The majority is always wrong (about decades, especially)

There has been some snark on the Twitter about decades in recent days, with those of us who cleave to the correct way of marking them (just 16% according to a YouGov poll) being described as “pedants” by the people who are wrong.

The pedant pejorative seems to be reached for by wrongsters who are so far stepped in wrongness that to turn back would be as tedious as going on with the wrong. But they’re still wrong. And it’s not pedantic to point out that YOU WOULDN’T TELL A KID WHO’D JUST TURNED NINE THAT SHE WAS REALLY TEN, WOULD YOU?

A kid who has turned nine is nine for a whole year. That whole year is indeed their tenth year, and they turn ten at the end of it. Guess what? This decade has just entered its tenth year, and it will turn ten at the end of it.

I’m pretty sure a lot of 29 year olds would resist being told they were 30. Likewise, the 59 year olds who have a whole year to go before they’re 60.

Paul McCartney filed for Beatle divorce on 31st December 1970, marking the spiritual and literal end of the 60s. Ronald Reagan became president of the United States just as the 80s got underway, in January 1981.

And the feeble justification given by the wrongsters, that that’s just how people think, is pathetic. People constantly, consistently, continually get things wrong about a whole host of things. They vote for the wrong things, they watch the wrong TV shows, they listen to the wrong music, because they’re idiot cavemen and cavewomen whose lizard brains can’t hold two ideas at the same time. Why on earth would you, a person who is being wrong about when the decade ends, want to align yourself with how people think?

Coffee Machine World

As I was putting our old (still functional but makes poor coffee) Senseo coffee machine in the barn the other day, I came across my old Lavazza Modo Mio machine, and the empty box for my Nespresso Krups machine. All of which was to make room for a Nespresso Vertuo machine. I also have a bean-to-cup machine at home, which is not to mention the cold brew apparatus.

Then we went down to my brother-in-law’s house in the next village, and I noted how, in his kitchen, he still has a (rarely used) Senseo machine, along with a Nespresso machine and a bean-to-cup machine. Meanwhile, in his garage, he has a collection of about 8 coffee machines that various people have given him to repair. He did one the other day, he said, that needed a €5 replacement part, for which he charged the owner €25.

He repairs a lot of coffee machines. I’m old enough to remember when having an entirely manual Melitta drip filter jug was fairly novel, and then there was the family’s first electric filter coffee machine. I also once had a filter coffee maker that was featured in the design museum. Ah, yes, the Philips Café Gourmet: made objectively terrible coffee because it’s design meant that the last bit of the water reached too high a temperature – as you can see clearly in the product promotional image.

I think we’ve all had a lot of coffee machines, is what I’m saying. At the current rate, the entire world will be one huge pile of coffee machines within 100 years. And this consumption seems to be driven by a perennial dissatisfaction with the results. At my finicky peak I was roasting my own beans (in a popcorn maker), grinding them myself, and trying to make espresso using a (very) basic manual Gaggia machine.

These days I mainly make coffee with pods. What I like about the pod system is not that the coffee is perfect but that the coffee is decent, and most importantly, consistent. With my manual Gaggia I was making maybe one good cup for every three attempts. With a capsule system, within the variations offered by the different roasts and blends, the coffee is pretty much always the same.

I do find coffee culture a little upsetting, particularly in the amount of waste produced. The skips full of Costa takeaway cups outside the store are not a great advertisement. As far as pod systems are concerned, I think Nespresso are doing a good job with their recycling programme. And while you can buy 3rd party capsules in the supermarket, you should avoid the plastic ones, and stick to aluminium, which can be recycled continuously. The coffee grounds themselves are turned into compost/topsoil and/or biogas, while the aluminium pods are turned into all kinds of things, from pens to bicycles and more coffee pods. Aluminium is aluminium: doesn’t become less so when recycled.

The latest machine in my life is a Vertuo Plus. Vertuo could be seen as Nespresso’s cynical attempt to kill the 3rd party pod market. These more technical pods come in a variety of sizes and feature a bar code, which is read by the machine to determine the quantity of water it pushes through. These more technical pods are currently not available from 3rd parties. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I have seen how the presence of Nespresso compatible pods in supermarkets have made the machines more popular. Most recently, even companies like Illy, which had its own (failed) pod system, have started producing them. On the other hand, many of the 3rd party pods are plastic, and sometimes they don’t work properly. And there was clearly a demand for a greater range of coffee sizes. While many great coffee drinks can be made with espresso as a base, a lot of people just want to stick a mug under a spout.

