Archive for January, 2008
I miss winter. This year the Scottish ski-ing industry is actually in business again but it still doesn’t feel like proper winter weather. There are geraniums in bloom alongside snowdrops in my back garden and frogs pop their heads out of our little pond every other day as temperatures slip up and down the thermometer like a roller-coaster. If wildlife is confused I think climate change messes with the human psyche too. So I long for snow in its proper place.
Maybe that’s perverse of me. I don’t like feeling cold, I hate scraping ice off the windscreen on frosty mornings, I dread driving through snowstorms on icy roads and waiting for news of others out in the storm. When Dougal and Anny had their nightmare drive through blizzards to join us after new year I was very grateful to Anny for sending us hourly texts to tell us they were still alive, and even more grateful that she didn’t mention the times when they left the road in a white out.
But next day we were out playing in the stuff making a snowman complete with carrot for a nose, coal for eyes and buttons and a flower pot hat. Real winter but just for one day. Next morning the snow turned to rain and washed the snowman away. Unnervingly mild weather goes with wind and rain which makes it impossible to get winter jobs done outside.
So I treasure those rare crisp, cold days and when we had another dusting of snow at Pond Cottage last week I walked round like a child seeing it all for the first time: crunching on leaves frosted to the ground, laughing at the way a dusting of white stuff turns seedheads into glittering explosions of ice, but with a little gnawing fear and sadness at the back of my mind that the next generation might not know what it’s like to play in the snow.
Alas poor Sno Bizz, a short life but a happy one
January 25th, 2008
This won’t do. It’s 11.35 am and what have I got to show for the day? Half an hour too long in bed, two cups of tea, two cups of coffee, half an hour too long reading the paper, 17 minutes drumming practice (ok, really 20 mins). Time I got down to some work but first I am making my New Year resolutions; so many it is hard to know where to start: eat more fruit and veg, drink more water, walk further, generally get more out of the day (more reading, more gardening, more cooking)…plus at least 15 minutes drumming practice, 15 minutes dancing practice. All that on top of a good day’s work and no more than 20 minutes blogging? Here’s my cunning plan.
I have been thinking about this for some time. There are so many things I want to do more of and better that there are not enough hours in the day or days in the week. So I have decided to try one thing at a time and log (as honestly as I can) how I get on. Four weeks for four main resolutions.
Five a day – I am embarrassed to say how difficult I find it to eat five fruit and veg a day and I know that is only the recommended minimum daily dose. So this will be a challenge but interesting to see whether it makes a difference to the way I feel.
Two and a half litres a day – I was delighted to read before Christmas in the Guardian (so it must be true) that we don’t need to try to pour 2.5 litres of water down our throats every day. That is some kind of urban myth, no doubt nurtured by the bottled water companies. Tea, coffee, soup and fluids in our food all count towards the recommended daily intake. However I still think I don’t drink enough so here goes.
10,000 a day – walking steps. A couple of years ago I asked for a pedometer for Christmas confident that as my office is at the top of two flights of stairs (46 altogether) I would soon clock up the recommended daily exercise. I soon became very depressed. Even on days when I ran up and down stairs, walked across town to meetings and carried shopping bags up the hill from Tesco, I still barely reached 9,000 steps. I finally gave up after accidentally wearing the pedometer to my dance class which sent the poor thing into overdrive and it never recovered. I really don’t believe I managed 25,000 paces that day.
No more than 20 – restricting my time on the blog to 20 minutes a day will be difficult (I have already spent 30 minutes getting this far). But if I am to get more out of the day I know I have to spend less time on the screen. Facebook, blogging, googling and generally faffing about with emails that don’t need to be read or written can be an enormous waste of time. Fun too so there’s no need to give up altogether but I want to become more disciplined.
So where do I start with my four week plan? On the water I think. Now for some work.
January 16th, 2008
Well, Tommy, Nick and I didn’t get arrested but just for a few seconds I felt a flicker of what it might be like to suffer the real humiliation of Guantanamo as we were ordered to kneel in a pose of submission by a young man in combat gear: “I don’t want to see your eyes, look down, look down.” Even though I knew this was just for the sake of the cameras flashing outside the US Consulate, even though we were all wearing orange boiler suits specially provided by Amnesty for the lunch hour demo, the mere act of kneeling, head down was a humbling act. When my glasses slipped down my nose I wondered if the guard would shout at me again for looking up to stop them falling.
