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.
The wind has risen in Londres, and no nook or cranny is entirely still. Standing in the sun with the wind in my face is exhilarating. I can feel winter approaching, but it is a natural and friendly process, happening at precisely the right time. I have been recovering today from a difficult day yesterday – an anniversary of bad memories. I got in touch with my family, many of whom were upset. But as the Dancy Meditator reminded me, there is nothing wrong with being upset when bad things happen. We have a tendency to want to encourage people out of being upset, but is that for our own sake as much as theirs? Perhaps being upset is just where they need to be now.
Last night I went to the Field for the first time in a long time. It was good to be back among the warm buzz of people, some strangers, some well-known. The Red Flash, who is most responsible for pulling the project back together, was busy trying to recruit people to help run it. There genuinely are rewards to the work involved in such projects, but it can be hard to persuade people of that. Even I am staying out of it until the new year.
I have spent part of the day contributing to online debates in certain circles I am part of. This is a strange process in which text accumulates and it is hard to be sure if knowledge does at the same time. While I’ve got much out of the online world, I can’t deny the de-personalising aspects of it, the lack of emotion carried in words, or the excess of emotion, the lack of eye contact, the coldness. The future has not yet learned to live in the future. I wonder if we’ll look back in a few decades time and wonder at the sheer lack of etiquette, the faith in words, the talking past each other. One would hope so. The season has changed too fast and we have not yet made skates for ourselves.
I am sitting writing with a satisfying glow in my body from a day out of Londres with Dr Guerrilla and friends. The autumn air and autumn colours were reviving and the company good. The last few weeks have been packed with projects and events and meetings and documents, so even being analogue and not trying to get anything done was relaxing. But anyway, there’s nothing so good for the mental health as getting your body and mind in the same space. We were however haunted throughout the walk by the A3, a highway so broad it was impossible to cross without a bridge. The roads around it were clogged with people who live in big houses driving around to have fun, or possibly not have fun. It was hard to tell.
On Friday I met the Scientist after work, not having seen him for some months. His life is working, children and running. He seems happy enough with it. He does not know his neighbours but does not want to. This is the Londres in which we will attempt to build renters power. I am under no illusion about the scale of the task. Yet building collective action in an atomised world strikes me as one of the most worthwhile challenges there is right now.
At the same time the oracle by the Tamesis still has me thinking about my motivations for taking the actions I do. It is not simple, not right or wrong, whatever the motivations. But there are moments when things I have chosen to do cause me tension or anxiety. It is good to think then about whether the rewards of the path you are on are worth the pain. But perhaps one could also consider that if a walk in the woods is enough to get rid of my stress, it isn’t hampering my life too much. Still, to be more relaxed in the everyday would be good, and that goal is one reason to continue my conversations with the oracle.