I haven’t written for more than two weeks, which is an unusually long silence. There’s no particular reason apart from seasonal ennui and the slow collapse of our culture into angry senescence – OK so that’s a rather big reason, and the most dangerous of all. Whilst in Hay on Wye this weekend we scoured the bookshops and I came across a marvellous volume of essays titled “The Welsh Way – Essays on Neoliberalism and Devolution” – which I devoured mostly sitting in bed in our hotel room because the drains in the building were blocked and the trenchant smell of sewage forced us us keep the window open, in spite of the outside temperature being -3C. It all somehow reflected my mood. Even on the drive home the sun struggled to shine and just hovered us like a black and white pastel drawing of a poached egg. Our dirty weekend had turned out dirtier in a different way than either of us ever imagined.
The book, on the other hand, is brilliant and gave me much food for thought hinging, as it does, on the continued fantasy of Welsh radicalism examined against its actual deployment over the past 50 years. “Could do better” hardly describes it. But the book also brought home how the individual and separate crises of our time are nothing more than related symptoms of the single malignant disease known as Neoliberalism. The book also gave me an unexpected metaphor expressing two ways of living with the crisis drawing on a structure I know well from the inside. Huw Williams writes of the contrast between the old independent and baptist churches that they were:
…… reformed beyond recognition by the Methodists. To [Iorwerth Peate] the Methodists performed a corruption of tradition, in particular in their aspiration to engage with the world, reform it and transform it. The true spirit of the original nonconformity was to distance oneself from the world, seek salvation in the next life, and carry the burden of this life with dignity and patience.”Huw Williams; The New Dissent: Page 105. Neoliberal Politics and the Welsh Way
I was almost born into Primitive Methodism and later moved into the Wesleyans and from there to low church and then Anglo Catholic Anglicanism. A long path through the traditions that taught me a great deal about the ancient rift between the activists and the withdrawers. I learned well that withdrawal from the world, whilst it might feed the religious ego, just allowed the devil free range. Where’s the virtue in finding some new cruelty or horror to turn away from and ignore every day?
So the photograph at the top was taken – as the caption says – on the banks of the River Wye; now polluted almost to extinction by intensive chicken farms which have proliferated along her banks and which pour many tons of phosphorus and nitrogen from poultry manure into her water every day. The ray of light is that the tree was growing just a few yards upstream from the bridge under which I finally and suddenly realized that I had lost my faith somewhere along that long journey.
It’s December 14th and in just a week we’ll celebrate the winter solstice which signals the return of the earth from the darkness of the declining days and I remember the words of Mother Julian of Norwich ; ” … all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”