Incredulous, amused, bonkers, sad, insecure

We finally made it to France, for the first time in 2 years because of covid. When talking to our European friends, their view of Brexit is pretty well unanimous, as indeed it was two years ago. They cannot understand why UK chose to leave the EU, why we would choose to erect borders, checks and tariffs, when previously there was free flow of trade with our main trading partner, why we would choose to make it difficult to take our pets on holiday, why we would choose to lose freedom of movement across the whole continent, why we would choose to make it difficult for Europeans, even spouses of Brits, to come to UK, why we would choose to risk a resurgence of the troubles in Northern Ireland by leaving the customs union. Why did you do this self harm?

This incredulity is supplemented by amusement at the antics of the Johnson government in trying to justify its extreme interpretation of the Brexit vote, which did not itself mandate all these unfortunate results.

Personally I have seen just one possible benefit of Brexit – leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, which has over decades decimated European wildlife, as we have observed on our travels. That policy is in great need of reform. Other than that, all we Brits have ‘gained’ is a lot more bureaucracy, expense and restrictions on our lives, compounded of course by an insistently different approach to covid.

Basically, our European friends think that Little England has gone bonkers and is taking the UK Union with it. It is difficult to disagree.

They are also sad that we, who they regard as friends, have left. We and they feel a little more insecure in these troubled global times, when we Europeans need to stick together.

Featured image is based on that at forexop.com

Small tortoiseshell 3

It’s getting towards late summer in England,and the small tortoiseshell butterflies have arrived in our garden, at much the same time as they did last year. One sunny morning, the first after a period of rain, there were an incredible 12 basking on our awning and roof, probably newly hatched. They really are rather pretty butterflies.

On white buddleia.
And incredibly hairy.

The feeding proboscis is particularly evident in the following.

Click to see more detail.

Populations are said to be declining, possibly related to habitat loss, pesticides, global warming…

Bodnant Gardens

The National Trust’s Bodnant Gardens, set in a sheltered valley near the mountains of Snowdonia, make available to the people grounds that were at one time private property. And what wonderful gardens they are, well worth visiting. Here’s a selection of photographs. Click to view as slideshow.

Our Minds Limit Science

Here’s a wonderful rant by secretsoftheserpent about the essential nature of science, being and consciousness. I don’t necessarily agree with every word, but most of it makes exhilarating sense.

secretsoftheserpent

Our ego mind is what limits us. We are our own worst enemies. We can’t be wrong. We have to have others think like us. The ego will get itself into trouble constantly. Science is not immune to the ego. In fact science is being run by one of the biggest ego trips ever in history. Until we get science and the human race out of the ego, we will not advance.

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Cigarettes, gas guzzlers, and the power of corporate interests

Here’s a powerful post by Jane Fritz. How corporate interests have successfully stopped effective action on climate change for decades, until it’s too late to avoid the really serious weather stuff that is evident right now, and only going to get worse.

And yes, the rest of us let them and our politicians get away with it. Collectively we have so far failed to meet the challenge. What a mess we are in now…

And there’s a great poem by Drew Dellinger.

Robby Robin's Journey

Drew Dellinger pretty well says it all in his compelling 2006 poem, Hieroglyphic Stairway.  In fact, he pretty well says it all in his first stanza.

it’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?

as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?

what did you do
once
you
knew?

Think about it.  As is evident from Dellinger’s powerful poem, when he published it in the mid 2000s not only was the destruction of our planet through man-made climate change well known – the only place that sustains life as we know it – but as…

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Monterey pine

I’m still sorting out photos from our visit to the National Trust’s Bodnant Gardens in North Wales. This stand of monterey pines (pinus radiata) is not quite as spectacular as the black pines previously shown, but they are softer and more colourful.

Monterey pines are native to California and Mexico, but are extensively planted as a wood/pulp crop.

Craggy trunk

Emperor dragonfly

This beautiful emperor dragonfly was ceaselessly patrolling the pond at Denzell Gardens, Altrincham. He never stopped for an instant, but hovered from time to time at a particular corner. The only photography option was to shoot him in flight, a challenge for my Panasonic ZX200 superzoom.

According the the British Dragonfly Society, they rarely settle, but there is a stunning photograph on their website. The blue abdomen indicates a male.

These are Britain’s bulkiest dragonflies, common in southern England, but their range is said to be moving northward, probably due to global warming.

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell is on my mind, having just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the last of her award-winning trilogy on his life.

