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

Coming back home.

No one can say I didn’t try, almost a year I have tried to work with Windows 10 on my desktop machine. This has been, if nothing else, and interesting and valuable experience. In January of this year I decided to re-try windows after quite a considerable period of absence. Windows 10 looked robust and fairly secure and, at the time, there was a good deal for 1TB of cloud storage and Office 365.

Initially I found I was impressed. Windows 10 is the best version of windows I have seen and its security was fairly good. I enjoyed working with Office and particularly liked One-note, which I will miss now that I have left. However, after an initial pleasant surprise the problems started to show themselves again. To do many basic tasks you have to buy proprietary software and I found this a difficult step after years in the open source environment. This software often seemed determined to keep you stuck with it, your data locked into their programmes,  and not at all keen to encourage sharing with other systems.

But, the biggest problem I had, by far, was how opaque the system is. If there is any problem it is difficult to get into the innards of the system and correct it. It seems to actively discourage you from tinkering. While the hand-holding is nice when you have a simple issue it is an impediment when you want to do any real work. This feeling is compounded when you try and search for any solutions to problems. I was used to the linux community and it was shock to find that any query (e.g. find printer driver, how to handle ebooks, etc) lead to one facing a slew of sites trying to sell you services and products. Many of these sites are also very keen to  capture your personal details and seem to be a source for much malware. There is little active help. I was used to finding lots of “howto” articles or forum posts as to how to fix problems. I was also used to getting offers of assistance and help gratis from other users. I discovered that when I used linux I was part of an active cooperating community. When I had problems people would reach out to help rather than reach for your wallet.

The final straw came over the last two months.In October the annual upgrade by windows caused me problems and I lost some data. I had backed up most of my work but I did loose a little. There was quite a while until this upgrade was usable and safe.  Then yesterday Microsoft’s activating servers started to run awry and my machine glibly informed me that my copy of windows was not activated and inauthentic. Microsoft hopes to have these glitches sorted out soon but it hardly inspires confidence. It is further unsettling as there is no escape route from Windows. If Ubuntu gives me problems I can flit sideways to Fedora or Suse with no negative consequence (apart for the loss of some time), with Windows I feel a hostage to Microsoft’s plans.

Therefore, after yesterday’s problems I switched my machine back to Ubuntu. I was pleased to find a simple installation that took less than an hour, needed less than half a dozen mouse clicks on my part, and ran flawlessly. After setting up my cloud services and installing my basic programs (free naturally) I was back to a fully functioning, fast and responsive, system by the end of the evening.

I must admit that I will still miss One-note; while I can use it via the web client this is not full-featured. Also, although I find google drive better than one-drive in how it handles syncing and files (especially photos) I still have reservations on being tied to Google. I worry that Google makes its money through advertising, as opposed to hardware, and therefore is more likely to see my data as an asset for itself than might any other company (for example Microsoft). Google’s actions this last year have also not inspired me that they are still living up to their old motto of “Don’t be evil“, or even their new one of “Do the right thing“, as they have taken some very suspect steps in recent months. So my next step is to explore alternative cloud providers. Now that I am back in the open-source world I want to free myself, and my data,  as much as possible and not be caught up in proprietary chains.

I don’t want to give the impression that Windows 10 was a poor operating system, it is very good in many, many ways but it still falls short compared to a modern linux system for ease of use, speed,  usefulness and  intuitiveness. It also lacks a supportive and helpful community which should have grown up around it. I don’t think I’ll be drawn back.

img_20181109_1924208360748745063584259.jpg
Hens and sheep pondering whether autumn has passed and winter is here

 

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.

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.

 

 

The first fires of winter.

The first fires of winter.

The first snowdrops promising spring after the winter, the first swallow that may, or may not, make a summer, and the turning leaves of autumn – every season has its herald. For us we know winter is around the corner when we start to use the wood-burner in the kitchen again. We have, obviously, used the fires in the house in the evenings but this has been as a luxury, as a comfort, to give a focal point to the room in the evening. It is different to start the kitchen range in the morning. This is serious and utilitarian.

