Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Yet More Pictures.

Been too busy to blog today, so I thought I'd put some more pictures up.

The British coastline this time.















Monday, 29 March 2010

Only South East England Matters.

I watched the weather forecast on BBC TV National News this evening. The programme is made in London. At the end of the piece, the forecaster said ‘We’re all due to get some colder weather this week, but the problems with snow should hopefully be confined to the northern half of the country.’ Hopefully? Doesn’t this suggest just a hint of partiality on the part of the presenter? This is an old gripe.

Late Spring.

I have my first daffodil opening in the garden today. I looked back at my journal and discovered that the first bloom is two weeks later than last year, and four weeks later than the year before. My host of golden daffodils should be filling the garden with colour by now, and even getting ready to die back. And the weather forecasters tell us that we have a return to winter on the way.

Who's in Charge?

Some years ago I attended a lecture given by Ken Loach, the British film director. He talked about his forty years of working in and with the media, focussing on the unwritten understanding that exits between them and the government. He explained that the concept of a free press (which includes all arms of the media) is illusory. It’s one of the lies we are fed to keep us complacent. What actually happens is that the two bodies tacitly agree to dance to the same tune, the media being allowed to criticise and expose only up to a point and no further.

He cited a personal example. He was commissioned by Channel 4 to make a series of social documentaries. In true Ken Loach style, he researched extensively and told as much hard truth as he could manage in the time available. Despite the high production costs, the programmes were never aired. He was told that they went too far; the public isn’t allowed to know that much truth.

During the interval, a colleague and I went outside for some air. He asked me what I thought of the lecture. ‘Interesting and enlightening,’ I said. ‘Oh, come on,’ said my colleague, ‘you don’t really believe all that stuff, do you?’ So there you have it. A man who has worked with the media for four decades, and who is known for his honesty and plain speaking, tells us how it is. Another man, who has no experience of the media whatsoever, refuses to believe it. Well, of course he does. To do so would make him uncomfortable.

A year or so later, the point was demonstrated emphatically in the notorious matter of the BBC interview with Dr David Kelly. The truth was told and Blair should have been impeached. Instead, the ‘guilty’ journalist and the Director General of the BBC were fired. They had overstepped the line. The matter of Dr Kelly’s subsequent suicide is, perhaps, a separate issue. Or is it?

I am coming to see the same principle at work with education. I am increasingly convinced that the primary purpose of making us all literate is to enable us to read the propaganda. And then the educational system feeds us that propaganda. It doesn’t teach kids to have doubts and question vigorously, as I believe it should. It teaches kids to think inside the box, not outside it.

So who is it that can keep the government, the media and the educational system all walking the same line? I remember the look of horror on Peter Mandelson’s face when he was accidentally caught on camera entering a Bilderberg meeting, the existence of which had always been officially denied.

Who is really in charge here, and how does that question impact on the value of general elections?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

In Defence of Non-Commercial Publishing.

Small press publishers of short stories vary considerably in their payment practices. A few pay industry standard fees, many pay nothing at all, and the rest fall somewhere in between. Two of the better magazines which have published stories of mine recently have been non-paying markets: Black Matrix Publishing, who publish Encounters Magazine (among others,) and Misanthrope Press, who publish Title-Goes-Here (and who have now started paying a nominal fee.)

I had several exchanges with authors on the Black Matrix blog site over this issue. They were obviously people who saw their writing in commercial terms, and were outraged that a publisher should expect to use a story without payment. They accused the publisher of exploitation and profiteering. This is a narrow, impoverished point of view which I felt needed challenging.

For a start, there are no big bucks to be made in small press publishing. Even if a small presser were to be making some money out of the venture, it wouldn’t amount to very much. And if profit was their priority, they would have to be looking at commercial exigencies first and foremost, not at the deeper qualities of which literature is capable. They would have to be focussing primarily on entertainment value. I should stress that I have no objection to literature being entertaining, but when entertainment becomes the top priority, the medium gets lazy. It ties itself to tried and tested formulae; depth, experimentation and individuality largely go out of the window.

This is precisely where the small press should come into its own. By not paying its authors it keeps its costs down, and that means it can put out work that the commercial end of the business wouldn’t touch. It can fill the gap left by the modern obsession with profitability. It will mean fewer sales and more mixed quality, but at least some worthy stuff will get to see the light of day. And if they do manage to sell enough copy to be able to pay the authors a small fee, all well and good. For my own part, I would rather give my story free to a quality publication than be a tiny part of one arm of the entertainment industry.

If anyone wants to look at the publishers mentioned, links are here:

http://www.title-goes-here.com/

http://www.blackmatrixpub.com/

The Stone Cutter.

So, the parable I promised. It's Taoist, rather than Confuscianist. Suits me.

Once, in a mountainous area of China, a lowly stone cutter hacked away at the hard rock. Shards of jagged stone spat off his chisel, stinging his skin. He rested and said

“I tire of being a stone cutter. I have no power or influence. I am poor, my hands are sore, my arms hurt and my back aches. If only I could have a little more comfort in my life.”

No sooner had he said this than a tax collector rode by.

“I would like to be a tax collector,” said the stone cutter. “He has plenty of money and power, and people respect him. He has an easy life.”

His wish was granted and he became a tax collector. He rode around the countryside collecting money from the peasants, and took it to the Governor of the province. He was tired after his long day and envied the Governor who was relaxing in his garden.

“I wish I could be a Governor,” said the tax collector. “He doesn’t have to spend long, hard days collecting money from people who hate him. People bow to him, and look up to him. He has an easy life.”

And so he became the Governor of a province.

He sat in his garden being waited on by servants; but he was uncomfortable. The sun was hot and burned his skin. He looked at the sky through half closed eyes.

“Being a Governor is not perfect,” he said. “I wish I could be the sun, for everything and everybody is subject to the sun. The sun is truly powerful.”

He became the sun, and looked down on the earth and the small people who toiled in the heat. After a while a cloud drifted by and blocked his view.

“Surely,” he said, “the cloud is more powerful than me, for it can block out my light and hide things from me. I wish I were a cloud.”

He became a cloud, and drifted serenely around the sky until he reached a mountain where he stopped. Despite his best efforts to move on, he was held firmly on top of the mountain.

“It seems I am not so powerful,” said the cloud. “This mountain has the means to stop my progress, and so it must be greater than me. I wish I were a mountain.”

In an instant he became a mountain.

“Now I am the largest and hardest thing in the world,” he said. “Surely, I am the most powerful.”

But then he heard a chipping sound, and felt his very foundation being hacked away. Being a mountain, he was unable to move. He looked down to see a lowly stone cutter with a hammer and chisel.

