Quercus robur

There is an oak tree in our front garden. Once I would have said “we own an oak tree”, but I’m reconsidering.

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Our oak tree- there I go again- must be at least 100 years old. (You can calculate the age from the girth.) We know, thanks to ‘Aunty Grace’ (who would be about 110 if she were still alive) that the area was originally much more heavily wooded than now. One of its charms is how green it is; we worry about each incursion. (See Danger in the Suburbs )

The tree is host to many species. I have been told that there are literally hundreds in an oak. We have squirrels, who seem to be nesting at the top. We have seen pigeons, magpies, crows, blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows, robins, goldfinches, tree creepers and others in and around the tree. (The pigeons are the only ones I have spotted nesting. They are spectacularly messy nest builders. Goodness knows how they actually succeed in reproducing.) Favourites are small flocks of blue-tits, great tits and long-tailed tits, who work through the branches and on down the road. Our neighbour has seen Owls keep him awake and make a mess on the path.

We’ve seen spiders seeming to float in mid-air, suspended by a single thread form a branch. I am no expert, but I know there must be lots and lots of insects. There is lichen and moss; I have no idea what types. There used to be ladies’ tresses orchids underneath, as well as ink cap mushrooms. Sadly, something about our mowing regime has lost them. There are still snake’s head fritillaries, snowdrops and crocuses. On summer’s evenings we have bats zooming round, though I don’t think they are in ‘our’ tree.

Living with a tree makes you more aware of the seasons. In spring- rather late in spring- there will be the lovely flush of new leaves. In autumn of course, they colour and fall; and we are so aware of this as we clear the road again and again. The crop of acorns is very variable. Last year was a glut, or “mast”. The year before we really didn’t see one acorn.

I could go on about the benefits of trees. They clean the air. They improve drainage. They make us feel better. The oak in our garden does all these and much more, and we love it.

We do look after the tree. It has just been trimmed- very necessary for the health and safety of the tree and ourselves- by an expert, very professional team, who were almost respectful of the tree and the resident squirrels. It was dreadfully hacked about some time before we moved in, but has somehow survived.

We didn’t ask its permission for the trimming. We’re not that fanciful. I have never hugged it. I’m not that way inclined. But I do feel we are the guardians of the tree, rather than its owners, if that doesn’t sound too weird. Hopefully others to come will look after it, and its like, for the future.

(Sorry about the title. “An oak tree” sounds too boring.)

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“I disapprove of what you say….”

Hands up who knows how this quotation, allegedly by Voltaire, finishes.

I disapprove of what you say.....

That’s right: “….but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It strikes me that this point of view needs repeating and repeating, needs re-examing and needs debating, especially in our modern times.

I read that a group of ‘antifascists, feminists, and people who participate in the class struggle’ felt it was appropriate to disrupt a speech by well-known right-wing M.P. Jacob Rees-Mogg.

I also read that well-known left-wing M.P. Diane Abbott has been receiving ‘sickeningly racist and sexist abuse’.

I have only picked two examples, which seem to me to typify some of the standards of poitical ‘debate’ which are seen as acceptable at the present. I would like to widen the argument to include more censorship issues, including art, film, theatre, music (yes, really) and no doubt others, but you, dear readers, are all intelligent and aware enough to provide your own. Just look up ‘modern examples of left-wing censorship’ or ‘modern examples of right-wing censorship’ on any search engine (more than one is available) if you want more. BEWARE if you have high blood pressure.

In principle, I feel that speech should be free. Something about the basic principles of censorship appals me. If you start to censor anything, where do you stop? Who does the censoring?

I hope you notice that in the course of this confused amble through my thoughts I have avoided expressing any political opinions; unless a basic objection to censorship is political.

I tentatively conclude that free speech is important and that censorship is wrong. Every case where it is advocated should be considered very carefully. (Personally I feel, for example, that nobody should be allowed to advocate violence; but you may well disagree.) It hugely worries me to see free speech of any sort being suppressed.

Footnote 1: The quotation of the title was used by one Evelyn Beatrice Hall to summarise Voltaire’s views; they are not his words.

Footnote 2: An alternative to Voltaire was expressed by Samuel Johnson: “Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.” The picture, sharp-eyed people, is of Dr Johnson.

Footnote 3: I also note that the BBC’s political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, needed a bodyguard at the Labour Party conference. Meanwhile, a local politician here in sunny Hampshire was telling me how anti-Conservative Ms Kuenssberg is. When the BBC gets flak from both sides of the political argument (sorry for the warlike metaphor) they must be doing something right.

Fashion Police Bulletin #4

You may have noticed that the Fashion Police have not published a bulletin for some time….

It was our intention to make this self-imposed exile permanent, chiefly because we felt we were fighting a losing battle, particularly on the vexatious subject of baseball caps worn back to front. However, recent developments have persuaded us to produce another bulletin. Chief issues are….

Gender Neutrality The Fashion Police are avowedly gender neutral. If you want to cross gender boundaries, or ignore them, that’s entirely your prerogative. As Beau Brummel once said, “Whatever floats your boat”. However, it is sometimes convenient to refer to traditional notions of gender in order to make guidance and advice clear. These references do not imply any value judgement on the part of the Fashion Police. (Be aware that certain members may inadvertently use terms which are no longer politically correct. For this, we apologise in advance. The FP are an equal opportunity employer: this includes a wide age profile.)

