Friday, 11 November 2011

No poppy for me

Half the population are going around wearing poppies just now, and the other half seem to have them on their car. It's a fine thing that people want to show respect for the thousands and thousands of young men and women that have gone to their death in war... And it's also fine that we all collectively shut our mouths for a couple of minutes once a year and ponder the goddamn hellish misery that is war.

But I'm afraid I can't join in. I can do the silence alright, but the poppy thing just doesn't feel right. I don't doubt the genuine feeling of those around me wearing one, but it isn't for me.

I was listening to the radio a couple of evenings ago. Item 1: David Cameron and Prince William have appealed to FIFA to let England players wear a poppy on a black armband for tomorrow's friendly against Spain. FIFA have agreed. Item 2: A soldier has been killed in Afghanistan.

Does no one else see the connection? Am I the only person who listens to the radio feeling sick? I'd be feeling sick anyway at the thought of another poor (wo)man dying for no reason, but for this news to follow the previous nonsense.... (And, yes, it FOLLOWED it - the poppy thing was a BIGGER DEAL as far as the BBC were concerned.)

David Cameron wears a poppy, and lectures FIFA on the importance of it. But he's the **** who's sending these young people to their death. He has the power to bring them home and yet he carries on regardless. The whole poppy thing has become, to my mind, a grand charade. Establishment figures witter on at great length, in solemn sobre tones, about the ``great sacrifice" made, and ``ultimate price" paid, by these ``fine men and women". They died ``serving their country", and we are ``proud", and so on and so on.... Ordinary folk stand and listen and take it in, and are taken in.

These people, David Cameron, Prince William, whoever the hell else, are telling lies. There is no glory, no great sacrifice, no noble cause. Young people are dying in dirty ditches in far off places because the great and mighty of this country can't keep their stinking fingers off other people's treasures. These soldiers are not serving their country, they are serving mammon. They have been trained, and are paid, to use extreme violence so that the people who run this country can extend their power.

It was ever thus, and so, sickeningly, I guess it will ever be.

Wilfred Owen said all this much more beautifully and horribly 95 years ago: they lie to us, they whisper sweet nothings in our ears, but it is not sweet and meet to die for one's country...

Dulce et decorum est
Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A propos de rien

Yesterday evening I asked my three year old boy whether he wanted broccoli for his dinner. He replied with this pearl:
Before dinosaurs there were leopards in cars.

So now you know. And now, because I want to make your day, please listen to Sister Rosetta Tharpe:

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Ernst & Young student brand representatives

I work at a university. Today I got the following forwarded email in my inbox:

Dear ***,

Lovely to meet you before. As I said, I am the student brand
representative for Ernst and Young this year. I was wondering if there's
any chance you could forward this email to as many students as possible?
All years are invited and the event is Thursday. Your welcome to come
along yourself too!

Thanks very much, If you have any more questions please let me know.

Best wishes,

The student brand representative for Ernst and Young!!!! What is the world coming to?

Friday, 7 October 2011

London Catholic Worker action against Afghan war

I joined the LCWs this morning for a blockade of Downing Street, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the start of war in Afghanistan.

A video and some photos are below; more from the London Catholic Workers can be found here..

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Ten years of war

There was a lot happening ten years ago. First came the hideous nightmare that was 9/11 then, a mere 26 days later, a second started... and it's still going on. This Friday we'll have been waging war in Afghanistan for an entire decade. The tragedy of it all beggars belief.

2996 people died as a result of the 911 attacks. This last month has seen plenty of reruns of that day, and the horror of it still confounds me.

There have been a deal less reruns in the lead-up to this Friday's anniversary. I guess the footage is a whole lot less spectacular, although the tragedy is worse, at least by the numbers. But people aren't getting excited about it: there's a numbness which has descended on the British population with regards to Afghanistan. We don't talk about it, we don't curse it, very few of us organise against it. Unlike the war on Iraq which was routinely pilloried and condemned, Afghanistan just keeps going and going and going, while we look away.

