Tuesday, 9 August 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front

I’m part way through this famous book yet when I mention it to friends they all seem to have read it yonks ago. Nevertheless I find it very moving, partly because it’s reports of raw war are recounted without an ounce of romanticism, partly because the tight descriptions kick off a note of stark reality in my mind, and maybe because the sense of essential camaraderie enforced by simple necessity rings so true.

That said, I suppose all that can be written about war has been – and has been analysed so much that it has been stripped of any mystery.
Meanwhile the Western front is anything but quiet. I try to imagine what our Chinese friends must be thinking as they see buildings and cars burning in the streets of London (assuming any of that news penetrates the Great Fire Wall - China is keen on filtering out insurrection). The Chinese believe that we live such stable, secure, well ordered and wealthy lives – and that includes those that actually have visited England. Meanwhile the rats are leaving the sinking stock exchange in a wave of blind panic that devalues perfectly healthy corporations in a sea of increasing irrationality. No doubt some in China must look on with wry self-satisfaction holding their mental “the end is nigh” placards aloft yet wondering who will buy the exports on which their current unspent wealth is built and who will pay the interest on those piles of US government bonds. We do live in interesting times.
Meanwhile the mundane seeps into my life. I once, tongue in cheek, described, in writing, my ambition as the “vain pursuit of polymathy”. I did not mean that I wished to be a reconstructed Christopher Wren (a true polymath); more that I wanted to accrue the necessary skills to survive, intellectually and practically, in a changing world. But the toilet cistern has knocked me from this pedestal. Toilet cisterns were simple once, there was little to go wrong and everything that did was easily fixed. Now the operational parts are made of plastic and are irreparable. Inventiveness has overtaken maintainability and, worse, I have to confess that I do not know how my cistern works – nor did the two plumbers to whom I showed the plastic valve assembly. They recommended that I replaced the whole mechanism with an alternative valve which, though plastic, works as the old ones used to do.
What’s my point? If western civilisation is teetering on the edge of a precipice what are the chances of survival if the toilets cease to work and are irreparable? OK that seems extreme, but think about it. What can you repair now? Your car probably has a tiny computer controlling the engine functions etc, your mobile is packed full of impenetrable integrated circuits and so is your TV and radio, and your toilet is full of plastic bits that cannot be fixed. What’s more your fridge is probably a sealed unit and your washing machine is electronically control and so packed that even replacing a belt is a task that requires robotic arms. Don’t worry though, the power stations will quickly shut themselves down so no electrical device will work anyway and you will be quite unable to recharge the battery of your mobile which wouldn’t work anyway because the entire mobile system has failed. Ah, dystopia here we come.
Meanwhile I’m off to Spain. Is that a good idea? It may be. I will be working on my stone hut which has no electricity (until I install a solar panel at some time), and when it’s finished I will be able to sit inside whilst the Spanish economy crumbles around me- if it hasn’t collapsed before that. They call it “la crisis” over there. I just hope that “la crisis” hasn’t damped the Spanish appetite for partying. It’s fiesta time when we arrive: four of five days of fun, frolic and music (electricity supply allowing).

1 comment:

  1. What do the pigs’ countries has in common besides wrecked economies? They are all catholic, which means that they have access to confession and can thus relieve themselves of any indulgence (Spain has the highest proportion per capita of whores and nuns). Whereas in Northern Europe you will remain guilt ridden and the only way to absolution is to work harder and sacrifice. However as you say it’s more fun to live in Spain and life is short, so what the hell!
    The last two decades can be defined by one word – Inter. Like inter dependence, national, act, mediate, marriage, communication, connect, change and of course course and net.
    El Oso


All feedback welcomed. Feel free.