Born around 1485, of humble origins in London, Cromwell rose to become an MP, then in 1524 an advisor to Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, right hand man of King Henry VIII. Somehow Cromwell survived the fall of Wolsey in 1529, when King Henry blamed Wolsey for the failure to get the pope to agree with annulling his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon, who had not produced a son and heir.

In 1530 the King appointed Cromwell to the Privy Council and over the following years gave him many other titles, including Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Privy Seal and Great Chamberlain. Thomas Cromwell became the second most powerful man in England, second to King Henry of course, but always resented by the traditional aristocracy. He always had jealous enemies.

In 1532 the supremacy of the king over the church in England was confirmed, the Lord Chancellor and anti-protestant Sir Thomas More resigned and was subsequently executed. The marriage to Catherine was annulled at Dunstable Priory, delegitimising her daughter Mary as heir. Henry married Anne Boleyn in 1533. All was orchestrated by Cromwell. In 1534 he was formally confirmed as first minister (compare today’s prime minister).

In 1536 came the act for the suppression of the lesser monasteries, Cromwell’s scheme to seize the wealth and lands of the monasteries, which provoked rebellion in the north of England with first the Lincolnshire Rising and followed by the Pilgrimage of Grace. These rebellions were seen off by Henry and those loyal. Those responsible were first persuaded to delay and later pursued and executed.

Anne Boleyn had not agreed with the religious changes, there were rumours of affairs, and she had also not produced a male heir. Cromwell was instrumental in her trial, fall and execution and the annulment of this marriage, delegitimising her daughter Elizabeth as heir. Henry married Jane Seymour.

Queen Jane died in 1537, after the birth of her son Edward, the longed-for male heir.

In 1538 the religious reform extended to the larger monasteries, which were invited to surrender, a process completed by 1540. Those that resisted, such as Richard Whiting at Glastonbury, were executed. The wealth and lands went to the King and his favoured lords. But the king resisted further religious reform.

Also in 1540 Cromwell had succeeded in arranging a ‘political’ marriage of Henry with Anne of Cleves, which was never consummated as neither party seemed to regard the other with any favour. But political winds were changing on the continent and it is believed that Henry blamed Cromwell for this alliance and the failure to extricate him from the marriage. Conservative forces briefed against Cromwell and the king allowed him to be arrested, tried and executed by July. At the same time, Anne agreed to annulment of the marriage and Henry married Catherine Howard.

Ten years was all it took for the once-humble Thomas Cromwell to dissolve the great monasteries of England and be instrumental in the king undertaking his second, third and fourth marriages, and for others to follow through with the fifth. Whatever we think of his dissolution of the monasteries, he seems not to have deserved the fate of beheading eloquently described by Hilary Mantel.

In fact Mantel’s books tell the whole story of Cromwell’s period in power, from the imagined perspective of the man himself. The whole trilogy is a tour de force, requiring great stamina for a complete reading, but very rewarding.

At the end of the day, Thomas Cromwell was a mere pawn on the European chessboard, in the game being played out by the English, French and Holy Roman kings/emperor, the Protestants and the popes of the Roman Catholic Church. He was dispensable when no longer convenient for his master.

King Henry VIII was a monster ego, who manipulated all to his own perceived personal advantage. We have not a jot of sympathy for him. Just beware today’s monster egos that seek similar over-arching power.

Featured image: Thomas Cromwell, by Hans Holbein

Hilary Mantel trilogy: Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, The Mirror and the Light

Gatekeeper

During a recent short, sun-blessed visit to the Wales/Shropshire/Cheshire border area near Whitchurch, we saw lots of gatekeeper butterflies. Although typified as ‘browns’, and with the alternative name of ‘hedge brown’, the upper wings include a colourful orange.

Gatekeepers are more typically associated with southern England, but their range is extending northward, no doubt related to climate change.

A question of balance?

1966

A group of us members of the university astronomical society visit Herstmonceaux Observatory in Sussex. We travel by coach from Cambridge. We have a great time, and on the way back consume significant quantities of Merrydown, which someone had the foresight to provision us with. One of the most entertaining of our party is an acquaintance, Brian Hoskins, of Trinity Hall. I will not embarrass Brian by saying what actually happened on this journey, but it was nothing disgraceful.

