Sunday, 31 July 2011


Whilst eating breakfast this morning I spontaneously decided to google the term Vajazzle. I kept hearing the word bandied around and I was just, well curious. So then, it's a form decorative art for those secret special lady parts, which I'd kind of half guessed. I mean, the Vaj bit is something of a giveaway, isn't it? Anyway there I am surfing and before I know it I'm wondering whether there's a male equivalent? Pejazzling, perhaps? 
Exactly how would that work? At least the female anatomy is fairly elegant and refined, but our landing gear? Just how on earth would anybody go about making that look classy or refined? I mean, it's a knob for goodness sake! It serves some important functions, but I'm not entirely sure I could ever succumb to the urge to decorate it. Besides, I'm not from Essex.
So anyway, it appears that there are numerous ways in which a female can spruce up her furry friend, and I suppose its up to you what you do with Valerie Vagina. If I were a women I'd definitely want built in Wi-Fi, and possibly DAB radio, but perhaps I'm missing the point? It's meant to be a statement, isn't it? A form of artistic expression, as I'm lead to believe. Am I correct in thinking one can even get a glow in the dark solution or am I at a misapprehension? As a male I'd certainly welcome clear directions. I wonder, do they set off alarms in airports? And what happens if things come loose during the heights of passion? What happens if I end up with a nasty laceration? Exactly how am I meant to explain that one to the triage nurse in A&E? I have visions of a stone faced matron raising a solitary eyebrow, although I expect I'm over reacting. That said, what happens if the man inadvertently chokes on a mouthful of precious stones whilst visiting that secret special lady place? How's that gonna' look on the death certificate? And let's not even talk about what goes on the tombstone.
Perhaps I worry too much? I mean, it's just art at the end of the day. If you really want to Tarmac your fanny then I'm not about to stop you. Just be careful that those expensive gems don't end up where the sun doesn't shine!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A New Kind Of Comedy

Anybody heard of Anjem Choudary? Neither had I until a short while ago. He is a benefits scrounger and part of a fringe Islamic group called Muslims Against Crusades. Over this past week posters have been appearing in the boroughs of Waltham Forest and Newham declaring the areas Sharia enforced zones. Instructions on these posters forbid drinking, smoking, parties, loud music, and gambling. Apparently these injunctions will be enforced by roving patrols to ensure the law of Allah is observed. Now I don't know about you, but I don't follow the laws of a 7th century pedophile, and I've not a whole lot of time for zealots who insist that I do. Having read a few articles on this story the funniest point raised was to imagine how the average burly Londoner is going to respond to such advice? Can you imagine the kind of reception Choudary and his band of bearded buffoons would incur should they march into the Dog  & Duck demanding immediate cessation of festivities? Methinks this wouldn't end so well for them, and I've visions of flailing bodies exiting the premises via the nearest window. Now let's be honest, this is a fringe group and a real loony one at that, but don't suppose for a moment that the views they advocate aren't widely held. The only difference between Choudary and his lobotomized chums and many other adherents of Islam is that Choudary is prepared to enact the doctrines of the divine prophet. It's all a bit of a comedy isn't it? But then isn't religion in general? In fact perhaps we should carry on in the spirit of this piece and simply view religion as a brand of alternative humor? The Churches and the Mosques can be the comedy clubs, and the Preachers and Imams the stand-up comedians. Did you hear the one about the talking donkey? Or the flying horse?
I'm a huge fan of humor. It achieves so much more than you might imagine. Good natured ridicule and the refusal to take seriously the claims of the devout should soon push it into a corner. No violence, no acrimony, just death by mockery. When somebody talks to you about Jesus smile and wink, and when accosted by a Muslim imploring you to read the sacred texts pat them on the shoulder and congratulate them for spreading the mirth. The best revolutions are of the bloodless variety, and they take the form of those concepts that prevail in the marketplace of ideas. 

Friday, 29 July 2011

System Reset?

If you had the opportunity for a blank slate, would you take it? What I mean to say is that if you could unlearn everything that you knew and were given the opportunity to start fresh, how appealing would that be?
Are there some things you know that you wished you didn't? Is there ever an argument for erasing certain facts? You know what? My life would have been a whole lot easier if I'd ignored certain voices, so I absolutely understand the appeal. What would you unlearn? What would you like another run at? I guess that when I use the term unlearn I really mean just shedding ourselves of all the pre-conceived biases and defense mechanisms we accumulate throughout the course of our lives. There are some things we just find so hard to let go of, ideas so dear that they have informed us and shaped us for perhaps a lifetime. 
Confession; sometimes I wish I'd never questioned my faith. You probably find this hard to believe given the grief i dish out to religion almost daily. My life was peaceful, uncontroversial, and I sure as heck had more friends. I had a wider support network and the approval of many. Why oh why did I have to rock the boat, and undo all those years of honest well intentioned belief? It may also surprise you that there have been times when I wished it could be true, although these are often during times of tension or uncertainty. I'd be lying if I didn't confess to a certain loneliness sometimes. I know, I've an amazing family and a some good friends, and I get on with most people I meet so long as they are genuine. So what do I mean by lonely? I guess I mean adrift. I never really feel that anybody get's me. I often feel disconnected and remote in a way that I never used to. Make no mistake I'm not courting sympathy nor seeking redemption; it's just that I don't really fit in anywhere and sometimes I'd quite like to. Just for awhile. Just to remember what it's like. So going back to the original question would you reset factory settings and accept the offer of a blank slate if you could? Are there things you'd like to be blind to or ignorant of? If yes then I don't blame you, and nor would I think you a coward. Planet Earth can be a deathtrap to our hopes and our aspirations, and I don't begrudge anyone who liked the idea of making their paths just a bit easier to traverse. As for me, whilst I confess to a flicker of temptation I don't think I'd accept the gift. And after all would it actually be a gift at all? Or just a placebo to keep reality at bay?

Just One More

Friday night. Pay day. Good weather. Perfect storm.
Frankly I could end this blog here and you'd have enough to form a clear mental image. I have to be honest and admit that the subject of alcohol and its cost to society is something that puts a dent in my otherwise libertarian persona You see, I get to see it from a fairly unpleasant angle, and over time I've grown weary of the same old problems and the same nonsense. Want to cut crime? Encourage people to drink less. Want to see fewer domestics? Encourage people to drink less. Want to improve the health of the nation? Get people to, oh you get the point. Now I'm not advocating abstinence or prohibition, but I'd love to see a change in the culture. Wouldn't it be nice if we could walk home at night without having to worry about the louts by the kebab van? Wouldn't it be refreshing if casualty departments were absent drunken and vomit stained fools awaiting stitches from either a stumble or a brawl? I have to be honest, I really don't get what inebriation brings to the party anyway? It makes you neither smarter nor any more attractive. In fact I'd argue the opposite; it actually turns you into a bore and a self obsessed one at that. Strange how the world begins to revolve around you? How you feel that bit braver? that bit more secure? At the risk of alienating a fair percentage of the nation I don't understand what having a skinful achieves? And at the end of it you've gained what? A hangover? An empty wallet? Bad breath and sweaty clothes. I guess I must be sounding a real killjoy, but that's not my intent. I love a drink, and in the right company I'm the happiest bear in the woods. And by the way, I spent years 17-20 doing the kind of things I now grumble about so I'm a hypocrite, too. Actually no, I'm not a hypocrite. I've just recognized that there's a better way. I don't want to deny you your personal choice, and if you really get your rocks off by necking booze by the bathtub then I won't stand in your way.

I'd Like To Have Steve Jobs Babies

Apple now have more disposable income than the US Government, at least according to news hot off the press today.  Not so many years ago they were the poor country cousin, overshadowed by the  Microsoft city slicker. Boy how the tide has turned.
As I write this, I'm lain on my sofa, comfy cushions behind me, legs stretched out, IPad resting upon them. In this somewhat indolent posture lurks the key to Apples success.  Put simply, they bring the world to you rather than the other way around. With my IPad I read, blog, surf, game, watch TV, listen to music, and filter my mail. It allows me to do everything that I need to do in an easy, no nonsense way. It's the best device I've ever owned in terms of sheer usability; simple to command and capable of keeping me connected and engaged. If you have the money and are thinking of buying a tablet I could not in good faith recommend another brand. If I fancy a new app I poodle off to the app store, and within seconds its with me, on screen and ready to go. Same with music, same with an e-book. You might well be wondering why I am turning my blog today into an extended plug for Steve Jobs retirement fund, but the truth is I think these devices are just the best thing since sliced bread. Sad as it may sound my tablet goes everywhere with me, and truth is I get a bit insecure if it's not within arms reach. It fits perfectly with my lifestyle and never gets in the way of anything. It facilities, it avails, and does so in a way that let's me get on with day to day living. Now given Apples success the neigh sayers have begun to gather, but in all honesty I've little time for them. At the end of the day I've found myself a virtual friend that has added to my efficiency. I'm not chained to a clunky old PC anymore, and I'm only ever seconds away from something interesting. As toys go, it's the best £600 i've ever spent.
By the way, I don't get a commission for this. I'm just a geek spreading the gospel of tech.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Theology And The Problem Of The Children

Try the following statistic for size. Based on accrued data and some mathematical modeling, it is estimated that one hundred billion people have lived and died during the age of man.

