Mogg the Mendacious

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 18.21.49

a singularly dishonest man

We know Jacob Rees-Mogg to be a consummate liar – much like Mr Bernard Jenkin,  dishonesty and false representation are his stock in trade -– but in this short interview he excels himself.

In the course of a minute and a half, he makes the following six claims, all of which are demonstrably false or intentionally misleading:

1.  ‘I’m not afraid at all, it’s a singularly silly idea (on being asked if he fears a second ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit)

2. ‘we’ve had three votes on this’ (i.e. Leaving the EU)

3. ‘We had a vote in 2015, the General Election, as to whether or not there should be a referendum’

4. ‘We had an election in 2017 where over 80% of people voted for parties committed to leaving’ (as evidence that this could be taken as a proxy vote for Brexit)

5. ‘The General Election was voting for parties that made it clear that they meant to implement the referendum and the two parties that didn’t – the greens and the Lib-Dems – lost votes’

6. ‘It was quite clear from the General election and the election campaign that delivering on Brexit had very widespread support, as opinion polling still shows.’

Let us take in each in turn. Regarding (1) it is evident from his whole line of argument that Mogg is terrified of a second referendum, so this is simply a lie. We shall return to it later.

2. We have not had ‘three votes on this’ – there has been only one, the Referendum itself, which was bracketed by two General Elections. It is false to represent either of these as a vote on leaving the EU, for reasons we will examine in detail below.

3. We did not have a vote in 2015 as to whether or not there should be a referendum; that is simply untrue. We had a General Election, in which the Conservatives held out the promise of a referendum. Since only UKIP advocated leaving the EU, a vote for the Conservatives could not be construed as a vote to leave the EU, nor indeed could a vote for a referendum be so construed, even if that had been the single issue in the election, which it was not. Another false representation.

4. This is disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. In every single General election in the past 100 years the great majority of votes have been cast for either Conservative or Labour; in 1918, it was 59%, the lowest combined total; in the 21 elections since 1931 – the first year in which the combined total exceeded 80% – the total voting either Labour or Conservative has exceeded 80% on 11 occasions (on three occasions it passed 90%).

It is true that last year was the first time since 1979 that the total had exceeded 80%, owing to the emergence of the SDP/Lib Dems as a significant third force from 1983 onwards, but all the same there is nothing particularly surprising or noteworthy about the fact that the majority of voters voted the same way they have for the last hundred years; to adduce that the percentage in the 2017 vote was primarily because the two main parties said they would stand by the referendum does not stand up to scrutiny.

5. So, the general Election was not just ‘voting for parties that made clear they meant to implement the referendum’. Leaving aside the fact that both Mogg’s own party and Labour are riven from top to bottom on the issue, so that many who voted for either were certainly not pro Brexit, it is a fact that the one party that stands most clearly for Brexit – UKIP – suffered the heaviest loss in the 2017 election. The Greens might have lost 2% of their vote, but they retained their seat; the Lib Dems suffered a fractional loss – 0.5% – but actually increased their number of seats by 50%, from 8 to 12; UKIP, however, lost their sole seat and suffered a spectacular 10.8% decline in their vote, far and away the greatest loss suffered by any party (the sum total of the rest was only 4.6%). Here, too, it is evident that Mogg is trying to bamboozle and mislead: his contention that the 2017 Election can be taken as a proxy for a Brexit vote is not only absurd in itself, it is also unsupported by the very voting patterns Mogg wishes to adduce as evidence.

6. Whenever Mogg says anything is ‘quite clear’, you should doubt it at once. For the reasons given above, it is by no means clear that the 2017 election showed that delivering on Brexit had ‘very widespread support’ (and how ‘the election campaign‘ could show anything of the kind is not at all clear); but as regards the claim that ‘opinion polling still shows’ ‘very widespread support’ for Brexit, I would direct you to this page, which is literally the first I found in seeking to test the veracity of Mogg’s claim.

It gives data for four variants on the question of whether the UK should leave or remain:

in the first series of 13 polls, conducted since March 2017, only one (2 March 17) showed a majority for leave; two (May and November 17) were level; the remaining 10 were in favour of remaining, with the gap appearing to widen in 2018;

in the second series, 13 polls between January and August 18, only 2, both in March, showed a majority for leave; 2 more (27 June and 14 July), were level; the remaining 9 favoured remain, with the gap widening steadily in the most recent.