Vertuo coffee comes in sizes from 40ml all the way up to 414ml, with the standard mug size being 230ml. For me the perfect compromise for a longer cup is the 150ml, which offers a pleasant flavour without too much bitterness. As well as different sizes, the coffees have different “strength” profiles, which is more to do with the darkness of the roast, I think. So a 4 is floral and fruity, while a 9 is more like dark chocolate. I tend to like things around the 6-8 range, and my favourite cup is actually their half-caffeinated mug-sized cup, which I make in a smaller mug (you just push the button to stop the brewing process early. These machines are much more technical, with spinning centrifugal action as well as the standard pressure pump system, and they tend to produce a lot more foam (which is more like a crema on the smaller cups but very much more foam like in a mug) so that you might need a bigger mug than you were thinking!

So we got a Vertuo machine for the office, and for the first time in my teaching career I started drinking coffee at work. But there was a problem. The machine leaked. It seemed to spit out a small quantity of coffee with every cup made, until, it overflowed and spilled down the back of the machine, causing a puddle. Feeling responsible, I took the machine home so I could phone Nespresso support.

This I did one Saturday morning. I’m shortening the sequence here, but it eventually got to the stage where they were going to pick the machine up and repair it, leaving me with a loan machine. This seemed like a good result, and Nespresso couldn’t have been more helpful.

But then, two hours later, they phoned back and said they were instead going to send a brand-new machine. Which they duly did, and it sits in the office and gets lots of use, and we’re getting through about 50 pods a week. Kudos to Nespresso for excellent customer service, which went beyond the necessary.

But what about the leaky machine? Nespresso said they weren’t going to pick it up after all, and to cut the plug off and dispose of it.

Oh. So I didn’t do that, obviously. Because for domestic use, as long as you wipe around the inside with a kitchen towel after every cup, the leak doesn’t become a problem. But! I do have an engineer brother-in-law who fixes coffee machines for fun, so I brought it to France.

I’ve noticed that the amount of coffee that leaks increases when the bigger drinks are made. My preference is for the smaller sizes, but if I make a mug for someone (230ml), a lot more coffee leaks out. Anyway, the day came when my brother-in-law came around and I went to demonstrate the leak problem. He wanted a 150ml-size drink. So we put in a capsule, pushed the button, made the coffee.

And lifted the lid to show where the leak was (it starts at the front but then fills up the channel and it drips down the back)…

No leak.

Isn’t that just always the way? You get the repairman in, and the faulty machine works perfectly. But I bet you if I were to make the same drink right now, when the engineering expert isn’t here, it will leak. Is that Sod’s Law?

In which the tax office in Luton gains a reluctant clerical assistant who looks a bit German

The sojourn in Kent ended come September, and I drifted North by turns. Spent a couple or three weeks staying with my other sister, just off the Old Kent Road. Can’t remember if I signed on at that time, but it wasn’t long before I was staying, briefly, at sister #3’s house, in Watford, house sitting again. And finally, I washed up on the couch of sister #4 in Luton, where I stayed for several months, before bowing to the inevitable and moving back to my parents’ place for some privacy and a bed to sleep in.

I was signing on in Luton, and had dyed my hair to avoid my older brother, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Mike.

He was ten years older than me, and left home fairly early on: was gone before I was eight, maybe even before that. Repeating history, he had knocked up a fifteen year old girl (just as his father had). He and the girl ran away to Scotland, where they married, and lived for a couple of years before he deserted her and the baby, drifted South, did some prison time, fathered several more children by several more women, and ended up hanging around in Luton at the same time that I was.

We were both signing on, and because we shared a surname, our appointment time was the same: 11:15 on a Wednesday, or whatever day it was. I spotted him in the queue behind me and quckly turned away so he wouldn’t see my face. And then I dyed my hair blonde, so the following week he wouldn’t even recognise the back of my head.

That was the last time I ever saw him, in Luton, when he turned up at sister #4’s house and crashed for a few nights – which was awkward, because I was already crashing there. He had some kind of camp bed downstairs. He was writing a diary of his thoughts and feelings as part of his probation and psychological counselling after his latest girlfriend had phoned the police after he assaulted her. It was just for a few days, and he was gone. And that was it: never heard or saw from him again, though I always hesitated about joining social networks under my real name: just in case. It turns out he died a few years ago, so we’re all safe.

