If I’m Bored It Must Be Sunday

When I was a child Sundays were practically synonymous with boredom.  Everyone went to church and the whole thing was an incredible performance; dressing up in your best (and most uncomfortable) clothes, sitting still through hours of excruciating boredom and not being allowed to do anything fun.  When I was a teenager it was hardly less exciting as the pubs were closed most of the day, only the paper shops were open (and with restricted hours) and there was nothing to do.  It is hard to see a connection between all of this conformity and the teachings of Christ.

Religion everywhere is a magnet for those who seek power.  The tragedy is that religions often stem from prophets or messiahs who preach against power – but the lure of getting people under your spell by promising heaven and threatening hell and by aligning yourself with the gods you are supposed to be worshipping, is too great.  One survivor of Catholic abuse said a nun told her ‘I’m God.’  This is the most basic idolatry ever and you can’t understand how they don’t realise it.

But!  Yesterday was an antidote to all that because I went to a brilliant service at All Saints.  The church, so often associated with shaming gays and lesbians and excluding those who don’t fit in (thus directly contravening the teachings of Jesus) has changed – and one small church in Loughborough has taken the brilliant step of having a Pride service.  It was a terrific event, inclusive and welcoming not just to gays and lesbians but to everyone, encouraging us to love ourselves as God made us.

http://www.allsaintsloughborough.org.uk/jml02/

After that I went to the pub and then to another pub and then for lunch and then for a walk along the canal.  That’s what Sundays should be like.

Kirk out

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Geography of a Psycho

You may have heard the term ‘psycho-geography’ or you may not: it doesn’t matter.  Psycho-geography is the connection of landscape to psychology; the link between your surroundings and your interior world.  Psycho-geography is a key feature of many crime novels – where would Rebus be without Edinburgh, its pubs and greasy spoons, its dank council estates overshadowed by Arthur’s seat? – and it is specifically mentioned in ‘Day of the Dead’:(https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/08/02/what-comes-after-sunday/) where the hidden rivers of London are a clue to the actions of a serial killer.  And now I’ve been and got me some psycho-geography too.

I didn’t mean to, at least not consciously (can you mean something unconsciously?) – as I said a couple of days ago, I set out without any plan at all.  But now that I’ve walked thirty or more miles of river (or canal) it occurs to me that there are very clear parallels between this walk and my life.  Walking the canals has been an existence alongside but entirely different from my everyday life.  Even when you can see the road, the towpath is a world away from the traffic.  It is a hidden life, a watery life; a life where you meet ferrywomen in tied cottages, chat to boating folk and ask them to fill your water bottle.  It’s a life of fishermen as still as herons; a life of getting lost, having tea in pubs, finding places to pee and being very glad to see Bertie.

In addition to all this, the river is a perfect metaphor for art.  Art has its own hidden course which it strives to follow rather than being swept along by the mainstream.  Stephen Fry once said that in every artist the desire to be seen contends with the desire to hide: I would add that the desire to follow your own voice contends with the desire to be recognised.  So in terms of psycho-geography instead of struggling to be recognised by the mainstream (the road), I’ve been following my own course (the river.)  It’s like song-lines, in a way:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songline

Does that count as cultural appropriation?

Kirk out

End-gaining in walking

Here’s an object lesson in how end-gaining happens.  Two and a half weeks ago I set out on a walk.  I had no end in view, just to walk.  I might get as far as Normanton but I probably won’t, I thought.  And in any case it doesn’t matter.  Wandering without an object is a very freeing thing to do; and as it happened I did make it to Normanton, but it didn’t matter.  It was fun and interesting and I got to use the chain ferry.  But it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t.

