Ooh ! Look at the shiny baubles !

Advertisements, especially those on the television, are very revealing. They tell us soemthing about our culture and our psyche. The advertiser that wants us to buy their product will do and say whatever it takes to make their product attractive to us. Advertisers are not fools (usually) and earn a lot of money making sure they know our concerns and our desires.

They know we worry about deforestation and climate change so a frozen food company (Iceland) promotes itself through an advert about the damage caused by palm oil usage. This advert has been even more successful than they might have hoped because it has been banned and consequently gone viralon the internet.

Our views on homosexuality have changed and when couples are shown getting married, or rushing to the maternity ward to have babies delivered, it is almost as likely that they will be a same sex partnership as not.

Our concerns about racist perceptions has meant that most couples in UK adverts, doing normal, common-or-garden, domestic  things, are mixed race.

Advertisers like to position themselves, and their products, on the right side of public opinion for obvious resaons. They portray what they hope is our fantasy of how we  think the world should be rather than reflect how it actually is. They suggest by buying their product the fantasy will slowly become real.

This has a long history of causing problems. The portrayal of luxurious lifestyles and wealth, which was a previously popular strategy, was felt by some to cause resentment and alienation. They managed to increase greed, which was desired as it is a driver to purchase, but also increased envy which is a much more troublesome emotion. In 1957 Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders & The  Status Seekers”  tried to warn us of the effects of consumerism and the manipulative effects of adverising and the media. I sometimes fear that the biased portrayal of family life, currently shown,  feeds into the populist surges we have seen in Europe as people feel that their lives and cultures are being airbrushed out of sight.

I therefore have an ambivalent attitude to adverts. I can enjoy them when they are well crafted and find them useful when they inform me, but I always keep one eye open for the “hook” ; the lure that will drag you in and subtly alter your opinions without engaging you in debate or thought.

I was sure most of us watched adverts with this filter in place. I was therefore saddened to see this advert on TV for a new iphone. It seems to suggest we have dropped to a very basic and primitive way of thinking.

 

This is an advert for a phone which is  going to cost you about £1000. Notice that the advert tells you nothing about the phone other than it has a big screen. Nothing about its utility, nothing to compare it to other phones, no details on its specifications, nothing at all. Like many recent Apple adverts it is simply a series of shots of the product looking shiny and new, with the backing of some hip music. It seems that we are now willing to pay £1000 for no reason other than that something looks pretty.  Are we really this shallow now ?

Imagine what could be done with that money were it not spent on a shiny bauble. Are really so wealthy as a society that we can spend this amount on a trinket. Both for ourselves and for the sake of others, whether we follow a secular or a religious path, we need to be alert to this change  that consumerism encourages in us. By all means, buy the £1000 phone if all your family and friends are well and happy, if there are none of your neighbours in financial hardships, if the appeals for charitablle donations have stopped (as they are no longer needed), if you see no hardship or poverty in your communities. If there is nothing else better to spend your money on then this shiny bauble might just fit the bill.

How much of our lives could we buy back if we cherished our lives instead of our trinkets?

Gerry Spence

 

How many more cars, clothes, toys and trinkets do we really need before we wake up and realize that half the world goes to bed every night with empty stomachs and naked bodies?

K.P. Yohannan

Anti-deception belt buckles

Anti-deception belt buckles

It is that time of the year when I get my HBA1c checked again. Now I know that is a measure of my glycosylated haemoglobin and it gives a weighted average of blood glucose levels over the life of red blood cells (117 days or so). But this is not really how I think of it. It is really a test of my abilities in self-deception. I test my blood daily and therefore should really know what my average blood glucose has been – but I cheat !