Luton wasn’t all bad: I got to see a decent dentist for the first and only time in my life: he was the one who replaced the horrible plastic plate with a porcelain bridge and crown.

And there came a time when I finally caught a break and got a job. I was not happy about this. After 18 months on the dole, I’d grown perfectly used to having no money, to wanting nothing, and to having all my time to myself. But every now and then you’d get called into the DHSS for one of those interviews where they grill you about how many jobs you’ve applied for. It wasn’t as bad as it is now, but it felt bad at the time. So when that was coming up, I applied for a few vacancies, including one at the Inland Revenue as a Clerical Assistant.

Here’s how ridiculous things were back then for me. I had eight (good) ‘O’ levels but no ‘A’ levels. And because I’d left school without finishing the ‘A’ levels, a cloud of suspicion, somehow, hung over me. It’s still something I have to gloss over in my CV, all these years later. Employers have absolutely zero empathy when it comes to biographical details like, left home/school when I was 18 because my parents were impossible. To be a Clerical Assistant in the civil service, you needed two (two) ‘O’ levels. To be the higher graded Tax Officer, you needed five. So I was over-qualified by a long way for the CA job. Still, I reported to the DHSS interviewer that I’d applied, and he dutifully wrote the details down, muttering, ‘Let me see what I can do,’ which was ominous.

What happened next was, I got an interview. Well, this never happened. I didn’t even have, after 18 months of virtually no money, a decent pair of trousers or a shirt and tie. I had to call on the charity of my mother, who paid for a pair of smart blue trousers and a shirt/tie combination. There was no budget for a jacket. I assume, to this day, that the interview only happened because someone from the DHSS was able to phone someone at the Inland Revenue and say, do us a favour: give this kid an interview, get him off our books.

As it turned out, the day of the interview was a hot one, and the interviewer commended me for dressing sensibly.

I got the job. I was gutted. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to work: I especially didn’t want to work for the fucking tax office. All the civil service stereotypes haunted me, demonised as they were in the right-wing press. Ironically, the same manager who praised my sensible dress policy at interview would fucking hammer me for everything I wore over the next couple of years, but that’s another story.

But, oh, the shame of it.

It was June 1982, and I was nineteen years old, about to start the job, when the Rolling Stones played at Wembley Stadium. John and Linda and I went to see them.

How was I able to afford this? Maybe there was some friendship charity, but also living with sister #4 was less expensive for me. She wouldn’t accept money for bills or rent, just food, so I had more to spend on myself. Anyway, we went down to London, arranged to stay with sister #2 who was still off the Old Kent Road, and headed off to Wembley early.

We wanted to be at the front, so we waited all day outside the gates and then made a dash for the front of stage area on the pitch when we were finally let in. Then, of course, the long wait for the Stones began. We had to suffer through the J Geils Band (‘Angel is a Centrefold’) and Black Uhuru (god knows) first. Our position wasn’t too bad. I remember being quite close and to one side for J Geils. But then when the Stones came on, there was a surge, as people who had arrived later and found themselves further back decided to force themselves to the front. Drink had been taken. Jagger was on the stage, the opening number was ‘Under My Thumb’. The level of booze-fueled aggression in the air rose by about 3000%.

John and I were all right: both 1.83m tall, we could see over the crowds and hold our own in the pushing and shoving. But Linda, shorter than us by some margin, was being crushed and suffocated, and was looking very distressed as well as being unable to see. We had no option other than to pull out and go further back. So much further back that any excitement engendered by the band had vanished. All I could notice from back there was that the Stones weren’t very good. They were shambolic, out of time, out of synch with each other, and Jagger’s voice (speed of sound) was out of synch with his face and lips on the big screens (speed of light). I think these days they make adjustments to fix that problem.

I basically wanted to go home immediately. And when we finally did leave, and encountered the usual Wembley transport chaos, jumping on a random bus just to get away, I sank into my eve-of-new-job misery. We got off the bus eventually and went on the Long Walk from North London all the way to the Old Kent Road, south of the river, and although we must have talked, I just remember looking back at John and Linda and feeling a simmering resentment, that it had been her fault we’d had to leave the mosh pit and experience the Stones at that non-exciting distance.

