Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tell me when the light turns green



Still from 'The Wanderer': Craig Dinas, N Wales
I’ve been trying to digitalise some old VHS video tapes which contained a fair bit of camcorder footage and which with the system I’m using,copies straight onto DVD. So far...not so good. The old tapes have obviously deteriorated and the DVD copies are not exactly HD quality! Lots of flickering and glitches. Apparently that also has something to do with the recording software. The footage has lost quality when seen on TV but it does run at real time without flickering and glitches. I do have the original High 8 mini tapes so I’m tempted to see if I can record straight from the analogue camcorder to disc or hard drive.
Harold Drasdo on his own route.Moss Rib

Its an interesting thought though,when you consider the thousands of hours of rare and irreplaceable climbing/outdoor footage-both on cine film and video tape-  that is buried away  and forgotten in drawers,lofts,cupboards and sheds. I blogged a while ago about some rare climbing films which had totally disappeared and were last heard of in an elderly woman’s shed in Aberystwyth. Of course amateur footage taken by those recording their adventures is always going to be fascinating for the individual to look back on. However, there must also be a fair bit of as yet undiscovered footage taken on Cine 8 cameras and analogue camcorders which feature many iconic figures.


The late Harold Drasdo once loaned me a DVD of old climbing footage featuring Joe Brown. I recall there were at least five films going back to the 50‘s and 60‘s which included footage of JB climbing in Jordan. I’ve never seen or heard of these films being distributed in the wider world?

Phil Livesey at the start of The Wanderer

Talking of HD, it was nice to see I had a bit of footage of him climbing his own route, Moss Rib, which he put up with Tony Moulam on Craig Dinas near Betws y Coed.I’ll always regret not taking more camcorder footage of my climbing adventures as many of the people I climbed with are either now dead, have moved away,or have given up the activity. 


Ken Wilson’s recently republished ‘Snapshot’ was a remarkably prescient take on the world of climbing photography which although originally published in 1981, even then lamented the fact that the sexy action shot had become the norm within climbing media while the ‘snapshot’ which recorded more accurately climbing culture as most people experience it, was being forgotten. In a way, these old amateur video camera recordings from the 80‘s and 90‘s form an important part of Ken’s ‘Snapshot Culture’. Recording an important period in climbing history in all its glorious vivid over saturated glory! 

'The Big Yin' Pen Tyrau: Arenig Fawr

Fixing on a few stills from the footage, although as photographs they would be considered terrible, there is something of a ‘Lomo’ quality to them. They could have been taken on a plastic Holga camera...all light leaks, weird saturation, blur and Polaroid colours.

Perhaps an august body like the BMC might consider putting out a video appeal? Nudging the middle aged and older members of the climbing community to dig out those old videos and Cine reels before it’s too late?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Widening Gyre



And so it begins...or does it? After I blogged my predictions last week that the referendum would deliver a resounding ‘Remain’ vote, 17 million people-52% of the electorate- said ‘thanks but no thanks...we’re off!’. I went to bed on Thursday night reading that Nigel Farage ‘was conceding defeat’ and exit polls were showing 52/48 Remain and I woke up to be told that the world had turned upside down. Shock ! Since the result was announced the UK has gone a bit bat shit crazy! Hysteria and recrimination is the favoured currency, especially on the social media. The Guardianist constituency especially, has really lost it big time with some remarkably reactionary views surfacing. Views which are every bit as disturbing as those coming from the knucklehead right. As someone of a fairly tolerant and liberal persuasion who essentially values our electoral system in the UK for what it is; an imperfect but essentially worthy system of organizing society, I’ve been shocked by those who now see whole swathes of society as the enemy.

Not least the older generation and the working/underclass. One of the more disturbing manifestations of this was ‘that’ petition. A petition to overturn the referendum result and either allow parliament to ignore it or run it again. As the numbers mounted so did the hysteria..one million, two million...three million! Never mind the fact that the petition was futile, UK legislation does not allow for electoral rules to be changed AFTER a vote- and tainted with false votes-thousands of votes were registered as coming from Vatican City!- it was the principle which shocked me. Here was an essentially privileged class asking for a democratic vote to be overturned because basically, the vote didn’t go the right way. Think about that. Ignore the views of 17 million voters because they are old, unemployed and/or uneducated. Hence they are mostly racists and bigots.

I still struggle with the fact that so many intelligent liberal friends feel that it’s justifiable to ignore the result of a democratic election and struggle even more with the fact that if their wishes came about and their reactionary views were acted upon, then how could they not see how that would play out on the streets of Britain? Do they think that the explosion of anger and street violence which would spring from an election being sabotaged by the state and the views of millions ignored, would surely dwarf any fall out from Brexit? Economies can be fixed fairly quickly. Fluctuations are to be expected and can be lived through and ridden out in months or a few years at most. However, a society which falls apart through the manipulation of the democratic process may well have disastrous consequences which could resonate for far longer and impact far deeper.

These are strange days we are living through and the febrile atmosphere is stirring up a noxious cocktail of racism, class warfare and intolerance on all sides. I can only think of lines from Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’. How ‘The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity’. Except who are ‘the best’ and who are ‘the worst’. I just just can’t tell anymore?

Monday, June 20, 2016

The EU referendum: How would George Orwell vote?



This week the UK electorate will be asked to vote whether the UK should remain part of the European Union. Depending on your perspective a vote to leave will either unleash the hounds of economic hell or deliver a new dawn of prosperity and freedom. As always, the reality will inevitably be somewhere between the two polarized extremes.

