In Defence of Detail

Someone the other day made a snotty comment saying that a piece my writing was ‘too detailed.’ Ok… Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and not everyone is going to like my work, I accept that. Some people are going to find it too detailed for their tastes. That is not what this article is about though. Because this comment got me thinking, doing a bit of investigating into what this guy had said. It turns out that there are a few too many people, like this guy, who for some reason think that ‘detail’ is the work of the devil. They think that we should get rid of long descriptive passages and all the bits that might inform the reader about the settings and the characters and the context. They want every book stripped down to the barest minimum, stripped of everything except action and dialogue and perhaps a vague description of what some of the characters look like. They think that ‘detail’ is something that should be wiped out. For myself I find that what these people want would make for a very dull literary landscape. There is certainly a place for the simple, stripped down book but that doesn’t mean to say that these particular people are right. They are, in fact absolutely, one hundred percent so not right.

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A Letter to Emma Thompson

Dear Mrs Thompson,

I was very interested to read of your views concerning Britain’s role in the European Union and our potential exit. Unlike certain newspapers, which shall remain nameless, I believe that it is a fundamentally good thing that someone of your stature shares their views as it will almost certainly get people to take notice and engage with what is a fundamentally important issue. You and I are a both aware that Britain’s future direction will be determined by the outcome of the forthcoming referendum and it is a direction that may impact on our islands for many decades, perhaps even centuries, to come. It is impossible to say how long the ramifications will last. So, therefore, I must applaud you for sharing your views and getting people to take notice.

I have to say that I, personally, believe the opposite to yourself. I think that rather than it being ‘madness,’ as you termed it, it would be more beneficial for us to step away. This is not because I think that it is a bad thing and that Europe is ‘evil’ as some people claim. It has the power to do enormous good, to bring people together and to tackle problems and issues which affect the whole continent and the wider world. It has already brought down barriers and borders between people, which as you intimate is a good thing. But the problem as I see it is that the EU is too political. Such a body will always have to be political to some degree but I do not think it is necessary, for that body to achieve the good it can achieve, to wield political power in the same way that the EU does. It controls, for want of a better word. Is the regulation of medical equipment manufacture (Medical Devices Directive-1993) or the numerous copyright directives really necessary? What overall good do those directives provide? Nothing that needs a dictatum from Brussels by my estimation. They appear just as control for the sake of control- Bureaucratic meddling, in other words. If it is to make the world a better place, to tackle the issues that need tackling, the EU has to be apolitical rather than political. It should not be concerned with trivial aspects of our lives such as copyright or medical devices manufacturing. There should be no bureaucratic meddling. It should not be a body for control, as political bodies inevitably are, but one for debate and problem solving. Something more akin to the United Nations but on a smaller scale.

One of the principal aims of the EU is further integration, the creation of a federal Europe, and I do not see that as a good thing. In order to tackle an issue such as climate change what will a single federal Europe be able to achieve that the composite body we have now cannot? There will still be the same arguments between the states, the same issues arising over whatever policies are decided upon. The only benefit that a federal Europe would have would be in the better implementation of those polices. Otherwise it isn’t needed. It is, again, too much political power for a body that would be better suited to being apolitical. And yes, I know part of Cameron’s deal is that Britain will never be part of an EU superstate but who is to say that will hold up. And if the rest of Europe does become one federal state and we’re still a member but not a part of that federal state, won’t we just become an irrelevance to the whole thing, a backwater part of the continent to be ignored? In my opinion we will.

I will admit that the EU does do the good stuff as well, despite the wielding of too much political power. As mentioned earlier, it brings down barriers and borders. It brings people together and tackles the big issues that need to be tackled. Look at all the good things the EU has done for human rights and equality. The world is a better place because of the fact that the EU invested itself in those issues. It will surely do the same for the environment and climate change. So how then you ask, if Britain were outside the EU, would it be able to assist in solving these many problems? Many of the issues facing our society today are not just pan European issues but ones that are global. Climate change affects every nation on earth and every country has to be involved in beating it. Regardless of our EU status that includes ourselves here in Britain. The same is true with the rise of Islamic state and the crisis in the middle east. We are too heavily involved on the global stage, too much of an economic power house not to be regarded as an important voice in any discussions that take place.

And we shall, I am sure, continue to be an important player even if we are outside the EU. Despite what some people are claiming it probably won’t bring our economy crashing to its knees. It might, at worst, take a small knock for a short while but that’s nothing we probably can’t handle. In the long term we’ll be alright. Britain has always punched well above its weight when it comes to the global stage and I don’t think that is something that is likely to go away.

The EU is not what it needs to be and no amount of renegotiations or reform is going to change that. When a building is poorly constructed or falling down you need to bulldoze it and build something new. The EU, as far as I see it, is not fit for the purpose we need it for. It is a building that is falling down. It might have started out with the best of intentions but, alas, those intentions have become all pie in the sky. We certainly need something like it, something that can take down boundaries and do some good in the world, but I don’t think that thing is the EU.

If I may offer a suggestion as to what could replace it. We, this sodden and miserable cake filled little island, are a nation of innovators and pioneers so why do we not use those skills to our advantage and build the organisation which we need? We could step out of the old, the EU, and lead the nations of Europe into a new apolitical body designed to tackle the problems of Europe and the world. It should be as the original European community was intended to be, a place where nations can go and work together in peace and to discuss issues. It shouldn’t be about a federal Europe or even a single economic Europe as that, I believe, is where the body we have now went wrong. Like the United Nations it should not be dominated by one nation, as the EU is by France and Germany. It should be inclusive and equal. And maybe instead of being run by politicians it should be run by the ordinary people of Europe. How that would work in practice, however, I am not so sure.

