Category Archives: politics

Is There Life Without Money?

Recently, as I may have mentioned, I’ve been reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; an account of his time living deliberately in a cabin in the woods.  I used to have a cabin in the woods and although I wasn’t legally permitted to live there, I did stay there quite deliberately.  My days in the woods were times of living slowly; of contemplating, thinking, writing and walking.  It taught me a lot about what I take for granted; about what I can and can’t do without.  Above all it taught me to value water: when all you have is a five-gallon container which needs to be filled from a tap a hundred yards away, you learn to treasure every drop of the stuff.

Thoreau includes meticulous accounts in Walden, of how much it cost him to raise his barn and plant his crops; how much it cost him to live there once he’d settled in.  It’s a little different in rural Leicestershire where my cabin was already ‘raised’ so I had to buy it as well as paying ground rent twice a year for services such as water and use of the toilet block.  There were no shops nearby, which also taught me to value what I had, especially during those times when I was up there without a car.

But the one thing I couldn’t live without was money.  And there’s the rub: plenty of people have tried, but those who succeeded the best were either able to survive at a very basic level, or those who started off with a great deal of land in the first place.  I did once know some rather hippyish people who maintained that money comes to those who believe; and that if you have faith you can simply reach out and pluck money from the air.

Hm.

I have to report that for a while one of these people ended up living in a horse box in a field…

Since deciding to write full-time I have had basically no income.  Fortunately I am married, so I share my partner’s income.  Unfortunately it isn’t very big.  Fortunately we have generous friends and relatives (some of them) who help us.  Unfortunately we can’t rely on that happening.  And there are times when you find yourself at the bottom of a very dry pit.

But I chose this life.  I could have stayed a teacher; I could have carried on running teacher training courses.  Sure, I’d be miserable – but I’d have an income.  The ones I feel sorry for are those who don’t have that choice: the homeless, the unemployed – or, these days, the slightly-employed: cleaners who have to get up at four to clean offices and get home before the children go to school.  The disregarded.  The despised.  Because my life has two huge compensations: one, I’m happy doing what I’m doing – and two, there’s every chance that it will get better.

So do one thing this Christmas to help.  Donate to a food bank.  Buy the Big Issue.  Offer a sandwich to a homeless person.  Help out at a shelter.  Or just smile at someone and wish them a happy Christmas.

Kirk out

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That Thought Would Never Have Occurred to Me

Occasionally you meet with an opinion on some everyday phenomenon which rocks you back on your heels, not necessarily because it’s controversial but because it’s so totally out there: it’s a thought that would never, in a million years, have occurred to you.  The latest example of this meme (if you can call it that, which you can’t) happened the other evening.  I was at a meeting in a room with an artwork on the wall, showing Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.  It was a 3-D effigy and the flames were very colourful; I smiled at it once or twice, thought how unusual it was to see Guy Fawkes rather than a bonfire plus fireworks and set off on a nostalgic journey to a childhood where groups of kids wandered the streets with a stuffed suit in a wheelbarrow shouting ‘penny for the guy!’  We were never allowed to walk the streets, but we did make a guy every year by stuffing some old clothes of my Dad’s with newspaper.  This guy went on the bonfire and was a central part of the festivities, along with hand-held sparklers, wall-mounted Catherine wheels and distant rockets whose failure to explode would be investigated by a torch-wielding parent.  I loved Bonfire Night and have regretted that of late it has been superseded by Hallowe’en: it does seem to be making a comeback, though, possibly connected in some vague way to Brexit.

But in all these years it never occurred to me to think of the burning of Guy Fawkes as anti-Catholic.  Sure, I knew the story, but as far as I was concerned these religious divisions were buried deep in the past.  Bonfire Night was an anti-authoritarian night of fun; nothing more.  So I was quite taken aback to hear someone say, after the meeting, that she was shocked by the picture on the wall.

‘Shocked?’ we asked.  ‘How so?’

‘It’s so anti-Catholic,’ she affirmed.

I think we were all taken aback by this view of things.  Most others took my view of things, that the 5th of November has been so long divorced from those political acts that inspired it, as to have no relevance.  If it inspires any feelings nowadays beyond family fun, it is a general antipathy to politicians: I don’t think it would occur to anybody to associate it with anti-Catholicism.  After all, nobody thinks about the torture of St Catherine when they look at a Catherine wheel, do they?

Am I wrong?  Am I living in an Anglican bubble?  Do Catholics still take offence at Bonfire Night?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out

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For The Love of Money

Recently my OH has got a bee in his bonnet about bitcoin.  In my mind bitcoin is a sort of gold-coloured object like the new pound coins which you bite on to see if it’s real.  But although OH has tried several times to explain what bitcoin actually is, I have no concept of it.  Apparently it’s a thing you make yourself, though what manner of thing I don’t know.  Maybe you need a 3-D printer?

One thing I do understand – bitcoin is an alternative to money which can make money.  At the moment, anyway, until everyone gets into it.

