The good weather and holiday season is upon us, however we’ve maybe already hit our quota of good weather in Scotland. Nevertheless, this time of year provides us with the opportunity to explore the outdoors a little more, but that’s not to say that some of us aren’t looking for a good series to binge when staying indoors seems more appealing, or perhaps we’re all searching for that great book to pack in the suitcase or take to the park.
So here’s some reviews from the Common Weal team to make the choice a little easier, hopefully there’s something for everyone.
Craig- Head of Policy & Research
Unlike a few of my luckier colleagues, I’m not going on holiday for a wee while yet so June has been a quieter month for me. I did take advantage of some of the good weather to spend a bit of time in the garden though this year’s potato harvest certainly leaves a fair bit to be desired (enough for tonight’s dinner and some tatties scones tomorrow…that’ll have to do). Next year will be better, I’m sure.
Something to read- Book-wise, I’ve been re-reading Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series – in which an alternative World War II is rudely interrupted in 1942 by an alien invasion. I can’t say it’s the most amazing literary work of all time but what’s summer for if not a little escapism?
Somewhere to go– I took a wee trip to New Lanark at the start of the month (my wife had never visited) and that rekindled some thoughts about workers’ rights and the importance of community – as well as got us watching the 2013 series The Mill to see the kind of world the Owenite movement was trying to get away from. It’s a reminder – in this world where the campaign for a Four Day Week is strong enough to warrant the Government’s attention, positive or negative – of both how far the trade union movement has come in terms of helping workers but also how much further we could go and how much our “normal” work patterns today could one day look almost as dire as the workhouses of the past.
Rory- Social Media Coordinator
Something to read: My new read for this month is South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. The revised version was published about two years after the financial crash, so some of the contents are a bit dated, however it is quite astounding how many things still ring true. It’s a great read, even if you feel you know a fair bit about capitalism, the author puts a lot of quite complex terms into very readable language, and as an activist, it gives you the tools to rebut capitalist arguments. In just one chapter, he says, “Despite the assertion that price stability is the precondition of growth, the policies that were intended to bring lower inflation have produced only anaemia growth since the 1990s, when inflation is supposed to have finally been tamed.” As a Marxist, I can’t say I agree with everything in the book, but I really enjoy challenging my own perspectives from a non-dogmatic ideological perspective.
Something to listen to: I have to say I’m in a bit of a rediscovery phase music-wise, and at the moment David Bowie is providing some wonderful sounds to work and walk to. Hunky Dory, with classics like Changes and Life on Mars? is just masterful, and I have to say pairs really well on a playlist with a bit of Paul McCartney and Wings’ Live and Let Die.
Meanwhile, I recently listened to an intellectually enthralling podcast by Jacobin Radio’s The Dig. An interview with historian Michael Denning about the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, split into two parts and I’ve only had the chance to listen to the first (it’s about an hour, but the second part is 2 and a half hours long). Concepts like hegemony, the subaltern, and ideas about political education are brilliantly explained and brought to life in the first part so I highly recommend. You can read a transcript of it here.
Something to watch: There’s a big Succession-shaped hole in my life after my partner and I finished the series at the start of the month, so rather than recommending, I’m actually looking for suggestions – we love dramedies, all the mystery thrown in with some dry wit. The White Lotus was a hit, and we’re eagerly anticipating series 3, but if you haven’t yet watched it it’s worth it for sure. Filled with great ensemble casts, quirky characters, a slow-burn script, and funky soundtracks, it’s titillating, and set in some gorgeous locations.
In light of other events, I also recommend trawling back through Netflix’s documentary archive for The Social Dilemma, a piece about data gathering and the motivations of big tech and social media companies, constructed with fictional representations of real life effects, interspersed with interview with people from the tech world. In particular I highly respect Tristan Harris, former Google ethicist, and co-founder of the Centre for Humane Technology, about 30 minutes in the slot-machine analogy for the refresh button is illuminating, and his (and others’) advice for viewers at the end changed my perspective on social media.
Something to do / somewhere to go: Finally, I’ll recommend a trip to the Borders at this time of year to anyone willing to go. Especially along the east coast, St Abbs’ head is a great spot for a walk and an ice cream. Meanwhile further inland, around this time of year, if you’re into pageantry and a bit of silliness, its common riding season, where most of the large towns will nominate a lad and a lassie to represent the town and riding between towns bearing their flag, and celebrating the civic spirit of the area. Many ‘gala days’ elsewhere have copied the fancy dress floats usually held in parade on the final Saturday of the week, often led by the local Pipe Band. I remember one year when I piped with Coldstream Pipe Band, we were at Kelso’s parade, and in front of us the whole way around the town was an Only Fools and Horses tribute, in full Batman and Robin gear, with the Reliant Robin all done up, regularly stopping for a quick Del-Boy and Rodney routine. Great fun to be had by all!
