Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Personal gods

I had an email from a friend today who read my last posting. He agreed with most of it, but added that most of us have other Gods apart from “the” god (the one who doesn’t exist).

Back in my more gullible “born again” Christian days, we did recognise these other Gods. The chief “gods” were money, food and self. Because these gods were not the true god who we worshipped, we called them false gods. In fact, they are not false at all, and very real.

We have all seen the damage being caused by the worship of money and the current despair that is bringing upon the world. By the way, many people seem to think that the Bible says “money is the root of all evil”. Actually it doesn’t. What it actually says is that “THE LOVE of money is the root of all evil”. This puts a completely different slant on things. Money itself is neutral; it can neither be good or evil. Its how we use it that is the problem, as well as what our attitude is towards it. Are you using money to fund gun running to terrorist groups, or making donations to your local children’s hospice? You get my drift............ It also becomes a problem when we forget that money is actually a means to an end, and not the end in itself. Even so, people can be forgiven for hording their filthy lucre in the present crisis.

We see the results all around us of the “sin” of gluttony. Everywhere you look, you see people impersonating hippos. It’s just too easy to put on loads of weight and become a walking marshmallow with all the cheap, but very tasty, junk food which is all around. Obesity is one of the biggest killers at work in the west today, and kills far more people than, road accidents, wars, acts of terrorism etc…..It also seems so wrong to be switching on the television and seeing so many programmes devoted to food while there are so many people dying of starvation in the world. When I was a child at school, fat kids got made fun of. I guess the reason was because they were relatively rare as compared to today, and so really stood out. The really fat ones which I remember are now dead. Also, while it is no doubt a good thing to work out at the Gym, if we are going to keep in shape then we must eat sensibly. We are all on a diet; it’s just that rather a lot of us are on the wrong diet. Its also an interesting fact that in order to burn off one ounce of fat, you have to, on average, walk 16 miles, so don’t kid yourself that exercise is the whole answer because it isn’t.

Finally there’s self. Just plain selfishness. We can be selfish in many ways, some obvious, and some not so obvious. I am not really bothered about the selfishness which wants to improve one’s lot in life. We all have to have a degree of selfishness in order to survive; otherwise everyone just walks all over us. The kind of selfishness which I find so heinous is the kind where other people are just not considered. Where people call “a spade a spade” without any regard for the feelings of others. Probably the most extreme example of selfishness in living memory was exemplified in the life of the Chinese Leader, Mao Tse-tung. In order to achieve his own selfish ambitions he caused the deaths of some 75 million of his own countrymen, not to mention personally congratulating Pol Pot after the "Year Zero" killing fields massacres and enslaving a whole nation. Indeed, Mao's personal philosophy was that no one else outside of the self matters. For anyone interested in the life of this tyrant, I recommend Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's book "Mao the Unknown Story" published by Jonathan Cape. In fact, just about all forms of criminal activity spring from selfishness of one kind or another. We all, whether we like it or not, have a duty of care to those around us. It starts in our own immediate families and then spreads outwards to the rest of society – and the world. Am I my brother’s keeper???? – Yes you are, and your sisters' as well.

Go in peace.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Talkin New Year Gloomsday Blues

This coming year will see many changes in all our lives, even if it’s the unfulfilled longing for Pick and Mix. One change which will come will be more postings on this blog. I am going to be franker, bolder, hopefully funnier, and I will not be dictated to by others what I can and what I cannot write. Whatever appears on this blog will stay, and I will not change a word. For those who have ears, let them hear.

Well, here we go again, and like last year, I cannot help but feel despair for this rotton overcrowded planet upon which we all scrape our existence. Already we hear of a massacre in the Middle East, and we have had our collective share of religious fanatics heaping their suffering and misery onto innocent people in the name of a God which if it did exist would be thoroughly evil. Who needs a devil when we’ve got God?? When did you last hear of an atheist suicide bomber? Hopefully this coming year might see more people waking up to the truth of the inspired writings of people like Professor Richard Dawkins et al. There can only be any real prospect of peace on this world when people grow up and throw off the shackles of religious superstition and irrational fear and start living by the rules of common decency which is innate in all of us, though suffocated by unreason in many.

