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grayscale photo of human lying on ground covered of cardboard box

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I caught the train at nine. It was smooth, sleek, and spotlessly clean, purring into the station bang on time, just like they do in Switzerland. There was plenty of room on board, though it was peak commuter period and we were heading into Manchester. I paid with my smart-phone, tapping it to the reader on the seat-back, and the seat folded down for me to use, smooth as silk, invited me to stretch out, to settle in the air-conditioned cool, and the train moved out with barely a sound.

They used to be so expensive and so rough I’d rarely ever take one, but now you’d be a fool not to. Much better to leave the car at home, not because the roads are so busy any more, because they’re not; it’s simply a relaxing way to travel, and the service is so frequent you never have to wait more than a quarter of an hour. It truly is the height of luxury, and cheap as chips. I’m told tourists the world over admire our rail-network. And if you’ll forgive me a moment of jingoism, it makes me proud to be British. Not that it was always like this.

It’s free to stand of course, and I did wonder about doing that, journey time into town now being only around a smooth ten minutes, when it used to take nearer a very jerky thirty, and most of that would be standing up because there were always too few carriages, and the old timers remind me we still had to pay the regular fare whether we go a seat or not, and all of us squished in like sardines. I didn’t suffer that indignity very often because mostly I used to drive, sit nose to tail on the M61 instead where the journey time could be anything up to an hour. It’s a wonder we put up with it, but I suppose we’d no choice back then.

My fellow passengers looked well dressed, clean, healthy and happy. It makes a difference, having a bit of money in your pocket. It took a while for things to pick up this way, but over the years I’ve watched that standard of living – modest though it is in most cases – piecing back people’s self respect, people’s dignity. But it’s also their sense of security, don’t forget. It’s hard to smile when you’re always looking back over your shoulder, worrying you’ll get fired for taking so much as a pee in work’s time. So all we fear now are the age old bogies of death and whether our kids will pass their exams, while from what I can gather, in the old days people were afraid of everything. Even rich people were afraid, though mostly what they were afraid of was being poor.

I remember my grandmother telling me how, well into the twenties, people used to go hungry even when they had a job. Wages were so poor they couldn’t afford to eat, she said – and even though she and granddad were both putting in sixty hour weeks, they could barely keep body and soul together, and that’s what finished him in the end. By the time he was forty, he looked seventy. It got so bad the charities had to set up food banks to stop people starving to death. It was like slavery, I suppose. Can you imagine that? It must have been so hard, so undignified having to go cap in hand for a free tin of beans. But what else could people do? I would sooner have died, but that’s easy for me to say, looking back from the luxury of these more enlightened times.

And there’d be people without homes, she said, though I’m not sure I believe that. Indeed a lot of what Gran told me about those days I take with a pinch of salt. I mean, I can’t imagine anyone letting things get so bad. They lived out in the open – these homeless people – summer, winter, rain or shine, lived in doorways or the better off had tents, the numbers rising year on year until you were stepping around them, even in the provincial market towns. But you’d see them out in the countryside too because they’d be set upon by yobs in towns and it was safer for them, out in the green – though many of them starved to death there for want of coin, or they froze in the cold snaps and Gran said the council would have to go out and collect the bodies.

I do remember there being really poor people, back when I was a kid and how all the cars stunk and belched gas, and I remember too my dad arguing with the landlord over the rents that kept going up and up, and having to move around a lot because they could kick you out for no good reason. Landlords could be the worst kind of scum back then, empty a man’s pocket before he’d even bought bread for his family.

We should be grateful I mean that our parents’ generation took the stand they did, or where do you think we’d all be now? Still, you wonder if you’d have the determination yourself if you were nailed to the ground by such grinding poverty all the time. I suppose if you were hungry enough, and living in a tent,…

But just listen to me, harping on about the old days, like I ever had it bad myself.

 

 

 

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A day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1918-2006 was a Russian writer, intellectual, and Nobel Laureate, also a decorated officer with the Soviet Army during the Second World War. He was arrested in 1945 for comments he made in a letter to a friend in which he criticised the prosecution of the war, and Stalin’s part in it. Although he counted himself a patriot and was loyal to the revolution, he was betrayed as a subversive and spent the next eight years in a prison system that amounted to slave labour, one in which millions perished. Solzhenitsyn survived and wrote about it, an act for which he was eventually exiled.

