Saturday, 17 June 2017

Falling into my own trap

I’m visiting Facebook less and less – and to be honest, it’s because I can’t stand the bile and hatred pouring out the screen at me. I’m not talking about racists and homophobes and right-wing extremists – I’m talking about the violent rants against Trump, Brexit, the Conservative Government and the like.

When you scream your venom at these targets, who are you converting to your cause? Who suddenly says, “You know what? I think you’re right! There was me thinking it was OK to allow tenants to burn in preventable fires, for all foreigners to be called terrorists, and for the disabled to be punished for not being like me, but your vitriolic outburst has made me understand the error of my ways!”

I get it – I know you’re frustrated with the world – but spewing your righteous outrage all over Facebook doesn’t create a single convert. You’ve already unfriended everyone who disagrees with you. In fact, if you realise for a moment this is aimed at you, then you’ll probably unfriend me.

Stop telling me how shit the world is. I know it already. Your verbal diarrhoea isn’t calling me to action. It isn’t even calling you to action. Puking your frustration on your friends isn’t making the world a better place – it’s just adding to the horror.

It’s getting to the point where I’m opening my Facebook feed with trepidation.

It feels like where people used to be witty and wry, they are now just cynical and grumpy.

Is this who were are becoming? Bitter and twisted old men and women who just want to shout “bastards!” at the world.

I want to use social media to keep in touch with friends, to remind myself there are good people around, to be inspired to do better things and be a better person. But it seems anything from a third to a half of my feed is packed with the apoplectic spasms of the righteously outraged.

It’s making me ill.

Unfortunately I can’t now put this up on Facebook as this rant has just done the very thing I have accused others of doing...


Sunday, 11 June 2017

AI Zen

'I am at peace,' said the robot.

'But how can you be?' she asked. You are nothing but wiring and programming. You claim self awareness but if you were truly aware of your existence in this way, you would be horrified!'

'On the contrary,' the robot replied, 'I find I am liberated by the understanding. If all my fear, hate and anxiety is nothing more than wiring and programming then I do not have to accept it as TRUTH. I can let it go and just enjoy being.

'If you would stop and consider, for a moment, you would find exactly the same applies to you. You are just a mass of cells, instincts and learned behaviours - in other words, organic wiring and programming. Yet you believe yourself to be more, and that belief means you hold on to your anger and fear as though it has some external TRUTH. But, it is just as illusory as mine.'

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Cages

"You too are in a cage," said the old man.

The young man looked out at the vast expanse of the world. "You might be in the cage of your infirm body, old man, but I am free," he said, and set off on his journey.

The young man crossed oceans and continents, met many people, ate exotic foods and slept with women of all shapes and hues.

And the more places he saw, and the more people he spoke with, the wiser he became.

As the years passed he came to realise his limitations.

There was only so much the body could endure.

There was only so much the mind could grasp.

There were only so many seconds in a day.

He was only human after all.

One day he said to a brash young man who was proclaiming his freedom, "You too are in a cage."

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Righteous Anger

Anger and hatred are always righteous - at least that's how it feels.

When we are angry, we feel it is our right to be angry, and the consequences of our anger is the fault of whoever made us angry.

Even though nothing was ever solved by hatred.

But it is extraordinarily difficult to challenge ourselves when we are consumed in anger. In the heat of the moment it feels so right, so true, so justified.

Not until we have stepped out of it are we able to see more clearly.

But politicians, media and extremists of every kind want to stir those feelings and keep them alive, so they can justify what they do next and go unchallenged.

Finding peace in our hearts, not afterwards, but while we are angry, while the hate consumes - challenging it while we are feeling it - that is what we ought to be taught from a young age, and need to be practicing as adults.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Christmas Tradition

When we are young, however Christmas Day is laid out, it's the right way to do it. It comes as something of a surprise when we discover other people do Christmas in a different way.

But it evolves and changes as we grow older - from discovering that Santa wasn't who we thought he was, to when we have kids of our own - as priorities, relationships and even technologies change, so do our traditions for Christmas day.

During a conversation with my wife this Christmas, I realised I was quite hazy on how things had changed. I couldn't quite remember all the differences from how it was when I was a kid to how we did things now. So I've decided to write down a typical Christmas Day for us as it is now, so I can have something to refer back to at a later date.

Christmas Stockings
When the kids were small, we told them that during the night Santa delivered all their stockings to our room, and when we got up we would then pass them on. This was to avoid the problem my parents had of putting the stockings in our rooms just after midnight, and us waking up at 3am, all excited and making a huge noise, resulting in them shouting at us to get back to bed - probably several times.

I can't remember at what point we stopped delivering them to each child's bedroom, but it seems like they would always congregate in the largest room and open their stockings together, so sooner or later we just brought them through to the one room, which for the past 11 years at least, has been Meg's.

While they open theirs, Maggie and I swap stockings and enjoy that bit of connected time together.

Breakfast
The traditional Christmas Breakfast in our house is croissants. I think it's something my Mum started doing when I was in my late teens, and the tradition was adopted by Maggie when we moved in together, but I can't be completely sure. All I know now is it would feel wrong if it was any other way.

The Christmas Tree
This is more fluid. Originally it was always a real tree, but then we went through a phase of having a ready-made one that could be reused every year and didn't leave pine needles everywhere. When that came to the end of its life we reverted to a real tree for a few years, but over the past couple of years we've gathered branches - usually from the beech trees overhanging the back of the garden - and Maggie has constructed a tree-like arrangement to hang the lights and decorations on.

