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.
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’
This week I have been focussing on the practice of patience and I thought it would be useful to focus on what it ain’t. What isn’t patience – or rather, what isn’t a salutary practice to develop?
First, it isn’t resignation. Hopelessness, apathy, despair, none of these have any part in patience. Just as santosh doesn’t mean accepting that things will never chance, so patience doesn’t imply a belief that your goal will never come. Often impatience is driven by fear – if I don’t get this now it may never arrive. Patience is born of the knowledge that all things have a time and in that time they come.
Take gardening. Of late I’ve been going out in the garden and wishing my plants would get a move-on. Why? Because I’m afraid they may never flourish; that if I don’t rush around fertilising and weeding and watering and what-have-you, they’ll just give up and die. Patience implies a faith in the future; that things will come. You just have to wait.
Of course, there’s always the hope deferred thing, which means you should always take advantage of opportunities when they arise; that as well as being patient we should ask ourselves ‘is there anything I should be doing here that I’m not doing? Can I actually get this thing I want right now instead of waiting?’ Marcus Aurelius said ‘Everything I want in life I can have right now if I don’t deny it to myself.’ that’s a statement I’ve been wrestling with ever since I first read it. Stoicism is not a grim-faced resignation, a sort of Hilda-Ogden heaving yourself into the kitchen after a death like Victoria Wood said(I can’t find the routine but it’s quoted here) but a refusal to give up, even in the face of despair. And there’s a lot to despair about right now – but as OH and I keep saying, even if the worst happens and the Tories are stupid enough to saddle us with BoJo, he may not last long. Perhaps he will blow himself out like a storm at sea. In any case there doesn’t seem to be much we can do right now to prevent it.
Stoicism is a useful philosophy and a forerunner of Christianity. It’s useful because it helps you to accept what is and to think of everything as contributing to your highest good. Let us consult the oracle on stoicism:
Me: how would you define stoicism in twenty words or less?
OH: We can’t control the world but we can control our emotional reactions to it.
Brilliant. So there we have it. I may not be able to influence the result of the leadership elections but I can ask myself ‘what would Marcus Aurelius do?’ As an Emperor who considered his duty to be the happiness and welfare of the people, he would deplore BoJo’s self-serving and duplicitous nature but he would say these things are sent to teach us something. And I suggest one thing to be learnt from this process is how better to campaign and organise to defeat what I can only call the forces of evil. I don’t think Boris is evil per se but I do think the consequences of having such a person as our leader would be.
Just now I felt a wave of unwonted warmth. At the same time the sky lightened and I caught a glimpse of something round and yellow. What could be happening? I searched the recesses of my memory and came up with a word, something like soon or son – no wait, sun! That was it, sun! I remember that.
Ah, how quickly we forget! A week of incessant rain and all memory of the hot, sunny weather which has predominated since – well, February – is washed away. Just a few days of gloomy skies and non-stop precipitation, and the bright mornings and long sunset evenings are quite flushed down the drain.But since this week’s relentless news of Boris’s rise to power (will no-one rid us of this turbulent beast?) I have another nightmare. Remember the sun in the Teletubbies? I close my eyes and I see Boris, all haystack hair and manic grin, shining down on us all summer long.
BoJo really is this nation’s answer to Trump: once the NightMayor of London, now soon to be Prime Minister, a self-serving, capricious, lying climate-change denier and purveyor of tax cuts to the rich – oh, and listen to what he said when Gordon Brown was appointed PM without having won an election:
Did I say forbidden? That must have been a Freudian slip. I said some harsh things about Black Mirror the other day and now I have to take them back a bit because, having watched Smithereen, the second episode in series 5, I have completely changed my mind. OH reckons I wasn’t the right demographic for episode one and maybe not, but I still think it was slow and unoriginal. But episode two! Oh my god. Utterly enthralling. I watched it over dinner and when I’d finished I didn’t know where I was. What is this house? What is that garden? Why is there a plate in front of me? Who brought me here when I was just in a car in a field and a mountain-top in Utah? I’m not going to tell you any more about it because you need to watch it for yourself, but Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) is utterly terrific as he always is, and you simply could not guess the storyline. The third episode, Rachel Jack and Ashley Too, seems to be aimed at teenage girls which suggests that OH’s theory – each episode being aimed at a particular demographic – could be correct. It stars Miley Cyrus as a manipulated and disaffected teen star whose aunt goes beyond the bounds of controlling relationships to preserve her own personal gold-mine. So all in all I think it’s a good series but not a great one.
