Archive for 2011

Welcome to the New World

Pausing briefly from my abyss-gazing to consider this glorious story about trade unionists’ reaction to Jeremy Clarkson on the One Show.

(Fear not, dear readers. This is not a pro- or anti- Clarkson rant. Your opinion of Clarkson is your own business. I shan’t be trying to reinforce or alter it.)

It’s not often that news stories depress me. I shout at some, laugh at others. Some prompt a short office debate, if anyone has the energy to raise their eyes from the mailbag sewing for more than a few seconds.

This one, though, achieved that special distinction by virtue of being so tragically absurd, so inanely and teeth-chatteringly preposterous and risible that it has threatened to ruin my habitual equanimity for the rest of the day.

Looming apocalypse

We are – as you may have noticed, and I have recently pointed out – living in dangerous times. There are people in our country – our first world, prosperous country – wondering how to put food on the table this evening. We face a decline in our living standards that threatens to extend into the early years of the next decade, with no prospect of definite recovery even then.

Tomorrow, or next week, people all over Europe may find themselves locked out of banks, their savings destroyed, their jobs gone, their national economies wrecked. The rest of the world wonders how it can possibly protect its own people from this looming apocalypse.

Yet here is a man seriously proposing, against that background, to use the valuable time of British courts to attempt a Crown prosecution of a man who chose to make a joke on the television.

You may deplore his joke. You may not find it funny. You may even hate the guy. All valid and defensible positions.

But here’s the thing: he was clearly not being serious. Not a soul who watched that show thought so. You could show that clip to 1 million mother tongue English speakers all over the world and not one would conclude that Clarkson was seriously calling for mass murder.

It’s called hyperbole, you ignorant motherfuckers.

Utterly arsefucked

Does it not disturb anyone else that apparently we now live in a country where making any kind of joke whose implicit politics other folk disapprove invites denouncement and the threat of criminal sanction? That highly paid people with bigger concerns (you would assume) are willing, at a time of national crisis, to go out of their way to encourage this? That our own prime minister is forced to comment on the situation?

Hey ho. The good news for anyone NOT disturbed by this is that you won’t have to wait long until I’m dead and buried. Quite a few folks who share my outlook and age will be gone with me.

So you can then fully enjoy your po-faced, hair-splitting, trivia-obsessed, big-pictureless, totalitarian, servile and utterly arsefucked society without our tedious interventions.

I hope you enjoy it. And that someone who disapproves of your humour or politics kills you in front of your family.

Posted on 1st December 2011
Under: Rants | 5 Comments »

Looking into the abyss

Have spent the last few weeks wondering if the world as I know it is about to end. The evidence is increasingly pointing in that direction. Some say it could happen this week. Most agree that without a German volte face, we’ll know the worst by the end of January.

What would be the effect of a disorderly Eurozone debt default? Pundits offer every scenario, from brief financial turmoil at the mild end of the scale to total economic collapse and world war at the other.

Me, I haven’t a clue. But being a natural pessimist, I’m not banking on good times around the corner.

I offer no predictions or prescient economic analysis. No can do. I have only these two mildly interesting observations:

• Economic/historical point: Isn’t it fascinating how Germans, themselves victims of rapacious Allied creditors demanding debt payback, austerity and reparations after WW1 – with all the baleful consequences of that policy – are now rerunning history in role reversal by forcing austerity on their ‘profligate’ neighbours… with depressingly predictable consequences? Like the Bourbons, it seems they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

• Psychological point: Isn’t it strange how full awareness of disaster-in-the-offing in no way helps – not the tiniest, teensiest bit – to mitigate the effects of imminent crisis? Truth is, when you’re looking at a partial or total collapse of economic and social order, there’s not a fucking thing you can do to prepare or insulate yourself from it. Except stock up on chocolate.

If those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, it seems those who learned them fully are destined to stand by and watch powerlessly while the others comprehensively fuck up the train set.

So, dear readers: Assuming the worst (and why wouldn’t I?), I wish you the best of luck, wherever and whoever you are. See you on the other side – if there is one.

Posted on 30th November 2011
Under: Rants | 5 Comments »

Of mud and geophysical determinism

allotment winter diggingHard at it again. Weeds got a bit out of control over the summer, so I’ll be trying to wrest my allotment back from Nature over the next few months.

