Tuesday, 8 December 2015

From The Lips Of Mr Fury

Many of you have probably heard of Tyson Fury. Many of you won't. For the unenlightened he's recently become a boxing world champion, and for that I applaud him. However, that's where the positives end. As a member of the travelling community he has a unique take on society; many might add an outdated view. He appears to be quite the homophobe and also a bit too keen to utter phrases such as “Women should know their place”. Now you don't need me to articulate that these positions appear, to put it charitably, a bit neanderthal. I think as a society we are doing a reasonable job of ceasing to define a person by their sexual orientation or gender, give or take a few hundred million religious zealots and small sub sections of society such as travellers. Point is, I don't need to talk you through why such views are dumb, but I do need to strike a note of caution as to how we deal with them. Critically, I don't want such views silenced, because as an advocate of free speech I do believe that people have the right to talk out of their arse. Just as we have the right to point this out. I consider the free exchange of ideas to be fundamentally critical to sustaining a healthy society. You can criticise me, and I you. And lo and behold we disagree, and then go get on with our lives. Concerning the traveller culture towards women I am not a fan. I happen to think that the empowerment of women and the removal of obstacles preventing this is key to making the planet a more peaceful and prosperous one, but I can't compel everyone to think this way. I recognise also that there are many women who enjoy being in a position of submission to men, and it isn't for me to deny them this desire. Concerning Mr Fury and his silly talk about homosexuality, I actually regard it as useful. Useful because it illustrates, albeit in binary terms, how archaic such views are. So what I'm saying is that we can put away our pitchforks. Let him speak. Let him wax lyrical. And then let's point and laugh at him, before getting on with our day. I want a society where all views are heard, because society is the engine room of enlightenment. We pull and tear at the good and the bad, hopefully moving forward into a world where we have a clearer idea of what constitutes goodness and harm. So let's allow these people a voice, and let's chew the proverbial fat. To do otherwise, to seek to silence such inanity, seems to me more of a backward step than a forward one.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Question I Don't Ask Anymore

Something has just occurred to me. Once upon a time, whenever faced with a terrorist atrocity I would find myself asking “Where is God?”
I've just realised that I haven't done that. And I'm delighted. It means I've shed the poisonous delusion in its entirety. I've come to realise that it's a non question, a sub standard question. It doesn't help to combat delusion with delusion. And whilst religion was clearly foremost in the minds of the Paris attackers, along with its promises of fast tracking to Paradise and more Virgins than they can shake their proverbial sticks at, I can't say I've heard a great deal of people ask the “Where was God?” question. For me this is a positive. It's the kind of question that takes up intellectual space. All I know is that if I was God, and if the people of Earth were my children and meant anything to me, I wouldn't be relying on the infamous free will defence to explain away my inaction. If I saw evil descending upon my children I would intervene. I would intervene because I exist. God does not intervene because he does not exist. And if he did, what should we make of such a creature that sits back in his celestial armchair and watches as armed goons unleash heavy weaponry upon terrified crowds? I don't doubt that there are a great many persons of religious persuasion that have been trying to square this circle, but I can save you the trouble. That belief that's so foundational to you, the thing that gets you through the rough stuff and gives you peace. A fabrication, I'm afraid. One you've spent years invested in, but one that is empty. Now it's not too late for most of you. You don't have to keep up the pretense, and let's face it you've wasted more than enough time already. As painful as it is to accept you have wasted years on a myth, on a zero, on the greatest lie of them all. This must be painful, perhaps terrifying to contemplate, but it is what it is. And in 2007 I walked the road myself, and it was a hard one. But my goodness, looking back now, jumping ship from religion to reality was the best leap I have ever taken. It meant turning away from friends, from a way of life and of being. And it took a very long time to fully extricate myself. But I have. And I survived. And the air is clearer because I don't have to defend the absurd anymore. Life is an incredible tapestry of experience, a rich banquet from which you can taste freely. You don't need religion to do your thinking for you. You never did. And as I write this, and as saddened as I am by the recent atrocities, I take comfort in the knowledge that there is one question I do not have to ask anymore.

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Letter To My Younger Self

Now there's a question. Instruction one would be to simply tell the arrogant and verbose younger me to be less of a cunt. I probably could have used a slightly less colourful word but none would capture the reality of what I was back then. Instruction two is predictable and would have been simply to value education, because I treated my entire school life as an inconvenience to be endured before I could find fame and fortune as a writer. As things turned out I made enough from writing to feed a couple of hamsters for a couple of weeks on the assumption that they ate conservatively. I should have listened more. End of. Instruction three, try to live your life without doing so at the expense of other people. I think I've apologised to most of the people I wronged during my school years as I felt genuinely bad about my behaviour. All but one were incredibly gracious and mature, and the one who was unable to forgive had good reason. Instruction four, try not to live your life as an apology, and don't get hung up over how others perceive you. I've mentioned before that the wait for universal popularity is a long one, so you might as well shed that skin before it makes you paranoid. Five, don't be afraid of who you are, unless the things that define you are likely to cause others harm, in which case get help. If you pose no such risk then experiment and enjoy learning about those shadowy corners of who you really are. Six, never be afraid to change your mind if that's where the evidence leads. You're probably not the genius you think you are so have a little humility and be prepared to think differently, even about the things you'd prefer not to. Seven; in this life you are going to be wrong about a great many things. Deal with it. Don't be proud and arrogant and oblivious to your own fallibility. That's a one way ticket to Stupidville. Eight; try curry. Curry’s great. This one requires no further exposition. Nine; don't worry about changing the world. You're doing that already by simple virtue of the fact you exist in it. You change the world every day. Ten; all that money you pissed up the wall from the age of 17-20 could have been spent doing any number of amazing things. Travel, or save; just don't let it all wash away. Eleven; don't get in that van with Craig Dawkins. He’s hammered and that van is going to end up on its side on a ditch with glass and sparks popping all around you. Twelve, just because you were a chubby kid doesn't mean you have to lack confidence with girls. They actually quite liked you once you stopped trying too hard. They like your sense of humour, and your big brown eyes. What you were doesn't equal what you are. Thirteen; value your relationship with your dad because he's going to be gone long before you hit 40. And realise sooner that he survived perfectly well without your advice before you began sharing your dubious teenage wisdom with him. Fourteen; stand up to bullies. You may win some and you might lose some, but the thing about bullies is that they love a soft target. So don't be soft target. Fifteen; those karate lessons you take once you've left school; when you fight the bigger guys get close to them. It's far more painful talking a full punch from a 17st lump and if you can get inside them you can cause all kinds of problems. Sixteen; learn that you're naturally a pleaser, and that it's OK to take pleasure in giving pleasure to others. And yes, I am talking about sex. You're already battling with this one ; give up buddy. It ain't going anywhere and somebody you'll meet this incredible lady who knows exactly what to do with what you are. It doesn't make you less of a man to want to put your lady first. Quite the opposite. Seventeen; that ability you have to laugh at yourself is going to be one of your defining qualifies. Never lose it. Eighteen; just because you never managed to earn a living as a writer doesn't mean you're not a really good one. Have confidence in your ability to communicate your thoughts, because someday you're going to have a blog that's read by people in over 135 countries, which when you think about it is really kinda cool.

