Friday, 29 June 2007

The sniffles

It appears the Atheist Blogroll has been infected with a rather virulent meme. It has no herd immunity. There isn't a vaccination yet that cures bloggers of the urge to talk about themselves.

This particular meme replicates itself at an approximate rate of 1:8. By my reckoning, the entire human race will be infected within four weeks.

I caught my dose of it from Lynn's daughter. Now don't worry, I think I got a light dousing. Perhaps I've some natural immunity to these things; bit of a temperature and a familiar urge to self obsess, nothing more. I don't think I'll pass it on.

If you're fretting that you'll never get to tell your kids of the Great Meme don't worry. The odds are that you'll be infected any day soon.

These are the symptoms to watch out for;
  • Sufferers will post a list of symptoms,
  • The host is then compelled to share eight random facts/habits about themselves,
  • The contagion is then unleashed upon eight other blogs (the symptom that I seem to be immune to),
  • The infected are then informed that they've been 'tagged',
  • The agent then runs off to the other end of the playground and hides behind the bike sheds.
Here's my eight facts and habits;

Habit. I like to rub the bit of skin that's between my bottom lip and chin. I do so with the side of my left index finger. At the end of the day, when my stubble has grown long enough, I find I get a satisfying rasp. I have no idea why I do this.

Fact. I'll be thirty five soon. This feels quite old, yet I can't shake off the feeling that I'm still just a kid.

Fact. I have very hairy feet. I'm convinced it fell off my head some time in my twenties.

Habit. I'm obsessively tidy. Also, I can't sit down for long periods. This means that I'm often found moving detritus into corners and cupboards. However, I'm a 'rammer'. Once the mess is packed into a cupboard, on a pile or under a bed I forget about it. Visitors do not get to look in our wardrobes.

Fact. For a Brit I have good teeth. I have no fillings, decay or wonky gaps. I was thirty three before I had my first dental intervention. Inconveniently it was Christmas Eve that a molar split in two. Four o'clock Christmas Day I was on a dentist's chair having it pulled out. I bit the dentist's finger.

Fact. Nobody will read this far. It really is quite dull. I think I'll stop now.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

I'll be right back...

A busy week this week.

Celebration meal last night to mark the successful completion of Miche's latest educational venture.

Beaten again at squash tonight and beers to commiserate. My mind is therefore not on the blogging job.

Dinner with friends tomorrow...

Perhaps the weekend will be quiet enough for me to furnish this blog with a post of substance. Our camping foray has been cancelled due to a Met Office severe weather warning.

Which in the UK is defined as sustained light rain.

Monday, 25 June 2007

I hate ants

Psychoanalysis appeals to my artistic sensibilities. With its repressed sexuality and subconscious yearnings we can transform any ordinary life into high art. We can ponder on the metaphorical meaning of behaviour and invent neo-classical narratives to romanticise almost any screwed up, wretched existence. And if you think Freud was odd, then just imagine the fun you can have applying the colourful fruitbattery of Melanie Klein's Projective Identification.

It's a shame that its utter bolloxs. Mind, projective identification does explain the current Middle East policies of the US & UK. An insane theory for insane action I suppose.

Anyway, there's three reasons why Psychoanalytical therapy is often long term;

1) Profit. What better way of achieving consumer 'lock in', than convincing the client he'll need therapy for the rest of his life?

2) Ego. The therapist gets to show off, and the client gets to self-congratulate / flagellate / stimulate...

3) It doesn't work. The client has to keep coming back, as he rarely gets any better by engaging in it. The therapist tells him that this is quite normal, as Psychoanalysis is a long term therapy.

Now don't get me wrong. I firmly believe in the benefit of talking therapies. There's good evidence to show that Rogerian therapy (person centred counselling) and more specifically Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be of benefit to people in mental distress.

A brief course of CBT, coupled with some light physical exercise and Omega-3 fatty acids is as potent a treatment for mild to moderate depression as any anti-depressant pill. What I particularly like about CBT is how it can help teach Mindfulness. The same mindfulness incidentally, that Buddha discovered, long before Freud even noticed he fancied his mother.

CBT can help you to become aware of your own thoughts in real time - you become the observer. You can then monitor yourself for Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) and then deal with them appropriately.

ANTs, like the little bastards in my front garden, get everywhere. I find them all the time in books, in friends, on the internet and in the mirror. This is what they look like;

Overgeneralisation: Coming to a general conclusion based on a single event or one piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen again and again. Such thoughts often include the words “always” and “never”.

