Sunday, 1 January 2017

And The Wheels Keep Turning

So the clock ticks over and another year begins. I am at work. My apathy is tangible. No new year’s resolutions for me, no grandiose promises to keep. I’m just going to keep doing more of the same and try to be less of the things I dislike about myself. You see, I feel no need for reinvention, there isn’t much I want to change. Sure I want to be a better husband, a better Dad, a better colleague, but surely I should want those things anyway. Perhaps a day will come when I need to make such bold declarations, but today is not this day. I take my existence in little bite sized chunks, taking nothing for granted and trying to take enjoyment in the small things. I’m passionate about continuing to deepen my relationship with Joy, and the journey we are on has been amazing. After all this time, all these years we are still looking to make our level of connection better. She has been such a positive force in my life, helping me to better understand myself, to accept myself, and her ability to bring out the better angels of my nature speaks volumes for her. She understands me, and does so in a way that connects us in ways that continue to amaze me. It’s rare in life to be so fortunate, but then this is not about luck. It’s about being intentional, about wanting to see another person flourish and to find full acceptance. It always saddens me when I hear couples who have been together for years speaking negatively about each other, sniping and bemoaning. Why do that? Why pour acid over something that plays such a pivotal role in your existence. God it sounds such a cliché, but if we could all just be a little braver when it comes to our relationships, a bit more willing to understand, to engage, to dissolve those barriers of fear that I’m convinced have hamstrung so many couples down the years. Be honest, be brave. With yourself firstly, but also with those whom share the same space. I can honestly say that I want Joy to experience full happiness and contentment. I never want to put barriers in her way that compromise this. Why would I? If she has passions I want her to pursue them. If she has interests and hobbies I want her to indulge them. She gives a lot to other people, and even more to our girls, so when it comes to us I take the view that it should be a safe space to be who she wants to be. I’m no relationship guru, and I’m perhaps the least perfect person that I know, but I figure that so long as I bring good intentions to the table then that at least gives a baseline starting point for something good.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Me And My Fucking Balloon

2016 is the year when I've learned more than I would have wanted to about limitations. My limitations. It hasn't been easy. Those unfortunate enough to have spent time in my company cannot fail to have seen that physically I haven't been great. I've learnt a hard lesson about the dangers of altruism. I should probably explain. Approximately 3 years ago I was diagnosed with arthritis, and placed on medication that controlled the condition one hundred percent. One of the trade offs was that it meant I had to stop giving blood. I've hated this. I'm passionate about donating and have been following the vampire vans for years. As such, and taking into account that I was symptom free I set sail towards a goal of reducing the tablets to the point where I could get back to donating. From 2000 milligrams, I reduced to 1500, 1000, 500. The process took 18 months and I did so without adverse effect. Further to a discussion with my rheumatology consultant late 2015 we decided that I should try to see if I could live unmedicated, because if I could I would be able to donate again. Long story short, I ceased taking medication late February 2016, and for two months I was doing ok. Only in April I began to notice warmth and swelling in my left knee, a familiar stiffness that gradually increased in severity. I was philosophical, contacting my GP and asking if I could resume taking the tablets. I kind of admitted defeat, and just assumed that if I went back on the meds then all would be well. I had no idea that as the joint became increasingly inflamed it was putting critical pressure on the back of the knee itself. I'd simply assumed that things would settle down in due course. July 2016 was to provide all kinds of fun, not least when I experienced what is known as a Baker's Cyst,which decided to rupture, sending huge volumes of fluid down my calf and into my ankle. The lower leg and ankle inflated to twice the normal size, whilst also causing significant internal damage to an already very badly damaged knee. The result was that there were some days when I could barely walk. Days when routine tasks became stupid wars of attrition. Steroid injections combined with a huge increase in the dosage of the meds have resulted in very limited improvement, and there's no real evidence of any positive change. The medication that had me symptom free before no longer works. This means I'm having to lead a heavily restricted lifestyle. Long walks on one day can render me practically disabled for days after. Stairs are a unique challenge, whilst doing anything more than a slow walk is a bridge too far. So I'm having to learn to live within certain limitations, which isn't a road I've travelled before. I'm having to compromise, to weigh and measure what I can and cannot do on any given day. The condition impacts my sleep, my mobility, and on occasion even my capacity to drive. Add to this a neck problem which has similar costs then as you can imagine this year has worn me down. All of which is to say that if I've seemed a bit sniffy when we've crossed paths then I'm genuinely sorry. I'm probably just a little fatigued, a bit worn down by it all. I'm having to recalibrate on many levels, and I'm keen to arrive at a place when I stop craving the old certainties and begin thinking in terms of new horizons. I'm trying to remind myself of all the things I can do rather than bemoan what I cannot. Long term conditions require a steadfast mindset, an inner resilience, and on the really bad days just plain guts. This bastard condition isn't going to define me. I'm going to do the balloon thing. You know? When you try to squeeze one curve of the surface another curvature surges out. That's going to be me. I'm going to be a fucking balloon. Just you watch me.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Over Sensitive Little Flowers