Another Day In Paradise

Despite recent events in Paris, I'm still of the opinion that most denizens of planet Earth are basically good. I'm equally convinced that idiots come in all shapes, sizes, and skin tones. I don't heap all the religious people into the same group, but I do hold the view that that none say anything that secular voices haven't already said better. It would be easy for me to rip into the concept of jihad or Islamic extremism, but frankly if you're not clued up on the dangers these pose then there's simply no waking you up. So instead I'm going to reflect on the goodness of humanity, the better angels of our nature, and try to make the case that despite the existence of evil and delusion and barbarity, most of us actually want to leave the world in a better state. As such, when faced with terrorist atrocity the only thing to do is, well, exactly what we were doing before. We live out our lives, live by our shared values and seek to deepen the Well of human kindness. We alleviate suffering, comfort the stricken, and show sufficient courage when faced with the savagery of terrorism. I for one do not intend to let the bearded fools of IS prevent me from loving my wife, protecting my children, and making for ourselves lives that are rich and deep and satisfying. To change how we are would be to acknowledge that such evil has the power to do so, which I do not think we can allow. I cannot imagine what possesses a fellow human to seek the harm of another; the whole idea is alien to me. What I do know is that I want no part of it. Their violence is their violence; their delusion their own unique delusion. Nor will I let rage and bile get the better of me, for to do that is to take a tiny step towards mirroring the obscene hatred the extremists have of us. I do not hate them. I pity them. I find them tedious examples of what happens when people cease to see others as human. And at the end of day are we really so different? Aren't we just hairless apes bumbling through? And what makes certain people so committed to making the whole world dance to their tune? As if that's even possible. Give me diversity, give me opposites, give me an expansive banquet of colour and variety, and I'll give you world that's worth living in. And that's what we already have isn’t it? And you don't need to cross oceans to figure this out. Walk down any street and see divergence, variety, eclecticism and oddity. God forbid we ever find ourselves in world where we are required to think and act the same. Ultimately, the battles of today might look as though they are waged on the ground, but the truth is far simpler. These wars are battles of ideas, and they rage in the hornet’s nest more commonly referred to as the human mind. This is where tomorrow's world is forged, in the white hot furnace of today's intellectual discourse. So we better ensure our narrative is a good one, and that we back it up with courageous acts, because if we do not create the mood music then other’s will, and if it's all the same to you I'd like this world to remain a diverse and intoxicating place. Contrast this with the dreary monotone dirge of extremism with its edicts and instructions and prohibitions. What a horrible world it would be should it ever come to pass. What a small world. What a turd of a world. Put me on the next boat out.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

If I Was A Human Trafficker

If I was a human trafficker I would be rubbing my hands with glee. I would be salivating. I would be seeing dollar signs. I would be delighted that market conditions are ripe and that business is set for long term growth. And perhaps I'd also be allowing myself a sly grin at just how adeptly I've set the mood amongst the people of Europe. Their good nature is the key to my success, their immediate and admirable desire to see the suffering of so many alleviated. The doors of the continent are open, and this is a tide that will keep on coming. And all the time Europe thinks that it is helping when, as time will likely attest, we've inadvertently done the complete opposite. So long as we have such short range vision the market conditions will persist. The boats and the lorries will keep coming, and the tide of human misery will deepen as so many seek out the services of those who promising safe passage. Right now we think we're helping, and in the short term we are. But this is not a short term game; in fact it will be a game without end unless we tackle the problem at source. That boy on the beach isn't the first and won't be the last, and perhaps the biggest tragedy is that this stark image which has captivated us all will probably end up as the catalyst to even greater misery for the afflicted. I've struggled to balance my human desire to help with the hard headed rationalist in me that just knows that if we allow the tide to persist the misery will hit even greater heights than what we see already. And believe me, we ain't seen the half of it. And as we Twitter and Facebook our moral consciences please understand that you may very well end up causing orders of magnitude more suffering amidst those least likely to survive it. I've seen those images, and felt the rage and the frustration and the compulsions to help everybody now. Right now. The trouble is, I just can't shake the feeling that by opening the doors too wide we will witness catastrophic future affliction, death and deprivation on a scale greater than the horrors we've already seen unfold. If we want to help, and help in a way that is likely to alleviate suffering over the long term we need to stop those boats, disable these trafficking cartels, and deal with the wider issues that have turned the Middle East into a continent of death. I hope as you read this I do not seem cold or cruel. I do not mean to be. I just don't think short term solutions are any solution at all. Especially when the challenge is this big.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Narrow Road To The Deep North - Book Review

I write this review in the absolute knowledge that I cannot do the book justice. Just can’t. I do not have the words. What I can impart are some of the feelings it left me with, powerful and shifting, along with this sense that I have just emerged from a deep and profound encounter with the human condition. Leave all that you know or think you know at the door, because Richard Flanagan is going to drag you by the collar through pretty much the entire gamut of human experience as you accompany him on this tour de force. The premise is straightforward enough, an account of the life of a fictional character called Dorrigo Evans, an aspiring medic whom falls in love with his uncle’s young wife before being torn away to war and eventually experiencing and surviving the horrors of the Burma railway. Thing is, whilst the book is about him, it is just as much about us. About humanity at its best, its worst, its most passionate, most cruel, most desperate, and most noble. My God how we seem so capable of reaching the heights and plumbing the depths. Our ability to rationalise the obscene, justify the un-justifiable, to cease to treat our fellows as anything recognisably human. In contrast, we see bravery and resilience and a refusal to yield to our base nature when we share the experiences of the many astonishing characters whom are also forced to endure those terrible months and years building those doomed railways. And the Japanese guards and Korean soldiers were as much prisoners themselves. Prisoners of the Emperors insane insistence that it was possible to build such a railway through the jungle without any of the tools normally required for such a vision. They saw those captured POW’s as dishonourable men, shameful creatures by virtue of their refusal to do what was perceived as the honourable thing, which to the Japanese was to commit suicide rather than be captured. In the eyes of their captors this at once rendered the prisoners as less, as perhaps sub human. And their consequent treatment appears to flesh this out. Starved and worked quite literally to death, thousands diminish to hundreds, and eventually to fewer still, death the norm rather than the exception. And as the railway slipped behind schedule the burdens upon survivors increased, forced to work longer, to survive on less. One truly harrowing episode see’s Evans seeking to perform an operation on the gangrenous leg of one poor soul whom had already suffered two previous operations. Only by this time there is really no leg left, and there is a true sense of desperation when Evans tries repeatedly, desperately to seal up the femoral artery as the patient bleeds out amidst the filth and the mud. And what becomes of the men that do survive these horrors? They are of course forever changed, and the book shifts focus perfectly as it explores how some cope, and how some do not. And what of the Japanese that evaded capture and execution? It emerges that some evolve into what we might term kind and benevolent creatures, able to justify their actions and continue living in the absence of other options. What was once evil appears to become, if not quite contrite, somehow less evil? The question mark is deliberate because I do not know whether I could ever see such men as good. Suffice to say they moved on, they become something else, ascribing the war as a unique time, and the demands upon them unique demands. Many felt proud to have served their Emperor, able to achieve the inner moral justification that the treatment of those prisoners was a necessary requirement of unique times. And then there is the love story that underpins the first 3rd of the book, the young Dorrigo Evans bewitched by his Uncle’s wife Amy, herself trapped in a marriage of convenience to a kindly man. Adulterous yes. Immoral perhaps. Yet both Amy and Dorrigo are drawn to each other with an intensity that neither is able to resist, and their relationship proves to be the defining intimacy of their lives. There is no grand re-union. No happy ending. For the world rarely grants us such convenience. And this strikes at the root of The Narrow Road To The Deep North. It is not just a book about lives. It somehow manages to distill life itself, exposing the raw nature of our humanity as the clumsy, cruel, and sometimes beautiful thing that it is. And finally a word on the writing style of Flanagan himself. Compact, taut, nothing wasted, no dreary self indulgence. The lad can write and then some. I said at the outset that I cannot do this book justice, and I know as I read this that I haven’t. But I just had to write about it. I had to say something. It moved me. It screamed at me and it made me think. For this alone I am grateful, and I commend it to you without reservation.

