Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mandates, muddles and myths

So, the Day of Judgement duly arrived, and Scotland’s people flocked to the polls. When I switched on the TV before breakfast on the Friday morning, it was at the instant of the declaration – the ‘No’ camp had won.
  Against all the odds, the polls, pundits and predictions, the gap was 10% ~ a bigger margin than forecast.
  The sheer shock and relief experienced had an impact. I sank onto the sofa and couldn’t see for tears. Two and a half years of stress, the depression, the misery ...
  The rest of the day was curiously quiet ~ no one about, apart from tired dog-walkers in a village as subdued as it is on New Year’s Day.
  Salmond’s resignation wasn’t a surprise.  I’m sure I blogged some time ago this would be the upshot, win or lose.  I almost feel sorry for him.  Don’t forget, 45% of the voting populace wanted independence. But Scotland will never be the same again. No doubt the bitterness will re-surface.
  One correspondent from the Scotsman blames the pensioners. She’ll be a disappointed ‘Yes’?  It wasn’t just the grey vote, y’know. The silent majority kept its counsel and duly made its crosses.
  Now it’s up to the politicians ~ not a trusty breed. Funnily enough, the re-emergence of former PM, Gordon Brown, was a real surprise.  I’ve never heard him speak so well.
  ’Nuff said. In politics, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
The village returned to its autumnal diversions: a local ploughing match was held. We’re a rustic outpost which tries to keep former days alive. In our time it is tractors, although a few heavy horses were in evidence as well.  
  No doubt modern farm machinery, guided by satellites and computers, contributes to straight rigs, furrows and geometric patterns.  I don’t recall my ancestors’ efforts being anything like so tidy. 

Country living has its downsides. On 21 September a crucial joint in the kitchen pipework went ~ waste water gleefully flowing down between the units and the outside wall.  Crisis! Have you ever tried to get hold of an emergency plumber in a rural location – on a Sunday?

So, UK’s bent on helping out in the conflict against ISIS. I suspected this was on the cards some time ago.  One night, ca. 9.30pm, Tornado jets were racing alongside the hillfoots hereabouts, flying very low. #2 daughter saw their burnt fuel fire streams disappearing along the hills. The RAF executed these practice night sorties ahead of Bosnia, Afghanistan etc., so I figured something was afoot.
  There’s a ‘gap’ right across Scotland; the slit of the Forth/Clyde valley and the Great Glen. The jets can scream overhead at top speed, out to sea on the opposite coast and bank up over the Western Isles without frightening too many people.  Just a lot of sheep.
  May not be ‘boots on the ground,’ but bombs and fighters are different.  Or are they?
  I didn’t mention it here because ~ well, you don’t want to be accused of giving info to hostile forces, do you?  However anti-war you happen to be.  The Internet’s an international space.
  I trust this isn’t going to be ‘Cameron’s war,’ to follow on from ‘Thatcher’s war,’ and ‘Blair’s war’ ...

Orpheus is being awkward. It’s not the shallow self-absorbed post-modern Orpheus of literary feminism who’s proved a distraction but That Eurydike Business (pace Robert Silverberg). Because it’s anachronistic, it is necessary to be wary in deconstructing it, or allowing it to dictate. At times ancient myths are impossibly garbled. The content of Orpheus’s ‘history’ has passed through too many hands; it illustrates the risks of an uncritical or sustained but erroneous consensus. 
  At a basic level, much of what we now think we have is owed to Victorian popularisers, like Tanglewood Tales, censored ‘Greek myths retold,’ (as a child, I liked the Dulac illustrations) or the American Boston banker and Latinist, Thos. Bulfinch, and his Mythology. Of course, Bulfinch was heavily reliant on Ovid and Vergil, but these two are examples of how easy it is to hi-jack and mangle, misconstrue or misread mythical narratives, especially in translation.  And then we have all the poetic and musical adaptations.  Aaagh!
  Our inheritance is really a sum total of appropriations, interpretations more often connected with each other rather than the world they purport to depict.  Myth is not to do with real events.  In distinguishing logoi from muthoi the ancient Greeks consigned myth to a different reality – a reality where actions, reactions and language wove, and re-wove again, poetic ‘truths’ into the warp and weft of the fabric, or logoi, of existence.   

