Sunday, 22 June 2014

'Colouring in-between the lines'- Part 5: 'Brown' Earth

'All Geographers do is colour in'....'Geographer's love Crayola'...'It's all about the colouring pencils'....
In a five part series, exclusively for Geography with Dan, Daniel discusses how colour should be treated seriously within the subject. Each week, he selects a colour that helps to shape the planet we live on today, and studies that colour from a distinctively geographical perspective.
In this the final part of the series, he focuses on all things Brown and argues that this colour is instrumental for a subject such as Geography.

I hope, if anything, this series has enlightened those who have for so many years considered the subject of Geography to merely bobble up and down on the surface of philosophical thought and instead realise that it is an active study immersed with deep meanings and complex ideas. For those who regard Geography to be nothing more than simply being able to locate the nearest tube station or a study where flags are learned by rote, it is because we live in a world of stereotypes. We sketch and fix our expectations upon everything. Geography has always had a stereotyped reputation of being slightly inferior to others, but perhaps this requirement to stereotype- our compulsion to label and to categorise- is how we make meaning of the planet we live on. In other words, perhaps Geography is stereotyping the planet.

Preferably, one might replace 'stereotyping' with 'constructing meaning'. After all, we do not live in a world of colour; colour is just one of the tools that we use to construct meaning about the planet. If we consider, for example, the colour of brown and items associated with that colour, we may list a few commonalities between them. 'Rustic', 'natural', 'earthy' to name but a few, and yet it is clear from other editions in this series, that other colours also represent a certain naturalness. The greenness of the rainforests, the yellowness of a field of rapeseed, the apparent blueness of our oceans; they all radiate a certain degree of organic natural beauty, and yet how odd it would be if soil were to be yellow, or blue or green. Here we stumble upon the complexities of the human mind.

I'm currently staring at all of the brown-coloured objects in my office. The desk I am sitting at, my little wooden keepsake box, the cupboard doors; everything that is brown seems to share a common life history. That is, these items have been constructed from entities that had previously lived, entities that we sacrificed for our own human comfort. Living trees, now unrecognisable, after hard labour and craftsmanship. It is peculiar, therefore, that we associate brown with life and naturalness when in reality, many of the brown objects in our households and workplaces are indeed dead wood.


There's yet another complexity regarding brown, or the sense of brownness in our lives and that is the reinforced idea that brown is a boring colour, and associated brown entities are similarly quite dull. Take soil, for an example. A Pedologist's dream, but for many of us, it inspires fatigue. But in consideration, how can soil be boring? It may not boast exhilaration nor does it provoke thrill, but it is perhaps the most important ingredient on Earth. Let us consider the endless array of activities and articles that require soil for their function or origin. The World Cup is greatly reliant on grass, but even grass is dependent on that fundamental unit of soil. Our furniture may be wooden, but it is wood carved up from trees which were once extensively entrenched within the soil. In fact, trees themselves are paramount for the oxygen we inhale, and are similarly essential in extracting the Carbon Dioxide waste product we exhale, but so often forgotten is the elemental necessity of the soil. Suddenly, brown earthy soil doesn't sound so dull and substandard. Or perhaps it still does.


Perhaps soil will never capture our imagination, despite the fact it is necessary for our own existence. Quite possibly it is down to our capitalist attitudes towards life; if it produces an income, if it has material qualities, then it can arouse our curiosity and feed some interest into our lives. Soil has never sold records, it has never played football, it has never looked good on the front cover of any magazine (bar, Gardener's World, perhaps) and as a consequence, it has never been of substantial interest to us.

That maybe a small but subtle clue as to why Geography receives such poor publicity; the fact that, on the surface, it doesn't seem to do anything for us. It doesn't appear to have impact upon our daily lives; the kind of influences that Physics, Chemistry and Biology seem to boast. However, I would argue that the fault is entirely our own. We have exchanged our capacity for deep thought with the internet, ironically the very medium I am presenting this to you now. We have traded self contemplation with technological innovation. Associating the colours of our world with deep meanings is something, perhaps, that doesn't instinctively emerge in our conscience primarily because it isn't something that we as a generation, slaves to our cars and iPods, are not programmed to immediately consider.

