Sunday 21 December 2014

In Defence of Evil Stepfathers Everywhere

I rarely like to tackle the thorny subject of step-parenthood, even in conversation, despite it being a fairly massive part of my life and who I am. Because it is a minefield of a subject to get into, thanks to all those fairy stories filled with evil stepmothers, and B-movies filled with rapey stepfathers and the general second-class status we are afforded. I have just accepted my lot and let the actual smug-faced breeders get on with telling me that I can't possibly understand what it's like for them (disclaimer, most of those smug-faced breeders are actually very lovely people, and without them the human race would die out, I am exaggerating for comic effect, please don't get angry). However, I am tired of being taken for a feckless shirker and thus I am here to state my case for all those of us who decided to bring up somebody else's kids instead of just making new ones of our own. After all, nobody tells couples that adopt that they don't understand what it's like to be an actual parent do they? Exactly. And they haven't even got the added problem of living with an actual parent telling them they're doing it wrong all the time.

And we don't get the head-start that those cheating genetic parents get, the immediate, instinctive and unconditional love that you get with your parents. We have to earn any kind of relationship that we get, and are usually greeted with outright hostility from the outset. There's plenty of ways to get round this, you can try to buy them (never works in the long run) you can ignore them and hope they go away (also doesn't work so well) you can be amazingly enthusiastic and interested in every little thing they do (which may well also backfire) or you can cheat, and be the owner of the world's most adorable dog that you take everywhere with you (works like a charm it turns out).

When I first met my wife, I had to give it a lot of thought before I decided to go into a relationship with a single mother. Largely because Jerry Maguire was one of my favourite movies at the time, and you can't go adding more troubles to kids lives than they've already had. I had, at one point, thought that I might have kids myself one day, because that's what people do right? However when it came down to it, I realised I was far too selfish and self absorbed to be any kind of actual parent, and thus figured that at least these children would be grown up and sorted and away by the time I hit 35 (btw, I am 37 now, and still worrying about them, turns out Dad was right when he said it never ends) I intended to endure it rather than embrace it initially. Never quite managed that though, for it turns out that I am not actually made of stone.

I started seeing my wife when her children were 8 and 10 years old, and not long after the youngest turned 10, I had moved in permanently. So no, I wasn't there for all the sticky bits, but equally, I missed out on the bit where they are cute and nice, and don't tell you that you “don't understand” all the time. I have spent the last 13 or so years of my life bringing them up with her. They have cost me no less heartache, worry, or indeed actual money than they would have were they the actual fruit of my trouser garden. And yes, you get pretty close and attached to them whether you want to or not. You can't help it when you live in close proximity to two ever-changing, ever-growing, ever-asking-stupid-fucking-questions creatures. And in a massive coup for nurture over nature, those two have picked up some fairly obvious mannerisms of mine, not the good ones either, just sarcasm, withering looks, and a fondness for heavy drinking mainly.

I didn't expect this either, back when I signed up for this, I entered the relationship because I loved the mother, and was prepared to put up with the kids. but when I decided to move in, it was because of all the stuff I heard about when I spoke to her at night on the phone, amusing kid stuff, I felt I was missing out, and just staying at the weekends wasn't enough. So we became a family, and we're pretty good at it compared to some “traditional” families I know. We stick up for each other, we do things together, and we make snide jokes about other families who aren't as fun as we are. We even invented a new Christmas tradition, family cocktail hour, which lasted for 12 hours last year somehow.

It got weirder, because as they got older I felt more parenty. I was not prepared for my reaction when I met my stepdaughter's first boyfriend, obviously I wanted to punch him in the face, but I relented, and we got on fine. Equally, I was terrified watching the boy taking his first skateboard over the little plastic ramp we bought him for Christmas. Though it may have been fear that he'd ask me to show him how to get over it properly, having not ridden a deck in anger since the late 80s, it was a daunting prospect. But that's what parents do right? Overcome your personal fears to help your kids get on. Luckily he didn't make me have a go, or break his neck, so none of my fears were justified.

And same as every other parent, when we left the girl at her first university digs there were tears, and some of them were mine. And when I first saw my boy riding a fire engine in his full uniform (it's ok, he is a real fireman, not a stripper). So yeah, I feel parenty things, do not doubt it. My heart is in my mouth every bit as much as my wife's when the phone rings in the middle of the night, and not so long ago I did some fairly long stints of waiting up all night to make sure they had got home safe from wherever they had been. Along with involuntary drives to pick up those who had missed buses, lost bus passes, or just run out of money. The alternatives were not good. I am glad they have their own cars now (although no less worried when they don't get back when they said they would, and still occasionally making those long night time drives to get them, but usually with a can of petrol in the boot now).

It gets more difficult for us though, because we have a real parent there as well, who is even more proprietary and worrisome than we are. So we have to roll it back a bit, if my wife is criticising them, I cannot join in in too strong a manner, as the protective instinct will kick in, and she will defend them to the hilt over me, every time, as she should. And interestingly, I do it as well now, if I have a little moan about them in the pub, and somebody joins in and criticises either of them, I get surprisingly defensive over them. Just another thing I did not expect back when I started on this journey (I certainly didn't expect to ever use the word journey metaphorically, but I can't think of a better one, please forgive me).

When my stepson had just left for his gap year travelling, and we still hadn't had a message from him 3 hours after he should have arrived, it was me who had to keep saying, “I'm sure he's ok, he's probably got no signal” and “he's probably in some greek bar with a load of cheerleaders from California on a backpacking trip and has forgotten all about us” over and over again, while pushing down any fears I may have had about plane crashes, train accidents, abductions, etc. etc. Luckily it turned out that he had just caught the wrong train from the airport, and spent hours going round greece with no phone signal on the trains. But as the step-parent, I had to reassure my wife and act the uncaring, callous git, to keep her calm, while internally panicking and worrying every bit as much as her.

I have given them my last fiver so they can go out, I have frantically searched the town during a busy carnival night in the rain for a teenage boy whose phone has run out of charge, I have picked a screaming girl out of a stinging nettle patch and told awful jokes until she smiled again, I have hunted the entire of Eurodisney for a lost memory card that turned up in a shopping bag later on, hell, I spent 2 whole days IN Eurofuckingdisney, where you cannot get a decent drink for love nor money. I spent hours explaining algebra and various forms of poetry, and am currently enjoying proofreading a rip-roaringly exciting fine art dissertation, and checking a sponsorship contract from some skateboarding company for hidden “we will eat your first born child” clauses. I have screamed, laughed and cried with them for the last decade, and yes, I am proud of who they have become, even if I do moan about them. And I'm pretty sure that's what real parents do, and I'm pretty sure that the key word in step-parent, is parent, not step.

I still don't want to have any children of my own the usual way, because as far as I am concerned, I already have two, and I think I did quite well, and the world has enough mumbling socialist drunken hippies in it already. I don't love the cats I have had from kittens anymore than the two that my wife already had when I met her, nor my Dog who I have had from a puppy anymore than the one I adopted at 7 years old, so I doubt I would feel more strongly about a child I had had from the beginning than I do over those two, even with the genetic crap thrown in. Again, ask any adoptive parent the same question, you'll get the same answer. My dearest and oldest friend was adopted, and he has plenty of mannerisms from his mum and dad, and regards them as his parents, no two ways about it.

