Sunday, 26 March 2017

Imagining No Possessions (Part One)

A younger, more cynical version of me took issue with the song 'Imagine'.  Now: I am and always will be a Beatles devotee - they are still, despite everything, in my view very, very underrated - and maybe it's my enduring fascination with everything that happened in the Western world between 1962 and 1969 (not just viz. the Beatles, not even just viz. art) that left me unable to appreciate properly anything the Beatles did after the Beatles collapsed - but whatever the reason it's taken me this long to appreciate John Lennon's best known solo song for what it is.

I'm fond of telling people when the opportunity presents itself (and sometimes when it doesn't) that I'm actually a conservative: I believe in a return to traditional hippy values.  (It's not a bad line, is it?  Yeah thanks, you can use it).  Through the fog of post-postmodern pop decades, the essence of the countercultural dream - "all the people, sharing all the world" - seems so naive, so impossible, so completely contrary the spirit of 'progress' we're trying to squeeze out of the end of the end of history maybe just in time for the apocalypse, that it's offensive even to bring it up.  Do ISIS want a "brotherhood of man"?  Does Israel?  Does Saudi Arabia?  Does the USA?  Does post-Brexit Britain?  China?  Russia?  Does anyone?  Yes, of course.  What I meant to say - does anyone with the power to actually do anything about it?  No.  Of course not.  And do those with the power really want to share the world with those who live outside their patriotism, their economics, their ideology?  That would be "no", again.  Imagine there's no countries.  It's very hard to do.

So I'm sure my cynicism's understandable.  I'm just one person.  Then there's John Lennon himself, asking us mere mortals living without the luxury of spacious mansions, grand pianos, white carpets and enormous private gardens to imagine no possessions.  Yeah, ok John, I will if you will.  And you know those innovative, psychedelic, time shifting, surrealist pop masterpieces you managed to filter through the Beatles before everything fell apart?  That's what we love you for - and now you're giving us this?  A slow piano ballad in C major with an explicitly one-dimensional political message and without so much as a semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower or a soap impression of your wife that you ate and donated to the National Trust?!  A "'Working Class Hero' with sugar on it for conservatives like yourself" as even you described it to your recently estranged soulmate?  What happened, John?

But.  But...

You can't resist the power of this song.  You just can't.  The naivete, the simplicity, the audacity of it is really the whole (and only) point.  Forget all the bullshit and bollocks.  Forget all the reasons why your dream of a simple, peaceful world in the here and now will only ever be a dream.  Forget everything and just imagine.  It really is easy if you try.  I did it myself just the other day.

Now what?

Monday, 20 March 2017


The Equinox is here, and that feels like the right time to review the progress of my 'learning by doing' indoor gardening project.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

On staring out the window

The feeling that you're supposed to be doing something can be a hard one to shake. I feel I'm luckier than others I know in this respect in that I'm rarely racked by a guilty feeling that I might be "wasting time". As Bertrand Russell, a champion of idleness who nevertheless managed to get plenty done in his long, long life, said, time to you enjoy wasting isn't really wasted at all. Russell lived to be 97, suggesting that if he practiced what he preached on the subject of "laziness" (his political activities and promiscuous sexuality gives us good reason to think so, viz. his many other writings on these subjects) his idleness may well have been a contributing factor to his longevity. Scientific evidence now appears to back this up. Work is bad for you. Overwork can literally kill you; and being dead is bad, at least my opinion. (Anecdotally, a director at the company where I still (sort of) work recently died of a heart attack at the distinctly un-Russelian age of 47. The rumour was he was on a treadmill (an actual treadmill) at the time, having realised only that day how stressed he was, and how little time he'd been setting aside for exercise, not to mention rest and relaxation. This was a man, I should also add, who was apparently healthy: trim, a non-smoker, a loving father and husband, happy and fulfilled. But stressed, and now he's dead. He will never be any of those things ever again. So it goes).

Tuesday, 28 February 2017


I aspire to a 'zero waste' lifestyle, but I'm not there yet.  One major obstacle is plastic, a subject on which my mind wandered onto this blog a few posts back.  Where I live in Bury, there's a great vegetable market, though very little of what it sells there seems to be locally produced (local readers please correct me if I'm wrong). When you take 'food miles' into account, as well as, you know, the actual cost, it still seems as if it's better to buy from my local Co-op, just across the road. I'll set aside for now the fact that every single time I shop there they ask me "do I have a Co-op Card?" (no) followed immediately by "are you interested in becoming a member?" (NO) for the sake of convenience (however advantageous corporate loyalty schemes may be, the idea just makes me feel ill) but I also have to balance this against the unsustainable obsession all supermarkets have with wrapping absolutely everything they sell in at least one layer of plastic. This annoys me greatly and I've been scrupulously dividing my waste according to Bury Council's recycling stipulations (Bury Council aspire to be a zero waste local authority themselves, which is great, though I don't know yet if that means what they think it means) but this obviously pales into semi-significance when weighed against the fact that recycling is a far from perfect substitute for just not producing waste to begin with.

Tuesday is also writing day

My book, which has the working title, 'The Vegan Imperative' is coming along slowly, oh so slowly, but surely, I think.  You may recall a few weeks back I decided that Monday would be my writing day.  No matter what, every Monday I spend some time working on my book.  It's not a difficult promise to keep, vaguely defined as it is (five minutes, after all, counts as "some time") but I'm pleased to say I've managed to do so through January and February.  I have about eight to ten thousand words down, and they're shaping themselves into some kind of order.

But this isn't really enough, so I've decided that from today onwards (happy Pancake Day, if you like that sort of thing) Tuesday is going to be a writing day as well.  Yesterday I got a few paragraphs together explaining the Cambrian explosion (as much to myself as any future reader - evolutionary biology is hardly my area of expertise) and found myself tumbling down the rabbit hole of scientific research into such obscure matters as how and why the oxygen content of the atmosphere facilitated the evolution of eukaryotic life, the 'evolutionary arms race' that comes with the emergence of predation, as well as spending more time than I probably needed to pondering the more esoteric meanings of photosynthesis.  (Can you eat light?)  Writing a book is hard work, especially with a brain as scattered as mine, and with enormous gaps in my knowledge concerning the scientific lines of thought I want to follow, much research is needed.  I suppose if I can explain these things to myself I should be able to explain them to readers, too.

So all this requires more than one day a week.  It will probably require more than two, but for now that's as much as I can realistically afford.  It's snowing outside, and I need to top up my electric meter.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Everyday Things You Don't Really Need At All #1: Washing Up Liquid

I've always had a soft spot for those statistics you hear about how much of your life is occupied with the utterly mundane.  You spend one year of your life sitting on the toilet.  Six months in queues (not including the five months spent 'on hold').  Eleven years watching television.  Five years doing housework.  There's any number of listicles out there to scare and/or inspire you into spending more time doing things you love, always wished you had the time to do, or just doing the things that don't make you long for the sweet release of death.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

"I have everything I need"

Say these words to yourself, right now: "I have everything I need".  I'm confident that if you're reading them (maybe on your smartphone?) it's probably true.  You have everything you need.