Posts tagged ‘Walter Benjamin’

July 3, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020 – a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 15

Bit of unusual activity this week of eased lockdown number 15. Nothing that would warrant much of a mention outside of a far from average year but I suppose for many people whose lives have not been personally affected by Covid19 there’s a growing sense of confidence that it’s not so bad or it’s probably passed us by. Neither impression has any logic to it. Fact is Covid 19 has not gone away. It will not be going anywhere for years and years and years. Some of us have, fortunately, not contracted it. One day some of us who mistakenly think we’ve beaten it will be nonchalantly rounding a corner and walk slap bang into the virus.

But, as I was saying, there is a feeling among some of us that it might be okay to go out a bit more. Now, I don’t mean go to a crowded beach, a crowded shop, any sort of pub or the hairdresser. I mean meet up with a handful of tried and tested family members.

Diver and Mexican on gates at Dunecht Estate

 

So, this week we did just that. Met up with our daughter and son-in-law and went for a walk – a very long walk as it transpired – through Dunecht Estate. Hot day and there were lots of exquisite damsel flies flitting about. Dunecht Estate was owned by the Cowdrays who made their cash in Mexican oil and salvage hence their arms on the gate. The body of one of the Cowdrays disappeared from the family vault at the Aberdeenshire estate. This particular wealthy Earl was fond of travelling, a hobby he carried on after his death, in Italy in 1880. His corpse journeyed across the Alps, across the North Sea, and was driven by coach up through Scotland to Dunecht – during one of the worst snowstorms ever to hit this country, it is said, so delaying his arrival by weeks. Hope he was well embalmed. Local poacher/rat-catcher led police to the shallow grave where the body lay for many months and was sentenced to five years penal servitude – as poor people often were.

Next day we travelled a little further afield to visit a relation of my husband who lives down the coast. She’s on her own and has ‘neighbour trouble.’ Boy has she got ‘neighbour trouble.’ I think that subject should be avoided for the present. During a brief visit we took a quick shufty at a track one of the village folk restored down the steep slope to the shore. A bench at the top includes names of local people who have died – a nice touch and a map of the world next to the bench so you can find your bearings between Aberdeenshire’s coast and a’wy else. The sun was shining. The day very warm and the sea was sparkling blue but it was time to leave and westwards we headed, over that marvel of the northeast, the bypass, and home.

But in the way of these things – the relief of scarcity comes in threes – like buses. Our third and final outing of last week was closer when we took our old cat to the vet. As usual our travel-averse cat threw up during the short drive there. He was handed in and duly handed back out with some expensive eye drops. He really is nae keen on eye drops.

There was also a flurry of phone calls this week. North to Strathpeffer and south to friends in Tunbridge Wells in England ( a place whose name I can never remember, Tunbridge Wells that is.) Most of the talk was Covid related, though not entirely thank goodness. Doesn’t sound like anything major is happening in either place.

We also had three deliveries this week. Our new garden chairs arrived. Well-packaged in large boxes lined with insulation that would have made perfect plant-rearing containers were they not made out of cardboard. Our self-assembly Adirondack chairs proved challenging. Between bewildering written instructions and absurd illustrations what should have been a straightforward assembly turned into an afternoon of scratching heads to the point my husband was about to drill out a larger hole for one set of screws when I suggested swapping over a couple of things – it worked. Second seat was put together in no time. We like them.

A second delivery was also due from Royal Mail. I didn’t worry when it failed to arrive ‘next day’ since where we live there is no such thing as a ‘next day’ delivery. But when it didn’t come the following day I was getting a bit pee-ed off. About tea time my husband called down from upstairs asking if I was expecting a delivery as there was a man walking about the garden. On looking out our front door in that tentatively Covid way, hoping not to bang heads with someone round the other side of the porch, I spotted the said man, large box in hand, about to go back to his car at the end of our drive (it’s a very short one.) I shouted to him and he shouted back that Royal Mail had dropped parcels at his place, they’d opened my box but they hadn’t got Covid. I thanked him for driving it to us and he dropped it where he was, at the end of the drive. Now despite my gratitude to him for taking it to us and not just arranging for Royal Mail to uplift it, it occurred to me it was a funny place to leave the heavy box, it being much too heavy for me. And open by now.

