Intimations of Mortality, Captured in a Late-Flowering Fuchsia

Fuchsias are remarkable things in England.

All year they sit there, quietly gathering strength, dull and yet resolute.

Come the autumn, they flower beautifully, making the autumn gorgeous and yet lasting only till the first frost.

They are in many ways the middle-aged bloggers of the horticultural world.

2 Jags Reveals – the Temperature Could Double!

My mistake. Wandered round to see Elizabeth. She pottered off into the kitchen to make a couple of gins, and I read the paper on her coffee table. It was the Daily Mirror. In particular an article by John Prescott on how David Cameron is scuppering Old 2 Jags’ attempt to save us from Global Warming single-handed. 

In the course of his self-glorifying, John Prescott reveals that, to save us from Global warming, he has personally flown to Geneva. He tells us about the shrinking ice caps – ignoring the fact that only one ice cap is, of current date, shrinking. 

And he tells us that 

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, involving 90 governments and more than 1,000 scientists, said it was getting much worse.

It warned that increased carbon emissions were threatening a global agreement to limit climate warming to a 2C increase by 2050.

It is now possible the temperature could double!



The temperature could double. 

It’s hard to know how to respond to that. 

Is John Prescott thinking the temperature he’s describing is in Fahrenheit, Celsius or Kelvin? Makes a difference. If it’s Celsius, we’re way beyond anything even the most apocalyptic global warming scientist has predicted. If it’s Fahrenheit, we’re all unbelievably doomed. I mean, in the UK that would mean it was a balmy 60-odd F (18 or so C) in the winter, but a toasty 180F in the middle of hot summers. But if it’s Kelvin – well, on a hot day the temperature in Kelvin in John Prescott’s nightmare could reach 600K+. That’s no joke.

I suppose at least John Prescott can console himself with the thought that he can lay his hands on a seriously air-conditioned Jag, or fly off to Geneva and sit at the top of an Alp. Although even on the top of an Alp, the temperature could hit a serious 550K. These are the horrors that lay ahead of us.

I think I’ll stick to the Star. It may tell us that Princess Diana’s spiritual adviser is giving Duchess Kate diet tips, but at least its science is sound.

Do Pedestrians Deserve to Die Too?

Much of the usual cyclist / motorist outcry after the series of deaths on London’s roads.

The rational of Twitter have been out in force on the anti-cyclist side. The main weird argument I’ve seen basically argues that, because some cyclists jump red lights, the people who died had it coming to them.

To be fair, the argument sounds fatuous when put like that. But that’s only because it is fatuous, and it also really does seem to be what people believe. But if we extend that reasoning we get:

1. Because some motorists don’t signal, they all deserve to be crushed by steam rollers at crossroads.

2. Because some Labour politicians jump red lights, they all deserve to be fox-hunted.

3. Because some gypsies did not, in fact, abduct children, Nick Clegg should warn all the Roma in England to behave better.

Actually, I’m thinking number 2 has more than a grain of truth in it. But then we come to a group of people who actually do behave quite badly on the roads.

As every Central London cyclist knows, pedestrians are a terror. If the pavements are full of other, slow moving pedestrians, then the quicker walkers will often jump into the gutter and walk there. This is bad news for any cyclist who believes the attitude of some motorists – as some drivers actually reckon it’s cyclists who should use the gutter, as if it’s a very narrow cycle-lane. Unless a tipper truck needs it to do some wild right-turn, obviously.

And don’t talk to me about running red lights. The worst red-light runners in London – quite literally – are pedestrians. They’ll see the Green Person has turned to a Red Person on the pelican crossing. Then they check that the traffic lights still are on red. Then they reckon “No more than 30 yards? I’ll make that.”

Sometimes they’ll be stuck on the zig-zags, white with fear,  as traffic passes either side.

The results of which are much as you might expect. Pedestrian deaths make up the majority of deaths on the roads in London.

