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Archive for the ‘political’ Category

Rivington Hall

We’re in Rivington today, just parking along the Hall Avenue for the start of a walk up the Pike. The red brick of the old hall is illumined by a spot of sunlight pouring from an otherwise cloudy sky, and is looking very grand, framed by the dark of the trees. We’ll be walking a route I’ve not done for ages, up a ravine known locally as Tiger’s Clough. So far as I know there were never any tigers in it, save perhaps the sabre-toothed variety, in prehistoric times. The name actually refers to an illicit drinking den called The Tiger, tucked away, once upon a time, in its shady environs, all trace of which has now vanished. The early maps have it more properly as Shaw’s Clough. There’s a decent waterfall there, and there’s been a bit of rain, so we’ve a chance it will be running, and worth a photograph.

First though, we head down the avenue towards the glitter of more sunbeams on the Rivington reservoir. This takes us past the Great House Barn, which has been a café for as long as I can remember. It was an unfussy rendezvous for walkers, and motorcyclists, but something has happened. It’s gone posh, with table service and waiting persons in long aprons.

Great House Barn, Rivington

Friday lunchtimes would see me knocking off work, and heading over to the barn for a bite, then a walk, but post retirement, post covid, post a lot of things, I have yet to reacquaint myself with the menu. For today, lunch is in the rucksack, and the end-of-walk brew is waiting in the flask, back in the little blue car. Not all passers-by are tight-wads like me, though, and the barn seems to be doing a brisk trade.

The “Go Ape” Ape, Rivington

By contrast, I note the adjacent Go Ape place is lacking custom this morning. Some years ago they took over the woodland, bordering the reservoir, set up aerial walkways, and zip-wires among the trees, so hard-hatted and harnessed folk could whoop and scream their way from branch to branch. It’s not a place I tend to walk any more. Indeed, I don’t come down this way much at all now. It’s just that this is where we pick up the path to Liverpool Castle, our first objective on the circuit.

The castle was commissioned by Viscount Leverhulme in 1912, intended as a kind of romantic folly, on the shores of the reservoir and was modelled on the more ancient and long vanished Liverpool Castle at – well – Liverpool. It’s now a holding pen for litter, and a canvas for graffiti. Graffiti puzzles me. I’ve heard it explained as an expression of rebellion, but I only feel despair when I see it. I wonder if there is a link between graffiti, and tattoos, and if so what is the tattooed person rebelling against? But I know I’m over-thinking things, now. The castle still takes a good picture, and the worst of the urban artistry can be cloned out.

A replica of Liverpool Castle, Rivington

Now we’re heading down the tree lined avenue towards the car-park, near the high school. A former colleague of mine was once parked here, many years ago now, enjoying a packed lunch, when a half suited gentleman emerged from the small public convenience, and walked across to his vehicle. I say half-suited because he was carrying his trousers, neatly folded, over his arm, and was bare from the middle down, his modesty spared only by his shirt tails. My colleague, a lady of mature years, was upset, and telephoned the police, to be advised the car-park was a well known public sex area, so the cops generally turned a blind eye, though it was certainly news to us. I’ve no idea if this is still the case – things move on, I guess – but neither she nor I ever parked there again. It puzzles me how one is supposed to know these things, if one is not already in the know. It requires a certain level of street smartness, that is not second nature to us, the more naive denizens of rural England.

Climbing up the path by Knowle House, now, we turn towards Horwich, and find the narrow curling ribbon of Tarmac that leads up to Higher Knoll farm. A little way up here, a kissing gate lets onto a path that leads us down into the gloom of a wooded ravine. This is Tiger’s Clough, where the headwaters of the River Douglas first combine and gather pace, after trickling down from their various tributaries on the moor.

Down and down we go, following the sound of water, until we come unexpectedly across a tented encampment. It does not have the look of one of those trendy insta-wild camp things, but something altogether bigger and more permanent. I’ve encountered the homeless, living in tents in this area before, and suspect some poor soul on their beam ends. We give it a respectful swerve. Sadly, Britain is now, by and large, a poor country with, like all poor countries, some rich people making little difference to its future prospects – indeed quite the opposite.

Main falls, Tiger’s Clough, Horwich

We make our way upstream, the way impeded here and there by storm-fallen trees whose boughs force us into yogic contortions, and eventually, we come to the falls. I’ve seen photographs of them when the Douglas is in spate, and very impressive they are too, but today, there’s just a trickle going over, and we struggle for a photograph in the gloom. There is also a mess of litter: beercans, Monster Energy cans, plastic bottles, surgical gloves, and a pregnancy tester (negative), this latter placed quite deliberately upon the makeshift altar of a protruding brookside rock. I hesitate to join the dots.

We’re getting on for lunchtime now, and the tummy is rumbling, but there’s an unwholesome atmosphere, courtesy of all this detritus. Certainly, it is not the place to break out the soup-pot. So, we climb from the ravine, disappointed, and continue our way upwards and onwards, towards the bumpy track known as George’s Lane, and the main routes to the Pike.

Prospect Farm, Rivington

The way becomes cleaner as we climb. Fortunately, the kind who would besmirch the environment, paint it with expressions of rebellion/despair, are also lazy. Just before the path meets George’s Lane, we come across the levelled ruins of Prospect Farm, marked by the still upright remains of one massive buttress. The name is apt, it being a fine viewpoint, and we settle in the sun for lunch while galleons of clouds sail inland, spinnakers billowing. I’ve had many pairs of cheap binoculars over the years, but eventually splashed out on some decent ones, not too heavy in the pocket, and a marvel to settle down with in a viewpoint like this.

Lunch done, we pick up one of the more popular tracks for the ascent via the gentle flank of Brown Hill. The top of the Pike is busy: families, teens, joggers, dogs running amok, owners snapping them back to heel. Jester! Jack! Fritz! Get down! It’s early afternoon, midweek. I don’t know what people do for work any more. It’s like the whole world, young and old, has retired with me.

Rivington Pike

Speaking of work, I can see where I used to work, from the Pike, see too, the line of the M61 I used to commute along – a bleak, potholed roaring ribbon of a road it was, with no lane markings for the most part – all rubbed off – a nightmare in the dark and the wet. There’s still a shiver, when I think of those days. We turn our back to it, seeking instead the Isle of Man, which is sometimes clear from here. Not today, though. Views of the Isle of Man are rare enough to be disputed, but I swear I’ve seen it often enough.

We make our descent through the blessedly tidy terraced gardens, where volunteers are busy weeding. The Italian lake has been drained and cleaned, all of this I presume in readiness for the festival of light, in October. This is a ticket only event, and well attended, one of the highlights of the season. I note it’s sold out now. Maybe next year.

