Aspects of Modern Life
by the Interest Groups Online Read Write & Discuss group
Recently the members of the Read Write and Discuss group decided they would attempt a piece of writing about an aspect of modern life, Viv started off with musings about AI and ended up with Climate change – New member Roger wrote about the growth of conformity – Pam introduced the issues around knife crime – Amanda put her toe in the water on sexual orientation and the trans issues – Hazel spoke of joining twitter to follow Feargal Sharkey’s magnificent campaign against river pollution and Helen gave us a fictional account of how the pubs in her village are dealing with the issue of having designated smoking areas and the rise of the vaping culture. Everyone present took part in a discussion about the difficulties and the pleasures surrounding writing. Pam’s piece on the knife angel prompted them next time to focus on public artwork in both real life and fictional life – what have they got to say about a statute, a building or a fictional account they have come across….
Roger - I Know it Wasn't Wokingham
I know it wasn’t Wokingham. A middle-aged woman emerges from Wilkinsons and says to her friend. “I didn’t know where I was for a minute. I know it wasn’t Wokingham.” And that seems to say a good deal about the modern urban experience. No matter where we go, we are confronted with the familiar. It could have been Tesco or Smiths or Boots. It could have been Not Wallingford or Not Bristol or Not Aberdeen. We can feel lost in Coventry or Carlisle but in Sainsbury’s or Screwfix we are on home territory and therefore safe. And it doesn’t stop there. It is now part of the international experience too and there is no more powerful example than the emergence of the multination Coffee Shop. In a Starbucks-like clone establishment in Delhi they ask my name. The barista writes ‘Rajah’ on my cup, a moment I shall forever treasure.
Yet even in the most familiar of social gathering spaces patterns of behaviour change. A kind of subtle evolution is taking place to keep us on our toes. Four Japanese schoolgirls sit together with their drinks. Barely a word is exchanged between them or even a look. They seem to see nothing around them, locked only into their smartphones. Their real but virtual gathering is taking place who knows where through social media. For all we know they could all be texting each other.
So, within this growth of conformity, just what can be driving the subtle undercurrents of change? The number of variations on the basic drink are forever multiplying, each innovation increasing the range of options exponentially. A figure of over 80,000 possible combinations has been quoted for Starbucks. However, and whenever, this was calculated, it will be wrong by now.
The whole enterprise is of course driven by global economics. After the essentials of oil, gas, gold, silver and copper, coffee is supposedly and surprisingly the next most valuable traded commodity, though I am not sure whether this hierarchy can include internationally traded drugs. Another coffee-related event has become a part of my family mythology. Costas this time and my cappuccino comes with a more than generous chocolate topping. As I go for my first sip I take an inward breath and some of the dry powder catches in my throat and nose. The result is something between a cough and a sneeze which in turn sends quantities of froth to obscure the lenses of my glasses. The latter effect meaning that I am unable to see whether my misfortune has been witnessed and no doubt enjoyed at nearby tables. In an instant all the essential features of a cappuccino have turned against me. My familiar leisurely experience has been transformed to one of acute embarrassment and alienation. Now after all these years I cannot help thinking that this cannot have been a totally unique occurrence. With all the many gazillions of drinks consumed daily someone somewhere must have had exactly the same experience maybe many others in many other times and places. Like the probability of life originating independently in many areas of the cosmos, the odds are overwhelmingly against any one event being unique. From the far reaches of coffee empires to their parallels in distant galaxies, there is so much that we do not and cannot ever know.
Ultimately, we are all alone with our cup of coffee.
Hazel - Following Feargal Sharkey
I’ve recently joined Twitter and have become a follower of Feargal Sharkey and applaud his unrelenting fight against the water companies’ pollution malarkey.
Tweet by tweet he has chipped away at the water bosses’ excuses and justifications, burrowed on past the PR layers, hammering home the environmental ramifications, of continued unsustainable aquifer extractions and sewage spillage.
Company execs desperate to mend a cracked and broken image. Daily photos tweeted and retweeted; scores of dead fish floating, foul and decaying, on algae plagued riverbanks, where in the recent past children would have been playing in clear fresh water, spying Tadpoles and watching the darting Minnows.
Now a very different scene, across the British river side, this really isn’t Wind in the Willows.
