Memoirs with Metta
The wider world
So what kind of world was I born into ? To be honest not a totally happy one. The Cold War between East and West had been going for over ten years, with the developing 'balance of terror' with each side supposedly just 4 minutes from Nuclear Destruction.
However it crtainly wasn't all bad - as our prime minister Harold Macmillan - had commented a few years before - '....most of our people have never had it so good...' Almost everybody (who wanted to be) was in work and the notorious slums were gadually giving way to smart new council houses and flats with all modern amenities: Clean well heated airy rooms, fitted kitchens with modern gas or electric cookers, and maybe a twin - tub washing machine, hot and cold running water and - still something of a luxury for many - a proper bathroom and indoor toilet.
Added to this the entertainment industry was booming - with daily TV (a choice of publicly funded BBC or ITV - paid for by commercial advertising). Extravagent tchnicolour and often widescreen Hollywood epics like Ben Hur and Cleopatra as well as Disney films for the kids and elaborate musicals like 'The Sound of Music' and 'Oliver'. Finally for teenagers there were the ongoing youth crazes in musi, having started with Traditional Jazz in the early 1950s moving on to lively Skiffle groups, Rock n Roll from America and the soon to arrive Beatles. The latter hailing from Liverpool in the North West of England. A Pop group who had assumed their new name about a day before I was born and were due to play their first gig at the Club Indra in Hamburg about a day later. Also that year a major trial at the Old Bailey in London found that 'lady Chatterley's lover' the notorious explicit novel written decades before was 'not obscene'. Along with the introduction of the contraceptive pill in the US this would inaugurate the so called Permissive society of subsequent years. With rapidly changing (too rapidly for many) social mores and attittttudes to what had previously been deemed unactteptable eg. homosexuality and unmarried parents etc.
As the sixties continued every year brought new, often quite shocking, developments. The Campaign for Nuclear discarmament in the UK and abroad. The Cuban Missile Crisis which many feared would escalate into all out Nuclear war over the course of just a few days in the autumn of 1962. Numerous scandals and shocks in 1963, coinciding with the unprecidented rise of 'Beatlemania' - mostly among young girls. These events would culminate with the shocking assassination of US president Kennedy, who had been a source of hope for many throughout the world, in November. In Britain Mod verses Rocker teenage mob violence grew in intensity from 1964 to 1965, taking place mostly in the larger seaside towns on National Bank Holiday weekends. And the outbreak of the war between the US and the much smaller country of Vietnam in South East Asia from 1965 onwards. At the same time, spurred on by masssively poopular Pop and then Rock groups - initiated by the Beatles inexorable rise to worldwide fame, and also by increasing availability of mind altering drugs - from Cannabis to the halucinagenic LSD, a so called 'Counter Culture'developed among some young people. This was especially prevalent among those attending the massively expanded network of Universities. It resulted in the so called 'Summer of Love' in 1967 inspired by the new Hippie fashion along with opposition to the Vietnam war and growing interest in Eastern / Alternative spiritual traditions. The latter had again been significanly influenced by the Beatles with their interest in the Maharishi Yogi based in India.
By the end of the decade things looked, and sounded, hugely different from ten years earlier. Interestingly my trip to the Isle of Wight in 1970 coincided - just a few weeks later - with what would be the biggest (in terms of attendance) Pop / Rock festival of the Era when possibly a million people descended on the Isle of Wight Festival. This was headlined by the guitar player Jimi Hendrix who had helped revolutionise popular music, his last major public performance before his untimely drug related death at the age of 27, just a few weeks later in London. Whatever the new decade of the 70s held in store one thing was clear, there would be no return to past certainties - either good or bad.
30 mins 747 words
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The Seventies in Britain and abroad
So what kind of world was I living in during this formative period ? Well at the start of the decade Britain had just elected a new - Conservative - government and prime minister, maybe in the hope of steadying things after the somewhat roller coaster ride of the latter sixties. I remember spending at least one week at home in the first half of 1970 while my teachers went on strike which did not bode well. Indeed as the decade wore on industrial unrest and numerous strikes became the order of the day. Causing many to question who was really running the country - the government or the Trade Unions who represented mostly working class people. One upshot of all this was that my dad's wages steadilly improved during the decade. This was reflected in better presents for my sister and me at Christmas and a slow improvement in our living arrangements especially towards the end of the decade.