And yet it's a tragedy on the scale of Iraq, and with as little point. As I write there have been 2676 Coalition deaths through the duration of the American-led war (first called Operation Infinite Justice and now Operation Enduring Freedom), also including the NATO operation known as the International Security Assistance Force. What is more the trend is ever upwards - pretty much every year is worse than those that came before it, with 2010 the worst so far. Who knows how 2011 will end?

Calculating casualties on the Afghan side (civilian and military) is a whole lot harder of course. People who do counts on these things generally preface all their numbers with the caveat that they are probably underestimating. The main source of the figures that follow, Prof. Marc Herold, has described the figures he came up with as an absolute minimum and probably a vast underestimate.

And yet the numbers are still appalling: 6000-9000 civilians killed directly (violently) by the Coalition, roughly the same number killed directly by the other side. A further 3000 - 20000 (that's quite a range) dead as an indirect result of the conflict. By any measure this is a momentous tragedy. Now imagine scaling it up to account for all the dead that no one counted. And then add in the untold numbers of Afghans and others who died fighting the coalition invasion; we call them the bad guys but they still bleed red.

We should also note that the same upward trend applies to these figures too: every year is worse than the last. In 2010, for instance, some 2777 Afghan civilians were killed, a jump of 15% over the previous year.

And I haven't even mentioned the wounded.

The numbers are appalling, but they're still only numbers. Do they measure how bad a war has to get before we think we should end it? What's the maximum number of casualties that we can collectively stomach? How many mothers and fathers need to wake up screaming each morning before it's no longer OK to keep killing their children?

What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan? What hell are we making there?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Troy Davis RIP

In the earlier hours of this morning an innocent man was put to death in Georgia, USA. I feel sick.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Harsh Yogi II + Break dancing

This post is just an excuse to embed a fooking brilliant break-dancing video: feel free to skip straight to the bottom to press play...

* * *

I've described my rather harsh yoga teacher before. It's gotten worse.

The last three yoga classes I've been half-way through my first sun salutation when he's come over, told me to stop what I'm doing and stand up, and then delivered his pearls of wisdom:

Class 1: "I don't know what you're doing, but it's not ashtanga."

Class 2: "You appear to have forgotten everything I taught you last time."

Class 3 (this was the best, we had a full conversation):
"That's not an upward dog."
"Oh, is it not?"
"We went through this last time."
"Sorry, I'm a bad student."
"Well, you don't come often enough and you keep falling back into bad habits. We'll just have to go back over what you learnt last time. It's frustrating for me, but there we go."
Silence. Slight snigger from myself.

* * *

OK, now for the main event. I watched the following video slack-jawed. These guys do moves in mid-air that I can only dream about doing on solid ground. I've no idea what the German commentary is all about but you hardly need it to get the point...

Sunday, 28 August 2011

JB Lenoir

I have recently discovered the utterly brilliant music of J. B. Lenoir. Let me make your day...

First up, here's Alabama Blues. A goddamn perfect song:

This next is a cover of Mississippi by Eagle Eye Cherry, Vernon Reid and some others (note, halfway through it segues into the original).

This last aint by J.B. It's what John Mayall did when he found out that J.B. had died after being injured in a car crash.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

A riot of opinion

There's nothing like a riot for getting folk all hot and bothered. Me included. Although it wasn't so much the riots that got to me, as the rash of opinion that followed. Here's David Cameron for instance: is clear there are things that are badly wrong in our society. For me the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing I have spoken about for years: it is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society.
People are allowed to feel that the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities...

I could feel my hackles rise with every polished syllable that fell from his cherub lips.

More absurd again was a piece I came across by Max Hastings, doyen of the Daily Mail, who called the looters "wild beasts" and likened them to the polar bear that killed the young man, Horatio, in Norway last week.

There have also been, of course, a host of other pieces that more closely reflect my own point of view. I liked those.

And then it struck me that this is exactly the point: the thing everyone agrees on is that the riots show that there is something wrong with society. And everyone has an opinion on what that is, and everyone feels that the riots entirely vindicate their opinion.

