The end approaches, and a year that started badly has undeniably improved. Over the last few days I have been on a long ride on my velocipede and on a walk in the Land of Range Rovers. Both trips filled me with a sense of well-being, and it is this I must remember in the coming year. For it is the simpler pleasures that often work best, not the complex projects I set myself.
I find myself at the end of the year thinking frequently of a theme from the beginning of the year: the difficulty most people seem to have in believing in a future different to the present. Sometimes I think this is what I should have applied to study at Goldfish and other colleges, but then, what would be the nature of the research? To put my subjects in pens and stick them with cattle prods until they begin to use their imaginations?
Given that we are all driving off the cliff edge together, it feels necessary to imagine different futures together. What is to be done then if most people simply don’t want to? I have pointed out before that the reasons they don’t are often given as either that they are too comfortable, or that they are not comfortable enough. Perhaps there is some perfectly balanced state of material and emotional dis/comfort in which people are actually willing to put thought and effort into a new future. Perhaps I inhabit that mythical zone: I and a few others. But it seems to me it can’t be so simple, or so intractable. There must be a way of imagining life beyond the cliff edge together.
It is the dark time of year, and we celebrate the solstice a few days later than reality by pretending to celebrate something else. Later in the winter I will suffer from the shortness of the days, which do not get longer quickly enough. Now we are protected from the darkness by the convivial nature of the season. We spend our time seeing friends and family, or at least one or the other, and make ourselves aware of who we care for and who cares for us. This only works if you do have a support network, of course. It is a cruel season in our atomised society.
I woke this morning to see blackbirds hopping through the hawthorns outside my window. The birds are still happily finding berries to eat, not yet in the winter starvation period. For a time it feels like the darkness and cold is an opportunity to retreat from action, to think, regroup, prepare for the battles that next year will bring or that we will pick. A sense of home is a necessity in such a time of preparation, at least for most people. Psychologically it is important to have a fort from which to fight.
As for which battles I want to pick, some of them are already in preparation, others I am still considering. Londres, it seems to me, is in a strange state at present, and has the potential to generate new ideas, create new lines of flight. This is not saying much in itself, as this post has not said much. The problem is always language: how to talk of a different future? Not everyone can believe in a future without the words to describe it. This strikes me as a most interesting challenge.
In Londres, as everywhere else, politics lurks around every corner. Yesterday I went to a meeting of tree services across Londres. One of the presentations was about how to marketise ‘green infrastructure services’, which is to say those elements of nature necessary for us to live and have a good quality of life. The idea is that individuals and businesses could pay for such ‘services’ near them. A surprising number of people in the room seemed on board with the idea, even though I know in practice they will hate the customer-provider relationship it would establish. There was a strong attitude of ‘this is the way the world is going and we’ve got to get on board with it’. After listening for a while I felt the need to name what I was hearing. I pointed out that this was a political presentation, that the reason marketisation is seen to be right wing is that it benefits primarily the rich. If you can afford to pay, you benefit, if you can’t, you are nobody.
A couple of people came up to me afterwards and said they agreed. I noted that they were not supporting me publicly. Others simply acted as though it were inevitable that we marketise the environment, and seemed mildly amused by my taking offence at the idea. No doubt these people see themselves as ‘non-political’. As though taking the path of least resistance is non-political. It’s at times like these that I realise how few people would really stand up to a truly violent authoritarian government. So many pragmatists, and it makes me feel lucky that we live in a time of relative peace; if we didn’t they would be pragmatically dobbing me in to the security services at the first opportunity.
I met Power Fist and her sister for lunch. It was good to chat in the middle of the day, a nice little luxury. We got to talking about how easy it is in Londres to be doing Too Much. I suspect I have been doing too much the last couple of months. The new year may require a re-assessment of the time and energy available to me. But it is hard when I really do want to pick a fight with the landlords, and I really do want to beat them. How can it be done without overworking? There is a certain type of vulnerability that comes from engaging in a difficult fight. But there is another type of vulnerability that comes from not engaging enough.