I am not saying that all step-parents are wonderful people, or that everyone's experiences are the same. Watch the news, you'll find plenty of evil murderous genetic mothers, and rapey genetic fathers as well. I just wanted to tell my experience of it to someone, because, well, it's Christmas, and I am still a public school educated chap from Guildford, and thus incapable of actually talking about proper feelings and emotions and shit. So I wrote this instead. And if you also happen to be a step-parent who does care, and worries about telling people that, then next time somebody tells you that you don't have kids and you don't understand, tell them that yes you do, and yes you do. I really should myself, but will probably continue to shrug it off, and mumble something incomprehensible back. My kids have four parents, who love them, and I reckon that makes them pretty damn lucky.

Sunday 16 November 2014

How To Have Your Generation X midlife Crisis In The 21st Century

The time has come to stop pretending my jokes about impending middle age are ironic, or in fact that middle age is still merely impending. I am thirty seven years old. And while to me, and to most of my contemporaries that is not middle aged, it is veritably young and sprightly, if I were to jump in my time machine, and go and ask my 19 year old self what he thinks about it, he will call me an old man, laugh at my grey beard, tell me I sold out years ago and assure me that I am very much middle-aged now. He has a point, on pretty much all counts (except the selling out, I have never received any money for my terrible decisions). He will also say that 37 is half way to 74, and that that is a pretty optimistic forecast for a life lived as I have lived mine.

So that means I get to have a mid-life crisis now, which is nice, and I have yet to decide what form my crisis should take. The men of my father's generation all bought sports cars, and traded their wives in for younger models. Not my father though, the most mid-life crisis thing I remember him doing was buying a shiny red ride on lawnmower, but he very quickly left me and my brother to do the actual operating of it. We did stunt shows on it, and the lawns were not mown well, I think he regrets it. I am still waiting for him to do something truly awesomely mid-life crisisish, but given that he has recently turned 65, I suspect he will disappoint me on that count, and remain sensible, dependable, but still just that tiny bit awesome.

My problem, is that having been playing in loud rock and roll bands (many of them run by actual mid-life crisis types, who started the bands to recapture their lost youth, or some such) since I was about 12, I now look a bit like the tragic middle aged guy in a band. Ironically, as the age starts to kick in, I have recently quit every single band I ever played in, and am currently between gigs. It is surprisingly pleasant, and I am considering staying that way. I am writing this sitting in front of the fire with a beer on a friday evening with an empty weekend ahead of me, brilliant, how many of my musician friends can say that very often? None, that's how many. So it would seem that my mid-life crisis may manifest itself as a sudden desire to act like a proper grown up instead. I quit smoking, I don't do any drugs anymore, and I find I enjoy the odd gin and tonic more and more rather than gallons of cider/lager/ale followed by inadvisable shots. I suspect my early middle age may also have been brought on by having married a slightly older woman, and now being a step-parent to people in their twenties, most of my friends have actual kid kids now, ranging from a few months old to teenagers, this makes me feel a great deal older than I am. Just so you know, 12 years of bringing up a prefabricated family will do that to you, a lot of people look at me and Netty and assume the age gap is the other way round, and I am older.

The mid-life crisis curse of my generation has branded itself on society in one shape. That of the bicycle. And I have got one, and I am really starting to enjoy getting out on the thing. Perhaps it is because of the recession, those of us born after 1960 simply can't afford the sports cars and motorbikes that you need to leave your wife and pull a blonde bit half your age. So we just find the cheapest way to find something with gears and wheels we can brag about to our mates in the pub (sorry, at dinner parties/school fundraisers, we are middle aged now, no pubs anymore, at least, not on saturday nights). Maybe it is because we are generation X, we were punks, indie kids and ravers, conspicuous consumption of anything other than class As was not in the prescription, a bike is more authentic than a maserati.

And I get it, I really do now, if we want to live to get old, we can't just shut ourselves in the smoky pubs of the 1990s and drink ourselves happy. They don't exist anymore. Drugs will kill you, alcohol must now be drunk in moderation, cigarettes are no longer socially acceptable, so if you want to get out of your head and lose your breath on the cheap, ride up a proper devon hill on a bike, and then roll down the other side, I defy you not to shout 'wheeeeeee!' the first time you try it. There is a reason most of the former alcoholics and drug addicts (what? I hear you say, a musician who knows such morally awkward types? I am shocked) have taken to exercise instead. Endorphins are endorphins, and they are great anyway you get them. Even as my knees are screaming in agony at me as I struggle up a hill, my brain thinks it is at a 1993 free party utterly mindfucked on a big E, and is telling me it loves me, and everything is great.

It appeals to the addictive side of your personality as well, the further you make it, the further you want to make it. You want to push yourself up steeper hills, and to more exciting, and further away places. And to reward yourself with a pint at the end, in a pub you have only ever driven to. Sometimes they have closed down, and that makes me sad. Though I have solved that problem now. Also, we now have apps to tell us how fast and how far we have gone, so we can indulge in that age old male habit of metaphorical dick-measuring in an all new technological way by sharing how well we have done on facebook. Ironically, I failed to take photos of loads of really great things I saw on a recent bike ride because the app was using all my phone's processing power, and I was worried it would run out of battery. Shame, as the view towards appledore shipyard from the bit of wall I was drinking cider on was pretty amazing in the autumn sunshine. But I'm sure it's better that everyone knows I went a very long way in a very long time instead of getting that beautiful picture.

I have, however, refused to get drawn into the ever-spiralling money trap of the male hobbyist. I have never been the type to think that I need a better version of something to make me better at it. I know I have a lot of guitars, but none of them were ever bought because I thought the old ones weren't good enough, and I am aware that I don't actually need more than one, I would probably be very happy with just the mashed up old Stratocaster I was given in 1989, it's still number 1 (not actual number 1, that will always belong to Stevie Ray Vaughan, whichever bank vault it is in now, google it if you don't know what I am talking about). Pretty much all of my instruments are cheap, and highly customised, by myself, on the cheap with a chisel and a soldering iron. I have taken the same approach with my bicycle.

A year ago, Netty said she wanted a bike for her birthday, so I bought her one. I then realised it would be good to have one as well, so we could go out together. So I bought one too. They were less than £100 each, and they work just fine. As I began to enjoy the bicycling a bit more, the consumerist inside me began to want a different bike. So I hit the internet and saw all the shiny things I could buy, I was very tempted, but then I remembered that many years ago I spent a lot of money on lots of different basses to try and get the bass sound I was after. I then spent very little money and a bit of time sorting out my first bass that I got for £30 back in the 90s, and found it had the sound I wanted, and played just like I wanted it to. I realised that this was the way forward.

I bought a comfy big saddle, it was better, I bought some swept back handlebars so I could sit up straight, it was better, I realised I needed somewhere to put my coat when I got hot, and put a bottle of cider in, for when the pub I was heading for had closed (problem solved) and got a shopping basket to go on the front of the beast. It was better. So far it has STILL cost me less than a hundred quid, and my very cheap Halfords mountain bike is pretty much what I need. I live in Devon, so the roads are often not really roads, and you can't go anywhere where there isn't a hill, so you need gears, and suspension, and big tyres whether you like it or not. My cushiony sprung saddle on top of a dual suspension mountain bike is now very comfy, and not having to do that mental thing where you bend right over to go super fast is much comfier. I am in no hurry, I like getting out in the fresh air, and I have walked as far as you can in most directions now. The so-called granny cog is my friend.