The third delivery was our fortnightly grocery delivery. We’ve never yet received an order exactly as we’ve selected but they usually come there-abouts. Substitutes are fairly normal so what was unusual was that no coffee arrived. Not even a substitute. Now I don’t drink coffee but luckily I’d ordered ground coffee from the supplier of the box in the drive so not all was lost. The perils of online shopping.

mix 15

There was a less-than-dramatic thunder storm around 5 am on the Saturday. Saturday being the day I won the family virtual quiz at night!! But before that I got up and unplugged just about everything that runs on electricity for the duration of the thunder and lightning. We’ve lost electrical stuff previously to lightning strikes so don’t take chances.

Well into eating our last-minute-let’s-grow- salad crops. It is the way to eat if you can manage it. Radish contest ongoing. More on that next week, hopefully.

All quiet on the house martin front. They’re still active and so far the nests are holding up. Long may that continue. Hearing a cuckoo occasionally and owl at night (suppose it’s a night owl.) Just the one I think which is a bit sad. Those starlings that persisted in nesting in a tree hole frequented by jackdaws appear to be proven right for there are lots and lots of starlings flying around here now and quite a few are feeding off the seeds and nuts in the garden. Such striking plumage when the sun hits it. Haven’t seen the heron for ages. Don’t know what that means. Certainly whenever I look down into the burn that runs alongside our garden there are no fish – which is unusual. Think we know who to blame for that Ms/Mr Heron.

Made some pancakes half and half with banana and ordinary SR flour and added a handful of some freeze-dried raspberries which were delivered last week. The pancakes rose beautifully but were not dissimilar to shoe leather texture. Eaten fresh were fine. Left a day or two – forget it. Those raspberries are strange. Astronaut food, our son described them which I suppose they are. Like instant coffee. Freeze dried, that is, not the taste. Disappointed with the pancakes I decided to bake what turned out to be a large consignment of flapjack-type biscuits made from a huge amount of porridge oats, dark sugar, sour cherries, a handful of aronia berries, lots of chopped up dried apricots, desiccated coconut, ground ginger, cinnamon, syrup, marg – think that was about it, oh sunflower seeds. Message here is bung in what you like, mix it up, drop spoonfuls onto baking tray and bake for about 15 to 25 mins depending on how chewy or crunchy you want them. You cannot go wrong with anything that uses porridge oats. It is the best food ever.

Just time to tell you to watch the 1933 film of Alice in Wonderland with Gary cooper as the White Knight (funny scene on horseback), Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle (doesn’t look a bit like him,) W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty (absolutely brilliant) and Edna May Oliver as the Red Queen (pitch perfect performance.) Alice (Charlotte Henry) is good as well. Some very funny lines. Amazon Prime or YouTube. But, whatever you do, do-not-watch  The Sinner on Netflix. Annoying and stupid.

Nearly finished biography of Walter Benjamin. It’s a tragic tale of victims of fascism in the 1930s but the guy would have driven me mad. More on it next time, hopefully.

Stay safe.

June 26, 2020

The Year of the Plague 2020 – a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 14.

Fourteen weeks under lockdown have come and gone. The strange thing is, as several friends and family agree, time under lockdown has passed very quickly. The weeks fly by. It’s a strange phenomenon because logic tells me time should have dragged. It hasn’t.

Despite that this weekly blog is getting later and later. Tuesday is our switchover point into the next week and already it’s Friday but I won’t reveal any of the exciting goings-on between Tuesday and today until next week. And to be honest there aren’t really any.

So, week 14 was quiet down our way. Managed the Financial Times Weekend Magazine crossword in record time (for me.) One or two health issues again but nothing major only enough to curtail my walks. Weather’s been very warm in the main and the vegetables* continue to flourish – or as our granddaughter might say, are looking lush. So lush they need potting up again which meant we had to don masks and gloves and make a rare visit to our local filling station for more compost and growbags. I’d been at my husband to buy more for a few weeks since he only bought very few, clearly far too few, on our initial foray out. Well, what d’ye know – growbags were sold out. Take 3 bags of compost, he then advised. I looked at the sign beside them – special offer on 2 so we bought 4. That will do us but we could have had all this ready weeks ago.

During this pandemic lockdown I’ve noticed there are two kinds of people – those who think – ‘aha, pandemic – shortages, let’s stock up just in case some things become scarce or unavailable later’ – and those who say, ‘but we’ve already got one in the cupboard, let’s wait till we use that up then buy another.’

NO!

