Human Music

Human Music

It is the tradition in Wales, as I am sure in many other places, to welcome in the New Year with a concert or other musical event. So I found myself last night in the village hall listening to two local bands playing. Now I do not have a musical bone in my body, I can play no musical instruments and totally lack any sense of rhythm. But I still enjoy music and have fairly catholic tastes, I can usually find something in all forms of music that appeals to me. When I was young I used to be adamant that I didn’t like Opera but that was before I took my daughter to Die Valkyrie and I discovered I was a Wagner fan. Similarly my disdain for Country music evaporated when I worked for a period in Columbia S.C. and subsequently discovered Hootie and the Blowfish. I am pretty confident that there will be something in all types of music that I will be able to find enjoyable.

I presume this is because music is such a basic form of communication between us. We may not share the same language as someone else and we may not be able to exchange many facts with them. But through music we are able to convey feelings and emotions with others though we do not share any tongue in common. It is very likely that in our species the  development of language and that of music are closely intertwined. It is hard to think of a human celebration that doesn’t use music – not only the pleasures of the Wedding March” or the songs of praise at worship, but also the sad or fearful times of our lives with the funeral marches, The Last Post or even the skirl of the pipes as armies are lead into battle. Even those of us, like myself, who can play no instruments nor compose any songs still have music in our lives. As Neitzsche that ardent atheist and nihilist said “Without music, life would be a mistake”.  This may have revealed the chink in his theories; as when we sing to ourselves, through happiness, fear or sadness, we are showing that there are always two of us present. The singer, that associated with our bodies and the present, and the listener, that spark inside, which is our permanent core.

It is that ability to communicate that makes music enjoyable to me and is why I always prefer real, live, human music to reproduced music no matter how good it is. I enjoyed my evening listening to two local bands (who were, incidentally, excellent) in the company of my friends and neighbours. Hearing music made ‘up close and personal’, with all the content (the coughs, the mistakes, the breathing, the fluffed notes) carries much more emotion than simply the song or tune itself. You understand the emotion or concentration far better when you can see the facial expressions or sweat of the performers. No matter how good the recording on my CD may be, the effect of being so close to he performers and the audience makes live music superior every time.

I have been to live music events in arenas and stadia. But I much prefer small scale, local musical events – music on a human scale. When I attend other concerts I was part of a much greater crowd, for example when hearing “Yes” or “Andre Rieu” but this was not as part of a real community. In these events we were all either old or young, classical or jazz lovers, fans of a band or genre. We were a tribe. We were not a living breathing community with the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the academic and the farmer, all coming together to share enjoyment and welcome the start of another year. In these large events you can loose your indivduality to become part of the mass and you make no links to others in that mob. In small events you keep your individuality and start to recognise other individuals and create links with them. Not only sharing the music but communicating about it as well. Last night created the links that are the glue that will hold our community together over the coming year.

When I think back to my own childhood and recall Hogmanay’s of years ago. While I can remember the drinking and the carousing, the strongest memories I have are of the singing. I remember us, as children, singing to the adults. I remember my Mum and Dad singing to the gathered people and I remember my parents singing with their neighbours. I remember when older, and a student in the city, walking the streets on Hogmany looking for parties and knowing where to go by hearing the signing from the windows. If there was no singing there was no point in knocking on the door! Despite the pleasure that can be had from mass produced commercial music it would be a great shame is we lost the home grown, local, small scale musical events. We should be careful that we don’t allow increased personal access to music to reduce our shared communal appreciation of music as the latter is by far the more important.

 

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda / Happy New year

 

 

 

 

 

The night I was a ghost.

The night I was a ghost.

The New Year and spirits have long been closely associated in my life. As a Scotsman I have usually spent my Hogmanays in close proximity to an excessive amounts of spirits and usually paid the penalty on Ne’er Day with an awful hangover.  As I have aged and moved, and as the tradition of first footing is waning, I have been looking for alternative ways to celebrating the end of the old year and the start of the new. An evening of watching fireworks or music shows on the television didn’t appeal nor did the idea of staid dinner parties. Nothing seemed to be available to capture that feeling of melancholy mourning for the year just gone and that blind hope that the next year would be better. I really searched.

Then I thought I found it. An evening of psychic investigations, or ghost hunting, in a local derelict castle. I imagined an evening of walking the ramparts mulling over the past as we were frightened by a crew who would try and spook us. Any spirits unsettling my nerves would be simply phantoms evoking transient distress rather than the day long misery that whisky was able to bequeath you in the morning after.  If nothing else, I reasoned, it would be very different, a bit of fun.