Have been enjoying Guns, germs and steel, a book about the rise of civilisation. The stuff about early agriculture and human settlement is particularly fascinating. If you were ever under the impression that there is something innately ‘superior’ about Europeans, you badly need to read this book to understand that pretty much everything that’s happened in human affairs since about 9000BC has come about solely thanks to geophysical determinism.

And, er, that’s my contribution for today.

Posted on 12th November 2011
Under: Winter | 7 Comments »

At least the carrots are good

carrotsEr, gosh. Wow. Can it really be that long since I last updated this blog?

Dear, oh dear. I’ve not gone a month without posting since I started this nonsense four years ago. I guess circumstances must really be as difficult as they’ve felt. I won’t bore you with the details.

Anyway, I’ve actually been to the plot and dug up some veg. Carrots, my reliable standby, have been excellent this year. We’ve had buckets and buckets of ’em. A welcome consequence of the rain that otherwise ruined our summer (shame about the chickweed, which has run rampant in the wet).

Fountain in front of National Museum of Modern Art, RomeOne nice thing: I’m just back from Rome, one of my favourite places EVAH. Spent three days simply walking… and walking. Really the most wonderful city in the world: beautiful, exciting, stimulating, moving. I’m footsore, but delighted.

Just the one disappointment: couldn’t get into the Galleria Borghese, so missed the ticklesome statue of Pauline Bonaparte, posed from life as she reclined, Venus-like and semi-naked, on a divan. When asked how she could possibly have posed naked, she replied: “Oh it wasn’t cold. There was a stove in the room.”

Love it that she’s still embarrassing her wretched brother all these centuries later.

Posted on 3rd November 2011
Under: Roots, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Dahlia Mrs Eileen

Dahlia Mrs EileenI’ve had a few weeks away from the allotment. Lots of reasons: family issues, busy at work, tired of gardening after a long season battling weeds in the rain. I needed a break.

The crops have pretty much dried up now, apart from the winter roots. My dahlias, though, have been producing as never before. This variety, Mrs Eileen, is new to me… and it’s a screaming success. Apparently never ending flowers in the gaudiest, most outrageous orange you can imagine.

Lovely to see some bright colours in the gathering gloom of the autumn vegetable garden.

Posted on 9th October 2011
Under: Flowers | 4 Comments »

Negatively charged

The end of summer swings round again. Time for less gardening and more ranting. Hold on to your hats.

Today’s little tantrum centres on Positive Thinking. Reason: A relative has just grazed the edges of the Positive Thinking industry, and it reminded me of this wonderful book by Barbara Ehrenreich, which I enjoyed last year (there’s a great extract here).

Note to positive thinkers everywhere: you’re deluded, brainwashed victims of a plutocratic strategy to boost the wealth of a tiny few by reducing everyone else to serfdom. Your determined optimism is making others rich at your expense, and undermining everything you hold dear – your income, your social status, your family life and even your basic physical health (hey, just read the book).

Truth is better than blind positivity

I’m a born pessimist. Always saw the darker side from as far back as I can remember. If you’re an optimist you’ll not understand. You probably think I should just ‘snap out of it’ – as if my pessimism were any more of a choice than your natural optimism.

Weird, isn’t it, how pessimists can’t tell optimists to ‘snap out of it’? Consider that for a second. Its implications are profound. Anglo-saxon societies are infected with a powerful assumption that Optimism = good, natural, ‘normal’, right. Doubt and Pessimism = bad, evil, unnatural, unhealthy, wrong.

My pessimism, though inborn, was only deepened and further ingrained as I grew up. Contact with other human beings saw to that: ‘Homo homini lupus’.

More influential still was my growing suspicion, later confirmed by evidence, that other people’s well-meaning pleas to ‘look on the bright side’, or ‘count your blessings’ actually made things worse – for me.

Why? Because entreaties to see the best in Life are fundamentally dishonest. They are anti-truth. To ‘look on the bright side’ translates as: Cherry-pick the evidence in favour of goodness and fluffy bunnies and ignore everything else. It is as wrong-headed and stupid as insisting on seeing the worst even when all the evidence is positive.

