Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘future’

It was reading the psychoanalysts that introduced me to the interpretation of dreams. But I also read Dunne’s “Experiment with Time“, which said if you make a note of your dreams for long enough you’ll dream of things you’ll later encounter in waking life, like a premonition. If I’m being honest with myself then, it was more on account of Dunne than the psychoanalysts I began a dream journal. I was looking for personal experience of something anomalous, something that would challenge the rationalizing ego, and grant credence to the possibility there was something beyond the face value of the material life.

And you know, Dunne was right. Time is not the straight line we think it is, or at least my own experiments along his lines – basically recording one’s dreams as diligently as possible – convinced me it was so. Sometimes we do dream of things that subsequently happen, as if the dreaming mind can borrow images from both our past, and our future. What do you do with that? Well, you think about it for a bit, then screw the lid back on, tight, because having established the fact there’s something wobbly about the way we view the world, something strange about our concept of time, you discover you’re not equipped to explain what it means and, in spite of his valiant efforts to the contrary, throughout several subsequent books, neither was Dunne. Then I read Priestly’s “Man and Time” which covered some of the same ground as Dunne, though without the analytical ambitions. Priestly, the artist and playwright, was able to look differently on the results than Dunne, who was a scientist and an engineer. He was able to say (and I paraphrase): “yes, it’s a rum one this, and we’ll likely never get to the bottom of it. Best just to go with it then, and don’t worry about solving all the equations.”

So, instead I turned back to the psychoanalysts and tried interpreting dreams. This is something of a hit-and-miss affair. Plus, those psychoanalysts will throw you deep into symbolism and mythology, stuff you’ve never heard of, nor will you ever discover in a lifetime, and I worry if you think long and hard enough there’s a danger you’ll read something into nothing. Personally, I’d rather the dreams spoke in a language tailored to one’s own ability, otherwise what’s the use? Sometimes they do just that, but mostly they don’t.

So while it is indeed possible to glean some insights from our nightly adventures in dreams, I reckon it’s best to simply let the dreams be. By this I mean, don’t try to dismantle them and examine the pieces. James Hillman’s book “The Dream and the Underworld” says something along those lines and discourages any particular practice in following dreams, other than, well, just following them. Sometimes you’ll get a definite “Aha!”, but overall the impression is that the dream has its own life, and we’re giving ourselves airs if we think its business is to interfere in our every waking step along the way.

I’m still in the habit of remembering dreams. Mostly though, I recall only fleeting glimpses. At one time I would have beaten myself up over that, worried I might have missed out on a vital insight, so the most valuable lesson there is to let them go their own way if they’re not for hanging around. I’ve a feeling we dream all the time anyway, night and day. Slip into an afternoon nap, and the dream-life is right there again to pick you up and carry you along in its surreal flow. It’s like a soap opera, no matter how many episodes you miss, you can jump back in anywhere and pick up the threads. Dreaming is one half of our natural state of being, but mostly I’ve no idea what the other guy is up to in there. Sometimes our paths will cross though, and then the one world mirrors the other in ways that mean something.

There’s a school of psychology which holds our brains to be computers made of meat, that we are nothing but biological machines, that dreams are junk, and we shouldn’t bother our waking consciousness with them. But I suspect those who say such things don’t dream very well, or very deeply. Anyone who’s had a big dream and been moved by it knows that, while they cannot always be understood, dreams are certainly not junk. And sometimes, yes, they’ll trip you up with hints of the non linearity of time. And maybe you wished you’d not seen that, because in fact it’s easier to go on believing we are indeed just biological machines with an end-by date, that time is a straight line, and that there’s nothing more to the world than a swirling bag of dust and a black void at the end of it.

True, most of the time that’s the way it looks, and you wonder at the point of plodding on. Then you have a big dream, and you wake up knowing that’s not the way things are at all, and you’d better keep going because there’s a bigger picture here, and while you might not understand it, you’re a part of it, and you don’t want to let the team down by giving up on it. Like Dunne discovered, you’ll never explain it, because we’ve not the language, neither mathematically, nor philosophically. Yet, like Priestly tells us, it adds another dimension to the world, if we’re only prepared to think on it without a view to explaining anything, and rather just accepting that things may just be so. And if we can do that, it’s like opening a door without wondering how the lock and hinges work.

As for what’s on the other side, well that’s more a sense of being, than a way of thinking.

