I’m starting to assemble some Grand Thoughts on the subject of Thought itself. What actually is a thought? Can you separate one thought from another? Or is that like trying to separate droplets in a river? I’ve been reading Chomsky on Anarchism and whilst I didn’t disagree with anything he said, I couldn’t help thinking ‘yes, but. There’s human nature to consider. How do you change the heart?’ and then I came across this: ‘You do not think yourself into a different way of living. You live yourself into a different way of thinking.’(Richard Rohr.)
Yet it can’t be that simple, can it? Because everything starts with a thought – even split-second decisions involve some kind of thought, albeit a non-reflective kind. Don’t they? Or are they pure reflexes? I guess some things are, like jumping out of the way of a speeding car, and yet even these survival instincts can be changed if you really dig deep. Not that there would be much point in not getting out of the way of a speeding car, but then again, suppose you wanted to lie down in front of a tank in order to save your house from being demolished or (much harder) to stop violence against others? I’d find this an incredibly hard thing to do because every cell in my body would be telling me to get up and run: I’d be overriding my most basic survival instincts.
I have a confession to make: I’m an utter wimp when it comes to demonstrating. I talk the talk but I do not lie down in front of the bulldozer. I sit around (not on) the fence but when the police come I get up and move pronto before they can even think about arresting me. Is this cowardice or is it that I’ve been brought up to do as I’m told and obey the law and I’m overriding that conditioning? Either way it’s not something I’m very happy with.
I guess it’s true about ‘living yourself into a different way of thinking.’ But how to start? Well, laughter seems as good a place as any. God knows we could all use a laugh in these dark times (as Fred and George commented when they set up their joke shop in Diagon Alley). So here’s today’s joke, which is to do with OH having a lovely new pair of DM’s and not ‘getting around to’ wearing them. They languished for months and it drove me crazy. ‘You’ll be dead before you wear those,’ I said, ‘and we’ll bury you in them. And you know what your gravestone will say?’
You can laugh now…
PS incidentally if you have trouble laughing due to depression or sadness, try saying ‘ha ha ha hee hee hee ho ho ho’ out loud. You’ll be laughing in no time.
Oh, and here’s a delightful picture of The Maze, who is so close to laughing it’s unreal.
This morning I was, against my better judgment, listening to ‘In Our Time.’ It’s not that I dislike the adenoidal tones of Melvyn Bragg – I used to enjoy watching him on t’telly – it’s the programme itself. Somehow they always seem to take an interesting subject and turn it into something dull and ponderous. And I particularly dislike the ubiquity of the historic present (‘Napoleon sees his opportunity and grasps it’, ‘Henry desperately wants a son’) as if this can substitute for interesting narration. But this morning I was grabbed by the subject because they were talking about a theory of child-centred education.
Oo, I thought, I wonder who they’re talking about? It could have been John Stuart Mill or John Holt but it turned out to be Rousseau and my heart sank because, must as I admire his ideas on education they are very definitely For Boys Only. Surprise, surprise, girls must have a completely different system because well, we’re just not that bright, are we? And you know how emotional women get – we just wouldn’t cope (see this explanation.)
But it gets worse – for it transpired (and this I didn’t know) that in doing this ‘great’ work, Rousseau completely abandoned – yes, abandoned – his wife and their five children. I was outraged to hear this, and it reminded me of Enid Blyton and how she neglected her own children in order to write for other people’s. Her elder daughter commented on how confusing it was to read her mother’s descriptions of reading them bedtime stories – all completely fabricated as no such thing ever happened.
Should I be surprised? Is it a general – nay, invariable rule that people who bang on about something don’t actually practise it themselves? Can you think of other examples? Or perhaps counter-examples? Well, I have one – no, hang on- two. I was reading this morning about how St Francis not only preached against the Crusades but went to the Middle East to show friendship and solidarity with Muslims there. When Christians deviated from the gospel he was always ready, not only to point this out but actually to do something about it. As for Gandhi, the ways in which he married practice and preaching are well-known – and as a Quaker I ought to know that Friends aim to put everything we believe into practice.