A Question.

I’ve read several profiles in which bloggers list ‘atheism’ among their interests. This intrigues me. Atheism is simply a matter of choosing to believe that there is nothing beyond the material world. It’s a simple negative, and I wonder how that can be construed as an ‘interest.’ It’s a bit like saying ‘Interests: there’s nothing I want to watch on the TV tonight.’ It makes sense if the person not only chooses to disbelieve, but actually defines atheism as a constructive tradition in which there are dogma, gurus and so on. In that case, it’s merely a quasi-religion pandering to the unnecessary need for certainty. Alternatively, it could be that the writer is interested in the phenomenon of atheism as a socio-psychological construct. So which is it? Or is there something I haven’t thought about? I’m curious.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Stop Press!

Tomorrow you get to read the parable of the stone cutter. Stop me if you've heard it.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The Spring is Sprung.

The spring is sprung, the grass is ris
I wonder where the birdies is.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people are blogging about spring at the moment. I want to join in because spring is probably my favourite season. The problem is that everything is late in Britain this year, evidently due to the unusually cold winter we had. The snowdrops are still much in evidence on the embankments around my garden, and they’re usually long gone by now. The primroses are struggling to put on any sort of show, the crocuses were prolific enough but quite short lived, the hyacinths are only now beginning to make their entrance, and I have no daffodils open yet – almost there, but not quite. Still, the shrubs and fruit bushes do have plenty of buds, so things are beginning to move.

What I have noticed over the last week is that the birds have been feeding a lot less voraciously on the bird table. That saves me money, but more importantly it tells me that there must be a lot more natural food about. No doubt they will start to peck holes in my pockets again once they have chicks to feed. They seem to compete to see who can fit the most rolled oats into their beaks before racing off to some unseen nest in a hedgerow not far away.

I still have the two birds that follow me around the garden when I go out with the feed pots, both wanting their own private little pile. One is a robin who’s been with me since two winters ago. He’s the one who watches me through my office window occasionally. It usually means that the bird table is empty. And during cold spells in the winter, I often find him sitting right outside my door in the morning. He comes very close when I put some breakfast on the ground for him, and he makes full face eye contact with me.

The other is a female blackbird. She rarely comes closer than about six feet, even in cold spells when she’s obviously hungry; and she only ever looks at me sideways. She appeared this morning as soon as I started throwing some oats and mixed seed down by the hedge at the bottom of the garden. She seemed hungrier than usual, for some reason. ‘Hello Mrs B,’ I said in my best talking-to-birds voice that my mother used to use. ‘Cold night, was it?’ For once I felt a powerful vibe coming back from her. It said ‘Bog off. I’m busy.’

So I did.

The Ombudsman Exists to Protect us from the Excesses of the Free Market.

I got a letter from my energy supplier the other day, telling me that my ‘Price Protection Plan’ is coming to an end and notifying me of the new tariff. I was just a little horrified to read that the cost of primary day units was going up by 65%. That’s a jump! So I called them to ask how they justified it, and got a customer service advisor who restricted her response to ‘Well that’s what the tariff is and there’s nothing I can do about it.’

I was...er...disappointed, and so I called the Ombudsman. After sitting through several minutes of pointless recorded messages, I finally got one that said ‘If you’re calling about the price you pay, press 2.’ I pressed 2. And then I got another recorded message which said ‘The Ombudsman cannot discuss the price you pay.’ And then the call was terminated.

So, remind me; the purpose of the Ombudsman is...?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Trouble with Writing a Novel.

Over the last seven years I’ve written forty two short stories and a novella. Twenty four of the short stories have been published by various levels of the small press, and the novella has been accepted three times, only to be withdrawn each time for reasons I needn’t go into. That bit was easy; cyber space is replete with opportunities to get short stories published by the small press.

So now I’ve written a novel. What do I do with it? Well, I don’t actually have to do anything with it; it was written primarily for the sake of taking the journey, and that end has now been met. I’ve said often enough that being published should not be a writer’s definition of success, and I hold to the view. At the same time, the desire to communicate with the world at large seems to be an integral part of the make up of most creative practitioners. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the work was created for its own sake in the first place. So it is with me, and I would like the novel to be published. But getting a novel published is quite different from getting short stories published. The field is much narrower, more competitive, and more focused on genre specifics.

There are two branches of the publishing world: the small press and the mainstream. The former will mostly take submissions direct from writers; the latter deal almost exclusively through literary agents. And so I have spent a lot of time recently trawling through listings of small press publishers and agents. I haven’t yet found anything or anybody suitable. There’s something about every one I’ve come across that either disbars me or puts me off. They have strictly defined word count limits; their genre sensibilities don’t quite accord with the nature of my novel; some of them have badly designed and badly written websites that simply don’t inspire confidence. But the biggest problem of all is their attitude.

The novel market is seen in very commercial terms now; the novel is not so much a part of the creative canon as simply a commercial commodity. And because the publisher is the body that deals with the commercial side of things, they seem to see themselves as the most important element in the literary spectrum. Their authors’ guidelines tend to be brusque, offhand and patronising; they give the impression that they’re doing you a big favour merely by offering the remote prospect that they might even consider looking at your work. I’m sure that attitude changes when they find someone who has a potential best seller on offer. One literary agent writes on her website ‘nothing excites me more than the whiff of a best seller.’ Quite. Then the writer comes into his or her own again, because now he or she becomes the means by which the publisher can make a lot of money. That’s what most of them are in it for. Sales volume is their unashamed definition of success.

So what do I do, short of self-publishing which is a road I don’t want to take? I have a novel that is, at 73,000 words, on the short side of standard. It is an episodic work that uses a fantastical journey to explore a variety of spiritual principles largely drawn from Buddhism and the Tao. I can’t see that being a best seller. I find it quite impossible to deal with people who talk down to me or bullshit me. And I have no interest in being either rich or famous.

Be content with the journey, I suppose.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Today's Second Nice Happening.

There was a bat flying around the house at dusk this evening – the first this year.

*Jumps around in glee like a five-year-old.*

Bats is Bloody Brilliant!

I had several things to moan about today, but the bumblebee and the bat just had to come first.

Today's Nice Happening.

I was out gardening today when I spotted my lone March bumblebee lying on a near-defunct crocus flower. It looked dead. I thought it rather sad, so I touched it gently and it moved. More than that, it climbed onto my finger. I carried it to a clump of vigorous primroses and set it down. Not interested; it just sat on a leaf waving its front legs in the air. So I put my finger in front of it again, and on it climbed. I carried it to some little, star-shaped blue flowers that I don’t even know the name of, but which have centres laden with pollen. I placed it gently on the edge of one. It took to that flower like a baby to its mother’s breast – feeding away like a good ’un. Gosh, that made my day.