Then I thought, what if I walk further?  Maybe park up somewhere and walk north, see where I get to?  I did park up somewhere, I did walk north and where I got to was Kegworth.  I was interested because I hadn’t been to Kegworth before, only through it on the nightmarish A-road on which construction lorries grind past all day long (they’re getting a bypass, which is good.  In a sense.)  Kegworth has at least two great cafes and some interesting shops, so I enjoyed a good mooch.  And as I sweated my way back to the car at Zouch, a Plan began to emerge.  Now at this stage the Plan was merely fun, something to structure my holiday around, like a peg to hang your hat on.  The peg doesn’t matter, it’s just a means of placing your hat somewhere.  But in order for the Plan to work, you have to make believe that it’s important.  Much fun is based around this kind of make-believe: pretending that it matters who wins a card-game or whether certain rules are followed (Mornington Crescent is a perfect example of this.)  And holidays (at least self-catering ones) are a way of living your normal life in a sort of relaxed parody where you do some of the same things but none of it matters.  In a word, it’s play.

So at this point my walking was entirely in that spirit.  Of course I was aware of being fitter and getting lots of exercise and being out in the country and Finding Out About Canals and all of that – but none of it mattered.  If I hadn’t done any of those things it would still have been good.  It was play.  But then at some point another little voice began to arise.  ‘What about walking the whole of the river Soar from the Trent to its source?’  This seemed a fun idea (though later studies of the map showed it to be impracticable), an idea which was conceived in the spirit of play – but all too soon the plan of walking the Soar from end to end became a – well, an end in itself.  It became Something I Was Doing; something I would Tell People About.  And they would Be Impressed.

The more this end-gaining took over, the less fun it became.  I knew where I was going each day, whereas the fun had previously been in spontaneity.  I had a goal to reach and I might feel a failure if I didn’t reach it.  I began to feel tired instead of energetic, dispirited instead of joyful.  And at some point I said, enough.  No more.  I was all set to give up walking altogether.

And then, just like a see-saw*, (and after a day’s rest) I found the desire to walk was not entirely extinguished.  I abandoned altogether the plan of walking the Soar (now adapted into a plan to walk the canal down to Foxton Locks) and went closer to home (see yesterday’s post).  And it was much better.

The moral of the story is, all ends must end.  Oo, and while you’re here I found this video again, which I thought was lost:

Kirk out

*or see-Soar

It’s Your Funeral: the D-Word

We seem to be undergoing something which I am resisting calling a sea-change – let’s call it a land-change – on how to mark death.  Death as a subject is almost as taboo as sex used to be when I was young: it’s considered in poor taste to bring it up in polite conversation.  You can talk about illness all you like, but don’t mention the d-word.  On the other hand there is an explosion of public grief at events like the anniversary of the Manchester bombing.

Let me say this at once: the Manchester bombing and other similar events are terrible.  It could easily have been our daughter had she been a few years younger, and the targeting of young people is particularly horrible.  That those directly affected should show grief in public is entirely understandable.  But as Matthew Parris pointed out yesterday:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b39v43

(it’s about 21 minutes in)

the stiff upper lip has gone and is replaced by almost compulsory public grief.  I can’t summon up much grief for the passing of the SUL, and yet I think somehow things have got a little out of control.  Private grief is probably best expressed privately, by which I don’t mean on your own with a box of tissues (unless that is genuinely best for you) but shared with friends, family members or counsellors.  However that is entirely different from feeling compelled to express emotion at events which don’t affect us in the slightest (Tony Blair comes irresistibly to mind here.)  It’s not enough to care; you must show that you care, and the best way to do that is by shedding a tear.  If you’re being interviewed about some crisis in your life, better cry a little – that way people will take it more seriously.  They will ‘feel your pain.’

On the other hand, there’s the whole funeral phenomenon.  Funerals used to be a time for wearing black and looking solemn; for walking or driving very slowly behind a big black hearse; for wearing veils and looking at the ground.  But nowadays you’re as likely to be asked to ‘wear bright colours’ and ‘celebrate someone’s life’ – and I can’t help feeling there’s an imbalance in all this.  I dislike enforced cheerfulness even more than I dislike enforced misery: at least when wearing black you could look sad; but now we’re all supposed to be joyful.  I’ve even seen a blue hearse – and don’t even get me started on the speed of the average cortege as it nips down the road.  It’s like the one in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ (I can’t find a clip but you know what I mean.)