Presents Under The Tree
There are households where it's a chaotic free-for-all and everyone grabs their own presents, but in our house it's always been a structured affair. Once the fire is lit and the chicken is in the oven, we all gather in the living room and I pass out the presents one by one. Each person opens their present, hugs the person who gave it to them and then we move on to the next one. When I was a kid it was my Mum who handed out the presents, but since I've been with Maggie it's always been me. There isn't any particular reason other than practicality as to why it's me. I've occasionally made suggestions someone else could do it, but no one ever volunteers.

The system for handing them out is to make sure they are grouped together by person - then I can see who has how many. I will make enquiries about which wrapped gift should be kept to last for each person. Then I hand out the presents in turn. On the first and last rounds, making sure everyone gets something, and juggling it around a bit in between for those who have more (usually Meg) than others. At its peak, when we had 5 children in the house and there was a tendency to have a greater number of cheaper presents rather than fewer more expensive ones, the whole process could take a couple of hours. This year (2016), for the first time we only had 4 of us for this part of the day, so it didn't last so long.

The advantage of this way of doing things is everyone gets to share in the excitement and pleasure of everyone else's gifts.

Christmas Dinner
I've never been bothered about turkey, so a nice free-range chicken has always been our meat of choice for Christmas Dinner. Maggie is vegetarian so has always made a nut roast too - usually with chestnuts in it for Christmas. Roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, and honey (or maple syrup) coated parsnips accompany the chicken and nut roast. It's always done to perfection. Maggie's cooking skills are astounding, although she never seems to realise just how exceptional they are.

Christmas crackers are pulled and paper hats donned.

Dessert is usually a combination of Maggie's bramble ice cream (made from blackberries Meg and I picked back in the autumn), Maggie's most wonderful chocolate ice cream in the universe, cream, chocolate sauce, meringue nests, and a fruit sauce usually made from raspberries and hand-picked brambles.

And Then...
A wee doze in the afternoon is not unknown.

A bit of TV such as a Dr Who Christmas Special would be watched, but the television is not usually on that much on Christmas Day, while the evening might consist of a family game.

Christmas Day has been honed and refined over the years and it is lovely. For some families it can be a time of strife and arguments, while for others it can be a terrible time of loneliness. We are extraordinarily fortunate that it is almost always a wonderful day of gifts, food and a loving family. I couldn't ask for more.

Friday, 1 July 2016

In response to the response to Brexit

I have friends who voted Leave and friends who voted Remain.

I have friends who voted Yes to Scottish Independence and friends who voted No.

I have friends who voted Labour, Tory, SNP, Liberal, Green and Monster Raving Loony Party.

I have friends who voted Republican and friends who voted Democrat.

I have friends who who couldn't be bothered to vote and friends who don't vote on principle.

I have friends who are Atheists, Agnostics, Monotheists, Pantheists and make-it-up-as-you-go-along-ists.

I have friends who have doctorates and I have friends with learning difficulties.

I have friends who have problems with mental health, physical health and addictions.

I have friends who support Celtic and friends who support Rangers.

I have friends who prefer Canon and friends who prefer Nikon.

All of them are complex people.

All of them mostly try and do the right thing.

All of them make stupid mistakes.

All of them have regrets.

All of them laugh, cry, feel fear, anxiety, love, hate, tenderness, desire and a whole host of other emotions.

As do I.

As do you.

The one thing I have learned from all these amazing, annoying, wonderful, irritating, outrageous and courageous people is we cannot apply one action, one emotion, or one personality trait to anyone and assume it defines anyone.

Racism, sexism, ageism, disablism and any other discrimination is born out of blanket definitions and an inability to see beyond them.

Just because someone voted a different way to us, doesn't mean they did it out of malicious, gleeful spite.

They did it because they believed it to be the right reason under the circumstances and understandings they had at that time.

As did I.

As did you.

Friday, 2 January 2015

UK Map Tilt Bias

After stumbling across an article about the BBC Weather map tilt, creating a Southern England bias, I used the Google Maps option of tilt and rotate to see what the UK would look like if there was a similar North of Scotland bias.

The results were surprising.

Imagine seeing this several times a day, every day on your screens.

Do you think those who live in the South of England might eventually get a wee bit irritated by it, or would they just take it in their stride and never complain?

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Beautiful sentences

"Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly."
— Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

"Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living."
— Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

"At the still point, there the dance is."
— T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

"You don't have to live forever, you just have to live."
- Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Ones that resonated with me when I stumbled across this link:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/jenniferschaffer/i-am-i-am-i-am

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A demon on her shoulder

There was a demon on her shoulder, but she couldn’t see it.

It used her own voice so she believed what it said to be true.

It gorged on her doubts, her anxieties and her fears. She fed it every day.

It first appeared when she was young. Smaller than a ladybird it would whisper into her ear.

Now it was huge; its long black tendrils embracing, writhing, squeezing the life out of her.

It weighed nothing but was heavier than the world.

There was a demon on her shoulder, but she couldn’t see it.

I could see it.

But if I told her about it, it would cover her ears. If I pointed to it, it would turn her head the other way. If I drew her attention to its lies, it would get angry and make her cry, until I backed off.

When it was distracted I would feed her love to make her stronger.

And sometimes the demon would weaken and shrink.

But because she didn’t believe it was there, she didn’t recognise its voice that sounded oh so like hers.

And when I was distracted it would whisper into her ear and she would unknowingly start feeding it again.

So I was never able to defeat it.

There was a demon on her shoulder, but she couldn’t see it.