Thinking aloud

This page is simply a space where I jot down my thoughts about life in general. No political debates here nor earth shattering ideas on how to fix the woes of this world, just the observations and views of an elderly angler.

Christmas

My well documented dislike of Christmas annoys a lot of people and I can see why. As someone who has spent a lifetime ruffling feathers the small matter of my lack of enthusiasm for this particular annual holiday feels like the least of my character flaws. I didn’t enjoy Christmas as a kid and I sure as hell dislike it now, so I guess I have been consistent if nothing else. I feel I should explain myself just so you can understand where I am coming from. I don’t expect many people to agree with my point of view but it is genuine and to me it has merit.

What is Christmas these days in the west? To many it is first and foremost a religious festival. Christians of all flavours celebrate the birth of Christ over 2000 years ago, they attend their churches, say prayers and often help out people who are less fortunate. Although not a religious person myself I can see the importance of this and wish those individuals nothing but the peace and happiness they deserve. To have a strong faith, to be able to worship free from persecution and to reach out to others in need with solace and practical help are virtues to be cherished. Even as an unbeliever the power and beauty of a midnight mass in a small Catholic church in Ireland was a moving and solemn experience which I recall with a warm fuzzy glow. If that was Christmas I could get on board with it. But that is not what Christmas means to most westerners, far from it.

The idea of giving presents is as old as humanity, indeed, is it one of the markers which made us stand out from the other animals as we developed all those millions of years ago. To give something you have to another person who needs it is a strange thing to do in the world of Darwinism. It goes against the whole survival of the fittest theory and suggests compassion, caring and perhaps even an understanding that we are stronger as a group. You can easily picture a group of cave-dwelling early humans huddled around a fire and by the flickering light one reaches across to hand a piece of meat to a fellow member of the tribe who has nothing to eat. That simple gesture echoes across the void of the centuries until we arrive at the twenty first century. Presents in the present day if you will.

The great evil of our generation is consumerism and Christmas is right up there near the top of the list of offenders when it comes to over consumption. There are a small percentage of our communities who live in poverty, scraping an existence in dire circumstances. People who have fled abusive relationships, those who struggle with mental illness, people who have fallen through the cracks of society and are living on the very edge. To them, the notion of a present be it ever so small has meaning and value because they have nothing. A blanket for someone who is cold, a meal for a man who is hungry, something practical for those in need. These small acts of kindness, while far from addressing the underlying issues are appreciated.

For the rest of us, the lucky ones who by accident of birth live safe, warm, comfortable lives, presents, and especially Christmas presents, have become a grotesque metaphor for our throwaway society. Shopping mania spreads across the globe as people search for presents to gives loved ones. I find it incomprehensible how this happens, how educated and intelligent human beings succumb to the advertising industry and launch themselves into a frenzy of spending on things nobody needs. Who really needs a talking fish? Or more jewellery, the latest mobile phone or a pair of slippers? The thing would be laughable if it were not so sickeningly destructive. Factories in ‘developing’ countries churn out the rubbish to feed the monster that is Christmas shopping, using up the earths scare and ever dwindling resources so aunt Ethel can buy little Johnny a plastic gizmo he will toss away after a couple of days.

Another side of this horrible fiasco is the wanton waste of food. How many millions of animals are reared and then slaughtered so we can put great lumps of meat on plates for that ‘special’ dinner? A huge proportion of this excess food is simply wasted and thrown out with the rubbish. Can anyone please explain to me in what way is this ethically or morally responsible? It is a crime in my book, it is that simple. Maybe in the past, when food was scarce and appreciated, killing that chicken or pig which you had carefully reared all year for the Christmas dinner really did mean something. In these days of full supermarket shelves we just chuck another pre-packed joint of meat into our trolley, blissfully uncaring how, where or under what conditions the poor creature was tortured before dying to provide another few mouthfuls as part of some disgusting display of over consumption.

We are living in dire times, like passengers on some liner waltzing to the band as the ship slowly slides under the waves. All the talk of climate change is falling on deaf ears. Do you think that anyone will decide not to waste so much this Christmas? There is not a cat’s chance in Hades that will happen. The shops will swell to bursting point as sharp elbowed women and scowling men jostle to grab that ‘must have’ gift. In these Covid times we all have an added excuse to splurge on ourselves and others.

This will all end. We cannot keep using up our earthly resources on crap such as Christmas presents. The whole house of cards will come crashing down as our societies come under mounting pressure. The shopper’s halcyon days are drawing to an end. How will history judge us and our wastefulness? Very harshly I fear.