Read Full Post »

I begin with an apology to those who have downloaded my story “Winter on the hill”. I’ve been going through it in recent days and discovered it’s riddled with more typos than usual. This is embarrassing. There’s a fresh copy on Smashwords now which tidies it up somewhat. Still, there’s no getting away from the fact I’ve been a bit distracted this year. We all have, I know. But worse, I began the year angry, and that’s never a good sign, and certainly not a good start.

It suggests there were more shadow issues inside me than I’d thought. This is always the case, the shadow leading us on a merry dance all our lives – a blessing when we can spot his tricks, a curse when we do not. The trigger for my anger was the result of the December 2019 election and the rout of Leftist politics, to which I’d hitched my wagon, my shadow plainly visible in those talking heads I’d labelled “right wing nutjobs”, “gammons” and “swivel eyed loons”. I’d seen the election as the last chance for a reversal in our direction of travel as a nation – less poverty, a renewal of the regions, and a green new deal. The majority of my countrymen, however did not agree.

2019 was an ugly year, a year of lies, fakery and flying spittle. It was also the year I realized it was no longer possible to make sense of anything, that the optical apparatus of the western world is so bent out of shape it swerves all semblance of truth. We have resolved it out of the equation of our life and times, and are thereby building a new Zeitgeist on quicksand, one in which the poor sink first, while sustaining the rich on their backs. In some respects, then, 2020 is the year we deserved, if only as a reminder there are some things that have an inescapable truth about them. You can ignore them all you like, say they’re not true, but that won’t make them go away. There were those who denied the existence of Covid from the beginning. Indeed, even with seventy-five thousand dead in the UK, some still do.

So the lesson of 2020 is that truth does not belong to those who shout the loudest, or to those who pour the most money into public relations. I don’t know where we’re going as a nation, only that I’m not angry about it any more, and I have “Winter on the Hill”, and my dialogue with its various characters to thank for that. I accept some people firmly believe in things I think are strange, and I accept persuading them otherwise is not a matter of pointing out my own version of the truth. Indeed, this is as likely to inflame them, as it runs counter to their own world view, that dialogue – true dialogue is presently impossible.

This is not to say I no longer believe, for example, that BREXIT is the biggest act of self harm in our post-war history. It’s an opinion based on an analysis of geopolitics and global economics, at least in so far as I understand these things. Many more of course understand things differently and therefore disagree with my view. But Winter on the Hill has taught me not to label these contrary opinions as merely crackpot, or even dare I say dangerous? It has also granted me some insight into the reasons Brexiteers think the way they do. But reaching this point you find you have transcended politics. You have swapped partisanship for the hill-craft necessary in crossing the daunting terrain as it now presents itself in 2021 and beyond.

The sight of Londoners fleeing the Capital, before the new Tier 4 rules came in, reminds me we shall not be spared the stupidity of crowds any time soon. The temporary blockading of the Channel ports and the halting of continental freight is a reminder of the fragility of the supply chains keeping our supermarkets stocked. But my hill-craft also tells me this is simply the nature of the new landscape we are traversing, and this, the incoming and decidedly inclement weather. Better to prepare for it than merely shake our fist.

I wish I could say I think 2021 will be any less “distracting”, that the stories I write will be free from error, but I suspect this will not be the case. What I can say though is that a partisan anger at the poverty, the foodbanks and the holes in the road has gone, and is in any case counterproductive. It doesn’t solve the problem, but if the best I can do is buy the homeless guy a sandwich and a cup of tea, then so be it. That’s all I could ever do. Compassion is a bottom up thing, and we’d all do well to remember that, because it’s only by the grace of God it’s not us sitting there instead of him.

And yes, come the next election, there’s a chance we’ll be falling over ourselves again to vote for more of the same, because most of us are not interested in solutions to longer term questions, even those concerning the sustainability of the species. We just want to know how to go on living as we are right now, without changing anything, even when we know change is likely coming, and the truth of the world is poking us in the eye day by day, by way of warning.

True hillcraft requires more than knowledge of the ropes and a gung-ho spirit. It requires a calmness of mind. It requires us to have the confidence not to go jumping at every passing fluffy cloud that sweeps the tops, but equally we must beware the overconfidence that scorns the anvil-heads. Angry, we remain blind to the subtlety of the way ahead, and come to grief in quick-time. Only by calmness do we navigate winter on the hill, and see ourselves safely to the other side. This is not to say I’m done with the shadow, only this particular manifestation of it. Heaven knows where he’ll take me next.