In general, we feel that fashion guidelines should be applicable to all, irrespective of gender. So, for example, pay attention, “gentlemen”: do not wear skirts so short you are constantly tugging them down.)

Fashion Police Bulletin #4.1Tartan trousers We have absolutely no prejudice against the Scots, either. They are a fine nation, entitled to exercise their right to self-determination whenever they collectively wish. The Fashion Police (predominantly English) even support their rugby team on appropriate occasions, while noting with sadness that the Scots do not support England on any occasion. However, tartan trousers, in general, just do not work, and really do not work if you are English. Yes, you sir, on the bike; they just don’t suit you. Three-piece tartan suits, even for Scots, don’t work at all, ever. This applies to all gender identifications.

BUT, in an uncharacteristic fence-sitting mode:

Hairy Legs Please see the above thoughts on gender. Some of the Fashion Police consider hairy legs to be worthy of censure, no matter what the gender. Others find this a reprehensible attitude. Still others mention kilts. Thus, despite frequent requests for guidance, we refrain from comment.

BUT, on an uncharacteristically positive note:

Grey berets Well, to be honest, one grey beret. A member of the Fashion Police, ever vigilant, noted a young lady wearing this in one of our big cities recently. Now the Fashion Police readily admit that the attitude of our bulletins can seem decidedly negative. This is because, strange as it might seem, our basic policy is laissez-faire; but we are duty bound to police the limits. On this occasion, we found the aforementioned grey beret to be a welcome stylish note in a sea of mediocrity. Well done, that woman. If that is, indeed, how you self- identify.

AND, continuing with the unfamiliar positivity:

Doc Martens Specifically, Persephone. Specifically, red. How can you go wrong? Worn with panache and style by one of the Cambridge Fashion Police.

Fashion Police Bulletin #4

This positive approach is giving us all a warm fuzzy feeling. Perhaps we should continue in this vein.

Pre-digital world

Researching your ancestors is a lot of slog, interspersed with exciting finds. The internet has reduced some of the slog, but the best finds, for me, are when I discover what historians call primary sources; actual stuff from the time. This was one of my exciting finds. It is a photograph of the wedding of my maternal grandparents, in 1924 in Brighton. It features three of their parents, my great-grandparents. None of the people in the photograph are now alive; in fact I can think of only a few people I know who ever met any of them.

Pre-digital world 1

It is the only photograph of the wedding of which I am aware. At some time in the distant past, my mother must have shown it to me, because I have a diagram of some of the names.

Going even further back, I have a photograph album of my paternal grandfather’s family. It’s a beautiful album, with a wonderful collection of photos. The problem I have is that I am very vague about some of the faces. I have a few notes from a discussion with my uncle. There is a very old photograph of a very nervous looking old gentleman; could he be my great-great-grandfather? I may never know- probably will never know.

Pre-digital world 2

Pre-digital world 3

Bear with me; I am coming, very tortuously, to the point. I have a lot of photographs of my own wedding. This too was in a pre-digital age. However, weddings I now attend are photographed exhaustively and exhaustingly. There must be literally hundreds of photos taken both by professionals and by guests.

I said more on this in my previous blog, “Digital World”.

So now everything is recorded exhaustively on digital media, whereas only a few precious moments survive from 1924. Further back, no photographic records survive at all.

We are, I think, evolving completely new visions of the world, looking at it in a completely different way from our ancestors, even recent ones. There is no great moral or insight here. I have no opinion on the change (which I am tempted to call a paradigm shift, simply because I love that phrase) apart from again suggesting that we should all sometimes just enjoy the moment.

Oh, yes: LABEL YOUR PHOTOS! Thinkl of poor future researchers who have no idea what they are looking at. And BACK THEM UP!

Digital World

The Obliques recently went to a party. This is an uncommon occurrence It was a very pleasant party, involving food, drink and plenty of people to talk to. But I digress. It was a fancy dress party, and perhaps because of this there was a lot of photograph taking.

Of course, this is not unusual. There is generally a lot of photograph taking. Concerts are a good example. It seems almost compulsory to take photographs of them. Look at any big gig (no, of course I don’t mean classical concerts, although…) and you will see a plethora of phone cameras being used.

For more examples, look at the news. Yesterday I saw film of Pope Francis at a convention, surrounded by phone cameras. Apparently the Queen finds it “strange” to see nothing but the backs of mobile phones whenever she looks up. Look at film of her nowadays and you’ll understand what she means.

I do not claim to be any different. I’ve just had a quick look at the ‘My Pictures’ file on my laptop, and there are apparently 6000 photographs in it. I’m sure there are more than this floating around.

