The Loss of Reading

I heard a radio show in which a guy with some ideas about the future was predicting the end of reading within the next two or three decades. A silly thing to say; but these guys get their fees for their presence.

Now I visit quite a lot of bookshops; on and offline. And I have done so for 30 or more years now; and for that time I have been based in the same city in South Wales. I have seen a considerable amount of change come over books and bookselling in those years.

To be frank; bookshops are now filled say around 80% with materials which would have had difficultly finding a publisher 50 years ago. My personal opinion is that much of it should not have been published.

Now I am not some Puritan denouncer of popular fiction; there are in my opinion very good reasons why so much that is being published ought not to be published. I doubt many of these reasons are business ones.

I believe it was some philosopher who noted how one thought in one’s mind is able to drive out another; when the idea supplanting has sufficient force from some direction to supplant the idea exiting one’s consciousness. Simply, when the telephone rings and one is drawn away from what one is doing to answer; often once the call is done one is at a loss as to whereabouts one was up to etc.

The important thing to note in this example of the telephone call is that the call might be a spam call; whereas what you were in the middle of doing might have been a bit more important and relevant to your life; say, checking the dinner in the cooker? Thus it is not true to say or to believe that it is always the case that more important or urgent thoughts drive out the less urgent and less important ones. I believe it was Lord Byron who said, when at his desk writing poetry and he was asked by a lady whether she was interrupting him; ‘Yes: damnably so!’

My chief argument supporting my contention that much of what is published these days ought not to have been relates to a situation happening which is similar to Byron’s. The veritable avalanche of popular reading, of no special value and deliberately created and consumed as ephemera, acts to drive out – from the retailers’ bookshelves; thus from one’s mind and sight; from the publishers’ lists; from the school curricula; from the attention of a reading public in general; that core library of books which, as Mathew Arnold has it, represent ‘the best that has been thought and said in the world’.

I do believe that so many titles are nowadays published by policy as a kind of scattergun approach of the publishers in an attempt by them to either hit or miss with the reading public. A palpable hit, such as Fifty Shades or The Jesus Conspiracies, is a moneyspinner of huge proportions, especially when movie and other franchise rights stack up alongside the paperback venture. Thus publishers are pursuing business models similar to those of large pharmaceutical companies; whose four or five ‘blockbuster’ drug items which go global virally, act to bring in the income which sustains the whole operation of research and development of many many other drugs which never get beyond the early testings of them.

And just as pharmaceutical patents are applied for by the drug companies on almost everything newly developed by them; just in case one or two unexpectedly turn out to be a massive winner; so patents applied for in general follow much the same pattern – their owners apply in the hope and faint chance one or two might be game changers for them and sometimes for the world. Thus in pharmaceuticals, in patent applications and in publishing of popular fiction; waste is rife and even encouraged, because the thought of letting that golden wining ticket get away from one is such a fearful and such a dangerous thought for its potential owners to contemplate There was a local man here a few years ago now who threw his old PC onto the corporation dump; instead of having it recycled for parts in the proper manner. Saved himself time and a small fee. Only later did he remember he had bought several hundred bitcoin in the early days of the crypto-currency and that he had left their credentials and whereabouts on his PC now eroding on the dump. In theory, could he find it again, he was a multi-millionaire. Could he find it again? No. The corporation dump is a vast wilderness of waste and of rejected goods; no maps exist; nor landmarks. That guy knows how it feels to have thrown away a golden ticket; and for a few pounds saved.

Pharmaceuticals, patents, and publishing are three pretty clear and parsable across the board items, shining examples, of the inherent enormous wastage built into how we do business. In the glorious and bogus name of freedom we hail such wastage as collateral damage – or rather ‘we’ do not, but only that public ‘we’ to whom nobody who earns less than £50k per annum ever dreams of belonging. This is the ‘we’ of the broadsheet newspapers, and the ‘we’ of the readership of The Economist and of Forbes and of Investors Chronicle and so forth; it is not the ‘we’ or even near the same ‘we’ as those of us who wander down to the pub on a Saturday afternoon for a pint and to watch the football. Our of-late Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was very soundly thrashed on the TV satire shows upon him having pronounced on the huge income deficit owned by the UK that ‘we are all in it together’. Perhaps he ought to have explained this to Google UK and to Starbucks UK and to several more dozen large enterprises whose total tax revenues for the past decade have been a very minute percentage of profits compared with the percentages the rest of the nation paid. But I am wandering off my topic.

Much, maybe most of what is published today is never sold; or at least never sold in quantities which make profits for its publishers. Thus either virtually or in actuality most publications are shredded and pulped. I mean virtually because I believe there is a ‘trial run’ a small ‘batch’ of a title in an initial run published; with a swift option at the ever ready to swing into gear and so print off those thousands more needed desperately were a title to suddenly ‘take off’.

This business model implies a few presumptions on the part of publishers. Firstly it implies that they themselves feel that they have no idea what sort of thing might ‘take off’ and what might end up on the corporation tip. Secondly, this state of unknowing of publishers is perhaps based on their experience of late years; and indeed publishers have been taken by surprise by the public several times in recent years, and so may have hammered out this model so as to make the best of the situation? I know of several massive-seller moneyspinner authors and their titles which have been ‘out there’ and ‘lying fallow’ for a number of years before they became massive commercial successes. So hanging onto the commercial rights to these works and to their authors becomes vital to publishers – on that off-chance of ‘liftoff’.

If my analysis is in the right area of the field then it follows that the reading public itself not only calls the shots with their purse strings; but their shots go off haphazardly and to no predictable pattern. Publishing then becomes a lottery; just as are the pharmaceuticals industry and the patent applications aspirations.

Once again businesses and business men are playing poker blind and are ‘hoping for that card that is so high and wild they’ll never need another’. Only it is the public consumer who is funding their bad gaming habits; who is obliged to pay astronomical prices for a dose of medicine whose materials and manufacture cost next to nothing; who is obliged to pay monopoly prices for a patented item which is a two a penny thing in fact; who is obliged to pay a minimum of £8 for a thin paperback because so much else in the shop will never sell in quantity.

These three industries will have justifications for the ways they run their businesses; and for the huge waste this running of them entails implicitly and explicitly. These justifications will be couched in terms of the benefits of their models to the consumer; it is for them just as Robert Browning said: God’s in His heaven; and all’s right with the world’.

Thus our corpus of readers of popular fiction do not show any consistency in the choices they make, nor of whom they escalate to authorial stardom, and whom they leave to wallow; so that those titles which ‘take off’ are to all appearances random and chaotic successes; what might this say about our popular taste? That this itself is changeable and unsettled; liable to whim and to chance occasions? And if this is the case then what might the prospect be for those titles which have been crowded out of the booksellers’ bookshelves and of which it has been claimed that they represent ‘the best that has been said and thought in the world’?

I had always believed and had been taught to believe and my own experience has borne out this belief that by reading from that corpus of books which might be called the canon of classic literature (not forgetting also other subjects of study) a person is thus developed in one’s taste into a settled and discriminating reader. Yet when there are but few classics of the canon available, as is the case right now in all of the booksellers stocks who sell new books in my home city, then how might a settled and sound taste for good reading be developed these days? (The classics of the canon are in my city and in other cities of the UK more likely to appear on shelves at secondhand dealers in books, and at completely stupid bargain basement prices – you cannot give them away! Many of these secondhand outlets tell me they pulp many of these canonical items. ‘A good book is the precious life blood of a master spirit’ said John Milton. What are we doing to these master spirits’ life-bloods?)

So, reading is on course to disappear within two or three decades?

No.

The business model of the publishers which is one which is profitable for them to adhere to, with its scattergun approach to numbers and kinds of titles published, necessarily requires a great reservoir of authors writing – for it to be sustainable. Now in a generation of writers, and considering there is a universal literacy in the UK today, say two hundred persons writing in any fully literate generation will be survivors of the tests of time, and be known by name at least to some persons living a century hence. Thus the competent writers are very few and far between.

