Posts Tagged ‘literature’

Fine literature

Now, this is something I enjoy very much, fine literature. I love a Fitzgerald novel or something from the Bronte sisters. I’m all over it. Which is why I’m enjoying Scandalous Innocent so much. I just wanted to give you all a flavour of the high standard of writing that we are dealing with here. Enjoy! And don’t blame me if you’re all rushing to the shops afterward to buy a copy.

“Smiling, he recalled the haughty, heavy-lidded dismissive blink of her amazingly dark eyes, refusing even to please him with an answer to his invitation, as if he’d invited her to an orgy instead of a drive in Hyde Park.”

“The rain gusted wearily against the black windows, and from behind a bank of angry clouds a full moon began sailing through the tattered remnants of the storm like a disc of white enamel edged with watery pearls.”

“She watched him as carefully as a cat watches a bird too large for her to catch unawares.”

“By morning, her decisions were veering like a weather-vane in a windy gale between staying in the same house as a man she had made a point of hating for the past three years, and galloping off home on an excuse that was as transparent as the June sky.”

“Loving him one moment and hating him the next, wanting his happiness yet wishing to punish him for being unattainable, Elizabeth saw this as a chance to put herself in Mistress Laker’s shoes and to fight him, physically, to feel the emotion of being conquered and won, as she never would be.”

“No sooner had he shouldered the door closed and tipped her on to her feet, than his supporting arm pulled her close into the hard bend of his body and, even before she could begin to guess what he was about, began a kiss that for sheer skill excelled the previous one.”

“Claudette, who had never met a real Viscount before, half-expected him to be wearing a red velvet ermine-edged robe with a coronet on his head rather than the double-breasted tailcoat with high stand-fall collar and a grey striped waistcoat showing below.”

It’s just fabulous, isn’t it? Well written. Eloquent. The sentences are not at all long and rambly and nonsensical. Talking of nonsensical, what’s all that nonsense about a cat watching a bird too large to catch unawares? What. On. Earth. What does that mean? And the kiss having ‘sheer skill.’ Skill? I just. I don’t. I’m really not sure where to start with this whole wordy mess.  

On mushrooms

Yesterday, I found an old skirt which had little pictures of mushrooms all over it and so I wrote about mushrooms for my Nanny Rhino. I am going to share my mushroom chat with you as I wrote ten thousand words yesterday catching up on the days I missed with Nanny Rhino so I am all written out for a day or so.

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There are so many things to do and places to go with mushrooms that it’s hard to know where to start. I’d love to start in Rome, where any restaurant worth it’s salt would be proudly displaying a wooden crate of porcini mushrooms on one of its tables outside. Since this visit and my mass consumption of the fantastic porcini mushrooms, I am struggling with eating them here as they are all of the dried variety, which was fine and nice and lovely, until I saw the fresh ones in Italy. Now I feel differently about dried porcini. I feel a bit sad for them as they are trapped there on the shelf, in a little jar, moisture-less. Without any fresh porcini of my own, I am simply not eating porcini mushrooms. It is a sad state of affairs. Dried porcini are great for risottos though, as you can use the soaking liquids to hydrate your rice. It’s still not quite the same though, is it?

 

My next favourite mushroom is probably an oyster mushroom as I love their shape and texture. I love how wild and uncouth they look, all misshapen and not at all uniform like their little cousins, the button mushrooms. The problem with this could be that people may mistake your oyster mushrooms in your stir fry for a slab of fat off the meat (as happened to me when making a duck stir-fry), so it’s your decision whether you want to run the risk of being thought of as a ‘fat-cooker’.

 

Shiittake are my next favourite, for similar reasons to the oyster mushroom. It is kind of irregular and a dark mysterious colour. They have a great flavour that I love cooking with beef in a stir-fry.

 

Enoki mushrooms, so long and thin and tiny are great for throwing into dishes last minute, for an extra bit of flavour. Their size means they don’t need much cooking before they soften and taste lovely. I love putting them onto a pizza last minute before quickly oven baking it as it adds another element to something with relatively few ingredients.

 

Next we have the portobello and the chestnut mushrooms, larger, meatier and better for roasting than their smaller counterparts. They can also hold their own quite well in a pie or vegetarian lasagne with spinach and ricotta.

 

Lastly we have the humble button mushroom, great for general use, fabulous fried in a breakfast, but with less of the qualities that draw me so well to the other mushrooms.