What we are seeing this year, be it Trump or Brexit, is not only a rejection of the mainstream, it's a rejection of the climate of political correctness and risk averse mentality that makes every controversial topic out of bounds. God forbid a person should be critical of Islam, or aggressive feminism, or dare to make a joke of a sexist or racist nature. You might hurt someone's feelings! You might send them into spasm. Quick, get them to a safe space and get out the smelling salts.
Fuck you. Quite simply, fuck you. If you genuinely cannot tell the difference between bonafide racism or sexism then you are quite simply a colossal cunt. And a fairly dim one, too. And worse, you actually piss all over the graves of the enlightened campaigners of free speech that fought so hard, and whom often paid in blood, Just so vacuous little nothings like you can enjoy the freedoms you are now so intent on curtailing. People, we have existing laws on hate speech, and broadly speaking they work. We don't need some pre pubescent college graduate going ballistic every time someone makes a statement that might cause offence. On many US college campuses there is now such a culture of fear, and such enthusiasm for shutting down difficult debates that people are too afraid to have important discussions on issues that pose genuine societal challenges. It's obscene. It's cowardly. So don't be surprised when Bufoons like Trump rise to power. For all his inadequacies he dared to verbalize the concerns of a silent majority. He tapped into genuine threads of concern and successfully ripped the liberal elite a proverbial new one. If Clinton had been more courageous, and less risk adverse I do not think the world would have found itself in this ridiculous situation. We truly have created a monster, and we've only ourselves to blame. We need to have these difficult and awkward discussions about race and gender and religion. We need to push back against this climate of politically correct non thinking. We need to be confrontational. Confrontational in the right way. And if a few insensitive little flowers become perturbed during the process then I don't care. They can go do one. Perhaps they could spend a little time reflecting on their own fragility, their own glass egos. Or to put it plainly, they could simply grow a pair. If, upon reading this you are offended, then I'd like you to know that I'm entirely indifferent to your indignation. Your soft underbelly isn't my problem. I'm not here to appease you, or to give you a safe space.
The world isn't a safe space. And thank God it isn't. It's a seething swarm of risks and threats, and to lack the balls to confront this simply makes the problem worse. Grow up, look outward. Or just get out of my way.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