All of this reminds me somewhat of the Leaf.  The Leaf was an alternative currency used by Leicester LETS (Local Exchange and Trading Scheme) a group who offered skills and goods without the use of LSD.  By which I mean pounds, shillings and pence (hang on, that ought to be LP now…) anyway, the idea was to use skills and to exchange goods which would otherwise not be saleable in the mainstream economy.  Hence if you were good at gardening but without qualifications or experience, you could offer your skills, get paid in Leaves and then use those Leaves to buy, say, an old bike or some window-cleaning.

In theory it was great.  What led to its eventual demise was that people got just as hung up on the value of their leaves as they did about cash.  People ended up with leaves they couldn’t spend because either they couldn’t find what they wanted or there was a gap in the economy.  It was like having vouchers for McDonalds…

But my take on it was, it ought not to matter.  The point was not the Leaf per se; the point was to do things for each other which otherwise wouldn’t have got done, and to recycle things which would otherwise have gone to landfill (though Freecycle has now taken over this role.)

LETS groups tended to work best in smaller, contained communities where people already knew each other.  In a large city such as Leicester there were sadly too many people prepared to take without giving.

But I’ve strayed from my point, which was going to be this: in the end, no matter what currency you have, whether it’s bitcoin or Leaves or pounds sterling, none of it is real.  It is merely a system which everyone has agreed to treat as if it were real.  On the back of a fiver it says (I’m working from memory here since I don’t have any actual notes to look at) ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds.’  In other words, it’s a promissory note.  It ain’t real.

And these days when we’re more likely to see figures on a screen than notes and coins, it becomes less real by the day.

It’s true – I’ve bitten it.

Which brings me  finally to the most often misquoted passage of the Bible.  It isn’t money that’s the root of all evil: it’s the love of money:

http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/6-10.htm

I think we can see this every day.

Kirk out

 

 

 

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Genius? That’ll Be Everything You’ve Got, Madam

The current model of Genius At Work may be in flux but the go-to setting is the same as it has always been: a man in a study with a virtual Do Not Disturb sign on the door; family creeping around and No Interruptions Whatsoever.  Genius works odd hours and cannot be relied upon.  It won’t be awake in time to take the children to school or make their sandwiches.

If this genius has to balance writing with paid work he will come in, pour a glass, have some food and devote the rest of the evening (and weekend) to Art.  There are people who can do this: C P Snow was one, holding down a career first as a barrister, then as an academic and finally as a politician whilst writing a bunch of novels about – well, about being a barrister, academic and politician.

But I’ve never been able to do this, part of the reason being that unlike Snow, I don’t have clean clothes unless I wash them or food to eat unless I cook it (or at least wash up after it).  I don’t have a clean floor unless I vacuum it, or an organised environment unless I tidy.  Plus, I have children – and children interrupt.  It is inevitable.

Until they were teenagers I had no time to write: I was too busy earning a living and educating them at home.  Apart from a few snatched minutes morning and evening my only writing time was a couple of days away twice a year: it wasn’t nearly enough, and yet looking back it’s hard to see how I could have done anything differently.  It’s no good having children if you’re going to ignore them.

So what to do?

I would like to suggest a different model of genius.  I don’t deny that writing – or any art – takes time and concentration.  But I think it would benefit male artists as well as their partners to share in the domestic tasks – the reason being that doing the cleaning or washing up is very grounding.  To put it epigrammatically:

Every woman has to stop writing to put the tea on.  That is her tragedy.

No man does: that is his.

I suggest that historically, women go mad when they can’t write, and men do when they can.  This is due to a lack of balance.  Everyone needs to pitch in – and then we’ll get the work done.

I can feel Snow scoffing at this idea.  But then he had a housekeeper and a wife…

Kirk out

PS I don’t wish to give the impression that I am married to someone who doesn’t pitch in.  That is not the case

 

 

 

 

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Oh, So We’re All Americans Now? Not This Baby!

So today is Black Friday.  What?  What the hell is that?  I’ve heard of Good Friday and Friday the Thirteenth Parts One to Ten-and-a-half but I absolutely refuse to know anything What So Ever about Black Friday.  It has no meaning here.  It is a hollow import which some traders have latched onto to sell Even More Stuff because, let’s face it, Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night just ain’t enough to fill the gap between holidays and Christmas.  I’m daily expecting some marketing whizz to come up with a selling point for Michaelmas (29th September) so that once the stocks of school uniforms (pens, pads, textbooks) are exhausted we can all buy – well, whatever it is they might come up with.  I mean, why should September miss out when January has holidays, February Valentine’s, March and April Easter eggs, May and June gardening and July and August family holidays?  October has Hallowe’en and November Guy Fawkes, after (or during) which Christmas begins.  And what has September got?

It’s just not right.

But in spite of everyone in the world wanting to be American (according to my friend in Iowa anyway) many of us resist these imports.  It is not part of our culture; it has no relevance to our habits and my hope is that like a Bonfire Night sparkler, it will have but a short time to live before it withers and dies.

