bookmark_borderI got my first toothbrush when I was nearly 12

I was going into hospital with an appendix emergency so mum thought she’d better buy me one. I gave her a confused ‘WTF is this?’ look..

She hadn’t bought one before as there were nine of us kids and money was tight. At least we weren’t mad like that couple next door – they had thirteen kids. Hey, it’s not a competition!

That’s what it was like growing up in the 60/70’s. When we went out to play after school there was a swarm of us kids in the streets, kicking balls, playing games and generally getting away from our parents – and older brothers. We were like a plague of locusts, spreading across the streets and fields.

And it wasn’t ALL bad news coming from a large family, there were actually certain advantages. When I was at school nobody picked on me because they knew there was an army of brothers in the background waiting the kick the shit out of anyone who gave me grief. And even better, the toilet seat was never cold, because usually someone had just got off it!

We were only allowed to watch telly when the weather was terrible. The huge heavy telly, a 18 incher, was mum and dads domain, we weren’t allowed to touch it. If we were lucky (and it was pouring outside!) we could watch The Flintstones, Pinky & Perky, and that brilliant new Scobby Doo. We never figured out who the baddie was in each episode, thank goodness Daphne had the smarts!

We bathed once a week, usually at the weekend, me and my sister in the same bath, no shampoo, just huge lumps of red Lifebuoy soap and lots of scrubbing. I don’t think I had a bath to myself until my sister started to develop boobs. From then on I had to have my weekly bath after her, in her dirty cooling water. I reckon she peed in it too. At least it warmed up the bathwater a bit..

During the cold winter months, we’d wake up with ice on the inside of the window pane. There was no central heating, never knew it existed, mum would light a fire in the living room. We became expert fire lighters from a very early age – and sit as close as possible to the fire, one side of you went red with the heat and the other side was blue with the cold draught. We’d swap around, like those rotisseries chickens, to ensure we were cooked on both sides.

The coalman would come around once a week. And the breadman – he had huge long drawers(!) that he pulled out and mum picked the bread she needed – always Sunblest. White! I don’t recall there being Wholemeal bread, at least not until those Hovis ads appeared on the telly. For some weird reason the breadman also sold shandy. We got a bottle once when young teenagers, drank it and were drunk for the rest of the day. Yabba-Dabba-Doo! (or don’t in this case!)

One day in the 70’s I came home from school and mum had rented a colour television from Radio Rentals. We were amazed. We sat there for ages watching horse racing on the telly in COLOUR…look at the green green grass, the colours of the jerseys. It was like being at the cinema! And the evening snooker matches on BBC2 were so much easier to follow!

There were four of us in my bedroom, two sets of bunk beds. My biggest dream was to have a lockable box that I could put my things into, safe from my brothers nicking them. Trying to sneak out during the middle of the night for a pee was fraught with danger – step on a toy or bit of Lego, wake them up and you’d get a torrent of abuse. I learnt to creep around very quietly at night. Little did I know this was good training for my career as a cat burglar. Meowww.

One night I was desperate to have a pee so I crept extremely quietly out of bed and down the inky blackness of the stairs. It was pitch black and I didn’t dare switch on a light and wake everyone up. I felt for the banister and snook down hoping mum hadn’t left any ironing on the stairs. As I gingerly inched down the stairs I suddenly felt a cold hand touch mine. I screamed. My brother screamed. He’s been sneaking back up! Everyone was awake. A torrent of verbal abuse followed. The next time I tried that I checked the other beds first!

bookmark_borderWhy witches get a ‘bad press’.

 What do you learn in witch school? Spelling.
What do you learn in witch school? Spelling.

 

Up until the end of the 15th century nobody really thought about witches, some people believed in them but they were seen as a minor fact of life, nobody bothered much about them. If someone was found to be a witch the usual punishment was a day in the stocks and then release. But then in 1484, a Dominican clergyman, Heinrich Kramer, made an attempt at prosecuting alleged witches in his Tyrol region.

It was not a success, mostly because of Kramer’s obsessive sexual interest in one of the accused, Helena Scheuberin, which led the other tribunal members to suspend the trial. He was expelled from the city of Innsbruck and dismissed by the local bishop as “senile and crazy”.

So, obsessed with witches, Heinrich Kramer wrote a book in 1486, the Malleus Maleficarum, usually translated as the Hammer of Witches. It is full of crazy ideas;

• Woman become witches by sleeping with the devil and signing a pact on his anus.
• Witches deprive men of their viral member and keep nests of penis’s in trees.
• Witches kill and eat new-born babies.

