Category Archives: biographical

RIP Machiavelli the allotment cat, 2004(?)- 31 March 2017

machiavelliMach the allotment cat has died. He was, we think, about 13 or 14, which is an astonishing knock for a stray with FIV. He came into our lives in about 2004 or 5, as a stray who would sneak in the cat flap and steal the food of Cassidy and Delilah. While Cassidy might have been up for a fight, he was scrawny and three-legged and simply no match. Delilah was delightful, but astonishingly dim. So Mach (short for Machiavelli) got what he wanted, and desperately needed – food. Fortunately for him, life became much easier, but not until further trials and tribulations.

We ended up, after several failed attempts, at catching him (Accidentally locked in overnight, he hid in a bookcase, a true ninja move, which may well have been how he got the name; a tough, smart survivor. We took him to the vet, had him chipped and relieved of his testicles. He stayed with us for a little bit, (there’s a photo of him on my chest) but Cassidy and Delilah were underwhelmed, and he wanted his freedom. He escaped, and for two weeks we didn’t see him, thinking he had left town or been run over or the normal stuff that happens to strays.

Then one Sunday evening I came downstairs and did a double-take; there he was on the chair. He got up, took three steps and fell over. I looked at him and saw that he was basically skeletal. We speculated that maybe he had got into a garden shed and had been unable to get out until he was much skinnier, and had come back to where he knew there was food. We put him on a cushion, put him in the bathroom with a tiny amount of food and water nearby. I fully expected him to be dead when I came down the next morning – I remember bracing myself as I opened the door. Instead, there he was, looking up at me, the worse for wear.

We took him to the vet, who said he would probably die, but they would run liver tests and if it was an infection they might be able to slap enough anti-biotics in him to pull him through, but if there was liver damage, they would have to put him down. Was he insured they asked. No, we said. They phoned back that afternoon. No liver damage… what did we want. I took a deep breath and said ‘try to save him’. It cost £400 in the end, but after about 5 days on an IV drip and a lot of antibiotics and diarrhea, he was back with us. The staff at the vet had loved him – he had become very affectionate with them.

He stayed with us again, and escaped again. At some point after that (weeks?) there he was on the local allotment, where we had a plot. We started feeding him and for a while he became pretty fat- he had decided perhaps to never feel hungry again.

Another allotment holder started feeding him, for years. Mach became a bit of a sook around that man, and slowly lost his distance from others. When events were held at the allotment he would happily take ownership of complete strangers’ laps.

He did lose the weight, over time, and became a normal healthy cat. I took over feeding him a few years ago. Every morning and night I would go down and feed him, a mix of wet and dry. If I was away, Phil would kindly feed him. One time we had to retrieve him from a cat sanctuary (some busy-body, even though they knew he was fed regularly, had had him captured – his chip saved him. Get your cats chipped, people!!).

He became quite affectionate with me too, running to say hello sometimes, walking at others. Basically, I was wrapped around his little claw, right where he wanted me.

Over the last year he had lost weight, especially around the hips. My wife, who knows about these things, thought his kidneys were probably going. She ordered special cat food for him. He loved it.

I saw him last night, and he was not eating – but that wasn’t entirely unusual – other people fed him too. I saw him this morning and his appetite was fine- he had a mix of wet and dry.

I went this evening, called for him, no reply. Then I found him. He was not warm, but not cold, lying dead on a pathway. Not hit by a car and staggered in I think, thank goodness.  No, it was just something – his heart? – that had given out.  At last, the great survivor had breathed his last.

[Update – Phil tells me that he saw Mach this evening, about 6pm, running about.  So, a quick end, no sickness- lucky to the end, our Mach.]

I lay him down next to the food bowl where we had spent years – me stroking and scratching him while he ate, him purring and head-butting before settling down to the serious business of stuffing his face.

I will bury him tomorrow morning, and always remember him.

With thanks to the vets who save his life, and all the other people (Especially Peter, Phil and Sarah) who have fed him, taken him to the vet and fetched him from strange places.

Vale Machiavelli, 2004(?) – 31 March 2017.

The absence of structure is hierarchy

I went to a meeting (won’t say if it was activist or academic or whatever – that’s not the point).

There was explicitly ‘no agenda’.

And we were then, without warning, asked to introduce ourselves (say what we had done, were doing and what we wanted to do around this particular issue/topic). And did they give us a) a couple of minutes to collect our thoughts and b) an upper-time limit.

Nope, instead it was one of the organisers (or rather, people who called the meeting) saying ‘well, I may as well start’. They then spoke for a few minutes, while we were all trying to listen and think about what we would say.

And guess what – the people who spoke the longest (who basically just mentally Ctrl C and Ved their comments) were the highest status ones. And they spoke for a looooong time. The lower status people spoke very little.

And guess what – after we had done those intros, the conversation came to be dominated by those who had spoken longest in the intro.

Who. Would. Of. Thunk. It.

