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Searching for Mervyn Peake in Sark

Arrrr, those pesky pirates! You know the sort; nasty, violent, GREEDY? Take what they want, arrrr, and care not one whit for the contentment of the many, nor even of the few wealthy owners, nor even for that super royal family to whom tax is most certainly due.

Peake pirate from https://i.pinimg.com/originals/ce/f1/86/cef186f038796cc4d647be6035063f1f.jpg

Queen Elizabeth I (arrrr) knew all about pirates and she didn’t like them. She’d seen too many ships disappear, together with her income, and she wanted the pestilence fixed. Looking toward the Continent, she could tell Jersey and Guernsey were populated and policed enough, but Sark, a teeny island, a craggy outcrop of rock, drilled through by the sea until it resembled Swiss cheese, was trouble. Sark, even now holding the honour of the most caves of the Channel Islands, was riddled with pirates.

Peake’s first published work was Captain Slaughterboard, written and illustrated by Mervyn himself

Queen Liz wanted Sark cleaned up. She gave the entire island of 4.5 square miles (Sark 2017 Official Map) to a Lord, The Seigneur, and charged him with protecting her waters and getting rid of the blasted bandits.

The Seigneur, in his turn, allowed thirty-nine of his closest armed friends to rent a cheap piece of Sark so long as they kept guard. All they had to do was keep it free of pirates and enjoy the sort of dreamy rural existence made romantic by HE Bates. It can’t have been easy, I’m sure. The early settlers might even have had trouble finding topsoil on that windy place. But they soon found enough to grow sheep, vegetables and send their children off to fee-paying English schools and eat delicious French food. They invented lazy summer holidays and horse-drawn tourist peace and all was well.

After a few hundred years came World Wars and German invasion. This was difficult but eventually the locals overcame the barbed wire and life went on in the same idyllic manner. But, what if, after 450 years of dutiful protection, the locals became complacent? What if they forgot their obligations to the crown and their duty to protect Sark? What if modern pirates began circling the island in their helicopters with their fancy new technologies? What would happen if the Sarkese didn’t realise they were under attack until it was too late?

Peake apparently knew Treasure Island by heart http://fantasy.glasgow.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/ea29c77f532850e2945dc298b35da651.jpg

I was awarded the Titus Groan trilogy for debating at a small girls’ school in Dunedin, New Zealand. Even when staring at the pencil illustrations on the covers, I knew I’d been handed the key to another world.

http://mervynpeake.blogspot.com.es/2011/05/illustrated-gormenghast-anticipation.html

The Gormenghast books were satire, adventure and a description of enclosed society. Mervyn Peake, artist and writer (as much as those two roles can be separate in his life) conceived and wrote much of the trilogy when Peake and his family lived on Sark. Much has been written about his childhood in China and how that experience might have contributed to the strangeness of his creation, but having visited Sark, I think that’s where he found the core of Gormenghast.

The Peakes moved to Sark in 1946 and lived an arcadian lifestyle for three years as he planned the series. As a single man he had lived on Sark for four years before the war, in an artist’s colony. He was an eccentric fellow with a pet cormorant and a penchant for nudism. He became an art teacher and a war artist later. 

https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw07779/Mervyn-Laurence-Peake

Seventy years on, I went to Sark in search of Peake, hoping to find evidence of his inspiration. He was the first world builder I’d ever encountered, in words or pictures.

“My voice has all the lushness
of what I can’t abide

And yet it has a beauty
most proud and terrible
denied to those whose duty
is to be cerebral.”

To me, Peake was more than a friend. He was a soulmate.

Waiting to buy tickets for the ferry at Granville

To get to Sark, one must travel by sea. Port de Granville of France was not colourful. The buildings were grey, beige or cream or a clotted mix and the sea was slate grey. The sky was filled with ashen clouds. The boats were once white with an odd faded blue for contrast. As I waited for the ferry I watched the floating world go by. As the ferry prepared to leave, I watched two men and a clump of fishing rods bump out of the protection of stone walls in a surprising bright yellow inflatable.

This is not the ferry. A fellow traveller.

It’s difficult to imagine how those old sea walls could possibly have been built without the aid of cranes and heavy engineering equipment. I suppose each wall, built on the remains of the previous, becomes stronger over the ages, like nearby Mont Saint-Michel, a dramatic medieval castle-cathedral, which may also have influenced Peake.

Mont St Michel

Au revoir La France! A bientôt!

From Granville we sailed to Jersey, part of the United Kingdom. “In Transit” whilst at Jersey meant walking off the boat, waiting for customs to look at the passport, getting a new boarding pass, walking to the waiting room and, without sitting down, getting in the queue to return with treble the amount of people wanting to visit Sark. In less than an hour we were on our way again, past a proud fort crouched on the Jersey coast fringed with cranes poised this way and that. Jersey, as far as I could tell, was an island plagued with developers.

Jersey fort

On board the ferry, I stood on deck, leaning into a bend in the rail, loving the rise and fall, the spray from the ploughed waves stinging my face. The wind was icey but there was warm sun on my back and soon enough we neared Sark waters. Rocky waters. Great dark craggy outcrops jagged from the white water all around the cliffs. A black tidal mark or plimsoll line bruised the rocks just above the water where the waves have engraved a thinner waist for the island.

Black lichen high water mark around Sark

Extraordinary harbour walls featured steep steps up to a road, which wound through a tunnel in the cliff. I found it difficult to imagine the grasping hands and burning backs, tearing muscles and broken legs; the vision and the technology that had to be utilised to build these sea walls.

Maseline is the main harbour of Sark, where the ferry and the mail boat visit – and not every day. The weather conditions are extreme. The sailors must be very skilled indeed to negotiate their paying customers up and down the steep steps to the ferry.

I puzzled, how could those early tenants have tamed the fierce thundering waters long enough to build towering stone walls right into it?

Welcome to Sark

There, through that proscenium cliff archway, was a walk up the hill. You could catch a tractor ride if you preferred but I chose the lovely green twisty path, and on, straight up the dusty thin carless road to the Sark Visitor’s Centre.

Leading us up the Sark garden path

My first impression of Sark town centre was ‘English Country Garden’. It was all very picturesque and human scale, apart from the giant vibrant begonias in all the bridesmaid colours of the world. I had no idea they could grow that big!

Over-sized begonias in the Sark garden experience

Sark seemed almost too good to be true.

The information officer told me that not many people come to Sark to seek Peake. What? REALLY?! The only reason I came was Peake. What else could there possibly be?

On the way up the main road it was difficult to ignore the amount of shops for rent and closed businesses. One entire side of the street was empty. Shut. This was peak tourist season – the middle of summer – August. The information woman told me crossly it was because of the cost of electricity. Far too high. (And not one solar panel in sight.)

I trooped off to La Vallete Campsite (a couple of paddocks on the cliff edge of a farm) where I put up my borrowed tent. When I fronted at the campsite ‘office’, more a mud-room entry space really, Linda said she found all her emails blurred into one – which camper was I? What did I want? Exactly? Just a place to lay my weary head.

Incredibly grateful that Roseann, Olivier and Mike lent me their tent!

I was unused to camping, unprepared and unskilled. I chose a site close to the edge of the cliff, though fenced in on two sides with blackberries. It appeared someone had desecrated the corner with some toilet paper streamers. They had been rained on. I tucked them back into the blackberry bush with the tent-peg mallet, of which there were several on offer. I put the small end of the tent into the prevailing wind but who knew where the wind would blow next?

There were a few puffy clouds looking thoughtful and attractive about this intense blue sky while the sun beat down meaningfully. Several charming yachts were drifting below, parked in La Grève de la Ville like a school of tethered white and blue tuna.

What sort of pirates sail the high seas?

What to do next? Obviously I had to go to the Vicar’s Fête, one of the Sark calendar highlights. Apparently the Peake family had lived nearby in a housed called Le Chalet. While I struggled to decide what book to buy at the bookstall (couldn’t) the auction began. I assumed the auctioneer was none other than the vicar himself and he proceeded to give a progress report of the Fair. There was a loud cry of despair from two women next to me when they heard there were no cakes left. A chap muttered to the bookseller, ‘Well, I’m not surprised. There weren’t many to start with.’ Suddenly I looked left and right. Was I in an episode of Midsummer Murders? The all white and cashmere Vicarage workers were certainly over fifty years old (many harking back fondly to their seventieth birthday). A small gang of vaguely Gothic teens/early twenties lounged on the grass to prove the exception.