As an empirical rationalist, I abhor this. Post-Enlightenment human beings enjoy the fruits of five centuries of breakthroughs in technology and medicine brought about by sceptical rationalism embodied in the scientific method. To doubt, to consider the evidence in the round… these are the bedrock of our prosperity.

Yet positive thinkers and optimists everywhere tend to live their own lives in direct denial of these principles, urging themselves and others to cling irrationally to a one-sided and facile world view that ignores oceans of useful, albeit unpleasant, evidential input. And it is this world view (encouraged and underpinned by the legacy, still powerful, of Judaeo-Christian teaching – “the poor shall inherit the earth”) that prevails.

The Cassandra Syndrome

It’s tragic for pessimists, because they’re doomed to live as strangers in society. Like dissidents under totalitarian regimes, pessimists dare not speak openly of their ‘faith’ or associate too freely with others for fear of denouncement and loss of social standing and/or employment.

You think I exaggerate? Think again. Anglo-saxon corporate life – especially in the USA, but also in Britain – is all about being ‘positive’, a ‘team player’, being ‘proactive’, playing up upsides, minimising downsides. A ‘negative attitude’ will get you fired quicker than shitting on the boss’ desk. Everyone knows it. To be doubtful, to produce counter-evidence, is to be condemned as ‘uncommitted’ and to be ‘Limogé’ – removed from the front line in disgrace, as French officers were at Verdun, for questioning the efficacy of frontal assaults across open ground against entrenched machine-gun positions.

When pessimists do speak out, they’re usually dismissed as pathetic losers, weird one-eyed ideologues determined to ruin the party – and like Cassandra, they go unheeded. It’s comic to hear our politicians desperately claiming that nobody foresaw the current economic catastrophe, and that it was ‘unpredictable’.

Bollocks. Many, many people predicted it, even non-experts. Be honest: Even as you saw your own house value shoot through the stratosphere in 2007, wasn’t there some part of your brain – even if you’re a committed, apostolic optimist – that said: “This is insane. Nothing goes up forever. There’s a horrible crash coming.”

Yet few said it, even to close friends. In public, hardly anyone said it… though millions were thinking it.

Cui bono?

To understand how this has become so entrenched in our society, you have to ask, as Ehrenreich does: Cui bono? In all of the rose-tinted froth about mental attitude shaping reality, in all those positive-thinking corporate away-day cheer-a-thons, in all the think-your-way-to-better-health bullshit of the medical optimism quacks… in all of this, who benefits? Who or what gains from you and I being optimistic, refusing to see a down side, trying to ‘turn negatives into positives’?

I’ll tell you: The Powers That Be, ie the State (it’s YOUR responsibility to make yourself a job/get healthy through positive thinking… not ours through rational economic planning and service provision), Business (it’s YOUR responsibility to turn your redundancy into a ‘good experience’ through the power of positive thinking… it’s not our fault for downsizing you if your life turns to impoverished dogshit) and even Doctors (YOU make yourself well through positive thinking. If the chemotherapy fails, it’s because YOU ‘lost the fight’ with cancer. Your fault, not medicine’s).

I could go on. Luckily for you – as I’m fond of saying – I won’t.

Just do me a favour. Next time you’re about to tell somebody to ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘cheer up, it may never happen’, or ‘don’t be so negative’… don’t. Trying asking yourself, instead:

“WHY am I being so fucking positive? Where’s the evidence that it’s justified? Where’s the evidence that it will really help?”

PS Here’s a useful and timely reminder of how useful pessimism SHOULD be… and how everyone ignores/minimises/scorns it nonetheless (here’s another one). The current Eurozone fuck-up really was predicted – to the letter, in graphic and prescient detail – by scores of eurosceptics. Who were of course all rabid, dogmatic ‘madmen’.

When I find the forces of idiotic positivity ranged against me, I try to remember that history’s greatest Englishman, Winston Churchill, was himself – despite the celebrated optimism quotation – a profound pessimist. All his politics, from opposition to Irish home rule to advocacy of the Gallipoli campaign, sprang from an in-built expectation of human failure, fear of British weakness and other nations’ evil motives. His was a lone voice in the unpopular campaign for rearmament between the wars. Nobody wanted to hear his pessimism about Hitler’s intentions… yet his pessimism was of course totally vindicated. People have now forgotten that many of his profound insights – and that majorly important one, in particular – came from a questioning, pessimistic, suspicious, rationalist mind. God bless him.

