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So, today is Monday. It’s cold and rainy. I’m ironing. I’m bleeding the radiators. I’m replying to a flurry of overnight comments on the blog. I’m pondering the next chapter of “A Lone Tree Falls”. Retirement is bliss, even on rainy days. Then the phone rings.

It’s a very well-spoken young man who’s concerned I’m missing out on loft insulation deals. I don’t quite get the angle, but anyway, he says my house has come up on his database as having a certain type of insulation. It doesn’t conform to the current regulations – tut tut – but not to worry. It means I can claim for,… well,… something,…

“If we could confirm your details, sir? Name, address, postcode?…

Now, I know very well what type of insulation I have, because I’m the one who put it in. So what I want to know from him is how come he knows so much about it. I’m a little more assertive than I usually am, but there are issues of privacy at stake here:

“If I could stop you there and ask: exactly – and I do emphasise the word ‘exactly’ – how you came by that information?”

I surprise myself. I seem to be settling in for a crossing of wits here, when I could as easily hang up. That’s what I normally do, though with a polite “sorry, not interested”, thereby extending courtesy even to ne-er-do-wells whose aim is to raid my life savings. Did I get out of the wrong side of bed or something? Where is your patience, Michael? Where is your joy of living?

Anyway, the line goes dead before the young man can explain himself – a fault at his end, I presume. But never mind, all is in its place again. God is in his heaven, and the scammers are sweating the phones.

And I have more important things to be thinking about, such as November 3rd 2019. Why? Well, that’s the day I took this picture:

It was a Sunday, the first dry day, after weeks of heavy rain. The gentle undulations of the meadows had become lakes, and in the early light of that morning, they were as beautiful as they were unexpected. I don’t know why the picture strikes me now, as it has languished on the memory card for years. Perhaps it’s more the date, marking a time just before the time everything changed.

My diary fills in the details:

I had bought a new lens for the camera, and was trying it out with this shot. I had also bought “the Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arhundhati Roy, from my local thrift shop. I was lamenting how I’d probably never get around to reading it, that it would languish on my TBR pile, which turns out, thus far, to be true. My hall table was also full of leaflets extolling the virtues of the Labour-party. I was delivering them in batches, around my patch, for the local party office. It seems I too was caught up in the heady Corbynism of those distant times.

Then, the day after I took the picture, I sat down with my boss and took pleasure in giving him a year’s notice. Of a sudden, I tasted freedom. I was as excited by that as the thought of an imminent, and long needed, change of political direction. Yes, politics featured large in my thoughts in those days, which I find embarrasses me, now, because it doesn’t feature at all these days. In fact, quite the opposite, I find I view such matters with a very cold eye, or perhaps that too could be called political thinking? But let’s not go there.

Covid was not even a rumour in November. The first cases would appear in China in the coming weeks. But it would be March before Britain, after believing itself immune, would be on its knees. Suddenly, I could not travel even to the next village without fear of curtain twitchers dobbing me in. As for our health service, it proved to be so ill prepared, hobbyists were in their bedrooms, churning out face-masks for doctors and nurses on their 3D Printers.

But back to the photograph. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it at the time. Perhaps it was because events overtook us, and everything that came “before” seemed no longer relevant in the world. Then I tried a different crop, and it seemed to speak to me a little more.
I remember the season came on with a record-breaking wet. The year after was the same. The water table rose, filling the hollows, spoiling crops of winter wheat and oilseed. Migrant birds enjoyed their new-found wetlands. But then each spring, came a drought that baked the land, first to iron, and then to dust.

The photograph tells me the world was beautiful then, as of course it still is. But I detect also now a more deeply entrenched fatalism among its people. There is a growing acceptance of the ruin, and all the casual corruption, and that there’s nothing we can do about it. It just is. And, as if by metaphor, while once upon a time we could avoid those of low character by avoiding a particular part of town at night, now they come at us in our homes, down our telephone wires, wherever we are, and there’s no protection, other than our wits. But such a wit as that risks also tarnishing the spirit and rendering it blind to the beauty of the world. It will make us cynical, it will tempt us over the threshold into the hell of a collective nihilism. And then we are lost.

We need a powerful formula to keep the shine on things, and to keep believing it all means something. For myself, I trust it is sufficient never take our eye off the beauty of the world, never to let it be diminished in our souls, that therein lies the path to truly better days.