The tone of the new decade was somewhat set in 1972 with a number of significant events. The first was the release of a notoriously violent film about the near future focused on teenage gangs. 'A Colckwork Orange' was withdrawn from release after just a few weeks by its director Stanley Kubric in an unpresidented move prompted by evidence of copycat acts by youths in the US and Britain. Also that year (although not coming to light until 1973) it was discovered that the government of the USA, led by soon to be re-elected president Richard Nixon, had been engaging in numerous 'dirty tricks' to smooth his re - ellection. The ensuing scandal became known as 'Watergate' after a building where burglars were causht ransacking an office of the Democratic party and attempting to set up illegal wiretapping of political opponents. The scandal eventually threw to light a general poisonous attitude on the part particularly of Richard Nixon himself as well as among many key officials around him which shocked many people on hearing how the most powerful country in the world was actually being governed. At the same time the situation with the now expanded US war in South East Asia was going from bad to worse, finally leading to an ignimious and chaotic withdrawal two years later of US forces from their base in Saigon.
Going back to 1972 the final incident of note took place in the British province of Northern Ireland where the so called 'Troubles' between pro - Irish Catholics and pro British Protestants had been coming to a head since the end of the sixties. During a weekend civil rights March a section of the British Army overreacted to provocation by young Catholic IRA supoorters leading to the so called 'Bloody Sunday' massacre of dozens of young Catholic men. From now on the Troubles would become far more violent - eventually leading to a number of IRA Bomb attacks in major British towns and cities over the next two decades.
All of the above contribute to a general hardening of attitudes in society - with increasing levels of violence. This included the rise of 'Mugging' people in the street for money - an unwanted American import. Consequently - as in Europe - there was a growing sense of entrenchment of Left and Right wing groups. In Europe, as eslewhere political terrorism became commonplace, with the particularly violent 'Bader -Meinhoff' gang in Germany and the 'Red Brigades' in Italy among others. In Britain racial intollerance grew dramatically - leading to riots between young black men and the police at the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival and frequent violence at extreme right wing 'National Front' marches.
Another important development happened in 1973 with a huge increase in oil prices. This was led by the Opec cartel of mostly Middle Eastern oil producing countries which had become the main source of world oil supplies. This was imposed in protest at western, especially US, support for the expansion of Israel. The latter sitting in the middle of an otherwise almost solely Muslim region of the world - centred on Saudi Arabia the world's largest oil producer then (and now). The rising oil prices led to severe shortages around the world - apart from in the main oil producing countries rich grew increasingly wealthy as a result. This would lead to profound changes in the balance of political power in some regions. In Britain I remember my dad having to queue for hours for rationed petrol and also frequent and ongoing power cuts. The latter often due to militant unions such as the National Union of Mineworkers 'holding the country to ransome' as many called it as the government was again and again forced to cave in to their demands.
This period of political and social unrest provided the backdrop for the mid seventies with it's frequent crises and increasing violence generally - refer to my previous memoir centred on 1974 - 75. I think on reflection it is no accident that these years, apart from being so formative for me following puberty towards the end of 1973, were also two of my most stressful years yet. This was not helped by increasing problems with bullying at school and locally - a situation that would only be releaved when I entered the sixth form in the autumn of 1976. It is notable that this same year saw a huge bailout of the troubled British economy with a massive loan from the International Monetary Fund. This would coincide with a general rise in living standards at my family home in the next few years. It is also interesting to see how the rise of the original 'Punk' group - the outrageous 'Sex Pistols' began in May 1975 - at a peak of this era of crises. It is also interesting to note that this year marked the peak of the so called 'Disaster Movie' genre which had begun in the early '70s and in a sense reached a peak with the 1975 release of the sensational film 'Jaws' about a killer shark on the rampage at an American seaside town.
Inspite of the IMF bailout Britain's political and social problems would continue into the early 1980s - however a massive 'sea-change' occured in 1979. Following a winter of widespread industrial action by most public sector workers - including even ambulance drivers and gravediggers. This series of strikes led to huge quantities of rubbish being left to pile up, particularly in places like Leicester Square, while the army had to be called in to operate as firemen and ambulance drivers. The following spring a new look Conservative party under their militant right wing leader Margaret Thatcher was brought to power - manly due to the disquet over the previous 'winter of discontent' and also due to her promise to sell off cheaply the huge number of low rent council houses and flats throughtout the country to tenants who wished to buy them. This act would go on to transform British society, inaugurating the property boom that has continued to the present day (but how much longer ?).
Thus at the end of the seventies - with the election of Ronald Reagan as US president a year later with similar right wing free markek views a new era had begun.
