All our Daughters? Desperately Seeking Meaning in Manchester

Like many of us I woke this morning to the news that another terror attack has happened in Manchester.  I guess this one was a little closer to home, in that our daughter goes to Manchester a lot, and theoretically could have been involved.  Imagining a loved one caught up in such an event brings it close to your heart in a way that no statistics can.  I got the news via Facebook messenger from our daughter (she’s in Leicester right now, so I wouldn’t have worried) and then went to other news sites for details.  I now know as much as anyone about what happened.  Presumably details will emerge of the who and the how; presumably as usual the why will remain a mystery.

So I go on Facebook briefly – and immediately I am assaulted by a scattering of comments about Muslims, not from friends (who would be immediately unfriended) but by members of groups I belong to.  I won’t repeat what the comments said, since they were fairly predictable; but it goes to the heart of my problems about Facebook.  I go there every day because I want to communicate with friends, to share life events, to find out what my children are up to, and to catch up with the latest news in, for example, the Labour Party (no campaigning today as a mark of respect.)  Yet every day I am assaulted – and that is not too strong a word – by hatred, vitriol, insults and prejudice.  When I post even the mildest of comments I am unsure whether it might, out of nowhere, receive an aggressive response from someone who has read into it a meaning which I never intended.

I’ve tried various responses to this: preventive, ie trying to make my meaning as clear as possible; asking questions, eg when someone posts an aggressive comment, asking why they think as they do, and most effective of all, hiding, unfollowing and in extreme cases, blocking.  I am careful to mind my mental health when on Facebook, and when posts have a detrimental effect on me, I hide them or unfollow the conversation.

All this seems as nothing in the face of an event like last night’s: and yet it is somehow relevant.  How do we deal with atrocities like this?  I am aware that, as mere bystanders, we don’t have to deal with very much, and yet there are our own feelings and responses, and those of others with whom we interact.  So how do we deal with the inevitable upsurge in hatred and prejudice?  Here are some ideas:

Hiding and unfollowing: don’t read the tabloids or follow the trolls.  The tabloids have vested interests and are not open to argument, and the trolls just want the attention.

Asking questions: when in contact with far-right groups, ask mild, polite questions.  Why do you think that?  What makes you say that?  Which particular aspects of sharia law do you disagree with?  Their beliefs are usually unfocussed and emotional – specific questions can cut into that.

Stand alongside the persecuted: when witnessing a verbal attack on someone, stand alongside them.  Ask if they are OK, or strike up a conversation.  (Naturally a physical attack needs to trigger a call to the police.)

Difficult though it is, avoid rage and vitriol: these achieve nothing beyond raising your own blood pressure.  As the Buddha says, trying to hurt someone with anger is like throwing a spear made of fire.  You burn your own hand first.  If situations and people enrage you, come back when you’re calmer and ask questions.  Above all, don’t get into arguments; debate peacefully.

The scenario in Manchester reminded me of Arthur Miller’s play, ‘All My Sons.’  A corrupt aircraft manufacturer allows faulty parts to be fitted into planes, resulting in the death of young pilots, one of whom turns out to be his son.  The title of the play comes from his final recognition that there is no difference between his son and the others: that they were ‘all his sons.’

And there’s the rub.  My daughter, thank god, was not in Manchester last night.  But other daughters were.  All our daughters were.

Kirk out

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Count Arthur Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeak

WordPress has recently informed me that I’ve been doing this blog for nine years.  Well, who’d ha’ thowt?  When I started I had just two readers (outside of family members); now I have – oo, at least, erm – actually it’s hard to say because although daily views are quite low, on aggregate (as they say in football) it could run into – well, dozens at least.

Actually I try not to worry too much about numbers.  I used to check my stats obsessively each day and try to work out what was popular and why.  I failed utterly.  There’s no fathoming readership statistics so, rather than spend my whole life worrying about them, I try to be thankful I have some readers and just get on with writing about what interests me.  Because the whole reason I started this blog was to practise writing about a variety of subjects in order to improve both thinking and expression.  Readers are basically a bonus: comments doubly so.

Of course many people like and comment on Facebook, since the blog is linked to that particular medium, and these do not show up in the blog stats.

