‘Brexit’ Turmoil Pales in Comparison to ‘Game of Thrones’ – Welcome to Reality Avoidance

I have some thoughts on the ‘Brexit’ situation, and those will follow soon, but I thought I would post some “news of the absurd” first.

In a dash for the finish line of the race to avoid reality, comes the mournful, anxious wails of fans of the ultra-violent fantasy TV series, “Game of Thrones.” Outstripping the international impact of the British exit from the European Union, for the Bible-literate, the prophetic implications of such a move, and certainly the political turmoil presently in the UK with Prime Minister David Cameron stepping down (not necessarily a bad thing for the UK) is the concern that production will cease on the main sets of the series that are located in Northern Ireland because the EU subsidizes the production costs (Anthony Joseph, “‘Way to go Brits!’ Game of Thrones Fans Fear the Hit Show Will Be Thrown into Chaos After Brexit Vote Raises Risk Bosses Won’t Be Able to  Finish Filming in Northern Ireland,” The Daily Mail at DailyMail.co.uk, June 24, 2016).

Aw, shucks. That’s tragic.

And now onto grown-up things. Folks, this is serious business. A little entertainment is fine at times, but it would behoove us to channel all that opinionated energy into the present rather than the “make-believe” non-world of fictional dramas.

Stand up for some real things, take responsibility for the culture, your personal character and the time in which you live. Your choices now will affect the future. (I look favorably on Brexit, by the way, and I believe it may not be the complete catastrophe that it is bemoaned as – just in the interest of disclosure.) Nationalism has not gone away. The apparent world peace producing potential of the EU was not what it seemed.

We live in interesting times, no doubt about it.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Advertisements

The Teatime Experience

Branching out from my usual trend toward military or related history, I’ve been thinking about tea lately. I am off caffeine and therefore can’t have the lovely dark liquid for a while, so naturally I should choose to write about it.

Much is said about tea these days regarding its health qualities. And for the past few years the idea of an extravagant and elegant afternoon tea has enjoyed a revival of popularity in the U.S. Cute little tea houses have popped up in various places, often only to fold a few months later. It takes marketing genius or a known clientele to get Americans to shake their coffee loving habits.

Although colonial America owes many of its identifying traditions to British norms of the eighteenth century, we did shake loose a few things during the revolution. Tea was one. The Boston Tea Party incident sparked by increased taxes on this most essential of British liquids made a seminal statement. So much so that when you step into a diner the waitress will hand out menus and ask if you want a cup of coffee – you have to ask for tea!

Tea, once upon a time

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing bad to say about traditional British teatime. It’s lovely and when I visited England I was determined to experience this glorious repast.

In the city of York there is a lovely place called Betty’s Café Tea Rooms. Here you will find the kind of tea service, sandwiches, sweet things, and goodies dreamed about by little girls in frilly dresses. They also serve a pretty swell coronation chicken if you hanker for something more substantial.

For the real deal, tea is prepared with loose leaves in a teapot and strained into your cup. Then a tower of delights arrives at the table. Three layers: warm scones and clotted cream (something I dream of, but rarely can afford stateside), then small open-faced sandwiches conspicuous by the absence of crust and the delicacy of cut, and, finally, a platter of small tarts, lemon curd and raspberry, and other little cakes.

Why is this historic?

Well, at one time people frequently indulged in this colossal teatime repast, but they don’t so much anymore, so participating in such a meal is akin to attending one of those medieval banquet performances, with jousting, and a goofy looking minstrel wandering around playing on a lute. You wouldn’t dine that way every night, but once in a while it gives you first hand experience of a different era of history. Living history.

So have a cup of tea, a scone, and some cake. Live a little… history.

Living like it’s 1873

Not long ago I finished A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird. The book covers her remarkable travels as an Englishwoman in the nineteenth century American West.

Bird was subject to ill health and traveled, as many did at that time, to different climates to restore her strength. Among other places she also visited Hawaii as well as Canada, Japan and China. In this case Bird was on a trip to reach Estes Park, Colorado.

Her journey begins at Lake Tahoe and she travels east from there into Colorado. Given the strictures of the time she was unusual as an independent woman who traveled alone and un-chaperoned through vast prairies and mountainous regions. With the exception of a few close calls she remained quite safe. After her return she compiled letters written to family into a journal of her travels and published it for sale.

The narrative is full of action and moves quickly, so it is a worthy read if you are interested in doing a little time travel and getting some firsthand experience in the “old west.”

Word pictures

Two things stand out from the book. First, is Bird’s ability to use language to describe her surroundings. The book is un-illustrated, but I was surprised at how little I missed photographs or maps. Her descriptions are precise and show a facility of language usage that is completely lacking these days.