Now, please excuse me, the phone is ringing again. Perhaps it’s that young man with his explanation.

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The Automobile Association reports there is no actual shortage of petrol. They say it is panic buying that has created a local shortage, here in the UK. But we could also say it was yesterday, or the day before’s media headlines, urging people not to panic buy petrol, that caused the panic buying, which has caused the emptying and subsequent closure of petrol stations, up and down the country. That’s a very different story. Then, we could also say it is a shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers that has caused the disruptions in supply that we should not have panicked about, and the reason for that,… well,… there, opinions diverge, become political, and I leave others to pick apart that side of things.

I’ve lived through enough fuel crises over the past half century to understand people’s anxiety over shortages. I’ve been in a hard place more than once, commuting, the car running on vapours, and with a decidedly obtuse line-management offering no support whatsoever, when I told them it was less than certain I would be there in the morning. But now I’m in the position where I don’t need petrol for anything other than travelling for pleasure, and we can easily curtail that until this particular moment passes.

What’s more interesting are the media headlines themselves, not so much what they say, but why certain stories are chosen to be told, while others are cold-shouldered. It’s interesting also to ponder just how much of our reality we construct upon a landscape shaped by the well-connected writers of this mass media. So we should perhaps be more concerned with asking ourselves who they are, and with whom they are connected, rather than with what they say.

My local petrol station ran out of fuel last night. It’s inconvenient, but I’m fine with it. I’m not tied to the car any more. Covid has taught me I can stay local for months on end without actually losing my mind. But that’s not the only thing going on in the UK at the moment. I’ve had emails from my energy supplier warning of a serious hike in prices this winter. That’s galling, but I calculate I can cover it. Then the weekly food bill has spiked, and stuff I used to see on supermarket shelves, I don’t see any more – or rather its presence is no longer to be relied upon. That’s irksome, but not exactly worth a letter to the Times. My local builder reports a sudden 40% hike in the price of wood, and do I still want that job doing? I’ll have to think about that one. Meanwhile, there may also be actual food shortages ahead, in particular meat, but I don’t eat much meat anyway, now, and I don’t give a stuff about turkey for Christmas.

All in all these are just ongoing shots in a barrage that seems woven into the fabric of British life, now, and I don’t see the future being any different, and certainly no better. In general, the message is: the future is not so big as it used to be. One might think the causes of such a collapse in a nation’s mojo would be the subject of heated debate, but it appears to be a mystery to almost the entire UK media, including the BBC.

I wager we all know the reason, but there is an omertà on that word, so I shall not speak it. But again, the word doesn’t really matter any more. What’s done is done. It’s more important to note that its presence in the landscape of our reality is so firmly resisted by the media. It is deemed no longer part of the official socio-economic history of the British Isles. That we did this to ourselves runs against the grain of British exceptionalism, and is therefore unthinkable – so we’d better make a mystery of it, or better still blame the Johnny Foreigner any which-way we can, than face the truth of our own stupidity.

Stories are important. They are vital to life. Those who stormed the US Capitol building inhabited a reality shaped largely by the right-wing conspiracist regions of social media. The stories they believed in seemed absolutely barking to me, but the issue is that they did wholly and sincerely believe in them. For a time, I inhabited a polar opposite region, one that spoke of the imminent birth of a socialist Shangri-La, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbin. There were many who felt that was equally barking. Reality, then, is a fluid concept, and even, to a degree, personal. I wonder what my own reality would be like if I lived a life isolated from all record of human thought, contemporary and historical. Would I even be able to think at all?

The big British media is so appallingly manipulative, I wonder how anyone can expect to be reliably informed by it, other than by developing the insight to read above the headlines, and to ask: what is it I am being led to think and believe here? There are alternative sources of media, of course, both right and left leaning. On the left we have the likes of Novara Media, and Byline Times. I find them telling stories that suit my own biases better. But I also feel I can trust their analyses, if only because their influence is as yet quite small and poorly connected with the corridors of power. Small in the influence to be pedalled, determination of facts, critical reasoning: whatever our bias, these are valuable touchstones, ones we should cleave to, but rarely do, in such polarised times as these.