Yesterday I was talking to my niece who informed me she had to be out of bed by 4.00 this morning. The reason?............she works in a clothing store in London which opened at 5.00 this morning for its Winter Sale. Also, she informed me there were people queuing on the pavement all night in the freezing cold awaiting this great event. What the hell is the matter with people in this country to make them act in such an insane manner? Are people really so materialistic? Didn’t they get enough for Christmas? Obviously not. Greed and materialism are rife, and has gotten us into this current economic mess. You cannot have unlimited growth because it will destroy civilisation. We can still have advances in technology, and better standards of living, but it needs to be more modest and in step with what the natural resources of this planet can afford us. Of course, there are far too many people in the world and little prospect of doing more than a token amount to raise the standards and prospects of the majority who are poor. Even so, we can all help by being that little bit more generous to others less fortunate. While it is true that charity starts at home, it is supposed to get beyond the front door!

I know it’s a kid’s film, but I watched the Disney Pixar animated film “Wall-E” on Christmas Day, a present. I thought it had a very serious point. Here was this robot, going about an uninhabitable Earth clearing up all the rubbish left by humankind who had all fled to live an idle pointless existence on a vast spaceship where their every need was catered for by robots. What struck me was that this was a look into a future where economic growth and the human population have expanded unchecked. It doesn’t take a brain scientist to work out what may befall us in the not too distant future if we don’t start living more simply, making do with the things we do have which fulfil our needs (not greeds), stop endlessly pining over getting the next big thing, and stop having so many children. If you want to see a nightmarish extreme example of what can happen when there are too many people and too few resources to support them in any decent fashion, take a close up look at Manila in the Phillipines where people are routinely dying in the streets and trying to sell their babies. To get an idea of the scale of the problem, take a look at it on Google Earth – it’s shocking. Of course, Roman Catholicism doesn’t help with its evil teachings against contraception. Maybe the Pope should go and live in a tin shack amongst these poor people. Even so, reason and common sense are the enemies of religion which is driven by dogma and blind fear, so I don’t suppose his mind would be changed. Oh, here I go again!!!! Sorry, but religion is a deadly disease of the mind and the sooner people wake up to this the better.

So, did you get anything good for Christmas then?? I did, and pleasingly, all the presents we gave out were well received and we didn’t seem to have made any bad choices. Even better, everything worked so we will not be queuing to exchange or return any faulty goods. I wish I could say that Christmas was a happy occasion for all my family, but sadly one of our members became severely ill and spent Christmas Day in Hospital, but is thankfully now making a good recovery.

I know this posting is laden with loads of doom and gloom, but I do actually have real hopes for things to be better this year. On a personal level, I have much I want to achieve, and I aim to travel to places I have never been before. I hope to take many wonderful photographs and make new friends and acquaintances. The exciting thing about New Year is that it’s a chance for a fresh start. In a sense, we could say this every day, though with New Year there is a much greater psychological imperative at work.

Finally, I wish a very happy and prosperous New Year to all my readers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Man Cold

As I write I am feeling like a piece of crap. No...........I don't want a piece of crap, I feel like I am a piece of crap. Its all my fault. I have tempted the Gods – or fate, depending on your viewpoint. It happened like this:

On Monday evening I was sat in the sauna of my leisure club. I was having a good sweat. A really good sweat. I enjoy having a good sweat. Sitting in a sauna having a good sweat is one of the ecstatic delights I look forward to at the end of the day, especially if the day is a Monday. I don't like Mondays. Monday Monday, can't trust that day.

So, to recap – I don't like Mondays apart from that part of a Monday where I am sat having a good sweat in a very hot sauna. I hope this is clear, I can't make it any clearer. If its not clear, then I can arrange therapy.

Anyway, there I was sat feeling at peace with the world and wondering how the poor people are getting on (I've nothing against poor people, you understand, I just don't have an appetite to join them. As Woody Allen once put it, - “Given the choice between wealth or poverty I would always choose wealth, if only for financial reasons”). I couldn't put it clearer than that if I tried. You try if you want to, but I'm not for trying – though some might think I am trying. The old ones are the best!

I am feeling delirious.

Suddenly the door swung open and in walked some bloke, my only co-sweater. As we sat and perspired in unison, I decided to enter into conversation, with him rather than myself, lest he thought me mad. I mentioned to him that since I have been using the sauna, I have hardly ever had a cold, and what colds have threatened, have been very short lived.

I am not superstitious, but nevertheless I felt the urge to touch lots of wood. This was not difficult as I was reclining on a wooden slatted bench. My sweaty companion replied that my statement was very dangerous, that I should not say things like that, and I was tempting fate. He was right.

That night, I retired to bed feeling happy and relaxed. I awoke in the early hours of the morning feeling somewhat odd, with a rough feeling developing in my throat, a slight shiveryness pervading my body and the words “Oh bugger” being repeated over and over again in my mind.

Yesterday I went to work feeling somewhat frayed at the edges and not in the best of moods. Perhaps I should have stayed away, but as one who others look to for an example I felt I owed it to them to set the example of perseverance against all odds. On the other hand, there is always the danger of sharing my infection with my colleagues, so its a bit of an awkward tightrope to walk. However, on the basis that the air is already no doubt laden with all these bugs, I didn't really think my presence would really makes much difference, so long as I didn't walk around sneezing over everybody.

Today I returned to work again, heavily dosed up on Max Strength kill everything fluid. Now, if it actually did do the job as it says on the pack, then given how I have been feeling today, I can only assume that I should be dead.

You will, no doubt, have realised by now, that I am suffering from that most common and deadly disease of all - a Man Cold. There is no ailment on this planet which causes as much misery as this most horrible of diseases. As I sit here suffering, my cheeks are burning (the ones on my face), my nose (dose) is running, my head feels heavy, my throat is getting steadily rougher, my eyes feel sore and tired and sinking into their sockets. In short, I am descending into the knacker's yard. Even worse than all this, there is some serious TV drama being played out in front of me and I have not only lost the plot, I never had it in the first place. I might make it through the night. We'll see what effect another shot of Max Strength killing fluid will do.

I'm going to bed. I might be gone some time.

Please feel sorry for me.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Interstellar Consciousness

In 1969 I laid on my back on the ground and stared up at the stars. I was on the Island of Gan in the Maldive Islands. It was late at night. The sky was clear and the stars sparkled like glistening jewels with the band of the Milky Way dividing the firmament. I was not drunk, but I was more alive, and more conscious than ever.

As I lay, I kept as still as I possibly could and just stared upward, blocking out anything on the fringes of my vision which might distract from the heavenly view. Presently, I began to lose all sensation of the ground underneath me. I felt as if I was floating in space with nothing but the boundless oceans of light years separating me from a billion worlds.

In amongst these worlds, there are, no doubt, planets not so divorced from our own, harbouring life. Of course, the chances of the life forms resembling Terran forms is extremely remote, as our own experience of life on Earth demonstrates the infinity of shape and form and intricacy of what natural selection creates.

Staring straight up I could see towards the heart of the Milky Way, our spiral Galaxy of which we are such a minute speck that if we disappeared the universe would not notice. The interstellar dust clouds block out the view of the actual centre, as much of what is out there is hidden from the unaided gaze. In the centre of the Galaxy is a black hole swallowing up time and space, only to disgorge it again in a kind of plasma at some point billions of years hence. The powers that rule the universe are so great that we could be wiped out in an instant, in the blinking of an eye.

And then, you turn yours eyes from the stars and back onto the home planet. The planet we are systematically destroying. The life forms we are wiping out. The misery and oppression our own species inflicts upon itself. Yet, there will come a time when the universe will swallow us up, and it will be as if we were never here. We are not important. We only think we are. We have yet to grow up.