Midwives, with their unquestioned access to newly born (and hence unbaptised) children, at a time of high infant mortality, were an easy target for conspiracy theories. The book contains details instructions on how to capture, torture and kill witches. The best theologians of the time condemned the book as recommending unethical and illegal procedures, as well as being inconsistent with Catholic doctrines of demonology. The Clerical establishment by and large think Kramer is nuts and he is denounced by the church.

There are very few copies of his book, twenty at most, but then a new technology arrives.

The Printing Press.

Because of this new technology, Kramer’s dark fantasy, that every town, every village is riddled with sex obsessed witches goes viral. For nearly two hundred years sales of his book are second only to that of the Bible. And because of relatively easy access to the book, witch fever grew, spreading via major trade routes across Europe and to the New World.

There was not a shred of evidence that anyone was actually guilty of satanic witchcraft during the witch craze. People were convicted on the basis of malicious gossip, natural phenomena such as animals and children dying, animals appearing near their houses, the use of traditional herbal remedies, and the exchange of cross words. The accused would frequently say anything to escape the agonies of torture.

Turns out the invention of this new technology, the printing press, was a double edged sword. It obviously allowed the education of the masses (slowly, but surely) but at the same time for two hundred years hundreds of thousands of innocent people, nearly all woman, were tortured and burned alive.

Mark Twain is alleged to have said “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”. And now we have the invention of the internet and with it some mad COVID theories; 5G networks are causing it, COVID doesn’t actually exist, all those doctors and nurses are in on the act, the vaccine is a way of implanting Bill Gates microchips in the population, etc etc.

Even though all these stories were quickly debunked and proven untrue, the pervasiveness of misinformation and conspiracy theories on social media and in the news cycle has led the Director-General of the World Health Organization to warn that “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous”.

There’s an old Chinese curse which translates as “May you live in interesting times..”, we certainly are, aren’t we?

bookmark_borderTo shave or not to shave. Now THAT is the question!

Beards and soup are mortal enemies
Beards and soup, mortal enemies

It’s the start of summer 2020 and I’ve been avoiding my fellow (in)human beings since early March. Walking the streets of London these last few months feels like accidentally straying onto a Zombie movie set, where is everyone? The first time I really noticed it was when I was walking up the road and a woman nearly threw herself into the hedge trying to avoid me (the story of my life sweetheart, the story of my life!)  

My feeling is this is going to go on for a few years (!) and I’ve been thinking my usual left of field thoughts. I wish I was a Hamster and could hibernate, or go into suspended animation until a working vaccine is available. And then I was wondering, how come in SciFi movies everyone comes out of suspended animation clean shaven and not looking like furballs? I’ve stopped shaving as frequently, sporting the Werewolf look, what’s the point, and now I’m wondering why we actually shave?

Historically, shaving was simply more hygienic. Lice were rampant but washing in freezing cold water wasn’t something to look forward to. Alexander the Great told his soldiers to shave because it was easier to fight and avoid beard grabbing. Men who did not shave were considered barbarians.

But why do woman shave the parts of their bodies that aren’t pubicly – sorry publicly – visible? Social convention? Hugh Hefner and Playboy didn’t help, it seems to me that the big push came around that period (ouch!) but I’d love to know what the Victorians attitude was. Most of us have access to clean water for washing, so the lice argument is null and void and yet we’ve become accustomed to shaving frequently. On average men spend about 125 days per lifetime shaving and research by Emma Leslie of Escentual.com shows these surprising figures for ladies;

Shaving legs- 72 days a lifetime
Styling hair- 294 days a lifetime
Plucking eyebrows – 30 days a lifetime
Taking off your make-up- 52 days a lifetime
Applying fake tan- 12 days a lifetime
Dying your hair- 23 days a lifetime
Body moisturising- 44 days a lifetime
Painting nails- 20 days a lifetime
Exfoliation- 20 days a lifetime
Pedicures-11 days a lifetime

Of course this is from the very selective audience of a beauty products website so the figures are going to be VERY slanted, I don’t know anyone who spends 12 days, or even 12 minutes applying fake tan which reminds me of this little story.

A long time ago I was sharing a flat with a female friend. She was going through a dry run re: boyfriends but one morning I was having a shower and the shower pan started to fill up with water. I was puzzled and mentioned this to my housemate. She looked suitably embarrassed and said “Oh, I’ve got a date tonight – so thought I’d better get the razor blade out..!” Gross!