2014

I hear this vaguely familiar voice on BBC Radio 4’s morning Today Programme. It is distinguished Professor Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute on climate change, voicing the urgency of the action needed against global warming and climate change. Next, I am horrified to hear the old political bruiser and ex-chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson pontificating about what nonsense is all this stuff about climate change. It is not a fair contest, the experienced media brawler versus the earnest scientist. Lawson was supposedly put up by the BBC in the interests of ‘balance’ – balancing true science against bigoted opinion.

2017-18

The BBC give Lawson an opportunity to further express his views on climate without scientific challenge. The next April, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom rules that “BBC Radio 4 broke accuracy rules by failing to sufficiently challenge the climate change denier Nigel Lawson’s controversial claims in an interview“.

2021, yesterday

The Meteorological Office reports on the Today programme that recent extreme weather events were undoubtedly caused by man-made climate change. No so-called ‘balancing viewpoints’ are expressed. The evidence is now fully in.

2022?

Interestingly, the other viewpoint commonly expressed by Lawson and other right-wing zealots around the same time was the importance of Brexit to sever the UK from the European Union. We don’t yet have the full evidence, but years of ill-tempered arguing, recent UK economic performance and the intractable situation in Northern Ireland suggest that the realisation, that this too was cloud cuckoo land, is not too far away now.

Billionaire man

What would you do if you had a billion pounds?

Would you follow the technological dream of science and the colonial dream of new physical horizons, and fund a space program to take humanity another step down this road that has supposedly served us so well for hundreds of years – exploitation of supposedly virgin lands, ignorant of the life that is there? Become so convinced of the magnificence of your own ego and exceptionality, that you insist on being one of the first to go into space? Even model your spacecraft to resemble a large penis as you exhibit your contempt for lesser humans?

Or would you do something to help repair the earth and nature that has been ravaged by that technological/colonial dream, to the degree that our ecosystem is now under extreme threat, both in its loss of biodiversity, in its drowning in its own pollution, in the breakdown of its long-stable climate – all effects which have been made worse by you and your like, the rich and powerful extracting money from ‘the system’ to a degree that is surely obscene and has deprived the public purse everywhere of the means to ensure a decent life and environment for all, even undermining the democratic systems that of course put limits on your individual power.

Psychologically, the first path is chosen in humanity’s adolescence, the creation of ego that we all go through. Some appear to remain arrested at this increasingly narcissistic stage – ageing egos going in a circle of their multiple houses, yachts, private jets, exclusive parties, security obsession, separation from the masses. 

But modern psychological knowledge means we now know that this ego process is just the first stage of our development, as we grow to maturity, transcend our individual ego concerns and becoming co-operating adults and gradually becoming wiser and more spiritual. Our concern is wider than the individual; it is the good of the whole and all its parts.

Of course, this is also the perspective that will enable us to address all those problems that we have created in the world around us. Restoration of our living ecosystem becomes of paramount importance, the space ego trip seems somehow irrelevant. Not that we should not have more space programs, but that they are hardly today’s top priority.

So what would you do with your billion? And if you had more than one billion, why? What a weight of responsibility to have so much money, the weight of so much of the earth on your own shoulders? What on earth would you do, and why?

The ideas came to me after reading Prof Tim Jackson’s excellent post on The Billionaire space race; the ultimate symbol of capitalism’s flawed obsession with growth. Do read it.

Featured image is of Mars by NASA, from Tim’s post.

Banded Demoiselle

Last week’s hot spell gave me the gift of quite a few minutes spent watching and photographing these magical banded demoiselle damselflies, by the lake outflow stream in Tatton Park. These are larger than the average damselfly, almost of a size more typical of dragonflies.

Click to see closer.

Their colours are startling blues and greens in bright sunlight. According to the British Dragonfly Society, the two genders are distinguished as follows:

  • Male: metallic blue body with broad dark blue-black spots across outer parts of wings.
  • Female: metallic green body with translucent pale green wings. (Wikipedia suggests there may also be a white patch near the tip of the female’s wings).

Most of these are pobably males, or maybe not?

Blue Green Algae

When we first move to Knutsford in 1986 there was no generally recognised problem of blue green algae or cyanobacteria. There was a small sandy beach by the lake in Tatton Park, where people would go to picnic and bathe in the lakewater. Dogs swam in the lake without problem; even daughter’s Westie put his toes in.

Then, in the early nineties, notices began to appear about blooms of blue green algae in the water; dogs should not go in and people should definitely not bathe. They appeared with increasing frequency, and are now a permanent feature. The sandy beach is long gone.