The key phrase for me is in the David Cameron quote above: the same thing I have spoken about for years. The riots present people with an opportunity to entrench themselves in long-held opinions and direct righteous outrage at those with whom they disagree. I include myself.

So, let me make a supreme effort, and boy does it pain me to do so... [Pause, wince, OK here we go]: although David Cameron fills me with revulsion, let me suggest that he does in fact have a point. That there are families in this country where the notion of responsibility is misunderstood, has gone missing even. And that we, collectively, need to think about how to respond to that.

These are not profound insights, in my opinion, and it does not become an incredibly privileged ex- public schoolboy to lecture the country on these matters. But let us set these issues aside for a moment and admit that there is a modicum of truth in there somewhere.

There are, of course, far deeper truths to be garnered by listening to other more perceptive social commentators; one might hope that Cameron and company will listen to those before they let their outrage carry them away (but, alas, I fear it is too late for that.) Still, even if Cameron won't do it, at least others can: let's try and listen to other people's opinions before we promote our own as the root of all truth...

(Maybe I'll draw the line at Max Hastings :-)

* * *

At the risk of undermining everything that I just said, let me make one comment about the connection between riots and the cuts.

There have been a lot of services cut in the name of balancing the budget. Perhaps the most regrettable was the ending of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The EMA scheme provided up to £30 a week to help low-income students stay on at sixth forms and colleges; it cost the govenment around £560 million pounds, and had been "proven to work by ever measure available".

Two points on this: First, imagine the difference that £30 a week makes to a 17 year old on some impoverished estate. Now imagine how you might feel if that £30 was taken away from you...

Second, consider the £500 million saving that has been made by scrapping the EMA. Now compare it to any of the big ticket items in the government budget: war in Afghanistan, war in Libya, trident nuclear weapons, bailing out banks, the olympics... In comparison to all of these, the EMA was an insignificant expense. (The olympics, for instance, is costing £9.5 billion, despite an original budget - when they sold it to the public - of £2.4 billion.) And then there's the fact that all of the big ticket items I mention above are at best (the olympics) window-dressing and at worst (all the others) entirely obscene. Whereas the EMA was a manifest force for good.

* * *

Finally, a laugh-or-cry moment. Bernie Ecclestone, owner of Formula 1 and QPR football club, was interviewed on 5 Live last week on the possibility of Premier League fixtures being delayed because of the riots. The interviewer asked him how the riots affected "the image of the country overseas". Bernie said they were "a disaster"!!!!

Bernie, you crack me up!! The jet setting play boy billionaire worries that a couple of days of rioting might adversely affect this country's image! What a patriot.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Modern parenting

I read an interesting article by Alain de Botton recently (read it in full here). I found it intriguing because it contained the nub of some very important ideas but there was one crucial error (in my opinion).

de Botton considers the central question of parenting: how best to prepare your child for the world. His central insight was summed up beautifully by the final paragraph:
It seems we cannot spontaneously feel important enough to ourselves, sufficiently worthy of carrying our absurd figure through the tangles of life, unless at some point - at around the time when we were still interested in reading Enid Blyton - we were privileged enough to derive a sense of mattering limitlessly and inordinately to another person.
I agree with this wholeheartedly. My children do matter limitlessly to me, more than any one else ever has or, I dare say, ever shall; it seems vitally important that I manage to communicate this fact to them: to let them believe in the core of their being that their father's love is unconditional and will continue all my life.

How best, then, to communicate this to them? Here is where I believe de Botton was in error. He seems to equate mollycoddling with mattering. i.e. I must mollycoddle my children to show them that they matter to me.

Some of the examples he gave were patently reasonable: I should listen to my children, and take account of what they want in my decision-making. I should also listen to my children's questions and try and answer them with care and consideration. This is sound advice I think. It is also, I suspect, a relatively modern notion in Western parenting; one can't imagine the typical Victorian father (however loving) wasting a deal of time on his five year old's whimsy.

