The anaconda, or the hat?

The anaconda swallowed an elephant.

It was, admittedly, a very brown anaconda. Brown like the brown-paper-packages that Julie Andrews liked tied-up-with-string.

I love the concept: a little boy draws a picture of an anaconda that’s swallowed an elephant – but all anyone else sees is a hat.

He’s waiting, waiting, waiting for a soulmate who sees what he sees – but no-one does.

Then he wakes one morning in the Sahara, as you do, after crashing his plane the night before.  A Little Prince appears from nowhere and asks him to draw a sheep – but he can’t quite get it right.

Impatient, the boy draws a box and says the sheep is inside.

Lo! The Little Prince knows that inside that box is just the sheep he wanted.

One of the great (and irritating) things about blogging is that you worry and wrangle and wrestle with ideas and words – and meanings – then click publish, only to have someone trip your opinion switch.

You put your metaphorical hat online and all someone can see is an elephant in an anaconda.

In the light of which, it’s appropriate that I’m re-reading Le Petit Prince for a tangential reason.

I’m writing a book set in late 1970s London. At that time a small restaurant was making a big name for itself. That restaurant was called, Le Petit Prince.

LPP served couscous – something I’d newly discovered, thanks to the man I was tagging-along-a at the time. He’d been wandering the deserts of north Africa and with his return came a couscous habit that needed feeding.

It wasn’t easy to find, couscous, but eventually I discovered a delicatessen selling colourful cardboard boxes of the stuff, imported from Francophone Algeria.

On the back of the box was the memorable instruction:

‘stir to prevent the lumps that could have been occurring’.

It’s not just memories of couscous and putative lumps that my new project’s stirring up. As I worked on the first chapter, troubling pre-teenage memories started floating to the surface. Memories submerged so deeply within my psyche that at first I no longer recognised them – bad memories, from a bad time.

But, out of bad comes good.

Re-reading Le Petit Prince, for one thing. How I wish I could have written it. Almost every page has me sighing, ‘oh yes, so yes’.

Reliving interesting times.

Times when interest rates soared over 15%. When prices had risen every time you went to the shops, but pay was nowhere near keeping up.

When oil producers held the world to ransom.

When there were bitter strikes and angry demonstrations.

When daily life in London was lived with the ever-present threat of IRA bombings. An experience which helped me understand – in a very small way – how it feels to live with unpredictable, unsought, mortal danger.

And I’ve been reading about the people who’ve given (are still giving) their time – and sometimes their freedom – to try to save our world from nuclear annihilation. Members of CND – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

That was then.

The Cold War, the arms race, terrorism, trade wars, industrial unrest, turmoil.

Today we have global financial crises, a different kind of terrorism, a Middle East in foment, climate change threatening the planet – and Ebola.

But what happened to those ‘arms’ in that race?

Britain and the USA have, apparently, been so selective (and weaselly) about fulfilling their obligations under many of the arms limitation agreements they’ve signed that you really can’t take them (us) seriously.

The USA, meanwhile, is committed to ‘Full Spectrum Dominance,’ which is:

‘the ability of US forces … to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the full range of military options.’

‘Options,’ include using land, sea, air – and space.

Yes, the USA is determined to continue as top dog and moral guardian for the world. I can understand why.  And that may be fine – if you always agree with the dog’s morals.

Call me a pessimist, but morals can be eroded, warped, suspended – sometimes with the best of intentions. Or perhaps as a side-effect of a rather aggressive approach to the concept of a ‘free’ market?

Our world is fragile. Distance is irrelevant. Even the biggest, strongest, toughest army and the widest, deepest oceans can’t protect the USA, no matter how dominant, from some things. Like climate change.

Like Ebola.

How it is that a nation can spend fortunes defending itself against possible war – with a missile defence system straight out of science fiction – yet get it so wrong on handling one person with a terrible disease?

At times I feel the old anger.

The unmanned spacecraft that landed the other day – what was it doing, circling the earth? Ensuring full spectrum dominance in space?

Europe’s destined to be ‘collateral damage’ on a vast scale if the USA ever engages in a nuclear confrontation. We’re their ‘theater’ of war.