None of which has anything to do with today’s title.  So let us consider the mystery of humour.  Why do the things that make you laugh do so?  And conversely, why does some comedy leave you utterly cold?

Now, I’m on record (buried somewhere deep in this blog) as saying that Count Arthur Strong is just absolute rubbish.  It’s utterly lame, there’s only one joke which they keep plugging, the actor isn’t remotely convincing and it’s just awful.  In my book he’s basically Harry Worth for adults (you won’t remember Harry Worth unless you’re over 40, but he was fun if you were a kid.)

 

And yet, I know of several adults – educated, intelligent, thoughtful adults – who claim to like Count Arthur Strong.  I simply cannot comprehend it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08r8dtk/count-arthur-strong-series-3-1-count-arthurs-house-of-horrors

Apparently there are people in the world who don’t laugh at Monty Python.  And they’re not the same people who like CAS eitehr.  Go figure.

Give me an evening of Victoria Wood any day:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08qhn17/our-friend-victoria-series-1-6-fame

Kirk out

* PS OH says that his Maths teacher used Harry Worth’s shop window routine as an illustration of symmetry:

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Register to Vote. Do it Now.

Gosh, it’s a busy time of year, what with elections and gardening and so on.  Everywhere you look there’s a Tory that needs pulling up or a weed that needs voting out of office: all my little seedlings are bravely hanging in there, though they’re getting a battering from a stormy press, and the gardener goes from patch to patch encouraging the troops while the evil weed-scatterer sits in her lair and doesn’t come out to debate.

So – are you registered to vote?  Because if not you only have two days.  And if you’re considering not voting for whatever reason I’d like to make the following points:

Not voting is voting Tory.  If we don’t get everyone mobilised the Tories will get in, and then you can say goodbye to a publicly-funded NHS.  Think what Bevan and others went through to found our public health service; can we stand by and see it sold off?  Trump is waiting in the wings, rubbing his hands: he and his firms can’t wait to get their hands on it, and neither can people like Branson.  Want to pay to see your GP, to call an ambulance or stay in hospital?  Then don’t vote.  Because not voting in this election is voting Tory.

You may think your vote doesn’t matter.  But YOU matter.  Your views matter.  You may not agree with mine: that isn’t important.  What’s important is that you consider the options and use your vote.  Think about what people went through to get the vote for every adult, not just homeowners, not just men, but everyone.  Use it!

What do you care about in this election?  Use your vote to express that.  Do you care about fox-hunting, the ivory trade, the environment?  Do you care about schools, public health, transport?  Because, no matter what they say, this election is about a whole lot more than just Brexit.

Even so, what sort of Brexit do you want?  A ‘hard’ Brexit that takes no account of workers’ rights?  Or one which is negotiated to retain those rights?

Whatever you want, remember what Jean-Paul Sartre said.  You may not concern yourself with politics, but politics concerns itself with you.  If you don’t have a vote, you don’t have a voice – and they will be making policies that affect you, and me, and all of us.  Your vote matters.  So I’m urging you – I’m begging you – if you’re not registered to vote, then register now.

You have two days.

Here is the link.  It takes five minutes.

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Kirk out

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Charles III and Another Windsor

Camilla (Margot Leicester), King Charles III (Tim Pigott-Smith), Kate Middleton (Charlotte Riley), Prince William (Oliver Chris), Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) in King Charles III

Image result for open source images barbara windsor

(no copyright infringement intended: images will be removed on request)

Notwithstanding Ken Loach’s recent comments about historical drama on the BBC, with which I substantially associate myself:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-37679158

the Beeb does produce some stonking drama; and two gems I’ve seen lately tend towards the biographical; one retrospectively and one futuristically.  They are also royally linked; the subject of the first, ‘Babs’ being about a self-styled Windsor and the second, ‘Charles III’, featuring an actual member of that family.

I have never been a fan of Barbara Windsor.  You could argue that the construction of the dumb bombshell with the humungous bazoongas was a creation of male writers and directors, but it was one in which she was complicit.  Her ‘Carry-On’ persona so completely eclipsed her earlier acting talent that I was completely gobsmacked to find that she’d worked with Joan Littlewood.  You would think that Littlewood, a Communist in early years, would be anathema to the conventional and staunchly royalist Windsor; but work together they did.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02t02pl

Littlewood warns Windsor in this production that if she’s not careful she’ll play the dumb blonde for the rest of her life, a prophecy which came true – at least until Babs moved to EastEnders.

