It’s been more than a while since I last wrote anything here, so it’s high time I corrected that. In the past year I’ve been busy with one thing or another and – well – updating 22 Billion Energy Slaves somehow managed to slip down the list of priorities. It’s not that I’ve been up to anything particularly interesting outside the usual earning a crust, raising kids, fixing up the house, working in the woods etc. so please accept my apologies.
Right, where were we? Well, when I last wrote anything here the UK was in the grip of the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ a high pressure system of cold air that had moved down over the UK from Siberia, that was met head-on with a winter storm that brought snow to most of the country, including down here in Cornwall where I live.
Although this wasn’t a particularly remarkable weather event it still managed to cause its fair share of disruption and destruction, with just-in-time deliver systems fouling up and perhaps reminding a few people how ill-prepared they are for such things in their lives.
Following the ‘Beast’ we had a very long dry spell, as an unusually hot summer saw grassy parks everywhere turn a dun brown colour, with older people reminiscing about 1976, the last time when something similar had happened.
Regular readers, if I have any, might remember that I am custodian of a piece of land that is mostly given over to coppice woodland, orchards and a small forest garden. I’m pleased to report that this suffered almost no damage from the hot, dry weather, other than the loss of a few young saplings (easily replaced) and the water level in my hand-dug pond sinking low enough to worry the resident newts. If anything the land, which I try to leave as ‘natural’ as possible, proved remarkably resilient, and for the first time ever I got a bumper crop of apples from the young trees (well, about 300, but it’s a start).
Summer also afforded myself and my family the chance to get away for a while. Instead of being sensible and going somewhere to cool off, we opted to go to Greece, which was a bit like stepping out of the frying pan into the fire. Nevertheless, not being one to miss an opportunity to practice simpler living, I booked us a couple of pleasant weeks in a shepherd’s stone hut in isolated rural splendour on the island of Crete – it’s amazing what you can find on Airbnb these days.
With temperatures in the upper 30s (C), and no air conditioning except for one small room where the children slept, it was uncomfortable but bearable. The immense stone walls kept the worst of the sun out during the day, and by shutting all the doors and windows until after sunset it was possible to keep the indoor temperatures within a reasonably tolerable range. This was presumably not the case for the poor wretches in some nearby newly-built modern ‘villas’, who relied on the air-con being constantly on – something that wasn’t possible during the regular power cuts the island seemed to be experiencing.
It had been a few years since I had last travelled in Greece, and things didn’t seem to have improved much, despite the touted ‘recovery’ there. Driving around was a particular problem as the paint markings had been worn off roads and not replaced by the municipal authorities, and road signs were often rusted or vandalised. Away from the finely manicured historic centres in the cities, the conditions were bordering on the third world, with the requisite piles of rotting garbage, abandoned shells of cars and scavenging cats and dogs being strangely absent from any of the holiday brochures I’d seen before arriving. Still, Greece seemed to be hanging together, like it always manages to, and there was plenty of luxury on display amongst the decay.
Speaking of decay, this brings me to what I wanted to write about in this shortish update. Coming back from Greece and travelling through the English countryside on a sleek new train, I was gazing out of the window and marvelling at how lush and wealthy it all looked in comparison. The cows and sheep were healthy and fat – quite unlike the ragged and mangy livestock, mostly goats, we had seen wandering around the barren, litter strewn hills of Crete – the cars were shiny and mostly new, and the landscape was not littered with half-built but abandoned concrete shells covered in graffiti, which had been an all-too common sight in Greece. All in all, my country looked pretty wealthy, fertile and healthy.
This impression was confirmed by a couple of trips to London I took. The first one took me to Knightsbridge and Belgravia, in which I was shocked to find myself walking up a boutique-lined street where handy-looking security men stood just inside each store, only granting entry to those wealthy-looking enough to come in (i.e. certainly not me). And there were plenty of them. Even during my brief foray I saw wealthy Arabs and Chinese women pull up in limousines and enter these boutiques for a spot of exclusive shopping. I was later told that some of them might even have flown over just to buy a single million-pound handbag.
Ferraris tore up and down Sloane Street, racing one another at stoplights, while women with fur coats and dainty little dogs passed me by on the pavement. It was the kind of place where the term ‘obscene wealth’ seemed apt.
My impression, however shallow, of Britain being a very wealthy place was only confirmed by several other trips around the country, most recently to the Midlands town where I spent my teenage years: Solihull. Now merely part of the urban sprawl of Birmingham, Solihull has changed a lot since I lived there in the 1980s. Back then it was a dull but fairly prosperous place – a good small town in which to bring up a family, perhaps. And now? Now it seems like every building has been turned into a wine bar, a department store, a fancy eatery or a café (just how many hipster cafés does one town need?). Every other car is a BMW or Audi or a pumped-up SUV, and – to my horror – the pub where I misspent much of my youth – where we used to play Motorhead’s The Ace of Spades on the jukebox at Volume 11 – has been turned into an upmarket bistro.
Trips to other places around the country offered me a similar view. So, there is plenty of wealth on display, but how much of it is real and how much of it is a mirage?
