I’m writing this listening to Tallis’s Spem In Alium while the growing spring light and warmth is bringing my garden to budding life.
Terry Pratchett intended to die listening to this - “That’s the one where every single part of it comes together at once, where God picks you up and drops you on your head,” - in his garden drinking an excellent brandy. Apparently he died in his own bed with his family and his cat with him, and I hope he was listening to this music.
Many of my friends and acquaintances are texting, emailing and talking on Facebook about the loss of this good man, all of us feeling a bit stupid about the terrible sadness we’re experiencing. But we’ve shared a world, landscapes, lineages, lives, adventures and histories with him and with each other, and that world has now come to an end. The characters we love can now only repeat their stories, they can’t develop or mature any more. Discworld has suddenly become preserved rather than living on in a kind of real time.
The most common element on Discworld was Narrativium, which caused people to act and events to play out as they are meant to in a story. Heroes were guaranteed to win if the chances were a million to one. If a little girl walked alone through the woods she had to meet a wolf, who was forced to try and eat her. But Pratchett’s most complex characters fought the pressures of storylines that cast them as the Evil Witch, the Killer Cop, a Farmers Wife or an Unwilling Reaper and in doing so became more fully themselves and infinitely more interesting people.
Mistress Weatherwax, Sam Vimes, Susan Sto Helit, Tiffany Aching and Death himself exerted self control, experienced pain and unhappiness in order to learn and grow and become who they were truly meant to be. None of them were interested in being nice or even particularly liked, and paradoxically became loved.
Please take the time to listen to Spem In Alium and raise a glass to Terry Pratchett who brought good philosophy to millions of children and adults, and whose legacy is fierce, funny and full of wisdom.
Happy St George's Day, a day to appreciate the many, many benefits we have as people living in a first-world economy.
The World Service broadcast a particularly interesting piece last night, on how France Must Change. High unemployment, a State-bound economy in the doldrums, strikes, laughable working hours, and now – get this! – legislation that prevents employees from responding to work emails after 6pm! What an outlandish and economically naive country.
Strange then, that France is ahead of our own Hard Working, endlessly striving, entrepreneurial economy, second only to Germany in Europe and fifth in the world. In a survey out today comes the news that “Britain has the lowest quality of life of 9 major European countries."
France has the highest quality of life.
The weather has something to do with it as does our naturally cynical nature – we expect to be treated badly and so it comes as no surprise when we’re treated badly – but here’s a chilling analysis:
“We may still be enjoying the fourth highest household income in Europe, but the high cost of living means we are living to work.”
Person Centred counselling has a useful principle called the Locus of Evaluation. It proposes that when we’re allowed to remain in touch with how we genuinely feel we can make good choices; good for ourselves and good for the people around us. This is called The Internal Locus of Evaluation. The External Locus of Evaluation develops when we’re told how we must feel and criticised for feeling differently from the people around us. We have to ignore our genuine feelings to continue to be valued. People who function from an External Locus of Evaluation continue to look to people in authority to decide how they must feel and often feel absolutely dreadful, even if they determinedly continue to believe they are content with the way things are. You can read up on the theory here.
On Sunday the Mail felt it would be profitable to send an undercover reporter to a food bank and, despite noting that the reporter was asked lots of questions about his circumstances, recount that he walked away with £40 worth of groceries, unquestioned. In the past that would simply have added to the sneering disgust of the nation but this time it resulted in £35,000 in donations to the Trussell Trust.
Times and nations are not going to change much. Against all the evidence, as a country we’re going to continue believing that the French are lazy and on the verge of economic collapse whilst we lead the world in toughness and fiscal wisdom. But, as the Daily Mail incident demonstrates, individuals are now more than ever capable of effecting change. I’d propose that the conditions that bring individuals to the point of collapse are those that we are experiencing now. We’re being told one thing – that food banks are stupidly supporting evil people to lie around laughing at the Hard Working Tax Payer – when we know something very different – that food banks are a symptom of an unequal society, that the more unequal the society the more miserable society becomes and that we have the lowest productivity in the whole of the G7. Social media is a tool that individuals use to subvert propaganda, but attending to the messages that we constantly berate ourselves with is another, more difficult matter.