 

Actually, I have a less-than-fantastic memory connected to a portobello mushroom. I was seeing a guy for a few months and we could both see that things were in steady decline. In the height of our excitement while things were great, though, we had booked tickets to go to a literature festival somewhere in the countryside. The ticket had been quite expensive and I had booked the day off work so I was reluctant to give it up. Also the gentleman in question didn’t seem that keen on letting the relationship go, although I knew he knew it was over.

 

He was all up for driving there and giving me a lift and acting like things were fine so I took the lift, slept all the way there and planned other similar tactics of avoidance once there. I thought I’d just potter off and get lost in the crowds. He wasn’t so easy to shake though. It took him hours to finally say he fancied seeing something he didn’t think I’d like and wandering off in the other direction.

 

I found the furthest away corner and went for a long walk among the trees, where none of the fun was happening. I saw a group of people open water swimming and got chatting and generally just soaked up the lovely day. I eventually got back into the foray of people and book stalls and performances and fun and watched an old work colleague doing performance poetry. Here, I had solace. Should the gentleman wander along and want to sit down, I could say I was busily engaged in supporting my friend and paying attention to his performance and apologies but I wasn’t able to have a chat right now. The gentleman did not appear though and the next performer was hilarious so I stayed there. At one of the food stands nearby, I ordered an amazing portobello mushroom burger with halloumi cheese and red pepper. I sat down with my burger, deep in thoughts about life and this tasty mushroom burger. It was such a great moment, there, sitting on the ground, with people milling about, books in hands, intelligent discussion being had all around me, a performer on a little stage not far away and these beautiful purple flowers lining a little garden wall to my left.

 

That’s when the gentleman came along, greeted me in surprise and sat down next to me, ruining my moment. My excuses for silence were none, apart from the tasty mushroom burger in my hands, which required all of my attention. We were stuck together again then, for the rest of the afternoon, until it all became too painfully obvious and, in a quiet late afternoon moment, sitting on the grass, he fell asleep and I sneaked away, got my bag and headed for the nearest main road to find a train station and scarper off back home, away from this awful awkwardness that I should never have embarked upon in the first place.

The end of freedom

It’s the final in my guest blogger’s series on Freedom.

We now come to the 6th & final instalment of the series on Freedom. There is obviously a lot of ground we haven’t been able to cover but if you’re still with me thank you for persevering. What I want to do is try and bring the series to a close by drawing lessons from the first five parts but also by giving you some further food for thought.

I hope you’ve seen that each of the areas we have looked at (musicartliteratureinternet) has its own problems with regard to freedom. However there will always be those who want more freedom than they have. What I’m about to say now may strike you as being a bit odd: total freedom equals total chaos! How so? Let’s look at a couple of examples from real life. Take the network of roads across whichever country you live in. Ask yourself what will happen if drivers have complete freedom? They can drive on whichever side of the road they want at whatever speed they want, they can ignore road signs and traffic lights particularly if they’re in a hurry and so on. What is the result? – Probably lots of accidents, no claims because everyone can do what they want so no-one is responsible, and therefore general mayhem. Roads & drivers, and indeed all road users (cyclists, pedestrians etc), need rules otherwise the system breaks down.

Now think of sports or athletics. In a game of football, baseball or whatever – what happens if you allow all the players to do whatever they want? What happens if runners on an athletics track can deliberately trip up other runners or ignore the lane they have been given to run in? – Once again chaos because there is no order to what is going on. Imagine watching a game or an athletics event with no rules! How long would you stay? Rules are needed for there to be a meaningful competition between opposing teams. It just doesn’t make sense to have no rules.

Try this one – Draw a circle or rectangle on a piece of paper. Put the point of your pen inside the line(s). Now move your pen wherever you want to within the boundary of the figure you drew. You can go wherever you want; you have complete freedom inside the lines, you could draw, sketch, paint, crayon or whatever. If I gave you a piece of canvas 77cm x 53cm (30in x 21in) what could you do? I would probably just have a mass of lines and colours not looking like much. (However, looking at some of the pictures in recent exhibitions featured in the news, I think I might have a chance!) Perhaps you would do better. Not many could produce a picture like the one of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo – (Mona Lisa, in case you were wondering.) Da Vinci, in the early 16th century, did. The painting had to have boundaries and within those boundaries he produced a fantastic piece of work.