My thanks to everyone who has kept me company over the year and my very best wishes to you all.

Read Full Post »

It was a Friday much like any other, the day I retired. Such a strange year, though. Most of the office have been working from home, the rest split into long shifts, so those still on site could maintain social distancing. It just meant each shift squeezing the working week into three days. It had worked, as far as I know, and none of my colleagues had caught Covid, though we were all looking pretty knackered as we approached the year’s end.

As I counted down my last hours, after forty-odd years of work, it felt unreal that I would soon be walking out for ever. There was just this final tick-sheet of tasks to make sure I left behind a tidy ship. The last one was the handing over of my pass to the security guy at eleven forty-five. The sparsely populated office was absorbed in their separate Skype calls and video-cons, eyes glued to screens, headphones to block out the world around. At the appointed time, I rose from my desk, put on my jacket and walked down to the security desk, unnoticed by anyone. I didn’t want a fuss.

The guy on duty didn’t know me, but he wished me well when I said I was retiring, that I wouldn’t be coming back. His sentiment was genuine. I’ve noticed an uncharacteristic tenderness amongst my male colleagues in these last weeks. It’s as if the fact they won’t be seeing me again has given them the opportunity to speak from closer to their hearts than they would normally do. But I think it’s also Covid. We’re all trying to make the best of it, to put a brave face on it, but we also need to speak of the feelings we have for one another. So don’t wait until that old guy is retiring. Tell him now. Tell your mates, tell your colleagues how much you respect them, how much they mean to you, hell just tell them you think they’re doing a great job. And okay, maybe I’ve been lucky with my work-mates, but if you think your colleagues are a set of lazy, incompetent, bullying, bastard psychopaths, you should tell them that too. This, like no other, is a time for truth.

It had rained all day, rained like the devil on the drive in, this being my last commute, thank God, pitch dark at half seven down the M61. It was all rain and spray off the heavies, the usual tit-mobiles brightly lit and speeding blind. The rain hammered down all morning, but as I stepped out though the sliding doors that lunchtime, a thin, watery sun came out, like it was doing its best to mark the moment. I appreciated the effort.

How best to deal with this period, I’d asked. Disentangling, was the reply, with various intricate caveats. Bowing out with honour was one such caveat, but otherwise I should be ruthlessly determined in slipping free, of clean-breaking from the past. I’d asked this of the yijing, an oracle of considerable vintage, and with which I have a tempestuous relationship. Sometimes we’re on, sometimes we’re off, but for the early years of the millennium we were very close indeed. This was the result of a chance meeting under pressed circumstances, when we first established trust in one another. So, disentangling, yes. Good answer, that.

It’s not a good time to be changing tack, but is it ever? I’m not sure if I’ve caught the wind right on this one, and BREXIT is a worry. The markets had been recovering well from Covid, but they’ve been jittery again all week, scared of another dip, while the lorries are queued for miles either side of the channel, and the supply chains lie broken in a million places. But I’ve been planning this for a long time, and there’s no going back now.

Stepping more into the soul-life is what I’m aiming at. I’ve twenty years until I’m eighty. Anything more than that is a bonus, but I want a good crack at the time I’ve got before then. What for? Well, if you’re young you might think a guy of my age, approaching sixty, is pretty much spent, and better off dead, but I think this last few decades of life is as important as the first few, and I’m looking forward to them:

“A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning”

So said Carl Jung, and I’m not going to argue with him.

Sure, my early and middle-stage work is done, but I still have important connections to make. Indeed, this latter stage of life is potentially where the way becomes most interesting, providing we can let go of the idea we are still young, when clearly we are not.

The nature of work has changed and, in truth, I was no longer of a mind to be charitable towards it. I had a hands-on job, one I enjoyed, a technical specialist, lab based. But like all workplaces increasing amounts of useful time were spent simply answering emails. Take any time off, and there might be easily hundreds of emails waiting for you on your return, so much so one hesitates before taking any leave at all. Sure, most of them are junk, but each has to be eyeballed for the one that’s going to ruin your day, and I was unable to develop a strategy for dealing with any of that without increasing amounts of anxiety.