So on the one hand we have ubiquitous grief on the media; on the other we have bright colours and fast hearses.  What is going on?

Kirk out

Please Do Try This At Home

I’ve no idea what this post is going to be about but the title came to me and so I put it in.  But I’ve started so I’ll finish, as Magnus Magnusson used to say, and tell you all about easing.  Not quantitative easing (not that I know what that is, though I seem to think it’s about easing the economy by putting a bit more money into it; a sort of Keynsianism lite) nor dressmaking ‘easing’ (which means sewing together two pieces of fabric of different lengths so they end up at the same place) but the normal everyday kind of easing that comes after a period away from work.  Of course, not all of us have that luxury; in today’s exploitative work environment holidays are a luxury, not a right and you are expected not only to hit the ground running but also to make up for lost time.  Bastards.

But since I am my own boss and only crack the whip when I deem it necessary, I am easing myself back into work.  This involves a morning of cutting the hedge (hardly a relaxing activity) followed by a nice cup of tea and a sit-down.

http://www.nicecupofteaandasitdown.com/book/

This is of course a British institution and needs serious conservation work in the age of people having ‘a latte to go’ or some such nonsense.  I mean, most places don’t do proper pots of leaf tea – and when do you EVER get extra hot water?  It’s an outrage.

Anyway, that’s my morning of easing.  Nice’n’easy – and yes, maybe you should try this at home.

Kirk out

Good in Parts? Is There a Cure?

The latest in a loooooooooong line of pretentious verbs all got up to make ordinary tasks seem like something special, is to curate.  This may have been a verb in museum circles where people quite legitimately curate exhibitions, though publicly I recall the usual form was to state that ‘the curator of the exhibition was so-and-so’ rather than ‘so-and-so curated this exhibition.’  I think there’s a sort of ramping-up of importance going on here, an attempt to make things sound much more thingish, as Pooh bear would say; things which are otherwise quite ordinary.  So you have a person who puts a few things together and, hey presto, you’ve curated something.

Viz: this thing that came through my door this morning.  Now like many people I get little enough post these days and what I do get is generally unwelcome.  So when an envelope with my name on it came through the door, even though I knew it was probably junk, I bore it upstairs and ceremoniously prised it open.

It was a nice maroon envelope containing a piece of thick card.  An invitation, it said.  Do they really think that works on anyone any more?  I opened the card and read:

Invitation to join our exclusive membership programme that brings you a host of members-only ballots, incredible events and great offers.  We’ll also bring you guides, interviews and features…

Now like me you will not only have noticed the cliched ‘host’ but spotted that this is long on verbiage and short on information.  What are the ballots about?  What exactly are these incredible events?  Will I even want the offers?

It’s all irrelevant to me anyway because no matter how tempting the offers or how incredible the events I won’t be able to afford them.  That’s one thing about having no money – you can make your mind up pretty quickly on things.  Life’s too short to bother about special offers unless it’s for something you really need.  But here’s the killer blow:

… all specially curated for our members.

There it is – that word again.  Basically someone has put together a few things and called it curating.  There’s a word for this ‘bumping-up’ of importance, and the word is ‘reification’ – making a thing out of something that really isn’t anything:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reification

Oh but wait!  Down the bottom there are some examples: I can win tickets to see Tony Hadley (who he?) or go on a cruise to the continent (no thanks.)

