Location: York Minster, northern England
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Over dinner, my uncle asked me how I felt about the future. “Personally optimistic, globally pessimistic,” I replied. Climate change, of course - and more so the political & human horror that will accompany it. If the ice sheets were to melt into the oceans without taking democracy and human rights with them, I might take that deal.
We talked about what it takes to feel invested in the future beyond your lifespan. To my aunt it was inherent, it just made sense. “Children,” said my uncle. He didn’t think he was so invested, if he were honest (we’re all three child-free.) “Money,” I said. Perhaps it’s a luxury to be able to care about the future. Many are one paycheck from disaster and have more pressing concerns.
I talked about how crisis-averting change is possible (ecologically, economically) and impossible (politically, perhaps psychologically). We in the West do not live in a system that can act beyond the financial quarter or the electoral cycle. Time discounting is a cognitive norm.
But, I said. There are also systems that take a longer view. The Native American principle of thinking for seven generations. Japanese thousand-year corporations. And a cathedral a hundred yards away that on just three panels lists its archbishops back to 314.
This deep thread of continuity in place is something close to the heart of my personal sense of Englishness. It’s one of the things that makes Europe (and Japan, and China) different to America.
Continuity does not mean ethno-nationalism, though. Just look at these names. The ruptures within them.
From the Romans Eborius and Paulinus to the Celtic name Chad, to the Angles of the Kingdom of Northumbria: Wilfrid, Egbert, Aethelbert. The capture of York in 867. Wulfstan I, who played off the Vikings vs the Wessex kings. The Danes Oscytel and Oswald. 1066, conquest. 1071, a new Norman dynasty of names: Thomas. Bastard offspring of royalty (Fitzherbert). Kin of kings (Plantagenet). In 1514 the common son of a butcher, Thomas Wolsey.
This list of archbishops ends (for the moment) with John Sentamu, 2005—, who was born in Uganda.
In order to have a future, we need a new conception of time, which has been present all along
Location: Luzia, a bar in Kreuzberg, Berlin
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Reading Hemingway negroni in hand is absolutely undoubtedly definitively a pretentious thing to do - but there are also passages in here that make your head spin and blood rush, and if you can heighten that then so much the better.
Five pages on the matador Maera, “so brave that he shamed the stylists that were not,” and his last year in the ring, knowing he was dying of consumption, when he fought bulls as though, “I thought that year he hoped for death in the ring but he would not cheat by looking for it.” My god.
So yes, I really liked ‘Death in the Afternoon’ (1932), an account of why bullfighting is art (and why writing is a lot like bullfighting) - even though it’s twice as long as it needs to be, and it’s not clear Hemingway’s quite cognisant of the target at which he jousts.
“I was trying to learn to write,” he writes early on, “commencing with the simplest things, and one of the simplest things of all and the most fundamental is violent death.” Hemingway is trying to write what’s there and nothing more - and this is hard: “I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing what you really felt rather than what you were supposed to feel and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things which produced the emotion you experienced.”
The tragedy of this book lies, perhaps, in the way he misses.
Or so argued Max Eastman in his review in the New Republic, ‘Bull In The Afternoon’ (1933). “It is not death that Hemingway writes about or travels to see, but killing. …He has got into it an enthusiasm for killing - for courage and dominating and killing. Hemingway cannot feel - he cannot even see - the hero of his ‘tragedy’ staggering towards death in blood loss and bewilderment.” The bull.
Yet ultimately Eastman so deeply and sympathetically eviscerates Hemingway’s book that it becomes something greater than Hemingway perhaps knew, as among, “...those confessions of horror which are the true poetry and the only great poetry of this generation,” who fought and lived through the Great War - “And it does not matter much whether Ernest Hemingway knows this fact or not.”
When they met in 1937, Hemingway punched him.
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Let me tell you how this book found me.
Two copies were posted to me from Finland by somebody I don’t know, on the request of someone else I met only once in New York in March 2014.
A few weeks after that encounter I moved back to London, and you’d think that would’ve been that.
But we didn’t unfollow each other on social media because take just a little care and then that isn’t necessary. And I had gotten to know his friends online and started supporting their radical media project, $10 a month. I still liked his work. 18 months later I found, quite suddenly, the work of my own.
Life went on. A month or two ago, @inhabit.global crossed my Instagram feed. I recognised something there. I DM’d. A reply. A network of other people - complete strangers - mobilised to share resources. To post books internationally. To meet at Defcon for a conversation.
This is possible.