My mistake became apparent very early on in the proceedings. As we all gathered and made chit chat in the dark of the castle’s keep it became clear that people were not there, like myself, for fun. They were there for the deadly serious task of finding ghosts, making contact with the spirit world and discussing psychic experiences. Other than my wife there were no doubters.

After a ‘lecture’ on how our equipment would work, we were supplied with EMF meters, ionic readers, and a myriad of gadgets which crackled static and blinked coloured lights, we went into the chapel for our supper and psychic readings. I now knew I had gauged this wrongly. This was in earnest not in fun.

We all had our tarot cards read and crystal balls and dangling pendants helped us know our futures and natures. I noted that everyone at my table, and in my vicinity, no matter who their psychic had a very similar reading. It ran “You are a kind and intelligent person, perhaps too giving and modest, you tend to be put upon by others because you are too quiet to ask for help yourself. You have faced adversity and are dealing with an important decision but I can see that the future is looking very bright for you and you will manage many of your heart’s goals.” It was like listening to every horoscope ever written and it was perhaps no surprise that no-one said “You are and irritable and greedy person, self-obsessed and unable to see things from another’s viewpoint. You have had it easy so far and the future is going to throw some difficulties your way“. Perhaps few people wish to pay for this, possibly more accurate but more negative, reading or perhaps (even less likely) there was nobody on this crowd of 50 who were going to have difficulties in their future.

After our readings and meal our real ghost hunting started. This entailed standing in the dark and cold in rooms of the castle calling our to the spirits to let themselves be known. “Is there anyone there ? Can you hear us ? Let us know. Rustle the leaves if you are there. Make a sound. Light up the light on the meters .. .. .. ” . The desperation in the calls was clear, my fellow guests were eager, beyond belief, to believe that spirits lurked around them and any event was going to be evidence of their presence. Fortunately I was able to help.

I first noticed that when I was allowed to use the laser grid I could help things on their way. This was a laser pen that shone a grid of lights on the wall. If the spirits passed across the beam they would be revealed by their shadows! I noticed that if I squeezed the pen the connection to the battery was impaired and the lights dimmed. When this dimming happened in response to “Are you there ?”  the response was appropriately electric to all participants. Thereafter through a series of “yes/no” questions and my squeezing we were able to have a rudimentary conversation with a 7 year old stable boy who had been most grievously treated in the castle. It was interesting that all the questions supposed the existence of only stereotyped characters from romantic fiction.

It was then on to the séance and Ouija board. With only a modicum of imperceptible effort the glass scuttered across the board. I knew at this point I was not the only ghost in the room; a fact that my wife’s white knuckles confirmed. Here we were talking to the lady of the castle. She spelled out her first name (approximately) and then the call went out “What is you surname ?” I could hardly shout out “I don’t know” so after some taciturn spells we went back to “yes/no” questions while we confirmed that she had been a beautiful and graceful lady wed to a fearful domestic tyrant. I could almost see his top hat and twirled, pointed mustachios.

We then ended with a bonfire, a drink and watching the fireworks over the town and sea. Listening to my fellow guests they were very happy with their night; they had met ladies and stable boys and made contact, through the curtan, with the other side. I had intended to argue and rebut their beliefs but I could not bring myself to do this. They were a nice group of people. Friendly, normal people, holding down jobs and caring for families who wanted to believe that there is more to life than the mundane world we all live in. Had they wished to debate I would have been happy to participate but I had wish to spoil their evening or reduce their happiness.

Their open-mindedness did verge on gullibility and I feared that some of the professional psychics and mediums were more driven by the fees than the search for spiritual enlightenment. As we live in an increasingly secular world many people, who have a need for some more spiritual understanding of their existence, are being left adrift. When faced with moral or personal dilemmas, which simple utilitarian decision making  can’t answer, people would often, in the past, have asked their religious advisers for counsel. This is open to fewer and fewer now. But such counsel is still often wanted and probably underpins the growth of new-age fads and the return of old practices such as mediums and spiritualists. Though I am happy if it provides comfort or respite from troubles I fear it may sometimes place people in contact with charlatans and frauds when they are at their most vulnerable.

