Scream at Teens.

This isn’t an instruction. I’m not advocating shouting loudly at one although it does help sometimes. I am meant to understand, empathise with, encourage teenagers. I should find them interesting, amusing, passionate, good company. There are many moments of those I grant you and I do love the teenagers I have produced. Produced, ah so its my fault.

I was a teenager once. I don’t remember being a problematic one. I rebelled in a very small way. Nothing too excessive or outrageous. I may have had rows with my parents but nothing earth shattering. It was a long time ago and time alters ones perception of past events.

There’s a few things that niggle me about teenagers. Why are they always right? Why are we supposed to be so understanding when by and large, they couldn’t care less about us. It seems a very one directional giving a shit arrangement. And when we ask whats wrong, we won’t understand. After all, we have never fallen in and out of love, been dumped, gone through puberty (we were made as fully developed adults, ready to produce babies and pay for things). We have never had our hearts broken, experienced failure or loss, anger or frustration. And god forbid, they reach the age of 18, they want to be known as adults. This seems entirely based on their legal right to buy a drink in a pub. That is the one defining aspect of adulthood by which we are all measured obviously.

They are always willing to pass on advice, words of wisdom and instructions because frankly our mental faculties start to diminish over 35. We need them to tell us how to run our lives based on their own vast  life experiences. We parents flounder without 16 year olds telling us where we’ve gone wrong and how useless we are.

I’m ranting I know. I’ve had years of advice, instructions. I do want to say, just occasionally, once or twice; the thing is, you know fuck all.

I am not allowed to like certain cultural things as they have decided to appropriate them. I can only like music written at least 20 years ago and must never sing along or even admit to having seen the band live back when they started. Don’t believe any teenager who tells others their parents are cool. They are lying. They hate the thought of us actually having good taste, of ever being rebellious, fashionable, cool. We are all one shuffle away from the walking frame and incontinence pants.

I usually don’t care what they pronounce about my level of cool. I satisfy myself with the knowledge that they are merely stretched children, with out of control hormones and limited social skills. A bit like the evolutionary phase of southern ape man or if I’m feeling generous, neanderthal man.

The really sad sight is a 45 plus man or woman desperately attempting to regain their teenage vitality. Makes me wonder if they were really shit at being teenagers the first time round and were having another crack at it.

It is hard I’m sure to make the transition from child to adult. I will be there to help you when I can but don’t take the piss. Growing up means not having me run round after you because you haven’t learned that you are not in fact 8.

No we don’t understand how hard it is for you. We did once because we went through it but that was a long time ago. We grew up, started jobs, careers, families, accrued enormous debts and started to lose our youthful virility and general taughtness. It just sounds a little self indulgent on the part of the spoilt anti social creature skulking in their bedroom. WE don’t always want deep profound philosophical discussions, we just wish you’d help with the washing up or tidying your room. Not exactly rocket science you rocket scientists of the future.

I am going to lie down now and listen to some music. I may opt for some Vaughan Williams or The Charlatans. You see, I’m over 50, have an extensive musical collection and am prepared to give most styles of music a go. As a teenager, I dismissed whole swathes of popular music because I was stupid. That stupidity was reinforced by my hormonal certainty and inability to be receptive. I despair of friends who still persist in refusing to listen to whole genres of music as their tastes have never developed. This smacks of Trumpism and never leaving your home town. The world is a fairly large thing and there are all sorts of experiences to experience.

I do wonder really if the true nature of teenage life is one of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of making mistakes, fear of taking chances, fear of looking like an idiot.

Well, fear not youngsters, if you haven’t fucked it all up by the time you are 50, you will at least have your own teenagers to remind how you may have done. Until then, go and tell each other what to do and leave your parents in peace. We just want to be happy.

 

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Natural Connections

IMG_4664.JPGI guess we all need something to believe in. Many choose a religious belief. Some are born into a faith and stay with it. Some believe in science and facts. Science is fact or at least the exploration of facts. Some have political beliefs that shape their world view and how a society should be structured. And then there are those who believe in the power of nature.

I long since gave up thinking you can make people believe in what you believe in. You can give you children the information and leave them to make up their own minds. My connection with nature is not a life long one. I was not fascinated by living things as a child. I accepted they were all around me and got on with playing football, listening to music and generally just getting older.