The stats for dead pedestrians look like this:

Pedestrians on a pedestrian crossing (25%)
Drunk pedestrians (23%)
Pedestrians not on a pedestrian crossing (19%)
Pedestrians hit by buses or coaches (17%)
Pedestrians hit by speeding vehicles (16%)
Pedestrians hit by HGVs (14%)
Pedestrians hit by motorcycles (7%)
Pedestrians hit by vehicles while on a footpath (6%)

A few things to note – one is that a pedestrian crossing is statistically a terribly dangerous place to be. Another is that there is no breakdown for those killed by cyclists in this list. If you drill into their stats on the report on pedestrians killed in London, you will find that is because none were killed by cyclists – despite the “some cyclists ride on the pavement so some others deserve to die on the road” argument.

Nearly a quarter were drunk. The hardhearted would argue they therefore deserved it. The more extreme anti-cyclers would no doubt derive from this that therefore some of the other pedestrians also deserved to die.

The largest number of pedestrian deaths were caused by head injuries. Therefore some campaigners would argue that all pedestrians should wear helmets.

Given 6% of deaths were caused by vehicles on the pavement, you could even argue to cyclists that not even the pavement is safe. (Pavements are rubbish places to cycle, as well – you have to give way at every junction, and they’re full of the most random of all road users, pedestrians.)

Overall far more pedestrians die on the roads than cyclists. And yet there seems to be no proper outcry. And I think this is because of a tribal issue. Cyclists, to a degree, identify with each other. They share the problems of getting soaked, getting their vehicles on trains, punctures. To a degree, they share a uniform – often, hideous Lycra that reveals far more than it should, hi-viz, increasingly those randomly and disputable useful helmets. Some of the more macho ones share an obsession with gadgetry – lights on their heads, incredibly bright lights, helmet cams – some look more like RoboCop than a human being. But it creates a bond. The more dorky the trousers they wear, the more they can exult in their common dorkiness. The more motorists hate them, the more they can hate motorists. They are other – and in big enough numbers these days that they have a voice.

But not pedestrians – we’re nearly all pedestrians. If a pedestrian dies, that’s just another person. No tribal link – just the nearly-meaningless bond of common humanity in ythe abstract. The locals will pile up flowers and, according to age, teddy bears. But to everyone else – it’s just another statistic.

And so cyclists share the advantage of pressure groups , hash tags, flash roundabout takeovers. Pedestrians just shuffle on.

And this helps obscure one more theme. Protecting cyclists properly with proper infrastructure is good. But the typical use of cars in modern Britain is ridiculous. Who burns 2 litres of fuel, and takes on the responsibility of moving a 2-ton metal box around, then finding somewhere to leave their metal box, for the sake of going into town to pick up some shopping? Pretty well everyone, is the answer to that. Who thinks that the streets of Central  London are a good place to manoeuvre tipper trucks during the day? Pretty well nobody, but it still happens. Why is the flow of people sitting in large tin boxes more important than the convenience of everybody else? Why does 1 mile of motorway cost more than the entire improvements to the annual cycling budget the Government announced the other month?

Is it because we’ve come to see motoring as the norm, as just a force of nature, rather than the exception it should be? Is it because politicians are so dependent on fuel tax and car VAT that they can’t afford to kill that golden goose, whatever wind-farm taxes they impose under the pretence that they actually care about the level of CO2 in the atmosphere? Is it because we’re all just too lazy?

To be sure, cars have their place. In the country, where journeys are infeasibly long and there is no economic way of developing public transport. But the less motorised transport we use, the more we advantage other ways of getting around, and the more we protect the cyclist and the  pedestrian – even the drunk, red-light-jumping pedestrian on the phone while listening to music and not wearing a helmet – the safer, happier and healthier we will all be.

People don’t kill people. Cycles don’t kill people. Motorised transport kills people.

A Bumpy Journey on a Slippery Slope

From the Mail, so be careful.

“One traditionalist said: ‘This is a slippery slope. It will mean that gay clergy will have even less incentive to remain celibate. The next step will be gay clergy marriages.'”

You can call me an old traditionalist, as well, if you wish. But surely the one thing slippery slopes don’t have are steps? If you had steps on a slippery slope, it wouldn’t be a slope. It would be a staircase. Maybe a slippery staircase, but all the same.

Or maybe they’re talking about steps as in stepping, not as in stairs? In which case, you’d have a job on a slippery slope. On a slippery slope you can’t really step. You can only slide. You can take a run-up at it, sure. But once you’re on a slippery slope, there’s no stepping to be done. You’d just look like a bit of a clown, trying to do those cartoony steps like Wile E Coyote as you disappeared downhill.