Ongoing crises, populist but otherwise incompetent leaders, a drift to the nastier fringes of the bonkers right, the spectre of authoritarianism, appalling cruelty to others deemed not British, or not British enough. These are not the headlines we read, not the story that is written for us. But they are all of them facets of the reality that is indeed coalescing around the cold hard slag of a spent materialism, and an economic model we really need to ditch, but which ossified and unimaginably wealthy interests are keen to perpetuate. Thus, a story is spun which tells us there is nothing to see here. Or rather, what we are led to believe is entirely at odds with the increasingly uncomfortable truths of life in Britain, at least for the ninety-nine percent of us who still live here.

I have sworn never to utter that word again in the annals of this blog. Still, I cannot help but predict the outlook to be stormy on account of it [that word]. I shall, however, continue to marvel at the circumlocutions of the media, as they studiously avoid the elephant in the room, even as it defecates daily, and copiously all over their nice, shiny shoes.

Take care what you read, and what you choose to shape your reality.

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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.

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sky clouds building industry

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Once upon a time there was a King and his kin who ate and ate and ate, and when they’d stripped the kingdom bare with their eating, they made war on their neighbours and ate their land bare too. They felt they had no choice in this, that if they ever stopped eating – even for a moment – they would disappear, that only by eating more and more could they remain fully present in the world and meaningful, and their followers, the people, who also ate excessively, would still worship them. The strange thing was the more everyone ate, the sadder they became, and the King told them the reason for their sadness – though he’d no idea really – was because they had not yet eaten enough.

But when all the neighbours had been slain and the King and his kin and their followers had stripped the earth bare, all the way down to the shore of the sea, and when there was nothing left to eat, and even the fishes were choking on the King’s excrement, the King and his kin sat down in puzzlement. They were still hungry, and sad, and in their hunger they despaired and became grumpy with one another. And their followers, the people,  were confused and afraid, and hungry too – and as they grew hungry they grew angry there was nothing more to eat. After all had the King not told them it was their duty to eat as much as they could every day?

So the King and his kin turned their anger back on the people for questioning the wisdom of the King, and they sent the King’s army out to beat them until they bled, and while they were at it, to rob the people, to search their pockets for any last crumbs that might sustain the King and his kin. But the crumbs were few, for in truth the people had been hungry for a long time. So the King took to his bed and his kin, fearing the end of the world, sent for the wise man.

Now the wise man knew the King and his kin were foolish in their beliefs, and tyrannical in the lies they told the people, most of whom knew no better. But they were many and stubborn in their beliefs, because everyone had been eating for so long it was impossible for them to think of any other way to be.

“But you’re forgetting the stars,” he said to the King.

“The stars?” said the King. “What about the stars?”

“Everyone knows there are planets orbiting the stars,” said the wise man. “I shall build you rocket-ships to take you there. Just think of all those planets waiting to be exploited in the name of the King.”

This rather excited the King. “And all of us can go?” he said. “My kin too? I wouldn’t want to be without my kin, who tell me daily whatever I want to hear.”

“All of you,” said the wise man. “I insist.”

“And what about us?” said the followers of the King and his kin.

“All who wish to go and eat, shall go,” said the wise man. “But there’s a catch. These rocket-ships will use up the very last of our materials and our fuels on earth, and there will be no chance of ever returning.”

So the King and his kin looked around at the wasteland of the earth and they laughed, thinking this wouldn’t be a problem. So the wise man gathered the experts, who gathered the materials and the fuels and they built the rockets and fitted them out with the most wondrously luxurious state-rooms, and filled their larders with the very last of the fruits of the earth.

Of course, as is ever the way in human affairs, not everyone was able to find a berth on the rocket-ships. The old and the sick were decreed by the King and his kin unwelcome, as were the poor for fear they might bring bad odours and misfortune with them. But the wise man comforted those doomed to remain, and promised he would stay behind to look after them.

“You mean you’re not coming?” said the King.

“What need have you of me, your majesty,” said the wise man. “when each of your rocket-ships is equipped with the most artificially intelligent computer ever known to man?”

“Fair enough” said the King, who had perfect confidence in computers. He didn’t much like the wise man anyway, was always afraid he knew something the King didn’t. And with the wise man gone, the King’s wisdom was once more the last word.

So came the day and all the rocket-ships blasted off into the void of space, never to return, and the wise man watched them go and he bid them good riddance, knowing everyone aboard would be long dead before they’d crossed even a fraction of the distance to nearest star. And just as well for he would not have wished such an obscene  pestilence to be visited on another world.

Then he turned to the old and the sick and the poor, and he took from his pocket a bag of seeds and he said:

“We’d best plant these then, and try not eat so much next time.”

So the people planted the seeds, and in sharing the work of the tilling and watering and the harvesting, they realised they were happy, yet they had nothing and were still hungry. So they asked the wise man: “How come we’re so happy, when we’ve not yet eaten?”

“Perhaps,” said the wise man, “the greatest nourishment is that which we find in harmonious relationship with others.”

And so the old and the poor and weak and the sick all looked at one another and agreed they’d do well to remember that, and not eat so much in future. And as the earth slowly recovered and grew green once more, and the remaining shy creatures came from their burrows and multiplied, the people looked around at this new beginning.

And saw that it was good.

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lightning and tornado hitting village

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On the night of November 28th 2019, Channel 4 broadcast a debate on climate change, on the steps we might take in the UK to put our carbon footprint in order, and provide an example of best practice that others in the world might follow. Leaders of all the main political parties were invited to speak and all agreed something must be done, the only difference between them was how much each would fall over itself trying to outdo the others’ ideas.

At bottom it required a radical move away from carbon based fuels and intensive agribusiness but, with targeted investment, it looked possible, that we might indeed reduce our carbon emissions to zero by 2030. I felt the vision served that night was not one of a defensive decline, but more of a positive, prosperous and sustainable green economy, one built upon a genuine political consensus, and I was heartened by it. The debate was of course part of the build up to the 2019 general election.

Notable by their absence that night were the Conservative party and the Brexit party. The podiums they might have occupied were replaced, much to their annoyance, by dripping ice statues, which spoke volumes to the nation, that those parties had nothing to say about climate change, let alone how to mitigate it. Their crass no-show seemed disastrous, guaranteed to wreck their credibility and severely damage their chances of winning the election.

But the Conservative party romped home to a massive majority and are now in power for the next five, possibly the next ten years. Everything progressive that was debated that night was rendered meaningless, and won’t now happen. This implies the majority of UK voters either don’t care about the impending climate catastrophe or – even as Australia burns and Greenland melts – they still don’t really believe in it.

We can’t wait another ten years to do anything about it. By 2030 all the sensitive ecological tipping points will have been tripped, and savage environmental phenomenon will have settled in on a scale that makes it obvious to even the most egregious denier the planet is adapting itself to our toxic presence with a view to wiping us out.

The feeling among many climate scientists is that even if we act now, and in unison, globally, it’s probably too late to do anything other than stabilise the climate in its present state of distress. Without action, as now seems the case, not just in the UK, but across all the major world powers, vast areas of the planet will become uninhabitable, harvests will fail and future wars will be fought, not over oil but over fresh water, grain and habitable territory. Meanwhile, unimaginable numbers of climate refugees will cross the world trying to find safety in the temperate zones. And they will not be welcomed.

The rich are insulated from the problem by virtue of their wealth. They are buying up land in places like New Zealand in order to build their fortified palaces, complete with zombie apocalypse bunkers, where they imagine they might continue to consume in extraordinary luxury the last of the planet’s resources. Meanwhile, our children will struggle daily in the face of hardship and danger.

So what to do? Well, in my latest work in progress: “Winter on the Hill”, (currently being serialised for free on Wattpad) my protagonist, a former eco-warrior, veteran of street protests, and with a criminal conviction for civil disobedience, surveys the wreckage of that climate debate and the ensuing results of the 2019 election with a cool head. His conclusion? He buys himself a three litre diesel four-wheel drive SUV, takes up hill-walking and, though it’s late in the day for him, he falls in love, more than once. The argument is lost, he says, no sense even debating it any more – just enjoy the next twenty or thirty years as best you can, because that’s all you’ve got left.

He’s an interesting character, at times prickly, and something of a socialist firebrand which may annoy some of you, but he’s also a very persuasive old curmudgeon, and I’ll be spending the next year or so getting to know him. I hope to convince him he’s wrong of course, not about love – I mean good on him for that, the old dog – but that we need him back on the barricades. Oh, and he’s to swap that monstrous diesel for an electric vehicle that won’t pull the skin off a rice pudding.