10 Years On

It is almost 10 years since I abandoned religious belief. The time since has been a story of intellectual recovery, of reviewing much of what I previously held to be true about reality. I can honestly say that despite the loss of several close friendships, I do not regret taking the hard road rather than the easy one. I have been on a journey, a voyage of the mind and I have visited realms previously alien to me. I consider myself a freethinker, an atheist, and remain critical of the value of religious belief. I genuinely hold that it hinders more than helps, stultifies more than it advances, and I worry that it continues to hold humanity captive to notions and modes of behaviour that we should have jettisoned a long time ago. Take morality for example. Morality isn’t complicated in its basic form. If you want to lead a moral life then you need do little more than seek to minimise harm. Seek not to harm others, and see how far that gets you. You’ll be surprised. Religion, I put to you, is good for absolutely nothing. The central claims of all religions are largely nonsensical and disproving the pitiful claims of Islam or Christianity is trivially easy. Better instead to stand with a free mind and appraise this remarkable vista we call existence. Taste it, reflect upon it, be open to the myriad experiences this life offers you. Don’t be held captive by turgid ancient ideology, but plough your own furrow and live a life of experiment and open mindedness. Belief in God is absurd. It is pure Monty Python. Other than making the concept of death more palatable I really cannot for the life of me see what it brings. The amount of time people commit to it continues to leave me open mouthed. And if you want to tell me that sans religion we would have no basis to be good, then I suggest that holding such view says something quite unpleasant about you. I don’t think for a second that the average believer would go on a rampage if they woke up tomorrow faithless. They would probably continue to live broadly similar lives, and if they did suddenly undertake a Viking style rampage of raping and pillaging then I’d have to suspect that they were only reigning it in to begin with. Oh to be sure I am more blunt these days. I don’t suffer fools. And nor do I extend one iota of respect to the kindly majority whom want to believe that Jesus or the Prophet are the only way to true goodness. Plain silliness, people. Use reason as your primary arbiter, as this will help you assess your impulses. I worry that we continue to give such respect to religious belief, and that we continue to give these binary and ancient ideas such credibility. We could jettison the whole religious shit show and we would still have every capacity to build upon the values that have evolved through the course of our ancestral journey. We are better than religion. Better than our tiny Gods. Better than the stupid rituals and dictates and bronze age infantilism. Humanity needs to grow up and grow out of such lowly, anti rational thinking. We can do better. We can be more. We owe it to ourselves to do so.

Monday, 3 October 2016

A Girl And Her Donut

Not a euphemism, by the way. The following is a true story of a little encounter I had a couple of days ago. I was sat next to a young girl when somebody else placed several bags of donuts on the table to her left. Her eyes flashed with desire, and she commented on the smell. I assumed she was referring to the food rather than any unsavoury odour I was permeating, so I enquired as to whether she intended to partake?
"Oh no!" She exclaimed, "I'm going on holiday in November."
Please note that it was October 1st. Showing uncharacteristic restraint I resisted encouraging her to seek medical advice. But let's be honest if it takes your metabolism that long to break down a jam donut then clearly something isn't working as it should. Being the true gentleman I am I scoffed one right beside her, licking my lips and slobbering like Jimmy Saville in a deserted mortuary. I also did my best to lead her astray but must confess to singularly failing in this project. I have to hand it to the girl; she'd got self control. Beyond the comic value of this episode I did find myself contemplating what such vanity says about someone? But then is it vanity? Could she simply be a reflection of the disproportionate value we place on physical appearance these days? If yes then how sad. How tragic that we have reduced ourselves to this. One day this fresh faced young thing will have wrinkles, cellulite, and sagging in all kinds of unwanted places. I can't help but wonder if she's making a rod for her own back. But then perhaps I'm just jealous? Perhaps this flagging arthritic 45 year old secretly yearns for his younger, more finally tuned days. . .
Actually no. I don't want to turn back the clock. Physical afflictions aside I like who I am. I'm way past any desire to fit some pre ordained mould, and if it's all the same to you I shall plod on in my own weary, occasionally cynical way. I'm unconcerned how this world perceives me, and my hope for our donut phobic fair maiden is that she reaches a similar equilibrium. I hope she comes to recognise that being good is far less fun than being real.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Pinocchio Index

