We went to see Syria: A Conflict Explored at the Imperial War Museum.  There’s two main parts of it: A Lens on Syria and Story of a Conflict.  The story of a conflict is mainly a video outlining the background to the war, starting at the protests in 2011 following the treatment by the government of young boys who painted anti-government graffiti.  It seemed like a fairly fact-based, non-partisan overview, but without knowing more about the conflict I can’t say that for certain.  It’s only 8 minutes long, so many things obviously have been omitted (e.g. UK involvement in bombing.)  The reference to around 1000 different militia groups felt somewhat relevant to what I’m reading in Homage to Catalonia.

A Lens on Syria is photography of mainly Damascus, Homs and Palmyra from 2013-2014.  It shows the lives of citizens in those primarily government-controlled cities.  It’s people getting on with their lives as best they can in damaged buildings and ravaged streets.  There’s also a collection of incredibly painful photography of refugees at European borders.

Watched the first episode of American Gods last night.  Pretty good.  Well made and acted.  Very gory.  Don’t really know what it’s about yet though – hoping that there will be some reflection on modern society.  Maybe each of these gods will represent a part of it.  They all seem pretty negative gods so far.

Picked up George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia from Oxfam in Ealing.  Very interesting so far.  It’s Orwell’s account of his time with the Anarchist militia during the Spanish Civil War.  Well written and refreshing to get political thoughts directly from the front line, so to speak – from someone who has lived through it, not just simply philosophising about it.

Main takeaways so far are the lack of organisation and preparation in the Anarchist militias.  Which, as Orwell points out, fair enough, given the circumstances.  Also that there were often periods of great mundanity in the war – he writes at one point that both sides’ main preoccupation while defending the front is keeping warm, not the enemy.

Interesting to learn a lot of the initial militias came from trade unions.

Walking in Epping Forest was lovely yesterday.  We did the 7 mile Oak Trail from Theydon Bois.  It starts out in the suburbs a bit, then brings you into the heart of Epping Forest.  It’s really lovely when you get inside the forest.  Wide, easy paths, but with some great sense woodland you can explore off the beaten track.  Perfect for a sunny day walk.

We went to see a matinee showing of Bertold Brecht’s ‘Life of Galileo’ at the Young Vic.  In summary – it is absolutely fantastic, and highly recommended.

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The play tells the story of Galileo as he faces opprobrium from the church, for his inconveniently heretical observation that the Earth is not in fact the centre of the universe.

It’s a story of science vs religion, change vs status quo, goals vs family, poor vs wealthy, truth vs dogma.

We see Galileo doggedly pursue his arguments in the face of adversity.  By no means a perfect man, he neverless has great strength and courage of conviction in the importance of observational truth over blind faith.  This brings him under the harsh glare of the Catholic church, whom are served very well by the current
view of the world and do not appreciate his attempts at change.

For me personally, the relevance of the themes to the modern day were more political than scientific. With minor fluctuations, science is no longer frowned upon, and it is religion that must keep apace with progress. Galileo’s story of fighting against an entrenched system felt allegorical to the modern day struggles in pursuing an alternative to capitalism and neoliberalism. With the current system so much of a mass hallucination that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism“, and with mighty vested interests wanting to keep it that way, there are many parallels to the 17th century’s cabal of high priests insisting (with pointed implements) that it is the Sun that moves around the Earth, and that’s just the way it is.

The church does control with some strong-arming, but also, and more cleverly, utilises a stronger and more insidiuous tactic – that of indulging a certain safe level of tinkering around the edges of the system.  Just as neoliberalism allows containable protests and manageable dissent, the church allows the illusion of science, just so long as it doesn’t place itself before the dominance of God.  Galileo plays the system and sows the seeds to bring, if not revolution, at least change.  But this is not without inviting tragedy to himself and those around him, and ultimately, arguably, not directing the matters that are most important – like the oppression of the people.

Overall the play speaks to the importance of doing that which seems demonstrably right, and suffering the consequences as best you can, even if revolution may appear a long way away.

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Despite the presence of these weighty themes, the play stays light, entertaining, and thoroughly engaging, with many a laugh out loud moment. The acting and staging are both superb. The play is not only in the round, affording every punter an equal view, but some seats are also in the play, adding to the fun and immersion. Brendan Sewell gives a real powerhouse performance, full of energy and gravitas and also wit, with all of the cast superb. Throw in beautiful lighting, puppetry and a planetarium style projection of the heavens, and you stay enraptured for the almost 3 hour long performance.