50 minutes approx. 1163 words
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The world of the early 80s
The end of the 1970s marked what was called a 'Sea Change' in British Politics, soon to be followed by the US and eventually the rest of the world. After years of industrial unrest in Britain the electorate voted in a completely new type of leader. Firstly our new Prime Minister - Margaret Thatcher - was the first female prime minister in British history. Indeed worldwide there had only been a handful of female political leaders up to that time, the most famous being Mrs Indira Gandi in India. But more significantly Mrs Thatcher was to bring in a radically new vision for British society, throwing out the so called 'Post - war concensus' between labour and management. Instead she brought in a much more American style of government based on reducing taxes and encouraging a sense of entrepeneurialism and self - reliance on the part of the people. She criticised the so called 'Nanny State' of previous years and insted promoted a much more competitive society based on individual enterprise and the so called 'bottom line' of monetary profits.
In some ways this was a good thing, removing a certain kind of complacency in people and encouraging a sense of self - reliance, purpose and ambition in many. However all of this came at a severe cost, especially to the less well off members of society (indeed in one famous pronouncement Thatcher was to state 'there is no such thing as society'). Having been voted in after the 'Winter of discontent' of 1978 - 79 she had gained a huge number of working class former labour supporters by promising to allow them to purchase (at well below the market rate) their formerly rented council houses and flats. These had been build in previous years by local councils as decent, affordable housing for working people and those less well off. By doing this she created a 'housing market' that has continued to this day (though one wonders for how much longer). As a result of all this society became effectively split between those who had benefitter from her policies and the many who had not. The latter would include many workers in failing non - competitive businesses, the growing numbers of unemployed, poeple working in the now squeezed 'Public sector' such as civil servants, nurses and teachers and most notably militant trade union members such as those working in coal mines and soon to be sold off public utilities like the railways, electricity, gas and even water supplies.
The increasing social tensions led to widespread rioting in larger cities in the early 80s and eventually a violent stand off between striking miners and the police in the North of England a few years later. Eventually the militant unions were defeated in their demands and Britain moved on to become a very different kind of country. One result of this was the rise of the so - called 'Yuppie' or Young Upwardly Mobile Professional. These were young men - and sometimes women - in their twenties or early thirties (hence my generation) who went out to develop lucrative careers particularly in the mushrooming world of finance and banking. We were now living in a world where accountancy had become sexy ! At the same time as all of this there was a hardening of ttitude on the part of government particularly in the UK and US towards the Soviet Union. With the similarly inclined president Ronald Reagan of the US drastically increasing military spending. Reagan was a former Hollywood actor who had come to power while exhibiting some early symptoms of age related senility, as evidenced by some of his muddled public pronouncements or 'gaffs'. Thus the formerly lightly simmering Cold War was brought closer to the boil, encouraged by the Soviet invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan around the end of 1980. Fears of possible Nuclear conflict further increased after the government anounced that American Cruise Missiles were to be delivered to Greenham Common airbase in Southern England a year or two later. Meanwhile the rate of unemployment would eventually rise to over three million equating to one in ten of the adult working age population.
Another victory for 'Thatcherism' came in the wake of the Falklands war against Argentina in 1982 after the Argentine military Junta invaded the British dependencies of South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. A Naval 'Task Force' was hastilly assembled and eventually successfully defeated the invading forces comprised mostly of young Argentine conscripts. This victory gave a huge boost to the popularity of Mrs Thatcher and secured her election victory the following year. All of this corresponded to a general sense of growing Jingoism in much of the country and further escacerbated the 'divided nation' phenomenon of the time.
It was in this environment that I decided to enter the teaching profession.
approx 35 minutes 803 words
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The world at large - big changes - 1984 to 1992
During my time as a teacher there were huge changes occuring in the wider world as well as Britain. The industrial unrest that had characterised Britain for almost twenty years finally came to a head with the Miners Strike of 1983 - 84. By 1985 the miners unions had in effect caved in to government demands and a widespread program of pit closures soon began to be implemented. Although there was still a huge amount of opposition to the policies of Mrs Thatcher, especially in the north of the country, it was fairly obvious that she had won the day. A new spirit of self - interested ambition now began to sweep the nation. This was particularly true for people living in the southern half of the country, including my recently retired father, whose quality of life began to improve. My dad was helped by being able to take private carpentry jobs over the next several years, he was still in his early 60s afterall. This brought in a little extra money on top of his small pension from Wandsworth Council. Around 1991, at the age of 65, he became entitled to an old age pension which further raised his income. While I was by now able to pay my parents a small amount of rent for living back at their home due to my improving wages, along with my sister now working as a trainee nurse in Norfolk another expense had disappeared for them.
