Thursday, 27 April 2017

Harrogate Flower Show

A coronet of fresh and fragrant flowers

A sunny day, a birthday voucher for Sally, a day out at the Harrogate Flower Show. Who knew that the world of flowers could be so competitive and cut-throat? Thousands, clearly, judging from our visit to the 2017 Harrogate Flower Show.
Away before me to sweet beds of flowers;
Love thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers
Occupying a section of the show ground for the Great Yorkshire Show, the event featured plenty to see (and smell and experience) in the way of garden designs, plants, flower arrangements and creative interpretations. Northern colleges produced weird car bonnet floral displays. There was an awesome section called HortCouture which presented fabulously unique costumes in flower and nature designs. New Zealander Jenny Gillies’s creations were stunning. A night at the Oscars was celebrated with platforms inspired by particular films. Historical themes were interpreted, specific challenges were offered, fashion designers were celebrated. Food and drink were easy to come by and, being in Yorkshire, typically eclectic. We enjoyed champagne with sausage rolls and pie. The comments of the judges were left for people to see and it was fascinating to hear visitors argue with each other about what the judges had written. I went with few expectations really, just a pleasant day out, and came away with the sense that flower shows are gladitatorial and epic.

These flowers are like the pleasures of the world

“Here’s a few flowers” says Belarius in Cymbeline planning a forest burial for a dead boy that he has known only for a short time. As ever in Shakespeare there are depths and complications with this flowery event. We know that the boy is a girl and that she isn’t dead but drugged with a potion that simulates death. We also know that she is the sister of Belarius’s two sons, reared in the forest wild. We also know that Belarius effectively kidnapped the boys so he is nobody’s father, just a good man who made a drastic decision and has now become a solid and beloved (adoptive, woodland) father. And to tighten the spring even further, in comes the two boys to add another body to the grave, a headless corpse of someone that, given the chance, would have raped the boy/girl. But now he’s (literally) lost his head. “Here’s a few flowers” – a simple line but concealing a world of passion and drama. “Harrogate Flower Show” – a simple-sounding event but containing battles and creations and inventions and judgements and tears and laughter. Who knew? (I do, now.)

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Reasons to be cheerful

Glass half full
After three blogs about reasons to be fearful and fake news, it’s time to cheer up. Most of my life I’ve been a glass half full kinda person. I admit it can be annoying but I can’t stop myself trying to look on the bright side. Maybe it’s because I’m a Libran, I can usually find another way of looking a problem. Seeing it from the alternative point of view…. On the other hand.  My two favourite mottos are carpe diem and only connect.

Carpe diem
Seize the day is a popular aphorism, attributed in its earliest form to the Roman poet Horace in his Odes (23 BC.) I used to write on the inside cover of my notebooks when a teenager: plan as if you are going to live forever, live as if you are going to die tomorrow. Seizing the day is a tough ask when annoying and frustrating bits of living get in the way. It’s hard to seize the day when you have to buy onions at the supermarket; or hoover the carpet. But I try…. My biggest weapon for seizing the day is my imagination. When on a bus or train, if I don’t have a book with me I can’t stop myself travelling back in time and imagining myself in another place in a different period of history. The Tags list on the right will reveal which eras are the ones I flutter away to….

Only connect!
Live in fragments no longer. I used to think it was my Mum who invented the motto: Every day in every way I’m getting better and better until I learned it was Émile Coué, a French psychologist from the early part of the Twentieth Century. Deep down I think if I haven’t read something new or experienced something new every day I’m not exercising my brain or heart and I think that’s what E M Forster’s quotation from Howard’s End is all about. Focusing on brain and heart without thinking about how my body might benefit from exercise has, of course, been a significant weakness of mine. Who would guess that I was a rugby player between the ages of 11 and 18 and between 16 and 18 I played both union and league? If only I’d made the connection then with being physically fit and living a longer life…. but then again, the connections I’ve made with my brain have given me plenty to enjoy in life. We just have to connect the beast and the monk, the prose and the passion, the body with the brain and heart – see the interlinks between us all and everything else. Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.
Merchant Ivory's film of E M Forster's Howard's End, the source of "Only Connect!" 
Anthony Hopkins as Henry Wilcox, Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox, Emma Thompson as Margaret Schlegel, Helena Bonham Carter as Helen Schlegel, Samuel West as Leonard Bast, Nicola Duffett as Jacky Bast, James Wilby as Charles Wilcox and Adrian Ross Magenty as Tibby Schlegel

Monday, 17 April 2017

Reasons to be fearful

How fearful should we be of terrorism?

Answer: horribly fearful if we are caught in the midst of an atrocity. I know if I was caught up in or nearby a terrorist attack I would be petrified. But should the anticipation of an atrocity generate fear in our everyday living? If we allow terrorism to generate morbid fear, are we not fulfilling the hopes and desires of the terrorist? In statistical terms our chances of being hurt by a terrorist attack in the western world are infinitesimal in comparison to other things we should be fearful of but aren’t. We are more likely to be killed by cars or the effects of sugar or the consequences of excessive alcohol. Women are more likely to be killed by domestic violence. If we live in America we are statistically more likely to be killed by a gun, either intentionally or accidentally – and by a person we know rather than a terrorist.

Think don’t feel….