So what is going on with these others, Rousseau and Blyton et al? Dickens was another case in point; a campaigner for children’s rights who neglected his own family. So is there some kind of philosophical point we can extract from this? And if so, what is it?
If you know me in real life and I haven’t yet asked if you want to read my novel – do you want to read my novel? It’s the one I’ve been going on about for the last year or so; it’s called ‘Tapestry’ and is based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. These numbers are present in nature and particularly in spirals, which have fascinated me for decades. ‘Tapestry’ is a picture of Britain from post-war to post-Brexit and involves a spread of characters from the royal family to the homeless and including some ghosts. You can read as much or as little as you like, though it would be good if some people could read the later chapters. If you’re interested drop me a comment below. Lots of people have already read and liked it.
Sorry but for various reasons this offer is limited at the moment to people I know in what we are pleased to call real life.
As I write in the UK it is scheduled to hit a 31-degree high and a 53-year political low (since Suez) with the doom that awaits in the shape of Boris Johnson. I don’t think they have exit polls with this type of thing as it’s done by postal vote but all pundits agree that this is the probably outcome. As if Brexit itself weren’t enough, Johnson looks like being our Trump, a self-serving narcissist hell-bent on power for its own sake (even Max Hastings doesn’t trust him, for god’s sake!) all set to dissolve Parliament and drive us off a cliff in the interests of – well, I’m not sure what exactly but no-one will benefit from a no-deal Brexit. The best we can hope for is that so many of his MPs would desert him (two have already resigned and more have refused to serve under him) that he’d lose a vote of no confidence and be forced to call a general election. Labour seem finally to be lurching towards a coherent policy on the two things that have held us back over the last couple of years: anti-semitism and the dreaded B-word. We have launched a website and educational documents about anti-semitism and seem now finally to be backing a ‘people’s vote’ on the final deal, if not a second referendum. Yes, these things should have been done two years ago but hey, better late than never.
Brexit really is a Gordian knot; whichever way you look there’s no clear solution. Thankfully we Brits are dab hands at the good old-fashioned fudge, which is probably what it’ll turn out to be in the end.
It’s enough to make you go and live in Scotland. It’s bloody cold but at least they have sensible policies.
Additional: after his vote was almost double that of Hunt, I have now decided that BoJo stands for ‘beyond a joke’
Anyone in Britain will know that postcode as well as they know their own, for it is that of the Beeb, our beloved Auntie, allowing nation to speak peace unto nationand still producing some of the best TV around and all of it sans adverts. W1A dates from a few years back, though series 3 is more recent, and stars Hugh Bonneville as Ian Fletcher, former head of Olympic Deliverance (in ‘2012’) along with Jason Watkins, Nina Sosanya and Sarah Parrish.
It took me a while to get the full flavour of what is really going on here. Not being well-schooled in office politics it didn’t immediately strike me that Ian is being set up to fail by his colleague Simon (‘Head of Strategic Governance’) who has – or claims to have – the ear of the BBC chairman and who constantly passes off the crap jobs (‘I don’t know how these things work and you’ll know how you want to deal with this…’) whilst swooping in to claim responsibility for all the good ideas emanating from Ian’s environs. But Ian’s soon onto Simon and does some pre-empting of his own, getting hold of strategic plans and coming in early to beard Tony in his den and pass them off as his own which in this case they actually are. The frozen smile on Simon’s face when this comes out is exquisite.
W1A is full of such moments, too full to list them all but it rapidly becomes clear that Ian is no fool and always seems to pull something out of the hat at the last minute. Hurrah. The dynamic in his teamis paralleled by the sub-plots of Izzie Gould and Lucy Freeman (the only other competent workers in the BBC) who in turn are plagued by slimy opportunist Jack Patterson, office idiot Will Humphries and the utterly unbearable and totally Machiavellian David Wilkes, while Siobhan Sharp (Jessica Hynes) makes everyone’s life a misery without even trying. The voice-over (David Tennant) is a joy in itself. So go watch the BBC having fun on itself with itself. Yes no, very good, very strong.