Just ingest this figure for a moment because it's important. Now factor into this that these calculations have also deduced that fifty billion of those died during childhood.  If you're on the ball the first question you ask is how I know this, to which  I refer you to the following;

So let's familiarize ourselves with the fact that half the humans that ever lived never made it to adulthood. Interestingly, the author of this work has been trying to get a response from theologians, whom one might think would have a great interest in rebutting this damaging thesis. 
To date, nobody has critiqued him. And why? Well one of the main lines of defense a theologian will offer to counter what is known as "the problem of evil" is called the "free will defense" and it goes thus; humans have free will, and as such suffering is the inevitable consequence of having so many with this freedom to choose right or wrong. So far so reasonable. But, how do you defend any God that would allow fifty percent of all humans to expire before reaching the age where they can deploy free will to it's fullest expression? It's barely any wonder that there have been no takers to review this newly minted work. What can any theologian say in light of it?
Ok, let me reign myself in for a minute. It's just one study, but boy the implications are immense. So I now ask the following question; what arguments actually remain for the existence of a benevolent God? Note that the study does not rule out the possibility of an evil one, and it could be argued that only an evil one makes sense in light of the world in which we find ourselves. Don't forget that the same creation that gives us wonders such as the hummingbird and the orchid also gives us the parasite that can only live in the eyes of an African child.  And just a final aside; another typical theological retort to this problem is simply to assert that God would have morally sufficient reasons for allowing so many children to perish. Reasons invariably beyond our capacity to grasp.

Dying Embers

We live in a unique time for many reasons. One of them is that we are actually watching the death of an entire religion, something that, not so long back would have been unthinkable. Whilst Islam continues to bloat outwards it's older Judaic country cousin withers and rots away with a whimper rather than a bang.
Visit the majority of Churches in the UK, irrespective of denomination, and you'll notice that there's a real shortage of young people. Of course you get fair numbers of pre teens taken along by believing parents, but contrast this with the number of actual teenagers and one begins to see that Christianity is being slowly starved to death. As every year passes it moves ever nearer the fringes, its message increasingly drowned out as society rumbles on. Like an old car by the roadside, bonnet up and engine steaming whilst everybody else drives past. It is adrift, outdated, and fit only for the graveyards of mythology. As I reflect on this I have some mixed feelings. Many positives came from my years of faith, yet aside from the friendships all else rings hollow when one recognizes that its claims are built on evidence that does not even merit the label threadbare. So what keeps the faithful faithful? This to me remains a fascinating question, and there's no single answer. For those born and raised in it cultural conditioning is the glue that binds, whilst for others I expect there is a combination of fear of death, fear of eternal damnation, and further anxiety facing up to a universe that knows nothing of our existence and cares even less. Whilst many claim fanciful experiences and miraculous revelation we can coolly dismiss this, for the simple reason that every other major faith claims identical or superior experiences. If I grant the wonders of Christian revelation I am required to do likewise for Islam, Hinduism, and all the other faiths swilling around the globe. Far easier to eye each of them with equal doubt, smiling politely as people tell me how "They just know" or how "I can't disprove it".
Religion for me is the ultimate expression of white sound, a dreary background noise which we can and are doing nicely without. For those believers serving the community, or helping the poor, or simply trying to be better mammals I need ask only the following; Should you learn tomorrow that the heavens were categorically empty would you cease any of the above? And if yes why? And what would that say about your motives in the first place? One of my favorite mantra's is that we should seek goodness for the sake of goodness alone. Don't do good because it says so in a book, or you were instructed from a pulpit, or you think you've heard a voice from on high. Seek good and do good simply because it is good in and of itself. And guess what; if you do awaken tomorrow without an ounce of faith, the sun will still rise, the world will still be awesome, and those you love and cherish will still be there. You've lost only a phantom, an imaginary friend that might have kept you on the straight and narrow. Dear Christian believer, you are so much better than the doctrines you've been deceived into. Stand up, stand tall, and leap into the cool showers of reality and reason. Truth is beautiful because it doesn't seek to flatter or decieve. Embrace it, and leave the embers of myth to flicker out.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Sex & Trust

I see little point in getting inside someone's knickers unless you also get inside their head. Now with that attention grabbing statement deployed I can safely resume in the knowledge that for the next couple of minutes you're mine.
I've long since believed that the core of our sexuality is actually a product of our minds, which in turn sends all those lovely signals and impulses which prompt us to feel, well, pretty much the most intense physical pleasures possible. Inside our minds are our fantasies, those scenarios and ideas that we mostly keep to ourselves yet yearn to express. How they formed and how they evolve is different for everybody, but I'd wager that all reading this have at least a few sexual ideas they like to entertain when the mood and opportunity allows. Now from my vantage it seems creakingly, crushingly obvious that if we want to enable our partners to give free reign to their sexuality we have to have the fullest possible understanding of what makes them tick. For me this has always been the fun part, and its appeal never wanes. From your perspective imagine the following; somebody with whom you're intimate has handed you the keys to their sexual imagination; they've been open and brave enough to let you into their inner sanctum. You know what turns them on, you have a roadmap that can lead off in untold directions. What exactly is it that prevents that journey from taking place?

Well, I can think of a few things. First, if you don't have an emotionally secure relationship to start with that might inhibit intimacy. And then there's the elephant in the room, that basic fear we have of making ourselves vulnerable. We've all felt it, haven't we? We cannot quite bring ourselves to express
our sexual desires for fear of ridicule, rejection, revulsion. It's that fear of opening up, giving somebody the whole unabridged story. What if they can't cope? What if they tell others? Sadly, both those fears do have some validity. I expect many unkind poeple have betrayed the trust and confidence of former or even current partners, and there will always be a certain risk that comes with vulnerabilty.

Ultimately we have to make a choice. Do we settle for less? Are we ok with less? Or do we want to explore and develop our amazing sexual imagination in the presence of a loving, considerate partner?
For me, I don't want barriers in any area of my relationship, and I'm not just talking about sexuality now. I want to see those I'm closest to flourish, and if I can play a part in that then I couldn't be happier. On the matter of sex nothing phases me, and I'd hate to think that I would ever be the kind of person who would create barriers to another's fulfillment. I really think many couples need to be a bit braver with each other, allow their imaginations and sexuality to merge in ways that make relationships strong and deeply intimate. Hollywood superstar Paul Newman was once interviewed and asked how he had managed to resist infidelity during his years of fame and stardom. He replied
simply, "Why go out for a burger when I can have steak at home?"

I think you get the gist.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

40 And Fab

It wasn't much of a big deal for me, truth be told. I guess this is largely because a lot of the big goals in my life have been realized. I've published a book, travelled a bit, formed some enduring friendships and married a wonderful lady who has, with a little help from yours truly, provided me with two daughters that make me glow with pride as often as they make me laugh. My career path has been unpredictable, from the building trade to the electronics industry and then onto law and order, with a few minor diversions on route.  Oddly, I've never been driven by career ambition. It's always been enough for me to enjoy what I do and to make some kind of positive contribution. Along the way I spent two years studying counseling with the Central School Of Counseling & Therapy, followed by two and half intriguing years with the Samaritans. I gained a qualification as a computer hardware engineer from a company I can't remember, and spent half a day training to sell Kirby hoovers. It wasn't for me and I never returned from my lunch break. Actually, technically I'm still at lunch because I never formally quit. I also spent a year doing temporary work whilst studying. Now that was, on reflection, eclectic. I spent a day doing refuse collections, another few days opening tins at a frozen food plant, and also a short period portering at the now closed Stowe psychiatric hospital. And no, I was never a patient.  I was once told by a man that all work is honorable, and I think I generally agree. I'm not sure what the girls down at Kings Cross think of that, but still, that isn't my concern. I've worked in a pub, and also spent a bizarre evening behind the bar at the Aylesbury Civic Centre at a hunt ball, the place crammed with hundreds of middle to upper class folks who seem to think that tearing foxes apart constitutes a good days sport. All things told, my life has been interesting, yet without any discernible pattern. I definitely calmed down in my early twenties and lost a good deal of the attitude that had alienated teachers and adults during my teenage years. I remain prone to acts of spontaneity, although as a father and husband these are generally far from extreme. There have been times when I've made huge decisions based on little more than gut feeling, which by most people's standards would border on the insane. Whether my life would have been better or worse had I been more considered seems largely a mute point to me. I've made my bed, at it's comfortable right now, so I take that as some indication that I have not veered too far off course. By the way, there's absolutely no purpose to this blog. I just fancied a splurge. I've seen people born and people die, lives wasted and lives renewed. This thing we call life really is the most remarkable project. We should never tire of reminding ourselves of this. As a person I'm familiar with both my weaknesses and my strengths, and I regard both as old friends, different sides of the same coin. As for the future, I frankly have absolutely no idea. But this much I know; I won't conform just because society dictates that I should, although I'll try to balance the responsibilities I have to my family with my need for self expression. I want to look back and reflect on a life that, whilst not always well lived, was at least passionate and genuine and always seeking new horizons to explore.
Splurge over.