Equally, the lycra and helmet brigade scare me, I don't want to go that fast, you can hear the squeal of my brakes as I go down steepish hills, if I ever go fast enough to need a helmet, I think I may be doing it wrong. I have found that the tricorn hat, beloved of 18th century sailors is the best cycling headgear, being a hat that is very hard to dislodge by wind, and is big enough to keep the rain off your face, it does mean that when I finally fall through the door of whichever pub I have cycled to, I am greeted with cries of “Arrrrr, Cap'n Sparrow!” but it is a small price to pay for a decent hat, that does not look like a mutilated phallus. A stout tweed or corduroy is a perfectly decent jacket for keeping the weather away, and my flip flops are ideal cycling footwear to prevent the build up of sweat and unpleasantness around the feet. Plus they are easier to kick off when I find a decent field to stop in and drink the cider in my basket and bare feet on grass is the still the best thing in the world.
I figure that the lycra and helmet full speed types, are kind of like the guys who buy the custom built 5 figure pricetag guitars and amps and rarely play outside the house, while I am still the chap with the £50 crack converters guitar who takes it out and busks the shit out of it every weekend (metaphorically speaking, I've not busked in years). There is nothing wrong with either of our attitudes, we are just different. I am lucky if I manage to get out on my bike more than once a month, but I enjoy it when I do. Whereas, I turn down a gig pretty much every weekend at the moment, and could still be out two or three times a week, every week if I wanted to, which I don't. I could justify an expensive instrument as a thing that would make me more money (I wouldn't buy one though, that £30 bass has made me more cash than any other instrument I own) but not a bike. It's just a thing that is a bit of fun, I am sure as time goes by I may want something better than my sit up and beg mountain bike. But I am fond of it, and it may end up like my £30 bass, or my shitty old stratocaster (which I got for nothing) a thing that I could never sell, and feels like one of my limbs.

 Stuff is stuff, no matter what it costs, if it makes you happy it is priceless, but don't think that just because it cost you more financially that it is better. My cheap nasty instruments have made me a decent amount of money over the years, and blown a lot of more expensive ones off of some quite big stages. My cheap nasty bike will only go as fast as my rapidly ageing, mostly drunken, legs can pedal them. An expensive one would have the same handicap. I have no desire to have an actual midlife crisis, but as I get older, it is fairly obvious that my hobbies need to be a little more healthy than harmful, so bicycling wins over narcotics and hookers. Besides, I like being married to my wife, we have fun together, I don't want to trade her in for a younger model, and I don't want to die young, because I want to spend more time with her. I kind of get why my generation has taken to bicycling rather than fast cars and easy women, we want to live longer with the people we love, rather than die young with a pretty fuckwit in the passenger seat of an inefficient pollution-belching machine. Well done us.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Frodo in the Trenches

First a small confession, I am a massive Lord of the Rings fan, I realise this is hardly a confession, pretty much anyone who actually knows me, even if we only met online, knows this. Especially since a lot of the people I only know from the web, know me from a Tolkien Forum I used to moderate 10 years ago. And my house is called Moordoor (quality pun). I make no apologies for the fact that I have read the Lord of the Rings every year since I first read it, and am still finding new stuff in it now, on probably the twentieth read through. A second confession would be to those other Tolkien obsessives I know out there, and admit I liked the movies as well. Although the Hobbit ones are stretching my patience a bit at times. I own 4 different editions of Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and the Silmarillion, and pretty much all of the History of Middle Earth series, and have read all of them, more than once. So there, there's your background for this dear-god-is-he-going-to-go-on-about-war-again rant.

In the two towers (second book/movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) Gimli and Legolas have a little competition to see who manages to kill the most Orcs, they continually shout head counts at each other as the battle of Helms Deep rages around them. A friend of mine, who I went to see the first movie with, said it was his favourite bit of the books, and I agreed that it was a pretty good device, and shows how the two of them go from being bitter enemies to the very best of friends, in the finest literary traditions, and gives a bleak part of the book some necessary giggles. So far so, yawny right?

Now when I first read these books, it was vaguely in the back of my mind that old JRR fought in world war one, but I probably put it to the back of my mind, and left it there for a long time. Obviously, Tolkien's real life experience in both world wars would inspire all the struggles of good and evil that he wrote about, but I didn't think so much about specifics, despite the fact that I know full well that the dead marshes on the borders of Mordor were directly inspired by the shell holes filled with floating bodies of the Somme in autumn rain. However, while inflicting the movies on my wife (again) it occurred to me that the counting game might have been something that Tolkien picked up from real life, while he was serving at the Somme, actual soldiers, keeping score of the Germans they had killed and making a game of it. Which takes a lot of the comedy out of the scene. I realise that it would have been used as a way of coping with the sheer awfulness of what was happening, and to help with dehumanising the enemy, but after all these years, it took me a bit by surprise to consider it had been a reality. I am clearly still incredibly naïve about these things.

In fact, you can take pretty much all of Tolkien's work as a way to cope with the awfulness of war, and a way to help you carry on killing. He dehumanises his enemies and ensures they remain proper evil, which makes it easier to hate them. Orcs and goblins are manufactured by Morgoth and Sauron, and thus can be slain like machines without any pang of conscience. I realise that Tolkien also throws in some wildcards, and shows that not all enemies are enemies, and not all friends are friends, with Gollum and Boromir (although they are both merely affected by the Ring, which is a lump of pure evil, twisting all around it). But mostly, his bad guys are proper bad guys, and you can slice them up with no guilt whatsoever. The very thing that George RR Martin (who's very pen name betrays him as a fan) is trying to stop with his Song of Ice and Fire series (I am not calling it Game of Thrones, that was just the first book, ok?) and his one day good, one day bad, suddenly sympathetic, suddenly murderously evil cast of characters (Jaime Lannister being a fine example of this). Tolkien's Saruman is supposedly a fallen good guy, but he is depicted as being filled with pride and his own cleverness before this, and thus ripe for the falling anyway.

Of course it is perfectly well known that the themes of modern machinery taking over from the old green world of nature that run through Tolkien's works are directly inspired by his experiences of the industrialisation of war. The new and deadlier killing machines of World War one would lead to flying Nazgul, Fire Belching Balrogs and Morgul Blades that leave a deadly poison behind to kill you slowly. Equally, Frodo's inability to stay in the shire is a clear allegory for shell shock, despite Tolkien's many protestations to “cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations” he certainly employs it whether consciously or subconsciously. And I suspect he protested too much at those who read things into his fantasy, as he wanted to keep his influences and personal life just that, personal. Which is no bad thing.

It is hard to look at art such as Otto Dix's (which is supposedly a fairly true depiction of how an ordinary soldier would have seen the trenches, and not imagine Nazgul swooping through it, while the Hobbits hide terrified under their cloaks. This paticular picture makes me think of Sam and Frodo hiding there way through Mordor to Mount Doom.