I liked this programme, in spite of it’s following the ‘Lady in the Van’ convention of having two narrators: it showed a side of Windsor I would never have imagined.  But it was as nothing to the stupendousness of last night’s ‘Charles III,’ an imagining of the first months of Charles’ reign following the death of the Queen.

Tim Piggott-Smith plays Charles (Smith was shortly afterwards to die) in a tour de force.  But though the acting is superb, the success of this begins with the script.  With the great soliloquys written in iambic pentameter, it brings to mind every Shakespeare play that ever featured a monarch, and takes us back to the power-plays of Richard II and Henrys IV and V.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen this yet I strongly advise you to watch before reading on.

Charles is known nowadays to be proactive behind the scenes; this play sees him make some disastrous decisions in his first days by refusing to sign a bill which comes before him, thus precipitating an answer to the age-old question of where royal power resides.  The paradox has been sustained for generations; the Queen signing bills with which she almost certainly disagrees, being fully aware that not to do so would precipitate a constitutional crisis.  You have to pick your battles, and Charles’ tragic flaw in this is that instead of waiting and discussing, he charges straight in like a bull at a gate, prompting the Prime Minister to call his bluff and enact the bill into law with or without royal assent.  The Machiavellian Leader of the Opposition advises the King to follow the example of William IV and dissolve Parliament: this he does, and the ensuing crisis is Charles’ downfall.

What was most interesting was the role of Kate in this.  Bored by her portrayal as a smiling and supportive wife, she urges the indecisive William to take control and intervene.  Kate is the typical Shakespearian female malcontent, albeit with more possibilities open to her than a Tudor princess: and from the moment she persuades her husband to act, the writing is on the wall for Charles.  He becomes Lear; pathetic, outcast, bemoaning the treachery of his children and only giving way when they threaten to leave the palace and take his grandchildren with them.

Also interesting was a sub-plot centring on Harry’s desire to be a commoner: he returns to the fold just in time for the coronation.

And this is how the play ends: with William being crowned in his father’s stead, and stability being returned.  At the last minute Charles snatches the crown from the Archbishop, seeming to be about to put it on his own head.  Instead, in a touching gesture, he places it on William, murmuring ‘my son.’

And there’s even a Shakespearian ghost: Diana returns to speak to both widower and son, telling them both that they will be the greatest king ever: in a nice twist, it seems Charles will achieve this by abdicating.

I can’t sing the praises of this enough: I’m going to watch it again in a few days.  I’ve only scratched the surface here.  I urge you to see it while you can:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04z0n7s/king-charles-iii

Kirk out

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Romani Eunt Domus? I’m Floored!

Well who’d ha thowt that so many people would want to see a tiled Roman floor?  Archaeology must be the new black, or whatever – which is all to the good, since it’s been the poor relation of sciences for too long.  As I know from my own experience (which I will recount later) archaeologists typically have to work in a great hurry, work extremely hard and are very poorly paid.  In this case, a site opposite the Great Central Station in Leicester has been cleared and will shortly be built on, leaving them a narrow window in which to uncover – as it turns out – some floors.  This part of Leicester is known to be within Ratae Coritanorum, but they had no idea that they would uncover not only tiled floors in good condition but underfloor heating as well!  I mean, what have the Romans ever done for us?

It seems that the discovery of Richard III may have excited a new interest in local archaeology.  This is all to the good; and I was happy that so many people were enthused enough to queue for hours to see it.  I was less happy, however, that I didn’t get in although I went along twice!  But there are more opportunities this week as they are opening lunchtimes from 12 – 2 Monday to Friday.  So go have a look:

http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/hundreds-flock-to-archaeological-dig-revealing-city-s-roman-history/story-30316378-detail/story.html

