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Archive for the ‘political’ Category

manufacturing

I’m not much of a futurologist. I didn’t see BREXIT coming, or Trump. I’m better at retrospectives and can equate the decline of meaningful work in the west as a  consequence of de-industrialisation, and the off-shoring of manufacture. But then I ask the question: what next? Answer: I don’t know, other than: it cannot be more of the same.

Manufacturing was once a tremendous source of varied employment, taking people from a broad spectrum of practical and intellectual ability, then organising and deploying them in a way that brought fruition to physical objects that could be sold, either to a domestic market or, ideally, exported. People with degrees, people with no qualifications at all other than a willingness to work – all found their place in manufacturing. Such types used to be called factory fodder. I’m one of them.

But manufacturing paid its fodder well, if you were a boss or a labourer. It bought you a house, a car, and time to pursue interests. It paid you enough to purchase the spoils of the consumer society, also a pension to live in modest comfort in your senior years. It was not a bad way of life.

But efficiency in manufacturing is driven by certain basic economic rules that come down to the price of a pair of hands. If hands can be bought more cheaply in poorer parts of the world, that’s where manufacturing goes. The result for the west is de-industrialisation. People previously employed in manufacturing then find themselves competing for what’s left – mainly service sector jobs, or warehousing at wages set well below what anyone can actually live off. Why? Because there’s a glut of labour and prices, as with wages, are dictated by the law of supply and demand. Too many hands for not enough jobs  =  low wages.

The vacuum left by industrialisation is filled, at best, by exploitative and unscrupulous profit-mad employers, bereft of any social conscience, at worst by crooks and modern day criminal slavers. Couple this with a right leaning political system, one ideologically inclined towards the cutting of state benefits in order to elevate those already rich to even greater riches and we have a perfect storm. Homelessness, drug addiction fuelled by the need to escape appalling life chances, and a widening divide between the haves and have nots. All these things destroy the soul of nations.

Historically the result is populist politicians seizing power by manipulating mass resentment – blaming the “foreign other” for ills that are purely domestic also sniping at  libertarian ideals as pandering to a loss of moral fibre, so we see a rise in anti-gay, indeed anti just about anything not white, male straight Ango-Saxon and Christian. In the worst of cases, this leads to internal suppression, death, and the distraction of foreign wars  before we come to our senses and a more egalitarian zeitgeist is ushered in on a wave of revulsion at our own stupidity.

That history may be about to repeat itself here goes without saying, but I remain hopeful we have not yet entirely failed to learn the lessons of past upheavals. That said, our industries are not coming back. And worse, those low level service jobs, those warehouse jobs that pay next to nothing – they will be automated out of existence in the next decade, because this is the inevitable goal of those “scientific” management aspirations birthed in the late Victorian era, the absolute maximisation of profit by the elimination of paid labour.

The result is hardly controversial: Western nations are looking at a future in which tens of millions of citizens will have no realistic prospect of gaining any kind of employment at all. Even those who have followed the gruelling path of the degree system will find themselves competing for scant resources – clambering over one another for every petty bullshit spreadsheet jockey job imaginable.

So, if we follow the current model of Capitalism, as it stands, tens of millions must logically be consigned to homelessness, and starving to death on our streets. However, it can hardly be expected the masses do so quietly. When a man has nothing left to lose he will behave unpredictably. Therefore a solution will be found, because the monied are perfectly aware they will otherwise find themselves impaled on pitchforks.

Demonisation of the poor is a common trope of the monied. Blame it on lack of morals, rather than lack of money or life chances. Lose your job to downsizing and you suffer the double ignominy of being blamed for your own unemployment, while discovering the state funded safety net has its ropes spread so thin by austerity its easy to fall through, your days spent searching for non-existent work and your state funded security axed on the slightest pretext. Right leaning states and amoral commerce act as one in this, obey the same rules, turn a blind eye to starvation, to homelessness, to drug addiction, they blame it on moral weakness, on immigration, on anything but a corrupt system incapable of sustaining life for all but an unspeakably wealthy minority.