Suffer The Little Children

So the Vatican recalls it's papal envoy further to the latest report on abuse within the Catholic Church, a decision hastened by the Irish PM's spectacular attack on the deception and sleight of hand that this ghoulish organization has employed over the years. Let's face it, it's all been said, and I've chosen not to blog on the matter for this reason. Yet I find myself wondering at the wall of silence displayed by many Christians on this matter? I can think of few whom were involved in the protest the Pope rally last year, and I haven't heard many speak out in support of actions initiated against what is surely amongst the most evil institutions on Earth? To date we know that the criminality goes all the way from diocese to the Vatican itself, and we have smoking gun evidence that Pope Benedict actively concealed the actions of pedophile clergy during his time as a lower ranking Catholic officiate. Throughout this entire profane story, which appears to have been decades and possibly centuries in the telling, we have seen a consistent commitment to deception. The voices of the abused silenced, often under fear of retribution, whilst the Vatican itself has clearly decided that these criminal activities must be hushed up for the "Good of the church"
What does that mean exactly? Well let me have a stab at expounding. I think the "Good of the church" means putting the institutions interests ahead of justice for the weak, or reputation ahead of truth. In all counts the Catholic church has failed to do right by those it has wronged, and often, even when exposed, offending clergy were shuffled off to new diocese where they could pick from the low hanging fruit of fresh children. You might well ask yourself where is God in all of this? One might rightly ask why the Creator of the universe chose not to involve himself in addressing one of the most profane cover ups in all history? Well I cite non existence for his apparent apathy, which isn't going to go down well with the faithful. I've heard that the evil of man cannot be lain at the immaterial feet of God, and to an extent this would be true. But, does God's inactivity appear not at least suggestive of the fact that the whole edifice of the Catholic church is man made? I think yes. You all know that I hold to the view that man made God rather than the other way around. Oh don't worry, I don't expect this blog would convince any believer of such a starkly obvious fact, but no matter. The Catholic church continues to be it's own worst enemy and the best argument for atheism devised by humans since we emerged from the cradle of Africa. Were it not for the cost to thousands of young and vulnerable children, raped and violated by representatives of this stench ridden, criminal outfit I would almost be tempted to thank them for the free PR.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Flowers Of Oslo

For such a small country Norway has much to be proud of. The manner in which they have coped, unified, and confronted adversity has been a stirring to watch. How easy it would have been for rage to win the day, for anger and hate to rise above this tiny nation like a hooded cobra. Who could blame a single person for such feelings in light of what they have endured? Yet what we witness is a renewed desire to uphold the values of openness and tolerance which they deem so central to their way of life. I find this more than a little inspirational. What a contrast to the mania and calls for retribution we have seen in the wake of other global atrocities. Their Prime Minister calls for more openness, more tolerance, a call to arms that must surely enrage the ugly souls inhabiting the dark corners of every society. For be under no illusion,these detestable creatures seek to undermine our principles and enlightenment values, to regress us to an age of fear and distrust. As the flowers were held aloft today, one hundred thousand strong, can there be any clearer message for those who want to undermine our way of life? True,  they can wound us both physically and emotionally. But do these people think for a moment that they have the power to strip us of that which makes us strong? We know there are problems with a multi cultural society and there's an ongoing discussion that needs to be had. Yet who of sane mind could think that anything as brutish as a bomb or a gun could ever bring about any kind of resolution? Violence begets only violence, bile only more bile. These things can build nothing, let alone sustain. No, for a society to move forward all parties are required to listen to each other, to engage with ideas which at first may seem alien. Workable compromise is the only solution we can expect yet it is a noble one nonetheless. The world has changed so much; we really are a melting pot of race and creed. Like it or not we all have to live one amongst another. Nobody says we must agree, but at the very least we need to try and understand. Those whom seek to cause terror know nothing of how to achieve any of these things. And why? Because the only voices that matter to them are theirs, and they swim in their own murky pools of ignorance, doing no more than re-enforcing their own grotesque ideas. No wonder this leads to extremism, intolerance, hatred and suspicion of the other. If I could leave you with one thing from this post it would be that unless we engage, unless we at least try to connect with each other how can we ever hope to live peaceably? Yes we are different, and in ways that we may never fully reconcile. Yet surely we can build a bridge or two, and make it strong enough to allow some of us to cross?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Songs That Shaped Our Lives

I think I've figured something out. It's taken me a while. When I heard about the death of Amy Winehouse I was of course saddened, yet also kind of troubled that this girl should overshadow the events unfolding in Norway. Only then It occurred to me that music was the reason. Or to be specific, the role it often plays in both the pivotal and everyday moments in our lives.
Try the following for me; cast your mind to a really important event or season. Now recall the soundtrack of those days. Tunes on the radio, or the one's heard in the pub, or on a journey, or just as background noise. You'll probably have melodies that make those images just a bit more real?
For me  it's a real mixed bag. As an older post-school teenager I recall being spectacularly drunk to the sound of Queen. I don't just mean drunk, I mean pass the bucket, stop this bed spinning drunk.  My musical taste, whilst varied, regresses naturally to the 80's, admittedly a shameful time for fashion, and an era where all kinds of music flourished. I recall Michael Jackson's Man In The Mirror always on the radio as I decorated my way around rural Buckinghamshire with Dad. I recall Prince being massive, and Erasure, and then groups like Del Amitri, Deacon Blue, The Beautiful South. These were the days when I still dreamed of being a writer, before I realized that being good enough doesn't mean you'll get the breaks. Those tunes were the background rhythm to my life, getting inside me and making me feel more vibrant. Changing tact, I recall a remix of Baker Street and Def Leopards "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad" being damn near impossible to listen to when I broke up with my first proper girlfriend, a lovely but complex girl by the name of Alison. She broke my heart. Even now, some twenty years later I can still feel something of the pain, the brute emptiness from when that particular romance fell apart. And then there's stuff from Madonna, tunes like Cherish which remind me of my dearest friend Karen. I could go on but you get the gist. Our lives are an ongoing narrative, and there are seasons during which music may have inspired, engaged, or just plain got under your skin. You remember, I know you do. A disco, a pub, a kiss with someone new. Some songs made you ache whilst others lifted you in ways that mere words never could. Funny how some tracks make you stronger? Capable of convincing you that you do have a place, that you're not some freak of nature , that you're valuable and capable and connected. Perhaps I was too hasty to grumble at how we over inflate the passing of the Amy's of this world. They've walked a bit of our path with us, haven't they? They've kept us going, stirred us up, been the right words at the right time? Perhaps it would be better just to say thank you and goodbye.

Anders Behring Breivik

Anders Behring Breivik is not a name that springs easily off the tongue, yet it is one that has now become immortalized among the cannon of mass killers. I wonder, was this his intent? The world will now set about the task of psycho analysing this individual to the nth degree, and blogs and column inches will blossom with conjecture embellished with the occasional snippet of fact.
This is what we know. At the time of writing 82 are dead, with this figure likely to rise. Many of those will be bright young adolescents, a group of agile minded teenagers whom had wanted no more than to enjoy the company of like minded individuals and share ideas. Beyond the all too evident human tragedy playing out is perhaps an even more sinister menace, namely an attack on liberty and freedom upon which democracy stands or falls. Now we don’t yet know what made this monster tick, but we can reasonably conjecture that he was not in the business of advocating freedom of speech. What then? It would appear he had an agenda of some sorts, an ideology he wished to impart irrespective of whether or not we wanted to receive it. This fiend has done so much more than leave a trail of carnage and bereavement. He has directed his automatic weaponry at the very ideals which we hold dear. I cannot imagine the sounds, the screams, the undiluted terror experienced by those trapped on that tiny island. As the weapons thudded and the flesh dispersed, we can know only that the wounds inflicted will be so much more than physical.
And this is where we come in. This is where the fair minded and decent people of the world can, by peaceful resistance to such evils, send out the message that we will not yield to the gun or to the bomb. We will not cower before those whom would wish to oppress us, irrespective of their ideology. Whether this lunatic turns out to be of the secular or religious variety the message we send out remains the same. Too many have paid too much for too long for us to capitulate. We owe it to those whom have perished, in all times and in all places, for the freedoms we enjoy today. Amongst us monsters will always lurk, yet it must the voices of reason and decency that drown out their vicious bile.  