Around late 1985 a new premier - Michael Gorbacheov - came to power in the Soviet Union whose liberalising influence rapidly caused a significant thawing of East / West relations. Another positive development was the 'Live Aid' event that summer. This was a global event in the form of a number of pop concerts centered on Wembley Stadium in London and a large stadium in the US. The event was intended to raise money for the millions caught up in the Ethiopian famin which had begun the previous year. Millions contributed money towards the new charity, including Sandra and me. It became just about the biggest and most successful charity event in history and stood out as one of the landmark events of the decade. The concerts and subsequent aid package had been masterminded by two British Rock musicians, Bob (soon to be Sir Bob) Geldoff - originally the singer with the Irish punk band the 'Boomtown Rats' - and the Scottish singer Midge Ure.
However there were also a number of tragic events happening in the world at this time. The ongoing war betwwen the Soviet Union and the Western backed Mujahadeen freedom fighters in occupied Afghanistan. The catastrophic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985. The Terrible nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the USSR in 1986, leading to the radioactive contamination of billions of square miles of countryside right up to Scotland and the North of England. And a few years later in 1989 the Lockerby disaster which was caused by a Libyan terrorist bomb exploding in a Pan Am Jumbo Jet over a small Scottish town, again leading to extensive loss of life. The latter indirectly caused the attack on me with my flatmate missing a crucial call to go up there with a BBC crew and so loosing a very lucrative extra commission worth a few thousand pounds. The phone call came through while I was in the shower and my off hand comment when returned home in a bad mood - 'I'm not your bloody answer service' caused him to loose it and attack me. Still he was quite apologetic afterwards.
Thatcherism seemed to be gonig from strength to strength. The Cold War finally came to an end in 1989 with the breaking through of the Berlin Wall, symbolically reuniting Eastern and Western Europe. There was a relatively peaceful coup in the USSR the following year along with several other former Eastern Block countries with non - communist leaders assuming power. However in China a pro - democracy movement led by students was brutally crushed by the Communist Government in Tianeman Square at the heart of the capital Beijing. A general sense of optimism was in the air, very unlike the general feeling at the start of the decade. Finally in the UK Mrs Thatchr overreached herself, she almost singlehandedly brought in the disastrous 'Pole Tax' around 1990. This was supposed to be a replacement for the traditional council 'rates' with everybody, regardless of income and assets, being expected to pay the same rate of Council Tax. Rubber stamped by her docile cabinet members this new tax was opposed by most of the country, even former Thatcher supporters. As a result a large protest demonstration in London degenerated into a riot which was again violently suppressed by the Police. It soon became obvious that Thatcher's days as premier were now numbered. Eventually almost her entire cabinet would turn against her and she was finally ousted in the autumn of 1990.
Meanwhile during this period with the extensive introduction of new computer networks into the 'City' and other financial centres, plus increasing deregulation of financial activity world stockmarkets where generally being transformed. This released vast new quantities of money and wealth, particularly for the lucky few, while causing much greater social inequalities than at anytime in recent decades.
In conclusion I would say that I clearly benefited at this time from this expansion of wealth and new technology due to my taking up posts in the burgeoning iT training sector. Something that would stand me in good stead for my own projects in later years.
35 minutes approx 930 words.
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The UK and the world after the Cold War
The events of 1989 quite rapidly led to a different kind of world. Most of the former 'Communist Block' reverted relatively peacefully to at least officially democratic governments, with the notable exceptions of Yugoslavia and some southern regions of the much reduced Russian Federation.
In the UK 1989 had been particularly marked for younger people by the so called 'Second Summer of Love, the first having been during the 'Hippie' year of 1967. This was fueled by huge 'raves' typically in empty warehouses and also particularly by the new drug Ecstacy which had the effect of inducing a euphoric state with a strongly positive emotional response to those around one. This effect was enhanced by the ecstatic pulsing electronic musical accompanyment having little in the way of melody except for brief repeating, almost mantra like, phrases. The steady growth of Glastonbury festival over these years was particularly down to the expansion of the so called 'Green Fields' which occupied most of the upper half of the site and included much evidence of alternative lifestyle interests. These included our own meditation and later cafe teams in the pleasant 'Healing Field'. There was even a newly constructed stone circle at the top of the site just beyond our field.