In Homage to Ace.

Not in the mood for whingeing at the moment, so I thought I’d do one in the style of Acey-Chan.



Cute, Eh?

Have to go garden.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Of Only Passing Interest.

I learned today that we have a celebrity in Britain called Sophie Dahl. I gather she used to be a top model. I think of modelling as one of those pointless occupations that seem to proliferate in modern society, the sort in which people get paid a lot of money for doing something that has no inherent value. So maybe that’s why I’d never heard of her.

Anyway, dear Sophie is moving up in the world; she is becoming useful. She is to present a new cookery show on BBC 2. Yet another cookery show is just what we need, isn’t it? You really can’t have enough cookery shows, can you? It's a very useful thing to do. And her celebrity status will, no doubt, be even further enhanced. So now people will think she’s even more important. And I expect she’ll become even richer.

What a weird world this is.

Compounding the Offence.

There has been a little political scandal going on in Britain over the last few days. Three former Labour ministers were secretly filmed demanding money for lobbying services. David Cameron, the Tory Party leader, says it’s ‘disgusting.’ Jack Straw, the Labour Party Justice Minister, says that MPs are ‘very angry.’ Oh, please! Give me just a bit of credit. Do they really expect us to believe that the three who got caught were the only ones doing it? If the party leaders held up their hands and said ‘Well yes, that is the sort of thing that happens in politics,’ I would have a little more respect for them. Only a little, but that would be better than the none I have at present. Claims that it is ‘disgusting’ and that ‘MPs are very angry’ are simply doubling the lie, and perpetrating a major insult on the public.

Coincidentally, there have been a number of programmes on British TV recently around the fact that public faith in politicians is at an all time low. So when is the British Revolution going to happen? It doesn’t have to be violent; all it needs is for every person of voting age to go into their polling booths in May and write ‘None of the above’ on their voting slips. If we really think these people are not worth voting for, let’s all be honest and say so. What a glorious day that would be.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Recognising the Master.

This is a very small anecdote, but there is something oddly weird about it.

I once lived in another country cottage about twenty miles from here. It had a large open fireplace, with a dog grate in it and a wide, straight flue. Late one night I was sitting alone and watching an old Bela Lugosi Dracula film. My eye was caught by a movement in the fireplace, and I turned to see a small shape emerging from the chimney. It was a pipistrelle bat. It flew across the room and landed on the TV set, where it sat in apparent contentment. I watched it in amazement for some time, but it showed no inclination to move.

‘The children of the night, what music they make.’

Well, maybe. Eventually I had to pick it up and take it outside.

I have regular communion with bats these days. There are several, much larger than pipistrelles, which fly around my house at dusk in the summer and autumn. I go out and talk to them. Within minutes, I can almost guarantee that they will start flying around me, sometimes coming so close to my head that I can feel the air disturbed by their wings. I absolutely love those little guys to bits, and it has me wondering whether I’ve been a vampire all these years without knowing it. If so, another thought occurs to me: maybe all these years I’ve been missing out on the best of all chat up lines, too. Young women like vampires, don’t they? Vampires are sexy. Maybe I could have topped Zaphod Beeblebrox’s ‘Talk to me babe; I’m from another planet’ with ‘Talk to me babe; bats like me, you know.’

Just a thought...

How Far are They Prepared to Go?

On a lighter note, I’ve mentioned before that we have a general election looming in Britain. It was announced today that Samantha Cameron, wife of Tory Party leader David Cameron, is pregnant. She said she intends to do all she can to assist his campaign. So now we have the prospect of Cameron’s wife accompanying him on the campaign trail, her modestly burgeoning form conveniently implying endorsement of traditional family values, and counteracting his reputation for being an upper crust product of the archaic English class system. You have to wonder, don’t you?

Parental Priorities.

In modern Britain, parents have some choice over which state school their child attends, and it troubles me when I read about the latest area of stress to which modern Britons subject themselves: parents obsessing manically over their school applications. It seems there are few lengths to which they won’t go in order to secure their offspring a place in a ‘better’ school, and there has been talk of prosecuting large numbers of them for giving false information or making fraudulent claims on the application form. Others will skin themselves to the bone to go one further and send their child to a fee-paying private school. Such is the mania for what is perceived as a ‘good education.’

I’m not denying the fact that a high level of education can be a useful tool in life, but I do think it needs to be put into perspective; and I think we need to be more broadminded in how we define the word education. Higher education, in particular, is the name of the game these days, even though we know that it is no guarantee of a person’s general capabilities or their qualities as a person. We also know that a great deal of what is taught as higher education bears little relevance to the inherent needs of the job market. It does for certain specialist career paths like the professions, but for most it is of little actual value. I strongly suspect that today’s drive for higher education has more to do with political expediency. We have created a society in which there are insufficient jobs to go round, and so the more we keep young people in education, the fewer there are being officially classed as ‘unemployed.’ I further suspect that the Machiavellian Tony Blair had this in mind when he made his famous ‘education, education, education’ speech: and it comes at a price.

We are creating a two-tier society, in which only those with degrees count. Those without formal qualifications are passed over as failures, even though many of them might well have qualities surpassing those of their paper-brandishing compatriots. So many jobs now require applicants to have a degree or a Higher National Diploma, when they used to ask for a modest attainment in secondary education, a suitable level of intelligence, and an aptitude for the job. Apart form the need to be computer literate, the core skills required by many jobs have hardly changed, and so the educational requirement is superfluous and self-important; we have simply devalued the currency of education. But having a good job is everything these days; it’s the only way that most people can expect to achieve a high standard of living. And therein lies the nub of the problem; the fact that modern culture increasingly encourages the view that worth is defined by what people have, rather than what they are. When parents cheat, lie and tear their hearts out to send their children to a ‘better’ school, they are pandering to that fact. What’s worse, they are conditioning their children to pander to it as well.

Parents have the power to change this. They can redefine education, and teach their children that worth is definable by a large range of criteria, not just the holding of a piece of paper. They can recognise that each child is an individual with his or her own needs and attributes, and help that child follow a life path geared to those needs and attributes rather than the dictates of the culture. Trying to force all children down an academic road is to allow oneself to be brainwashed by the god of materialism, and it is a form of child abuse.