Friends confirm that couples comprise one of each. Obviously the keep yer cupboard/garden shed stocked are the ones to be admired. Living on the edge chancer types are likely to disappear down an evolutionary blind alley. Just wait and see.

I am in charge of ordering online. We both usually sit together to carry out an initial grocery order once a fortnight but then I go back in adding this and that. It’s called power. Power of ordering on my laptop.

mix for 14

I’ve never been someone who’s loved traipsing around shops. I used to do a twice yearly clothes shop in town when I would buy lots of stuff at once then never go near the shops again for six months or more. However, lockdown has turned me into a shopping addict. I especially like gazing at what health and wholefood outlets have to offer. A lot. That awkward bit between clicking on an item and actually getting it delivered is the frustrating part. What is it about some delivery companies they don’t understand about their central role – to deliver goods bought? I’ve been at war with Hermes parcels who received some bird food on 1 June at which point it disappeared down a rabbit hole apparently because it didn’t ever arrive. No response on twitter. No response by email. They have a website that is useless. They have a virtual assistant called Holly. Holly is useless. I now check with companies before giving them my orders because there’s no point paying for something that fails to arrive.

Car MOTs were given 6 months reprieve or rather a deferral at the start of Covid but ours had a little problem so we booked it into our local garage for a service and MOT. Typically the ‘little problem’ didn’t show up at the garage – what is it with cars playing up when they go in for a service? No idea how long the garage has been re-opened for but they say they are very busy which is good. Of course we were nervous putting the car in and paying, being canny about coronavirus and rarely out. Some of the difficulties were resolved by getting my husband to drop the car off in addition to liberal applications of anti-bacterial gel over a’thing. Yes, it passed its MOT.

martins 14

Not much to report of the house martins. They seem happy. Career around like boy and quine racers out of their nests (plural – this is a palatial nest as nests go) flying around our tiny village and back into the nests (plural.) It is with pride we watch them in the evenings, from our massive sittingroom window, as they dart back and fore – part of the family.

Our actual family participated in the weekly weekend quiz. Good fun as usual but I really don’t want any more questions about hot chillies. And then there was the terrible news that our granddaughter is losing her job after furlough finishes at end July. It was a blow to her and more so when her scumbag boss texted her the news at 11.30 at night. There will be many like her looking for jobs in a market that supports fewer jobs. Here in Aberdeenshire where so many people are reliant on oil and gas that’s bad news in many ways and she may not be the last member of the family to be looking for work.

Babylon Berlin is great television. It is so good at the dramatic bits although sometimes they are laugh out loud funny. Terrific railway scene that for some reason reminded me of The 39 Steps although the only similarity is a train chuffing along and some dare-devilry.  The series drains the viewer. Wrings out every emotion and elbows the poor viewer over a cliff – every episode. So good.

Finished Gault’s The Provost. Glad I did and I was skipping the final few pages as it was becoming boring by then. Still worth looking at for the vocabulary (see last blog.) Picked up W G Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn only to realise I’d read it and I’m not keen on re-reading books unless it’s Hogg’s Justified Sinner so asked husband what was piled up at his side of the bed. I picked over a copy of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy but wasn’t much interested in it – too many pages, writing too small, no detectives. Then, taking my cue from something said on Bablyon Berlin I asked if we had any books by Walter Benjamin. We have. I thought he was American as I’ve only heard his name pronounced Walter Benjamin and not Valter Benyamin. But he wasn’t. German – a Bavarian. I don’t read philosophy but was curious and have started with a biography of him by Esther Leslie. It’s fairly interesting although I don’t like her habit of referring to Benjamin as Walter. Bit too chummy. I don’t think I’ll become a disciple of his but who knows by next week?

Stay safe.

*not Tories, the useful kind

January 4, 2018

A True-blue Passport

Passports were once used to enable travellers safe and smooth passage and were only available to a select few. When they became obligatory they became impediments to free passage.  

The United Kingdom is in the throes of all sorts of crises: crumbling health system; rise in poverty; rise in insecure jobs; low pay; staggering inequality but the two issues most exercising the irate green ink brigade devotees of the Daily Mail, Express and other outlets of cultish reaction has been the silencing of Big Ben’s bells and the introduction of a true blue British passport. The bells are in good hands. Passports on the other hand…

No madam, a passport is not necessary for Scotland

No Madam, a passport is not necessary for Scotland

Back in 1858 in that bastion of democracy the House of Lords, Earl Grey (once a Secretary at War – with some Johnny Foreigner ) told his fellow Lords

…there could be no greater proof of the absurdity of the passport system than the regulations proposed by the English Government, and sanctioned by the French Government (other parts of the United Kingdom are available for readers in the North and West.)