My velocipede crunched through frozen puddles and leaves as I set off for work this morning and my knees grew cold as I cycled, but it was a beautiful ride, the sun shining and the fair weather cyclists all off the road. As I rode I thought of many things, but mostly of a meeting I attended last night, where an alderman of the town turned up to a meeting of those affected by his housing policies. In response to the distress of one elderly woman whose home he had voted to destroy, he attempted to assert his right to respond. As though we should give him an equal platform, as though he didn’t have other spaces in which he could talk – spaces in which his words could be backed up with violence.
Like many smartly-dressed centrists, he was puzzled by the notion that he should not be treated as an equal in the meeting. He was surprised to have someone talk about his power and point out that it made him different. A failure to analyse power is a hallmark of the smartly-dressed centrist. It is also endemic to society. Who causes climate change? Do we even know? A failure to engage with the power dynamics behind rising temperatures means we largely look to the wrong places for solutions. An art exhibition I visited last week flailed desperately towards an analysis, but with no coherence, no framework that could be called upon beyond cryptic references to class.
Yesterday I got some good news: Dr Guerrilla will be moving into my house. She is a relatively new friend but we get on well. I feel sure that living with her will be enjoyable. Since she also replaces someone who engaged very little with the house, it feels like an increase in the overall warmth of the home, and that’s a good thing to have as the cold outside starts to bite.
The wind and the rain have come to Londres today, and also a flash of blue sky and sun. Winter has already stripped back the trees to bare frames, but that does not fill me with sadness as it does some. The exposed tree reveals itself in a different form, an incredible three-dimensional shape woven into the sky. Winter gives us a different view, and if it sometimes feels like retreat, well, life strips you back from time to time. Our engagement with the world goes in phases, and sometimes the winds of life blow off every leaf. We stand cold and naked, whipped by wind and cracked by frost. But the winter of the soul also has its uses. Who are we? Where are we going? Who is important to us? Sometimes it is easy to forget to wonder about these things in the course of an average day. Winter forces it upon us, forces us to wonder again. It is an uncomfortable process, but if we aren’t scared of wondering, it is a chance to re-assess, to be more conscious of what we are doing.
When we look at trees we should look beyond the obvious. Below the ground the trees are often grafted to each other, or at least tied together by networks of mycelium. Nor do they simply stand in soil, as we might think; they are part of the soil, they give and take from it. Soil is a living process, it cannot be separated from trees, plants, bugs, bacteria, fungi, nematodes. Trees sustain us, and that is the same as saying that soil sustains us.
Being honest, a short winter is fine. What always gets us down is a winter that goes on too long. Lately I have been lucky to only suffer short winters, but nobody can deny there will be other long winters to come. For the climatic winter, there’s always Cuba. For our own winters we have each other. That has to be enough.
It has proved hard to maintain this journal recently and I wonder if it will survive much beyond the end of the year. I have felt too stretched in the last few weeks to maintain the journal, as I open up new fronts in my engagement with the monster that is Londres. But then, if I have been tired for two weeks, perhaps my response to that should be to do less, to spend more time admiring trees or watching the Tamesis flow by. Still, I feel the quest for Meaning and the quest for Action as closely related, so the busyness will no doubt continue.
A linger affliction aside, the recent week felt better than the previous one. I felt more able to ride out the stressful moments, more positive about my interactions with those I know and those I barely know. If a base level of anxiety never quite disappeared, I at least have been aware of that, and find it useful to step back out of the Londres melee and assess my reactions to it. The oracle by the river is useful in thinking this through, though rumour has it that he will soon go on a journey from which he may not return.
Meanwhile I am feeling ever more positive about a journey I plan to take myself, to Commie Island, where the sun shines in winter and the roads are blessedly free of cars. This plan has developed over the past week to include exploration by velocipede. I am itching to get going already. Such plans help me get through the winter ice and the Season of Good Cheer.