Here are a few samples:

“The stars were intensely bright, and a well-defined auroral arch, throwing off fantastic coruscations, lighted the whole northern sky. Yet I was only in the Foot Hills, and Long’s glorious Peak was not to be seen (p. 229, Comstock Editions, INC., 1987).”

Who uses the word “coruscations” these days? (It means “sparklings and glitterings,” by the way.)

“Long’s Peak, 14,700 feet high, blocks up one end of Estes Park, and dwarfs all the surrounding mountains. … By sunlight or moonlight its splintered grey crest is the one object which, in spite of wapiti and bighorn, skunk and grizzly, unfailingly arrests the eyes. From it come all storms of snow and wind, and the forked lightnings play round its head like a glory. It is one of the noblest of mountains, but in one’s imagination it grows to be much more than a mountain. It becomes invested with a personality (pp.78-79).”

I know that a picture can speak a thousand words, but words like these can speak a thousand pictures!

At your leisure…

Secondly, the descriptions of life at this time in American (and British) history fill a need-to-know of mine. When I sit down in the evening to watch a television show or movie I sometimes ponder at the passivity of my modern habits. It doesn’t take much intellectual stimulation to watch a video (which is sometimes the point after a busy day), but on the other hand, how much of the human brain do we leave inactive for the sake of “entertainment.”

The following quote from the book gives a hint at the kind of end-of-day events common in the early 1870’s:

“After that we all sit in the living room, and I settle down to write to you, or mend my clothes, which are dropping to pieces. Some sit round the table playing at eucre, the strange hunters and prospectors lie on the floor smoking, and rifles are cleaned, bullets cast, fishing flies made, fishing tackle repaired, boots are waterproofed, part-songs are sung, and about half-past eight I cross the crisp grass to my cabin, always expecting to find something in it [based on a previous encounter with a skunk] (pp. 108-109).”

Life was not a piece of cake and leisure time was at a minimum. If you wanted to hear music, you sang it. If you wanted amusement, you played cards. Otherwise you were busy repairing your equipment.

Travel by book – I highly recommend this volume as your personal tour guide into the past!

UK Election, Hung Parliaments, and History

Watching the electoral machinations of another country carries the detached, but comforting sentiment that, “ah well, they do have their problems, don’t they!”

It makes us feel better about things back home – almost. Knowing that leadership around the world seems to be faltering on a variety of levels isn’t really comforting, but it is a distraction.

This most recent election in Great Britain has been interesting to me, for its import on a national level in the UK, but also because of the situation it created, a hung parliament.

Three-for-all

Being an American, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the British Parliament and it’s associated traditions and functions. A multi-party system has its share of challenges and this most recent election proves the point.

Three parties took the lion’s share of the general election: the Labour party (of seated Prime Minster Gordon Brown), the Conservative party, and the Liberal- Democrat party. By vote the Conservatives won the most, but in order to create a cabinet and functioning government, a more significant surplus of votes was required for an outright Conservative win. Labour came in second, and the Liberal-Democrats third, with a much smaller percentage.

This is where it gets tricky because, suddenly, the power play is in the hands of the third party – though small, it is the deal breaker. A coalition must be formed by the first two in line or no one has the momentum to rule. Thus, the third party becomes the bride and the first two her ardent suitors.

In this case the leader of the Liberal-Democrats, Nick Clegg, decided on a coalition government under the Conservatives (ironic, as these two parties tend not to be ideologically closely related) and their leader, David Cameron. Using the analogy of American politics, this is like a Republican president peopling his cabinet, attorneys general, and other administration posts with Democrats as well as members of his own party and adding into the goals of his administration, those of his opponents. Thus, you see the complications.

Once the hashing out has been done, Queen Elizabeth invites the prime ministerial candidate with the best odds of creating a coalition government to her presence and asks him to form a government (or as we would style it, an administration). This makes it official. It is the pomp part of the equation that is at once quaint and foreign to those of us from the States.

As a result the new Prime Minister is David Cameron.

Where’s the history?

That’s just it; this is history. The last hung parliament was in the middle 1970’s, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it makes for a lot of drama.

“Present-vision,” which is the inability to recognize an historical moment while one is in it, affects us all. We don’t realize until someone tells us later that, yes, your freedoms were being rapidly erased by a government with starkly different views on social structures. Or that, yep, that war in the 1940’s was a big deal!

Worse than present-vision is historical illiteracy. When people can’t look at the past, get the facts, and believe what happened happened, then they, by default, ask for a repeat performance. A few charmers from my college days, “That Soviet Union thing, well, it didn’t work out so well, especially if you disagreed with anybody in power,” and “No, the United States did not know they were going to win the Second World War when they entered the fray, that’s why they had to fight a war!”

Live in the present, but learn from the past, and look to the future!