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Posts Tagged ‘times’

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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It’s been a summer of violent and tragic events here in the UK. Once upon a time we would pause for a minute’s silence to remember the wars and the fallen. It happened once a year, was a predictable, sombre occasion each November, a reflection on the folly of armed conflict. Now it seems we’ve had a minute’s silence every week for weeks in response to the shock of one damned thing after the other – bombings, mass stabbings, vans driven into pedestrians, and of course the terrible London tower block fire.

Such events shock us, pull us from our private lives, reconnect us with the human collective and cause us to question the nature of the incurable malaise from which we apparently suffer. And of course the speed with which events are now reported lends an extra feverishness to the times, a feverishness spun to favour one shameless political agenda or another. We need no longer wait for the ten o’clock news like we did in the old days, the Smartphone tells it all, instantly, and the story it tells is one of perpetual shock, violence, hatred and a corporate greed that verges on the homicidal.

It’s sometimes hard not to view our times from the nihilistic perspective as evidence of an acceleration towards the end of days. Certainly pictures of the burned out Grenfell Tower are as symbolic as they are deeply shocking. But the people who died that night were not victims of extremists. The enemy that sealed the fate of Grenfell Tower was more a culture of institutional avarice, one painstakingly manufactured over the decades to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the lives of the poor. All of these things, though diverse in origin, seem part of the same unsettling atmosphere of the times, like faces vaguely recognisable from our deepest nightmares, all of them bearing weapons of one sort or another.

But if you can look beyond the violence, beyond the tragedy, it’s possible to discern something else happening, something that suggests less a rush to the end of times and more to a transformation of the collective consciousness. The bigger the outrage and the faster these events come at us, the bigger too the response of the many who awaken and gather, not with violence in mind, but with a compassionate dignity. And the pocket media that disseminates these shocks so far and fast and wide also unites us, brings us together in ever larger numbers, mobilises us to a deeper empathy and reflection.

The world of the technocracy is increasingly machine-like and it has become a proxy for the collective human ego, a thing wrestling for control over every aspect of our lives, measuring even the keyclicks on our computers, evaluating them for the risk inherent in our thoughts and beliefs, to predict and plan in order to subvert bad events even ahead of time. But the more you plan, and the greater the detail to which you plan, the more vulnerable you are to the unexpected, to the uncontrolled, to the irrational turn of events. And the faster we fail, the less useful Ego becomes, and the less useful it feels the more it tears itself apart and adds to the maelstrom of destruction and despair. The greater the shock, next time that we seem so powerless against the nihilistic forces and the ill winds of fate.

What we are seeing almost nightly on our TV screens is a form of collective madness. We are on the couch, and it’s time to talk it out with a competent analyst. All egos are ultimately at the mercy of their shadows, dutifully raising demons from under every stone turned, like the headlines of the Daily Mail. It’s only compassion that spares us, a recognition we are not machines and that for life to have meaning we must recognise and value more our ability to transcend the material, or at the very least to temper its excesses with the better side of human nature.

When events shock us, it’s tempting always to turn to the machine for answers. Through it we calculate our responses, plan future contingencies, establish means of mitigation. But when the shock hits, it’s better to set our machine thoughts aside, if only for a moment for a moment, to remember we are not robots, that it’s better sometimes we say nothing for a while, and simply reach out and hold someone. It’s a long shot, believing in a reactive transformation that will eventually eradicate the dark stain from the zeitgeist, but if enough of us can respond to extraordinary events with compassion, empathy and a degree of stillness, it’s at least a start in the right direction.

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