Transfer these analogies to real life and let’s ask the question again. How can society function if everybody does whatever they want because they want the freedom to do that? They do not want you or me or some authority telling them what to do. They don’t want boundaries on their behaviour. Why should the idea of rules be any different for a society of human beings than for any other activity they engage in. We must have rules otherwise we and our society can’t function. The real problem arises when we try to specify what those rules are or should be. Who is going to make them up? Who is going to police them? And who is going to apprehend & prosecute those who do not obey them? In a democracy we give that responsibility to the elected government & its law enforcement agencies – they are the law makers and enforcers.

Do you think it’s best to live in a democracy because that gives the most or the fairest rights to those living under it? Most will agree it’s better than say a dictatorship. We tend to believe that democracy equals good, non-democracy equals “not as good” or even potentially bad. Would you consider the following example and seriously ask yourself if you still agree after reading it? Suppose you’re on a ship and the ship is sinking. The alarm goes out to “man the lifeboats” and the crew begins loading people in and lowering the boats into the water. Let’s say each boat is built for say 10 people and has emergency food rations for that number. Once the boat is launched and has been rowed or drifted away from the sinking ship you find that there are 11 people in the boat. The boat is unstable with 11 (6 one side, 5 on the other), it’s too low in the water and there are not enough rations to support 11. A vote is taken on who the people think should be thrown out of the boat. It’s democratic and it’s fair and YOU are picked. Are you still a big supporter of democracy? Or are you now frantically trying to state your case? – Why you should be kept in the boat and someone else, who in your estimation, is less worthy should be thrown out. Do you see the problem? Democracy is great until it’s you that has to leave or be sacrificed for the greater good. This is not a “balloon debate” – this is real life. What gives them the right to throw you out? Errr..Democracy actually!

Another quite serious example from the TV last Sunday – would you or your town/area want nuclear waste dumped underground there (in safe containers of course)? In the area of Cumbria, where the Sellafield Nuclear Plant is located, in a survey, 68% of people (just over two-thirds) agreed with the proposal to use their area. A democratic result but those who oppose it simply won’t accept that. In other words, in a democracy when a vote is taken, you want (and probably have) the right to object to it. So a democracy which produces a majority decision must allow those in the minority to oppose that decision which means a democracy may not produce a democratic outcome. Or at least only a democratic outcome in certain areas because some people don’t like the result of the democratic vote. Hmmm….

Bring it, literally, nearer home – suppose the people in your street decide they don’t like you and don’t want you living in their street. You have to move. What gives them the right to force you to move on? Democracy again. It’s not as easy as you thought is it?

This is not a new problem. Almost 2,400 years ago Plato was considering exactly the same sort of issues in his work The Republic. Philosophers and thinkers down the ages have wrestled with the same problem. Plato believed the best way for a just society to function was to divide everyone into one of the following groups: producers (those who literally make stuff: food, objects, etc), auxiliaries (warriors or upholders of rulers wishes and making producers obey) and guardians or philosopher kings (rulers). (Social mobility is not allowed; once you’re in one group or class you stay there because that is your function. Seems like a precursor of the caste system perhaps? Also with the restriction of medical care to certain classes we see a worryingly early form of eugenics. Not a freedom, I hope, any would espouse. You might be surprised at some of the supporters of “The First International Congress of Eugenics” in 1912 which included our own Prime Minister at the time!) When the three groups, in The Republic are in the right relationships with each other, and the people in them understand and perform their functions, everything will be fine. Interestingly, personal freedom isn’t considered important and is subject to the good of society which comes first. He also believes poets need to be banished from this proposed ideal society (Book X). If you want to know why and the answer to other questions you might have but don’t fancy reading the whole treatise there is an excellent summary on the Sparknotes Website at:

http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/republic/summary.html

So we can say quite clearly freedom has to have boundaries, has to have limits beyond which we cannot go. What that means is that you can do whatever you want within the boundaries – in a sport for example that’s where we can see the skill of a player. One person can do things another person can’t because they don’t have that ability. Look at footballers with their ball-controlling skills, watch them as they dribble around other players in a match because of their superior skill and applaud the goal or home run or whatever is achieved within the rules. A referee decides on penalties for those breaking the rules. The admiration comes from recognising their abilities working within the rules of whatever sport is involved. And so it is with society. It is just a fact that things will work better and people will feel safer if there are rules and people keep to them. Those who want to push the boundaries have a big problem – how far? And who says how far? And once one boundary is pushed are we then waiting for the next person to come along and push even further? Again, I have to ask, “but how far?” Each new level simply proves that people are never satisfied because they want always to push a little harder, to go one step further. (In the newspapers, a couple of days ago, we read of the fastest selling paperback since records began (beating Harry Potter & the DaVinci Code!). It is described as an explicit novel and last week alone sold over 100,000 copies. Another boundary pushed! I hope you can see the inevitable consequences of this pushing. They’re actually all around us in the state of our societies.