In this house we will have a nice meal on December 25th if we are spared that long. We don’t eat meat so there will be some lovely vegetarian dishes to tuck into. We will drink some wine and chat in front of the fire and consider ourselves extremely lucky to be able to do so. There won’t be any presents, instead we are making donations to charities. It will make not a jot of difference to the planet because we are only one small family but imagine if millions of people stopped the annual waste that is Christmas? Something to think about………..

What I am going to do when I grow up

Sixty three. That’s how old I will be on my next birthday in April 2022. It hardly seems credible that I am this old, what the hell happened to my life? Where did all those years go?

I guess we all ask ourselves these questions as we get on a bit. It’s only natural to look back and feel life has slipped past all too quickly. One minute we are in the first flush of youth then before you know it life is just a series of painful ailments wrapped up in insecurities. Taught, muscular bodies are superseded by sagging, wrinkled frames. They say that youth is wasted on the young and I tend to concur with that train of thought. I know that my ‘teens and twenties were mis-spent and far from fully appreciated. I certainly had no idea what I want to do with my life. It is hard to know if such lack of forward planning is a good thing or not. Indeed, you could make an perfectly legitimate argument that very little in life can be planned. Powerful outside forces over which we have no control often make huge differences to our life’s trajectory. Imagine living in Europe in 1939 for example. You may have planned to become a banker or a hairdresser but when Hitler invaded Poland all your plans went up in smoke (sometime quite literally).

Growing up in working class Aberdeen my horizons were very limited and though bright enough I completely lacked any direction. No thoughts about what I wanted to do after school entered my head, even when we were subjected to what was euphemistically called ‘careers advice’. As I was good at technical drawing, art and English there was a push to get me interested in architecture. Nobody seemed to see that I was (and to this day remain) hopeless at maths. As maths is the cornerstone of designing buildings even I could see this was going to be an issue. After a succession of poor exam results all thoughts of further education for me were abandoned and I drifted into manual work in the papermills as soon as I exited the school gates for the last time.

There I was, working on the machines and thinking no further than my next fishing trip or night out with the lads. Only an enlightened personnel manager who persuaded me to go to college saved me and ultimately completely changed my life path. You see, it was an act by someone else who radically changed my fortunes, someone I had no control over. Who knows what would have happened to me if I had not attended college? As a result I went on to go to university, was able to secure management roles, work abroad, afford to buy a flat then a succession of houses and all the rest of the paraphernalia of my existence to date. We are all the same, we think we are in control but I am not convinced that we are.

Like most people my age who I have talked to, I still think like a younger version of myself. I don’t see me as an old man. My declining physique plainly shows the effects of aging but my brain whizzes along just as it did as a mere slip of a youth. Experience has knocked off some (but not all) of the rough edges in my personality and while I retain a healthy temper it is much less evident than it was a young man. There have to be some positives from getting older! Life dished out the usual level of hard knocks along the way and at times I have been wealthy then extremely poor. I’ve owned big fancy houses and been homeless, driven shiny new cars off the lot and made do with old bangers. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster I guess but I think I can say I lived a full life and have been very, very lucky so far.

Some things change of course. In my teens I loved nothing more than to go to music gigs and festivals. My love of rock music took to all manner of strange venues where my heroes tried hard to deafen us all. Alcohol was consumed in prodigious amounts (I was never into the drug scene) and the day after a gig was usually spent in bed nursing a monumental hangover. Once I had recovered sufficiently I would most likely take the bike out for a spin to finally clear my head. Now, the very thought of drinking like a lunatic and throwing a powerful motorbike around bends gives me the collywobbles. The camaraderie of young men is such a powerful force, one that society has never really come to grips with in my opinion. I know that when I was in my teens and early twenties I had to be with my mates as often as possible. I saw the same thing with our lad, Mark, that fixation of being with his crowd was an amazing driver in his life. Looking back, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what that need to be part of the group was all about. It is not like we were running around in some sort of a gang or anything like that. We just met up to go drinking or to go to concerts or hiking in the hills. Girls came and went but the lads all stuck together. I recall one day Gus told us he had proposed to his girlfriend and she had accepted. We were all dumbstruck! It was the beginning of the end and gradually the lads met prospective wives and drifted off from the group. The social dynamics of this change would be fascinating to study.

