Thursday, 6 July 2017

On the naming of things

I had a tree named after me recently, not merely planted in my honour (which is usually the sort of thing that happens when you're dead - although I'd still take it) but embedded in it's new plot of land and then proudly given my name, after which it was accidentally trodden on, but I think it survived. The whole scene was filmed on a mobile phone (of course) and the footage shown to me the next day by the novice gardeners.

I'm not generally into the whole naming of things, it gives them a personality they don't really have and a value they haven't really earned, but it's a human instinct. I think it gives us a feeling of ownership and therefore power or influence (although how you influence a tree I don't know). People name their houses, their cars, their laptops (yes, I've seen it done) even though it only heightens the sense of sadness when they inevitably lose it, break it, sell it or in some other means cease to have ownership.
     Meanwhile the naming of organisations, societies and events can take weeks and multiple meetings (and cost a fair amount too) all in an attempt to hook people in or provide some kind of importance or unity, which can work if the masses get involved. People can be very partisan these days. But then again, if the name is meaningless and it fails to attract attention you may as well give whatever it is you're naming a number and have done. The only things of any real importance, value and meaning are people. Of course, ironically, given the trend of parents attempting to be original, children being given numbers for names is now perfectly legitimate. MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has just named his new son 'Sixtus', and yes he is the sixth child, poor thing.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Other News

I picked up two bits of news this week that I think largely went unnoticed amidst all the other stuff going on in the UK, but both of which might have longer shelf-lives than the newly elected government.

Firstly, on Wednesday (7th) lunchtime, 50.7% of the UK's energy was supplied by wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning. This to me sounds like big news. 50% of Britain was powered by renewable energy for the first time! Add in nuclear, and by 2pm low carbon sources were producing 72.1% of our electricity!
     If that's not exciting enough the result of this was that prices fell to a 10th of their normal level - so we were saving the planet and saving people money. You just don't get these kind of good news stories, but the media barely seemed to notice. If nobody dies they're not interested.
     Now admittedly Wednesday lunchtime was both sunny and windy, but still this is brilliant, and it's not just in the UK. There are record levels of wind power being set all across Northern Europe! Now we just need the rest of the world to get on board.

Secondly, Boeing is researching the possibilities of having commercial-passenger jets piloted by computers (or artificial intelligence). Now, you might think the biggest concern here is 'can they make it safe?' And yes, that is one of the main questions they're trying to answer. But that was not my first thought.
     My first thought was, 'why?'
     Why do we need planes flown by computers when we have perfectly good pilots that do the job already, and what are all the pilots of the world going to do when they are usurped by this artificial intelligence? Go on jobseekers, I suppose.
     Actually, my issue isn't really with this specific story, but with the general trend of the world to replace humans with machines that do the same job. As far as I can tell, new technology that is actually useful are the things that help us to do jobs, not do the jobs for us! It's no wonder there are so many people out of work, and soon the pilots are going to join them. My commiserations if that includes you.

So, there you go, energy and the economy solved in one blog post. All we need are more wind farms and fewer bonkers ideas about having robots do everything for us. Now, back to work everyone, before you find a machine has taken over.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017


How do we respond to an act of terror? It can be hard to know.

People talk about standing against 'them'. But there is no 'them' to stand against. There is no physical enemy.

Others talk of standing against hatred, but I wonder even if that is right. A person who commits an act of terror does not know the people they are affecting and can have no personal hatred of them. It also seems to me that the cause of such acts is becoming increasingly less clear.

So, how do we respond?

As I see it the only way can be through love. Loving people, individually. Not because love is the opposite of hate, but because love is the opposite of a lack of love. A person doesn't have to be hated to cause violence, but if a person does not know that they are loved, that they are valued, that their life means something to someone, then there is no telling what they will do.

A show of love together in the immediate aftermath is good, but more important I think is the love we give to those around us every day, and particularly those who we might not think to care for. This love can be expressed as simply as a smile or a pleasant greeting, although the more you can show someone their worth the greater the impact will be. This is a deeper response than what to me seems to be the slightly shallow words of people trying to be noticed for their sympathy.

Ultimately our response should not be for what we can get out of it, but what we can put in.

