Thursday, 19 April 2018

Motoring under a blue sky

Wall tile from Coleton Fishacre

What a fine day - too sunny for gardening or even walking so we went for a drive around Derbyshire. Off to Buxton followed by a meandering return journey via Bakewell taking in three coffee stops along the way. 

With the top down under a blue sky and copious quantities of sunshine it was easy enough to imagine why motoring caught the imagination. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Roll on winter

It was log day today, one of my favourite jobs, stacking a new load of logs for next winter. Once those fleeting moments of sunshine we refer to as "summer" are out of the way we'll be back in front of the log burner. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

The radiance of a gorgeous tropic day?

It has been one of my commonest experiences, and one of the most interesting to me, to note that nearly all of my keenest experiences intellectually, my most gorgeous rapprochements and swiftest developments mentally, have been by, to, and through men, not women, although there have been several exceptions to this. Nearly every turning point in my career has been signalized by my meeting some man of great force, to whom I owe some of the most ecstatic intellectual hours of my life, hours in which life seemed to bloom forth into new aspects, glowed as with the radiance of a gorgeous tropic day.

Theodore Dreiser – Twelve Men (1919)

It isn’t easy to know what to make of this. I can go along with - my keenest experiences intellectually have been by, to, and through men, not women, and in my case there have also been several exceptions to this. So far so good, it is merely a statement of personal experience.

However I have certainly never had any ecstatic intellectual hours of my life, hours in which life seemed to bloom forth into new aspects, glowed as with the radiance of a gorgeous tropic day. In my case it was much more subdued, much more incremental.

The obvious conclusion is that this is merely Dreiser’s hype. Obvious but not particularly interesting so maybe he was writing of a world further removed from ours than we might suppose. Yes that’s much more interesting. Not quite radiant but more interesting.

Maybe Dreiser’s world was one where personal contact, personal influence and inspiration were more important than they are today, a world where it was easier to be inspired by others. A world where intellectual exploration was reaching some kind of peak from which it has since declined under the stultifying pressures of money, celebrity culture and political virtue signalling.

In any event, Dreiser’s must have been a world of great contrasts but not the remote and politically contrived contrasts we see today. In his world the contrasts were to be found only a few streets away and they were stark indeed. Fatally sharp contrasts between competent and incompetent, lucky and unlucky, winners and losers, skilled and unskilled, wanted and unwanted. It must have engendered a vast and pervasive clarity we no longer have.

Maybe we have lost that level of clarity as we prospered in a world we never planned and perhaps never would have planned had we seen and understood what the future was likely to bring.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Old film

Last week Grandson told me about what he called “an old film” he’d watched recently. It was a monster film and although he enjoyed it he thought the graphics weren’t very good. I asked him when the film was made and he told me 1981.

“Crikey, a film made in 1981 isn’t old,” I thought, but of course it is to him. My immediate notion of an “old film” was a black and white film made no later than the fifties, but on reflection one made in 1981 would probably seem old to me too. Films soon become dated. For one thing some or even most of the actors in a 1981 film could be dead by now.

All those decades and all those films we watched. They haven’t improved much, if at all.

That conversation with Grandson reminded me of another film-watching incident. Mrs H and I recently watched a definitely old film from the 1940s and for once managed to hear every word. It had been remastered but the dialogue was clear enough for our ageing ears. Just as well because it was mostly dialogue.

However, a recently watched modern film starring Nicholas Cage was entirely different – we had to use the Bluetooth headphones to make out what the man was saying. The quality of film actors' diction seems to have declined over the decades, but dialogue seems to have become less significant too, as if the image is more important than the words. 

Friday, 13 April 2018

We’ll make a regular headliner of it

In 1919 Theodore Dreiser published a series of short biographies of people he had known collected together in a book entitled Twelve Men. The first biography was about a young man he called Peter who like Dreiser at that time worked in newspaper and magazine publishing. Dreiser regarded Peter very highly, a polymath with an enormous zest for life who died tragically young. On one occasion Peter decided to invent a wild man just for the fun of it.

“For heaven’s sake, what’s coming now?” I sighed.

 “Oh, very well. But I have it all worked out just the same. We’re beginning to run the preliminary telegrams every three or four days—one from Ramblersville, South Jersey, let us say, another from Hohokus, twenty-five miles farther on, four or five days later. By degrees as spring comes on I’ll bring him north—right up here into Essex County—a genuine wild man, see, something fierce and terrible.

We’re giving him long hair like a bison, red eyes, fangs, big hands and feet. He’s entirely naked—or will be when he gets here. He’s eight feet tall. He kills and eats horses, dogs, cattle, pigs, chickens. He frightens men and women and children. I’m having him bound across lonely roads, look in windows at night, stampede cattle and drive tramps and peddlers out of the country. But say, wait and see. As summer comes on we’ll make a regular headliner of it. We’ll give it pages on Sunday. We’ll get the rubes to looking for him in posses, offer rewards. Maybe some one will actually capture and bring in some poor lunatic, a real wild man. You can do anything if you just stir up the natives enough.”

It worked of course. There were sightings and stories about Peter’s imaginary wild man coming in from all over the place. Eventually to round it off, he dressed himself up as the wild man of his imagination then dropped the whole thing and so it fizzled out and was soon forgotten.

Perhaps Peter's wild man is a reminder of how important credulity has always been and how much it has always been manipulated by mass media. We cannot question everything and to our enduring cost it is more socially constructive to accept rather than reject. Almost as if we are built to believe. Who is your wild man?

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Trump's move

For most of us, some high profile incidents do not come with enough information to make a worthwhile judgement. Key information is missing. If we join a public debate we risk doing so from a position of ignorance. Doesn't stop people of course.

The recent chemical attack in Syria and the Sergei and Yulia Skripal poisoning for example. There isn't enough information for most of us to be reasonably certain that we are not being deceived in one way or another. Which is to be expected but browsing the internet suggests a vast number of media people manage to be well-informed without key information, as if a pre-existing standpoint provides enough perspective for their readers. Perhaps it does.

To my mind the best we can do is to assess the moves being made by the main actors. The moves are fairly visible even if somewhat obscured by whatever is going on behind the scenes. For example the international position of Mr Putin seems to have taken a few knocks. That is visible. Not so long ago he could be presented as an urbane and intelligent but ruthless leader who was democratically elected. Elected unfairly perhaps but still elected. That was visible too.

Now he seems more like an international thug who tried to kill an old enemy by using a nerve toxin on foreign soil and who condoned the use of chemical warfare against civilians in Syria. This may or may not be the case – we don’t have the key information but the visible game runs against him. Meanwhile Donald Trump seems to have positioned himself as an international referee with a big stick.

Of course one cannot demonstrate this satisfactorily via public information and many of those with a pre-existing standpoint won’t see it this way at all, but amid the swirl of confusion and opinion, moods and perspectives may be changing. It must be an appalling prospect for his shouty opponents, but Trump may be a competent president. Even worse – he may be very competent.

From this same perspective we have the embarrassing irrelevance of the dear old EU. It needs a counter to Trump and it doesn’t have one. Not only that but apparently doesn’t yet see that it needs one.

Naturally things may change and may begin changing tomorrow because new perceptions can evolve quickly and powerful forces try to make sure they evolve in their favour. In which case Donald Trump’s regime is one of those powerful forces because behind the bluster his moves frequently turn out much better than his detractors expected.

We may not know what is said behind closed doors but this is where we do have some information – the moves and the players making those moves. Donald Trump plays the game unconventionally, but he seems to be a tough opponent. I certainly wouldn't bet against him.