 

Recollections of Misgendering

Recollections of Misgendering

I was watching a video which has been doing the rounds. It is of a fracas in a shop when a customer feels they have been “misgendered” by a sales assistant. As I watched them argue about the use of “Sir” and “Ma’am”, and saw their emotions rise, I had the thought that this is a very modern problem. My instinctive response was another nostalgic thought of  “In my day we never .. ..  ..“and so on. I allowed myself to imagine that such problems never really occurred  when I was young, and that I, and my age cohort, had a much easier time. Though, in Britain, we would still have been upset it anyone had used the term “ma’am” as we would have felt they were being deliberately sarcastic. But later, when out running, I recovered the memories of when I had been “misgendered” in my youth. I had thought that times had changed but perhaps not.

About two generations ago, in the seventies, there was  a veritable frenzy of misgendering. I was an adolesecent, thin, and boyish. I was waiting for my facial hair to arrive and longing for  reason to shave. I knew I didn’t look manly or macho therefore I needed an alternative style to appear winsome and interesting to the opposite sex. It was the time of psychadelia and I leapt into this trend’s music, books, drama and fashion with gusto. Surely no one would fail to see that I was a mature man with knowledge and discernment when I immersed myself in this counter-culture. Surely no-one, or at least one person, at least one female person, could see how interesting I was and would want to start a relationship with me.

Unfortunately I had not thought this strategy through adequately. While knowing the music of Cream and Jefferson Airplane, being familiar with the books of Huxley and Thompson, and having sat through the films of Bunuel and Antonioni were valuable plus points. This knowledge did gain me entry to many conversations at parties. I was able to hang out with other wise and enlightened people. But the strategy did not work out as I had anticipated. Unfortunately the fashions amplified my problems. I grew my hair long (The hair on top of my head that is) and I bought bell bottomed trousers and cheesecloth shirts. Togged up in my purple bell bottoms, multicoloured tie-dye short, with my long freshly-shampooed hair dropping down the back of my Afghan coat, it was pretty difficult, especially at a distance, to know what I was – a boy, a man, a girl or a woman ? The psychedelic fashions rather than make me look like an adult manly-man had made me look like a young girly-boy. This was not the outcome I had planned.

I can recall many times, in queues, people behind me passing by with a jaunty “excuse me Miss“. Similarly  people in lectures calling out to the “girl up there in the back. Yes, you, the girl with the long hair“. These were mortifying events for a young man insecure in his masculinity. They were public and embarassing. However, the only anger I recall feeling was with myself for my lack of machismo, or at the world for the unfairness of having this late developing physique. I knew there was no malevolence from the person doing the misgendering. I knew they had made a mistake and could even entertain the possibility that they had a twinge of embarassment. I never argued with them, the sooner this episode passed the better. I had no desire to prolong the embarrassment or to invite more people to be aware of what was happening. The less people who were aware the better for all concerned. I am so glad this was before the days of social media where my discomfort could be spread around the globe in minutes

There were of course times when the misgendering was deliberate. I recall that the barmen in the harder city pubs would make a point of noticing the long hair that I and my friends sported (“Will you ladies be having Babycham then?”). Likewise, after arrest by the police at demonstrations I never doubted that the mistakes the policemen made (“Excuse me miss is this your placard ?“) were anything but deliberate. In this situation we would generally play to the audience as we were on ‘the right side of history’ and part of the countercultural revolution. We would play up to their errors as flamboyantly as Mike Jagger could strut his ambiguous stuff on stage. On these occasions their faux misgendering was just grist to the mill and a sign that we were winning. This was not upsetting, they hadn’t made a mistake, they knew our gender they were just upset that we didn’t play to their rules.

Although I can understand the distress caused by misgendering I presume most occasions occur by accident rather then design. In these circumstances tolerance and respectful apologies seem the obvious course of action. Between civilised people these errors need not cause more than minor momentary distress. When it occurs deliberately, and without provocation, then like any other insult anger and ire are the appropriate response. Though I would still wager that maintaining the civilised posture is more likely to win the day.

I never get misgendered now. Age came and took the dubiety away. Everyone, even at quite a distance and without spectacles, clearly sees an old man. I’d be flattered to be mistaken for a boy or a youth, or even a girl, but I’m fairly certain that this is not going to happen. However, I am also happy to know that now I have left the age where  I believe aspects of my identity should and do define me. It is no longer important to me whether you think I’m old or young, male or female, straight or gay, black or white, or any other distinction. The only thing that concerns me now  is what you think of what I say and do and whether I think, on reflection, I have said or done the right thing.

