They were not passive victims

Something that irks Nicktor is my habit of wearing different coloured socks. He claims it upsets his sensibilities somewhat. His OCD, as he calls it. The reason I wear different coloured socks is because it’s easier than having to pair them all the time and it means, if I have to throw one sock away, I still have the other. Also, no-one has given me a reason why I shouldn’t.

Not many people (other than Nicktor and one chap at the Talking Newspaper) comment on it or even care, which is good. I have seen a few other people doing the same and I applaud them.

Today, as I walked back to my seat in Starbucks, a woman commented on my socks. She said she liked them. Naturally I thought it was because one was red and the other blue and said so. I was actually wrong. One was Flash and the other Superman and, being the mother of two pre-teen boys, she said, she had an eagle eye for super hero merch.

She then said that she thought wearing non-matching socks was cool and that she used to do the same thing. Until her husband insisted that it was time to grow up and stop doing it. If she wanted to be seen with him, he said, she would have start matching her socks.

I was stunned. Here was a strong woman; or at least I thought she was strong. I have seen her before with her sons in the park. She has a strong, confident voice, she is almost six feet tall. She is confident. She has the appearance of a strong woman. And yet, she is not ALLOWED to wear non-matching socks because her husband insists she matches them.

I’m glad I’m not her husband. You would have to be pretty pathetic to feel threatened by unmatched socks.

Equality of expression and fashion aside, today was mostly about the gardeners. Upon my return from the shops I was informed that I was to accompany Gardener Dave to Squires to buy some grass seed and compost so he could attempt (for the millionth time) to make our patch of grass into a lawn.

Having donned the hated masks, we collected what we needed and headed for the till. The woman scanned it all and stood aside. Dave then informed her that he had a trade card. She asked to see it. He told her it was for a different branch and he didn’t have it. The manager was called.

We stood and waited, dodging other customers as they made their purchases and shied away from any human contact like frightened little molerats.

Eventually the manager turned up and thus ensued an argument between him and Dave regarding the fact that Squires only gave the company one card and he didn’t have it. Rightly so, in my opinion, the manager couldn’t accept Dave’s word for the fact that he had a card…but didn’t.

On our way back to the house I asked Dave what his time was worth. I told him that the £5 we would have saved on the purchase was not really worth my standing around doing nothing and wearing a mask. I don’t think he understood what I was saying.

To round the day off nicely, I attended a WFA webinar about the Canadians at the Front called The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians survived the Great War by Dr Tim Cook.

It’s rare that I find someone who views history in quite the same way as I do but Dr Cook (no relation) is very much like me. He sees history through the lens of the individual, the normal everyday person, the people who make up the vast majority of the world. The cannon fodder for those that don’t see eye to eye but can’t fight their own battles.

His lecture (based on his book) looked at the common Canadian soldiers and the culture they created in order to survive. Cartoons, trench newspapers, black humour, all of it contributed to the survival of the soldier while the soldiers on the other side were trying to end that survival.

They were not, as he pointed out, passive victims like we see in such films as Gallipoli. They were human beings who laughed and loved (1 in 9 Canadian WWI soldiers contracted some sort of venereal disease) and angered like all of us. It was what Dr Cook called the Wartime Culture that brought and kept them together, preventing them from ‘going crazy’ as one survivor put it.

It makes me wonder about the soldiers on the other side. I realise that our propaganda would have us believe that they were all serious death dealing monsters but surely they were exactly the same. Are there German trench newspapers? Are there cartoons of the German soldiers not understanding the simplest things? Was there a German Hugh Farmer or Captain Bairnsfather? Surely there must have been.

I bought his book on Vimy Ridge and realised that I’m becoming far too obsessed with the Great War.

Today, this happened

From today’s London Gazette of 1880, there comes the news that the corn situation stood at the UK importing 3,507,860 cwt while exporting 21,671 cwt. Corn, in this instance, was an all encompassing word meaning various grains including wheat, barley, oats, rye, etc. It does make me wonder whether 21,671 cwt of corn was exported from the imported column at a highly increased price. Probably not.

The biggest import, surprisingly, was wheat at 1,823,858 cwt. From what I’ve read on the subject (not much, I admit) this was due to the slow yet purposeful progress towards globalisation which, in part, affected the amount of land being used for arable in the UK. More specialised growing could be achieved if the country is importing great bags of wheat from overseas, for instance.

These changes were possible with things like the railway network in the US allowing easy transportation of cheap grain from the farm to the sea. And the invention of freezers on ships allowing for cheap meat to arrive from Australia and New Zealand, the first of which was successfully shipped aboard the Strathleven in 1879.

Both of these things led to a huge depression in UK agriculture, eased only slightly by the First then Second World Wars. And that was only because the enemy was sinking the ships.

This fledgling global market economy is what created the market forces from which grew organisations such as the WTO. This is where the rules governing trade were introduced, deeming it unfair for countries to undercut importing countries with their own products.

In a nutshell, this means the cost of bread is going to be standardised somewhat given wheat is coming in from outside the country. And because of ‘competition rules’ homegrown wheat will cost more than the imported grain so local bread will be more expensive.

While appearing to be fair, it is an insidious way of reducing the capacity of local industry. This, in turn, reduces the chance of a country reducing greenhouse emissions because it has to buy grain from distance rather than the farm in the next village.

On a worse level, it allows exporting countries to insist that importing countries, which buy its products, not label them as harmful in any way. Even when they are.

In a world where tribalism seems to be so important, where people seemed to glory in being defined as patriots of whatever country they were born in, it seems odd that the same ‘tribes’ are content to be dictated to by other ‘tribes’ regarding the price of bread.

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