Boston is Silent

This morning, at an extraordinary hour in the UK, ‘Boston Calling’ fell silent.

This excellent program, looking at the world and its attitudes to American culture, has been a feature of the BBC World Service for eight years and some 400 episodes.  In the UK at least, its wisdom will be heard no more.  I have no doubt its reputation in The United States was similarly high – not least because it would have found its audience at a more wakeful hour!

A sad event, then, and one which brought to my mind another great radio milestone when the late Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letters from America’ came to an end.  Cooke was among the last of the old school of journalists, greatly respected in Washington, and I value the CD collection of his broadcasts that sits on an undershelf no more than a couple of feet from this keyboard.

Yesterday I took delivery of a new laptop.  Now this will seem to you a complete disconnect, until I tell you it follows a trend of most new machines in omitting a DVD drive.  To play my Alistair Cooke CDs I must now resort to my older laptop (which has been commandeered by the Memsa’ab, incidentally), or this PC, which is in itself what is now referred to as a ‘traditional machine’.

Museum pieces!  Or so they will become when they have served their time, and our new machines have only a card slot for s substitute.  In less than a generation, a plethora of technical innovations has come and gone, at faster and faster pace.  Old information technology is succeeded by new, and the circle of obsolescence closes in.

Exaggeration?  Who among us still owns floppy disks, tapes or cassettes, and where can you read them if you do?

1600 years ago the last of the great ancient civilizations reached a stage in its dilapidation where it withdrew from, rather than threw innovation into, the greater part of its former empire.  The Roman presence in its satellites and client kingdoms did not end dramatically with the sacking of Rome, rather it diminished, whilst retaining its exclusive influence in one key aspect of power; the written word.   Once a pillar of all Roman culture, transcription became restricted to the gospels, which were painstakingly copied by monks in their role as specialist scribes.  Their language, Latin, devolved into a preserve of the learned and a complete mystery to the common man.  

Except in the hands of a narrow elite written records almost disappeared.   Looking back upon this time we call it the Dark Age – when few were sufficiently literate or wealthy enough to have access to writing.   Only with the invention of the printing press in 1440 did the dam to that reservoir finally burst. 

Now, as we approach the end of the present cycle of civilization, as the influence of the current major powers liberalizes and begins to turn upon itself, I see troubling similarities to the plight of those abandoned in the changing fortunes of Rome.  Step by step we are turning our backs upon our most reliable method of recording knowledge and our most effective way of teaching others.   Pamphlets or books have been available to all of us constantly – easily attainable, relatively inexpensive.  But this is not certain anymore.   The printed word is under threat; fewer and fewer books find their way to press.  And those same words committed to the hard drive, to the memory card or to our tablets cannot be trusted to be readable in forty years’ time, let alone four centuries.  Recording them, transcribing from one medium to another is possible, of course, and will in all probability remain so, but their availability will diminish.  Furthermore, it places responsibility onto the shoulders of our modern ‘monks’, the specialists in the world of algorithms and code:  a new elite.

In times of change, some things must remain inviolable.  Curation of the book and the languages that free us all from the tyranny of ignorance must be entrusted to those who would spread knowledge, rather than use it as power.  

The Witchery Within

It must be something in the sky!   The mild clouds, perhaps, dove grey to break winter to us gently.   Moving fast – they have so much to bring and so little time.  Or some newly created homeland in the earth beneath, layered, filo tier upon filo tier of leaf, carpet and roof, food and bed to the millions, the small unseen.  Indoors, the spider harlot waits upon the white enamel of the bath:  advertising cheap sex for the hungry wanderer, with a price too high for most.

Walking beneath the shedding trees, shoes cloyed with mud, face refreshed by the cleansing breeze, I need no reminding that every season is a cause for celebration, autumn as much as any.  ‘The summer fair, she has grown old’ – Nature takes a broom to the detritus of another year, and that’s excuse enough.   Amid the gathering gloom of evening I glance up into the tangled black of a half-naked sycamore beside my path, then glance again.  A part of a high bough is suddenly separated and an old woman’s cackle rattles through the branches as she flits away into a distance written for her by ten thousand years of superstition.  Speaking of brooms!

For my part, I will celebrate.  For as long as men can remember, All Hallows Eve has been as close to a night of overindulgence as their village could afford, when everyone huddled together for safety, lest a passing witch should pay them too much attention.

We don’t believe in witches now, yet we dress as though we did.  It’s as well that we don’t because we loose our children onto the streets in our defiance and imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but a feast of such morsels may be all too tempting for those watching crones.  Somehow (we need not look far to discover how) the solemn authenticity of Hallowe’en has been violated and reassigned as a night of gaiety and mirth.