This was a time of rapidly growing interest in various 'alternative' ideas and lifestyles including environmentalism, this being represented politically by the so called 'Green' parties in Europe in particular. A growing interest in vegetarianism and animal welfare linked to the above was evidenced by the eventual presence of at least one vegetarian cafe on just about every High Street of every major town or city in England. Finally a steady growth of interest in meditation and Buddhism was occuring at this time, especially as represented by the Nichurin sect from Japan and also the more esoteric Tibetan tradition with the exiled Dalai Lama becoming a figure of inspiration for many. In the UK Tibetan Buddhism would be particularly represented by the rapidly growing 'New Kadampa' sect led by a controversial Tibetan Lama. Another rapidly growing Buddhist group in the UK was the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order or FWBO which I had got rapidly involved with from 1992 to 93. I remember a front page article in the popular Daily Mail newspaper from around this time bearing a gnerally positive article about Buddhism and a large picture of a recently ordained woman who had worked at the Croydon Centre's Health food store with a number of other Buddhist women. This was adjacent to the gift shop where I was working as a full - time member of the small men's team.
So the FWBO was riding the crest of the wave throughout the nineties with rapid expansion both in the UK and abroad. By the end of the decade there would be an FWBO presence in several countries including Ireland, Spain, Germany, Finland, Sweden, USA, Australia, New Zealand and even tantatively in Poland. There was also a substantially growing presence in India among the ex 'Untouchable' Dalit under - caste.
The movement had had modest beginnings in London in the late 1960s with a gradual expansion in the 1970s with new centres in London, Croydon (including a large community and substantial Right Livelihood restaurant business), Brighton, Cambridge, Glasgow and it's largest retreat centre at the time near Norwich in Norfolk. During the 1980s the movement would benefit from the increasingly entrepenerial and business friendly environment with numerous new centres and communities opening in major towns and cities around the country plus a few overseas. Most of these were supported by funds raised from associated Right Livelihood businesses like the shop where I worked.
However this growth had by no means been a smooth process particularly in Croydon where the Order member in charge eventually created a cult - like situation for several years until it's eventual collapse at the end of the decade. In addition there were the open rumours of promiscuous sexual activity, particularly at the large Norfolk retreat centre and community which often seemed to involve the founder Sangharakshita. Sangharakshita's strange policy of promoting homosexual behaviour as some how conducive to the spiritual life was at the heart of most of this activity. Indeed one of my main reasons for favouring the South London Utpala Community over the larger and better established community in Purley was due to the stronger heterosexual bias at the former. It also was a factor in my increasing involvement with the so called 'Glastonbury Project' through the decade.
Eventually I decided to make my own contribution to the expansion of the movement to new pastures which led to me briefly helping out an order member based at our community in setting up a weekly meditation class at Southampton University. However after advice from another order member living in the community I decided to move to Brighton instead. This I finally did in May of 1995 after working at the Croydon shop and living at Utpala for two years.
40 mins approx 826 words.
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Globalisation and it's discontents
So while I was having my adventures with Buddhafield and elsewhere what was happening in the wider world ? Well I would say the initial optimism following the end of the Cold War was by 1995 giving way to some disquiet in many quarters about the state of this supposedly more unified world. In Britain the post Thatcher era was turning out to be much less optimistic than might have been expected, with a worsening economic situation presided over by the seemingly lacklustre Tory (Conservative) Government of John Major. Early on Britain had crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) causing a sharp slump in the previously boyant housing market. At the same time a reinvigourated opposition in the shape of a revamped Labour party under the leadership of John Smith was hit by tragedy with the sudden unexpected death of their leader in the mid '90s. The Labour leadership vacuum was filled by the media savy and somewhat slick young politition Tony Blaire who along with his shadow chancellor Gordon Brown set about the creation of a fully modernised and so electable 'New Labour' party. Thus the party that had traditionally had it's base among working class voters (like my father) and the Trade Union movement was given a new free - enterprise friendly face. This would make it much more attractive to the growing propertied class that was becoming increasingly disinchanted with the floundering Tories. As a result Labour was swept to power in a landslide election victory in the spring of 1997 (remember my setting up and taking down the voting booths for this). A short time after this Margaret Thatcher was to make the comment that Tony Blaire and New Labour were among her greatest achievements.
Tony Blaire's government enjoyed almost five years of solid popularity, helped early on by his skillful handling of the situation surrounding the tragic death of Princess Diana just a few months following his coming to power. This event led to a dramatic fall in public support for the Monarchy due to their apparant lack of interest or sympathy following the shocking events in Paris. Diana had come to be regarded by the other Royals as something of a 'loose cannon' following her separation from hier to the thrown Prince Charles and subsequent love affair with the son of Mohammed Al Fayed - the flamboyant owner of the famous Harrods luxury department store in Knightsbridge. Not to mention her recently published memoirs and a notorious TV interview where she had described herself as the 'Princess of Hearts'.