His magnum opus, a three volume work called the Gulag Archipelago, appeared in 1973. It was not intended as a political work, though it certainly earned him the rank of political dissident, and made him a fresh target for the Soviet authorities who even tried to poison him. It was more an historical expose and a careful analysis of the Gulag system, also a study of mankind, and of himself.

The work is important because Solzhenitsyn teaches us the Gulag and the system that gave rise to it is not a peculiarly Soviet thing, rather it’s something at the heart of us all. Call it a weakness or an inherent tendency, given the right circumstances, the Gulag can occur anywhere. Also, not only can we all fall victim to it, but – important point this – we can all fall in as perpetrators and accomplices.

Solzhenitsyn observed that evil could not simply be identified in a small percentage of the population, because then the bad people might easily be isolated from the rest of us, then destroyed and evil along with it. But it doesn’t work like that; evil persists throughout time; the camp-guards, the interrogators, the torturers, they could be any one of us, and the trick of evil is to prevent us from imagining a scenario whereby we might indeed be drawn into committing those extremes of harm to our fellow beings.

The Gulag system was a vast network of camps spread across the entire Soviet Union, and from which no one was safe. If labour was needed, quotas would be sent out, the state security apparatus would then pursue the necessary arrests, and victims would be found, guilt concocted as needs be and verified by confession signed under torture. Incarceration would then last eight, ten or twenty five years. Terms were nominal though and in reality many were worked to death in unimaginably harsh conditions.

We learned of the camps in 1966 on the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s first book, “A day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch.” This is a short book, but sharp, like a lance through the brain, and tells, as the title suggests, of just one day in the camp-life of prisoner Ivan Denisovitch. The men wake, they march out to work on building a power station, then they march back. Falsely accused of being a German spy, Denisovitch has lost everything, or has he? What is it that defines a human being and grants him purpose, and meaning? What is it that redeems him?

The story could merely have been a raging indictment of the system, which in part it is, but in the main it’s an observation of humanity, of its adaptation to extraordinarily harsh circumstances and how small things can take on a massive significance in a man’s life. On his return march, Denisovitch comes across a scrap of broken band-saw blade and smuggles it into camp. It’s a triumph, one that lights up his day, and he will spend the coming weeks painstakingly grinding it on a stone to fashion a knife – not to harm others, or to facilitate his escape, but merely because a knife is a useful tool to have in camp life, and under such reduced circumstances, it bestows more dignity on a man than a fancy car or a beautiful house.

Remarkably , “A day in the life” was published in Russia, with permission of the State. But by then Stalin was dead, and there was a change of mood, a certain rapprochement between the State and its people. But Solzhenitsyn was already working secretly on his next book, the altogether more explosive Gulag Archipelago.

The three volume, unabridged version is perhaps a little too much for the average reader, though an important source for scholars, in that it goes into great detail. It names names, places, dates. But there is also an “approved” abridged version, and this is more suited to the general reader. The book documents Solzhenitsyn’s own confinement, the horrors and the humiliations he both suffered and witnessed, also what he learned by a process of self reflection and from the observation of his fellow prisoners, how they coped, how they held body and soul together, how they protected their dignity. His conclusion was as profound as it was unexpected, that he could not view the Gulag as an alien system, one that had been unjustly imposed upon him by some external agency, that indeed he was in some way responsible, not only for his confinement within the system, but for the very existence of that system in the first place.

The psychoanalyst Carl Jung, warned us that man himself was the danger, not just some men but all men – that we carry within us the seed of our own destruction, that evil follows us around because we are unable to see it in our own hearts, and that without at least a rudimentary process of self reflection that dark seed will grow to do untold damage either to us, personally, or to those around us.

In the absence of religion, we think we can entrust the development of the psyche and the control of our excesses by a secular ideology, be that Marxism or Free Market Capitalism, but there’s something in us that seeks what, for want of a better term, we must call spiritual growth. There is a religious function within us that seeks knowledge of ourselves and our place in the universe. If ignored, we fall prey to the shadow forces within us; we are easily seduced, easily manipulated by the darker archetypal patterns of behaviour; a newspaper headline screams “death to the traitors”, and we see red, and wish death upon all traitors, however loosely they be defined. Only reflection bids us pause, bids us think, and grants sufficient space for the better side of our nature to win through.