A cool look at UK official statistics should help us reconsider what we worry about:
  • In the UK between 1970 and 1984 there were 2,211 deaths caused by terrorism
  • In the UK between 1985 and 1999 there were 1,094 deaths caused by terrorism
  • In the UK between 2000 and 2015 there were 90 deaths caused by terrorism
Look at those numbers again: in three 15-year periods, deaths from terrorism in the UK have fallen from over 2,000, to just over 1,000 to less than 100; but the Media do not portray it that way. Looking back to my years as a teenager, despite the efforts of the IRA, it would be easy to think that the 1970s was a terrorist-lite period, compared to now. But the facts tell me that it was a far more threatening time. The 1970s and early 1980s were statistically more dangerous (as far as terrorism goes) than 2017.
What SHOULD we be afraid of?
By way of contrast to the terrorism statistics:
  • In the UK over 100 women every year (NOT every 15 years) are murdered by their partner
  • In the UK over 1,700 people are killed every year in road traffic accidents (down from over 3,500 in 2003, which is a good news story but I don’t know why terrorism provokes more fear and outrage than our acceptance of deaths by traffic, given the statistics)
  • Hidden sugars in food contribute to obesity, organ disease and diabetes; more people suffer from the food industry’s over-use of sugar than from terrorist atrocities. Why aren’t we afraid of sugar?
  • In the UK over 8,000 people every year die as a result of the excess consumption of alcohol, but the scare stories about alcohol are few and far between. We are not afraid of alcohol in the same way we are afraid of terrorism.

Is it the same in the USA?

  • In the US in the last decade, fewer than 60 people have been killed by terrorist incidents
  • In the US in the last decade, more than 280,000 people have been killed by “violence-related gun deaths”
If you extend the statistics to include the year of 9/11 World Trade Tower attacks, gun deaths still outnumber terrorist deaths many many many more times. The countries where terrorism is justifiably worth worrying about are Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan.

Go Figure.

Why does the western Media stoke fear about terrorism? To gruesomely entertain us or increase our addiction to bad news? To generate more income for the source of the story by attracting viewing figures, readers or clickbait? Could it be, could it be, could it be, could it be, could it possibly be…. in the interests of the moneyed classes to perpetuate fear to justify financial and political alliances that prop up lucrative arms deals and justify budgets that divert money away from social care, the environment, transport, education and health? Surely not….

Friday, 14 April 2017

Our fears do make us traitors


In Shakespeare's Macbeth Macbeth himself recognizes that:
        Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings
In Romeo and Juliet Juliet imagines waking up from her death-like sleep in a tomb with the bones of her ancestors, including the recently-murdered Tybalt. She knows the bones, smells and shrieks will be in her imagination but still exclaims:   
O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environed with all these hideous fears?
Shakespeare's famous exploration of the power of FEAR - Macbeth

Laughing off fears

Of course Caesar in Julius Caesar is tricked into disbelieving his wife’s prophetic dreams that harm that will come his way on the Ides of March:
How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia!
I am ashamed I did yield to them.
And off he trots to his assassination! And, more poignantly Lady Macduff debates the actions of her husband fleeing to England to enlist the aid of Malcolm in the fight against Macbeth and she thinks being afraid is traitorous:
ROSS: You must have patience, madam.
LADY MACDUFF: He had none:
His flight was madness; when our actions do not,
Our fears do make us traitors.
By the end of the scene both she and her young children have been slaughtered.

Imaginary fear versus legitimate fear

Macbeth and Juliet are afraid of things that have not yet happened and seem unlikely. Caesar and Lady Macduff decide that being fearful is unpatriotic. All four of them die at the end of their journey in their play. Perhaps the fears in those plays were well founded. Fear is a real human emotion but Shakespeare knew that our imaginary fears are corrosive and take away our capacity for enjoying the blessings of living. Politicians and the Media portray a world that is fearful – full of fear – but we are statistically living in a period in history when fewer people than ever before die from war, disease, violence and accident. Hard to believe, I imagine, if you are one of the people who fall under the spell of the politics of fear. I myself have to work hard to remind my heart and brain that we had more real reasons to be fearful in every century before the one in which we are currently living.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Stuffing the ears of men with false reports

Present fears are less than horrible imaginings

It’s easy to stoke up fear in a crowd of people. Orson Welles did it on a mass scale with his 1938 radio broadcast of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds when, reputedly, over one million people out of six million listeners panicked when they mistook a drama play for a news bulletin. Or did they?

Fake news

Subsequent research suggests that what really happened was that thousands of people did no more than telephone local authorities and were reassured when they were told it was a radio play. Media reports – including some started by the organisations that funded the radio station – exaggerated the level of panic and even reported suicides and heart attacks. Police were involved but mostly in the capacity of reassuring listeners. Was this the first modern fake news story? Not only because the whole thing was fictional but also because the reporting of it afterwards was exaggerated.
Antony Byrne as Rumour - "Open your ears" - in Henry IV Part Two

“Upon my tongues continual slanders ride”

Shakespeare starts Henry IV Part Two with the entrance of an actor playing the role of Rumour, a throwback to medieval mystery plays when Vices were personified on stage. “Open your ears,” says Rumour. He boasts
“Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.”
He goes on to say that he is going to lie about the battle that the audience had seen (in the prequel) and say that those who died were alive and those who were alive had died. Shocking fake news depicted in a play over 400 years ago about an event 200 years before that. Rumours. Fake news. Provoking fear in the general public.…