A few thoughts on optimism

Much excitement locally last night and this morning as broods of twitchers arrive, binoculars and tripods much in evidence, following sightings not of our corncrake but of what Outer Hebrides Birds tell me is a (red-spotted) bluethroat – a bird scarcer round these parts than even the mighty ‘crake though nothing like as rare, globally.

Causing quite a bit of traffic chaos, too, as you can see, despite there still not being a lot of tourists around. A bluethroat is a migratory bird which spends its winters in north Africa and its breeding summers in Scandinavia. In the UK, it’s a passage bird – i.e. not a resident – and seen only around the eastern and southern coasts and on the northern islands of Orkney and Shetland during migration. So, right over here on the west, not only is it a bit late right here at the back end of May, it’s quite a way off-track. The lateness might well be explained by the northerlies we’ve been having recently, which are likely to have held it up; while the easterlies which we had earlier in the month might help account for why it’s been blown a bit off course. It needs to find its north-east bearings pretty quick, however: unless it’s heading for the Faeroes – and the lack of sightings here otherwise suggests that that’s not a common route – its prospects are pretty bleak: if its course has been generally northerly, there’s not a lot left after the Faeroes.

Today’s OHB update tells me that it was still around this morning, even after an early morning tide that was the highest of the month, so the twitchers’ chances were not zero. Nevertheless, you have to admire the dedication and the optimism which leads them to turn out here in numbers, to the precise spot where the bird was last seen, to try and catch a glimpse of a small bird that’s on its way from north Africa to Scandinavia. And which, by the way, ought to be seizing its chances, late as it is, as today’s wind has switched to the south and even, for the rest of the time before lunch, slightly to the south-west.

Me – I’ve only seen starlings, sparrows and wheatears this morning. Those, and one of our increasingly resident colony of young rabbits. Though let’s not go there…

There’s a twitcher present in a lot of us, too. I don’t mean the birding aspects, so much, but the optimism. It is this same eternal optimism which accounts for people driving miles in the hope of catching sight, and a photo, of a small bird that is also driving the ‘opinion poll bounce’ which is currently benefiting the party in government. It is because people are, substantially, optimists that, in the immediate wake of the pandemic – and case numbers are rising again, let’s not forget – a government whose approach has not only been hopelessly inadequate but also substantially corrupt is still ‘popular’. A government which ought to be dead in the water after the last fifteen months still commands strong, even rising, support in the opinion polls and Johnson commands significant personal support not because people like him so much as that they want, and need, him and his government to do well given the lack of any practical alternative. Thus, in these extraordinary times, people are prepared to overlook, it seems, pretty much anything, at least until all this is over. Our own essential optimism, in combination with the success of the NHS’s vaccination programme, is easily transferred to a belief in and support for the government of the day at a time when death is an ever-present fear.

Rasputin’s testimony yesterday, as extraordinary as it was, will change little of this in the short-term although, of course, ‘when all this is over’ is very much the operative phrase: yesterday had us watching – again – the Tory Party engage once again in internecine warfare, Cummings being allied with Michael Gove and thus with much to gain whenever the Tory Party, or its backers in the media or elsewhere, decide they have had enough of Johnson. The Tories’ post-Brexit truce with themselves seems to be coming to an end. Publicly sticking the knife in Johnson, with a media which is in absolute thrall to the whole circus, is simply preparing the way for Gove to become prime minister once that ‘opinion poll bounce’ is over – and when the optimists among us are likely, on the strength of the evidence of the last fifteen months, to think that ‘the new guy’ deserves a chance, too.

Tough times for all of us who are sick of all this. The answer of course is to do what we’ve always done – agitate, educate and organise. These times will end but making sure we’re in a good position to take advantage of them when they do means continuing to hoe those hard rows in the meantime.

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