Only a radically different approach can coax our future towards less turbulent times. And one of those approaches involves paying everyone an amount of money to cover their basic needs, to grant them the dignity of being able to afford to refuse undignified, demeaning or exploitative paid work.

To this end it’s proposed the state benefit system is altered, abolishing its overarching, penny pinching bureaucracy and instead everyone, irrespective of their circumstances is given free money, a so called universal basic income. It sounds bizarre but when the only beneficiaries of “business” will be the business owners themselves and, by means of taxation on profits, the state, how else are populations to be supported?

Naturally, it is the political left who are most sympathetic to this idea, while the right struggle with it, quoting the “immorality” of paying “scroungers” to stay at home while others work. But in a future world without any meaningful work whatsoever for the majority, whether they want to work or not, the options, other than starvation, seem limited.

We are seeing various experimental trials of universal basic income now, including one in Finland which awards £500 a month – no strings, no means test. It doesn’t sound like a lot – and that’s because it isn’t. You’d need to be a magician to survive for long off that, and there’s the rub. It’s clearly no panacea, but results are encouraging.

Left leaning administrations will be more generous than the right in setting this level of subsistence, but the poor can hardly go on strike to demand an increase, so may find themselves trapped in poverty anyway, while a technocratic elite continue to reap the lions share of paid work, in addition of course to the basic income.

But it is at least a question being asked by those serious about the future. The answers are varied and uncertain for now, but without such progressive thinking all visions of a future for the west are at best unsettling, at worst unthinkable.

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the sea view cafe - smallMy latest, possibly my last novel, is finished and up on Wattpad now for free. It’ll shortly go up on Smashwords from whom I’ll blag the free ISBN, then put it up on Free Ebooks who seem to be doing a good job of shifting downloads at the moment. And there we are. Finished! About two and a half years – the Sea View Cafe years. The small blue car years, the Scarborough years.

It’s a cliche I know but as ever I’m genuinely grateful to anyone who’s read me or commented on my stuff. Even had it been conventionally published, the Sea View would have made relatively nothing, financially, yet already it’s rewarded me tenfold with those readers who’ve picked it up on Wattpad and commented as I’ve posted chapters piecemeal.

It’s a novel written against shifting times, a story swept up in another iteration of the myth of Britannia’s idiocy and decline and, by association the  decline of the west. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s been an all pervasive narrative for as long as I can remember, and probably for centuries. Yet more than any other, the Sea View Cafe is a story that found itself distorted almost daily in the writing by yet one more headline in  rejection of the progressive ideals of strength in the collective of nations and a fall into a petty nationalism, into racism and bigotry.

Yes, these have been the pre-Brexit years. Years when we have wrapped ourselves snug in the native flag, covering all but our faces which are by turns ugly, pompous and hate filled – ejecting spittle with every sentence uttered. Our collective soul stunted by the recurrence of all manner of shadow complexes.

Some of the most brilliant minds working in Britain are of non-white, non Christian, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-Anglo Saxon origin. We are a multi-cultural society, product of our history – not all of it good – but I’d dared to hope we were on the cusp of a rapprochement with our chequered past. Such diversity might have informed our spiritual nature, our secular philosophy – things to be celebrated, built upon, for there can be no surer path to greatness, than by the hybridisation of faith and ideas. And what did we do? We chose the path of the tabloid, of the angry old white crustacean.

Or was it more a case of two fingers to a plutocratic establishment that had done nothing to solve the problems of a lost decade, and looked willing to sacrifice a whole generation of non-privileged youth upon a bonfire of perpetual austerity?

The reasons are complex, but tending in the same direction and manifesting in abject poverty for millions.

And what of women? That much maligned species, scorned, dismissed, defiled by the repugnant male ego. This is strange to me, for I have only the experience of women in my own circle to go on, and they are of strong character, organising, nurturing, building, and gifting love.