Thus the reservoirs of authors held in hand by publishers right now comprise far and away mostly low quality writers; writers who might be better doing something else. Each of them is hoping for just that 15 minutes of fame bequeathed to them by the late Andy Warhol. By my reasoning in this article it appears to follow that occasionally some of these authors waiting and hoping do get their day in the sun. Certainly there are titles I can mention which fall into this category of ‘time and chance happeneth to all’.

Were the business model to be different; so that room was available once again on the bookshelves for more titles from the classics of the canon; it does seem to follow that readers would become more discerning; and so more appreciative of books and of a growing refinement of taste. The classics would become, as they always had been, steady sellers, not megabucks in a flash in the pan, but a steady income, and pretty solidly guaranteed. But we all want to live in California, and we won’t settle for a dream of a warm, dry, comfortable semi detached in South Wales.

A few things to note. When I first came to my now home city there were many classics of the canon to be found in just two or three new book bookshops. There was a remainders bookshop which discounted many books which were of considerable literary or technical value. Over the years, as the classics of the canon have passed on and died from, disappearing from, National School Curricula, the presence of these classics in the shops has dwindled likewise. It’s not just the schools; the rise of silicon and nano tech; of CGI and of adventure movies; of a hundred and one new things for children and adults to spend time on relaxing; this has all helped to relegate the classics of the canon to a very distant back seat.

Yet for all these one hundred and one new things to do life as a whole for many people is far more ‘samey’ than it was 40 years ago – there is little in the range of subject matter in these one hundred and one new things from which to choose. Everyone complains and they perceive and are correct that from 4 TV channels forty years ago to over one hundred now; and yet too often there is nothing on to watch. Because of this ennui of ‘sameyness’. A few main genres and that’s it. Very little daring, experimentation, off the wall, out of the box, risky to produce, and pushing boundaries stuff; only the same safe staple bread and butter police/detective; action/thriller; horrid degrading reality shows; and ubiquitous sport.

Our pastimes have become machine-like; factory-manufactured formats and content; as if there was a magic formula one dare not deviate from which is assured to sell and to keep us to our sofas. Our reading is a reflection of this aiming for a magic silver bullet. Harry Potter hits the world for six; and starts a flurry of novels and movies in the same vein, all attempting to reinvent the wheel; and to hope to patent it.

The masses of titles of popular reading published likewise are aiming at quirky; aiming at niche; aiming at that odd and novel angle; but in all by far the most are very much yesterday’s creatures of a day successes done into fancy dress. Of all the things to be in the world to be novel and do something new is perhaps one of the hardest. Einstein ‘stood upon the shoulders of giants’ Dr Johnson maintained that ‘for a man to write one book he has to have digested many’; and the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes is perhaps overwhelmed by the difficulty in being new; ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ he laments.

And perhaps the paradox of it all lies in this from Alexander Pope:

True wit is nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d,
Something, whose truth convinc’d at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.”

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You can also find this article at steemit: https://steemit.com/books/@matthew.raymer/the-loss-of-reading

Post-Truth

Grasping at straws we broke the camel’s back
Our appetites for fables t’was that brought us low
Smart tenderings at the Bank of The Established Fact
Unclear the banks and banknotes counterfeits or no

Sure grounds for general confidence is thinning-out,
Encroaching loss surrenders up so slowly small
Fine millings of imposture, here at high command,
Are The Philistines amongst us
Yea, know them by their unbeholden drawl
Of elegant temporisings, dances round the heels
Of bona fide governance

Comensuration with what is, anon, become a bubble,
By-chance infatuations rise astir as soft-soap drivel,
And plainly won’t-wash overalls now no longer wear the trews,
But flimsy wear, sheer delicates, spin elegant fair views

Invented truth spreads comely, a delicious blithesome tart
Shining things underlining, undermining with some art
That pretty place in politics where opinion’s good report
Unfastens thighs and giggles,

Worthiness works-out ways, even the toughest hassles eases
Hoofing the sweated circuits all the d’Artagnans well-arrayed
Contemptuously denounce another’s sanctimonious wheezes
In rubber-supple words

Whether truth blubbers yet, and as yet honesty
Sits holding baby comfortably in nested arms
Or bathwater completely baled him out to a lower depth?
Sing, avatars.

 

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You can also find this poem at our steemit blog: https://steemit.com/poetry/@matthew.raymer/post-truth

Concert or Consort?

The words are brothers. ‘consort’ is an olde worlde form of the word ‘concert’; in former days it meant a programme of musical entertainment. Hence you have quaintly named early-music bands today who call themselves ‘The Consort of Music’; and ‘The Consort of Viols’ (punning on the word ‘consort’, which also means ‘to meet together’.

The musician Henry Lawes, friend of the poet John Milton, who himself was an accomplished musician and the son of an accomplished musician, wrote a piece he titled ‘A Consort for Voyces’.

The way we use the two words nowadays is more particular and rigorous than their former almost synonymous usages of the past. A ‘consort’ is a band – of musicians, or of people who have combined for activities which may be other than music; whereas a ‘concert’ is very definitely a set programme of musical works to be performed publicly.

The two words ‘consort’ and ‘concert’ share a basic idea of a ‘coming together’ of people or of things so as to make a unified entity or an entity which might be called a ‘set of things’.

Take the phrase ….‘I want you to make a concerted effort…’ – even when this is said to a single person there is a sense in it which means that the speaker is asking the hearer to ‘pull themselves together’ and bring to bear in unison all their faculties to get a job of work done.

‘Concertina’ is not just a musical instrument rarely heard in ‘concerts’ but it is a ‘squeeze-box’ wherein to play its notes one must press together the item; thus it works by way of a ‘coming-together’

A ‘consort’ is a person who ‘goes-together’ with another person and accompanies the other person; in public appearances or on romantic dates; or both.  To ‘consort’ with someone else is to ‘get together with them’ to be in their company a lot.  A ‘consortium’ is an association, usually today of business people who are seeking together – have come together indeed – for the purpose of undertaking a joint business venture together.

A ‘concert’ is thus also a bringing-together of musicians and of pieces of music to be played by them in such a way as that the whole thing – musicians and music chosen – hangs together as a loose or as a more or less formal unity.

This coming together emphasises the social nature of people; Aristotle defined human beings as ‘creatures who live together in a society’.   The Greek for ‘coming-together’, or ‘congregating’ is ‘synagogia’; which is the same word which Jewish worshipers use to name their churches – ‘Synagogues’.  Jewish churches got this name via its use for the term ‘meeting place’ and found in The Septuagint. The Septuagint is a translation into Greek made by Jewish scholars of the Hebrew Bible, what Christians term ‘The Old Testament’.  This translation was made around 200 – 300 AD; and it was made by Diaspora Jews for their fellows who had joined The Jewish Diaspora. This Jewish Diaspora was a general dispersal of Jews across the Mediterranean World from their Biblical homelands in Asia Minor. It took place over a course of several centuries at a time when Jewish homelands under the rule and administration of The Roman Empire.

Many of the Jewish families scattered abroad at this time, had after several generations lost a familiar use of Hebrew; which they had used almost exclusively as their spiritual lingua franca; and the appearance of The Septuagint, by it having translated their scriptures into Greek was a response in order to supply these scriptures in an alternative language; a language which these Diaspora Jews remained able to read and to use fluently

Why then Greek and not Latin when under a Roman administration?  It was because Greek was a second language of Roman Empire; it was commonly in use across the Empire in those areas of life not political and not legislative; in the arts widely, and in some Roman ‘unofficial’ life such as leisure activities. The cultured citizens of Rome spoke both Latin and Greek; they used their Latin for official business and their Greek as an everyday choice for leisure time activities.  Roman art in all its forms and formats had almost entirely been was founded upon the arts of Hellos as the Greeks called their ancestry.

‘Synagogia’ then, like the English ‘concert’ and ‘consort’, is another word which has variants and family derivatives in English.

The first syllable ‘syn’ is used in English words to indicate ‘a being together’: the English word ‘synonym’ for instance means ‘a word bearing the same meaning as another word” (i.e. a coming-together in meaning); the word ‘synchronise’ means ‘a coming together in time’ – ‘chronos’ meaning ‘time’ as in the word ‘chronometer’, a timepiece; or the in word ‘chronicle’ meaning ‘a day to day record of history’. ‘Synergy’ means ‘a joining together of energies’.