Picture credits: Two flags, © Telegraph, Scotland; ploughing and local woods, © Saline & Steelend Trust; ‘Tanglewood Tales,’ © Google images;

Monday, 15 September 2014

A sop to Cerberus

Well, September arrived ~ and that poisonous referendum with it. Three days remain ...
  So far the month’s been a complete wipe-out where concentration’s concerned. I’ve expended an enormous amount of mental energy and time in online fora, in respect of the ‘No’ campaign. The worries are so profoundly depressing it’s impossible to work. It is disheartening, and seems pointless. 
  Pro~UK politicians continue to offer a sop to Cerberus, a post~referendum change, only the ‘Yes’ camp’s screeching far too loudly to listen.*  Besides, its not the kind of change it wants.
  I lead an isolated life, and this has become more marked. I avoid phone calls, in case it’s pollsters. (The mobile, never switched off, is on silent 24/7.  It only finds a signal at the foot of the stairs, so I pick up text messages as I pass – efficient substitute for a defunct BT pager.)

Falling markets – and who loses the value – are better indicators than vox pops. At close of trade last Tuesday, the weaknesses of top FTSE losers were reflected on Wall Street – and Scottish capital is still haemorrhaging, fleeing south.  
  If the worst happens, I and mine will be OK.  As long as the value of any cash cache exceeds the notional worth of fixed assets, e.g., property, the year or eighteen months before severance is complete will be enough time to convert, conserve or consolidate and quit. Fraid it will be everyone for him~/herself.  This hasnt happened overnight: weve had years of warning to make provision. 
  A well-known pension advisory firm soothingly declares money is moving out of UK, but that it ordinarily does so, anyway.  Yeah, it does: but note, UK, not Scotland. Liquid cash, bonds, shares etc are still pouring over the border.
  Many don’t know how money truly works, and wouldn’t recognise an equity curve if it bit them on the nose, but the BBC’s sterling economics editor, Robert Peston, stresses “the longer the uncertainties persist, the more [...] UK will suffer from an elevated cost of finance, and the greater the harm there will be to economic growth – both sides of the border.” here
 Currency union is incompatible with sovereignty (Mark Carney, here 9/09/14). Stick to your golden guns, Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.
  One Glasgow evening news anchor persistently cut across Alistair Darling, aggressively displaying her bias to the ‘Yes’ side.  She also left out a salient fact: the stocks of Lloyds and RBS had gone up marginally, but she ‘forgot’ to mention these two had already indicated they’ll move down south. Presenters are supposed to be impartial, Ms Bird ...  
This week, Radio Times has run a piece by BBC special correspondent, Allan Little (RT, 13-19 Sept., 2014, pp 30-31) His experiences and viewpoints mirror many of my own – as do his doubts independence can ever work. But, if we lose the Beeb’s radio and TV, I’ll be lost, having to navigate through sludge and parish-pump political prejudices extruded as ‘entertainment’ and news.  Good on you, BBC: if Scotland opts for independence it can pay standard commercial rates for its addiction to pap. I wouldn’t miss the drivel in the schedules, but whatever replacement’s envisioned isn’t encouraging.
  As for imagining what we will lose ...

I wasn’t going to mention it, but #1 daughter’s blogged about family antecedents, reflecting on whether or not she would now become ‘English,’ despite being half Scottish on her father’s side. here She declared ‘don’t knows’ hold the key: “Most Don't Knows break for the status quo in these things.” here But there must be many around the world, half Scottish or wholly so, who feel deprived of any voice in this increasingly bitter hoo-ha.

Thus, one’s gloomy depression means desultory thesis tasks are mere editing and revision. The ‘thing’ has reached a sort of tipping point. It can now either accomplish a step up and become a recognisable academic contribution or, like Eurydike sinking into Hades, fall backwards yet again.
  Everyone reaches this point of no return. You’ve done too much to re-do the whole thing within the time frame and yet it’s still in rough: a book without a cover, its ideas all over the place, needing regimentation and even narrower parameters.
  It’s basically a hard slog. At least supervisors don’t breathe down one’s neck like impatient editors – albeit they may do so if finish date is looming and you’re still on your umpteenth draft with no real structure.
  Although I feel like the Sword of Damocles is hovering, in the shape of the deadline as well as the Scotland issue, it’s time to Get Serious. A year or two is nothing in PhDland.
  An upcoming review concentrates one’s mind wonderfully. To get one little bit of the ‘thing’ as near perfect as possible, to be allowed to pass ‘Go’ and forge ahead. The temptation to fiddle with the authorial voice, the narrative’s design and paragraphing, must be resisted. Too much fiddling fools you into believing you’re doing something, but you’re only shoving pieces around. Window dressing won’t cut it.
  A good Intro is half the battle, ensuring interest will be grabbed from the first sentence. What is problematical is eschewing journo techniques for doing just this, instead of employing established academic practices.
  I have a character defect which ambushes everything I do, from DIY, painting the bathroom, sewing or even merely baking a cake. I’ll take infinite pains for just so long and then, impatient to see a task finished, I gallop through the final stages – often to the detriment of the undertaking.  I guess awareness is a measure of control. At least I do know how long finalising anything really takes; I will allow enough time not to rush it. Besides, I like collating artworks for appendices, or drawing up tables or diagrams, etc. (I know.  I should get out more.)