On the introduction of the true-blue British passport in 1921 one newspaper correspondent wondered

…whether things will ever be again as they used to be in pre-war days, when one could wander over a good deal of Europe without bothering about a passport at all. We may have to wait a long time before that comes about but, if in the meantime passports are a necessity – and we doubt whether there is any real necessity about them, at any rate for friendly neighbouring countries – there is no reason why they should be a costly nuisance. We ourselves, our friends abroad tell us, are the worst offenders in this respect…your bureaucrat dearly loves a passport… and we make the foreigner pay pretty stiffly for the privilege of landing on these shores. This is sound enough in the case of ex-enemies and undesirables – although no real undesirable that we have ever heard of was stopped from coming here in peace time by passport difficulties. But the French and the Belgians resented the payment of a heavy fee for a visa on their passports and took to retaliation.

Passport war between the UK and Belgium was soon resolved however – for then at least but the French weren’t so easily placated and clapped on a charge for visitor visas.

The issuing of passports was described as a bureaucratic stunt intended to provide work for officials. Passports, it was argued, did not prevent unwelcome guests but merely inconvenienced welcome guests.

One has heard of English business men travelling all over the Baltic States and merely waving their birth certificates on the frontiers. We could make travel easier for our friends and our friends could make travel easier for us. Why not do it, in spite of the officials?

(Sheffield Daily Telegraph Tues 5 April 1921)

And the appearance of these early passports drew comment –  

… in the new passports there is nothing to be puffed up about, not in their appearance [they] could be mistaken for a milk or laundry book in its makeshift sort of look. It has Royal Arms in gilt in the middle and a bit cut out in the cover to slip in a white card with a name on it. It is the same size and colour as diaries.

Passports changed their spots. From being a means of free movement they became obstacles as those fleeing fascism in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s discovered to their cost: the German Jewish philosopher and cultural writer Walter Benjamin, seven years on the run, swallowed poison in Franco’s fascist Spain when denied passage to the US. Anne Frank’s family were also denied visas to the US which would have saved their lives – a mere two examples from a wretched catalogue of restrictions over travel and refusal of documents that spelled death to hundreds of thousands.

In 1974 it was proposed that member states of the European Community should issue passports in a common format but with no sense of urgency over the matter Tory David Maclean became frustrated at the delay over their implementation which he regarded as essential to promote a clear sense of identity within the Community notwithstanding positive and practical benefits – and possible without at any point diminishing our status as Britons.

He explained that the British passport issued in 1921 emerged out of a proposal from the League of Nations to address international travel by rail and it was an international format on its recommendation which was accepted and gave birth to the true-blue British version.

How very British that a reaction against one international style of passport now demands a return to another whose origins are equally international.

Passports preoccupied the House of Lords on many occasions.  

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy longed to return to blue passports while Earl Ferrers (no idea who these people were) asked if it might be possible to include Welsh on the UK passport as Wales is in the United Kingdom. The response was no.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, ever a card, got to his feet to enquire

My Lords, can my noble friend guarantee that there will not have to be a referendum upon this important subject?

Earl Ferrers was on hand to reassure him

My Lords, heaven preserve us from such a thought!

Lord Tordoff, a Liberal I believe, asked about the possibility of introducing special diplomatic passports for Member of the Lords.

On another occasion the House of Lords were at it again when one Baroness Blatch insisted the European passport was a British passport.

We have adopted a common format but it remains a British passport and it remains available only to bona fide British citizens.

She understood, she said, the nostalgia for the blue passport;

…in fact, my own blue passport still has one more year to run. I understand the points being made, but we are party to an international agreement and we signed up to the common format.

Lord King of Wartnaby (Thatcherite Tory) was not convinced.

Can we get back to having a decent passport such as the blue one that I still have? That is very important. We trade in every country in the world. When the immigration officer sees it, he recognises it as being of some value and having some identity. This little red notebook is depressing.

Depressing? Trying to survive in famine is depressing. Trying to avoid being shelled to smithereens in Syria or Palestine is depressing. A ‘little red notebook’ is of no consequence m’Lord.