Sunday, 24 August 2014

Dr Who

Well, what better place, I thought, than this blog, which tries to address the eternal questions about life, the universe and everything, to talk about the one and only Dr. Who?

On Saturday night we watched the first episode of the new series of this fifty year-old Sci-Fi series, which has countless fans all over the world, as well as a few detractors ( who, I think, are just boring contrarians! ;) ). A 'new' Doctor along with an assistant, who is clearly having difficulty coming to terms with an older, silver haired incumbent time-lord.

So, for those of you who saw it, what did you think ... about the story, the characters, the new Dr. Who? The hints at more worldly things: politics, current affairs, many metaphors, hints at political correctness, timeless modern life; it was all in there somewhere!

We saw hints of the Scottish referendum for independence - in the beginning, the Doctor didn't seem happy with the 'English accents' around him. Only the reptilian lady (with the Scottish accent) seemed to be talking a language that was acceptable to the clearly disoriented Doc.

The same sex, albeit preternaturally and probably intergalactic marriage offered us a nudge at a topical issue. What interested me most is something that perhaps could place the scriptwriters' intentions firmly on centre stage of topical socio-political issues. The repeated use of 'the veil' (which, at times, covered said reptilian lady's face) and the closing scene, it has to said delivered with a generous helping of pathos, in which Clara is still having difficulty recognising the transmogrified Doctor and coming to terms with his new ageing grey face ... the epitome of how the fragile human condition is characterised  by how significantly it is affected, nay obsessed, on so many levels, with what we and others look like on the surface. How much do we spend on keeping ourselves looking young on the outside, whilst ignoring what's going on the inside!?

I'm sure many readers of a certain age will know what I mean when I say that, in the latter stages of my life, I can only be affected and attracted by beauty that is deeply rooted; that is sometimes almost indefinably subtle, but most certainly far deeper than the skin and it is glaringly obvious when you encounter it! The colour and quality of our skin, our height, our bone structure, even the way we speak are so often a cause of prejudice, sometimes crippling and socially unacceptable prejudice.
Anyway, please excuse my diatribe. All I wanted to know is what others thought about the new Dr, Who?

Let me know by giving me your own comments below. Make 'em as long and detailed as you like; rants and diatribes are both acceptable. Let rip with your eulogies and crucifixions as much as you like.


Friday, 16 May 2014

There is Light ...

© 2007 John Anstie
[Posted in honour of the International Photography Month of May and 'Wordless Wednesday', being celebrated over at The Bardo Group]

Monday, 5 May 2014

Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Forgiveness Challenge

Dear Fellow Blogger and Reader,

I have to tell you about Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, who have started something. I feel that I have no choice, other than to promote this challenge, given that the subject is very much on my mind (evidence my recent posting over at The Bardo Group "Good Friday, Good Fortune and Forgiveness"). Forgiveness is not just a philosophical, theological or allegorical instrument of persuasion, it is instead being reviewed by psychologists and physicians the world over for its value in healing. This is probably because deep-seated anger, stress, resentment and guilt, may be emotional responses to life, but are known to cause physical and mental illness and personality disorders, if allowed to fester.

It is with honest intent that I recommend this to you all. The link to the site to register is at the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge website.

Before you go there, I would urge you to have a look and listen to this interview with the very articulate Alanis Morissette, of whom I knew little before this point, except that she was a musician, but, relating her own journey of forgiving to her song-writing, I found a lot to understand and admire here ...

Do let me know what you think.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Are There Any Other Civilisations ... Out There?

I have held a universal and, it seems probably a pantheistic view of our life on earth for many years now. It is this: that there are probably other intelligent civilisations out there in the cosmos, but, in spite of our continued quest to find some and because of the humungous scale and mind boggling span of time that is represented in the life of the universe, we will never discover one. We may not even exist simultaneously. I would add a small warning to those, who like my mother-in-law, God rest her soul, used to be, are mind-bogglephobics, or who simply cannot cope with the scale of it all, that this may be a challenging concept to grasp. Nonetheless, it does require a calculator with a large scale, should you wish to do some proportions!

The following is a track from his album, "Letters from a Flying Machine" by a very fine musician, singer and songwriter from the USA, Peter Mulvey, whom we saw and met on the weekend at the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival.  Having listened closely to the words of his songs and one or two of his 'between song' talks, I asked him in our brief chat, did he by any chance write poetry? He replied that he didn't; he preferred to leave that to the poets, but that a few of his friends were poets and that he read a great deal of poetry ... to exemplify this, the inside cover of the album we bought from him, "Silver Ladder" reveals a brief quote from the 17th Century poet, Mizuta Masahide: "Barn's burnt down - now I can see the moon".

