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All is not lost – provided you can dodge the muck and bullets

August 10, 2021

This post is a bit of a ramble. Not that I’m apologising. There’s been too much going on for sustained orderly thinking. It’s been a month since we moved house. The wounds on top of my head sustained by colliding with low doorways in our new home have largely healed. My brain has become used to the new terrain. More importantly, its cells seem to have avoided permanent damage.

The war against ground elder in the garden has intensified. The battle to bring order to the garage is largely over – family heirlooms are beginning to emerge from the primordial swamp of boxes, bags, crates and redundant furniture. The endless emptying of boxes stacked in various parts of the house is nearing conclusion. Long-lost clothes are coming to light. Not exactly stashes of Victorian frock coats and pinafores, but stuff old enough to spark memories of when, back in marital pre-history, we last wore them and where we bought them.

Some mysteries endure. Where are the controls for the central heating? This is a question that will become highly relevant in a couple of month’s time. Why do the external lights come on and off of their own accord? We’re thinking of booking an exorcist. And why do the rugs we’ve laid down on the downstairs carpets seem to move of their own volition? After years of having wood flooring, this is a phenomenon new to us. Even the plastic mat that allows an office chair to move around is drifting about, despite little spikes that are supposed to grip the carpet.

But here’s a more serious conundrum. Our new home backs on to hundreds of acres of meadows and woodland. We have trees, hedges and a beautiful lake nearby. Our old place was in the middle of a private estate with plenty of trees and a bit of woodland nearby, but smack bang in the middle of a busy town. How come the mornings here are relatively silent? I estimate about a quarter of the birds come near our new garden than visited the old. Also no foxes, no squirrels and no evidence of predatory cats. The most common birds to be seen are crows and pigeons. Where are the tits, the robins, the woodpeckers and the blackbirds? The dawn chorus often sounds like a single soloist playing to an empty auditorium. Something must be done. A garden without birds has no soul.

The Olympics have provided welcome relief from the voyage of discovery. Not that I’ve been watching much stuff on TV, but the drumbeat of headlines about this or that medal won by our glorious team was a useful distraction from the usual menu of murder, mayhem and destruction. That said, the Games have their own quirky traditions of indeterminate origin. What the hell is this pike that gymnasts and divers perform? If it’s a fish, why not a salmon? And if it’s a spear, why not call it a bloody spear, rather than a weapon that went out of fashion three hundred years ago? Or possibly a lance? As for those curious cycling competitions, what do Keirin and Madison have to do with anything?

Anyway, I have no doubt that the winners themselves and their families are jumping for joy. But for most of us, for whom taekwondo and urban skateboarding are sports that only come to our attention once every four years, I suspect that the reaction to our successes were little more than a mute “oh that’s nice” rather than roars of approval and raucous flag-waving. That was even more the case when most of the events took place in the dead of night or early in the morning. Watching the edited highlights is not quite the same as the full-on live experience.

Everyone loves a winner, of course, but the dopamine surge that would have resulted from England winning the Euros would have been earthshattering compared with the quiet satisfaction to be derived from a gold medal in skeet shooting (whatever a skeet might be).

But hey, we should take our dopamine where we find it, because there’s so much else going on that might cause us to reach for the oxycontin.

The blubbery charlatan is still running (or should we say ruining) the country. Wildfires in Greece are the worst for the thirty years – did we blame climate change back then? We in Britain have spent two weeks getting royally soaked. Again, climate change? Nobody seems to remember the endlessly wet summers that used to plague us in the sixties. If you detect a note of cynicism, perhaps it’s because I’m suspicious of any phenomenon that becomes an article of faith rather than the product of reason. I’m not a denier, merely confused and ignorant. Or possibly susceptible to the plague of wishful thinking. I’m certainly not going to stand to attention when a minister whose only professional exposure to science is as a chartered accountant (the science of obfuscation?) tells me that we’re in the last chance saloon. And when the scientists all speak with one voice, the more they sound like Pharisees.

And then there are the virulent anti-vax propagandists who on a regular basis seem to be going to their graves swearing that it’s safer to get COVID than to be vaccinated against it. I guess that if you’re going to hold an irrational belief, you might as well be prepared to die for it.

Further afield, the Taliban are waging a vicious campaign of intimidation and revenge as they seek to take back Afghanistan, Bashar Al-Assad is pulverising rebel cities in Syria, North Korea is starving again. Russia, China, the US and even little Britain are busy playing war games.

Has there ever been a worse time to be alive? In terms of pessimism shared across the globe about the future, perhaps not. But it can’t have been much fun being caught up in the Black Death, the Hundred Years War, the Taiping Rebellion or two world wars. What has changed is that we’ve been reminded of two possible causes of mass extinction – climate change and pandemics – to add to the modern perennials of nuclear conflict, asteroid strikes and super-volcanos.

So even if we’ve been lucky enough thus far to avoid war zones or the ravages of COVID, or even the more mundane causes of personal destruction – knife crime or riding a scooter into oncoming traffic, for example – we’re still consumed by a miasma of fear about things to come.

Looking forward to things that are still vaguely under individual control, what’s to look forward to? La Belle France is open again. Perhaps a trip in September, along with legions of other vaxed-up retirees for whom the attraction of visiting a foreign country is now the proximity of loos and the availability of a decent hospital nearby as much as the quality of the restaurants and the beauty of the scenery. Further afield will have to wait until we’ve had our COVID/flu boosters in the autumn. By the way, much as I sympathise with the argument that we should share our excess vaccine with nations that need it most rather than using it to give third jabs to our own population, there’s also an argument that getting double-jabbed to the greatest possible extent and then boostered, we can serve as a test bed that will inform other countries about the effectiveness of such an approach. And shouldn’t we, as a responsible, wealthy nation, aim to do both?

But then again, perhaps I’ve forgotten that our country is run by Boris Johnson and an assorted gang of spivs and grifters, and we no longer have the right to call ourselves responsible. Fortunately though, it’s worth remembering that Boris is for Christmas, not for life. Sooner or later we’ll chuck him out of the car window onto some layby on the way to sanity.

With that happy thought, I’ll end with another bit of good news. The proposed tunnel near Stonehenge, which I drove past the other day, would have laid waste to thousands of years of potential archaeological treasure. It has been blocked by a legal action. Hopefully our transportation planners will come up with another scheme that will divert traffic from the area altogether. Surely another ten minutes on the journey to Cornwall is a price worth paying to avoid the desecration of an area so steeped in evidence of early human habitation? If our future is as a much-diminished landmass in which the arches of Stonehenge and the nearby tumuli occasionally pop up above a permanent lake, perhaps we shouldn’t care. But we aren’t at that point yet, and if we have the wit to devise methods of reducing carbon emissions, then surely the challenge of preserving a national treasure isn’t beyond us.

As the story of the Stonehenge tunnel shows and even the most pessimistic climate scientists seem to agree, all is not yet lost. A thought worth hanging on to.

From → History, Politics, Sport, Travel, UK

  1. Roddy Bourke permalink

    Steve great article as usual. PS The near silence in your garden may be because it is no longer spring! Our garden at this time of year is quiet too.

    • Thanks Roddy. Ha! Well that’s one mystery solved. But it begs the question of where do they go when they’re not in our garden. Siberia perhaps… S

  2. Doug Langmead permalink

    Maybe you are in the Wrong House, Steve.

  3. Doug Langmead permalink

    The Wrong House – AA Milne

    I went into a house, and it wasn’t a house,
    It has big steps and a great big hall;
    But it hasn’t got a garden,
    A garden,
    A garden,
    It isn’t like a house at all.

    I went into a house, and it wasn’t a house,
    It has a big garden and great high wall;
    But it hasn’t got a may-tree,
    A may-tree,
    A may-tree,
    It isn’t like a house at all.

    I went into a house, and it wasn’t a house –
    Slow white petals from the may-tree fall;
    But it hasn’t got a blackbird,
    A blackbird,
    A blackbird,
    It isn’t like a house at all.

    I went into a house, and I thought it was a house,
    I could hear from the may-tree the blackbird call…
    But nobody listened to it,
    Liked it,
    Nobody wanted it at all.

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