Completely irrational, unforgivable, and unfair.

There was some mention of my starting my new job. I don’t want to talk about it, I said, feeling that burn of shame. And later, I must have said to John words to the effect of: I really hate that I have to start this job, and I can’t face Linda, in my shame, for a while. So I don’t want to see her.

Lashing out.

Punishing her for my own weakness and embarrassment.

Still jealous after all these years.

And I never did see her again.

John and Linda split up, must have been within a couple of years, and he went through a series of girlfriends who seemed (to me) to be more or less fictional (I never met a single one of them) until meeting the one he would marry (and divorce, quickly). And although he remained friendly with Linda, and I would occasionally get second hand news of her, I could never push it (because: pride) and he was less and less likely to volunteer information. I learned she’d started working somewhere, that her Dad had bought her a flat.

Years (and years) later, I was briefly in touch with Sean, of glandular fever and bass playing fame, and I was fishing for news about people, all of whom I’d lost touch with. Sean wasn’t sure, but he thought he’d heard that she’d moved to Australia and become a born-again Christian. As unlikely as that sounded, it was also detailed enough to be possible, and I’ve wondered ever since if that’s what happened. I’d be disappointed in her if it was true: she really never seemed the type.

My first day in the Tax Office, a couple of days after seeing Linda for the last ever time, confirmed all my fears about stereotypes. There was the moany, grey haired woman who was as judgemental of others as she was oblivious to her own faults. She smoked heavily (you could in those days, of course) and tched at everybody else’s conversations. There was the frustrated punk rocker, hello Roger; the Trotskyite trade unionist who always saw a bigger, revolutionary picture; there was the careerist suck-up, who would blast through work in order to make himself look better than everyone else, leaving a scorched earth of unfinished business behind him. And there was the nice, slightly posh, girl, who couldn’t quite see that I was her intellectual match, even though I was a lowly clerical assistant and a bit more working class than her. And there was Kim, the girl in white tights, who swished by my desk several times a day and agreed to go for a cup of tea in Debenhams with me, and then more, and more.

Kim could happen, perhaps, because all my bridges had been burned. 

I did see Sarah one more time. Interesting Sarah from the shoe shop; the only girl I ever danced with; Sarah with the Beatles records and the Dansette record player when I was getting over glandular fever: that Sarah. 

I actually saw her in the same building as the tax office: she was with a bunch of girls waiting for another bunch of girls, about to go out for a boozy lunch, I suspect. Maybe it was the eve of someone’s wedding, maybe even hers, a special occasion, but there she was: the pretty blonde girl with the familiar face and the asymmetrical haircut, looking over her shoulder at me, and maybe recognising me. I looked a bit different. When I started in the tax office, I was still growing the bleached blonde out of my hair (everybody thought I was German on that first day), and I continued to dye my hair various colours for the next couple of years. So maybe she thought she recognised me but couldn’t be sure; anyway, nothing was said, and that was that.

I’d been radicalised, first by the NME, then by unemployment, and now by the condition of being an employee: at each stage, I bridled under inequality, under the pressure to conform, and I became an active member of the union, eventually Branch Organiser. I was told, by Dave the Trotskyite, that because of my activites, I was blacklisted, and so it seemed: I couldn’t get any other job, got no promotion until I’d served six years and made that fresh start in a new town. I had many interviews, passed a number of intelligence tests, but (and I at least once got as far as subject to references), it took acceptance at Nottingham University to get me out of there.