So, in the Sea View, we meet strong female leads, not out of any gender political motives – I wouldn’t dare go there – but more simply because that is my experience of women. They are my my aunts, my sisters, my mothers, my grandmothers. Helena Aynslea, Hermione Watts, Carina and Nina and Anica. These are tough women, while remaining entirely feminine, and I hope I’ve done them justice. They carry the Sea View, as they have carried my entire life.

And so what if two of them take a fancy to the same guy, and each other? Let them both have him, and themselves  – all at the same time and be damned – because I hope this is more than a romance, more than a trite polyamory fantasy on my part.

Thus we move beyond the conventional narrative, explode the hell out of the world in order to find ourselves anew. We have to hard-wire it into the collective that it’s okay to be different. Gay, coloured, bisexual, Muslim, Christian, Jew. Female. Intellectual. Shy. Red-haired. In short, diverse. And what we have to code out is the idea we can in any way advance ourselves at the cost of others, that anything which increases ourselves at the cost of diminishing someone else is not only wrong, it is also, ultimately, self-destructive. The young seem to get this and it’s in them I dare to hope.

These are strange times. They haunt me, as they haunt the Sea View. Either they are the end of times, or they’re the rallying call to radicals and progressives everywhere to seriously challenge the archaic and archetypal evils that seem to have snuck in under the radar.

The answer? It’s with all of us.

Awaken.

Oh, I almost forgot, do read the Sea View Cafe if you can bear it! Unedited, unprofessional, and riddled with sneaky typos. It won’t change your life, but it might cheer you up in the mean time! I know I’ve had a lot of pleasure from writing it.

 

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pardiseIt’s a difficult period to bear witness to, at least for one who’s always had a naive faith in the idea western society would, by dint of superior economic, moral and social models, continue to thrive. I never once thought the opposite was more likely true, until that is until the coming of this lost decade when it seems we have been thoroughly undermined by our own avarice.

Everything real is broken now. You might not notice it as you walk the consumerist delusion of London’s Oxford Street, the Capital seeming as prosperous as ever, but walk any other street, especially in the North, and you’ll understand where the pain is being felt, and why. Here, there has been no recovery from the crash of 2008 and now, a decade, on we are entirely disabused of the notion there will ever be one. That the poorest would one day be reliant upon charitable handouts of food, even those in work, would once have been beyond imagining. Now it’s normal.

I’m approaching retirement from a profession on its uppers, but it’ll see me out, and I have the cushion of one of the last final salaried pension schemes to take me into old age, so I write from a somewhat detached perspective, neither rich nor poor, but anyone with compassion cannot but be moved by what they see about them. And anyone with children cannot but be alarmed for their prospects.

My life began in a working class family, sustained by my father’s energy and intellect. In the mines he worked his way up from collier, to shot-firer, to deputy. Night school in his teens and twenties, and the earnest application of his craft in the very depths of the earth yielded sufficient reward to support a wife and two kids, a modest three bed semi, and a second hand car. He wanted nothing more.

When my father died early, his Coal Board pension sustained my mother for the rest of her life. It stood me on relatively secure ground too, saw me through the early years until I could work my way into a profession of my own. What I am now would not have been possible without my parents, and what they achieved, modest though it was, would not have been possible without a supportive society, a Britain that was by and large benevolent, providing those who had begun lowly in life with a basic financial catch-all, and a ladder to improve themselves.

This grand experiment ended in the 1980’s with another experiment, one founded on the redistribution of money into private hands. The theory was that, while this would naturally render certain individuals obscenely rich, their riches, through investment, would somehow spawn enterprise that would in turn allow money to trickle down and sustain the whole of society. What happened was rather different.

They entered into a kind of warfare against the masses, also against the governments who represented them. They developed ways of becoming richer, of evading laws, and where necessary lobbying sympathetic lawmakers into dismantling the financial checks and balances created to ensure decent and fair practice. Thus the financial systems pulsating throughout the nineties and the early noughties were already akin to legalised swindles.