Anyway, those are just my own thoughts on the issues and I thought I would share with you. As I stated at the start, Europe is a very important issue and we need to get all the differing viewpoints across if we are to make the right decision come the referendum. If we are to do this we need to discuss and we need to argue our points in a rational way. We can’t just be spitting bile at the opposing side like the newspapers and other mainstream media seem to do. If we can all be rational then certainly, whatever the result of the forthcoming referendum, things shall work out for the best.


Back To The Past

I’m sure that I’m not alone in sometimes thinking that modernity sucks. Looking back into the past it can seem like things were better. There wasn’t so much muck and corruption flying about the world and sometimes things, general things like buildings or cars, looked better. Also the environment wasn’t going to shit and Donald Trump wasn’t running for president. The past seems like a golden age. But to think like this is looking at it through rose tinted spectacles. The past was never as glorious or as great as we like to pretend it was. There has always been muck and corruption, more so than there is around today, and more often than not life itself was pretty shit most of the time, especially if you weren’t one of the elite few. Compared to the modern world it is the past that actually sucks.

When people try and recapture the past it isn’t actually the past they’re recapturing but their own rose tinted view of things. Take the medieval era. It seems absurd that anybody would want to go back to that time, a time of plague and hardships and feudal servitude and getting your head lopped off by some crazed knight in the midst of a violent battle, but in the nineteenth century there was a whole medieval revival and a clamouring for all things middle ages. They eulogized and celebrated heroes like King Arthur (as in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King) and Robin Hood (Ivanhoe was one of the major starting points for the movement.) They came up with the neo-gothic style in an attempt to emulate the great cathedrals- The Houses of Parliament in London are a great example, as is Tower Bridge but there were hundred and hundreds of these building types across Britain. Go to any city in the country and you’ll be able to find at least half a dozen examples and maybe more. There were the designs of William Morris and the Kelmscott Press, intended to emulate, celebrate and take things back to a pre industrial age. It was all nonsense of course. Most of the ‘medievalist’ ideas were nothing more than a fantasy. It was a rose tinted view of a past that never existed. It wasn’t medieval at all, it was ‘Victorian medieval.’

Unsurprisingly it was the wealthy and the aristocratic who were the ones into this medievalism, the ones who wanted to go back to the past. Mostly this was because it was only really they who could afford the money and the time to indulge in building neo-gothic follies and go around pretending to live in a pre-industrial age. The poor were too busy trying to make ends meet, living life the hard and tough way on the land or in the factories. And would they have wanted to go back to the medieval past? Life would have been just as bad for them in medieval times as it was in the 19th century, only with the added bonus of being enslaved to the local lord of the manor. It was alright for the wealthy, going back to the past. Most likely they would have been those lords of the manor I mentioned and they wouldn’t have had to endure the agony of feudal serfdom.

When we look at the context of the 19th century when related to this medievalism lark something interesting crops up. This was the age of revolution, don’t forget. It was the time when the dispossessed were starting to rise up and cast of the shackles of oppression. It was the time of Chartism and workers rights. I think it was 1849 that was dubbed the year of revolutions because almost every country in Europe had one of some kind or another. Do these sound like people who’d want to go back to an age of serfdom to you? No. Me neither. Many of the wealthy, on the other hand, didn’t want to give the workers their rights. They wanted to keep them in their place- A liberated worker was a dangerous worker in their opinion. So is it any wonder then, that with such thoughts that they sought solace in a past (albeit a fantasy past) where the workers remained in their place? Not all would have thought like that, obviously, but some might have done.

Back in the modern age nostalgia for a glamorous past that never was still goes on. ‘Retro’ is supposedly in right now and a few years ago there was supposed to be ‘eighties revival.’ You always hear people going on about going back to the ‘swinging sixties.’ But when you look at them the eighties were awful (One word beginning with T and I don’t need to tell you what it is!) and the sixties only ever swung for a select few in London and San Francisco. Most hippies were drugged up wastrels and being one isn’t something you should aspire to. Ok… You can say the general aesthetics of life were better in the sixties- they looked better than today, in one respect- but you certainly can’t say that about the eighties. There’s a reason they call it the decade that taste forgot. Going back to the eighties is as bad an idea as going back to the medieval era.

And you know what, the modern era may suck but it has some good points as well. We can communicate like never before across vast distances. I’m sat here writing this in an attic somewhere on the neglected edge of one horse town in the north of England but you could be reading it in the Australian outback or a entirely different one horse town in the American mid west. Technology and modern society allow us to do amazing things, things like 3D printing or designing posters. A person could look up how to build the world’s greatest snowman in seconds if they wanted. This week I was looking at one bed roomed apartments in Morecambe from the comfort of my office chair. Could I do that without technology? No. I’d have to go to Morecambe to look at their one bedroom apartments. Not that I particularly want to move to Morecambe anyway- I was looking at Lancaster and it came up with stuff in Morecambe. But the point still stands. People coped without these things in the past but now we’ve been exposed to the luxury and the comfort going back to a time without them is unthinkable.

But if I really had to go to a glamourised, rose tinted past I’d go for the thirties- Cool music, cool films and awesome clothing style. We can do without Hitler and the Fascists and the depression (we’re already putting up with similar in the modern world, isn’t that right Trump?) Plus, saying it gives me an excuse to drag this wonder from my archives:


Barry Erskine (Short Story)

I haven’t got around to finishing my article for this week- I’m about halfway through writing about how I got shot at by a farmer. So rather than rush to get it done I thought I would give you a short story and save the shooting till next week. So here is the story of a man in a café at the end of a pier… A man with a scone in front of him… A scone that might just be deadly!

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