Since it is once again the season of conspicuous grief and respect for fallen soldiers, I thought this might be worth looking at, and bringing our attention to bear on. The most important fantasy epic ever written was directly inspired by one of the most terrible chapters in human history. When I embark upon this years journey through middle earth, I will be drawing every parallel I can find, hopefully I won't feel the need to write an endless and dull blog on the subject every time I find one, but if I do, I apologise in advance. I will leave my usual anti-war pacifist rhetoric for another time, continue to wonder whether I should wear a poppy or not, and try and find a sensible way to remember the fallen without glorifying the awful machinations and pointless land grabbing that they were murdered for.

If you wanted some of my pacifist ramblings, here's a couple I did earlier.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Faith is no bad thing to have, unshakeable certainty should never be trusted though

I worry about a lot of stuff, mostly because it is the 21st century, and we have plenty to worry about, or so we are told, ebola, Isis (not the goddess, or the Bob Dylan song, or even this unfortunate post-metal band) and the ever present threat of global meltdown from an unruly oil based economy. There's a much longer list, but those 3 will do for now. Today I am worrying about people who take allegory literally. Those who believe that the Bible (or whichever holy book of choice they have) is a literal account, written by God, and thus infallibly true, gospel, if you will. Even Jesus gives us a few hints that you might not have to take it literally, with his parables, which are not actual truth, but nice little stories, which help us to live better lives. It is a shame that he doesn't go so far as to explain that Genesis is most probably an allegory as well.

Fundamentalism is rarely pleasant, and usually practised by those who refuse to see that at best, the words of any holy book are the words of God as interpreted by man (and this includes the recent spate of Atheist fundamentalists who treat the God Delusion as a holy text). And the amount of time that passed between the events written of and the actual writing down of them is more than enough to have changed the original by some considerable amount. This is not blasphemy, this is simple logic. At best, the first gospel was written down in 70AD, a good 40 years after Jesus' death. It is now nearly 40 years since the Sex Pistols played the Manchester Free Trade Hall and if all the people who said they were there actually were, it would have needed to be a much bigger hall. Exaggeration happens over time, think of the amusing stories your Grandad told you, and how they would become more embellished and better every time, and further from the truth. Think of the even more unlikely version of the tale that you now tell to your children. Now multiply that by lots (the oldest KNOWN copy of the Bible (the Codex Sinaiticus) dates from 350 AD, the 70AD date came from a bible-proving source, for balance, and relates to a Gnostic Gospel left out of the final edit) and imagine how the details have changed as they are handed down from generation to generation before being written down.

Now at this point, I have to admit my atheism, it is a well studied atheism, and I do not deny people their right to have any gods they wish. I was brought up in the wishy-washy anglican tradition by eminently sensible Christian parents. At any time when I questioned the madder parts of the Bible, like Adam and Eve, or Jonah and the Whale, my Dad would tell me it was an allegory, and not meant to be taken literally. Which is true, any way you slice it. Once I had realised the whole thing was not for me, I wondered why a sensible man like my Father would continue to attend Church every Sunday against all reasonable evidence. It is a conversation I am still not brave enough to have with him, however, once I had presented a cogent and reasonable argument for my own lack of belief, they stopped making me go to Church every week. As I said, eminently sensible, and reasonable Christians, and I thought they were all like that for a long time.

I have since met many others, who try and convince me that Genesis is literal, and not allegorical at all. They will not even enter into a debate about the problems with oral tradition and the fact that God has dubious biographers, and a fairly crappy publishing approach. As far as they are concerned, every thing in that book is the word of God himself (not withstanding the fact it has been written by men, a fact that cannot ever be debated, it is very much true) and I don't know how to argue against that without resorting to belittling sarcasm. Faith is an intransigent thing, and if I'm honest I am faintly envious of those who still have it, it is comforting. But I cannot disprove it, any more than I can disprove Russell's teapot. So I have stopped trying.

I can still remember the euphoria I experienced at enormous Christian gatherings, where we all sang the same songs as one voice to a higher power, and felt the tremendous power of the spirit come over us all. Unfortunately, I then experienced exactly the same thing at Donington Park in 1991 watching AC/DC, as we all sang with one voice to the higher power (or high voltage if you like a good pun) of Angus Young's cherry red Gibson SG. It was the same feeling and I find it unlikely that the Holy Spirit was endorsing Highway to Hell by blessing us all. Not to detract from the experience of the religious, but it is the act of people coming together and sharing in the same thing that brings the rush and joy, in my experience, rather than any holy spirit. This is not a bad thing, humanity together can achieve wonderful things, and it is good to know that when we all come together as one then euphoria ensues with or without chemical enhancement. Maybe we should try it more often as a species.

I have no problem with those who have a God, whatever brings you comfort is good for you, personally I prefer the waily guitar stylings of Steve Hillage for my religious experience

You're welcome, sorry if you were hoping for AC/DC.

But I know that plenty of other people don't, and that is okay. What happened to the wishy washy allegorical Christians, who agreed with Darwin and God? Evolution was all part of the great plan they said, and I liked the way they altered their perception of the world and their God to fit in with the new information. Ironically, some of the greatest scientists the world has ever seen were part of the original Islamic Caliphate, and their scientific discoveries were celebrated as proof of God's benevolence. I am not sure at what point religion stopped trying to understand the world that we have been given (which after all is exactly how religions begin, as a way to understand the world we live in) and decided to stop, in case it found out more than it wanted to inside Pandora's box. Why do otherwise reasonable and intelligent people scoff at the Norse model of the Yggdrasil world tree, and yet fully accept the garden of eden, snake and all?

I am in no way denigrating religions, and the religious experience, spirituality is a fine thing, and there are indeed more things in heaven and earth than science can currently explain. That doesn't mean it won't though, and the good thing about the scientific method, is that it admits it is wrong. In fact, it goes out of its way to disprove itself whenever possible. The misunderstanding of the word theory has led to far too many religious dinner table arguments about the theory of evolution being just a theory. Not so many about relativity though.

As I mentioned earlier, I was brought up in a very Christian household, and it was a lovely place to grow up. We had friends we knew through church, many of my oldest friends are people I met in sunday school. The community aspect of the Church is the thing I like about it best, a place where you can go and be welcomed, and from what I know of it mosques and temples are the same, though living in the middle of nowhere as I do, my experience is limited. I was probably much older than expected when I realised that very few of my school friends went to Church every sunday, and I was actually in the minority, whether that had any bearing on my eventual loss of faith or not I cannot say. But very probably. They are nice places, like Pubs, but without all the drinking and fighting. Though there is wine (and tea and coffee afterwards) and a good old singalong every week, which is nice.

I do not want any of this shared and quoted by the “lets all laugh at the stupid religious people and their primitive beliefs” brigade, as they are no better than the religious fundamentalists who refuse to believe in dinosaurs. Dawkins has gone too far in his crusade, and before you tell me about all the wars waged in the name of religion, I can stop you by pointing out that religion was the excuse, territory is pretty much always the reason. God is often a convenient excuse for psychopaths. Even if we had no religion, we would still be dreaming up exciting reasons to kill each other in new and innovative ways. Kids fight over their favourite music, let alone anything important (mods and rockers, ravers and rockers, goths and pretty much everyone else) why blame the one thing that actually tells you not to kill people? Interpretations are everything, and usually miss the point.

I spent much too much time in my youth trying to argue with people of faith, using logic, science reasoning, occams razor, anything you like to change their minds. This was misguided, and as bad as the religious types who were trying to convert me. Once I had stopped (though I still invite the jehovah's witnesses in for a chat, I don't argue as much now though) I realised that tolerance is really the key to everything. Live and let live, if their beliefs bring them comfort, then let them keep them. Plus faith, by its very nature, is often unshakeable, stop trying to shake other peoples, and check your own instead.