I forgot to finish that project on time. I never do things right.
He didn’t want to go out with me. I’ll always be lonely.

Filtering (Selective Abstraction): Concentrating on the negatives while ignoring the positives. Ignoring important information that contradicts your (negative) view of the situation.

I know he [my boss] said most of my submission was great but he also said there were a number of mistakes that had to be corrected…he must think I’m really hopeless.

All or Nothing Thinking (Dichotomous Reasoning): Thinking in black and white terms (e.g., things are right or wrong, good or bad). A tendency to view things at the extremes with no middle ground.

I made so many mistakes. If I can’t do it perfectly I might as well not bother. I won’t be able to get all of this done, so I may as well not start it.
This job is so bad…there’s nothing good about it at all.

Personalising: Taking responsibility for something that’s not your fault. Thinking that what people say or do is some kind of reaction to you, or is in some way related to you.

John’s in a terrible mood. It must have been something I did.
It’s obvious she doesn’t like me, otherwise she would’ve said hello.

Catastrophising: Overestimating the chances of disaster. Expecting something unbearable or intolerable to happen.

I’m going to make a fool of myself and people will laugh at me.
What if I haven’t turned the iron off and the house burns down.
If I don’t perform well, I’ll get the sack.

Emotional Reasoning: Mistaking feelings for facts. Negative things you feel about yourself are held to be true because they feel true.

I feel like a failure, therefore I am a failure.
I feel ugly, therefore I must be ugly.
I feel hopeless, therefore my situation must be hopeless.

Mind Reading: Making assumptions about other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours without checking the evidence.

John’s talking to Molly so he must like her more than me.
I could tell he thought I was stupid in the interview.

Fortune Telling Error: Anticipating an outcome and assuming your prediction is an established fact. These negative expectations can be self-fulfilling: predicting what we would do on the basis of past behaviour may prevent the possibility of change.

I’ve always been like this; I’ll never be able to change.
It’s not going to work out so there’s not much point even trying.
This relationship is sure to fail.

Should Statements: Using “should”, “ought”, or “must” statements can set up unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. It involves operating by rigid rules and not allowing for flexibility.

I shouldn't get angry.
People should be nice to me all the time.

Magnification/Minimisation: A tendency to exaggerate the importance of negative information or experiences, while trivialising or reducing the significance of positive ones.

Watch out for the little buggers, they can really screw up your day.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Is there a point to this post?

Now there's a question.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher,
"Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."

What advantage does man have in all his work

Which he does under the sun?

A generation goes and a generation comes,

But the earth remains forever.

Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;

And hastening to its place it rises there again.

Blowing toward the south,

Then turning toward the north,

The wind continues swirling along,
And on its circular courses the wind returns.

All the rivers flow into the sea,

Yet the sea is not full.

To the place where the rivers flow,

There they flow again.

All things are wearisome;

Man is not able to tell it.

The eye is not satisfied with seeing,

Nor is the ear filled with hearing.

That which has been is that which will be,

And that which has been done is that which will be done.

So there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one might say,

"See this, it is new"?

Already it has existed for ages

Which were before us.

There is no remembrance of earlier things;

And also of the later things which will occur,

There will be for them no remembrance

Among those who will come later still.

Well, it's Sunday isn't it.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Disney or Horror?

Thought I'd partake in the latest blogging meme and find out how my blog is rated. I feel a little bit cooler now knowing that Sans God is rated 'Restricted'.

Cue evil grin.

Though why somebody under the age of 17 would want to read my blog is a different matter entirely.

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Enough just isn't enough

When it comes to our happiness, I'm afraid we've been sold a pig in a poke. You see, not so long ago our future looked rosy. Magic boffins were going to solve all the problems we had. They promised us jet packs, robochefs and a cure for cancer. We wouldn't have to lift a finger. Our happiness would be delivered right to our door, conveniently packaged in nice shiny cartons.

The problem is, our future wasn't as good as we imagined it. Progress, inevitable as it was, refused to follow its pre-determined path. Instead of jet packs, we got blogs. Instead of robochefs, we discovered that McShite had taken over the world.

There still wasn't a cure for cancer.

So we revolted against our scientists. Irked that they hadn't delivered our promised utopia, we set about them. We sued our medics, because they made mistakes. We hated our food technologists for making grub so damned easy and tasty. Let's not even start on global warming.

You see, many of us had hedged our bets and put our faith in science. We'd discarded our gods and had invested in the stuff of substance; Hard facts, interest rates and consumer goods. It fucked us off big style, when we realised that this reality was as bleak and unfulfilling as the last one.

So in the absence of God's pastoral care, in the bleakness of science, many of us turned to art. Perhaps in beauty we would find the salvation we sought. The problem was, so many of us did this, that we found our art to be homogenised and reduced to the lowest common denominator. McShited.

The only thing left for us was the past. We pined for those simple, halcyon days when life was good and to the point. We convinced ourselves that there was some magic and wisdom that we'd lost in our clamour for happiness.

So we looked to the east and to the south. We stared longingly at the societies we'd subjugated for so long. Having shit in our own nest, we wanted what they appeared to have. Pure and simple happiness.

Yet these very same people were looking right back at us, wanting our rich and complex version of happiness. They didn't feel wise, enlightened or meaningful. Life was pretty crap too to be honest. It has a habit of being so. If there was a difference, then it would be that there wasn't the time to think about it.

If I were a god right now, I'd be asking "Well, what the hell do you want then?"

It seems that for some of us, being alive is simply not enough.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Number 2

Perhaps there's a point in all of our lives when we find the benefits of being an adult perfectly balanced with the hedonism of our youth. At last, you have the money and freedom to consume what you want. Consume all that you can, if your so minded. Yet because of youth, you can get up the next morning, dust yourself down, and get on with pretending to be a grown up.

For me this year was 23. Miche and I had been together for some time. We'd had enough of the pretense of living separate lives in rented accommodation and had bought our first house together. It was a modest home, small and to the point, but it was ours to do with as we pleased.

I have fond memories of that place. Like the intimate dinner parties with close friends, when we pretended to be intellectual. Only to descend into drunken debauchery by 12am.

Like the fortnight that we'd decided to stop smoking, only to be given a carrier bag full of weed by one of our more 'interesting' friends. We agreed then, only to only smoke when we were 'smoking'. There were some Carl Sagan insights in those weeks, I can tell you. I've rarely touched the stuff since.

We adopted our first child there and called him McLeod (pictured left). I don't care how mushy this sounds, that scruffy mutt was our Son. We loved him dearly. Still do for that matter. He's twelve years old now and getting a bit dog eared. Bless 'im.

We also got married whilst we lived there. Though this story will be recounted, perhaps predictably, in number one of this top ten.

There was a lot of music in that house too. Our combined CD collection burgeoned. Also, I still had pretensions of being a musician, so had a ramshackle studio in the spare bedroom. The place was packed full of guitars and old synths. Happy days indeed.

There's one track that epitomises life in our little starter home - Björk's, Hyperballad. Both Miche and I love her music. Which says a lot, as our tastes for these things converge infrequently. In this house we danced together occasionally to this song, just the two of us. Simply for the hell of it.

Monday, 18 June 2007

The spice of life?

Have you ever looked at the list of Christian denominations on wikipedia? No? Well then shame on you. Mind, if you're not on broadband, I wouldn't recommend it. The list is as long as your arm.

It's reminiscent of the declared religious affiliation of the US Congress. Extensive, and terrifying as it is;
  • Catholic
  • Baptist
  • Methodist
  • Presbyterian
  • Episcopalian
  • Jewish
  • Lutheran
  • Latter-day Saints
  • United Church of Christ/Congregationalist
  • Christian Scientist
  • Eastern Orthodox/Greek Orthodox
  • Assemblies of God
  • Unitarian
  • Christian Reformed
  • Seventh-day Adventist
  • African Methodist Episcopal
  • Evangelical Free
  • Quaker
  • Community of Christ
  • Foursquare Gospel
  • Nazarene
  • United Brethren in Christ
  • Scientologist
  • Community Church
  • McLean Bible Church
Which gives me a good excuse to post my favourite Life of Brian scene. Enjoy;

Sunday, 17 June 2007

As good as it gets

My father is a gifted engineer. He has an innate ability to understand the workings of all things practical. Back in the days when engines were engines, not the glorified Intel processors that they are today, he would simply lay his ear against a bonnet and diagnose whatever ailment had befallen the thing. He can do the same with plumbing. It really is quite extraordinary.

There was a time when he encouraged me to follow the same path. You see, as a child I would frequently deconstruct stuff to find out how it worked. I also had an aptitude for physics and computing. How proud it would have made him to see his son cut from the same cloth. A chip off the old block.

However, despite how hard I tried, and how deeply he immersed me within it, I could not muster the same enthusiasm he had for engineering. I found it dull, to be frank.

What interested me, beyond anything else, was finding out how people worked. They fascinated, bemused and frightened me. I couldn't take them apart and have a look under the hood. Not without dire consequences. Neither could I lay my head upon the chest of one to work out why it behaved like it did. Though I tried repeatedly as a teenager.

No, all one could do was watch them, in all their splendour, whilst they tottered about the place.

I've devoted much of my life to this passion. Yet for all my efforts and reasoning, at times I'm just as befuddled by them, as I was aged fifteen.

People are buggers. They won't conform to scientific examination. If you devise a hypothesis to explain a behaviour, it will immediately be proven false. It may work for one person, perhaps even a group of people. But apply your theory to society then it'll fall on its arse.

Not only that, people behave like quantum particles. We talked about these the other day. You have to be cute, because if a person even suspects that you're observing them, they will behave in a completely different manner than if you were not.

So, I get irked when complex human behaviour is attributed a simple cause. Genetics and/or hormones are often used for this; Men behave like they do because of testosterone. Cut off their balls and all will be well.

Bolloxs, to put it bluntly.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett, is on to something I think. He has a theory that human consciousness is akin to a 'virtual machine'. He proposes that we've evolved such powerful brains, that we can run all sorts of 'software' on it. Independent of our hardwired operating system.

By example, my home PC's run Linux. It makes me feel warm inside, not being a Microsoft drone. Unfortunately I'm forced to use Windows for some things. Rather than rebooting, I run an instance of it within the main OS. Linux becomes a virtual computer, hardware an' all. As far as windoze is concerned, it's accessing the hardware directly. It's been lied to. Which makes me even more fuzzy.

Now if Dennett is right, and I rather suspect that he is, then nothing but our most basic of urges can be explained by biology right now. If we watch a human brain at work in a CT scanner, what we may be observing is the machinations of our root operating system as it runs our virtual machines. Not the inner workings of our psyche.

So what are we left with? Should we stop bothering with genetics to explain our human condition?

I think it would be folly to do so.

No, we should continue to investigate our 'root' systems. That way, one day in the future, we'll be able to de-compile our virtual consciousness. In the mean time, we should appreciate that our genetics and biology have only an indirect effect upon our behaviour.

If we want to make sense of the subtleties of who we are right now, then let's use the best tools available to us. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. These tools are art, metaphor and the humanities.

They may be imperfect, but it's as good as it gets.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Sisyphus in the round

Given enough time, all couples will write scripts together. They use them to re-enact their histories. The past you see, has a habit of repeating itself. When it does, it's easier to do a read through than it is to write a new script on the fly.

Minor edits are made of course, and the backdrop sometimes different, but the themes remain static.

Like any good play, they're usually dramatic. At the core is an unresolved conflict. We watch the actors fight and struggle to solve their quandary. It builds into a stupendous climax where finally the conflict is resolved. The actors are spent.

You can of course, opt for rolling the script up into a tube and thwacking the other about the head with it. It has a similar effect. Albeit a little one dimensional.

The rock is perched on a ledge. Safe for now.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Out damned spot

I've screwed up. Through my propensity for openness, I've placed my wife in a position of difficulty. My error of judgement, whilst in good faith, has quietly reverberated since I made it, some months ago now.

Its potential lurked unnoticed until yesterday, when it was unleashed upon my unsuspecting spouse.

I feel guilty. Guilty as a Catholic to be frank. Yet I've had to resist the primary urge to punish myself. There will be ample time for that. Instead, I've tried to concentrate on making right what's been undone. Mending and patching where I can. Absorbing the concussion waves where I can't.

Now, if I were to tell you what this great crime was, and describe it in words, its power might be diminished. Shown for what it is - a mere triviality blown out of proportion.

The problem is, the world just doesn't work like that. Truths get blurred, pride gets bruised and perspectives lost.

Shit sticks.

A climb up The Holy Stairs on my knees, given the right mindset, could do me good.

"So let's get this right God - all I need to do is crawl up a set of stone steps and my sins will be absolved?"

"Yes, my Son."

"Fancy that."

No, I've opted for the harder path, the only true way; head down and a sincere apology. Learn the lessons to be learned and sort out what you can. This is my penance - real and painful.

Mind you, I think I'll vacuum the stairs tonight quite thoroughly. Just to be sure.

Nihil est miserius quam animus hominis conscius

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Not as good as Scooby Doo

Am I the only one who gets excited about this kind of stuff? You'd think so, given the response of my work mates. Polite smiles and woos.

Odd frowns behind the back.

Monday, 11 June 2007

On being a boy

A month ago I wouldn't have believed that I could get a car around a sharp muddy bend at 70 miles per hour. Now I do.

There's a trick to it you see;

If you enter the corner at the correct speed and balance your throttle just right, the car will go wherever you point it. Under no circumstances should you accelerate, brake or slow down. If you do, your car will spin off in any random direction.

Be brave, because if your car is front wheel drive, it will at some point start to under steer. It'll insist on going straight on, right off the track and into the closest tree.

Trust yourself... Wait for it... The apex will come. When it does, get your foot off the gas. All of a sudden the weight of your car will transfer from the rear wheels to the front. You'll feel your drive wheels dig right into the dirt. As they do, rip the handbrake up. Your rear end will then whip around and you'll find yourself pointing into the opposite side of the curve.

Foot down. Push the bastard as hard as you can and you'll blast right out of the corner like a rocket. On to the next corner.

"Fuck yeah!"

My brother-in-law and I did this a few weeks ago. We were gifted an afternoon's rally tuition at the pleasure of our wives.

I swear, it was one of the most visceral, joyous experiences I've had in a long time. I felt like a man. I cussed, grimaced and worked as hard as I could to beat the lap record of the day. I had to be the best of course. Top of the pile. The alpha male.


As it happened, bro Mart stole the lap record from me and twenty other blokes at 1m 19s. I came in at 1m 20.5s. Fortunately for me however, he hit an obstacle and incurred a 5s penalty. The next best was 1m 22.4s.

So yours truly ended up top dog! Get in.

At the end of the timed lap I sat panting at the wheel. The tutor, who was plugged into the helmet intercom said,

"Scott, that was fabulous! You did well"

"Thanks man, shit that was good!" I told him.

"Ok, now to the criticism" ,

I looked at him.

"Your cornering was superb, but along the straights, well frankly, it was boring."

"Yeah, I know. I was a bit chicken, wasn't I?"

"Yup." And he left it at that.

So, perhaps this is me - Good at corners.

Throw me a curve ball and I'll solve your problems. Down the straight and narrow however, I'm just nice and steady.

NB: I know the car pictured above is rear wheel drive. Do you think they'd let me drive that monster?

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Placebo God

Lately I've come across all manner of magical thinking. From the Psychology student who believes that everything happens for a reason, to the woman who believes what the local medium tells her. For this dubious pleasure she pays £30.00.

I've been amongst people who agree that "there's something to astrology." When I protest they say it's because I'm Virgo.

Just yesterday I said "don't be so bloody daft", to someone studying homeopathy. I made them a coffee by repeatedly diluting a cup full until it was nothing more than hot water. Actually, I just poured them a cup of water from the kettle.

Water with memory, for Pete's sake. I said, "At some point, your coffee could have been dishwater, bathwater, piss or spittle. Do you think it remembers that too?"

Right now there's an advert running on the TV espousing the magical properties of crystals. For £6.99 each week, you can buy the magazine and learn how to harness their powerful healing properties. Over 30 weeks, you will build the ultimate collection of real, beautiful crystals. Not bad for £209.70, eh? Eh?

All of this makes me cross. Not just because it's the stuff of nonsense, but that believing it implies an apathy to life.

If everything happens for a reason, then you have no control over your destiny. Once absolved of this responsibility, one needn't worry ever again about making the right choice or doing the right thing.

If our destinies are written into the stars, then we are as helpless as any cosmic karma follower. How I slept well in my bed, once I knew Reagan consulted his astrologer before making decisions of international significance.

Why bother seeking the support and advice of good friends, sharing your worries and concerns, when a magic lady can give you all the answers you need for thirty quid?

God may well be dead, but it seems there's no shortage of magic left in the world. Meh.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

The great unworthy Bono

I'm now an admirer of Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister. Apparently he shunned the great tossmeister Bono at the G8 summit. "I've got to say that meeting celebrities isn't kind of my shtick, that was the shtick of the previous guy".

Nice one Stephen.


You'd think that when you give your body a rest from exercise, it would store up all your energy. That way, when you start exercising again, you'd go off like a rocket.

Not so. It's been a fortnight since my last run and subsequent dose of clown feet. My antibiotics are now finished, and feet healed. So I've been for a gentle 4 miler just now. Damn it was hard.

Here's the pics;

Mile 1

Mile 2

Mile 3

Mile 4

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Number 3

We live in a semi-detached house. Our neighbours are quite nice. Alice, the old lady across the road, keeps an eye out for us when we're out. Sometimes she brings dandelion leaves for Meg & Dom to feed their guinea pigs with.

Brian, two doors down, polishes his car twice a week. It really is quite shiny. I have a company estate car which is black, and a bitch to keep as shiny as Brian's. My garden however, is nicer than his.

To the untrained eye, I look the same as a billion other men. Really quite ordinary.

Don't worry though, because just like you, I'm extraordinary in a myriad small ways.

For example, I have a talent for picking things up with my feet. They're like secondary hands. I don't know a single person with foot picking up dexterity as well developed as mine. Not only that, they're as hairy as baboon feet. Quite extraordinary.

On a related matter, there's some sheep living in the fields behind our house right now. I can't help but anthropomorphise their baas. One of them I swear, is a miserable old drunk. "Meh" he grumbles at his flock, his deep voice broken by Marlborough's and beer.

"You sad bastards, the lot of ye. " He shouts, "Just look at yourselves, munching on the grass. Mehhh."

There are some that would balk at our parochial existence. They would ridicule us, like the drunk sheep, thinking that our little lives have no meaning.

Of course they'd be right, for there's no meaning to anything. But frankly, I couldn't give a damn. I like my little life. Looking from the outside it may be banal. Looking from inside out however, things seem pretty rosy thank you very much. Despite the whole lot feeling absurd.

So, to the song.

No Suprises by Radiohead sum's up these sentiments exactly for me. Not only that, it's a favourite song, from a favourite band of mine. Thom Yorke is one of the few people I'd rather be than myself.

Thom is notorious for never explaining the meaning of his lyrics. This most wonderful of videos, I think, explains his thoughts on the matter quite clearly. Listen to the lyrics as he takes his first breath after the water recedes.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

How to be happy

I've spent most of my adult life knee deep in the shit and piss of other peoples' misery. It's an industrial hazard in psychiatry. I'm also atheist and therefore have no god to provide me solace. Existentialism is my natural philosophy and as such, I'm inclined to feel that life is arbitrary. When it comes to morality, and the rights and wrongs of things, I lean toward Nihilism. I believe that no true morality exists.

I like my music in a minor key and my art to be bleak.

I am however, one of the happiest people I know. Smug bastard, eh?

Someone asked me about this the other day. I can't go into any depth, as it was in clinical supervision. But suffice to say, the question was raised by a devout Christian. Her God hasn't helped her much in my view, as she's struggled with depression for many years. She knows about my world view and was bemused frankly, why I could feel so content with life.

I made some half arsed attempt at describing why this may be so, but I didn't do it justice. Today I've been musing on it a bit. I thought I'd use Sans God to elucidate it a bit more.

So, here's my recipe for personal happiness. Feel free to add seasoning to suit your own taste.

Don't try to be happy. Happiness is a bi-product of living life, not the purpose of it. A singular pursuit of happiness is rather like building a tower of bricks starting from the top.

Be imperfect. The most unhappy people I know are those who strive for perfection. Good enough is good enough. The last 20% is nothing but flounce anyway. I side with Schopenhauer in this respect. He said that if we achieve perfection then the natural question would be "Now what?". Frankly we'd be bored silly.

Don't confuse happiness with an absence of pain. A day can be bad, and life can feel crap for a while. Circumstances have a habit of getting in the way. Similar to the being imperfect rule, don't expect life to be a bed of roses. It isn't, simple as that. Being in pain, be it physically or emotionally doesn't mean that life is inherently shit. Just that particular part of it is. Don't worry, it'll probably pass.

Notice small things. There is beauty everywhere you look. All you have to do is see it. The corners of paving stones. Grass. Bubbles in beer. A strangers smile. Door handles, whatever floats your boat. It's all there for the taking. Worry not about being a Gaia junkie.

Be wrong. It's OK not to be right. But it hurts to be fallible right? If we're honest, we only hurt because being wrong damages the fragile identity we build for ourselves. Who you are is nothing more than a collection of memes. Treat is as such. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."

Be Grey. Nothing, repeat nothing is certain. There is always another side to the story. There is nothing more stressful, and likely to make you unhappy, than defending an absolute opinion. Other people can be just as irksome. Doesn't it piss you off when you're arguing against someone who thinks they're completely in the right? Invariably there will be some small truth in their argument. Start with this as your retort. And the God question? Remember that atheism is just a lack of belief.

You are not that important. "I" is an overused word. We've been brought up to think individually. Your identity is important, of course, but can you really define yourself separately from others? Who you are is fundamentally intertwined with everyone around you. Your parents, friends, lovers, acquaintances and colleagues make you who you are. Appreciate how you're inextricably linked to them. You are less important than you think.

Exercise. Learn to manipulate your endocrine system. Exercise stimulates your body to release many feel good hormones. It's been proven in many studies that exercise lifts mood. In the UK, GP's have funding to prescribe gym memberships on the NHS for depressed patients. Exercise is a very cost effective way of treating mildly depressed people without drugs. Get of your arse, now!

Create. Make stuff. Don't just consume. There's nothing worse for you than an exclusive diet of TV, Gaming and Entertainment. Write if you're inclined to, dance if you want. Invent a story for your children or tell your lover how you'd make her feel like the most special woman in the world. Sit back and daydream for a while or drum a new rhythm with your fingers. Anything will do, as long as you make something new.


These are some of the things that make me happy.

A magic man done it?

Monday, 4 June 2007

I wonder...

Should I be an atheist blogger, or a blogger who's atheist?

What do you think?

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Emergency at Wallington

Racing from the gargoyles to the big tree is a good way of wearing out your kids on a Sunday afternoon.

Wallington is a great place to be doing this. Its grounds are a gratuitous monument to the wealth of the few and the subjugation of the rest. How ironic then, that they've become a glorified playground for working families.

The house is a different matter. Built in 1688 for Sir William Blackett, it's stuffed full of pre raphaelite paintings and heirlooms. The National Trust guards these contents with old women. Recruited for their stern, pinched faces and general mistrust of others, they lurk in the corner of each room, ready to pounce on anyone who dare make a noise or god forbid, touch anything. Though the website says different, children are not made to feel welcome.

I like to take mine in sometimes, just to piss them off.

My hand was forced yesterday, when Dom stopped mid-sprint and shouted "I Need a Poo!" Lovely. Now, when Dominic says this, he means it. Not a boy to forward plan, he generally waits until turtle head before announcing these needs to the world.

We had three options;

1) Run to the public toilets some 500 yards away,
2) Drop pants and deposit toilet torpedo on a gargoyle, or
3) Ask the receptionist hag in the house if there was one to be used.

I opted for option 3. It is after all, a big house.

"Is there a toilet we could use?" I ask her politely.

"Yes", she nipped "but only in emergencies."

Now, I wasn't sure whether my child being in desperate need of a shite constituted an emergency. But in a brief moment of absurdity, I thought she meant the toilet was only to be used in an emergency;

"DORIS! The house is on fire!"

"Right, raise the alarm and start the evacuation. And Sue, unlock the emergency toilet!"

Dom woke me from my daydream.

"Dad! I need a Poo NOW!" Bless him, he was hopping from foot to foot.

Grudgingly (and I swear it was), she picked up her walkie talkie and barked "Escort required for toilet, urgently."

Thankfully one came quickly. Her twin sister, it appeared. Though older and more wizened.

"Follow me." She commanded.

As we were about to oblige, 1st Hag barked,

"Erm, excuse me! I need to see your National Trust card before you can enter the house."

And do you know what? I apologised. "Sorry, yes of course." I said as I fumbled in my wallet for it.

"Very well."

We were discharged from her presence, and were walking off behind Hag 2 when again she shouts,

"Erm, excuse me sir!"

Now, I'm getting irked. "Yes?"

"Bags are not permitted in the house sir, you will have to leave it here"

I tossed it at her.

"You need a ticket, so that I can retrieve it." She was obviously fretting that her duties weren't being discharged perfectly.

"Mrs," I say "There's only three bags behind you. We'll remember which one's mine."


There was no stopping her, she shoved a ticket into my hand as we were rushing off. It was number 24 incidentally.

Finally, Hag 2 led us to the secret emergency toilets. We had the choice of the standard or disabled variety. I chose the disabled. It wasn't exactly setting fire to the Houses of Parliament, but it was a protest nonetheless. I'm sure I heard her tut as we went in.

Dom launched his bum rocket with a smile of relief on his face.

Yesterday I was in the company of children. Today I am not. So I say to you Hags, you pair of sad desperate bints, why don't you just Fuck Off.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Swallows & Summertime

The European Swallow winters in South Africa. Its estimated unladen flight speed is 24 mph. Its migratory trip from Africa, over the Sahara, Morocco, Spain, France and finally to England is hazardous. Many die.

It would be a little churlish then, to complain when they're late.

Ordinarily they've arrived in the UK by April / May. I hadn't seen any this year.

Today Northumberland has been scorching hot. Not a breath of wind, or a cloud in the sky. So we've been in the garden all day. Right now, our first barbecue is burning down ready for cooking. A true lazy day.

Meg & I were were de-weeding this morning when we saw our first Swallow of the year. Not only that, it had decided to build its nest in the eves of our house. It wasn't long before we spotted many many more.

I know it's a bit sad, but I found it pretty cool that an animal, as beautiful as a Swallow would risk life and limb and fly thousands of miles, simply to make it's home with us.

Even if the little irk was a bit tardy.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Ways and Means

I no longer carry a case load at work. When this burden was lifted from me, some years ago now, I felt liberated. Within reason, I was then able to pursue whatever interested me. No longer did I have to worry about the trivial minutiae of day to day life. I was free to drag our mental health practices, with rope (as I was now safely ensconced within an ivory tower), slap bang into the 21st Century.

Happy days indeed. However, I knew myself well enough to know that I'd miss being at the sharp end. I also knew that I needed some clinical credibility, if I was to lead staff through the excruciating experience of change. I made a commitment then, to dedicate a portion of my time to hands on practice.

Now, I'm not arrogant enough to think this token gesture is enough. I am after all, like the Grandparent; there to do all the nice stuff, but as soon as it kicks off and gets messy, the baby gets given back. I can at least, put names to faces, and stories to people. This has its benefits.

Today I find myself in the office of a Dementia Care unit. It cares for the most difficult and 'challenging' of people. A place where people go to when no other service can meet their needs. The unit has a good reputation.

I'm there studying the medical & nursing notes of a gentleman who's been raising havoc. He's violent, sexually disinhibited, doubly incontinent and prone to headbutting staff when they try to help him. My aim is to help the team understand what needs this bloke is expressing when he behaves like he does. Perhaps then we can devise some creative ways of meeting them. It's an engrossing task. The notes are prolific and rich. They give me lots to go on.

My attention is broken suddenly, when I hear a small child call for its mother. The parent radar activates immediately. It takes a moment to remember that this is a place for old people, not children.

I hear it again. I swear, it was the most plaintive noise I've ever heard.

"Mummy", the little girl whimpered. She started to cry.

It takes all my effort to look down again at the notes. There are staff about. They've just walked past the door. In fact, I can hear them chatting in the dining room. They'll come to help soon, I'm sure.

"Please Mummy, where are you?"

There was nothing I could do to stop it. I saw Megan, my daughter first, lost without her mother. Then I saw Madeline McCann, in a place she didn't know and in the company of strangers.

So I left the office, and found the little girl who'd lost her mother. She was sitting in a chair by the window just looking at the ground. Her shoulders jerked the teardrops off her cheeks.

There was nothing I could think of to say. What was there to say, anyway? So I sat next to her and just held her, like a father would, and rocked her gently. She buried her head into my chest.

After a few minutes her sobbing subsided. She began to sit up, so I let go of her. I dabbed her face with a tissue. She took it from me and continued.

Now I know this lady a little. I know that she rarely speaks these days. She looked at me briefly and said "Thank you." In that moment we were truly together and in this time and place.

The moment was broken by a staff member bringing in the tea trolley.

"Molly! Are you alright pet?", the carer says, as soon as she sees the state of the woman. She fusses and comforts her wonderfully.

So like the grandparent, I take a step back and retreat again to the office.

My point is this. If you are a person who says "I could never do that kind of work, it would break my heart" then you are the very person I want working for me. I'm afraid it's the price you pay.

The trick is to know this, and use it when required, but not to let it destroy you. There are ways and means.

Blogging for one.