Pond update

Regular readers will know that we built a pond.  My beloved has been working hard to turn it from a wet hole-in-the-ground to a living ecosystem. And what an amazing transformation. Ok, it has become a bit green with algae, as anticipated. However, there is now an extraordinary bit of filter technology at work (top right corner of picture, Oase Durchlauffilter BioSmart UVC, 14000) which is slowly managing algae growth.

There is now an array of water plants, including lilies, establishing themselves in the water.The pond was slightly  extended after my original dig in order to create a few steps on the three sides whose original form created an unhelpful sheer drop. The extension has enabled a few plants to be located around  all sides, not just one.

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Stones have been placed on some sacking (which covers residual pvc pond lining). Though that in itself is a bit of a story. The local crows (right) were watching and decided, quite rightly, that sacking is a good building material for nests. It is spring after all.

Birds are, of course, rather privileged in our story. Their ability to scan the environment from vantage points helps in the pond’s development. A few days’ ago the pond was visited by a couple of mallards (left). And the first amphibian has arrived, a newt. One at the moment, but we are anticipating the newt word will get around.

 

 

Plants that are now living in the pond:

 

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Just when I thought cigarette advertising was over in Germany…

…JSP is back with its “young people sitting outside” campaign. This bunch are seemingly moving house and having a cigarette in between the heavy lifting. As usual, two are smoking with the others looking on. The strapline does not make any sense to me “Mach den Umzug zum Umtrunk” – is that not something like “make the move to drink?” Whatever, it was not worth waiting for.

A random Saturday in Tate Britain

It must have been 20 years’ ago that I went to the Tate to see the Turner collection. I’d heard about it and thought it about time that I saw the collection for myself. Uninformed and unprepared, I looked at the pictures – particularly the later ones – not with awe, but rather with disdain. Part of the reason for this was my upbringing. My mother was an amateur and self-taught artist. She painted largely from postcards. Hers were the only pictures in the family house. My father framed them for her. Her masterpiece, Chester (left), has pride of place our bedroom. The problem was, however, that my mother’s art informed us more generally about what good art was. Consequently, Turner started okay with realistic landscapes, but went downhill rapidly when he started all of that light and abstract nonsense.

To get to the Turner collection at Tate Britain, one has to walk through the galleries for the 1920s and 1930s. These are two decades that I like a lot, and not just for British art. There are some old friends in there, not least the disturbing “Totes Meer” (right) by Paul Nash. The washed-up planes are a stark reminder war’s destruction; but I like to think that Douglas Adams borrowed this idea for the Hitch Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy when Arthur and Ford are rescued by the the Heart of Gold in its infinite improbability mode only to find themselves at Southend, though with the buildings washing up on the shore rather than the sea.

Maybe Nash has some Turner in him? Certainly I like to think that Winifred Nicholson’s “Sandpipers” (left) from 1933 does. Though Nicholson did something that perhaps Turner did not do – he was very much a studio painter – incorporate real sand into his pictures. The abstraction is there, certainly.

Turner’s “The Chain Pier” in Brighton dating from 1828 (right) has all of the Turner qualities. Wonderful light, marine backdrop – here, ships and piers. There are some figures on the ships. The figures in the later abstractions are chilling, ghostly and translucent. For example, “A disaster at Sea” (1835, left) is thought to be the scene of the wreck of the Amphitrite, off Boulogne, whose cargo was 108 female convicts and 12 children, abandoned to their fate by the captain. They were supposed to be going to Australia.

Finally, the most curious of all, Napoleon on St. Helena (right) after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. There he is in full military uniform, as we all imagine him, against a backdrop of extraordinary colour created by an island sunset. Ah, the metaphors.

Dead Can Dance, Hammersmith Apollo, 4 May 2019

It was bucket list time again. I’ve been listening to DCD for many years, always beguiled by Lisa Gerrard’s extraordinary contralto, and Brendan Perry’s velvet baritone. Plus those instruments. And there they are in front of us in that cathedral of music, the Hammersmith Apollo, probably my favourite concert hall. The best seats we could get were upstairs in the circle, but nowhere in this venue is too far away from the stage. It is not a stadium. The acoustics are great – at least good enough for my tinnitus-trashed hearing.

They arrived on stage promptly, Gerrard wearing her trademark flowing robe, quasi-beehive hair and lots of spangly things. Perry doesn’t even try to compete; though the female keyboard player equally wears a long flowing dress, just enough to complement Gerrard and not to out-do. There are five other male players, three dedicated to percussion, another keyboard player and bass. But this lot are multi-instrumentalists and vocalists of the highest order.