A solid fact to be drawn from all this discussion about words is that words and peoples’ vocabularies are ever-changing; are in a constantly fluid state; albeit that changes might be moving faster in particular areas of language than in others; or at particular times or in particular regions.  There are other conditionals too which bear on the state at any given moment of a language.  This constant change and fluidity means that language at bottom is never able to be exactly precise as a tool which we use to attempt to express our thoughts and feelings.  Further, each one of us as individuals has a fund of historical experience behind us; and this personal history of ours acts to condition and so ‘colour’ many of the words which we use. This colouration means that each of us in particular caries as our baggaged a vast amount of discrete connotations which bear upon certain ideas, thoughts, memories, feelings, which we hold and which are a part of our characters. Such colourations are not likely to connote in exactly the same way for us as they might for any other person; they might connote less or more personally and so forcefully, for us than for any other person taken at random for comparison.

There was a German woman, a lectrice at a college I attended, and with whom I was acquainted. I recall vividly how she responded when she was being complimented by a student for her skills in sewing. She had kindly mended a lad’s coat for him. The student had said to her’ You’re a good seamstress’.  The lectrice had been seriously taken aback, and had been offended by the lad’s use of the word ‘seamstress’ about her. It soon became clear that she had not been fully conversant in her command of English with the fairly rarely used word ‘seamstress’.  Of course she had associated it with the demeaning word ‘mistress’; and I believe she had understood ‘mistress’ in that particular sense in which it means a kind of ‘chattel’ a woman as being a thing at the broad disposal of a man.

The German lectrice thus had mistaken the intention and so had utterly missed the compliment to her in the lad’s words; and she had believed that she was being treated like a useful artefact, in a subservient relation; and even possibly arose here some indignation at being thought a sexual plaything?

This fierce antagonism in her arose in part perhaps because of the nature of the word ‘mistress’ itself; which she had mistook the word ‘seamstress’. ‘Mistress’ itself is a word of some equivocal meaning; and equivocal because of the history of its changes of meaning and because of its diversity of meaning in its usage?  ‘Mistress’ in English is a title which commonly schoolchildren use to refer to their female class teacher – she is their form mistress; or maybe their headmistress. ‘Mistress’ is also a woman in charge of a household: ‘a house mistress’ or in former days ‘an inn mistress’ – who ran an alehouse. Shakespeare’s Mistress Quickly was such a woman; and without necessarily having any of the connotations associated with the notoriety of a woman being a married man’s concubine; being his ‘mistress’.

‘Mistress’ in the abstract might mean a woman who is accomplished in her chosen field of work or study; as in a phrase such as ‘She is mistress of all she surveys’ and as one might call a male artist and painter ‘An Old Master’. In our present age the word ‘mistress’ is becoming very quickly a word out of favour with us. Our liberal sexual mores demand we treat female partners of married men not as ‘supplements’ to his sexual enjoyment but as having an equal claim in the relationship.  The term ‘extra-marital relationship’ itself smells somewhat musty these days. Only in a historical context does the word ‘mistress’ when meant as referring to a sexual partner sound acceptable to many of us these days – otherwise it is when used today considered to be an old-fashioned term which stigmatises, persecutes, demeans women.

Even in the schoolroom, but not for sexual relations reasons, the words ‘headteacher’ and ‘teacher’ – gender-neutral terms – are used by schools and by education authorities so as to avoid sexual differentiations in titles and in professional positions.

Nowadays – that is an old-fashioned word – ‘nowadays’ – not many people use that word these days – similarly we have no longer ‘gunman’ on detective shows and on news bulletins on shootings, but instead the word ‘shooter’ is now used, and it has crept in from abroad – from the USA.  We have today quite ubiquitously women in the arts called ‘actors’ and ‘sculptors’; and in cafes women are ‘waiters’ and so on. The once exclusively masculine terms are now being applied across the board to these and to similar roles; as if in some way feminine equality with men of opportunity and choice was in fact to be desired in the format of women slavishly seeking after what men have always had and desired; thus labelling women as being surrogate men.

The French exclamation is; ‘vive la’difference’ and it celebrates the natural physical, physiological, and psychological distinctions which separate men and women as human beings. It is an exclamation not welcome in the company of those who would have women be aspirant to be like men.

Some years ago I went to a public meeting held by a women’s protest group. The meeting was taken up mostly with a fierce argument about the roles of nature and of nurture concerning bringing up children as boys and/or girls.  The activists held fiercely that girl children were being forced into their gender roles by convention and by parental expectations, by their presumptions and by their adherence to a social norm; whereas for some non-aligned parents present at the meeting their girl children they claimed they had found to gravitate instinctively, naturally, towards ‘girly’ things.

In such ways and by such social changes and challenges the sets of once-established idea contained in the words ‘female’  ‘woman’ ; ‘girl’; ‘she’, and so on; and by the same token the established senses in the words ‘male’ ‘man’ ‘boy’ ‘he’ and so on; have been and in the present continue to be something of a linguistic battlefield.  What is at stake is the normal social outlooks upon the genders of humankind in our daily lives.

In the daily usage, or avoidance, of gender-specific words very often words generally are having to be picked more consciously and more carefully in these and in other tendentious areas.  For many users of language this represents difficult and maybe confused choices to be made.   Persons who ‘wrongly’ choose in such ways and because of such confusions, cause themselves to be looked upon pejoratively as unfit persons; or else their usage of these ‘wrong’ choices carries with it an inherent moral blame and assumes a benighted outlook.

The same basic principles hold true in public life right now for other contemporary issues; such as race, disability, sexual orientation; cultural clashes; and for a few other ‘bogey’ topics and issues whereupon one has to be careful where one treads.

This consciously managed usage and non-usage of particular sets of terms and words in one’s language has become a very potent, perhaps one of the most potent, tools in the tote-bag of the people who carry on their social engineering campaigns.  These are campaigns carried out knowingly and deliberately, usually by pressure groups, by lobbyists, by government, by commercial interests; by all those who support the respective issues and concerns these lobbyists prefer. Some of us who take up these preferred words and terms may be sympathetic to their issues; or else we may be feeling guilty, or unsafe and insecure, uncertain, about not making use of them.

The question is not whether these causes of pressure groups etc are right or wrong good or bad; the issue is that one needs to be aware of this management handling, this deliberate manipulation of language so as to further a political or a social cause which is near to, and/or sometimes an anathema to, a pressure group’s heart.

Thus a study of words, of their changing usage, of their origins, of their analogues, and their synonyms; of their attempts at proximation to what we mean and to what we want to say; allows an awareness thereby to be created in us about other people’s takes on the nuances of any word or sets of words they use and advocate.  To be able to get a grasp on language in these ways enables a person to see more clearly what is going on around about; and so allows a person to be able to think through their own position and so to attempt towards a more objective vision of things in general.

                         “Words make a man: speak let me see thee” – Ben Jonson

American Black Walnut

I left school when I was 16 years old. I had few qualifications behind me; and no idea of what I would have liked to do for a living; or what kind of work I would be eligible to obtain. I had made an off-the-cuff preference to my teacher – my school attempted to place all students in work as they left, when they left at 16 years. My preference was to work in the open air.

Thus I ended up at East London in a vast 25 acre timber yard; a piece of real estate worth madness figures even then, let alone today. The timber yard was run by a family; at at the time I was unaware that the family were Christians and that they were a family whose Christian values they applied in as far as they were able to in running their timber business.

I remember there was a smaller offshoot company in Nigeria; which when I learned of gave me a mad idea to write to a company in Sierra Leone and enquire after a job with them in timber. Thankfully they never replied.

The work in East London proceeded and indeed was open air. My work was to measure boards of timber after they had been craned from a lighter at a dockside on a river and onto the quayside and there stacked into ‘sets’ by labouring employees. I was considered, like all the host of other lads doing similar work, to be office staff; possibly because I held a pen and a paper and a clipboard and some crayon which we referred to as ‘chalk’. The crayon was used to write on each board I measured the square footage of it in what was termed ‘foot run’. From this ‘foot run’ was calculated; by one knowing the standard thickness of boards in any given ‘set’, the cubic footage of any lighterful of timber as landed on the quayside.