Plato had an idea that the values a society needs to live by could come from someone or somewhere outside the people living in that society. Now there’s a thought – what happens if we don’t really know best? Who’s going to admit that – musicians, artists, writers, bloggers? What happens if freedom really does exist only within the rules not outside of them?

That’s the end of our look at Freedom in various fields and in society as a whole. Whilst it has only been brief I do hope you’ve asked yourself some important questions and perhaps found some answers or at least the road to some. I’d like to finish with the proposition of Democritus who said that a life of contentment cannot be achieved through either idleness or pursuing worldly pleasures but only by being satisfied with what you have, giving little thought to envy or admiration. So there you have it – the freedom to be content! Or not? It’s up to you. More to it than you thought? Of course there is!

Freedom internet

The next installment of our guest blogger’s thought-provoking series on freedom….

After Freedom RulesFreedom MusicFreedom Art & Freedom Literature we now come to Part 5 which I’m calling Freedom Internet. As you probably guessed I’ve been covering elements of what most people call popular “culture” (music, art, literature). I think we have to accept that the internet has now become an element of culture in its impact and coverage. Not only is it an element of the culture here in our society but it also affects most cultures in societies across the world. Wikipedia has become the ubiquitous reference tool despite not having the reliability of the printed encyclopaedia. In the past, print had to be far more rigorous in what it published but today’s Wiki sites have only to say: “No ref” or “Citation needed” to indemnify themselves against claims of being conduits of false, confidential or potentially malicious info. And here lies a far bigger issue – unsubstantiated info appears alongside verified stuff with the result that people end up not being able to tell the difference.

The first thing to notice is that “the internet” or, as its altruistic creator Tim Berners-Lee called it, the World Wide Web, does not exist as a separate entity or area like which previous freedom subjects did. Remember his original idea was simply to enable scientists to share info & research without having to resort to paper, telecoms (telex, fax, at the time) & postal connections. There is no unique place called the internet. It exists only on computer chips, in telephone lines and on many different servers across the world. It is actually an open network of linked servers with various files which can be shared. It’s a bit like a library, not of books but of other libraries all across the world.

From that point of view what you see as “on the internet” may not be what someone else sees: take China, North Korea & other nations who severely restrict the access of their inhabitants to it. Their “internet” is not the same as mine or yours. One server owner may agree to content which others may not. These server owners then become the arbiters of what will or will not be released into the public domain. Quite simply they have now become the ones who, to put it mildly, “push the boundaries”. More bluntly they have become the source of much of today’s morality and the setters of standards apparently deemed acceptable. How so? Well think of it this way – to whom are they answerable? There is no ruling body for “the internet”, no high council (or committee) who decide the rightness or wrongness of putting a particular site up for public viewing. It is completely in their hands. The internet is an open network with no controls – except the consciences of the server providers! Comments made in print, film or artistic endeavour are more rigorously scrutinised because of the potential for libel claims. Where the internet is concerned, people can just “hide” behind made up names and identities.

The potential for criminal activity is greatly increased. I don’t suppose there are many of us who have not received an email telling us that upwards of $100,000,000 is lying in a bank account somewhere in Nigeria and that we are the only ones who can unlock this vast store of money. Why would you believe a totally anonymous stranger would want to give you a huge chunk of money? Most don’t; email deleted, move on, no worries. But, and it’s a big but some DID believe it and sent their bank details. Their accounts were emptied, no-one was caught; they suffered the complete embarrassment of being taken in by the scammers. Then there are the internet sellers who simply take the money and no product arrives or, if they’re buying, receive the product and stop the payment. And so it goes on. Starting up a proper trading company takes a lot more effort than sitting in front of a keyboard and conning people. Are we surprised so much of it goes on?