So, finally, we return to the little blue car, ready for a brew and a rest before the drive home. Alas, we note brightly coloured bags of dog doings dotting our near environs, and someone has draped a banana skin over a fencepost by the door. The little blue car is not amused. Consequently, the tea does not taste as nice as it should. We gulp it down, and do not linger. I’d thought it might be an interesting circuit, but somehow those Tigers got the better of me. Five and a quarter miles round, and the GPS assures me nearly seventeen hundred feet of ascent, which is a respectable effort. But there are certain times, and frames of mind, when Rivington looks very tired. And today was definitely one of them.

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The falls on Stepback Brook

It’s a beautiful, mid-September morning. We reverse the little blue car from the garage, and let the top warm in the sun. It folds down easier when it’s warm, and I’m trying to spare it from further cracking. It’s a little frayed around the edges now, and not surprising at twenty years old, but still keeping the water out, so I’m in no hurry to replace it. We fold it back gently, flip the baffle plate, to keep the wind from sneaking up behind our backs, and make ready for the off. Every warm day from now is a bonus, and possibly the last we can get out with the top down, and enjoy the air.

I’ve wasted half the morning trying to load music onto my phone because I want to avoid the radio, but it’s a new phone and I can’t make head nor tail of it, so we’ll make do with the company of our thoughts as we drive instead. It’s a short run today, over the moors to the Royal, at Ryal Fold. It’s cool on the road, but pleasantly so with the heater on just a touch. Of the ongoing national mourning, there’s not much in evidence en-route, a few pubs with flags at half-mast. It’s a different story in the Capital, of course, with all-night queues for the lying in state, and extra trains for the influx of tourists.

The King meanwhile courts an occasional bad press for being grumpy. This is from both the political left and right, and both the royalist and the republican media. Memes are spreading across the Internet, some humorous, some spiteful. This seems to hint at the nature of the future relationship. Meanwhile, dissenters are being arrested. Even holding up a blank piece of paper will get you nabbed.

One broadcaster mistakes a crowd protesting the killing of a young black man by the Met, believing them instead to be well-wishers. It must be difficult trying to keep the commentary up for so long, when not everyone is following the same script.

Anyway, the car park at the Royal is busy, lots of people sitting out in the sunshine, enjoying an early lunch, but the Union Jacks are absent. There is an intoxicating scent of cooking and coffee, mingled with the moorland air. The plan is a circular walk to Darwen Tower, as I have it on reliable authority it is definitely open now after its years’ long refurbishment.

We follow the route up Stepback Brook to Lyon’s Den. There’s been rain recently, and the brook is musical, the little wayside fall running nicely, a generous and shapely mare’s tail. So we sneak down into the dell and try a shot or two, but we’re shooting into the sun, and the lens is flaring awkwardly. We’ll be lucky to salvage anything from it, but no one’s counting, and it’s always fun trying. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the day, and to be out in it, and looking at it the right way round.

Eighteen months retired now, and I’m still not sure if I can call it real, not sure if I’m making the best use of the time I’ve been waiting for so long to enjoy. I’m still aware of time ticking down, but now the deadline is not the Devil dragging me back to work on Mondays. It’s something more final, numbered perhaps in summers, and it needs to be overcome, for the sense of pressing time is the Devil itself.

Climbing the track to Lyon’s Den, we spy a note pinned to the fence. Someone is expressing thanks to the kind soul who found their photographs (we presume on a memory card, or something). We sometimes don’t appreciate how much stuff we have on these things, that their loss would be devastating to us. It is a random act of kindness, then, and a reciprocal gesture of appreciation. The finder gains nothing, materially, seeks no reward. It was a rationally meaningless act, then, yet also the act of any decent human being.

Lunch is served on the bench by the little copse above Lyon’s Den. The view from here is breathtaking. The cooler air of these September days cuts the haze, and jacks the clarity dial up to infinity. The Dales are so clear, it’s as if we could walk to them in five minute, the Cumbrian Mountains, too. Closer to hand is Bowland and Pendle, barely a stone’s throw.

An old timer comes ambling slowly by, trailing a pair of ancient Irish Wolf Hounds. They have the scent of my lunch, and are curious. He’s a pleasant soul, bids me good morning, gently tugs his giant creatures onwards, in the direction of the tower. There’s an air of ease, of gentleness to the day. The tower stands out, way across the moor, a Dan Dare rocket-ship, poised for take-off.

Darwen Tower – Yorkshire Dales beyond

So, a random act of kindness – finding a memory card in the mud, and placing it where the owner might find it, should they come looking. The simple goodness of that act has extended beyond returning those treasured photographs to a grateful owner. It has coloured the morning like a charm. It ripples out in time and space.

I have spent a long time on the trail of something “other”. Those more well travelled say it’s a journey that ends with the realisation there is no “other”. I think I know what that means, now. It grants a certain degree of shape to the cosmos that makes more sense, though it actually has no shape, beyond what we grant it, that subject and object are the same thing.

But the journey is like a long breathing in. And if you hold your breath long enough you get to the point of bliss, and it seems many travellers make do with that, sit on their cushions with their scented candles, and their singing bowls, lost in the emptiness. But you need to breathe out too, and that means bringing something back into the world, a world where there’s so much suffering it’s almost impossible to get anything done, and where nothing makes sense without these random acts of kindness.

But like the breathing in, we make a meal of it, and it turns out to be much simpler if we can only look at things the right way. I’m hoping it’s the same breathing out, breathing something back into the world, that it’s no more than a question of doing the good that you know, as it arises. But it’s a good that must come from an intelligence of the heart, which in turn comes from that journey to the realisation there is no other.

The finder of those photographs felt their loss, because it was they who lost them, they who also felt the joy of their return. I know I’m not making much sense, but it doesn’t matter. The message is in this mellow air, and in the ripples coming out from that little note, the lost, the found, and the random act of kindness.

Darwen Tower

We arrive at the tower to find it is indeed open, and looking in fine fettle after its long refurbishment. I venture inside a little way, take the spiral staircase to the lower balcony. The sun is very bright now and, entering the gloom, I find my old eyes are slow to adapt to the dark these days, so I’m fumbling for the steps with my toes. I’d get there eventually, but don’t feel confident in climbing to the top. The lower balcony will do, and in itself is a stupendous viewpoint.

There are two stories about the origins of the tower. One is that it was built to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria. But there is another story, one about land ownership, and the public’s rights of access to it. Once upon a time, I would not have been able to walk, as I’ve walked today. It would have been an insane trespass, and I would have been seen off by gamekeepers in the employ of an absentee landlord. But it was courageous acts of trespass, defiance, and an ensuing legal battle that opened the ways over Darwen Moor to everyone, and that’s what the tower celebrates. The intelligence of the heart says it was a good thing, securing freedoms we continue to enjoy today. But that is not to say our freedoms cannot once again be lost.