I’m sure that many parents are well meaning in their attempts to secure what they see as an advantage for their children. Even so, I think they are misguided if they fail to see the wider implications of their actions. And I know from personal experience that some, maybe even many, parents are not guided by altruistic motives at all. There are plenty of parents who fail to understand the difference between parental guidance and parental control. Such sad individuals are simply unable to let the child take the lead in the matter of education, just as they are unable to let the child take the lead in anything. And there are others who have to see everything in terms of competition. They need to be able to say ‘my child attends a better school than yours.’ Do any of them realise, I wonder, the extent to which they are victimising their children? And if their offspring turns out to be strong-minded, and insists on taking their own road at some point, those same ‘caring’ parents feel a sense of betrayal. ‘We gave you everything money could buy,’ they say indignantly, ‘and this is how you repay us.’ Remember the classic Beatles track She’s Leaving Home? That song was written in 1966 or ’67. It was a perceptive and salutary injunction that long ago, and yet the young people who listened to it then have turned out even worse than their own parents.

I suppose all this further demonstrates the fact that people feel the need to follow the axioms dictated by the forces controlling the culture, and those forces dislike and discourage free thinking. It’s a subtle form of totalitarianism in which the children are the victims being trained to become the sheep of the next generation. I still hope that there will one day rise a generation of children who will lead us out of that syndrome.

Spring.

Today I planted the first seeds outside, and was encouraged by the welcome sight of the first bumble bee. Can't wait for my pals the bats to start flying again.

Tomorrow I get to go on about parenting, education, and the system. It's been on my mind for two days. Or should I tell the story of the bat and the Dracula film? Or both? No, not both. Hmm...

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Being British.

British TV is showing ‘In the Name of the Father’ again tonight. It’s the story of the Guildford Four. Just in case anybody doesn’t know, the Guildford Four were a group of innocent Irishmen who were tried, convicted and imprisoned for a terrorist crime that the government and police knew they hadn’t committed. It’s a story of disingenuous politicians, corrupt policemen and a bigoted legal system, all prepared to punish the innocent in the name of self-interest and propaganda. Very British. It’s one of the reasons why I’m prepared to stand up and say ‘I am not proud to be British. Why should I be?’ It isn’t the only reason, of course, since I’m aware that there isn’t a country in the so-called developed world that hasn’t been guilty of abusing the innocent and misusing its power. We British don’t have a monopoly on such things; we’ve just been very good at it. What I really question is the whole concept of nationhood.

I’m an old fashioned internationalist. I dislike flags and national anthems. I squirm when somebody tries to tell me that I should be more patriotic. I groan when I hear ‘I’m proud to be British,’ or see some dim, deluded fool on American TV saying ‘I’m a patriotic American.’ What is there to be proud of? What is the value of patriotism? I manage a wry smile when I hear that line from Rule Britannia, much favoured by proms-deluded students and the jam-and-Jerusalem crowd - ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.’ The people who take such delight in those words don’t seem to realise that slaves is precisely what they are: slaves to a lifelong process of brainwashing that insinuates into them an unthinking allegiance to a sense of identity in which they had no choice. Patriotism is a measure of moral weakness, an indication of being unable to think deeply and independently for oneself. Is that something to be proud of?

This concept reaches the height of absurdity with the notion that the greatest cause to which we can be called is to ‘fight for king and country.’ It had its beginnings at different times in different parts of the world, but always it was invented to further the personal interests of kings, princes and potentates. Nowadays, it serves the interests of a more complex political system, but it’s no less absurd for that. I believe in fighting for a just cause, for a high ideal, to protect the innocent, or to preserve my freedom. Any notion that fighting for king and country is inherently right and honourable denies freedom. It forces the unwitting into a narrow and essentially self-centred mindset, in which nationhood is more important than the interest of humanity. That cannot be right.

What I can allow myself to take pride in is the fact that I can place an honest hand on a genuine heart and say ‘I am not proud to be British. I am not a patriot. I left such concepts behind when my brain cells started to function properly.’ People are what matter to me, not countries.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Why Waste Your Life Cooking?

I never understand why people cook. Why go to all that effort – struggling with cellophane wrappers, pushing the handle down on those things that toast bread, risking wrist injury while opening cans? You’ll never believe what my mother used to do. She used to make pastry, with flour and stuff, then she used to make pies with it! I mean, what is the bloody point when you can just go into a shop and buy the thing while you’re on your way to the Walmart store in the mall anyway? And didn’t she realise, silly woman, that she was taking people’s jobs away from them, and holding back the economy?

We live in a more enlightened age now. We have television running excellent stuff 24/7. If the great and the good are prepared to make the effort to create wonderful TV programmes for our delight and delectation, isn’t it just a little bit silly and ungrateful not to sit there and watch them? I mean, if God had wanted us to cook, he wouldn’t have given us eyes, backsides and comfy chairs, would he? Stands to reason.

C’mon; get a life!

Pphhh...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Good out of Bad.

I should have made this post on Monday. How did Monday pass without my realising its significance? Monday was 15th March – the Ides of March, famed as the date on which Julius Caesar was assassinated. On 15th March 1995, just fifteen years ago (I like round numbers,) I had an interesting and ultimately enlightening experience.

I’d been seeing a very attractive young woman for three months. She had been tugging me up the familiar ladder of mad infatuation, and I had been resisting with not inconsiderable effort (for reasons I won’t go into, ’cos they’re complicated.) On the night of March 15th my resistance crumbled and I resigned myself to her completely. My feeling was briefly one of euphoria, but then she chose the moment to drop me like something you’ve picked up out of the gutter and suddenly realised what it is! I felt like an abandoned puppy for an hour or two, and I woke up depressed every morning for the next six weeks.

I moved on and met Helen the following year, something that almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if the aforementioned puppy abandoner had behaved in a more accommodating way. Helen became the most important person in my life, and still is. We were together for eight years, and when she decided to leave me to start a Buddhist women’s community in Nottingham in 2004, I was able to handle the situation with a surprising degree of equanimity. I supported her decision. She’s had a trail of boyfriends since then (she’s very pretty and eminently lovable,) but we’re still very close.

So there it is. Lesson learned. Sometimes the disasters only happen to make way for the triumphs. In fact, I can think of very few ‘disasters’ that didn’t lead to triumphs. And I’m only on my second scotch. I spend a lot of time these days laughing at myself – and life.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

In Praise of Youth.

Blogging has made me slightly more optimistic about the road our culture might take in the future. I’m reading a lot of blogs written by young people in their teens and twenties, and I’m surprised by how many of them get it. They see through the lies, the hypocrisy, the greed and the manipulation that goes on. Some of them rant about it quite wonderfully on their blogs.

