During a recent business trip to the United States I found myself in a hotel breakfast room - in time zone-shifted bewilderment - trying to prise russet coloured material from postage stamp-sized individual plastic sachets of jam. These landfill confetti, thousand-year-half-life bird-murdering pots of glow-in-the-dark matter eventually yielded sufficient goo for me to satisfactorily cover an equally artificial and dubious-looking slice of toast. I sighed and looked at the spent pots, lying there with the same malicious intent as bomblets; profligate, shaped so that much of their already modest synthetic contents remained irretrievable except with some unavailable specialist jam extracting spoon.
I'm not a big fan of lobster, but at least the meagre but tasty return on investment from fiddling with the impenetrable claw for 10-minutes is worth the effort. The jam was called 'Mixed Fruit Jam'. I peered at the ingredients list - the principle ingredient was 'Mixed Fruit'.
This has been my concern, really, that everything's becoming a bit fuzzy and shit; insipid, ersatz, rootless, in a world retreating from taste, quality and craftsmanship.
We shouldn't blame America for this, per se. One can imagine the surprisingly distinctive and unusual tastes of each state's burger joints on a coast-to-coast drive in the 1950s, before the big corporations homogenised America. America must weep for itself.
Back in Colorado Springs, I looked out of the window. Colorado Springs is anomalous, a town dropped into the middle of stunning nature, with the inspiring snow-tipped Rockies dominating the skyline. It was poignant that I could almost reach out and touch the most intense and wild and beautiful of nature, but I was jet-lagged inside an air-conditioned, featureless hotel eating mixed fruit jam.
Robert MacFarlane's book hints at a different kind of dystopia. Notwithstanding its subject matter probably necessitates mention of disappearing species, reducing stock of animals, failing communities of creatures, the creep of the city, its revelation is that what's left is becoming foreign and unknown to us. We gaze out at nature apart from us, and the dissociation by degrees has left us with only vague grunts of recognition at what's around us. Are we inexorably creeping towards a reductive moronoculture where nature is understood only ambiguously, imprecisely?
Make jam! Go for a walk in the country, find some blackberries, make jam with them! Specific jam.
I often fantasize that the time machine will be built. Pompously, scientists will travel back in time to collect great minds of the past and bring them to the present, so that our forbearers may marvel at the progress we have made! In my fantasy, those vaporised into 2015 sit down for a welcome reception, have one taste of their agrochemical meal and say, "Bugger this, we're off back."
We all enjoyed Robert Macfarlane. It was fascinating and an inspiration, and it made us feel warm and nostalgic. It made us determined to go up a mountain, but not for the purpose of getting to the top, no, no, no, just to be there. Bruce felt moved to reconsider his recently departed father, a dedicated ornithologist. I felt saved from the reptilian apocalypse of mixed fruit jam by the beautiful supper, full of flavour and creativity, Lara had made for us - complete with two ueber-driven Tramshed chickens. We had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and by God we undertook to know accurately and precisely what creature had nearly chawed us!
Of the Barbican's artists and collectors exhibition, we were less enamoured. We felt it was ephemeral and too confusing, and we wanted more meaning. Maybe we look too much for meaning, for the summit, when we should just wander among the artefact foothills. Shot ourselves in the bloody foot there, then.
I wandered happily having re-connected with Kensal Review.... in the warm Spring late evening, with the city calm and pulsing, a smoggy hay-fever in my nose and the thrill of wearing few clothes after dark, of not being wrapped up against the elements. I went to bed with sheets and duvet dried in the sunshine on the line earlier in the day. That smell, of bed linen rapidly line-dried by the sun and wind. I'm not sure all these things should have their own words (first open-necked walk home of the year, the city rumbling like a sleeping lion, the crisp and fragrant sun-dried bedding) but those words that we do have, we should guard them closely.