I did not try to create my own set list, but I think this one from Nantes is about right. I was wondering two things before seeing them. First, would this be the Dionysus tour – a promotion for their current album which, although good, probably will not go down as their best? Second, will they be generous? The answers were no and yes. In fact, they played only “Dance of the Bacchantes” from Dionysus. The audience were attentive, knowledgeable and appreciative. Gerrard started cautiously. I don’t know much about singing, but voices are delicate things and when one has one like Gerrard’s, I suppose they need warming up before the owner lets rip on songs like “Sanvean” and “Avartar”.

The same could not be said of Perry whose opener, “Anywhere out of the World”, set the pace like a football team trying to tire out the opposition rather than outwit them on the field. His voice started to break up about half way through the set, he left the stage seeking some palliative. “My voice is fucked”, he said as he departed. On his return, the treatment seemed to have been effective. He got through “The Carnival is Over” a song about freaks in the circus visiting his childhood home in East London in the 1970s. As the set list shows, there were two encores. Perhaps one too many for Perry. And this is very much the start of the tour. Fingers crossed for him (a couple of nights’ rest) and future audiences.

That aside, this was one of the most memorable musical performances I can remember, The players generate a consummate sound, very much appreciated by Gerrad who, like a conductor of an orchestra, asks the audience to applaud particular players and sections at the end of the piece. The DCD percussion section is clearly integral. For my untrained ear they were beat perfect.

Two hours in total. Pure pleasure for us, hard work for them.

Building a pond

It has taken over 18 month to build, punctuated by physical injury (my back is not the strongest) and, of course, the seasons. But it is now full of water. It measures 2.5m x 4.5m and at its deepest, 1.4m. That is a lot of digging. That is a lot of stuff from a hole, mostly gravel and stones.

When one looks at the tutorial videos on Youtube, they are always very geometric, dug into rigid soils (clays) and not as deep. The process of lining seemed very simple. In our case, not so easy. The gravel is not so stable and in the digging – easily collapsing in the hole that had been dug. The topsoil in the west of Munich is not very deep, around 10-20cms only.

OK, so then wet sand is used to deal with the gravel and stones. That is quite a task, rather like plastering a wall (right). Fortunately, the temperature was about 8 degrees Celsius and there was little wind. This meant that it did not dry out too much and blow away. Overall a good couple of hours devoted to that task. We did not have enough sand (125kg), so we raided the grandson’s sandpit to finish the job. Hence the contrasting colours.

We bought the lining and underlay last summer – a little too optimistically. But they were there to extract from the garage when ready. The underlay came in three strips. It is made of a very light textile; it looks like blotting paper, but was surprisingly strong. It gave some shape to the hole that I had dug. Stepped on one side (where the most rigid soil was) and sheer on the remaining three.

And then the big one, the lining. This is a very heavy PVC and, naturally, comes in a single piece. We first had to unfurl it and essentially drag it over the hole like one of those enormous sheets they use in swimming pools to keep in the heat overnight (right). And then we had to entice it down into the hole. It was robust enough to take our weight, though we changed our shoes into something more slipper like, just in case. It took about an hour to fold the lining in the right places. We created pleats around corners. We gave it a lot of slack (below left).

And then the moment of truth. A pond is still only a hole until it has water. We have calculated it holds about 9000 litres. We trust that is enough weight to hold the whole thing together. We attached the hose to the tap and then turned it on. Slowly it filled.

Obviously now this is just a hole with some water in it. We need plants, additional rocks around the edge and for nature really to contribute. We know there are frogs and newts in the vicinity. We also know the local birds are excited about having a large water source. Though we need to make some perches for them as it would be easy to fall in and drown. We are also going to get some native fish. They are primarily the reason for the depth. Winters can be punishing and water readily freezes. Though I challenge nature to freeze water to 1.4m!

 

Greta Thunberg – she’s got them rattled

Greta Thunberg (left) has risen from unknown Swedish schoolgirl to omnipresent climate emergency ambassador and conscience. I first heard her speak – not in person, but through a link in my Twitter feed – when she addressed COP24 in Katowice, Poland. My first impression was one of awe, not because of what she was saying, but that her message was given in perfect English and in front not only of the international delegates, but the world’s media as well. Some feat for any 15 year old. But Greta Thunberg appears not to be just any 15 year old. And I think some in power are beginning to realise that.

She went to the World Economic Forum at Davos (on the train) where the real unelected power wielders and brokers go annually to make things worse. She told them – and us – that she and her peers are not looking for hope but rather action. She wants us to panic and act as if the house is on fire, because it is on fire. Again, I marvel at the language skills and composure. The message is unequivocal.