13 Thoughts for Friday 13th

  1. And lo, it came to pass, Corbyn was unelectable, pilloried by the right wing press, and – more importantly – continually undermined by the only slightly left-of-centre quality newspaper, the Graun, who saw him, presumably, as a threat to their trust fund. And they have the nerve to constantly nag for my support. It was Michael Foot: the Return, after all, and a slow motion car crash.
  2. Ten years ago, we might have naively thought that these new social media would be a platform for us, a way to cut through the billionaires and their lies. Turns out, unscrupulous politicians of the right are far more effective at using these platforms, and apparently the tax avoiding multinational corporations who run them aren’t with us. 
  3. Tactical voting doesn’t work. Has never worked. Will never work. Perhaps everyone will learn this lesson and shut up about it now. The only way to beat the Tories is to beat the Tories. I have ashes in my mouth this morning because I put a cross in a box next to the name of a former Conservative minister. Will all great Neptune’s ocean rinse these ashes from my mouth?
  4. You beat the Tories, incidentally, by being Tony Blair. I was never a fan, and he was just Tory Lite as far as I was concerned, but that election win in 1997 ushered in what turned out to be a kinder, gentler era – at least until 2003, when it all went tits up. He’s hanging around like Marley’s ghost now, an eternal reminder of what we lost. But if you’re going to beat the bastards and convince the shallow swing voters who are fooled by “Get Brexit Done”, then you need your own superficial bastard. A crusty possible communist asset in a donkey jacket didn’t cut it in 1983, and, turns out, doesn’t cut it now.
  5. I’ve always hated my neighbours, who are white haired oldsters and very obvious Tories. One of them even hangs a flag outside his house on occasion. I now hope they slip on some ice this winter and die of septicaemia.
  6. Labour’s stance on the EU was always unconvincing. Not anti enough to convince the angry Left Behind voters; and not pro enough for people like me, who hate the idea of this little island becoming more insular. Once the narrative is that you’re sitting on a fence, you’re done for. It didn’t matter that they tried to be nuanced, people don’t vote for nuances.
  7. In fact, the simplistic and misleading message of “getting it done” was what seemed to convince people. I personally think you should be ashamed of yourself if you believed that. But the people who did aren’t reading this, so I move on. In hindsight, the resistance to Brexit over the past three years has played into the strategists’ hands. By making it as painful and convoluted as possible, they managed to persuade people it needed to be over. Maybe on a different time-line, it just went through first time, and then people realised the consequences and, about now, the perpetrators’ heads are on spikes around the battlements.
  8. People vote their pocketbooks, as they say in the States. They vote their wallets. They vote for whatever option they think will leave them better off. And, as I often say, enough people feel they are just about managing and don’t want it to get worse. When people earning over £80,000 are trying to argue that they’re just about coping, you’re screwed.
  9. Ambition ought to be one of the Seven Cardinal Sins. I guess it goes with Pride, which is the worst of them. Ambition is what makes people want to trample on the backs of others. Ambition means someone with whacky ideas gets that promotion and gets to ruin everyone’s working life until they fail. Ambition whispers in your ear and tells you that, one day, you might be earning £80k and do you really want to hike the tax rate for people earning that much?
  10. It’s such a cliché but nevertheless true that it’s the younger generation I feel sorry for. At least I’ve once experienced the heady triumph of 1997, before the crushing disappointments and unnecessary foreign wars, when we saw the Tories finally ousted after nearly 20 years of hurt. My own muted emotional response last night was nothing compared to my daughters who, like me, voted against their conscience in hope only to see the stark reality. They’ll have to suffer another ten years of this, possibly, before they have something to cheer about.
  11. I hated them then, but the Conservatives led by Thatcher and John Major are nothing like the ones who won last night. We’ve got a UKIP government in all but name, and all that that entails.
  12. Go metric. It’s an empty gesture, but more than ever now we owe it to ourselves to work in metric measurements because they hate it.
  13. It took two years after Thatcher’s win in 1979 for the riots to happen. I can only wonder whether, within the same timescale, the same will happen again.

Rewatching The Good Life on the eve of the election

A right-aligned image, fnar

Beloved British sitcom The Good Life is a snapshot of a better, kinder, Britain, the pre-Thatcher Britain of the 70s, with high tax rates for the rich and working infrastructure. House price inflation and property speculation hadn’t quite taken hold. A three bedroom detached house in Surbiton would have cost twenty times less when Tom and Barbara were buying. They’re supposed to have been there since 1967 at least, when they borrowed a nutcracker off the neighbours, which they failed to return. A similar property today would cost around £1 million.

So the lifestyle portrayed in the show is possible because it was possible, then, to have savings, to pay off a mortgage, to see a doctor, dentist etc., to cover local taxes out of the little money you brought in from selling your soft fruits, at a time when soft fruits were only sold when they were in season.

Politically, most of them are straightforward. Margot’s snobbishness and ignorance, her obliviousness about her privilege, her wilful blindness about how damn lucky she is to live in a socialist country all combine to make her a natural Tory. She expresses disdain for socialists and radicals and hates change. Would she vote for Johnson’s radicalised right wing party? Of course: ignorant, oblivious, stubborn; of course she would.

Jerry, with his constant complaints about traffic on London Bridge, of which he is part of the problem, is another natural Conservative. His kneejerk prejudices would also turn him, in the fulness of time into someone who would flirt with UKIP and then the Brexit Party. Farage’s fakery would appeal to him, his pints down the pub, rounds of golf, smutty magazines. But he’d be returning to the fold about now and voting for Johnson.

Tom is a Clarkson-style libertarian, a scofflaw and a sexist, at home with the aristocrats and tradesmen alike. He hates decimalisation, metric measurements, and changes to the Counties and local authorities. Of course he’d vote UKIP, then Brexit. The twat.

Barbara’s the only slight puzzle. She seems lovely, compassionate, kind, thoughtful. But then she stays married to her Brexit-voting husband, and somehow manages not to kill her Tory neighbours. So I’m afraid that Barbara, too, is a natural Tory. But would she vote for Johnson, a philanderer and liar? I actually think she’d probably bite the bullet and vote tactically.

Be like Barbara, not Tom.

Seven Stories about the Election

Non-voters, yesterday
  1. Less than a week now, and while one hates* to judge people on mere appearances, all hope is lost. I was in the tyre place this morning, and couldn’t help but remark that you don’t ever see Eloi in the tyre place, only Morlocks† or those too hideous to qualify even as Morlocks. My stunning insight was that a lot of people have their brand new cars on company car or PCP leases so short that they never get around to needing a new set of tyres. All of the tyre-place-avoiding Eloi are Tories, of course, too insulated by money to care about the effects of leaving the EU or 700 more years of austerity. And the broken down Morlocks with their blistered budget tyres and unaligned wheels aren’t going to vote. Unaligned, geddit? Metaphor, innit.
  2. I listened to Adrian Chiles on the radio talking to people who don’t vote. People who don’t register to vote because they don’t want debt collectors to find them. People who don’t understand the issues. People turned off by the tenor of the debate. People who live in safe seats. People who don’t see anything in it for them. 18 million non-voters at the last election. 18 million. Which is more, Chiles wryly notes, than actually voted for the Conservatives.
  3. Here’s another number: 200 parliamentary seats have not changed hands since 1945. And another: 14 million people live in these places, where a vote for anybody other than the incumbent might as well be two sausages crossing over a pile of mashed potato.
  4. I tried to engage some students in a discussion the other day, centred around the Vote for Policies web site. Theoretically, this is a fine idea. Looking at the actual policies divorced from tribalism ought to be a way of dispassionately arriving at a voting decision. But of course, it might as well be a web site that ranks sausages and potato varieties. First of all, what sane person with an iota of feeling for their fellow humans would even need to think for half a second about the best way to vote? The idea that you could have been alive for the past 10 years and still consider voting Tory without being an absolute monster is a fucking joke. And the other problem is, unless you’ve got a PhD, you might struggle to distinguish between the policies, because the cunning bastards use similar words in a similar configuration. For example, most of the parties talk about planting trees. Or they talk about reducing greenhouse emissions. Or they talk about renewable energy. But while some parties (Green) mean what they say. Others (Conservatives) don’t. And I was going to say “clearly mean” and “clearly don’t” except that my point is that clarity is what’s missing. Showing a class of 15-16 year olds these policies I realised quickly that they had no idea that the adverb “substantially” used by the Conservatives (or “Party 1”), as in “substantially reduce” has no legal standing. Nor that “by 2045” was so very different from “by 2030” if you happen to be a 70-year-old Conservative voter or an SUV-leasing Eloi.
  5. So how much chance do I really have, in the time available, to not only overcome their reluctance to discuss politics and educate them about lying liars and weaselly weasels, when its the fact that you can’t trust the words spewed out by the lying bastard politicians that puts so many people off voting in the first place?
  6. It reminds me of what Adam Curtis once said about “Oh Dearism”, which is most peoples’ reaction, most of the time, to the news. The media, unfortunately, is institutionally constructed to make us all horribly confused and upset about the state of the world. Wall to wall coverage of all the horrible things happening and all the horrible people making it happen is almost guaranteed to make most people believe that the situation is hopeless. And as I was typing those very words, McCartney in the background is singing, And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me. Which might give me hope except that he then goes on to say, Let it be, which is not what we want. Of course, Greta was touted as a shining example of how one person could make a difference, but now even she is being quoted as saying the school strikes “achieved nothing“. It’s almost as if someone has been whispering in her ear.
  7. For the election that’s mostly about Brexit, I feel like Brexit doesn’t feature much. This is probably because I’ve avoided the television coverage and refuse to click on video links and so on. I mean, the news is just designed to make me go, Oh dear. So I haven’t heard the on-message messaging or anything like that. But the daily headlines have all been about other issues, which in an ideal world would be the most important ones. Poverty, housing, NHS, education, and so on. What I mean to say is, every press conference or photo opportunity or policy launch has been about everything other than Brexit, whereas the only issue driving my personal vote this election is Brexit. Which is why I’m having to hold my nose and vote for a fucking Tory defector in Buckingham. I mean, all these people singing the praises of Heseltine and Major. We hated them, too, once.