Darwen Moor

Thanks for listening.

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The Shireburn Cottages, Hurst Green

There’s a beautiful light in Hurst Green, this morning. We have strong sunshine, but there’s a mellowness to it, that lends late season contrasts. The oft-photographed alms-houses, the Shireburn Cottages, are basking in it, warming their grand facade. Meanwhile, all around us, the skies are patrolled by ominously towering cumulonimbus. We’ll be lucky if we avoid a soaking.

We’re looking to climb Longridge fell today – a ridge that runs east-west, roughly parallel to the River Ribble, for about six miles. The reward of the climb up the quiet lanes and meadows, from Hurst Green, is the sudden view of the Forest of Bowland, from the summit.

We’ll be meandering up to the trig column on Spire Hill, roughly the mid-point of the fell, as well as its highest elevation. Then we’ll head through the plantations to the easternmost tip, at Kemple End. From here, we’ll fumble our way back across the meadows, and finally through the grand environs of Stonyhurst College, to Hurst Green. It’s ground I’ve not covered before, so I’m expecting a bit of an adventure, adding a few more rights of way to the map in my head.

My thanks to Bowland Climber whose posts are a valuable source of intel on likely routes and ground conditions in this area. Longridge is heavily forested and, as with all such territory, the routes get overtaken as the forest develops, and permissive ways open up in their stead, ways which may not be familiar to a non-local walker. Then you get logging, and storm damage with trees coming down, blocking the paths, or balanced precariously, waiting for you to sneeze before crashing down on top of you. And then of course we can expect the usual difficulties on the lowland stretches, with way markers disappearing, and little used paths across meadows vanishing under crops.

I’d felt a sense of hush, leaving home, news of the Queen’s death still settling in. The hush was self-imposed, of course, and partly courtesy of the long planned and wall-to-wall reverence of the BBC. This vanished as soon as I hit the M6 of course, where the nation’s life still goes on at full throttle, as needs must, with heavies and delivery vans, drivers having to pee in bottles to meet schedules set by machines.

There are, of course, many who feel a genuine sadness, as if they had lost their own grandmother. But there are also plenty, particularly in the under forties bracket, who have no longer the luxury of time, or are too worried about feeding their children to don the sackcloth and ashes.

I am not immune to the sense of history, nor to the symbolism of a fallen monarch, especially now, adding as it does, its weight to a heaviness I already feel for the state of an Albion so besmirched and tattered. I fear it is optimistic to hope this will be one of those historic moments to galvanise the nation, for so much of the nation has other things on its mind right now, and which are hard to ignore. One wonders what next. Were I to suffer a sudden, blinding pulse of light, prior to witnessing a mushroom cloud rising in the direction of Manchester, courtesy of Vlad P, I would not be surprised. Still, one must not tempt fate.

For now, though, the only mushroom clouds are these cumulonimbus. They spread out at great altitude, into anvil heads, and they darken, broody and funereal. Climbing the quiet, rain puddled lanes towards the fell, we lose the sun, and the day turns grey, and sticky. There is the crackle of thunder, but, so far, the gathering storms seem to circle us, their dramatics kept at a safe distance.

I was grouching in my last post about the cost of NHS dental treatment. “Over sixty quid for a checkup and a clean,” I spluttered. However, as a friend later pointed out, I’m fortunate still to receive NHS treatment, and should be more grateful for it. Dentists are shedding our sort like unwanted fleas. That same check-up and clean will cost me over two hundred quid, under the private system many have now fallen victim to. More serious work – fillings, extraction, bridge-work – and it can easily run into thousands. This is beyond the means of so many in poverty-pay jobs, paying sky-high rents and energy bills. It’s little wonder, then, DIY dentistry is on the rise. I’m not sure how, or when, this happened. It just sort of crept up on us while we weren’t looking.

Spire Hill, Longridge Fell

We pause at the trig point, rather sweaty now, to rest and clean our specs – all the better to take in the panoramic sweep of the Bowland hills. They are most movingly beautiful under this rapidly changing light. There is mixed sunshine and cloud to the north, though the skies are turning an ominous green to our backs, now. There are para-gliders, launching from the precipitous north face, and seem to be defying the weather, as they defy gravity, circling and swooping like slow motions birds. I hear Vaughn Williams in my head, then another rumble of thunder.

Eastwards now, following the line of the ridge, and plunging quickly into the forest’s gloom. It’s mostly coniferous plantation, but with the occasional stretches of beautifully twisted Scot’s Pine. Then, amid the gloom of the conifers, there lurks the occasional, defiant deciduous giant, one of which I discover hung with curious trinkets. Coniferous forestry is an affront to nature, and she shows her displeasure in that eerie monocultural, mossy silence.

On Longridge Fell

The way is far from straight forward here, as we encounter damage from last winter’s storms, stacks of fallen trees laying across the path. There has been some ad-hoc clearance, plus a splintering of unofficial diversionary ways, leading off into the gloom, but no concerted effort to clear passage. So, it’s with a bit of hit-and-miss, aided by the occasionally more helpful long stretch of forestry track, we make it down to the eastern tip, near Kemple End. The Bowland fells still look balmy, while an evil looking storm sweeps the Ribble Valley, trailing rain. Was that a flash of lightning? We pause and count to ten for the rumble of distant thunder.

Logging near Kemple End, Longridge Fell

Here, we descend into the pastures along the rights of way where a helpful sign, posted by a local resident, tells us we’re probably going to go wrong here. There are some well-intentioned instructions, which we follow to the letter, but the path is little walked, and we go wrong anyway, meandering about in shin-high wet grass for a while, until we spot a possible exit.

We ford a stream where it looks like there was once a crossing, and we come up to a rusty old gate that hasn’t been opened since Tolkien last passed this way, pondering his Hobbits. I’m walking with the latest OS map, which tells us we’re bang on the right of way, at least in theory, so we plod on, following the GPS across a meadow, freshly planted, and ankle deep in soft earth. There are no markers here except the prints I leave behind, hopefully for others to follow. It pains me to do this but, as usual, a little more clarity by the landowner would not go amiss, and I’d be glad to oblige. One never knows in these situations if we aren’t simply digging ourselves deeper into the confusion of lost ways, or if a helpful marker will pop up of a sudden, and see us safely through.

More awkward stream crossings follow, more rights of way missing their markings, and no evidence of footfall on the ground. We seem to have found one of those routes long abandoned, yet it is the quickest way from Kemple End to Stonyhurst. With patient attention to the GPS, though, we locate the wobbly stiles, now slowly rotting in deep hedgerows, and the rickety stream crossings. Plucked by thorns, and stung by nettle, we come down to our way-point on the road, where a single finger post points us back to perdition. From here, a short walk brings us into the grand environs of the Stonyhurst College, where we can pass without fail or interference.

The doors of St Mary’s Hall are open, the sombre sounds of a Requiem Mass for the Queen spilling out, and following us some way along this last stretch to Hurst Green. We must ring a bell here, as there is occasional shooting across the path. There’ll be none today, I would think, but I feel obliged to ring it anyway. The jarring clang so soon after passing the spiritual music from the chapel feels irreverent.

Millie’s Pantry, our usual watering hole, is just closing, so we find ourselves in the Shireburn Arms, instead, with a large, sweet coffee and the feel of nine miles, and twelve hundred feet of ascent in our legs. I wonder if JRR himself ever sat here, nursing a pint and smoking a pipe. The bar is empt, except for a couple of ladies dressed like wedding guests. I hope my dishevelled appearance does not offend. The fates were with us, and the rains held off, but where we go from here, amid these gathering storms, is far from certain.

But there’s always another hill, another day in the outdoors to call us onwards. And the hills ask nothing but that we respect them, while they reward our efforts ten-fold.

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The Anglezarke reservoir

It seems a while since I made it out, the past few weeks having been spent sheltering from an oppressive heat. And even though today is much cooler, I didn’t fancy a hill, so we’ve settled on this circuit of the Anglezarke Reservoir, just to get us back into the swing.

It’s a cloudy-bright sort of day, still dry, with barely a drop of rain in ages. The paths are pot-hard, and wearisome. We’ve left the little blue car on the causeway, at the southern end, and are now approaching the halfway point, along the Heapey fold Lane. It’s an uninspiring stretch, all barbed wire, straight lines and miles of that electrified white tape the horsey people use, whether to deter horse or man is open to debate. As for the reservoir, it’s very low, as most of them are now, and, thus far, we’ve had only a few glimpses of it as the path veers shy.

There’s something wrong with my GPS tracker. Every time the phone goes to sleep, it forgets where we are, only to pick us up when I wake the phone again. Which is why our track is as the crow flies, and about a mile long, instead of all wiggly and about two. It’ll be something to do with how Android manages background apps, but this isn’t the time to be sorting that out. I know how far round this walk is anyway: Four and a quarter miles. Flat. Why I think I need the phone tracking us in the first place is a mystery, but we persuade ourselves it’s interesting to know these things, then all we end up doing is fiddling with the phone instead of absorbing properly what the walk has to offer.

We’re late season now, second half of August, and we have several trees along the way showing heat-stress, crisping up for an early autumn. And there are blackberries in the hedgerows, looking plump.

Just here, there’s a fine ash tree, and a good place to settle for lunch, before we plunge into the woods below Grey Heights, and Healey Nab. Heinz mushroom soup today, £1.40 a tin! I fancy the energy bills at their Kit Green factory must be getting on for the GDP of a small nation. I was also saddened to read the Coppull chippy, “Oh my Cod“, is to cease trading, due to the price of energy. I imagine many chippy’s are in the same boat; cafes, coffee shops, too, all victims of the killer watts.

Speaking of which, I’ve been trying to run an energy calculation in my head, one that’s vital to my own well-being. So: if it takes four minutes to boil water using a three kilowatt kettle, and electricity costs 28p per Kilowatt hour, how much for a cup of tea?

It’s taken me a couple miles to come up with the answer: 6p. Now, how many times do I brew up in a day? A lot, for if in doubt have a brew, and I am often in doubt, so let’s say six times. And six sixes are thirty-six, so thirty six pence a day! Times three hundred and sixty-five is,… em,.. calculator on the phone,… 13140. That’s pennies, so divide by a hundred, and we arrive at around £131 a year, brewing up. So, where I’m going with this is,… if we halved the number of brews?

No, wait a minute. Economies like that – like sitting in the dark – won’t even touch the sides. Anyway, when a man has to think twice before brewing up, he no longer lives in a civilised country, and I’d sooner preserve the illusion a while longer.

I’ve been sitting quite still by this tree, and maybe that’s why the ladies’ rambling group comes by and doesn’t notice me, or at least no one thinks to say hello. They’re a fragrant, and colourfully Lycra clad party, and very noisy as they enter the wood, sending up a flock of outraged pigeons. Which all goes to show, when you’re out with your mates, you’re not thinking about how much it costs to brew up, and maybe I should join a rambling group myself. Except, I never notice anything when I’m with a group, and I’m self-conscious lingering over photographs.

Anglezarke Reservoir, August 2022

Built between 1850 and 1857, the Anglezarke reservoir is perhaps the most attractive of its neighbours. But the best walking is along the east bank, where we’re closer to the water and get that lovely dancing light. Today we’re short of water, this northern end in particular, being shallow, emptied early, and is now green with an entire season’s worth of wild grasses and flowers. There’s just this narrow channel snaking down towards the southern end, which retains the appearance of a reservoir. Here, though, the land is reverting to its pre-1850 aspect. I venture down below the winter water-line, back in time, so to speak, to take a picture of the Waterman’s Cottage.

Waterman’s Cottage, Anglezarke reservoir, August 2022

Built in the mock Tudor style. It used to be one of those places I’d dream of living. It’s looking badly neglected now, though – sorry if you live there. But then everywhere’s the same, nothing heading in the right direction any more. It always made for a good photograph, reflected in dark waters, but is now suspended over a sea of green.

Waterman’s Cottage, Anglezarke Reservoir

Just past the cottage, we pick up the path below Siddow fold, and follow the pretty eastern shore towards the Bullough Reservoir. The views open out here, and we can see the deeper, southern end of the reservoir, where it still makes a good show of catching the light. This is the best section of the walk, even when we pick up the Tarmac water-board road, with the sparkle of water coming through mature plantation. Then we meet Moor road, where it snakes down from Lester Mill. The spillway of the Yarrow is dry, of course, and looks like it has been all summer, judging by the vegetation sprouting out of it. Then we’re back at the causeway, where we pick out the smile of the little blue car, waiting. A long four miles, somehow, and ready for a brew.

So we peel back the top, open the flask and enjoy a cup of sweet tea, relaxing in a cooling breeze coming off the water. Sixpence, remember? Or rather no,… forget that. Forget how much it costs to brew tea, for therein lies madness. A quick burst of data on the phone, allows the notifications to catch up. There’s one from Amazon letting me know they’ve dropped off my folding solar panel. That’s to keep my powerbanks and charged for, when the power-cuts begin. It’s another economy that’s not going to touch the sides, but it makes you feel like you’re at least doing something, stealing sunshine. So long as we can walk and write, all will be well. Less so, I fear for others. There is a real sense of teetering on the brink of something awful, but so long as you’re in the mood to read, I’ll be posting my way through it. And I might even finish that novel, before the year runs into Yule!

