Agnes on Independence

"We're from the Yes Campaign.."  Fine, Ah'm fae Govan.
Whit can Ah get ye? Tennents or a heavy?
Ah'd hoped mibbe ye'd come ti mend the oven.
Ye cannae hing in here wi'oot a bevvy.
"We'd like to put our posters.."  in the windae?
Fine, if ye wash them first. All gie ye a shammy
'n a pail o watter. See 'f ye get stuck intae
the joab it's hauf an oor, the same as Sammy.
Mind, Sammy nivver gets intae the coarners.
He's lazy like. These days, tae get a real
joab done, ye huv ti gie it tae the foreigners...
"Sorry to interrupt, but can't you feel
the Dawn of Independence drawing near?"
   See here son, Ah've been free this fifty year.

RLS does not stand for Restless Leg Syndrome

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin. RLS does not stand for Restless Leg Syndrome. I don't suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome myself and I wouldn't want to. I have one friend who does, and it is certainly a distressing condition. Sufferers have my sincere sympathy - unless and until they start referring to their condition as RLS. OK, enough keyword stuffing - here's the deal:

The Victorians were proud of their conventions- their dress, their manners, their customs, all were studied, formal, controlled. It was not easy to rise to the top in this society. There was no culture of celebrity; you had to earn your place in the firmament through hard work. Talent helped, but had to be applied. Work, work, work - Go to the ant, thou sluggard. Consider her ways, and be wise! These guys were selective with their Biblical quotes. None of this soft salvation stuff. Work, work, work!

But for the very few who won through to stardom, the Victorians reserved a very special honour - the right to be known, forever more, by their initials alone. The right to have their initials enshrined for all time in the English Language. For example:

  • WG - William Gilbert Grace
  • G&S - Gilbert & Sullivan
  • RLS - Robert Louis Stevenson

Sport, Music, Literature

Sport's first superstar, Dr. William Gilbert Grace, dominated cricket for almost half a century, guaranteeing huge crowds wherever he played. Before Grace, no other sporting figure had achieved such universal recognition. An imposing figure, at 6 ft 3in, with an equally imposing beard, his prowess with the bat was legendary. Such was his fame throughout Victorian society that he commandeered the initials WG to refer to himself, and himself alone. There can never be another WG. Edmund Clerihew Bentley who could only leave his name, not his initials, to the Language merely rode the greater man's coat tails with:

WG Grace
had hair all over his face.
Everybody feared
lest the ball should be lost in his beard.

Then there were the Savoyards, William Schwenck Gilbert & Sir Arthur Sullivan. These fiery and brilliant gentlemen delighted audiences throughout the Empire with a series of comic operas that are still being performed today. Sullivan's music is as fresh now as when it was penned, while we can only wish we had a modern satirist of Gilbert's calibre chipping away at the current political scene.

Grafters both, and wholly dedicated to their art, Gilbert & Sullivan earned, through their lifetimes of application, the right to be celebrated forever, as G&S.

Which brings us to perhaps the greatest Victorian writer of all, Robert Louis Stevenson. Less flamboyant than Dickens, less melodramatic than Wilkie, Stevenson still produced some of the finest English (and Scots) prose ever written. He gave us John Silver, the most likable villain in literature and everyone's perfect pirate. He gave us The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the book everyone thinks they have read, but which they'd remember if they really had! And society rewarded him by knowing him everywhere as RLS, three letters that are synonymous with the very best in literature and all that's finest in the human spirit.

So, while I sympathise fully with anyone suffering from Restless Leg Syndrome, I have to insist: sorry, the initials RLS are not available. They are already spoken for.

Can anything Good come out of Recession?

Are you tired of the Pundits' Parade yet? Expert after expert in the media outglooming each other with ever more dire predictions of deep Global recession. Underlying all of this is an unchallenged assumption - Recession is a Bad Thing. But is it true?

Clearly, for those (and there will be many) who lose their jobs, their savings, even their homes, recession is bad news. (Or at least it is in the short term, for who knows what good can come out of bad?) But looking at it Globally, maybe the recession is something to welcome? It's certainly not impossible that some good will come out of it. Before dismissing me as a raving lunatic, please bear with me while I look for the bright side of crisis.

Already, the oil producers are talking about cutting production (to try to get the barrel price rising again). This can only be good. The more oil we leave underground, the less we pump into the atmosphere. And the more that will be left for us when we finally discover what it's really for. Maybe this recession will finally force us to reduce carbon emissions on a Global scale.

Oil is only part of it. As family credit dries up and people have less spending power, consumption of all resources is bound to decrease. Fewer new cars, smaller engines, maybe a trend towards electric vehicles, motor cycles and even bicycles. Less unnecessary air travel, fewer luxury goods.

For decades, over-production of unnecessary consumer goods, coupled with aggressive advertising, has driven our over-consumption. This might be an opportunity to reverse the pattern and let moderate consumption define the scale of production. Gaia will start to love us again.

The Environmental Credit Crunch

Environmentalists are now using a financial model to try to persuade people of the damage we are doing to the planet. The idea is that if rich countries consume more resources than their natural sustainable recovery, they can only do so by going into 'resources debt'. That is, they 'borrow' resources from poorer countries. If this 'eco-debt' is allowed to grow too big (like the National debt), sooner or later, a crash is inevitable.

For those who like left-field theories, there's a fascinating notion that Nature, through natural human greed, has 'intentionally' engineered an economic crash in an attempt to reverse the growth of consumption and so stave off a potentially far more terrible ecospheric crash. At the very least, we should not merely try to get economic growth back on course, since the course was always towards disaster. We should rather be taking stock with a view to living within our planet's means. 

Personal Wellbeing

The credit squeeze is a great incentive to get out of our cars and walk. It saves money of course, but it's also the best form of exercise, especially if starting from a low fitness base. There's also the incentive to eat a better diet. With thyme in our hands, who needs fast food? Seriously though, in the West, a whole generation has forgotten how to buy and cook real food or how to make wine and beer. But I won't preach about that because it's been done to death.

Societal Wellbeing

There are other more subtle advantages of walking that are not often acknowledged. When ordinary people reclaim the streets, the streets become safe and pleasant for everyone. And not just the streets. The town squares, village greens, river and canal banks, woodland paths. All the places we've given over to what we used to call ne'er-do-wells. Through walking, society gradually changes back from individuals in boxes (moving or stationary!) to convivial communities in the public space. Our cars and fortress houses have diminished and dehumanised us. There may be an opportunity to reclaim some ground here. To be honest, I don't think it is likely to happen, because it would require more imagination than our ruling classes are capable of bringing to play. All the political, commercial and media focus is going to be on mending the broken money engine and getting manic consumption back on the rails. But if the engine proves as broken as I hope it is, there may yet be a chance for informed common sense to prevail.

Alternatives to Yachting and Golf

Finally, for any CEO/banker/stockbroker casualties of the recession who might not know how not to spend money, here is my suggestion:

Read a book - contrary to what you might think, not all books have titles like 10 Secrets of Success. Try something completely different, like Under the Greenwood Tree. The language may stump you at first. 'Tree', for example, doesn't have to be an organisational chart. It can also mean a large plant. No, not like an oil refinery. Can somebody help me with this idiot??