An appreciation of nature and its processes is fairly common I suspect but thats where it ends. Like going to an art gallery and looking at paintings/sculptures/video art. You look but don’t feel. That’s a nice painting, that is an impressive sculpture. There is no connection for many with art in the same way as there is to the world around them. That is not right or wrong. They are no less significant than someone who does.

I am moved by art. I see a painting and it has the power to move me. What moves me would maybe leave you indifferent. I am indifferent to organised religion. I don’t feel any need to worship anything. I don’t worship the natural world either but I feel connected to it. I can stand on the top of a heather moorland and feel a sense of freedom. I can walk through a woodland and feel protected. I stand by the sea and feel humbled. My love of nature and my affinity to it grew rather like a very slow growing plant. My connection has not lead to a zealous desire to place nature above society or the needs of society. I understand that we will use resources and have done so for millennia. Many wild landscapes were once mined, quarried, felled, dammed, tamed by man. They appear untouched but in fact show the scars of human exploitation. Our natural world constantly finds ways to overcome the ravages of humanity. Climate change is the biggest single issue we face in the world today. We have not made right that which we damaged over thousands of years. Earths resources are finite but our capacity to exploit them seems endless.

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I can do many things to alter that balance but it has limited effect. This does not minimise my appreciation of the natural world. I have been wild swimming recently. It is exhilarating and utterly pleasurable. I plan to do much more in the years to come. I grew up spending holidays fell walking, swimming in the sea. I was at my happiest on top of a lakeland fell although rarely enjoyed the toil of getting up there. My parents would testify to this fact! I don’t feel a necessity to conquer mountains or seek the thrill of rock climbing. I appreciate the grandeur and beauty of mountains . I gained a degree in Wildlife Management and Conservation at the age of 45.  I learned about earth processes, ecology, land management, habitats and bioscience. It gave me an insight into the natural world and an ability to appreciate the activity that goes on all around us. I don’t think I will ever become a eco warrior or eco activist.

I don’t feel the need to shame and shock others into changing their behaviours. I am not a vegetarian and don’t plan to become one unless I find I enjoy a vegetarian diet more than that of the omnivore that writes this. I am aware that if we are going to eat meat, fish, poultry, we need to buy the best we can afford. Those that have been reared well and happily. It may need society to demand less meat and pay more for good meat. I don’t expect you will find me in some remote corner of Calderdale in a wood, hugging a tree. I hope to find quiet spots where I and my girlfriend can swim uninterrupted. I hope that one day I may pass you on a moorland path, brushing past heather and watching the skylarks and grouse rise and then fall back into the undergrowth.

I try to do as little harm to the natural environment but am in no way self righteous about my attempts. If I am to really believe in something, I would rather it be the world that sustains us than a mythical being offering advice. Nature doesn’t give advice. Nature shows us that what resources we have should be protected and appreciated. The very early civilisations revered the sun as the giver of all life. They had a point I reckon.

When The Prefix Disappears

A prefix is a very common tool to change the character and usage of a word. I could bang on about the dictionary definitions of a prefix but I’m disinclined (see slipped one in there).

I’ve wondered over the years about the more obscure words which appear to have a prefix and what use the word could be without it.

If you dislocate your knee and a healthcare professional puts it back in, have they relocated it? If your cat disappears and then hours later appears, well thats obvious. When a submarine goes under water it submerges only to surface or emerge from the ocean depths. These are all regular understandable words with a prefix lobbed on the front to indicate something is wrong, under, before, not and so on. Its the words that seem very weird without the prefix which make me wonder.

Discombobulate – to confuse or disconcert. How often do we ever use the word combobulate (presumably to make clear or simplify). To be fair how often do we ever use discombobulate in everyday speech but you get my point. In fact to disconcert makes me wonder how often we concert issues in order to clarify them?

If you are angry in a smouldering kind of way, one could describe oneself as being disgruntled. But who has ever describe themselves as being gruntled? Presumably you have no argument with anyone and the cares of the world are not weighing heavily upon  you. I would love to describe myself on a good day as being extremely gruntled.