But then I fall back into Brexitland. Thunberg has had her platforms. Great theatre. But surely it is time for her to go back to school (she has been on school strike, each Friday, since September)? Seemingly not. She fronted an international school strike on Friday 15 February 2019. And this really got the goat of the politicians. In the UK, the British Prime Minister berated the strikers accusing them of wasting teaching time (that of their teachers and increasing their workloads)* and damaging their own education as a result. Her spokesman said “That time [school time] is crucial for young people, precisely so they can develop into the top scientists, engineers and advocates we need to help tackle this problem.”This was a well rehearsed ignorant response to the strikers.

In the USA, veteran – and I mean this in a pejorative sense – Senator, Dianne Feinstein (right), patronised a group of young people lobbying her to support the Green New Deal – claiming that her long service in the Senate and her recent re-election vindicated her position and that they should wait their time and listen a little bit more.

As the young people keep trying to tell policymakers, there are plenty of top scientists arguing for action to little effect. And by the time the young people become scientists, policymakers, etc. it will be too late. That seems genuinely difficult for the politicians, in particular, to understand. I have two observations. First, the politicians are rattled, being upstaged by articulate children who are supposed to comply. Even if the British Prime Minister does not understand the climate change emergency she reveals the true deficit in the democracy – and political system more generally. The system cannot manage fundamental change of the kind needed to meet the challenge with its hackneyed metrics for “wellbeing” such as economic growth (GDP) which positively counts environmentally destructive activities such as deforestation, but not positive elements such as caring, non-consumptive leisure, re-use and most conservation including energy efficiency. It cannot countenance universal incomes, reduced working hours or wealth redistribution.

My second observation is a concern. Thunberg is now 16 years old. She was at COP24 and Davos. These are invitation only. And neither were cost-free. Who is behind her? Now I sense that she is not going away in a hurry; but the going will get tough as she fronts up more action in the coming months and years. Politics is an ugly business and the gloves will come off. I hope there are some good people behind her. Please.

*  The irony here is that the government through targets and prescriptive teaching has wasted more teaching and learning time than any school strike could match.

Update – Thunberg goes to the EU: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2019/apr/16/greta-thunbergs-emotional-speech-to-eu-leaders-video

Pictures:

Thunberg: Jan Ainali

Feinstein: Now This News

Brexit – playing chicken

So, whilst on her flight to Sharm El Sheikh to attend an EU summit that also incorporates Arab countries and leaders, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, confirms that she is not ready to put her deal back to the Parliament for a “meaningful vote” – and maybe not until 12 March. Her “team”, she says, is off back to Brussels on Tuesday to resume “negotiations” with the Commission. This is a game of chicken, and one would not bet against her holding her nerve, even if she loses the vote again. Matthew Parris recently wrote the following extraordinary capitulation to what for many had already been clear, she is not like the rest of us confronted with serious reality:

Then there is Giles Fraser. To be fair, one of the few leavers trying to offer positives to Brexit (though not very well or convincingly). His line of argument, inferred by some as being fluent, is that Freedom of Movement has caused family breakdown and taken away the sense of responsibility that offspring should have towards looking after elderly parents, particularly female offspring. If we did not have freedom of movement, we’d likely stay close to where our parents live (even though they may have retired to the coast, or indeed Spain) and keeping a sense of community. I trust the Honda employees in Swindon will bear this in mind when the factory closes in 2021. The most cogent critique comes from Frances coppola. Worth a read.

Interestingly, the Brexit debate has only recently turned to the negative aspects of freedom of movement. For the government, this is an inherently good thing. It is perhaps the sole reason for all of May’s red lines that so restricts the country to one option, hers. But of course, the implications are that it gets more difficult – by which I mean bureaucratic – to travel across Europe. Visas are probably going to be necessary, and additions to driving licences. Petty, but tangible restrictions on movement. The irrepressible Julia Hartley-Brewer recently celebrated her arrival in Switzerland where new signs welcome EU citizens and British passport holders to the same channel. However, the Swiss know that British passport holders are important tourists. One wonders whether the same will be true of travel to Slovenia after Britain’s top diplomat, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, described the country as a former vassal state of the Soviet Union? He’s got form at the moment. He upset the Japanese by writing to them to tell them to get a move on over a Free Trade Agreement. And as we know, the nationality of his own wife is a bit of a mystery to him.

Has political leadership ever been so incompetent and the discourse so facile?

Smoking in Europe

I have not written much in recent weeks. Way too many other people writing far more interesting things than me about important issues.

I add the following as a placeholder for a later entry.