As the rich prospered, they moved their money into secret places beyond the reach of the taxman, while industries providing employment for millions collapsed for want of investment. The industries were not replaced. The poor became poorer, and the ladder allowing them to become richer by means of diligence was kicked away. Reliant on by now severely rationed state handouts, and on ever more demeaning and dead end work that paid virtually nothing, they clutched at the devil of credit-trickery to makes ends meet, and fell headlong into a cunning debt slavery from which there was no escape. As if this were not enough, they were also vilified in rich men’s newspapers as n’er-do-wells and scroungers.

This appalling system fell apart in 2008, the result of one last financial swindle that spun the roulette wheel so hard its axle broke. The world would have ended then had it not been for the largely unacknowledged efforts of a former and much maligned British PM. But it was not enough to restore the world, even to pre 2008 levels of declining prosperity, and the decade since has been one deliberately contrived to render the masses poorer, increasingly insecure, and more despairing than they were before. Meanwhile the rich have continued to prosper so much they have begun gold-plating their Rolls-Royces,..

My ‘phone was bleeping every five minutes this last week as the Paradise Papers broke, my left-of-centre news-feeds breathless with yet one more revelation of how the rich keep their money safe from the rest of us, and what obscene frivolities they spend it on. None of it surprises us. We’ve heard it all before. If you take money from the masses, deprive us of meaningful work, you cannot expect us to support ourselves, let alone prosper and pay taxes for the benefit of society as a whole. We whither, and society withers with us, becomes cheap, threadbare, fragile. The rich have inherited all the convertible wealth of earth, dumped the rest of us among all the waste that’s left over.

We have no control over the circumstances into which we are born, and nowadays less opportunity to alter those circumstances as the rich secure their fortress positions and kick the ladders away. If one is born poor, it’s likely we shall remain so all our lives. The rich do not have a greater right to life than the rest of us, yet one might be forgiven for thinking they do since money is life, at least in the type of society we have created. To hoard riches beyond the reach and benefit of the masses is to deny security, and the sense that life means anything at all. But this is not a safe sport for the rich to play in the long term.

These scams and schemes are deftly gamed by the pulse takers and the money-lenders, and all the barrow-boys of the financial temples, but it is a crime, if not in the eyes of the state any more, then in the eyes of God. And if you do not fear God then perhaps it is the poor themselves you should be wary of, for there is little protection to be had from an ordinary man who’s already had everything taken from him.

But that the Paradise papers have come to light is itself a glimmer of hope, that someone working in the turgid murk of those sequestered riches possessed sufficient moral outrage to expose them. Look, someone’s saying, this really isn’t right! It could be something small, this thing, a brief cry in the dark and it’ll go the way of all such yesterday’s news, or it could be the start of something big, a viral howl of outrage to usher in a new, more socially responsible zeitgeist.

It is not my generation, the baby-boomers, who will solve this problem; we’re still too close to the myth of the golden olden times to put up much of a fight. But the young have and will suffer more, lose more than they have lost already, indeed they have grown up in a period that has eroded trust and faith in authority, a period that has equated wealth and power and privilege with corruption and the abuse of the powerless on an Herculean scale. This has been their bread and butter, and they are sick of it, and they are coming of age.

I forgive the young in advance their ire at so monumental a betrayal. The rich, who avoid their dues and bend the rule of law to suit themselves, I forgive nothing. I’ve no idea what the next decade will bring, but as the West stands today in the light of these revelations from paradise, the best I can see is a long haul, wading knee deep in the mud, while the bastions of the rich are dismantled one golden brick at a time. The worst I can imagine is that nothing changes at all.

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With the going of the light, and the fast fading memory of summer’s ease, Black Dog comes stalking once again. We toss him a stick, some stupid novelty or other, which he returns sodden and chewed beyond attraction. Thus, after a couple of turns, we are no longer minded to pick it up, so there he curls, our unshakeable friend, creeping ever closer until he’s in our lap, weighting down all possibility of forward movement.