It Was Never Really Meant To Make Sense

To be human seems to me to be to be doomed to live as a contradiction. How many of us can truly say that our actions reflect our thoughts, or that we are completely genuine one hundred percent of the time? I know I can’t. It’s just beyond me. I’d love to be consistent in thought and deed, but if my history tells me anything it is that at various points along the way I’m going to be swept along amidst forces that, If I am lucky, I might understand in hindsight. To be human, or at least truly human, is to accept that fallibility is a coat we must all wear. We’re so temporal, so fleeting, so small. Is it any wonder? My desire to be a better man ebbs and flows, as does my desire to rage at all the bullshit and the inanity that we, as a species, seem to so hungrily devour. Sometimes I just try to keep it simple, to avoid the battles and the stupidity, but there’s this kernel of mischief inside of me that doesn’t seem to want to go away. And I probably do not want it to. I expect I like the mischief, the ability to rabble rouse, and to stoke up the occasional bonfire or two. This comes from my desire to have personal meaning in the face of the fact that my life is ultimately of no meaning at all. I’m going to die someday. I’m going to end. And the world will go on and I will become a diminishing ancestral thought seeping down through the family line. These days I just try to accept life for what it is; an often comedic series of episodes, peaks and troughs, the good and the ill. And the only constant for me is the desire to be non constant, which is to say open to new experience and ways of thinking and being that make this whole journey engaging. My atheism is deeply helpful in this regard, and I consider my abandonment of fairy tales to have been an important landmark. I’ve been “out” for 8 years now. Perfectly happy to treat the whole idea of the eternal as the sham that it surely is. I do not seek perfection, instead settling simply for betterment. I’d like to be a little wiser tomorrow than I was today, I’d like to retain an open mind and the ability to change it without feeling that I owe anybody an apology in the process. And since when was changing your mind such a bad thing? Surely it’s essential? Surely it is the epitome of a mind that is comfortable with re-calibration, re-appraisal, and other terms the start with “re”. If you await some cosmic point to this blog then prepare for disappointment. I’ve no wisdom to impart. I probably never did. Suffice to say that if you think you have things sussed then you probably haven’t, and that intellectual inertia is going to kill you if you’re not too careful.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Those Inner Voices

I wonder how many of you reading this are subconsciously, or perhaps even consciously driven by fear? Fear of how you are perceived, received, assessed? I wonder how many of you have allowed yourself to be imprisoned by fear of what the world would think should it truly discover what's going through your mind? Well I can't help you with that, it's your issue and not mine. I can however convey a few nuggets of my personal experience regarding what it feels like to smash through that particular glass ceiling. Put simply it feels good. Refreshing. Invigorating. Illuminating. It feels like freedom. Being able to walk into a room and have no concern for what others think is liberating in a way that's hard to describe. No interest in being liked or disliked, respected or despised. It matters not. The whole idea is white sound to me. I do not care about what you think of my views on religion, or my sexuality, or my insistence that freedom of expression is the primary challenge of our age. I'm fully aware of my capacity to irritate, and I know I'm a calculated button pusher under certain conditions. And I know that when I say most people bore me that's not a popular thing. On the bright side, if you do bore me I'm not going to be spending time around you so it strikes me as a win win. Anyway, I've digressed horribly. The whole point of this post is to suggest that if you labour too long under the expectation of others, or from some need to be approved of or accepted then what you will succeed at is making a prisoner of yourself. You'll be ruled by fear, by anxiety, and you'll probably never really discover what it actually takes to be the most authentic version of you. And worse, you risk wasting precious time on this amazing planet. And you are going to die, and there is no God and no heaven and no eternity in some asinine celestial theme park. Now is the hour and today is the day, so for goodness sake seize it. Explore who you are, and if people disapprove then is that really such a big deal? Every morning you wake up as the primary person capable of making a difference to your own existence. Why not appreciate the scale of that opportunity? Why not actively seek to exploit this? At journey's end you're only going to have yourself to blame if you've spent your days as a prisoner, as a serf, as some petrified emotional cripple. So get out there in the world and get it done. Whatever "that" is. And get better at ignoring those inner voices that tell you that this isn't OK. OK?

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Stacking The Deck

As a parent, I want to see my children flourish. I want them to grow up in the knowledge they are loved, valued, and to have a healthy outlook and a degree of hope. Yet when I see how difficult it is for young people these days I wonder whether society is giving them a fair chance? I look at the price of housing, and from the get go I just cannot for the life of me see how a young person can get on the ladder. Minimum deposit of 25% required in some cases, and borrowing up to 3.4x their salary. And to this add student fees, and all the other costs of living. That looks like a challenge for a couple, let alone a single person just starting out. Talking of couples, it now seems to be the case that both have to work full time to cover the basic costs of living, so where does this leave time for relationship building, for child care, for building a strong and healthy family dynamic? It just looks to me as if we're stacking the odds against them, as if we're intent on trying to throw as many stumbling blocks in the way as we can. Even the best and most committed parents are going to struggle to give their kids a decent foundation when they are so busy trying to keep the wolves from the door. Joy and I bought our house 18 years ago, put down a big deposit, and as such have had a tiny mortgage for the entire duration of our marriage. This allowed us to survive on a single income, enabling Joy to be a stay at home mother and invest in our girls. How many of today's young people are ever going to have this option? How can you raise a family when there is so much external pressure just to keep the debts down? Heck, for that matter, how is it even possible to be a partner in a relationship that has so many challenges from the outset? I wish I had an answer, but I cannot create affordable housing or reduce student loans. If I could I would. This blog for me is borne of deep sadness, of frustration that we continue to stack the deck against the younger generation. It's almost as if we are setting them up to fail. And as we do this the real cost is to society itself, which continues to fragment and morph into something so far removed from traditional family as to render it unrecognisable. And I'm a big supporter of the traditional family because this gives us the best chance of giving our kids what I'd describe as roots and wings. Roots being a deep sense of inner security, wings being the confidence to fly the nest when the time is right. And at the end of the day I just want to see my kids have a realistic chance of having a rewarding and full life. The life I've been fortunate enough to enjoy. I just wish I could do more to make this possible, but it all seems so out of our hands.

Monday, 3 August 2015

RIP To The Culture Of Expectation. You Won't Be Missed.

"Please sir, can I have some more?"
You might automatically link this plaintive cry to Oliver Twist. However it makes me think of modern British society, so many of us with our begging bowl outstretched waiting for government you fill it with all that we perceive we are entitled to. Now clearly the new government has other ideas. It's creating a meaner, leaner, less empathic society in which we are expected to forage for ourselves. Will this leave many with less than they had before? Yes. Do I think this is a good idea over the long term? Yes. You see, I think the short to medium term pain is worth it for long term gain, and I really do think that we are so desperately in need of a culture change further to years of handouts, benefits, and coddling. If you want to dismiss me as a true blue tory then I suppose you could, but truth be told I've been banging the drum for culture change for years. So to avoid misunderstanding here's how I see the world, and my role in it. I expect to support my family; I expect to have no more children than those I can afford to support. I expect and want to pay tax in order that society might flourish; I expect to have to save for my pension and not expect the younger generation to subsidise me. I want to play my part in this by working hard, by doing the right thing, and by showing kindness and compassion to those whom I am in a position to help. Concerning the welfare state I believe passionately that the vulnerable need to be protected, and given help and support to find stability and hope and the chance of a better future. What I don't want is to fund the lifestyle choices of the lazy, the indolent; those who have the expectation that society somehow owes them happiness and wealth and comfort and freedom to abstain from the things the majority of us do every day. These people frustrate me, and their way of thinking appalls me. I want to be a part of a nation that is forward thinking and self responsible, a society that takes personal responsibility and has an intrinsic understanding that we have to earn the good things in life. Now let's be under no illusion that some people will suffer, and we have to do our best to ensure that the genuinely vulnerable do have a support structure and means of ascending out of disadvantage. My target demographic are those that can do but won't do; those who think society owes them something. It doesn't. We don't. And these people need to change or suffer the fruits of their stupor.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Dear Extremist, If It's All The Same To You. . . .