On the other hand, though, some of de Botton's examples seem to me absurd:
[One feels obliged] not to go to a bookshop for fear of boring one's charges or to drive them another few miles just in order to get them a special kind of strawberry milk their palates prefer.
Patent bollox! My children matter limitlessly to me, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop reading. And I don't think the world should be arranged to suit their every caprice. This is one of the central dilemmas of parenting: I undoubtedly need to take care of myself and the world around me, even when that sometimes (apparently) conflicts with the immediate welfare of my children. I need to make choices, and those choices cannot always be to favour my child, for this will in the long run backfire. An entirely banal example: if I'm bored and irritable because I have no book to read, then my children aren't going to benefit. It's banal, but somehow that's the point...

Responsible parenting means doing the best for one's children in the context of everything else that is going on in the world. I hope that my children will understand that it is in part because they matter so much to me that I will not be driving another few miles for their strawberry milk: because I want them to understand the importance of restraint, and because the world in which they will live is slowly choking on car exhausts.

de Botton's motivations are splendid, and some of what he says is insightful. But we cannot get around the fact that there is no formula for parenting. Difficult decisions just have to be made...

Friday, 22 July 2011

Speaking the truth on Bhopal

I'm currently reading Indra Sinha's Animal's People. It's tremendous.

The book is set in Bhopal, India after the disaster; a fact which I knew before I opened it and which had put me off starting: I'd imagined it would be a sanctimonious over-worthy book full of moral principles that I agree with, and devoid of artistic merit.

How wrong I was: Sinha manages to directly tackle the truly dreadful tragedy that is Bhopal post-disaster without loading his flatbed full of pious and moral indignation. Of course there's plenty of scope for moral indignation at how Bhopalis have been treated but moral indignation rarely makes for good literature, and it won't win too many new backers to the cause.

Instead Sinha mines a trove of truly spectacular vulgarity and crudity to produce a novel that is artistically stunning, morally accurate and, at times, hilarious. My favourite quote so far:
Zafar's lot never write what they really feel which is FUCK YOU WICKED CUNTS I HOPE YOU DIE PAINFULLY FOR THE HORRIBLE THINGS YOU DID TO US AND THE ARROGANT FUCKING CRUELTY YOU'VE DISPLAYED EVER SINCE. They write high-sounding shit like JUSTICE FOR [BHOPAL] and KAMPANI MEEET YOUR LIABILITIES but in a few places freer spirits have been at work: HANG [ANDERSON] and DEATH TO AMRIKA.
That's how to do it! Warran Anderson, you horrible man, read and weep.

* * *
I want to add a little word of approval for another recent read: Aldous Huxley's Island. As a novel it's not the finest - Huxley himself said it was too ideas-heavy - but the philosophising which weighs it down is also intriguing and inspiring.

Perhaps what is best about the book is the unashamed idealism with which it is filled. Who's idealistic these days? We're all so damned cool, the ultimate accessory a sigh of world-weary amused detachment.

The man Aldous is having none of it. He's dreaming of a world where Mahayana Buddhism informs the spiritual practices of a meditating, contemplative populace; where magic mushrooms expand the mind in rituals of spiritual exploration; where children are shared between multiple parents; where manual labour is a part of everybody's daily life; and so on and so on. It's a great vision and kudos to him for sharing it. I'm inspired.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

My friend S

A couple of weeks ago I got some bad news: a friend in Australia, S, has just died. Grieving from afar is a difficult process: on the one hand, nothing changes, day-to-day life is utterly as before; on the other hand, I have an ache, a little tender spot that flares up whenever a memory of her comes to my mind.

Writing about her is a way of processing this for me... and it allows me to pay tribute to a terrific, hilarious, and greatly loved friend.

I met her about 12 years ago when I went to live in the Western desert, near Wiluna, Western Australia. She lived in Wiluna and was a regular resident at the station where I lived on-and-off for two years. She was a Mardu woman - that's the tribe round there - and that's why I can't mention her name (or post a photo) as this would be a disrespect.