If I have had a bad day with my diet, a night out for a meal and a drink, I tend to forget to do my bloods just afterwards. If I have forgotten to do my exercises I tend also, quite conveniently, forget to check my sugar levels as well.  I don’t want to see the results of my failings. Until that LED screen on the glucose meter frowns a high value at me I can pretend to myself that little has happened. When I check a little later, having been good and exercised properly, my sugars are not that bad. In essence, I manage to check myself at all the best times and give myself the feeling I am doing better than I am. This feeling of confidence all disappears when the HBA1c comes around and destroys my flimsy deceptions with its harsh reading of the true average reading over the last three months. Because it is a three month average it is not even possible to do a quick few days of good dieting and heavy exercise to bring the average down – the HBA1c doesn’t see this recent contrition, it just counts the pastries and sloth of the previous months.

I think we need similar tests of self-deception that we can use before we end up in the mess of being fat and diabetic. I would have loved to have an anti-deception mirror. This mirror would surreptitiously collect images of us and then present them back to us as an average image of how we looked over the last three months. It would not matter if you stood up straight, threw your shoulders back and sucked in your stomach and held the pose you managed, for the first 30 seconds, that you met a new attractive person. It would show you slouched, hunched and belly flopping. This might be a fillip to think about diet or exercise.  These might meet the call Robert Burns put out in “To a Louse” :-

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

I can imagine another two ways to free us from possible blunders. Anti-deception headphones could also be valuable. These would monitor our conversations for words and phrases like “chubby”, “chunky”, “thick around the middle”, “buxom”, “full figured”, “hefty” or “portly”, when used to describe ourselves, and play the words “fat”, “overweight” or “obese” in their stead. But perhaps the most valuable tool, for men in any event, might be the anti-deception belt buckle.

After a certain age men often become aware of a paunch developing around their midriff. It gradually grows until it is quite a size. To the man this becomes recognizable when he can no longer look down and see his feet or genitals without either sucking in or using his hands. To the rest of the world this became apparent when the paunch had grown to cover his belt buckle. I noticed that I, like many men, dealt with this problem by a cunning strategy. By simply pulling my short out from under my waist band, while my paunch may be hiding my belt buckle, the short now covers the paunch and the buckle. I honestly believed that the rest of the world were fooled by this strategy. I thought that they thought “Hey, look at the thin guy over there whose shirt flaps outside his trousers. I wish I was slim like that“. I didn’t imagine they thought, “Heavens that bloke is too fat to do up his trousers properly and tuck in his shirt“. I believe women have similar cunning plans involving ponchos and similar outfits. I would never had pulled my shirt out while I was wearing a suit (It would have looked too wierd) but I was happy enough to deceive myself that this strategy worked when I wore jeans or chinos. A simple belt buckle with a light sensitive alarm could sound a siren, or ring a bell, when it was covered by a shirt to alert the wearer that they were being silly and making a fashion faux pas.

Anyway, I should know in a few days how much I have been deceiving myself when the HBA1c comes in. I am sure when I get this , temporarily at least, I will pull my sock ups, eat better and workout more. Although perhaps not tonight;  as the next test will not be for over three months and tonight won’t figure in the next test !

 

Less than dazzling

It is amazing what a difference a few volts can make. I bought new batteries for the bicycle lamp and it now functions fairly well. As the video shows I can actually see a fait bit of the road and don’t, therefore, have to rely on memory as to where the bridge and cliff are. This makes the cycle a good bit less anxiety provoking  as you feel a little safer. Unfortunately it also throws up shadows that flit in the sides of your field of vision. These, accompanied by noises in the undergrowth, do help to make sure it never feels really relaxing. Perhaps my lights don’t light up the whole road but at least they won’t dazzle on-coming traffic.

 

Fortunately there is a lot of wind noise on this video (It is not my breathing I assure you, well not entirely my breathing) which gives a sense of speed to the cycle ride which is completely false. It sounds like the cresta run but is actually little more than  stroll

 

Away from it all.