Afterwards I thought about how one of the smartest people present (also perhaps the kindest) had said not a word. This person is perhaps an introvert. They don’t do the whole song and dance thing, so if you don’t create mechanisms (institutions – informal norms and also formal ones) to facilitate their input, you won’t get it. And you will end up with mediocre decisions, arrived at after un-necessary faffage. And so it came to pass.

This: The absence of structure is hierarchy. Just the hierarchy of prior status (mostly class, race, gender, age, confidence, extrovertism).

You can choose not to see that, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true, it doesn’t mean the power isn’t there. FFS.

Weil’s disease – or ‘the internet is eating my brain’

When I was in Australia, I ended up with a smartphone (the handset was as cheap as the cheapest non-smart model, so I thought ‘why not?’).  There were two consequences

a) I met up with someone who I’d have otherwise missed because I was able to check email on the move

b) I freaked the wife out by emailing her from a coach between Melbourne and Adelaide (I only got a mobile a few years back, and she knows I am a luddite).

Actually, there was a third consequence, which I spotted early on and was the reason I haven’t used the smart phone since getting back to Blight(ed)y – that if I had a few ‘idle’ minutes I’d surf the web/trivia instead of read a few pages of a book.  And that is a baaaad habit to get into, and one that I knew I would if I didn’t remove the handset from my grubby paw.

All this sprang (well, slouched) to mind when I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s screed/jeremiad/argument about the (negative) impact of technologies.  This bit is pretty good…

Simone Weil wrote that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”. By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.

Simone Weil? Frog philosopher, whom I first heard about from #thefirstonethatgotaway

I’ve just read that wikipedia page.  Holy fucking shit, is all I have to say.

See also: My poem!  ‘Does your device suffice

Vale Erik Petersen – “Old time mem’ry”

Just found out that Erik Petersen, of Mischief Brew died earlier this year. I never saw him perform, and have only today been listening to his (excellent) work.  Al Baker had covered one of his songs (co-written with Robert Blake), which he kindly played at my wedding.  It’s a corker; beautiful to listen to, the lyrics so powerful, constantly questioning, probing, undercutting wishful certainties.

Here’s Al

Here’s Erik

And here’s those wonderful lyrics

When Father bought the farm, we sold the farm
Mistook his blood for rustic charm
Sold his ghost as an antique
To the city

Kids today can’t hold a spade
Rest in peace your weary trades
In this world there is no place
Such a pity

Well, the barman shakes his head and fills my glass
Says ‘We’re living in the past.
Why preserve a dying craft?
End its misery.’

We sigh and see another modern man
One of property, not land
So I hold out this battered hand
Will you listen?

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

So you say you got a wooden stove in your second home
Runs on gas, but looks like oak
Hell, it even gives off smoke and glowing embers

There’s a quilt hung on the wall, reads ‘Home, Sweet Home’
Below some wise words from Thoreau
And they call me throwback; when I cry I remember

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

Son, these tools are artifacts
Endangered species left its tracks
So lock me up behind plastic glass in the city

There’s no going back for me
This antique’s rustic eulogy
Shall be sold as folk artistry, such a pity

But I’ll never understand why they all only use those hands
To build a stead that will always stand
In old time country

But settle for white rooms and hollow doors
Paper ceilings, padded floors
Luxury boxes where you’re stored; and what was country?

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold

Another round, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry

Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

Why argue with #climate denialists? It’s comforting is why

“Never wrestle with a pig, you both get muddy, but the pig enjoys it” as the old saying goes.  But what if we, secretly, enjoy it too? Or if wrestling with the pig is a safer and more fun option that wrestling with the angry rabid hippo who is next in line?

WTAF am I talking about?

Well, I stumbled on some interesting work by a guy called William Connolly, and blogged it. Among much else, Connolly discerns two kinds of climate denial-

First stage denial is the insistence by many evangelicals and neoliberals that the issue is not nearly as severe as climate scientists and the recent flood of climate marchers in many cities contend. The second stage of denial is admitting the issue but continuing to study and act within old sociocentric categories. We need to confront both modes.
(Connolly and Macdonald, 2015: 266)

Connolly, W.   and Macdonald, B. 2015. Confronting the Anthropocene and Contesting Neoliberalism: An Interview with William E. Connolly. New Political Science, 37:2, 259-275.

.  A reader of this blog (who knew such a creature existed) then put his own take on things here.

And he and I have had further discussion (hopefully the beginning of a really useful conversation). And in that context I am going to plagiarise/rework a little about “why argue with denialists”.  I think there are two reasons

The changes (political, economic, social, psychological and, yes, spiritual) that will/would be needed to keep warming below two degrees are enormous (I would argue impossible now, but that’s for another post).  Therefore, rather than confront those changes and the amount of work – outside our comfort zones – that would be needed, it is “safer” to argue with the idiots.
ALSO, “we” know we’ve fundamentally missed the boat on mitigation, that we who have known about the problem have been unsuccessful in our efforts over the last 30 years (myself included).  That’s an awful thing to have to realise, that self-recrimination, also very threatening.  So, easier to beat up on the denialists.
If it’s a choice between a pig and a hippo,  you choose the pig, every time…