Cretan Hop

(No, not that one – Ed). A title I’ve had which has been in search of a post since, well, ages.

One of my blogs below referenced thinking about warmer climes – and we have just come back from two weeks in Crete with temperatures in the mid to high 20Cs (that’s 70-80F if you like old money). Indeed, it was a bit of a chilly and cold-inducing shock coming back to a Scotland with clear skies (though with someone having stolen all our wind – for three days now!) and icing sugar snow dusting the mountain tops of most things north of Ben Lomond.

So, Crete: my second visit, but this time to the west near the historic city of Rethymno, having spent one week out to the east at Elounda in 2005. This time, e-bike cycling tours; walking; gorges; mountain villages; olive groves; more (rebuilt) monasteries and churches than you can shake a stick at; history (and yet more history); elliniki kafe sketo; learning a bit of Greek; history; 800 photographs (give or take); a beach or two; olive groves; ouzo and raki; lighting candles; the holy trinity of church, taverna and kafenion; mantinades (a form of Cretan rap music) and a bit of Cretan folkloric dancing; wonderful food; wars and liberations; and olive groves. Oh, and some history – wrapped not least around some more monasteries. Here’s a side door to one of them – evidently still in use and looking out towards the monastery’s inevitable olive groves.

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Further photos may follow, once I’ve sorted them out a bit.

But for now, on the beer front, it was a little disappointing to see that the craft beer revolution largely continues to pass Greece by (this being my first visit to any of the Greek islands since 2008); Greek breweries – even local ones on Crete – continuing to churn out the sorts of lager which has the merit in a hot country of being cold and wet – though that’s about the limits of it. There was rumours on some restaurant menus of a locally-brewed dark (‘red’) beer but no actual sign of it, at least not this late in the year. A few hops are always welcome and, on return to Glasgow, I enjoyed a taste of what a few hops can do for a lager with Drygate Breweries Bear Face, available on draught even at the airport.

It was also somewhat disappointing to discover that the Greek government apparently has financial schemes to assist with renovating village houses in the Venetian style [NB no actual links to anything have yet been found after my return for the purposes of this post] – a noticeable bit of revisionism which ignores both the centuries-longer Ottoman period as well as that the Venetians were also occupiers, albeit apparently somewhat more enlightened as well as less repressive. Of course, to take such a view clearly understates the sensitivities concerning the role played by the Ottomans in recent Cretan history and around the key events in its liberation struggle – and, as it seems, not only then. Back to the future, then (’twas ever thus). The key is no doubt the physical association of Crete with Europe and European values which, some 120 years after Crete gained its independence, and only after a bloody and lengthy struggle, is still regarded, taking the long-term view of history, as something which needs to be asserted.

There may also have been some dancing (happy 60th birthday, Seema!). After all, what’s a holiday without a hop or two? I don’t think there’ll be photos of that, though.

Mobile phones and the FUD factor

The second of my columns for Stage, Screen and Radio, the quarterly journal of BECTU, the union for creative ambition, appeared in the Summer 2019 issue. Now the Autumn  issue is out, I thought it was about time to re-publish the text, here with added links but without the Tony Kelly cartoon and without the wonderful production values that BECTU members have come to expect as standard.

Stories have again recently [i.e. in May 2019] been appearing in the papers about the health and social impacts of our mobile phones.

We have had Madonna worrying about her older children and whether her giving them a mobile phone at 13 had ‘ended their relationship’ with her.

Last year, a paper was published by the researchers at Imperial College engaged in the important and wide-ranging SCAMP study on sleep deprivation among teenagers resulting from their night-time use of mobiles. There has also been a separate Oxford University study which concluded that social media use has only a ‘trivial’ effect on teenagers’ happiness.

And there have even been stories from the perspective of whether our digital lives and the handiness of our mobile devices are leading adults to have less sex.

Some of these stories have been rather sensationalised. But similar stories about mobile phones and various aspects of health have been appearing now for decades.

There are some aspects of mobile phone use which do give cause for concern. The SCAMP study is drawn from the lack of certainty among scientists about the impact of the radio frequency waves emitted by devices on children’s developing brains, and whether they are more vulnerable than the adults about whom the World Health Organization dismissed such concerns some time ago. The peer pressure on teenagers to send intimate photos of themselves – so-called ‘sexting’ – should also not be under-estimated (one reason why the Oxford University might well have understated the likely impact of mobiles on teenagers’ happiness).

It’s right that we are as convinced as we can be about the safety of our devices; and clearly we also need to talk to our children more about theirs and what they do with them. Whether mobiles result in impaired relationships with us: well, if teenagers are more interested in their mobiles than us, we need to find something more interesting to say to them. They said the same about television; and no doubt they said the same about The Dandy before that, too.

Stories of the ‘always-on’ worker, whether they stem from a reluctance to carry around two devices – a personal one and a work one – or from the need for freelancers and ‘gig’ economy workers not to miss a call or a text, are one of the reasons why we look to trade unions to protect us. In the latter case, current research shows us that they provide workers with a strong reason to unionise.

Furthermore, concerns about the ‘spy in our pockets’, given some aspects of our social media use and our apparent inability properly to investigate, and change, the defaults on the apps we download, may also be nagging away at the way we think. (And rightly so.)

More generally, though, I wonder whether it is the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that explains why these sorts of stories keep coming around. Perhaps the continuing concerns about the impact of mobiles, doing the rounds for thirty years now, reflect the uncertainty in our own lives and particularly our uncertainty about the changing shape of the world around us. Given the individualised, atomised circles in which we move and think, and when so much of the outside world, and indeed the environment, lies beyond our control, it seems only natural that we transfer that uncertainty to the device that almost all of us carry around with us permanently, and which may have come to symbolise that absence of control.

Or, better said, the appearance of that absence of control, since where uncertainty is the driver, we do have the answers when we analyse what brings us together. The answer is plain to all of us as trade unionists – we organise. And, about the issues we cannot individually control – then we collectivise them. When we realise that power, we can deal with most things.