I got to know her through the medium of Emu Export. God, what a horrible beer. But it's the poison of choice in Wiluna and on the weekly trip to town we would wait patiently for the 2pm cut-off to arrive so we could buy a block of the stuff (30 cans) and head down to the creek for the afternoon.

I was, still am, a dreadful drinking lightweight so I would join these sessions only intermittently and would never last the full distance. But while I was there I was usually with S. Those afternoons were a weird mix of the companionable, the hilarious, the tragic, the unsettling, and (gradually overwhelming all the others) the incoherent.

I remember those times fondly. S was a great person to go drinking with. She was charismatic and, when in the mood, loquacious. She could also be fantastically cantankerous, and cheerfully devious too - handing out cans with a wry twinkle in her eye.

When I think of her I invariably smile for I think she was perhaps the most hilarious person I ever knew. She didn't crack jokes, she just spoke her mind. I see her now chewing on a blade of grass, her jaw jutted out and her shoulders hunched while she gazes into the distance. Then she spits, shakes her head and sighs "fuck dat".... But the twinkle is still there.

It's the lack of pretension that made her so funny I think. Like many people out there she saw the world very clearly - without the scales that fog the white man's eyes - and when you look at modern life square on you can't help but shake your head and curse. Our world is absurd - she saw it, and with a shrug of her shoulders she let me see it too somehow.

Writing about her now I miss her dreadfully. I've hardly seen her in recent years, but, still, for me, a light has gone out. Rest in peace, dear friend, rest in peace.

Monday, 4 July 2011

TV Chef at Royate Hill allotments

It seems like TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall must be watching my youtube vids (apologies for the irritatingly enthusiastic commentary):

Inspired by the magnificent piece of film-making above, HFW has decided to bring his circus to our community allotment at Royate Hill, Bristol. He'll be doing some picking, some cooking, some eating, and some filming. That's right, HFW will be cooking beans and peas THAT MY WOMAN, MY BOYS AND I PLANTED (along with many others). I shall spend the rest of the day basking in the reflected glow of celebrity-chef-glory.

If you want to see some more pics of our beautiful bit of paradise click here. (In particular there are some pics of a rather cool caterpillar that has been munching its way through our mullein plants.)

For the record I have more or less no clue who Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is. However my good friend the Harringtoinette has informed that he is cool because he kisses other men when he greets them.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Brian Haw RIP

Brian Haw, peace campaigner extraordinaire, died on Saturday. His contribution to the peace movement was inspiring and very important - he will be sadly missed.

Brian spent more than 10 years camped out the front of the Houses of Parliament seeking to remind our political masters of the blood on their hands. His opposition to the appalling crimes being visited on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan was vigorous, impassioned and sustained.

I had the opportunity to camp with Brian for one of the 3600 odd nights that he spent in Parliament Square. It was a privilege to participate in his protest and made me appreciate his sacrifice even more: lying on icy ground listening to Big Ben bonging away every 15 minutes aint much fun... But it wasn't about fun, it was about standing up for what mattered, and Brian did that in his own irascible way when far too many voices had fallen quiet.

* * *
A measure of the importance of Brian's protest: an impossibly pompous Tory politician, David Tredinnick, appeared on the Today programme yesterday morning to witter on about the importance of removing the camp now that Brian has died and opening the space for the people. He pontificated about the importance of access to parliament and to Westminster abbey, claiming that Brian's camp was an obstruction.

David Tredinnick is a liar and a cad, and he should have more respect for a dead man's grieving family. Brian's camp obstructed no one who wanted to enter parliament or the abbey; the entrances to both could be accessed by anyone who wanted without going anywhere near the camp. What is more, there are many of us who believe that reclaiming Parliament Square for the people is precisely what Brian Haw was doing. The people never wanted the war in Iraq and they don't war the war in Afghanistan, but our political masters simply ignore the people and carry on. The people need folk like Brian Haw to be a thorn in the side of parliament, that house of fools.

* * *
The resistance continues. I got this in my inbox today:
Three English Catholic Workers were today convicted at Newbury Magistrates Court of Criminal Trespass under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA), and Criminal Damage.