10 years ago,evil and religiously inspired idiocy formed a near perfect symbiosis, and 52 lives were wiped off the face of the earth. Meticulous, calculated, horribly clear minded. At least in the minds of the perpetrators. Today I walked past Northern Road in Aylesbury, where one Germaine Lindsay, carpet fitter and now infamous lunatic formerly lived. His brain, like so many others, warped and twisted and dehumanised by the insane preaching of extreme Islam. I wonder, is the world a safer place? A better place? I think not. What then, can simple folk such as you and I do in the face of such cretinous barbarism? Well for starters I'm going to walk the dog. Then I think I'll take my amazing wife for a pub lunch. After that I'll do the school run, pick up my daughters, and return to our little home. In short, I will continue with my way of life. I will do the simple things that make us human, and do as much as I can to show kindness and compassion and decency. This to me seems the only correct retort when faced with the extremists of this world. They wish you and I to change, to absorb us into some obscene Borg assimilation. No thank you, I respond with my standard chirpiness. I'll just carry on being me, living the British way of life and doing all the things you'd prohibit me from doing if you could. Dear extremist, you may yearn for your Caliphate, and wax lyrical for the day when the Crescent is flown across every capital on every continent. Whilst this may be your desire I really cannot sign up for it and feel somewhat compelled to refuse your kind offer of brainwashing and mental servitude. And I really think we all just need to keep being us, living out those democratic values which often cause us friction and disappointment, but those which we would be naked without. I love and cherish my freedom, my free mind, my right to live life by my own lights and not under the celestial guidance of a deity that, from the outside looking in, looks just a bit man made. So preach your hate, build your bombs, spew your venomous bile. It's white sound to me, and I'll be ignoring it, and playing my part in making this a world that is peaceable, democratic, and a place where we all have a voice.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

I Do Not Respect Your Religious Beliefs

I really don't. And to pretend otherwise would be a lie. I loathe how religions the world over make otherwise smart people believe abject silliness. I loathe how it can make otherwise loving parents disown and reject non believing children. And I loathe how it is used as a means of control and fear. To ask me to respect your religion is like asking me to look at a dog turd and pretend it's a steak pudding. It really isn't going to happen. But here's what I will do. I acknowledge your religious belief. I can do that, because it requires nothing of me other than to to sit back, raise a solitary eyebrow, and murmur under my breath, "You actually believe that?". That's the limit of my investment in your ridiculous worldview, the absolute closest thing to an olive branch I can extend. I can't respect you for believing bullshit any more than I can respect any example of poor reasoning. It just wouldn't do. And worse, it would tacitly extend a legitimacy to your view that I just don't want to loan out. Now of course you do not require my approval, which is just as well. But you should know that at no point will I take your abject beliefs seriously. And of course I speak of one who was snared by religious delusion for nigh on a decade before the forces of reason tugged me from my stupor. And hindsight always leaves me feeling just a bit embarrassed. A bit twitchy that I allowed myself to be so credulous, that I took so much on so little, that I wasted hour after fucking hour in Church buildings listening to well intentioned buffoons claim to know things that they cannot possibly know. Those days are almost a decade behind me now, and whilst my fondness for those whom remain hasn't dimmed, my sadness for them has sharpened. I know teachers, scientists, medical professionals; so capable in so many ways yet ultimately crippled and encumbered when it comes to knowing how the world really is. Where's this outburst come from, you might be wondering? You've not written about religion for years? To be honest this has been building and building for a while, and I've remained silent whilst the likes of ISIS spread its death cult across the Middle East, whilst the Church continued to oppose gay rights, and as it grapples over absurdities such as ordaining females into the senior clergy. Doesn't it all sound so backwards? So reminiscent of centuries old thinking that really should have gone the way of the Dodo. Now for those of a religious persuasion reading this blog please don't think I dislike you as an individual or wish to see you anything other than happy. It's just occasionally my bullshit detector goes into the red zone, a bit like a Geiger counter pinging to the right of the display, and it just becomes a case of better out than in. All this is to say that I dislike religion more today than ever, and I expect my dislike to deepen and my respect to diminish further. So in closing do not ask me to respect your beliefs, don't expect me to afford them legitimacy or anything even close to intellectual salience. Your religion is brain acid. Total brain acid. To acknowledge it is one thing, but to respect it is a bridge too far.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

True Blue?

I voted for the dark side last week. For the evil empire. For the end of civilisation, if you listen to some. Apparently this makes me uncaring, insular, infused only with self interest. Ok then, if you must paint with such broad brush strokes then that is your prerogative, but I absolutely reject your central premise. Now please note that I am not a political animal. I’m just a normal guy with a lovely family with an antiquated desire to work hard, pay my taxes, and do my bit to leave the planet in a better condition than when I found it. That’s it. That’s the master plan. And concerning my local MP, he is a fantastic guy with immense integrity whom happens to be Conservative. Fact is, this is Aylesbury. You could stick a blue rosette on a badger and it would be elected, but that is hardly the point. Getting back on track; I care about other’s, try to lead a good life, and aside from the occasional verbose outburst keep myself to myself. Yet, according to the Liberal left I am complicit in some great societal decay, greasing the engines of doom by daring to vote blue. Thing is, exactly who else was I meant to vote for? What kind of alternative utopian vision was out there demanding my attention? And concerning my own viewpoint, I want to see a society where we are all aware of both our rights and our responsibility’s. I want to see the demise of a culture of expectation and entitlement. Those who can work should work. Those who chose not to should not receive any support. For those in genuine need I want to support and empower them, to enable them to recover to a point where they can stand on their own two feet. And for those who, for genuine and demonstrable reasons, cannot do this, I feel strongly that we should offer financial and practical support. Simply put, I want to draw a clear distinction between those in genuine need and those whom simply choose to live off the toil of others. I think we need to get better at this, and that this message is writ large across society. The genuinely vulnerable are our responsibility, but the feckless and the lazy are not. At heart, I want to see a nation that aspires to be better, for people who ask what they can give before they demand what they can get. I see this as fair, as reasonable, and as worthy. Now I can already hear the cacophony of contempt such a post will inflame, and I am not blind to the past, present, and future failings of this Government. I’m not even going to defend them. I simply assert that on balance, they better fit where I come from in the marketplace of ideas. Do as you will with this.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Re-Humanisingly Yours

I've just spent an hour reading about drug use and the influence it has on a society. I'd started reading it as a zero tolerance hard liner, albeit with a side dish of wanting to see cannabis legalised, but emerged acutely aware that my thinking has been all wrong on the matter. One hour; that's all it took for years of entrenched thinking to be cast into the wilderness. This makes me either one of two things. I'm either easily swayed and extremely credulous, or simply open to new information. It's the latter, in the event you were wondering. By the way, that isn't the subject of this blog, but during reading this inspirational piece I noticed a phrase which cut through me like a hot knife through butter. One of the contributors used the term "Re-humanising", and it hit me like a brick in the face. Ok, time to provide a context. I've been doing my job for eight years now. Eight years on the frontline, as the first point of contact in this nations efforts to maintain law and order. During this time I've undergone a widening schism, which has left me with compassion for the victims of crime, but none at all for those who perpetrate it. I'd annexed the two in my mind, and now I realise that I've been simply errant in this. And in doing so the dangerous nature of my thinking has been bought into stark relief. I have de-humanised a huge chunk of the society whom I promised to serve. I've allocated a worthy and unworthy status to whole chunks of the nation, making sweeping and clumsy generalisations as I crashed through a fog of self imposed ignorance. Now don't misunderstand me; I believe those who wrong society should be subject to correction, but I've equated the punishment of the guilty with some kind of levelling of the scales. Serve your time and let's move on. So simplistic that it actually beggars belief. I've failed to understand how those of us who seek to impose justice are actually net contributors to many of the issues we seek to resolve. Creating an us and them, making integration and connection and empathy so much more difficult. In short, I have been primitive, heavy minded, and quite often dismissive towards a huge swathe of society. Now do not misunderstand me; I will always be first and foremost an advocate of the victim, but I want to widen my lens and obtain a deeper understanding of those who walk darker paths. It's all common sense when you think about it, but it has been lost amidst the continual barrage of criminality I face during my working hours. I'm not saying that all persons are equally deserving of respect, because I happen to think that consistently behaving in a criminal fashion says something significant about an individual. What I do want to do is to factor in the deeper narrative, to paint in slightly less sweeping brush-strokes, and for reasons that are, strangely, quite selfish. I don't want to become too hardened. I don't want to sacrifice my own humanity in my rush to judge others. What a horrible sacrifice that would be. Oh, and if you're wondering if there is a take home message in today's blog then I can assure you that there is not. I'm doing this to blow away the cobwebs in my own thinking, to angst out loud. The message is from me and for me. If you find something in it that is useful to you then that's a bonus, but not the reason why I put these thoughts down.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Do I Even Understand What It Means?