The Bank. Summer outfit.

As I left the Fête, I noted a few summer visitors – I suspect you wouldn’t get called tourists – harrying their children around on bicycles. Because there’s no cars and you can easily hear a tractor on the way, or one of the horse-drawn carts, children hoon about freely.

Up by the path to the lighthouse (now an Airbnb with no public access) I found a well-placed bench overlooking the yachts to my left and several rugged rock islets scattered over the waters to my right. The waves were rustling below, tickling the shore. I could hear seagulls crying out somewhere and behind me in the bush grasshoppers (or crickets) sang a high-pitch bed of noise.

With lighthouse to the right and La Grève de la Ville to the right, my dinner bench was a peaceful spot

As I ate my dinner I watched currents moving under the water. The current coming around to the right (towards Maseline Harbour) was smooth, in contrast to choppy scuff marks sweeping the current along. It was as though someone had come through with a big wooden spoon and made a curvy pattern across my sea view. A speedboat ripped across the water. Dark navy depths rejoined as the white zipline faded away. The water then had a nap, brushed wrong way in a pleasing curve around me and smoothed further out like a rainbow arc but all tones of navy stripes. Then came a flotilla of small jet boats – possibly fisher folk returning for their dinner? Possibly cocaine smugglers for cocktail hour?

Les Fontaines where there are definitely smugglers caves just out of frame

The next morning I skittered down steep stairs to La Fontaine Bay, a sheltered and rocky smuggler’s cove where the sun blasted down. A seagull in the distance tangled with a plane far too high, altogether there were far too many planes roaring overhead. There were two great caves on the opposite side of the bay. I thought the tide was out because the seaweed was still fresh wet on the rocks. I thought of Peake, and Titus, as he might have walked these rocks and pathways, and how the woman in the tourist information office said, ‘Well, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, is he.’

A local grandfather made the Epeguerie rock pool many years ago. It’s leaking now. And, look, there’s George’s boat taking a load of tourists around the island!

I spent a good part of the day in my togs staring in a rockpool instead. The rock pools were heaving with little fish. When I assumed the gazing position, rubbernecking into the shallow twinkles, two fish came to look at me as if they were watching telly. They watched me watching them. Another swam through. Quickly. Then another. One of the watchers changed position, coming a little closer. They all kept a steady eye on me.  A darker one took shelter on an outcrop, just under the surface. As a fragile cluster of guppy things swam by, the dark one up above slapped the water somehow, making a surprising snappy clapping. I took up various positions around this Grandpa-made pool, leaking slightly now, but still absorbing viewing.

I marched up to the nose of the island, Bec du Nez, where seagulls sit like complacent white crowns on royal lumps of rock, their soft feathers littering the sheep-gnawed grass around them. It’s called the common and the guide suggests counting butterflies. Too many flutter by and I take it the counting is a joke. Mostly quiet brown creatures, perhaps with a spot or a bit of pale and some colourful ones too with flashes of orange and yellow. I mainly walked around the Eperquerie area, eating far too many blackberries. I wanted to get to the historical society in time to enquire about the ruins up there and ask what that black stain is. I took a bit more of a stroll to examine the Buddist carving on a rock. Not sure why it’s there. And then a snooze in the sun.

Perhaps the Buddhist carving is simply for us to ponder while relaxing in the sun or, maybe, it is to protect the island from evil.

When I eventually regained enough strength to eat more blackberries I got back on track and hit town too late for the historic society. Turned off by the Sunflower Café but admired the Sunflower Project, a two acre field donated by the farmer to grow sunflowers and other plants for birds and insects. Very happy to see Shenanigans Café open where a friendly young lady from Cardiff lent me her charger, made me a coffee, and a cherry jam sandwich. They even employed a solar panel or two. All well with the world.

Although impressed by the ancient windmill, I was saddened the bakery was no longer used. In fact, there’s no bakery open at all on the island. Here’s an opportunity for someone to run the place the way it used to be. Or stick up a new windmill to get things cooking. (Could they afford the thousand-pound-a-week plus rent the owners are asking for the bakery on the main road?)

The windmill’s wings are clipped (off)

The next day I woke to the tent flapping briskly in the wind. I had a dream in which I was picked up (while still in the tent) and moved to a hall. In my dream hall, many people were sleeping next to each other. I woke up (in the dream) to find myself between two bickering young men. One stretched out, over me, to annoy the other and I slapped his arm lightly. He was upset but I didn’t care. A young doctor came to look at my prone self. She looked worried. They hadn’t been able to wake me previously. I reassured her that I was in fine fettle. I must have fallen into such a deep sleep because I’d been awake after I thought I’d lost my wallet.

This last bit was true. I wanted to see the famous Dark Sky so when I woke I jumped at the chance to wander over to the toilet block. But I didn’t need a torch. The sky was bright. There was a full glorious moon. As I watched she pulled an elegant cloud-veil across her face. I dreamily went to watch the lighthouse flashing around the bay. This was the sign-posted lighthouse, now closed to the public, certainly a working warning light so that was reassuring. No big boats about to crash into the cliff. When I arrived back to the tent I discovered my wallet missing. Panic. Flashed the torch everywhere it might have been. Raced back to the loo and the lighthouse viewpoint. Started planning survival strategies. Got back to tent, tried to avoid dew soaked tent flap, began sorting and found wallet straightaway. Thank goodness. Asleep immediately to dream the wind picked me up. But it didn’t.

It was all just the wind in the tent. 

La Coupée is a very thin and wind vulnerable connection between Sark and Little Sark. Note the droppings left by the most popular form of tourist transport.

The next day I walked over the steep, curving La Coupée, a road built and fenced by prisoners of war, to Little Sark. Believing strongly in discretion above valour, I decided not to climb down to the Venus Pool alone. Looked arduous and I still had time to return to the historical society. If no one hears you scream did you actually fall to your death off a rocky cliff?

At the peak, I lounged on a soft patch of vivid green with tiny stalks bearing little cups of crispy white petals. Sark. Blackberries, sweet as desire. Butterflies, light and mobile as an already forgotten thought.

Sun bore down in full force, sea birds wheeled around and overhead. Many spattered brown birds – herring gulls? No wonder Peake thought of angels when he came to write Mr Pye, his book actually set on Sark. The jagged landscape is covered in fluffy white feathers.

I was so KEEN. Arrived at the historical society office 12:25 with plenty of time before they shut. Popped in to the loo, no potable water there and came to stand in line at the Heritage Room. Or rather, I waited in the corridor. A man held forth to a small elderly lady. She did not see me but I sort of bowed to the gentleman to indicate that I intended to move into the room, was that allowed? He met my gracious greeting with a blank stare I took to be assent so I moved into the space. Glass cabinets and folders of information about Sark surrounded me. I looked up the meadow pippet in birds of Sark, as the meadow pippet is my favourite bird. I think I may have seen a rock pippet near the old mines. I could find, as I slowly perambulated around the room, precisely nothing about Mervyn Peake. Nothing about pirates or the dark plimsoll line.

Meanwhile, the man held forth about the crimes of the British education system. He used to be a headteacher. He despaired at the constant measuring to which children are subjected in the current British system. As does his wife, a sixty percenter, but working full-time. As it turned out, you wouldn’t believe it, he, Richard, came from Wollstonecraft (or somewhere), which is EXACTLY where the thin, elderly lady’s brother and sister-in-law reside. Extraordinary coincidence. After that they spoke about the exhibits in front of them, neolithic axe heads and other items of geological interest. I believe he may now be a geologist of some sort. They were getting on splendidly and I’d perused the flowers of Sark and the rocks of Sark and the moths of Sark and the interesting beads, possibly made from Baltic amber found around Sark, when I realised these two had just begun to warm up. I took my departure (unnoticed) and headed to the Post Office where I intended to buy and post postcards.  And there, at last, in The Gallery Stores and Post Office, I found Mervyn Peake and his creations.

