Monday, January 02, 2017

The unwritten places

I've been reading Roger Deakin's Waterlog, a moving and stille vocation of the seemingly faintly transgressive act of wild swimming. Being someone who tends to go against the grain, I've got a lot of sympathy for Deakin's cussedness, and determination to swim wherever the hell he pleases. This isn't, however, intended to be a book review, I'd recommend it,by all means, you should check it out, but it was one idea that came from the reading which particularly stuck with me.

Whilst exploring a series of Tarns in the Welsh Rhinog Mountains, Deakin discovers some ruined outbuildings, not marked on the map. It is this fact which pleases him most, the idea that we don't know everything, that maps can be wrong. I'd extrapolate further that this is a delight that life still has a bit of mystery to it (what on earth he'd make of Google Maps is anybody's guess, I imagine that for him they'd be something else stripping magic from the world). In this section he makes passing mention of "The Unwritten Places" (now, I note in researching this post, the subject of a 2014 book by Tim Salmon), wild parts of the northern Greek mountains, left off the map to avoid taxation by Turkish authorities (there's possibly a trite joke there to be made about Greeks and taxes, but I can imagine Nigel Farage making it, which is as good a reason as any to steer clear).

What spoke to me is that there is still a possibility of stepping off the tracks, in this hyper-scrutinised, over-exposed world in which we find ourselves living (and yes, I'm aware of the irony of writing this in a blog, you would perhaps prefer me to be scribbling it on the wall at the bottom of a well?), the idea of places being unwritten, as that allows tus the possibility to write our own scripts, which is, in the New Year, what we're all trying to do, after all.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

There are no easy answers at a time like this.

The (not entirely surprising, post-Brexit) win of Donald Trump in the US presidential election is one of the more seismic events of what could reasonably classed as "quite a lively year". There's going to be a lot of bollocks talked about it over the coming weeks and months, so I thought I'd get my half-baked theorising in early, in order to bugger off birdwatching, or listening to the cricket or something, anything, less distressing than the thought of a Trump Presidency.

And no, there aren't any easy answers. But there are a few things worth noting.

After the EU referendum, it was easy for those of us on the Remain side to point and say "racism". But anyone capable of a little reflective thought will have gone "Well no, not all of them. That's not possible, there must be other reasons." So it is with Trump.

I do not doubt for a fraction of a second that race played a part, or, for that matter gender. It is a truth that white men will always vote for white men. But it's also true that Trump won states which, for the past two elections, voted for a black man. So it can't all be about race. But does race play a part? Sure. Trump was endorsed by the KKK. It's galling to see the Klan's leader tweeting #Make AmericaGreat and #LockHerUp. It's galling to imagine the leader of the Klan having anything other than a painful urinary tract infection, I grant you, but to imagine the fucker happy? Well, that's a bit much. I do not doubt that some of Trump's supporters are racist. But I'm not stupid enough to imagine they all are.

How about Misogyny? A definite contender for sure. The thought of a woman as president is just too much for men who have no problem with a man who "grabs them by the pussy". Yep, there are definitely a bunch of woman-haters in the trump vote. And not even the overt ones, there are the ones who just shrug off his outrageous statements on abortion, his objectification, even his acts of sexual assault and, lest we forget, rape. Yep there are plenty of people willing to overlook all that (including, and I'll stick this bit in bold 52% of white women). But are all Trump voters by definition misogynist? I doubt it.

So, to recap, not all racist, not all misogynist.

Then we get to the working class argument, beloved of George Galloway and the Brexiteers. The vote to leave the EU and the vote for trump are of the same cast, a howl of working class outrage, the "left-behind". Those who've seen their livelihoods destroyed by the remorseless forces of globalisation (or foreigners, depending on which paper you read). Yeah, not bad, this one might have some legs with anyone who's ever drawn a link between the destruction of manufacturing bases and a general decline of living standards amongst working class communities. Which would be anyone who was awake in the eighties. Yes, this one's a little more plausible. But the ethnic minority working class vote was solidly Clinton, so, not all the working class...

