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Of Plastic and Plasticity


   Of Plastic and Plasticity


Peering out over open water: green wash,

No spot of black to mark a seal, nor sight

Of white to indicate ice upon which to strike,

The bear turns about, towards dry land,

And trundles away from the shore,


Following a novel scent, not so sure

To signify a meal, but more appealing 

Than sterile saline. The stench of humans

Almost overpowers hunger, pull of putrefaction,


But cautiously the bear pads across scraped

Gravel and strands of soft stuff –not snow – and

Colourful lumps, shiny hard strips and bits.


A sharp set of claws upturns tins and other

Things the bear has never seen, and finds skin,

Bones and shreds of flesh of prey never tasted:

Not even raw; changed in a way it can’t fathom.


Other animals abound – gulls and foxes and

Neighbour bears. But she fights for her share

Of the spread-out spoils of some unknown

Carnage, scavenging scraps of flesh amid debris,

Some of which is stuck with string, some

Clinging to wrappers – has to be eaten also –

But are surely shed easily enough 

As would be ingested seal skin and bone.


Some men with glasses from a far observe

The animal with consternation, as it with

Relish ingests the refuse: Earth’s greatest

Quadruped predator reduced to such. But 

Others shrug at suggestions of contamination,


Considering the data and the sea state – 

Since even artic snow and summer rain contain

The same chemicals as the landfill, and

The seals are a dish equally intoxicating

From fish swimming in poisoned brine.


What use, they wonder, a pristine scene

Without seals within reach of a beach,

Other than to produce a perfectly clean

Bear carcass: healthy except for hunger?


The bear, on the other hand, now on land,

Is pulled by the wind past the dump, to 

More varied carrion. Carcasses lie in woods:


Caribou, moose, deer and musk oxen;

Moving, the quarry could become new prey

Replacing seals, if bears become plastic enough.


The pinipeds themselves, if they are to survive,

Shall someday have to haul up on a shore to pup;

Walrus, too, must beach for calves to breach.


Eventually, perhaps, an adaptation to such crap

From our waste, awash in any water, solid or not,

They encounter, can give a chance for all species

To scarcely subsist somehow in a new balance.

But such hopes fast melt in plasticity’s absence.


Not the most up-beat of poems, but in some way a tiny bit optimistic for the predator if not species of large mammal facing the most precarious future of us all….

Keep the Heat in!

It’s the little things.

You know when you’re watching a movie and you say to yourself, “that’s bullshit?” Because you know too much about the particular topic, and the director didn’t do his homework, so you’ve a guy shooting way more bullets than are in the gun etc.

Well, I’ve had a couple of those recently that all came together and makes me want to point them out.

The first is from the book I’m reading – Dan Brown’s Origin

Yea, I know, Dan Brown isn’t writing for accuracy.

But he could at least try.

Let’s leave aside straight away the fact that he’s put lots of detail into all his descriptions of the architecture (before you start reading the novel he states that all the locations and art etc. are real) but invents a parallel universe Spanish royal family. It’s actually quite funny to read how the king of Spain is so devout, when the former king is a notorious philanderer.

It’s the little things that catch a reader. Like when at the start of the novel two Irish football fans harass a Spanish Admiral in a bar. The fans have been watching a soccer match between Ireland and Spain or Portugal (it’s unclear where this takes place) and are drunk (that’s fine) when they enter the bar, empty but for the barmaid and the admiral. Now, not only would two Irish fans not harass a local to drink with them, being happy enough to be with themselves, they’d not be just two of them alone after a match. There’d be hordes of them. And when we read that the name of the bar is fucking Molly Malone, it’ just taking the fucking piss! What a crock of shit.

Just laziness. Perhaps what Brown considers Irish is what he sees in Boston, but he’s never watched footage of Irish fans after an international game on foreign soil, that’s for fucking sure.

I’m obviously not the first person to point this out...

Research. It’s what writers do. Getting people right is more important than how long the LCD screens in the Guggenheim are.


The second examples come from a movie I’m half way through.

Hold the Dark.



As a biologist and woof enthusiast, I stuck it right on when I signed up to Netflix!

I knew there’d be bullshit about wolves. They’re always cast in a bullshit light.

But that wasn’t the problem on the believability end.

I was at first impressed to see the local woman put masking tape on the tip of the gun barrel, to keep out snow and dirt. We do that in the bog, in case you fall and get peat and dirt stuck up there. You can’t shoot a rifle that’s obstructed like that. Well, you can, but do it far away from me.

hold the dark 1.jpg

you can see the masking / duct tape on the top of the barrel in this still.


But then, they go and make a point of the naturalist, played by Jeffry Wright, struggling to get the masking tape off the barrel so he can defend himself against the approaching wolf pack!

No! No and fucking NO!

You don’t take the tape off! You just fucking shoot! The pressure blows a hole in the tape before the bullet could even touch it! Any hunter knows that, or should.