Poisoning The Well

On the 22nd July, a victory was won. It was a very important victory. It is one that very few will be aware of, but it has implications for standards of education globally. It happened in Texas. Texas, I hear you say? How can anything that happens in Texas impose on us here? Let me explain; the Texas board of education had been lobbied by the Creationist movement to introduce Intelligent Design into the curriculum. Now the significance of this comes from the sheer size of Texas itself, which is one of the largest purchasers of educational literature in the States. What I'm saying therefore, is that if Texan textbooks had been revised to include Creationist dogma, then there's a good chance that other States would have been offered the same books. So you can see the potential harm. You would have seen Creationist propaganda served up to young and vulnerable minds,  muddying the pool of scientific knowledge that has made such a massive difference to the world in which we dwell. Thankfully, and crucially, a swathe of experts offered testimony based on the latest knowledge we have accrued in the field of biology, and in a unanimous vote the school board voted against the suggested revisions. Problem solved? Not so fast. One needs to understand the depth of delusion and mental retardation the Creationists are subject to. They will be back, offering the same old nonsense in a slightly revised package, and they will have to be defeated again. These people, masquerading as the righteous and deliverers of the ultimate truth are, in reality, no more than snake oil salesman, liars and tricksters with a God given agenda to purge the world of evolution.  A brief caveat now; evolution by natural selection is regarded as nothing less than the unified theory of field biology. If anything can be considered a fact then it is the theoretical underpinnings of this majestic theory. Of course, there is a certain brand of believer who simply cannot cope with the concept of being related to every other creature that has ever walked, crawled, flown, slithered, or taken root upon the planet. No, they protest; we are special, we are distinct, made in the image of the Creator.
No, we are not. We share a common ancestry. We have genetic, molecular, and fossil evidence to demonstrate this to all but the most imprisoned mind. Once again we see religion stood in active opposition to reality, a stumbling block to progress, a bewildered banana skin to lead the credulous and the vulnerable, or those just too lazy to care astray. Unbelievably, the majority of the American population still hold to a range of Creationist views, from a literal reading of Genesis to the equally inane ideas undergirding the Intelligent Design lobby. Thankfully, at every turn they have been defeated, but ask yourself; why should such an established theory as evolution be required to defend itself against these people? Why should science teachers have to be wary of teaching it for fear that parents will protest? Here we see the full extent of religious delusion made manifest, seeking to pollute and putrefy and retard. Down the years it has been successful, and I myself was a victim of the scam. Yet things are changing as never before. Religion is being asked to give an account of itself, to explain why it even deserves a seat at the table of rational discourse. And the results are not good for them. People are, at last getting wise to the ruse, and abandoning the ship with ever increasing haste. This trend is most encouraging amongst students, which of course bodes well. If we can raise a up a generation that pay no heed to ancient dogma then they can be focused on making this world a good world, a better world, a cared for world. Above all, a world that ceases from tearing itself apart over who has the best imaginary friend.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Men Suffer From PMT Too

We really do. Oh boy, do we. Of course, we don't get the physical symptoms, but if within a light year or two of a female we do get the emotional one's.
It's the small things, a disapproving glance, an agitated shrug. In our home we've coined the phrase, "Cup down day", which means that even the smallest transgression can and will cause offense. Perhaps a drawer has been left partially open? Or a mug placed down on the table with a slightly louder bump, usually inaudible to the human ear. And then there's the tiny things that, on any other day would go under the radar. Did you really need to burst into tears because you dropped a tea towel? Apparently yes. It seems to me that PMT can warp and subvert any perspective. For instance, I can be behaving in what I consider to be a perfectly normal manner, yet be perceived as a combination of Neanderthal and Darth Vader. I don't even have to do anything particularly different to earn this dubious accolade. 
So what's it like in your house, boys? How do you cope with the monthly cycle? If you have any strategies other than keeping mouths closed, heads bowed, and hiding any and all sharp implements then I'm all ears. 
If you have daughters in the house, the good news is that all the females in the home tend to synchronize, or so I'm told. I cannot tell you just how enthused I am at this prospect. I'm already making contingency plans, ideas ranging from buying better headphones to building a full size nuclear shelter beneath the property. I do try to be empathic, I really do. It's just that I don't have those, err, bits. And I'm not subject to those hormones. The best I can do is try not to bite, to be as emotionally supportive as I can muster (Which isn't much, admittedly) and give you the time to deal with it. My problem is that I'm a bit like my Dad. I can do practical love, but I'm not Mr Pink & Fluffy when it comes to the emotional stuff. And even when I try I always feel like I'm faking it just a bit. I wish there was a spray that men could buy for these days in the month, something like "Acme PMT repellent?". Or failing that perhaps I could borrow Harry Potters invisibility cloak? Something, anything to make the whole process just a bit less like a Mexican standoff?Oh well, on the plus side at least I'm not subject to the physical symptoms. I'll pass on the pains and the feeling that everything wants to drop out. The fatigue doesn't sound a whole lot of fun either. Perhaps I should just keep my mouth shut and try the empathy thing one more time?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Game Changer

I was struck by a recent article I read from a prominent American evangelical. He was arguing that the power of the Internet was now a major threat to the faith based traditions, and particularly Christianity. This is a very honest acknowledgement from presumably a decent man. Where information flows freely, dogma of any kind feels the strain. Just reflect on how Facebook was used to marshal the disenfranchised youth of the Middle East, giving rise to the Arab Spring. When people have access to a variety of information the decisions that they make can be informed one's. Far better than being lead by the nose and deceived by authority figures. You're probably expecting me to be critical of Christianity now, aren't you? Frankly that's too small a fish and I intend to cast a far wider net. I'm aiming my guns at any dogma, secular or religious, that seeks to impoverish the minds of others by controlling the flow of and access to information. True, faith based organizations are arch culprits, but there are others who do the same. My point is, when you commit to any one viewpoint without listening to what else is out there you're setting yourself up to be a patsy. And when you encounter somebody with a wider lens of experience you will invariably end up looking silly. Granted, for the religious this is no biggie, as they will often
regard any critique, no matter how robust, as a test of faith. There's not a whole lot you can do with that kind of person, other than teach your kids to laugh at them. What I'm getting at is that we should all be viewing our world through the widest possible lens, because when we do that we see and learn and develop in ways often beyond our imagination. We owe it to ourselves to be educated and well informed, and I think we should look dimly on those who want to control what others think and hear. 

You And Your Ego

Am I the only one who struggles with pride? Nah, thought not. It's the proverbial bee in all our bonnets, and it's a quality that I don't like about myself. Example; I was challenged the other day over some e- mails I had sent to a senior figure within the organization questioning one or two aspects of what we do. I can be fairly direct, and sometimes sarcastic, and these e-mails were fairly brimming with both. So when challenged what to do? Well on the surface I nodded and admitted to an error of judgement. This was the correct thing to do. Afterwards though I created all kinds of scenarios in my mind to justify what I had done, and almost managed to convince myself that I had been wronged.
Reality check. I hadn't been wronged. I'd been clumsy. I'd been, without putting too finer point on it, me. I do have this knack of saying the right thing in the wrong way sometimes, and I'm hopeful that I may improve in time. Thing is, though, what force of nature was coaxing me to create some alternate reality of what had occurred? It was pride. Just pride. And I don't know a single person who hasn't been undone by it at some point or another. It's not easy to reflect upon our failings, is it? I mean, really stare squarely at them and admit them for what they are? If you're me, before I come to the right state of mind I usually have to sulk a bit first. Childish, I know, but I'm trying to be honest here. I have to purge my system of petulant, proud, and resistant Rob in order for considered, contrite, and humble Rob to enter in. I wish I could skip the first part, but there you have it. I'm a work in progress and and unfinished canvas.
Anyway, what about you? Recognize anything of yourself in this? I reckon you probably do. I know I'm not the only one prone to this. So what to do? Well I suppose we just need to continually reflect on the way we handle our lesser moments. It's easy to do the right thing when all's well in our world, but when the wheels come off, when we commit an indiscretion, that's when the measuring stick is at it's most accurate, and most humbling. Don't be too hard on yourself; you're in fine company. And if you can admit when you've got it wrong then it says that you're willing to learn. And being willing to learn isn't such a bad affliction, is it?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Good People, Bad Ideas