How do you rate my chances? Well, from the off, and as dispiriting as it is, I’m already tempted to concede that he might be right.

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Well, I tried hard to come up with a pithy take on this pig’s ear of a year that was 2019, also the decade I suppose but found myself speechless in the end. Instead this thing popped up in my You Tube subscription from DDN, and I turned to fellow Brit and seriously honoured fellow Lancastrian, Tez Ilyas – in my humble opinion a truly brilliant, unifying voice who speaks as much for me as I hope for all of us.

These are staggeringly remarkable times, times when intellectuals are left dumbfounded, times when only a gifted comedian can make sense of what’s going on. Tez, my man, you’re so much younger than me, (say like 30 years at least?) you’re sharper, more clued in, cooler, and infinitely more handsome, but apart from all of that, and probably because of it,… I love you brother:

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I suspect, like most of us who voted and campaigned on the Left, I’m still coming to terms with what happened last night. As the election results came in and confirmed a robust majority for the Conservative party, my initial reaction was one of shock and profound dismay. But more, there is this morning a feeling I no longer recognise my country, that indeed, both at home, and on the world’s stage, I am ashamed of what we’ve become.

My one comfort is I cannot say I did nothing, I cannot say I sat by, that I did not vote, that I did not stuff leaflets through doors, that I did not talk leftist politics on my blog. In short what I can say is that what’s coming is not my fault. But there’s no real comfort in that, and I’m sorry I could not have done more.

There was nothing wrong with what we stood for. It was just that Brexit overshadowed everything, and “getting it done” turned out to be more important to the nation’s addled psyche than anything else, plus of course an unspeakably vile media that demonised the Left’s every utterance. But the Left ran a decent, wholly positive campaign, and I’m pleased to have played my tiny part in it. As for the other lot, well, what did we expect?

My sense is that the Labour party has lost a good man in Jeremy Corbyn. It was for the ideals embodied in him that I have taken to the letterboxes over the years, and I suppose the danger now is that all those who, like me, were inspired by his more compassionate and cerebral brand of politics will turn away, tear up their membership cards, and cancel their subscriptions to the Guardian and Novara Media. But we mustn’t do that (well okay, the Guardian bears some responsibility and I’m sorely tempted).

Yet if we look back, significant changes have occured and the Left can build on those foundations. Strong, charismatic media voices are emerging, also the independent platforms to support them, though sadly, as yet, far from mainstream. Only if Labour returns now to being a Tory-lite party will I feel I have no one I can vote for, and that, I suppose, once again, is the battle now facing us – for the soul of Labour, indeed the soul of the nation. The Conservative party has no soul – no matter what bland platitudes it will utter today about healing the nation and being the people’s party – it has already demonstrated in spades its utter contempt for both.

The future? Well, the Brexit argument is lost and Brexit will happen now, at the hands of the most mendacious, vacuuous, right-wing administration this country has ever seen. The fallout of that separation will begin in January when the direction of departure is finally set and our passports turn blue. But it won’t actually be “done” for another decade. Brexit is just beginning and the only positive thing to be said about it is the incumbent administration fully owns it, must make it work and lead us all to glory as they’ve said they can.

Everyone else’s hands are clean of it.

As for the rest, who knows? The Conservative manifesto was notably light on detail, but they can pretty much do what they like with such a majority and we can only take the past decade as an indication of what that might actually mean in practice. And in practice it means more of the same, it means the brighter, more inclusive and compassionate future I had hoped for our country, and my children’s place in it, is held once more in check, but on the upside it’s all still there to fight for. Same as it always has been.

No more talk of politics for a while. I’m heartily sick of it.

On second thoughts, I’ll leave the last word to George:

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Mosaic (1)In light of the upcoming UK election, I’ve been poking around the Internet absorbing political discourse outside of the mainstream. But whether you’re skimming the pithy, potty-mouthed missives of the social-media comment boxes, or the more long-form partisan essaying (like this one) on WordPress, it’s apparent there are crackpots at all levels, and on both sides of the political divide. And worse, once we enter the online world, all we end up doing is living in a bubble of our own prejudice.