Saturday afternoon. Weekend off. Family time. Here I am with so much in comparison to so many with so little, and just occasionally I find myself aware that much of the trivia that irritates me is utter bullshit. I can get wound up by such small things, make a mountain from a molehill, and pass it off as something that really matters. Only then I catch myself, and I realise that I'm being a fool. I’m doing some boring technical stuff on my PC, and had I tunes on shuffle. I’ve an eclectic taste in music, and the main theme from Saving Private Ryan filled my ears. God what a film. God what a tragedy that war was. As are all wars. None, not even the noble ones could ever be considered as anything other than a failure of the human condition. As the music drained me of my introspection I became aware that I’ve experienced nothing like war, nothing like the explosive misery that defined whole generations. And yet here I sit, sloth like in afterglow of tragedy past, wealthy and indolent, hardly bearing a moment to remember just how much my comfort cost those I shall never meet. And if I were to meet them I don’t think that I could look them in the eye. I think I would be ashamed of just how much I take for granted. But then don’t we all? How many of us sail blindly through existence not cherishing the important things, dwelling on the trivia, losing the meaningful amongst the banal? I hope I'm actually a better man than the one I sometimes allow myself to be. In fact it's a question I found myself asking during the early hours. Am I good man? Have a lived a good life? Have I done anything of value? Of course it's for others to decide upon that because I'm too close to the question itself. At my best I have passion; things matter to me and I fight alongside those who despise cruelty, injustice, abuses of power. But a good man? I genuinely don’t know. I’m not even sure I apprehend what that means?

Sunday, 8 March 2015

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Management

You will all be familiar with that quote, won't you? Google it and you'll find several books with that title. I wonder, did the authors find themselves besieged by throngs of irate managers demanding that the title be changed? That their sensibilities had been cruelly violated? Ok, let's try, "If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Owl Keeping". Is it probable that an equally massed throng of Owl Keepers, Hedwig perched disgruntled upon their forearms, descend with equal ferocity, demanding change and proclaiming feelings of deep insult? In truth, amongst the Managers and the Owl Keepers of this land there may exist a small percentage that do feel insulted, or somehow demeaned by such a title, but does this mean that such words should never be ventured? Are we expected to refrain from venturing a comment for fear that a tiny few may feel distress?
Not according to something known as the principle of harm, or the principle of offence, a benchmark philosophy ventured by John Stuart Mill, widely considered as an authority on matters of free speech. Put simply, and let us assume that no individual names nor organisations are specifically mentioned, nobody has the right to assert that we cannot say as we please. Now clearly there are limits of free speech, things that incite violence or personally defame, and I generally think society has a fairly good understanding of how to manage this.
Moving on, let's pick another phrase. How about "It Meets The Needs Of The Business". Now I've heard this at more than one company, and you"ll struggle to avoid it at most marketing/business seminars. It's a nebulous statement, Ill defined, able to mean everything and nothing. Hypothetically then, what if a person was to venture this one liner in the context of a group conversation on social media? What kind of person, or what kind or organisation would choose to take offence? And what would it consequently imply? Well if you're anything like me you've probably already drawn firm conclusions, none of which are likely to be favourable. Ok, let's get to the core; this is a post questioning what we should or should not be free to do in the context of social media, and for what it's worth here is my take. Anything which brings a named individual or an organisation or its policies into disrepute should be avoided, especially when so many organisations monitor social media usage. Specific insults, general defaming whether it is aimed towards the individual or to the organisation again may lead you to hot water. So tread carefully.
However, you will find, often through sheer lack of knowledge, that many do not understand the principle of harm nor the principle of offence, and will seek to tell you that some imaginary line in the sand has been transgressed when, in fact, no wrong has been done. My advice, my very strong advice is to fully study Mill's seminal observations in this area, because should the day come when you are challenged, you can refer to it and require those making the accusation to specifically point out where the principle has been violated. And here's a tip, if you have mentioned neither individuals nor persons you are on solid ground, and can legitimately insist that accusers either withdraw a complaint, or at least provide assurances that they will be better informed in future.
At present, I've had good reason to study John Stuart Mills very closely. It has helped me to decided whether to pursue a course of action which may result in an eventual change of personal circumstances. I can say no more at present, other than to suggest that should any of my readers be facing a similar scenario, and assuming you have defamed neither individual nor a specific organisation, you may also wish to take a similar path.

Monday, 23 February 2015

When Women Leave The Men They Love

Have just read an article concerning why women leave men they love. It's short, intriguing, and utterly obvious. It observes that a man can be a good provider, a good father, and a great many other positives, yet if they are not "present within the relationship" then all these count for nought. Yet what does it mean to be present?
By way of example the article cites men who fixate on hobbies and interests that remove the focus from their partner. Now we do need these; heck I need these, but if your primary focus is the next round of golf, visit to the pub, or gaming session then that might suggest your priorities are askew. It observes how you can be a great provider, a good father, a solid contributor to the house etc, yet still be distant, still disengaged.
It's all a bit obvious, isn't it? By way of example, I married Joy and not my Playstation 4, and whilst I love the latter, experience has taught me that it should never come at the expense of the former. I suspect most ladies respond positively to men who give them time, who listen, who engage and give of themselves in a real and authentic way. Should we be shocked if we find ourselves jettisoned when we treat our intimate partner as just another item in our inventory?
I am an offender here. I have form. Joy once said that I liked my life in little boxes. Boxes I could place on a shelf and bring down when I chose. Parent box, husband box, work box, leisure box. She was right; right in just about every way. Funny how sometimes it takes somebody else to point out a trait so obvious to all but the one who displays it. So yes, guilty as charged. But to my meagre credit I think I'm a reformed character; I hope I've got my priorities aligned now I'm into my 4th decade. More than that, I understand the value of putting effort into the right places. My Playstation 4 is many things, but it doesn't do anything deeper than distract me. Joy and I, aided and abetted by our fabulous girls have spent years building a life, a palace of memories and experiences. Moments to cherish, special and profound. We've lived, we've built, we've learned. So when I read articles such as the one earlier I kind of get it. It isn't rocket science; it's just common sense amplified. It's about putting the mileage in and seeing what life gives back. So I get why women leave men they love, especially if these men lack the awareness to see what really matters. It's a trap I've fallen into, a hard lesson learned. And I hope that by reading this, it might dissuade other guys from getting it so wrong before they finally get it right.

Friday, 20 February 2015

This. Here. Now.

I'm not interested in being a good person. I'm not interested in being a bad person. I'm interested in being this person. This is to say that I just want to figure it out as I go, and give myself the space and permission to evolve beyond how society tells me to be. And so far I'm inclined to think that kindness trumps cruelty, honesty trumps deceit, and self awareness trumps self delusion. I spent too many years being blown like a reed in the wind, caught up in a quiet conspiracy between the should's and the ought's. I never appreciated the true freedom of free thinking; I never claimed the simple gift of being indifferent to how others perceive me. It's liberating, I can tell you. To walk into a room and to be simply indifferent to how people think of me, or how they judge me, or what they say when I'm not around. Say it, think it; it's all white sound to me. This isn't to say that there aren't a great many people that I value because there are, but I'm not going to call a boring person an interesting one, or a fearful person a lion heart. I've no interest in deceiving myself anymore than I have in deceiving you. This is course means I can be a challenge to be around, and I totally get why I may not be everyone's cup of tea. I don't want to be. I've shed that skin. My relationships come without expectations nor tacit clauses. I let them evolve, just honest and real and hopefully liberating. And I'm not wearing a mask when I'm in your company; I'm just me, with all the positives and negatives that entails. I do not look into the future with any particular game plan, nor with a huge desire to split the atom or make a name for myself. I've got too few years left on this planet to worry about my legacy. In fact I'm keeping it simple; I'm going to try to be a decent husband, an engaged father, and a servant of the general public through the course of my work. It's all a bit dreary isn't it? So mundane and devoid of ambition? Well for my part I simply see it as living in the moment, as taking enjoyment in the immediate. Plan for tomorrow if you wish, but keep a bit of yourself in the now. That's where the fun stuff happens, and when memories are sown.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Spiritually Yours

Spiritually for me comes with no expectation of either eternal reward or punishment. I see it as available to us all in those moments when we stop and reflect and listen to that which is around us. If I'm in the midst of a peaceful, tranquil natural landscape then it touches me deeply. Those places where you cannot hear a car or the typical noise pollution. Beside a babbling stream, in the heart of an ancient forest, or atop a hillside on a clear day. In those moments I often feel a sense of the past rather than contemplate the future; I imagine how early humans lived in a world with none of its present day condiments. A tree with gnarled roots, the fleeting sight of a deer dashing between trees. Or alternatively, those moments in good company when people really connect, when they see and hear each other. And above all for me, when I encounter someone who really makes me think, or compels me to see the world slightly differently from how I saw it before. These things to me are deeply spiritual, and require no Gods or Goddesses. And then there's a glimpse through the Hubble, those astonishing images when we really can stare into deep time, when we see the light of ancient stars that probably expired countless ages before their immensity reached us. Or last thing at night when I go into our small garden and look into the night sky. I feel light in my stomach as a write this. And yes, spiritual. For me no Holy book could even come close to compelling me to feel such things. And I say this as a person who was traditionally religious for a great many years. I assert that I'm more spiritual now, more self aware, more beguiled by the universe than I've ever been.