I finally met someone, got married, moved away and started a different life too. I morphed from the devil-may-care youth into a respectable manager with all the trappings that go along with that. The days turned into months and the months into years, marriages failed, jobs changed, houses were bought and sold. In the blink of an eye I went from being a bright and forward thinking young man to and old fella who walks with a limp and smells of damp fishing clothes. Knowing then what I know now I would have made a few changes. School was very difficult for me and I hated it but I gave up too easily and if I had applied myself more I could have done better. I lacked the foresight to see what possibilities there were for me and that played out as drifting into a line of work I was not really suited for. College and university were abstract thoughts to me. Beyond walking past the buildings in town I had no idea at all what life could be life studying there. I certainly could never imagine studying something I loved and progressing on to employment in a field of my choice. I should have worked harder at school, everyone told me so at the time but I paid no heed. I just wanted school to be over and to this day one of my happiest memories was walking out of the school gates for the last time.

I find it interesting to think about the changes in me and the world around me over my lifetime. Born in the last year of the 1950’s I was far too young to appreciate the ‘60’s and the immense social changes that decade brought. I can recall Kennedy being shot, Vietnam and the Beatles on the grainy black and white telly and lots of other historical moments as I grew up in that cold house on the north side of Aberdeen. London, which was ‘down there’ seemed to be the centre of the world. Football just meant Aberdeen FC, the Dons, and I was brought up going to Pittodrie to watch them with my father. The game back then was a riot of crunching tackles amid muddy pitches played by guys who weren’t far removed from the punters on the stands. Look at how that has completely changed!

Homophobia was endemic, racism accepted and distrust of Johnny foreigner seen as a badge of honour. I was taught that we Brits won both world wars and that Churchill was a hero. In fact I was living through the end of empire and the start of the descent into the decline which led to the current sad state of affairs in the UK. I left in ’97 but returned for a spell between 2005 and 2008. Ireland has many deep rooted problems but I’d still rather live here where we seems to be a more tolerant society.

So what am I going to do when I grow up? With a scant few years at best left to me it is high time I got my shit together. Having recently commenced a new job with the public service I have a clear line of thought regarding employment. This feels weird as I am used to short term contract work and knowing I will be doing the same thing for the foreseeable future is both scary and comforting in equal measure. The fundamental shift in priorities from work first to self first has been developing within me for a few years. Working excessively long hours, extensive business travel and high-octane decision making were all well and good for the younger Bumbler but now I am refocussing on what I want to do. Maybe that alone is a sign I am finally growing up.

For me personally the next year will be one of continued change. This process started in May of this year with a family death and it has been a rollercoaster ever since. I suspect similar things happen to most of us, periods of stability are rudely interrupted by times of change. As an individual I am lucky to be adaptive and flexible so the ongoing upheaval is something I can not only cope with but actually enjoy. Helen and I are slowly evolving plans for our future together, plans which should allow us both to grow over the coming years. As with all plans there is nothing cast in stone but at least the broad outline of what we want to do is coming together.

So what is on this list? The biggest item is to make firm plans for my retirement. Helen is a lot younger than I am so she is looking on enviously as I plan an end to fulltime employment. We are in the middle of the process of downsizing to a much smaller house and once that odious task is complete we will have a much clearer view of the financial implications for us. I am finding downsizing to be problematical, I hate throwing stuff away! The past few months have seen me selling off items I can no longer justify hanging on to and that will continue.

I took up learning to play slide guitar a couple of years ago and plan to continue along that dusty road. I have loved blues music since I discovered it in my teens so playing a few old classics brings huge joy to me. Arthritis is beginning to affect my wrists so there will need to be compromises but I’ll keep going with it as long as I can. A couple of half-written angling books have yet to be completed too and my photography skills badly need to be upgraded. In short, I want to swap my money focused lifestyle for a much more creative one. This change is not earth-shattering by any means, many people come to the same conclusions later in life. It too is possibly a sign of being a grown up.

We are also in negotiations over getting another dog. Nessie, my beloved rough collie passed away in 2017 and I have been pining for another dog ever since then. Once we have settled into a new home it will be time for a new dog to come into our lives. A dog brings so much into your life and we have agreed we will look out for a rescue animal when the time comes. Sadly, the animal rescue facilities here in Ireland are overflowing with abandoned dogs these days, another symptom of our throwaway society. What kind of dog? Probably a mongrel this time and most likely one with a hard luck story that we can give a second chance to. We will see what is available when the time comes.

Obviously I am planning more fishing. I’ll be working a 9-5 job until I retire so time spent with rod and line will of necessity be limited. Add to that the need to settle into a new house and all the jobs that is going to entail and you can see this boy will be too busy for much angling during 2022. As BTO used to sing, ‘I’ll take what I can get’! The odd Saturday and occasional short evening sessions will need to do me for the upcoming year.