So who do we listen to for a balanced view when so much of the mainstream print media is unashamedly right wing? Can we even trust the BBC, when their flagship current affairs programmes make a point of “reviewing” those unashamedly right leaning print headlines? Do we go with our brains, or our gut? Is our vote not swung more by the cut of the candidate’s suit, regardless of what they actually say? Is it worth voting at all?

On the one hand, politics is a dirty business, where what is right and proper is often sacrificed on the dubious altar of Realpolitik, where monumental complexities are brushed aside by fatuous slogans like, “Get BREXIT done”. So perhaps we are wise to keep our distance. But on the other hand politics determines the course of all our lives, so is it not as well to at least keep a weather eye on which way the wind is blowing? And anyway, we can’t help but be involved; that gold-plated super-car purring around Knightsbridge, and the homeless man begging in the boarded up doorway of a once prosperous provincial town? both are the consequences of political decisions taken over the last decade, and we have all played our part in that, either by the votes we cast, or by our apathy in not bothering to turn out and vote at all.

Is politics just too complicated to analyse intellectually? Admittedly my own views are partisan and simplistic. In any nominal democracy I see there is a party of the poor and a party of the rich, and then there’s the money. The party of the poor implement policies that direct the flow of money towards the poor and the services that support them, while the party of the rich do the opposite. Since there aren’t that many rich people, the genius of the party of the rich is to convince the poor to vote for it, and to blame their resulting impoverishment, the decay of their public services, and the wasteland of opportunity for themselves and their children on immigration and the scourge of the “foreigner”.

I’ve noticed when my left-of-centre colours are revealed, and particularly in recent times when people have become less reticent about giving offence, I tend to hear the same words: communist, terrorist-sympathiser and anti-semite, all within about ten seconds. The first two of these I find ridiculous and quite shallow, while the latter I find hurtful. But any attempt to deepen discourse and explore what might lie behind these vexed issues is met only by a hardened dogmatism.

It seems that once we have chosen our colours, we tend to stick to them. I have no doubt the party of the rich will do well in this coming election, even though they offer only more of the same. The message of the party of the poor offers far less suffering, but, incredible as it might seem after this lost decade, I fear not enough of us have suffered deeply enough to be receptive to their message, or the boldness of their vision.

Of the party leaders, I am told Boris Johnson is charismatic and affable, and I’m sure he is. But when I point out his widely reported shortcomings, to say nothing of his colourful and often outrageous pork-pies, they are celebrated as merely Boris being Boris. Of Jeremy Corbyn, I am told: “I could never vote for him”. Why? Because he’s useless and scruffy, and not sufficiently “prime-ministerial”. True, his suit, like mine, is more M+S than Jermyn Street, but he seems perfectly well turned out to me, and no one who has held his own fractious party together under three prime ministers while demolishing the majority of the latter administration in the 2017 election can be dismissed as entirely useless either. As for not being prime-ministerial enough, well,… its clearly a matter of opinion, but opinion – ill informed or not – does seem rather set against him.

As for the actual policies proposed by Corbyn’s Labour party – things like free superfast broadband for all, a national education service, re-nationalisation of privatised utilities – I’m told by armchair economists, we could never afford such utopian marvels, that the country would be ruined, that there is no “magic money tree”, which is all to suggest that staggering levels of poverty and the ruin of our national institutions are inevitable and a normal consequence of world affairs, all of which to my eyes suggests we are already bankrupt, both morally and fiscally.

When I ask, did the Conservative party not find the fabled “magic money tree” and shake it down for a billion pounds to purchase the support of the Ulster Unionist Party in 2017, that staggering sums of money can in fact be found under certain circumstances – and all this after denying the health service much needed investment – I find the discussion once again runs foul of entrenched dogmatism. It’s just too complicated. Instead we hear: “Get Brexit done”, “Delay and dither”, “Oven ready solution”. Such slogans solve nothing, but like all slogans they are effective in drowning out intelligent discussion.

The lesson in all of this, of course, is that the majority of voting in this coming December’s election will proceed along the usual entrenched lines, that the outcome – be it another hung parliament or a landslide – will be decided by a handful of floating voters in marginal constituencies who are seduced down from the fence to support one side or the other.