I do not not think that people of faith are stupid. I simply assert that they maintain some markedly stupid ideas. They are of course in good company; a lot of us hold a lot of bad ideas and find it near impossible to shed them.
Why so? Well, we are beginning to understand a bit more about this. Through study of the brain we've learned where many of our impulses arise from, and we can plot them to regions that handle social interaction and similar functionality. Now I can speak only in lay terms, but there's sufficient evidential currency to suggest that it really was man that made God, rather than the other way around. My interest in this has stemmed from wanting to understand my own conversion experiences at the age of 24. They seemed very tangible and authentic, and my life changed dramatically and for the better. This is very hard to explain to those who've not had such an adventure, but suffice to say everything get's turned on it's head. Overnight I stopped swearing, whilst I felt a calmness and self awareness that was unknown to me. The world appeared visually different, and I was able to see people in a new light. They became souls, transcendent, and I recall being in town praying for the salvation of complete strangers. For a Christian, this is where they nod knowingly and assert that it was truly God that changed my life. However, knowing as I do now I'd suggest that's a very hasty conclusion to reach, and for the following reasons.
For one, I had always held a belief in God and had always prayed every day, suggesting a desire to believe that there was something beyond the material. So when somebody comes along and affirms that I was nearly, but only nearly on the right track they were bound to have my ear. I recall being given a paperback called Basic Christianity, along with a copy of the Bible. Inside the latter was penned, "Don't let this get dusty".
I didn't. I read voraciously. I was alone and had a lot of time to reflect and ponder, even though the traffic was only one way. I learned that Jesus was indeed a historical figure, and regaled myself of all the evidences. I learned about the lifestyle, the nature of faith, and literally swam in Christianity for months without surfacing. And then there's the people I met. Wonderful, warm, genuine, nothing like the creepy evangelicals one tends to picture. I formed genuine friendships, and I think I was something of an encouragement to them. You don't see many young men coming to faith in their 20's.
In summary, I ate, drank, and slept my newfound belief. Nobody indoctrinated me; I indoctrinated myself. Perhaps my biggest mistake was that it never occurred to me to step back and consider some alternative voices. Why didn't I read some books that challenged Christianity, or seek out alternative ideas? Easy. I did not want to. I had found hope and acceptance and camaraderie at a level completely new to me. I was a lonely young man from a small town who's life was on the fast track to nowhere. I was perfect conversion material. What happens when you really want to believe something is that you start seeking various confirmations, and these can take different forms. Perhaps a Bible verse, or a word from a Pastor or a friend, or a serendipitous event like a tax rebate prior to a trip away. All signs, all confirmations.  As I reflect on my time as a Christian I say without hesitation that it was largely a positive experience, and the cracks came much later, and for reasons I may write about some other time. Today I just want to reflect on those early days, as it helps me better understand why I took the path I chose. Doubtless any Christians reading this remain convinced that my journey was real, and to them there is nothing I could say that would prompt them to think otherwise. Belief is a powerful thing, piercing us to the very core of our being. It churns up our insides and get's us asking those basic questions that many of us avoid or just flirt with. I know I take a fiercely anti religious stance on many fronts, but my ire is never intended to personally wound. I want to know how the cosmos works whilst I have a mind capable of rising to the challenge. I think out loud and it is clumsy sometimes.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Little Boxes

Who's fool are you? How many times do you plan to make that mistake? Oh come on, you know the one I'm talking about? You don't? Ok then, I'll spell it out. How often have you pigeonholed somebody? Put them in a box and filled it with everything you've decided that they are? It's the easiest, most common, and asinine mistake you and I will make. I expect you've already done it this week, just like you'll do it next week, too. Regular, predictable, stupid.
So why don't we learn?
Here's my take. We like patterns and predictability. We like knowing where everything fits because that way we're better able to handle it. So we end up categorizing everything in a way that makes sense to us. Trouble is, it's a bit over confident, isn't it? I mean, exactly what do we know about anybody? It's a bit brazen to expect them to fit into those little boxes and dare I suggest also a little unfair? And when somebody comes along who doesn't have a box that fits them, or who appears to actively resist climbing into your own bespoke pigeonhole it can prove something of a strain.
You may have noticed, I don't do boxes. You try to put me in one and I shall not thank you for it.  I happen to think that we need to let each other breathe just a bit more. I've moaned about how we're slaves to convention, and as I change I see this more and more vividly. In my own ramshackle way I'm asking you to put the box down. Step away from the box. 
More than that, don't be so eager to climb into your own. I few blogs back I pointed out that there will never be another you, so what are you going to do with the you that you've been given? I don't know what time of day you're reading this, but why not pause and go somewhere where you can see the sky or the stars and ponder this? It's your life, your gig, and you have only so many days to act out the script. One day you'll be too old to do some of the things you haven't done yet. Do you want to regret that or are you willing to saddle up and head out into the wild blue yonder to where your hopes and dreams reside? Isn't it about time you stopped viewing them through the binoculars of convention and actually got up close and personal? I'm not saying that success is guaranteed, but if nothing else the journey's going to teach you a thing or two. So pony up, people. Aim and fire. leave those boxes on the ground and kick aside any that you see. And if people cannot handle this then so much the worse for them.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Bright Lights, Big City

Every time I go to London it does something to me, getting under my skin in ways I don't understand. Or maybe I do; maybe I'm drawn by the things I don't see as well as those I do? It's a city of extremes, a place of appetites both base and inspirational. I do not know which I find the more alluring? I see the beautiful women and my mind flares dangerously; this despite having a wonderful intimacy and rapport with Joy. What does that say about me? Only that I'm like every other man that walks the face of the planet. Those fantasies are passing indiscretions, pure froth atop a richer reality that my better self treasures. With London, it's often the less tangible that grips me. We wander past a Kensington town house with it's pillared entrance, and I wonder how anybody can afford such a thing? Or I stare down a street and see rainbow life drifting past me in myriad mood states; a Somalian female in traditional dress, an elderly American wearing a black suit with white trainers, variant accents flashing across my spectrum of consciousness. I don't know why, but when I come to the city I feel somehow smaller, my unimportance weighs down upon me; I'm just another unremarkable face. The famous landmarks rear up every time you turn the corner; the London Eye flashing blue neon across the glistening Thames, Big Ben and Parliament semi illuminated in the near distance. It is night time and the City is engorged with alcohol, excess, and so many deviant ideas. I feel drawn. And then there's the underground; the ancient Victorian architecture slowly being replaced by post millennial design. The new stations have glass walls along the platforms; statistically fewer suicides the obvious plus. The theatre adds vie for the sideways glance, or a poster for the latest movie or the computer game or musician of the moment. The buskers have big amplifiers now and you can hear them from further away, and I people-watch with an excess that borders on the voyeuristic. A young father entertains his infant son who is laughing at him from his push chair, whilst a lady sat opposite uncrosses and crosses her legs, her nylons sliding in a way I've always found arousing. The carriage rocks from side to side, and on certain stretches you can feel the pressure change within your ears. The train stops and the doors hiss, exodus and influx an interwoven dance.
Perhaps you notice different things? Perhaps London means something else to you? It's a place that strikes a chord with me and whispers; no screams into the repressed creature that abides within, mocking this dreary slave to convention I too frequently  allow myself to be.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

I Never Was A Model

This was bought into sharp relief when I purchased several pairs of  M&S Autograph boxer shorts. On the packaging male models paraded, bronzed torso's rippling, finely contoured Lycra clinging snugly around immense crown jewels. Strangely, when I donned those self same items I cannot but suspect that had I been the model, sales would not have been so high. You see, I never really had a six pack, and I probably weigh in at around the national average in those more protruding areas. In short, I probably do these items a disservice; they frankly deserve a better clothes horse.
Only then I got to thinking about self image, and what it is that actually makes a person attractive? Whilst Calvin Klein won't be knocking on my door anytime soon I don't think I'm a total lost cause. So perhaps my tummy would make a good pillow, but my bum's not in bad nick, and I'm told I have lovely eyes. So based on that I'm not intending to lock myself away from public view anytime soon. Besides, the right clothing can conceal a multitude of sins, and thankfully none of you will ever have to see me naked. 
Truth is, I'm kind of relaxed about how I'm perceived. I know that many people really do struggle with self image,though, and I do have some sympathy. Fact is, we all want to be well received, and at the end of the day we're social creatures, aren't we?But who exactly is it driving us into thinking that we have to be perfectly toned? Maybe we've all bought into the media myth that beauty can be manufactured? Air brushed?  Sharp dressed? Perhaps we're slaves to a monster of our own making? 
Going out on a limb, I'm damned sure that sexy isn't the sole property of the beautiful people of the world. And frankly, I expect some of the best shags never went anywhere near a catwalk. They became sexy because they were open and engaging and self aware; prepared to explore sexuality and sensuality instead of being fearful of it. If I've lowered the tone then so be it. This is just my clumsy way of saying that neither sexy nor desirable comes in generic form. Admit it, sexy can be found in a look, in a smile, or in an intellect. Some people just have that certain something, an ability to charm and beguile in ways that Mr and Mrs perfect never will. So if it's all the same to you I'm just going to get on with the business of being imperfect, mischievous me. My tummy may not ripple, my jaw isn't square, and I can butcher even the finest male underwear. But this is the hand I've been dealt and it's served me well thus far. Perhaps we should all let ourselves of the hook more often instead of aspiring to be something that we're not?