... anyway, back to the theme of this post.

The only thing I can do is ask you to listen to this story Peter Mulvey tells of a conversation that he had, over some beer, with "Vlad the Astrophysicist":

Sums it up very neatly for me.

You might also want to listen to some of this fellow's music; there is poetry in a lot of it.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Flooding and Political Flimflam

[This was posted on my Facebook wall earlier in the week, in response to the furore of political attacks on the Environment Agency. I felt much need to vent my feelings and also that it should be placed here on my blog, for the record - and I couldn't resist the above title!]

I had to restrain myself from an outburst last Monday, following the patently childish attacks by certain political voices against the Environment Agency for the flooding in the Somerset Levels, none more aggressive (and typical of its source) than from that well known pit bull, who was momentarily and, I suspect, deliberately, but later, regrettably let off the leash by his masters - give the little mutt, Pickles, a tickle behind his ear, folks (but no more biscuits, please) - like naughty children, who've been found out and try to throw the blame on their siblings, peers or those without the ability to fight back. Do they ever think about ... are they truly blinded to the fact that we can actually see through their silly, manipulative games, or is this just another attempt at a 'clever' smoke screen to shield some other piece of skulduggery that they wish to pass through parliament unnoticed. Keep your eyes peeled for another raid on the NHS or our education system or our freedom of speech ...

Come what may, what started this post was not only a feeling of total sympathy for those, who are clearly suffering so much stress at what's happening to their land and homes in the South West, but it was also about a simple fact that seems to have eluded many of those, who think they are in 'control' of this country, and who it is patently clear are NOT ... that the rain comes from the clouds, which are formed from those huge North Atlantic storm systems that are plaguing us with exceptionally adverse weather this Winter, it does NOT come from the Environment Agency or any other agency that the aforementioned pit bull is unleashed to clamp its overfed jaws on to break up, destroy or dissolve. It might also behove those self serving political parties to this furore to start paying attention to some other well documented longer term preventative measures, like reforestation and river capture devices that hold up some of the damaging flood water and stop it from sweeping down stream to more populated areas. 

And one more thing, lest we forget, the Environment Agency is strapped by regulation set in legislation by politicians, who, at some point, did listen to the people who elected them, which defines how much dredging is permitted without destroying wildlife and ecosystems that are so important to maintaining nature's balance. This may seem counter to the interests of those, who live on the Somerset Levels, but some of the weather patterns we are experiencing in recent times are giving rise to consequences that are far more powerful than human beings can control. So, politicians and power brokers, one and all, sit up and listen to the small quiet voices of wisdom that tell you about the irrefutable effects that our greedy habits are bringing to bear on global weather events. Yes start listening, carefully!

P.S. I wonder what effect Fracking will have and what additional risk of pollution would be introduced on water saturated ground? Just thought I'd ask ...

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Who is Going to Pay Their Dues ...

Enter stage right: plutocrats, oligarchs, privilege, inherited wealth, ideology, self-interest and greed for power by those with a singular ignorance and disregard for the lives of the majority...

City of London in the Rain, looking East © 2008 John Anstie
Most politicians, at least those in high office (and those with aspirations for same), have, it seems to me, sadly lost interest in the people they serve, assuming they ever had any in the first place. Sadder still, it is certain that the people have lost faith in them. Perhaps they're hoping for another Falklands war to bring them back some political popularity and make 'em into heroes again or, dare I say worse, some demonstrations in the streets of our cities, which they can then use as an excuse to clamp down with some draconian measures - let us not forget what is happening amongst the formerly civil and patient Ukrainian populace - but, I suspect, a majority are not in favour of either option! 

I'd also like to ask what happened to that parallel part of English law, which espoused equity*

Fairness, common sense, a duty of care, courtesy and respect are amongst the most important cornerstones of a civilised society, as opposed to one that's in danger of reverting to the feudal system of the Middle Ages. So too are the desires for the sharing of knowledge and the promotion of understanding, as well as for compassion toward those, whose birthright endowed them with far less privilege, education and opportunity than an elite, who continue to dominate the order of things, both politically and economically. But I for one do not understand the language used to justify what happens in the City of London (and in the other financial centres of the world), which sometimes appears like the product of smoke and mirrors; like the law, which sometimes seems deliberately so complex as to cause us to switch off and give up trying to understand it. We need far greater clarity, in a language that most of us can understand to explain the importance of this ... without the arrogant pomposity and the dismissiveness we've come to expect of the boys from Eton (and from those envious wannabe's, who sell their souls to the party line). 