Like each revel of legend – like Christmas, like Easter, Hallowe’en has become a plundering ground for the Barons of Consumerism.  No festival can be a festival now without a ‘retail experience’, a market for the usurers, the vintners, the purveyors, the costumiers (I flatter them – it is an enormous stretch to hinge a far eastern sweatshop upon the title of ‘costumier’), all no more than an ‘Enter’ keystroke away.   Hallowe’en is an instant inducement to buy and then cast aside.  Few know why they celebrate, but worse, even fewer will encourage their children to enquire.  The off-the-shelf costumes that drag our beloved progeny away from their video games for a couple of hours cost no more than a few dollars, a smattering of pounds, to provide.   84% of them will be glittering in the household trash within a few days.

A sizeable proportion of those costumes, those millions of costumes, is plastic.  Masks are almost certainly plastic, as are most cheap black cloaks and other accessories.    Pumpkins will be hollowed out and their perfectly edible flesh discarded without thought for how it might be better used.

In Britain, to add further insult to our already over-stressed environment, we will celebrate a second orgy of consumption within a week by releasing plentiful quantities of low-grade explosives into the ether while we cavort around as large a bonfire as we can possibly construct.

We should not be proud.    Many thousands of tons of plastic microbeads will be generated as a result of this Hallowe’en. They will pollute our rivers and our oceans for generations to come. The food we waste is not just our food but food for the world. The smell of cordite in the morning of November 6th should be enough to remind us the air we breathe is rationed.  It does not go on forever.

One of the few redeeming features of Guy Fawkes Night in the UK was a tradition whereby children earned a few coppers by constructing an effigy supposed to be of Guido Fawkes – which they trailed around the neighborhood, knocking on doors to beg a ‘Penny for the Guy’.  This seems to have died out, now, which is a shame because for the children to make a presentable Guy effigy took imagination and effort, and their use of straw and old clothes was creative recycling.  A similar creative experience awaits in the making of Hallowe’en costumes if we are prepared to grasp it,

So in your celebrations this Hallowe’en raise a glass to those families who have joined together in creating costumes from reusable materials, rather than buying them from a rail.  Spare a thought for those whose supper tables include at least one pumpkin pie.  If you must observe Guy Fawkes Night, think a little about the distress you cause to pets (and many people) for the sake of a few expensive bangs:  take your children to an organized display.  Save yourself a fortune, and help to minimize the environmental damage as much as you can.

Here’s a post which began as one thing, then took an unexpected turn, though when you dissect the subject matter the connection is obvious, really.  The glory of autumn, or fall, is not in its colours or its earthy scents, or even in the changing of the seasons, mud beneath our feet, relief from the oven of summer: no, it is in a different kind of celebration, a celebration of perfection.  For Nature of herself exhibits, in these few months, an act of crucial balance in which everything that was brief is changed, and all that is permanent remains untouched.  She does this with the absolute reassurance of power, which at times we are so arrogant as to believe we have conquered.  We have not.

As we enjoy our festivities – as well we might, for every year gets a little harder than the one before – we would do well to remember that for every blow we strike to the planet upon which we live there is a riposte;  in the end, all our debts must be repaid.

Photo credit:  Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

Mission Creep

If I only learn one thing this year, it will be this:  in the mind of its author, a book is never perfect.

When I decided to serialize ‘Hallbury Summer’ in this blog through the Summer and Autumn, my plan was to break up the chapters of a book I had already written and published into shorter episodes. I anticipated a lighter workload than that which a completely new composition represented, enabling me to shift attention onto other things.

How wrong was I?

From the very first split of the very first chapter I was led by my compulsion to edit, altering tenses, swapping word order, re-jigging the paragraphs that, when I re-read them, no longer seemed smooth to me.  Minor things I thought would get better as the chopping down process progressed didn’t.  In fact, dear and tolerant readers, they got worse!

Now, as I spin Episode 23 into an MS Word document I find myself altering whole scenes.  I am weaving new material in and rejecting the old, to a point where I can no longer claim that the published version and the serialized version are the same book!  So when I promised at the beginning of this venture that you could take a shortcut if you wished by purchasing the Kindle book, I fear I may have (unintentionally) misled you.  There are changes; among other things, the ending will be different.

How different?  I don’t know yet!

And that’s the exciting thing, you see, because I’ve just seen the digital light.  Once upon a not-very-long-time-ago when your book went to print, that was all:  like the felled tree, the wood would no longer grow, only begin the business of dying.  The author would move on, leaving that small trail of forgotten titles rotting in his wake.

But now!  Ho, ho, now!   Now you can take it back almost at will, the book, you can return to it, breathe new life between its pages, and the story is the better for your being there, because you have brought it that much closer to perfection.  That’s what I’ve done with ‘Hallbury Summer’ – I’ve revitalised it:  in my mind at least I have raised it higher, and it is a better story thereby.

This is not to say the old book is bad – it’s not, or I don’t consider it so.  It’s different, reflecting a perspective of a few years ago, and redolent of my thinking then.  I will, however, replace its contents with the serialized version as soon as I have finished it here.

In the meantime, the original remains live on Kindle, linked here on your left if you wish to investgate!