That’s what this lil book is about. “Imagine a life that reaches past your individual borders. You change the way you move through your environment to intentionally come into contact with others. Fleeting encounters become real relationships. You wander through your neighborhood, stopping by friends’ houses on the way to the cafe. You meet up nightly at the park to work out. You walk each other home. You share each others’ cars. You go camping and learn how to start a fire together. You pool money for a collective rainy day. The idea of private property starts to get blurred. You begin to understand yourselves as something more decisive than a group of friends.” Step one.
It’s ‘Instructions for Autonomy’. Up on http://inhabit.global
Book 25 of 2018. Take a look back at Book 21, ‘Now’ by the Invisible Committee, for more notes along related lines.
Location: Great Gable, a mountain in the Lake District
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"Upon this mountain summit we are met today to dedicate this space of hills to freedom.”
So said writer and mountaineer Geoffrey Winthrop Young, in a ceremony - a 'service in the clouds' - in 1924.
At the very top of Great Gable, covered in hoarfrost, is a war memorial.
Following the Great War and in memory of the friends they had lost, the Fell and Rock Climbing Club bought twelve peaks and 3,000 acres of Lake District land from private landowners, and donated it to the National Trust. This gift, “for the use and enjoyment of the people of our land for all time”, set in motion the development of the National Parks.
Winthrop spoke: “Upon this rock are set the names of men – our brothers, and our comrades upon these cliffs – who held with us, that there is no freedom of the soil where the spirit of man is in bondage, and who surrendered their part in the fellowship of hill and wind, and sunshine, that the freedom of this land, the freedom of our spirit, should endure."
And that is how this land returned to common use.
Great Gable stands at the head of Wasdale, looking over the tiny, ancient, Viking longship-beamed Church of St Olaf, which remembers too those FRCC members who died in the war with a stained glass window: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my strength."
Location: Great Gable, a mountain in the Lake District, UK
Gable Crag, the north face of Great Gable and home of the Lake District’s hardest winter climbing route, Snicker Snap (VIII 9). Though I took the ridge route over Grey Knotts, Brandreth and Green Gable, the common walk-in to this mountain is by a path named Moses Trod.
The path is named for Moses Rigg, an 18th-century quarryman who, before there were proper roads in the Lakes, established the route as the shortest way to carry slate from the Honister mines over to Wasdale and thence down the valley road to the port at Ravenglass.
Word is, slate was not the only thing Moses was transporting over the fells. He was also smuggling wadd - then also called black lead, or plumbago, though now we know it as pure graphite. First discovered near Seathwaite in 1555, its many uses (from medicine to gun lubricant to pencils) made it highly lucrative, worth £70,000 a pony-load in today’s money. Smugglers' deals in the back rooms of Keswick may have given rise to the term “black market”, for the stains it’d have left on their hands.
But intrepid Moses did not stop at smuggling wadd. He also made bootleg whisky using water off Fleetwith Pike (bogwater makes the whisky taste better, he’s supposed to have claimed), distilled in a still hidden high on Gable Crag, accessible only by rock climbing, in an era before climbing was done for anything but direst emergency. A perfect location, then, for staying out of reach of the excise men.
Yet, writing in the Fell and Rock Climbing Journal in 1924, RB Graham fretted that “Everybody has heard of him; everybody knows of him; everybody knows that the track was made by Moses, but who ever saw him in the flesh?” Official records of the man are non-existent.
Wainwright, in his guides, made reference to a hut called Smuggler’s Retreat, “the highest site ever used for building in England” - but it was “now completely in ruins.” Writing in 1999, veteran journalist and mountaineer Harry Griffin reported that the hut had “completely disappeared, its last stones swept down the crag by winter storms.” Gone.
It turns out that all the stories about Moses Rigg stem from but one source: the testimony of Auld Will Ritson, proprietor of the Wastwater Inn in the mid-C19th, who remembered from his childhood an old man called Moses who would bring slate over the Trod in a pony trap which doubled as an illicit whisky shop.
Yet Auld Will himself was also a bit of a local legend: as a teller of tall tales. He started the World’s Greatest Liar contest, which continues to this day at the Wasdale Head pub. So perhaps the legend of Moses Rigg was nothing more than that.
But then in 2005 Guy Proctor, a writer with Trail magazine, heard a rambling story from his old man mountaineering editor Jeremy about a winter climb up Central Gully in 1983, and a strange ruined hut. He went to have a look, and to work out where on this rockface a hobnail-booted quarryman might have been able to climb.
Thirty metres down the rake and around a rocky promontory he found a shelter, still standing. A tiny shelf in the hut’s back wall. And on that shelf, two stones looking like “very old and weathered and slightly manky-looking potatoes. …A gentle rub with a thumbnail, and a small section of the mossy mank came off, revealing underneath a silky gleam. I gently rubbed my sample on the corner of my notepad. The soft black smudge said it all.”