The convictions follows a protest at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in September 2010 organised by the Catholic Worker. The three, Susan Clarkson (64), Chris Cole (47) both from Oxford, and Fr Martin Newell (42) from London were Conditionally Discharged for 18 months and ordered to pay £553 each costs and compensation. The three had created a gateway in the outer fence of AWE Aldermaston and attached a sign say ‘Open for Disarmament: All Welcome.”

In their evidence the protestors described the massive development currently being undertaken at AWE Aldermaston and argued that the developments were in contravention of both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Brian would be proud.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Useless Knowledge

A couple of years ago, my partner and I both read a series of essays by Bertrand Russell called In Praise of Idleness. One of those essays was entitled Useless Knowledge and it included this:

Curious learning not only makes unpleasant things less pleasant, but also makes pleasant things more pleasant. I have enjoyed peaches and apricots more since I have known that they were first cultivated in China in the early days of the Han dynasty; that Chinese hostages held by the great King Kanisaka introduced them into India, whence they spread to Persia, reaching the Roman Empire in the first century of our era; that the word "apricot" is derived from the same Latin source as the word "precocious" because the apricot ripens early; and that the A as the beginning was added by mistake , owing to a false etymology. All this makes the fruit taste much sweeter.
A splendid attitude, me thinks. In the spirit of Bertrand R. let me offer a couple of little facts that strike me as rather cool and basically useless (to me):
  • A quarter of all mammal species are bats. (There are about a thousand bat species and... wait for it... about four thousand mammal species.) There are eighteen bat species in the UK; seventeen are known to be breeding here.
  • More than 10% of languages spoken today are spoken only in Papua New Guinea. Around 800 languages are spoken in PNG today out of a world-wide total of just under 7000; that's all happening in an area about twice the size of the UK.

Monday, 21 March 2011

UK out of Libya!

It seems that all of the major newspapers are endorsing military involvement in Libya. Even in leftist, typically dissenting circles there is a marked lack of comment opposing the current military action.

Well, for what it's worth.... I'm against UK military involvement in Libya. When I have time I'll try and write a considered piece explaining why. For now let me say that I don't trust Cameron et al as far as I can vomit. I don't for a single second think that they are instigating this action because they give a shit about the people of Libya.

Why has this military action started? Because the UK government and its allies want rid of Gaddafi, and they want a say in who controls resources in North Africa. They've involved themselves nefariously already, and now they're involving themselves in open warfare. Even as I write they're receiving criticism because enforcing a no-fly zone isn't quite as unambiguous as it sounds. And that's just the way this government likes it. As long as they can argue that they've got a legal framework to drop bombs, then drop bombs they will. And when the bombing is all done they'll be making sure that the right people come to power in Libya, whether the Libyan people want them or not.

The UK government has a hideous and tragic history of involvement in the politics of the Middle East. They should get out and stay out.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

ASCM and anarchist spirituality

Much of this post appeared as a comment to this article on Bristol IndyMedia which referenced (somewhat disparagingly) the Student Christian Movement.

Firstly some background: I was a member of the Australian Student Christian Movement as a university student in Perth in the 90s. I credit ASCM with much of what is positive in my current life. I was brought up in a very conservative Christian household and was saddled with much of the baggage that goes with that sort of upbringing. Time with free-thinking caring people in ASCM gave me the time and space to shed (much of) that baggage, and to redefine myself free of some of the worst aspects of Christianity. You know the stuff I'm talking about: bigotry, homophobia, a permanent fear of hell etc

Now although my divorce from the institution of the Church couldn't come soon enough, my time with ASCM did not cause me to jettison every aspect of Christianity. I met some tremendously inspiring people who follow a Christian tradition of spirituality and combine that with a deep and profound commitment to peace, social justice, and the like. This is what Christianity could be.

Still, these days I'm as much agnostic as anything else. Or, put another way, I aspire to say with Gandhi ``I am a Muslim and a Hindu and a Christian and a Jew and so are all of you..." (I would particularly want to add humanist to that list .