My impression is we’re approaching a self referencing loop, when simply answering emails about emails becomes the point of our days, our months, our years. Our communication tools are more advanced than we are, and we lack sufficient relevant information to be usefully communicated by them, so we simply make up the rest to pad out the void, and copy all.

I wondered about casting round for a fresh identity, now I’m no longer a fully functioning, commuting, salaried C Eng MIET. I didn’t like the idea of becoming just another grey old man pushing a trolley round Tescos. But of course, I’m still the same as I’ve always been, just this guy who writes and walks, and takes pictures, only now I have more time to do it. Sure, I feel blessed to have escaped that email inbox, which I imagine filling up even now in my absence. Nor will I miss the snarling deathtrap of a twenty-mile commute on pitch black roads, lit by dazzling headlights on hateful winter mornings.

If I can close in on the meaning of my life, if I can correctly judge my journey in this time of “spirit”, is yet to be seen. But whatever, success or failure, the adventure continues. Many of my well-wishers wished me a long and happy retirement, which I translate as meaning: “Don’t drop dead too soon, mate.” And fair enough, I know what they mean. So to those well-wishers, to whom I wish an equal share of wellness and more, I say also this: I’ll do my best.

Thanks for listening.

Graeme out.

Read Full Post »

mr smithThis is Mr Smith. He’s a floating balance clock with an hourly and half hourly strike. You could also describe him as an ugly old wind up from the late 1950s that nobody wanted any more. But he endures, and, except for the occasional melt-down, he’s reliable. He’s also symbolic of a bygone era. If that era has anything to teach us now is open to debate, but I think it has, and it’s nothing to do with nostalgia.

I paid fifteen quid for him off Ebay, then spent the best part of a year scratching my head about why he ran five minutes fast. He’d been doing it all his life, so far as I can tell, because the problem appeared to be a manufacturing fault. He must have driven a variety of owners mad and I’m surprised he avoided the tip for as long as he did. That’s another thing about Mr Smith. He’s sixty years old, but for all his imperfections – and they were clearly considerable – he keeps going.

My grandma used to say: buy second hand and you’re buying other people’s problems. She had a point. So, when dabbling on Ebay, you’ve got to gamble you’ve the ability to fix a thing someone else has given up on. When it comes to clocks, for me, that’s both a technical challenge, and an appeal to my anthropomorphic tendencies. Normally, you’d settle an old clock into its environment, then you’d regulate its time-keeping with whatever adjustment is possible. But Mr Smith was at the end of his adjustment, and still running fast. So I bonded a couple of microscopic screws from an old watch into the holes on his balance wheel. That was enough to settle him down and bring him back to within the realms of possibility. He can still be eccentric in other ways, but he does tell good time now.

Naturally, a professional clock and watch man will pull a face at such a repair, I mean one involving glue, no matter how precisely measured. They’re a fussy lot, rightly proud of their skills. But their skills are dying out because they charge the earth. It’s only worth their while touching the rare Rolls Royces of clocks now – you know, the sort you’ll find in stately homes. Sadly, that means your cheaper relics like Mr Smith get thrown out, or they fall into the hands of Bodger Bills like me, and with mixed results.

mr smith balance

Floating Balance Movement – 1956-1960

The floating balance appeared in 1956, licensed to Smiths by Hettich, a German maker. The balance wheel runs with its axis vertical, suspended on a piano wire to reduce friction. The balance spring also features a curious double helix that helps compensate for temperature changes. Smiths redesigned it in 1960, made it smaller and easier to adjust. My Mr Smith has the older version, which is a bit fiddly. Both types are very accurate, though accuracy is relative.

We take time for granted now. Glance at your phone and there it is, to within a split second. The machines have championed precision at our behest, and now they crack their whips at us. But humans have no emotional need of the split second. When Mr Smith was made, so long as a clock was a within a minute per week, and you could bring it back in to the BBC’s pips, you’d still make it to the bus on time.

I’ve had him in bits more than once, cleaned him, lubricated him, restored some of the shine to his case. He’s been fine until recently, when his bonger went berserk, and he just wouldn’t shut up. I realise this was my fault. I’d forgotten to wind him, so he’d drifted off into silence and reverie. But when a clock stops, and especially a striking clock, you should set it by winding the fingers forward, not back. I’d wound Mr Smith back.