So the next time you take the dog for the walk, or drive to work, take a minute to contemplate just how wonderfully colourful the world really is. It may not add any speed to your journey, but it may uplift you to know that you're part of it; you're in it. This is our home.   

Sunday, 15 June 2014

'Colouring in-between the lines'- Part 4: 'Yellow' Earth

'All Geographers do is colour in'....'Geographer's love Crayola'...'It's all about the colouring pencils'....
In a five part series, exclusively for Geography with Dan, Daniel discusses how colour should be treated seriously within the subject. Each week, he selects a colour that helps to shape the planet we live on today, and studies that colour from a distinctively geographical perspective.
This week, he focuses on all things Yellow and argues that this colour is instrumental for a subject such as Geography.

This series over the last few weeks has sought to convince those who consider Geography to be 'that subject where you learn about cities and places', that it is instead, deeply multifaceted. For too long, Geography has been seen as a subject that takes place within the confines of the classroom; that its content is constructed around the building blocks of the national curriculum. I have argued in the past, and will persist here that Geography should not be treated as an academic discipline, but a subconscious approach to the planet in which we inhabit; the way in which humans engage with the world in their everyday lives. Our identities are composed in and as a result of different places; the subtle choices we make in terms of the way we perform ourselves all have distinct relationships back to our position in the world. Geography, therefore, is that fluid matrix in between other subjects; the relations between History and Chemistry, or between Psychology and Art can be explained through a geographical methodology.
It's a subject that at the very least stretches beyond cartography: the construction of maps. We study the world everyday; when we travel to work, when we gaze out of the office window, on our way back home. Parked in a rush hour can excite the imagination; we begin to think about a forthcoming holiday or one just past. We are edging a few inches a minute along a seemingly incessant motorway, but in our imagination, we are someplace else. Sometimes, and perhaps the gift of the human mind, is the fact that we can imagine a place in the finest of detail, even if we have never physically been there. Our emotions, thoughts and feelings- our human imagination- form a substantial element in our understanding of our planet.
An appreciation of colour within our world is, similarly, one that you'll never find within a geography textbook, but at the same time, so emphatically important in the way we shape meanings about the planet on which we live. Certain colours, such as those already discussed in this series, are more obviously geographical; green and blue, perhaps, fall into this category. Other colours such as red are less palpable, but still uphold symbology within the world; we still apply meanings to them. Most of us would admit to having a favourite colour; a tint we would select, if ever one had to be saved. For me, it's yellow. There's nothing distinctly geographical about my love for the colour yellow; it's a vibrant colour, almost electric in its luminosity and has the amazing capacity to transform my mood from a morose despondency to one of bliss and contentment. In some ways, however, it's entirely geographical. The fact that a certain place, landscape or landmark, can transform someone's emotions around is testament to the effect that the planet can have on us.
Perhaps why I prefer yellow so much is the scarcity of the colour in our landscape. It isn't one that you naturally pass everyday; it isn't as universally widespread as, perhaps, green is. (Another name for a village green is a common after all). The infrequency of yellow in our lives keeps it a refreshing shade and continues to provoke a bout of delight within me, whenever I catch sight of it.