Thanks for listening.

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Photo by Jem Sanchez on Pexels.com

Why creativity matters now, more than ever

My energy company tells me today there’s good news and bad news. First the good: based on current estimates, I can lower my direct debit a fraction, so I’m only paying twice what I paid for energy, compared with this time last year. The fact I’m also using half the energy, due to drastic economies, takes a bit of the shine off this small concession, and points to the damage caused by the first phase of our so-called energy crisis.

The bad news comes when we factor in what we know about that mysterious body ofgem, and their arcane ruminations regarding the price cap, and its upward trajectory, kicking off in October. The energy company illustrates this neatly with a graph, which has my balance going off a cliff, unless I double what I’m paying again. This applies to me, and everyone else in the country, but even more so to those who have shirked on economising. However, given the scale of this next price hike, I venture that any economising – short of requesting actual disconnection – is futile.

I can pay, though the bill for the year will be the equivalent of the purchase of a used car. Many will be unable to pay, indeed are saying they won’t, or that they will have to enter loan arrangements they’ll be a long time paying off, while still afraid to switch the lights on. It seems insufficient then to call it an energy crisis. It’s more of a social emergency, and our political system seems, at best, unable to avert it. At worst, it seems callously unconcerned by it.

Opposition politicians have been vocal this week in calling for the price cap rise to be scrapped, that massive profits should be investigated, and monies redistributed to hard-pressed consumers. But they can be as vocal as they like, when not in power. Even if we have a mild winter, it will be the coldest for generations, as the thermostats are dialled back, and the cold creeps in. The most sought after lifestyle bloggers and vloggers, will be those offering advice on how to keep warm on zero kilowatt-hours. If only we could bottle up the excess sunshine of this current heat wave, and warm our homes with it when we need it, later on!

In a broader sense it points to a collapse of the privatised energy market, as we enter territory that was predicted by those economists of a more statist bent, decades ago, this being one of runaway high prices for a utility no one can do without, while profits soar. And a service that is too expensive to use already, while becoming all the more expensive, is effectively broken. But where is the repairman when you need him?

These are strange days, impossible to make sense of. We seem to have lived through one crisis after another, for years now – and all of it is very unsettling. I walk through my home village after sunset, and the houses are mostly in darkness, people perhaps thinking to economise by not switching on their lights. Yet I hear the sound of TVs. Such economising makes no sense, given that even a bright bulb of the contemporary LED variety requires six watts of energy, while a big screen TV requires a hundred. Better to switch off the TV, turn on the light, and read a book.

This tells me the rules of the material world have become so opaque to people, we are no longer capable of saving our own skins. Who among us knows the wattage of their fridge freezer, their toaster, their kettle, their ceramic hob? Who among us knows how much their electricity actually costs – answer, in my case, 28p per kilowatt-hour. Such things will have to become second nature.

But much as it surprises me to have reached six hundred words already, the state of the energy “market” is not what I wanted to write about, and I present it only as an illustration of the paucity of warmth and meaning, and the diminishing returns we get from indulging our purely material natures. We surrender our well-being to the market machinery, to politics, and to the chattering of the billionaire presses, at our peril, but only if we believe in the totality of the materialist paradigm, and only if we believe we are robots made of meat.

We are more than that. There is an immaterial side to us, one we explore through the imagination, though this immaterial side is one we seem increasingly reluctant to indulge, indeed one we are even discouraged from exploring. Imagination, we are told, is for children, and something to be outgrown as quickly as possible, then we can take our place as reliable citizens in this rational, material world, in this “real” world.

Of course, imagining cheaper energy bills isn’t going to bring those bills down. But that would be applying the imagination to the level of the gutter, when what we’re going to need over the coming autumn and winter, is a means of rising above it. Anyone who writes or paints, or is into crafts, lives to explore the world of the imagination. They bring the inner world into being. They grant it expression, and are rewarded for it in intangible ways.

Politicians will not solve the coming crisis, and, materially we’ll all be a lot poorer this time next year. That seems to be inevitable. But you needn’t let it take your spirits down too. To this end we are better reading a poem by Blake, and pondering his meaning, than by scouring the Guardian for rays of hope amid the million useless facts of the material world.

Anyone who writes stories, goes out into nature and writes it up for others to follow, anyone who crochets and blogs their patterns, anyone who writes poetry, makes pottery, takes photographs, paints pictures, I beg you to keep doing so. Indeed, you must redouble your efforts. You are each a warrior wrestling the zeitgeist back from the materialist monkeys who have delivered us electricity at 28p per kilowatt-hour.

This is not as futile a fight as it might seem. It all depends on how you define victory. Those materialist monkeys might be raking it in, but they have already paid with their souls, and that’s not really a victory at all. Let’s make sure they don’t take the rest of us down that path with them.

Thanks for listening

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After a torrid few weeks in parliament, the PM promises to step down, at some point. I think that’s what he said, anyway. Isn’t it? I should really have more to say about that than I do, but find myself peculiarly unmoved. More interesting, today, is the sight of common spotted orchids growing by the brook in Lead Mines’ Clough. It was certainly worth a bit of a scramble to get a picture, so I could confirm it through Google Lens. Ah, yes, it says, that’s a common-spotted orchid. But common or not, Dr Google, it looks exotic and beautiful.

I don’t know if something has changed in environmental practice, or I’m more attuned to picking out wild flowers, which I doubt, but it seems to have been a bumper year. In the half century or more I’ve been coming here, I’ve never seen an orchid of any variety in Lead Mines Clough before. I suppose another reason is that retirement allows one the luxury to repeat the same walk several times over the year, so you catch it at all seasons, and you’ve more chance of noticing the changes, and the wild flowers, including the orchids. When you’re working, leisure time is too short to waste on covering the same old ground, so you don’t see as much. And that’s a shame.

July is the season of long grass and horse flies. Today we also have cloud, grey-blue and sleepy in the heat, but also quite dramatic. I’ve only been out twenty minutes, and already I’ve been bitten. Covid has gifted us much by way of new knowledge. One serendipitous discovery is that hand gel, ubiquitous to every bag and purse now, is also excellent for horse fly bites. A quick dab and all would be well, except I’ve left mine in the car so the bite, microscopic though it is, itches like hell.

There are road menders down on the Parson’s Bullough Lane, repairing potholes, or to be exact they are making repairs to repairs of potholes they made not that long ago. Buy cheap, buy twice, and all that. The roads in general around here are knackered. The air was filled with the scent of fresh tar, some of which has no doubt stuck all over my newly painted wings and sills.

