October 2007


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These bricks form part of the place where I live – well over 300 years old – and in need of some repair – history is fascinating. Imagine what life and change they have experienced!

Andrew Marr has turned his pen to writing history  A History of Modern Britain ( Macmillan 2007). The pages are easy to turn – all 630 of them – as Marr energetically moves the reader through the decades since 1945. Marr is clever – a populist who can make connections and who is unafraid to draw conclusions. He wants to entertain and inform and succeeds with this reader!

So what is it a story about? The victory of shopping over politics? A new Jerusalem of a second Elizabethan Age? How a thin, religious, homogenous nation became fat, sceptical and diverse? Or how we all are defeated by a culture of celebrity, consumerism and self gratification?! Take your pick!!

Marr is a liberal and persuasive as he marches us through Atlee, the self destruction of Labour, the birth of the SDP, War ( lots of war), AIDS, Scargill and the miners, boom and bust in the city, privatisation and so on.

‘Always’ he writes ‘we have been a country on the edge’. And what are we on the edge of today I wonder?

We are a strange lot the British – hard to herd – unpredictable and full of undigested half truths – disatisified somehow with the shape of life? What’s our character ? Can we define it? Marr looks to other areas for this discussion – style, fashion, comedy, cars, anarchists, oil men and punks. Are we happier though – thats what I want to know? We are more individual and connected, but feel more isolated. Our children grow up too quickly. Religion is largely irrrelevant. We shop on Sundays. We take consolation from our large plasma television sets. But we search for something real – where do you find your reality?

Are we happier? Perhaps only the panel of Pop Idol or the X factor know!!

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_mg_2077.jpgThe last two days have been glorious – sharp, blue, fine days that lift the spirits. The leaves are falling and there is a real sense of the Autumn season kicking in. I love watching what happens to trees at this time of the year and how they shed their leaves – and what colour they shower on us. No doubt the clocks will soon give us early darkness and the morning frosts provide an extra challenge for us drivers.

All seasons have their attraction but I like the way the Autumn slows us up and gives us time and space. Time to think and reflect – time to look out of the window and see things in a different way. Time to take stock and wonder aloud about life and whats going on within it. Harvest time – space for memories and musings – time to let all this rich colour enrich out seeing.

Amidst the frenetic activity imposed on us and sustained by us the autumn colour gives us an opportunity to look inwards. Use the space. Lets look at things in a different way?_mg_2127.jpg

_mg_1869.jpgAnd I thought that the Lib Dems were the nice lot in politics? All of us should take an interest in what has happened to Sir Menzies Campbell because deep down there is some shameful ageism at work. If we do not tackle it then we will suffer from the way our society views and values older people.

Is 66 too old to be a leader? ‘Age was an  issue’ commented Paddy Ashdown. At their party conference Campbell told his party: ‘ With age comes experience, and with experience comes judgement’. Pity a few more of his colleagues didnt think what that meant for them, their party and public life. The resignation reflects vile prejudice towards age and older people.

Communication – managing people – sharing vision – independence of thought- originality and confidence are not the preserve of the young!! And what of wisdom and experience – qualities that only age can bring.

We need more older people in positions of responsibilty. We need to provide more opportunities for older people to share their talent. Public life needs all ages – youth needs to be balanced with a wider perspective. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister at 66. Alan Greenspan retired from the US Federal Reserve aged 80 but still works. Campbell was not too old for the job and shame on those who persecuted him for looking old. Just you wait!!

Lets look at our ageism and seek a shift in perception and practice before we become victims of it!!

Most biography falls into the danger of self justification as we attempt to explain, defend or excuse ourselves. Only the very honest or deluded dare to tell it as it is! An official biography must attempt some balance and objectivity and that can be a problem when the subjest is still alive! Kenneth Morgan brings all his skill as a historian to bear upon Foot ( Michael Foot: A Life by Kenneth O Morgan Harper Press 2007) and the result is impressive – an evaluation of a man who made some spectacular mistakes.

I admire Foot’s passion and intelligence – he followed his heart without fear. He refused to collude with trends or to entertain popularity as most politicians do. In the 1950’s Foot was an icon of the left – an agitator of protest, not a man hungry for power.

He had to endure leading the Labour party at a time when it suffered a split that was worse than anything else in its history, except possibly the schism led by Ramsey MacDonald in 1931. It was to keep them out of power for many years. A great man became a lousy leader in impossible circumstances.

Voices like Foot’s are lacking in the modern political scene where the machinery of politics draws opions into line for the sake of good media coverage. Foot’s world was informed by a wider interest in literature, conversation, love and marriage, and writing. His constant conviction in peace, his support of CND and his horror at the Iraq war are all radical threads that fired and inspired him. I wonder what an honest conversation between Balir and Foot might have sounded like?

Foot’s incurable romanticism runs through his life – an attribute that makes him an attractive human being but one that can be disastrous in a politician. What Morgan allows to emerge is a man who can see – both the inside and outside of politics! This hinterland gives us all a measure of civilisation and it is a quality much lacking in public life.

You may not agree with the politics but this volume is an enriching read. You will discover something about yourself through the life of this good and honorable man.

_mg_1957.jpgAt a birthday lunch today I announced to a nieghbour my excitement at my Weblogging adventure. ‘ What is the point ‘ she asked – a fair challenge I decided not to rise to. I’ll try another way next time!!

I went off to the cinema last weekend ( the Autumn is my film watching season) to see Atonement and like all good art it has stayed with me – slightly haunting with its images and music. A story about stories – the stories we tell ourselves and each other and the way that these stories are often muddled, self serving and even crippling. We all make some kind of mess of our lives unable to see clearly and truthfully. Sometimes we can mess up others lives in the process and that theme is explored in this film. The film gives the novel an added twist with the girl now a dying woman rewriting the story of the people’s lives she has wrecked to give them a happy ending that had been denied them.

What would a happy ending mean for our lives I wonder? How on earth do we begin to ammend for the things that we do wrong? Perhaps we cannot? In the film, part of the reparation emerges out of  writing. Religion offers other alternatives – a theological framework within which our guilt is healed.

In this modern struggle of ours I hope that we can build places and relationships where acceptance beats at the heart of things. I hope we can be ready to be gentle with others’ mess and our own so that our experience can help us dig deeper.

I believe in the goodnes of people. We are all good with a few loose ends and unresloved bits – failings and disconnections. Perhaps the health of our human-ness is about how we deal with those loose ends? What a beautiful and rich life – and writers and film makers help us to see that in a way that theology so often fails!!

Now back to explaining my weblog!