Thursday, September 26, 2013

Orc work in Woldingham: destruction of beech trees behind my cabin

In his poem Binsey Poplars, Hopkins mourns the thoughtless destruction of loved trees:

My aspens dear...
...
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew - 
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her, ...

Ronald Tolkien described the wanton felling of trees as "orc work" and near the end of The Lord of the Rings, the destruction of the trees of the Shire marred Frodo's return, overclouding it with depression and horror and an enduring empoverishment of his world.

Daniel Nichols expresses the same sentiment in his Caelum et Terra blog: Mourning the marring

And I too have my beautiful beech trees to mourn (yes, Daniel, even the same type of tree) and such wonderful tall flawless ones at that: felled by a neighbour just behind my cabin for a construction project which they were not even in the way of. My cabin had until now been a peaceful retreat at times essential to maintaining my sanity.

Even though the sound of power saws and heavy machinery will eventually go, once they have given fruit to a new ugly commercial extension, this cabin will never feel the same: even as I sleep, I can feel the absence of those trees, and it will take a long time for my anger at the orcs with their brash machines to fade. It is harder still to describe and cope with my anger against those who ordered the quite unnecessary slaughter.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Nature studies and kinds of reverence

"...there is a sense in which the development of Baconian or Cartesian science led us to view the world reductively, to murder by dissection, and so to give priority to death over life." Stratford Caldecott The Radiance of Being, p58 
As a boy, urged by teachers to read Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, I was irritated by the title. Even allowing for my excessive literal-mindedness, it seemed to imply something more sinister than a casual joke.

On attempting to follow my teachers' advice, the relentless flippant jocularity I found only confirmed the initial suspicion that there was a lack of reverence in Durrrell's approach. This on the one hand seemed to make no essential distinction between the funniness of humans and that of animals, while on the other - in books such as The Bafut Beagles - it made arbitrary distinctions between this knowing ironic author and those comical foreigners or natives and their quaint ways. There is an edge in Durrell wich betrays not kindly irony but rather an assumed superiority and irreverence.
The apparent exclusion of seriousness - an essential aspect of reverence - the very relentless and indiscriminate quality of his humour also seems to betray a denial of some underlying fear: the emptiness gaping beneath the smile and bonhommie of the bluff individual, leading to the peculiar repulsion that such people induce at least in me.
What transpired in his books is that Durrell was a naturalist of the old school, an adventurous collector, dissector, classifier and analyzer. A contrasting style is fashionable now: David Attenborough in his nature documentaries observes with a kind of reverence supported by exquisite production values, but marred by a distinct though no less cloying ideology.
Recently I came across a beautifully produced Dorling Kindersley book on nature study which I snapped up, as something likely to inspire reverence and wonder in my children. Later, looking through it, the emphasis on collecting, killing, bottling and analyzing left me chilled; these  discoveries led to second thoughts about letting my children see it at all. In choosing the book I had "judged the book by its cover" but would have done a better job had I read the author's name printed there as one of the key selling points: Gerald Durrell.
The production values of Durrell's The Amateur Naturalist were as lavish as those in Attenborough's nature programmes, but the reverence that might have been induced by the the stunning photography and videography is overshadowed by the underlying spirit: in the one case a deadly analytic domination which brushes beauty aside, and in the other an environmentalism that despairs of preserving beauty because of the inevitability of man's destructiveness. Neither mood is right, or desirable, for my children; even I - with my insight into the ideological roots of these works - am scarcely able to brush aside the painful and unwanted moods that they induce.

My children love to go around with sticks and "hack and rack the growing green" with them. They are not unaware of my distress at their slashing even nettles in the woods, but the tenderness for even the crushed reed that I feel and try to project does not seem to overcome that urge to destroy. Yet I observe that they also have an undeniable sense of wonder for things of nature.

Perhaps my fear is that the destructiveness will overwhelm and mar that other facet of their spirit that I so much want to foster; and I want to find works of art and reference that will reinforce the gentle and reverent side of their spirit.

The matter becomes more complicated still when I explain to them the need to kill the butterflies that lay the eggs of caterpillars which devastate our cabbages. It is a teachable moment, but I am not sure that I am doing it well. I explain that it makes me sad to bat a cabbage white from the air (with a tennis racket, which makes an a excellent butterfly swatter) and then stamp on it, but that I am not doing it for sport but only because the butterfly is an "enemy" of our vegetables and I want the necessary death to be as swift and painless as possible.
It is even sadder that the cabbage butterflies are virtually the only ones that visit our garden, thanks presumably to the devastation of insect life bemoaned by the likes of Attenborough.
Henry pinned one of the dead butterflies to our family noticeboard. It seemed the thing to do, though his motivation remains mysterious. He must have been reading the Durrell book ...
He also loves collecting skulls. One of his prized possessions is a rabbit skull we found in the woods. His sadness at the death of an abandoned nestling seemed to vanish when I told him that once the corpse had rotted a while on our compost heap he could have the skull. He kept asking me when it would be ready. A fox got to it first, probably the same blighter that ate all the gooseberries off the tree, which brings me to another death we need to arrange ...