There Will Never Be Another You

What does it mean to be truly happy? I don't have the answer. I should probably get that out of the way now. That said, I bet most of us all have some idea of the kind of ingredients we're looking for? Time for you to do some homework; try forming a few ideas in your mind of what would be required to bring you relative happiness and contentment? You done? Ok, now list them in order of priority so you've some idea of what really matters to you. Now stand back and reflect on the view.
I expect that whilst we would see some minor differences we would all come up with a relatively comparable list? For me I would rate relationships, health, financial security and self awareness as near the top. Beneath would probably be a desire to have enough free time to explore my passion for knowledge, the natural world, and my sexuality. Running through all these elements would be the acceptance that I can improve and grow and develop, and I'd want to be open to new ideas without my old biases getting in the way. 
But anyway back to you. You've probably all identified areas where you'd like things to be better, so I guess those are the areas that need attention? Now I don't know what kind of obstacles stand in your way, but I would encourage you not to give up. Sometimes the barriers seem so very high, and the options so limited, but don't lose heart. Don't die to your hopes and dreams, because if you do that the light within has already gone out. Recognize your own inner and outer beauty, and remind yourself of your own self worth. What I'm trying to get at here is that there will never be another you. Just let that brute fact settle on your consciousness for a moment. You are absolutely unique, a true one off, and your story cannot be told by anybody else.
There's nobody else to do the job. You're the perfect person for the gig. Know that deep inside and press ahead, and don't ever think less of yourself than you ought.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Facing The Void

It was a Saturday afternoon and I was home alone. The telephone rang, and I heard the voice of a very dear friend whom I had not seen in years. He was contacting me having learned of my apostasy, my rejection of Christianity. This would have been a huge shock to him. We used to pray together every Friday morning, and we worked together on Alpha courses where we would share the good news of Jesus in the hope of winning a few more souls. To him I was living proof that the Gospel was true, that Jesus changed lives, and in many ways he had been a mentor as well as a friend. The phone call was polite yet slightly uncomfortable; he was anxious to learn what had caused me to walk away from what he considered eternity. One question  he asked still irks me because it basically asserted that I had no moral compass now I'd unsubscribed to the idea of a celestial law giver. 
Amongst some believers there is indeed suspicion that without belief in a higher power there is nothing to provide us with moral guidance. Really? Somebody should really tell the Swedish, the Danes, and all those other Northern European nations that report very low religiosity. In these countries there is lower societal disfunction, lower abortion rates, and lower STD infections than in those nations that report high adherence to religious practice. Perhaps Thor is exerting his unseen hammer and keeping people in line? And what are we to make of the United States, the most pious nation in the Western world? It boasts higher crime rates, higher societal disfunction, higher abortion and STD infections. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways.
In essence the question I was asked is a reflection of our human need for security. It can be uncomfortable to reflect on the fact that there's probably nobody watching, no divine architect. The Universe is vast and pitiless, caring nothing for us and knowing nothing of our existence. It seems to me that we have used God as a security blanket, perhaps in the same way that a child clings to a cuddly toy? To face the cosmos honestly takes some doing, and coming to terms with mortality is more difficult still. I freely confess that I still struggle, yet what am I to do instead? I cannot accept the truth claims of religion as they appear to be demonstrably false. The best I can do is lose myself in the wonder of this life, in the beauty of the cosmos and the Earth. I cannot deceive myself into belief, so I'm left with no choice but to take a deep breath, draw back my shoulders, and face the world as it truly is.

Some Thoughts On Stoning

Anybody here consider stoning to be a fair and just punishment? I'm guessing not. What are we to make then, of cultures that deploy this charming exercise in human brutality? I do believe we simply refer to them as backward.
Was that clumsy? Have I just shown disregard for another nations deeply rooted traditions? Should I have been more nuanced? Frankly no, and let's be plain about it. Digging a hole in the ground and inserting a terrified human being, usually female, whom is then buried up to her shoulders before a crowd of deranged primates hurl rocks in her direction seems about as perfect an example as I can conceive of of when society needs to join the modern age.
There are times when we appraise other cultures when we must shed ourselves of political correctness and say simply that they are more backward. It really is a brute fact that practitioners and supporters of stoning have not regailed themselves of what modern society has discovered about how to build a fair and just world. If you doubt this then envisage such a scene in your home town. A young female, possibly the victim of rape or perhaps just guilty of falling in love with the wrong man or women, is tried by a court and sentenced to death by public stoning. Imaging this taking place in your local shopping centre, directly in front of Clinton Cards. Is that image too surreal to comprehend? Ok then, change the background to a throbbing Somalian market place. The view has changed, but has how you feel about it?
Fact, we are evolved primates, and as such possess certain brute inclinations that hark back to our pre-history. That's baggage we're always going to have to carry. But we have, or at least a good part of the world has honed the large brains within our skulls to reason, deliberate, and reach decisions that override many of our animal impulses. Men, and it is mostly men, who persist in thinking that stoning is a reasonable way to dispense societal justice are simply further down this dusty road. The developed West and the emergent East need to be sending a clear and persistent message that there are some practices that simply have to end.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Reigning It In

This may shock you, but I spend a lot of my time reigning in what I really think. There's a part of me that's a tad conscious of how my views would be perceived if you knew, really knew what was going on inside my head. Sure, I'm brash on some issues, but even then there's a voice urging caution, and one that more often than not I consent to. Right now I'm wondering why? And I think its to do with potential repurcussions. What I say about myself has to, in some way, say something about how I interact with others. For example, I can only go so far on the subject of sex, because If I gave myself free reign you wouldn't just think differently of me, but of Joy also. And that isn't fair on her, or my children. So this blogging lark comes with certain responsibilities, which I don't like one bit. This whole process is a bit of an experiment, or to be precise an excercise in nonsense. Besides, I know there's nothing fizzing around in my nogging that hasn't swirled around in yours. Admit it, you think about sex, religion, and social issues every bit as much as I do? And you're probably twice as kinky. The only difference between you and I is that I enjoy pushing the envelope and have just enough folly to do so. Well, I call it folly; it's probably more likely a deficiency in brain chemicals that control social inhibition. But I digress, besides which when I started this thing I had no idea that it would end up being read by people in over 25 countries. I'm perplexed to be honest. Perhaps people like car crash blogging in the same way they like car crash tv? So anyway here's the deal; I'll try and be as honest as I can about the things that float my boat, whilst trying not to outrage public decency. I don't do conventional, and I hate the way that society has this ability to put us all in a cultural straight jacket. We seem to keep so much under wraps and shield ourselves behind social convention, behind shoulds and oughts. Perhaps I'm wrong to reject this? Perhaps these prohibitions are in place for good reason? All I know is that I won't be a slave to them, or to my own fears of rejection or ridicule. Life is just too short.


They crawl disheveled out of bed sometime around mid morning, heading downstairs for coffee and a fag. Sky World is switched on and the next hour is spent idly channel hopping. Just after midday they decide to go shopping, and head into town to hit a couple of off licenses before dropping by at McDonalds. From there it's onto the local pub, where for the next few hours they drink themselves into a stupor until one of them becomes aggressive. It all kicks off, glasses broken and chairs thrown, the Landlord having to call police, whom duly arrive and, amidst a torrent of verbal abuse tell the drink soaked couple to disperse. Once home they crack open the wine and spirits they bought, before at some point in the late afternoon a teenage son or daughter, dressed in threadbare clothes comes home from school and heads upstairs without uttering a word. In the hallway sits a walking stick and a wheelchair, these items used only when collecting benefit payments or when dealing with social services. Neither accessory is needed, yet both play an important role in the life of these benefit scroungers. 
Important note; the money they have spent today has not been earned honestly. It has been handed to them by a state duped into accepting whatever sob story was concocted to cover the fact we have two lazy freeloaders choosing not to work. They have applied for, and received every benefit going, and in so doing enjoy a lifestyle that many would envy.
I have a major problem with this. Call me hardliner, but doesn't being a member of society come with certain responsibilities? Aren't we all meant to contribute in order for society to function for the greater good? If yes, who gave these two, and thousands of others a free pass? I, like you, work very hard and take a certain pride in supporting my family. I don't even mind paying taxes so long as they are wisely spent for the good of all. More than that, I want to support and protect those genuinely vulnerable people who are unable to work, and I don't begrudge them a penny of support. 
As for the freeloaders, these lazy, sly, poor excuses for human beings I have no time at all. I think we need to root them out, name and shame, and force them to put their perfectly healthy bodies to work. We live in a society where cooperation is the key to a better future. We all have to contribute and play our part. We're citizens with responsibilities, not parasites with a God given right to fleece all the hard working men and women presently struggling through these dark financial times.
I'm not happy paying to subsidize scroungers. I want them outed, I want the balance restored, and if you're not prepared to play your part in getting Britain back on it's feet then don't expect a handout from me.

Monday, 11 July 2011

I Think You Just Made That Up?