But what most pisses me off about some movies, and it’s perhaps not a problem of doing research, but just society, is how much the actions of some characters differ from what I consider sensible and, given the state of our world right now, basically unacceptably stupid.


Wasting stuff, especially energy.

I’ll explain.

They’re in Alaska.

Not Anchorage, but way up north.

The biologist inexplicably turns up without decent footwear, like he’s never tracked a wolf in his life. The local gives him some boots more appropriate to the weather. And a good caribou skin.

But yet, she lives in a house that looks way under insulated for the clime. I’ve more cladding on my house in Spain, and that has foot-thick brick walls to boot.

And she goes around in cardigan open to the wind, and stands with the fucking door open looking out at the snow.

I know she’s a bit crazy, but such habits are ingrained. She’s not rich – her husband is off in the war and she says she can’t pay the naturalist.

So why is she wasting the heat?

I dunno if it’s just because I was always told to turn off the immersion heater and turn off the lights to save money, but I’m sure poor people the world over are pretty frugal when it comes to this kind of thing.

Also, the naturalist sleeps on the couch with just his long johns and a flimsy blanket. The fire is roaring, of course. But he’s a naturalist! Where’s the sleeping bag and less of the wasting firewood?

Climate change, Jeffry! Your character would be very aware of that, even if your host is not big on energy efficiency.

As I said, perhaps it’s just the state of society.

But, as I also said it’s not acceptable.

And we should stop showing such irresponsibility.

As Hollywood knows, art imitates life and life imitates art.

It’s time to start modelling good behaviour.

Just like few characters smoke in movies now compared to the chain-smoking of the fifties and sixties, movie makers can stop having characters do stupid shit that worsens climate breakdown and pollutes our planet. Hopefully it will happen a bit quicker than the change from smoking to not – this is more urgent.

Then maybe readers and viewers won’t get be so let down by the stories we’re told.

On the other hand, if real people keep acting like these characters, then our children won’t have much time, money, or inclination, to “Netflix and chill.”