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

About "beating oneself up" and the alternative

Thanks to a suggestion from Stratford Caldecott, I discovered the blog of John Janaro, who writes wisely and engagingly on a wide range of things.

Here's something he wrote recently:

Self-Inflicted Violence: It Doesn't Always Meet the Eye 

I beat myself up all the time. Does that sound scary? Yet you won't find cuts or scars or bruises on my body. No... as is so often the case, I'm talking about something I do inside my head.
I think its important to take seriously the metaphor of "beating ourselves up" mentally and emotionally over our own real or perceived failures. These metaphors resonate for reasons that are deeper than we may realize.

Mentally ill people can develop even compulsive forms of interior violence, and repetitive psychological self injury. This can be even more crippling than visible, external self-inflicted violence, although I think the two often go together in life circumstances and illnesses other than my own.

Whatever the nature of the behavior, we need to become more aware of how damaging (and how potentially dangerous) it is to "beat up on ourselves."

I am not a medical doctor or a therapist. I am just a "patient" who has lived with my own mental illness for more than 40 years. All I can do is share what I have learned, what has helped me in my own struggles. And I have certainly learned that beating up on myself is very bad thing. Neurological dysfunctions in the brain can give rise to dark and distorted perceptions or feelings of doubt, which then strive to articulate themselves as compulsive thoughts and emotions.
This can break out into a cycle of interior self abuse that is not only painful, but that causes me to withdraw from my responsibilities and from others who need me. I know that I must try my best to break this cycle, by turning to God in prayer, certainly, but also by sticking with my medications, watching what I eat, following my routine, managing stress, exercising, using cognitive therapy, and relying on people who can help me get back into focus and stay there.
I have never been able to think my way out of this. Help comes from outside, and no degree of illness can take away the personal responsibility that I have to be receptive, to struggle to be open to the help that I cannot give myself.
I know that there are many people who don't worry about much of anything, and who would benefit from a good dose of sober self-criticism (n.b. sober, which means balanced, measured, realistic). And we all feel guilty and ashamed at times simply because we've done something wrong. This is normal and good. But its something entirely different from a pathological and constant interior assault that is all out of proportion to any fault, that seems to block out goodness and that leads to discouragement.
Don't give in to this. Move away from it, even if all you can manage is an inch. Do it one inch at a time. And search for anything that helps you to draw out of yourself. If some of those helps begin with "psych," don't be ashamed of that. Its awkward terminology, but when properly applied these "helps" encompass both corporal and spiritual works of mercy. And we all need mercy. 
It is essential to people with mental illness to remember that God loves them just as they are, and that they must learn to love themselves, to be kind to themselves, and to turn their energies outward in constructive ways. And they must not be ashamed that they need help from others.

From my own experience I can say: It is possible to live in a relationship with God, with joy and patience, and constructive engagement of work and relationships, even with chronic depression, bi-polar, OCD, and other neurobiologically based disorders. It is also possible to be healed greatly from much self inflicted personal damage.
It is an ongoing process, and you can't do it alone. You need help.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Drip irrigation set up and working

Thanks to some equipment inherited from my father dating back a couple of decades, plus a recycled submersible pond pump, we now have drip irrigation for our vegetable patch, just in time for the big heatwave.
Here is a snap, with the children's feet into the bargain (they like it but miss playing with the hose pipe!)
After it was all set up and tested, I turned off the pump (situated in one of the rainwater butts) and was surprised to see the water keep flowing: I had not taken into account the siphon action of the system. So strictly the pump is not necessary.


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Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Mum and Dad's lives could be in jeopardy ... or worse, their marriage!"

