All we hear in the news these days is that we’re in the middle of a recession. Inevitably some conversations will end up going there (indeed the one exception to the tendency to talk about the weather in the UK is the tendency to talk about the current state of the economy and specifically the price of petrol – people will talk for hours about how the garage up the road is selling petrol for 1.37 a litre and supermarkets are 1.32 and oh my god how can they justify it. I personally think both £1.37 and £1.32 sounds cheap but I have no idea how many litres it takes to power a car (probably a million). All I know is my husband is fixated on petrol prices and goes apoplectic every time they go up by half a pence or something).
So the economic recession & how it is manifesting itself in the lives of people is something that will (and indeed should) be talked about. Therefore my advice is to have a few conversational nuggets up your sleeve (warning – they look rather bumpy if you’re wearing a jumper) to get through these discussions.
1. First definitions. A recession is a period of economic decline. The economic part of this is important. It’s all about the money as Jerry Maguire taught us – he also taught us the power of hello and that even the cheesiest film about sod all can be a big hit- but we all knew that anyway (it’s called the Forest Gump Effect).
2. A recession is a decline in GDP. As an aside I got confused earlier & thought that coincidentally that was also the the name of old Eastern Germany – but that was GDR of course. I’m an idiot. Interestingly when I was young & learning about post war Europe (yawn) I always got the FRG (West Germany) v GDR (East Germany) the wrong way round. This whole paragraph suggests to me that I may have a problem with my alphabet. Anyway all I learnt from those history lessons was an absolute terror of ending up on the wrong side of the Berlin wall. Younger readers will perhaps not know what the Berlin wall even was - which is good in a way- it means they haven’t grown up with the fear of east versus west, but it also means they are ignoramuses whose future is doomed.
3. Anyway GDP in recession termå
I studied The Waste Land in school for A Level. I loved it but I didn’t understand it (like Twin Peaks). During the lesson my teacher would digress from the poem to John Frazer and The Golden Bough, from there to various anthropologically based anti-religious tirades and from there somehow to the pop group Genesis and the fact they were crap after Peter Gabriel left. The randomness of his thought processes echoed the sharp moves and shifts within the poem itself and the whole 50 minutes left me with my head spinning (& a pathological hatred of Phil Collins).
Recently I revisited The Waste Land and once again found myself entranced. But this time certain meanings jumped out at me. It was as if Eliot was speaking to me from the grave. His voice sounded croaky. I realised at once I did not need crib notes or scholarly texts to understand this poem. My new found maturity meant I could at last put away the Children’s Book of Limericks and read and understand this poem- even though it doesn’t rhyme and is ridiculously long.
So please find below my own interpretations of some of the knottier parts of The Waste Land Part 1 (the other parts will follow). Perhaps my interpretations will resonate with you. I give you my permission to share them freely with all you come into contact with. You get maximum “Anything BUT the Weather” points if you share them with a straight face at a social gathering with a literature graduate.
1. The Waste Land as you know begins as follows:-
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Scholars have spent much time interpreting these lines but really they are quite straightforward if you are Welsh. April is the cruellest month because our national flower, the daffodil, starts to die then (they come into bloom in March). Eliot clearly had great sympathies with us dragon lovers (it’s not illegal) for not being able to wear our flower with pride in the month of April. Lilacs may bloom but they are rubbish compared to the good old daffodil. The memory & desire of which he speaks could have been expressed (more eloquently perhaps?) by ” I remember the yellow daffodil, I want a yellow daffodil. Ug.” This is a bleak opening to the poem for those of a Welsh persuasion & it brings a tear to my eye when I read it.
2. And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened.
This is Eliot name dropping pure & simple. Note the fact the archduke reference comes first, then the next line starts with the important words “My cousin”. My response whenever I read these lines is, “So what Eliot, so what?” Eliot is showing off here & it rather undermines his work. He also proves himself to be a bit of a coward by being scared of a sled (wimp). I’m surprised his publishers let him keep this bit in- it does him no credit.
3. for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
Here we can see his depression at his Christmas tree dying (“dead tree”), although why he was trying to shelter in it defies explanation (drunk probably). But the broken images clearly refers to the unwanted Christmas presents that Eliot has smashed in a rage & set fire to (“where the sun beats”). Exhausted he has then sat down to watch a bit of cricket but like so many has found it tedious and boring – it gives him “no relief” (possible sexual subtext here too – maybe he was looking for another channel…?). Never has there been such a strong indictment of the commercialism of Christmas and the sport of cricket (and perhaps the lack of porn on TV at Christmas?) as we find in these lines.