The Terrestrialists – Bruno Latour’s new-materialists

Regular readers will know that I have taken a little time out away from my regular work to read a few books to try to get an understanding of where we are, how we got here and how we might get out of here. Alive. Some discomforting answers are supplied in the reading of Eatwell and Goodwin’s book on nationalist populism; the latter, I think, can be extracted from Bruno Latour and his new book (left). I am sure there are many others, however (for example, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and Diane Coyle’s (2014) unpackaging of GDP as a measure of  national wellbeing).

Both Eatwell and Goodwin and Latour are pretty clear that liberal democracy is a cause. Moreover, we must keep reminding ourselves, for example, that liberal democracy is relatively new in human history. Baby boomers and their offspring (myself included here), however, have no experience of other forms of democracy, illiberal or otherwise (illiberal democracies are now to be found in Hungary, Poland and increasingly in Italy). It has been the underpinning of economic growth and – what seemed until recently to be – inexorable globalisation. I am grateful to a single essay by John Gray to help me with this also.

I have not really had much reason to consider Latour’s work; I have probably been more scared of it than I should have been. I was nudged towards it after reading an article in the NYT magazine about him, his methodological perspective (actor network theory) and its applications. Often seen as post-modern French philosophy – now conveniently rebranded by others as a philosophy of post-truth – it can be inaccessible.

Bruno Latour, 2017

There are four major events that Latour uses in constructing what he deems to be a hypothesis. Hypothesis because he does not try to prove anything. He recognises that he comes from a landed bourgeois family and is, himself, a boomer. But dismiss him – or his reasoning – at our peril, I sense. So, the events are: the Brexit vote in the UK; the election of Trump in the USA; the resumption of mass migrations caused by wars, failed attempts at economic development and climate change. The fourth event, however, is the most significant for Latour and it, itself, comes in two parts. First, the signing in Paris on 12 December 2015 of the Climate Change Accord; second, Trump’s policy to withdraw from the Accord.

On the former Latour says: “…on that December day, all the signatory countries, even as they were applauding the success of the improbable agreement, realized with alarm that, if they all went ahead according to the terms of their respective modernization plans, there would be no planet compatible with their hopes for development. They would need several planets; they have only one.” (p. 5). On the second, “By pulling out of the Paris Accord, Trump explicitly triggered, if not a world war, at least a war over what constitutes the theater of operations. “We Americans don’t belong to the same earth as you. Yours may be threatened; ours won’t be!”” (p. 3).

Latour’s method is systematic, if a little post-modern and hence, non-linear. Liberal democracy is capable of delivering the Climate Accord, but not implementation. Even if all signatories tried to implement the Accord, liberal democracy with its growth, modernisation, globalisation and universal wealth (measured in material terms) philosophy is incompatible with delivery. At some point, leaders – obscurantists, in Latour’s parlance – have to tell electorates that under the current economic and political models, “climatic catastrophe” is unavoidable. Latour, however, interprets Trump in an interesting way. I have often thought that climate change deniers actually believe that climate change is not caused by human activity out of ignorance and failure to look at the evidence. For them, it is merely a natural phenomenon that governments need to prepare for. Depriving people of the benefits of capitalist modes of production, trade and consumption would, therefore, not help the environment. However, my naïvety, as is often the case, is clear. The actuality is that the climate change deniers are of two kinds – literally for Latour – the “Out-of-this-World” types who care little for evidence (p. 34, and maybe Trump is the cheerleader here?) and those who know only too well that human activity is the cause not only of climate change, but also of the increased rate of change and the cause of the 6th Great Extinction.

Let us add more to this; socialism is no better at dealing with climate change than is economic liberalism. The left, just like the right, is bi-directional. There are those deep internationalists who believe that modernisation, which usually incorporates economic and political globalisation, is equally important for the socialist realisation of equality (just like the economic liberals). There are also those who think about the local – tradition, the familiar, predictable, local production, etc. Increasingly this perspective captures the so-called “left behind” or “abandoned” on the left who seek controls on immigration, protection for strategic industries and sovereignty (whatever that is). As Latour puts it, “those who value ethnic homogeneity, a focus on patrimony, historicism, nostalgia, inauthentic authenticism”  (p. 53). The UK Labour Party is trying to reconcile these two perspectives against the backdrop of Brexit and goes some way towards explaining the Labour leadership’s support for withdrawal. Many modern social democratic parties in Europe are trying to do the same but losing out to overtly populist parties and Greens alike. For Latour, they are un-reconcilable in one party.