I couldn’t take the next, more dramatic picture outside the Edinburgh US Consulate because I was kneeling on the cobblestones with my head down. None of us were arrested but according to Aljazeera 81 protesters were arrested outside the US Supreme Court and could face up to 60 days in jail.
Role playing acts of submission and oppression can reveal disquieting truths about human beings. The Milgram experiments at Yale in the early sixties showed how much pain perfectly ordinary people are prepared to inflict if they are ordered to do it by someone in a white coat.
Guantanamo also demonstrates Stanley Milgram’s ‘perils of obedience’. It occurs to me that there are layers of meaning in the Amnesty ‘Protect the Human’ placards we were carrying: the oppressor risks losing his or her humanity at least as much as the oppressed.
If there are had been an opportunity this morning I would like to have asked the friendly young man in the combat suit if he had felt another side of himself emerging as he ordered a couple of hundred people to kneel on the ground, first on the cobbled streets in front of the US Consulate, then again on the Mound next to the Royal Scottish Academy. Nick (click here to read his account), however, had the brass neck to quote what Princess Leah said to Luke in Star Wars, “Aren’t you a little small for a storm trooper?” Our trooper just flashed a smile in reply. For us this was only make believe.
Phil, in a smart day wear, turned up in time to photograph Nick and me on the Mound.
This is the sixth anniversary of Guantanamo. Amnesty held demonstrations in Edinburgh, London and Belfast today calling for an end to torture, ill treatment and the denial of fair trial by US authorities; an end to the failure of the UK Government to oppose this terrible travesty of justice, and renewed commitment to justice and human rights for all.
As we walk away, Tommy comments that almost all demos suffer from the support they attract (of course he doesn’t mean Nick and me). I say that might be unfair, under the orange boiler suits there were probably quite a few very ‘ordinary’ people (as ordinary as us anyway) but there is always a ‘rent a demo’ element which is why the silent and hidden majority who also oppose injustice need to become much more visible.
Unfortunately, apart from Green Robin Harper, I didn’t see any politicians there today (in orange boiler suits or otherwise) though my own parliamentary representatives Mark Lazarowicz (Westminster) and Malcolm Chishom (Scottish Parliament) have both signed the Amnesty petition calling for closure of Guantanamo.
January 11th, 2008
Ray has just come in to wish me luck, he hopes I won’t get arrested. Sadly work prevents him joining me on the Guantanamo demo organised by Amnesty today in Edinburgh, London and Belfast.
Once Tommy arrives I shall go and collect the six orange boiler suits I booked online in an impulsive moment before Hogmanay. Now it looks as if I will have three or four to spare. Still, according to the email from Amnesty, there will be 140 of us kneeling in front of the American Consulate in Edinburgh when the 1 o’clock gun sounds from the castle. That should make a good picture.
January 11th, 2008
Good for Hugh and Jamie for putting their celebrity to such good use. It is brave of them to challenge the supermarkets for promoting cheap chicken produced in ways any civilised society should be ashamed of. And with RSPCA running a chicken welfare campaign at the same time online petitions are gathering strength at a phenomenal rate. I couldn’t work out how to upload the Chicken Out petition on to my blog (and the sound of the bell supposedly clocking up each new name might have driven me mad) but I added my name to the campaign. For once celebrity seems worth while.
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s television programme set out to show that people would not buy the stuff if they knew how it was reared. That turned out to be only partly true. For a depressing number of people a chicken costing £2.50 proved too much of a temptation and even one of Hugh’s supporters was caught in Tesco loading 2 for a fiver into her trolley despite the visible burns factory birds get on their legs from lying around in each others shit.
I was with the chef all the way and really applaud his courage, brass neck even, in taking on such a huge challenge. But I just wished he could have demolished that point about price. It is not value for money to produce inferior protein at give away prices when the moral cost is so high and damage to human health and the environment is so great. It is not necessary to buy cheap chicken with translucent tasteless flesh. We can make much more nutritious low cost meals by eating less meat and more vegetables.