4.And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
It is clear from this that Eliot has a dog called Shadow. This dog liked to follow him in the morning (hoping for breakfast) & would get up out of his bed in the evening to greet him (hoping for dinner). The fear of which Eliot speaks relates to the time in a drunken haze he tried to feed the dog a handful of dust instead of some proper food. The dog bit him.
4. Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards.
A clairvoyant with a bad cold was simply a medium who was acclaimed by the masses for generating a great quantity of green ectoplasm (particularly if she was without a handkerchief). This clairvoyante is the wisest woman in Europe (with a wicked pack of business cards) because she has found a way to make money out of nose excretions (try getting a business loan these days with that in your business plan & you’ll appreciate how hard that must have been).
5. A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
London and commuters. Say no more. I was there the week before last & it’s still the same- albeit with more posters about the bloody Olympics.
6.’That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
‘Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
‘Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Eliot ends Part 1 with yet another botanical reference but shows himself up as an amateur gardener. Corpses will not sprout or bloom after just one year, you’ve got to let them decompose much much longer. But if you’re lucky & in Wales the daffodils that come through the following March will be quite beautiful.
That concludes my analysis of Part 1. Hope you found it useful. There are not many around who will agree with these interpretations of course – but what do they know? Poetry like beauty is in the eye if the beholder!
s means Gross Domestic Product. This sounds like the amount of cleaning materials a country produces (so recession = not enough Fairy Liquid) but better people than me advise it’s the market worth of goods and services produced over a set period (all hail Wikipedia)
4. The decline usually has to be relatively sustained i.e. it doesn’t matter if the country falls short on the odd day & can’t buy coffees for everyone. This has to be a prolonged fall into the abyss (one in which your screams go on for hours and hours). So I also can’t get out of buying coffees in work tomorrow by claiming I’m in a recession. Shame.
5. Less GDP means less money circulating in the country, therefore less money for banks to lend (although bankers took it as a carte blanche to actually lend more – putting it lightly that was misplaced generosity, putting it heavily it was downright irresponsible). Less real money means less businesses starting up or expanding, more cutbacks, a rise in unemployment and generally a feeling panic amongst the whole population leading to an increase in alcohol consumption (a small economic growth area for which we should be thankful but everyone is too bladdered to care).
6. Britain has been in a recession since 2008 so you can imagine what the mood on the street is (clue- not celebratory, unless some royal is getting married in which case out goes common sense and up goes the bunting).
7. During these 4 years we’ve had to witness rises in unemployment, public service cutbacks and redundancies. The government (i.e. we the public) have had to bail out the banks. Senior figure in the banks, however, still pay themselves obscene bonuses. There is no explanation for this other than the UK is on a massive global reality TV show which is trying to find out how far you can push a country before it starts to at least mildly complain. If you’re watching this in another country please let me know- even if you can only do it subtly as she did in the library in The Truman Show.
8. The last period of economic growth was during Tony Blair’s leadership (but that still doesn’t excuse his cheesy grin and all the shenanigans about WMD).
9. We have also now experienced a double dip (I once asked someone if he double dipped and he looked at me aghast. I meant putting a crisp back into a dip after eating a bit. He thought I was prying into his sex life.) The double dip in economic terms is two successive quarters of negative growth. The construction industry is getting the blame for this- but that’s only because they can’t hear the criticism over the sound of their drills so they are easy targets. Increasingly though us ordinary folk are also being blamed. Apparently we’ve not shown enough initiative by starting up our own businesses selling god knows what to god knows who. There is so much wrong with this argument. You can’t start a business with no money. People won’t buy products/services from businesses if they themselves have no money. There is no money.
10. The big question is when will this recession become a depression. Arguably if people are already depressed about it then we’re well on the way. I know I feel pretty down in the mouth – but I have to admit much of that is because the Glee season finale is on next week & then no more Rachel and Finn. And in the meantime the things I want to buy are still too expensive & the things for sale are still the things no one wants and no one has an answer.
Good conversational material. But if it’s all too depressing just stick to petrol – did you know the garage up the road is 5p more expensive per litre than the supermarket 100 miles away. The injustice of it all.