In a third poll that asked ‘In hindsight, was Britain right or wrong to vote leave?’ Every single one of 13 polls showed a majority for ‘wrong’.

In a fourth poll that asked if Britain should remain or leave, two polls were level and remaining 10 showed a majority for Remain.

(in actual fact, the figures are even more persuasive – the four groups above are based on 42, 72, 85 and 168 polls respectively: see here for details: whatukthinks.org)

So, once more, the truth of Mogg’s assertion is doubtful.

Ah yes – that first question: are you afraid of a second poll? If Mogg is not afraid, as he asserts, then why, on being asked if Britain would still vote Brexit if they went to the polls tomorrow, does he evade the question?

This is a man who has spent considerable time assembling a tissue of specious arguments to show that Britain, not once but three times over, has already voted for Brexit – yet when the question is put directly to him, he prevaricates. Why does he not just say ‘yes of course they would vote for Brexit’ ? It is, after all, what he asserts to be true – that the great majority of people want to leave the EU.

Anyone would think he did not actually believe it himself.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under politics

‘All the world’s a stage –’

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 13.10.53

Say, rather, that it is a toy theatre, much like the one above. We should picture a child making it, putting the various players on stage (or in the wings, ready to make their entrances), preparing backdrops for the changes of scene, so that all seems ready to begin–

but there is a problem.

The child looms gigantically over the tiny theatre and the little cut-out figures  – how is she to relate to them? she is much too large for their little world. With a child’s ingenuity, she solves it – taking a spare piece of card, she cuts out another figure and colours it in, setting it down before the stage, an ideal spectator.

‘That’s me,’ she says.

The Platonic-Aristotelian worldview – the standard Western model still in use today – has a similar flaw: our actual experience is of being in the world and responding to it emotionally as it is made known to us by our senses, but the Platonic worldview is expressly designed to exclude the testimony of the senses (as unreliable), and with it, the Subject.

Instead, the world must be apprehended intellectually as a transcendent reality of unchanging forms or ideas of which the myriad variety we experience by our senses are mere instances – or, put more simply, we should view the world in general terms, through language, setting aside the specific detail.

But where do we, as experiencing subjects, fit in?

The short answer is that we do not: instead, we project ourselves into the model, as the child puts her representation into the theatre, but in doing so we cease to be Subjects and become objectified along with the rest of the model, ideal spectators, the passive observers of an independent reality that exists whether we are there or not.

The place of the Subject (what each of us experiences from moment to moment) is taken in the Platonic model by the general idea of an onlooker, whose role is passive apprehension.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A picture of past and present

A man stands at the head of a pass looking back over the way he has come. In the plain spread out below him, he sees in sunlight the farm where he spent his childhood.

Later, he descends the other side and looking back sees the hills mounting one behind another and outlined against the sky the notch that he knows to be the head of the pass where he stood earlier.

What he sees bears no resemblance to the landscape he experienced earlier, but what he feels can take him right back there.

This expresses something I want to say about our concept of the past – which being a concept is perceived by the intellect, not through feeling or intuition – namely that it is always from the perspective of the present, and is no more than the painted backcloth in the theatre. ‘Ancient times’ are so only to us; our ancestors lived in the present, just as we do; which is why the briefest scrap of poetry can unite us with them:

Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow,
The small raine down can raine.
Cryst, if my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde again!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A picture of the world

20180822_185814

Let us suppose two people, poring over a map spread on a table; make it an Ordnance Survey two-and-half-inch to the mile one. They are planning a cycle journey together that will traverse the area shown on the map, by one of several routes. Both are skilled in reading maps, so that in tracing a possible route they can visualise the terrain it would take them through, the steepness of the gradients, the possibility of views and so on.

For the time that they are studying the routes, they are wholly absorbed: there is just them and the map; they feel the need of nothing else. The map and their discussions are interwoven, interactive. At length they decide the best way to go.

But the journey, for whatever reason, is never made as they planned.