Those who are defining atheism as a movement with Richard Dawkins at its head are really missing the point, an absence of belief is not a belief system. They are probably the same people who take the wonderful, tolerant, inclusive texts of the Koran, and twist it into the awfulness that is ISIS, and militant Islam. It bears no resemblance to the teachings of Mohammed, any more than the Westboro Baptist Church represent the teachings of Jesus. Underneath this article in the guardian which manages to miss the point by a fairly wide mark, a commenter called unretrofied wrote:

Atheist movement? Thats your problem right there. I just don't believe in God or gods, I'm not joining a fucking club about it.”

Which kind of summed the whole thing up nicely for me.

Enjoy your God, enjoy your faith, but accept the failings of it's prophets, who wrote in the context of the world they lived in. Adapt to a changing world, the World tree can not possibly exist in the universe we now know of (although maybe it does in a parallel dimension, as we have to accept those now as well, if we want to understand string theory, and we do want to understand string theory) but maybe, just maybe, the guy who wrote down the world tree theory meant well, but was not listening to what his God had told him properly. Man is fallible, and we only know of God through the words of men. I for one think this is proof that there is no God, as surely he/she could clear all of this up without too many problems without all of this “do not test the lord your god” and “have faith” stuff. But that's just my opinion, and I am allowed it, as you are allowed yours. But maybe just accept (like my Dad did) that Evolution was part of God's great plan for the universe, rather than wasting so much energy trying to disprove it.

“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”

Thursday 25 September 2014

Stop blaming the plasticine faced interchangeable publicity whores, and start a revolution

You will have had trouble avoiding this essay by Linda Tirado in the last few weeks, as it has been all over the place. And it is a really great piece which I wholeheartedly agree with. What surprised me about it was the backlash she received accusing her of not being qualified to write about poverty because of her background. This struck somewhat of a chord with me, as I have been known to receive similar treatment. For reference, let it be said that I was brought up very comfortably in a large house in Devon, went to a fee paying school and was afforded every opportunity available to a young white male growing up in the 1980s and 90s. I did not make good decisions, I spurned all those marvellous opportunities that were available at the time, and I found myself spending most of the 2000s living in a council house, being paid minimum wage and grabbing every gig I could play that paid a few pennies just to keep my head above water, and that was coming up a bit in the world from where I was as the millennium turned. So yes, I sympathise absolutely with Linda Tirado.

Let me be clear, I am not looking for sympathy (awwww, did the poor little rich boy fall off his silver spoon?) I am just trying to point out my fairly unusual viewpoint from the middle ground. I have worked with the proper poor working class grafters (underneath them mostly), I have been stoned with the long term unemployed who have no intention of ever working, and I have got drunk with velvet-clad fops called Rupert and Bertie at yacht clubs (no really, it was on the Isle of Wight). Many of my school mates have gone on to own small chunks of the country, and plenty of others have done even worse than me.

I have been pretty lucky really, but I can't make it much plainer, if it were not for my family I would not have done so well. Had I not inherited a not insignificant amount of money from my Grandparents, I would still be drowning in debts from ill-advised business ideas of the late 90s. Had I not had that expensive education, my employers would not have taken a chance on letting me leave the grunt work out in the warehouse and take up a better position fiddling with computers. Luck is everything in this life sadly. Unfortunately, there are others of my acquaintance who believe there success is all down to their own hard graft, and that the poor just aren't trying hard enough. Despite owing their positions entirely to the family they were born into, and the benefits that that brings (not actual benefits, you know what I mean).

Where we are all going wrong is that we are looking for scapegoats, people to blame for all our misfortunes. The idle rich, and the idle poor, one avoids paying taxes so we have to pay more, and the other takes all the taxes we are paying for doing nothing. Both are probably myths dreamed up by the media to give us something to fight about, rather than trying to actually sort out the mess and end all this inequality. The majority are still people who just want to earn a living doing something they either enjoy, or are good at, and be valued enough to get an actual living wage which does not need to be topped up by a benefit system that continually makes mistakes and scares people into paying back what is to the system, an infinitely small amount of money, but to the person who didn't realise they had been overpaid, an insurmountable and impossible amount to find. I am looking at you working tax credits. You suck.

I know of a couple who were hit with a repayment bill of over £6000 one year, due to a clerical error that they hadn't noticed, not everybody has the time or ability to scrutinise every bank statement and bit of paperwork that comes through their door. Compared to the supposed benefit frauds we read of in the Sun, and the tax dodging efforts of merchant bankers we hear of from the Guardian this is nothing. But to them, it was more than half a salary, and yes they were both working full time. If they could afford to pay it back, then they wouldn't have been claiming working tax credits in the first place.

Working tax credits should never have existed, if you're not earning enough to live on, you shouldn't be paying any tax in the first place, the whole system was nuts as soon as it came in. This is not a “friend of a friend” story, or something from a newspaper, these are real people, friends of mine, whose names I am leaving out of this from common decency, especially as they are still paying it off 6 years later and have vowed never to claim anything they are entitled to ever again, despite still having a little less than nothing left over at the end of the month to build up the debts a little more. This kind of penny pinching madness, from a department that needs to justify its own budget makes no sense at all. This article details a bit more about the unpleasantness, and I was unable to find a figure on how much it costs to run the privatised debt collectors who are contracted to collect the money.

With mountains like this to climb, how is anybody supposed to live? We are told to go out, get qualifications and improve our lot by getting a better job. But when we don't value those who serve our drinks, empty our bins, clean our hotel rooms, listen to our interminable moaning on telephone helplines and stack our shelves enough to even accept that they have real jobs. Then something is properly fucked. Most people in those careers (and they are careers) have to work more than one job to make ends meet, and are too tired after all the working to take a night course, even if they wanted to. But why should they have to? This whole “work ethic” thing is nuts, you are not valuable unless you are producing a thing that makes somebody money. This is not true, time is more important than money. The important thing is to make sure nobody is working for less money than they can live on. And why on earth does the market value footballers above barmen? Because the market has become a sentient monster out of human control perhaps? We could all work less hours, for the same money, and thus create more jobs, as more people are needed to come in and work the days that others are not any more. The more difficult your job, the less time you have to spend at it, and your team get a higher pay rate than those who have chosen to do easier and less stressful jobs. They would have to work more days as well. Then if you want more time and a little more money, you get the qualifications and improve your lot. Sadly the dividends paid to shareholders, and the gold plated CEO bonuses might have to go down a bit, but overall, this would not be a bad thing.

As to why work no longer pays, that is still down to the enormous cost of housing these days. The sky-high benefit bills you hear of are largely down to housing benefit going to commercial landlords (mostly MPs amusingly) if they are true at all, so when you have a job, and have to pay your own rent, suddenly you miss that little bit of money you didn't have to spend on rent before, and so the dole queue suddenly seems better. This is not the fault of the benefit system, this is the fault of the low paying jobs, and the madness of the property markets. We need to stop treating the laws of economics in the same way as the laws of Physics, economics is entirely made up by people and those laws can be broken and swept away as easy as you like. Really, change is possible if we all agree (although we never will).