Posted on 22nd September 2011
Under: Rants | 10 Comments »

Mixed allotment produce

mixed allotment produceWhat an miserable summer it’s been. Even September – usually dependably lovely – has let us down this year.

Having said that, the endless rain has given me some astonishing crops. This is just one trugful. I’ve been getting this every week for months.

That’s not to say everything’s been good, of course. Potatoes got blight VERY early and yields suffered accordingly. The corn didn’t like it much, either.

But everything else has gone bananas. I’ve had the best beetroot, onions, courgettes and carrots I can ever remember. The courgettes, in particular, are a menace. I am already a leper to my neighbours – to be avoided at all costs, lest I attempt to foist a courgette upon them.

How did you do this season?

Posted on 11th September 2011
Under: Cucurbits, Roots, Sweetcorn | 6 Comments »

Rats are eating my corn

corn cobsBastard rats.

This hasn’t been a problem – much – on my plot before. Dunno why. Plenty of my neighbours get their corn scoffed. Mine has always largely escaped.

Not this year. Fucking rodents have murdered most of it.

My theory: the corn didn’t grow very tall this year. Too little water in a very warm spring, and too much since.

The result is smaller plants that rats can climb more easily.

Perhaps that’s bollocks. Any theories?

Posted on 5th September 2011
Under: Sweetcorn | 7 Comments »

Britain: Still ‘dirty’

Came across this story about supermarket rooftop hydroponics. What a brilliant idea. I hope it does well for them, and eventually comes to the UK.

I stumble across these initiatives from time to time, but oh so rarely. Given that climate change and ecology are big issues in our time, it’s amazing how little is being done to change our behaviours.

  • Everything I buy at the supermarket is still swathed in plastic packaging – needlessly.
  • The fruit and veg they offer are still gorgeously uniform, flawless and perfectly scrubbed. Which means agri-chemicals, piles of rejects and endless waste, waste, waste.
  • Supermarkets and shops still offer ‘disposable’ plastic bags (Jeez, even Americans – hardly the world’s foremost ecologists – stopped this nonsense YEARS AGO).
  • Home-fit photovoltaics and wind turbines are still wildly expensive to fit and maintain. Subsidies are still derisory.
  • Domestic recycling is a recent introduction to the UK. Recycling and anti-packaging regulations have been normal in Germany – to cite but one example – for many years.

I could go on… but luckily for you, I won’t. The list of things that shouldn’t be happening is endless. You might care to add some examples in the comments, if this bee also inhabits your bonnet.

By the way, I’m not a dreadlocked eco-warrior. I’m actually an anthropogenic climate change doubter.

But here’s the thing: even if human beings aren’t wrecking the climate, we ARE using up our planet’s resources at an unsustainable rate. One day, they WILL run out – if we carry on like this. So for fuck’s sake, let’s stop.

Posted on 27th August 2011
Under: Rants | 9 Comments »

Harvesting in the weeds

mixed allotment produceSo here’s a small selection of vegetables produced on the ‘unacceptably weedy’ Soilman allotment. And there’s a shit load more where they came from.

Weeds there may be, but I’m getting a bumper harvest. In fact, there’s usually a correlation between the amount of weed and the size of my harvest. In a good growing year, you get a lot of weed. Surprise!

I’m over the warning letter now. Have moved from irritation to resignation. If folks insist upon being cunts, there’s not much I can do about it.

huge onionInstead, I’m busy drying my monster onions and preparing for the big potato harvest tomorrow. It’s a month early because we’ve had a major attack of potato blight this year. My maincrop spuds lost the last of their foliage about a fortnight ago – so I’m not expecting a best-ever potato crop.

Still, I’m excited… because a preliminary dig in among the Golden Wonder mounds revealed some monsters. Looks like they’ve done OK, even with blight.

Posted on 20th August 2011
Under: Alliums, Cucurbits, Potatoes, Roots | 11 Comments »