Then there are the “Munchausen Syndromers”. The internet has many forums for people with various illnesses and disorders. It’s an ideal breeding ground for attention seekers. A recent UK radio prog discussed the issue and interviewed people who had gone onto cancer sufferers’ web forums pretending to have cancer and how they were managing day-to-day. Not only was their condition fictitious but they often invented other family members: girlfriends, boyfriends, children to make their situation seem believable. (I think most people will agree that it’s one thing to pretend to like sport on a sport website forum but quite another to pretend to have a terminal disease.) People were befriended and some completely taken in by the person who was not ill at all just pretending they were. (LLM’s “Chat” blog from yesterday referred to it in para 3 without actually naming it.) There is a further condition known as Munchausen by proxy but we don’t have space to go into that one here. In the internet world Munchausen’s Syndrome has become known as MBI (Munchausen by Internet). Those duped by such people are (rightly) devastated to learn that they have been conned, sometimes out of money they offered to help a situation which really didn’t exist. How can the forums’ hosts check out everyone who joins them? They rely on the trust and truthfulness of those who join to give the site the credibility so that people can feel secure revealing details, often very personal, of their condition and their feelings about it.

In real life, meeting someone talking like this you would pick up a number of signals from their body language, facial expressions and the like. On the internet all these human interface reactions are not on show. You are, or you become, what you type because no-one can see you. Only the perceptive or the ones who’ve been through a similar experience and pick up on stuff that doesn’t ring true will see through the lies. That incidentally is how a number of these cancer phoneys were found out. Very soon after they take their details down, disappear and some admitted they just create a new identity and begin the whole process again.

Recent surveys in the UK highlighted the age at which kids admitted they had first viewed pornographic material on the internet. Some admitted seeing it between 10-12 years old and from that I think we could assume that they had done so at a younger age but were wary of confessing to that so they said an age that to them seemed acceptable. Is a button asking them to confirm their age going to deter them?

Further areas of intimidation or “cyber bullying” as it’s called have resulted in a number of suicides over the past few years here in the UK and I suspect in other countries as well. How can it happen? Simply because if one person wants to call another person names or say things about them which are untrue they can. Until a complaint is made any comment is allowed, it seems. Even then the damage can be done and taking the comment down does not reverse the effect on the person hurt.

Without an overall arbiter of web content we should not be surprised that things have gone rapidly downhill in the moral sphere as well as the practical. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle; closing the barn door will be no good, the horse has clearly bolted and we’re not going to catch it. But how many really want to catch it?

Imagine standing at a bus stop and a bus comes along but it has no destination on the front. Would you get on or would you ask the driver where it is going? Even if it’s going the right way would you like it if the route was decided by the passengers shouting out where they want it to go next and not by the bus company. If I travel from say Glasgow to London I will see signs along the way telling me, as I get nearer, that London is 400, 300, 200 and so on miles away. It’s there on a blue metal road sign at the side of the motorway. I know where I’m going and I know how far it is. As you’re reading this you’re obviously on the “internet bus” and probably got on some years ago. Are you just on to enjoy the ride? A Magical Mystery Tour? Perhaps serendipity? Or do you worry about where the bus is going? Will you get off if the bus starts going down a road you don’t like and get on one that doesn’t go that way? A different service provider for example.

The internet has done so much good in many different areas and undoubtedly is greatly beneficial in the realm of study & research, commerce, communications for families and so on. That is to be welcomed and applauded. However we will reap what we sow and sadly we’re seeing a lot of negatives. Whilst I can only raise a few pointers to the current situation I hope you can see that unless controls are introduced the whole thing will continue down the road of decline. Freedom on the internet has had very serious consequences for us all. In a way it is breaking down societal norms and the differences between societies because those with unrestricted access can see what others are doing or how they are behaving. They then press their governments for change and, if successful, their society and culture changes. But to what? – To be more like ours? Why should ours be better than theirs?

Perhaps I can finish with some crucial questions: “Where do you think we as individuals and society in general are heading in this very difficult area? Are we, in reality, just being led by the internet? Can you see any signs? Is freedom helping us get there?”

Now moment of truth! If you look in a real mirror you see what you really look like. If you could look into an “internet mirror” what would you see?

Are you who you are or are you what you type?

Freedom Literature

The next in our guest blog series on freedom. Enjoy!

After Freedom RulesFreedom Music & Freedom Art we now come to Part 4 which I’m calling Freedom Literature.

Once again this is a vast subject and I can only take a brief look at it. Hopefully it may prompt a few thoughts in your mind. I’m going to take just a couple of examples and, as in previous pieces, ask some questions. Let me start with: how is freedom portrayed in literature? And what sort of freedom? There are plenty of biographies about people who have fought for causes to free others or for their own freedom. There are those written about bringing new freedoms to situations or to countries where they don’t have them. I’m going to take just a couple of examples from novels to illustrate how a couple of writers have treated the subject. You may have others you feel illustrate the point as well.