Only years later, one of them undertakes it, in remembrance of the other, who has died.

The relation between the first scene, with the map, and the second, illustrates what I mean to show by this Venn diagram:

20180822_190036

And both are intended to show the relation between our everyday construct of the world (the blue bit, which by convention, we deem to be reality, and corresponds to the map scene) and how the world really is.

Leave a comment

Filed under language-related, philosophy

A dead-end design and a template for the future

In 2009 the British Steam Car Challenge vehicle Inspiration set a new World Land Speed Record for a steam-powered car. The team behind it were awarded the Simms Medal by the Royal Automobile Club, named for its founder Frederick Simms, intended to recognise ‘a genuine contribution to motoring innovation by individuals or small companies that also exemplify the spirit of adventure.’

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.04.18

The citation by John Wood, Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club’s Awards Sub-Committee, is interesting:

“No one is going to suggest that this vehicle represents a major technical breakthrough, a relatively small improvement has been won at a cost of enormous complexity but it is unquestionably a triumph of determination, persistence and absolute refusal to give up in the face of adversity. Does it exemplify the “spirit of adventure”? Unquestionably! And that is why the British Steam Car Challenge Team, in memory of the late Frank Swanston, has been awarded the Simms Medal 2009.”

There is an implicit admission here that the award is not actually merited: while the courage, gallantry and dedication of the team cannot be questioned, the other criterion for the award has not been met. This was not a ‘genuine contribution to motoring innovation’ .

In the words of the citation, ‘a relatively small improvement has been won at a cost of enormous complexity.’ The scale of both the improvement and the complexity we will consider shortly, but first we need to look at the value (or otherwise) of land speed records.

For some, travelling supremely fast is an achievement in itself, but the main justification for trying to go as fast as possible has always been that the technical development it entails has a broader application that can be of general benefit. Creating a car that will travel safely at tremendous speed challenges engineers and designers on every front and the solutions they come up with, whether in terms of materials, streamlining, or the design of the engine and ancillary systems, can often, within a few years, find their place in mainstream manufacture.

Conversely, if they remain ad hoc solutions for the sole purpose of record breaking, their value is questionable – for instance, the use of jet propulsion may have raised the absolute LSR to supersonic levels (763 mph in 1997) with the ultimate aim of attaining 1000mph in the near future, but it is difficult to see what practical benefits this will bring – no-one considers jet propulsion as suitable for cars, and in any case, the cutting edge of jet propulsion is in its aeronautical applications, which already exceed anything that might be attempted on land. While there might be some peripheral benefits (in terms of materials and tyre technology, say, though of course the tyres are not driven) much of the technical effort, somewhat perversely, is directed to overcoming the inherent unsuitability of the power unit for this application.

Against this background, let us consider both the ‘enormous complexity’ of Inspiration and the ‘relatively small improvement’ won by it.

Inspiration weighs in at a hefty 3 tonnes. It is 7.66 m long by 1.7m wide and 1.7m tall. It is powered by a two stage turbine rotating at 13000 rpm for which steam is generated in 12 watertube boilers with 3km of tubing. This requires 3 Megawatts of heat from Liquid Petroleum Gas burners, enough to heat 1500 kettles or make 23 cups of tea per second. This complexity is clad in a combination of carbon composite to the front and aluminium panels to the rear.

Generating a relatively modest 360bhp, the car had a design top speed of 170 mph (for comparison, the Bentley Continental GT, a luxury production car, produces 626 bhp and is capable of 207 mph)

In the event, it took the record with a run of 139.843mph for a measured mile, subsequently raised to 148.308mph in two runs over the measured kilometre.

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.16.36

The previous record stood at 127.659 mph. It was set in 1906 by the redoubtable Fred Marriott driving the Rocket, a modified version of the production Stanley Steam Car. Its two-cylinder double-acting steam reciprocating engine generated around 150bhp and required 350 revolutions to travel a mile – so that 350 rpm would be a mile a minute, 700rpm would be twice that – 120 mph – and the record would require 740 rpm (for comparison, this equates to the typical idle speed of an internal combustion engine – 600-1000rpm – at which it generates sufficient power to run smoothly and operate various ancillaries like pumps etc. but not enough to move the car).