Words fail in our throats, people look strange, look also strangely at us as we sink into paranoia at the apparent indifference, even of our loved ones. In pettiness, we withdraw, lose empathy, and equanimity as we huddle in imaginary self defence. We become then the worst of ourselves, favouring the lonely places, or the indoors, the impersonal, the pointless flicking at our phones,  the mindless digestion of the indigestible, the foolish, and the vain.

The soundtrack to our lives deepens to despair as Gorecki displaces once more the Red Priest from the player. A symphony of sorrowful songs de-tunes the cellos from their once ravishing Baroque concertos, splits the lustrous age-old wood, breaks the bows, shape-shifts rosin into a cold slime, and bends the dead strings into the intersecting snail-trails of man’s infinite inhumanity.

The filters of filth fail us, and we are overwhelmed by the madness of the world again, no longer able to blind-eye its deep vales of deceit, its mountains of depravity. And we see the leaders naked, as they truly are perhaps, lost or mad or utterly grotesque, letting loose their policemen, black-armoured cockroach armies to hammer blood from dissent.

Black Dog, your visions are cruel, rendered bearable only by the numbing fragrance of your breath. You are the rot of crushed leaves, the rot of wood dissolved to crumb by cringe-legged beetling lice, you are the perennial black mould on the wallpaper above my desk, you are the scratching in the night, and the sinister rustling of an infestation of mice.

We brush down our books in vain, our books of dreams, of alchemy, of transcendentalism, yet, once treasured, we find them mould-stained and dusty, and scented of you, taking with them the key to the only escape we knew, to the vast labyrinth of the esoteric. Now there is only the unsoftened day ahead, each to be taken in its turn. Thus we answer each half-lit morn the alarm clock’s shrill call, rise, stretch our stiffening limbs, pee out our aching bladder.

Is this really the only way? But what of those moments when we shook you from our lap and soared? Those days we rattled the high roads while the beatific sun beat down and tanned our faces? Where were you then? Or the glad beach-days with the soft sand and the multitudinous shades of ocean blue? Or coffee, and company, and that gentle hand to hold? Where were you then?

But these are earthly things for sure and transient as mist, the meagre sticks we toss, then you’ll chase and allow us a moment to breathe. What we seek now is the secret of another kind of cultivation, and the ability to cast it an infinite distance away.

Then go,… Fetch!

Damn you.

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trio - giorgioni - 1510So, boy meets girl, boy meets another girl. The other girl meets the first girl and while he’s still thinking about what each of them means to him, the girls fall in love with each other, while both still being attracted to the boy. Thus, the boy doesn’t necessarily lose them both by his dithering, because the girls have a plan. He can enter into a polyamorous relationship with them, if he wants. So, will he or won’t he? Or, more to the point: should he or shouldn’t he?

It’s an unusual scenario, some might go so far as to say unlikely in real life, and I’d be one of them, except it does happen. What’s interesting about it is it reveals love as a more richly nuanced thing than is suggested by the traditional mythology of the one true love, and the eternal soul-mate thing. Somehow the jealousy and the exclusivity inherent in the one-on-one relationship is dissolved by love itself. Egos are transcended, rendering the presence of an intimate additional “other” not only psychologically acceptable, but essential in creating a uniquely robust and profoundly rewarding, life-enhancing relationship. Or so the theory goes.

My problem in trying to write about it is it’s never happened to me, nor would I particularly relish the prospect – not out of disapproval, but more that I would probably, in all honesty, find it impossibly confusing. That said, it’s a motif that’s popped up a couple of times in my stories so I’m obviously intrigued by it.

I don’t mean the sexual mechanics. There’s plenty to satisfy one’s curiosity in those terms elsewhere online. No, it’s not so much what happens in the bedroom that’s interesting as what exchanges take place over the tea table, say after a twelve hour working day when everyone’s tired and stressed and the washing up still needs doing and the bins need taking out. How would it mesh emotionally? Could it really produce something positive and stable into old age, or would it disintegrate into acrimony even faster than a conventional relationship? Or might it be an advantage, a third pair of hands, especially now in a society when two partners busting their guts on minimum wage are still struggling to make ends meet? Could it be that what we need now in order to beat a system that’s increasingly stacked against us, is a bigger matrimonial team?