I've spent the last couple of months dipping into a discussion thread over at Richard Dawkins brilliant website for reason and science. I've had the opportunity to listen to and engage with a theologian who on many levels has been hugely impressive. He is bright, articulate, knowledgeable, and tremendous at picking out the specifics behind the objections raised by others. What's this, I hear you say? Is Rob softening in his views on religion? Has he finally seen the light once again?
Not so fast. It has actually had the opposite effect, and I have this gentleman to thank for enlightening me to the sheer emptiness of his craft.
Example; according to him, God is immaterial, timeless and uncaused. In plain language he posits that the Creator is not made of anything, always existed, and was the cause of his/her/it's own existence. 
Now let's acquaint ourselves with some generally accepted facts. At present, physicists freely admit that whilst we can get close to the moment of the big bang, we hit a wall beyond which all our ways of understanding break down. Now to their credit, they simply admit this. They say, as they must, that beyond this point the origins of space-time are unknown. So whilst the professionals hold up their hands the theologian stumbles gamely on, venturing into uncharted territory and having the nerve to venture the kind of claims that would make OJ Simpson blush. And herein is the fundamental flaw in theology. It goes beyond what we know, and without being too blunt starts making stuff up. I'm not impressed.  And when all is done and dusted what you are left with is less knowledge than when you started.
Here's all you need to know about theology. It starts from an unproven premise; namely God exists. It then backward engineers all kinds of silliness in order to offer credence to the aforementioned idea. If you dare challenge a theologian about Biblical history, Biblical integrity, or bring up any of it's myriad contradictions you will typically be met with the statement, "Ah yes, but even if the Bible is untrue it doesn't disprove the possibility of God. Only it get's worse, because they then pull the same trick with evolution, or failed prophecy, or some other element.
Confession; I cannot disprove the existence of God. But surely, surely we can draw some inferences from the real world? Evolution is directly at odds with what the Bible says about our origins; whilst the Good Book has also been wrong so many times over. It condones slavery, demands adulterers, homosexuals, and sometimes even children be put to death. In short, it is a second rate collection of absurd and barbaric teachings interspersed with sporadic dosages of wisdom that had already been better stated elsewhere. So what do I think of theology? 
I think it is a waste of time. I think it is an empty shell, a whitewashed tomb, and an abuse of minds that could be better applied to resolving some of the real problems facing the world today.

Gender Offender?

I follow a blog that has recently been swept up in a furor over some sexist comments. Basically, a female speaker at a conference was in a lift on her way back to a hotel room when she was propositioned by a male. She politely said no, and went on her way. Next day she went online and gently asked guys not to behave this way. So far, so reasonable? Well apparently not, as a positive dust storm has blown up concerning how we sexualize women and by so doing demean them. Now I freely admit to being torn on this issue; on the one hand I recognize that nobody has the right to proposition somebody in such a clumsy, overt manner. For what it's worth, I'm too much of a coward anyway, but that's not the point. The point, so far as I can tell, is how we strike a balance between harmless interaction and behavior that steps over the edge? Now as a person with about as much social tact as a dog with a cushion I am not the font of all wisdom here, but it seems to me that the majority of relationships find their own level? We interact differently with some people than we do with others. I've some friends where double entendres lace every conversation, whilst with others I make a conscious choice to respect their boundaries and reign my natural mischievousness in. This appears to work fairly reliably, so I'm inclined to conclude that behavior needs to be modulated until any given interaction finds it's feet. Now I adore women. I am obsessed, fixated, in thrall of you. I always have and I always will be, and you can take that as a compliment. I am attracted to most women in either one way or another, which is to say that I can always find qualities to admire. Note that this doesn't mean that I am objectifying you, just that I love the gender differences and enjoy spending time with you. Growing up with two older sisters probably removed some of the mystery and I've alway felt comfortable in your company, which is something I'm quite proud of. To be sure, I've said my share of clumsy and risqué things down the years, but anybody who knows me has long since figured this is just part and parcel of my slightly deranged personality. I'm predictably unpredictable, and if this is a problem for you then nobody is under any obligation to spend time around me. Anyway, back to the matter at hand. To conclude, there's a good chance that there will always be a certain dynamic when male and female interact. This to me seems normal. Trick is, know where the boundary is, respect the other person and their persona, and be mindful that we all come to the party with different baggage and pre conceived ideas. If a women has been the constant subject of harassment I don't blame her for being sensitive on the matter, no more than I blame a man who has been wounded at the hands of an ex-partner. This isn't a one size fits all world, so be a little self aware.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

A Special Kind Of Stupid

I've just listened to a talk on free speech. I don't think I've ever heard the case better made. For those of you already yawning can I ask you, for a moment, to consider just how much you take for granted? Readers of this blog know my views on religion; I consider it brain acid, Route 1 on the yellow brick road to bad ideas. In the west we can, for the most part, speak freely. For example, I can dismiss the prophet Muhammad as a war mongering peodaphile and point to verses within scripture to illustrate this. I can mention that Jesus never once condemned slavery and advocated that a person leave his home to follow him without giving second thought for their family. Stupid role models, stupid ideas, sadly followed by a large volume of the worlds bewildered populace. I can say these things because society has been shaped to allow me to do so. In the video I watched it was pointed out that the first Gay pride was attended by 26 persons, all of whom were arrested and beaten by police. Fast forward to this century and we close down central London so these wonderful people can express who they are without fear of repression. Hard fought ideas, hard won.
Be under no illusion; both Christianity and Islam would withdraw these rights at the drop of a hat if they had power to do so. Now Christianity is a dead religion, or certainly in its death throes in Europe. I for one am perfectly happy to nudge its rancid corpse into the nearest open grave. But Islam is another proposition entirely. It is demanding more and more, and actively seeks to afford us less and less. If you're a female expect to become subject to the rule of man once again, and if you're gay well raise the barricades. You are punishable by death. And as for me, an Ex-Christian and staunch critic of all religion I can look forward to arrest and conviction for failing to show due deference to a set of ideas designed to reduce humanity to credulous sheep.
I dislike all religion. It makes good people slaves to bad ideas. And if they've learned these ideas on Mother's knee they have next to no chance of escaping them. Your freedoms have been hard won. And what can be won can be lost. And if you doubt this then sit back and watch as the tide of Islam sweeps in. Only this is no ordinary tide because it creates its own shorleline as it goes.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Built To Last?

As I write this I am in Surrey. Joy's youngest brother and fiancee are having an engagement party; all eyes are on a bright and prosperous future together. It's a happy time; they're on the brink of a journey that will shape and define them in so many ways. It's got me thinking about relationships in general, and what it takes to build and maintain them? I recall being told that if we spent less time trying to find the right partner and more time trying to be the right partner our relationships would be more successful. I can find no fault in this fairly obvious sentiment. Why then, do so many relationships that presumably start out with good intentions go so wrong? Well, if I were to hazard a guess I'd wager that a combination of selfishness and unrealistic expectations are probably at the root of things. It's hard to look outward, to put other's first, and to see beyond our own wants and desires. At the start of the relationship it's easy, all our passions are just so intense and immediate that all the arrows point in the same direction. It seems to me there's a transitional period to be negotiated, however, a time that starts from when those initial feelings ebb. An unspoken moment is reached when you have to choose to love rather than just swim in the chemistry of it. This is when relationships really take shape, and sometimes a tone is set that often leads to collapse. So what makes a relationship good? I'm no expert, but it probably has something to do with having two people willing to want each others highest good. Able to see beyond themselves and desire to see each other grow and become all that they can be. We've all heard the phrase the grass is greener, but I reckon that's nonsense. The grass is greener when you water it, and don't kid yourself otherwise. As couples remain together they change, which is unavoidable. Seems to me that its those that roll with this and embrace the change without seeing it as a threat that fare best. The person I am now is so changed from who I was ten years, or even five years ago. Why should we expect anything less? It goes without saying that trust and communication are pivotal, and I sometimes wonder just how honest couples are with each other about key aspects of their relationship? Do we understand them sexually? Or emotionally? If not why not? How can we be a decent partner if we've no idea what our other half needs from us? Again, this seems to me really basic stuff. Am I missing something?

Their Lives In Your Hands

When it hasn't rained for two years how do parents feed their family? When civil war tears apart the very fabric of society how can that society function? When the Catholic church preaches against condom use how can population be controlled? And when  women are considered as breeding machines, as the property of men what hope is there for equality?
Welcome to the Horn Of Africa. The Dark Continent.
I have been to Kenya, and I can tell you that Africa never leaves you once you have walked it's shores. Like nowhere else on Earth it captivate's and compels, inspires and enrages, bewilders and bewitches. One day I shall write more on these formative experiences, but today I have a specific agenda.
You have seen the images, and listened to windswept correspondents as they seek to illustrate just how bad it is. I could float all the images of dying children, devastated mothers, broken men, but this only works up to a point. So try to imagine the following scenario;
You are on your knees amidst a dustbowl of death, one of hundreds of thousands forced to flee from war, starvation, disease. In your arms you cradle the person dearest to you. Perhaps it is your child, or your partner, or a lifelong friend? It doesn't matter. What matters is that they are dying from a combination of malnutrition and disease, fading from this Earth with a sunken, forlorn certainty. Now imagine that on another part of the planet somebody is reading a blog. A stranger, a person whom you will never meet. They have just had breakfast; they are on their second cup of coffee of the day, and considering which pub to go to for lunch. There's a light rain outside and an open window nearby, allowing a cool breeze to pass through.
This distant stranger may never visit Africa, and it's problems are remote and alien. Yet despite this, they have the power to do remarkable good.
Now let us return to our scene in Africa. As you cradle your loved one, how do you regard this distant foreigner? They have so much whilst you are about to lose everything. Is there anything in these two images that gives you pause for thought?
Today, this morning, we can start to make a difference. A small donation from you may mean one less grieving mother, one less corpse, a tiny bit more hope. We have so much. We are so fortunate. In light of this, what will you do?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Useless Men