So that's my background, now here's the rub: I'm getting all hot and bothered over the division between my anarchist comrades at the barricades, and the Christians bowed in prayer. In anarchist circles, it seems like the word ``Christian" is only a peg above ``Capitalist" or ``Tory" or ``person who watches X-factor" :-)

I understand that the label ``Christian" is associated with much of what is appalling in the modern West. I don't dispute that for an instant - the role of the Church in modern life is frequently (usually?) poisonous. It would be a mistake to equate all Christians with the Church however. More importantly - and this is my main point - it would be a mistake to equate spirituality with religion. The first is a ubiquitous and inescapable part of the human condition, the latter a frequently horrendous human construct.

Let me put it another way: it seems to me like anarchists need to do spirituality, and we need to do it well. This aint something to be left until after the revolution. If the example of Gandhi is not enough for you, then consider this quote from that doyen of revolutionaries, El Che:``At the risk of sounding ridiculous, a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." This is a statement of spirit; it concerns what goes on in the heart of the revolutionary, her essence.

I contrast this with the slogan ``No Gods! No Masters! which is a staple of the anarchist placard. To me this seems a statement of anarchist religion, and it is selling spirituality short. I find myself recoiling from it; at its absolutism, its blank stare. I know, of course, what it is aiming at: the priest and capitalist lying in bed with each other, a subservient society their ghastly love-child. It aims in the same direction as Billy Bragg when he sings
They make the laws to chain us well;
The clergy dazzle us with heaven, or they damn us into hell;
We will not worship the God they serve;
a God of greed who feeds the rich while poor folk starve.
A fine sentiment, but the slogan feels wrong because it leaves no room for dissent. What place for those who have a God? (And, don't forget, there are a lot of these.) It feels wrong too because it gives an impression of a cut-out anarchist, one with no soul. All angry fist-waving, no tears, no heart.

This does anarchism a disservice. I am an anarchist precisely I believe it to be a path-of-heart. The anarchists I know care; indeed they care so much that they'll wave their fist at the system, they'll cut themselves loose from the man, and they'll take the consequences. On top of that they are people who do spirituality, however it is named. Who are motivated by feelings of love, and light.

Given this it seems a damn shame that there is an inclination in anarchist circles to dismiss matters spiritual, confusing the matter with religion. This is a mistake. We are not cut-outs. We are humans who must deal with our condition, a condition that is at least in part spiritual. These are the terms: We have been born and we will die; we need each other, yet in some sense will be always alone; we are free, but chained; we see beauty, ugliness, laughter, tears...

We should not cut ourselves loose from spirituality, or cut ourselves apart from those who do their spirituality under another label. I am not advocating that we all take ourselves off post-haste to Church, or the mosque. No, I am asking that we reclaim spirituality from the religionists; we need to do spirituality and we need to do it our way, not the Pope's way.

Society needs an anarchist spirituality as much as it needs an anarchist politics. Because an anarchist spirituality will, by its very nature, allow space and freedom for all: the anarchists can do spirituality our way so that others can do spirituality their way. If people want to call themselves Christian, or Muslim, or Jew, and to do so in peace with each other, then let it be so.

* * *

Surprise, surprise, George Orwell said much that I want to say and he only needed a paragraph. Consider his characterisation of some of his Socialist comrades:
"Sometimes I look at a socialist... and wonder what the devil his motive really is. It is often difficult to believe that it is a love of anybody... [but rather] a hypertrophied sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery... but because it is untidy." (p156, The Road to Wigan Pier)
This is the loveless-revolutionary, the anarchist without heart, this is revolt minus spirit. This is a warning.

And, finally, a historical note. Anarchist spirituality aint new; check out the Catholic Workers at a demo near you...

Friday, 18 February 2011

First Great Satan

Let me present a compositum of recent days spent wrestling with the First Great Satan. (These are the fellows who run our public transport system.)