Almost everywhere you go in Britain these algae seem to have got a hold, with a detrimental effect on other wildlife. Last year we witnessed dead Canada geese being removed from Shakerley Mere because of poisoning, suspected to be the very evident blue green algae.

Close up the resulting scum can appear ugly, but can sometimes give almost beautiful effects, as in the following picture.

Ferry Meadows, Peterborough

So what causes these algal blooms and what changed?

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Small Skipper 3

At first I thought this tiny insect flapping through the garden was some sort of moth. When it tarried a short while on the lavender, it became clear that it was a small skipper butterfly.

The lavender flower gives an idea of size, less than 2cm long. These butterflies mostly appear in UK at the height of summer, mid-June to mid-August.

This photo from a previous post shows the small skipper on thistle flower, with wings extended.

2019

And here’s one on buddleia in typical half-open pose.

2017

Are we insane?

It is difficult to argue with the suggestion that modern human beings are insane, as we trash the environment, poison our own air and water and our own food supplies, send countless species to extinction, indulge in numerous wars, even drive the global climate towards unpredictable extremes. Steve Taylor‘s 2012 book Back to Sanity addresses this issue. Yes we are insane, but we can get back onto a sane track.

Steve suggests that it was not always so, quoting a number of indigenous leaders and their perception of Europeans, who spread the madness across the globe, for example:

“Indian faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings…”

Chief Luther Standing Bear

Steve suggests that “we suffer from a basic psychological disorder that is the source of our dysfunctional behaviour, both as individuals and as a species.” He coins the term ‘humania’ or ‘ego-madness’ to describe the condition – a malfunctioning of the ego. The essential thesis is that humania is a surface condition, and within we always have access to harmony, sanity and connectedness.

The book is in two parts. Part I examines the psychological dissorder and its effects, how humania gives rise to pathological human behaviours. Part II examines how we can practically transcend this psychological discord, and attain a real state of sanity, which is of course a theme of sages across the ages.

Steve is a psychologist, and his practical suggestions are well founded; many of which you will have come across elsewhere, for example: learning the habit of resting in our own mental space without needing distraction, seeking help to resolve past trauma, learning to dis-identify with thoughts, challenging our own negative scripts, practising service and mindfulness, meditation or meditative activity, periods of quiet.

Steve suggests that our only way forward as a species is for enough people to transcend humania; the alternative is too grim to contemplate, but we see the first intimations in today’s increasingly common extreme climate events.

This is one of now-many books on similar themes, a sure indication that people are beginning to change. Will it be fast enough? Who knows, but that is no reason not to try.

Steve’s book provides good diagnosis and guidance on the most pressing issue of our times.

Black pine canopy

The black pine is native to southern Europe. We found this gathering of black pines at Bodnant garden, in Snowdonia, North Wales. Bodnant lies in a sheltered valley, enabling many exotic species to flourish within this mountainous area. What really struck me was the enormous trunks extending up far and away, with just a relatively small amount of branches and leaves in the high canopy. The effect is striking, almost monochrome.

Ringlet

We haven’t seen many butterflies so far this summer, but there were plenty of these brown ringlets in the woodland during our recent visit to the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden, North Wales. Fortuitously, one paused on a neaby leaf allowing this shot.

The two eyespots at the bottom are characteristic; there may be one, two or three eyespots on each of the outer wings.

According to the Woodland Trust, the ringlet is not a threatened species and is on the increase in many areas.

Avebury

The neolithic remains at Avebury are on an awe-inspiring scale. There were originally three stone circles, the largest having diameter 330 metres, inside the henge – a roughly circular bank with deep internal ditch. The stones are thought to have remained largely intact from around the neolithic period 3-4000BC until the late middle ages, the 14th century, when some of the stones were removed/ buried, presumably due to their pagan associations.

The stones and village of Avebury, ditch in foreground

The stones were cataloged in 16C, removed/buried in 17-18C, and substantially restored in 20C. The village you can see in the background was built in one of the circles.

The site is now maintained by the National Trust, together with the long avenue of standing stones (West Kennet Avenue), connecting the circles to other contemporary remains including the mound at Silbury Hill. The whole is on a vast scale, indicating that this was no primitive society, as we tend to think.

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Rapeseed sunset

The mass of yellow flowers and pungent aroma are long gone, and the rapeseed is left to ripen in the field by a favourite walk. The plants are not generally regarded as visually attractive at this stage, but the setting sun and cloudscape in the background give a helping hand, resulting in a pleasing image.