I suggest to those who argue that extravagant rewards (and low or zero tax liability) for the super-rich, apart from encouraging ambitious young apprentices (aka wannabe's) to follow their footsteps, is the only way to keep 'em here, creating employment, that this claim is illusory; evidence the state the majority of the population is currently in, an increasing number of whom are still falling towards a poverty trap. When compared to the current height of many stock market indices, the activity of the construction sector, which customarily leads us out of recession and unemployment - despite the very recent slight fall in the latter - there is a disconnect with the wellbeing of the population at large. 

Apart from any other measure of the apparent health of the economy, there are too many honest tax payers, who are, quite frankly, pissed off with the utterly brazen behaviour of large companies, who manage to avoid paying tax and the equally brazen response of a government, who are too obviously preoccupied with their political ambitions, and their main party donors, to make no mention of the fact that they are still in government because of their coalition with an albeit very weak second string opposition. I believe there is a swathe of the population, who quite frankly don't give a damn any more! Because they are continuing to pay for the greed and rash behaviour of a group of people, who do not deserve to be bailed out, at least in the way they were in 2008 and subsequent decisions made about their ongoing bonuses. Previous governments (the plural is deliberate) should not have allowed the credit bubble to become so horrendously large and unstable in the first place. 

What we are left with is a debt owed to us, the taxpayer, by the banks in the UK. The original figure paid in some form or other out of Treasury funds (that's your money and mine, by the way) was a total of £1,162,000,000,000 - that is over One Trillion or One Thousand Billion or One Million Million in modern speak - how many years could we run a healthy NHS, education system on that and/or how much of the national debt could be paid off!! OK, it isn't that simple, I know, but would somebody explain to me why? When asked the questions: what will be the final cost to the UK taxpayer, the answer recorded in the National Audit Office web site is that, basically, it's uncertain; there are all sorts off caveats leading to statements like it will be a 'number of years' before the final cost to the taxpayer is known! 

The River Thames, City of London, looking East © 2008 John Anstie
In fact, despite my own reasonable level of numeracy and literacy, I found it quite difficult to understand from the NAO web site what level of 'support' is still ongoing, what 'support' actually means, what has been repaid and by whom, and what is the existing actual debt. Perhaps I should spend a few more hours there trying to work it all out or perhaps not! The only figures that are reasonably clear, reveal that the Treasury / Taxpayer originally 'invested' £66 Billion in RBS and Lloyd's Banks, which, at the last time of reporting (July last year), astonishingly still only, apparently, has a market value of £38 Billion!! So, looking at the current record performance of the FTSE 100 share index, that was a good investment wasn't it! 

What is also clear is that there are too few banks that are far too big, as well as other financial institutions, not to mention huge multinational corporations, which means that, contrary to the spirit of a healthy market place, we are in an unhealthy position that gives too few companies too great a market share to enable proper competition - ironically, I thought, one of the tenets of the Conservative Party's ideology - and, perhaps most worrying of all, a powerful lobby, and, thereby, a nascent, if not already realised 'control' over government to the point where they can dictate policy and even the law (who mentioned the Gagging Bill?). Let us not forget the meaning and the potential horror of fascism, one of several possible political extremes we absolutely do not want to bring about! 

I've never felt more sure of anything in my life, than that things must somehow change, and soon! But, whatever happens, let us make sure that change is far more equitable and democratic than currently appears to be the case! The power of the voters' voice must not only be made clear, but also it must be heard above the powerful minority, in government, corporate and media arenas, who currently appear to be dominating proceedings and patently guilty of ignoring that voice. One thing I am still convinced of is that Russell Brand's 'None of the above' philosophy is wrong in one important way: not voting would put us on the road to granting a greater share of power to more extreme political factions.

Enter stage left: common sense, integrity, honesty, some humility and respect for a people, who deserve far more than currently afforded them by those they elect to manage their country ... let the play commence.

Written content and Photos © 2014 John Anstie all rights reserved

* Equity is defined as the quality of being fair or impartial; also called chancery. The application of the dictates of conscience or the principles of natural justice to the settlement of controversies. A system of jurisprudence or a body of doctrines and rules developed in England and followed in the U.S., serving to supplement and remedy the limitations and the inflexibility of the common law.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

To Edit, Perchance to Publish ...