I wake and feed myself some lovely home-made muesli. Mmhmm. Now I must book me a train, for I need to go to Milton Keynes in three months. An hour later I have discovered that, although a single ticket will cost me £60, if I break the ticket into three and book Bristol-Cheltenham then Cheltenham-Birmingham then Birmingham-Milton Keynes, then I can make the journey on the same trains for half the price. Though the price still needles, forty minutes later I have achieved the triple booking. I will need to take a trip to Temple Meads to book my bike on, but that can wait for another day when I have a couple of hours spare.

It's a bad start to the day but I stay positive: today I am having a day off on my own. Hurrah! I have organised a bus ride out to Wells so I can walk through the Mendips to Cheddar. What could go wrong?

I arrive at the bus stop with five minutes to spare. Forty minutes later my bus arrives. The driver is apologetic - he'd broken down. I ask for a return to Cheddar; the driver says "That'll be seven pounds." I lose the ability to speak for a couple of seconds. Then: "But, surely sir, you are mistaken? For Wells is not far, and it is a popular town."

The driver is not mistaken but he is also rather nice. So he issues me a special ticket (for I have only £6.85 in my wallet) and tells me I should be able to get back on that. Thank you, sir, for your humanity. (But a pox on your employer.)

Between Wells and Cheddar there is nary a commercial outlet. I am alone with sheep and grass and hedgerows. I see a cloud of unidentified sparrow-like birds feeding in a farmer's field. And a rook, and a nuthatch, and some cows with big scary horns. I eat sandwiches sitting on a rock. A short paragraph of happiness in an essay of modern anguish.

I arrive at my destination and go to the bus stop. It takes me two hours to get from Cheddar to Bristol Temple Meads, though it be but a short distance. The first bus is full of old people on a trip out and the atmosphere is rather jolly. After that the journey gets a little wearing. I pass my time contemplating a map of the area - there are a great number of disused railways running in all directions. Thank you Mr Beeching for your good work.

From Temple Meads to home is a forty minute walk. I could catch the bus but it would take nearly as long and cost me £3. Most of my walk is on the cycle path; I praise Allah, Yahweh, and the Green Goddess that the good folk of people stopped the council and FGSatan from running a bus lane down the length of it.

I arrive home happy. I won't let the fuckers get me down.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Yoga, sex, Bill Hicks

A follow-up to my earlier post on matters yogic...

Harsh yogi? I took some leave over Christmas so was able to attend a yoga class for a change (I usually do my yoga at a home, using a manual). I went to a Mysore-style ashtanga session where everyone does their own thing and the yogi wanders round correcting things. Since I was new to the class the yogi introduced himself and told me to start with the very basics - so I duly started with a sun salutation A while he wandered round the class watching from afar. When I'd completed this most basic of manoeuvres, he came over and told me to pause. He then said,
I don't know what you're doing, but it's not ashtanga

Whoah tiger! Bit of a confidence-knocker that! Fortunately I had an idea that he was pretty harsh so I was kind of expecting it. Over the next two hours he completely took my basic postures apart, and started me off from scratch again. Although it was a pretty severe process it was exactly what I wanted: I've now got a hell of a lot of things to work on at home on my own...

Libidinous yoga. Or, as Derek and Clive might put it, yoga and the effing horn. Pootling about on the internet I came across this article about tantric yoga. It describes how yoga can be used to ease sexual dysfunction. I noted it because [cough] I'd noticed something similar myself. To put it bluntly, yoga turns you on.

How it does this is a good question. In the article above it says:
My opinion on the subject is that you’re getting more oxygen to your brain and increasing blood flow to all areas of the body.

... And so your libido increases. More subtly, it also places you more firmly in your own body, so that you become aware of the many different aspects of your body, including the sexual. Finally, I'd add that when I practice yoga my self-esteem is strengthened. Although I'm not very good (see earlier section!), at the end of a session I have a noticeable alpha-male type feeling. And we know what's on the mind of your average alpha-male...

Bill Hicks. My man the Stevenage responded to my earlier yoga posting with a link to a video of the late, great Bill Hicks. You can view it below; I'll leave you to decide how relevant it is to the subject at hand.