Ships would come in from Africa, USA, Japan, and Eastern Europe, South America; the Far East; Borneo; Indonesia; Philippines; Russia; Scandinavia; and bring in hardwoods and softwoods to the London Docks down river in the east of the City of London. In those days there were still Tilbury; Gravesend; Leman Street; and at other places on The Thames massive oceangoing ship docks where huge quantities of goods were yet being loaded onto ships and off ships almost higgledy piggledy fashion. Containerisation was an incoming feature which occurred over the first few years of my employment.

The ships unloaded timber onto lighters, smaller non-motored vessels, pulled in trains of up to about five or six maximum, up river by tugs. A tug would caused a wide and powerful wake as it pulled cargoes up river; and these constant wakes eroded the river banks where banks were not reinforced by iron girders piled into their shorelines vertically. Over time, like the timber trade itself; tugs became a cause of great loss to and destruction of their environments.

My first day at the timber yard and I met a young guy named Mike, who knew the ropes and was going to show me some of them so as to get me begun as a useful employee. Mike took me to 32 shed. Every shed which sheltered ‘sets’ of timber, to keep them dry from rainshowers and protect them from hot sunshine, had a name or a number of its own in the 25 acre yard. There were perhaps thirty or forty huge sheds in all, some with roads running through them and sideloaders and forklifts using these roads as thoroughfares, and to shift timber by and load onto articulated lorries which carried timber deliveries all over the UK. No railways were ever used, funnily enough – although this has only just struck me as a fact and as an anomaly.

32 shed was the home of some exotic imported, and home-grown wood species in the shape of sawn boards. I remember there were Japanese Oak boards; none greater than 12 feet long since the Japanese variety was relatively small compared to an English or an American oak tree. 12 feet was a very long board for Japanese Oak. There was English Ash; a lovely white and beautifully grained hardwood; scarce and used sparingly by those who could afford to buy it. Little British timber other than softwoods was ever seen at the timber yard; native hardwoods were just too depleted historically in the UK and so used rarely consequently for logging purposes. There were some few other exotic woods there in 32 shed; and the first wood species whose board I ever measured; learned to measure upon; and had labouring men stack into an ‘order’ for a customer on the roadside to be picked up for a lorry by a sideloader: the first species was American Black Walnut.

American Black Walnut is an amazing wood. It is very dark, and very heavy, and when sawn but not yet planed it shows itself as a rough and dusty unattractive heavy board. It is however quite aromatic; and in fact many woods were so, and one could be identify them close up by their odours alone. No one who has smelt it ever forgets the smell of wet Afrormosia.

The boards of American Black Walnut I measured and moved that first day at that first job were few; the customer order required only ten or twenty square foot of timber; and boards say 2 inches thick soon mounted to twenty square foot. I did notice a few boards which had stayed unexposed to the sun and wind and lying beneath the top layers of the ‘set’ we were working from; that they had retained their freshness far better and showed almost as they had been when they had first been sawn at the sawmill in the United States before shipping. These few boards held in their grain along the length of them a beautiful purply-blue sheen, a feathered and figured grain I believe is the proper terminology. The boards were shimmering as one turned one this way and then that way, shifting it from its stack to the customer order pile. Later I was to see just how this American Black Walnut looked when planed and polished and put to use as a decorative feature in quite expensive furniture. There is nothing quite like it; excepting of course for a number of other beautiful and stunning woods I came across in my time at the yard.

Coming from a developed nation, The United States, American Black Walnut was of a course a scarce wood and was in those days highly prized and highly expensive to buy. American Black Walnut had been logged heavily for over a century before I got to see it for the first time in the yard.

Now I move on in time a little. Having acquired in my time at the timber yard a strangely abiding affection for woods, I have during my lifetime taken perhaps more notice of woods in use in homelife and in business than the average joe has? As I have got older and into retirement I have occupied myself among other things with collecting together a small, but for myself, a valued library of books about woods. One such book which I came across just a week or so ago and which was offered at an astonishingly good deal of less than £5, I bought; and when it arrived in the post soon after I saw there was an entry init for American Black Walnut. The book in question was: A Field book of American Trees and Shrubs : A Concise Description of the Character and Color of Species Common throughout the United States, together with Maps showing their General Distribution by Mathews, F. Schuyler (Ferdinand Schuyler), 1854-1938 

Here next is the entry I saw for American Black Walnut:

Black Walnut: A tall, handsome tree 50—75 and some times 150 feet high, with a trunk diameter of 3-4 feet , and not infrequently 8 feet in the Ohio Valley ; the trunk straight with stout branches nearly horizontal below, and at a Sharp angle with the stem above , forming a symmetrical round-headed tree. Bark warm medium brown, or dark (sepia) brown, very rough, with deep , short perpendicular furrows, and rounded confluent ridges. The inner bark yellow after exposure; the twigs stout , very gray-downy or ruddy tan and smooth. Leaves compound, with 11-17, sometimes 23 ovate lance-shaped leaflets , often a trifle heart-shaped at the base, and taper-pointed ; they are thin, bright yellow green above, somewhat downy and paler beneath, and turn yellow in autumn; the long stem 1-2 feet long, without the horse-hoof-shaped base . Flowers similar to those of J. cineria , the catkins thinner. Blooming in May. Fruit almost spherical, large, 1.1/3-3 inches or more in diameter ; the husk rough-dotted dull green, the shell thick, rough-ridged, dark sepia brown ; the meat sweet, rich flavored, oily ,two-lobed above, four-lobed below the middle. The Black Walnut is distributed through rich woodlands in the eastern United States from Mass. south to Fla., and west to southern Mich. Wis. Minn. Neb. Kan. and the San Antonio River, Tex. It is not native in Me. N. H. and Vt .; in Mass. it is very rare east of the Connecticut River and only occasional west of it; it is rare in R. I. and also in Conn., though more frequent and probably native at North Canaan. The tree is practically destroyed for further lumbering purposes. It has been almost exterminated in the Mississippi Valley and in the forests directly west of the Alleghany Mts. Certainly not less than 80 years are required for it to attain sufficient size for valuable timber, and during the lapse of nearly 40 years since it began to grow scarce little if anything has been done to increase the supply; on the contrary, the cutting has proceeded without regard for existing conditions. In the year 1899, over 38 million board feet were cut, and seven years later about 48 million, an increase of 24. 5 per cent . The wood is deep brown, aromatic , hard , heavy, rather brittle and coarse-grained; it is used in cabinet work, gun stocks, boat building, etc. Weight 38 lbs. to the cubic foot . 

I just love the way these guys and girls take such loving and precious care to detail precisely and clearly the foremost traits and qualities of items to which they have devoted a lifetime of study. Not just in woods as here; but the booklists on Amazon and eBay are crowded with books by these great yet unsung, unknown, obscure dedicated souls.

I do not mean the academic persons in the main, although a few of these academic persons I would include in my general praise and admiration. I mean the ordinary joe or jill here and there, who is not out for reputation; not up for a prize; not seeking for herself; but is wholly immersed in and self-denying in their pursuit of their chosen field for mining out truth.

The fact and witness that so many persons have been satisfied to live and die in such humble but dedicated lives is available for allcomers to take note of; one need not even purchase many of their books; but if you are low on funds or else unwilling to buy; many of these masterworks of care and dedication are available online gratis via Gutenberg Project; Hathi Trust; Google Play; and archive.org; and onlinebooks.library – these seem to me to hold the largest collections but there are yet several other more specialised online libraries which offer items free of charge

You might want to donate a small thankyou voluntarily now and then though?

Such persons who have laboured obscurely in the vineyards of scholarship are a band of persons who inspire me with hope and gratitude; hope for the future of a love generating a truly disinterested interest in humanity; and gratitude that these persons stand as models of lives well-spent for my money.