We were fortunate enough to go to the lovely island of Tenerife last year. Just before we went we succumbed to the temptation to buy new smartphones- just for emergencies, you understand. The eldest Ms O. of course told us that we had got the wrong ‘phones; and as so often, she is right. But I digress (again). The result of us taking the ‘phones was that we took hundreds of photos. Literally hundreds. We used our old camera as well

Holiday snip

We all take photographs of everything; sunsets, meals, parties, concerts, celebrities, car crashes, trees. We share them obsessively on Facebook, Instagram, etc. It’s as if it has not happened if it has not been recorded. I am tempted to say our experiences need validation.

I make no judgement on this, except to say that it may sometimes make a richer experience just to experience an event and to remember that experience for yourself. I sometimes say to people around me: “Just enjoy the moment. Enjoy the view.”

(More on this at a later date.)

Reading in Public 2

Another miscellany of books I have observed being read in public since 30th October. Well, I enjoyed writing it……

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown A lady was very absorbed in this in Waitrose; for a mad moment, I thought it was the new autobiography by recent British Prime Minister (briefly) Gordon Brown. How bold of him, I thought, to use such a title. Then reason re-asserted itself; at this time his memoir had not yet been released in hardback, let alone paperback. Also the photo on the back cover appeared to be of a lady, and I was not aware of Mr Brown having had any spectacular reassignment of his preferred gender. I fell to speculating what the reader was thinking as she read; was she absorbed in a fiction? Then she looked to see how many pages she had left, rather shattering the illusion. The book apparently addresses “the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone”. (Did Gordon Brown need this, I wonder?) The author is apparently a TedTalk phenomenon- a good recommendation- and a New York Times bestselling author. Nevertheless, it doesn’t appeal.

Next: in Brasserie Blanc, of all places, was a lady dining alone and reading. How wonderful that somebody combines those two great pleasures, solo, with no apparent self-consciousness. The light was a bit dim, but I worked out that the book was by Colm Toíbín. It was one of those covers where the author’s name is bigger than the title. Hmm. Possibly the book was his latest, House of Names, a “brilliant retelling of a Greek tragedy”. Hmm. Possibly another one I shall pass by. His work sounds dry, but as usual, who am I to judge? (Did you notice I was able to put the accent on the í?)

Following this, I spot a gentleman in the Waitrose café reading Tom Clancy’s True Faith and Allegiance: a Jack Ryan novel by Mark Greaney. Now there’s a title that needs a bit of unpacking. It appears that Tom Clancy did not write his later novels alone and that after his death further novels under his name were written by others. They are thrillers, for those like me who have not read them. Apparently they have a rather conservative world view; that’s an American conservative world view, with Reagan as a hero. Apparently. Correct me if I’m wrong. Again it’s a comforting thought, whatever your politics, that people enjoy reading when they’re on their own in public.  The next day, however, I saw the same gentleman reading on a Kindle. How I wish I had the nerve to ask what titles are being read on Kindles and the like. Plato, Porn, Proust, Pamuk, Patterson…. ? On another occasion, a reader had their Kindle propped up on a stand. Obviously in for the long haul.

Equally I wish I’d asked the title of the slim tome  being read by a (student?) girl at a bus stop. Is it inappropriate to ask a stranger of the opposite sex such a question in this day and age, even with Mrs O. chaperoning? Strange times.

I had another difficulty at the swimming pool the other day, where I saw somebody reading; but I didn’t have my glasses on, so had no chance of finding the title. (Note: if I don’t acknowledge you when swimming, I’m not ignoring you; if I stare fixedly at you, it’s not that I find you attractive or unattractive in your costume; it’s just that beyond a distance of about 3m you all look like pink or brown blobs if I haven’t got my specs on.)

There was also a child reading at the pool, but I don’t think it counts; she had so obviously been told to “do some reading” while a sibling was having a lesson. Back at my usual haunt, a boy (the same young gentleman who partly inspired Reading in Public) is reading Third Year at Mallory Towers by Enid Blyton. Maybe a strange choice for this day and age? I had my Enid Blyton stage, but that was a long time ago.

Another reader, with a laptop, who is obviously going to be in the café for a long time, has a bag (with Minions on it) from which she pulls a procession of academic texts. I identify The Handbook of Person-Centred Therapy and Mental Health: Theory, Research and Practice by Stephen Joseph and a title of which I can only read one word: “Authentic”. When I look up the first title on Amazon I find that “Customers who viewed The Handbook of Person-Centred Therapy.…” also viewed Authentic by the same author. It’s all too deep for me; and doesn’t really count as getting involved in a book. Nor does the lady who is looking at her diary; despite Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on the matter, she was probably just checking on birthdays. Ooh, the academic lady has just got a book called ‘Learning and Being’ from her Minions bag. I think this must be Learning and Being in Person-Centred Counselling by Tony Merry. You see where she’s going with this? I hope it’s a good journey, and has a real relevance to her career or life, or both.

There you are then. No deep conclusions, just the abiding thought of how lovely it is to see somebody lost in a good book.

(Of course, having finished this post and not published it, the list slowly goes on lengthening. Part of this interest- all of it, really- is just an abiding curiosity as to what people are reading. The above-mentioned young gentleman is now onto The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl. I’ve just noticed a lady reading The Girls. Investigation tells me it is a coming-of-age story centred on Charles Manson, written by Emma Cline. Hmm. Think I’ll stick to the Ms Oblique library for the near future.)