So far there have been three “Attractors” – global and local (both with plus and minus elements, winners and losers) and “Out-of-this-world” those for whom reality triangulated by science and presented by educated elites, scientists, publishers and seemingly opaque institutes has no meaning. There is one more Attractor; namely the Terrestrial (p. 40). This is neither left nor right. In Actor Network terms, Latour’s thing, the Terrestrial is an actor itself. The other attractors are all about human history, human geography, human advancement, the modernisation of the human condition. The Terrestrial, argues Latour, puts human beings back into nature. That nature includes living things as well as the biosphere. It is the critical zone on the planet that makes life – human, animal and plant – possible. The Terrestrial, therefore, is an actor because, in Latour’s terms, it has agency and fights back (p. 41) – or at least responds to stimuli, largely human induced. Civilisation (human of course) is the product of the last 10 millennia of human (often brutal) interaction.

Terrestrialism is, essentially, a third-way. We’ve seen third-ways before. New Labour in the UK was packaged as such back in the late 1990s informed by the work of Anthony Giddens. But that was perhaps a third way in name only. It was an old consensus, a neo-liberal one at that. Latour’s Terrestrialism is a third way not between left and right, but between global and local, plus and minus and climatic catastrophe. Nice theory, but as Latour honestly notes, this is an essay written from the comfort of a Paris residence with no empirical underpinning. There are a few suggestions for how “we” might become Terrestrialists. That is the subject of another – later – blog entry.

References:

Diane Coyle. GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014

Anthony Giddens. Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics. Cambridge, England, UK: Polity Press, 1998

Bruno Latour. Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. Cambridge, England, UK: Polity Press, 2018

Picture: Latour KOKUYO

Those song lyrics

When I was a kid, recorded music was everything. All my pocket money went into buying singles, much to the chagrin of my father. But music was never about the lyrics, more the melody and rhythm. I loved American soul and disco. It is only in my later years that I have revisited some of those tunes…and cringed at the lyrics.

Let’s start with the SOS Band (left). What a beautiful noise. “Just be good to me“, somehow back in 1983 this was alright to dance to. Cutting through the addictive melody, it is the story of a woman who knows that her partner may not be ideal. “I don’t care about your other girls, just be good to me”. And then, “People always telling me, you’re a user, I don’t care what you do to them, just be good to me.” This is a song, at best, celebrating a ghastly lover and certainly not a song to be sung with a great smile on one’s face, but there you go. Incidentally, it is not all bad with the SOS Band, “Do it right“, which preceded “Just be good to me”, has all the ingredients, including lyrics!

Next up, Moments and the Whatnaughts (right), Girls. Another catchy tune with terrible lyrics. Try this: “I’d like to be on an island; With five or six of them fine ones; Even one that ain’t good lookin’; They’re the ones that do the best cookin'”. I did hear that right, there is a correlation between not being good looking and being able to cook? I sense the three Moments and Whatnaughts are all good at cookin’? Their dress sense, also leaves a lot to be desired.

And then there is the voice of Lou Rawls (left). I remember “You’ll never find another love like mine” charting back in 1976 (I was 12, so I am forgiven). What a voice. The sound of Philadelphia. Effortless. But let’s not think about the lyrics. I might be pushing this too far. I always start it with the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. OK his partner is going (maybe gone). Sad, for sure. At first it is a great celebration of what they had, but then it starts getting dark and creepy. “I am not trying to make you stay, baby”…er, yes you are. Then come the threats, oh yes, you’ve made a big mistake: “Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh (you’re gonna miss my lovin’), Late in the midnight hour, baby (you’re gonna miss my lovin’), When it’s cold outside (you’re gonna miss my lovin’)”. And just to rub it in: “You’ll never see what you’ve found in me, You’ll keep searching and searching your whole life through.”

And it still goes on. Listening to Gregory Porter from his album, “Take me to the alley” (2015), there is a track called “Don’t be a fool”. Here we go: “I broke your heart, now and before; But I won’t do it anymore; Trust in me and fall in love again”. Er, so not only has the protagonist done this more than once “now and before”, he then proclaims that he will not do it again and to trust him! Why did Gregory Porter write this song?

The antidote to all of this, of course, is Gloria Gaynor (right) with the anthemic “I will survive”. “Weren’t you the one who tried to break me with goodbye?, Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die? Oh, no, not I, I will survive.” And there is also the best bit of practical advice for people in this situation. Change the locks.

More positives on this voyage of rediscovery: The Brothers Johnson, Stomp, Shalamar (all), Nile Rogers (take your pick) and my absolute favourite funk record: Dazz by Brick.

And wasn’t Soul Train extraordinary?

 

 

Images:

SOS Band: A&M Records

Lou Rawls: Source (WP:NFCC#4)

Gloria Gaynor: still from music video, Youtube

Soultrain: Unknown