I bought Raptor: A Journey Through Birds by James Macdonald Lockhart because spending a pandemic year in Wales has afforded the privilege of seeing birds of prey on a daily basis, and I wanted to learn my hawks from my falcons. Raptor has certainly helped with that, but much more besides, with Lockhart’s lyrical descriptions of avian behaviour making my own experience of seeing raptors in the wild even more magical.
Five thousand years ago the people living in what is now the Brecon Beacons National Park, the area of Wales where markontour currently resides, were into megaliths, big time. This much we know because over thirty of them survive to this day, still marking out the valley roads and high passes in this lush, undulating landscape. They are extraordinary things to get out and see in situ, stubbornly remaining on the spot they have inhabited through so many human generations, and in many cases accessible enough to be able to get right up close and touch.
I approached The Ministry for the Future, eco sci-fi master, Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest book, with some trepidation. I was anticipating a grim imagining of a near future in which human civilisation descends into chaos as a result of failure to respond to the climate crisis, something I am generally trying to escape when I find time to pick up a novel. But while there is plenty that is frighteningly real in Robinson’s narrative – from millions dying in droughts, floods and fires, to the rise of global eco-terrorism as a generation realises that the one-percent really are willing to sacrifice their futures for short-term profit – ultimately ‘The Ministry of the Future’ is a manifesto of hope.
I have become somewhat addicted in recent weeks to Widowspeak’s new album, ‘Plum’. The gateway drug was the Brooklyn duo’s dreamy, hypnotic cover of Dire Straits’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ from a recent EP, ‘Honeychurch’. But now I am hooked on their own compositions, particularly the album’s title track.
“To begin at the beginning” – there’s really no other way to start a blog about Laughrne, the small former cockle-fishing town on the Carmarthenshire coast which I visited this week to pay homage to its most famous son, Dylan Thomas.
Emily Barkers’ mesmerising ‘A Dark Murmuration of Words’ has been the soundtrack to my 2021 lockdown mornings. There’s both beauty and sadness in these songs that describe the natural world and what humanity has done to it, while bridging from nature to mull over human emotions.
Some might question why an atheistic internationalist has chosen to write a blog about a day of national religious celebration, but St David (Dewi Sant in the Welsh) was a vegetarian who spent some time at Glastonbury and established his first hermitage in Llanthony, a few miles down the road from where I sit writing this blog. Moreover, it’s an excuse to make use of my shelf of Welsh history books and then pretend I know something about it.
In ‘The Corona Crash: how the pandemic will change capitalism’, British economist and journalist, Grace Blakeley, argues that COVID-19 has heralded a new age of “state monopoly capitalism”. But while massive state intervention in the economy is completely justified, instead of propping up the owners of the old polluting economy, our money should be directed into a huge programme of investment in a green and just recovery. Along the way, in a highly readable and concise pamphlet, Blakeley dissects the reality of globalisation, the legacy of financialisation, and the arguments for a Green New Deal. Indeed, her writing is so quotable that what follows is more of a ‘Corona Crash’ pass notes than a review..
‘Humankind: A Hopeful History’, by the Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman, has given me philosophical reason for optimism in a bleak year, alongside reinforcing my view that neo-liberalism is the biggest threat to human prosperity, while challenging other deeply ingrained perspectives. In a highly compelling, research-based narrative, he demonstrates that the underpinning dogma of neo-liberalism is false: human beings are not “naturally” selfish and competitive. In fact, if you look at the historical evidence, the basis of our success has been collaboration.
December is here, which means it is time for the annual markontour Festive Fifteen. As usual, there’s nothing to do with Xmas in this compilation, just my favourite songs released in this very strange year and put together in homage to the much missed John Peel and his alternative Festive Fifty. The full playlist is available on my YouTube and Spotify channels.