From where I grew up- the Norfolk countryside- patches of the landscape are annually knitted with a strong yellow, when farmers grow rapeseed. Every so often, the monotonous green that flourishes so much through our county's farmland, is punctuated by an arresting glow of yellow; it's flamboyancy almost yelling out at you. (No wonder, because after all: half of the word 'yellow' is 'yell').  However pulsating a field of yellow is to the passer-by, there's a simultaneous serenity enwrapped within. If you take a deckchair and park yourself beside a field of Rapeseed, you'll discover that although the colour is arresting, the field symbolises one of the last areas of tranquillity; a site not yet conquered by the hand of man. An area yet to be vanquished by the property developer. Compared to any urban jungle, this is one of the final segments of our country's jigsaw where one can still find equanimity; one of the few spots to soak up stillness.
If you have ever been lucky enough to grow Daffodils in your garden, you will equally know about how the arrival of those delicate yellow petals in Spring gives off a sense of anticipation for the year ahead. The blossoming of Daffs' mark a conclusion in what always seems an endless winter. In this way, yellow inspires a slightly different dish of emotions inside us;  yellow breathes prospect and optimism into us, especially when the mornings are still damp and ominous. Note with me how a colour such as yellow within our landscape can even oppress the seasons; the early stages of Spring maybe relatively dull, but combating such a mood is the vivid zing of yellowness.
For many of us, however (and particularly at present), yellowness manifests itself in something more alluring than a bed of Daffs' or a field of Rapeseed. Indeed, for millions of us, the promise of yellow sands and warm transparent waters is something that draws us to places far away.  As attractive and botanically interesting pebble-based beaches can sometimes prove to be, there's just that element missing from them; that critical yellowness which denotes a sandy beach and grants families with an infinite array of possibles when it comes to beach activities. From the classic sandcastle modelling, to Frisbee and other sport-related pursuits exercised across the bounty of beaches around the globe, our coastline environment is extremely important for the economy. Perhaps, the elemental placing of golden/yellow sands and turquoise/blue waters together is the secret to the beach's popularity. Here, however, yellow isn't about the anticipation necessarily which transpires from the Daffodils, neither is it a source of surprise like the Rapeseed. The yellowness, alternatively, that positively oozes from our sandy beaches brings together a whole cauldron of sentiments. For me, the beach reminds me of holidays from yesteryear, but also of summers yet to come. It also indicates a place of unreserved relaxation; a space of contemplation. A paradise, I suppose. There's little in the way of questions, therefore, why yellow seems to be my number one colour.


Sunday, 8 June 2014

'Colouring In-Between the Lines'- Part 3: 'Blue' Earth

'All Geographers do is colour in'....'Geographer's love Crayola'...'It's all about the colouring pencils'....
In a five part series, exclusively for Geography with Dan, Daniel discusses how colour should be treated seriously within the subject. Each week, he selects a colour that helps to shape the planet we live on today, and studies that colour from a distinctively geographical perspective.
This week, he focuses on all things Blue and argues that this colour is instrumental for a subject such as Geography.
It is increasingly becoming apparent that we are living in a state of almighty flux. Aside from the clear technological innovation, and an augmentation in our viral and virtual communication, there is a notion that we as a species are becoming busier. If the political project of the late 20th century was one of ephermeralisation- the goal of achieving more with less- then the century in which we live is almost certainly about interconnecting ourselves with distanciated others, around the world. It's about launching ourselves into a virtual cyberspace; our tweets and status updates entangled within the manageable chaos we choose to call the 'internet'. Nearly all of us everyday depart the structure and security of this Earth to lose ourselves within the dizzy heights (and breadths) of the 'world wide web'; indeed, what I am noticing is that our devotion towards Facebook and Twitter symbolises an escape; a chance to flee this world of ours to attend one more extraordinary.
Children from a troublingly early age these days are becoming vacuumed from Earth to take their place in this apparently more attractive virtual world, so it's no wonder why we are simultaneously becoming disengaged from Earth's natural beauty; no surprise why we have unleashed our grasp on our planet. A magpie's tweets, compared to those from our idol celebrities, are not worth the time of day. We succumb to the entrancing powers of social media, allured by its diversity, enticed by its ability, captivated by its design. As a nation, perhaps we have forgotten this wonderful planet that we all share.
The unsettling truth of it all is the fact that social media is about the largest exhibit of artificiality we have; a world (or perhaps a universe) apart from the natural beauty, the natural splendour and the untamed bounty of our rural nation. Quite possibly, the most beguiling verity is the fact that man has not got the answer to some of the most intriguing questions about this Earth and its process, so why therefore do we choose to ignore them and shift the core of our focus towards our message box; our 'profile page'; our 'notifications'?
However, it could be argued that this clear disregard for the planet in which we live- our burning desire to go someplace else- is not a recent item on our agenda as human beings. Consider, for example, the Apollo missions of the 1960s; our urgency in sending man to the Moon, and yet it could be argued that one of the greatest successes of any space mission is the way in which such forced distancing from the Earth can make us appreciate it more; can make us rekindle our love of it. When we are diverged from something it can, to some extent, renew our vows and revive our passion for it. In short, home sickness.