The entry above of American Black Walnut was published first in 1899; some 120 years ago. Yet the story of the Black Walnut tree and its forests has all to sadly a very contemporary ring to it. Regarding the tree’s severe depletion to a point of scarcity; a tree which was able to sustain in its former days millions of foot run of its timbers being harvested annually; at least for a decade or two; has not by human rapacity and disregard been brought extremely low in the world from its former glories across the USA. That such a turn of events souls have been observable and prevalent at the turn of the century 100 years ago is for me; and I hope for you; a shocking and a fearful thing to be learned of today; that we as a species have been on an industrial scale systematically ravaging the planet for over a century now. Is it a wonder that our sins are presently being found out and visited upon our heads? Is this visitation anything more or less than to have been expected in the longer view? Even in 1899? Does it look to be the case, as it seems to me to have been, that the generation of 1890 and thereabouts was content to grab what it was able to in the present and leave the future to be mopped up in some way by following generations?

And is this not the case with every generation, perhaps even before but certainly since; and is it not the case in our own generation still for many who do business by raping the earth and go hang the consequences? And is it not going to be the case for future generations for many who exploit without a thought of giving something back to nature in return for its bounty?

The conclusion seems to be that concerning the persons who take and do not give anything back that the animal urge to aggregate and to accumulate and to empire build and be a somebody during their lifetimes; all this is like a sickness in men (and sometimes in women), which pouts far too much emphasis on the present, on the life they themselves are living, on the material and the suppose ‘good things’ to be had of secular material life. Are these persons no other than the land grabbers of the past; the empire builders of the past; the petty Alexanders who aimed to accumulate so far that they would weep for having no more worlds to conquer.

And are not these sorts of persons very often the very antithesis of that group of persons who are and have been happy to write detailed loves stories to their interests and life-passions as a gift to posterity of their diligence and dedication? Is not one sort, the accumulator, the person who is all about now and nothing about any other time in their lives or in the past or future? Whereas the chronicler and the cataloguer and the person who aims to bring understanding and order and good sense to bear on earth’s properties and treasures; is this type not all about the legacy which s/he aims to leave posterity as a resource?

Perhaps it is that very fact of the gifter to posterity being contented and satisfied with an obscure and often a lowly place in the secular scheme of things which allows those who would land grab and deplete ores and mines a free-hand to spread their wills out across continents and dragoon into service thousands tens of thousands of people at their biddings? Certainly those amongst the logger barons of American Black Walnut during the 19th century didn’t seem to have bothered reading the entry copied in above and written about their disastrous activities.

On the American plains the buffalo and all over the Native American, the State of Nevada, and in Russian (when USSR) The Caspian Sea; The Northern Tundras; the seaports on the Jutland strip; in Australia the Native Peoples; and the iron mountains; in South America the rain forests; the precious metal mines; the timbers here and all over the world are all disaster areas in the present day; and all as a result of the hand of man; and almost ubiquitously at the hand of economic man.

In the timber yard I would measure up and shepherd into the 25 acre yard up to two or three shiploads – that’s around fifty lighters filled with timber unloaded and measured and set and stored away to season before going out to customers, or to the sawmill ot the kilns or to the moulding specialists. This was in the late 1960s. The yard itself at any one time probably had hundreds of thousands of tons of wood stored in it. Maybe millions.

This was one yard out of in London about five or six main timber dealers along the river from East inner London out as far as Enfield and Cheshunt; say a distance of ten or twenty miles. Most timbers, other than softwoods, which are conifers and which are much more easily made to be sustainable woods to produce; came from Africa; sub Saharan and east and west but not deep south. Nigeria. Ghana; Sierra Leone; Ivory Coast. During my time there these African woods were becoming less popular with customers, who used them mainly for making furniture, household and industrial. Their resource was becoming damaged and their price hence was steadily increasing. In their place arose a trade with the Far East where great forests of Meranti and Keruing grew; and of course the lovely Teak of India and Burma; the fragrant and beautiful Rosewoods of India and of the ‘Malayan’ peninsula; there was also Ramin from Indonesia and several other up and coming woods; nowhere near as desirable as African Walnut or Sapele or Utile or Agba; but far less expensive and more plentiful.

I was in the timber yard working for six years; and in that short space of time the drift of change due to depletions of timber resources had been palpable. Such was the scale of depredation.

My employers were good people and looking back I now see how generous and kind they were towards me and many persons. They went out of their way to employ a good amount of West Indian immigrants newly settled in Britain; and in a place like East London where at that time prejudice was not uncommon towards this class of immigrant; this action of theirs was highly commendable. A few persons with mental disabilities and persons with little hope of holding a job elsewhere found a niche there. I do not believe the Company was full aware of the calamity which was happening in some part at its hands.

A few more interesting bits and pieces before I close this one. Most softwoods came from Scandinavia; and were being farmed there,as they are yet today, responsibly and sustainably. We would occasionally get Cedar wood come in, and Cedar wood is another aromatic wood and one which is again superb and lovely. Not just to smell but when planed its grain was perpendicular to the length of the boards and decoratively mellow tan and figured as stripes of thinner dark tan lines and wider lighter coloured tan areas between the lines.

Cedar cam from Canada mostly; often not by lighter but by road. From the USA as a softwood came Douglas Fir. Now this was a sterling wood but not so decorative for furniture rather it is used as a building construction rafter etc. Some pieces of Douglas Fir came in which were 12 inches by 12 inches by 24 foot long – enormous items; and I knew even back then that one does not get many of those out of a single tree. It was impressive to see them but also a bit sad to think a complete tree of some staggering size and height had been the provider of such wares.

There was a hardwood known as Opepe; which was bright sunshine yellow when cut from its log. Now and them there would be seen in the inner heartwood running the length of the bole bright red blood coloured streaks in the yellow. And again sometimes Opepe would suffer what were termed thundershakes; a condition which harmed the commercial value of the timber and which at that time I believe the cause of the condition was not certainly known.

Thundershakes when the length of a log cut open showed the timber as having been almost perforated by some shock or by some catastrophe. These perforations ran at rightangles to the length of the tree; thus causing severely weak areas in the length of any timbers cut from such a tree. Along these perforations boards cut from a log of Opepe would give way quite easily. Opepe was in use for water jobs, like docksides and outdoor woodworks. It was very heavy very hard and very durable. But one bad thundershake could ruin a whole bole commercially. Opepe’s uses demanded great strength and resilience from it, and a shake of this kind could not be allowed to pass unnoted.

Thundershakes had various theories about their cause. One was that the tree had been struck by lightening. Another was that the shake occurred when the felled tree hit the ground. There were several other projections as to cause but I never have discovered a definitive answer to the question.

When Opepe was wet it stank quite pungently. Ah, memories!

_________________________

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Thomas the Tank Engine

When my children were infants they and I used to watch an awful lot of children’s programmes together; often on VHS videotape. One of the very favourites for many enjoyable years was Rev. W Awdrey’s famous Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Those red and mustard and green and blue liveried engines became our good friends during that time of my life; and each one having a distinctive character of its own; Percy the little scruffy pleb engine; Henry the big one but sickly and slightly complexed with inferiority; Duck the proud and diligent engine; Stepney the sensitive and kind engine; Oliver the nervous doubtful one; and so on.

I remarked to a friend of mine one day at my workplace that I was considering writing a piece for my local parish magazine which used the spills and spoils of this gcompany of engines so as to throw light on our adult behaviours as they manifest themselves quite a lot.

I never did write the piece – until now – but my friend did encourage me to write such a piece and he said he tended to agree with me on my observation about how adults too often behave.

The author of the Thomas books, Rev W Awdrey, I do believe was a bit of a philosopher, and that he placed in front of children for their joy and use his observations upon how the secular world works. He did this by presenting his Thomas world to children and via his stories for little ones. I found as an adult watching the videos of Rev Awdrey’s stories, especialy the earliest migrations to screen which adhered very closely to the written books on which the TV stories and characters were based, that these stories carried for me considerable adult content to chew on. And so watching with my children was not only family fun for us all; but it was for me also a stimulus to thought.