 

 

 

The Ovine Death Wish

Farmers and smallholders often hold the view that sheep are born with a ‘death wish’. Much of sheep farming is less to with ways to breed, rear and grow them than to working to stop them killing themselves. You make fences to stop them hurling themselves in front of traffic. Once the fences are strong they manage to garrotte themselves in the wiring and resist all your attempt to pull them out. If there are no fences they’ll try  getting entangled in the branches of hedging. If there is anything poisonous they will find it and try it, and I am not convinced they don’t lure in the dogs, foxes and crows that cause so much trouble. If the Samaritans ever consider expanding to the animal kingdom their first new section should be for sheep and their suicidality.

As there is less forage at this time of year the sheep become more adventurous in their search for food. They climb higher,WhatsApp Image 2018-12-29 at 16.37.30 reach farther and jump deeper than they usually will consider. This was the problem behind today’s escapade. I had noticed when out walking that one of my neighbour’s ewes was standing knee deep in a bog. It was looking perplexed but un-distressed and I presumed just enjoying a new range of forage. In the return leg of my walk, a half an hour later, I found her in the same position but now sunk to her shoulders and clearly tired and fearful. As I went to see her she become more frightened, struggled a little (as she was tired), and due to her struggling sunk a bit lower into the bog.

I didn’t have much time, I needed to get a rope and to get her out. It was late afternoon and it would be dark in half an hour or less and at he rate of her sinking she could be fully under water in that amount of time. I ran home and retrieved my waders and a rope. I don’t like running at the best of times but I have discovered a new horror – running in waders ! This is almost an impossibility, although you try to make all the right running movements, the constriction of the waders holds you back so you make little more speed than brisk walking. You look as ungainly as it is possible to look and the noise of rustling waders is sure make certain that anyone in the vicinity will know to turn and look for a free laugh.

Fortunately when I got back it was still light and I was able to drag her out with the rope. WhatsApp Image 2018-12-29 at 16.31.15She was exhausted after her struggles and cold to the core. She couldn’t bear her own weight though (other than being cold and wet) she had no injuries. Fortunately I spotted  a local passing in a pick-up and managed to get his help. (He was driving slowly after a fit of laughter caused by seeing somebody trying to run while wearing waders). Between us we managed to get the ewe over the wall, into his pick-up and have her taken back to the farmstead to get dry and warm. I’m optimistic she’ll be fine after this. But I am also certain that this won’t be the last time this winter we will be dragging sheep away from their doom; they are drawn to it like moths to the flame. It is the way of things.

On the plus side I always find the week after Christmas a rather flat and sad time. The modern Christmas seems to have lost both its Christian and Pagan roots  and to have become something rather greedy and egotistical. So I welcomed this opportunity to help an animal in distress, and my neighbour, and the happy outcome brightened my day.

 

 

 

Lesson from an old brown hen

Lesson from an old brown hen

Today started dreadfully.  It was cold, but sunny, as I started my rounds to feed and water the animals. When I opened the door to the first henhouse I was stunned with what I saw. A brown hen was in the middle of the floor dead, her head bitten off and near her body. The partial corpses of three small chicks were scattered around the base of the hut more or less eaten completely. The turkeys were cowering in the corner as were some chickens and one solitary chick. Something had got in during the night and taken four of our birds in one attack.

Brownhen
Old Brown Hen

I took this badly as I was very fond of the old brown hen. In human terms she was clearly geriatric and would have been drawing her pension. But she battled on and this year, well after spring had ended, took it upon herself to go broody and hatch out two late chickens. She was an excellent mother to these two, she never left their side and she shepherded them through the day to make sure the turkeys didn’t bully them out of their share of the food. Her surviving chick has looked lonely and scared today as she hangs around the edge of the, now paltry, flock.

DSC07844
Surviving Offspring

 

This type of attack is usually the result of a weasel and we were troubled by these last winter. Sometimes a fox will do the same pattern of removing the heads but there was no way for a fox to get access into the henhouse. I scoured round the area to find out how this had happened and found, once I moved some chicken droppings, that the wall of the henhouse had bowed. This had created a gap, just big enough to poke my little finger through, but big enough for weasels to gain access.

dav
1 cm gap – enough !