(On use of the English language)
[This piece was published on The Bardo Group Blogazine, in December 2013. I've reproduced it here for the sake of continuity on my own prose blog as well as, perhaps, to reach some readers, who may not have seen it yet]
" ... To edit perchance to publish: ay, there's the rub;
For in that edit of death what publishings may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause ... "
(Editing liberties taken with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, with thanks and apologies to William Shakespeare)
Jamie Dedes suggested that I should write about my experience of publishing.  I thought about this, but came to a conclusion that it would be pretentious to do so, because it would appear like someone, who had just successfully completed their first length of the swimming pool, writing a book on swimming the English channel!  However, there is something to write about in any experience, however humble.  So, I decided instead to write about it from a perspective, where I have a little more to offer.  This is the business of writing the English language.
Designing the book’s layout, selecting and agreeing cover designs, which fonts to use, finding someone to write a foreword, or not, decide who should write the introduction is much to do with publishing.  Reading it all front to back, back to front, several times over, has more to do with being competent in the language and brings much to bear on the business editing!
product_thumbnail-3.phpTo cast a glance at the experience I had in publishing "Petrichor Rising", before the publisher came along, thinking that we might have to self-publish, I designed the layout, asked one of the group to write the introduction and, after playing with the idea of asking an award winning published poet I know to write a foreword (with the vain idea that it might give the book some kudos), eventually decided to write it myself.  All that remained was to get the covers designed and ... Edit!
After several runs through it, I got to a point where I needed to ask ‘editorial questions’ of the contributing poets, which were in a variety of different forms. I felt sure that, if I were to uphold the integrity of the book, I was compelled to verify some of the simplest things, like spelling, grammar, English usage, the odd neologism and even the position of punctuation marks.
My golden rule was always that I should change not one single word without the consent of any of the authors.  So, I grabbed the horns!  Accordingly, I received a variety of responses, which ranged from unquestioning acceptance of my suggested edits, through "no that's the way I intended it" to a significant re-editing of a poem. This was, or so I thought, one of the final hurdles to publication.
I eventually submitted the whole book to the publisher, who, within a short time had clearly read it through very thoroughly, because they returned it with a whole list of further edits, which comprised of spelling errors, general typo’s, even punctuation and the odd grammatical error!  An even greater shock to my pride was that a number of them were within my own writings! I had to agree with almost all of them!  What am I like! Evidently rather poor at self-editing!
As for English grammar, there are some rules that I’m keen on.  Even in poetry, I prefer to write English in complete sentences between full stops, with any main or subordinate clauses that have a subject and a predicate, any phrases suitably punctuated, words chosen for their proper meaning, as defined by a recognised dictionary (my preferred backstop is Fowler’s Concise Oxford English Dictionary) spelled correctly and, particularly in poetry, with no unnecessary repetition.
Amongst the rules I use, that I can rarely bring myself to break, include the use, in comparisons, of certain prepositions after the word ‘different’.  My personal loyalty lies with the traditional ‘from’; there are no circumstances under which ‘from’ cannot be used in this context; the alternatives used are ‘to’ (don’t know where this came from, but it is widely used in the media) and ‘than’ (more popular in North America), which sometimes permits a greater economy of words when ‘different’ is followed by a clause. So, in my book, it should be "different from".
The next one is the split infinitive.  Once again, I would argue that there are no circumstances in which the infinitive form of a verb has to be separated from its preposition (‘to’) by any other word. The only possible exception could be in poetry, where one might want to split the infinitive for the sake of maintaining consistent scansion.  Even then, I would argue that there is no sentence that cannot be re-written in a different way, expressed with different words, to achieve the same effect; such is the variety of the English language.
Poets and writers have a great responsibility to communicate accurately, however perverse, complex or deep the story line. This super-fast digital age, with its plethora of social communication devices, has encouraged a laziness in the use of language and, therefore, a greater risk of misinterpretation, which transfers to our working lives too.  In the last twenty-five years of my working life, I witnessed a tendency for the generation, who have grown up with the digital computer age, to be ‘quick’, to empty the overloaded inbox as fast as they can and, in so doing, often write incomplete sentences that are easily misunderstood and that consequently waste time in clarification or, worse still, cause decisions to be wrong!
Economy of words is important in all writing, particularly poetry, which can only be enhanced by choosing the right words and concatenating them so as to achieve the meaning intended and, in this way, one should always aspire to achieve synergy, which is to say making the whole, the final result, greater than the sum of its parts. Shortening sentences, however, for the sake of speed is just lazy and symptomatic of an unwillingness to think more carefully about the language.
I hope, in any future attempt to publish a book, that I will remember this; remember how important it is to communicate our meaning accurately, and, thereby, truthfully.  As far as I am concerned, I am still learning.
- John Anstie
© John Anstie, essay, all rights reserved
John_in_Pose_Half_Face351w-rH34dTL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a member of the core team here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a "Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer. John participates in d'Verse Poet's Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He's been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (UK).
John has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited the  anthology, "Petrichor* Rising". The other group is d'Verse Poet Pub, in which John's poetry also appears in The d'Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.