ANYWAY…. the interesting aspect of all this social isolation is it gives one time to really think and ruminate, to take stock and figure out what kind of person you really are. We never really get much chance to think and ruminate, do we? We start school and then it’s full on until retirement, study study study work work work boom dead! But now we’ve got time to think and ruminate, to really focus on the bigger life questions; where are you going, how is your life, what do you really want, what is the meaning of life, are you going to eat that last Rolo, you know, just the important stuff..

George Sands wrote “There is only one happiness in this life; to love and be loved.” I agree with this sentiment to some degree but George Sands has obviously never tried a White Chocolate Magnum ice lolly on a hot summers day! I think there are many many happiness spread all through our lives, just walking around the (now packed!) park yesterday listening to the children laughing/playing and the birds singing brings me and I’m sure everyone a sense of happiness.

As Philip Gould approached his final days he wrote movingly in the Guardian “I live by the day. Just sitting in the park, looking at the flowers thinking how beautiful they are. It’s almost … not hallucinogenic but it’s a much stronger feeling than previously. For me, at the moment, going for a walk in the park with Gail is heaven.” We, who can see this, understand this, it brings deep joy.

bookmark_borderBelfast 1976. Troubles..what Troubles?

I recently found the above video of Belfast from 1976. Goodness, that brought back memories! My friends and I were regular visitors to the city centre, mostly because the shops at home were crap, These days we are all used to Amazon shopping but to my 15 year old self everything of importance was in the mecca of Belfast, a range of comics, toys, gadgets and games that was impossible to source anywhere else.

To get into the city centre we had to go through security barriers, these barriers surrounded a two mile wide section of the centre so it was stop and get searched, everyone, old, young, babies as well. The security people would wave an electronic magic wand over your body that apparently detected explosives! Then it was into one of the large department stores but again checked at the entrance, the ladies would have their handbags checked again. After a while this just became instinctive, it became a matter of life, a habit, you could only enter a store via one door and you’d automatically raise your arms to be searched at the door.

My first trip overseas (well, to us the Isle of Man was overseas, we had to get a boat there!) was a revelation, I walked into Marks & Spencer and stopped by the door waiting to get searched, the customers behind me walked past me, it was very strange NOT to get frisked when entering a large store. Old habits..

Even when I moved to London it took me quite some time to get out of the reflex of looking for the security guy to frisk me, it’s interesting what becomes ‘normal’. Walking around in Belfast you’d become oblivious to the bombed/firebombed shells of stores, life went on. Every five years or so the IRA would place car bombs in our local town and blow up the Co-op, Woolworths and Wellworths, there was a rhythm to it and we all just got used to it.

I know this may seem frankly bizarre to non-war torn cities but here’s two points to remember.

  1. On the telly there may have been a mob of rioters throwing stones and petrol bombs(!) at the police and army, BUT at the same time there were 1.5 million people NOT throwing stones and petrol bombs at the police.
  2. My friends and I were surrounded by armed police and army in ‘meat wagons’, loyalist and paramilitary groups marching around (when the coast was clear), frequently I watched controlled explosions of suspect devices, I was there when bombs went off in my home town and in Belfast, all this was happening; kneecapping, rioting, murders – but to a 15 year old living through all this, my greatest stress BY FAR was making sure I got my Maths homework in on time to Mr Macaulay, our dreaded Maths teacher! Life is strange, isn’t it?

bookmark_borderThe joy (and burden) of the sisterhood.

Ladies who do lunch

I was wandering around Sainsburys this morning when along came a little girl chat-chat-chat-chat-chat-chatting away with her dad. I watched them slowly go down the aisle with this constant chat between them. Everyone was smiling. It was super sweet to see, and yet just another reminder just how verbally stunted we men as a species are.

The longer I walk this planet the more time I have to observe life, and more importantly, re-form my opinions!

This has been happening quite a lot these last few years. I’m becoming increasingly aware of the differences betwix the two sexes and increasingly envious, yes, envious, of almost every women’s ability to communicate, to network, to be part of such a big collective, a sisterhood, in ways we men can only imagine.

Despite constant and pervasive historic neurosexism, modern neuroscientists have identified no decisive, category-defining differences between the brains of men and women. In women’s brains, language-processing is not spread any more evenly across the hemispheres than it is in men’s, as a small 1995 Nature study proclaimed but a large 2008 meta-analysis disproved.

So it’s a mystery to me (and the subscribers of Nature) as to why women are so expert in communication (and the subtle nuances) and men seem to be real dullards. The current thinking is that the brain is no more gendered than the liver or kidneys or heart but women’s brains are thought to be wired for empathy and intuition, whereas male brains are supposed to be optimized for reason and action. Most of us remain strapped in the “biosocial straitjackets” that divert a basically unisex brain down one culturally gendered pathway or another

I watch family, friends and work colleagues chatting away ten to a dozen, and how important it is, how natural, how fulfilling, it’s that networking, the social oil between each other that makes me so envious. We don’t get that, we have to go to football matches in tribes to even get a glimpse of that comradeship that comes naturally to almost every woman I know. We men are walking this planet tongued tied and handicapped.

When does this difference start? A colleague thinks it starts at school, that great big melting pot of primary school is torn asunder with our tendency to split high school into boys/girls only. But I think it starts off even earlier than that, my own anecdotal evidence suggests right from learning the first few words of a language. Observing very young children it’s obvious that it’s the girls that do much more of the chatting, just like the little girl in Sainsburys this morning. Boys tend to be much quieter and when the dreaded puberty and high school hits we shut down even more, resorting to grunts. If you’ve ever had the (mis)fortune to sit on a bus that’s just picked up a load of high school girls going home the clatter is almost deafening. That wasn’t how it was on our school buses, there was very little chat – apart from the sixth formers at the back, hurling the usual abuse at everyone, which wasn’t conducive to friendly chat!

As I get older, my overriding impression is that a women’s world is so much richer than a man’s, we walk this planet almost completely switched off. Of course, this is a generalisation, guilty as charged. There are blokes who can talk the hind leg off a donkey, I met up with two of them a while back and I just couldn’t get a word in edgewise, it’s like a competition between them. And the local drunks who stand outside the off licence seem to be engaged in constant seemingly pointless conversation between themselves – even if standing alone!

And I’m aware this can be a two-edged sword; woman seem to be more adept at the complexities of large group interpersonal relationships; who’s in, who’s out, and nuances that pass me by. We men only have the cello to play with but woman have the entire orchestra at their disposal. I know our lives are poorer for it.

bookmark_borderThe Meaning of Life?

 

On the very first day, God created the Ox. He said to the Ox, “As an Ox, you must go to the field with the farmer all day long. You will work all day under the sun! You will work hard to provide for your calves, they must always come first, and you will do this for 60 years.”
The Ox replied, “What? That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for 60 years? Let me have 20 years, that’s more than enough and the 40 years I’ll give back to you.”
So God said OK.

On the second day, God created the monkey. He said to the monkey, “You will entertain people. You’ll make them laugh, do monkey tricks, be mischievous and do this for 20 years”
The monkey protested. “What? Make them laugh? Do monkey faces and tricks? Ten years will do, and the other 10 years I’ll give you back.”
So God was getting annoyed but agreed.

On the third day, God created the dog. God said to the dog, “You are to sit all day by the door of your house. Any people that come past, you will bark at them and pass comment of them and do this for 20 years.”
The dog objected, “What? All day long to sit by the door? No way! I’ll give you back 10 years of life!”
So God was pissed but agreed.

On the fourth day, God created man and said to him, “Your job is to sleep, eat, and play. You will enjoy life very very much. All you need to do is to enjoy and do nothing. For this kind of life, I’ll give you a 20 year life span.” The man objected. “What? Such a good life! Eat, play, sleep, do nothing? Enjoy the best and you expect me to live only for 20 years? No way, man… why don’t we make a deal? Since the cow gave you back 40 years, the dog gave you back 10 years, the monkey gave you back 10 years, I will take them from you!” So God, really pissed now, agreed.

AND THAT’S WHY….
In our first 20 years, we eat, sleep, play, get taken care of, have no bills to pay, no responsibilities, enjoy the best and get to sleep in as long as we like..
THEN for the next 40 years, we work our arses off all day long, do overtime, sweat in our chosen field, worry and stress and do what it takes to support our family.
THEN for the next 10 years, we entertain our grandchildren by making monkey faces and monkey tricks and make them laugh and giggle. They absolutely love us.
AND for the last 10 years, we stay at home, sit by the front door and bark at everyone coming past and pass comment on them.
That is the meaning of life.

Woof! Woof!

bookmark_borderHumans. MkIII

Screw British Airways!

I’ve been thinking (yeah, I know, it’s a habit I’m trying to get out of) about evolution and Darwin again. It occurs to me that humankind really are the model T Fords of the animal kingdom. Pigeons, tortoises, dogs, cats, cheetahs and a whole host of animals plainly and very obviously appeared after us.

Take pigeons for example. When I go to the bathroom there’s two exit points built into my body; one for liquid waste and one for solid waste. Pigeons just coo coo chuckle at that, they only have one exit point, both solid and liquid get excreted at the same exit, this vastly decreases the chance of constipation, haemorrhoids and a hole (oops! whole!) host of lower bowel conditions. What’s more, they get to fly everywhere. No walking for them, no traffic jams and no two hour check-in before boarding a flight to Spain.

And then tortoises and turtles. Hey, no having to work your ass off for 40 years to pay off your mortgage. Why bother when you carry your home around with you on your back. Provide your kids with a home, what..but they already have one! Want to go live in a nicer greener part of the town. Just take a walk and job done!

Dogs? They get to run a lot faster and longer than us mere humans. No tube or bus for them, they’re already at work! Clothing? What’s that for? They’ve got built in clothing. Sense of smell? A gazillion times better than humans. Yup, that lasagne is 100% off (but I’m still going to eat it!) and then I’m going to lick your face..

Cats? Stools, ladders, scaffolding…in cat world these don’t exist, just climb up the bleeding tree. Fall off from great height, don’t worry, they always land on their feet. Worst case scenario, hey, we’ve got nine lives. And you wonder why they sit at home judging us, thinking what bleeding dim humans..

Cheetahs? Bye-bye public transport. No excuses to be late for work ever again.

I can’t understand why I haven’t got a Nobel Prize for all this work!

bookmark_borderHey Good Looking..

Yup, I'm looking at YOU
Yup, I’m looking at YOU

In my bathroom I have the illustrated words, and every time I’m in there (which trust me, in my gathering years is more and more frequently!)  it makes me think. I put it in there not just for the boys but for me too. I imagine the boys think it’s directed at them and to a very large extent it is but it’s also directed at each of us, each and every one of us.

We are all loved, each and every one of us, and not just by family and friends but by God, the Creator, the Universe, the Source, call it whatever you like, but that feeling you have towards your children, that pure pure pure love, s/he feels the exact same way about all of us, every single soul on this planet, no matter how hairy we are!

bookmark_borderHumans. MkII

It occurs to me that when The Committee upstairs made humans they made one small but rather short-sighted mistake. They got rid of the tail. Now, I can see the logic in this, it gets caught in doors, it gets in the way of sitting down and clumsy clods can step on it, but I still think it was a mistake and here’s why.

I looked after a friend’s dog a while back and I never once had wonder if he was happy or sad, it was always obvious from his tail, was it wagging (thankfully usually always) or was it down betwixt his legs. And the thing about dogs and tails is, there’s no hiding emotions, there’s complete honestly all the time, you know if he’s pleased to see you or not, but with humans, well, we’ve become very adept at hiding our true feelings and I’m not sure this is always a good thing. I can see occasions when it is (particularly when dealing with children) but most of the time it’s not. A lot of people hide their true feeling, be it love, hate, irritation, fear, happy or sad and I wonder what kind of world we’d have if we could always tell the emotional state of those around us, if there was always truth in communication, like it was the most natural thing in the world (as it should be), dogs, cats, in fact most animals seem to get along fine with tails..

So I’d like to propose to the The Powers That Be that when we all blow ourselves to bits or a giant meteorite wipes out humans like the dinosaurs, that the next version has a tail and keeps it. Then there will be that honesty in communication; lovers, family, friends, politicians, we’ll be able to see instantly if they’re happy or sad, there won’t be any hiding of feelings. I realise that this will put everyone involved in the duster trade out of business because we’ll all have our own built-in duster but I think that’s a small price to pay for enhanced communication.

octopus

Actually, I’ve been thinking about this a bit more and have decided upon a few more improvements. I really don’t understand why we only have two arms and hands, I’d be much more productive with six or even eight arms …chat on the phone, use two keyboards at same time and scratch my bits all at the same time…and when it comes to rumpy-pumpy..well……….

Plus I’ve decided it would be really useful to have a USB port built in, this would make life simpler for a variety of ways, for starters I’d never lose my tunes, I’d just upload them into my noggin…and then files, documents, photos..all uploaded into my massive brain…but the really important function would be to connect to another person and have that complete connection, being able to communicate feeling and emotions completely without inaccurate words getting in the way…. and the icing on the cake, when I’m knackered I could just plug myself into a wall socket and recharge myself… win-win! You heard it here first God!