It was during that space mission, that we not only achieved images of the Moon, but some of Earth too; indeed, one very iconic photo that has manifest itself across the globe since. Labelled the 'Blue Marble', it's a photograph that stirs the emotions, particularly because of its seemingly static nature. There it is. There is our home afloat in the cosmos, drifting on its voyage through space. Since then- since the production of the 'Blue Marble'- I think we have witnessed a dramatic transformation in the way that we represent the planet. If social media takes advantage of anything, it is the way that countries across the world are becoming more concomitant. In a world that is forever changing, there is an air of constancy; the tentacles of our simultaneity are physically binding and keeping the Earth 'marble-like'.
I think it's no surprise, therefore, that we used the label 'marble'; a representation of Earth's impenetrable nature, even in times of planetary-scale changes. Perhaps, it's even more interesting to see that colour is also incorporated into it. In an age of industrialisation, we have selflessly chosen to describe it by something natural; the pure and unprocessed hue of blue which, after all, covers three-quarters of Earth in the form of our seas and oceans.
Having said this, there is a major inaccuracy with calling this the 'Blue Planet'. After all, if you take a cup, walk to your nearest ocean (some of you might need to drive) and fill it with water, you will clearly observe that the ocean is not blue at all. And yet, 75% of Earth we consider being blue. As a nation of sunbathers, beach fanatics and tan-wannabes, we seek out and travel hundreds of miles for blue sky, and yet never consider the fact that the sky is a void, unable to be tinted.

Just like the name 'Blue Marble', we see blueness in our seas and skies, or perhaps more accurately put, we see the lack of any other colour from these entities. But so accentuated the idea of blue sky is in our society, that I think some of us sometimes forget that there is nothing blue at all about our atmosphere. It is, like so many things, one of those representations of the planet, excessively used and now drilled into the very core of our understanding. If you don't believe me, consider for a minute what the world would look like if our oceans could be seen in their actual translucent property. How eerie a sight would be; how unnatural?

And still our misperceptions- tragic misunderstandings about our own home- are forever exposed. Those who consider the sky to be blue would quite likely describe a glacial environment 'white'. A monotonous whiteness that sweeps across in panoramic fashion, and yet glaciers rarely appear white, but blue. As snow is compressed into the glacial ice, so air bubbles are trapped and squeezed out. Just like the ocean, the presence of blueness is down to the Oxygen-Hydrogen bond in the water that absorbs light; in other words, glaciers appear blue, but are in reality clear. After all, how many times have you seen blue ice cubes served in drinks at your local pub? Having de-mystified the blueness, it would be equally inaccurate to say glaciers were white. Water is not white, so ice can't be either.

If the world is essentially not blue, then why the 'Blue Marble’? Why submit to such an inaccuracy? Perhaps it comes down to our detachment away from the Earth. So distanced we are in a world of virtual reality, that we only see the Earth, instead of understanding it. Interestingly enough, social media is often formatted upon a blue background, as scientists have concluded that we are likely to retain attention to something that is blue. If only we had more time for the Blue Marble too? Perhaps if we called it ‘hashtag Marble’ instead?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

'Colouring in between the lines'- Part 2: 'Red' Earth

'All Geographers do is colour in'....'Geographer's love Crayola'...'It's all about the colouring pencils'....
In a five part series, exclusively for Geography with Dan, Daniel discusses how colour should be treated seriously within the subject. Each week, he selects a colour that helps to shape the planet we live on today, and studies that colour from a distinctively geographical perspective.
This week, he focuses on all things Red and argues that this colour is instrumental for a subject such as Geography.


There's a bright, yet dispiriting light intermittently flashing on my computer mouse beside me, reminding me that its days of service for me are limited. A similar warning symbol is displayed on my digital camera screen too; a testament, if nothing else, at how appalling I am at monitoring battery life. At least I can rely on the warning lights to alert me as to when I should find my chargers. Those red warning lights.

