And I think that discussion then is more likely to reasoned and civil.

It must be especially important to do this when one is exploring emotive issues such as US gun laws, euthanasia, or immigration, otherwise we just end up adding to the massive amounts of vitriol being sloshed around by all sides in these situations. It can then become the basis of conflict resolution.