Once I retire though there will be no stopping me. There are so many places I want to visit and so many different types of fishing to try out here in Ireland. I know one hell of a lot about fishing here but it is only the tip of a very big iceberg. I hope to do more ghillieing too. I enjoy meeting other anglers and taking them out on the lakes here. At this stage it looks like I would have lots of spare time on my hands when I retire but talking to relations who have already packed in working they tell me they are busier than ever!

So to answer the question I posed at the start of this post, I plan to be a retired angler/ghillie/blues player/fly tyer. Pity that wasn’t one of the options my Careers Advisor offered me all those years ago. I would definitely gone for it!


5th day of November, 2021

A general ramble over the issues of transport here in the west of Ireland and my reflections on my old car.

With transport being such a perennial issue here in the west of Ireland any thoughts of buying a car take on bigger implications than you might otherwise think. Public transport is shockingly absent and so owning and running your own car/van is pretty much vital. This subject is in my mind now as I am in the process of changing one old banger for another old banger.

I clearly recall the whole process of buying my VW even though it was long ago, back in 2008. I was in London and had just finished up at a job there. Huge changes were afoot as my life swivelled on to a very different axis. My decision to return to Ireland had already been made but I needed to buy a car as my company Passat had to be returned when I departed the job. So there I was, packing up the flat in London and with no car sitting outside on the driveway. My heart was set on finding a diesel engined Honda Accord. They were lovely cars to drive and the big 2.2 litre engines were bullet-proof.  I scoured the local garages for one then ranged further across the metropolis but without finding a good example of the exact Honda I wanted. Online searches didn’t help much until I found three Accords for sale up in Sheffield. I would not have bothered travelling up north if there was just a solitary car to look at but with three to pick from I figured at least one of them would be a good ‘un. I was soon on a train clattering north out of St Pancras and through the grim vistas of Golders Green and Tottenham. I love travelling on the train so the journey was a treat for me.

To cut a long story short, one of the Accords had been sold and the other two were rubbish with dented panels and oily engines. Disheartened, I  bought a stale sandwich and ate it sitting on a bench in a small park watching the ducks paddling in the Victorian pond. What to do? I recalled passing a second-hand car lot near to Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday football club, so I toddled off in that direction. My return train was not for another couple of hours so I took my time. Sheffield is not a beautiful city, or at least the bits of it I saw lacked any architectural grace, but it was obviously an industrial powerhouse back in the day. Traffic whizzed by on busy roads as I negotiated the cracked paving stones and dodged the dog poo.

The car lot was smaller than I had remembered with maybe thirty cars parked close together. On the bright side, the prices displayed on the windscreens were within my budget so I perked up and paid close attention to the job in hand. Any Accords here? No, no Hondas at all. A silver Ford Mondeo initially caught my eye but I found some fault with it (I can’t remember what it was) so passed that one by. This process went on for a while as I examined and rejected the old cars one after the other. A green Golf estate looked OK but I drifted off to look at something else before returning to it once again. I know a bit about cars, I am not an expert and certainly lack any formal training in the motor industry but I have messed about under the bonnets of them over the years and have picked up a few basics to look out for. I went over the Golf in detail and in truth could not find anything obviously wrong. Another chap came over and asked if I was buying the green estate. Slightly flustered I blurted out ‘yes, I think so’. ‘Looks like a good one’ he said and off he went to check out a people carrier further down the row. As if by magic the salesman appeared and we started the usual dance. Questions asked, partial answers, the game we all play when in negotiations. I asked to hear the engine running but once the keys had been found the old battery would not turn her over. I was now in a quandary, everything else was checking out fine but without hearing the engine running I would be taking a huge risk in buying the car. The owner of the lot turned up and so we went inside the port-a-cabin which served as an office. Over a coffee we chatted.

Just up the hill from where we were sitting drinking awful instant coffee was the largest VW dealership in Yorkshire. They had no interest in old trade in’s so this guy would buy them at good prices. The Golf I was looking at had been bought new from that dealer and the owner had gone back to trade it in for another car. The log book looked good and the car had been meticulously serviced by the main dealer, including a recent timing belt change. I haggled on the price once more and we agreed a number. A deposit changed hands and the deal was when I returned the following week the car would have passed the MOT. I had gone to buy a Honda but here I was buying a Volkswagen I had not even heard running.