Within a year or so Tony Blair - in support of his close friend US president Bill Clinton (of later Monica Lewinski fame) engaged British forces in the attack on the formerly most powerful region of Yugoslavia - Serbia - following the violent breakup of that country. Already the Serbian based army had battled independence fighters of Croatia on the Adriatic coast. When this led to an even more violent conflict with fighters in the predominantly Muslim regions of Bosnia and particularly Kosovo the US and UK airforce responded by bombing the capital Belgrade. This was the first time such a thing had happened in mainland Europe since the end of the second world war almost sixty years before.
In the wider world the post Cold War situation was leading to an inexorable rise in so called 'Globalisation' mostly originating from growing US influence and maybe even hegamony. With the rest of the world gradually adopted similar free market capitalist policies as first seen in the US and UK over a decade before. This would lead to many 'anti - capitalist' demonstrations usually associated with annual G7 or G8 sumits in various cities. The largest such demonstration occured in Toronto during the winter of 1999, while I was 'setting up shop' in Newcastle, it was met by particularly brutal suppression by Police and security forces. By this time the world seemed to be increasingly marching to a single tune inspite of widespread opposition from many, especially younger people and those from the alternative and non - conformist fringes. The latter would inevitably come to include most of us on the Buddhafield core team, including increasingly myself in the next few years.
Approx 30 minutes
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Entering a troubled world
The optimism of the new millenium turned out to be short lived, the shocking events of September 2001 took everything on an unexpected and troubling direction. The sense of darkening clouds was excacerbated by the response of the right - wing US president GW Bush with his 'you're either with us or against us' bellicose language. As well as the extremely rapid drawing up and passing in the US of the so called 'Patriot act' with its apparant curtailing of numerous civil liberties. The first stated target of the US backed 'coalition of the willing' of which the UK would be the most senior partner, among a disparate group of mostly third rate countries, was Afghanistan. This was the desolate mountainous country that included the base of the stated mastermind of the terrorist attacks in New York - Osama Bin Laden - who like almost all of the named attackers was actually a Saudi Arabian. The attack on Afghanistan was hastily mounted and began a few months later. I remember going on a protest rally against it at Hyde Park and meeting another member of the ESA group there. All of a sudden the media was informing us that we were living in the midst of the strangely named 'War on terror'. The next phase of the latter would involve an all out attack on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a country still recovering from the previous Gulf war that had involved the US and UK forces just over ten years earlier. Inspite of widespread resistance in Britain and abroad, including the aforementioned huge peace march in early 2003, this eventually did take place in May. It was prompted supposedly by Saddam Hussein's so called 'Weapons of mass destruction' which turned out not to actually exist and against UN resolutions opposing such a conflict.
All of this contributed to the sense that we were now living in a more threatening, less predictable and chillier world than could be remembered in recent decades, even including the darkest days of the Cold War in the 50s and early 80s. However in spite of all this (and maybe even spurred on by it) the world economy continued to grow. Following on after the brief debacle of the so called 'Dot com bubble' caused by over rapid investment in some of the new internet companies. This economic growth was to a large extent due to an extreemly boyant housing market in many countries as well as the seemingly irrevocable march of globalisation. The whole world seemed to be taking on the attitude of money and business above everything else.
However as time went on increasing numbers were warning of potential big problems ahead. In connection with the latter I had an interesting meeting with my old housemate from Utpala days - Dharmarucci - at the 2004 Buddhafield festival were I was now volunteering in the small Karuna Cafe. Following his resignation from the order Dharmarucci had retained his order name and become a kind of freelance shaman and astrologer. He informed me that firstly - from my birth chart - he had deduced that I shouldn't get ordained but should instead follow my own path. Secondly he said that a number of astrologers could see major problems occuring in the near future around the world's oil supply. These would indeed turn out to be prophetic words !
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Machinations at home and abroad - 2003 to 2006
So the second Iraq war began with great distruction in May 2003. Tony Blaire, who had comfortably won his second resounding election victory a year before, had now become embroiled in two conflicts which were to become increasingly questioned in the country at large. As the devastation and death progressed, reducing Afghanistan and Iraq to chaos and raising the threat of instability throughout the Middle East the unease mounted.
At the same time the new millenium had also ussered in an explosion in Information and Communication technology that would quickly touch everybody's life in the country, as the proposed 8th wave took hold. This along with the seemingly inexorable growth of Globalisaton brought new prospects to the East and helped to produce a new society of extreme inequality, probably not matched during the entire 20th century. Previously the general tendancy had been the reduction of inequalities of wealth and gender and race, at least in the developed world. Meanwhile Tony Blaire would be re - elected for a third term but with a hugely reduced Parliamentary majoity as his popularity ebbed away. Eventually his deputy - the Chancellor Gordon Brown - took over as PM for a brief period, the world was moving on.......