Which is a bit of a tricky one, anyway. the Brexit vote revealed the vast gulf between the traditional Labour vote and what the modern Labour party stands for. Likewise, the republican Party, the friend of Wall St and Asset-strippers everywhere is the one that's talking about coal-mining and bringing industrial jobs back. the democrats are suddenly, shockingly, in the position of finding themselves spun as the party that's AGAINST the working man. Quite a neat trick to pull off, and largely what Osborne was trying to do to Labour prior to May's night of the long knives (normal Tory service was resumed when May started banging on about grammar schools, not a massive vote-winner in industrial heartlands).

None of these factors alone led to a Trump victory, but it was a toxic brew of all of them, combined with a general distaste for Hillary herself, which did the trick, I suspect. Sitting here in the aftermath I'm trying to work out where on Earth we go next.

What seems clear is that society is more polarised than ever before. I'm a left-leaning, highly-educated liberal. So you'd expect me to be spitting bile about the result, but frankly, I don't see the point. As far as I can see, it's the left and centre's inability to engage with traditional bases which has caused this (and, for that matter, Brexit). I'm figuratively laughing my tits off at some of the tripe being spouted by the Labour far-left this morning about how "Establishment politics is dead" and that this is somehow going to lead to the anointing of Corbyn as PM.

It isn't.

What it is is the rise of a xenophobic populism which appeals to the scared and disenfranchised, with a few racists and swivel-eyed loons hiding behind the vast mass of pissed-off, let-down people. What it is is a vote for "anything's better than this", just as Brexit was. And for as long as those of us on the left refuse to engage with the vast majority of reasonable people who've done an unreasonable thing, this situation will only worsen. And we will become less and less relevant to the national debate, easier and easier to characterise as the "liberal elite."

It's incumbent upon all of us to call out any form of discrimination wherever we see it, true. What it is not in our gift to do is to sneer at the spouters of this bollocks. Engage, argue, win. One voter at a time. It's all we can do.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Digging in the crates

I've written before about the sheer overwhelming amount of text there is in the world (at least I think I have, I should have anyway, I think about it quite a lot), and I've been reflecting on that as I've been going over old work.

As someone who feels compelled to write, but not necessarily compelled to do anything with it, I have over the years amassed a vast amount of journals, notebooks, old word files in the dustier corners of my hard drive, all filled with poems, stories, half poems, half stories, ideas, occasionally the odd line that I liked.

I've been going through them, i rather felt bad that something might be languishing in one, half-decent but long-forgotten, it's been an interesting exercise. I'm calling it "rescued poems" and as and when one gets rescued, I'll pop them up on coastalblog's sister blog, The Armchair Dissident. It's the least they deserve.

Monday, August 29, 2016

News tinnitus, status quo bias, writer's block and fear of failure.

I had rationalised my writer's block as simply the world being too absurd to comment upon. You'll be familiar with the old story that, when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace price, the satirist Tom Lehrer retired, as satire couldn't compete with reality. So it's been with me, in retreat from the sheer insanity of modern political discourse I felt no urge to comment upon it, felt rather that a period of looking the other way was in order. And is so often the way with me, withdrawal from one part of the writing process lead to complete withdrawal from all of it. Plus I was too busy at work, it's not fair on the family for me to be locked away with a computer, I need some time doing nothing. Many reasons.

Well, that's what I told myself, anyway.

Then I read an interesting piece by Oliver Burkeman. Now, I've never been much of a one for self help and analysis, I think mentally I've lumped it all in the bin marked "hippy bollocks" along with crystals, hypnosis and all the other crap all the superannuated lovechildren in Boscastle cooed about. Everything I left behind without a backward glance. The good and the bad. I'd snort at the idea of therapy, nothing in life that can't be cured by going for a run, or, if that fails, getting drunk. But something in this piece struck a chord, I mmd at it, and went about my day.

I am right, by the way, that most things can be cured by going for a run for, as is so often the case with me, it was on a run that this piece then dropped into my brain, which had obviously been performing a number of subroutines as the miles wore on. One of those things you're thinking about without realising you're thinking about it. Click, click, click, oh of course.