Sometimes you only see something when you look at it through someone else’s eyes. We have got very  used to living in the backwoods and generally prefer it to the city life that we previously knew. We know that out entertainment options are different and the cutting edges of fashion tend to be very blunt by the time it makes it to us. But otherwise we feel we live the modern life without some of the irritations of living hugger-mugger in a more densely populated area.

One of the ways we manage to keep up with the twentieth century is to run a small holiday let. This brings in an income which is very valuable for the luxuries we enjoy. The smallholding just about makes us self-sufficient, but with the holiday let we can afford exciting things like telephony and the internet. Our visitors today arrived after very long journeys; one had come from the capital and the other had flown from America. About two hours before their arrival we had started to receive telephone calls from them as they were finding things were not quite as they had anticipated.

As they had flown and taken trains from the major urban centres everything had been fine. They then took the bus, which worked well, which deposited them at the side of the road a few miles from the  farm and three miles from the town. They started to realise that they were not in Kansas anymore. They had no mobile phone reception to make any calls. Even had they phone reception they would have found that they are in an Uber-free and virtually taxi-free area. They had planned to walk to the cottage but had not realized the walk would have been relentlessly uphill and their luggage would not have made the trek.

We had anticipated these problems and had gone to meet them at the bus stop. Their relief was tangible. Their first question was “where are the street lights ?”, they had just found themselves in the complete dark, miles from any houses or signs of habitation. I am used to walking in the dark but I think that they had seen, for the first time, what the dark is actually like. Living in the city you forget what pitch black is like. One of the strangest things I noticed when we moved here occurred when I lay in bed. It was so dark there was no appreciable difference whether I opened or closed my eyes. It was like being blind, there was no light whatsoever.

When we got them to the cottage they inquired about shops to be disappointed that they would now be shut as it was evening. No problem they thought, having wifi, they would be able to order food online. This lead the next discovery – that home deliveries don’t exist in this part of the world and that the one fish and chip shop in the town would be shut already. We had anticipated this in part and had ensured that they had enough basic staples to make a supper, and have a drink, until they found their bearings.

I never really think about these things now. I take it for granted that we don’t have them and I don’t feel that I miss them. I recall that when I lived in the city there were 24 hour supermarkets and I can also remember the feeling of ennui and alienation when I found myself trudging the aisles of these places late at night when I should have been at home in my bed. I now like walking outside in the night. Once your eyes have acclimatized it is amazing what you an see and the whole landscape looks different and slightly alien. Sometimes it is a little scary but it is always interesting. As we live in a dark skies area, if there is no cloud, it is fascinating to look up at the stars which had been hidden to me, by light pollution, when I lived in the city. I have grown used to my new rural life and didn’t see how different it is in many small ways to urban life until I saw it in the saucer-wide eyes of my visitors.

Our visitors want to have a time “away from it all” and I think we are going to be able to offer them that. Hopefully during their stay they will find that all the things that they think are missing are not that essential really. They may even start to think that some of the things they don’t have, such as mobile phone reception, may be a pleasant change. If they do then this may prove to be a very successful holiday. I must thank them for making me realize that I am already “away from it all”

rhdr

 

The nights are drawing in.

It is now a week since the clocks went back an hour and I am gradually getting used to the new routines. The initial pleasure of that extra light in the morning has largely worn off to be replaced by the annoyance of the earlier darkness. Not only does night start an hour earlier it comes on much more quickly. No sooner have you noticed the gathering twilight than it is pitch black.

This alters the afternoon and evening routines as, regardless of what time it shows on the clock,  it is still vital to get the birds into their coups before darkness falls. If we miss this deadline then we can be pretty much assured we will lose some of the birds to foxes. We lose enough to the hawks, who are brazen and steal during the day, and we can’t afford to supply the fox population also. Having said this, if the birds had a choice they might prefer the fox to the hawk as their ultimate nemesis as the fox kills much more quickly and humanely.