Let’s begin with Indian-born George Orwell (1903-50, real name Eric Arthur Blair) and his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948). In the land of Oceania The Party rules and Winston Smith imagines how he could rebel against Big Brother. Once again the loss of basic freedoms is apparent from very early on as we see how the society works. The rebel, the main protagonist, in this book and in Bradbury’s below, is a heroic figure battling the discriminatory dictatorship ruling his world. As soon as we read of his situation we want to side with him and see him victorious. We want to see the lost freedoms he is fighting for restored.

Next, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) written just 8 years after the end of WW2; a film followed in 1966 and it’s well worth catching if you can. Like Orwell’s book Bradbury’s has been described as a dystopian novel and, at times, has also been banned or considered “intellectually dangerous to the public” (Wikipedia). It looks at American society in the future where books have been banned; the freedom to read taken away and, in this case, replaced by the government’s TV broadcasts. However not only are the books banned but they are burned by the authorities. The people employed to do the burning are called “firemen”. (Throughout history the burning of books has been undertaken by various regimes or groups within a society as a means of control.) The aim is simply to stop the spread of ideas contrary to what those in power want. In Bradbury’s novel the burning campaign is quite extensive. Even so, the firemen are always looking for more books to destroy and for people who may not be obeying the rules. Given the risk of being discovered some individuals, who oppose the government policy, come up with a plan: they will preserve the content of the books by memorising them. They have to move out of the city to somewhere in the countryside to avoid detection. One person, in the group, memorises one book, another person another book and so on. Although the book is gone, the knowledge of that book will not be lost to future generations.

The freedom to write whatever you want is probably epitomised by the content & style of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939). Most readers of more than just a few pages, without a commentary or notes on it, will struggle to remember what they’ve read and what might it mean.

Nonsense verse has a number of famous examples. For just a couple, think of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, (begins ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe) and Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat,(begins, The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea, In a beautiful pea green boat, They took some honey, and plenty of money, Wrapped up in a five pound note). The Mayor of Scuttleton by Mary Mapes Dodge and Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz (Douglas Adams) add to the list of meaningless poems. So freedom may produce nonsense; interestingly forms like this do, however, use a regular form of poetry to do it – hmm..).

The minute we move into the controversial areas of politics, religion & sex in literature we come to that, now familiar, territory of whether I should consider if I am causing someone, who reads my writing, to be offended. Should I care? Or should they just “Get over it”? Does the society I live in have the right to legislate about what I can write? Do we need censorship & specific rules to govern the publishing process? If we don’t have them what happens?

Among the many books which speak of freedom, you may be surprised to know that The Bible has these words, (in the book of Galatians): “..do not use your freedom as an opportunity to do wrong but through love serve one another.” Here the emphasis is very much on the responsibility that comes with having freedom. This has to be a vital element in the smooth functioning of any society. If individuals don’t take responsibility for the consequences of their actions it will be a very selfish society that is created – a sort of “I want whatever I want – no matter what you think.” Not good.

I wonder what you or I would do if we had to take charge of the publishing industry. What would we allow into print? And what not? It’s tough isn’t it. If we allow anything, we could easily be accused of letting corrupting influences take hold; if we restrict, we may be accused of being too negative or censorial in our attitude. Should publishers be accountable to the society they release material into? Are there books you would not like your children to read? Why?

There are so many questions because it’s such a difficult area. Perhaps you’d like to make a comment on a blog. If the blogger doesn’t like it, it won’t show or will be taken down if already posted. Is even that restricting your freedom? The further you look into it the harder it gets.

Should revealing details of the operations of the military and security services, in print, be banned? Just this last week, it was reported in the UK press, that the Ministry of Defence tried to block a book written about British forces in Afghanistan. The author said, of those responsible for the situation: “To paraphrase George Orwell, if liberty means anything at all, it means the freedom to tell people things they don’t want to hear….” Is the author right?

As with the other areas, Freedom Literature seems to raise more questions than it answers. Surely somewhere along the line there must be some form of literature control otherwise anyone could publish whatever they want about whatever subject or person they choose? And then we run into the scenario in the poem at the end of my previous Freedom Art blog that morality ceases to exist in this area. Can that be right?

Interestingly, this day (30th May) in history has not been kind to writers:

1. In 1593, English dramatist, Christopher Marlowe died.
2. In 1744, English poet, Alexander Pope died.
3. In 1788, French writer, François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire died.
4. In 1960, Russian poet & novelist, Boris Pasternak died.