As someone of a leftist green political persuasion who would cite independently minded, free thinking individuals like George Orwell and Edward Abbey amongst those whose ideas and works have impacted upon my own political philosophy, I have found myself pondering how would an English Socialist patriot like Orwell have voted if he were alive today? Indeed, as someone who fought in the Spanish Civil War against fascism and whose most popular works, 1984 and Animal Farm warned of the dangers of centralized bureaucracies then I have no doubt that Orwell-and Abbey if he had been a UK citizen-would have been in the leave camp. Orwell as a democrat would have hated the idea of political policies being made in Europe by a political elite which by virtue of the make up of the administration,was out of reach of the British electorate. It was a point that the late Tony Benn-a long term campaigner against the EU-laboured. The fact that in the UK we can throw out the government every five years through the ballot box. Something in an EU electoral context we most certainly cannot achieve.Not least as UK MEP’s constitute less than 10%-and shrinking-of the European parliament.


Heading for a landfill site.

As an environmentalist I have witnessed a serious decline in the state of the UK’s natural environment in the last last 40 years, not least driven by the obscene Common Agricultural Policy. Forget Barley Barons, wine and milk lakes, butter and grain mountains; forget ploughing crops into the ground to keep prices artificially high or the fish discard policy which has seen millions of tons of perfect fish thrown back dead into the sea to fulfill the insane fish quota system. I’m taking about the grubbing up of hedgerows, draining of wetlands and ponds, clearing of woodland, the overgrazing of our uplands, etc...all leading to a massive reduction in many animal, bird and plant species. Many driven to complete extinction by the crazy EU CAP subsidy system which encourages greedy farmers and landowners to milk the subsidy system dry while destroying the natural environment.

I was thinking about George Orwell writing of that constituency Edward Abbey described as ‘kneejerk liberals’ or in modern parlance a ‘Guardianista’. Despite both men being on the political left, both had an equal contempt for both this political class and the conservative establishment. Writing in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ Orwell observed ‘ To this you have got to add the ugly fact that most middle class socialists,while theoretically pining for a classless society,cling like glue to their miserable fragments of social prestige. I remember my sensation of horror on first attending an ILP (Independent Labour Party) meeting in London; it might have been different in the North where the bourgeoisie are less thickly scattered. Are these mingy little beasts I thought, championing the working class? For every person there,male or female,bore the stigmata of sniffish middle class superiority. If a real working man, a miner dirty from the pit,had suddenly walked into their midst,they would have been angry,embarrassed and disgusted...’


I offer this as I have seen both in the news media and in the social media how working class so called ‘Brexiters’ are automatically labelled as racists and bigots if they raise the taboo subject of immigration into the equation. Happily for the Guardianista, established in a profession with a good income, a home and the means to travel and sate their passions, they do not have to suffer to the same extent the very real impact of the EU’s open door migration policies. Despite the often cited-and frankly asinine comment-that as only 2% of the UK is under concrete then we have plenty of room for more people, the fact is that EU economic migrants are not moving to The Knoydart Peninsular, The Outer Hebrides or Dartmoor,they are packing like sardines into London, The South East and the great conurbations. The effect on the working and underclasses has been profound. The depression of wages and rapid social cleansing through unaffordable housing. This sees previous working class districts in London either gentrified or turned into bedsit lands where family homes are divided into profitable single room bedsits or flats. Fine if you are a student or single person with an income,no use at all if you have a family. In London and elsewhere, this has seen the flight of the working/underclass to sink estates and far flung towns,distant from family and friends.

Of course the benefits of having a large pool of labour for the wider market economy means that with a surplus of labour, bosses can select employees who will work for less,work on zero hour contracts and refuse to employ anyone who belongs to a trade union. Not a problem if you are a recently arrived Romanian or Bulgarian who is used to working for peanuts back home but more a problem if you are a UK worker with a family to support and rent or a mortgage to pay. This of course is not to offer a racist spin on EU migration as the Pro EU campaigners would have it, but to point out the economic factors born from a left wing understanding of how market economies function.

In the Scottish referendum the highest support for independence came in the poorest districts of Glasgow and Dundee. Places where the working/underclass perceived they had nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain from leaving a political structure that wasn’t working for them and ditching the political machine-The Labour Party- which had taken them for granted and failed them. In the EU referendum there is the same distaste for a remote establishment which has failed them and it would be ironic if that class of people the Guardianists see as either noble savages or racists and bigots serve their revenge by voting the UK out of the EU.

From my perspective, I think the voters will swing behind the establishment and the appalling murder of Jo Cox by a right wing nut job will further cement the remain vote. However, I remain unconvinced that the EU is progressive, democratic or capable of reform. Whatever the vote, for the majority of people in the UK and in the wider EU, their lives will still be locked into economic cycles of boom and bust. Unemployment across the EU will still be rampant but the big corporations, agri-barons, farmers and the political establishment will still be the ones who benefit the most from locking us into this rigid economic structure. The natural environment will still suffer as a growing population sees more roads, more green field sites and more open countryside built over to accommodate a UK population predicted to rise to 80 million in the next thirty years.

Edward Abbey:No friend of the bureaucrat he.

 Edward Abbey once said “Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.” However, ‘comfortable delusions’ are always going to be easier to set your political compass by it seems.