If you have your doubts about where I’m going you may well have misgivings. But there again if you can see what I’m getting at, you will therefore have givings.

There are words that have a prefix  but don’t necessarily stand out, such as mischief. Would you ever describe a person who doesn’t exhibit playful misbehaviour as getting up to chief? They won’t be doing anything.

Please don’t be dismayed at my ramblings. I’d much rather you hang in there and be more mayed about it all. After all it wouldn’t be a disaster if you did. It may well be an aster, but thats a plant so you can’t be a plant can you ? Sage words indeed, ah erm.

I find the English language a beautiful construction. I’m no expert in its use as you may have guessed. It is a truly gusting thing. Because the alternative would be, yes you get where i’m going. The English language has been built using words from all over the world. The interpretation and adaptation of particularly French and Latin words have added greatly to the wealth of words available to us. Dishevelled – meaning having a messed up or scruffy appearance derives from the old French word deschevele meaning shaven headed. Still it would be great to describe a smart dresser as being very shevelled wouldn’t it?

I’m sure many of you lay awake a night thinking about impending global conflict, world poverty, relationship issues. Me, I think about being gruntled, mayed, and presenting myself to the world in a very shevelled manner.

Hope this is combobulated now.

 

 

 

 

Data Privacy

I’m no techy. I’m certainly no lawyer. I understand the forthcoming implementation of EU regulation 2016/679 General Data Protection Regulation comes into force on 25th May 2018. It apparently is designed to protect individuals data protection and privacy within the EU area. It is meant to address the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA.

The aim is to give people control of their personal data. Tell that to Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. Tell that to cyber hackers who pass millions of peoples personal data around the world for a fee. Tell that to Governments who use data to influence or sway voters in another country. Tell that to global corporations who design algorithms to bombard users of social media with countless adds based on their activity on the internet. Not even on their sites I should point out.

We should have known that the invention of the World Wide Web would be unscrupulously hijacked by money and greed. The idea of making the world come together and share information, of connecting continents with a click of a button would be corrupted by corporations, fanatics and extremists. No I am not writing this in my bomb proof bunker in the mountains. I love the internet and how you can access information, connect with others over a common platform. I know that you can never undo the progress that has been made by the invention of the WWW. My views are my own and not to be used to sell me mattresses, holidays, shoes, nights out. Its too easy to get someone to design an algorithm that targets potential customers. To directly and personally target advertising that may lead to a sale. In the olden days, companies had to work for their products to be sold. The quality of the product, the reliability, the exclusivity, whatever the selling point was. Now you just employ people to look at your social media feeds and work out what products will appeal to them. It’s like being under corporate surveillance. No, honestly, I’M NOT PARANOID!!

I, like most citizens of Europe, will have been bombarded with data protection and privacy agreements in the last few weeks. Every organisation you subscribe to, every social media organisation, every cause you may support, has sent emails with agreements to be signed. Facebook came under particular scrutiny given that their transgressions had been widely reported. You sign up and they wash their hands of blame if it goes wrong. You agreed with them. If you don’t agree, they wash their hands of you. Either way, they have you. It all seems somewhat dirty. As if they’ve done wrong and now are being forced to cover themselves. Is it really about privacy and data protection or more about corporate liability?

I know that elections are now won and lost on TV and Twitter. That presidents can be elected by telling enough lies to enough people for those lies to hang around. Because lets face it, every single lie or innuendo used by Donald Trump will have left an online footprint. You can delete tweets that destroy opponents but their ghost remains. It is the 21st Century equivalent of politics, I get that. The speed at which it spreads though makes the difference.TV Entertainment contests have the viewers vote on the outcomes of performances. Many wish they could vote from the comfort of their armchair and vote multiple times to influence the outcome of an election. There will come a time when elections will be fought online and polling stations abolished. Then governments of the world, will you ensure our personal data is safe? will we be targeted with political ads that aim to influence the outcomes of elections? Will you ensure that the people are properly informed as to what they are voting for and why? Will it ever be about policies and not who lies the best to get elected. Will we ever know that the politicians that do get elected are not in turn at the mercy of global corporations in how policy is implemented. Maybe the data protection regulations should give clear and simple powers to the consumer, the voter, the recipient. Let’s face it, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Starbucks, Rupert Murdoch nefarious global empire will never allow the customer to influence or limit the powers they have fought so hard to grab.

Good luck everyone in Europe on the 25th. We will all surely sleep safer in our beds – sponsored by Silentnight, Tempur mattresses, Dreams etc.

 

Footnote. Ive had over a dozen emails this morning updating their privacy policies. Glad to know I’m in good hands. Until someone sells my inside leg measurement and annual income to the highest corporate bidder in Macau.

A Nation’s Inhumanity

In a previous existence (back in the 1980’s), I worked in a Job Centre. Apart from usual vacancies, we offered help with training, Community programmes, Enterprise Allowance Scheme, Job Clubs and the Restart programme for the long term unemployed. In those days the Manpower Services Commission was the department responsible for Job Centres. The DHSS and Employment Benefit Offices dealt with the financial side of employment and help for those unable to work etc.

We were in some ways lucky as we could be more flexible and offered choices. We also didn’t have anything to do with benefits so were less likely to be the target of customers anger. The DHSS had a rule book which was strictly adhered to, often leading to much frustration on the part of claimants.

People will always experience stress and heartache when the system they come up against is inflexible and displays what seems like nit picking behaviour.

The Home Office has in recent years been such that. It’s policies and practices with regard to immigration have been cold and rigid. They have been steered in the last 8 years by a political dogma that vilifies those who come from another country to live here. It’s political masters have tapped into an underbelly of spite in the British people.

The UK is part of the Commonwealth group of nations. An organisation set up from the old British Empire. Britain once ruled a fifth off the worlds landmass. It ruled often with the sole purpose of enabling itself to be the prominent world trade power and extremely rich. We exploited these countries for our own financial benefit. Many of the countries in the Commonwealth fought and won independence from direct UK sovereignty with some choosing to retain the Queen as a nominal head of state (Canada, Australia, New Zealand). The principle of a group of nations working together for a mutual benefit seems a great idea.

The recent Windrush scandal has shone a light on both how the UK government treats those Commonwealth citizens and how they are thought of in the UK. In the post World War II era, The UK had shortages in certain areas of the employment markets. Transport in particular was expanding and there weren’t enough people to fill the vacancies. Textiles also struggled to find enough homegrown workers to operate machinery in the mills of Northern England. Companies began setting up recruitment offices in the Caribbean and Indian Sub Continent. These companies signed up people to come to England and drive our buses, underground trains, operate weaving and spinning machines. Many of these people were met with a cold wet climate and a level of mistrust or hostility. The signs in loading house windows saying ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” were not uncommon.

The communities gradually expanded as families followed. Very few residency stipulations were demanded and people began working and paying tax in their new adopted country. 50 or 60 years on, some of these people have now been treated appallingly by the Home Office. Their status as British Citizens has been questioned or removed and some sent back to a country they left a lifetime ago. It was never their fault that full passports and permanent citizenship wasn’t sorted on their arrival.

The real issue is the plight to these people to live and contribute in a country they were invited to come to. The Home Office appears to be obsessed with reducing immigration figures and have swept up the Windrush generation in their zeal. Immigration is a very misunderstood concept, especially when it comes to what constitutes an immigrant. Most white British people will consider themselves British but in fact, we are all made up of many races, cultures and those have travelled far and wide to settle in Britain. The US has a native American population but the majority of their citizens have come from around the world in search of a better life. Some however 100s of years ago, were rounded up in African villages, chained together in ships, taken across oceans to work as slaves on plantations owned by rich white families often of British descent. The African men, women and children were de-humanised and treated as a financial commodity to be traded. The Afro Caribbean citizens now fighting for citizenship in the UK are descended from those same slaves working on plantations. It is the indignity with which we deal with a section of our people which infuriates many. How can we treat our friends and neighbours so badly?

The next time you hear a anti immigration comment about people ‘coming over here and taking our jobs’, just remember The Windrush generation were invited and asked to come over. They didn’t force themselves on a nation. There can be no defence of the way these people have been treated by a government determined to appeal to a racist and bigoted minority of its population. Shame on you Mrs May and your crumbling, nasty government.

Unsociable Media

I am a Tweeter, Facebook friend, An Instagrammer, A Tumblrer. I began my affair with these mediums in about 2011. Probably later than some of you I know. They were interesting, informative, useful, Allowed me to acquaint and reacquaint myself with faces old and new.

For nearly a year, I enjoyed the light hearted, sometimes affectionate nature of Facebook and Twitter. I didn’t come to Instagram and Tumblr till later. I made online connections with some great folks, many of whom I still have much respect and admiration for. Facebook connected me with old schoolmates and family.

Then an event happened in 2012. The Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field at White Hart Lane having had a heart attack. Thankfully he was saved and managed to recover. The news of this event led for one person to tweet a vile, hate filled comment about the event. I remember the day as I was at swimming gala in Sheffield. The student from Swansea University was out with mates at a pub and commented saying “LOL, F*** Muamba. He’s dead”. This comment landed the student in court and sentenced to 56 days in prison.

The appalling nature of this event, not only for the footballer and his family but also the river of hatred that sped out from that comment changed things for me. I had always seen the concept of this social media in a positive light but now the darkness had descended. I had a follower from the USA who defended the hate comments claiming that people should be allowed to say anything with no consequences. There seemed to be no arbiter of decency, respect and honesty. I blocked her and cleared out those who touched her stance.

I found myself getting drawn into discussions over politics on both Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes they descended into childish, petty arguments. I would often walk away. I have left Facebook for a brief period but there’s a problem with that. Being a Facebook user enables you to access associated apps either owned or controlled by Facebook. By deleting your account, you cannot easily access them. Having a smartphone that works efficiently, often relies upon the presence of a number of apps working simultaneously. I could not use Messenger, made access to Instagram slightly more complicated.

There have been several elections and a referendum in the UK since 2012. I have nailed my colours to the mast and have promoted the cause of my party. This has at times, caused me much discomfort and led me to question why would I remain friends with people I ideologically oppose. I get drawn in too easily. I share my opinions when I feel like it and don’t consider that others should disagree. I especially don’t think about whether this folk actually want to know my opinions. The US presidential election changed many aspects of the use of social media. It now appears clear that certain right wing organisations and their friends in Moscow were accessing accounts in an attempt to alter the outcome of the election.

It may also be true in the UK.

The Republican candidate took to Twitter with enthusiasm. He threw claims, lies and hate around, encouraging millions of disaffected American voters to sit up and shout at the opposition. They followed, retweeted and liked his diatribes with vigour. The TV, newspapers and online news companies, made news out of his wild and unpredictable outpourings. The most bizarre twist in the tale of the US election was that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, was actually elected. His outpourings have if anything, become more wild and unhinged. He has a massive following and takes to having arguments with foreign heads of state as well as anyone else that dares to stand up to him. Any contradictory comment or claims about his less than presidential behaviour is described as Fake News.

Social media creates stories now. Politicians, celebrities post on social media and it is immediately picked up by news organisations. Fury is fuelled by indignation and extremism one all political sides. A lie or distortion of the truth is reported as news rather than actually checking the validity of the claim. Organisations use social media to discredit people in order that the opposing view is seen to have more credibility. It is no surprise that the present Labour leader is under fire just a month before local government elections.

It is now the case that hate groups can infiltrate Facebook groups and post extremist material. Facebook seems to adhere to the views of my former Twitter follower by allowing all viewpoints however racist, violent or hate fuelled. They rarely go after such extremism and claim ignorance of their existence. yet they can gather information about individuals and push ads towards them. Twitter acts slowly too almost encouraging the force of the Twittersphere to police itself. A recent crudely edited photograph was posted by Lord Sugar depicting Jeremy Corbyn sat in a car dressed in military uniform next to Hitler. He has subsequently removed this under pressure from the Twitter community and politicians. Twitter stays silent whilst hate is allowed to bounce around the world.

Whatever happened to the idea of building communities and sharing that was maybe in the mind of the originators of these platforms. If you are to believe the storyline of the movie The Social Network however, Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook as a way of identifying available women on his university campus. This does not suggest that the premise of the company is wholly positive in its outlook.

I now actually enjoy posts that I used to think as banal. People eating out, having family fun, photos of beautiful places and of cats behaving bizarrely. They are at least a more positive approach to sharing than the promotion of hate and anger.

I am considering leaving both Facebook and Twitter. I still enjoy Tumblr and Instagram. They are superficial but appealing in many ways. I think of Pinterest in a different light and do enjoy how the algorithms used, decide what I may be interested in. They can get very weird at times!

I would stay on Twitter if it became less a platform for shouting and more one of sharing. I would find Facebook more appealing if it didn’t allow itself to be hijacked by far right extremists and foreign governments, hellbent on affecting the outcome of elections. I would trust them more if they both cracked down on the hate and encouraged the positive.

Mark Twain said once ‘A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes’. Now they travel faster than the blink of an eye and the shoes wouldn’t even be off the shoe rack .

I know it would be an impossibility to reign back the progress of technology and how it is used but I just fear that we become slaves to the algorithm, puppets of the post and lapdogs of the likes. The social media giants know where they’ve got us but who polices where they take us in the future?

 

Not Always Easy

It is Easter Sunday. A significant proportion of the worlds population celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. His crucifixion is seen as the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of others. A truly selfless act.

Long ago, I realised I did not believe the concept of a god and all that entails. Others can believe in what they want but I choose not to. In my teens I found myself sitting in church one evening listening to a service and realised I didn’t believe that a god could have any monopoly on love, kindness and doing the right thing. I walked away and told my parents that I would no longer be going to church. They were fine with this and never again expected me to believe because someone else told me to. I appreciate there are many of you who find god and establish a relationship with god. I respect your choice but it is not my choice. I am no believer in the agnostic approach. It’s rather like being a Liberal Democrat. Fences can get very painful if you sit on them for long enough.

Selflessness is present in atheists as well as those who follow a religion. Kindness, compassion, love is there in people regardless of their spiritual beliefs. One does not go with the other. Hatred, greed, selfishness are as present in some religions as in some atheists. I admire the concept of selflessness even if I can’t always pretend to be so. I am at times,  selfish, greedy, angry. I am however an easy touch. I say no and capitulate. I hate conflict and the potential for conflict. Arguments eat me up. I will get involved in disagreements and I feel myself shaking with anger and frustration. I would rather anything happen than arguments. The trouble with this is that others sense this in me. They know if i’m pushed far enough, I will back down.

Strength is sometimes associated with fairness but it can also be with bullying. I have allowed myself to be bullied for most of my life. This bullying has never been physical, partly because I’m quite tall and well built. I have only ever had two fights and they were both at school. On both occasions, I won (if winning is an appropriate description). I walked away following the confrontation and felt awful. Awful for being in that situation and awful for not being strong enough to avoid it. Psychological bullying, manipulation are in my mind far more insipid. Many use guilt, play on your emotional discomfort. Some bulldoze you into giving in. My approach is to give in and then allow the unfairness to eat away within. I grumble or just walk away and say nothing. I allow myself to internalise the perceived injustice I am experiencing.

Maybe this is why I have never been a high flying success. I do have abilities but they rarely lead to achievement. Finding the strength that comes from kindness seems an elusive prize. Can you really be driven and at the same time, kind and easy going?

There must surely be victims that suffer in the wake of success. It acts as a balance.

I read a novel by Nick Hornby a few years ago called How To Be Good. It tells the story of a street in north London that opens its doors to the homeless and the disadvantaged. Very soon the social experiment begins to backfire and trouble ensues. Peoples desire for self preservation and a sense of justice brings the experiment crashing down. It was enjoyable and yet difficult reading for me. You knew almost from the beginning that it would not end well. The premise of a community and individuals in it, trying to do the right thing out of kindness was a powerful concept to read.

Maybe the message Jesus offers is that we should try to be good however hard that may be. It dispels the notion of revenge, an eye for an eye. It doesn’t presume for every good act, there must be someone who suffers. We seem to live an increasingly polarised world full of certainties. We can’t all be right and with that others all be wrong. Justice is not the preserve of the wealthy and powerful. Kindness is not owned by the devout.

I must learn to try to be kind and not allow myself to be put upon. We should all learn to be kind to others for no reward. This atheist believes in the power of people and their capacity for goodness. I don’t need a god to tell how to be good but do appreciate some of the principles.