And I'm still working on that.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

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"Whatcha up to?" she asked.
"Filling time," he said.
"With what?"
"Going slow is it?" she suggested.
"The dull days go slowly, the busy days disappear, and that's the way it is," he replied. "Time is a great magician."
"So what are you actually doing?" she asked again.
"Sinking balls on a snooker table."
"Is that on a dull day or a busy day?"
"Both, it's just that the busy days are the ones when the colours get replaced."
"You know you don't make any sense?" she complained.
"This page intentionally left blank."
"Like on exam papers. There're plenty of things that don't make sense."
"But it helps to make sense, because then people understand each other."
"That's the first thing you've said that might not have been a question" he noted, "but anyway, does it matter? I've met plenty of people, and I've never understood any of them."
"Everything matters," she said.
"Or nothing," he mused, "if everyone's special then no one is."
"You're special," she mocked.
"Thanks," he said, "so are you."

Friday, 7 April 2017

With Hope Before

A cloudless blue and a burst of yellow sinking slowly towards the pale hills. The first buds, the constant return of life, the energy and the peace. Is this why we love old England so? Is this why for millennia people from countries near and far have been attracted to our pleasant shores and have come to live here. From early invaders to the displaced, the rich and poor of distant nations, all have come to find life in this bounteous land.

Winston Churchill, in his History of the English-speaking Peoples, wrote of ancient settlers: “The invaders themselves were not without their yearnings for settled security. Their hard laws, the rigours they endured, were but the results of the immense pressures behind them as the hordes of avid humanity spread westward from Central Asia. The warriors returning from a six months’ foray liked to sprawl in lazy repose. Evidently they were not insensible to progressive promptings; but where, asked the chiefs and elders, could safety be found? In the fifth century, as the pressure from the East grew harder and as the annual raiding parties returned from Britain with plunder and tales of wealth, there was created in the ruling minds a sense of the difficulty of getting to the Island, and consequently of the security which would attend its occupation by a hardy and valiant race. Here, perhaps, in this wave-lapped Island men might settle down and enjoy the good things of life without the haunting fear of subjugation by a stronger hand, and without the immense daily sacrifices inseparable from military and tribal discipline on the mainland. To these savage swords Britain seemed a refuge. In the wake of the raiders, there grew steadily the plan and system of settlement. Thus, with despair behind and hope before, the migration to Britain and its occupation grew from year to year.”

In the human mind there is always the search for something better, something that will satisfy, and although nothing has ever seemed to fulfil all we hope for it hasn’t quenched our desire to keep on looking. For refuge, safety, security, prosperity. As Churchill hinted at, Britain has always been a place where such things could be found, and on such is our nation built. So now we, and the rest of the world with us, see a place of safety, security, peace and prosperity.

Yet the more safe we become the more vulnerable we are, blind to the real dangers, which no longer lurk just across the water but inside ourselves. Laziness, boredom, comfort. We should always be aware that although things seem to change only slowly, there is nothing permanent on this earth. The invaders and the migrants can tell us that. And so we live with 'hope before' as we seek a place of peace. Where all wars end and strivings cease.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Someone else's garden

The sun is setting as I wander past a garden; the last vestiges of gold giving it a pleasant glow. There is a yellowy grit path and a patio where a watering can lies abandoned on its side. Of course it may have been blown over by the wind, although I suspect not. I'm tempted to go and set it right, in its place by the latticed fence that is currently causing patterned shadows to be displayed on the flagstones. I like things to be in their place. Nowadays people call that OCD, but I just call it being tidy.
     A few plants squat in pots along the wall, some doing better than others. One has definitely died. The sunlight catches on some daffodils, though, and diverts my attention. Across the path there is a patch of grass that needs cutting. A baby starling, newly fledged is ferreting for worms. Another swoops from the roof to join him, but misjudges and bounces off the netting around the trampoline. He flaps violently and shoots upwards again before landing on the fence.
     The sky is pale blue now and grey, wispy clouds are blowing in from the north and west, from the invisible coast, just beyond the horizon. The garden shivers and settles down for another cool evening. 'Don't worry,' I say, 'summer will soon be here.'

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Like A Slinky On An Escalator

Another year around the sun,
Another season just begun.
Another minute on the clock,
Watching moss grow on a rock.

Another penny in the meter,
Drinking fuel by the litre.
Another wannabe world-beater.
Undone by Time - the great defeater.

But there is hope with which to block,
Another day life tries to mock.
Another race must still be run,
Another battle must be won.