I could stretch a metaphor here and say that trying to reset the beat of your own times, by winding back into the past is never a good idea. There’s always a risk you’ll break something in the process. Stretching the metaphor even further, from a point of stillness, it’s best to look forward, to what might be, rather than what has been. The former we can change if needs be. The latter is too late. Sure, the past can be a pleasant place, happy memories and all that, but it can be dangerous too because there may be regrets lurking. But I don’t think this is what Mr Smith is trying to tell me here, at least not entirely. There’s more.

The past has utility if it remains useful. Much of the anguish and the violence we’ve seen in recent years has been in large part a rage, as we fight over simple explanations to impossibly complex issues. It’s been a petulant desire for simpler times, times when we imagined we knew how the world worked. We didn’t, and we certainly don’t now. Indeed, the world is so complicated now – our technology, our tools – there’s a feeling of things running away with us. But there’s no going back. We have to become more advanced in ourselves to deal with it, to transcend the melee, and deploy these miracles more wisely, and with far greater moral compunction.

mr smith mechanism

Strike mechanism, Smiths Floating Balance clock

As I contemplate Mr Smith’s mechanism I can get my head around each component and understand its contribution to the whole function of time-telling. If I watch it in action for a while, I can figure out how it works, what’s gone wrong, and how I can put it right. The only dangerous element here is a fully wound mainspring, and I know how to deal with that.

But my ‘phone? That teller of precise time. I doubt there’s a single person alive who understands every part of it, even the people who made it. As for its dangers, there are many, and mostly unseen. For a start its potential function goes way beyond what its ostensible purpose is. It spies on me, and reads my mind – at least judging by the adverts that pop up on it. It tracks my movements and sends that information to be stored on computers half-way round the world. I don’t why it does that, but tailoring adverts to suit my needs, like it says, sounds a bit flimsy to me.

By contrast, there’s an honesty about Mr Smith. He doesn’t do anything underhand. He doesn’t get his time from “the cloud” and share it with me in exchange for my personal details, so he can sell them on. He tells the time. So if the past has any utility at all in this instance it is to remind us that honesty is a virtue. It’s not just that our technology used to be so much simpler. It was simply so much more trustworthy. Until we can recover that, we’ve a rocky road ahead.

As for Mr Smith’s bonger, it was just a simple adjustment. He’s back to counting the hours properly. There he sits, ticking away cosily, doing nothing but what he’s supposed to be doing, minding his business, while I mind mine.

Read Full Post »

eyes1When you’re not writing for publication there’s a lot you don’t have to worry about, like mainly the expectations and the tastes of others, and the need to always be better than your last novel. Because you’re just bound to fail eventually, aren’t you? Plus, since it’s as likely my work will be forgotten a hundred years from now as that of any other non-A list author, it’s really not worth putting yourself through it, is it?

WordPress will have been bought out by then, transformed and subsumed into whatever passes for the Internet in 2120, and the self-conscious writings of millions of bloggers will have rotted into the sedimentary layers of obsolescence. Ditto Smashwords and that veritable sea of self-published novels that were all going to make their authors a mint, but never did.

By then historians will be researching the great pandemic of 2020 using as source material the archives of a fawning press, and the evasive, rose-tinted, self-aggrandising memoirs of politicians. Meanwhile, the truth is buried here, at least as people genuinely saw it, along with – and indistinguishable of course – from all the lies, and the spin and the barking madness.

So how do we know what’s true?

When you write as I do, you’re writing primarily for yourself. It is both a cathartic experience, and an exploration of how and why we think the way we do. Our opus is then a map of personal development, charting our footsteps through a world of ideas, in search of originality. It’s about reaching that stage when we can write something genuine from our experience of life, and believe in it. That doesn’t make it important of course, or even universally true. It is only the truth, as we see it, but “as we see it”, is the best any of us have to go on.

I hit my messianic years early, woke up from childhood as an angry young man to a world that seemed bent out of shape. I wanted to straighten it more into an image of my own liking. I think we all go through this phase. The rest of life is about coming to terms with the fact it doesn’t matter how much we shake our fist at it, the world is what it is. And what it is is a mish-mash of events that seem out of control. More than that, the world makes demands upon us that are inconvenient to say the least. We’d much sooner avoid all of that and just do whatever the hell we want.