My whole interaction with the cosmos is a relationship.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Fifty Shades Of Common Sense

I've not read Fifty Shades Of Grey. I require no "BDSM for dummies" starter pack. And aside from EL James' remarkable capacity for bad prose, she has got people talking. Or at least, the people who weren't talking about creative sexual self expression anyway. Now whilst Christian Grey is probably not the best mascot for BDSM, I think people whom are so inclined can search the tens of thousands of Internet forums, or blogs written by both male and female dominants and sub-missives. A careful inspection of the more highly regarded ones will teach you that the same phrase repeatedly crops up. Safe, sane, and consensual. If you apply this mantra to any form of sexual activity then there is absolutely no reason, as far as I can see, that loving and emotionally self aware couples cannot enjoy an entire banquet of sexual creativity. Fantasy comes in many forms, and as unique individuals we should welcome this. And as a man who loves to please his lady I consider it essential that I make every effort to understand what makes her tick and learn ways to enhance the intimacy and levels of connection between us. As such, when I hear people simply assume that alternative forms of sexual expression are automatically perverse or damaging I just have to role my eyes. And I wonder to myself, are these people fully aware of how a loving and creative sexual relationship can bring new strength and illumination to a couples? Now of course partners must decide their own limits, and no person should ever feel compelled to partake in an activity which they feel is degrading or damaging to them. But let's be honest shall we, a large silent percentage of the population have and continue to engage in many of the activities described in Fifty Shades Of Grey. And as far as I'm concerned, just so long as the bedrock of their interaction remains safe, sane, and consensual then I hope they have a lovely time. Some people enjoy receiving pain, or seeing people respond to pain. Same goes for a thousand and one forms of sexual activity. My advice to all persons who read this, irrespective of gender, is never to let yourself be drawn into any activity you do not feel ok with. And if you're wavering as to whether something interests you or not then discuss it with your partner. You're on a journey together after all, and you'd be wiser and more likely to achieve mutual satisfaction if you share with honesty and candour your boundaries and expectations and fears.
This is just common sense. This is the beating heart of any positive relationship. And as you grow together the boundaries may shift, and things once inconceivable may become of greater interest. Keep an open mind, but more than that keep a warm heart. A heart of compassion; a heart motivated by a desire to love your partner, in whatever shape or form this may take.
This blog isn't about sex. It's about communication. And if you've had to wait for me to say it then that says something quite profound about you.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Knight And His Queen

A Knight, if viewed in the traditional sense, is man whom is a protector, a servant, and chaste. Oh well, two out of three ain't bad. This is to suggest that a Knight is a man of strength, of honour, an outward looking fellow in almost all regards. And a Knight isn't really a Knight unless he has Queen. A lady to serve, to honour, to cherish, and to yield to.
Ok, I know what you're thinking. The medication isn't having the usual effect today? He's off on one. And you'd be right. In actual fact I've been off on one since October 2013, because that was when Joy and I began to do things a little differently. Do allow me to explain, and do try to keep an open mind. In so many ways Joy is a traditional girl; classy and feminine and simply oozing intellect and dignity. In contrast I'm a Tasmanian devil, a whirlwind of contradictions and repressed insanity, a contrast of rapier intellect and village idiot. Put simply, she's the sensible one and I'm the court jester. I am a man however who loves to please, to put his lady on a pedestal and create a space where the sky is the limit for her. Yet for so many years we'd had this good, yet also slightly unbalanced relationship in which neither of us were being the truest version of ourselves. Joy loves being pampered and adored, yet I did this only rarely, treating her with typical masculine indifference, not really valuing the amazing lady whom I spent my life with. This is odd, because as I've said before I'm naturally a pleaser; I like to honour and cherish and adore and be bewitched, yet there was something holding me back, some kind of societal stumbling block, this sense that if I ever gave into my true nature it would make me less of a man. Weaker somehow. Dare I use the term henpecked? And for Joy, well she has of late confessed that she used to boss her brothers around and was made to feel she was somehow wrong for doing it, even though beneath her gentle nature there is a strong, clear minded, assertive woman. In fact the kind of women I have always admired and desired. I've seen so many amazing females lose themselves in relationships, conforming to what society expects rather than just allowing themselves to flourish. We've listened to the lie that men always have to be dominant and females submissive, when all along we all have traits that ebb and flow between each pole. Now I'm mindful that I'm rambling, and I'm probably not making much sense. All this is meant to lead to the central message of this blog, which is to encourage couples to allow each other to be the truest version of themselves, to honestly express their natures and let each other shine. In our relationship this plays out with me essentially focusing my energies of giving Joy what she requires when she requires it. It means me being her Knight, adoring my Queen and very deliberately putting her needs above my own. Whether it's something as minor as warming her side of the bed so she never has to get into a cold one, or running her a bath and filling the bathroom with candles, or just opening doors, fetching her coat, helping her with her boots and coat when she comes and goes. In short, a thousand little gestures which when combined show her that she is a treasure to me, a woman to be adored and esteemed and placed on a pedestal. As a funny aside I recall seeing her paint her toes one evening and basically claiming that as a former decorator I could do that. Fast forward and now she gets regular pedicures and foot treatments, which appeals to her love of being pampered, especially whilst she watches Downtown Abbey or Call The Midwife. Perhaps the key ingredient is that I've learned to listen, to anticipate her needs and preempt any requests she has, which she absolutely loves because it shows her I'm thinking of her.
So what to make of this? What to make of me? Submissive? Compliant? Well you can use either term and I frankly couldn't care. But here's a little nugget for you; the definition of submission is actually strength under control, or strength focused, strength channelled. Joy loves my masculinity, and in her eyes I'm more of a man than I've ever been, which is affirmation indeed. I'm still that crazy dervish of insanity, all ideas and volume and eccentricity. Yet around her I'm calmer, more docile, more focused. Oh yeah, and if you think that my acquiescence to Joy extends to all comers be prepared for something of a shock. I may yield to Joy, but only Joy. Which is to say that if you're expecting an easy ride if you fire across my bow then it's unlikely to end well for you. So there you have it; the secret of why Joy and I are more in love, more committed, and more engaged on every level than we have ever been. We've discovered that courtship doesn't have to end, that romance isn't the sole territory of fledgling lovers first setting off on their journey. It can be rediscovered, and it can be ignited and sustained. But here's the rub; you don't get to this point by being something you're not, or by being somebody you're not, and I suspect there are plenty of couples out there who have good relationships when they could be having great ones. This saddens me. It should sadden you, too. Life can be so much more.