We’ve photographed the same scenes: the trees at Twitch Hills, and the view from the ruins of Peewit Hall. Taking lunch among the blackened gritstones of Peewit Hall, I find I much prefer my universe these days to the one I inhabited a few years ago. We all make our own reality. Readers of the Daily Mail inhabit a different world to readers of the Guardian, likewise aficionados of Fox News, or MSNBC. Both sides agree their particular version of reality is going to hell in a handcart, while disagreeing profoundly over the reasons, and even what exactly constitutes the Apocalypse in the first place.

My own apocalypse, if I must call it that, is well over £2.00 a litre for petrol. Admittedly, the little blue car, being rather old, prefers E5 – AKA rocket fuel – but it could be worse; I could still be commuting. Another shocker for me is that Lurpak butter is now so expensive they’re putting security tags on it. I like Lurpak, but I’m not paying that and shall make do with Utterly Butterly for now. The new wave of Covid is also worrying, a relative having been advised by a consultant to put off surgery for eighteen months rather than risk admission to hospital right now. The Apocalypse, then, is always personal, until it isn’t. I suspect all societies are like that, haunted by the threat of largely imagined and imminent catastrophe, while blind to the real thing, until it happens, as it does from time to time.

So the PM has gone, or rather is going, some time, at a time yet to be decided. Was that it? Is that what he said? Will that make any difference to the price of Lurpak, do you think? I hope so, but suspect not.

Anyway, good soup today. Heinz Chicken. Tescos no longer stock Heinz, of course, after a falling out over the price. I shall have to source it elsewhere. My Heinz Chicken soup is non-negotiable. Hemingway wrote that you go bankrupt two ways, first gradually, then all at once. We seem to have been doing it gradually for a long time. Maybe this is the all at once bit. And no, I don’t think a change of PM will alter any of that.

Lunch done, I head along to Lead Mines Clough, circle the head of it by the upper falls, then wander down through the docile cattle, which habitually mooch around the ruins of Old Brooks. They give me the eye, check to see if I’ve a dog with me, then carry on quietly mooching. So then its down by Abbots, to rejoin the clough. Not a long walk today. I find I’m a little tired in the heat, and after a couple of other jaunts this week totalling around fifteen miles already. And if I’m perfectly honest, the day is more about the drive. The car’s been away for a bit of welding and a re-spray, and I’ve missed her. But she’s back now and looking good. So, shall we blow a tenner on rocket fuel, and take the long way home?

Why not?

Then I suppose I should really be catching up with the news from Westminster:

(Apologies in advance, please skip the video if offended by bad language, which Pie, our fictional correspondent, uses freely and frequently from the start.)

For those not familiar with Jonathan Pie, he is the creation of Tom Walker, British comedian, actor, and satirical political commentator.

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Photo by David Jakab on Pexels.com

Over this last long weekend of the Platinum Jubilee, there has been much pomp and spectacle. The British do pomp and spectacle rather well, with much spit and polishing of breastplates. Then there’s all that far-eastern manufactured bunting, to say nothing of the screaming of the Queen’s guards. As for press coverage, it has been varied, swinging from the swooning deference of The Daily Telegraph, who reminds us: “Why the British still cherish their public service monarchy” to the Guardian newspaper’s more nuanced lamentation that: “This jubilee has been a kind of soft-focus funeral for an era”.

As for the international perspective, The New York Times describes it, somewhat more pragmatically as: “The party before the Hangover,” and that the: “Queen’s Jubilee offers Britons respite from their woes”, these woes, we presume, being rampant stagflation, food shortages, the unaffordability of energy, housing, fuel, and the BA2 Covid variant. I also liked the Irish Times’ irreverent take, voiced some time ago, that: “It’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.

Taken from the broader perspective then, the British present an eccentric image, one that is admired, loathed, or seems merely ridiculous. Are we objects of pity, on the world’s stage, or deserving of our cum-uppance? Is the monarchy a stabilising force in these troubled times, or mere bread and circuses? Opinion divides. Certainly it seems odd to our international friends that whilst Britain, in common with all post-imperial powers, has been declining in wealth and influence, it should appear so averse to grasping the nettle of its own future, and instead seems prone to sentimentally idolising its past.

What the Daily Telegraph does not tell us is that it’s mostly old people who see the monarchy as still relevant to British life, while most young people don’t. This is understandable, since, for the old, most of their lives lie in the past. The young, however, have most of their lives ahead of them, and are more concerned about whether their country is a place where they can raise happy children, find fulfilling work for fair pay, and where they can live with open minds and hearts. Does the monarchy feature at all large in these respects? The data suggests the young have concluded it does not.

While the faithful waved their Union Jacks this past weekend, the former leader of the Labour Party – who could hardly be mistaken for a Royalist – reminded us of the distribution of foodbanks across the entire UK. There are rather a lot of them. Worse, they have become a normal and accepted part of our way of life, as have crippling working hours, the dismantling of the welfare state, and the seemingly wanton destruction of the health services. The justification for being proud of Britain, as it is today – a place to live, work and grow – is a flimsy one, unless you have sufficient wealth to cushion you, in which case justifications are best avoided.

But the redistributive politics of the left are not coming back. It may be the other side is just too strong in these days of late capital, and the nation’s media will dutifully demonise any even moderately left leaning voices. Or it may be the British are genetically incapable of valuing labour, even when they are the ones providing it, and will always swing towards deference at the voting box.

That said, the current Conservative government is growing in unpopularity, even among those who represent it, let alone those who voted for it. Even before the limp jubilee bunting has been taken down, there was launched a night of the long knives, and a possible leadership challenge. The pundits will no doubt enjoy this unwholesome spectacle, as it unfolds over the coming weeks. But whoever is to be the true-blue, Jack waving incumbent of number 10, they will have a difficult job winning back public trust, this side of a general election. Then again I doubt a Labour, or even a Labour led coalition will significantly alter any of the privations of modern Britain, which seem now so institutionally, and culturally embedded, it will require the work of generations to merely fill the potholes, let alone build fresh inroads to another place entirely.

But what has all this to with the British Monarchy? Well, nothing. Since it is not obvious their role is to ameliorate the excesses of their own kind, one has no expectation they will ever do so, no matter how much they are adored by those so impoverished by those same excesses. Perhaps, like actors in the grand myth of the decline of nations down the ages, they merely take their places, as do we, and all of us are powerless to divert the narrative from its nihilistic conclusion.