After dealing with postcards I went back to request the nearest potable water tap at tourist information. While I waited I looked through a beautiful coffee table book, ‘Art for the Love of Sark’. This is the record of an inspirational visit to Sark by twenty artists from Artists For Nature (http://www.artistsfornature.com/projects/sark/) It is a remarkable venture and I urge you to peruse the website and buy the book, if you can. One of the artist members, Rosie Guille, runs a delightful little gallery on the main street of Sark where you can pick up the book, perhaps one of her own evocative paintings or practice the art yourself. Here is her online gallery: https://rosanneguilleart.com/

 

http://www.sark.co.uk/958-958/

Back in the Sark Visitor Centre, the kind officer offered me the still warm water from her kettle. She preferred to boil the bore water. They have a good water table. Don’t need to go down too far. I remarked upon the lack of visible water tanks and that bore water is, of course, finite. She felt not. A good water table is a water table for good. I continued in my strident, visitor knows best sort of way, surely that’s the problem in California? She said, ‘Sark gets more rain than California.’ I said, ‘Isn’t that a good reason for water tanks?’

Didn’t seem like a smooth conversation did it, so I bought up Mervyn again. I wouldn’t let him go, I just couldn’t, and I said what a shame it was there was no shrine to this great writer. She said, ‘There’s a lot of artists that came from Sark. They couldn’t possibly commemorate them all.’

I said, ‘Like who?’ She said, ‘Cheeseplate and Topless’, people I hadn’t heard of so I added, ‘Oh yeah,’ I muttered dismissively, ‘And let’s not forget Victor Hugo!’ 

One of the closed hotels features a bar honouring Victor Hugo

Wasn’t it amazing that Victor Hugo had only been on the island for two weeks and he had a cave and a bar named after him while Peake had lived here for seven years? ‘Oh, she said, ‘Hugo was here longer than that.’ I said, ‘Not according to the pamphlet over there … ‘ And she looked askance at me.

Well, they hedge their bets, don’t they …

In order to lighten the atmosphere I added that I had started to see Gormenghast as a satire about Sark itself, what with all that inherited fifedom, and the enclosed nature of the island. She hadn’t read it but agreed that although many people had wanted democracy in 2008, many had wanted the island to stay the way it was. Is that so? To swing it all back to Mr Peake and his glory, I said it was a shame there was nothing available in the tourist information shop about him and she said, ‘Perhaps there’s nothing of his available to sell?’ And I said, ‘Well, there is in the Post Office!’

After a desperate pause in which we both wanted to be polite, she said, ‘Did you know he used to live there?’ And I said, ‘No, really?’ (Which was a lie because I did know by then) and she said, ‘Before it was the Post Office, of course. They had some pictures up once, showing him painting there.’ After making all the correct admiring sounds I said, ‘I had heard when he first lived here, when he was freezing in a barn, he worked in the fields to get money and had a pet cormorant.’ She looked askance again, ‘Well, you know better than I do, for sure.’

So I said that she was lucky to have the books to look forward to, that they were wonderful and thanks for the water. I could have reminded her that the books were all available in the PO but you know, I’m proud of myself. I knew when to stop.

There was the dead bakery on the main road. CLOSED. Another shop on the main street, CLOSED. Then, on the way to Dixcart Bay, a great swimming bay, I passed a large fancy hotel. CLOSED. What was going on? Time for some research.

Sark, straight ahead?

The price of electricity has little to do with the price of politics in Sark. Turns out Sark does have a darker side. Sark really is too good to be true.

Of course, there had to be a downside to such a pretty theme park. Under all those pots of petunias, pretty tree-lined laneways and those quaint seventeenth century stone buildings lies a squawling ten-year-old democracy, fighting a 450 year-old-fifedom. Or is it?

Shady laneway in Sark – around the bend?

The democracy was apparently born of twin media barons, David and Frederick Barclay, trying to buy their way into tax-free law-making power. Come on. Did Mervyn Peake write that stuff? (NB: There were twins in the drama of Gormenghast but they were victims. Cora and Clarice were killed by Steerpike, a young man thirsting for power.)

Peake certainly loved pirates as described by Rob Maslen in a fine blog post but I don’t think Mervyn would much care for these boys. The Barclay Brothers have caused a sort of disease, a kind of cancer, in the form of untended grapevines, empty hotels and falling down buildings holding up the land.

Vines in apparent summer disrepair

I really felt at home in Sark but what a beastly thing this duo of billionaires have done. They’ve bought a good percentage of the ancient tenements but have not yet managed to sway the democratic elections enough to get their chosen people in power to make the legal changes they require. They want to make their bit of the island a separate tax haven. They normally live in Monaco but they’ve built a showy castle on a their private mini-island called Brecqhou.

They’ve installed a helipad and roads and landed cars – against the rules, nay ethos, of Sark. They own all the empty shops and most of the main island’s hotels; those now standing empty. So there’s no work in those CLOSED hotels and no paying visitors. Which means the population of the island was half its normal summer number last year.

You can watch a Panorama episode available on You Tube that explains how these two media moguls have been trying to play monopoly and throw the board over when things aren’t going the way they like. (I’ve seen my sister do it. Definitely a thing.) 

The next morning was cloudy. I eyed the tumbling impending rain clouds suspiciously as I rushed to finish my breakfast before it came down again. I managed to bring everything over to the shed where there was a sort of veranda. I stretched the tent out over the ground and sipped my coffee while weak shards of sun stroked the damp nylon into submission.

Once I figured everything would not rot away if rolled up, I packed and left the stuff ready for the appointed pick up. I managed to walk the delightful garden dell path to the harbour five times that day. Once, when the friendly bank ladies thought George wouldn’t go out in this weather and I imagined I’d better take a look at this enclosed bay, Creux Harbour, to see how small and cute it really was, and how the water smashed up through the stairway.

While waiting for the Non Pareil to arrive I strolled around the picturesque Creux Harbour

I strode back up to find a phone which just ate my money and refused to connect with anyone. Luckily I ran into Rosie rather than have to face the Information Officers again. She put in a call to George for me and we were in business. Back down the windy path I went. On the way past, I couldn’t help myself, I popped into the smart corporate looking real estate company office. The smartly-attired business woman at the desk agreed there were a lot of closed shops on the main road and, yes, it was a shame.

I mentioned I came from Australia and there was an interesting phenomenon, started in Newcastle a few years back, called ‘Renew‘. The idea was that local officials would make empty, run-down shops or premises available to artists and small desktop computer type start-up businesses for peppercorn rents in order to bring life back into blighted areas. There was quite a lot available on the internet about it, I pressed on, Renew had been a great success. She agreed wholeheartedly, making no move to search her computer. She pretended to take a note in her diary and promised faithfully the Chamber of Commerce would be discussing it at the very next meeting.

I marched back down again and found the eighty-year old George and his son, Morgan, waiting in a jolly little boat, the Non Pareil. They took us from hightide Creux harbour, round the island with the most caves in the channel (Sark, remember?) and back to a low tide harbour. Here could be a clue for a renewable energy source – tidal power must surely be an option on Sark. Watch Morgan move the Non Pareil quick smart out of there!

George had met Mervyn Peake. He reported he was a very nice man. And George’d been in the tv series, Mr Pye, too. In fact nearly everyone on Sark had been involved!

Low tide at Creux Harbour reveals how those harbour walls might have been built!

When we went past the castle, George spoke unenthusiastically about the lack of community spirit of the Barclay boys.

George and his son Morgan take the tourists around Sark in all the weathers

These modern pirates, the Baron Boys – Barclaydum and Barclaydee – came in helicopters, spread fake news that makes German propaganda look like nursery rhymes and when they didn’t like the way their game of Monopoly was heading, they threw the board over so no one could finish the game. They made several families, true descendants of that first Seigneur, the friend of Elizabeth I, walk the financial plank. They bought up houses, hotels and disgraced the local Doctor Kindness himself.