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A new start ? 2006 - 2011
Even though the Iraq war was officially concluded a few months after it started in 2003 with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (with much toppling of statues) the chaos it produced continues up to the present day. Early on Museums in Baghdad and other places were ransacked and priceless artefacts stolen and eventually news emerged of warcrimes by US and British troops. The country began to divide along religious and ethnic lines as the death toll of mostly Iraqui civilians but also of US and UK troops mounted. With all of this Tony Blaire's reputation went from that of one of the most popular PMs in recent history - the 'golden boy' of British politics - to political embarassment and even pariah in the eyes of many (including myself at the time) in just ten years or so.
In the end his chancellor Gordon Brown - a key political ally but a person with whom he had a mostly rather frosty relationship - was voted in as new labour leader and hence PM. However in the next election (following the near financial collapse and bailout of 2008) he lost out to the young new face of David Cameron. A somewhat bland, soundbite based politician, a kind of Tory version of the early Tony Blaire - who had to do a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats to get into power. Soon Cameron filled out a number of key government posts with friends from the notorious Bullingdon Club from his years at Oxford. While another stalwart - the ambitious and eccentric Boris Johnson was elected as the publicity seeking new mayor of London.
Meanwhile in the US George Bush - who had won his second term victory around 2004 in a controversial election many thought to be fraudulent - gave way to Barrack Obama. Obama would become the first non - white US president on whom many pinned great hopes. At the time of his election (sutumn 2008) the global economy was moving into a massive crisis. The original catalyst of which had apparantly been the failure the year before of the British Building Society Northern Rock - heavilly invested in the notorious US 'Sub prime' mortgage market. The latter being seemingly based on a mountain of bad debts from missold mortgages to people incapable of maintaining their repayments. The failure of Northern Rock led to scenes of hundreds of people queuing outside its branches in a desperate attempt to retreave their savings. But this was nothing compared to the crisis a year later when at one point the UK was apparantly only a day away from all our cash machines being turned off ! The collapse of the heavilly indebted banking system was averted by massive injections of public money (from taxes) into the system particularly in the US and UK and led on to the so called 'Great Recession' which dragged on for several years. Interestingly a couple of months before the 2008 crisis Oil prices had peaked at an increadible 154 dollars a barrel (eight years earlier they had stood at twenty dollars a barrel) - Peak Oil anyone ? And so a global economic meltdown was averted - just - but at huge cost to public funds in many countries, we are still feeling the effects of all this twelve years later. So 2009 came and went - and in 2010 Cameron became the new 'feelgood' PM (the first 'generation Xer' to do so).
2010 and 2011 would be marked by two terrible environmental disasters and also by a dramatic spate of grassroots political protests. In the spring of 2010 the catastrophic 'blow out' and explosion of the the BP Deep Water Horizon deep sea oil platform in the gulf of Mexico lead to the release of huge quantities of crude oil and gas from beneath the seabed for several months. This had a catastrophic effect on marine life in that part of the Atlantic ocean and also on numerous coastal towns due to widespread polution from oil and toxic fumes. However this event would be drawfed the following year by the effects of the huge category 9 earthquake just off the east coast of Japan in March (just a day after the emanation of the 'ninth wave'). The Tsunamis caused by this led to devastating flooding across much of the east coast of Japan and in particular led to the partial meltdown and explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant. This event would lead to the release of huge quantities of radioactive dust and water into the surrounding area (which is still uninhabitable). With possibly even worse radioactive contamination of a huge swathe of the Pacific Ocean with again huge loss of marine life and ecological disruption.
A month or so later the 'Arab Spring' was sparked off by events in Tunisia and suddenly much of the Arab world was shaken by popular protests. At about the same time the 'Occupy Wallstreet' protests began in New York in protest at perceived curruption of the global banking system. With no major bankers having been found guilty of the widespread fraudulent practices giving rise to the previous banking crisis - including the notorious boss of RBS in Britain - 'Fred the shred'. The protests spread to other cities in the US and abroad - including the protest camp outside St Paul's Cathedral in London which I visited in the summer - leaving a copy of my 'Economic history' article from the previous year.
The crises seemed to be coming thick and fast !
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Ongoing concerns 2012 - 2016
Following the Arab Spring and Occupy Wallstreet protests there was a clampdown by the authorities beginning around September 2011. Eventually things would further deteriorate in the Middle East with the rise of the brutal 'ISIS' group (or more properly 'gang') particularly in Syria, many of whose members were young Muslims from places like Britain. They ended up causing a huge amount of suffering in many ancient Muslim communities in the region, using the fundamentalist idea of bringing about a new Pan - Arabian 'Caliphate'. This even included the bizarre idea of reconverting (clearly by the sword) places like Southern Spain back to Islam.