So all in all I think it’s a no.  But it was the misuse of the word curate that clinched the deal – in my day curate was a trainee vicar with a dodgy egg…

Kirk out

PS – Tony Hadley is apparently ex-Spandau Ballet.  So that’s a definite no then…

Freedom of Sp-

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Freedom of speech is a very thorny issue at the moment, and the latest spike in this thorn-bush is the proposed visit of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, to the UK.  Here are two views on that proposed visit:

https://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/EXCLUSIVE-Franklin-Graham-on-visit-to-UK-I-m-not-coming-to-preach-hate

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/07/us-evangelical-preacher-franklin-graham-uk-critics

Now I never particularly liked Billy Graham; I’m generally suspicious of popular preachers and prefer dialogue to evangelism, but his son seems to take it to a whole new level, denouncing Islam as a religion and gays and lesbians for the usual tedious reasons.  Apart from the fact that he seems to have a very short memory about the practices of Christianity (many of which are similar to fundamentalist Islam today) people naturally take offence and think that his views have no place in a multicultural society.  And when I read about him in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Graham

I tended to agree.  I don’t want those views spread over here.  No thanks.

But there’s the thing: people used to say, ‘I disagree profoundly with what you’re saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’  People used to say that freedom of speech meant the freedom to say anything except to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded building.  So here’s the question: does insulting Muslims in a multicultural society constitute shouting ‘fire!’ in a burning building?

Last weekend’s Observer contained an opinion piece entitled: ‘Even Those with the Vilest of Views Have a Right to be Heard.’ (I can’t link to it as the whole thing is behind a paywall.)  But the premise of the article is that people like Martin Sellner of ‘Defend Europe’ who stop charities from rescuing drowning refugees, or Lauren Southern who thinks Hitler was just a Social Justice Warrior who got lucky, should not have been prevented from entering this country because their views, no matter how vile, have a right to be heard.  I totally disagree.  But here’s the thing: where do we draw the line?  Where is the division between strong opinion and hate speech?

I’m quite uneasy about some current tendencies.  I disagree profoundly with Germaine Greer’s comments on transgender women (although according to the article here she seems to have backtracked a little)

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/12/germaine-greer-tells-qa-her-trans-views-were-wrong-but-then-restates-them

as they were not a helpful contribution to the debate.  But I don’t think they constitute hate speech.  They constitute strong, blunt, even rude opinion – but that is not something that should be shut down.  Yet many universities have decided to ‘no-platform’ her.

We should think about this concept of ‘platforming’.  There is a difference between somebody having a ‘platform’ – being allowed to express opinions unopposed – and being on a platform as part of a debate with other speakers.  But surely, even if you have a platform, in a wider sense the debate goes on anyway?  People respond on social media and in the press; often these things make the news and magazine programmes faster than the speed of light, triggering an even wider range of opinion.  So maybe instead of ‘no-platforming’ people like Greer we should be saying, ‘come and have a go if you think you’re cogent enough.’  Robust debate is essential in any healthy society – and surely if universities are about anything they are about fostering this?  If students cannot hear and rebut strong opinions, no matter how much they dislike them, then what kind of adults are we producing?  There is already too much of a tendency for people to stay in their own little enclaves (especially on social media) where rarely a voice is heard from outside.

On the other side of the debate I hear stories of vulnerable young people struggling with identity and sexuality; I hear stories of attacks proliferating after certain people are allowed to speak; I hear of hatred on the rise.

So what do we do?  A line must be drawn somewhere.

Personally I was pleased that Martin Sellner and Lauren Southern were turned away at the border.  Their views are so extreme and their actions so horrid and harmful that I don’t want them here.  Then again at the same time I would like, Louis Theroux-style, to have the opportunity to debate with them.  After all, how else can we change their minds?

It concerns me greatly that nuanced debate is being shoved aside in favour of something resembling a gladiatorial conquest.  Yes, it’s painful to have your deeply-held views challenged, but it can be beneficial.  A debate can often (though not always) change people’s minds: it can also help to clarify your own views by setting them up against other people’s.  How well do your arguments stand up?  Do they have holes in them?  Are you as well-informed as you imagine?

As I’ve said before with the trans agenda, only with debate can true acceptance (as opposed to putting up and shutting up) come.  Only with open debate can understanding arise.

Yes, there is a line between free speech and hate speech.  But where the hell is it?

Kirk out