Finally, in 1431, although not a writer as such, Joan of Arc died. (She wrote a number of letters to various groups & people.) She is most famously remembered for the bringing of freedom to the city of Orleans which had been under siege by the English, 1428-9. (This eventually led to the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles VII.)

Freedom rules!

It’s Rambler5319 again today, the regular guest blogger.

 

Another possible oxymoron? How can there be freedom and rules together? Surely freedom means not having rules? Or might it just mean freedom is the best thing? Obviously it won’t be possible to do in a few blogs what philosophers and the rest of mankind have pondered over for thousands of years but let’s see if we can discover anything of interest. I’m going to do a quick general overview for this opener. Next time I hope to do something on the concept of freedom as found in popular music, then literature/films and for part 4 maybe tackle, in more detail, the awkward bit about the rules and their interpretation.

On 6th Jan 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke about looking forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms:
1. The freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world
2. The freedom of every individual to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
3. The freedom from want – everywhere in the world.
4. The freedom from fear – anywhere in the world.

I wonder if you remember when you were younger words or phrases that were used to extol the perceived virtues of say footballers, singers or other heroes from the past and present.
Many who passed through the student ranks of tertiary education will remember the ubiquitous and iconic red & black “Che” poster which adorned the walls of theirs, or their friends’, rooms or the T-shirt which adorned the budding Marxist chest. Ernesto (Che) Guevara (1928-67) was a Cuban Marxist revolutionary – a ‘hero’ to many; he represented the way to fight for freedom from an oppressive regime. The Bolivians didn’t agree. Their armed forces captured and killed him in 1967. (He had been trying to stir up the Bolivian people up to rebel against their government.) On 9th Oct 1967, in La Higuera, Bolivia I wonder if Che realised that, co-incidentally & quite bizarrely, Engelbert Humperdinck was at the end of a 5-week run at No.1 in the UK Charts, with the song The Last Waltz? (Its first line reads “Should I go or should I stay?”) Probably he didn’t! Dodging bullets was definitely a higher, but unachievable, priority.
As I grew up, I remember seeing instances of graffiti, on walls, bridges and flyovers with the words “Liverpool or LFC Rules, ok!” or “Everton or EFC rules, ok!” or “Kenny (as in Dalgleish) rules, ok” and a number of others. They all wanted the viewer to know that their team or hero is the best.
Another type was painted by people who felt injustices had been done to an individual or group of people through a court sentence: for example in the UK, “Free the Birmingham Six” (given life in 1975 but freed after an appeal in 1991) and “Free the Guildford Four” (life sentences in 1975, freed after appeal in 1989). In these two examples the freedom is clearly from a prison cell; for Che & Fidel Castro it was freedom from the rule of a government they did not agree with.
Perhaps you hanker after a freedom closer to home: freedom from parents, parental control or from a bossy sibling. Would you like there to be more freedom in your school or place of work because you feel too restricted the way things are? We’ve seen in the press over many years cases where a pupil in a school wants the freedom to wear something or follow a fashion trend which flouts the school uniform rules. Should they be allowed to? Shouldn’t they? They want to break the rules, often in the name of freedom?
There are also cases of religious objections. For example, here in the UK, a Sikh can by law, wear a turban whilst riding a motorcycle instead of a crash helmet. A number of Christians have been in the news because of clashes with their employers about wanting to wear a crucifix (cross), as a symbol of their faith, in the workplace. And so it goes on with many different cases on our TV screens and in the press. Does this mean religious freedom trumps the law of the land? Sometimes, it does! Is it right to do so? I’ll leave that one with you.
Suppose you own your own house. Do you have the freedom to do whatever you want either with the building or in terms of the activities that take place there? Clearly not. For instance, you cannot play your music at full volume. Why? Because it causes a nuisance to neighbours. In other words there are rules! You cannot use it for business unless it has been authorised. Why? Because the rules say you can’t. What about your neighbour’s freedom to have peace and quiet? Do you see the problem? The use of your freedom may infringe someone else’s. Maybe that’s where the rules come in but who enforces them?
Think of those early pioneers in the 1960s Hippie movement. Freedom from society and its restraints was at the top of their list. However it doesn’t take long to figure out that this is an impossible lifestyle without money. If they work they follow the rules of their employers, if they don’t work they get benefits but either way they need and obtain money to fund their alternative lifestyle. Freedom costs!
Remember the bravado in words of the chorus to the song, “Society” about being free to go it alone, from the biopic, of Christopher McCandless’s life (1968-1992), Into The Wild:
“Society you’re a crazy breed
Hope you’re not lonely without me.”