"Red light spells danger..." as Billy Ocean famously sang, although I'm unsure if I agree. After all, let us consider the red lights that confront us on Planet Earth. The red lights which forewarn battery death do not necessarily cause danger; quite the opposite in fact. They alert us that some action is required of us to replace the said batteries or, in my case, re-charge them. The top bulb on a set of traffic lights or a car's rear breaking lights are there for reasons of safety and security rather than to implant a sense of inevitable doom into our lives. The speckles of red lights that cluster on the tops of buildings are of great use to pilots and the like; they don't spell insurmountable peril, but rather prevent it.

There is, however, a case to be made that red and redness infuses a sense of completion, expiration and extremity. The end to a battery's life; the cessation to a stretch of driving; the very tip of a building; maximum speed on a speedometer; a red card in a football match. It's fascinating to consider that these principals- the fundamental idea of red denoting termination and extremity- is almost instinctive to us. After all, which lesson at school was devoted to colour symbology? (Perhaps that's on the curriculum now?)

So how do we know that red light spells expiration? I would argue that the answer, or at least the clues, can be found in Earth's natural phenomena. When our long summer days are completed, our woodlands undergo a spectacular metamorphosis; lush and leafy green foliage transforms into crisp autumnally red articles that depart their aerial position and float gracefully down to a welcoming blanket of further redness below. It's a sight to warm the heart, and I often enjoy ambling through my local woodlands during October, listening to the crunch and crisp that nature's red carpet provides.

Anyone that has marvelled at a sunrise or witnessed a sunset will note about the palette of dark reds and light reds which are interspersed within the tints of gold and the tones of orange, and once again, they collectively celebrate the end of a day cycle or a night cycle. The sunset marks the end of the day shift for some; the end of guiltless back garden sunbathing for others. For plants, the end of photosynthesis; for nocturnal fauna, the end (hopefully) of a good sleep. There is, then, a symbolic colour that manifests through nature's body clock; an unmistakable redness in our landscape.

Perhaps, it doesn't just exemplify completion or termination. How many times have you been sitting in your car waiting for the lights to change from red to green and silently contemplated over your day; your week; your life? How many times has a walk through your red autumnal forests sparked memories of a summer spent? How many times has a sunset triggered a moment of deep reflection? I may argue therefore that Earth's 'redness' elicits a sense of profound meditation in all of us. If contemplation had to be coloured, perhaps it would be red; we express our emotions through redness. A rose on Valentine's Day. A poppy when we remember the fallen. Red faces upon embarrassment or anger.
For those within the UK, red has become embraced and incorporated into the very texture of our nationalism. The red London bus, the red letterbox, the red telephone box; if any colour was to exhibit British culture and British nationalism, I would argue that red would be the successful applicant. From the BBC logo to the English flag and Red Nose Day, a trail of redness swarms around our villages, towns and cities in immeasurable volumes; our national pride, although diminishing in the face of globalisation, is sustained within the very redness of our urban environment.

But that very association- the intangible links between nationalism and redness- is one that is imagined; indeed, the very idea of a nation is imagined. Benedict Anderson famously wrote in 1973 that individuals construct the concept of a society; an 'imagined community' composed of a group who share common heritage, common views; common identity and affiliation to a particular nation. Likewise, our association between redness and nationalism is one deeply set in the core of our own imagination. It's so deeply embedded into our culture, that it appears permanent and irreversible. The truth is, all it comes down to is a whirring mix of chemicals and hormones inside our minds.

So if it isn't fixed- if these geographical discourses on colour are mere emotion, thought and feeling- why study them so intensively? Well, Geography's pivotal agenda according to Bonnett (2008) is to "find and impose meaning into a seemingly chaotic world" and most of those meanings are ones that reside inside our mind. Man's greatest theories stem from mere ideas; our greatest landmarks inspire emotions; our finest landscapes stir and excite our imaginations. Places remind us of memories; sometimes of our darkest hours, sometimes of our highest achievements. Places spark curiosity, they initiate fears; they propagate hope. Colours such as red, when they do appear either on the leaves of our trees, or behind the clouds of our dusk-lit skies, remind us of the sheer presence and vitality of the world in which we live. A planet that through intricate connections with our emotions, thoughts and feelings, is one that we have settled to call 'home'.