(While I'm on economics, the other problem is that nobody seems to understand it at all. Budgeting for an entire country, when a lot of what you spend out results in more coming in, is not the same as budgeting for your household income, where everything that goes out, stays gone. Not paying the social security budget is not going to make sure you can pay back the national debt, and the less you pay public sector workers, the less they spend, and the less tax you take, it is a system that defies logic. It would seem that even George Osborne has trouble discerning the difference between macro-economics and micro-economics if you believe this article.)

The citizen's income argument is also very good, the Green Party are advocating a monthly income for EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the country, ensuring that we all have enough to live on regardless of where we come from, or what we do. If you want to have nice things and go on holiday, then you go out and work for it. It is an excellent idea, and would probably work. We do have a society that makes us need to buy things, and go to places. We are constantly bombarded with adverts for gadgets, cars, clothes, perfumes, aspirational slippers and emotion inducing foodstuffs that we simply must have. You are nobody without a mobile phone, a computer of some description, a TV, DVD player, a car and a cupboard filled with essential fennel and cracked black peppercorns these days. And a fortnight away somewhere sunny is a human right now isn't it? So people are going to do those zero hour contract minimum wage jobs to get the extra cash. Particularly when it will no longer affect their benefit payments.

Our current problem is that we are all looking to work out exactly what the problem is, and who we can blame for it, rather than just accepting that everything is not alright, and trying to redesign the whole system from the ground up. Everybody likes to blame the government, and shout that all the politicians are lying bastards, and they're all the same as each other. But nobody (except the incredibly wealthy, and casually racist Nigel Farage) is getting off their arses and standing for government. We live in a democracy, anybody can stand, if you want to change things, get involved, stop blaming the plasticine faced interchangeable publicity addicts, and start a fucking revolution. We get the politicians we deserve, if you are one of those who says “sack the lot of them” and shrug, you can sack them, you put them there, this is a democracy, your vote counts, use it, and use it well.

We've all got our heads in the sand, and nobody is admitting anything is their own fault, we blame economic forces, dodgy politicians, ruthless, faceless corporations, greedy bankers, fat lazy dole scroungers, nasty racist political parties, crazy leftie do-gooding liberals, and occasionally, kittens. The rich believe that by fighting for the rights of the corporations they are saving people's jobs, while those people whose jobs that they are saving, believe they are just lining their own pockets. We need more communication, better unions, and better employers. And that's just to start with, if we all started talking, and listening to both sides, we might have a chance in hell of getting better, but if we keep shouting, and blaming each other, then nothing will change, and eventually there will just be one person sitting on all the money wondering where the next bottle of Veuve-Clicquot is coming from, and who is going to clean up afterwards.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Electric Cigarettes, awful, irritating, ugly stupid things

I have so far remained pretty silent on the subject of e-cigarettes on both this blog, and the internet in general. Mostly because when I was using them, I didn't want to get into an argument about it, and since I have stopped using them, I have not really given them as much thought, and I still don't want to get into an argument about it either. Let it be said though, that without them I would almost certainly still be smoking twenty odd cigarettes a day (more at weekends) rather than occasionally blagging one when I am proper drunk. I am now a non-smoker, and without the electric fags, I would never have managed to quit. So they are good ok? That's my current position.

To briefly outline my story here, after turning 35, I had the chance to buy a house, and realised that my life was actually quite good, I was very happy with my wife, stepkids and menagerie of animals and prolonging my existence seemed a good idea. At which point I decided my original pension plan of drinking and smoking myself into an early grave was possibly a bit dumb, and began the process of trying to be a bit healthy. So as a smoker of some 20-something years standing, I thought I'd give the electric ones a try, as they were clearly going to be better for me than the real ones. I did, and they worked, I even preferred them to the real ones after a week or so, and stopped smoking proper fags entirely. With no willpower required, and no crazy mood swings and nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Also, I didn't have to go outside the pub anymore, so all was good. I had not given up smoking, but I had found a less deadly substitute for my addiction.

I carried on vaping (as they call it) for the next year and a bit, all the time being aware that I now had even more crap in my pockets than I had when I smoked, and half my reasoning behind wanting to give up was to have less crap in my pockets. Eventually, the irritating, dumb looking, leaky things that need constant charging and maintenance did my head in, and I thought I'd see how long I could go without taking a hit off one each day. It turned out that it was incredibly easy to not bother by this point, so I stopped. Just like that, back in march. Result. I do occasionally nick a real cigarette off somebody, or have a sneaky drag, but the odd smoke every now and then is not going to do anybody any harm is it? Well, certainly not add any new damage to that already inflicted by the aforementioned 20 odd years of 20 odd a day.

Having tried to give up the old fashioned way before, I was surprised how simple it was this time. A few years ago I cut down and stopped entirely, lasting for about 4 months of abject misery and mood swings before deciding to start smoking again anyway. So I am all in favour of the little shiny electrical vapourisers, and am sick of the awful smearing of them going on at the moment.

Let me counter the usual and obvious arguments I hear from reluctant smokers and crazy anti-everything types here.
1 – We just don't know what's in them.
Not true, they contain, propylene glycol, vegetable glycol, nicotine, and various flavourings, like you get in smoke machines, asthma inhalers, tomatoes, and cake. These are vaporised by the use of kanthal wires wrapped around silica wicks inside glass or plastic cylinders. We know exactly what is in them.

2- We don't know what the long term effects are yet
True, but on the other hand, we do know what the long term effects of cigarette smoking are. Being dead from lung cancer, heart disease or some other marvellously unpleasant smoking related illness. I think I'd rather take a punt on the unknown (up to a point, we know the effects of all the ingredients, just not what happens when inhaled regularly for a long period of time all together).

3 – It's not 100% safe
No, but then again, see above for the alternative for most people. It is categorically, definitely and very much proven to be a good deal safer than smoking cigarettes will ever be, so hoorah! A real alternative for long term nicotine addicts who don't want to give up really, but don't fancy the painful death. Nobody is claiming that they are worse than actual cigarettes, really, nobody.

4 – Kids and pets have died from drinking the liquid.
Not quite, there has apparently been just one death from liquid nicotine, in 2011, a suicide utilising injections. Also, it is sold in bottles with big orange warning labels, like bleach. Kids and pets have died from drinking that as well, but nobody's going to ban bleach. Keep your stuff away from kids and pets, they'll be fine, it's not for drinking.
Have a look at this for other comparative poisonings that weren't in the mainstream media.

Of course the utterly insane anti brigade are also claiming them to be a gateway to actual smoking, and that they normalise the act of smoking. This is proper nuts. Do diabetics normalise heroine addiction? Does drinking a whole pint of water in one go when you're thirsty normalise alcoholism/ binge drinking? No, of course not, and as to the idea that more kids will take up smoking in either form because of e-cigarettes, I put it to you that they are probably the same kids that would have taken up proper cigarettes anyway. I don't know any people of my generation that have never smoked, and I doubt it's changed much in the last twenty odd years either. Kids like to try stuff and push at the boundaries, 90% of people my age gave up when they left uni and got proper jobs. That probably won't change either. Don't check that statistic by the way, I just pulled it out of thin air and it is probably not accurate. The scare tactics are much the same as way back when dope was being called a gateway drug and everyone who smoked it would end up Oding on heroin. It is remarkable how many dope smokers I know who have never even tried the stuff, let alone shot it into their eyeballs with a cow insemination needle. See this yougov survey for actual figures and stuff it is baseless nonsense being put about by people who should know better.