I spent today fixing this gap and checking all the other henhouses for similar problems. As I worked away I remembered the old phrase of locking stable doors after horses had bolted and felt bad that I had missed this and let it happen. We usually loose a proportion of our stock to predation by hawks, foxes and the like. I take it as a fact of life, they need to live also. Though I must say that I find the ways hawks eat their prey alive very cruel, and the way foxes and weasels will slaughter all in a hutch, but eat only a few, very wasteful. But what was making me feel bad about this was that I had missed the gap developing. I should have seen it and fixed it before the weasels found it, I am meant to be the more intelligent animal.

DSC07847
Pretty Boy lacking wives

This evening I have merged this small flock with another. We had one very pretty cockerel I didn’t feel we could send to the pot and he had hardly any wives. He would occasionally make unsuccessful forays into the other cockerels’ areas to try and lure hens away. Here, at least, was a solution to his problem. This evening he is tucked up with the turkeys and some new wives. Over the next few days they will have to spend their day in the hen-run associated with this house (rather than roam free) until we know that they see themselves as a family; as members of a small new flock.

This old hen has also done something very useful. She reminded me of a valuable lesson. Halloween is meant to be the time that we think of death and the departed but this has largely gone to be replaced by a another secular fun day for adults and children alike. A month after Halloween this old hen reminded me, because I felt ashamed,  to think about death. To think that once people have died it is too late to go back and fix things. We should look around and recognise that now is the time to do things, not later on or tomorrow. If I am not careful the regrets I could have in the future could make todays’ sadness seem very minor. There are lots of gaps that need fixing and things which need checking and I shouldn’t wait until a calamity makes me realise this. For this reminder I thank her.

 

I know what not to do.

Margaret Anne Bulkley lived the last 56 years of her life disguised as a man. At about the age of 20 she took on the persona of James Barry in order to Matriculate at Edinburgh University and study medicine. Following this, in order to practice medicine, she maintained this pretence by living as adr_james_barry_28surgeon29 man until her death. When she died in 1865 (coincidentally the year Elizabeth Garrett became the first woman to qualify as a doctor) she had pursued a successful medical career and been promoted steadily becoming Medical Inspector General for South Africa. During this period of pretence it is believed that she managed also to give birth to a daughter while the world still respected her as a successful and powerful man.

We only have to look back a little time to see how much progress we have made. In the past so many of our personal and social roles were held to be closely tied to our sex at birth. Today we do not bat an eyelid when a woman wishes to be a surgeon, a man a nurse, a girl a footballer or a boy a dancer. We don’t think of very many roles being necessarily tied to biological sex. The days when women had to pretend to be men to pursue their desires have gone.

We should remember the travails of women who wanted to pursue aims at the time which were held to be only suitable for men – Joan of Arc as she tried to lead armies, Dorothy Lawrence who worked as a war reporter, Margaret Bulkley  wishing to be a doctor, and countless women who fell in love with other women. Remembering these women will stop us forgetting the ignominious aspect of our history which forced pretence on the few who were able to follow their dreams and stopped so many from even taking their first steps towards them.

We now tend to think there is a rather loose relationship between gender roles and biological sex. Something that is more important for groups and averages than something to be applied to individuals. The  biological differences we have are often subtle, and may help explain why one group is over-represented in one area or another, but are rarely felt to be important for the individual in their selection of, or for, activities.

If a child is born today with desires and aims that have been traditionally been seen as the domain of the other biological sex this is not an insurmountable problem. They may face some resistance, but as society improves this should lessen, but there will be no need for transvestitism, nor any pretence. They can aim for their dreams regardless of their biological sex. They don’t have to don the clothes, or names,  of the other sex and they don’t need to hide or alter their biology.

Thus there would seem no call for a boy who wants to follow gender roles traditionally seen as female to transition and alter their biology. Likewise any girl who wishes to pursue traditionally masculine roles or activities  need not alter their bodily appearance. The gender roles that we are often concerned about may have some of their historical development related to our biology (increased muscle mass may have lead us to see the army as a masculine role, for example) but most now are determined purely socially. Thus if someone feels the roles that they wish to pursue are discordant with their biology then the solution is social. The solution is to push for that role to be open to both biological sexes not to alter the person’s biological sex to fit the social role.

If people want to change their biological sex it must be for reasons other than wanting to pursue what are felt to be sex-inappropriate roles as the barriers facing them are considerably less than the barrier posed by the option of changing one’s biological sex. It would seem that the term gender dysphoria does sum up the primary reason for the desire to transition to the other biological sex. It is not a positive desire to be the other biological sex but rather a distaste or unhappiness (dysphoria) in being in the body you find yourself within.

