A Terrible Confession

Yes, I’m afraid the rumours are true. I do think Anthony Scaramucci is gorgeous. He’s an obnoxious foul-mouthed twerp, but still – I could look at him for hours. Just as long as he sits in the corner with his trap shut.

I’m not sure, actually, that this is something one admits in polite company, but I was really quite upset that he was fired. The new guy (and the old guy, come to think of it) just aren’t as easy on the eye. If I turned the sound off during a Scaramucci press conference, it was just perfect. The combination of sharp suit, mirrored Aviators and “I could have been Sebastian Stan if I’d been twenty years younger and Romanian” insouciance won it for me. It didn’t matter what he was talking about, I was too busy swooning to listen. It was the best daydream I’d had over the past couple of weeks.

I’ll miss The Mooch now he’s gone. Could someone send me a signed picture to keep me happy please?

Eco News of the Week

Sorry, I’ve been on a series of courses this week, so the Econews is a bit of a mishmash. Here’s some of my favourite stories from the Guardian over the past few days…

Suicides of nearly sixty thousand Indian farmers linked to climate change

That’s a slightly misleading headline. Climate change isn’t the reason for farmers killing themselves; but it is destroying their crops and ruining their livelihoods, and one thing leads to another, if you understand. I don’t doubt that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and we will hear similar stories from other countries reliant on agriculture – China, most of Africa and South America – which begs the question of when it will start to affect European and American farmers. Already many farmers in Britain are going out of business. Intensive agriculture simply isn’t sustainable but the public demand a constant supply of cheap, fresh food. We have to change our mentalities or this will soon be a major issue worldwide.

Underground magma triggered Earth’s worst mass extinction with greenhouse gases

I love a good geology story, me. I have to admit that some of my favourite films feature massive volcanic explosions and earthquakes; if I get an additional landslide or avalanche chucked in for good measure, I consider that a bonus. I’m fully aware that it’s pretty strange to be so obsessed with rocks but I am, so something like this was bound to attract my attention. And it looks like it won’t be long before the Yellowstone supervolcano gets blamed for climate change, so therefore it’s okay to burn coal and oil (if you believe what is said in certain corners). It’s nonsense, of course. It isn’t the fact of climate change that is the issue (although that’s pretty bad), but it’s the rate of change. Mass extinctions happen, either through climate change, asteroid strikes or disease. We can’t legislate for that, but what we can legislate for is how quickly the mass extinction happens. And it may be time we pulled our metaphorical fingers out.

Is it fair to blame Coca-Cola and big corporations for our waste crisis?

Personally, I’m very happy to blame pretty much anything on Coca-Cola, McDonalds and any other big corporation I’m not a fan of. I’ve put on three pounds this week? That’s Exxon Mobil’s fault. I can’t remember where I put that important phone number? That’s all to do with GlaxoSmithKline. It isn’t their fault at all, but I’m not going to take the blame am I? And this is entirely the problem – we don’t take responsibility for our actions. In the First World, we can usually choose to buy produce without packaging, but we don’t because we’re lazy. We could pester companies about the amount of plastic that they use and suggest biodegradable stuff, but we don’t because we don’t think they’ll listen. If we stopped buying their stuff and dented their profits, they’d listen – but we have to recognise our own role in this. They supply the demand we create. The quicker we sort this out, the better. But in the meantime, carry on blaming Pepsico and others regardless; it’s the least they deserve.

Climate change to cause humid heatwaves that will kill even healthy people

One of the ladies I work with is getting married at the weekend, and they are having their honeymoon in Rome. Or they were, until they got an email from their travel agent – because the temperatures have hit “dangerous levels of heat” and there is a drought in Italy, their honeymoon is being relocated to a Greek Island – still lovely, but not what they’d booked. In 2003, people in Paris died during a heatwave where temperatures regularly exceeded 100F over an extended period. If temperatures exceed 35C regularly, especially if the weather is humid, the body cannot cool itself and people will die. It’s not something that will just happen in far away countries – it can happen anywhere. This is one of the realities of climate change.