Thus, we line the mall at every opportunity. We wave our flags, and we tune in to the BBC’s breathless coverage. It is a very British aberration, then, one to be cherished or avoided, according to taste and demographic. Whether the Royals be wholesome fayre, or mere bubblegum, is very much a vexed issue, the discussion of which perhaps distracts from other, more pressing matters of State. But if it’s true what they say, and the myth must be acted out to its inevitable conclusion, then the British must accept their fate, in which case idolising the past is the very best we can do, if it takes our minds off the increasingly obvious and unfortunate fact, the past is all we have going for us.

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It was Bert Grundy who took the call. It was the morning of the day before his retirement from the laboratory, and he’d been hoping for a quiet one. As one of the few who still knew his way around the Imperial Archives, at the National Standards Institute, he wasn’t kept terribly busy these days. There was just the occasional VIP tour they still held for crusty old Empire types, when he’d be wheeled out to share some of his knowledge on largely obsolete matters, to nods of dewy-eyed approval. But mostly he was allowed to tinker away at his own research, which involved measurements at decimals of a millimetre, using lasers. He’d been busy in his allotment the night before, so had missed the latest government announcement that millimetres were to be phased out, and those old Imperial units of measurement, more familiar to those crusty Empire types, were in fact to be brought back as the next big thing.

“Grundy, get down to the basement and dig out the foot, will you?”

“The foot, Director?”

“Yes, the bloody foot. Go check on it, will you. I’ve a feeling we’ll be needing it again.”

The director sounded irritable. Bert had known him a long time and the two of them generally got on, not withstanding their differences in rank. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would still be interested in seeing the actual, historical foot, but that was by the by. It also puzzled him how ignorant the director was of the protocols. You didn’t just go down and check on the foot. First you went onto the secure server and looked up the combination of the safe where the ledgers were kept. Then you stirred the dusty security man from his slumbers to admit you to the ledger room. And from the actual paper ledgers you looked up the combination of the lock of the vault, where the precious foot itself was kept. The entire business could take an hour of his time.

Duly armed with the combination, Bert rode the lift down to the deep basement, where the vaults lay in hermetic isolation. More dusty security men had to be negotiated. He’d not been down there for years, and the cutbacks were beginning to show in the cobwebs hanging from the ceilings, and the flickering of yellowing strip lights.

The vaults themselves were airtight to prevent degradation of their artefactual curiosities. It had been discovered, in the nineteenth century, for instance, the actual foot was shrinking. This was a little known fact, indeed, top secret, that the physical foot of today, was not the foot of a century ago. Neither was the pound, nor the ounce for that matter, though many thought they were, or rather, on reflection, Bert lamented how nobody thought very much about these things at all, actually.

It was with an air of anticipation then that Bert donned his special, sterile coveralls, and face mask, punched in the code and entered the air-lock. Not many people had gazed upon the genuine foot, at least not in recent decades. Bert himself had only seen it once, and that was some time back in the later nineteen seventies, when he was an apprentice, and wide-eyed with wonder. Now, with a faint hiss the pressures were equalised, and Bert entered the inner sanctum of all things forgotten.

There wasn’t just the foot down here, of course. There was the bucket for measuring the official Imperial gallon – arrived at by years of study, and discussion, and, like the actual foot, of purely historical interest now, since the adoption of the international system, but it was considered worth preserving anyway. There was even the apparatus, used in the eighteenth century, by Sir Arthur Boddington-Spottiswode, in support of his somewhat convoluted argument for the Empire adopting the official units of speed as furlongs per fortnight. And thank God, that hadn’t worked out! Old Spottiswode was a crackpot, of course, but influential in his day. Then there was lots and lots of other stuff, things even Bert hadn’t the vaguest idea about, and which lay forgotten by the nation, but was still of antiquarian interest for anyone sufficiently motivated to root it out.

And there it was, the cupboard, where they kept the foot, the actual foot, against which all other feet were measured. But, opening the cupboard, it was then Bert discovered, there was a problem,…

The director was ominously quiet while Bert explained his findings, and then he exploded. “What do you mean, it’s not there?”

“Well,… the ticket says it’s out for inspection,” said Bert. “Bernard Stringer withdrew it for checks. You remember old Stringer?”

The director did not, and wasn’t interested anyway. “Just get it back off him, will you? I want that foot on my desk before you go home.”

Easier said than done, explained Bert. Old Stringer had been let go in the nineties, as part of a cost-cutting drive, and was most likely dead by now – after all, there was no point in him keeping on checking the size of things that were considered obsolete, so they’d let him go. The bit of the lab he’d worked in had been refurbished several times since, and it was likely the foot had got caught up in all the confusion, and chucked out by some dozy contractor as a piece of scrap, along with the rest of old Stringer’s kit.

As a matter of interest, while he was down there, Bert had also checked on the pound and the ounce, and found they too were out on loan to Stringer, but he kept this particular news to himself. He still intended retiring tomorrow and, for now, all the director needed to know about was the foot. And the foot was missing.

The director wasn’t comforted by Bert’s argument that, from a technical point of view at least, it didn’t matter. All that had been lost was an historical artefact – embarrassing though that was – while the actual measurement of the foot, should anyone be of a mind to determine its nominals again, was secure by reference to the international units of measurement, and the conversion factors. And while the director knew that was perfectly true, he also knew he would have a hard time persuading the PM. Unknown to Bert, there were more things at stake here than could be measured by a ruler. The PM wanted The Foot, and only the genuine foot would do.

Sure enough, when the director put in the call to Downing Street, the PM was similarly incandescent. “What do you mean, you’ve lost the effing foot?”

“Well, PM, I’m sure it’s not lost exactly. We’re having a root around for it. It’s probably still about somewhere,… em.” However, the director wasn’t hopeful, and privately shared Bert’s view the glorious, Imperial foot was indeed gone forever. “But you see, PM, we know the foot is precisely 0.3048 of a meter. So for all practical purposes, the foot, as a unit of measurement, is imperishable, I mean in the abstract sense of things. As for the actual physical foot, in the archives, well, that varied from day to day, depending on how accurately you measured it, and indeed who was doing the measurement,… while, as regards the meter,…” But he was waffling, and worse, he was being technical, and the PM was having none of it.

“No, no, no. That won’t do at all. Listen, we’re not making any further reference to those damned Johnny Foreigner measures. No more meters, or sub twiddly bits thereof, d’you understand? We’ve taken back control. We are a Sovereign Nation, and shall exercise our right to exceptionality in all matters, be that feet and inches, or pounds and ounces. And to that end, I want the actual effing true blue British foot, so I can present it to the public at my next news conference. Do I make myself clear?”

Bert was putting his coat on at the day’s end, thinking he’d got away with any further involvement in the case of the missing foot, when the phone rang again. “I’m sorry, Director? Did you say fake it?”