In spite of the late season, and the reported apathy among business leaders and voters in general, the coming election is an important one, both for the UK and, indirectly, for Europe. It’s like a boxing match into round-fifteen when we’re so punch drunk and weary we’re barely on our feet any more, capable of only one last shot, so we’d better make it count. It will determine whether the majority of us continue to limp along the same old lines of interminable declinism, or we try another way. At this stage, I am by no means optimistic. Still, we should vote as we see fit. Indeed, come rain snow or shine, we must all turn out on the 12th and vote or, whatever the outcome, we will have only ourselves to blame.

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The_Massacre_of_Peterloo

 

I would like nothing more than for BREXIT to go away, but I’ve seen enough and heard enough now to understand such a thing is unlikely and that even holding such a view is hopelessly naïve. Whatever happens, “no deal”, “bad deal”, “revoke and remain”, Britain is mortally wounded, shamed on the world’s stage by the demonic rhetoric of a spittle flecked nationalism and its attendant bonkers racism. We have the former party of law and order viewing “law and order” as something to be evaded, the law dismissed as “mistaken”. Then the admittedly oftentimes turgid checks and balances of parliamentary debate – a practice that is surely exemplary at avoiding us going off half cocked into anything – are also subverted, silenced,… prorogued for being inconvenient.

There have been plenty of authoritarian regimes around the world now, all of them studied in sufficient detail for the patterns of their emergence to be understood and recognised, and it’s becoming clear, day by day we’re living in such a period now, both in the UK and the USA. This has happened before, in Europe, in the 1930’s, the same fertile ground of poverty, lack of opportunity for the poor and a rise in populist dictators playing the national card. They were only expunged from the collective psyche after the horror of a long war, a period that left mothers without their husbands and sons, and the whole world traumatised, picking its way through the rubble, wondering what the hell it had done.

The origins of today’s problems lie in the corruption of late-stage capitalism and the stop gap measures of extreme austerity whereby every last penny is shaken from the poor in order to keep the rich in the manner to which they have become accustomed. The last decade has been one that’s stripped the flesh from the bones of the country, left corpses in the streets – not victims to violence, but to starvation and cold. It has stripped the nation (all except London) of its well paying jobs, whole industries in which a people can find vocation and meaning, and replaced them with,… nothing,… and the whole thing blamed, as it is always blamed, by populists and nationalists, on immigration.

A proud, pragmatic and a decent people, the British have been forced to beg, to use food-banks and to accept poverty pay, working insane hours for psychopathic arseholes. The resentment stoked by such humiliation came to the fore in the BREXIT referendum when the Conservative Party, blind to the privations it had caused, made the error of handing the country a devastating means of self-expression, while simultaneously lecturing them on the perils of leaving the European Union. Although I didn’t see it at the time, the result, I suppose, was inevitable.

I could not see how leaving the European Union would improve anything for the poor and the dispossessed, that indeed it could only make matters worse, but I was probably only thinking of myself, my own job, my own savings. For those on the streets, those who had lost homes and livelihoods, those who will freeze and starve to death this coming winter, things really cannot be any worse.

Yes, Brexit is almost too complicated to comprehend, yes, the politicians were handed an impossible task and GDP will undoubtedly suffer, but these are not things the dispossessed care much about; it’s not their problem, solutions don’t matter, the economy doesn’t matter – indeed it does not exist when you’re working seventy hours a week and still cannot afford to own your own home.

What we’re seeing is the revenge of a people upon its ruling class. The torment we all feel while glued to our devices for the next arcane twist in the BREXIT saga, is no more than we deserve, and certainly as nothing compared with what people have been suffering since 2008, and nothing we will lose in the future can compare with what many have lost already.

This resentment had gone deep into the nation’s psyche, a potentially violent neurosis with all the attendant archetypes that are finding a voice in the nightmare that is BREXIT. Nowadays anyone who disagrees with the view of their neighbour is branded a traitor and a saboteur, as if nationhood can only have one face. Wearing the wrong badge in the wrong company will get you spat at in the street.

How do we heal this? I don’t know, but I’m coming to believe it’s no longer useful to be thinking about BREXIT at all. At this stage, and in the hands of such an administration, there seems to be only one likely outcome. But however that turns out, no matter what twists and turns await us in the coming weeks, it’s what comes afterwards we most need to worry about, and heaven help who’s in charge by then for they will need the judgement of Solomon to keep things together and to put the demons back into the dark places where they belong.