Rocket weighed in at 1675 lbs, with the entire power plant – boiler, engine, burner and firebox, pumps, tanks etc – contributing just under half the total (835 lbs). Its body was, in effect, an upturned canoe, consisting of canvas stretched over a cedar frame. It was 16′ long and 3′ wide and was made by a noted Boston canoe builder. The car was steered with a tiller.

In sum, a one-off vehicle weighing four times as much with an engine of far greater complexity (twelve times as many boilers!) and generating twice the power, managed to better the record set by a modified production car over a century before by  –

a little more than 20mph, at the second attempt.

Unlike Inspiration’s, the record set by Rocket was absolute – Marriott was the fastest man on the planet, by any means. The following year, he went faster still, but the car crashed when it hit two ruts in the sand at Florida beach. At the time of the crash, he is conservatively reported as having reached a speed of between 140 and 150mph (i.e. the same as the record set by Inspiration) though Marriott himself – who survived the wreck – said that it was timed at ‘a hair under 190 mph’. 

maxresdefault

A couple of decades later, in 1925, the young Howard Hughes reportedly drove his Doble E20 roadster at 133mph. Hughes’s car was no record-breaking special, but a lightly modified standard production car in full road-going trim, with a huge flat condenser at the front, which can hardly have contributed to its aerodynamics. It is still on the road today, in the care of Jay Leno

My point is a simple one. As with the jet-powered. Bloodhound SSC, much of the design effort in the British Steam Car Challenge Inspiration was devoted to overcoming the inherent unsuitability of the power unit for its intended purpose. Steam turbines are best suited to running at constant high speed under heavy load, which makes them ideal for marine propulsion and generating electricity but ill-suited to use in cars. Although Rover experimented with a gas-turbine car in the fifties, no-one to my knowledge had successfully put a steam turbine in a car before Inspiration.

maxresdefault-2

On the other hand, the one proven aspect of Rocket was the power unit. The motor-car was in its infancy but steam had been around as a motive force for nearly two centuries and by then drove shipping, railways, pumping stations and power plants. The steam reciprocating engine was well understood, simple and robust – the Stanley boasted a total of thirteen moving parts and its relatively low running-speed meant that it was unstressed and highly durable.

It was at its zenith in that first decade of the century when the motor-car was still a rich man’s plaything, so that the superior smoothness and quietness of the steam engine outweighed its expense initially, in running and in maintenance; the fact that it took a good half-hour or so to raise steam mattered little if you could pay a chauffeur to do that for you. By the time Abner Doble had overcome most of these difficulties in the 1920s, it was too late: Henry Ford had already established the internal combustion engine as reliable, robust and cheap to run.

Nonetheless, the advance in performance and design that Doble’s car demonstrated in rather less than twenty tears surely make it a far better template for a record-breaking car than the one chosen by the British Steam car Challenge. And while Inspiration is a dead-end, as far as practical application goes, a Doble-based car that took advantage of the advances in design and materials in the last ninety years could be just what the world is looking for.

Many countries in Europe have already fixed dates for the end of internal combustion as a motive force in cars, and most people think that the future lies with electricity. But with improvements in burner technology, sustainable fuels, economic high-pressure steam generation, ultra-low friction engine materials (such as ceramics) and improvements to condensers and autonomous systems, a strong case could be made for steam.

It is certainly an experiment worth trying.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A man deceiving himself in the hope of deceiving others

Screenshot 2018-05-22 12.34.54

This curious speech by Alistair Darling bears listening to twice. If you wish to have the text in front of you, here it is:

‘I do not believe there will be another Scottish referendum in the foreseeable future, possibly not in my lifetime.

I’ll tell you why not.

Firstly, the public don’t want it. Most of the British public, never mind the Scottish public, are heartily sick of referendums. They divide, they turn people against each other – the scars are deep, they’re still there in Scotland. And people don’t want to go through that again.

