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Archive for the ‘political’ Category

moorland ruinIt’s impossible to disconnect oneself from the current political turmoil, though I have been trying hard of late. In the UK, our politicians enter into vote after vote as we near the deadline for separating from the European Union, yet seemingly without clarifying anything, and now it looks as if they intend delaying the deadline, pushing out the long anticipated car-crash until the summer.

They give the impression of an orgy, splashing about in mud, hurling bread at one another, while people go hungry. There is something deeply unsettling about it, a sense of the solid ground giving way, that shortly I will be swallowed up, plunged into an unforgiving underworld where bad people rule, and the good go in fear.

It’s like when I’ve been walking over the moors, the mist comes down, and I’ve been lured from my course by a siren sheep-track that ends in bog. My next step could take me ankle deep, or waist deep – there’s no way of knowing –  the only certainty being that I’m going to get dirty. I look around but I’ve been travelling this way for so long now I can no longer remember where I went wrong, or if the safe path is even there any more, or if, like the rest of the world, enclosed by this impenetrable mist, it was consumed long ago by muck and cold water.

In the mean time we have all grown angrier. We have sharpened our knives and our tongues and grown cruel. We have been taught how to hate again, turned back the clock, generations of harvests of an increasingly rich diversity now ploughed under for a return to  the days when old men with red faces told wicked jokes at the expense of one minority after the other. And in the way of the herd, we were all expected to laugh.

I’d thought the old men with red faces had died out, taken their jokes and their bigotry and their anger with them. Many have, I suppose, but their seeds remain, and now the land seems drained of nourishment, sown thick instead with tangled weed and a myriad blood-letting briars. It’s a bleaker harvest now, overseen by the Hydra of intolerance. And then we have its stunted minions, the trolls with their wickedness and their ignorance all polished up like a shield to deflect reason.

What sense now in still groping for the gates of Heaven, when behind us the gates of Hell have opened wide? The darkness has spilled out, and all the fell creatures are gaining ground, clawing at our heels. If only the mist would lift a moment we might get our bearings afresh, stare them down, turn all to stone who would do us harm. But it’s a bad day in the hills, and the mist has settled in.

We spy a ruin in the gloom, a black gritstone pile, dripping wet and oozing metaphor.  It’s the ruin of our future, I think, the shape of it unrecognisable, suggestive of nothing now, its stones tumbled, softened by the elements and eerily cold to touch.

What am I saying? I’ll be okay. After all, I’m not exactly living on the street, as many of my fellow countrymen are these days. I’ll still be scribbling in a year’s time. But how can I be comfortable with such a transformation as this when there is not a single institution left that lends a hand to the fallen, without first searching their pockets for gold?

Time passes, and all shall pass with it, this being our only hope, that the mountains shall be ground down and the valleys filled with their dust. But in the mean time we are left wondering, if it’s true the spark of consciousness in each of us is the universe coming into awareness of itself, though us, and judging itself by our reactions, I give notice to my creator this current state of affairs is decidedly not good.

But there is something I can do, something we all can do, and that’s shield our flame against the coming storm and hold to the good as much as we can define it, also resist this pernicious permission that’s been seeping back into the Zeitgeist, a sly, wheedling little void telling us it’s okay again to hate, okay to laugh at those wicked jokes of the red faced men.

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tree paintingIf we ask: ‘what is the meaning of life’, we’ll get different answers of course, depending on who we ask, but most will talk of happiness: to be happy, to attain happiness, to spread happiness – because happiness is a good feeling, so why not?

We pursue it in various ways but always indirectly, by pursuing something else we believe will ‘make’ us happy: money, the perfect relationship, the acquisition of fancy stuff. And though we seem willing enough victims to this fallacy we all know it doesn’t work.

Stuff? No sooner have we got that new thing it’s no longer desirable and we’re on to the next. Relationships? Sorry, but there’ll be good times and bad. There’s security and warmth in a good relationship for sure, and love if you’re lucky, but love isn’t a one way ticket to happiness either. Indeed there are times when there is no misery greater than being in love. Money? Well, we all need a little money if we’re not to go hungry, and we need a key to our own front door, but that won’t make us happy for long either. It’ll just stop us from hurting, which isn’t the same thing. Indeed it seems nothing ‘makes’ us happy for long. Happiness keeps its own counsel, it comes and goes as it pleases.