The sad thing is that this isn’t a draft of the fourth (or fifth) Gormenghast book. This is life on Sark today. Unless the Royals, who happen against all reason, to be good buddies with the Barclay Media Barons – those very same Media Barons relishing once-private information about royals, celebrities and other saucy scandals – unless Prince Charles – whose architect pal built the pseudo castle on BB island with, I kid you not, real canons balanced on ramparts artlessly covered in Spanish stone, unless the Crown can come to Sark’s rescue somehow, it’s difficult to see how this stalemate will end. The Pirate Twins themselves are now old men kept alive by the wonders of modern medicine. What of their heirs? What will become of Sark in the long run?

If the parliament or the Lord (Seigneur) could somehow regain control of the tenements belonging to the main island, I wondered if it might be possible to let the Barclay Barons have Brecqhou Island on a long-term lease? Surely they did not sell the land freehold? If the community could retrieve the hotels and shops on the mainland, they could get their own economy functioning once more.

Sark’s situation put me in mind of another David and Goliath story, that of Cuba. There was a thrown monopoly board if ever there was one. In my humble opinion Sark urgently needs to bring in permaculture experts, as they did there (Power of Community: How Cuba survived peak oil) particularly those knowledgeable about burning rubbish and making renewable energy. The stench of foul smoke overhanging the harbour is awful. Sark clearly has wind potential, and the tidal variation is powerful. Sark could surely become self-sufficient in energy one day.

Is it possible the Barclay Twins, their heirs and the Royals could join the community to build such a forward-looking and clean energy exemplar for Great Britian?

My dream? Where I was picked up by the wind? Have I been asleep all this time? Like the residents of Sark?

 

Walking home from work one day

Oh, darn. We live in interesting times. Like all of us plugged in to the internet I receive international news and views and I struggle to digest the world’s currents and tides. While history is marked up for a hefty new chapter, I live my peaceful Spanish existence in my little flat on the Costa Brava and mull over my small preoccupations. I’ve got a few things to consider. Like when I’m walking home from work I can’t help but notice how humans feel about their habitat. Respect isn’t the word.

Captured plastic flies no further.

As I walk, I sometimes listen to narrated books. Currently I’m listening to Scott Aiello read a pretty tough book called Getting to Green by Frederic C. Rich. It’s been Getting Me Down. (I’m doing it so you don’t have to.)

http://fredericrich.com/getting-to-green/

Fredric C. Rich thinks the Green movement has failed on a number of fronts, particularly on preventing Climate Change, and they ought to do better. He’s got some ideas.

Twisted vines and grass come to terms with cast off packaging

The book holds many delights, the historical perspective, for one. Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s heart-felt belief that at least some of the Nation’s assets lay in lands and waters that needed protection for future generations (ie conservation AND capitalism). This philosophy is alive and well in successful Land Conservation Trusts where grassroots folk around the world have saved beloved pieces of land, even if those lands remain in private hands – not part of Government.

http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1061428

http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1061428

Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was famous for his Natural Beauty Message; ‘For centuries, Americans have drawn strength and inspiration from the beauty of our country.’

http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1060638

Surprisingly, Republicans used to be proud of their deep and loving relationship with the land that is America. And it was Richard Nixon who established the much maligned EPA.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/Qd4LJcSz8Vk?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Back in the sixties, when Rachel Carson sounded the alarm, rivers were burning. Air was unbreathable. Birds were falling out of the sky. You could see the problem. Industry was rampantly careless about their waste. Nixon’s admin had to act because that’s what everyone wanted. Twenty million people marched on the first Earth Day in 1970 and extensive clean-up programs sprang into being.

Redbull can lies on its side in the grass

Today’s problems are fuzzy. You can’t see the climate change. Environmentalists turn into communist the-end-is-nigh-fearmongers. It snows when Obama worries about global warming.  George Marshall calls climate change the Wicked Problem. Unless you happen to be in the way of one of those worst storms ever seen. Even then you’re only going to want to get straight back to normal, not cope with terrifying scientific mumbo-jumbo.

Leftovers

Please note Getting to Green’s subtitle; Saving Nature; a Bipartisan Solution. Okay. I’m all for getting to Green. I’d even like to save Nature. But, can we talk about this Bipartisan thing? Mr Rich describes the Great Estrangement (abyss) between the Republican Party and the Democrats.  He’s not alone in noticing this, of course. The Guardian talks about The Age of Anger. The magnificent Van Jones tries to listen to the opposition. George Monbiot pulls the curtain aside to reveal the gold paying the piper. Someone’s comments lead me to watch George Lakoff talking about framing. Speaking to a clearly Democrat audience, Lakoff looks at political dualism in terms of the American Family; the strict father vs the nurturing parent. The Democrats want all the nuturing for themselves. The strict father believes in tough love. If the kids can’t succeed on their own, tough. And the GOP want the message out there, training leaders and getting Think Tanks organised. A lot.

A flying rag and a cup

When I was at university in New Zealand we joined protests about apartheid in South Africa. Hundreds of miles away, the plight of Africans captured our compassion. But the opposition, in government, community and student flats, wanted the chance to watch a good game of rugby. The rights of the individual sports fan against the rights of the many oppressed. Either/or. Versus. Wrong against Right. Left against Right. Communists against Capitalists.

Drain with objects

Mr Rich thinks the Greens need to pull in their heads regarding negative comments about capitalism. The NSW Greens of Australia are struggling with this emotive debate right now. Mr Rich fears Naomi Klein is not helping matters. Mr Rich worries some Deep Green thinkers would even like nature to overwhelm humans. (Hmmmm … ) If only it were this simple.

Supermarket with ironic name leads the way to bridge over littered water

When I did economics at school I was a bad student. I worked hard to disrupt the class and annoy the teacher. But she persevered and I think I remember learning something about cycles. (This may have been Biology?) However, to persevere, does not an industry grow from a seed? If looked after, it may prosper and live a long and happy life. It sustains itself and the humans that work within. For a time. If it is sustainable. If not, it withers and dies. Like a rock and roll band. (Shit, maybe it was music?)

Roadside litter assortment

Clearly there’s a few nuances I missed because I don’t understand how capitalism can keep propping up coal power stations. Visibly polluting, getting older and not part of a clean energy future, how can capitalists possibly back coal? Is not capitalism about buying low, encouraging start-up and making the most of growth? Van Jones’s book, The Green Collar Economy, points out just how many valuable jobs could arise from forward thinking business minds. Corporate, capitalist interests are supposedly represented by the right, the GOP. But, it seems the Republicans’ big ol’ Tea Party is a little out of control. The heavy-weight CEOs now in charge have tremendous power. They can do anything they like. They can even change the rules to get more power! To what end? Interesting times indeed.

To my mind, this Estrangement is not only about two parties. It’s also about the missing middle. That’s three sides. At least. A bipartisan schism would be an obvious diagnosis if everyone voted and there were only two parties. 9% of enrolled Australians didn’t turn up to the latest election and it’s compulsory to vote in Australia. In the UK 72.2% of voters turned out to chose whether to stay or leave the European Union, missing over a quarter of the eligible voting population. In the States, only 55% of the population turned up. What was the other 45% thinking? There’s obviously more than two sides to every story. Maybe there are fifty shades of red? Blue? Purple? Green? Sounds like a bruise, doesn’t it.

Limp plastic bag beside the road

At the risk of sounding naive, what if we act like King Arthur and bring in a Round Table? Instead of the oppositional parliamentary system Australia and NZ inherited from Britain, what about everyone coming to the table with no head? What if parliament was reconfigured (the UN is a semi-circle – that’s a start) and representatives worked together to solve problems? What if there was no dualism but only folk bringing information to help find effective solutions for the greatest number of people?

Fanta can in grass

The Gandhi Experiment is a new initiative for Peace. Does a debate need cutting, slashing argument? Winner takes all? Or could teams work, not in opposition, but together, towards a solution?

Flat out after obstructing arteries

There is one sure way of uniting people. Bring in a common enemy. When the new administration in the USA threatened to sell off 3.3 million acres of public land, environmentalists were joined by hunters and fishers who fiercely lobbied to protect their common lands.

Blue plastic attachment on roadside

Can you imagine caring for your local lands so much you’d fight for them? Clean them up? Enjoy their beauty? Regard them as a Natural Asset? Guess I might just have to get involved. Suppose I could take along a rubbish bag and some gloves on my next walk home. Big job. Someone’s got to do it. Take a look at Walkers Against Waste. I think it’s up to us. It’d be easier with friends, of course. I’d better find some like-minded people!