Green & Black’s new UK chocolate bar will be neither organic nor Fairtrade

We all love chocolate, right? (Okay, I’ll make allowances for the girls I work with who are allergic to it.) So who else is disappointed by this story? I’ll admit that I haven’t eaten Green & Black’s for a while, because they stopped making their Dark Cherry Chocolate, which I absolutely LOVED, and then somebody told me that they were owned by Cadburys – who have since been taken over by Kraft and we’re back to large corporations taking over small independent firms. So now I only eat Hotel Chocolat (who do make a dark cherry chocolate – with alcohol) as they are also organic and Fairtrade. It seems that American owned companies are somewhat dismissive of the Fairtrade objectives, and so it is a good time to show support for an excellent cause – and hit the buggers in the profits.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Antony and Cleopatra isn’t really about them

I’ve found it quite hard to read Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra for no better reason than the film screen in my head kept going to the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film. Well, it was an epic that spawned a thousand make up looks, so it’s hardly surprising. It’s also a true – and quite well known – story, unlike Coriolanus, which we only really know about through Shakespeare and Plutarch, and not many people have read either or both (apart from me, apparently). I have a feeling that Julius Caesar will suffer from a similar problem, but in that case I’ll have to rid myself of Kenneth Williams exclaiming “infamy” at every available opportunity.

If I’m honest, the most interesting character in the play is Caesar. This is, of course, Caesar Augustus, Julius’ nephew and soon to become the first Emperor of Rome; but first he must rid himself of his co-triumvirs, Lepidus and Antony, which involves quite a bit of skulduggery and reading between the lines. Lepidus is quickly despatched, having become drunk and quite friendly with Cleopatra’s half-brother Ptolomy, who then stupidly goes and declares war on Rome. That there’s treason, that is, says Caesar and has his co-ruler clapped in irons and quickly removed from power. That just leaves that pesky Mark Antony, and he’s in Egypt…

Trying to marry him off to one’s sister doesn’t work, as Antony sends Octavia back with a flea in her ear before returning to his true love, Elizabeth Taylor… sorry, Cleopatra. This leaves Caesar no alternative but to declare war on Egypt and triumph at the Battle of Actium. The rest, as they say, is history.

I have to admit that I dislike the characterisation Shakespeare uses in this play; Cleopatra is histrionic and unreasonable, Antony is moody and dour, Caesar is petulant and conniving. However, it does mean that the casting in the Taylor/Burton/Harrison film is spot on, which might be why I keep thinking about it. The scenes with the title characters are simply not very interesting; I get it that Cleopatra is trying to manipulate Rome, but unlike Tamora from Titus Andronicus, her manipulations seem petty and ineffective. The Battle of Actium is dealt with as an aside – why did the Egyptian fleet flee? It’s not discussed. We know that Antony followed Cleopatra, and consequently was viewed as a coward in Rome – but why did she retreat?

Much as I love Shakespeare – and I do – this is not one of my favourite plays. That’s okay, I’ve got a “comedy” lined up next, and I usually hate those.

Where Has All The Good TV Gone?

I need a new TV show to watch now that all my favourites have either finished or are on their last series, but I can’t seem to find anything I fancy. I’m getting tired of Game of Thrones – especially now winter is here and the endgame seems to be underway. I’ve never got on with Preacher and if I’m honest, I just found The Handmaid’s Tale a bit depressing (it didn’t help that I’d read the book at university and didn’t enjoy it then either). The next season of The Expanse feels like it’s years away from being broadcast and I just can’t abide Poldark. So what do I watch instead?

Answer – nothing. I’ve gone back to reading, which these days feels like an incredibly radical idea, but since my “to read” pile needs planning permission it seemed like a pretty good idea. And so it has turned out. I’ve read some absolute corkers lately (and a few stinkers, but there we are). I might watch an occasional film over the weekend, but if I’m honest, I’m not missing the TV at all. It just isn’t grabbing my attention the way it once did.