* Loves

† The Morlocks are, according to H G Wells, the “descendants of the British working class”.

Plant a tree in ’73

In 1973, when Dutch Elm Disease was rife, when trees were dying in their millions, the government came up with the idea of a National Tree Planting Year. The Forestry Commission donated thousands of trees to schools and I signed up for a Scots Pine. I was ten years old, in my eleventh year. My younger brother, not yet school age, got a Rowan.

The Rowan didn’t thrive. It was supposed to spread and give shade and red berries. We planted it in the wrong place, in the middle of one of the lawns, and it disappeared quite quickly. I always suspected my dad mowed it. The Scots Pine, though: that thrived. It started as a single shoot and by the time I last visited my parents’ house, some time in the 90s, it was well over seven metres tall. I was told it would grow thirty centimetres a year. After twenty-odd years it was tall and strong, sitting at the very top of the garden like a sentinel. I think it’s probably still there. Google Maps used to show a huge number of trees in that spot, and even now, after a road and houses have been built in place of the railway line and allotments, I fancy that one of the shadows cast over the gardens has the spiky profile of the Scots Pine. By now it would be twice as tall again.

(Although it kind of breaks my heart that the rear view from the house I was born in, which used to be of the Downs, is now of a fookin’ house. The usual criminality in the Planning Department, no doubt. I always suspected that in Dunstable, someone was on the take.)

What a successful campaign that was, how it stuck in my mind. There have been other campaigns since, and I hope that they too have stayed in the memory of those young enough to have participated. Millions of trees were lost to the Great Storm of ’87, and maybe there were kids then, born in the late 70s, who cared for their own personal trees.

I often browse on Google Maps, looking at the world from the sky and thinking about the trees. Where we stay in France is almost all forest. Everywhere you go, you see trees being felled and transported for various reasons. Almost everyone burns wood for fuel, and there still seem to be plenty of trees, but you can tell they’re not being managed properly. There isn’t enough wildlife to coppice naturally, and nobody bothers to do it the human way. When we took over the house in France, there was an enormous quantity of coppiced bundles of sticks, set aside to start fires but never used. They were thirty, forty years old, but when we got a new woodburning stove fitted, the nature of these sticks wasn’t really right for lighting fires.

So we burned them in the garden. An illegal fire, as far as I can tell, because you’re not supposed to do that nowadays, but we had so much old and dry wood that we saw no other option. It was clean and dry and burned without much smoke, so there’s that. We also threw on a load of old orange boxes (like the kind Van Morrison said were ‘scattered’ in ‘St. Dominic’s Preview’), which we found out later are considered collectable by some. The old-fashioned kind of plywood orange box, depending on the quality, will sell for as much as a tenner apiece on eBay. I’m afraid to say I burned at least thirty of them, maybe more. It was hard to keep track.

The fire burned so intensely hot that in the end I was sitting twenty or thirty metres away, across the garden, keeping an eye on it. I kept circling it with watering cans, dampening down the grass. When it died down to a smoulder I dampened the ground one last time and went inside. It was still smouldering the following morning, like the Simpson’s eternal tyre fire.

Tree planting to fix carbon is one of the methods proposed to mitigate global warming. But while huge swathes of Amazon rainforest are being razed, and while many people insist on driving around in unnecessarily huge cars, the thinking doesn’t really feel joined up.