Soft plastic jelly-fish amongst the grass

Finally, in case you haven’t seen Valarie Kaur yet, can you imagine the light at the end of the tunnel?

https://www.sikhnet.com/news/video-valarie-kaur-delivers-rousing-speech-church

(All three of these links are to a speech delivered by Valarie Kaur. I hope it works for you.)

 

 

Oh, I love a good book club!

And, as I’ve mentioned before, the first evs Ceres Bookclub was a GOOD bookclub! CERES is a sustainability centre in the suburbs of Melbourne. There’s a cafe, nursery and education about renewable energies. What a cool place to get reading!

http://ceres.org.au/tamil-feasts/

http://ceres.org.au/tamil-feasts/

Our bookgroup centred around a feast, much intense, amused discussion and lots of inspiration. Three books were featured, Atmosphere of Hope by Tim Flannery, The Future, by Al Gore, and Don’t Even Think About It by George Marshall. Tim was there in person with his reflective book and his science mind all filled with notions of mitigation. Of course, the mirror-like quality of his cover is supposed to reflect YOU – you are the hope for the atmosphere.

https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/atmosphere-of-hope

https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/atmosphere-of-hope

Each of these books were presented by smart, highly qualified speakers, experts in climate change, education and entertaining in their own rights. After an able introduction from the bookgroup organiser, Lorna Pettifer, Tim Flannery spoke about Hope, describing technical and scientific suggestions to prevent serious damage from climate change.

https://www.algore.com/library/the-future-six-drivers-of-global-change

https://www.algore.com/library/the-future-six-drivers-of-global-change

The second tome was Gore’s vision of The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change and Sarah Houseman was kind enough to distill that enormous amount of research into a digestible titbit.

http://www.climateconviction.org/

http://www.climateconviction.org/

The final book was the only one I’d had time to read properly (it being shorter!). Kirsty Costa presented Don’t even think about it, Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change.

http://www.climateaccess.org/blog/don%E2%80%99t-even-think-about-it

http://www.climateaccess.org/blog/don%E2%80%99t-even-think-about-it

As George Marshall was unable to join us in Melbourne (he lives in Wales) he created an affable video, welcoming us to the bookgroup and introducing the major themes of his book. As we munched our delicious Tamil fare we warmed to his main theme, which I think was ‘share’. Here’s a basic primer:

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/IHyH3MPgZDo?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>iframe>

George is far more sophisticated than that, proposing tangible strategies for activists. He’s all about cooperation and converting the UNCONVERTED in a non-threatening manner. He took a tea caddy to a parley with the Tea Party in Texas.

https://in.pinterest.com/pin/419749627748518988/

https://in.pinterest.com/pin/419749627748518988/

He sat and chatted with a gun-toting woman, her family and friends for hours. He visited with survivors of a wild fire and toured New Orleans with survivors of Katrina to discover that the last thing survivors of disasters want to think about is climate change. As a general rule, folk don’t want to think about climate change at all. He notes that climate change is described by various thinkers as a ‘perfect’ or ‘wicked’ problem, in that there are so many reasons us human beings find it difficult to come to terms with.

George collects contrary thinkers. He discovered that denying climate change doesn’t mean denying all possible threats to the planet.

http://whyfiles.org/106asteroid/3.html

http://whyfiles.org/106asteroid/3.html

One of the biggest funders of an Information Centre warning of potential collisions with meteors or asteroids is a global warming denialist, Benny Peiser. This particular fellow even has an asteroid named after him, 7107 Peiser, officially listed on NASA’s website. ‘Peiser’s own website, meanwhile, routinely savages NASA’s climate scientists.’ (Interestingly, I can’t find Peiser on NASA’s website.)

George Marshall also examines funding difficulties faced by museums.

Smithsonian: David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins www.washingtonpost.com

Smithsonian: David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins www.washingtonpost.com

The Smithsonian is the biggest museum in the world. Its exhibition exploring climate change through time is ‘directly funded by those nefarious Koch brothers‘. That’s ‘twenty million dollars for the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins.’ The Science Museum in London has an Atmosphere Gallery. The primary sponser is Shell Oil.

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-12/03/science-museum-climate-change

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-12/03/science-museum-climate-change

Mr Marshall observes that writer Michael Crichton was invited to present scientific evidence at a US Senate Committee hearing, resulting from his eco-terrorist novel, State of Fear. Dr Crichton held a Bachelor in Science and he was a medical doctor. Hard to know his qualifications in atmospheric science. Certainly knew how to create a page turner and make a PILE of money!

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Michael_Crichton#/media/File:MichaelCrichton.jpg

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Michael_Crichton#/media/File:MichaelCrichton.jpg

Don’t even think about it is such an interesting book, I really encourage you to find it in your library. George writes about interviewing young folk at the coz play convention, Comic Con. He assumed these kids would be tech savvy, informed and interested. He asked them what they imagined for their future. He points out that we all knew what the future held when we were kids 50 years ago – it was Tomorrowland! But youngsters today? Go on, ask some for yourself.

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/a-special-edition-of-the-current-for-november-30-2-degrees-1.3343179/our-brains-are-wired-to-ignore-climate-change-says-george-marshall-1.3343261

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/a-special-edition-of-the-current-for-november-30-2-degrees-1.3343179/our-brains-are-wired-to-ignore-climate-change-says-george-marshall-1.3343261

Another aspect he explores in the book is personal culpability. Are YOU to blame for climate change? Did you DRIVE to work? FLY across the world for a HOLIDAY? Take a good long hard look at yourself (in Tim’s book perhaps!) George Marshall points out that conservatives particularly HATE being told what to do, particularly by governments and ideologues and GREENIES – conservatives REALLY hate environmentalists – BAH to turning off water! HUMBUG to switching light globes!

http://www.theguardian.com/profile/george-marshall

http://www.theguardian.com/profile/george-marshall

Don’t even think about it is an easy, entertaining and persuasive read. If nothing else, herein you will find strategies for dealing with rich Uncle Dan over the port after Chrissie dinner. George suggests listening to Uncle, trying to understand what his fears are, sympathising with his grief and stress co-operation rather than unity. Be prepared to learn from religions – they’ve managed to keep followers for centuries. Drop over-used environmentalist culture such as polar bears and Save-the-Planet type slogans. Mr Marshall describes his surprise when he recognised the Tea Party Activists had much in common with his own tribe of environmental colleagues.

What have we in common?

If nothing else, I’m guessing we ALL love a good BOOKCLUB!!

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/Dy68L5jglAg?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
ceres


Where is Tomorrowland?

George ClooneyHugh Laurie! Together!

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/second-trailer-disneys-tomorrowland-shows-768273

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/second-trailer-disneys-tomorrowland-shows-768273

Those guys! More than just doctors, they’re movie stars! And supposedly, thoughtful, intelligent, smart, rich movie stars. Any film they’re involved with must have something to offer, right? So, Tomorrowland. They’re both in it! George and Hugh! Originally called 1952, it’s a big science fiction, adventure film. Optimistic. There’s a lot on offer. All the FUTURE!!

http://www.wearemoviegeeks.com/2015/04/new-imax-tomorrowland-poster-watch-george-clooney-latest-trailer/

http://www.wearemoviegeeks.com/2015/04/new-imax-tomorrowland-poster-watch-george-clooney-latest-trailer/

Brad Bird directed and co-wrote – one of his inspirational items was an original blueprint of Tomorrowland (part of Disneyland). Visible under that blueprint is the map of another land, an idealistic future place, never built by Disney. That’s what Brad Bird wanted to make for his film. A place crafted by artists and creatives without politics or greed. Here are the lead artists: George, Brad, Britt, Raffey and Hugh.

stars

http://madmazreviews.com/blog/2015/08/14/tomorrowland-2015-ambitious-and-fun/

Two old men and two young girls. Let’s not think about that too long.

Saw George, Britt and Hugh on Graham Norton‘s show talking about the film. Sounded great. So we watched it. I hope everyone does watch it. As well as high production levels, amazing art and craft, there are some interesting ideas. But if you do want to watch it don’t bother reading this blog any further because I’ve come up with some spoilers for you!

http://www.flicks.co.nz/movie/the-age-of-stupid/

http://www.flicks.co.nz/movie/the-age-of-stupid/

On the face of it, this film feels like an answer to The Age of Stupid. (Sadly that title doesn’t do much to sell an otherwise provocative and interesting film. If you get a chance, it includes one of the best ‘aha’ moments ever on screen.) This was one of Pete Postlethwaite‘s last films and documents the end of the world as we know it. He plays an archivist trying to understand what went wrong. Why did humans not save themselves when they had the chance?

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/va_MVxpboqg?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>iframe>

Tomorrowland puts forward a theory. Humans are brainwashing themselves into believing they have no chance in this grim global warming and beastly aggression. The end of life as we know it is inevitable because that’s what we’ve been told. The future has been forecast by some high-tech wizardry, that’s it, done and dusted. We succumb.

http://www.slashfilm.com/tomorrowland-movie-photos/

http://www.slashfilm.com/tomorrowland-movie-photos/

It takes a positive young person, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) a thinker and questioner to ask ‘Why?’ When she raises doubts that the world’s apparently impending destruction is at all necessary, the chance of the world (people and place) ending drops immediately from 100% to 99.94%. Maybe the end is not so inevitable after all. Frank Walker (George Clooney), a retired genius, reluctantly agrees to assist her return to Tomorrowland and save the world. Much hilarity ensues.

Turns out, you have to be invited to Tomorrowland, a place in another dimension, that presumably is on Earth somewhere sometime. It’s a bit like a cult or the chosen few going to heaven. Let’s not think about that too long either.

There is much to enjoy in Tomorrowland, as I hope you find out, but something happened on the way to the shooting script. I’m not sure if the script that enticed Hugh Laurie was the one that got made. Did he have some say in how he wanted his character to be seen in a Disney film?

Because it’s his character, David Nix, who doesn’t have a clear objective. He’s maintaining this system of showing the worst possible outcomes to the people in the vain hope that humans will act to save themselves. And when they don’t, he becomes disillusioned and refuses to assist humans. So on the one hand, he does want to help humanity and the other, when the chips are down, he won’t.

At the start, why wouldn’t Nix, as director of a visionary theme park, eventually Governor, encourage a smart young fellow, Frank Walker, to continue with his clearly ambitious jet pack invention? What is Nix’s drive?

http://madmazreviews.com/blog/2015/08/14/tomorrowland-2015-ambitious-and-fun/

http://madmazreviews.com/blog/2015/08/14/tomorrowland-2015-ambitious-and-fun/

Is Nix’s negativity a result of penny-pinching, greed or something more sinister? Does he Nix any future (see what I did there?) for Tomorrowland just because he’s a misanthrope? He certainly has an interesting jodpher-esque costume, with scales on the sleeve, in the second part of the film which does lead one to think of evil villains.

http://hollywoodmoviecostumesandprops.blogspot.com.au/2015/05/original-tomorrowland-movie-costumes-on.html

http://hollywoodmoviecostumesandprops.blogspot.com.au/2015/05/original-tomorrowland-movie-costumes-on.html

Certainly, part of the vision of Tomorrowland involves guards and full-on weapons – not the innocent Disney peaceful idea one might hope for. But Nix himself is rather nice – he’s not an obvious villain. He doesn’t laugh absurdly and he doesn’t have a strange pet.

http://sobadsogood.com/2015/05/24/these-adorable-pets-are-teaching-star-wars-villains-how-love-again/

http://sobadsogood.com/2015/05/24/these-adorable-pets-are-teaching-star-wars-villains-how-love-again/

As for Frank, he’s invited in to Tomorrowland by a lovely girl robot, gets to develop the cool machine that brainwashes people and is then kicked out violently by violent nasty robots (presumably developed by the creative artist types). This backstory itches to be developed – maybe it was in a draft somewhere – and the story as shot slumps to the end …

Because, why do we want to go to live in Tomorrowland, another land in a different time and place, if we’ve saved the world as we know it? We can presumably, live on and improve the land we’ve got already. Drearyland. Earthland. Realland. Warland. Disasterland. Okay. Let’s not think about that.

http://www.slashfilm.com/tomorrowland-concept-art-guardians/

http://www.slashfilm.com/tomorrowland-concept-art-guardians/

There are amazing fight sequences between robots, lovely CG and fun sequences but with three writers credited – Bird, Lindelof and Jensen – the problems could have been fixed at the computer before the cameras were switched on.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/NSkF56CyYGE?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

And why don’t humans fight except in self defence? It’s only robots that do maiming, blowing up and destroying stuff. Asimov’s rules? Let’s not think about that. Hasta mañana!

 

 

Man in charge? Turn-bull? Turn-coat?

Right now there’s an international conference going on in Paris attempting to get some agreement on what should be done to prevent dangerous climate change. Prior to the commencement of the conference Pope Francis made a speech to the UN urging world leaders to act decisively. During the speech he blamed environmental degradation on “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity”

Australia’s new-ish Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, gave a speech in Paris that promised some Innovation:

We firmly believe that it is innovation and technology which will enable us both to drive stronger economic growth and a cleaner environment.

Then, Turnbull refused to sign an agreement which would reduce subsidies to the fossil fuel industries.

So I guess he’s not all that interested in the clean environment. Looks like he’s more interested in the power and material prosperity the Pope mentioned. Was he listening to his Pope at all?

Just who is this Mal Turnbull? Is he a smooth man of expediency or is he driving a hidden agenda? What is his relationship to nature?

Turnbull says times have changed and there never has been a more exciting time to be an Australian. We’re going to be agile and nimble and we’re going to accept more risk. However most commentators and scientists, even Chris Berg, are hopeful but underwhelmed. This isn’t a lot of money spread over four years and there really isn’t anything very new in the package. It might help some people make some (more) money. And it might not. That’s risky, isn’t it?

Turnbull historically made his money out of Ozemail – risk or good luck? Is his reliance on cheap copper NBN visionary and/or risky? Is this government gambling? And there seems to be no mention of renewable energy in this fountain of Innovation funding. Surely the risk to Australia, to the world, is in continuing to support fossil fuels? How does Turnbull intend to manage that?

I was cutting my hair in the bathroom when I idly looked down at the newspaper spread in front of me. It was The Weekend Australian November 28-9 2015 open at page 20. A hank of hair landed on an edited extract from The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull entitled, ‘Behind Liberal leader’s apparent social conservatism, an embrace of Catholicism‘. The article reports that in 2003, Turnbull gave a speech to the National Population Summit under the catchy title, It’s the Birth Rate, Stupid.

In that speech Turnbull said,

‘The gravest threat to Western society over this century is therefore neither global warming nor international terrorism. Rather, it is the unprecedented, sustained decline in the birthrate in almost all developed countries … ‘

I checked. It really is in the ‘Stupid’ speech.

In 2003 Turnbull was very worried about the survival of Western civilization:

‘Great Western cultures including ‘Italy, Spain, Greece, Japan and Russia (to name but five) could become functionally extinct within this century.’

Turnbull continues:

‘It would be a remarkable irony indeed if at the peak of our prosperity and technological achievement the human race (or at least the most developed parts of it) lost the will to reproduce itself.’

Couple of questions, Malcolm: if the human race was at the peak of our technological achievement in 2003, what’s the point of the Australian government funding Innovation twelve years later?

Secondly, the human race has lost the will to reproduce? Watch the Earth’s population in actionWikipedia puts current population at 7.3 billion. The UN reckons it will be 11.2 billion by 2100. If you don’t like those numbers you could go with The Guardian’s guess that the world’s population would be around 11 billion by then. Here’s a breakdown of current population by country.

Clearly, it’s not ALL the human race Turnbull was worried about. He carefully avoided definitions of undeveloped breeding people leaving that to others. Instead, he concentrates on the reasons that women in developed countries (Western civilization) are choosing not to have babies. They’re educated, they have careers and they are not supported to have more children by the government. So he recommends ‘we’ alter all that with some pro-family policies.

In direct contrast, others try to educate all women everywhere, like Malala who no longer needs a last name, and, why, even the World Bank supports improved learning for girls.