Nuclear trip wires – missiles – are set in countries like Germany, Italy and Turkey with the aim, presumably, of destroying potential aggressors before they can nuke the only nation that matters.

Nuclear winter is one possible outcome of a big nuclear battle. That wouldn’t spare the USA, no matter how far from the ‘theater’ it is, but I take no comfort in that.

I’m trying to write this book quickly, before any more demons crawl out of my sub-cortex. I can feel them wriggling. I hope it’s not too late.

Too late for what? You may well ask.

I don’t know – that rather depends on whether you see a hat, or an anaconda.

anaconda or hat

Photographed from my 1979 Gallimard Folio Junior edition, originally published 1943. The author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, vanished in July 1944 after flying on a wartime mission out of Corsica.




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6 Responses to The anaconda, or the hat?

  1. mud4fun says:

    America is a young country and behaves like a teenager believing their opinion to be the correct one and everybody else to be in the wrong. They will grow up eventually and start to appreciate that life is never as black and white as it seemed when we were younger. Learning to tolerate, understand and respect different cultures and opinions comes with age.

    It was only two hundred years or so ago that Great Britain had the largest miltary force in the world, equipped with every technological advance of the age at great cost to the taxpayer. We threatened and went to war with just about anybody we disagreed with, believing that our military might would allow us to force our beliefs on others which we did for at least a hundred years. In those days the military theatres were in many other countries around the world not our own so the modern USA is no worse than we were back then.

    Eventually our power and status in the world declined after costly defeats or territory losses in several wars starting with the American war of Independence in 1775, through the conflicts with the USA in 1812 and finally losing virtually all our power by 1945. I see the exact same thing happening with the USA (as it did with the USSR) and their decline will probably far quicker due to the rapid growth of economies in Asia and the far east that will surpass the USA in only a few short decades. In my view the USA gives me little to worry about. I do however fear for a future where countries with far more extreme and radical governments and populations become a world dominating power.

    As for Ebola, after reading a little bit about it, it would seem to me that the media has done its usual poor research and exageration, ignoring the facts and not applying any perspective to its arguments. Yes, it is a very nasty virus and has killed lots of people. However to put it in perspective Ebola mainly affects a tiny part of Africa, has killed just 2500 people worldwide and is already showing signs of being under control. In comparison Flu kills as many as 25000 people every year in the UK and yet is rarely mentioned in the media and Malaria kills over a million people a year worldwide. The media do like to over-hype these things as though they would actually enjoy a new black death. I remember it was ‘AIDS’ would kill us all, then more recently Bird Flu and now Ebola so I remain sceptical. Sure, apply some basic common sense and take measures to minimise risk but we don’t want to see oppressive travel restrictions brought in by governments in a knee jerk reaction.

    In some ways I believe that nature is simply trying to redress the balance and will send us humans ever more virulent strains to counter our medicine and meddling. The world is grossly over populated by humans and unless governments start to reduce the population growth I feel sure Mother Nature will do it for us. However I’m sure that is a view not shared by many! 😉


    • I don’t disagree (how weaselly is that) with anything you say really, and have been known to mumble about ‘decreasing the surplus population’ in a nicer-more-humane-than-Scrooge manner, BUT …
      What you don’t say is that while Rome and Greece and Britain may have behaved in the same way as the US does now (and possibly China or India or hopefully not a few other places next) it was with armies and weapons that were not a patch on nuclear. And the USSR’s decline was in large part down to the ridiculous amounts it spent on arms to the detriment of its people’s welfare. But it’s a complicated picture – isn’t everything? I can’t judge whether it’s better to maintain a deterrent nuclear capability or not, I don’t know enough, although I suspect as long as humans are humans war is inevitable, but I do know that I don’t want to be the theater or theatre of war for a nuclear war – end of! And who’s to say the US might not become radical if things start going pear-shaped for them? Think of the reaction to 9/11.
      As for population growth, a lot of the children born in the less-developed parts of the world are born as insurance policies for their parents as so many children die under the age of 5. I’ve seen how having an adequate income and a settled home and job and access to healthcare affects younger couples in the areas of Zambia I visit – family planning starts to happen. But global population is not the only issue, is it? We affluent countries eat too much and waste too much and eat too much meat etc etc. I agree completely about Ebola and was not for a moment suggesting it warrants the hysterical behaviour at home in rich countries that it gets – I was just trying to point out the discrepancy between protecting your own inhabitants from a nuclear war that may never happen but not from a little virus… I do agree that the reaction to Ebola in the past has been typical of the reaction of the rich world to diseases that it, by and large, does not have to worry about too much – until, like Aids/HIV they break through the Africa barrier. Because there’s no money in it no real defence against these frightening big killer is developed until they threaten ‘us’. Malaria, TB (I’m a big fan of TB Alert’s work) HIV/Aids and plain old diarrhoea etc are some of the real demons – here are some stats that were on IFL Science (I won’t spell that out in full!) – estimates based on WHO data for deaths in Africa since March (when current Ebola ‘outbreak’ began);
      HIV/Aids 620k
      Malaria 320k
      Hunger 203k
      TB 124k
      Syphilis 26k
      Ebola 4.5k.