My own experiences in the (literal) field of archaeology have given me a profound respect for these diggers.  The year was 1986; the place a sodden field in the back-end of Northamptonshire and the times were hard.  I was on the dole, so when the opportunity came up to go work on a dig, I took it.  It was a large site, most of it Roman: unfortunately the Roman bit was oversubscribed, so I was assigned to work on an Iron-Age barrow (burial mound.)  DO NOT work on an Iron-Age barrow if you can help it: I have never laboured so hard in my entire life.  We were camping next to the site; work started at 8 am and from then until 4 pm we were shovelling earth, sloughing it off the sides of the barrow with a mattock, shovelling it up again, carting the full wheelbarrows off to the spoil-heap (and let me tell you, a full wheelbarrow of earth weighs a ton), calling the woman in charge to come and scrape a few bits off with her trowel before telling us to dig some more.  It was exhausting – and all I found for my trouble was a few cattle bones.  The Roman diggers were unearthing stuff every five minutes.  It wasn’t fair.

So I appreciate a Roman floor when I see one.  Go look.

Kirk out

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The Foot-Soldiers of Democracy

Image result for soldiers

Without going into anything regarding election results or issues, there’s a group of people to whom I would like to pay tribute.  They are from all sections of the political spectrum, and without them elections cannot happen.  Who are they?  They are the foot-soldiers of democracy; the folk who run the polling stations, put up the signs, sit and wait for voters to come in, give out polling papers, tick names off lists.  It’s the folk who stay up late to count and recount the votes cast.  it’s the folk who go out canvassing for their party because they care about getting the vote out.

These are unpaid, thankless tasks.  Running a polling station is boring, counting votes is tedious and tiring and canvassing (if my experience last night is anything to go by) is cold and unrewarding.  But somebody has to do these jobs; and the folk who pitch in are, to my mind, among the most public-spirited in society.

So that’s today’s thought: hats off to the foot-soldiers of democracy.

Kirk out

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May the Third be With You

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Yeah, I know – it’s May the Fourth be with you; but I just couldn’t wait till tomorrow to write this post.  May is a fertile month for puns: the election slogan ‘Let June be the end of May’ is doing the rounds, and yesterday there was a great clue in the Guardian crossword, to which the answer was ‘Woman Prime Minister.’  Can you guess what the clue was?  (Answer below).

I realised this morning that it’s been a week since I last posted, and that People Will Be Pining for a Post.  So, what’s been happening?  Well basically the garden has been happening; since, as anyone who has a patch of soil will know, now is the Crucial Time to Get Things In.  So I have been diligently digging and weeding; have re-subscribed to the garden bin service, set the compost going, planted seeds and watered seedlings, bought potting compost, stuffed comfrey leaves in a bottle where they will gradually liquefy and make a plant food; and generally done all the stuff one does at this time of year.

Two months ago the garden was a mass of brambles and ivy; it is now partly cleared and dug and ready to receive what I am about to plant – to whit, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, mint (I wonder if the potatoes will come up ready-minted?) and spinach.

Gardening is work: there’s no getting away from it.  You have to dig and weed and dig and weed, and weed again, and then when you’ve finished there will be more weeds.  And since I utterly refuse to use weedkillers like Roundup which are spectacularly bad for the environment, that’s how it’s gonna be.

But gardening is great on so many levels: you get to watch the miracle of growth day by day (my tomato seeds are now tiny two-leaved seedlings and my little feathery plants are ready to go out into the big wide world).  You get to play a part in this great miracle by enabling things to grow: you get the pleasure of watching, tending and finally eating the things that you’ve grown.  But more than this, gardening quite literally earths you.  I have a theory about this – well, to be fair it’s not just my theory; it comes from karma yoga – that enlightenment doesn’t just come from meditation, it comes from doing humble tasks.  We all live too much in our heads: our dealings with the physical world, and particularly with the natural world, are confined to a weekend walk or a stroll in the park.  This is very unhealthy – and the greatest antidote to that is to get out and dig the soil.  If you are going mad from too many ideas; if your brain is spinning with emails or meetings or concepts or creative concepts; if you can’t get out of your head – then go outside and dig a bit of earth.  It’s the best.

I grew up with the idea that gardening was a massive chore – not surprising, in view of the fact that our garden was half an acre of wilderness and that my parents had no help with it at all.  But the garden I have now, though neglected, is manageable, and the sense of achievement is prodigious.

Pro-DIG-ious.  Ho ho.

Hoe hoe.

Kirk out

PS the crossword clue was ‘May the Second’.  Good eh?

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