The big problem here is still that much smeared and maligned thing, nicotine. Now yes, nicotine is a poison, but it is about as poisonous as caffeine, and nobody is screaming that we should ban coffee. The problem is that the original anti-smoking campaigns that we all grew up with at school used nicotine as the bad guy in tobacco products. Probably because he is easier to anthropormorphise than Carbon monoxide, benzene and cyanide. Nick O'Teen was a marvellous villain, and plants the seed that nicotine is the most dangerous part of the smoking experience. I reckon Ben Zeen might have been better, but less obvious. Nicotine is the addictive bit, but not the killer, otherwise the gums and sprays and patches would be less easily endorsed.

Now as to why the poor things are being smeared, I have no idea, the conspiracy theorists out there will tell you it is the big tobacco companies and big pharma companies worrying about lost income from smokers shifting to ecigs instead of buying the usual ineffective alternatives. It certainly sounds logical, but it is surprising how many otherwise sane and rational people are spouting the “normalising smoking” and “but they could be worse for you” lines.

To my mind, anything that saves lives, and moves people away from actual cigarettes is a good thing, and not to be sniffed at. Don't listen to the naysayers, these are good things, don't keep banning them in public, there is absolutely no danger from passive inhalation, it is water vapour, are you scared of passive fumes from your kettle? This constant banning of everything is a symptom of a society with no free choices, and makes me worry that free will is being eroded. I like to think I chose to give up smoking, but I suspect I am also a victim of the demonisation of a once acceptable habit. Though being conditioned not to slowly kill myself is not a bad thing, after all those years of being conditioned to think it was cool and brilliant by big tobacco companies and movies and rock and roll.

It is very important to understand that any effort made to free oneself from one's conditioning is another form of conditioning.” - J. Krishnamurti

Thursday 28 August 2014

What if the festival fences are to keep the freaks in, rather than the freeloaders out?

Another festival season has come and gone, and I am not sure if it’s my age, or the fact that I am a lot more sober than I used to be, but there is suddenly a lot to question about the phenomenon of the music festival than there used to be. And not just the usual moans about the weather, everything being more commercial than it used to be, all modern music sounding the same, teenagers not pulling their trousers up properly, the drinks being too expensive, the fact that tents are horrible etc. etc. etc. although, to be fair, most of that is true, but that genuinely is just because I am getting old now.

I have recently come back from a double weekender of two very, very different festivals, both of which disturbed me in different ways. First off, I spent a slightly crazy day at Boomtown near Winchester. Truly a magnificent site/sight, take your pick on the spelling, both apply equally, the time and energy that has clearly been put in to making the stage sets was very well spent. There were mines, pirate ships, town squares and giant dancing robots (and a whole bunch of other cool stuff that we missed) all in what was essentially some fields with a wood in the middle. But the fantabulous surroundings were filled with groups of lads and lasses who would not look out of place strolling down the main streets of Magaluf. I’m all for inclusion and happy togetherness, so this is no tribalist attack on the humble chav, it just surprised me. I expect to see the airy-fairy-hippy-dippy-beardy-weirdy classic festival types and little else at these things, not the Inbetweeners. No offence meant to any inbetweeners out there you understand, particularly not those of you who packed out the little tent we played in at midnight, you beautiful onesie wearing freaks you.

The weekend afterwards, we were playing at Beautiful Days, nice and nearby in Devon. Also a lovely site, fairly decent music, might be reasonably priced, I don’t know, I refuse to pay more than twenty quid to go anywhere these days, so am no judge. However, this was a place dominated by yummy mummies and their solicitor husbands desperately trying to relive their youth, and dragging the kids along. Again, good for them, I suppose, but it seems a terrible idea to me. While the unexpected outfits of Boomtown were deck shoes, pedal pushers/clam diggers and superdry vests, at Beautiful Days the uniform of the weekend was definitely early 90s chic, as the 30/40 somethings tried to get back to those heady days of flowerpot hats and baggy checked shorts. 

Now, at this point you are probably going to ask what my bloody problem is right? These and all other people are entitled to go about their business and have a lovely time without some beardy hippy twat sneering at them, especially when he slots quite nicely into the '30 something trying to relive their youth' demographic. Except that I don’t really, I haven’t really stopped dicking about playing in bands since I was twelve. My mid-life crisis is looming nicely, and it appears to be manifesting itself by me stopping all the rock and roll stuff, and staying in more, I might even buy a jumper and get a nice haircut. I think this may have been my last festival season, particularly when I have never really liked the camping bit much anyway. 

What got me, is that I don’t remember the 'normal' people being there so much back in my youth. I may not have been paying attention to be honest, so they may have been there. But I remember the few festivals I made it to back then (not loads, they were too expensive then as well) mainly being filled with the young and the groovy, tye-dye and dreadlocks ahoy, certainly not the well-dressed about town types, and definitely not teachers, accountants and their kids. Although, as I said, I may just not have noticed, or been at the wrong places, that is entirely possible. There also didn’t used to be showers back then (or anything like as much hair product as was clearly in evidence this season) and if memory serves, the toilet facilities were planks over a pit, and a good sense of balance. It is also important to note that in 1991, my ticket for the Monsters of Rock festival cost me £25, this year, it was around that for the mandatory donation to an unnamed festival for the +1 tickets we got for the band. Inflation is a bitch, and even beer hasn’t gone up that much (A pint is approximately 3 times what it was in the early 90s, I estimate festival tickets have at least quadrupled, feel free to do your own maths). I put this down to it being more expensive to put stuff on now, due to the upside down nature of today’s music industry where the tours pay for the albums rather than vice versa.

I then thought harder, and went a little more tin foil hat over the whole thing than maybe I should. And apologies if the following sounds paranoid and crazy, but it is. What if those massive fences and watchtowers are not to keep the poor people who can’t afford tickets out, but to keep the freaks in? And what if all those lovely mind-altering substances that somehow can’t ever be kept out, are in fact being supplied to keep us all happy and docile? What if the entire festival scene has been designed by our Lizard overlords to keep anyone with an alternative viewpoint safely away from the rest of society when the weather is nice enough to maybe go and do some protesting? It’s a thought isn’t it? Particularly when the current drug of choice for the under-the-counter-culture is a horse tranquiliser sold by big pharmaceutical companies, so you are now very much helping ‘the man’ out.

If you thought you were somehow rebelling and sticking it to 'the man' by going to a large corporate event and spending a small fortune on camping gear, overpriced food and drink, wellington boots, even your ticket, and then taking a shed load of hallucinogenics until you can no longer think straight, then I am terribly sorry. Quite the opposite is true, you have been played, it has happened to every generation, and it will happen to you. The baby boomers were lured away from their Bob Dylan records and cries for freedom with cheap property and weak marijuana, some of them are still going to festivals, and singing along to Bob Dylan records while smoking cheap marijuana (you can’t find weak marijuana anymore apparently) but make no mistake, they are establishment now. The punks forgot the revolution part when the amphetamine took out their thoughts. The ravers got lost in Ecstasy and went off to buy shiny iThings from apple, and today’s ketamine kids are being played worse than anybody. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.

