What on earth have I been up to? and a Topical Rant. or two.

Well as Justin said, I got me a job, and on day 2 I can say it’s going well so far! Hooray for me! I’ve also been doing some freelancing for my old Australian firm so that’s been great too. Towards the end of my stint as an unemployed person I realised I should actually be making the most of it and have been gallivanting around London visiting a few galleries such as the Tate Modern and the Hayward, and some museums such as the British Museum which never fails to entertain – I think I’ve seen about 15% of the displays there so far, over 2 days. The other day I saw the Rosetta Stone, some wonderful red and black Greek pottery depicting the labours of Herakles, and some brilliant mediaeval displays. I have also made a point of visiting those museums I think Justin may not be so interested in, including the V&A, the Fashion and Textile Museum, which was quite interesting but not as extensive as I’d hoped, and the Geffrye Museum of Historical Interiors. The latter was particularly interesting, located in Shoreditch in a building from the early 18th century which was originally an almshouse for pensioners. Now its individual rooms have been meticulously reconstructed to showcase interiors throughout the centuries, eg five versions of a parlour frozen at different intervals in time, showing minute differences in furniture styles, wall coverings, fabrics and carpets, games and activities etc, supplemented with paintings, pictures, and literary extracts relating to the era in question. Fascinating.

Lately I have also been expanding my reading of topical and depressing books – my latest obsession is Peak Oil. Essentially we are approximately at the point of peak production of oil, and are on the road to running out, as evidenced by companies resorting to the atrociously energy-intensive and environmentally-destructive process of squeezing the last drops out of tar-sands – likened in one of my books to an alcoholic trying to squeeze drops of beer out of the carpet in a pub whose taps have run dry. I know that there are a lot of nay-sayers out there, but in my opinion, whether we are or aren’t running out, we really should try to wean ourselves off something that is unarguably non-renewable and yet has completely permeated our civilisation in such a short time to the point of utter dependence. It’s not just the petrol side of things, all of our most common household products are made of it, synthetic pesticides and fertilisers are made of it, our entire civilisation is fueled by it. It just seems so ridiculous to me, to use something that took millions and millions of years to create in such a frivolous manner, and releasing so much sequestered carbon in the process. Why do we continue to use it rather than finding something else to replace it, something that’s renewable (solar, wind, tides etc) – why, just because it’s there? Is it so wrong just to leave some there, I don’t know, just in case? Or just because the ground’s probably the best place for it? Anyway I started to worry about the chaos that is likely to ensue from a disorganised and dependent population, and Justin’s favourite, resource wars. My first response was one of panic and a desire to get a small property with a high fence in a distant location where I can grow my own food, as I have since found out it is called the ‘survivalist’ response. One of the books I have been reading is called Transition Towns, which is a handbook for a community initiative response including ‘powering down’, ‘relocalisation’ and ‘reskilling’ rather than the individual survivalist response, which upon reflection is probably a more sensible and long term idea. A number of towns across the UK have signed up to this (and a couple in Australia) so it will be interesting to see how they go about it. I now know where to head in case of Peak Oil riots in London – to Totnes in Devon. 

We just had a long weekend here, and we took the opportunity to go to St Albans (formerly known by the Romans as Verulamium), a half hour train ride north of Kings Cross. And what a lovely town it is, I delight in its ancient wonky half-timbered buildings – I could just see Justin’s fingers itching to get out a spirit level and a hammer. We started out at St Albans Abbey, dedicated to the eponymous saint – a Roman convert who sheltered a christian priest and was beheaded as punishment. The Abbey/Cathedral (it’s both now apparently) is very unusual, and while it doesn’t have the brilliance of some other Cathedrals, it’s got loads of character and tells an honest and eclectic architectural story. It has Norman colonnades built of reused Roman brick with plaster and extant early mediaeval paintings, sprouting English Gothic bits, in turn morphing into Decorative Gothic arcades, covered with partial painted timber ceiling in some areas and later Victorian timber ceiling in other bits, rounded out with Victorian fake Rose Windows and a 1920’s replica mediaeval ceiling. It’s completely asymmetrical and eccentric, and I liked it! After the Abbey, we meandered through Verulamium park, to see the extremely well-preserved remains of Roman tesserae floors, one of which is located in a purpose-built modern architectural hut, while the others are at the museum of Verulamium nearby, along with many other archaeological finds. After this we decided to participate in the English tradition of having a ‘pint’ at a ‘pub’ – all part of the historical day out of course as we went to ‘Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’ which lays claim to being the oldest pub in England, the function and the site dating from the 8th century, and with a continuous history dating back to the 12th century – they were serving ale to soldiers heading off to the Crusades. The weather was ok, a bit of drizzle all day but nothing to worry about and not too cold.

So what’s all this about Swine Flu then? Rest assured we are both safe and well so far, but if I come down with it there’ll be hell to pay, as it apparently is a result of yet another of humanity’s stupidest ideas – industrial factory farming, or CAFOs – concentrated animal feeding operations – sounds a long way from the traditional family farm with cows, pigs and chickens scratching happily around in the sunshine, doesn’t it. A great little melange of all my favourite things, monoculture, isolationist rather than systems thinking, outrageous living conditions for vast numbers of animals, large-scale corporations taking control of the food supply, homogenised global ‘cuisine’ resulting in loss of food diversity and local cultural history, animals routinely pumped full of artificial hormones and antibiotics to disguise health problems, poor countries pouring cheap and efficient food protein (grains) into the inefficient production of animal protein for wealthy countries, environmental devastation through the impact of industrial waste… well I could go on and on. Apparently, swine flu has possibly originated from the cramped conditions and the ‘faeces lagoons’  at the factory farms that supply much of America’s pork. Here is a selection of links about this topic from an email update I received:

(1) Biosurveillance report tracing the disease to the Smithfields farm: http://biosurveillance.typepad.com/biosurveillance/2009/04/swine-flu-in-mexico-timeline-of-events.html
Reports on the link between the Mexican factory farm and the flu:
(2) FAO, EC and CDC reports on the risks of industrial farming on public health
FAO and CIWF and http://www.cdc.gov/cafos/about.htm
(3) CIWF and PETA video reports of the disgusting conditions for animals in factory farms and the disease ridden manure swamps: CIWF and PETA
(4) Reports on Smithfield’s animal welfare and environmental damage

All jolly viewing. I am saddened and disgusted by my own species sometimes, and frightened by its myopic pursuit of convenience, pleasure and wealth, and I hope there are enough selfless and intelligent people with the big-picture vision to change the way we operate. Otherwise I’ll have to secede and start my own race! And that’s my two cents.

OK that’s enough ranting for one night. Signing out…

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One Response to What on earth have I been up to? and a Topical Rant. or two.

  1. I’d like to quote a line from The Matrix for you Jane:

    Agent Smith: “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.”

    And, finally, a message for George Carlin. I think he’s on the money.

    [email protected]

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