Secondly, the emotion of what happened in 2014, it’s still there, but the economics have got worse. Oil prices are a case in point. It’s interesting that the nationalists now openly talk about the virtual fraudulent nature of the document they produced in 2013 which set out the economic case. None of them will stand by it now, yet there’s another one coming out on Friday. What seems to be different is we’re now going to have a Scottish pound: sharing the pound is off the agenda. They’ve probably noticed that if you spend a lifetime abusing the people that you don’t like and then you break away and say, now can we have a close relationship with you, it doesn’t somehow work. Look for example at what’s going on at the present time. But the economic argument has changed, and to make the economic case I think will be very difficult. But to assume therefore that’s it, is a huge mistake – not just because I said there is a core of people in Scotland who do believe that independence is the right course of action but because if people come to believe that the union is not delivering for them what is important then the argument for breaking away will gather strength.’

I used to like Alistair Darling well enough; I even met him once, in a surreal moment at the height of the economic crisis in Autumn 2008, when he as Chancellor of the Exchequer was for some reason touring the BBC in Glasgow, where I was part of a group of writers learning about writing for radio.

But I do not believe, on the strength of that speech, that I will be able to trust Alistair Darling, now or in the foreseeable future, possibly not in my lifetime.

I’ll tell you why not.

Firstly, he equates democratic debate with civil war: here we have a politician asserting that people do not want to have their say on matters that concern them, that they are fed up with being asked, because it just provokes strife. It is assertions like this that distinguish the career politician from the genuine democrat, the time-server from the public servant. I wonder which the people of the Balkans would have preferred – a divisive referendum on the future of Yugoslavia, and the figurative scars that went with it, or what actually happened to them?

Secondly, the dishonesty that was there in 2014, it’s still there, but it’s got worse. Oil prices are a case in point: at the very time Mr Darling was giving this speech, oil prices were at the highest they have been for four years, and are set to rise still further . Yet he implies the opposite. I am not aware of any nationalists talking openly about the ‘virtual fraudulent nature’ of their 2013 document [what does that actually mean? that it wasn’t fraudulent? that it wasn’t an actual document?] but I certainly don’t hear Mr Darling acknowledging the blatant dishonesty of his own campaign – that Scotland would be left without a currency, that Scotland would have to leave the EU unless it voted ‘No’ (how did that one work out, Alistair?).

At the very time the pro-union coalition were asserting that they would never enter a currency union, each of them knew that in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, the first thing that would happen would be a round-table negotiation on that and related matters – that, after all, is how politics works.

(In fact, it was the sheer ineptitude of the ‘better together’ campaign – fronted (one can hardly say ‘led’) by the same Mr Darling – that led me to shift from an initial ‘No’ to an increasingly certain ‘Yes’ as time went on:
https://jfmward.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/how-to-squander-a-winning-hand/)

(And while we’re on the matter of currency unions between countries where one breaks away after a long history of friction and indeed open rebellion, we might ask if Alistair has any knowledge of our financial relations with the Republic of Ireland – Eire –- from its inception in 1937 as successor to the Free State. The Irish Pound, which was tied to sterling for 40 years – how did that work out, Alistair?)

Finally, there is the strange incoherence that lies below the polished rhetoric: which referendum is he actually talking about? From the initial conflation of the British public with the Scottish (but never mind them) through his reference to deep, scarring division, to that curious statement about wanting a close relationship with people you have broken away from having spent a lifetime abusing them and the invitation to ‘look… at what’s going on at the present time’ it is almost as if he had forgotten the intended subject of his speech and switched to talking about Brexit instead.

And what on earth is he trying to say in that final paragraph?

‘But the economic argument has changed, and to make the economic case I think will be very difficult. But to assume therefore that’s it, is a huge mistake – not just because I said there is a core of people in Scotland who do believe that independence is the right course of action but because if people come to believe that the union is not delivering for them what is important then the argument for breaking away will gather strength.’

From emphatically telling us at the outset that no-one wants to talk about independence, let alone be asked to vote on it, he now makes the astonishing concession that ‘there is a core of people in Scotland who do believe that independence is the right course of action’ (and let us remember that ‘core’ means ‘heart’) and furthermore ‘if people come to believe that the union is not delivering for them what is important then the argument for breaking away will gather strength.’