Nicola- Policy Coordinator
Somewhere to go-I recently took a trip to see my family in the Midlands. We really enjoyed walking around the different towns and eating out at local restaurants. Hearing about the local histories and their thoughts on the political atmosphere right now was a great change of pace, and a great reminder of the world that exists outside our little laptops.
Something to watch-I’ve recently started a new series on Netflix called Firefly Lane, I’m only a few episodes in but I can already tell it will be a new favourite of mine. It follows the story of two childhood best friends through their lives and eventual careers in journalism. I will always adore any series which portrays women as more than wives and mothers, but as characters with their own challenges, personalities and flaws.
Kaitlin- Policy Communication Coordinator
Something to read- Last month I re-read (so you can tell how much I enjoyed it the first time) Humans: A Brief History of How We F****d It All Up by Tom Phillips. This is a very witty and easy read, with the occasional chuckle at the expense of your fellow humans. With a light sprinkling of history this book introduces topics such as the environment, war and technology and provides the reader with interesting and fairly unheard of stories through-out time which leaves you in no doubt that there really has been some stupid people making decisions through-out history. A great book to easily put down and pick up again.
Somewhere to visit- If you’re in need of a day trip I would highly recommend spending a day in the area of Gullane and North Berwick, the area provides lots of great paths for a nice walk and if it’s good weather pack a picnic and head down to the beach. We spent a very warm Saturday on Gullane beach trying to eat an ice-cream faster than it was melting, we weren’t successful but it was a nice way to spend the weekend. This July and August Gosford House, which is a ten minute drive from Gullane, is opening up it’s doors for guided tours, however having a walk around the grounds and looking for sights such as the mausoleum and the curling house is also a great way to spend an afternoon.
Something to listen to- I’ve had the pleasure of going to some great concerts this year, and still have a few lined up. Last month, after years of waiting, I finally was able to see Elton John live and he was great. I know he may not be everyone’s cup of tea but if I’m still as lively as he is at 76, I’ll be very happy. So I’ve emersed myself back into some good’ol cheesy Elton tunes but in anticipation of seeing the Who this July I’ve been listening to their new tour album which features the Isobel Griffiths Orchestra. I can already tell this summer I’ll be living in some kind of 70s rock haze, can you even feel for nostalgic for an era you didn’t even live through?
Amanda – Director
Something to read- I’ve been waiting for this book for some time and it doesn’t disappoint. In “Context Changes Everything”, Alicia Juarrero (a philosopher who focuses on problems around complexity) develops a coherent, applicable and thus testable theory that explains emergence, novelty, and how novelty stabilises and endures. This has deep implications not just for natural science but, more importantly, how we have to think about identity , about how we create social worlds and how we form social and socio-technical systems.
As a first for any explanation of emergence or novelty, Juarrero’s theory does not require the construct of a yet-to-be-discovered aspect of physics, or chemistry, or other specialisation (as needed in constructor theory or evolutionary concepts based in reductionism like Dawkins).
Her writing style is dense and somewhat minimalist – I often had to pause and reflect before reading on, not unusual for me when trying to grasp with philosophers! But she used a wealth of examples to illustrate these concepts to make the issue accessible. Perseverance gave me a new perspective through which to see the world and made understanding deeply complex issues easier.
Somewhere to visit – I’ve been staying local with a lot going on. Our village is meeting up regularly regarding the proposed battery storage site attached to our local substation. It’s very close to some of the houses and people are concerned, especially as it seems like the company makes the cash profits and the community picks up the social costs. More on that as it progresses. I’ve also been spending a lot of time at my favourite charity, Wiston Lodge, where roaming the estate whatever the weather is always a joy. We’re planning our foraging courses at the moment and looking at all the photos of last year’s bounty is exciting since no two years are ever exactly the same.
Something to watch – Unlike most people, during lockdown our TV watching actually dropped, although I’ve started to find box sets very appealing again recently. And I’m not looking for particularly worthy programmes either, just a good bit of distraction. With that in mind, I recently completed all 12 series of ‘Death in Paradise’ a detective drama series in an exotic location that started in 2011! That’s a lot of binge watching!
Something to listen to – Given that it’s too easy to say all the good music happened decades ago, I’ve been trying to listen to newer artists. Top of my list right now is Olivia Dean, whose album Messy is a joy: Dive is probably one of the best feel-good songs I’ve heard in a while.
And something I haven’t done – I couldn’t find a photograph of me taken in the last year! Loads of the garden and the pets but none of me. Will try and sort for next month 🙂