Now, instead of a leisurely task in the early evening, strolling coup to coup and checking everybody is tucked in for the night, there is a hurried dash rushing everyone indoors before the darkness falls. We have our poultry scattered about the farm in half a dozen or so small coups. It would be less work to keep them all together in one larger shed and take a lot less time at night. However, this way seems a lot more natural for the birds and we are able to keep more cockerels. Each cockerel lives with his 8 to 10 wives on his patch. They rarely stray into enemy territory and there are relatively few fights. The hens like this more natural family set up and it is clear that the cockerel sees his role as the guard of his harem. He wards of intruders and guards the doors at night. The hens seem happier when he is about.

We prefer it not only because it is more natural but also because, this way, we can keep more cockerels on the farm. If we are honest, cockerels img_20181104_1646276595128874143955393.jpgare much prettier than chickens and exhibit a great deal more character. There is a surprising amount of pleasure that can be obtained from sitting, on a warm and dry afternoon, and watching the cockerels strut try and rule their roost. This system necessitates a bit more work for me in the daily opening and closing of the coups, but , it does repay itself in the pleasure I get from watching the small flocks of birds  having their adventures all over the farm yard rather than just in one field or barn. Anyway, with the birds seem to have adjusted to the changed clocks and, after a fashion, so have I.

A further adaptation, that I didn’t expect, was that I have had  to reschedule my daily exercise routine. Previously I would cycle in the afternoon. Before the nights started to draw in, it was a time when roads were quiet and there was a lull in the working day; it was an ideal time to go. With the shortened hours there is no afternoon lull and I don’t get my chance to cycle before the evening has started. Therefore, today  I decided to try cycling at night. After I had scoured the garage for an old bicycle lamp I powered up the lamp and my podcast player and headed out. This did not work out as successfully as I had anticipated. As you will see from the video below this lamp was not really up to the job. I pedaled in the gloom only avoiding accident because I knew the road. My fear for my safety was augmented by the scariness of the dark forest so I did at least  manage a good workout as my heart-rate certainly went up. My attempt to calm my fears by listening to the BBC’s “Moral Maze” debate on climate change did not entirely work. I think I’ll have to invest in a better lamp before I try  this again. But, at least I now know what I want Santa to bring me for Christmas.

I’m sure I wouldn’t like that anyway.

I am not yet sure if this is an advantage or a disadvantage of rural life. Out here in the wilds we have a lot less choice when it comes to entertainment. Basically there is less choice because there is a lot less on offer. There are no multiplex cinemas with five screens, with three showing times, 3D films and surround sound. At our local cinema there is one screen (some home plasma TVs are larger) and we used to have to stack the chairs after a show (but following some grant money this is no longer necessary). We feel blessed as within a mere 45 minutes drive we have the choice of two cinemas. These will not be showing the latest releases, as they can’t compete with the cost that entails, but they will be showing fairly recent films interspersed with some more eclectic choices (and some live-screened events).

We have two theatres, open occasionally, within an hour’s drive which tend to show local productions or the occasional Arts Council funded project. We have a handful of restaurants and pubs locally. If we want more than this then we need to plan, as it is going to entail considerable travel, quite a bit of expense, and possibly an over-night stay.

We therefore have some choice; not a great deal, but not none. Sometimes I feel disadvantaged when I watch the trailers for new films, or advertisements for hit shows and concerts, on the television as I know they are not going to be available to me. My choice won’t include them. My choice will be the smaller range offered by our local providers and whatever the community groups have arranged locally.

I have family who live in central London and have an unimaginable range of choice of an evening. There choices are difficult – “Shall we go to the opera, or the theatre, or that jazz club, or the rock show in the O2 centre ? Or shall we just see that exhibition and go for a meal ? Should we have Indian, or Malaysian, I really like Armenian food, though there is also that lovely Lebanese restaurant. You know the one we went to when Korean restaurant was fully booked ?”. I don’t have this problem, thankfully. Our decision is more often “Shall we go to that concert, or not ?