The beauty of these Thomas stories is that they strip down to bare bones the wellsprings of actions and words which we speak to one another; not only so that children see why and how arguments and accidents occurr in life by way of human disagreement and discord; they also show well the causes and effects of disagreement and discord; causes like pride and snobery; timidity and over-compensating; anger and rivallry; thoughtlessness and negligence; and effects like going off the rails; and making a smash; and disobeying instructions; getting one’s own back; laying traps; scheming for advantage; and a host of other everyday items of behaviour we all see and laugh at or else disapprove on TV daily; but yet none of us own them for ourselves in our own consciences about our own motives and actions.

“Ah, wad some god the giftie gi’ us

To see oursels as ithers see us”

Today whilst cooking lunches for the family I was over a stove whilst the TV was on in another adjacent room in the house. I was able to overhear the dialogue on the TV show; and since it was a Sunday, the show was on the topic of that new Sabbath repast in UK: Politics. Sunday daytime TV here is wall-to-wall politics and ‘analysis’; analysis being pundits speaking those confirmations of one’s most obvious and first thoughts concerning the latest political news items or on a current event.

Daily we have The Daily Politics show and Sunday; just as the soaps carry their omnibus editions on the Sabbath here, so we have too The Sunday Politics to take in the gist and import of the whole of the previous week’s politics in UK. It used to be the case that politics did not happen on Sundays here at all; nor even often on Saturdays; but these days Saturday is less busy politically than Sunday and Sunday has become the prime day for making political speeches and addreses by Parliamentarians; and for policy and comment issues to be launched by government.

It is usual for MPs and for Canbinet Ministers of State, even The Prime Minister, to appear on daytime Sunday TV; it is that big an event; and a great draw to so many sofa-ridden oglers. It has ousted, replaced religion, and along with sport, for those lesser classes who are not interested in politics because they (at least they feel) they have no stake in them, the day is well-spent in front of the cathode ray tube. TV is the gym of many overweight persons here in UK, especially on a Sunday. Ironic to say so but the watching of sports on TV is possibly a significant contributor to the obesity problem in adults which we have here.

Now today our TV was on and The Sunday Politics was in full flood. I overheard a beef from members of government who sit in the Lower House The Commons, which House has the legisaltive power, about those sit in The Upper House, The Lords, which aims only at being a check on the sobreity and judgement of the Lower House, The Lords having no legislative power in itself.

The Lords however is able to slow down legislation being put to the Houses for consideration and for approval or amendment by The Commons. And this is where The Sunday Politics MP comes in.

We have here in UK soon upcoming a deadline date before which we have set ourselves a target, to ‘trigger Article 50’ of the European Union rules; which article 50 allows those who trigger it to set in motion negotiations for a trigering party to leave the said Eupropean Union. This is that Brexit you may have heard of?

The Lords has potential to slow down that bill of law which allows this trigger to be made before the set deadline date, so that the trigger is not ‘pulled’ before the due date. Indeed were The Lords to be mischievous, The Lords might be able to angle thijgs so that the earliest date Article 50 can be triggered is that day on which The European Union is celebrating 60 years of solidarity as a political and economic bloc! Perhaps you can see a Thomas the Tank Engine lookalike situation brewing up here?

The speaker on TV, a member of The Commons, was getting himself quite livid at the prospect of such eventualities being brought about by The Lords; and it was for the TV pundit interviewing him to calm him by suggesting that were The Lords to act in such an unsporting way (‘it’s not cricket’) then The Commons might well decide to set in motion abolishment altogether of this Upper House The Lords.

Now when we were children myself and my young friends would play soccer in the streets. We were not too well off and a plastic ball was an important and a privileged thing to be the owner of.

Thus it happened now and then, that whenever a friend of mine – or maybe myself I can’t recall? – felt aggrieved at a decision made by other players, such as a free kick or the allowing of a goal scored which was felt to be dubious in some way, the owner of the ball, iwhenhe was an aggrieved party, might well just pick up the ball and walk, leaving a field of street footballers nonplussed because without a ball to continue playing with. This indeed was a quite commonplace Thomas the Tank Engine moment in my experience in my younger days.

My contention is that the threat of abolition of the House of Lords made by The House of Commons, this threat being pitched as a possiblity for The Lords because of its holding the aces in it being able to delay Brexit and/or to embarrass The EU and Britian to boot; that this situation is not at all different to the young soccerplayer walking off with his ball in protest at a decision he did not like.

Lewis Carroll has his Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland roar out at every instance she feels herself thwarted: “Off with his head!” of the person who is held by her to be responsible for her being thwarted. Is this any better? I don’t think so.

Another instance of a Thomas moment in politics, they are all over the place – everywhere in fact – just like the little engines throng the Island of Sodor – might concern the Speaker of The House of Commons, a position to which a person is apointed to keep good order in The House and to apply parliamentary protocols to debates and to members’ behaviours; and this Thomas moment might concern events which occurred on the present Speaker’s watch this week; and these events were opened for dicsussion on this week’s The Sunday Politics.

The Speaker has to consider him or her self as being a neutral party; and thus to show no favour or prejudice against any Party or any Member in The House.

Now in Britain there is another new and populist game going on; whereby whenever over 100,000 signatures to an online petition are raised the issue of the petition becomes entitled to be raised and debated in parliament. As if one referendum wasn’t sufficiently a disaster that the MPs allow this other hostage to fortune (petitions ‘triggering’ House debates) to be welcomed in as ‘innovation’.

This petition arrangement is a sop, and sadly quite possibly it is felt by many MPs and citizens here to be ‘a real step forward in our democracy’ and because, as well as allowing ‘more public participation in government’, it is made possible only because it harnesses new means in using the gadgets and toys of the electronic age revolution.

You may be offput by my words being so slighting and so harshly condemning such an arrangement as these online petitions in the UK; please bear with me a little.

Donald Trump has been invited to make a State Visit to Britain by The Queen and by The Prime Minister here. A State Visit is more than just a visit; it means that the monarch here is one’s host and thus such a visit is the highest honour which is able to be made concerning any official visit to Britain and to the persons invited.

Very soon over 100,000 signatures, indeed many many more, were raised online against Trump’s State Visit and the House of Commons is now committed to debating the issue of Trump coming here on a State Visit. Thus one has a situation whereby the British Head of State, The Prime Minister, has issued an invitation to visit here to Donald Trump, and the government which that same Prime Minister leads, is now obliged to debate the wisdom or otherwise of that invitation having been made to Trump.

If this were not Fred Karno enough (Fred is not a Thomas engine) The Speaker of the Commons this last week when the issue of Trump’s visit was raised for debate in The House, failed to impose a quite well approved and longstanding rule of due respect and impartiality, when the members in The House generally applauded a speech of a member who was against Trump’s visit Applause is not considered allowable in the Houses of Commons or Lords. It is too partisan – I believe that’s the reason?

The Speaker himself, whose role was to asure there was no applause, began to clap his hands along with those whom he sits over and directs concerning House ettiquette. The Speaker excused others and himself by claiming an exception to the rule – claiming this occasion to be the exception which proves the rule – that an anti-Trump statement should be applauded in parliament.

One might ask oneself here; who guards the guardians? Certainly not the citzenry who got parliament into this mess of contradiction by their online petition in the first place.

Even The Fat Controller (American readers might know him as The Fat Director) in the Thomas stories bears in his conduct greater integrity than The House of Commons Speaker did this week.

When Engine Percy, a small and fairly simple engine, is picked out by the other engines to lead A Deputation to The Fat Controller over an issue the engines in general have with a diesel engine (diesels are generally dificult to get along with in Thomas stories) The Fat Controller in the first place notes to the engines that it is his railway and that mangement affairs are his affairs and not the engines’ affairs; that A Deputation is not something he approves. He is understanding however and sorts things for them.

Now you may fear I am advocating a dictatorship as the one on Sodor under the auspices of The Fat Controller. Not quite so. I am advocating that those engines, being as it were the epitomes of their main audiences; that is of young children, are best governed by a firm and a single hand; one which is fair and secure and safe and kind, but which makes boundaries and requirements for behaviour quite clear and straightforward.