Reaching out into space and being at one with the cosmos is the ultimate reality check. That is where we will eventually find ourself and the meaning of existance.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Shed building for beginners

“Did you get it up at the weekend?” Asked my work colleague.

“Yes” I replied proudly, feeling very pleased with my erection. We were, of course, talking about my new shed.

Now, I have to admit that when it comes to almost any do-it-yourself type project, I am a walking disaster. If there is a wrong way to put things together, you can be sure that I will find it. Indeed, only a year or so ago, I fitted some coat hooks to the wall of our utility room at a cost of around £200. I managed to drill through some live electric wires and nearly destroyed the water boiler in the process. I recently fitted a security lock to a door. It all works OK, the only trouble being its back to front. My wife bought me an assemble it yourself robot one Christmas. I managed to put it together, except that it runs backwards instead of forwards. You can therefore imagine my dismay when my wife insisted we really had to have a new shed. I agreed that, yes, we really did need one. What I didn't need was all the aggravation of putting it together.

Anyway, following visits to local garden centres it became clear if we bought it from any of them we would need to re-mortgage the house. There was only one solution, and that was a trip to Wilkinsons. Peering through the catalogue, we picked out a classic 8 feet by 6 feet wooden shed with a double door. Having dutifully handed over the £200 plus £20 for delivery, we got on with the rest of our lives in anticipation of it's delivery.

A week or so later, it duly arrived in all all its disassembled glory. It was all propped up against the wall at the side of my house, so I moved it onto the patio under the gazebo to shelter it from the rain. My wife was worried about it getting wet. Of course, once it was erected it wouldn't get wet any more! We covered it over with plastic sheeting for good measure, and there it lay for the following week through torrential rain and high winds which destroyed the cover of the gazebo.

Finally, the weekend and good weather converged and there was no time to waste but to get on and build it. We got up early. We pulled back the covers and there it all was in a big shambolic pile, laughing at me and cocking a snoot at how useless I am. I sat weeping and wailing in despair. I would far rather have been looking at books in W H Smith, or CDs and DVDs in Zavvi. I decided to pull myself together.

Right!” I said, I'll go and get the hammer and screw driver and get started”. My wife nearly wet herself in hysterical laughter, rubbing in even further my DIY ineptness. She then reminded me that we had to do the very thing which a man never does, and that is check and count all the pieces. Fighting back my desire to start bashing nails with abandon – or even with the hammer, we checked everything, down to the last nail. It was all there. A miracle. Time to really start the building.

After diligently studying the plans, it became apparent that hammering was not the primary means of holding it together, but screws. Of course, I should have twigged the clue when we were checking all the components – there were far more screws than nails. It was clear that we had some very serious screwing ahead of us. In fact, I don't believe my wife and I have ever screwed so much in one day – it was a screwing marathon, a veritable “screwathon!”

After screwing the floor to the base formers, I left my wife screwing the hinges to the doors, while I took a load of waste to the recycling centre. Unfortunately, while I was away, the hinges found themselves being attached in the wrong positions – too close together instead of at the top and bottom of each door - where they should have been. I decided it would be best if I corrected the mistake, so sending my wife off on a wifely chore, I made my hands and wrists ache with intense screwing.

My wife had already assembled the windows, earlier, just like on Blue Peter, and it was now clear we needed to get it up.

After laying the base on the patio and propping it up with brick supports where it overhung onto the lawn or where the patio itself dipped, we started to get the side in position. This again, involved a lot of manoeuvring and screwing as well as a certain amount of banging. Next, we got the roof on. It was now getting late in the day and we were both shagged out. There's only so much banging and screwing you can take in a day, but at least we got it up.

The next morning was an early start. We had to get laid the roof covering. After cutting it into strips, we draped it over and got banging again tacking it into position. Our shed was now complete, but for the weather proofing which I accomplished the following weekend following a trip to the garden centre. We are now a two shed couple, another step up the social ladder!