Save the Wye campaigners meeting Water Company Reps, asked how this situation could have been allowed to go on unchecked for so long and without alteration. “Nobody showed concern about it for 30 years” was their reply, “Correction, nobody knew about it, different thing entirely” said the folk of the Wye.
Thank goodness then for a new wave of conservationists; professionals and hobbyists diligently studying sewage output and water levels daily, curating all findings as a list.
Wild swimmers now pack pollution testing kits, along with a thermos flask and towel, not forgetting campaign flyers that say, Save Our Rivers, we need Action Now!
Surfers against Sewage, send their solemn message and suffer increased bacterial infections, stood aloft the waves, are in a unique position to conduct their own marine inspections. Many others too stand on the water, paddle boarding through the debris and unending litter which is picked up, photographed, uploaded to online campaign sites, and of course, Twitter.
It can only be good that we are now 'River Aware', before the beauty of British rivers has perished. Though it has taken an Irish man to show us how to save what we assumed we had cherished.
If only by encouraging with likes and comments, as follower, supporter, we can all play a part, so thank you Feargal, for showing that these days, it is not so hard to find, a good heart.
Pam - The Knife Angel
The National Monument Against Violence and Aggression is a contemporary sculpture formed of 100,000 knives and created by artist Alfie Bradley and the British Ironwork Centre based in Oswestry, Shropshire.
Completed in 2018, the structure of the angel stands at 27 ft (8.2 m) tall. Two hundred knife banks were produced by the Ironworks and amnesties held for individuals to anonymously donate their knives. Knives seized by police were also included, some of which arrived in evidence tubes still with bodily fluids on them.
Once police forces had completed the amnesty, the weapons were returned to Shropshire. Each knife was disinfected before being blunted and then welded onto a steel frame to form the body of the angel. Remaining knives were welded onto steel plates to form the wings. Families who had lost loved ones as a result of knife crime were invited to have a message engraved onto a blade. Since its completion the Knife Angel has made, and is still making, an extensive tour around the country, in the hope that awareness of knife crime will reach as wide an audience as possible.
What exactly is knife crime? Knife crime is any crime involving a knife or sharp object. This includes carrying a knife, owning a banned knife, trying to buy a knife if you are under 18, and/or threatening, injuring or fatally wounding someone with a knife. Self-defence is not deemed a valid reason for carrying such weapons. It is felt that just carrying a knife can be viewed as a provocative act and it is against the law to carry a knife in a public place, unless the blade is less than three inches long and can be manually folded. Just having a knife on one’s person can lead to a prison sentence of up to 4 years in the UK and 5 years in Scotland. A person must be over 18 to purchase a knife, including cutlery and kitchen knives, although in Scotland those between 16-18 can legally purchase the domestic knives. Carving knives are the most commonly used in stabbing incidents, as they are relatively easy to obtain.
The number of people killed with a knife in England and Wales in 2021/22 was the highest on record for 76 years, with non-fatal attacks amounting to 49,991, the equivalent of 136 per day. Unfortunately, for many, carrying a knife and participating in violent behaviour to solve any issues, difficulties or disputes has become an everyday social norm. Suceeding in creating social change is the most important task that the Knife Angel has been given. The Angel is a powerful representation of the hugely negative effects that violence has on all of us. Seeing such a large number of weapons (all of which were used, or had intentions of being used, as a form of bodily harm) amalgamated into a single, towering figure of an angel prompts us all to question our societal justification, acceptance and normalisation of violence. This, in turn, helps us to shift the way that we think about knife crime, something that has become such a daily normality within our society.
Helen - Four Pubs and the Club: Briercliffe
Some say it was the smoking ban which led to the demise of the pubs as we know them - others say it has been a real improvement and the designated smoking areas are a success.
Starting at the top of the village - a place known as Haggate. There’s two pubs - The Hare and Hounds gave itself over to pub grub and a new eating area was built and out in the car park there’s now an array of picnic tables and a marquee for the smokers - on the opposite side of the crossroads there’s the second pub The Sun Inn, they attached a conservatory and a gate out to the car park for smokers. Nowadays however the pub seems to be shut - a forlorn place badly in need of a refurb. It’s never really recovered from the loss of Alice and her ‘steak Canadians’ - true she was a bit of a 'funiosity', as they say round here, but catch her on a good day and the sandwiches were splendid. They say she went to live in Cleveleys - and what’s happening inside that conservatory is anyone’s guess - it seems to be full of old furniture - there’s even a mattress propped against the window.