It suddenly became clear that my semi-retirement from writing was due to not really seeing myself as one any more. I was keeping the status quo going, chef, businessman, husband, father. Writer was falling further and further down the list due to my inertia. Due to being afraid of considering myself a writer. Fear of failure, fear of rejection.

It was around about the eighth kilometre that I thought right, okay. Be a writer. So I am.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Is Leadsom the Tory Corbyn?

You will have noticed the brouhaha surrounding putative conservative leader Andrea Leadsom and her remarks about motherhood, it's been rather difficult to avoid them. I watched the reaction unfolding when I got back from work on Friday night, alerted at first by Leadsom's furious tweets about being misrepresented. After her official apology, I'm forced to wonder if these initial tweets weren't laying the groundwork for something far cleverer.

Post Brexit, there's been a lot of talk about how the vote was for some a protest against "The Establishment" those nebulous shadowy figures who are carelessly ruining all our lives for us. Those who of it wasn't for "them" we'd all be living happier and wealthier lives (The problem with this is of course that it's total cobblers, which I'll return to some day). There is a climate of mistrust of elites (accompanied by a dangerous prevailing anti-intellectualism, but that too is a post for another day). "The Establishment" has as its running dogs "The Media" and "The Establishment"'s media outlet of choice is The Times. To stand up and cry foul against the Times puts Leadsom on the right side of the country's prevailing mood of mistrust of authority.

As to the remarks themselves, the unpleasant implication that May's unfit to be PM due to her childlessness, they are of course beneath contempt. But whilst they are awful and and of themselves, it should be borne in mind that the voters who will decide the next PM are Conservative members. Not me, probably not you, and certainly not Conservative MP's. In much the same way as Corbyn's shock success was down to the party grassroots, I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see the Conservative rank and file break for Leadsom. The demographic is overwhelmingly white, middle class and around the average age of 60. They are predominately some way to the right of the parliamentary party's stance on social issues (Cameron' stance on gay marriage, for example, did not endear him to the party faithful). They do stand for what they perceive to be "British values" family, church etc. Leadsom talks their traditionalist language in much the same way as Corbyn blew the dog whistles that stirred the heart of the traditional Left.

May, on the other hand, is the candidate of "The Establishment". The Media have her as a heavy favourite, and most thinking people would say she's a far stronger candidate. But The Media also discounted Corbyn entirely. The party membership, however, had other ideas.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

It's tempting to get shot of the whole shebang

We truly are living in very interesting times. Or times of great opportunity. Or the End of Days. Or scary times, or upbeat times, or any sort of time it is perceived to be in the eye of the beholder. The country's racist, the country isn't racist. It's worse than the seventies. The seventies were a golden time. It's Thatcherism all over again. Thatcher would have been a Remainer. Remainers are whiners, Levers are bigots. Corbyn's a disaster, Corbyn's the Messiah. Leadsom's a liar. Leadsom's being stitched up.

Frankly, it's never been more tempting to fuck off to the middle of a moor with a tent and big bag of books. Which, if I didn't have children, a wife and a job, I'd probably be doing right about now. My fellow countrymen haven't shown themselves in the best of lights over the last few weeks, and I'm not talking only of Brexiteers. The roiling shambles engulfing both the Conservatives and Labour are enough to cause anyone to shake their head sadly and then walk off a cliff in despair at human nature.

However, for better or worse, we're all bloody well stuck here, so might as well stand and fight.

To that end, I've put my money where my mouth is, and actually joined the Labour Party. Not out of any great admiration at the way they're currently conducting themselves, which lends "shambolic" a degree of respectability. But it is time to get involved. The Lib Dems are irrelevant and I could never, ever be a Conservative, on account of my base instinct is to like people, not wonder how much money I can wring out of them.

Of course, this also means I get a say in the upcoming Corbyn/Eagle deathmatch. Not a choice which excites me if I'm honest. I am by no means anti-Corbyn. I would point out that every electoral test he's had, he's won. I was slightly mystified last year when at the council elections the BBC tried to paint a large increase in the vote as "a disaster for the Labour Party". Really? This was the point at which I thought ah, yes, there probably is a consensus that he needs getting rid of. All of which rather warms me to the man.