I made the same journey the following week and the dealer was good to his word. The car had been tested and starting fine so we shook hands and I turned left out of the lot, heading for the nearest filling station as the fuel tank was empty according to the gauge. Soon I was on the M1, rolling south in light traffic and taking in the details of my new ride. Everything seemed to work when the appropriate buttons or switches were pressed and the journey to south London was uneventful. So began a long and, in the main, happy ownership of the German estate. I am a great believer in maintaining cars so when it was due an oil change of something minor broke or wore out I had it fixed. Over the years there have been problems but that is just normal. The turbo’s are a bit weak on the old Golfs and my one blew two turbos over the years. The electric windows are also poor and I had to change them 3 times in total. Apart from that there was the inevitable flywheel change when the duel mass one disintegrated at 200,000 miles (who ever dreamt up such a useless invention was an idiot). She got a new clutch at the same time even though it was barely worn. Apart from that it was just the usual brakes and suspension parts which wore out and had to be replaced. All in all it was a reliable car and she did me well for that last thirteen years. Not bad for a car I bought with the intention of changing it after a couple of summers!

So here were are in late 2021 and the old gal has done 330,000 miles. A faulty ABS means it is no longer economical to keep repairing her so it is time for a change. I have been looking around for a few weeks but nothing had excited me. You see I wanted a cheap run-around which will last me a couple of years and then buy a good car after that. This is centred around my retirement plans. Brixit has scuppered the idea of getting my brother-in-law’s old car on the cheap. The second-hand car market has imploded here now that VAT is payable on all goods coming into Ireland from the UK. As every used car in the country comes from Britain prices have sky-rocketed and very few cars are coming on the market now. Many dealers used to make weekly trips to the big auctions in UK and bring over a few cars to sell on at a profit. Nobody is doing that anymore.

Anyway, the search continued and something did indeed turn up for me. I am a great believer that what is for you won’t go by you. I examined a Renault above in Glenisland last evening and bought it, so wish me luck. As is the way of things when dabbling in old cars this one requires a small job but it should be cheap to fix. I’ll get that done and sort out tax and insurance before sending the faithful old VW to the scrapyard. I know it is just a bunch of metal and plastic bits but somehow we get attached to cars, especially after owning one for so long. There will be a mix of emotions on the day she heads off to the breakers 14 years after driving her of the lot back in Sheffield.

The whole question of private transport looks like a minefield to me. I am fully on board with the need to cut emissions but from where I am sitting it hard to see any meaningful progress out here in the sticks. A derisory public transport system, no real infrastructure to support electric cars let alone hydrogen powered vehicles and little to support the use of bicycles is our lot. It feels like there is a lack of joined up thinking, we are all encouraged to be more green in our use of transport but at the same time there are no options for us to avail of. Given that providing infrastructure is a long term commitment this gap between expectations and reality is set to continue for a long time yet. Would I buy a new electric car if I could afford one? Probably not, simply because there is such limited charging points in the country. I fully accept that at some point I’m going to be forced into switching to a greener car but a huge push to provide the support services and at the same time a massive reduction in prices of vehicles must take place first.

Railways fell out of favour in Ireland much as they did in England when Beeching swung his shiny axe in the early sixties. Mile upon mile of track was ripped up, stations closed for good and trained staff let go. Now, large tracks of Ireland have no access to the railway and that is particularly true of the north west of the country. I am luckier than most in that the main line from Westport to Dublin passes through Castlebar and I can get to the capital by train. It is very expensive and the service is limited but at least I have that option. It has always looked to me that building more railway lines would be a huge benefit to the whole country but I am not a transport planner so I expect there are good arguments against such an expansion.

Most people in rural Ireland are less fortunate than me and they have to travel to the nearest railway station to catch a train. The existing rail system basically radiates out of Dublin so many journeys need to go into Dublin first before catching another train to the final destination. The tram system in Dublin has been a huge success but it came at an immense cost to the tax payer and I doubt if any other Irish city would contemplate such a scheme. It is difficult to image any significant improvements or extensions to the existing rail system and we will just have to live with what we have for the foreseeable future.

Large parts of Ireland are flat, just like in Holland, yet very few dedicated cycle lanes exist. Some excellent works have been carried out to create a network of greenways, paths which have been upgraded for pleasure on foot or by bike. Many of the old towpaths beside the canals have been given this treatment and are a wonderful amenity. More could be done though, much, much more. Compared to the huge costs of new roads or railways cycle paths are a cheap and effective use of scarce public funds. The benefits in terms not only of economic activity but health seem to make a compelling case to build more cycleways in my opinion. I am hopeful that the success of the greenways will encourage more projects like them to be started. With my dodgy knees and ankles I should be the last person in favour of more cycle facilities but there is a need to get bikes off the roads and on to dedicated cycle paths.