OH and I have been catching up with The Handmaid’s Tale (series 3), that dystopian Biblical Black Mirror where patriarchy reasserts itself viciously and mercilessly, forcing women to assume one of three roles: wife, servant (‘Martha’) or handmaid. The crisis which spawns this is a critical fall in fertility rates and the grotesque solution is to bring a ‘handmaid’ – a fertile woman – into each family to breed for them. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of one such woman, June (known as Offred and then Ofjoseph as they take the names of their owners) forced to reproduce for Commander Waterford and his family. This is brutal slavery with a Biblical varnish and unsurprisingly the thoughts of many, if not most, women turn to escape. Canada is just across the border.
No matter how plausible, The Handmaid’s Tale is of course fiction. Or so I thought… but it turns out Gilead is alive and thriving in a tiny corner of the US.I kind of wish I hadn’t come across The Transformed Wife’s blog but I did, and its vision of ‘Biblical Womanhood’ is basically Gilead minus the rape and violence. St Paul looms large in this scenario (whenever I go to a church which emphasises St Paul I run for cover) and is little more than unreconstructed dogma. This woman is not only against abortion – which is to be expected – but also against contraception. God is in charge of your womb apparently; no matter that the planet can’t afford more people, nor that there aren’t the resources to go around, you must keep having as many children as you can conceive. But don’t worry about the planet – I expect God has all that in hand too.*
The concept that God equals the patriarchal vision set out in the Bible is one feminists (and Quakers) have spent generations countering but here it is again. It reminds me of bindweed; no matter how many times you root it out, back it comes again.Ah well.
I will say one thing for the Transformed Wife though – unlike many people on the internet, she knows how to debate respectfully.
*as it happens I agree; I just think the plan might involve the extinction of our race (if we don’t reform). People’s notions of God are much to anthropocentric in my view.
Spoiler alert: Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine
Un. Put. Downable. More readable than The Silence of the Girls, more compelling than Killing Eve, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was so addictive that I went to bed late and started reading again first thing. I didn’t even do the crossword, that’s how engrossed I was. Basically I read for four hours yesterday interrupted only by dinner and tennis, and then another hour this morning. Wow.
I’d had an unfair idea about this book, that it was basically light fiction (I’m trying to avoid using the term chicklit) with a twist. I was wrong. If I had to categorise it I’d say it was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timemeetsWe Need to Talk About Kevin.OH has done an excellent summary here so I won’t sport with your patience (or mine) by recapping the plot, but will skip straight to the novel’s strengths and weaknesses. The best feature of this novel was its readability; not in any facile sense but in terms of engaging the reader with the central character who seems, like the narrator of Curious Dog Night-time (as we call it) to be somewhat autistic. She doesn’t understand social interactions and does her best to mimic others, hoping to pass for normal: I can relate to this so hard it makes my heart bleed. Like the narrator of Kevin, she is a survivor of horrific abuse and like her has continuing – and horribly difficult – contact with the perpetrator of that abuse.But this is a hopeful novel, one which starts from a low base and builds gently, gradually and at times amusingly (I laughed out loud a lot) to its conclusion. It reminded me of Goodnight Mr Tomin the way the central character is surrounded by loving, helpful, ordinary people who become her true family. Eleanor Oliphant treads the line between the facile and the grim and leads us towards the light.
If I had to make a criticism I’d say dialogue isn’t Gail Honeyman’s strong point. Eleanor’s speech is perfectly done as she sounds like a cross between a station announcer and the Queen Mother, but ordinary everyday dialogue doesn’t come across so well. But that’s nit-picking; I say this is an excellent read and I give it 9.5 out of 10! Get a copy today.