This locale is becoming over-lit. Not only did the full ‘super’ moon’s incandescent glare from over the hedges at the foot of the garden penetrate my bedroom’s dark curtains, convincing me the lunar orbit had indeed departed from its normal schedule ~ which it had ~ but the council’s changed the street lamps from orange to white and neighbours have installed security lights (why?) The movement-detecting beam illuminates our whole area like a distress flare every time a cat or hedgehog’s within their ambit.  Dunno why this sudden brightness ~ we’re not exactly a rural high crime hot-spot.  Night-long, it’s like living under studio arcs. Bet you can see the glow from space.
  I need black-out blinds.

* In Greek myth, Cerberus, watchdog of the Underworld, was reputed to possess three heads, symbolic of past, present and future. As guardian of the gates of Hades, he refused passage to living humans. Orpheus gained entry by charming him with lyre music. The adage stems from an ancient Greek custom of placing a coin and a honeycake in the deceased’s hands. The coin was a fee for Charon, who ferried souls across the river Styx, while the cake was to placate Cerberus. The practice gave rise to the expression, ‘to give a sop to Cerberus’ ~ a bribe to pacify a difficult customer.   

Picture credit: Attic Red Figure Kylix, ca. 525–520BC, Museum of Fine Arts, US: Boston: www.theoi.com;
BoE, © www.marketoracle.co.uk, Google images; 'No thanks' banner, Better Together, bettertogether.net/

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Some summer lands ...

As rural idylls go, Blue Cottage (L) is about as near as I imagine an idyll to be. Aside from the goat – I’ve had goats. They break fences.
  But last month, in the baking hot days of real July weather, when I was able to launder and dry a quilt in a single day, I realised I do have most of the ingredients and I should not be ungrateful. Books, music, the girls, the cat ...
  Even a garden, if I would only look after it instead of occupying my time with research and writing, 24/7. The neglected rowan tree is now so close to the windows it seems like a William Morris wallpaper pattern pasted on the glass, complete with thrushes and blackbirds raiding the bright scarlet berries.

August – hotter than June, but the days are already shorter. Because of the July sun the harvest’s in early – well, on time, really, if you go back to ‘ye olde days,’ BCC (Before Climate Change).
  Thinking about summers gone, my grandfather used to cut hay in June, turn it with tractor and tedder and leave it in windrows to dry. We children, and any other stray family members who happened to be around, were deputed to assist, along with long-handled wooden hay rakes. Later, the grain harvest – wheat and barley. Once the August fields were clear of stooks – in more recent time, combine bales – was when cubbing took place, ahead of hunting proper (November). Now seen no more.
  Oats were cut last, and the potato harvest was in October. Schoolchildren here still have a long autumn holiday which originated with the ‘tattie lifting.’ It’s all mechanical now and I bet there isn’t a child in this village who’d have a clue about lifting potatoes. Or indeed be willing to do the back-breaking task.
  It was all ‘organic,’ rotational farming methods that went back centuries; fields left fallow: the wild-flower rich headlands, where the corncrake crept about below the foliage and made its distinctive call – a secretive, skulking bird. A perky wheatear perched on a drystone wall, a flash of white rump with its distinctive black ‘T’; acres of sky loud with lapwings tumbling around, their calls competing with the curlews. There were blue harebells at the side of the track, and the ling and heather just coming into pink and purple. 
  And not a single monstrous wind turbine to be seen, nor any of the other blots on our landscapes we now must endure.
  My grandmother ran a small dairy – milk, butter and cream. She raised turkeys and geese, and kept chickens for their eggs. Not that one of those avian horrors ever stayed confined where they were supposed to be; they wandered everywhere. The geese owned the farmyard; they’d go for you unless you were quick over the gate. The big gander had an evil look in its eye. The hens would invade the garden and old Victorian-style glasshouse. A shriek would go up: ‘My gentians! My strawberries!’
  I don’t suppose all of it has vanished – yet – but the farmhouse has, replaced by a modern dwelling with all mod cons installed. I’ve deliberately refused to drive that road for years; en route to St Andrews I’ll go miles out of my way just to avoid it.
  The EU put paid to the small farmers and market gardeners of the East Neuk. There are featureless acres now, yellow with rape in spring or, in summer, the short-stemmed barley from which the long feathery awns have been bred out. I fail to understand why people protest about GM crops. These have been around for a long time already.  And efficient combine harvesters put paid to gleanings for the birds in the cold months, just as planting winter wheat did for the lapwings. There’s no room left for wildlife.
  Och, well – a day will come. Eventually. You reap what you sow.

