After an extended mountain trip I usually have some observations about society in one form or another. I find this an interesting process because it facilitates connections between the hobby and the rest of my life. On the one hand I have a rat race existence where I am oppressed and controlled by conditions such as those described by Marx, Engels, Nietzsche, Baudrillard, and the ideas of Slavoj Zizek. For several years I’ve been inside a corporate environment and experienced how dreadful it is in terms of impact on the human spirit. A friend conveyed to me precisely the same sentiment as experienced by a friend of hers in a similar public corporation: it’s Kafkaesque.
That is to say, human agency is trapped within a system which is simultaneously flawed and unchanging. You identify a problem which in ethical and professional terms demands redress. You speak up. You get channelled down a labyrinthine process which grinds you down, disempowers, and provokes adversarial reactions the outcome of which is to make you the enemy, the corollary of which is the system you question serves itself. The purpose of the system is to exist. It rests on stasis and denial which is profoundly and peculiarly conservative: the production line must continue. Criticism, as within religion, is obstructed and blocked. You are a number. You are the Patrick McGoohan prisoner. The walls are invisible and identified only in your mind where your intelligence, like that of Winston Smith’s, is powerless. “All things that live for a long time become so saturated with reason their origin in nonreason comes to seem improbable,” said Nietzsche.
On the other hand I walk mountains where there are no walls, where Marx, Engels, Nietzsche, Baudrillard and Zizek don’t apply. I escape exploitative conditions and lies and live out of a rucksack. The confines of so called political thinking make no sense. I taste the freedom of life where all people are located within a wider scheme of nature, a world where we are indigene and free from the reactivity of political correctness and the petty feuding identities on which it is based. There’s a hill in Northern Ireland which is the location for a healing project where hostile communities mutually attend. Surprise, surprise, remove people from their entrenched geographic and social environments and they see similarity and connection with others not tired and stupid old arguments.
There is nothing to fight about it in the mountains. There used to be: Scotland is a fierce and bloody example, Wales is dotted with castles testimony to former military powers, and in the Lake District you find the remains of the Roman occupation at Eskdale and High Street. The first is an impressive fort, the second a hill top pathway. In today’s world, we walk the hills to escape human stupidity not to fight against one side or another. As such, mountain walking is a philosophical resource. It has an effect on the psyche affirming a part of us untouched by dystopian living. A few months ago I noticed a strange phenomenon in Manchester. I listened again and heard it again. Around ten times every day I hear wailing sirens which are inevitably predominantly those of the police. I live in a quiet and leafy area but cannot avoid the horror of this disgusting city: not peculiar to Manchester but typical of contemporary conurbations.
On a return journey to hell, I was delayed at an obscure town in the south of France called Muret. As towns go, although we didn’t leave the train and visit, these are lovely places. In my travels around the Pyrenees I’ve spent time at Pau, Luz Saint Saveur, Luchon, Lescun, Gavarnie, and pleasant Spanish towns such as Torla, Benasque, Vielha, and Sallent de Gallego. In France in particular, everyone says bonjour. Bonjour, in the hotel. Bonjour, dans le supermarche. Bonjour, on the trail. Bonsoir – when I entered the toilets at Toulouse Matabiau railway station where a black cleaning lady was attending to materials in a store cupboard. Bonsoir I said in return, and why shouldn’t people exchange pleasantries whoever they are and wherever they are? Toulouse is a large modern city but even there, you find a greater degree of civility than is normal in overcrowded rat race Britain.
The reason for the Muret delay, travelling from Luchon to Toulouse where I had to catch my flight back home, was a fire. We were stuck on the train for two and a half hours. Two young men beside me struck up conversation and then sat side by side. The lady in front of me offered one of them a biscuit. The train service – the French SNCF – provided a quantity of bottled water arranged along the platforms. I wondered if this would happen in Britain. More likely, perhaps, it would take several hours to get some Kafkaesque authorisation and then be overruled by a suited corporate fool worried how it would figure in his Dickensian accounting. The SNCF is clean, fast, punctual, economical and normal. Why should it be so difficult to provide a similar train service in Britain? It is abnormal: staffed by chip eating ASLEF types and corporate idiots, and doesn’t that sum up much of British life?
Dans le gare de Muret there it was again – a poster for one of these stupid Ramboesque films featuring a muscled warrior character in reptilian armour, carrying a knife in his right hand, half crouching for combat. I gazed at it uncomprehendingly. I don’t like such nonsense but for a minute or two had a lasting feeling, why? What is the meaning of this? Why are so many films designed along these lines and what does it signify? Back home, I watched a YouTube video making reference to destructive male and female characterisation. The ladies – or too young girls – are moulded into hypersexual caricatures when they sing their nasal pop tune nonsense. Ooh baby, baby. Simper, simper, hip twist. The chaps are portrayed as reptile man or in similar form as hyper-aggressive pugilists: grrr!
Women use sex. Men use violence. Women attract one way, men attract in another, in both cases resting on reproductive animal like psychology. This is partly why I dislike rap so called music and its surrounding culture where women are bitches and hoes and men are gold tooth gangsters. The bitches do a booty gyrating sex dance, the gangsters chant finger gesturing yeah! yeah! nonsense conveying “attitude” as if they were lions in charge of a pride. They are no such thing. Try that posturing nonsense on top of Scafell Pike and see how stupid you look.
These are imbalances, aberrant compensations. Psychologically speaking, the YouTube author was saying, such behaviour traces back to dysfunctional family circumstances with special reference to absent fathers. Boys are damaged in one way if there’s no Dad around which leads to compensatory aggressions. Girls are damaged in another way, giving rise to over pronounced sexuality.
I sensed these issues as I returned from my Pyrenees trip, 2013, stuck at a small French town called Muret. The poster of reptile combat man (no doubt with sexy reptile lady joining him) was like a bad dream I was returning to after the mountains: the psychology of stupid living, the toxic effects of the dialectic city, the hallucinations of deformed and entrenched identities.
As I write this under grey British skies – this is completely true – I hear Manchester police sirens yet again when just a few days ago I heard streams, the rain, the wind, hola, bonjour, my own footsteps, and the unfathomable silence of a beautiful Pyrenean heat.
J’aime le Pyrenees. Ah, oui, oui, c’est vrai.