We don’t use the range routinely through the year. It produces  a great deal of heat and in the summer it is oppressive. When we tried it was only possible to stay at the cooker if one was wearing swimwear. This is aesthetically unpleasing and, when frying bacon, seriously dangerous. So, through the summer, we have an electric induction hob and we content ourselves that we are a net producer of electricity. We are not self-sufficient in electricity as our solar system only works by being attached to the national grid but across the year we export more electricity than we consume.

Our problem with solar power is that we make lots of electricity wghen we don’t need it. When it is warm and sunny the kilowatts pour in but we can read, keep warm, and dry clothes without recourse to flipping a switch. We need the electricity when the sun has gone. We are looking at battery and hydro options but the initial outlay is very costly so we are still doing our sums about these. At this time of the year we switch to our second fuel source which is wood.

They say “wood warms you three times“; when you cut it, when you split it and when you burn it. I think this is an underestimate as it forgets the time when you have to heave the wood and move it about the place, bringing it to where it will be burnt. Also, it is at this time of year that you get that warm glow of smugness: the self-satisfied feeling that follows recognizing that, a year ago, you sweated and swore while splitting and stacking wood that is now dry and ready to be burnt. There is something quite special when you see that wisp of smoke above the house; you know the house is going to be warm, there will be food and warm water for a bath.

We normally try to have a full day of meals with our own produce when we start up the range. We have eggs first thing, soup for lunch (with our own produce) and then, today, roast lamb, roast beetroot, and green vegetables. Milk, yoghurt and cheese from our goats compliment the meals. Although we have to buy in the spices and any flours it is reassuring to have a civilized day without making any calls to outside providers. This is a good way to say goodbye to autumn and hello to winter, secure in the knowledge that the larder and freezers are full and the woodstores have been moved near the house in readiness. I think we are ready to see the snow.

‘Llyfr Glas Nebo’ gan Manon Steffan Ross

‘Llyfr Glas Nebo’ gan Manon Steffan Ross

I write this review with some trepidation and feel that I should issue a word of caution to anyone who decides to read this. It is unusual9781784616496_300x400 that I review a book which I have read that was not in my mother tongue. I have commented on books that were in a second language to me, but usually I was commenting as a learner of the language and discussing the book from this standpoint. This time things are a little different.

I became aware of this book because it won the prose medal at this year’s National Eisteddfod in Cardiff. Hearing this and because I have high regard for the author and her work I was eager to read it. I was also aware that there was a degree of hype around the book. Unusually there was quite a buzz on social media with recommendations coming from every corner.

The short story, or novella, is Manon Steffan Ros’s metier. There are few who are as able to condense so much emotion and thought into such well written small packages. Whether this is in her column, in Golwg, or through her novels, especially her contributions to the Stori Sydyn series, she is the master of the elegantly written but powerful piece. Therefore I was quite ready to go with the flow and believe the hype that I read.

This is the problem with the book. As I expected it is extremely well written; the descriptions of places are evocative and her portrayal of characters make them, and their relationships, come alive in the reader’s mind. No reader will forget the first description of Gwdig the unusual hare (I don’t want to give any spoilers so I will say no more) or the last description of Dwynwen. The writing is excellent, this is not the problem.

The writing style is simple and easy, very easy to read, and the story flows quickly. However, at times, it has the feel of a book from the Stori Sydyn series, as if it has been written for those reluctant to read or early in their lives as readers. It describes but doesn’t delve and this is disappointing. The hype, and the medal, lead one to expect more and this is a shame. This is not the author’s fault, but arises from inaccurate reviews and  from the medal process itself, as entries must be less than 40000 words. Also some of the literary references that pepper the story seem clunky and out of keeping. They have the feeling of being there to please the judges in a literary competition rather than as natural aspects of the story.

Read as science fiction, or a post-apocalyptic novella, it is enjoyable but rather lacking. There is very little science and this is not always correct, similarly with the self-sufficiency, this has not been developed accurately. In particular the scenes relation to animals, and their deaths, suggest that the author has little first hand experience of these events.

I therefore am uncertain on how to recommend this book. It is a good, if slight, read. Second language readers like myself will enjoy this and will find it useful. I am sure that many will enjoy it as a slim volume to while away an evening. But science fiction fans, or post-apocalyptic survivalists, are going to be disappointed, as I fear are many who are moved to purchase by the hype.

3-out-of-5-stars