Joy and I know someone whom has recently decided, after many years, to separate from her husband. Whilst hard, nobody could condemn her for this choice. Now please note that, to the best of our knowledge hubby has never been violent, or intimidating, or coercive. He was, or should I say is, simply an utterly useless man. I don't say this lightly; he's a nice enough bloke, but useless is the only appropriate word. For over ten years he has basically failed to meet her emotional and physical needs,  and despite fathering two children he has more or less assumed the role of a third child, his wife making all the major decisions, having to remind him of everything, unable to trust him to carry out even the basics. Granted, he was always a bear with a pretty small brain, but all the same he's singularly failed to manifest anything close to masculinity.
What do I mean by that? Well here's my take; being a man means assuming a degree of responsibility. It means having a quiet inner confidence, a steadfast disposition, yet never losing the slightly primal elements that make us what we are. It means listening, it means facilitating, it means acknowledging that certain responsibilities cannot be shirked. It means showing a mixture of compassion mixed with strength, it means that your partner should always feel safe around you but never quite able to second guess your every move. It means mixing tenderness with resilience, confidence with humility, clear mindedness with a willingness to be open to new ideas and compromise. It's not about being the boss; just about having enough presence  that your children respect you and that your partner doesn't have to direct you around like some stupid schoolboy.
There are a whole lot of useless men in the world. Or should I say a lot of boys who should really start acting like men. Alarm call, gentlemen; you're giving the rest of us a bad name. 

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

My Wedding Night

If you follow convention, a couple's wedding night should follow a fairly tried and trusted theme. A fond farewell from dear friends, a departure to romantic climbs in the back of a luxury car, and a night of unrivaled passion not seen since Romeo ascended that balcony to have his wicked way with Juliet.
Our's didn't quite follow that format. Actually, it didn't even flirt with it. Truth is, as romance goes, it was a bit deficient. First of all,huge thanks to the scoundrels whom decided toothpaste and baked beans would look good over the bonnet and the windscreen.  And whilst we're mentioning the car, I'm not sure a 1980's maroon Austin Meastro compares so well against some of the other available options. But hey, it least it was clean, or had been. So anyway, trailing cans and other debris we made steady progress through Hemel Hempstead, the windscreen oddly discolored and looking like a cooking surface from Masterchef. By the time we reached Aston Clinton a decision had been made, albeit one that arguably lacked a certain romantic finesse. We stopped at a garage and I gave the car a jet wash. Yes, you did hear that right. I spent my wedding night washing the car.
But all was not lost! Surely an exotic destination awaited us? An oasis of luxury, indulgence, the beds laced with petals and the champagne on ice?
Actually no. We went home to Albert Street. No wait, it's not as bad as it sounds, honest. You see, Joy and I had never lived together, and we'd spent the previous nine weeks renovating the house, transforming it from an uninhabitable shell into a beautifully decorated, freshly carpeted first home. And believe it or not we'd chosen to wait before spending the night together. How's that for traditional? Bet you never thought I'd be capable of that, did you?
So we were home. Our home. Our first home. We thought we'd kept it a secret but somebody had left us croissants and flowers and condoms on the doorstep. Anyway, we were reaching that moment, the one that all newlyweds look forward to. Our first night together. Only that didn't exactly go to plan either. I mean, Joy had sixty seven pins in her hair! Have you any idea how long it took to go rooting around for them? Tell you what, by the time I'd safely recovered every last one it was stupid O'clock and we were both knackered. So without putting too finer point on it, our wedding night fell some way short of the one's you see in the movies. Still, we got to cuddle up together, and those croissants tasted grand come the morning.

Monday, 4 July 2011

When The Bad Days Dawn

Hell bound sinners such as me will occasionally be exposed to the following challenge; we're told that when things go bad, when we're suffering and grieving we'll turn to God for help. Ok then, let's run with this. Supposing I do capitulate and hand in my powers of reason like a gunslinger has to hand in his guns before entering the saloon, how would that in any way make God more real?
Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a coward as the next guy, and fear can make a mockery of many of our deeply cherished ideals. But consider for a moment; don't you think I've tried to believe this stuff? Don't you think I've studied and reflected and considered all that your God appears to offer? Please acknowledge that I have almost certainly given the God question far more consideration than most church goers. For goodness sake I lived it for 13 years. I lead drama teams and home groups; I was baptized as an adult and read the Bible inside out. I used to be a proficient apologist for the Christian faith, I prayed and I fasted and I read the great theologians. And then you come along and suggest that if I just suffer enough, if I just find myself crushed beneath the wheels of life's misfortune that will do the trick?
Perhaps it might? But ask yourself, would that make what you believe any more real? Or would it just make me a credulous fool?
I rejected Christianity because the Bible is demonstrably man made. I rejected it because it's an empty white washed tomb. If the average church goer knew a tenth of what I know about how that book has been altered, interpolated, and redacted they might have pause for thought. If they allowed themselves to see beyond the culture in which they live they'd see that issues such as natural evil, animal suffering, and biological evolution serve as wrecking balls to religious belief. I did everything I could to save my faith, but at the end of the day I was left with a stark choice. Do I want to go where the truth leads? Or do I want to continue to live a lifestyle unsupported by facts? What was I seeking? Comfort or an honest outlook concerning the way the world is? If I'd stayed I would have been lying to my friends, my family, my children, my wife. Worse, I'd have been lying to myself. And that's a path I cannot tread. So continue to remind me that the day will come when I collapse in a heap and cry out. Perhaps I will. Just don't be under the illusion that my failings make your fabrications any more real. The world doesn't work that way.

Enduring Friends

I'm 40 years old now. I'm comfortable in my own skin. I feel no inclination whatsoever to form relationships that don't form naturally, nor will I try to generate chemistry where none exists. Is that rude? Am I cold? Or am I just saving a lot of people a whole lot of time trying to second guess me? You see, the best relationships I've had have been with people  prepared to share a bit of who they are. I struggle to engage with those who erect barriers, or who just seem cold and distant. Life's too short and frankly I cannot be bothered. Conversely, I warm up around those who can be real and laugh at themselves, people who can make me think and smile and render the whole process worthwhile. Route one to alienating me is to be petty, or malicious, or underhand. These are traits I loathe and will always distance myself from. 
In the last week I've spent time with two people I treasure and respect hugely. There's Karen, my bipolar buddy,  whom I've known for getting on 28 years. Her openness and personal honesty, coupled with her astoundingly funny self depreciation have been warming my heart since my school days. She's been through more in her 40 years than most will in a lifetime, and descended into some dark places more than once. Yet despite this she has raised five amazing children, each of them a credit to her. When we get together hours can flash by in minutes, and no matter how long has passed we just pick up where we left off. And then there's Kevin, a mate from my Christian days. Our pub rendezvous have been, dare I say it without mockery, a real blessing. He has retained his faith whilst I have long since decommissioned mine, and on paper we should be coming in from different sides. Remarkably, brilliantly it just doesn't feel that way. We're so acquainted with each others world views that we can argue on behalf of each other, each assuming the other's position. Thing is, he remained a friend when others found it too hard to be around me. I'm grateful for that, and I respect his decency and honesty more than any other Christian.
In summary, I don't have many really close friends. I have lot's of people I think well of and enjoy being around, and I wouldn't want anybody to think otherwise. I hope you don't mind me being this honest? I just think there's enough falsehood in the world without me adding to it. A good friendship is like a quietly burning lamp. The light brings hope and  comfort, and sometimes even helps us to see  more clearly ahead.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


We'd probably all like a bit more of it. We've probably all worried about it at one time or another. And we'd probably all agree that what some people have done in pursuit of it borders on the inhuman. Money is the great dictator, issuing edicts about what we can and cannot do. It decides where we live, what we buy, and often whom we spend our time with. Can you think of any other force that has such a hold over us?
I confess that I have one particular bee in my bonnet on this matter, and it goes thus; have you ever heard a colleague or a friend complain that they are just so poor? You have? Thought so. Now ask yourself, is the word poor in any sense appropriate? Consider the following; today 6/10th's of the worlds population will eat only rice, if anything at all. Furthermore another 30,000 will die of starvation. Still think that the term poor applies to you? I'd argue that most of you who read this have more now than the majority of the world will ever have. You have a roof, a bed, food on the table. Just because we cannot have all we desire does not mean that we are poor.
Actually, there's another bee. Anybody heard the term "Squeezed middle" since the banking crisis emerged? It's a middle class gripe bemoaning how we middle earners are bearing the brunt of the cuts. The term, to my clumsy ear at least, shrieks of griping. Poor old Middle England, unable to privately school your kids, or shop at Waitrose, or afford that second holiday. Woe is you; how cruel is the world!
Message to Middle England. Shut up. Seriously, just shut the fuck up. You pathetic, insipid, over educated fools. You have it better than most and still complain that you can't put jam on your bread.? You disgust me beyond all decent contemplation, and what you say is an affront to the many thousands of poverty stricken people who are genuinely on the breadline. If I hear that term used publicly I will personally rip you a new intellectual posterior.