“No, I said make it. Can’t you just make another foot? Though, technically that would be faking it, I suppose. But it’s only a lump of metal, after all. No one will know the difference. I’m sure we can get the original drawings off the Internet or something, so we know roughly what it looks like. We’d have to keep it hushed up, of course, but since I’m sure you value your pension, I presume I can rely on your discretion.”

“It’s really not as simple as that, Director. The problem isn’t so much what it looks like, but how big shall we make it? – if we can’t refer to the international standards – I mean the meter – and when the actual – you know – the actual foot itself is missing, how do we measure a foot?”

The Director sighed. Bert was a good man, but like all his kind, he was infuriatingly rational, and wilfully ignorant of the bigger picture, to say nothing of the real forces that shaped the world. “We can’t refer to the meter, Bert. It’s been impressed on me, in no uncertain terms, that’s completely out of the question. The meter is to be persona non grata. A matter of national importance, and all that. We have to find another way. A way that’s more,… I don’t know,… patriotic, let’s say.”

“Well,…” said Bert, thinking hard, but hoping he couldn’t come up with anything, because all he wanted to do was go home and check on his allotment. “We might still have a yard knocking about. Would that be patriotic enough?”

“A yard? Well, why didn’t you say so? We can work backwards from that. Three feet to the yard, right?”

“Well, I suppose so, Director. But it would be much easier if,…”

“No, Bert. I told you. The meter is out. Go fetch the yard, man.”

With a sigh, Bert hung his coat up again. He hoped he was right, and the actual yard hadn’t gone rusty, or worse, been chucked out too, or they were really sunk. Even then, how he was going to explain this to the manufacturer without reference to anything metric, he didn’t know. They’d have to measure the yard in terms of something else. There were inches, of course, thirty-six of them to the yard, and patriotic he supposed, but he’d not seen, or indeed used, any of those tricky little blighters for decades. As for the pounds and ounces thing, well Bert still wasn’t for letting that awkward bit of news out of the bag. He was retiring tomorrow, come hell or high water, and by the time it was discovered by the higher ups,… well, it was definitely going to be someone else’s problem.

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What now shall we do,
With the red, white and the blue?
Our jolly jack, half-mast, and shredded,
Timbers liberally embedded
With grapeshot, of raking volley,
Scrap metal of corruption,
Sleaze and folly.

So many left to die, felled by cutlass
Of entitled spin and lie.
Holed below the water,
Pride of fleet adrift,
Towed out to slaughter,
No steam, no course, no captain.
No steerage in the storm,
And not a single friendly port
To call our own.

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Each new day, since the invasion of Ukraine, I wake, reach for the phone, and dial up the news. The Russians have been shelling a nuclear power plant this week. It seems the height of lunacy. More recently, they have been shelling people evacuating in a ceasefire. Total bastards, then. Total bastards too, the images of entire apartment blocks felled by shelling, by rockets, or whatever. And cluster munitions – the devil’s own choice of arms. It’s not like in the movies. It’s even more depraved than anything Hollywood dare conceive. We know it is, because, if Jung is right – and I’ve always felt he was – it’s a thing lurking at the bottom of us all. That’s why we watch it. That’s why it compels us, and why it so deeply disturbs us.

Media, media, media. We might as well not bother. We know full well we must take everything with a pinch of salt. Images. Words. They mean nothing in relation to reality, and we might as well be writing our own story of events, for all it will resemble the truth of things. We know this of our slickly duplicitous media ecosphere by now, or we know nothing. Only those in the thick of it know the score, and thank God, that’s not us. But what’s the difference? A child in terror of a Russian bomb, or a child in Iraq or Afghanistan, in terror of a Western bomb? Both are children, both are innocent, both are bombs. The answer is complex, does not translate well into sound bites. The difference is time, distance, culture, the amnesia, and the vanity of the punditry, and so on and so on.

I have donated to the DEC . It pays for blankets, for medical supplies, for bottles of water or whatever, to help, in a small way, and helps me, too, with that feeling of uselessness. Please donate too, if you feel able. The total stands at eighty-five million, as I write, so we are short of neither compassion nor feelings of uselessness. But before we feel too virtuous about all that, we must ask how those Afghans felt, not long ago, but already forgotten. They were fleeing the fall of Kabul, having helped the western forces in great hope, and at the risk of their lives, only to find the plane fast departing contained a full complement of dogs, while they were left to the mercies of the Taliban? I know how I would have felt. Remember, nothing is simple, no matter how much we wish to boil it down to slogans.

So, this war in Europe, this latest spectacle. Pundits are talking about it as if it’s different to any of the other wars. I don’t know. Is it? All I want is to save a kid from crying. Others are baying for the West to do more, to enforce a “no-fly zone”. Bring it on they say, like it can be done magically, surgically, virtually, without NATO planes shooting down Russian ones, like the Cold War never existed, like there is such a thing as surviving a nuclear escalation.

Then I see images of captured Russian boys, presumably under duress, phoning their mothers. Are these tearful boys the devil, then? It reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five , in which, contrary to common belief, we discover wars are not fought by men at all. Men – old men – plan them, comment on them, command them, write memoirs about them, become long distance pundits of them, or they become preening news-anchors with fancy hair, who present them as glossy, po-faced infotainment. But it is our children, our boys, who must fight them. It is our children who die in them. It is mothers, fathers, who grieve, whose lives are ended by these wars as surely as if they had caught a bullet themselves.

Stop the War? Does it even need saying? But as Vonnegut also reminds us, we might as well demand we stop the glaciers. Both are natural phenomenon, immune to persuasion, though at halting the latter we are lately proving to be more adept. Of the former, I suspect the news cycle will move on, before we see anything like the conclusion we desire.

Covid. Trump. Brexit. And even now, the shameful and ever-perplexing scandal of Londongrad grinds on. What next? Ah, all right, a war in Europe – we’ve not had one of those for a while, and a fresh media frenzy, while we’re at it, to keep us all terrified, all frozen anew. Meanwhile, we know nothing, though we like to think we do, that we keep ourselves well-informed, through our devices, through our news bulletins. But our emotions, our sense of well-being, our despair, our tears,… all are nothing, or rather all are fair game in this infotainment business. We are hijacked. We are puppets at the command of forces beyond our understanding. We know this, but we keep clicking, keep scrolling anyway. We can’t help ourselves because we don’t know what anything means any more.

If this is the harvest of the rational, the material world, then give me mysticism, give me the mystery of my dreams, give me the black tide of the occult. Let me navigate my life by way of the runes and the tarot, and the yijing, because anything is better than this massively computer programmed, semi-virtual, arrogantly scientific mechanical world that’s driving us all to slaughter. We have nothing wholesome to learn from any of the clever men bestride this world’s stage, and who would command our every heartbeat, except,…

Watch out, and what’s next?

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