Admittedly, a lot of what I’m reading relates to climate change and environmental matters – as recent blog posts will testify, this is an important subject for me – but since quite a lot of it is fiction rather than non-fiction, I’m able to imagine my favourite actors clinging on for dear life as the Pacific Ocean wipes out California or landslides destroy most of Sydney. Although that may have more to do with my love of disaster movies – few things makes me as happy as the sequence in The Day After Tomorrow when tornadoes devastate Los Angeles. I’ve seen it dozens of times and it never fails to entertain me.

It’s unfortunate that there is little television that has caught my attention lately. There used to be some wonderful stuff broadcast from Australia which I loved, because it was genuinely interesting and very well done – Deep Water and The Code being just two. I’m not sure about Top of the Lake because I missed the first series, but I note that the second has Gwendoline Christie in it, so that’s a possibility. Otherwise, I shall just keep reading until something comes along or I get to the bottom of the pile.

This Week’s Eco News

Here’s what caught my eye in the Guardian this week…

Monday – Rome Facing Water Rationing as Italy Suffers Driest Spring for 60 Years

I could have picked two or three stories this morning; there were a few that merit further reading (I recommend the pseudo public places, the death of the oldest manatee and the images of Fukushima) but I settled for this one. It has been hot in Europe recently, with record temperatures in Spain and parts of Italy closed to tourists because of the heat. These are poor countries that really need the income from tourists, but if it’s too hot to go out and see the sights, they are going to suffer. Italy, already quite an arid nation, faces drought and water rationing, something only seen in desert nations or science fiction novels, which can only damage the tourist income – and native infrastructure – even more.

Tuesday – Extreme El Nino Events More Frequent Even If Warming Limited to 1.5C

Yet again, I could have picked two or three stories here, but I plumped for this one because, being British, I’m pretty obsessed with the weather. What this story tells us is that even if we restrict our carbon emissions and limit global warming, we’ve still done enough damage to ensure droughts, floods, hurricanes and goodness knows what else. However, before you think “oh what’s the point then?” – it’s a question of scale. Yes, the effects will be felt but they won’t be as severe as they would be if we did nothing and let global warming run rampant, so it is still incumbent upon humanity to endeavour to keep global warming to a minimum. This means planting more trees, moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources and rethinking our relationship to the environment – and quickly.

Wednesday – Call for Action to Protect Scotland’s Endangered Capercaillie Birds

Fifty five years ago, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a classic of environmental literature in which she demonstrated how the uncontrolled use of pesticides on farmland was having a detrimental effect on the bird population. The silent spring of the title was one where no birds sang, because they had all died. In 2013, Conor Mark Jameson published Silent Spring Revisited, where he used his personal diaries and journals to reflect on how things had changed. The short answer is – they haven’t much; bird populations are still in decline and intensive farming is still the main way to work. It’s not really good enough and the loss of any species will devastate an ecosystem. The loss of a species as talismanic as the capercaillie should stir people into looking at the environment differently. What would they film on Springwatch otherwise?

Thursday – The Ick Factor: Dutch Project Making Bike Lanes and Bottles from Used Loo Roll

Oh get over yourselves! They clean it first! Besides, I think sooner or later we are going to have to get used to the idea of recycling pretty much everything, so sewage and other waste may as well be fairly high on the list. It’s not like we want it laying around, is it? I applaud the Dutch for their forward thinking and hope others take the hint.

Friday – Climate Change Drawing Squid, Anchovies and Tuna into UK Waters

This makes a pleasant change, a story about climate change that doesn’t involve species extinction – yet. Mediterranean species, such as calamari squid and anchovies are moving northwards, because the temperature of the ocean is better for them – meaning it’s too hot in the Med and cold-water fish such as cod and herring are going to move even further north. So while on the one hand it’s nice to read – especially as I love squid, they are beautiful creatures and highly intelligent – there’s that nasty, niggly little dark side. Warming oceans are not a good thing, no matter how many lovely little cephalopods they bring my way.

Have a good weekend!

