I've just got back from an indecently long hols in France, which, yes, was lovely thank you. We did a round trip, with three days of World War One battlefields before heading down south for some sun (and fab wildflowers!), then up through Brittany after dropping our youngest off for his French exchange.
Great Uncle Joe
The first leg was pretty sobering. I'd done some homework on relatives in the war before leaving; all the men of that generation in the family fought on the Western Front. I had grandfathers who somehow survived and great uncles who were killed. I won't bore you with the details, but their individual stories are both unexceptional and moving. In particular, the odds of my father's father surviving* were very long indeed. It's a miracle I'm here.
The stories of these men put current worries into perspective. Is this something we have trouble doing, in everyday life as well as in politics? In a complicated and news saturated world we increasingly just respond to simplified cues suggested by the media.
It happens on the environmental front too. Dave Goulson, in his new book "A Buzz in the Meadow", asks why we are apparently so unconcerned about collapsing insect numbers while at the same time as getting in a state about the cuddly panda, an animal with no known ecological value other than just existing.
In a similar vein, I was talking to the MD of a renewable energy firm about the abuse he has had at planning meetings. He has even had death threats, bizarrely. He runs a genuinely ethical business and is committed to community engagement, reducing fossil fuel emissions, etc etc. He was at a dinner where he sat next to a director of BAT, the cigarette makers. Out of curiosity he asked him how many threats he had had over the years. None. How weird is that? Our local town has a FB page and the size of the threads on potential nearby renewable projects dwarfs anything else on it. Apparently folk are as hostile to renewables as they are to fracking - when they're proposed on local sites. They're a lot more wound up about it than any other issue out there.
Come on people, let's think about what history and science can teach us and get our sense of perspective back.
*Cpl. A.B. Mann, Machine Gun Corps (36% casualty rate), served with 51st Highland Division
(25%), 1916-1918. Fought at the Somme (High Wood and Beaumont Hamel), Passchendaele (Pilckem Ridge), Arras (Roeux), Cambrai (Flesquieres), Bapaume, etc. As a completely irrelevant aside, somehow the thought of this 18 year old from Streatham fighting in the desperate circumstances of industrialized war to the skirl of the pipes makes me very opposed to Scottish independence... And talking of the pipes: