Of wildlife, culinary sauces, and human hubris

I very nearly trod on a relatively rare red-striped lizard this afternoon. He’s not yer Lizard de Pays isn’t Monsieur RedStripe; he’s more yer Appelation Controlée reptile. He was making his way gingerly across the green carpet in the living room when I spotted him, and like yesterday’s roses he was obviously confused.

The fact that he was moving more slowly than a brick on valium didn’t surprise me – and my assumption was confirmed when I picked him up: he was ice-cold. Having begun his hibernation behind one of the walls here, the little bloke had been rudely awakened by the 23° temperatures. So I carried him out to the honeysuckle, and plonked him gently underneath it, covered with a nice cool covering of damp leaves. No doubt he’s back in the land of winter-long nod by now.

I have felt profound guilt about this downsized dinosaur species ever since the ghastly mishap of 2008. For it was in the late Spring of that year I gained my first sight of a specimen. He was wandering about in the old vestibule (now the kitchen) while I was at the Spring cleaning. He caught my eye, and was so much more striking than the bog-standard lizard, without thinking I swung round to have a closer look. Sadly, so too did the vacuum cleaner pipe I was holding at the time. Before you could say ‘endangered species’, floooop, he disappeared up the pipe. Scrabbling around in the vacuum’s bag contents and then administering mammal to reptile kiss of life did not bring the little chap back.

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My neighbour Jean-Pierre and his lovely wife Yvette left last week for a spell at their mountain retreat in Portugal. As usual, they said that – in their absence – “Il faut profiter” from the fruit and veg in their garden. This was a perfect match for me, as it means their near-rotten tomatoes can be mixed with my near-death annual herbs to produce spaghetti sauces for freezing. So the early evening was spent concocting various mixtures.

When it comes to having fun, there’s nothing quite like doing this sort of thing: I can persuade myself I’m being a good survivalist while at the same time time making a terrible mess – and being forced to sample all of it in the name of culinary research. I had the same feeling after I left University and went into advertising. The underlying guilt at being well paid to do what came naturally was swamped by a sea of alcohol…and the knowledge that client brand success was actually creating real jobs. I am blessed in that I was born with the genes to ensure I never really had to grow up.

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I wish I could proffer the same future to those who are young and naive today. The ubiquity of robotic thinking – and the determination of both Rabid Right and Looney Left to promote it – suggests a future of eternal conflict between ignorant ideologies. All I can do is quote by example.

In Britain we have the NVE line from the Right: straight out of 1984, “You may be a peaceful member of society with strong views, but we’re going to make you illegal”. From the US comes the stain of Left liberal fascism: equally Orwellian, “How dare you Donald Trump suggest we should be allowed to put up banners saying Merry Christmas?” And from both – via the Special Relationship – emerges the vomit-inducing hypocrisy that makes Viktor Orban the Devil incarnate, but the Saudis our allies who are, after all, entitled to enslave women and stone bloggers to death. This is the same bellum Americana that insists Putin must be deposed, but the Muslim Brotherhood represents the acceptable face of Islamism.

“National Socialists and Socialist Nazis – is there a discernible difference? Discuss”

I watched horrified this afternoon as a female Missouri professor of Media Studies encouraged her wide-eyed students to ban a journalist…and thus make her protest in favour of ‘systemic misogynist racism’ an un-event that should not be reported by those who might oppose it. The innocent but earnest young faces using their hands to stop photography while chanting “Blocking you out! Blocking you out!” were like something from Lord of the Flies meets Lebensborn.

Something has gripped Homo sapiens, and for me it is inextricably linked to education systems obsessed with targets – but oblivious (not to say implacably opposed) to the idea of students being encouraged to think for themselves. This in turn I think is a by-product of neoliberal economics and Chinese denialism, where the immediate ROI is infinitely more important than the triumph of creativity over shibboleth.

At times, it feels to me like they are creating a world in which myriad armies driven on by rigid belief systems must inevitably come to a confrontation from which there is no retreat. The long, dark shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction that blighted my youth had one saving grace: deep down, nobody thought their ideas were worth a Dead Planet. Today, there is an insane confidence among Jihadists, bankers, eunatics, GOP patriots, bought neoliberal politicians, mad feminists and the politically correct that the other side can be forced to back down.

I have lost count of the number of times in recent years that I have engaged in fruitless debate with those who promote the abherent minority, the abnormal logic, the unnatural and the merely trendy against the neuroscientific, the anthropological, and the empirical. I do not believe there is any such thing as ‘settled science’ and so I try to retain an open mind. But with every year, I feel increasingly outnumbered.

Earlier at The Slog: Crash tests for Dummies