Obviously, this Australian article (collecting my cut-off hair) was a piece to get people interested in reading the biography. Of course, Turnbull must have changed since then, although he hadn’t altered anything for his maiden speech (presumably 2005):

Can it be true that at the peak of our technology and prosperity the western world is losing the confidence to reproduce itself? Are we witnessing the beginning of the dying of the West? Certainly we are at a tipping point in our civilisation’s story. Unless fertility rates dramatically improve then, in a cycle of loss and dislocation matched only by the Black Death in the 14th century, societies with birth rates substantially below replacement level will either dwindle into an insignificant fraction of their current numbers or be swamped by larger and larger waves of immigration.

Paddy Manning, the author of the Turnbull biography mentioned above, is now producing a series of opinion pieces in The Drum about Turnbull’s politics, to help us get to know our new Prime Minister. The first attempts to understand where Turnbull is coming from – best summed-up as warm, green and dry. (A summer lawn?)

I am not heartened by his ‘Stupid’ speech. There are strange echoes today from Tony Abbott and Donald Trump and too much division in the world to feel confident that Turnbull is a true liberal. Mal is a man who protects spies and who spies on his citizens while using encryption himself. And guess who said this in 2010:

We are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got….

Malcolm Turnbull’s objective is a mystery. Hopefully one of those startups his innovation stimulus manages to innovate will innovate a way to stop using fossil fuels. Otherwise, I can’t see how Turnbull has changed anything from the sad embarrassing days of Tony Abbott. Turnbull may be more urbane, civilised and better spoken but he’s still a clever, educated, rich mystery perceived as left by those in the right – and right by those in the left. So he’s smack bang in the middle? Malcolm in the middle. Does that make him a target?

 

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/zEnWw_lH4tQ?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

How do you feel about that?

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/nov/03/red-cadeauxs-melbourne-cup-injury-not-life-threatening-but-horse-retires

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/nov/03/red-cadeauxs-melbourne-cup-injury-not-life-threatening-but-horse-retires

Recently there have been many news items of interest to those of us who consider ourselves animals. The Melbourne Cup racing day, of course, injured at least one and killed a couple of horses – one assumes Red Cadeaux’s days are numbered.

http://theconversation.com/trans-pacific-partnerships-toothless-environment-chapter-gets-the-wikileaks-treatment-22135

http://theconversation.com/trans-pacific-partnerships-toothless-environment-chapter-gets-the-wikileaks-treatment-22135

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been unveiled and is regarded as dangerous territory for those wishing to protect the environment.

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/bill-shorten-refuses-to-back-pacific-island-calls-for-moratorium-on-new-coal-mines-20151104-gkqy5e.html

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/bill-shorten-refuses-to-back-pacific-island-calls-for-moratorium-on-new-coal-mines-20151104-gkqy5e.html

In Australia, the Leader of the Opposition refuses to support Islanders’ plea to assist with climate concerns by lessening support for coal.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/11961010/EU-cuts-subsidies-that-support-Spanish-bullfighting.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/11961010/EU-cuts-subsidies-that-support-Spanish-bullfighting.html

And the European Parliament voted to cut subsidies from Spanish bullfights. Well, that is good news. But humans still eat, factory farm and slaughter millions, nay, billions of cows without thinking about it. As you know, I believe at least the bullfight means humans have to face their actions. Let us be conscious of what we do.

In casual conversation with a woman waiting for a meeting the other day, an acquaintance, no more, we covered some of these topics. She sighed and looked out of the window, ‘Oh, I just can’t go there’.

What did she mean? This is a highly educated psychologist explaining that thinking about environmental news of the day is too much for her. She finds considering our relationship to nature too depressing to even contemplate. She feels overwhelmed. She feels hopeless.

This is one of my preoccupations. I even tried writing a short story about it once. I fear that the great beneficiary to human destruction of the environment is what they call ‘Big Pharma’.

http://www.davidicke.com/headlines/tag/big-pharma-criminals/page/3/

http://www.davidicke.com/headlines/tag/big-pharma-criminals/page/3/

There are a great number of cynical pharmaceutical companies who are laughing all the way to their annual company meetings, patting their shareholders on their drugged shoulders. We are talking billions of dollars. Clearly many folk are assisted by taking antidepressants. But for those who are concerned about our life on Earth? The more depressed people become about the environment, disappearing species, cruelty to exported livestock and mining companies dredging The Great Barrier Reef (UNBELIEVABLE!) the greater the drug companies profit.

http://theconversation.com/calls-for-climate-action-as-great-barrier-reef-suffers-major-coral-loss-9922

http://theconversation.com/calls-for-climate-action-as-great-barrier-reef-suffers-major-coral-loss-9922

Instead of getting angry, taking to the streets, writing/phoning their representatives; DOING SOMETHING, ANYTHING, people take the meds, click on Change.org or thepetitionsite.com, or Aavaz.org and feel their protests have to be enough to assuage their enormous hopelessness before they look away.

I wish we could all wake up, start feeling and take action but I fully comprehend those overwhelming feelings of belittlement and weakness we all face. That said, perhaps it is time to examine the big picture and follow the money. Who is making money from your emotional well-being? What would make you feel better?

Perhaps we can trust in the angels.

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http://climacts.org.au/tag/climate-angels/

http://climacts.org.au/tag/climate-angels/

 

Melbourne International Film Festival and Social Impact, or, The Power of Film?

http://pictify.com/559792/george-gittoes-in-his-studio

http://pictify.com/559792/george-gittoes-in-his-studio

George Gittoes won the Sydney Peace Prize. He makes art from war. He is passionate, intense and purposeful. His daughter, however, thinks he should chuck it all in and join Louie Psihoyos in making films trying to save the sea.

http://hesomagazine.com/featured/the-cove-interview-with-louie-psihoyos/

http://hesomagazine.com/featured/the-cove-interview-with-louie-psihoyos/

George did join Louie, on stage briefly, in a forum during MIFF. Also on the panel were Susan Lambert, director of Tyke, Elephant Outlaw and Nick Batsias the producer of That Sugar Film. The moderator was Malinda Wink, from Good Pitch. It was a fantastic gathering of minds and a real privilege to be in the audience.

http://gittoes.com/

http://gittoes.com/

George spoke about his film, SnowMonkey, and his work with The Yellow House, Jalalabad. He believes that documentaries are applied art, not fine art. He spoke of his horror of war and the never-ending personal effects of witnessing the Rwandan massacre in the 90s. His biography is fascinating and I remember hearing about the Sydney Yellow House in the 70s, and I saw it when they rebuilt it at the Gallery of NSW in the 90s.

Racing posterLouie, the director of The Cove and Racing Extinction and the Executive Director of The Oceanic Preservation Society, began by reminding us we are either activists or non-activists. He makes films that are weapons of mass construction. He says he’s not making a movie, he’s making a movement. (According to Paul Hawken, he’s one of many but that’s quibbling!) At the screening of Racing Extinction, Louie spoke of wanting to increase the circle of compassion and recommended Saving Species.

Racing Extinction will play to over a billion people on December 2nd 2015 via the Discovery Channel just prior to the

2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference

in the hope people will contact their politicians and make a difference.

Racing Extinction has been on my radar for months. From my jaded perspective of reading and writing about endangered species for over twenty years (Polyglot Puppet’s Not the end of the world premiered in 1995) I have to admit to slight disappointment in the film itself, mainly because of its lack of focus. The three acts could easily have been three films; the first an eco-thriller about undercover photographers in clandestine operations to expose illegal marketing of threatened species. Secondly, the story of an Indonesian fishing village encouraged to transform into a shark whale tourist destination and, finally, the brilliant story of passionate photographers projecting ghostly images of endangered (or extinct) animals across the landscape of New York.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/empire-state-building-light-show-for-endangered-species-322070

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/empire-state-building-light-show-for-endangered-species-322070

Whatever, Racing Extinction is a wonderful film and I urge everyone to see it. It reminded me of another ambitious film, The Age of Stupid, which I also encourage you to see, despite its title. Both films, intensely entertaining and engaging, suffer from the makers trying to do too much. However, because I am aware of the issues (I am the choir) I may not be able to judge effectiveness in changing audience’s hearts and minds.