Helena Holmes – Voodoo Artist

Random meetings in coffee shops can have all sorts of strange after-effects. Most days before I go into work I have time for a cup of tea in a little café near my office – it just sets up my morning quite well and allows me to engage my work-brain. And, quite often, I end up sharing a table with someone which, more often than not, sparks a conversation. This was how I met Helena Holmes, who is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met – and I’ve met some real characters over the years.

Helena is an artist and costume designer originally from Haiti (and who has retained an enchanting accent) whose artwork is inspired by her home country and its religion, Voodoo (or Voudou, depending on your spelling). This led to a discussion about non-Christian religions (as I am at best a pagan, at worst CBA) and how similar they can be. It was a wonderful discussion, interesting and informative and conducted with much love and generosity on both sides. She also makes costumes for film and theatre, writes her own scripts and throws in a bit of life coaching in the middle.

I learned a lot about voodoo from her; about how it was considered to be a reaction to oppression – Haiti is not the wealthiest of places, let’s be blunt here – and how it was about self-belief, pride and strength in the face of that oppression. She was very keen to stress that it wasn’t about violence or witchcraft, but – like many animist religions – about communicating with greater powers for inspiration, strength and courage. I found it a fascinating and interesting conversation and it was a dreadful shame I had to go to work, because I could quite happily have spent most of the morning chatting to her.

Helena referred me to her website – http://www.helenaholmesartzone.com/ – for further information. Do feel free to take a look (although I must state that her art – like anything in life – may not be to everyone’s taste).

Come Dine With Me, Andronicus Style

This is the feast that I have bid her to/And this the banquet she shall surfeit on. (Titus Andronicus, Act 5, Scene 2)

I want to try and avoid too many references to Game of Thrones in this post, and it’s just as well I’m looking at the climax of the play because it allows me to explore another controversial series which is unbelievably popular with its fanbase – Hannibal. I think you’ll see why when we get to the end.

I’ve said previously that this play has two scenes for which it is justifiably notorious – Lavinia’s rape and mutilation at the hands of Tamora’s sons in Act 2, and the final dinner party in Act 5. Like Hannibal (arguably a modern-day counterpart) Titus considers himself quite a chef and insists on preparing the banquet himself. It’s easy to see why when all is revealed in the course of dinner. He has invited everyone (all the main characters are present, except Aaron, who is kept offstage as Lucius’ prisoner) and serves the Imperial party himself, before dropping the first of his bloody bombshells.

In the middle of the main course, Titus murders his daughter – who has spent the majority of the play in dumbshow – in front of all the guests. If that wasn’t enough, he then points out to the Empress that the pie she has just eaten contained the corpses of her two sons, whom he had murdered while she was off getting changed. In the chaos that ensues, everyone except Marcus, Lucius and young Lucius are dead. Even the stage directions suggest the level of mayhem:

He kills Saturninus. Uproar. (Stage Direction, Act 5, Scene 3)

It does beg the question of whether everyone has to die; but I think they do and it’s an entirely necessary scene. There wasn’t really anywhere else for the story or characters to go; this final, brutal dinner party offers the audience a sense of catharsis from the relentless cruelty inflicted throughout the rest of the play. In amongst all the bloodletting and cannibalism, a sense of justice has emerged. Unlike Hannibal, this isn’t killing for pleasure or for the sake of it, but to redress the universal balance – the cruel are punished and the just are allowed to live. Titus has done wrong, partly in killing Tamora’s son but also in killing one of his own sons – and he also dies. Lavinia’s death is itself couched in controversial terms which would have rung true for a 16th century audience but perhaps do less so today. Tragic as the play is, there is a glimmer of hope at the end that civilisation has prevailed.

I do find Titus Andronicus to be a wholly underrated play. Many people can’t see beyond the blood, gore and brutality to the actual story underneath – which is sad, and tragic, but not without hope and it’s certainly not boring. It’s also quite a short play, which helps if you have a slightly limited attention span. I hope that in this age of Game of Thrones and Hannibal it gains a new, appreciative, audience – or at least one that has a stronger stomach.