I suppose like any relationship, it comes down to the individuals and the chemistry between them.

When I write, I let my characters develop without actively plotting. Loosely translated, this means I make it up as I go along, and this occasionally lands me in an emotional paradox or a plot maze from which there’s no plausible escape – and this may be one of them. A poly-amorous threeway is a hard sell in polite society, because there’s always going to be a suspicion one of the three is being taken for a mug, while another is having everyone’s cake and eating it.

I’ve only followed through once, in the Lavender and the Rose, but that was an odd story of blurred time-lines, ciphers, dreams and ambiguous identities, where the past informed the present, and vice versa and characters crossed from one historical period to the other, being both real and unreal at the same time. With all that going on, a bit of polyamory was the least challenging thing I was asking the reader to swallow.

But I’ve run into it again in the Sea View Cafe, the current work in progress, a single time-line, contemporary romance, in post BREXIT Britain – no room to hide in the fuzzy sanctuary of fantasy. Both women and the guy are looking to protect each other amid a creeping zeitgeist of bigotry, lawlessness, inhumanity and near societal collapse – yes I’m a bit of a Remoaner. The polyamory thing came up unexpectedly, an unlikely solution to the old “obstacles to love” chestnut, but there you go.

Which girl does he choose? Well, stuff that, say the girls, we choose each other but he can join in with us if he wants because actually we still quite fancy him. Yes, I’m expecting the reader to accept that as plausible, but we’re not really there yet. Having the women in charge removes the danger of accusations of misogynistic abuse, but what it doesn’t avoid is the danger of puerile male sexual fantasy. And I don’t think that’s what this is about. So what is it about?

Well, polyamory is not like swinging. In the swinging relationship, couples exchange partners for casual sex, and the relationships thus formed are not intended to be long lasting. Polyamory is different, it operates at a deeper emotional level. Operating as a closed, long-term relationship, all the needs of the individuals – emotional and sexual, are met within the group, which forms a safe, exclusive zone of love and trust and loyalty. But perhaps the defining characteristic, as with a conventional relationship, is that the loss of one partner, be it to death or infidelity, would be devastating to the whole – or at least that’s the way it’s turning out in the Sea View Cafe.

For now I’m hung on up on the plausibility of it and it’s slowing me down, but as one of the protagonists, Helena, keeps challenging me: what is plausible about the times we live in, Michael? Who could have dreamed up the headlines we are assailed with on a daily basis now, even so little as five years ago. And if we are to survive this tumultuous era is it not essential we become much more open and flexible in our thinking?

Until a decade ago it seemed we were making great strides in creating a more open and inclusive society. If our response now to the economic decline and political disruption of the west is no more sophisticated than a reversion to social conservatism, we have much darker days to come. But a loss of wealth and global significance need not result also in a decline in emotional intelligence and a narrowing of minds, though sadly those headlines suggest the contrary. Only an ever greater openness and a willingness to cooperate will overcome the evils oppressing us, but we’ll also have to ditch our mobile phones, through which small voices and small minds these days are amplified far beyond what is reasonable, manufacturing consent even among intelligent people for much worse things than bending the rules on what love is supposed to be, exactly, and how best to act on it.

As a dream symbol, polyamory can perhaps best be read as a need for us to transcend convention. While of course I do not advocate it, literally, as a solution to society’s ills, what I am coming around to thinking at last as I finish my meanderings through this ponderous blog: dammit, Helena, you’re right. If it moves things in a positive direction,…

Let’s just go for it!

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great wave croppedI lost an evening writing because my laptop, which runs on Windows 10, decided to update itself. I’ve tried various ways of stopping it from doing this, but it’s smarter than me and it will have its updates when it wants them, whether I like it or not, even at the cost of periodically throttling my machine and rendering it useless. Then I have to spend another evening undoing the update.