Friday, 6 February 2015

One Day In June

Today's piece has been 8 months in the making, and comes approx 24 hours after a surgical procedure carried out on my oldest daughter. A surgical procedure she would never have needed had it not been for a moment of utter stupidity that even now beggars belief. A kick. My daughter was kicked by a peer whom, for reasons I can only speculate had what I've come to describe as an impulse control moment. Do bare in mind that less than two years before Holly had undergone a repair for an epigastric hernia having been in acute pain for approx 3 months. It had been fixed. It was fine. She was fine. Only then, just after her 13th birthday her friend produced a moment of insanity and that single act has dictated the last 8 months of our lives. The pain returned the day after, similar but different to what she had experienced before. A debilitating pain, a pain that kept her off school, that limited what she could do, how far she could walk. Now anybody who knows us as a family understands that we are the classic out and about types. We spend whole days exploring and discovering and enjoying this amazing world, and so to find ourselves in a situation where we could not do the things we loved was to begin with irksome, and as time went by increasingly frustrating. The NHS, as with all emergency services consist of mostly capable and caring types, interspersed with the occasional turd who one wonders how they ever got the job. We had to join the queue for consultants appointments, went through multiple MRI's and scans, and nobody was able to precisely pinpoint the issue. In all honesty, exploratory surgery should have happened months before, and we remain bemused as to why nobody was able to offer this. It even reached the point when one consultant was about to discharge us from the list, convinced there was no problem. Credit here to Joy for fighting our corner, for convincing the NHS to arrange further scans. Greater credit still for when, towards the end of the year, she and Holly returned to our local GP, whom was magnificent and arranged a referral to the John Radcliffe children's hospital. This was the turning point, and from there on in we encountered staff that listened, that cared, that heard us. You'd be amazed at how previous consultants had failed to to do this, and that still sours our experience of Stoke Mandeville. Anyway, we saw two excellent consultants, the second of which understood that something really was wrong and arranged for exploratory surgery. Fast forward to yesterday, and 12 hours at the JR2 children's hospital. They opened her up, removed historic sutures that may have been dislodged by the aforementioned kick, and repaired a weakness in my daughters abdominal wall. She is home now. We all are. And we are emotionally fucking exhausted. Our lives have lacked normality since last June; Holly has not managed a single full week at school since the 2014-2015 term began. She has missed out on so much interaction and engagement with her peers, and had to stop pretty much all activity. And all because of the undiluted stupidity of another 13 year old girl.
If you're a parent reading this you'll know what it is like to see a child in pain. I've friends that have lost children, and have walked roads far harder than ours. But it hurts. It's hard. And the constant demand to keep going and keep going and plod on eventually takes its toll. I was meant to be at work today but have taken emergency leave. I'm wiped out. I am, put simply, emotionally wasted. I won't need long to get my shit together but I do need today. I want to be with my family. I want to smile with them, look after them, and be a clown and all the things a good Dad wants to be. With a fair wind it won't be too long before we can get back to normality. Only I've forgotten what that actually means. As an aside there have been a ton of other things that have made life a challenge recently. Issues with the house, with gas supplies; all minor in and of themselves but when added to the existing weight disproportionately angst inducing. My hope for this year is for calm waters. I'm also working hard to forgive this other girl, whom caused injuries consistent with grievous bodily harm to my oldest daughter. I hope she learns from this; I hope she grows. And I hope she learns to control her impulses, because then at least some good may come from an otherwise challenging time.

Friday, 30 January 2015

To Halal And Back

I've been irritated by two specific instances of religious inanity today. This morning I was troubled to hear of the increase in the number of animals slaughtered for halal meat without being stunned beforehand. This can result in several minutes of suffering whilst the animals bleed out, in contrast with no observable pain response when the creature is stunned. Thank you Islam and Judaism for this latest example of how religious ideology truly does cause observable harm. And as a dessert we now see the Church dabbling in established science and objecting to amazing new research that could potentially alleviate the suffering of families afflicted with certain genetic conditions. I am of course wearily familiar with the ability of religion to put continued spokes in the wheels of progress, or discount the suffering of fellow sentient creatures due to some absurd Bronze Age dictate. As research shows, we have already emerged from the stench of traditional Christian thinking, whilst Islam's brand of moral perfection continues to pile up the bodies thanks to its extremist elements. Now I've said plenty of times that you are of course free to believe in imaginary friends and build your lives around the teachings of Bronze Age camel herders. I even support your right to do so. But I'd much rather you did this without doing so at the expense of others, or in ways that actively stand in the way of things that could alleviate harm. The simple truth is that animals need not suffer prior to slaughter, and families really can be helped by these new methods which can eradicate or at least drastically reduce the chances of inherited genetic conditions. I'm keen to see sentient creatures suffer less, and I'm behind all demonstrable and evidence based initiatives that facilitate this. But religion, whether it be the Christian death cult or the caliphate obsessed adherents of Islam, please pursue your delusion only to the extent that if affects you. You see, I've grown up. I'm not an infant in need of an imaginary friend. I'm an adult doing the best I can in a world full of complex moral conundrums. I have a personal relationship with reality, and I'm frankly just a little tired that the ghastly spectre of religion continues to belch plumes of ignorance into the present day.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Exactly What It Says On The Tin

As Popes go, young Francis isn't off to a bad start. He seems likeable, and he's inclusive, going so far as to throw the Pearly gates open to Godless heathens such as myself (The answers still no thanks, by the way). I'm aware he's copped a bit of criticism for the suggestion that if you insult his mother he's likely to punch you, but I can forgive him that. And there's a definite bonus point for the simple fact that he's not evil, which couldn't be said for his predecessor Benedict (Is it me or was he the spitting image of the Emperor from Star Wars? - Hey, you never see them together in a room at the same time, right?)
All this said, you can't be a Pope without dropping the occasional howler, but let's focus on the positives for now. And so what if a picture of him with a Brazilian transvestite eventually turns up on the Internet. Some of them are very convincing, and a man cannot live on Nuns alone. You may note that I'm not in my most serious mindset at present, and I'm kind of glad. Those who've followed this blog through the 400 previous posts (Surely indicative of masochism?) will note that for the first couple of years I used it as a cathartic tool to vent my spleen having myself escaped the clutches of formal religion. I was angry, I was blunt, and with the benefit of hindsight I may have trodden with a little more restraint. But hey, it is what it is, and I was a wounded animal. Time healed and I came to realise that religion and I will never play nice together, and my coping strategy became one of active avoidance. In the last year I'd rarely touched upon it, and in conjunction with other positives I'd found a place of peace and acceptance.
And then last week Paris happened, and it really stirred the pot for me. I found all the old hostilities stirring, and I found myself reverting to patterns of behaviour that I thought I'd jettisoned. Joy and I were chatting this through in the car last night, and it occurs to me that for my own wellbeing I just have to steer clear of the entire thing. My past means I'll always be deeply suspicious of religion, and I continue to disdain the lies and the pomposity of people who claim to know things they cannot possibly know. But when all is said and done I want to focus on this world, this life, and making the journey unique and creative and stimulating. From time to time my tongue will get the better of me and my impulse controls will fail, and I may vent my spleen after another religiously inspired atrocity. But it will be a blip, a temporary relapse, a moment I hope will pass, beyond which I can revert to the business of being aloof, obnoxious, and generally disinterested in all but a few people. The ones that have something interesting to say, or with a perspective on the world that I find intriguing. There aren't many. I'm never going to try to impress you, because for one thing I'm not actually that impressive, and for another such an endeavour is invariably subject to the law of diminishing returns. I'll just be me. Sometimes interesting. Frequently a twat. But always, and boy do I mean this; always what you see on the tin.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Ched Evans - The Return Of Mob Justice?