What concerns me is whether they will be the next generation of decision makers, or whether the decision making will continue to be vested in the hands of those who didn’t get it, but stayed comfortably in the mainstream tugging their forelocks in obeisance to the system. It also worries me that people change when they come out of education and have to earn a living. They climb onto the treadmill, because our highly organised and regulated way of life offers little by way of alternative. And the treadmill is very good at seducing people into what I can only call, for want of a better expression, the suburban mindset.

It is essentially a closed and self-deluding mindset, smug and self-congratulatory, in which any attempt to challenge the status quo is howled down as subversive. What’s more, it offers what it sees as the perfect answer to the questioning of the young: ‘We older people are wiser and more experienced than you. Issues are never black and white, but a succession of shades of grey. You’ll come to see it that way eventually.’ Often they do; it’s how student protesters become bankers and management consultants.

Wisdom permits both approaches. Seeing the shades of grey need not preclude the recognition that they are often a smoke screen, and that looking beyond it is necessary if we are to create a better world. It is perfectly proper that the idealism of youth should be informed by an increasing understanding of the complexities in society, but it doesn’t have to be blunted by it. I hope today’s generation of youth will do better in that regard than mine did.

Coming Together.

This is a picture I took at a multi-cultural carnival organised by the inner city charity I used to work for. It shows an airbrush artist from Birmingham conducting a workshop with the local kids. It wasn't set up. It says quite a lot about what I believe in. You judge.

The Government Listened to Me.

Well, not exactly; but the Government has announced that it is not proceeding with the plan to make all dog owners take out an insurance policy (see ‘Are Dogs Brighter than Politicians?’) They say it wouldn’t be fair to penalise the majority of responsible dog owners. Really? Shouldn’t they have realised that when the proposal was no more than a glint in some damn fool bureaucrat’s eye?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

In the Name of Success.

I read a comment on somebody’s blog today which said ‘I want to become an author with an international bestseller.’ This is a compound statement that raises a question: which is the top priority, being an author or having an international bestseller? Writing because you have something worthwhile to say, and writing to become rich and famous are two very different things. In today’s ultra-commercial environment, the chances of doing both to any substantial degree are fairly remote – at least where fiction is concerned.

It is, of course, everybody’s right to choose what they want out of life, but I can’t help feeling that there is something fundamentally inadequate about wanting to be rich and famous. Neither is a guarantee of any real worth in a person; in fact, it seems largely to work the other way round. Most of the wealthy and celebrated people I see in this culture are the sort I wouldn’t even invite in for a cup of tea, let alone want to get to know. The desire to belong to that self-exalted set suggests to me that the person is essentially concerned with what they can get, rather than what they can be.

But then, maybe his desire to have an ‘international bestseller’ isn’t about either money or fame. Maybe he feels that such an achievement would represent the ultimate definition of success. This is where it becomes a little more complicated, because if the desire to write is driven by the fact of having something worthwhile to say, then it’s an entirely wrong definition of success. It’s allowing success to be determined by the judgment of others. Success to a writer of this sort has nothing to do with being published, but is about saying what you have to say in an effective manner. Once that has been achieved, there is no more success to be had; being published is merely a useful outcome. It’s useful because it means that the writer’s outpourings are being communicated to an audience and is, therefore, worth pursuing, but that’s all. It doesn’t define success.

If it should seem that my argument is wandering into the realm of semantics, let me offer the analogy of the fruit tree. The fruit tree succeeds when it bears fruit. It can’t succeed any further. If somebody comes along and eats that fruit, there has been a useful outcome. But if the fruit remains uneaten, the success of the tree remains undiminished. So it is with writing.

Success in any occupation should be about growth and personal accomplishment. Its value definition should be self-contained; it shouldn’t be about winning, making a lot of money, or becoming famous. Therein lies the road to dependence on the opinions, choices and approbation of others.

The Borrowers.

The borrowers are at it again! It’s my hammer this time. I used it about a week ago to put a panel back on the greenhouse. Yesterday I needed it again, and looked for it where it’s supposed to be – in my toolbox. No hammer. I went back to the greenhouse and checked inside and out. I looked on every horizontal surface outside, thinking I might have put it down absentmindedly and forgotten to pick it up again. I looked in the garden shed where I keep my gardening tools. Still no hammer. I checked the toolbox again, and then I tried the indoor cupboard where I keep some of the lesser used tools. I performed the whole operation three times. I’m out of options. My hammer has gone AWOL. This happens to me a lot. Leprechauns use hammers, don’t they?

Monday, 15 March 2010

Intimations of Mortality.

One Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2003 I had a phone call from my nephew. He told me that his father, my brother, had died of an aneurism. He had driven his wife shopping that morning, and never gone home again. By 4 pm he was just a corpse in an Oxford hospital. It sharpened my perception of mortality, and I began to dwell on it a bit.

Last summer I was sent for tests on a ‘swollen gland’ under my left ear that had been there for three years. After they'd done an ultrasound scan and a biopsy (which took three attempts and was bloody painful!) I asked the doctor who was checking the sample whether there was any immediate diagnosis to be had. I remember his words well: ‘There’s little doubt you have a tumour, but there’s nothing in the history to suggest malignancy.’ The second part of his statement seemed somewhat vague; it was the first part that struck home. ‘Tumour’ isn’t a nice word. It was the first time I’d heard it in reference to me. It was about five weeks before I had another consultation, followed by an MRI scan. Those five weeks were interesting.

I wondered whether I would still be here at Christmas. I began to have tentative thoughts on what plans I should make, and how difficult it could be to break the news to the couple of people I thought might have reason to be concerned. My spiritual beliefs suddenly seemed a little flimsier than they had previously. Most of all, though, I realised how attached I’d become to this thing I call me. The notion that I might cease to exist before long was an interesting experience. I was aware of how much we take our physical existence for granted. We go to bed every night, not doubting that we’ll wake up in the morning. We say ‘be back shortly’ when we go out, not knowing whether we will or not.

The MRI scan confirmed that I had a Wartharin’s Tumour. They’re non-malignant, and so the sharp edge of my intimations of mortality was blunted, but those intimations haven’t gone away altogether. Sometimes they take the form of numbers. How many mornings have I woken up? How many meals have I had? What percentage of an average lifetime have I now used up?

I know that my life will consist of so many days. Nearly every night when I go to bed, the last thought I have before I turn off the light is ‘that’s another one gone. I wonder how many more there will be.’ It isn’t a chilling thought, nor even a morbid one. It’s just interesting. And it has encouraged in me the tendency to live the moment. The past is merely memory, the future unknowable. Now is all that matters. I’m calmer for it, and more accepting of the mysterious road that is about to unfold before me, on this earth or some other.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

To Praise or not to Praise.

I like to post every day, but I’ve left it late. It’s way past midnight and the scotch is kicking in, so I’ll make it short.