Walking down the hill into the village proper you pass the war memorial and the bowling green and what used to be the post office (there’s a counter now in the Spar) then you pass between two old mills or weaving sheds as we used to say. They’re partially full of small businesses now - flooring, double glazing, a hairdressers and a little gym. Turning right up Holgate Street you pass the old side entrance of Siberia Mill where the ghosts of women who ran twelve loom and could read lips at twenty paces lie in wait for you as you edge past the new advert for the Social Club with its big red arrow pointing the way.
The Briercliffe Working Mens Club now known as the Briercliffe Social Club has a new function room on the ground floor and a stairway (with a chair for the disabled) up to the concert room, the snug and the games room - smokers have to loll outside on the balcony overlooking the club yard, that's the posh name for the car park. You can still catch a game of bingo on Friday nights washed down with the likes of Blossom Hill, or pink lady wine to give it its local name.
If you take the ginnel down back to the main road you end up at the Commie or the Commercial Inn. Most of the customers are to be found in the backyard smoking or vaping as they do now. They say those fruit flavoured disposable vapes are what all the youngsters are using - it’s the new craze apparently. It's rumoured they are spiked with a variety of illegal substances too these vapes - it's no wonder the conversations you can hear coming from the bus shelter in the Commie’s backyard sound a little strange.
Tuesdays its quiz night at the last pub in the village - The Craven Heifer - it’s usually a busy night with the Bar Enders team taking most of the winning tokens which they seem to be very willing to reinvest in more rounds of ale. Michelle the landlady provides sandwiches at half time and the smokers have to huddle together under umbrellas sat on a couple of benches out at the pub's front entrance. There’s live music too once a month - on Sunday it's a group called The Shysters - I couldn’t blame you if you gave it a miss.
Viv- Musing on Modern Times
Musings on Modern life,
Homo sapiens are the clever clogs of all the hominids in that we have survived the longest. We are good at adapting to our environment and creating solutions to the many problems that have either come our way or have been created by ourselves. It is said that this is partly because as a species we know how to co-operate with each other. The way the scientists of the world responded to the perceived threat of Covid-19 and came up with a new model of vaccination within a year illustrates this …There is currently much hope that it will not be long before there will be vaccines for different types of cancers. Already trials are taking place for a blood test that can identify fifty cancers before symptoms appear. The vision is that once a person's vulnerability is detected the appropriate vaccine is administered. There are trials in Birmingham for an artificial intelligence dermatology diagnostic tool that can identify suspect moles as accurately as a human dermatologist. There are similar AI tools that can read mammograms and heart scans. So far so good. AI can be a technology that serves human goals. However, will humanity be able to deal with the inevitable social change that will come as yet more opportunities for employment are lost. Many areas of the UK are still suffering deprivation due to the loss of heavy industries that once provided secure employment. This has been partly due to successive recessions and increased globalisation, in which China has become a manufacturing superpower. In my lifetime I have seen the growth of short-term insecure jobs alongside a failing housing system. Life for many young families is underpinned by insecurity instead of security. Statistics show that there has been a growth in self-employment in the old industrial towns, but these self-employed people are more often than not quasi employees with diminished employment rights. Official statistics fail to tell the whole story, on the one hand, modern technology has made it possible for some people to work from a computer which could be located anywhere in the world. My neighbour dislikes holidays so he works for months at a time from Nice while his wife who does like holidays amuses herself. This, in a way, is a type of globalisation complicating income streams and tax collections for nations.
Thankfully we still have a welfare state but for me, the musty is out as to whether the modern trend of in-work benefits are ultimately a ‘good’ development or will it just mean employers can pay lower wages.
The greatest angst of our time is the concern about climate change. Industrialisation has come in for a moral bashing by some, yet industrialisation has created wealth which has lifted millions out of extreme poverty and hence saved lives, as poverty is the greatest killer of all. Maybe this is why China and India have little interest in reducing their carbon emissions. As we and many other Europeans have a speedy net zero policy I fear that it will be the few who will be able to enjoy travel by cars and aeroplanes and the many who will have their freedom and experiences limited. Maybe, being the clever clogs, we are we will find adequate solutions to these problems – Frustratingly I shall not be on this earth to see for myself!