And there, if you like, he lets the cat out of the bag. He senses (as I do) that in the wake of Brexit – where Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain* only to be told that they must accept the desire of a large minority of the British electorate (17.4 million out of 46.5) – there is a growing feeling that we would be better not shackled to an England heading resolutely in the wrong direction, trying to revive an idea of itself as a major player on a world stage that has changed out of all recognition (do not forget that we joined the EEC precisely because the old order had changed).

I think that Darling senses, as I do, that the Scottish people would rather like to revisit the question of independence, not because they are dyed-in-the-wool nationalists – I certainly am not – but because they would prefer to be a small nation acting in concert with our neighbours in the largest trading bloc in an interdependent world than part of a larger nation pursuing a solo course with neither economic nor strategic power to sustain it.

I may be wrong, of course; but I would be perfectly happy to ask the people again what they think now, on both matters – Scottish Independence and Membership of the EU. Isn’t that how democracy is meant to work?

Never trust a politician who says that people do not want to be consulted on matters that concern them.

*interestingly, the Scottish vote exactly mirrors the percentage of the electorate who did not vote to leave (i.e. those who voted remain plus those who did not vote) to those who voted to leave – 62% to 38% in both cases.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Colin can’t remember – reflections on Alan Garner’s ‘Boneland’

Lascaux_painting

Cave paintings, Lascaux, France (image courtesy of Prof saxx, via Wikimedia Commons)

Boneland must be one of the strangest sequels ever written. It is not Alan Garner’s best book, but for the questions it poses, it is of great interest to all of us who write for children.

It purports to complete the trilogy begun fifty years ago with his earliest books, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. The first made a powerful impression on me, perhaps because I heard it on the wireless before I read it (and I was startled to discover, on rereading it, that it was the source of a key part of the climactic scene in my own first book, The Secret of the Alchemist – a borrowing of which I was entirely unconscious). Yet the second made so little impact that only when I took it out of the library last year, in preparation for reading Boneland, did I realise I had read it before.

The strangeness of Boneland as a sequel stems from its lack of sequence: of the two characters who feature centrally in the other books, one – Susan – is conspicuous by her absence, while the other – her brother Colin – is effectively a different character: as the result of a traumatic experience in adolescence, he has undergone a personality change, becoming an autistic polymath who is now, in adult life, a professor of astronomy.

He has also lost all memory of the events of those first two books. In other words, to all intents and purposes, he has no connection with the earlier books at all (and even things that seem like links – the fact that Colin and Susan are twins, that she addresses him as ‘Col’, that their parents are killed in an aircrash, that Susan disappears – none of these actually features in the earlier books).

At first sight this seems almost perverse, as if Boneland were less a sequel, more a repudiation of that earlier work – and in a way, it is; but the question to ask is, could it have been otherwise?

Let us suppose that Colin survives into adulthood with his memory intact: here is someone who has personally encountered wizards, witches and warlocks, elves, dwarves and goblins, sleeping Arthurian knights and house-high troll-women, all in the Cheshire countryside; at the very least, he would have become a professor of comparative folklore rather than astronomy – it is impossible to believe that such events would not have shaped the rest of his life.

But the truth of the matter is that it simply will not do: elves and goblins belong in storybooks; there is no way to reconcile Colin’s childhood encounters with the reality of his adult life that would be believable. The only thing is to have him conveniently forget it all.

So am I conceding what some critics have long asserted, that fantasy is childish stuff, of no interest to adults, and of doubtful value to children, who would be better served by books about the ‘real world’ ?

By no means.

Fantasy, as it happens, does succeed best with children of a certain age, but for reasons that are the opposite of those put forward by its detractors: far from being an escape from the real world, it is for them an image of it.

Consider that the child entering adolescence stands on the verge of a mysterious world that he must soon enter, a world of which he knows little, governed by powerful hidden forces, a place where anything might happen: it is a prospect both daunting and exciting, in equal measure. Mapped, that world would resemble the products of mediaeval cartographers – a tiny area (home, school) that is familiar, surrounded by huge blank spaces furnished by the imagination, where be dragons.