Thereafter, sanity rests in attaining the mid-point between one’s sense of self-importance and all the inconvenient evidence to contrary. It’s about having the courage to take on the world as we find it, and find a place in it that’s the least uncomfortable for ourselves. There, in the gaps between sleeping and doing stuff we don’t want to do, and if we’re lucky, we’ll find sufficient serenity to know it doesn’t matter much either way. That is, except to say, every moment of adversity is a test of emotional resilience, that progress in life, and truth, is measured by how far you’ve left that angry young man behind.

There’s a lot we could be angry about right now. Indeed, that young man in me is in danger of getting lost in the red-mist again, so we have to maintain some perspective, scan the paragraphs for ire, and root them out, because the truth is never angry.

So we come to my work in progress, “Winter on the hill”, and the lesson that it’s dangerous to write in turbulent times, and with the expectation current affairs can be used as a passive backdrop against which our characters act out their dramas. Because these days current affairs can turn our lives on their heads. Thus, my characters suddenly find themselves scattered and social-distancing, their lives on hold and reduced to emailed dialogue, and no action. It’s inconvenient, but I have to work with it.

It’s odd how the story began with themes of fundamental freedoms, the right to roam, the rout of Leftist politics, being spied on by drones, and the dangers of authoritarianism by stealth. Then, suddenly here we are, confined to our homes, spied on by drones, policemen enquiring into our shopping habits and the necessity of our journeys. There’s also no exit strategy and the population is so terrified of dying from this bug, they don’t care. Subcutaneous RFID tagging from birth? Sure, bring it on, so long as it keeps us safe. You see the problem here? And maybe that’s where my story’s going, but I’m not sure I want to follow it because that’s a dark place. That’s a place so far from the truth it’s almost a figment of the imagination.

In the mean-time I tickle back and forth through the narrative to date, checking the characters are saying what they mean and what that means about the journey of my life. Am I looking like I’m on course for something? Am I still in the flow, or am I straining too hard in a direction that’s going to fetch me up on the rocks.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if I write or not, if I finish or not, if it means anything or not. The only one who needs to find out if there’s anything worth a damn in any of this, is me. In uncertain times, turbulent times, it highlights the fact you’ve really only yourself as a reliable reference point. So be true to yourself, and protect those around you as best you can. But watch out too for that angry young man and don’t let him catch up with you, because he’s a real trouble-maker and for all of his reforming zeal, he wouldn’t know the truth if he fell over it.

Read Full Post »

 

corncrakeThe searing heat abated somewhat today, though the stupefying humidity remained. I decided on just a short outing then, not too far nor too strenuous but still found myself dripping in minutes.

Where was I? Well, see if you can guess: the forest floor was ferny thick and the canopy abuzz with a torment of flies. There were plastic bottles a plenty in the undergrowth, ditto crisp packets, also a wealth of spent nitrous oxide cartridges. Higher up the hill, among the painstakingly restored terraced walkways there were the usual bags of dog turds hanging from trees like bizarre offerings to the ever salivating demons of barbarism, oh,… and there was an adult diaper oozing mess. We could only be in the Rivington Terraced Gardens then, or just about anywhere else in the countryside these days.

But on a lighter note I had recently discovered this thing called Google Lens. If you have a data signal, you can point your Android device’s camera at anything, and it will tell you what it is. So, whilst out and about in the green and with quite a perky signal, I decided to try it out – in the field so to speak. However, it swore blind the oak leaf was from a different tree entirely, a more exotic and entirely unpronounceable Amazonian species. It struggled to find any sort of name for a sycamore leaf at all, was confused by a humble bramble, but did identify, in the corner of that particular frame a corncrake, which would have been sensational had it not actually been my foot.

All of which got me thinking, if Google really is intent on displacing superfluous human activities like driving cars and reading maps, and telling us what things are, there must come a point when we’re no longer capable of knowing about these things for ourselves. It is at that point our entire frame of reference will be dictated by a kind of iron-brained deity we have in fact constructed, placed our trust in, and quite probably sacrificed our own long term survival on planet earth so this unconscious entity can thrive while missing the point entirely, that without us humble thinking beings, this artificial creature has no purpose at all.

It might well be an oak tree we are looking at, but we shall be forced to call it whatever the machine says it is, whether it is or not. And if the machine has no name for a thing, we shall stare at that nameless thing in horror, as we might at a demon come to threaten our entire world view.