In my youth it was fashionable to look to America for a lead: it was still a young country (or we thought of it as such) and in the vanguard of popular culture.  But now many of us regard Uncle Sam as a bloated, overindulged, gas-guzzling, obese, intolerant figure – and don’t even get me started on Trump.  Sorry guys but I’d prefer Tierra del Fuego or the Isle of Lewis to most parts of the US.  I mean, you have no publicly funded health system (and what little Obama managed to scrape through is rapidly being dismantled) you have far too many guns and no BBC.  So thanks, but no thanks.

(On the other hand, you do have some stonking literature: see previous post –

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/i-went-to-the-library-because-i-wanted-to-read-deliberately/)

Kirk out

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I Went to the Library Because I Wanted to Read Deliberately…

I have never read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, though of course I have heard of it – and now that I come to it I’m ashamed I took so long.  We Brits are scandalously behind when it comes to reading American literature: of course we read Henry James and have a stab at Hemingway and Pound (aren’t Pound and Eliot more British in spirit anyway?) but as for me, I am terribly behind on my US classics, only coming to Walt Whitman late and never having touched Faulkner.

All is not lost! for I am only sixty and it is probable that many years remain in which I can rectify these omissions.  In that spirit, I went to the library and happened upon Walden which, though I have only read fifty or so pages, has already blown my mind.

First, I never knew that there were so many quotations in it – for just as every line in Withnail and I is quotable, so every page of Thoreau has something in it that you didn’t know came from thence.  On the first page I read a line familiar to me from Dead Poets’ Society:

‘I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately.’ *

That idea of living  deliberately, thoughtfully, not just being swept along by the mainstream, is very appealing – though it does of course mean living a very stripped-down life.  Still it’s good to question which of the things you regard as necessary to life actually are.  Is a car necessary?  Is a job necessary?  And if so why?  You may come to the conclusion in the end that you do in fact need all these things; but at least you’ll have thought about it: and as we all know, the unexamined life is not worth living.  (That’s Socrates, not Thoreau, but still.)

A few pages later I came upon this:

‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the  music which he hears…’

Everyone knows that line, as well as this one:

‘most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’

I had no idea that Thoreau was the source of these; and now I do, I want to read more.  I’ll keep you updated as I go…

Kirk out

*I guess Thoreau didn’t go on holiday by mistake?

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Y Muera Espana?

Due to my time spent living in Spain I still retain an interest in what goes on there; however I have no claim whatever to be an expert on Spanish politics nowadays.  In the Madrid of the 1990’s, the country seemed like a place just waking up to democracy.  They’d had barely fifteen years of being able to speak their minds; the long sleep of fascism was over and the citizens emerging into the daylight rubbing their eyes.  They were testing the limits; marching on demos with the glee of children being allowed to stay up late, not quite believing that they wouldn’t be arrested for publishing newspapers.  Habits of democracy take time to form, as we know only too well – and as we also know, they can be easily erased.  True, ours wasn’t much at the outset, just a few nobles wresting power from a king; but it was a start.  We didn’t have full democracy until 1928 when all adults could vote on an equal basis: but, imperfect as our system may be, it is part of our DNA.  Not so in Spain.

Like many places – like the former Yugoslavia, like the Soviet Union; like the UK itself – Spain is not one country but many.  Ask a person from the Basque country if they are Spanish and see what reaction you get: it’s like asking a Scot if they are English.  Regions such as Catalonia are analogous to Scotland: the area has its own language and culture; it has a history of self-government.  To complicate matters, Catalunya (to spell it correctly) extends into France, and many activists want the whole area separate and unified.  That flag won’t fly; but it is possible that, as in Scotland, there is an increasing appetite for independence from Madrid: and the sensible thing to do would be to open negotiations.

Now, I have blogged before about the UK government’s unedifying and shabby response to Indyref 1:

https://wordpress.com/view/lizardyoga.wordpress.com

but the Madrid administration makes Cameron’s response look positively statesmanlike.  From sending in troops to beat up demonstrators, to declaring the referendum an act of rebellion (can you hear the word ‘traicion’ in the air?) they have basically acted like latterday Francos and have justly earned opprobrium around the world.

OK, it’s a problem.  I get that.  Clearly there is an appetite for independence in Catalunya; if it came to pass this would probably open a greater can of worms than Scotland leaving the UK.  It is understandable that the government might feel panicky, but clamping down is not the way to go.  Denying that violence took place when people have seen the videos; refusing to say what might happen if Catalunya declares independence: these are unwise and overly authoritarian reactions which have escalated a crisis into a near-disaster.  They need to negotiate, not escalate; these actions can only incite more unrest and a greater desire for independence.   What’s next – sending in tanks?   Spain is not the Soviet Union.  This is not the 1950’s.  Grow up, guys.  Start talking – because hablar es mejor que la guerra.*

Kirk out

*(a rough translation of ‘jaw-jaw is better than war-war’)

 

 

 

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