It can be dispiriting once we realise how fickle happiness is, and how much effort we’ve already spent in hope of its eventual attainment, that while we may have had fleeting glimpses, it never settles in. We might even have risen to become stupendously successful, at least materially, yet there we are, sitting on the deck of our super-yacht, surrounded by golden stuff, fawned over by the world’s most beautiful partner, and still as miserable as sin. Is happiness then even worth pursuing, when its pursuit seems so self defeating?

I’m no stranger to happiness. Hopefully none of us are. But I’ve noticed I find it more often in small things, in quiet moments, in unexpected places, and without really looking for it. It’s sporadic, unpredictable, and I enjoy it while I can, but its comings and goings are impossible to predict and one must be sanguine when we are without it. No sense running after a thing, when we don’t even know where it lives.

One of my happiest moments, and certainly one of the most memorable,  was sitting under the pavement-awning of the Glenridding Hotel in pouring rain with coffee, having just walked the length of Ullswater. I remember taking a breath and seeing the rain fall – I mean the individual droplets, as if frozen in motion – and feeling time stop as the moment opened out as seemingly perfect as it could ever be.

It had been a beautiful walk, yes, but there was no need to be so ecstatic about it, surely? All I can think is the walk had given me a sense of purpose for the day. The boat drops you off at the far end of the lake and then it’s ten miles back under your own steam or nothing. Sure, I’m always happy after a long walk. Everything looks and tastes and feels better. It focuses the mind, grants one a tangible purpose, and makes us work for it.

Purpose,… now that’s an interesting word, and one worth exploring – this idea of defining a goal and working towards it. It seems to colour our lives in brighter tones. Even the cheery ring of a teaspoon in a cup can bring us joy if life provides a sufficient sense of purpose in other areas. And it doesn’t seem to matter what that purpose is. It doesn’t have to be a long walk. Anything will do it, big or small, so long as you feel that in doing it you’re making things better, or even just a little bit different than they were yesterday. You could be improving yourself perhaps, or helping out in some way, or painting a picture, or making something, oiling a squeaky hinge, fixing that puncture on your bike, or that ultimate of domestic challenges: tidying up your shed! I always feel great after tidying my shed!

We’re wired for purpose, for challenge. We like to ‘do’ things, set things in order, we like to make things, explore things, we like to look back and see where we’ve been. Nothing gives us greater satisfaction and opens the door to personal happiness more than a sense of purpose. But purpose is a slippery eel, especially in a society that measures everything in terms of monetary value. Many of us would like to find purpose in our work, and this makes sense since we spend such a long time doing it, but it also renders us vulnerable should we find ourselves turfed out of it when others think our work is no longer worth it. Whole industries have gone that way, casting adrift generations, condemned them to living without practical purpose, or pressed into jobs that seem thankless, pointless and spiritually toxic.

We can’t rely on society then to provide our sense of purpose. Each of us must define it for ourselves, perhaps more especially now society, zombified by a decade of economic austerity, finds so little value in the individual human beings of which it comprises. There are so many challenges facing the world, but one of the most overlooked is this loss of all sense of the value of the individual in society, also any reasonable expectation those individuals might have that things can one day be any better than they are now. There’s nothing like a knee in the balls for making one question one’s purpose in life.

I suppose solving that one is a thing worth working towards, that the grand, collective purpose seems subverted nowadays, and how do we put that right? But in the mean time, there are personal missions a-plenty to unlock the secret of at least little happiness for each of us.

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trees on fire

It was George Orwell who made the observation that nations do not go to war unless the rich believe they can profit by it. In a similar vein, had he been writing today, he might have said the same thing about saving the planet, that unless the rich can be convinced there’s more profit in green technologies than in coal and oil and gas, the earth is bound for a final act of devastating climate change and mass extinction of species, including us. To whit we have recently had the bizarre spectacle of one of the most powerful nations on earth, with a straight face, presenting arguments for the increased use of coal – this at a summit on climate change, and how to avoid it.

There is something deeply disturbing about an otherwise intelligent species that would saw off the final branch of the tree, the branch it’s actually sitting on, in order to continue profiting at the expense of the tree, and even the certainty of it’s own demise. But then profiteering never did pay much heed of future consequences.