1280px-TabulaRogeriana

Tabula Rogeriana, 1154 (image from Wikimedia Commons: public domain)

In other words, fantasy literature is a metaphorical embodiment of the fears and hopes we all experience on the verge of adulthood, when, though we long for freedom and independence, we are still the responsibility of other people – our parents, or those who stand in their stead. We seek reassurance that we can enter that world alone and survive on our own resources, and the emotional experience of doing that is what fantasy adventures allow us to try out.

Garner’s problems with Boneland do not arise from the fact that the earlier books are fantasy, but from his failure to keep the worlds in them separate. Colin and Susan’s encounters take place where they live; they do not go to the monsters – the monsters come to them. And because Colin, as an adult, continues to inhabit the same landscape, the question of what happened to all those fabulous creatures becomes an awkward one.

In his later story, Elidor – a fine work that manages to evoke an epic world without being of epic length – Garner ensures that there is a portal (in the liminal space of an abandoned church in the process of being demolished) so that the children in that tale pass into another world for their magical encounters; even the magical objects they bring back with them are transformed, in the mundane world, into mundane things.

But Colin, if he could remember, would know that the Weirdstone of Brisingamen – Susan’s Tear – is under Alderley Edge, in Fundindelve, where the knights and their stallions lie asleep; he would know that Angharad Golden-hand’s floating island is somewhere on Redesmere – and it is unlikely that he would be more interested in distant galaxies, with that on his doorstep.

View_from_Stormy_Point

The View from Sormy Point, Alderley Edge (image courtesy of Randomgurn via Wikimedia Commons)

However, there is a second reason for Colin’s inability to remember, which has to do with Garner himself, and how he has come to view the business of storytelling. It is interesting that he rejects the label of ‘children’s writer’ – “I certainly have never written for children” – though it is hard to argue that his first two books are not primarily aimed at a young audience.

What he is, first and foremost, is a writer rooted in a particular landscape – what Orkney was to George Mackay Brown, the Cheshire countryside in the vicinity of Alderley Edge is to him. However, in those first two books the spirit of place is heavily overlaid with a rather motley heap of borrowings from Arthurian, Norse and Celtic myth.

In his later writing, he dispenses with this: increasingly, it is the landscape itself, its history and prehistory, that furnishes the element of wonder that legendary borrowings supplied before. The prehistoric bull-painting in the cavern that features in The Stone Book establishes a theme that runs through all his later work. That is the other reason why Garner has Colin forget his earlier adventures: that way of telling stories no longer works for him.

Boneland, in fact, has much more in common with Garner’s more recent works, Thursbitch and Strandloper. A key figure in all three is the Shaman, who mediates between the tribe and the forces beyond – forces that imbue the landscape, with which the tribe must come to terms if it is to survive, controlling (or at least harnessing) them by enmeshing them in a web of ritual and story.

In Boneland, the Shaman (who is also an aspect of Colin himself) is the last survivor of an extinguished human species, probably Neanderthals; in Strandloper, it is an 18th century Cheshire labourer who is transported for sedition and becomes an Aboriginal medicine man; in Thursbitch, it is a Cheshire packman, who keeps alive the ancient Mithraic bull-cult among the country folk residing in a remote valley.

The implication is that the storyteller stands in a direct line of descent from the shaman of old, and the ideas and images on which he draws are an inheritance we all share from our earliest beginnings, but which in modern times we are doing our best to deny and forget.

The world of the fantasy story resonates with the child on the verge of adolescence because she recognises it as an image of her own situation, something the adult is unable to do, because the very process of ‘growing up’ and entering ‘the real world’ is actually about acquiring a whole set of elaborate constructs to protect us from reality (which, as Eliot wisely remarked, humankind cannot bear very much).

We have work, we have mortgages, we have ‘lifestyles’ (a fine pretence, that we are actually able to shape and style our lives as we please, as if the unexpected was not at any moment liable to come down on us like a giant hammer) and – in the developed world at least, and in those countries where the social fabric still holds together and order is not breaking down – we collude in the communal self-deception that we have everything under control, that it’s all sorted, pretty much.

What Garner reminds us, as writers, is that our task is to open a crack in the walls of that complacency, and let in the light of wonder.

 

(This piece, here very slightly edited, originally appeared in the May 2013 edition of  An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, (ABBA) – the online presence of the SAS – The Scattered Authors Society)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book-related