But dear me the Corbyn acolytes, I can't be doing with them. I've watched time and again in horror as anti-Corbyn voices are shouted down, accused of lies, sometimes in the most ridiculous of terms (I read a facebook comment saying the party needed a "Purge" uh, guys, anyone on the left needs to disassociate themselves from the word "Purge", seriously, go away, read a book on 20th century history and then come back to me). Importantly, not engaged with. NB I don't think this is actually the fault of JC himself, more that there's a certain brand of wide eyed acolyte which is only capable of thinking in binary terms. I don't, I'm a grown up, I can do nuance.

It is of course, loudest on social media, and it's depressing that people still don't seem to have learned that social media doesn't equal real life. But when it translates into meetings descending into shouting matches it isn't constructive. If the Momentum types were serious about consensus politics, then the smearing and accusations would cease. Discipline is what's required.

But the PLP haven't exactly covered themselves in glory either, and Eagle least of all. Humming and hawing despite having a website already set up. Praising Corbyn widely and then shafting him (anyone for Gove?), not as yet, for me, a compelling candidate. Though in fairness I've yet to hear much of what she stands for, so I'll keep an open mind for now.

In simple terms, it looks like a choice between a well-meaning guy backed up by some idiots, and a bunch of chancers who seem marginally more competent, but you wouldn't leave them to water your plants. Not the most compelling selection. But choose we must.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Obligatory referendum post

It was pointed out me that I've been fairly quiet on the subject of the referendum so far. This is largely because I didn't want to state the bleeding obvious. Remain, obviously. Every argument I've heard from leave has been vague hand-flapping of the "it'll be fine" variety. I've heard no numbers. It's an emotional argument peddled by misty-eyed fantasists of an Elgar-soundtracked Merrie England which NEVER EXISTED at the more palatable end, and by swivel eyed bigots and xenophobes at the less refined end. All their argument about "red tape" conveniently ignore the protection of workers which eu directives enforce (and which the Tories would dearly love to get rid of, reckon maternity allowance would be what it is out of the eu? Then you're an imbecile. Get to the back of the class and play with some paper or something). I'd have some sympathy for the immigration argument, were it not for the fact that every eastern European I've ever met has been conscientious and hard working, and the ONS's own numbers indicate that they contribute far more to the economy than they take out. I understand the emotional dislike of immigration as eroding traditional societal structures but, frankly, it's the twenty-first century. get over it. There's a racist element to the Leave argument which can't be ignored and should be confronted.

Further disenchantment with the leave case is provided by those fronting it. I just don't believe in them. Gove spent ages banging on about how we should "be like Norway" until it was pointed out they pay in almost as much as we do. His next best argument? Albania. And all that shit he's chatting about giving money to the NHS, does anyone buy that for a second? I also refuse to believe talk of dropping VAT on fuel from a man which was part of a government which enthusiastically raised VAT to it's current eye-watering 20%. As for Johnson, I don't think he's ever said a word he believed in. This is the sight of a man prepared to gamble with an entire country purely for the sake of his own political ambition. The rest seem to be the usual mob of angry middle class white blokes (with Gisela Stuart as a fig-leaf to cover their shrivelled privates).

Remain's case is more compelling, not that I'm a fan of how Cambo and Osborne have gone about it. their scaremongering is as unpalatable as BoJo's opportunist flag-waving but, crucially, they have the stats. They have numbers. This decision is too important to leave to the heart alone. And much as it pains me to agree with Osborne about ANYTHING it seesm for once his sums are roughly in the right ballpark

I'm by no means a big EU fan, the sustained humiliation of the Greeks was hard to stomach from a progressive's point of view. It is an unwieldy machine and, as such, wasteful. But it strikes me that the correct approach is a sceptical remain, because you can't reform anything from the outside. On the whole I feel it does more good than harm. Not had a lot in the way of land wars in Europe since it's inception, either, have we? Not much of a banner-waving argument, I agree. But that's because I'm a grown up. I'm not here to wave a fucking flag around, I'm here to do the right thing by my wife, my kids, my fellow countrymen and my fellow europeans. So yes, Remain, obviously.