The latest reliable figures now give us twelve years to make a difference. This means stopping any further release of carbon and methane into the atmosphere as a result of human activity – carbon from fossil fuel burning, and methane from factory style meat-production – and that means right now.

What is most clear in all of this is that the danger is real, and the effects are already being felt, though mainly by the world’s poor, and that until it is the rich who suffer grievously, nothing will change – but by that time it will be too late. What I’m not so clear about is what happens after that, whether the earth will restore its own equilibrium once it’s rid of the parasitic scourge we have become, or if the changes will be so dramatic we’ll have pushed the planet into a runaway reaction, the end result of which is the global sterility of another Mars. I’m sure the rich think they can ride out any storm, build underground bunkers in New Zealand and survive by eating Soylent Green, that only the ninety nine percent of us will starve. But I remind them that’s not much of an existence when we once had a whole planet to explore and cherish, and then who will be left to tie your shoe-laces?

When we consider the vastness of the universe and the sheer number of planetary systems we now know exist around other stars, it’s logical to assume other forms of intelligent life have arisen. The Drake equation predicts the universe should be positively teeming with life, yet when we listen to the sounds of outer space we detect no sign. Our apparent loneliness is eerie. One of the theories explaining this isolation is that when civilisations have reached a point of technical sophistication whereby their radio signals are so strong they begin leaking into outer space, they’re only a short way from also developing the technologies they’ll eventually destroy themselves with – as in the case of nuclear weapons, or that they’ll find themselves incapable of organising globally to control the effects of over-consumption and over-reliance on sources of energy that are ultimately deadly to the planet.

I know we like to think we’re different, that we’re a plucky species, that we’ll eventually overcome our differences, rise above them and somehow squeak through into that Utopian future. But the signs aren’t promising. Hollywood doesn’t help. It likes its disaster movies, but the good guys always survive in the end, and usually by means of a judiciously timed nuclear explosion. If these movies ended with the earth as a charred cinder and your leading man and lady as no more than bleached bones it might focus minds a bit more.

Nuclear weapons and climate change are the most critical threats facing humanity today, yet to read the news one learns only of the latest twist of BREXIT, and the latest ill judged tweet from the leader of the free world, who anyway assures us climate change IS A HOAX. The last four years have been the warmest recorded. The World Metrological Organisation tells us: sea-level rise, sea ice and glacier melt, and ocean heat and acidification were continuing. Extreme weather had “left a trail of devastation on all continents.”

Of course it’s hard to see what one can do as an individual, apart from spreading the word in the hope someone with more power and influence will see the profit in wind-turbines and photovoltaics and a zero carbon economy, that what does it profit us anyway to go on burning coal if it’s to ultimately cost the earth?

It seems futile merely swapping out all the lightbulbs in my house for LEDs when toffs are still cruising about in Range Rovers, doing 12 miles per gallon. But I did get rid of my last incandescent light bulb recently, and it’s a start, not that it’ll change my energy bill much, but that’s another story. Small things, small steps are the way, I suppose, but twelve years isn’t such a long time for so pressing an emergency, so next time you get the chance to vote, scrutinise your candidate’s stance on climate change and go with whoever promises to wake up and save the planet.

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Will we crash out of the European Union without a deal? Will we get a deal that resembles staying in but then has us wondering why we came out? Will we get a vote on the final deal, with an option to call the whole thing off? And if we do, will we stay or will we vote again to leave anyway? And what about the Irish border problem? How on earth are we going to solve that? Will there be a general election before BREXIT hits the fan? And will that make things better or worse? And if the other lot gets in, what will they do about BREXIT?

These are just some of the questions boiling in the mix right now and so dominating government and media energy you’d be forgiven for thinking all the other problems have gone away. But your average citizen, having cast their vote, and thereby collectively agreeing to bring this thing on, is now relegated to a position of powerlessness, unable to expend their pent-up energies doing anything other than shouting at the telly. I think this sense of powerlessness is having a demoralising effect on the nation’s soul, or at any rate it is on mine. The lessons of past crises tell us it’s better to feel one is doing something, even if it’s only to grant us the illusion of preparedness, like the way our grandparents melted pots and pans, supposedly to make Spitfires.

But what can we do?