The advantages of choice are clear. We all like to make decisions to try and choose options which are best for our own personal tastes.  Whether it be what we eat, what books we read, what clothes we wear, where we live, what music we listen to – we like to make the decisions ourselves and have a range of options while we do so. If all our needs and pleasures were adequately met, but we did not do the choosing, we would feel our lives empty and unfulfilled. We need to choose to show ourselves that we are alive. The worst aspect of prison life is the loss of autonomy and control, which is just another way of saying the loss of choice. So, out here in the sticks, we are quite disadvantaged by the lack of choices we have in terms of entertainment. But I am not sure that this is entirely a disadvantage.

I am not sure that more choice would actually help me a great deal. I am a ditherer and I worry I wouldn’t go out as much if I had too wide a choice. I could get paralyzed with indecision. I do feel jealous at times, but only occasionally. I am very, very good at cognitive dissonance and convincing myself I am happy with what I have. I am better than Aesop’s fox when it comes to knowing that grape’s are sour. I don’t need the full range of options I’ll be happy with something – I don’t need larks’ tongues in aspic, I’ll make do quite happily with corned beef hash. So I feel that, while I like choice, I only want a certain amount; enough that I have to choose between things, between things that are different enough to make it worthwhile choosing, and not from too many choices (So that I don’t spend the evening bored and annoyed, wishing I’d chosen the other option which would clearly have been better than that which I have now). From a smaller range of choices I select faster and more definitively. I feel more confident in my choice and, I think, less likely to have feelings of regret that I opted for the wrong thing.

But there is one other aspect of our reduced choices that I feel may be an advantage. When there is a large menu of options it is likely that you will find something that you know is to your taste.  The choices here are often much more limited and reduced to “this thing” or “nothing”. This means often you opt for “this thing” not knowing whether it will be to your taste or not. So, paradoxically, because of reduced choices you end up making more adventurous decisions.

This was my choice tonight. I like jazz fusion, progressive rock, classical, and folk music. I have fairly catholic tastes. But my choice this evening was “Sacred choral music” or “nothing”. I opted for the ‘sacred choral music’ and went out to a church in a nearby town to hear a choir who had traveled from Russia to perform in country churches and halls throughout Wales. This was my first time at such a concert. If I had been given more choice, for example were a Zappa tribute band playing, then I would not have gone to listen to Voskresenije Choir of St Petersburg on their Ressurection tour.

This is how I found myself in a local church on a weekend night listening to an 8 piece Russian choir. the voices of the four men and four women were excellent, all soloists in their own right but coming together to make something that transcended the individual voices. It was fascinating to hear the differences between the male and female voices. The sensations evoked by both, though different, were equally powerful and together they managed to make something separate and even better The evening was split into a first half of sacred music and, after the interval, a second half of russian folk music. All of it was excellent but, surprisingly and against my expectations, I prefered the sacred music to the rest. Perhaps it was the acoustics and atmosphere of the church, or perhaps it was the smell of the traces of incense which heightened the impact of the music, I’ll never be sure. However, I know that if I had been offered more choices then I probably would not have chosen this evening and I would have missed out. I would have chosen something closer to my usual tastes and continued with my narrowed experience. As I told my children when introducing them to brocolli “how do you know you don’t like it, if you’ve never tried it ?” They discovered the joys of brocolli by not having much of a chouce either,

 

 

No icicles yet, unfortunately.

No icicles yet, unfortunately.

Strangely I found myself reciting Shakespeare while I fed the chickens and milked the goat this morning. I was happily reminded of this piece as I broke the ice that had formed overnight on the water trough.