Religion once fulfilled that role, but given the mess of the last few centuries it’s clear it didn’t do a very good job in sparing us from ourselves. In the absence of religion, psychoanalysis and various self help movements offer an alternative, but we’ve had a century of those and things only seem to be getting worse. Perhaps then evil is like any other pestilence that circles the world. It’s simply a fact of nature and, like Solzhenitsyn achieved, by a process of strenuous and unrelenting self analysis, all any of us can do is recognise the potential for evil in our own hearts and find the best way of subverting it, even if it takes us to the end of our days.

 

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jbp+12+rules

Pitched perhaps a little tongue in cheek as a self help book, 12 Rules for Life weighs in as something altogether more substantial, so much so I note there are now books that summarise it. Although clearly and compellingly written, I found I could only digest it in small bites, but these are big ideas, and worth mulling over. They’ll also lead you into other avenues of thought, some of them very old and which seem to be coming from so deep inside of us we’ve forgotten they’re there. Psychologically speaking then, these are archetypal patterns, in the Jungian sense, which, when we encounter them afresh like this, they join certain dots in the psyche and light us up.

Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the university of Toronto, rose to fame when he refused to obey a law that compelled the use of gender neutral pronouns when addressing members of the transsexual community. Viewed by some as an intolerant stance, the resulting furore was also evidence supporting Peterson’s thesis that many of our most intractable societal problems are the result of low resolution thinking, and ideologically half-baked responses to highly complex questions.

It takes only a little research to uncover the fact it was the compulsion of speech by law to which he objected, rather than the actual use of particular pronouns, that by submitting to such we risk sacrificing our freedom of discourse on a bonfire of indiscriminate political correctness. What this also tells us about Peterson is that if, on any given subject, political correctness is pointing in the opposite direction to the psychological reality, he will not hesitate to say so. This can be labelled courageous or provocative, depending on your point of view and has certainly won him both friends and enemies in equal measure.

He also draws fire for his view that in any society there can be no equality of outcomes for individuals, that there will always be a hierarchy. This is as pre-programmed into human behaviour, as it is into lobsters. Therefore, he argues, ideologies that promise egalitarian utopias are inherently doomed, that the important thing for the individual is to accept the reality of hierarchies, understand how they work, understand one’s place in them, and work towards ensuring those hierarchies do not become corrupt and tyrannical for those at the bottom.

Peterson is also known for his Youtube lectures, in particular the series on understanding Biblical stories from a mythical perspective. Much of that material, along with similar analyses of the works of Jung, Freud, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Solzhenitsyn, also anecdotes from his own life, and from his long clinical experience are all bought together here in a powerful synthesis. But, as happened with Nietzsche, psychological theories can be misrepresented to suit a notably right-wing agenda and to a degree, the same thing is happening with Peterson.

His outspoken criticism of left-leaning ideologues, gives succour to ideologues of the right, which, in turn, results in simplistic media support to the idea Peterson is himself right-leaning, when in fact he warns us against all ideologies, left or right. It is holding to ideologies, he says, in the absence of something else, that has resulted in the deaths of countless millions over the course of the twentieth century. It is what that “something else” is – the true essence of being, how we realise it, and how we can bring it to bear in our lives – Peterson tries to get at here.

Popular with young men in particular, who Peterson argues have been left behind, undervalued and to some degree even demonised in recent decades by a more strident feminist Zeitgeist, the book provides guidance on how to mature successfully, how to face the world in all its complexity, tragedy, absurdity and horror, as a competent, powerful and self motivated individual, without needing to seek support in otherwise seductive and simplistic ideologies. Ideologies might promise clarity and equity, but always fail to deliver on their particular Arcadias. The reason? People are not machines, they will often act contrarily and irrationally to authority, to rule and dictat. That’s when the trouble starts and the ideologues in charge turn to oppression, authoritarianism, and eventually to killing in order to maintain control.

Twelve Rules is intended to help us rediscover a sense of personal empowerment and to find the courage to face a chaotic world without the risk of harming ourselves or others in the process. The result is a psychological, philosophical and quasi-religious treatise that aims to put us back on our feet, essentially by reacquainting us with the underlying mythological, archetypal bedrock of our culture. I certainly feel I understand my own shortcomings a little better from reading it. Whether I have the courage to do anything about that is another matter, which I suppose is the challenge Peterson sets us, either to overcome the malaise of the secular west, first by overcoming it in ourselves, or to go on as we are and allow it to sink without trace, and ourselves with it.

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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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