      Hunger? Shocking. Maybe we should discuss genetic modification of food crops next! Having an in-house archaeologist means I have a very rational approach to the theory – think domestication and wheat and corn – just problems with the application.. 😉


      • mud4fun says:

        I don’t think there will be a specific theatre of war with a Nuclear attack. The whole planet will be the theatre and everybody on the planet will be affected including those firing the missiles. The UK has nukes so is already a primary target regardless of what the US do. I am also unsure as to whether having a nuclear deterrant makes any difference. It may have done in the past when our opponents were of similar culture and those with their fingers on the button had similar motivations (financial greed and political power) but I do not believe our future opponents will believe in the same things.

        It is almost certainly the case that extremist organisations are at this moment working on nuclear weapons. It would be naive to think otherwise. These people have very different motivations and there are none of the usual restraints applicable that keep the current nuclear capable governments from firing their missiles. If for example IS managed to develop a nuclear missile they will launch it for nothing more than the glory it brings them even if that glory is only to be enjoyed in the afterlife. They do not care how many die including their own peoples or themselves. Their motivation is entirely alien to any normal westernised mindset. So in my view killer deseases, climate change or famine are all minor problems compared with the global threat posed by a handful of extremists.

        Military history teaches us that it is only a matter of time before our opponent gains the same level of weapon technology as us. The more that IS can continue to cause us to expend lives in dealing with them the faster the public will grow weary of funding war and the politicians will have to curtail our involvement with such conflicts. Once this happens IS and the like will be free to develop their weapons. This has happened on numerous occassions in the past with the British, French and Spanish all losing wars and territory because their public no longer wanted to fund them. If memory serves me correctly the French revolution happened because the french public got fed up of their government taking them to war and bankrupting the country. The USA would not exist today if it wasn’t for the French helping them defeat the British and yet France gained nothing from that war other than massive debt for its people and the enjoyment of seeing us defeated ;-). After that the french people capped the spending and France never again had a military force to match our own. I fear that extremists are using a strategy that is designed to weaken public support for war, stretch our forces to the limits over multiple theatres of war and at the same time give them the time they need to develop the nuclear weapons.


        • And I thought I was a pessimist! I can’t really say much in response other than – I can see it is one way things might go, but I hope sense will prevail. The book I’m writing might be to your taste if it ever sees the light of published day – far from optimistic. As for blogging – I might take a breather before turning to genetically modified crops or Default Male! And peruse ‘Which?’ as I contemplate the possibility of buying a new motor vehicle 🙂


  2. mud4fun says:

    “And I thought I was a pessimist!”

    LOL, I don’t think I’m a pessimist, just being realistic – it is a male thing 😉 😉

    reasoning: It is unlikely that the USA will invoke a nuclear war within the next decade, global warming doesn’t actually exist as the planets temperature has remained static for over a decade (although I firmly believe in climate change) and it is also unlikely that any specific desease will have any serious effect on human population growth any time soon. Whereas it is an almost certainty that extremists will have weapons of mass destruction within the next decade or two.

    None of it really bothers me too much, what will be will be. What concerns me really is what motivates these extremists. I just can’t fathom their motives and it troubles my logical mind!

    Best of luck with the new car search.


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