A frugal man going mad with the bog roll…

Using things up used to be a good thing, but I’m not so sure anymore.
I love to use things up. I’m the kind of guy who starts planning what to eat each day a week before I go on holidays so that I use up everything in the fridge that won’t last the week I am going to be away. I stir-fry everything that’s left on the day before I leave and freeze it for eating when I come back.
That seems only common sense to me, but I know many who don’t bother, who come home to unpack, and to throw out seeping lettuce, rotten courgettes, brown carrots, and tomatoes gone to mush.
Instead of throwing out the bottle before going through airport security, I drink the last drop of water and put the bottle in my bag. Then I fill it up from the nearest water fountain on the other side.
I have clothes that I refuse to throw out despite their having passed into the out of fashion box long ago. I am not waiting for them to come back into fashion. I’m still wearing them. I plan to wear them out.
I love the phrase, “that tee-shirt/pair of shoes/ owes me nothing.”
Even the stuff that does wear out, I wear anyway, just in different situations. I have a pair of shorts on me now that has a gaping hole in the arse, which I am about to go for a run in (I’m in the countryside, so I won’t meet any other joggers, relax). Many keep old clothes to paint in, to wash the dog in, to clean their car in to collect mulberries in. (That last one is a bit specific to this village, I suppose.)
With me it’s an innate tendency to make the most of something, to refuse to waste, to get my money’s worth. My insensitivity to the vagaries of fashion is a big advantage in this. It upsets my wife somewhat, but I think I’ve worn her down (not out). It’s not that I’m a miser with money, but having lived most of my life with relatively little, I don’t feel the need to spend the little more I have now – and I warned my Irish brethren about doing as much in the boom years back then.
I’m glad I have this tendency without having to think about it. With others, it’s something they’ve been (well) educated to do. I wouldn’t have been… My own mother throws out lettuce that looks flaccid, sausages and rashers that were opened more than two days ago, even though they haven’t reached their sell-by-date. If she thinks they’ll go out of date while she’s away, she throws them out just to be sure. (I have to add here that my mother’s always worries about poisoning her children, grandchildren or guests. She’s not that worried about my Dad… And we have dogs, so at least the food gets eaten (and very much enjoyed, I have no doubt – except for the lettuce.)
But there is a trend growing now, that is thwarting me in my urge to make the most of things, and feel good about it.
George Monbiot recently explained that saving money is not going to be a useful incentive to actually save the planet.
And he’s right.
In fact, if this trend grows, it could be counter productive.
This is not, I suppose exactly new, but it really hit home while on holiday in Menorca last week (second time, recommend it whole-heartedly, even if it is a little more congested than it was twelve years ago. Ciutadella is still one of my favourite places to stroll and eat out, and I was made to live on small islands, I’ve discovered – but no joking that Ireland is a small island: it’s not small enough for comfort).
It’s similar to the idea that having paid for a hotel room, we should, indeed use up all the soaps and shampoos. But at least if we don’t, we can take the little bottles home, along with the mini sewing kit (I have several of these and I do actually use them. Though all those needles are perhaps a waste…) and use them later. But what I have recently experienced is not so ? useful.
In Menorca we didn’t stay in a hotel (last time we did, and we took bread rolls from breakfast for lunch – different times, but good times, as the formerly-poor always seem to say). We rented an apartment and a car. Both were ok – small but comfy (even if the car had no power). It was the extras (or lack of them) that was the problem.
Ok, so I just said that the little bottles in hotels are probably a waste. But only because you know that the hotel is going to throw out the half-bottle that’s left over.
When we had lunch out we noticed that the bottle of oil we had for our salad was brand new and unopened – a new law that says you can’t refill the small oil bottles on the table from a larger container. Perhaps there were a few people putting crap oil in good bottles and some were probably not too clean after a few weeks, but not the best way to save money and resources. I mean, I can see the point with a bottle of wine being unopened, but most bottles of wine get drunk at the table. Who can use a whole bottle of oil in one salad, though?
It’s a great way to make everyone have to buy more oil, of course, and that’s good for the farmers. Who cares if it means more tons of plastic bottles? Not the government, apparently.
Anyway, in our apartment, there was no olive oil, or vinegar, or anything other than salt and one (yes one, and not even a full one) roll of toilet paper. There are certain things a house needs. One of those, in Spain, is oil and vinegar. Another, in any country, even in Greenland, is bog roll. Washing-up liquid is usually handy, and well, some detergent to put in the washing machine that the website advertised would also be nice.
We had to buy all these necessities ourselves. Not that much expense, and that’s not the point. The point is we can’t buy holiday-sized containers of vinegar.
We got through the bottle of oil in the course of the week – cooking and on salads etc. but it wasn’t a big bottle. The rest, no.
But god did I feel like trying!
I knew that the next tenant sure as shit wasn’t going to see them. Who ever arrived the afternoon after we left would find the cupboards as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s dog.
The cleaning lady would take all this stuff home, to save her own money. I saw her take the stuff that was in the freezer in front of me.
So we poured copious amounts of washing-up liquid on the dirty dishes, creating lots of foam just like in the adverts (we didn’t pour copious amounts of vinegar on the salads, because, well, it’s vinegar.) because we knew we couldn’t take it home (unlike the little bottles of shampoo in hotels, a bottle of fairy adds to the weight of a suitcase and in these times of scrutiny of the baggage weight at check-in, that’s just a no-go).
We did take back the clothes detergent, and yes, I did take the left-over rolls of toilet roll, just on fucking principle.
But if the landlord and/or the cleaner had just left the stuff from the previous guests – or would leave my stuff – then perhaps 4 or 5 families could spend less and waste less while on their holidays over the course of a summer.
The car was also annoyingly wasteful.
Instead of the usual deal where you bring the car back with a full tank, in this instance they let you bring the car back practically empty, but they charge you for the full tank you leave the lot with. And they charge you at least 50% more than you’d pay at the petrol station (90 Euros against the 60 it costs me to fill my larger car).
They do this because they know the chances of you actually using up all that petrol is practically nil. The island is only 50km long with only one main road, and you’d have to do the length of the island and back every day of your week stay to go through it.
But we found ourselves trying to use up the petrol. We put on the AC all the time (ok, it was hot, but we’d have been a bit more sparing had we not been shafted up the arse by the rental company), and we dropped the car into 3rd gear to overtake cars that we really didn’t need to, since we were on holiday and only on our way to the beach.
Actually, that’s a lie. We were in a major rush to the beach, because the car parks filled up early, and the small idyllic coves turned into mini Benidorms (Revere Beach to the Bostonians) after a while.
Of course, we knew that it would be bad for the environment, but we had to consciously overcome our urge to get our money’s worth, to get one over on the scheming car rental company (it’s called Owner’s Rentals and they’re the car rental equivalent of RyanAir, which is a good or bad airline depending on your view – ok, so they removed the wasteful mini-drinks that weren’t really necessary but charging for water is just abusive – and there are fair few airports with no water fountains in the boarding gates, because the vending companies are paying them off [I have no proof of that, but it’s common sense…]).
So what’s my conclusion?
My innate tendency to use things up will have to be tweaked.
I’ll have to learn to use as little as possible just for the sake of it, even without that pleasurable feeling when something’s empty, or done with, or worn out having rendered long and commendable service.
So what if the company is making more money from us. At least the petrol is getting used.
I just wish the frugal weren’t getting taken advantage of. But that’s the way of the world these days, ain’t it?
And as for government policies that impulse waste to increase production under the guise of public health concern (when they are granting zoning exceptions left and right for chemical plants to set up on rivers and estuaries) well, that will have to be filed under “ways the government fucks us over” and dealt with another day…