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear me say that the vast majority is a mirage, mostly paid for by debt that can never be returned. Because every glowing jewel of wealth is swamped in a landscape populated with people drowning in debt and finding that every month their wages or benefits seem to buy just a little bit less than the last month. Dilapidated housing estates are filled with food banks and addiction and mental health therapy services, while a ragged and growing army of homeless people populates the streets even in wealthy towns.
Britain really has turned into a ‘tale of two countries’, with the shining metropolitan elite and the wealthy upper middle classes who are able to earn a salary from globalised business on one side of the scales, and everyone else on the other. Unlike in America, it is still theoretically possible in Britain to work a minimum wage job and just about scrape by on the rent, the utilities and the food bill, but only if you have access to some state-provided benefits and don’t have any expensive tastes or addictions. Nevertheless, one unexpected bill or unforeseen expenditure, such as a boiler failure or a car breaking down, can throw you into debt – debt that you may then struggle to break free from. More and more people say they are skating on thin ice.
But then many people don’t even have the luxury of a minimum wage job, and are instead forced to work in the gig economy or an a zero-hour contract where they must make themselves available for work yet perhaps only be allocated one hour or more a day. One only has to join a money savings tips or debt advice group on social media to read daily tales of woe from ordinary people who just can’t figure out how they have fallen through the cracks or haul themselves back out again.
On the subject of cracks, the biggest crack of all is the one that has opened up politically between the haves and the have-nots – being played out in real time in the proxy war of Brexit. Most people don’t recognise Brexit for what it is: a fumbling attempt by the ordinary working people of Britain to plunge a dagger into the dark heart of their own elites. The standard official explanation promulgated by the mainstream is that Brexit was a horrendous error of judgement on the part of former prime minister David Cameron, whereby he allowed the (racist, xenophobic, unwashed) population a chance to exercise their ill-informed judgement on a matter of great importance, namely whether the UK should leave the EU.
Following a period of intense state propaganda to coerce people to vote ‘the right way’ a 52% majority responded that they would vote for the exact opposite of whatever the bunch of celebrities and suits was telling them to do. The fallout from this has been nothing less than spectacular. In some cases, long term friends became overnight enemies, people found themselves ostracised by their families and the liberal (i.e. globalist) media has become a kind of video loop that simply repeats “We’re doomed, you stupid fools” over and over.
What’s more, long-standing political parties are tearing themselves asunder over the issue, with both the Conservatives and Labour endlessly trying to figure out whether to fight one other or amongst themselves, or both. The result is a kind of Bird Box Kabuki theatre of blindfolded politicians wandering around on a stage randomly stabbing one another.
The elected politicians, of course, know that it’s their job to defend the status quo, which at the moment means defending the interests of globe-spanning corporations, over the will of the people ,while spouting fine words and making a show of ‘democracy’. And yet those cussed voters (52% of them) won’t be quiet about demanding that their elected representatives bow to their will.
And while it might be amusing to sit back and watch this absurd display of political theatrics, the fact of the matter is that it is less than three months before the official date when the UK leaves the EU and nobody seems to have the faintest idea of what will happen because they are all too busy arguing.
Is this the sign of a stable country that is confident about its place in the world, unified as a whole and willing to make short-term sacrifices for a longer-term common goal? I think not. One could only imagine if someone of the calibre of, say, Winston Churchill was still prime minister. He would no doubt go to Brussels blow cigar smoke in the faces of Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Juncker, slam his fist down on the desk and lay down the law to the snivelling bureaucrats. He’s then walk outside the European Parliament, give his famous victory sign and make a speech about all the glories that will lie ahead, without neglecting to mention the shared hardships we’d have to go through first.
Instead, we have Theresa May; a vacillating, automaton-like career politician with no discernable moral credo; someone who actually campaigned against Brexit in the first place but now, unconvincingly, claims to own it. The suspicion, of course, is that she stitching the nation up, selling out its interests and handing over sovereign power instead of retaining it.
I’m no fan of Churchill, but you get the point, I hope.
Anyway, the idea I’m trying to convey here as I get back on track with this blog, is that we are reaching limits, both nationally and internationally. The bad choices made over the last 50 or 60 years are coming back to haunt us, and they are playing out through the systems of society and economy in complex and unexpected ways.
In the UK we’ve got ‘Brexit’, in France it’s the ‘Yellow Vests’ and in the US it’s Donald Trump. All of these so-called populist uprisings represent dissatisfaction with the status quo – a cohort of people in each place who have seen themselves and their families and towns become ever more disenfranchised, broken and dispirited, while all the time the media cheerleaders insist that they are mistaken.
For the most part, the people don’t yet recognise the tectonic shifts that have taken place in the realm of energy availability that has led them up this blind alley, or the over-financialisation of their economies that has got them to this point, instead they still think political and technological solutions exist that will allow the problems of our age to be dealt with.
Unfortunately, unless the Chinese discover the dark side of the Moon is covered in a vast black sea of crude oil, they are in for a rude awakening. Alas, it will be a messy and confused time if and when this realisation kicks in. Interesting times indeed.