Nobody's Diary, Part 1 - 17.11.08

For no particular reason, and in no particular order, I've decided to publish excerpts of my diaries.  They go back at least ten years, and the first page I happened open was this one:

17th November 2008, Aberdeen.

I was reading Leviathan on the train.  The old chap next to me on the final segment, from Edinburgh, wondered if it had anything to do with Thomas Hobbes' book of the same name, but I explained it was about whales.

The old chap turned out to be a retired history teacher who was going to give a lecture to the Aberdeen Civic Society about Aberdonian street names.  I should have spoken to him earlier, but I was engrossed in my book.

Of the book itself, I enjoyed it, but not without reservation.  I learned many things about cetaceans and history and Herman Melville and whaling, but at times it became too emotional, too involved, too awe-full.  Whales are extraordinary, fascinating mammals, but Philip Hoare elevates them to the status of deities.

One thing that did strike me as apposite was the description of how whaling went crazy in the 20th century, proving the inability of people to self-regulate.  Without intervention, whales would have vanished completely, it seems, whereas now we have some species clinging on, and some recovering (and only a few gone forever).

In the last few months, the folly of financial self-regulation has been demonstrated, but the main purpose of history is to be ignored.  The history-teaching gentleman told me of his difficulties in persuading pupils to stick with his subject.  I have that same problem with palaeontology.  "What's the point?" I am asked.

Everything is about natural philosophy or natural history, but too many people see humans as somehow separate from nature.  Religion might be to blame, or it could just be the Industrial Revolution and the creation of too much artifice.  Who needs to hear what people did in 'the old days'?  This is the brave new world, of technology and progress.  What can the past possibly tell us?  And what is the natural world but a resource for us to exploit?

And we all end up baffled.  Ringo Starr declared last month that he would not be signing any more autographs.  "I'm warning you with peace and love," he told us, "I have too much to do."

The combination of aggression and 60s idealism is great.  Being the only working class Beatle, Ringo never made a very convincing hippy.  He was there in the midst of the movement without ever properly being part of it.

Forty years on, he's warning people with 'peace and love'.  What next?  "I'm threatening you with serenity and adoration?"  "I'm punching you with calm and fondness?"

Poor, confused chap. Trying to fuse human nature with changing times is tricky.

Back at the flat, I moved onto reading Corvus: A Life With Birds.  It's a biography of the birds that Esther Wolfson lives or lived with in Aberdeen, and she describes the city very well:

"Granite, in its singular density, creates a truly Protestant aspect, forbidding, grey, accepting of little ornamentation, a stone that in its greyness, its occasional glittering brilliance, has created a city that seems to mirror a gunmetal sea, a high, ashen sky.  The houses...[are] all sufficiently plain as to avoid offending God with ostentation.

...[But] people in the business of North Sea oil have replaced the granite merchants, people who, to judge by the frank display of glossy, elephantine vehicles...squatting on their driveways, clearly feel no obligation to show such deference towards God's sensibilities.'

(p. 14)

Next time - back to 2001