For a time there’ll still be grey-haired die-hards who like to read books and maps, Luddites who insist on driving their own cars, but we won’t last much longer and then, well, you kids are on your own, and you’ve only yourselves to blame. The real world is still out there, though looking a little sorry for itself now, quite literally shat upon, and suffering ever more frequent paroxisms of climatic excess that we’re probably too late to fix. And I suppose the thing is we’ve never respected it, trusted instead in our own superiority, in our technologies, so now we find ourselves with gormless expressions, tongues hanging out, noses pressed against the glass of our latest device, peering in to a world that doesn’t exist, while the one that does, the one that sustains us and gives us air to breathe, we have allowed to catch fire.

We are adept at adaptation, so much so there can never be an example of dystopia outside of science fiction, for no matter how weird or absurd, oppressive or dangerous our world becomes, we have already accepted it as the new normal, even before it’s claimed its first victims.

Corncrake? Yea right.

 

 

Read Full Post »

grayscale photo of human lying on ground covered of cardboard box

Photo by THE COLLAB. on Pexels.com

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.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

the master

Things move on. Gone are the days of Feedbooks when any old noob indy could self publish on there for free and have a hundred downloads by morning. Feedbooks is still going but for the self publishing indy it died ages ago. Stats suggest very few readers find their way to my stuff any more so I do’t bother with it – might as well stuff it in a drawer for all the good it will do.  But all is not lost: there’s always Free Ebooks.

This is another of those sites you can load your fiction onto. The model is a simple one – thousands of writers provide free content around which the site owners serve advertising and marketing packages which pay for site’s upkeep. Like Smashwords they want your manuscripts in MS word format, but don’t seem as fussy over the formatting – or it may be that I’m submitting stuff that’s already passed the Smashword’s meat-grinder test.

Downloads are encouraging – quite a spike early on, levelling off to a few clicks per day thereafter. I suspect it’ll be like Smashwords in the longer term, eventually flat-lining at a thousand clicks or so with only the occasional flutter thereafter. Yes, they want you to sign up for their marketing packages and all that, but I’m not going to advise you to ignore them because you know it’s a cardinal rule writers never pay publishers anything, don’t you? As for Free Ebooks paying you, well, there is an option for readers to donate through Paypal, but I wouldn’t expect more than the price of a cup of coffee now and then, and it’s certainly not worth giving up the day job.

Smashwords is still very much alive and well of course, and well worth submitting to if only for the free ISBN, and Wattpad is picking up in a strange kind of way too, though it requires a bit of engagement on your part, being more of a community thing, but that’s cute and I’m finding it has a nice feedback vibe for stuff you put on there piecemeal. I’ve been trying out the Sea View Cafe on it for a while now – at least up to the point where it got quagmired in my usual three-way polyamory trap – more on that in the next blog. I can recommend it for early drafts, but again it’s not going to change your life much. And once a story’s done on there, well,… it’s done and you might as well delete it.

So yes, things move on, but they’re not dying out. Online and digital are still the only way to go for the majority of unaffiliated wannabe writers. I predict the only bookshops in a decade’s time will be charity shops selling increasingly dog eared and spine busted samples of that old paper-tech, that actual books will have become an upmarket thing, paperbacks costing thirty quid a go. And us ordinary folk will have no recourse to libraries anymore, so this mad bagatelle of free online stuff will be our daily fayre.

So don’t despair, you young uns might have robots to contend with for your day-jobs by then, but at the end of it you’ll still be able to kick back of a night inside your cosy plastic nano-pod, with whatever passes for a mobile phone, and read, and think how: quaint, those days of paper. Hopefully some my stuff will still be around, scraped up by the content farming sites. And maybe amongst my writings you’ll discover a lost world where people fell in love face to face rather than dialling partners up via an app, a world where our dreams still meant something and we used to laugh at the idea of cars driving themselves.

So, anyway, if you’re a writer looking to share some ideas, some stories, do check out Free Ebooks! It’s like Smashwords, and a bit of a dead-zone as far as feedback’s concerned, though I have picked up a couple of four-stars. But if you want people to talk to you about what you write as you write it, go to Wattpad. Whatever you do though don’t get hung up on the mechanics of self publishing, on the clicks and stats at the expense of,… well,… writing. Just get your stuff on the Internet any which way you can and whoever was meant to read it will find it.

Read Full Post »

barn

Rivington Barn

Friday, and a late lunch at Rivington Barn. It’s crowded, bikers slurping mugs of tea outside, and a clamour of woolly hatted conversation within, the place clogged with skewed  buggies and children whining as if it were a half term holiday, but it isn’t.