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Jepsons stone

Standing stone – Western Pennines – Nikon D5600 f5.6 1/650 Sec 125 ASA

There are no standing stones on Standing Stones Hill any more. We don’t know what happened to them, nor how many there were. There’s a story told by an old rambler of finding one fallen and half sunk in the peat of the moor – this would have been in the 1950’s – but I’ve spent a long time searching ever since and found nothing. Another story has one of the stones re-purposed as a lintel in a barn. But the nearest farms hereabouts were all dynamited in the 1920’s by Liverpool Corporation, then further bombarded as target practice by mortar and tank shells in the Second World War. You might say the hill has lost its original story then, is now mute and purposeless, except as a vantage point on waste and corruption, that while these more recent stories of the hill are not without local interest, it seems all stories, even the big ones come with a sell by date and, without adequate renewal, they lose their meaning and their purpose.

There are other stones on the moors, but none officially of Neolithic origin. You sometimes find them lurking in long runs of drystone walling. This way they escaped the rampage of pious vandals pedaling their own mendacious tales in more recent centuries. But the walls are hundreds of years old now and falling away to reveal these curious artefacts, and though their original stories have long since timed out, fresh ones begin leaking, all be it hesitantly, into consciousness. Are they not Neolithic? More medieval perhaps? Are they boundary markers? Hard to say, yet potential stories circle them like bees around a hive – it’s just that no one’s there to listen to them.

Your genuine Neolithic standing stone tends to show a lot of weathering, and not much by way of tooling. They tell us someone was here before us in this remoteness, that they had a purpose, now lost, yet perhaps these people knew something we do not. Lacking explanation though, we invent stories to fill the void, but they need a certain spark to truly catch fire, to make a difference and actually,… mean something.

The upright stone in the picture, above, is a fascinating one. It’s a few miles away from Standing Stones Hill, on the edge of the Western Pennines, yet has a good view of it. It  has more of a pillar-like shape than I’d expect of a truly ancient megalith and, though there is considerable weathering and little evidence of tooling, I’m not confident in stating its pedigree. However, its location on this outlying ridge, and its stunning sweep of the horizon, does grant it an impressive presence, all be it mute to its own past. But whether it’s truly Neolithic doesn’t matter for my personal purposes, which are those of paying homage to something immutable and notable, a thing to set ones bearings by, and of course from which to spin this, my own story. Stories are our life’s blood. They regulate the heart, they grant structure and bring calm to the stormy mind. But we need to be careful, because stories can also do immense damage.

The grand, overarching story of human history is that of suffering, of decay and renewal: a new king, a new idea, a new  myth arrives amid hopefulness at the banishing of the old, corrupt order. There is a fanfare and celebration, ushering in a renewed period of peace and plenty. But then the king dies in his turn, and his dynasty becomes corrupt, so a new challenger arises, a new king, a new story,… and so the cycle repeats.

We are living towards the end of one such story-cycle. The time of peace and plenty is over, and corruption dominates. The king is dead, his dynasty rendered ineffective by a mixture of inept and craven officials whose own paltry tales, void of hope, of imagination, are singularly evasive of necessary change, and they ring hollow in people’s ears. So the people turn away in despair, huddle into splintered groups, each inventing its own story in order to see them through, as one might light a candle against the immensity of endless night. And they hold to this guttering light against all reason, because a story, even if it’s a pleasing lie, will always trump the truth, if truth itself does not come with a more convincing story of its own.

This standing stone is an immutable reminder of the abiding reality of human existence, it being marked largely by suffering of one sort or another, and without a story to tell, that suffering has no meaning and human life is pointless. But individual stories are all well and good. I could invent a myth for my standing stone and it might entertain me for a while, get me from breakfast to bedtime, but it’s hardly likely to provide sufficient nourishment for anyone else. To sustain the coming generations we need a much bigger story to rescue the abiding fact of our existence from barbarism, and worse, from oblivion. We need an epic story, one that restores hope and meaning for everyone who calls these islands home, a story that rises above the mere venting of these old white-mens’ foetid spleens, a grim fact of the end-game that is such a feature and a stain upon our times.

Ideas anyone?

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