The general anaology can be extended. Whenever people of any age are unable to make sound decisions; either in their own best interests or else for the general good; then a person or persons who are more able to do so might best be appointed to govern them. This then is the very idea and heart of representative government under democracy.

Children’s diets of entertainment are both fun for them and often, maybe mostly, also instructive; so as to help prepare them for an age of majority at which they will be called upon to make decisions wisely for themselves and for those around them whose care they are obliged to consider – for instance for their own children.

Adult diets of entertainment are rather less so educative and instructive in our society. Once a guy or girl leaves school here s/he is somehow considered by most other adults to be justified in metaphoricaly ‘tering up his/her schoolbooks’ and in forgetting all about becoming educated further.

Maybe educated in plumbing or in engineering or in hairdressing or in sales, since learning about these things brings them in income. As for a liberal improvementof the mind: most people have been so encouraged here that they would not be able to expalin the very phrase to you. Yet decisions on governing, when encoruaged to be made by those whose life experience is not conducive to the making of such decisions; this is sheer daftness.

It is true that few if any Prime Mimnisters or Presidents of Nations anywhere are younger than middle-aged. This is recognised to be appropriate by most people. Their rises to Heads of State have been usually long and slow and on the way much has had to be absorbed understood and mastered by them. (Trump might be on an extremely steep learning curve right now)

(Here we are in the UK on the verge of Brexit and in possession of close on an entirely new set of governming MPs than were in office before the Brexit referendum was held – the same political party as before governs however, but the non-Brexit mainstream guys and gals in it all had to exit when the result went against their wishes. Much of this near entire new body of MPs in high governing positions here now is inexperienced; hence there is here a tremendous uncertainty been generated about our futures. Much of this near entire new body has little clue about what to do in order to achieve Brexit; let alone how to get ta good deal from our ex EU partners for Britain as we exit. Much of this entire new body is in over its head. Poltics in my view above all things is an art of knowing how to do things; an art of high technique. Our technique is lacking in th epresent government because those with high skils in politics are no longer in positions from where they can exercise their skills.)

Bringing into play the whims (I use the word appropriately) of the citizenry in 100,000 plus signature petitions is crazy and compounds the current problems at issue. The Brexit Referendum showed this to be the case if anything has done.

Why indeed vote in representatives when one is able to put one’s own oar in anytime and spoil the show? Which is what our Thomas the Tank Engine citizens tend to do with their petitions and their incursions into hands-on government.

I am not a fan of government as we do it now. I am less a fan of government by online petitions. Representative Democracy is about the best deal we can have right now out of what appears practicaly possible at this moment. Even though as we have seen even parliament has its own ‘busy little engines’ buzzing around here and there, and out of good order. The collective concensus of reprresentative government is about our best shot presently. For the future, in another lifetime perhaps, something more graceful and more competent might become possible?

In a time when education does not mean training up children and young adults to be only workers; the fodder for the machines and the means of the entrepreneurs. In a time when a daring act of example and good will might hope to attempt at running a society on principles of universal kindness and toleration; on equitaable behaviours and on sacred truths of love and compasion.

The sad and tragic assumption of politics and of politicians across the board in our present ways of doing things is ever and always an assumption of ‘prepare for the worst – the worst kinds of people, the worst kinds of conduct’ and this policy stems from an attitutde which was originally nursed by fear and which once innured to itself embraced also distrust; and maybe in some politicians goes as far as expressing a cynical comtempt for humanity, an attitude based on the behaviours of humanity’s worst instances.

Of course such a prevailing asumption harbours a great mountain of hypocrisy – of the kind – ‘I don’t mean you, my friend, but only that so and so over there and that what’s his name here etc etc’, and yet necessarily so ‘my friend’ is tarred likewise with the same brush and sunk in the same oceans in the same sack with the same heavy rocks as is ‘so and so and what’s his name’. One size fits all.

In letting go of our wayward images of ourselves; of our self-regards; of our self-interests; of our self-ambitions; of all those thing we think we are and think we possess; only in this is freedom found and it is always and ever a freedom of and in love and to love and for love.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus”

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“Thou Good and Faithful Servant….”

 

I used to work in the private policing of counterfeiting and piracy in behalf of commercial companies. This work involved me in preparing notices for emailing to websites etc requesting them to remove offers for counterfeited and pirated copies of commercial items from public view and grasp.

Whilst I was in this line of work I came across a good quantity of correspondence had between the client companies I had been making the removal notices for; and a number of persons who were in fact informers on others who had been making illegal money in the business of counterfeiting and pirating the client company products and intellectual property.

When I first came across such informers and their written messages I had naively assumed that these informers were “Mr-Average-Concerned-Citizens”; people who had happened across a counterfeiter or a pirate and whose sense of civic duty had urged them to tell the owner-companies about these abuses.

Soon I was disabused of my naivete. Almost to a man – they were mostly men – the informers were a motley crowd of humanity whose motives were far from ‘pure’ for their‘grassing-up’ of their neighbours or of the guy down the road etc.

Almost to a man these informers were seen by me to be motivated by what might be termed low-minded ill-will. The person they were informing on was often disliked by the informant; they were sometimes informed upon so as for the informant to be able to settle a grudge he had against the counterfeiter; sometimes the informant just hated the person he informed on; and sometimes the informant himself was a counterfeiter whom by informing on others was attempting to kill off the competition in counterfeit selling in his own neck of the woods!

Honour among thieves is a fairytale.

Now this was not all. Many of these counterfeiters who had been informed upon eventually were apprehended by the police and brought to a court; usually before magistrate (a sheriff?) although the bigger fish usually found themselves before a judge.

Once caught apprehended charged and haled into court these offenders were almost without exception found guilty as charged. A few with canny lawyers got off – at least for a time because they got off only to go out and assuming their acquittal to be a passport, a carte blanche ticket, to go and continue from where they left off. They resumed selling counterfeits!. No ‘one bitten twice shy’ for them. The weird thing to me, I being I hope a rational sort of person, was that many, many, of these offenders made very little attempt to cover their tracks or to disguise their operations of counterfeiting. Not even after resuming after having been caught once!

Many would load up their vehicles with burnt CDs or memory sticks and travel around their county to the proprietors of businesses in that sector of industry to whom these memory sticks and CDs might present as being tempting to buy; and without a care, without a thought in their heads that it needed just a single upright businessman to ask them for their calling card and then send that calling card to the local police…….. The mind boggles!!

Even the counterfeiter guys who had been to court and had got off with a caution or walked free of charges; even these would not take any care to cover their tracks; not even after having been caught once and thus being now known as counterfeiters to the police!

In court however these guys would be astoundingly slippery. A guy in court for counterfeiting would quite often – usually at the behest of his lawyer – have gotten together a dossierfull of testimonials which he would submit to the court as ‘mitigations’- to be taken into consideration when he had been found guilty of his crimes and the sentence was awaiting to be weighed.

Now in the UK the law here allows a maximum sentence of ten years jail for intellectual property crime; the area of criminal law under which counterfeiting falls. This said, very very few counterfeiting offenders – I know of none – have gone to jail for anything like ten years – even the biggest fish caught.

Most guys found guilty of counterfeiting pay a fine and some reparations; maybe sometimes damages; and a few get nine months or at very most two years jail. Even the two years jail is over in ten or twelve months for an offender, when a prisoner ticks the right boxes for ‘good behaviour’ and for ‘showing remorse and reparations’.

These dossiers which the counterfeiters in court would have had compiled and at the behest of their lawyers to have filled them with testimonials to be taken into account as mitigation for the sentences to be passed on them; these dossiers would be dossiers carrying information such as: – the defendant has an elderly parent whom he cares for; or he has a chronically sick child whom he needs to be with; or he has recently lost his job and was at the time without other means to live; or he himself is chronically ill and so on and so on…..

The mitigations were most often extensive and voluminous for nearly every defendant; as if it were only that section of the British nation which has had the very worst luck in the world; or his family has; who go out and counterfeit and who get caught counterfeiting?

Thus are most counterfeiter criminals’ prison sentences not given. Sometimes even fines are waived or diminished to very little. Sometimes a guy would get a caution or otherwise be discharged of the offences altogether.