It can be profoundly sad and even disturbing to understand that many of the beliefs we hold dear are nothing but empty words, to realise that the way we've lived to this point has been largely meaningless and for someone else's benefit. It takes time to understand how it happens at all, but if you find yourself wondering about this kind of thing then you're ready to explore it. There's a lot to cherish in the English (and British) way of being, we'd be foolish to reject all of it, and there's a lot that needs to be examined too.
*Written by Cecil Rhodes, who left England at the age of 9.
A report has come out this morning suggesting that a shorter working week and space for growing plants and food could "provide the answer to every headline problem at the moment."
At a time when every political statement seems to be about Hard Working Tax Payers – and discounts every activity that isn’t work – this seems like Utopian nonsense. But the figures don’t bear that out.
Japan has suffered 20 years of economic decline but has kept unemployment low by having a 4-day week. They’re more interested in social cohesion than getting votes. The 4-day week in normal in Norway. Across the US, both public and private employers continue to experiment with the 4 day week finding that there are savings to be made on agency staff and utilities, that absenteeism plummets, productivity increases, morale improves. Families save money on childcare and spend more time with the kids. Parents are less exhausted and, not having to fit all the housework, social life, and shopping (never mind relaxing) into a few hours, actually enjoy that time with their children. So their kids are happier and more relaxed.
For everyone to move over to a four day week would take a huge cultural shift, but it’s been done before: football matches traditionally begin at 3pm because a five and a half day week was normal in the UK. A two-day weekend only became normal in the 1960's. The summer school holidays are so long because children had to help with the harvest. And of course, a seven-day week, for men, women and children was once brutally normal.
While the economists struggle with the figures, we can think about the ways we work and why.
If it’s about status, if you think you’re better than a person who’s unemployed or works part time, beware. Redundancy, illness and failed businesses happen all the time and the more you look down on people who are not like you the more savage your experience when you join them. If it’s about money then decide what your priorities are: if you or your children really need all that stuff could it be that the stuff is making up for less-than-good relationships? If it’s about identity then make sure you don’t get old or ill. You are so much more than your job title.
Rounded, productive, content people spend time enriching their lives, are interested in a whole range of things from breadmaking and calligraphy to philosophy and singing. Vitally, they work on developing good friendships. You need time to build relationships and while your manager may value you while you keep producing good friends will support you when your manager hands you your P45.
I’ll talk about the psychological benefits of gardening in the next blog: getting your hands dirty really can keep your head clear!
Anxiety is a normal response to stressful situations, whether you’re living through them right now or worried about something in the future like going into hospital, the possibility of redundancy or an exam. The increase in adrenaline associated with stress can help you work towards your goals: the downside is that too much can stop you sleeping, give you a constant sense of fear and make you short tempered. At the extreme end of anxiety are panic attacks, terrifyingly physical events that can restrict your life.
Depression is a feeling of disconnection and misery, tiredness and disinterest that lasts more than a couple of weeks. People with depression think negatively, they’re depressed about being depressed, and this (entirely natural) negativity feeds on itself, making ordinary life intolerable.
Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand and are increasing exponentially. Research shows that although some people may have a natural disposition towards anxiety and depression these are also perfectly normal responses to the ways in which we live. If you’re working a 45 hour week with a couple of hours commuting every day; if you’re unemployed, endlessly told that you’re a scrounger and have no idea how to fill your time; if you’re in a relationship or job that isn’t fulfilling or is bullying; if your life is about to change – a move, a marriage, a new baby, illness; or if you just can’t stand to continue living in a particular way but feel obliged to, then anxiety and depression make sense.
It’s become fashionable to offer 10 handy tips to overcome everything. I’m very content to help you manage your feelings but the huge majority of clients who’ve wanted a quick fix have also found great value in some introspection to discover some foundations for their feelings as well as finding long term, individual answers to their problems.
I’m particularly interested in working with people from the swiftly changing corporate world where values are altering overnight and taking a toll. A number of clients from this background have found 50 minutes a week reflection very helpful.
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