As you can no doubt gather from the above, owning a car is a necessity for us folks living out here in the west. A simple commute to work for me which is just a 76 kilometre round trip, can only be undertaken by private car. Bus and train timetables don’t match up to my working hours and I’d have to hang around waiting for transport for far too long to make it feasible. It would also be prohibitively expensive, so instead the short hop is done behind the wheel. Don’t run away with the idea I am a huge fan of cars, I am not! I wish there were alternatives but there simply are not at the moment. Call me an old cynic but there is too much money wrapped up in current car manufacturing for there to be out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to personal transport. The switch to a different power plant in the same format of metal chassis running on 4 wheels on a strip of tarmac doesn’t seem that radical somehow. This world is home to vast numbers of super intelligent people, why can’t we come up with something better?

While I am on about it, it seems to me there is a lack of equality between the rich and poor when it comes to our transport carbon footprint and what we are being told to do about it. The super-rich jet around the world, run about in huge, environmentally damaging vehicles and consume a disproportionate amount of resources. Yet Joe Soap like you and me are constantly bombarded with diatribe about cutting our travel or else we will be responsible for the collapse of society. Is it just me or is that a tad unfair? Maybe the rich should lead by example? Something to think about when you are sitting in the next traffic jam.

Update, the old girl went off on the back of the breakers truck one rainy evening in late November ’21. The replacement Renault runs fine but it is just not the same………

3rd November, 2021

Random thoughts on the injustices of life

2021 has been a fairly bad year for so many people. As it rolls toward its end I have been reflecting on its passing and how life has altered for me and those close to me since last New Year. I am generally not a great one for introspection or delving deeply into spiritual matters but with so much happening in the world which is either directly or indirectly affecting me a little spent exploring how I am feeling is probably no bad thing. An awareness of your own mental health is important and yet it seems that middle aged men are especially bad at addressing their emotional well being.

I don’t, as far as I know, suffer from depression but I know many people who face an ongoing battle with that debilitating affliction. Through tough times I can usually keep fairly positive as long as I feel I am working towards something better in the future. Inertia is hard for me to deal with so keeping busy is key to me. Getting outside, even if just far a walk around the local lake or woods is a great tonic and even just messing around fixing up broken items lurking in the shed has a positive effect on me. I admit to feeling envious of others who can cycle, run or take other strenuous exercise, things that are denied to me by dint of my arthritis. It would be very easy to dissolve into maudlin just thinking about the loss of my ability to go climbing or hillwalking but I have grown to accept that over the years since the arthritis set in during my forties. I spent so many days in the hills that I have a store of memories to reflect on, enough for one of my age to be happy with.

On the other hand, the injustices of modern life are difficult for me to accept and the total failure of the capitalist system deeply angers and frustrates me. At its core, capitalism is about consumption and how to make money from it. For decades now we have been hearing that we cannot continue to consume the resources of this planet in the way we have been. There are too many of us humans and we are destroying the eco systems around us which we need to survive. How then do we balance capitalism which depends on over consumption with the need to become sustainable? Something has to give and I for one do not see an end to the capitalist system any time soon.

So why am I so odd and railing against the status quo? I guess you can put it down to the rantings of an old man who never made it to the corridors of power and so could not make a difference. Instead I have spent my life reading and trying to educate myself. I don’t get my information from YouTube like many, nor the mainstream press. Instead I have been slowly building my views over a number of years of life experiences and reading modern history. Since the industrial revolution there have been discernible patterns in western life which keep repeating themselves and when combined with the advances in technology these forces appear to me to be at work again. The worry is that now, with our planet on a knife edge, we are in the middle of a breakdown the likes of which we as a species have never witnessed before.

Capitalism, along with its siblings empire and discrimination, was provided with a sudden boost, creating a new rich class who used their wealth to create more wealth for themselves. Think about this, where else in nature do you find a species who hoards some much they cannot use it all? I have read that the indigenous peoples of North America saw ownership of excess as a very bad thing and if a man had more of something than he could use he would give it away to someone who needed it. Contrast that to today’s world where amassing money and goods is everyone’s aim in life. There is a saying in Ireland that you never see a tow-bar on a hearse, meaning you can’t take your worldly possessions with you when you die. Yet so many of us want to be rich, to join the small cadre of super wealthy. We look up to the rich, admiring their wastefulness. I can well imagine if I lived in a Victorian slum the luxuries of the mill owner would appeal.