Most of the scenarios I’ve played forward suggest an immediate, short term crisis, followed by a longer term decline of living standards, and that’s without being unduly pessimistic. Come hard or soft BREXIT, there is an overwhelming sense the future will be a lot smaller than it was, while for my children, now young men just starting out, I fear there is no future at all, at least not in terms I understand. At twenty two, I relished my chances, my opportunities, but now the best option for our youth is to put on a backpack and go bum around the world, see what there is of it, because there’s nothing left at home worth saddling up for beyond minimum wage drudgery. But then, even without BREXIT, things weren’t looking too good anyway, so what’s the difference? And maybe that’s why BREXIT happened in the first place.

There’s not much we can do about that longer term decline but, short of running to the hills with all those sharp knived Preppers, we can at least take small, practical, sensible non-weaponised steps to minimise the personal impact of the crash and ease ourselves into that brave new post-BREXIT world. For my own preparedness I began a BREXIT cupboard some time ago, adding an extra meal into the weekly shop: dried stuff, tinned stuff, cereals, porridge, and lots of custard! I’ve also brushed up on things like how to make your own bread. I think we should plan on having two weeks of non-perishable meals in reserve.

Britain’s is no longer self sufficient in producing food, you see?  it’s actually down to about 75% at the moment. It’s not that we’re going to starve, exactly – I mean we won’t – but there’ll be shortages and all of that made worse by the media screaming PANIC, and that’s even before the lorries carrying the stuff we don’t grow ourselves get bunged up at the Dover-Calais crossing. (Even I know Dover-Calais is the pinch point of Anglo-European trade)

But I predict fuel will be a bigger problem. Our refineries have been in decline for decades, so we’re now a net importer petrol, diesel and aviation fuel. The question is how much of that comes from the EU? I don’t know, it’s hard to get at the actual figures, but it doesn’t take much to trigger a fuel crisis – just a whisper in the raggedy arsed press will do it. Anyone in doubt should read back over the September 2000 shortages to get a feel for what that might mean. And roughly, what it means is if you rely on a car to get to work, by the second week after BREXIT, you’ll have run out.

I don’t suggest stockpiling petrol because it’s dangerous. I keep a can for my mower, and I’ll make sure it’s full. I have a spare car, and I’ll make sure that’s full too, but that’s the best I can do. If you’re in work and commuting by public transport, you’ll be okay. Rationing will favour the public transport system. Emergency services will be okay too, designated filling stations being declared strategic and ringed off by cop-cars – at least that’s what happened last time. The rest of us are on our own.

When I’ve run out, I’ll be taking time off work, book some holidays, and I’ll spend them tidying the garden or something, by which time, hopefully, there’ll be some sort of organised rationing. I’ve no intentions of queuing around the block for hours like I did in 2000, and fighting for every last drop.

I haven’t gone the whole hog and factored in prolonged power cuts and such-like (we’re not exactly self sufficient in power generation either), though I do remember the ’74 miner’s strike, so it may be worth stocking up on candles and camping gas. But that’s for a really hard BREXIT and will be the least of our worries. In that scenario, along with empty supermarket shelves and no fuel for transportation, the government’s own planning suggests we’re about two weeks from a state of emergency. I don’t know what that means, never having lived through one.

We managed it in 1939 of course, but Britain was a very different country then, and the enemy was easy to spot, plus we had those glorious Spitfires to rally our spirits. Now it’s hard to say who or what the enemy is, where it’s coming from and what possessed it in the first place. But I’m hoping, worst case, that by the time my BREXIT cupboard is empty the Red Cross will be delivering food parcels – maybe even out of Brussels!

I know that’ll stick in the craw of many, but I’m not proud. In spite of everything, I remain a European man. But another lesson of those power-cuts in the seventies was that I used to enjoy them. If you’ve a candle, you can read a book, and if your car’s no petrol, you can take a walk.

So, chin up. Keep calm, and carry on.

 

 

 

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IMG_20170821_213323_429Now and then you’ll come across one of my novels popping up on Amazon, even though I don’t publish on Amazon and prefer to give them away. Instead, someone calling themselves Michael Graeme, will steal one of my titles, stick it on there and charge money for it. I know,… I’ve talked about this before, but anyway,…

It’s a common issue faced by all creatives working in the digital sphere. Why? because our “product” is easy to replicate and distribute. You just cut and paste. And it’s not just text of course: music, photographs, videos, computer-apps, games, databases, information,… you name it, it’s all vulnerable to filching. But does it matter? Should we not be viewing this ease of reproduction more as an indicator of a strange but bright new future?