Are you beginning to see the problem? Freedom does not, and cannot, mean freedom to do anything you want; and it cannot be achieved without monetary resources of some kind. Now what sort of freedom do you really want for yourself and others? What types of freedom are actually possible across the world? More importantly what are you, and others, willing to give up in order for more freedom to exist?

Can I have a word?

OK, today is a first for The Adventures of Danda and Yaya, a guest blog! A reader, known mysteriously as ‘The Rambler’ had the following to get off their chest, so I’ll hand over to them now. (Feel free to send in a guest blog too, if you wish, and I’ll put it up).

I’m sure you’ve heard “Can I have a word?” before and you know what it’s a prelude to: you’re going to getting a telling off something you’ve done wrong. But here’s a less well-known phrase, which I will explain more fully as I go on.

Dixeris egregie notum si callida verbum
Reddiderit iunctura novum (Horace, 65BC-8BC)

I can see a few of you nodding your heads but for those who don’t know it translates to:
“You will have written exceptionally well if, by skilful arrangement of your words, you have made an ordinary one seem original”. All should become clear. Read on…

Have you ever read a book and come across words you don’t know the meaning of? I have – many times actually. Does that mean my vocabulary is bad or that the author’s is just very good? (Or are they just using a Thesaurus?) For some years now I have kept a notebook in which I write words I could not explain to someone else at the time I read them. I had imagined I might pick up a few words, to expand my own vocabulary, by those somewhat more erudite than myself. I never imagined how full that notebook would become in the space of just a few years.

However, sometimes you just wish authors had used a word you could understand. For instance there is an Irish travel writer, whose books I do enjoy, who tends to use a number of words not in everyday use. Maybe that’s part of being an author. I don’t know about you but reading of carmine, mellifluously & cordillera had me heading to the dictionary. Now, I know what they mean but will I ever use them myself – probably not. As words are about communication why not use a more common word. Some may feel good when they use more unusual words but they’re certainly not communicating very well are they? Here are some more examples from my notebook (which recently acquired its 700th entry):

1. In just the first 10 pages of a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson there were the following: picayune, panglossian, adumbrated, epigone, catopric & gallimaufry and, by the end of the book, (I’m not joking) just over another 100 I didn’t know! Hands up who got those six meanings right. If you’re interested you’ll have gone and looked them up but….. somehow I doubt it.
2. A biography of Whistler produced: peremptory, lucubrations, orpiment, alembic, cozened & another 50.
3. A book on the history of Liverpool gave me: autarky, chevroth, diorama, hegemonic, miscegenation, propinquity & many more.
4. Even the Daily Mail, over the past 12 months, came up with a few: pemmican, contumely, egregious, nary, palimpsest.

A word which I’ve come across a few times now, in different books, is sesquipedalian. (Pronounced sess-kwipi-day-lee-an). Any ideas?

It means tending to use long words or polysyllabic (dictionary.com). Do I detect the teensiest bit of irony there? Slip that one into your next conversation with friends and see how they marvel at your great knowledge! (Example: “I was talking with Bill/Sue the other day and he/she was just so sesquipedalian”; perhaps slip in a “like”, “boss” or “init” to sound a bit more streetwise).

Can I have a word? It looks like the authors’ answer is “Yes, you can and you can have lots of them and you won’t know what they all mean and some of them might be quite long!” (Unless you look them up in a dictionary these writers are not actually communicating with you are they? If you don’t understand what they’re saying what’s the point of using them?)

What’s going on here? Let me think (or contemplate, or cogitate, or ponder, or reflect) ….. I think that they think that writing like this is going to make people think they’re clever because they’re using big or unusual words. Now I’m not against a bit of improving your knowledge (otherwise I wouldn’t have that notebook would I?) or proposing that everyone should read elementary level books but I shouldn’t be having to stop and check words every few pages. That’s not communication – is it?

Let me put it another way – the legal speed limit, for a car, on the road in this country is 70mph and suppose there is a car which can reach 200mph what’s the point of that extra 130mph? You can’t use it. These writers may have a literary Ferrari, in terms of their word knowledge, but I reckon most of us are probably still a way short of the literary equivalent of the 70mph so… please can I have an ordinary word?

Perhaps it’s worth remembering the words of Samuel Johnson: “Don’t, Sir, accustom yourself to use big words for little matters” (from Boswell, Life of Johnson p.471). Well said, or should I say excellently elucidated!