The Washington Post has something called the Pinocchio Index, a means by which the truthfulness or falsity of any given claim can be measured. It goes from 1 to 4. Donald Trump has a lot of 4's. This blog isn't about him because he's a wanker, but it is about whether we, as individuals, are actually interested in truth. By truth I refer to measurable and falsifiable facts, not religious truths, which are self evidently made up. The way social media works is often an impediment to getting to the heart of a thing, and it's all my fault. And yours. Well everybody's. We tend to gravitate towards the opinions we want to hear, the one's that reinforce our own biases. That's human nature, but it is also not great for truth seeking. Back when I was a Christian, I read loads of Christian books and listened to loads of Christian speakers and surrounded myself with lots of Christian friends. I loved my life and the people around me and it all kind of made sense. I was pressing all the buttons to hear the messages I already wanted to hear, and in so doing got caught up in a perpetual feedback loop of ignorance. Now ignorance isn't a crime, and I remain ignorant about a vast ocean of things. But the difference between now and then is that my pursuit of truth is done, as much as I can, without stacking the deck before hand. Now there is a German saying that refers to "Finding the hair in the soup", which is to refer to the kind of person who always tries to seek the negative. This isn't me either. I don't set out to be negative, but I'm not interested in what makes me feel good, or secure, or better able to cope, either. I'm just interested in what is true. In where the facts lead. I try to remain emotionally neutral as I do this. Which isn't always easy. Case in point, I'm awaiting confirmation that a have a degenerative condition which, in all probability, is going to require some lifestyle modification. Of the two hundred variants of arthritis on the market I strongly suspect that I'm host to one of its more enthusiastic brands. But I don't know for sure. I'm waiting on the evidence. So whilst I do that I don't see much point in trying to fill the gaps. The facts aren't in, and it is the facts that I am interested in. So to wind things up, I'm a big fan of being open to new information. Of living in an evidence based manner. Perhaps this is why I'm so hostile to the priest's and the imams of the world who claim to know things that they cannot possibly know. The get straight 4's on the Pinocchio Index in my book.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Just A Woman?

The title could be perceived as insulting if the motivation for choosing it is not explained. So explain I shall. Just the other day my older sister used this quote to describe a social situation she had found herself in. The very words bothered me straight off the bat; their implication being that she accepted herself as somehow less. I told her to cut that shit out. I told her she didn't get to play that card anymore. Now please do not misunderstand me. I know in the battle for equality we still have a way to go, but for a woman to self define in such negative terms is hardly going to move the project forward. I think it is so important that the prevailing mood music continues to change, and my particular gender has a massive part to play in this. I respect and admire the female gender, in many ways more so than I do my own. I see the contribution made to the planet by women and it seems overwhelmingly positive. Compare this with the erosion and destruction wrought by men, and it only adds to the urgent need to speed up the global trend of female empowerment. Parents need to be instiling in their daughters that they are powerhouses, forces to be reckoned with. And we need to be teaching our sons that they must have the deepest respect for the females in their lives. Mutual respect breeds mutual empowerment. Now of course I understand that individual relationship dynamics may differ; lets face it and acknowledge that there is usually a dominant partner within a relationship. Coup!es have to be free to choose how their respective dynamics work, but that's a separate issue from the wider panorama. I'm just saying that a society that cherishes women, that releases them to reach the highest personal altitude is going to be a better society for all. If I was going to venture one critique towards my fellow denizens with the two X chromosomes, it would be that you could sometimes be braver when it comes to expressing expectations and enforcing standards. A cursory glance at my Facebook feed will regularly contain the tearful complaints of women wronged, women who's partners have walked away, or failed them. All too often I read updates that evoke the victim mentality, and I quietly wonder whether these women have allowed themselves to be dictated to? Or just plain disrespected? I think ladies that you need to own that shit and take it upon yourself to impose yourselves more. You can be both feminine and powerful; in fact you might actually find that you become more beguiling to a smarter breed of partner. If you keep adopting the same behaviours you're going to be getting the same outcomes. Understand this. More than that, learn to harness and focus your own strengths. Don't be a victim. And don't adopt a victim mentality. To me that's plain self harm.