I order my egg and bacon butty and I sit, number poised clearly on the table’s edge. It is a long, raised, communal table, empty when I sit down but soon to be dominated by a nuclear family: corpulent dad, mute, invisible mum, and a pair of hyper-active pre-pubescent nitwits who enjoy banging about in their seats so the vibrations travel the length of the table and into the bones of any unwitting neighbour, such as myself. Notwithstanding this endless, tedious violation of my repose, there is also the threat of a sticky soaking from the pop bottles said nitwits take delight in shaking up into a fizz and from which they then squeeze off an ominous, hyperventilating hiss.

Oh, I know, long week and all that, and all I want is a bit of peace, sitting on the end of this table, first come, and already my body space is invaded by Corpulent Dad’s ever spreading bulk. Some people seem to take up much more space than others. It is a kind of biological imperialism. He pretends to take no notice of me, but he’s a nosy bugger and I can feel his eyes over my shoulder as I scroll the news on the delightfully ergonomic Washington Post app. Yes, I’m with Sheldrake on this one – the sense of being stared at is a reliable instinct.

I know, the Washington Post, it’s not your usual media for informing the rural north of England, but America appears to have gone mad and I’m trying to understand what archetypes are afoot here, if they bode ill for my retirement nest egg or not and if we’ll have Russian tanks across the Rhine again like we did in the bad old days, which curiously enough seem more and more like the good old days, days when there was at least a kind of certainty to world affairs, grim though they were. And my egg and bacon butty is taking an age, and my cup of tea is already half gone, and these kids are banging the table, cutting clean though my pre-weekend ease, and my desire to just settle in for a bit and think.

The Post, though earnest and informative is of no help to me, this lone Englishman, and only confirms his suspicion that even America cannot quite believe it. Jung would have had an insightful take on things, but voices like his are few. While the kids continue to fizz the life out of their bottles, I try Chompsky, a familiar guru in these troubled times, but there is little comfort there either. Corpulent Dad is talking, winding his kids up into ever greater heights of irritating behaviour. Mute mum says nothing. Neither make an effort to check their offsprings’ rudeness. I recall I made no effort with my kids either, but I could at least take them anywhere without worrying they’d annoy other people. But then again Corpulent Dad isn’t worried they’re annoying other people. We are the same then, he and I. We simply differ in our approach to life.

What?

My egg and bacon butty arrives and I wolf it down to the point of indigestion. This is sacrilege. These are the finest egg and bacon buttys in creation, not to be rushed. But I am rushing, a voice in my head screaming for air now. So I head out to the car, relieved to be shot of my obnoxious interlopers. Such is the lot of the misanthrope, I’m afraid. Nothing is resolved. For all the seriousness of my intent to understand, all I have now is indigestion and the first stabbing throb of a headache.

The weather had been clear, encouraging of a certain optimism, but during my brief stay in the Barn, it has clouded, the air turned grey and cold. I am not encouraged to don my boots and climb the hill, so I drive to Chorley instead, to the Autofit place. I have two nails in my tyre. It’s been holding pressure, but clearly needs attention if I am to avert future calamity. I am expecting it to be irreparable.

The guy does his plucky best, but pronounces it goosed. There’s a tone of apology I read as genuine. My shed of a commuter-mule wears Michelin Premiums. They come at a premium price: one hundred and nineteen pounds each. These are supercar prices for a car that has proved itself to be anything but a super car. I really must get rid of this thing before it bankrupts me. It is becoming my own personal financial crisis.

“Is that fitting and everything, I ask?”

“Sure,” says the guy, “we’ll even put air in it for you.”

There is the ripple of a smile about his lips as he speaks, as if trying to winkle out the humour in me. The place is grey and February cold, overhung with a century of grime, his overalls seriously besmirched with his labours, but there is also something Puckish about him, defiantly irreverent. He mends cars.  He smiles a lot, and jokes. I drive a PC. And don’t joke much these days.

But, wait. There it is. My smile comes up like something fondly remembered. At times like these we need a sense of humour. It’s just a question of having the courage, or the sheer bloody mindedness to let it in. The lid is off. The trickster is risen from the collective and is laying waste to the convention of entire continents, destroying the perceived corruption of the world with a less subtle corruption of its own, and we’d better get used to it because I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a wild ride.

I’ll see you on the other side.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »