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.


January Blues

I’m not sure there’s such a thing. I don’t really believe there is a particular ‘Blue Monday’ in miserable January either. I live in the north of England which feels pretty grey for several months of the year but is January particularly grey in comparison to say October or February?

Maybe the concept was thought up by those who have an intolerance of misery. Stick it in one month then get in with your blissfully happy and fulfilling year. After all Feb has Valentines, March/April have Easter and the beginning of spring, May starts to warm up, June is just lovely surely etc? Its as if our lives should be organised into clear little boxes. I used to get annoyed at the serving suggestions on wine bottles telling me when and how I should enjoy their wine. I never saw ‘drink at dawn slouched on a patio with no friends’. I don’t get annoyed anymore as I hardly ever drink wine. I also get less annoyed about everything now (although those close to me may dispute this).

It is frustrating as a creative person to experience a void in that creativity. All around there are those on New Years projects planning their forthcoming industrious and fulfilling year ahead. Write lists, announce the way ahead, upbeat statements about beating those old January Blues.

In truth, I have been less creative for a few months now. When you get convinced that you have little original to offer, it’s easy to grind to a halt. Us creative types need inspiration and not the sort other people tell you to be inspired by. If you enjoy it so much, go out and use it. I am slightly obsessed by Peter Gabriel at present. His approach to music and composition in particular. He approaches the work back to front, often starting with a rhythm and the words coming last. Maybe there is a writing process that mirrors this approach?

January can be beautiful. The grey fingers of tree branches either glistening with rain or covered in snow. The dramatic skies that can either foster a sense of optimism or act as a precursor to a winter storm. There is the theory that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. I have some sympathy with that but it has been tested recently. The good thing about the grey, cold, wet weather is coming inside to somewhere warm. The Hygge approach to surviving winter does work for me. The feeling of warmth, protection, comfort. An understated, gentle, kind way to beat the blues. Its been hijacked by interior design and homeware manufacturers as a way of selling the required lights, candles, throws etc but it is more about a lifestyle.

So the month of January should not be written off as a dead loss far from it.

Guess it must be just me then! I shall listen to Peter more and hope he lifts me up.

My Own Hypocrisy.

I have been a social media slut for 8 years. I joined Facebook then a while later, Twitter. I innocently thought it would be a good way to chat to old friends, make new friends and keep an eye on happenings around the world.

Maybe this is the motivation of many of us that join the social media world? Maybe we have an idealistic view that it can be a place to share memories, chat with good folks and exchange thoughts and pictures?

Eight years on, I have fallen out and back  in love with Twitter. I have fallen out of love permanently with Facebook but still maintain a presence. I share photos from my Instagram account. Nearly all are of landscapes/nature/home-baking. Nothing to incite a riot or complain about.

I watched the Graham Norton interview with Hilary Clinton yesterday. It really got me thinking about how such an online platform as Facebook can be used to peddle dangerous mistruths. How those mistruths are taken up and used to justify outright lies. How a country can use it as a means of interfering with the democratic process of another. It got me thinking. How many times have I read an article without checking the source? How keen am I to agree with one that confirms my suspicions/fears/prejudices?

I only stay on Facebook as a means of keeping in touch with family and old friends. I get their feeds and they get mine. Well I assume they do unless they don’t follow me! I have been very preachy, very opinionated and downright angry at times. These occasions may have been sparked by an article that has no basis in fact, heavily skewed to besmirch another. I am a hypocrite.

The USA has a president that tweets like a parrot with tourettes. He introduces legislation in 140 characters. he picks fights with other world leaders. He is incapable of being challenged to the validity of his ramblings. Any challenge is seen as ‘fake’ or ‘sad’. He has reduced the most powerful political office on earth to a freak show run by an idiot. The term statesmanlike should reflect the manner in which a world leader conducts his or herself. The ability to think before you speak. The realisation that your comments and responses carry a great responsibility.

His election campaign used social media to spread falsehoods about its opponents. It took the concept of attack ads to a new level. to recruit another state to do its dirty work and then repeat it was terrifying. His response to the allegations is to dismiss staff that challenge him, to just call it ‘fake news’. He threatens, bullies, shouts over opponents because he thinks thats what his people want to see. His opponent also used social media but didn’t employ outsiders to spread lies about the other candidates. Well at least I think they didn’t!

So when I read an article about how the British government handles an issue such as Brexit or universal credit, how can I be sure it is a factual analysis of the issue? Should I be reading all sides of the discussion then making up my mind? should I be forced to read the Daily Mail or Sun to get an opposing view of immigration, Brexit, the management of the economy? Where does this mistrust end? Can I trust the BBC/SKY/ITV/Channel 4 news to report the news in an unbiased way. Will I always go the network, newspaper that best reflects my own political views?!

The solution is in one way, simple. Just avoid social media altogether and stop watching the news. Blissful ignorance. If I don’t read or watch it, I can’t be influenced. That is the ostrich approach. The other alternative is to filter my twitter feed to those that avoid any political/news event. That however is an impossibility as everyone dips their toe into a news story.

The former BBC newscaster Martyn Lewis wrote an article in 1993 in which he suggested media outlets give equal time to positive news items. His argument was that ‘the bigger the tragedy, the more images of the disaster, the more prominence it acquires’. I have been compelled to tweet or post on Facebook when something terrible happens. It doesn’t make the disaster any less disastrous but just adds a comment on it. Is that comment really needed? Who cares what I think about it. It is the social media equivalent of standing around in a crowd watching a building burn down. It still burns down but at least you were there to offer an opinion about how they could have prevented the fire or how terrible it looks.

I was in the newly refurbished Piece Hall in Halifax a few weeks ago. A woman was pushing an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair across the new paved centre. She didn’t see a step. The man very slowly fell out of the wheelchair. The woman was understandably very upset. Three people immediately came to help and the situation was sorted. An older middle aged fourth man however, came over to just inform the woman that she should have gone round the step as there was a ramp. He offered no assistance, just wanted to tell her where she went wrong.

Maybe I am as guilty as that man. I don’t do anything to rectify the worlds wrongs, I just comment on them. I have been actively involved in conservation and am a member of political party. I do support charities and have petitioned my MP for changes in legislation.

I am however, still a hypocrite. Maybe the answer is to keep our opinions to ourselves. Read the papers, watch the news and process the information. Maybe I should be less Trump?

Its Not Always Ok To be Not Ok

This week has seen Mental Health Awareness Day. A day when the spotlight is put on the struggles of those who experience mental health issues and the pain they and their families, go through.

It is a noble cause. I have experienced clinical depression and anxiety problems over the years. I have made friends with the black dog and allowed him too close. I have also cared in a professional capacity  for those who suffered from a variety of mental health problems. I was unable to see my own descent until I was travelling too fast downhill. It is a good thing that the cinderella service is highlighted for once. There’s nothing sexy, decent or heroic about mental illness. It makes the sufferer selfish, self obsessed, powerless. It robs you of dignity, leads to social isolation and no one wants to talk about your depression, mania, psychoses. For so long, those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia were seen as dangerous, violent menaces to society. Those with depression told to stop feeling sorry for themselves. Those with anxiety issues to calm down and stop worrying.

People don’t want to discuss it. Strangely however, the US voted for a president with delusions of grandeur, who exhibits sexually inappropriate behaviour and is a pathological liar. His madness is endorsed because he feeds the disillusioned; the mania they want to hear. Public life is littered with those who display symptoms of a variety of mental health problems and we legitimise their insanity. We give them votes, money, our trust. Because they are famous, they can behave in ways that the rest of us would be treated or detained for. We would be ignored, shamed, feared but fame grants the mad, license to act out their madness.

What would happen if we called out the grandiose, the manic, the obsessive compulsive for what is really going on and recognised they need help not power and influence? Why is it OK for them to not be OK ? Because to call out any vulnerability leads to a suggestion of weakness. The one thing none of us would ever want to be is weak after all. No one applauds weakness. We applaud overcoming weakness. We congratulate the survivor, the fighter, those who call on their inner strength and ultimately triumph. Failure is not at all sexy.

Those who experience mental health problems don’t always want a solution. They want to be understood and accepted. To not feel shamed into keeping their illness to themselves. Those who bottle it all up can’t always handle the pressure. Suicide is often a way out because the logic of their minds is that the world would be better off without them. It is the most obvious thing when you’re unable to see a way out. That moment of clarity is very powerful. You have to have been there to know that it is the ultimate momentary act of selflessness. No one else exists for that split second. Thankfully for me, it passed. I still remember the feeling. It is about the only thing I do remember.

We should encouraged people to talk about how they feel. Talk about their disordered thought processes without arguing over the content. The best intervention I received was an invitation to go fell walking in the Lake District. No talk of why and what caused it. No searching for answers. Just being with someone doing something simple. It gave me space to talk and I was very lucky to have a dad who just listened. So we don’t always have to provide answers but we should give people space and time to work their own answers out. Space and support are the best forms of treatment anyone could receive.

Please stop

There are many behaviours I find intensely irritating. I hate people eating loudly, cracking knuckles, using ‘like’ in every sentence. These are all behaviours carried out whilst awake. You know you are knuckle cracking, maybe eating loudly,  and even putting “like” in every sentence.

We all have irritating habits.

Those people that end your sentence for you for example. I didn’t need your help. I hadn’t suddenly developed amnesia. I should point out if I have done this to anyone,  I am a hypocrite and you can throw rocks at me. Some behaviours however I have never knowingly undertaken.

Those people at gigs who dance expressively whist checking the rest of the crowd to see if they are in fact the main attraction. I was stood behind a woman at an Eels gig in Leeds who tested my patience. I came to see the band perform not her and frankly she was just a pair of waving arms and an ego. She turned around every minute to see who was watching her have a good time. No one, that was the answer she was grasping for. However she was unaware of the dozens of pairs of eyes burrowing into her soul with contempt and hatred. But hey she had a great time. And probably very tired forearms.

Air kissing is pointless and an affectation. Its as if both parties go for a friendly peck on the cheek and spectacularly miss; but are immensely proud of their failure. If you want to greet someone with a kiss then kiss not miss.

Putting the toilet roll on the wrong way round (what is wrong with the socially inept folks who insist on having the loose sheet at the back?).

The person who gets to a checkout in a supermarket and waits to be told they have to pay before deciding to produce any means of doing so. Why hide your purse/wallet in a bag and then spend ages rummaging around in it to find it? You know you have to pay so just get the readies out in preparation.

I’m an utter curmudgeon I know. The re-embodiment of Victor Meldrew. The world is full of idiots who are blissfully unaware that they are idiots. They have no intention of correcting that state of being.

I was really going to write a blogpost about the fact that I snore.
Like a constantly growling wolf. Like a bear with sinus problems. So loud it shakes the foundations of many buildings.
I’ve snored since I was a child. It isn’t something I’m proud of. It is something I’m ashamed of. It is embarrassing, humiliating and annoying to others. I read many adverts for products claiming that my snoring can be cured. I will sleep better and feel more refreshed. It should more accurately state that everyone around me will sleep better and feel more refreshed.
The truth is however, it doesn’t bother me. It bothers everyone else . I am told I snore. I am constantly told I snore as if I never knew.
“You were snoring you know” they say.

“Really? I had no idea I snored” I sarcastically but inwardly answer the sages.

They feel obliged to tell me as if I will stop the next time I fall asleep.
Now folks, once I fall asleep, I have no control over my breathing or it’s volume.
I am not awake so have no ability to stop snoring. I don’t grind my teeth or suffer from insomnia in fact quite the opposite. I can fall asleep almost on demand.
My snoring has stopped me from sleeping anywhere communal. After all who wants to share a room with a congested bear?

So the next time you feel tempted to inform me that I do make a loud annoying noise during sleeping, just remember, I know your waking annoyances. I don’t tell you to stop saying “like” every sentence ( although I have done with my kids admittedly. I won’t stop a meal and tell you to turn the maceration volume down. You can air kiss all you want but I will only think that’s bloody annoying. Keep your wallet/ purse in your bag, preferably right at the bottom under whatever other stuff you have in there. I will be stood behind you mentally judging your selfish wasting of my precious time.

But please STOP telling me I snore.

I know I do.


Desperate Measures

The General Election was interesting wasn’t it? Interesting would be one word for it. It hasn’t delivered the one word she grasped following the result , certainty. Neither will it show fairness, honesty, integrity or any other one upbeat word she utters.

It certainly isn’t the two words Theresa May hoped for, Strong and Stable. She touted that the progressive parties working together would lead to a Coalition of Chaos. Well we have one except she owns it now.

Ok, I am a Labour Party member and lifelong  Labour voter. We didn’t get a majority and are not even the biggest party. We did however defy pretty much all political commentators expectations. Our membership mobilised tremendously. We offered a radical, progressive and unlike the Tories, costed manifesto. We gained 30 seats and have created dozens of very marginal Tory seats.

Yes, the Tory press tried their hardest to wipe the Labour Party off the map with scare tactics, smears and lies. The Conservatives shot themselves in both feet, their shins and most of the way up to their spine (if they actually possessed one). The electorate spoke and gave at best a tepid and at worst damning evaluation of Theresa Mays decision to have a snap election.

Theresa May has turned a small commons majority into and minority government. Let’s be clear about why I say Theresa May and not the Conservative party. It was her decision. She put her name above her party on all party slogans and leaflets. She decided to make it a presidential election, a straight fight between her and Jeremy Corbyn. This has ‘backfired spectacularly’ to quote BBC political editor Laura Kuennsberg.

Her next move was to seek support from Northern Ireland. She is attempting to make a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. The party of bigots, homophobic, terrorist supporting, bible bashing extremists. She risks crashing the Anglo Irish agreement into a cliff face. No UK Prime Minister with any clue about the history and politics of Ireland has ever come out untainted by siding with one side.

The press and Tory party had the temerity to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of supporting terrorism because he met with Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams. And now they cosy up to a party linked with protestant paramilitaries who have murdered in the name of a warped sense of justice in just the same way that the IRA did. There is no justification for terrorist murder in any form.

Having sucked up to the right wing of Ulster, she reshuffles her loaded deck of cabinet  cards. She keeps her friends close and enemies closer. Gove returns, Johnson remains. She dare not oust any big hitters for fear they may stab her in the back.

This is mainly just news.

The point is that she has learned nothing.

She has listened to no one.

She does not appear to show any remorse or humility. She is purely and simply corrupted by power and control. Power and control mean more to her than the country’s best interests. She does not care if the population, the reputation of the country abroad or her own party suffer.

She is for the moment, Prime Minister.

She has been found out though.

She can never be trusted again. The sycophants who surround her, should never again be trusted. The few prominent Tories who have spoken up against her have been ignored by her. She is out of touch with every aspect of her support.

We must remain calm and grow our membership base. We must turn the Labour Party into an even more popular, progressive mass movement. Our membership moves quickly towards One Million members. The party has engaged the young like never before.

The Tories have had their day. Their cruel, inept management of the UK has been exposed. There are many moderate Tories wishing for a return to the moderate, even some could say compassionate conservatism of pre Thatcher.

She once said that there is no such thing as society. Well I tell you what Mrs May, you better realise very quickly that there is.

And we’re pretty angry now.