“Work as if you live in the earlier days of a better nation”

Alasdair Grey

All the way through a sunny day’s walking those words rumbled round my head. Quoted earlier on in one of many tweets regretting the death of the great Scottish author and artist. “In the earlier days of a better nation” was the rhythm of my day’s footsteps. Thinking about the work being done by so many of the people I know. Me too, reading, talking and writing about utopianism so much these days. In the earlier days of a better nation? Let’s hope so.

Early in my walking I found the daffodils, which I’d hoped would be exactly where I found them. So I wrote them a poem. There are of course other poems about daffodils, but here’s mine.

Outside, after all of that

Outside, after all of that
That nothing much
That not much light
That nearly dark
Nearly all the time
Outside, at last

In the sun bright morning, first daffodils
Always the first
I always hope
I’ll find them there
In Greenbank Park
Outside, at last, after all of that.

After all the quiet and darkness I’m outside working, in my way. Reading for this PhD I’m doing now. Some Robert Owen, in New Lanark, early co-operatives and the beginnings of socialism. Then Lucy Sargisson on 21st century utopian possibilities. A second reading this, of one of my favourite books. All helped immeasurably by the brightness of the day and therefore a lightness in me.

What with the nature of the reading and the brightness of the morning I felt like I was on holiday. And so went for a mid-morning breakfast, get me, at a café in Lark Lane I’d not visited before, ‘Polidor’ it’s called.

Nice food, friendly people and a good floor. I’m noticing floors at the moment. A phase I’m going through?

Walking on and back into Sefton Park I was thinking about Eleanor Rathbone and getting hold of a pamphlet she once wrote, about family allowances, called ‘Utopia Calling,’ when I came across an earlier member of the family, a William Rathbone. Not the William Rathbone who was Eleanor’s father, or the 18th century abolitionist William, but the William who was the abolitionist’s son. If that’s clear?

A decent person anyway, by the sound of him. From a family with a good record of working as if they were in the earlier days of a better nation. Even if they weren’t that good at thinking up boys names?

More utopian reading.

“A fixed, finite and universal utopia of perfection cannot adequately oppose a fixed, finite and universal capitalist system. Only an understanding of utopia that destroys old perceptions of the genre, transforms them into something new and thus revives utopianism can adequately reflect the concerns, needs and wants of contemporary malcontents. And so, the critical utopia does not blueprint, but rather it privileges social change in progress. It embraces imperfection and uncertainty.

Lucy Sargisson and Tom Moylan

A privilege to be in this glorious place, this public park, reading words like that and calling it work.

But if these are to be the early days of a better nation then the work of creating it involves thinking as well as labour, remember that ‘workers by hand and brain’ stuff? Otherwise we’ll do what we’ve always done and get more of the same?

Walking home along Greenbank Drive I pass by, and think about, allotments.

Because we’re not in the better world yet and too many people are going hungry. So couldn’t we be making better use of these?

“The system we recognise today has its roots in the Nineteenth Century, when land was given over to the labouring poor for the provision of food growing. This measure was desperately needed thanks to the rapid industrialisation of the country and the lack of a welfare state.”

The National Allotment Society

If they were desperately needed then I’d suggest a lot more of them than we have might be a good idea now. For people who might want to grow some of their own food. And might enjoy working a piece of public land for their friends and family. And because allotments are a good idea anyway. While we’re living in the earlier days of a better nation?

Thanks to Morag Rose of the Loiterers Resistance Movement for the Alasdair Grey tweet quotation.

More university reading and thinking here at ‘Field Notes for Utopia’

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place: http://asenseofplace.com.

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  1. Gives me hope Ronnie, these words and these really practical ideas. Makes sense and could so quickly be put into action. Small things growing into bigger things. Happy new year to you and happy new nation!

    1. Thank you Lindsay. I feel very privileged to be doing this, and also that utopianism itself needs this kind of work doing on it. Not just this thinking but also the practical utopian ideas being worked on by so many people in so many places, including here in Liverpool. Big love to you and David and your corner of France for the new decade x

  2. Hello – a happy new year to you and Sarah.

    A couple of echoes while reading this post – in my choir we sing a theme for a better nation – you may not know the song? Link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJ9Vvy7THgc

    Also I think I suggested a visit to New Lanark when you were embarking on your research – it is a really great place – let me know if you are planning a visit I’d love to drive over and meet up with you there – or we could do a trip from here if you are up for a visit.


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