All I’m saying is, mixing your metaphors is putting all your slippery slopes in one basket. It’s always going to come to a nasty crash in the end.

To Die Once, and then the Judgement

It was the philosopher Thoreau (not to be confused with Marcuse or Mark Hughes) who said,

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

I reckon he was probably not the life or soul of the average party.

But I was wondering about this, as I thought about the mass of human beings who go to work, who sit at home and watch X-factor, who trudge around the supermarket or who die senselessly and swiftly. How is that not “resignation”, which is really “desperation”?

Especially at this time of remembrance. I guess, in the face of the horrendous suffering and pointlessness of the First World War, a mythology of heroism, of death in a worthy cause – of Dulce et Decorum – had to be created. The boys drowning in mud, blown to pieces, burnt to death – they couldn’t have died in some foolish disagreement over a patch of Eastern Europe which had somehow spilled out of hand. It had to have a purpose – a meaning – a reason.

But they were only spelling out, in short and dramatic form, the same thing the rest of us face. That question of life – what is it for, and how should we use it?

Strikes me we’ve got two fundamental positions here. I’ll put the agnostics over with the atheists on this one. The believers must think that, at the end of life’s great mystery, there lies a greater mystery. And the atheists and agnostics must assume that at the end of it all, all things considered, there’s probably not much.

And this is the great conundrum. It’s just about possible, if you’re a believer, and especially a believer in a Pietist or generally fairly low-key-on-everyday-life God, that you believe that life is best got through peaceably, by a combination of prayer and sitting quietly, on the grounds that there will be great adventures of a spiritual kind to be obtained at the End of All Things. If you think that God is expecting us to be boring and dull now, yet massively exciting later – it may be an odd position, but let’s go with it – then that’s the best bet.

But to be an atheist, and believe the best bet is to just have a bit of a quiet life? If I thought this life was all there is – would I think the best way of living it was to be fundamentally boring? If I had but three-score and ten (or four-score, had I the strength) years – would I think the best way to relax after a hard day’s crafting CSS at the HTML-face was to sit around being sarcastic under the line on Guardian Comment is Free? It’s a bit strange to consider, isn’t it? You’d want to be out taming badgers, or leaping across chasms or skating naked down the north face of the Eiger. What would be the point, given one, finite life, of eking it out slowly over seven or eight decades or boredom? If this is all there is, it should be lived – relished – loved – the life smashed out of it – and then given up joyfully knowing that’s it, it’s all finished.

That’s what I can’t get over Richard Dawkins. His “principle” which he moaned about last week will mean nothing in something under 30 years, when his mortal coil will be shuffled off and his name will mostly be remembered as something associated with some fuss over a pot of honey. And the irony is that, out of Prof Dawkins, the pot of honey, and the person who removed it from him, it’s the honey – sealed, antiseptic and high in sugar in an airtight pot in a landfill somewhere – that is going to last longest. Why get  so het up? Why not just enjoy the bizarre knowledge that, against our total lack of wings and requirement for relatively high concentrations of oxygen, he was on his way to fly high in the air above the clouds – honey-free or honey-blessed?

If atheists really believe their schtick, they’ll act like some atheists I know – ignore their medical conditions, have a good time, get out, see the world, meet people, have exciting face-to-face arguments. Not sit around primly flaming other people and each other.

So radical atheists of the world, unlike the rest of us you have no excuse. Go out and do something daring, dramatic, exciting and above all fun. Otherwise we’ll think you don’t really believe your own unbelief and that you are, as we could mostly guess from your smugness, judgmental nature and general boringness, actually Calvinists in disguise.

Just my thought. Still, it’s nearly 11 o’clock. Time for cocoa and Radio 4. Night, all.

PCC Expenses Scandal

Down the Hanged Man for a sociable cider and Bailey’s last night. Pog, our church secretary, was in a terrible state.

She’d got wind of this issue with a PCC having to pay back expenses , and thought her claims for taxis were being investigated. I mean, they’re on the high side – especially the taxi fares, when you consider she lives next to the church hall. But then claiming medicinal use for the Pernod she drinks after the meetings seems entirely reasonable. Frankly I’m surprised she doesn’t just get absinthe put in via a drip.