At the weekend I went to a meeting on One-Nation Conservatism, a beast which I’d previously thought extinct but which seems to be surviving, albeit mostly in caves under the ground, and OH and I went to see Late Night with Emma Thompson. I’ll say more about this another time but we enjoyed it a lot. Then what with Picnic in the Park being relocated to Fearon Hall and seeing a play at the Swan with friends, it’s been an eventful weekend. I’m still catching up with myself.
So there we have it. I’m sorry Charlie, your first episode did really suck. But boy, you made up for it since.
You know a word’s in trouble when an otherwise fairly erudite and intelligent writer uses it wrongly, for today this canard cropped up in my daily readings from Richard Rohr, and I put my head in my hands and groaned. It seems almost everyone now uses disinterested to mean bored or uninterested, so that the original sense of the word as defined here – not having a vested interest, being impartial or above debate – is lost. What’s more no-one seems to mind. Not wanting to look like frowsty old professors or grizzled grammar geeks, everyone stands by and allows poor old disinterested to be hacked to pieces. Well, not on this blog! We stand for the fearless protection of words! We will not allow people to tell us they’re ‘good’ when actually they’re ‘fine’ – we will not allow them to say ‘disinterested’ when they mean ‘uninterested’!
But in the end all this is just Canute holding back the tide (although supposedly he did this to demonstrate his lack of power). It’s the Academie Francaise trying to stem the flood of English words by issuing French alternatives and it is doomed. In the end what decides the meaning of words is general usage, and if everyone chooses to redefine disinterested – as I think they already have – as uninterested then that is what it now means.
Thankfully though, Peterborough has not been redefined as Brexit city; Labour won by six hundred or so votes. Phew!
Just when you think there can’t possibly be any more TV drama quite as good as the series you’ve finished watching (and yes I know Killing Eve is coming back but you’d have to be under a rock not to know that) along comes Russell T Davies to knock you off your feet and turn you upside down and spin you round and round. Years and Yearsis quite simply astonishing drama. A pinch of Black Mirror,a dash of The Thick of Itand oodles of what can only be called Russell-T-Daviesness, that unique quality that he brought to Dr Who and now splashes all over this slightly futuristic drama, make this highly watchable. Emma Thompson plays against type as a nasty Katie Hopkins-ish politician, part of the political backdrop to the story of the Lyons (definitely a reference there) an extended family including a left-wing political activist, a politically naive and rather annoying wheelchair-user (good to see him casting against the usual angelic type there) and a housing worker who falls in love with a Ukrainian guy. These stories of gay love, deportation, exploitation, technology and Trumpian politics take place against the backdrop of a banking crash which propels the father (Rory Kinnear) from rich householder to cycle courier forced to decamp with his family to his mother’s (Anne Reid) huge house. Two storylines culminate in a devastating denouement in episode 4 – and it’s not over yet! There are two more episodes and since they haven’t put this up as a box set we’ll have to wait. As God intended.And quite right too.
Back in what we are pleased to call the real world, the Queen must be having interesting times trying to make conversation with You Know Who. This Tangerine Nightmare is the last person anyone wants over here (except Boris – but did you see that embarrassing video they posted on Big Ben?) but he doesn’t have the sense he was born with. If you really want to take over the NHS the last thing you should do is tell everyone. Perhaps now people will wake up to what the real Brexit game is.