Those wealthy enough can protect themselves to a degree, or at least they can for now. Indeed there’s a whole industry built up around digital rights management to prevent file copying, but the ways of defeating it are morphing faster than the defences can adapt – that’s just the nature of digital technology. So, do we accept piracy as a hazard against which there is no realistic defence long term? And more,… is this an indicator of the changing nature of society, of what we understand as industry, work and value?

It’s hard to imagine a cultural shift when you’re still living in the last vestiges of the old one. Science fiction writers and futurologists can have a stab at it. The most I’ll venture with any certainty is that in fifty years our current era will seem like the stone age, socially, technologically and economically.

The shift began with the ability to “cut and paste”. It renders anything you create, digitally, worthless, at least in traditional money terms, even if you’ve spent years working on it. How come? Well, you only need to apply the basic rule of economics which states the price of anything is proportional to its scarcity, and anything so easily reproducible as a computer file isn’t exactly scarce is it? unless rendered artificially so by technological countermeasures, and they will always have the tide of anarchy against them.

So the future is looking like a place where our traditionally paid labours are worth nothing, and all information based “products” produced by those labours won’t be worth anything either, at least by contemporary economic rules. For a time I’m sure there’ll be an elite of celebrity artists who continue to be paid handsomely via the old model, their works protected by a stout, metaphorical ring-fence of barbed wire, but by then they’ll be servicing exclusively a societal elite holed up in their security patrolled mansions – these being the crooks and the psychopaths still looking for ways to game the old system for maximum profit at the expense of the rest of us. All this even as that old system atrophies around them. And in part, they’ll do this by hoarding and guarding what bits of tangible capital remain and renting it out to the rest of us.

Already we have a generation who own nothing. They rent their homes, their cars, their phones. There’s even talk of retail models whereby we rent the very clothes we’re wearing. Stop paying, pause for breath on that tread-mill of the damned, and you’ll literally be left naked and broke as the day you were born. But I’m sure that’ll just be a temporary end-phase, that it’ll last no more than a generation, a necessary period of reflection for impressing upon us the need to think differently about the notion of value, of what we value and how we value it. And then, all writers, like everyone else, will be producing stuff for free, simply because they want to. And whatever we need, even the clothes on our backs, others will produce for free as well.

The alternative, at least for the ninety nine percent of us who own nothing, is a form of unwaged slavery, but I don’t think that’s going to happen because when a man has nothing left to lose, he’s impossible to control. And the greedy freaks, the one percent who go on hoarding wealth will be reviled and shamed and shunned to the remotest desert isles with all the money in the world to play with, money that’s worth nothing any more. And then the very notion of piracy will have become a quaint old fashioned term, one we must look up in the OED, then shake our heads in wonder such a strange phenomenon ever existed in the first place. An egalitarian utopia? Unlikely, I know, but the opposite doesn’t bear thinking about either, though I admit for now it seems the more likely outcome.

I remain optimistic though, and if I’m right, the future isn’t what it used to be. But at least I know why I give my stories away – I mean apart from it being easier and less self destructive: I suppose I’ve simply always been ahead of my time.

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pardiseThe gurus tell us the purpose of life is to awaken. We become aware of our unconsciousness, and the general unconsciousness of others, and in the process come to see the turmoil of human existence from a different perspective. What appeared incomprehensible to us before then makes sense, but not in a way that would make sense to anyone else not similarly awake, even if we tried explaining it to them. Or so the theory goes. Most of us are asleep, all the time, I get that. We’re ruled by primitive instincts and faulty thinking, and we identify too much with forms, be they thoughts or things. And it’s these same things, on the grand, collective scale, that drive the perpetual turmoil of the world.

We can all experience the occasional moment of awakening, but then the Sandman comes along, perhaps nowadays in the form of our mobile phone, and we’re back flicking through the dross of our chosen news bias, and the beguiling freak-shows of the various online media. It seems that even when we wake up, it’s all too easy for us to fall asleep again, that unless we are permanently on our guard, like monks sequestered in caves, we are always at the mercy of our inferior natures. And who wants to live in a cave?