I’ve been following this story for a while, and the reaction of the British public has made me increasingly uneasy. In the eyes of the law Ched Evans is a convicted rapist, for which he has served a prison sentence. My understanding is that once this has been done a person has paid his or her debt to society. Yet apparently this is not the case, as wherever Ched Evans tries to seek employment any chance of a deal is scuppered by a baying mob. A mob with absolutely no legal standing, and one making tacit threats to kick up merry hell should any club forge a deal with this young professional footballer. Now I do not know Ched Evans and I cannot comment on the content of his character. What I can assert is that we appear to be applying a different standard to him than we do to other convicted persons. I’ve heard the cries that as a role model he must be subject to a higher standard. Yet I think that we need to be very careful not to go too far down this track because all manner of moral pitfalls lie in wait. First and foremost he is a fallible human being, and we all carry that burden. Also, it is for the legal system to seek justice for the victim, and this has been done in the case of Evans. Irrespective of whether he continues to protest his innocence, or whether he is contrite, or even whether the victim herself has struggled to move on is not the point. Either we apply the same standard or we do not, and what I am seeing here is a kind of mob rule that troubles me deeply. In any decent society rights exist for both victim and offender, and it is for the courts reach a verdict. Sentence was passed, time was served. Does Evans now have to undergo further exile by virtue of the fact that his profession is high profile, or that his wage packet is likely to dwarf ours? Plenty of rapists have come from corporate backgrounds and earned a stack of money, whilst in the shadows they have manipulated and abused others. Are we preventing them from returning to work? As such, I ask for no more than a level playing field, or to be precise I’m asking for our judicial system to be respected. And I do not think we are doing this at present, and I’m reaching the point where I’m tiring of those trying to make a moral case when some of their actions appear to be adding additional punishment to a debt that has been fulfilled. For some reason I’ve hesitated about writing on this subject, because I know the way this goes. I’m branded a rape sympathiser, an enabler of abusers. I’m afraid you would be much mistaken should you seek to steer me down either path. I want our laws to mean something, and once a debt has been paid I want the guilty to be given the opportunity to move on.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Spreading The Risk

On the back of the latest Islamic atrocity there has been a lot of chatter about spreading the risk. That is to say, if everybody speaks out then the target base for the extremist followers of Islam becomes so wide and deep that it essentially reduces the risk rather than increases it. This is a marvellous idea. Indeed, one that should require no prompting. Alas, as I have said before I consider most people to be reticent when faced with such prompts and I have some concern that whilst we would see increased persons stepping out, the majority will remain in the background. I’m not keen on cowardly behaviour. I don’t like people who will speak in the shadows but not in the light, and I do not intend to deny this. Cowardice takes subtle forms, and you’ll encounter it daily if you play close attention. Case in point; I’ve had colleagues express strong opinions regarding situations in the workplace, but when asked if they have spoken out I often hear the standard responses like “What’s the point?” or “Nothing’s going to change”. And they may be right, but if people don’t stand up then the message never get’s heard as plainly as it could. Now I cannot force people to be something they are not, and we come in all shapes and sizes. But courage is a quality, even if it might sometimes render us a bit clumsy. There’s no feeling in the world like standing unified in the face of adversity, able to trust that others have your back and won’t leave you abandoned. I have to be honest; when I look around me I don’t see many that give me that feeling. Lots of verbosity, lots of big words strongly ventured. But stepping up when it matters? Not so sure. This saddens me. It saddens me that we have become so risk averse, so afraid of ramifications that we remain mute. As an aside, I happen to think that if we had to go through a WW2 like scenario again I think we would be defeated. I just don’t see the strength and depth in our national identity to get us through something like that. Perhaps I’m incorrect. Perhaps when the chips are really down then fight wins over flight. I have been encouraged by some of the responses in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and I’d love this to be the beginning of a culture change. I’m sometimes told that I say the things that others think, and this makes me groan inside. Why won’t they say it themselves? Why won’t you? From a personal viewpoint I’ve no desire for popularity; any respect I earn I’d like to get from being known as a person who speaks plainly. Not always correctly, but honestly and with passion. With a desire to step out of the shallows. And I think a plainer speaking world is a more genuine world, and I think we must be very careful that we do not foster a culture in which our freedom to express our sentiments is inhibited by fear of causing offence. I don’t mean pointless and cruel offence, but rather the criticism of ideas. That’s the world I want to live in. A progressive world. Come join me if you’ve got the balls.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Paris. A New Kind of 9/11.

The world changed in Paris morning. And it has nothing to do with the body count. I'm going to suggest that the ramifications are greater than that of 911, so please bear with me. What we witnessed was an attack on our fundamental freedom to think, to speak, to say things that challenge and offend. Like all acts of terror we can take some comfort from the 0% success rate that extremists enjoy in terms of achieving their ultimate goals, but make no mistake that if we let this one slide then things are going to be tough. My primary concern is based on an observation that the majority of people are actually cowards, and when it comes to the punch they will be crouching down out of site. If this is you then you're just the person that radical Islam is aiming for. They will silence you, make you fearful to speak out, and continue to advance a culture of offence that has already gone way past asinine. But I'm happy to buck that trend, and intend to continue to frown at the absurdity of all religion, and in particular Islam and its pedophile prophet. You see, I'm not prepared to be told what I can and cannot say by a group that advocates the kind of society where gender equality is despised, homosexuality is a crime, and when young girls are denied basic access to education, quashing the myriad astonishing gifts femininity has bought to the world. I happen to think that route one to a better world, a kinder and more compassionate world is via the increasing empowerment of women, and there is no force on Earth as opposed to this as the patriarchy of radical Islam. Even mainstream Islam, dare I say it. At root, Christianity and Islam share the same basic fabrication, and deviate based on cultural geographical impulses. It's all made up, all a grand fairytale, and from false roots they've gone on to develop in their own unique, grimly inferior ways. And as long as people are afraid of the dark and of mortality then we will have to deal with this nonsense, and I'm ok with that so long as it doesn't seek to shit on my cornflakes.
Believe what you want, just don't force us to inhale the intellectual stench. Live out your life as you please, but do it without dragging the rest of us into your own tawdry nonsense. Christianity is a corpse of a religion now, and even in America it is happily in decline. But Islam is a danger, not least because the moderates appear unable to bring the radicals under any meaningful control. It seems the desire for a supreme caliphate is burning up huge swathes of the Middle East, and the poison is seeping horribly into the west. Today cartoonists were murdered. Fucking artists. Do you want to let those responsible enjoy even one iota of success?
I don't. I won't. And I think as a society the hour as come to join battle. Only the battle for us is one of ideas rather than violence, our artillery freedom and humour and irony and critical thinking. Not for us the bullet or the bomb. At least not outside of military circles. And we need to remember that in order to succeed we need only to continue on our path, to seek greater freedom, to empower generation after generation to innovate and explore, and to reject violent response to what I have previously referred to as The Cult of Bearded Goons. And after all, all religions are ultimately cults. As a modern society I long for the day when we grow up and grow out of this ancient folly. We've suffered long enough under its yoke, and we should be shedding this veil of deceit.

Friday, 2 January 2015

No Matter What

"I don't care who you love, or how you love, just so long as you have a heart filled with love."
I wonder what difference these words would have made had they come from the lips of Carla Alcorn, the mother of transgender teenager Leela Alcorn, born as Joshua some 17 years prior. Alas Leela will never get to hear these words as she took her own life further to the refusal of her parents to accept her choices due to their religious convictions. Now whilst you probably expect me to lay into religion itself at this point that isn't the purpose of this post. I'd rather focus on what seems to me a very simple and obvious truth, namely that Leela was doing no harm in wanting to transition from male to female, and that as the latter she may have lived a richer and fuller life free from internal struggle. Yet those closest to her could not see this, instead deeming her desires, which incidentally had been evident to Leela from the age of four, as merely a phase.
I don't even want to condemn the parents, because right now they are grieving, and I do not doubt for a second that they loved their child. Isn't it sad that they held convictions which actively damaged her, corroding her fledgling teenage mind to such an extent that she felt suicide was the only way out. I see only victims here, although we cannot entirely disregard the silly and nonsensical views of the mother and father, blinded as they were by their religion, placing the dogma of church teaching above the desire to see their child become the truest version of themselves. This to me seems to meet the textbook definition of tragedy. They must be grieving awfully, and perhaps their faith may give them some comfort. But we shouldn't be blind to the fundamental truth that it was these teachings, or rather the abject lack of compassion inherent within them that served as catalyst for the ensuing chain of events.
I don't want to live in a world where parents are so deceived. I don't want to live in a world where a child feels so rejected and misunderstood that they seek to take their own lives. As the proud father of two daughters I just want it known that I fully intend to live as per the very first sentence of this blog. Girls, I do not concern myself with the gender of the person you love, nor the manner in which you choose to express this. I will delight in the fact that you have love, that you wish to bestow love, and that you live in the riches of that.