I don’t suppose it matters – not in the great scheme of things, anyway. I mean it’s not like I’m up against any publisher’s deadlines or anything. I feel it more as an intrusion by an alien intelligence, adding another non-productive task to the list of other non-productive tasks of which my life largely consists these days.

No, in the great scheme of things it doesn’t matter if I write, or what I write, or how I write, because there’s this aphorism that says something to the effect that in spite of how we feel, virtually all the time, things can never be more perfect than they are right now, that attaining this glorious state of being is simply matter of removing the scales from our eyes, of seeing and feeling the world differently. From that perspective, blogging’s just a big box I dump my spleen into now and then and my novels, what I once thought of as my reason for being – struggles for plausibility, for meaning, authentically channelling the muse, desperately seeking the right ending and all that – I mean,… really, who cares? It’s just some stuff I made up.

As you can tell, I’m feeling very Zen at the moment. Either that or depressed. The difference between Zen and depression? Depression is to be oppressed by emptiness. Zen is to embrace it. It’s to do with the same existential conundrum, I think, just opposite ends of the scale.

The writing life is one of negotiating distraction. You hold the intention to write at the back of your mind while being diverted by all these other activities – making a meal, washing it up, You-tube, Instagram, mowing the grass, cleaning your shoes, scraping the squished remains of that chocolate bar from your car seat,…

Such tasks are not unavoidable. You could simply ignore them, flagellate yourself, force yourself to sit down and write, but sometimes if you’re too disciplined, you find the words won’t come anyway because the muse is slighted, or out to lunch or something. So you fiddle about, you meander your way around your distractions, all the while building pressure to get something out, to sit down when you find a bit of space and peace, usually late in the day when you’ve already promised yourself an early night, and you’re too tired to do anything about it anyway. And then you find Windows 10 is in the process of updating itself.

Damn!

So what is it with this technology anyway? Does a writer really need it to such an extent? I mean, computers seem to be assuming a sense of self importance way beyond their utility. I suppose I could go back to longhand, like when I was a schoolboy, pre-computer days, or for £20 I could go back to Bygone Times and pick up that old Silver Reed clatter bucket and eat trees with it again – do they still sell Tippex? Neither of these options appeal though, being far too retrograde. No, sadly, a writer needs a computer now, especially a writer like me who relies upon it as a portal to the online market – “market” being perhaps not the best choice of the word, implying as it does a place to sell goods when I don’t actually sell anything. What do you call a market where you give your stuff away? Answers on an e-postcard please. But really, it doesn’t matter, because remember: nothing could ever be more perfect than it is right now.

Except,… everything is weird. Have you noticed? America’s gone mad, and we Brits, finally wetting our pants with xenophobia, have sawn off the branch we’ve been sitting on for forty years, gone crashing down into the unknown. And if this is the best we can come up with after all our theorising and thinking, and our damned Windows 10 with its constant updates, it’s time we wiped the slate clean and started afresh with our ABC’s, and a better heart and a clearer head.

I don’t know,… if I actually I knew anything about Zen, it would be a good time to retreat into monkish seclusion, compose impenetrable Haiku, scratch the lines on pebbles with a rusty nail and toss them into the sea. We’ve had ten thousand years of the wisdom of sages and the world’s getting dumber by the day. How does that happen?

Not to be discouraged, I bought a copy of Windows XP for a fiver off Ebay. It’s as obsolete as you can get these days while remaining useful. Indeed, it’s still probably controlling all the world’s nuclear power stations – except for those still relying on DOS – so I should manage okay with it. I have it on an old laptop, permanently isolated from the Internet, so the bad guys can’t hack it, and it can’t update itself. It responds like greased lightning. Okay, I know I still need Windows 10 to actually publish stuff, but at least I have a machine I can rely on for the basics of just writing now.

But did I ever tell you I don’t like writing about writing? Well, here I am doing it again aren’t I? But have you noticed, if you search WordPress for “writers”, or “writing”, that’s what tends to pop up, all of us writers writing about writing, when what I really want to read is their actual stuff, what they think about – you know, things, what the world looks like from their part of, well, the world, and through their eyes and their idiosyncrasies, and all that, which is what I thought writers were supposed to do. Or maybe that’s it these days and, like Windows 10 we’ve been updated beyond the point to which we make sense any more, become instead a massive circular reference in the spreadsheet of life, destined soon to disappear up our own posteriors.