When icicles hang by the wall,
and Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
and Tom bears logs into the hall,
and milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
the nightly sings the staring Owl,
  To-whoo;
To-whit, to-whoo, a merry note,
while greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

There is very little Shakespeare that I can remember from my schooldays, even less if I limit myself to verses I can recite from memory. But I am still able to recall the first verse of this poem from ‘Love’s labour’s Lost’. I think it spoke to me in those days before central heating and supermarket shopping. Waking to the ferns of ice on the bedroom windows, puffing to see the mist of your breath, fighting with your brother to stand in front of the fan heater while dressing and finding it impossible to pour the milk over your cereal as the cream had frozen and was pushed out of the top of the bottle. I think I first met this poem on a cold morning in primary school and suddenly understood the authors description of blood being ‘nipped‘, needing to ‘blow your nail‘ and later “Marian’s nose looks red and raw“. I thought then, Shakespeare knew winters as I knew winters  and they hadn’t changed much.

The last few morning have been cold. Cold enough to freeze and cold enough to be uncomfortable without gloves. There has been heavy frost but it has not yet been cold enough for icicles. It is nice to get back indoors having done the animals and to stand by the range to warm up. I am so relieved to see this cold weather, I had started to give up hope of getting a good cold spell again.  It is difficult to express how happy I am that the weather has turned. I was so happy that it had me reciting poetry to the goat (She thought is was excellen!)

Though the cold is uncomfortable it is a vital part of the season. Each season has its appropriate weather and the cyclical changes we see are the base on which we organise all our agricultural activities. What we grow, where we grow and when we grow it all depends on the seasonal cycles.  This includes the colds of autumn and winter. This change is very bit as vital as the warmth that starts in spring. The temperature changes  lets the trees know to prepare for autumn. The produce of many plants is produced when the drop in temperature warns the plant of oncoming winter. Further, and very importantly, increasing cold puts an end to the life cycle of a number of bugs.

One of these bugs which is killed is the blowfly. These are the greenbottles, blackbottles and bluebottles  which we commonly see through the summer. (The name ‘bottle’ in this case refers to their being ‘bot flies’, and a “bot” is a maggot). These love warm damp weather and proliferate in this. The problem associated with them is that they lay their eggs in the fleece of sheep, these hatch as maggots, which then eat the animal and lay more eggs, which then go on the repeat the cycle. An animal with this is termed “fly struck”. It is a serious, and sometimes, fatal condition. The greenbottles are the primary culprit in this condition, bluebottles only affect animals already struck.

A knowledge of the seasons allows us to prepare for this and to dip or spray our animals with insecticides to protect them from flies during the summer months. But I and many of my neighbours have been caught out this year. Normally our regime works by protecting the animal  until the cold wintry months start when the flies have died or are dormant. But this year our disrupted seasons have witnessed unseasonably warm weather right up until to November. This has been associated with damp conditions and the ideal scenario for fly strike. So I and others have found animals  attacked by maggots and have had to re-dose animals with insecticides much later in the year than ever before.

We have been warned that, as a consequence of global warming, we would see changes to our seasons. Namely, that in the UK, things would be warmer and wetter. We now see that this warning was accurate In the spring we had droughts, in the summer the sun scorched the fields, hay has become scarce and its price risen, and in late autumn sheep are being troubled by flies that should have passed. These small changes are starting to wreak large and damaging effects. Obviously we will try and deal with these by adapting to them but it is also important that we try and stop them worsening.

Although there may be arguments about what underpins these changes and how much is man-made, the simple fact is that we can only change the things we can change. We can only pull the levers that we have. So it does not matter how we got into this mess it can only be man-made actions that might get us out of it. Unless we patiently wait for a miracle and I don’t think our present behaviour would suggest we deserve one of those.

Now over half of the world’s population live in urban areas where issues such as food production, warmth and shelter  are issues related to markets and services rather than nature. This means over half of us will not see the very real changes that are happening to our world. If the changes are seen then the significance of them might be missed. The failure of the cold weather to come and kill greenbottles might not be seen as a problem. It might even be thought of a bonus. But anyone who has seen a animal eaten alive by maggots knows otherwise and that this is a very, very bad omen indeed.