Think back to the mid-eighteenth century. Great inventions by genius minds kick started a quantum change in western society. The agrarian based economies of western Europe rapidly changed to industrial ones, drawing workers from the land into the cities which expanded at prodigious rates. The industrial revolution brought many benefits to humanity but also a great deal of misery. Men, women and children laboured in horrendously dangerous and unsanitary conditions to work in the mines and mills, all to create ‘things’ for sale. This made the rich owners more money. The rich got richer while the poor got slums, rickets and early death.

The great war came along and the factories switched to making the tools of destruction, increasing the owners wealth while the poor were marched off to die in the mud of Flanders or the fly infested squalor of the Dardanelles. By the end of the conflagration America was a superpower, Russia was run by communists and many of the old houses which had ruled Europe for centuries had crumbled and fallen. The brave new world promised to the survivors failed to materialise though and the European soldiers returned to unemployment, disappointment and hunger. The inter war years were a time of change, boom or bust and a moral abrogation by the worlds rulers as they watched the far right grow in strength. In 1939 the world descended into total war and we went form the cavalry charges of the Polish lancers that autumn to the A bombs falling out of the blue skies over Japan in ’45. Once again, vast fortunes were amassed by the ruling classes while the troops and civilians were slaughtered. See the common thread here?

The end of the British empire, the inextricable rise to ultimate power by the USA, the gulags on the steppe, Israel’s bloody creation, mutual butchery in Africa; since the end of the second world war the grim list of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man has rolled ever on. Vietnam, with it’s images of flaming napalm coating children, was my first awakening to the realities of war. My grandfather on my mothers side fought at Gallipoli and was too traumatised to ever talk about it. My father’s elder brothers all fought in the second world war and they too could not bring themselves to discuss what they had witnessed. Yet the hungry beast that is violent conflict salivates in the corner, biding his time before the next conflagration engulfs the planet. Armament factories will buzz with new life while the hospitals and cemetery’s fill with the broken bodies of the heroes once again. To me at least it appears the nations of this world have learned nothing from Auschwitz, Stalingrad or the Somme. War makes a few people incredibly wealthy and supports many others in the supply chain. The man in the street will profess a hatred of war but once he has feasted on a diet of propaganda he will soon come around and go off to die at the front just as his forefathers did. China flying sorties over Taiwan, the rattle of the AK-47’s in East Africa, the simmering cauldron that is the Middle East, which one will be the spark to set the whole world alight? In August 1914 the west slumbered, unaware that when the Austrian Archduke’s car took a wrong turn and put him in the sights of Gravilo Princip the world was about to change for ever. Are we currently similarly somnolent?

Of greater concern from my standpoint is the damage to our environment. The speed at which the world is warming is incredible. I am not in any way an expert but from what I have read the temperature of the world fluctuates naturally over lengthy timescales but we are witnessing these changes over decades instead of hundreds of thousands of years. Creatures are hunted, poisoned, tortured and abused by humans everywhere. We destroy their habitat, intensively farm, net the fish from the oceans and grow them in cages where they swim in their own waste. The insects which are so key to life are disappearing as we humans kills them with pesticides. Politicians utter polemics but don’t actually take any action. Protesters are labelled as extremists and treated like criminals. All this as time runs out. I am thankful for the life I have led but fear the next generation will not be so fortunate. Catastrophe is around the corner.

So what are we, the collective masses of the human race, supposed to do to avert the disasters barreling towards us? I am but a lowly worker and lack the wisdom required to source a silver bullet for our ills. I don’t believe there is a single answer but rather a complete change in how we all behave. Our lust for the transient joys of the consumer lifestyle needs to be dramatically changed for a start and that alone seems to be an impossible dream. The latest car, the new version of mobile phone, food intensively farmed so we can eat cheaply, buying clothes when our wardrobes are already bulging, the list goes on and on. Our political system blocks any change. What politician is going to say to potential voters they cannot have what they desire? People, aka voters, want the status quo. They do not want to hear the luxurious lifestyle they currently enjoy will have to radically change. Take something as simple as water. We here in Western Europe just take it for granted that clean, fresh water is available by turning on a tap. What if water was rationed? It is not impossible this will happen in some areas soon as water sources dry up soon anyway. Or how about planning authorities stop granting permission to build houses on flood plains? What if there was a cap on how much money you can own and the rest goes to poorer people? It is hard to imagine any drastic measures becoming a reality and that is why I am so negative about the future. Change comes from the top and the people in charge don’t want any change. They are not going to give up their gilded mansions.