And when we fancy chicken, why not buy a better, more expensive, free range chicken and make several meals out of it (Hugh’s converts were astonished to see him make risotto and a fantastic soup out of the leftovers – you actually don’t get much of a stock from a poor old battery broiler because their bones are so insubstantial). The problem is that we have come to think of chicken as an everyday meal when it used to be a Sunday treat. We don’t need to – indeed we shouldn’t – eat meat every day anyway. And for £2.50 you can make good rich vegetable stews and spicy sauces for meals based on pulses, pasta and potatoes.
The question is not ‘Can they reason? nor ‘Can they talk? but ‘Can they suffer?’ Jeremy Bentham 1748 – 1832.
This all rings a bell. I have just dug into my old newspaper cuttings to find a book review I wrote for the Scotsman nearly 32 years ago when Peter Singer, then a newly graduated young philosopher, lifted the lid on some of the more unsavoury aspects of mass produced food, including intensively reared pigs and battery hens. In Animal Liberation he made with passion the moral case for treating all life with equal respect because all animals (including humans) have equal capacity for pain and pleasure. Looking at it now I am struck by the force of Jeremy Bentham’s question (not can they talk or reason but can they suffer?) which Singer quotes to clinch his argument. He said we should be planting more efficiently, using land to produce grain for direct human consumption. The depressing reality is that this argument, more urgent than ever, has still to be won.
But how many have heard of Peter Singer? Hugh and Jamie have names and reputations people understand. And it looks as if Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s television programme is making quite an impact already. Click on his website to join the campaign and then sign the RSPCA petition also making use of both Hugh and Jamie’s Fowl Dinners. It will take more than celebrity muscle to beat Tesco and all the other supermarket bogoffs.
January 10th, 2008
Just a bunch of…me and my mates growing old disgracefully on a trip to Orkney after Frances spotted the potential of the church name.
I used my bus pass for the first time today, cupping it in my hand so only the driver would see it, dousing that half hope that he would refuse to believe it. I hardly believe it myself. ‘Surely not’ he might say but he didn’t. ‘Darling, they never ask,’ my mate Peter told me when I said he would need to bring his bus pass to prove that he was eligible for a pensioner’s discount at a Fringe show last September. So there is nothing for it but to grow old disgracefully.
It’s an odd feeling. For the first time in my life I have been shy of admitting my age. Sixty sounds so bloody old, so truly past it, and – until I catch sight of myself in a shop window on a bad day or, come on, even on a good day – I don’t feel so very different than I have done for a couple of decades. So I jumped off the bus with a sprightly little hop just to show I could in the liberating knowledge that I could jump straight back on to another bus whenever I felt like it without having to rummage in my bag for the right money. And I can keep on doing that for the rest of my natural…unless the government cottons on to the fact that people like me are filling the buses.
Despite myself, I do feel occasional twinges of liberation. When I am in the company of friends the same age (any age for that matter) we laugh, drink and talk dirty just as we always have done. Becoming 60 seems to bring odd echoes of adolescence especially if you are fit and still earning: claiming my state pension and cashing in a private savings scheme has almost doubled my precarious freelance earnings, while (when my vanity allows) I can benefit from discounts at the cinema and theatre, at dancing classes, and on the trains, and I no longer have to pay National Health Insurance.
Almost everyone I know agrees on two facts about ageing: wearing specs is a pain but the bus pass is an incredible gift. Fran got a free ride home from Oban when she, er, forgot which car park she had left her car in (she got home in time for the police phone call to say she had parked it at the Co-op not Tesco so she took a free ride back up to Oban to collect it, enjoying the trip again). And there are other perks. Celia and I fancy getting cheap train fares for a day out enjoying exhibitions at pensioner prices in London, maybe a night too if we decide to take advantage of discount hotel rates. Ray and I are thinking of travelling the length of Scotland always taking the long way round. From Edinburgh to John o’ Groats via Greenock, perhaps. Rock, as Dougal would say, and roll.
No, really, I can see a new world is opening up. I am still paying taxes so I don’t need to feel guilty about these sudden perks and I can always let on to myself that other passengers might just think I am flashing a season ticket instead of a bus pass.
January 9th, 2008