It’s not a promising scenario then, because until the majority of beings awaken, things will never change and it seems unlikely it will happen now, locked as we are in this massively dumb and ever burgeoning iron brain of ours. Yet I have always imagined a greater awakening must be our eventual path, because just a handful of enlightened non-egoic beings can make no difference to anything but themselves. They have to be like a virus, a contagion that infects the earth and brings about a sweeping change, otherwise they suffer the same fate as the rest of us when we drown in our own poison and the lights go out, and the earth turns itself against us in a death of heat. I suppose then their only advantage is they’ll be less cut up about it.

Still, against all reason, I trust in the contagion hypothesis if only because you feel better, personally, if you stay on the bright side of things. It may take another hundred years, but the way I see it, we are part of a process in which the universe is becoming aware of itself, through us, and if it cannot complete that process here, it will go on elsewhere. Then all life on earth, the whole staggering sweep of human history will be as if it had never been, and the universe will awaken to itself instead on one of those intriguing exo-planets our telescopes are revealing left, right and centre these days, where the dominant species might be slime-dripping Octopods with swivel-eyes on stalks, and never a dark thought, but only love for their fellow beings.

The notion of any meaningful awakening flies in the face of the unconscious forces that dominate life on earth, the zeitgeist suggesting we are falling ever deeper into sleep, unconsciousness being worn instead as a badge of honour, and the most repulsive, and unhinged of characters raised up as our champions. Still, the gurus tell us this will not always be so, that they detect a wave of awakening, though from my own perspective, in the post industrial wasteland that is the north of England, it’s hard to keep faith with the idea. But stranger things have happened recently – just in entirely the opposite direction.

The first stage of waking up is the sense there’s something wrong in the world – and I think we all get that – but what we miss is the fact there’s also something mistaken in the way we see ourselves. We have an idea of our selves as a being existing in time, that we’re made up of memories, aspirations, fears, wants, loathings, desires, which are all essentially thought processes that trigger either positive or negative emotions.

In order to be happy we assume we must think of ways to minimise the negatives and maximise the positives. But this is to live locked in an unconscious life. True happiness, say the gurus, is achieved only through the cessation of thinking and in the silence that ensures, recognising the primary awareness underpinning our being. So by its very definition, continually thinking of ways to be happy is self defeating. And that’s the trap we’re in.

Familiarity with pure awareness is rare because we are not taught to recognise it, or value it, or even to know it is there. Instead we busy ourselves with the mess of the world, upset ourselves with it, try to think our way out of it, when all we have to do is pause for a moment, look inwards to the silence and recognise in that silence the ever-present companionship within us.

We find it in meditation, also in moments of devastating loss when the Ego is temporarily crushed, and we find it in moments of connection in the natural world. Indeed, the natural world is a special case. It stirs us, fills us with an inarticulate longing, because what we’re seeing, what we’re feeling is that hidden part of ourselves reflected back. And the more we seek it out, this awareness, the happier and the more fulfilled we are.

Of course, the story of our lives may not change. If we are born poor we might still always be poor. If we are born into violent circumstances, to despotism, to oppression, we may still be at the mercy of those things. But we will at least have reconnected with the truth of our own being, and it’s from there we change the world, and the universe awakens to itself, one mind at a time.

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What bit o’ brass there is these days,
Has been raked up by the few,
While bits of grubby copper’s
All that’s left for me ‘n you.

An’t gaffer’s got us number see?
So we’re at ‘is beck and call.
We’d gladly tell him t’ shove it
But we’ve got no rights at all.

So he’ll call us up in’t morning
With a measly bit of time,
Then tell us when we gets the’er,
He’s gone and changed ‘is mind.

So we sez, what about us travel, like?
And he sez don’t come that with me,
There’s plenty more where tha’s come from,
So tha’ mun take it, or tha’ mon leave.

So we fairly tugs us forelock, like,
And we quietly slings us hook,
While us thoughts is turning darkly,
To the pages of us book.

We keeps this little book dost see?
Stops us burstin’ into flames.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down,
But tha’ mun write down all their names.

It’s not like tha can do ow’t else,
Or like tha’s ever gonna win.
But when tha’s passin through them pearly gates,
Tha’ mun quietly hand it in.

No, there’s not much brass around these days
And its been taken by the few,
While bits o’ grubby copper’s
All that’s left for me ‘n you.

Peter Loo

1819

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