I can only comment on Ireland as I live here. Maybe some of my ideas would find resonance in other countries, maybe not. Some basics have to be addressed here if we are going to have a future. For example, agriculture here is based on raising beef and to a lesser degree dairy with sheep on poorer pasture. Ireland is green these days because of the endless fields of grass grown to feed the cows. This is not sustainable and is hugely damaging to the environment. Land has been drained and leveled then slurry (cow excrement) is sprayed on it. Over the years all trees and natural woodland has been felled, bogs drained and watercourses straightened so the use of land for cattle can be maximised. Ireland now produces far more beef than it can consume and this is seen as a great benefit to the country as the excess beef is sold abroad, thus increasing exports. We need to ween Irish farmers off the dependence on beef. The way for this to happen is simple, we, the consumer need to eat less meat. Meat should be a luxury in my opinion not a cheap meal. Yet we are addicted to it. When the first locked eased here in Ireland where do you think the longest queues formed? The fast food joints. People just wanted to chew on mechanically recovered meat.

It is not just beef that is a problem. The 19th Century saw people cleared off lands so that the owners could put sheep on the ground. At that time sheep were very profitable animals and they could subsist on poorer soils. So the people went and the sheep appeared, dotting the hills with white as they chewed at the already sparce vegetation. The trees and shrubs were eaten, leading to erosion and loss of biodiversity. Nobody cared as long as they were making money. Now, the price of wool is so low it is not worth the effort to shear the animals and hill farmers often only survive at all due to the handouts form the EU. Again, it is time to rethink the whole sheep industry here and make sweeping changes. Pigs are intensively farmed, a disgusting business which should have no place in a caring society. Their contribution to pollution is terrifying and whole water systems have been poisoned by piggeries. The same applies to chicken farming. The days of a few chucks pecking around the farmyard are a fantasy, the vast flocks of barely featherd birds are the reality of modern poultry farming. I am old enough to recall when chicken was a luxury and it needs to return to that.

Salmon farming must be outlawed, period. The utter cruelty is beyond the pale and has to be stopped. Cheap salmon is just lining the pockets of a few Norwegian millionaires while the wild fish teeter on the edge of extinction. Politicians seem to be under some sort of spell when it comes to salmon farming, believing the lies from the owners and send grant money their way to build more and bigger farms. Wild salmon are seen as expendable and the sporting industry is even less desirable.

A fundamental change in our political system has to be a priority. We simply can not continue to suffer under the current vacuum of ideas and leadership. Our view of the world has to radically change and to do that we need to deconstruct the current political systems and replace them with a new way of leadership. We must find a way of encouraging the brightest and best in our communities to enter politics so they can learn to be leaders and not just slaves to party politics. What if we banned all political parties and only individuals could enter parliament? Imagine voting for people of huge intellect and integrity who would place the higher good of all in priority and not just the financial benefit to themselves and their friends. Imagine a turn around from wanton greed to reduced consumption and waste of scarce natural resources. Image a compassionate leadership who value not just money. At this point in time all of this sounds an impossibility but that is because we are all conditioned to simply accept the madness of capitalism. We simply do not need all the goods we buy, we do not need to work long hours to make enough money to but things which are transient,

The whole rotten edifice of the capitalist system is based on making money and you make money by selling stuff. It is therefore better that the things you sell do not last, that way you can sell more when the original wears out. The inherent redundancy which is build into modern goods must be addressed if we are to live sustainable lives on this small planet. We know how to build things which will last a long time but chose not to because we make less money that way. this has to be changed around so we buy goods because they will last a lifetime and not fall apart within a year. Take modern cars as an example, they are engineered to have a life expectancy of only a few years before something major breaks down. By then it is supposed that you will have bought the latest model and the original car goes off for scrapping. The waste in this cycle is staggering but we don’t see it that way, we just want to buy a new car. We are the problem here, not the manufacturers. We do not demand a car will last for 20 years, we want a new one with the latest useless gizmos every two years. It feels like we are now caught in a trap of our own making. We buy stuff which meets our demands meaning it is not going to last and will have to be changed soon. Only when we, the consumer demand longevity as the most important selling point will manufacturers respond.

OK, enough for now. I will put some more of my thoughts down over the coming weeks and months so feel free to take me to task over my ideas.