I think we praise too highly the qualities people are born with, and not highly enough those they’ve had to work at. A simple example:

It makes no sense to praise fearlessness, but every sense to praise bravery. People confuse the two, and they shouldn’t. As oft-quoted as it is, I still like what Herman Hess had to say:

‘There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.’

Isn’t Jesus of Nazareth reported to have said something similar?

Friday, 12 March 2010

Twisted Priorities.

Two or three years ago a couple of the leading child charities in the UK tried to run publicity posters showing graphic images of children who had been abused. The Advertising Standards Authority banned them on the grounds that the images were too offensive. I was outraged. It isn’t the images that are offensive, for heaven’s sake, it’s the abuse! If that’s what it takes to shake the complacency out of people – to get them to know the extent of the problem and to understand its nature – then so be it.

By comparison, there has been a high profile case recently concerning a couple who abused a little girl in their care, and eventually starved her to death. Today they were sentenced to terms of imprisonment, and the news programmes carried graphic pictures of the child’s injuries. I switched it off because I knew it wouldn’t do the child any good. The poor kid’s gone now. I switched it off because I knew it was merely pandering to the morbid fascination people have for true life horror. I switched it off because the only effect I could see it having was to engender anger towards the perpetrators, which is pointless at this stage. I switched it off because it reminded me of the time when a couple of well meaning charities tried to alert people to this awful condition we have in society, and their attempts were thwarted on the grounds that they were in bad taste.

If the ASA hadn’t been so damned prissy, maybe the public might have been moved to help those charities reduce the incidence of such horrors. Maybe the little girl in question might even have been saved from her ordeal. The sense of priority in the minds of the great British public is in need of radical realignment.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Technology Rules K.O.

I had a piece of junk mail recently, inviting me to call for a quotation for home insurance. For once, I didn’t throw it in the bin because I wondered whether I was paying too much for my existing contents insurance. I called the number and the conversation ran thus:

‘Could you give me a quote for contents insurance, please?’

‘What’s your address?’ I gave it to him.

‘Sorry, that address isn’t on our database.’

‘It must be; you sent the letter to this address.’

‘Ah, well, it might be on the marketing database, but it isn’t on the quotations database.’

‘Does it matter? Can’t you give me a quote anyway?’

‘’Fraid not. The quotations are calculated by the computer and based on your address. If it doesn’t have the address, it can’t give you a quotation. Sorry.’

‘OK, let’s recap. You send me a letter, correctly addressed, inviting me to call for a quotation, but you can’t give me one because the address you sent the letter to isn’t on your database. Is that right?’

‘Er, yeah.’

What was I saying about technology needing to be the servant, not the master? At least that one drew a wry smile.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Prostitution of the Publishing Business.

Twenty years ago I was working as a freelance landscape photographer. I made several trips to London, hawking my portfolio around the major publishing houses and trying to interest them in an idea I had for a book. Their response was frustrating. Five or six of them seemed enthusiastic at first, but then backed out. They all gave me the same reason: the editorial staff liked the idea and wanted to do the book; the design department liked the pictures and they, too, wanted to do the book. The problem was with the marketing people. They said they would need to sell around ten thousand copies to turn a profit, and they estimated they would only sell five to eight thousand in the first year. That wasn’t good enough; any book that didn’t make a profit in the first year was deemed a failure.

One of the senior editors at Weidenfeld and Nicholson apologised to me, expressing regret with the words ‘You must understand that we’re not publishers any more. We’re just booksellers now.’ He went on to explain that publishers had always regarded themselves as part of the creative process – operating by the simple expedient of having sufficient high-volume sellers in their catalogues to subsidise those worthy works that would be unlikely to make a quick profit, if profit they made at all. That had all changed during the yuppie-obsessed, Thatcher-blighted decade of the 1980’s. Publishing had become just another commercial business, in which the profit motive was the only guiding principle. They had taken up Mrs Thatcher’s edict: ‘There is no such thing as good literature and bad literature. There are books that sell and books that don’t’ – or words to that effect. A recent TV arts programme claimed that the situation has worsened further. It seems that mainstream publishers are no longer even in full control of what they publish; their choices are now largely dictated to them by the large retail chains. If it isn’t populist fiction, saleable children’s books, or celebrity biography, the chances of getting it published are remote. A question presents itself: in such a profit-inclined environment, how is the next generation of original, ground-breaking authors going to get published? Is the world facing at least a temporary hiatus in the availability of fresh, deep literature – the sort that makes people question their conditioned notions of life, the human condition, and the very meaning of reality?

It probably isn’t quite that bad. It seems there are still a few publishers who are prepared to take a risk, at least up to a point, although the window of opportunity is clearly very much smaller than it used to be. And, of course, there has been an explosion in the rise of small press publishers. The computer age and the development of print-on-demand technology has enabled anybody with a modicum of expertise to set themselves up as a publisher at very little cost. But so many of them seem to feel it necessary to follow the modus operandi of their mainstream role models, carefully identifying their ‘niche markets’ and selecting only appropriate titles in order to maximise sales. It’s all about being a successful entrepreneur, not about purveying something worthwhile. That’s sad, but it seems to be typical of the culture in which we now live. I remain optimistic, because I know that fads tend to be cyclical and I hope this will prove to be the case with publishing.

Meanwhile, where am I going to send my very strange novel when I’ve finished editing it?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Are Dogs Brighter than Politicians?

I read this morning that the government plans to introduce legislation forcing all dog owners to take out insurance against the possibility of their pet attacking someone. Dog attacks are rare, but the government says that legislation is necessary to curb the growing trend for using dogs to intimidate people. The people who do that form a tiny minority in a very restricted area of the social spectrum. Bad though the practice undoubtedly is, we’re mostly talking gang culture here, and the aggression is largely internecine. It seems to me that certain pretty obvious projections are not being made.

The sort of people who engage in this activity are not the sort to abide by the law and take out insurance. They’re also the ones the police find most difficult to get at. So, the people who would be punished for breaching such a law would be mostly those who don’t give rise to the problem in the first place.

There are many elderly people, and others on low incomes, for whom their pet dog is a most treasured companion. They already have difficulty staying warm and well fed in the winter, so any further burden of expense would be intolerable. Many would have to give up what little company they have.

We already have a serious problem with people abandoning dogs because they are expensive, inconvenient, or simply no longer welcome. Adding further expense would only exacerbate that problem.