Tyke B&W posterTyke, Elephant Outlaw is a smaller film with one clear viewpoint and one leading character. One of the co-directors, Susan Lambert, spoke in the forum about the need to engage the audience’s hearts. Sometimes the film brings tears, sometimes it makes you laugh but if the makers can’t engage the audience, she suggested trying something else!

Tyke posterTyke, Elephant Outlaw certainly engages, perhaps even too strongly. Perhaps we might have been spared some of the analysis, perhaps some of the more graphic footage might have been trimmed, but as Lambert describes their aim, the film wants to explore mankind’s relationship to other species through the story of one creature and they clearly succeed. The story of Tyke is grim viewing, a Blackfish for land animals. But that is our relationship to elephants, to other species, and the film makes it clear that that relationship is changing. Has to change.

http://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/george-gittoes-and-the-art-of-war-20150409-1mhay4.html

http://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/george-gittoes-and-the-art-of-war-20150409-1mhay4.html

For George Gittoes, man’s inhumanity to man is at the heart of the battle but I believe all these great artists, Gittoes, Psihoyos, Lambert and Batsias are fighting the same war, trying to raise awareness of man’s essential destructive abandon. I think George can reassure his daughter he is working with Louie.racing image

On mass, humans don’t know, don’t care and we are, beyond a doubt, destroying our only home and endangering the human race. The rock that is the Earth will survive us, of course, but there is no doubt, we are in a war, a war with ourselves as the enemy. Our ignorance and blindness to the effects of our actions on our neighbours is now, with over seven billion people on the Earth, completely catastrophic.

Will we wake up in time? Can the forces of captialism, corporate greed and elitism be splintered into individual beating hearts by the use of art?

Let’s join George, Louie and Susan and try.

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2 Sciencey Art (or Arty Science) in the public eyeball

Living in Melbourne can be inspiring. Wandering through Federation Square, as you do, on the way somewhere else, I found a few aluminum viewing stations scattered in the Atrium.

Vessels for developing platelets

Vessels for developing platelets

They turned out to be part of ‘Science in the Square‘, Melbourne’s first Art in Science exhibition.

 

Cancer Protein

Cancer Protein

Hosted by The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, there are many events to discover.  

Lung cells

Lung cells

Plus!! Underneath Melbourne, the once grungy, now Dirty exhibition space Flinders tunnelrunning from Flinders Street Train station to Degraves Lane has been revitalised.

Flinders sign

The first exhibition, Prevaricated Frequencies, has been handed over to a bunch of arty engineers, Skunk Control.flinders heartFish eye flindersEach of the Dozen windows are filled with prismatic elements and all the passers by are captivated. They must be for they are all taking photos with their phones, as was I!Cone caves flindersBecause those circles of prisms spin, the images change all the time. This is an exhibition you need to see for yourself. Catch the train! Flinders circles
Both these exhibitions encourage the viewer to reexamine assumptions both about science and art. How do we look at the world? What are we seeing?




 

So, the POPE!! Goodbye Australian Renewable Engergy!

http://paxchristiusa.org/2015/02/11/reflection-anticipating-the-attacks-on-pope-francis-and-his-environmental-encyclical/

http://paxchristiusa.org/2015/02/11/reflection-anticipating-the-attacks-on-pope-francis-and-his-environmental-encyclical/

That our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is Catholic is no surprise.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/tony-abbott-linked-to-priest-in-web-of-intrigue/story-e6frg6n6-1226573435456

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/tony-abbott-linked-to-priest-in-web-of-intrigue/story-e6frg6n6-1226573435456

What is slightly surprising is his reaction to El Papa’s encyclical on the environment. Instead of moving to protect the environment our government has not only further crushed Australia’s chances of building a renewable energy industry but also intends burning our native forests!

BREAKING: Liberal and Labor parties voted to gut our Renewable Energy Target.

They voted for legislation that not only slashes our RET from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh; but that burns down our native forests and calls it clean energy.

This news emailed from the Greens today and ABC news.

Independent Queensland senator, Glen Lazarus, a few days ago held the deal to be beneath contempt, thank you Senator, but generally there is quiet on the deal online as yet.

We see the Senate in confusion over the idea that there should be any reaction to the Pope’s letter.

So, in conclusion, what seems to be Laudato Si‘s effect on Australian parliament? That would be summed up by the Green’s gratitude and the murder of Australia’s embryonic renewables industry. Doesn’t sound very Catholic, does it?

http://econews.com.au/news-to-sustain-our-world/ret-cuts-see-wind-tower-maker-shed-100-jobs/

http://econews.com.au/news-to-sustain-our-world/ret-cuts-see-wind-tower-maker-shed-100-jobs/

As usual, though, here is a handy reminder there are people working to change attitudes. (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/planetary/121840700)

Heartlands, aim and reach …

What have Greenpeace and John Wolseley got in common? They’re both hanging around Fed Square in Melbourne, inside and out, trying to communicate their love of nature. Why?

Do they succeed? Can you share this love or just walk right past?

In their latest campaign, Greenpeace fight to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Last Thursday half a dozen young activists learned basic circus skills and swung themselves over the wall outside at Federation Square to dance/swim in projected animations to a jazzy whale sound track. They encouraged us to end the age of coal and ‘Take another look.’
Greenpeace-Reef-01

It was sold as a ‘spectacular’ and Greenpeace fans were encouraged to book tickets. Spectacular in comparison to what? A basic banner unfurling? Or Legs on the Wall? Not fair? How many people did Greenpeace want at this event? There may have been a hundred and fifty – including innocent bystanders – entertained and encouraged by Rod Quantock. Is that enough to Save the Reef?

Half the reef has died in the last thirty years.

What can Greenpeace, anyone, do to Save the Reef? How can activists grab attention and create action? You could look at some pictures online? Are you moved? Will you act?

In contrast you could wander inside to the NGV at Fed Square and check out Heartlands and Headwaters. This show is supposedly laid out in the shape of a tree, with big works on the walls surrounding the trunk. Well, it’s a nice attempt but there’s no getting away from the white box and clean lines of an urban modern art gallery. (Next time think Herring Island or Heide, perhaps?)

The most dramatic piece for me was ‘Dystopia – the last wetland Gwydir 2184’. In this work, Wolseley attempts to show cotton farms engulfing nature. Dystopeia-01

You can see the dead pelican print (lower right) more closely below.

pelican-print

You can see Wolseley making this work here. And here are the cotton farms:cotton farms

He is trying to get inside nature, show his connections, his own nature. Inside the rythyms and tensions, the cycles and evolution. He is certainly ambitious. The works around the walls are extensive, like this ‘From the edge of the great floodplain Garrangari and Garrangali’ in the Northern Territory.

floodplain

Inside this luminous paper work are smaller collaged worksfloodplain-detail-02

bringing such detail and evoking such life and depth that the piece seems to breathe.

floodplain detail 01

Floodplain took three years to make. In the words on the wall Mr Wolesley describes learning from an elder, also artist, about the use of some of the plants and mentions ‘deep time’ as compared to shallow time where humans are present.

heron-power-station

In ‘Natural History of Swamps III’, a heron examines CO2 at Loy Yang Power Station. Wolesley makes no demands on his audience. We are not expected to sign a petition. We are invited to wonder and perhaps to wander as in ‘Simpson Desert Sandunes moving across the Finke River’ in South Australia. Simpson-desert

You can see the smaller more detailed collages inviting closer examination.audienceHere you get a sense of the attempted tree down the middle of the space.

dancing-paper

These are examples of the paper he rescued from the burnt mallee – some he’d left there for months, one is even marked by roots after a burial. These papers are bent and stiffened by the elements and marked by the charcoal fingers of the scrub. Some are trapped in perspex boxes and turned into precious objects by their presentation. Others, like these, fly loose across the walls like china ducks. Am I influenced by his art? His skill? His humanity? Does his love for Nature get beyond the paper?

If we know not Nature, then how can we protect it? 
Thoreau

If we only see Nature writ large on the wall of a gallery, then how can we love it? Can our love be enough to save Nature?

How can we be moved to change?

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