Okay, we’ve tripped the thousand word warning now, when five hundred is considered a long piece these days – just enough to sound quirky and cool, while saying nothing at all.

Brevity, Michael! No one likes a smart-arse,… especially a long winded one.

Graeme out.

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It’s been a summer of violent and tragic events here in the UK. Once upon a time we would pause for a minute’s silence to remember the wars and the fallen. It happened once a year, was a predictable, sombre occasion each November, a reflection on the folly of armed conflict. Now it seems we’ve had a minute’s silence every week for weeks in response to the shock of one damned thing after the other – bombings, mass stabbings, vans driven into pedestrians, and of course the terrible London tower block fire.

Such events shock us, pull us from our private lives, reconnect us with the human collective and cause us to question the nature of the incurable malaise from which we apparently suffer. And of course the speed with which events are now reported lends an extra feverishness to the times, a feverishness spun to favour one shameless political agenda or another. We need no longer wait for the ten o’clock news like we did in the old days, the Smartphone tells it all, instantly, and the story it tells is one of perpetual shock, violence, hatred and a corporate greed that verges on the homicidal.

It’s sometimes hard not to view our times from the nihilistic perspective as evidence of an acceleration towards the end of days. Certainly pictures of the burned out Grenfell Tower are as symbolic as they are deeply shocking. But the people who died that night were not victims of extremists. The enemy that sealed the fate of Grenfell Tower was more a culture of institutional avarice, one painstakingly manufactured over the decades to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the lives of the poor. All of these things, though diverse in origin, seem part of the same unsettling atmosphere of the times, like faces vaguely recognisable from our deepest nightmares, all of them bearing weapons of one sort or another.

But if you can look beyond the violence, beyond the tragedy, it’s possible to discern something else happening, something that suggests less a rush to the end of times and more to a transformation of the collective consciousness. The bigger the outrage and the faster these events come at us, the bigger too the response of the many who awaken and gather, not with violence in mind, but with a compassionate dignity. And the pocket media that disseminates these shocks so far and fast and wide also unites us, brings us together in ever larger numbers, mobilises us to a deeper empathy and reflection.

The world of the technocracy is increasingly machine-like and it has become a proxy for the collective human ego, a thing wrestling for control over every aspect of our lives, measuring even the keyclicks on our computers, evaluating them for the risk inherent in our thoughts and beliefs, to predict and plan in order to subvert bad events even ahead of time. But the more you plan, and the greater the detail to which you plan, the more vulnerable you are to the unexpected, to the uncontrolled, to the irrational turn of events. And the faster we fail, the less useful Ego becomes, and the less useful it feels the more it tears itself apart and adds to the maelstrom of destruction and despair. The greater the shock, next time that we seem so powerless against the nihilistic forces and the ill winds of fate.

What we are seeing almost nightly on our TV screens is a form of collective madness. We are on the couch, and it’s time to talk it out with a competent analyst. All egos are ultimately at the mercy of their shadows, dutifully raising demons from under every stone turned, like the headlines of the Daily Mail. It’s only compassion that spares us, a recognition we are not machines and that for life to have meaning we must recognise and value more our ability to transcend the material, or at the very least to temper its excesses with the better side of human nature.

When events shock us, it’s tempting always to turn to the machine for answers. Through it we calculate our responses, plan future contingencies, establish means of mitigation. But when the shock hits, it’s better to set our machine thoughts aside, if only for a moment for a moment, to remember we are not robots, that it’s better sometimes we say nothing for a while, and simply reach out and hold someone. It’s a long shot, believing in a reactive transformation that will eventually eradicate the dark stain from the zeitgeist, but if enough of us can respond to extraordinary events with compassion, empathy and a degree of stillness, it’s at least a start in the right direction.

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