Otherwise, the penultimate Wednesday of the month, there was a supervision session at the university.  I’m still not sure I’m progressing in the right direction – it usually seems to be a process of two steps for’ard, one back. This time it was a real step up, praise be!
  You have to learn the ‘how’ along with the ‘what.’ The ‘what’ is taxing – what to put in, what to leave out. Ahead of review the Greek is under discussion, and I am still trying not to be so darned literary and writerly ... 
  EdBookFest was a day out, away from computers if not literature. Adam Nicolson (22 Aug) was like the best sort of tutorial or lecture: an utterly brilliant reading of Homer which chimes with the ancient view of the poet as ‘a bible for the Greeks,’ (in spite of Xenophanes’ animadversions about mythology and truth).
  These days, people believe poetry doesn’t matter – but if it doesn’t, how come it’s one of the primary arts still practised today? The history of mankind’s written in blood: the First World War poets inherited the Iliad. Not much has changed.  

Next month is looking hopeful, empty (~ish) of diary entries at present, aside from dental appointments, the ongoing bathroom revamp saga (don’t ask: it’s a WIP) and all the boring necessities of life.  Plus that bl**dy referendum of 18/09/14 – which one has given up any attempt to try to understand. I noted with amusement a couplet posted on Mary Beard’s blog, here: ‘Scotland, how thee a double darkness mocks, Thy name is Skotos and thy teacher (K)nox.’ I don't know where the comment writer got it from, but it’s very clever: ‘skotos’ (σκότος) being Greek for ‘darkness,’ and ‘nox’ the Latin for ‘night.’
  I shall simply make my big black X mark in the ‘No’ box and have done with it. However, the Howe of the Mearns and the wider environs of the northern university city are firmly on the side of ‘No’ – largely a conservative lot (small ‘c’) and those with enormous industrial vested interests to protect. I hope the rest of the country is similar. It’s not today or tomorrow we’re worried about – it’s the next thirty or 50 years.

Perhaps I’ll be able to have a good ‘go’ at the research in September (and the rewrites). I’ve spent much less time on the computer and the ’Net of late, which frees up lots of mindspace. Time to read, time to mentally ‘potter,’ time to think, vaguely wandering around to the likes of J.S. Bach’s ‘Sheep may Safely Graze,’ Butterworth’s ‘Banks of Green Willow,’ John Tavener’s divine oeuvre, Pat Doyle’s ‘My Father’s Favourite’ (from Emma Thompson’s ‘Sense & Sensibility’) ~ even the Academic Festival Overture.’ (Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind. ~ J. Brahms.)
  I own to catholic tastes! (Another small ‘c’).
  But I could ruefully say without inspiration, the craftsmanship is a mere shaking reed. I still can see the finished ‘thing’ (thesis) in my mind’s eye, just not 100% sure of the route map. The more reading I do the more frequently new angles spring up, often to contradict what one’s already written.
  Greek is insidious, slippery and fluid. So many words and terms have different meanings in different contexts – which peculiarity, in turn, has spawned generations of debates for mythographers, philosophers and theologians. (A halting, lexicon-led reading of the NT’s koine was when I first began to suspect the untold centuries of men who have issued dogmatic diktats.)  At times the language can be a miracle of economy or impossibly wordy.
  Greek also influences your way of thinking, which is why it was taught in public schools to young men destined for the higher reaches of the state. In ancient times rhetoric was a skill; words were magical, prophylactic or curative: αἱ γὰρ ἔνθεοι διὰ λόγων ἐπωιδαὶ ἐπαγωγοὶ ἡδονῆς, ἀπαγωγοὶ λύπης γίνονται· ~ ‘By means of words, inspired incantations serve as bringers-on of pleasure and takers-off of pain.’ *
  Like poetry.  
Credits: Bwthyn glas (Blue Cottage) Valériane Leblond, lliw olew are bren gan (oil on wood); Nicolson, book jacket, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/25/
* Gorgias of Leontini, Encomium of Helen; Cf. Peithô’s Web : trans. 1999 Brian R. Donovan, http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/gorgias/helendonovan.htm