28: Clear Blue Skies

9 April 2011

After securing the publishing deal for The Jolly Pilgrim, I experienced a two-hour period of elation, then knuckled down and focussed on next steps. Eyes on the endgame.

Top of my to-do list that afternoon was getting the hem of a suit fixed. That meant a visit to Sam, proprietor of ‘Smarty Pants’ dry cleaning and one of my local Manor-Park homies. Naturally, we talk about stuff.

Sam grew up in Pakistan. Perhaps partly as a result, he has a deeply cynical attitude towards politicians, referring to them as ‘evil men’. The solution he proposes for this evil is to shoot them all, lined-up-against-a-wall style (I, meanwhile, make the case for less radical reforms). Sam further bemoans that many of his former home country’s problems are a result of the ongoing anarchy in Afghanistan (I argue that the people of Pakistan are masters of their own destiny). He also advises that eating honey is good for one’s sex life (I just roll with that one).

That day, as he counted out shirts, the conversation turned to Egypt. Sam was cynical.

‘The problem with Mubarak and these kind of people, is they don’t care. The ruling powers, they don’t care. Doesn’t matter what we think, what we feel. They are always greedy, always taking from the people. That Mubarak, he’s one of the richest men in the world. He don’t care about anything. Just selfish, selfish, greedy.’

‘I dunno Sam,’ I countered, ‘surely the underlying issue is that Mubarak and his peers are following patterns of human behaviour hardwired on the African savannah 200,000 years ago?

‘True, allowing such behaviour free rein in the twenty-first-century world doesn’t lead to effective systems of modern government, but Egypt has been a dictatorship for the entire six thousand years it’s been an advanced civilisation. It’s current rulers aren’t bad compared to any of the governments it’s had over that time, only in comparison to the governments in the parts of the world that have now lifted themselves out of such post-tribal political systems.’

By now I was talking fast and waving my hands (which is what I do when I get excited).

‘Managing states of millions is very different from managing the tribes of 200 which humans are evolved to cope with. It’s not like there’s any sort of blue print for this sort of thing, so it isn’t unreasonable that it takes us a few hundred years to work out how to do it. The point is not where we happen to be at during this epoch of history – the point is our direction of travel, and our destination.’

Sam looked at me funny.

After my babble-off, I got on my bicycle and headed to Epping Forest for some head-clearing exercise. At the tail-end of winter the forest is all mud-filled puddles and rollercoaster paths. I always go to the boating lake (a glorified duck pond, really) and do a couple of circuits. I reached it as twilight was spreading itself – pale and yellow – across the water’s surface.

Life was all around. Brown skeletal trees. Bottom feeders, croaking as they mooched about on the water, or squeaking while flying overhead. The wind on my face. Fresh air in my nostrils. Vapour trails against the clear blue sky.

I stood there, bike balanced by one hand, thinking about my conversation with Sam. It felt good to finally let this stuff bubble out. If I’m lucky, there’ll be more such bubbling coming right up – spirits are rising, summer is on its way, I’m locked, loaded and ready to crank this project up to the next level. Bring it on.

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10 Responses to “28: Clear Blue Skies”

  1. Mark Snare Says:

    ” I’m locked, loaded and ready to crank this project up to the next level”
    where the hell do you get such cheesy sentences from????

  2. Kerry Swift Says:

    I love this entry! A way of bringing on winter over here, locked and loaded.

  3. Joanne Taylor-Horne Says:

    Exactly my senitments….there are some societies still fighting the tribal ruling that they are hardwired to follow. Nail on head; my thoughts; have echoed this point to Darren on many a drunken ramble! However, “locked, loaded and ready to crank this project up”…sounds like a motivational convention. So my contribution to that would be “the future depends on what we do in the present – Ghandi”

  4. Jane Dicker Says:

    Aren’t we a lot of jolly lucky people who can philosophize about the struggles of dictators in far off lands and then pop off to Epping forest and enjoy the blue skies and feel good about ‘finally letting this stuff bubble out’? It feels like Enid Blyton for a modern day audience. Instead of children, we are adults, instead of some dodgy man who needs to be caught the topic is dictators in North Africa and dictators as a whole over the entire history of humanity. Perhaps, just maybe there are a lot of people in North Africa who aren’t feeling so good about the fact this stuff ‘has bubbled out’ because it hasn’t. Such a gentle word bubble. And that’s the privilege which we are part and parcel of. People abused, repressed, tortured and for us it feels good that it bubbles out. Bubble – a word I associate with the bubbles of champagne or maybe a bubble bath.

    And the use of the word tribe. TRIBE. Come on. Why is it only the black and browned skin folk who still have that phrase sprinkled all over them? The connotations. I am half expecting Rudyard Kipling to submit a comment.

    Sometimes white middle class privilege makes me want to poke somebody’s eyes out and scream like a crazy woman who keeps cats. I normally take your positive approach to life in my stride but this particularly piece riled me. I think it is the distinct lack of awareness of the irony of your words that pushed my buttons.

    Anyone feeling the need to have their eyes poked out – step this way. I’m ready.

  5. Mark Snare Says:

    LOVE IT! The democratic west picks it’s democracy installation projects very carefully and rather lazily generally preferring to sell arms or sit back from a co-operative dictator, only removing the ones that have most uncooperative cheek. However I do agree that these things take time, and however despicable the west’s motives are and however sluggish the progress is, the direction towards more democratically run countries must be progress. Unless more bad regimes wait in the wings.

    I use “tribal” all the time I have to say, tribal support of a football club, tribal allegiance to a political party, and finally the risk of tri-ball sheep in genetic engineering.

  6. P. T. Bakermarsh Says:

    In response to the comments of Mrs Dicker
    Regarding the word ‘tribe’ – I’m sticking with it. I want to encourage people to deliberate upon the underlying anthropological realities which give rise to human power structures. Given those realities, tribe is a useful and appropriate word. I don’t reserve its use for humans of any particular ethnic or racial background. If you’ve taken my words to mean otherwise, I can assure you that you’ve projected something into them which simply was not there.

    I sense your outrage that there are people in the world who aren’t feeling good, or who are being abused, repressed or tortured. But I don’t understand why you’re riled at me for having the temerity to suggest that we try and deconstruct why those things are true.

    We can either despair at the cold, hard realities of being evolved, imperfect beings (although I don’t see that we have a great deal of choice) or we can look to work through them. I hope to contribute by setting out a more realistic framework for thinking about these things. I’m not claiming to have a magic wand that will make the world a less difficult place. But then, I’ve never heard of, or met, anyone with such a wand.

    Do you have one?

    Additionally – and I say this with all due love and respect – we can discuss anything we wish without labelling each other into categories based on skin colour or real (or perceived) social divisions (be that white, middle class or whatever) or screaming or poking anyone’s eyes out or doing anything whatsoever with cats.

    Finally, please bear in mind that the phenomenon under discussion – this extraordinary Arab Spring, currently in the early stages of playing itself out – is one of the most profoundly positive developments which has taken place during our lifetimes.

    Given that, I hold that it is appropriate to celebrate such a miracle. I make no apologies for doing so with Sam, my friend, or surrounded by wildlife, in the beautiful Epping Forest, beneath clear blue skies.

  7. Jane Dicker Says:

    In terms of anthropology the word ‘tribe’ is under debate. I think there are contexts when it is appropriate to use it but it is all about who is using the word and in which context.

    An acknowledgment and awareness of who we are, where we come from and where we fit into the power dynamics of what is happening globally is very significant when presenting our views about such issues. It is impossible to extricate ourselves from the social conventions and constructs that have had and continue to have a great hand in forming how we think, speak and react.

    I think there is a distinct lack of such awareness displayed in your initial piece of writing. It is typically a very white, western, middle-class notion of privilege that thinks social divisions should be left out of the discussion.

    My issue with the writing was not the discussion of dictators and so on, but rather the way it was overshadowed by the description of the general jovial nature of your own life. It seriously affected the tone of the piece and gave me a sense of hollowness, lack of engagement and absence of true empathy with the gravity of the issues you were reflecting on.

    I have a number of thought-provoking journal articles about the issue of white privilege and power dynamics should anyone be interested to read them in order to further this discussion.

    Just so you know Pete – I never read any circular emails (except for yours) and have never been on any website to comment about anything. So the very fact that I have been an avid reader of your prose and commented on it is a testament to you, your writing and the way you conduct yourself.

    With an ample amount of love and respect – Jane

  8. Mark Snare Says:

    a bit of feedback on the testicle joke would be nice.

  9. nikon d3100 Says:

    This article really opened my eyes.Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom.

  10. Mark Snare Says:

    Pete you have to stop publishing these spam responses like the one above, they are just attempts to gain a back link to a stiffy pill site or similar. Bin them.

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