This is not an unusual feature of psychological disorders arising in early adult life and especially around puberty. In addition to gender dysphoria, dysmorphophobia (a belief that one is disfigured or deformed) and the eating disorders (anorexia nervosa and related disorders) share the core belief by the patient that their body shape or configuration is wrong for them. These are serious, debilitating, and dangerous disorders with extremely high levels of distress and a significant mortality through suicide. Our understanding of these disorders is very poor and our treatments are of only limited efficacy. But we never mistake the faulty body image of the patient with anorexia, or dysmorphophobia, as the solution and make that the target of our treatment. We never offer pointless plastic surgery someone who believes their face deformed nor accept that the patient with anorexia should just continue to fade away and die as they see themselves as too fat. Instead we try and help them adjust to their body, and life, as it is and find ways to live with this.

Unfortunately with transgender patients we break with this tradition and offer to try medications and surgery to make their body fit with their internal thoughts. If such medication and surgery diminished distress and eased the patient it might be seen as a useful, if surprising, therapy. Unfortunately it does not appear to do so. The evidence is scanty but, as the American College of Paediatricans pointed out, work undertaken by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute does not find that surgery to transition people from one sex to another reduces the rate of suicide which remains, sadly, much higher than that in the population as a whole.

I have steadily lost the certainty of youth as I have grown older. I am now much happier to accept that I do not know the answer to many questions. Increased knowledge and experience has lead to reduced acceptance of simple or glib answers. However, although I may not know what to do I sometimes know what we should not do. In this case, whether people want to pursue a life in the gender roles that differ to those of the  body they were born within, either from a desire for the positive aspects of those roles, or from a disgust of their own bodily configuration, then attempts to alter their biological sex would appear unwise. At an individual level, obviously it is their choice and they may do with their bodies as they will, but any unbiased observer would counsel them against this as it is  unlikely to lead them to future happiness. At a societal level, I fear we may look back on this period sadly; we saw the problem of defining peoples’ roles by their genitals which forced the likes of Margaret Bulkley and others into dreadful situations but came up with the solution of making peoples’ genitals match the gender roles ! History may not be kind to us.

Do the comfortable thing.

I am feeling rather ashamed today. I heard that Asia Bibi was released from prison, after her conviction for blasphemy was overturned, and was relieved with this news. However, after a decade unjustly imprisoned, and much of that time spent in solitary confinement, she is at considerable risk in Pakistan. There have been mass demonstrations and riots demanding that she be executed. This is no idle concern, as previously high-ranking officials who took up her case were indeed assassinated. She has wisely asked for asylum and thankfully there have been some offers and it is likely she will go to the Netherlands.

The reason I feel rather ashamed is that one of the countries from which she requested asylum was the United Kingdom. Given the long association between Pakistan and the United Kingdom this would seem to be a natural choice. Given the obvious need for asylum, and the reasons behind her plight, one would have anticipated that an offer of asylum would have been quickly forthcoming. However , it seems that this has been specifically rejected. Wilson Chowdhry, of the British Pakistani Christian Association, reports that British authorities  have said :-

‘I’ve been lead to believe that the UK government had concerns that her moving to the UK would cause security concerns and unrest among certain sections of the community and would also be a security threat to British embassies abroad which might be targeted by Islamist terrorists,’

Religious freedom and a refusal to be intimidated are core facets of what we consider “British Values”. We should be proud to offer asylum to those fleeing persecution and should do this even if there are risks in doing so. We can not be seen to only help when there is no cost to ourselves. It is shameful to reject asylum because of fears of what those doing the oppression might do. If there are those in our community who object to us giving asylum then it is they that are behaving badly, and against the principles of our country. Indeed, if there are any who think that she should be executed we should ensure she comes here, and is kept safely, to clearly echo the point that we think freedom of thought and freedom of religion and vital, and uncontestable, parts of British society. It is those who think othewise who should consider whether they are living in the right place.

Asylum is something that should not be weighed up against trade deals, nor weighed up against possible difficulties to ourselves, it is something we should offer to prove our humanity and moral standing. I feel a little ashamed that today it seems Britain has said moral duties can be trumped by comfort or safety.  It was said that during World War 2 we spent all our energy and lost thousands of lives in order to protect a few moral principles while now we will loose our moral principles in order to save a few lives.

 

 

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 !

 

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,