It seems obvious to me that such a law would not address the stated issue, but simply punish the innocent. And so I have to question why the government would make such a proposal. Could it be further evidence, if such were needed, that politicians are congenitally dumb? Could it be that the media is misrepresenting the proposal for the sake of sensationalism, because that’s what the media does? Or could it be that the insurance industry is behind it, engaging in their selfish and sordid little machinations in order to make more money? I’m struggling to think of another reason.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Another Animal Issue.

Squirrels are considered a serious pest in Britain. They have to be culled because they damage trees. Damage trees, eh? That’s bad; but isn’t this pronouncement coming from members of a species that destroys an area of rainforest the size of Wales every year? We do it to make space for cows, which we then kill to provide the beef for Big Macs and their ilk. It's done to provide a tacky sort of pleasure that we would be better off without, and to make a great deal of money for multi-national companies and their small number of financial beneficiaries. In all my years of living in the countryside, I’ve only ever seen one tree fatally damaged by bark stripping. We humans have a seemingly endless capacity for irrational self-righteousness. It’s quite bizarre.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Just Another Furry Animal

I feel some sympathy for rats, as well as a sense of injustice over the way we treat them. I can think of no other creature that is more reviled. Their name has become a byword for all that is dirty, dangerous, deceitful and dishonourable. Why?

‘They carry disease.’ OK, so they carried the fleas that carried the plague that decimated the population of Europe. That was seven hundred years ago. Did they do it deliberately? Other rodents carry the bubonic plague flea too, but we don’t feel anything like the same sense of repulsion for cute little mice and squirrels. Now they carry Weil’s disease. Agreed, but again they’re not the only ones. Rabbits carry Rabbit Flu, which can be fatal to humans. Does the bunny have the same reputation as the rat?

I think what really concerns us is that rats are intelligent, resourceful and prolific breeders. So are humans. I don’t deny that there are situations when we need to control their populations and peg them back a bit. Does that mean we have to hate them as a matter of course? Does it mean we have to kill them just because we can see them?

My neighbour is disabled and employs a team of gardeners to keep his garden tidy. They find it convenient to pile the cuttings on an embankment by the side of the lane, a few yards from the bottom of my garden. A female rat took up occupation in it during the winter. In January she brought her babies out, and a big, mean looking male appeared at the same time. About two days later I found the mother dead on the road. The male disappeared the next day; I assume he’d gone off to find a new mate. So the babies were orphaned, and I started to take them rolled oats and mixed grains that I buy for the birds. They’re just about fully grown now, although three of the original five disappeared a couple of days ago. Should I feel guilty that I maybe helped them have a life? Well, I don’t.

I do admit that I wouldn’t want a rat in my house, any more than I would relish any form of invasion. My consciousness hasn’t evolved quite that far yet. But I am trying hard to get rid of this near-hysterical prejudice people have against them. As long as they stay outside, I choose to see them for what they are: just little brown furry creatures trying to get by in a hard world like anything else.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

More Pictures

In the hills this time.
















Friday, 5 March 2010

J'accuse Braveheart.

They’re showing Braveheart on British terrestrial TV again tonight. It’s a celebrated film; it won Oscars. It’s about this honest, brave young Scottish chap who takes on the might of mega-thug Edward I and his English war machine, and nearly wins. The Scottish cause is just and the Scots are all good guys. The English are all a bunch of snobbish, brutal bad guys who deserve a good thrashing. It’s fine as a work of romantic fiction, but people don’t see it that way. They think it’s an accurate telling of history, and that’s the problem. There was a reported upsurge of anti-English feeling in Scotland after that film came out. I gather there were attacks on English-owned property; maybe there were even personal assaults, I don’t know. What I do know is that people should be a bit above that sort of thing, especially when you look at what we know of the facts.

Mediaeval politics were similar to modern day gang warfare. Leaders were expected to be tough, brutal and uncompromising. William Wallace’s predecessor, King Alexander III, committed the most hideous acts of cruelty; and his successor, Robert the Bruce, murdered his political rival in a church before engaging in what was a form of extensive ethnic cleansing. And when Edward I’s son, Edward II, failed to live up to these ideals, even his own wife connived in his disposal. Kings were also expected to extend their area of influence; it was considered the right and proper thing to do. Edward I was simply very, very good at being what a mediaeval king was expected to be good at.

And it must be remembered that he had some slight right of succession to the Scottish crown after the death of Alexander III through his relationship to Alexander’s queen. And yet he didn’t try to seize the crown. He tried merely to establish overlordship, as was expected of a powerful king, bloodlessly through a legal agreement. The Scottish dignitaries all signed the agreement, and then they reneged on it. What was a red blooded gang leader supposed to do? Go home and have a nice cup of tea?

And what of Wallace himself? Was he really the fine, upstanding figure that Gibson presents us with? Hardly. Many of the Scottish dignitaries were uneasy about having him as their leader. He was a criminal, an outlaw. But his case won the day because he was recognised as being as tough and thuggish as Edward, and they felt that like was needed to fight like. After his victory at Stirling Bridge, he had a leading English cleric laid face down and the skin flayed from his back. He had the skin made into a sword belt. I admit that his sentence of execution was probably legally dubious, but he must have been aware of the biblical text ‘They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.’ That was how things worked then, on both sides.

We can learn a lot about human nature from a study of history. But it needs to be an honest, open appraisal based on what we know of the facts, not a superficial, romanticised version presented by Hollywood. And if the facts run counter to our nationalistic (or other) prejudices, it's the prejudices that should go, not the facts. The human condition is far too complex to be judged by the simplistic ramblings of a Mel Gibson.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

A Dubious Dependence.

According to a documentary on the TV tonight, one sixth of the population of Britain has never used the internet. Does that make us backward, or does it suggest that a modicum of good sense still prevails in certain quarters? I have to admit that I would find it inconvenient to be without it these days, not least because it’s invaluable for the transmission of manuscripts. Something niggles me, though. The development of new technology always goes through three phases: 1) invention, 2) use, 3) dependence. You only have to look as far as the motor car, and how panicked people become at the first hint of a fuel shortage, to understand that one. Not only do we build our personal lives around technology, we redesign the whole fabric of our society upon a touching faith in the fact that the technology will not be subject to attack or meltdown. I wonder whether that is really a very wise thing to do.

And maybe we are missing out on something, too. My old computer became effectively unusable last November, and a lack of money forced me to do without one for two months. I paced up and down in frustration for a week or two, and then I went and sat by an open fire with a real book. It was Wuthering Heights. After reading it twice, and after reading more books about the Brontes, I wrote an essay on the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy (which I believe is universally misunderstood, by the way.) I wrote it longhand, with a pen! What a pleasure that was! Rediscovering how to function without a screen and a keyboard. Now that I have a computer again, I still sit in front of a fire and read a book for a little while in the evening. In the summer, I will read outside in the sunshine instead.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Questionnable Virtues.

