Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Pissing On Bonfires - A How To Guide

Want to damage a relationship? Want to erode someone's confidence and make yourself unapproachable? It's as easy as 1 2 3. Just refuse to listen when they want to discuss something, or respond with immediate negativity when they confide in you over something they might like to explore. Go on, it works!. I guarantee that within no time at all your partner will find it almost impossible to initiate a discussion because they'll know the script in advance. They'll assume a negative response and begin to feel less and less heard, less able to share those deep and difficult parts of themselves. It's perfect. For added flourish, be sure to demand they aspire to standards you've never reached yourself. Complain as your life depended on it. Congratulations! You've achieved a near perfect lack of self awareness. Feels great doesn't it!
Ok, so I jest. If any of the above resonates to you, if you feel challenged or affronted in any way may I suggest a little experiment? Ask yourself when was the last time you approached your partner and asked them if there was anything they wanted to explore? Any goals, any dreams, any intimate desires they would like to pursue. Tell them they have a safe space, that they won't be judged. Show a genuine interest. And then listen. And remember. Write things down afterwards if you have to. It doesn't mean you've committed to anything, but it does demonstrate a willingness to step into their world and play some part in helping them to be the truest version of themselves. To be heard, to be listened to, and for what you say to be taken onboard is such a positive thing. Above all, if you're the listener, be damn sure that if you do say you want to play a part in making another person's dreams take shape you do what you say you're going to. This is crucial. Words and promises that aren't seen through erode trust. Without betraying confidences this last part is hugely important to me. If you make a promise then keep that promise. Or if you genuinely cannot have the decency and self awareness and plain courage to articulate why. I suspect many a good relationship has floundered on sins of ommission. Making a promise and then breaking that promise is the gold standard for pissing on another person's bonfire. As a write this, I'm aware that I couldn't have written it any earlier in my life. I've had to live out many of the experiences I refer to. I've been there, on both sides of the divide. And the thing is, those who cause the pain often don't have a clue that they do so. They can be,and frequently are good people. Just people who don't quite listen out for the signs, who find it hard to have those difficult discussions. I wonder how many good people have been the cause of mortal wounds in the hearts of those they claim to, and probably do in fact love?
Readers, friends, let's be better listener's. Let us be a little braver when are comes to stepping beyond our own experiences. Listen, remember, and above all do whatever ever it is you promised to do. And be open to ideas that may not, at first glance, appeal. It is entirely possible to take joy in the pleasure of seeing someone else blossom. Its your ultimate gift to them. Be brave. Make sure your comfort zone isn't merely a comfort blanket. And above all, intentionally engage.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

"Tremendous"

So there’s a petition to deny Donald Trump from being received by the Queen as part of State visit to the United Kingdom. It reads “Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty The Queen.” One has to be somewhat naive to miss the several levels of irony associated with this. Aside from the fact that Prince Phillip has been doing pretty much just this throughout the course of the royal marriage, what precisely would it say about us should we choose to take such a course? Trump is probably mentally ill, and clearly he is unfit to hold high office. Any office, for that matter. He is dangerous not by virtue of the fact that he is evil, but rather because he is so chronically inept on so many levels. You do not have to be evil to do a great deal of harm. Cue my obligatory dig at religious belief; a mostly sincere and well intentioned endeavour that has caused huge tribulation and entirely avoidable suffering through the centuries. And no, I am not comparing Trump to the average Christian. I’m just merely highlighting where a casual disregard for truth and brute facts gets you. But I digress. Concerning his ill conceived vetting policy, which appears to be a classic example of taking a gun to a knife fight. Of course we need to be vigilant; of course borders need to be protected. But a carte blanch approach to an entire demographic isn’t going to solve this problem. It will however increase it exponentially, creating additional ill feeling and possibly an increase in tensions. I happen to think that should we refuse Trump his State visit to the United Kingdom we do ourselves an immense disservice. We just tacitly mimic a thing we loathe, even though I expect many would offer some kind of rationale as to why we could justify this. I’m for treating him in accordance to the values that differentiate us from his inane and consistent non thinking. Whilst I don’t think for a second that he has the capacity to see very far beyond his own glass ego, we can still disagree, we can still voice dissent. But let’s not stoop to the same level as this giant orange skinned ignoramus. I think we can do better than that. And I think we owe it ourselves to do so.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Weaponised Ignorance

It started as a joke. A little comic relief. And nobody took him seriously. Mocked by his own party, to whom he appeared only vaguely affiliated. Ridiculed by everyone else. "The Donald" he was jokingly referred to. And the disdain continued, even as the wheels of his campaign gained traction. It couldn't happen. It was unthinkable.
In a few hours time Donald John Trump will become 45th President of the United States and the leader of the free world. What was once absurd will now be the establishment. Has a stranger thing ever come to pass? I will watch the news, listen as others seek to make sense of it, but hasn't that ship sailed now? We're all in the same boat now, and he's the Captain. A Captain whom has never sailed before. Whilst I have felt a very real, and perhaps sometimes unfair anger towards the silent majority that enabled this absurdity, I'm beyond that now. We're all in this together, each of us on the oddest journey, a magical mystery cruise where none of us, and probably not even the Captain himself knows the destination. Strange times lay ahead, and I find myself wanting, more than ever, to stay true to the values that matter to me. Honesty, humour, creativity, a commitment to following the truth irrespective of whether I like the view. Amidst a world that has forsaken reason I will choose reason. In a post truth world I will seek it with renewed passion. Its the only way I know. And I invite you to join me, to resist despondency and seek growth and new horizons. Walk your path, pursue your vision, and have an open heart and an open mind. There will always be the likes of Donald Trump in the world; craven power seekers and ignorant buffoons. I cannot change that, but I can work on little old me. In a world that has weaponised ignorance I do not see any other way.

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.