In the 2004 movie The Incredibles the elder children of Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl - Violet and Dash - are alone while their parents are off to confront Syndrome, the arch-villain of the piece.
When Dash seems to be letting his boyish side run dangerously free, Violet tries to remind him of what is at stake, when she says these words: "Mum and dad's lives could be in jeopardy ... or worse, their marriage!"
Watching this movie again after several years, having got married and had children since the first time, I understood far better the family life aspect of it and found moving the sharp precision with which the makers many times depicted the values that assert themselves with poignant spontaneity in the the different characters.
The film is about family values and a superhero story in about equal emphasis, but it is not agitprop for the "pro-family movement"*: it is more powerful than deliberate advocacy could ever be. It portrays the emotions, loyalties, and inner resources that arise spontaneously regarding other members of our family. I would go as far as saying that it does so with such unity and elegance as to be a work of genius.
For those who understand the good of the natural family from lived experience, as children or as spouses, it is frustrating and tantalizing to witness the accelerating attacks on marriage from ideologues and other pressure groups who "just don't get it" yet who mystifyingly seem to be carrying the day and may soon succeed even in browbeating an admittedly weak Prime Minister into changing the law of the nation to abolish natural marriage.
This move would trump the majority who know in their very roots why natural marriage is right but quite understandably are unable to articulate it, and so cannot even begin to assert it. Petitions and other initiatives by groups with more foresight and resources have helped to give them a voice, but may not be enough in view of the fact that postmodern "consensus politics" is increasingly replacing traditional play-it-by-the-rules democracy and ready to play dirty while mastering the arts of advertising, PR and spin to dupe and confuse the majority.
Given that the anti-naturals cannot or will not listen to reason and more frighteningly, will not even heed the instinctual and natural sentiments of their own hearts, what other means do we have in what seems already a hopeless battle?
Art cuts through more directly to the heart, but even this is not immune to tendentious interpretations or criticisms.
The unity of Shakespeare can still be undermined in this way by directors with a particular bent. In the recent BBC series of historical dramas The Hollow Crown, Richard II is depicted as a cardboard cutout camp gay (postmodern collage approach is a neat cop-out from historical unity and plausibility - "just bung it in, darling. Whatever!").
Perhaps cinema, anime and graphic novel have a unity and directness that cannot be as easily evaded as even drama can, by cutting out an intermediate reinterpretation. The power of graphic novel is a central theme in the new ironically named dystopic series Utopia; it will be interesting to see how the remaining episodes develop this theme.
What better way to cut short this ramble than by paraphrasing (too tendentiously for comfort!) the words of Violet to Dash: our society could be in jeopardy ... or worse, marriage!  .I did not promise you an answer: I am just trying to unpack some ideas inspired by The Incredibles that seem very relevant to the ethical situation confronting many nations, and - given the nature of the organizations undermining marriage - from which no nation will eventually be able to shelter.

*Who would have ever dreamed not so long ago that such a movement would be necessary? Seen in a sane light, it is about as necessary as a "pro-food movement"; the only time you need to assert the good of food is when there is some serious illness that interferes with the natural instincts, such as anorexia. Convincing somebody who hates natural marriage is as difficult as persuading an anorexic to eat, just as it is is technically and practically impossible to argue for a self-evident truth: it's not just lack of practice, but the impossibility of reducing the issue to more elemental terms.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Symbiosis and win-win: aquaculture watercress under way!

Our modest living room aquarium has just acquired a watercress bed.

A plastic tray with a gravel layer intercepts the flow from the filter pump, channeling the water through the gravel where watercress is rooted. This way, waste from the goldfish becomes manure for the plants, and all are happy:

- the aquarium water is cleaned of nitrates and ammonia: the fish are happier and we don't need to change the water so often;

- the plants are fed and will provide us with a constant supply of fresh watercress.

This is just the very first experiment. I'd like to try growing edible fish instead of merely ornamental goldfish (you can just about see them in the picture) and scale it up: for all the optimism I doubt we'd get frequent harvests of watercress from such a small bed.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Netflix and Lovefilm - false claims about content

Started a free trial for the new UK Netflix, having been frustrated by Lovefilm's exaggerated claims about their content.

Films that have been on my Lovefilm waiting list for years have still not been delivered in spite of their availability being clearly declared in their catalogue. Plus my suspicion is reinforced by the fact that they keep urging me to increase the number of films on the list to assure frequent deliveries. It seems to me that if a film is not available for more than a few months it is not available full stop, and should be removed from their advertised catalogue.

Having signed up for a month's trial with Netflix, I searched for a few well-known films. Apart from the glaring absence of Ghibli titles, the database search seems unhelpful: search term "Totoro" for example, apart from revealing that this very popular film is unknown to Netflix, also shows that the search results comprise all films with "to" in the title (and some with no discernable connection at all with the search term). Of what use is such a stupid search algorithm to anybody except to a business that is trying to create a false impression of breadth of content? Offering utterly unrelated titles in the search results only succeeds in irritating the user even more.

A very bad start. Can anybody recoomend a film rental or streaming service available in the UK that delivers on its content promises?

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