The Roman Catholic Church published a report today in which it said that Britain has become a selfish society, citing the lack of ‘neighbourliness’ and ‘good citizenship’ as prime areas of concern. It is true that the ‘greed is good’ years of Thatcher and Blair, and the unflinching decline into an almost wholly free market economy, has encouraged a more selfish and self-centred mindset in the UK. But I have to make a couple of points here.

Firstly, I wonder whether the Catholic Church is the right body to be making such an observation. Obviously I have nothing whatsoever against individual Catholics, but let’s not be afraid to be frank; for nearly two thousand years the Roman Church as an institution has left a legacy of systematic abuse, cruelty and genocide in its wake that is second to none. It makes Vlad the Impaler look like a minor felon in comparison.

What concerns me more, though, are these terms ‘neighbourliness’ and ‘good citizenship.’ They are vague terms that mean different things to different people, and they are easily adulterated and manipulated.

At its best, neighbourliness is, of course, a good thing. But it can, and sometimes does, swing into its negative aspect. It replaces care, compassion and a willingness to help with a narrow minded and spiteful proclivity for petty judgment. I saw it often enough when I was growing up, and I still see it today.

‘Citizenship’ is even worse. What a dreadful term that is. At best it tends to be a cover used to justify the system’s demand for unthinking conformity, and at worst it gets trotted out as a common platitude of the jingoist and the xenophobe.

I am all for criticising this culture; there is a great deal to be critical of. But I think we need to look a bit further than this if we are to address the real nature of what is questionable.

A Little Delusion.

Britain doesn’t do well in winter sports. We don’t have the climate, and so we don’t have the tradition. And yet a young woman called Amy Williams from Bath won a gold medal in the recent Winter Olympics. This is a superb achievement and she is to be congratulated. The media, of course, is oozing all over her; and so the delusion begins.

A TV channel interviewed her mother today. She said that they had received ‘the most amazing support.’ Even complete strangers had been approaching her in the street and offering their best wishes. This isn’t support; this is little more than people wanting to associate themselves with success and celebrity. Had Amy Williams been revealed to be the worst serial killer in history, and had those same strangers still approached and offered their support to her parents, then I would be impressed.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Question of Creation

I fail to see why people should argue over some perceived conflict between Creationism and Darwinism. As I understand it, Darwin simply proposed that life evolved, and is continuing to evolve, through a process of natural selection. Accepting that proposal as correct does not, in itself, preclude the idea that there was some sort of intelligence behind the design of the system. Admittedly, it does rather knock a literal reading of Genesis, but only a relatively small number of die-hard fundamentalists at the extreme end of the Judaic tradition believe that anyway. Other traditions give a far more profound account of the Creation, and even a good many Christians, Jews and Muslims accept Genesis for what I believe it was always meant to be - an allegory, greatly simplified for the sake of the lowest common denominator.

But, of course, the real argument isn’t between Creationism and Darwinism, but between Creationism and the Big Bang; and it’s here that I find myself, yet again, rolling my eyes at the sheer lack of logic in the mainstream scientific position. They indulge in yet another example of the blatant non sequitur. ‘We know how the Big Bang happened,’ they say, ‘so that proves it happened by chance.’ Of course it doesn’t. If they’re right about the Big Bang, it might prove that the physical universe wasn’t created in six periods of twenty four hours by some Being sitting in a place called Heaven, but that’s all.

Let’s ask the obvious question: what was there before the Big Bang? ‘Nothing,’ say some of the scientists. How are we supposed to take this answer, when it denies the most fundamental basis of what we’ve always been taught about the mechanics of material reality – that every effect is the product of a cause? Are we now to believe that something came out of literally nothing? Maybe we are; The Hindu version of Creation teaches that very thing, but it also teaches that there was intelligent intent behind it. And this is the nub of the problem. Is the human mind capable of understanding the concept of non-existence? I suggest that it probably isn’t, since it operates in a context in which only existence makes sense. So let’s go with the other scientists who answer ‘we simply don’t know.’ Fine, but if you ‘simply don’t know,’ please stop foisting upon us the ‘certainty’ that there was no intelligent intent behind the creation of the universe.

I have to take this to another level, though. I have to come back to an earlier post on the nature of reality. I am largely persuaded of the view inherent in all Vedic and associated philosophies: that the only true reality is something incomprehensible to the limited human mind – let’s call it Universal Consciousness for the sake of simplicity – and that all material reality is, in relative terms, a form of illusion. This is only what I choose to believe since I have no proof, but it does lead me to view the argument between the Creationists and their opponents as being not only fallacious, but irrelevant.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Age of the Expert.

Our society is being slowly strangled by experts. They’re crawling out of the walls like maggots out of a month-dead corpse. I wouldn’t mind if they merely offered us advice, but they don’t. Buoyed by a perception of superiority instilled in them by the system of higher education, they function through self-endowed didactic. They tell us what we must do and what we must not do. And they indulge in my favourite process: reductionism. Everything is reduced to some arbitrary and immutable number. We must drink so much water every day; we must eat so many portions of fruit and vegetables every day; we must not drink more than so many units of alcohol a week; our body mass index must not be allowed to rise above this figure etc, etc, etc... And failure to follow their strictures will have catastrophic consequences. We will be dehydrated, or under-nourished, or a dangerous drinker, or clinically obese.

And they don’t stop at the level of what we consume; they’re invading the very core of what we are. I’ve never known so many people have so many things ‘wrong’ with them. It seems that every bit of a pain, every aspect of mood, every inconvenient character trait has to be identified as a ‘condition’ and given a grand sounding name. They even reduce the names to initial letters, so as to make them more believable because they’re easier to say.

“I hear Mrs Smith’s got PNS.”

“Ooh! What’s PNS?”

“Something to do with the brain, I think. They’ve only just discovered it. She keeps forgetting to go to bed at night, and falls asleep in the armchair.”

“How old is she now?”

“102.”

“So what are they doing about it?”

“They’ve given her some tablets.”

“Are they working?”

“Not yet, but they say it’ll take time. Trouble is, she gets high blood pressure, splitting headaches and a rash over both arms now. She was fit as a fiddle before.”

This process is also invading the way we run our day to day affairs. We’re being drowned under a torrent of regulations and guidelines that are writ in stone by ‘experts.’ The police, healthcare professionals, teachers, and many more bodies are complaining that they’re not allowed to apply good sense any more. The regulations are sacrosanct. They seem to have been brought down to us by Moses and are not to be varied under any circumstances. If we carry on like this, we’ll forget what good sense is. I think the Daleks are winning.