If you really want to stick it to the man, and be a part of the revolution, stay in your own head, do some thinking, write something revolutionary, start a group, start a club, start a movement, change the world. Don’t get sidetracked by the drugs and the fun, it is in your way. If you are just in it for the drugs and the fun, then excellent, enjoy and have a good time, all the time, but if you think by going to these things that you are part of the counter-culture and starting a revolution, then stop fooling yourself. These are concentration camps for the hippies, keeping us pacified and happy. Bread and circuses for the modern age, keep the long haired freaky people from this song away from society, and ensure they are too stoned to formulate any plans.

Apologies, I seem to have gone slightly off track, and may be angrier, and a great deal more tinfoil hatted than usual today. All of this is just conjecture, I don’t actually believe in the Lizard overlords, and I suspect the festival phenomenon is just the usual thing, corporations finding new and more inventive ways to make us part with our money, and ensuring it stays reassuringly expensive to put up some tents and listen to some music. I have nothing against you wanting to listen to music and stay in tents by the way, these are good things.

Choose a life, Choose a job, Choose a career, Choose a family, Choose a fucking big television (actually don’t, the TV is even more of the wonderful soma sent our way by those who would keep us down) or something. Choose what you like, but if you think you are making a difference and starting a revolution by dancing, make sure you’re not being sponsored by Richard Not-a-fucking-hippy-at-all Branson.

If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution– Emma Goldman

Friday 8 August 2014

Plenty of rich folks wants to fight. Give them the guns

It is all very well me spouting off about how much I enjoy ignoring the rest of the world. And I have been advocating taking time away from the internet, and particularly news and facebook for quite some time. In fact, in my recent fortnight off work, I successfully ignored the entire online world for the whole time I was off. I liked it. And when I returned to work I was quite busy, and continued to not read online news, or mess about on facebook and twitter all day. I was also eating my breakfast, lunch and dinner out in the garden, away from the TV, and it left me all content and happy and marvellous inside.

All well and good you may say, well done you smug git, now leave us alone. But it turns out that if quite a large part of what you enjoy doing involves writing stuff about other stuff, you need to be in touch with the other stuff to have any ideas. Did any of that make sense? Probably not, but anyhow, I haven't so much as written a note down on the back of an old receipt for a thing I should write later on in nearly a month. Because I have been sitting about in the sunshine all content and happy. So, if you rely on being annoyed at other people either for a living, or just for a hobby (like what I do) then you may have to keep on scrolling down people's facebook feeds and being disappointed at the pictures from Britain First they are sharing, and hating their children and pets for being in your face all the time. Your children and pets are different of course, everybody loves seeing them, otherwise they wouldn't keep 'liking' them all the time would they? Point being that moderation is a fine thing in all aspects of one's life. Just as the odd drink won't do you any harm, have a squizz at the internet once a day, keep in the loop a bit, you'll be fine, the cat pictures are good.

Anyhow, none of this is really the point I wanted to make. It was more upsetting when I finally returned to looking at the internet, watching the news and reading the papers again, as the news hadn't changed. Israel and Palestine at it again (really not going to get into that right now) and government cuts to essential services, while giving tax breaks to the 'wealth creators' so they don't leave and join their off shore bank accounts. And then came the centenary of the first world war.

Let it be said from the off that the first world war was an almighty cock up from start to finish, and really there is nothing worth celebrating about any war. This one was the last great imperial land grab, nobody was fighting for anybody else's freedom and it is naïve at best to try and paint it that way. Even a hundred years later no two historians can agree on the cause of this disaster, let alone who managed to balls up the treaty at the end so completely.

Nothing at all was achieved as the old method of lining up two armies and making them run at each other turned out to not work as well as it used to before machine guns, tanks and aerial bombing raids. Most of Europe lost almost an entire generation, no real gains were made by any sides, and the treaty was cocked up so badly we had to go back and have a rematch again a scant twenty years later, wiping out the next generation as well. So excuse me if I think all the commemorations of 'heroism' are missing the point a bit. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but we have learned absolutely fuck all about anything in the hundred years since. Have a look at Gaza and Iraq if you aren't sure about that. Gaza is still suffering the fall out from the wars of the mid twentieth century and the ridiculousness of carving up land masses between different owners.

I can't help thinking that the money that is being spent on yet more monuments (every village and town in this country already has a war memorial in it already, we don't need more) might be better spent on putting back the services for the mentally and physically handicapped that we are systematically destroying. Ironically, those very heroes of 1914-18 that we are remembering would be left with nowhere to live and no help with the terrible mental and physical scarring that they were left with after their ordeals if they were living today. Much as they were at the time if they weren't independently wealthy.

As to the wonderful plan of only having one light on in your home between 10 and 11 on the very anniversary of the outbreak of war, in memoriam to Sir Edward Grey's enigmatic quote 'The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime' was another example of our current awful tendency to conspicuous, self-aggrandising displays of what good people we are. I suspect everybody that did it left the fucking Telly on as well, or sat and surfed the interwebs at the same time. Certainly my facebook feed was full of pictures of candles with 'remembrance' captions all over them. As I said, ego-stroking, conspicuous, look at me wankery of the crappest nature. I also worry that some godawful PR company got paid a ton of cash to come up with it, though I haven't checked, as I don't want to be right. Apologies to anybody who actually sat in front of a candle in quiet contemplation for an hour, I have no problem with you if it helped you, otherwise, I fail to see the point.

Obviously Britain first got their oars in with their poppy covered memes, taunting you to share their page and get them likes, by saying only 1% will do it. Awful, nasty, political posturing of the most shameful kind, and many people I like, who would have nothing to do with Britain First still shared that fucking picture, because they like the sentiment. I will not apologise for the many comments I left that merely said 'check your source and change your mind'.

I have no problem with remembering the victims of all wars, and am looking forward very much to next years centenaries of Agincourt and Waterloo, I will be lighting candles on St Crispins day, while quoting Shakespeare on Twitter. Oh, and singing along to Abba with my hand inside my coat and a funny hat on at my stepdaughter on her 22nd birthday. Except these centenaries aren't going to happen are they? Point is, that on armistice day, every year, we put aside everything, and stop and remember everyone who has ever been duped into doing the dirty work for the power-mongers and gotten themselves killed in the process. And that's a good thing, and also perhaps, enough. I can't take four more years of airbrushed history being forced down my throat in every 'news' bulletin. If the anniversary of a thing from a century ago is the top story when UN shelters are being bombed by a US sponsored democratic state, then something has gone very wrong.

There will always be somebody making a lot of money from wars, and as long as they keep fooling the common man (whoever he is) that the wars need fighting, then nothing is going to change. Learn the real lessons of the big bad wars of the twentieth century, and don't fight for anybody but yourself. Anybody who tells you the trenches of Belgium were the worst human suffering ever and that you are being disrespectful knows nothing of history. Napoleon's russian campaign was no fun for anyone, neither was Hitler's. And living in Aztec times was no fun at all, particularly when Cortez came along. You can't just pick one awful thing from history and keep on banging on about it, it will lose all impact.

“I would like to see every single soldier on every single side, just take off your helmet, unbuckle your kit, lay down your rifle, and set down at the side of some shady lane, and say, nope, I ain’t a gonna kill nobody. Plenty of rich folks wants to fight. Give them the guns." ~ Woody Guthrie