New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Politics
12 March 2007


What does 'green' really mean?

By Simon Munnery

Recently I’ve been thinking about green things: Broccoli, courgettes, cabbage – the medicine of the poor as twas known.

My grandmother swore by it, and would wrap a leaf round an infected wound to “draw the poison out”, she also bashed the top of boiled eggs “to let the witches out” but that’s another story.

I’ve lied to my daughter consistently since birth on one subject. I tell her that cabbage is the food of the tiger. I serve it as a starter on a single plate with a little butter and pepper, each of us has a fork – they’re our claws – then we tuck in. Recently I have extended the lie; I say to my daughter “How do tigers like their cabbage?” And she answers “Raw!”.

“Eat your dinner up” my mother used to say to me at dinner time “there’s people starving in Africa”. It’s taken thirty years but I have at last worked out a suitable riposte: “Why mother thou art correct; people are starving in Africa – and other people are dying of obesity in the West: which fate is more likely mine?”

What does green mean? It can mean new; which makes sense – the green shoots of spring are new. It can also mean envious which makes less sense. Are the fields envious? Of what – the sky? Then there’s the green movement. I have no interest in contemporary events, it’s all water on the point of passing under the bridge in my book, but I believe it was the various Green Parties that popularised the word organic. Now it’s all over the shop; organic products, wrapped in organic plastic, manufactured presumably in organic factories, transported by organic lorries…

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There’s something about the recycling symbol; those three green arrows chasing each others tails; I had a vision of a vast rally, with thousands saluting and huge banners sporting the symbol and a word by each of the arrows – Create! Destroy! Transport! The insanity of it. Take the recycling of bottles for example; these must be left in special baskets outside your house from where they are collected by a van – using fuel – driven to a central location – perhaps Peru, if the whims of the economy so dictate – where they are smashed and melted – using more fuel – before being recast into bottles and then transported again – using fuel – and then they burn some extra fuel just for a laugh. And why recycle glass anyway? There’s no shortage of sand. Recycle? Reuse surely, like we used to a hundred years ago. The symbol itself is a lie; it implies some perfect cycle; infinitely repeatable – but every stage of the process uses fuel; a spiral would be more accurate; but that would attract few followers.

There’s many conspiracy theories, but I have a much more terrifying fear; the absence of conspiracy theory: that in fact no one has their hand on the tiller; the world sails on unguided enthralled by machines that we ourselves have created. Not that some supercomputer is running the world, but a billion cash-registers. It would make a good painting; a glowing cash register being bowed to and worshipped by a multitude.

I could have been a painter. Like my father. He could have been a painter as well – if only we’d taken an interest in painting or learned how to paint. Nevertheless every so often the idea for a painting parks itself in my skull. Another one I’d like to do is a reverse angle view of the crucifixion – a view of the mocking laughing crowd seen from Jesus’ perspective. It would be called the shadow of the cross.

In Edinburgh last year my show was described by a critic as “the closest comedy gets to modern art”, which I found flattering for a minute or two until I thought about what it meant: It means that comedy can never be art; and that my show was right on the edge of comedy – a long way from funny comedy. But even though the phrase specifically prohibits it, there remains the hope that one day my show might make the impossible leap and qualify as art: but then what category of art would it be in? Shit art; that is art which is perilously near being comedy. Oh well.

Eleanor Roosevelt said the purpose of art is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable; which may be true, but I imagine it was a nightmare round her house when she got one of art heads on. You’d just be getting comfortable…

Isn’t the idea of a carbon trading market a little absurd? The problems of pollution and global warming can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of rampant capitalism; the stupidity of the market made the mess; will another stupid market clear it up? Bill Clinton won an election using the simple campaign slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” which I’d like to correct by removing the comma and replacing it with the word “that’s”.

Countries such as North Korea are oft condemned for being ‘one party states’. But is that so much worse than the USA which as far as I can see is a two party state – with those two parties more or less exactly the same; large corporations funding both. Still at least you get the illusion of choice, which is better than nothing I suppose. Moan moan moan.

How does the economy work? In large companies the staff are responsible to the manager, the manager to the boss, the boss to the board, the board to the shareholders, the shareholders to their wives, the wives to their consciences. And all along the line detail is lost- everything is reduced to number; share price/ profit. “Bottom line me” we say. If they look back at us perhaps they’ll say “Twas as if they willed their own demise”…

“Love of money is the root of all evil” it says in the Bible somewhere. Not all evil surely – child molesters for example don’t do it for cash. Money is strange. Look at an English five pound note; there’s a picture of the queen and the phrase “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds”. I think “What? This isn’t it?”. I like to imagine that if you went up to the queen, gave her a fiver, and asked her to make good on her promise, she’d look at the note, hand it back to you and wink, as if to say “Yes, It’s a con!”

Pound notes used to be green. You could swap them for pints. Happy days.

My wife told me she was thinking of leaving me. I don’t blame her; I’d leave me if I could. I asked her why and she said it was because I didn’t spend enough time with her.

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