My own focus at this time was in the state of the wider world - particularly on the shaky global economy. The further depletion of natural resources and spread of pollution but more importantly the seemingly inexorable rise in Global Warming. Around late 2013 to early 2014 I was regularly listening to podcasts, mostly from the US, on this subject. I began to hear talk on these podcasts of the idea of impending global catastrophe with climate change rapidly progressing out of control to lead to the possible extincion of most life on earth in the near future. The main evidence for this theory - proposed on the podcasts by the US professor Guy Macpherson - was based on the emergence of numerous climate 'tipping points' in recent years. He particularly cited the evidence from progressive thawing of Arctic permafrost and also deep sea clathrates. Both of these phenomena were releasing huge quantities of methane (a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2) into the atmosphere. Then just a couple of months after starting my attendance at the Effra Road Chapel the principle person producing these weekly podcasts and former populariser of Peak Oil - Michael Ruppert - killed himself. With this unexpected event my focus on the subject rapidly diminished as I shifted my attention somewhat more towards the 'mainstream' as represented by Julian and the Effra Road Chapel regulars. This shift in emphasis would become even more pronounced with my meeting up with Elisa the following year.
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The world in recent years
The last few years in the UK were dominated by the repercussions of the Brexit vote in 2016 to be followed by the election of Donald Trump as US president in November - I remember the headline in the Daily Mirror the next day 'What have they done' (? !) During this period the world seemed to be turning even more to right wing policies of nationalism and protectionism and anti - immigration.
In Britain the main groups that would appear to have voted for Brexit were conservative lower middle class and disenfranchised lower classes - particularly in the north of England. The main issue of concern appearing to be immigration but also a general dissattisfaction with the ruling elites. Age wise I would say the majority of people voting for Brexit would be pensioners (traditionally mostly anti EU) and probably the 'Generation Xers' socalled - people between the ages of around 35 and 50. Interestingly a large proportion of 'remainers' were younger voters - the so called 'Millenials' born after the mid 80s. The vote had pretty much split the country - with almost all 'progressives' and establishment people voting against it. Like myself they wondered if people really knew what they were voting for (I was also concerned about Brexit leading to even closer links to the US).
The election of Donald Trump in the US seemed to be prompted by similer attitudes there with his promises of radical change, only some of which would later materialise. As noted above much of this further turning to reactionary right wing policies - notable in the face of the previous near failure of the global economy less than ten years before which would normally be expected to promote a move to the left - seemed to be in large part driven by people of a certain age group - the old and the 'Xers'. It is interesting to consider how the latter would have come of age either during or just after the 'Thatcher era' of the 1980s - they were even given the nickname of 'Thatcher's children'. I think this is a significant factor in their attitudes generally. A similar thing had probably happened in the US which also move to the 'right' during this time under the presidency of Ronald Reagan - the ex Hollywood actor and former reactionary governor of California. .
This tendency in the UK was also highlighted at the end of 2019 with the election of Boris Johnson's Gen X dominated Thatcherist Conservative party with a huge majority. Running against the more traditionally left wing labour party led by the somewhat millitant Jeremy Corbin - another Baby Boomer. With huge numbers of lower class, traditionally labour, voters in the North of England voting Conservative for the first time. .
Then at the end of February this year - the virus hit us - and the government proceded with a seeemingly dithering response which has somewhat continued up to the present time. We now know that tens of thousands of people died who otherwise would have probably survived if the government had responded more promptly to the crisis. Especially in connection with their policy of allowing people from hospitals into care homes with no adequate testing, bringing the virus into previously virus free environments..
In consequence of all that has happended in the last six months or so it is clear to me that many past assumptions about the future no longer hold. Inspite of many governments continuing to treat the pandemic as basically a disruptive one off event. It is also the first event to literally effect every country in the world (even WW2 did not significantly effect large areas such as Latin America, most of Africa and most of India) and in an increadibly short space of time. Seemingly for the first time ever just about every country in the world was focused on the same thing and essentially responding in similar ways.
I would say to sum up that it looks to me that we may still be in the relatively early days of this pandemic crisis (written in August 2020). With possibly a major economic crisis looming ahead in the autumn due to the massive global economic contraction that has occured. Another notable point to raise is the fact that even with the massive reduction of industrial and travel activity so far this year - we still appear to be experiencing notable high temperatures in Britain - and i suspect around the world - a sign of things to come ?
30 minutes Approx 700 words
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