This pattern of events was widespread and frequent – so much so as to have impressed me as being the norm in many instances.

Now I am not concerned here about the law, the legal guilt of the offenders, whether they ought to have gone to prison, whether they got off lightly, or whether their appearances in court made any difference to anybody indeed. I am concerned here with the persons who travel this pattern and with them as being the type of that psyche which applies such a pattern to life in these kinds of instances.

It is the whole pattern I am concerned with here. The whole pattern – from the informing; and the travelling around openly offering for sale illicit goods; of not covering ones tracks; of being almost lame-headed in ones lack of foresight and perspicuity; of the lawyers’ acquiescence in the dossier making etc; and of the use by accused offenders of multiple claims for mitigations; of their often going often straight back out on the streets to do the same crimes in the same ways in the same areas with the same businesses again and again – the whole pattern beggars belief in my eyes.

It seems like something Dante might have recorded in his Inferno? A circle of no hope and of eternal punishment; going round and round and round. As the poet says:

“I see hordes of people going round in a ring.”

This pattern: what does it say to you about the minds, the outlooks, the world-views, the aspirations and the hopes and fears of such people – the counterfeiters? And moreover I fear there are certainly thousands, nay, tens or hundreds of thousands of human souls living in such a universe.

It makes me feel pity; feel angry; feel dismayed; and also a little bit incredulous -and dare I be honest – amused? I am not particularly proud of feeling amused but the pattern I’ve described does seem like it ought ot be fiction – some Samuel Beckett item or other?

My polar response to amusement and which I have sometimes to fight against is despair. That this is the lot – for the justice system and for those hauled before it – and probably extending across petty crime here in UK in general – the courtrooms and the defendants; the lawyers and the mitigations; are all a crushing indictment of how we live our lives today.

The criminality of it, the dreadfulness of it; in it’s totally ‘going nowhere-ness’; no aim, no object; a mere going through the motions; nothing to inspire or to uplift; only a sublime ignorance coming into contact with what appears to be a supreme indifference.

It is as though these people are ‘sleepwalkers’ moving through life; as though they are considered by the authorities ‘no hopers’ and that there is nothing to be done with them but to show them some leniency – for the sake of their ignorance, which is their whole mitigation. The lawyers acquiesce and condone and abet as if they too are ‘sleepwalkers’ to the cashpoints to count there their earnings for such charades. The whole is so very very sad and dispiriting to contemplate.

These offender guys seem generally as if throughout their lives they have been cast off by society; to be borne with and tolerated and just left to their own devices which are nothing substantial. Do the justices be lenient to them out of a sense of sheer guilt towards their defendants’ states of ignorance and entrapped half-lives? Or do they just want to get done and get home to their wives, a double scotch, and a dinner party with The Squires later in the evening?

I accept that our schools here have a tough job; that the home influence for young and growing children almost always, under the way we are doing things now, wins out over and above that ethos attempted to be cultivated at school. All the encouragement in the world, all the fine words and examples of good behaviour; the attempts at inculcating a sense of purpose or of higher thinking etc etc; all this is able to be negated absolutely by a homelife for a child which is abysmally deprived in culture and in nurture and in opportunity.

And this description of mine I fear describes too well too often what is the actual case for too, too, many of our children in Britain. Thus they grow up into effigies, carrying the mores and customs and all the heavy baggage of aimless entrappedness, of their own parents, those parents’ experience and what they are continuing to experience.

For all the talk and shows of concern by governments this has been our situation now throughout my life of over sixty years; an hereditary poverty of soul because of a lack of adequate nourishment for that soul.

But this is not to say things may not be different. There are tested and proven educational strategies which when employed will successfully open out, open up, children’s minds in school; but I fear our rulers see such strategies as too great a risk, too prone to exposing themselves to greater accountability; enabling to show to others the faces of their governors ‘warts and all’. See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24110905 and http://www.independent.co.uk/…/from-fail-to-world-s-best-a-…

Most of our politicians to a man and woman send their children unashamedly to a private, expensive, and essential-to high-success education; to schools like Eton and Harrow and Gordonstoune; The Merchant Taylors School; Cheltenham Ladies Colege; Marlborough; and their ilks and lookalikes. Most of our politicians to a man and a woman, and their families, use private healthcare rather than the British National Health Service which is free of charge to allcomers at the point of service. There are no queues when one goes for Private Medicine; and one is able to pay for operations and treatments not available to NHS patients – or else on the NHS one is having to have a huge wait – and often fatal.

Now; that part of our national government which is formed of elected representatives, which is the House of Commons, the legislative House of Parliament, which carries most of the political power; this body of politicians I believe at present possess more or less zero personal interest or emotional stake in these two great pillars of our society and community; the taxpayer/government funded education system for children; and the taxpayer/government funded NHS (National Health Service).

These politicians’ children take no part in the state run education system; these politicians and their families take no part in being cared for medically by the NHS. Nil, zero, no, personal stakes in these foundational British welfare institutions at all. Yet they govern them both; and are entrusted by us as our elected representatives to maintain them and to make them effective and fit for purpose.

In Ancient Athens, the birthplace of what we so proudly and with so much bad faith wear on our sleeves as the defining badge of our civilisation: our democracy; in Athens were laws which insisted that the Citizens (males only unfortunately) of adult age to attend and to take a full part in civic and political activities and legislative work – i.e. government. Citizens likewise were expected to arm themselves, at their own expense, and to defend their city state from military attack. All without outward force or coercions being applied – but conducted and conduced wholly by cultivation of the ethos of such obligations in the minds of citizens.

That great man Socrates, Athenian citizen par excellence) who was (unjustly) condemned to death by his fellows at a court hearing, was offered by his friends a route to escape the death penalty by him fleeing to a neighbouring City State. His friends would see to it for him. Yet he refused and accepted instead the cup of hemlock to drink which poisoned him at the city’s command. His rationale for accepting death from his fellows and from his native city and its laws, was that Athens had been his protector and provider for all of his seventy years; and that this being so the city had a claim upon him, even unto death. It was in short a reasoned loyalty and an acceptance of a due course of civic action and obligation. Not soppy. Not silly. Not sentimental. Reasoned out as being the proper thing which ought to be done by Socrates.

Now our politicians are not even happy, nor to willing to put their children through the state school system which they are in charge of and manage in our behalves. Nor are they happy to, willing to use the NHS which is in place so as to provide for all citizens and which they are in charge of and so manage in our behalves.

I declare here that I believe that it is right and proper that all members of The House of Commons should by order be obliged to use the state school education system for their children’s education; and that they and their families should by order be obliged to use only the NHS for their health treatments.

There was an old slogan used by the British colonists in America; one which helped lead up to American Independence from Britain. It was a wise and a proper slogan which has endured because of its truth; it says: ‘no taxation without representation.’ Similarly here likewise there should be in regard to their management of the NHS, and of the state school system, here in Britain, by our politicians ‘no representation without participation’ .

How can a bunch of people with zero practical stake in such passionately important things be allowed to run them in others’ behalves? Surely they are laughing up their sleeves. For all the high claims of duty and large compassion and of full engagement of the heart in these affairs which every politician of any colouring will resort to claiming in their defence for themselves; it remains as Shakespeare says: Fine words butter no parsnips’; and it would be absolutely certain there would be more, much nearer to total, engagement with the issues and concern for the problems which the NHS and the state school system are suffering were these politicians’ high-minded compassion tested and proved by an actual and a real practical stake in these institutions’ and their futures.

Is this going to happen? Probably not. The British put up with an Established Church and with a Monarchy; both of which are political props – in every sense of that word – and which serve thoroughly to muddy the waters for church affairs and for political issues here. We are hidebound by tradition; by good form; and by our nebulous ragbag of an unwritten constitution; which is able to and is called upon as an excuse and/or a justification by every and any Tom Dick and Harry in Parliament and used on any issue. Fudge; faze; and procrastinate is our way – because the people here for the most part are being kept in a dark cellar of ignorant cultural deprivation as if they were in a tank ten feet underwater.

 

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