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The struggle to be here now

Resolution

I don’t really do resolutions. I’ve found that whenever my ambitions or intentions are pinned to some kind of temporary condition, such as the new year, they are more likely to fail. I think that, if you really want to achieve something, you shouldn’t need to wait until the start of a new year to make them happen. Of course, the beginning of a new year is a natural time to reflect… BUT I DIGRESS

I’ve been making long-term plans, and find myself dreaming of the future. The danger with making plans is that you can easily end up living in the future, feeling that your future is what you want, and your present is unacceptable or unimportant. And if you spend large chunks of your life dreaming about ‘tomorrow’ then you never get to enjoy today, and today is your life. So unless we remember to focus on today, and live in the moments, then we aren’t really living. A lifetime could pass without you ever being there.

So if I have any resolution at all, it’s to live for today, and to enjoy each day.


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Learning to ride a road bike (long distances)

EJ learning to ride her bike.

I’m a beginner. It’s fun to be a beginner. You can screw up and nobody cares. You can ask a million ‘stupid’ questions and it’s fine, because you aren’t supposed to know the answer yet.

I’m a beginner at road cycling. Last weekend I joined a cycling club for one of their weekly club rides. I learnt a few interesting things quite quickly:

  • My saddle was too high.
  • My handlebars need to be adjusted to prevent my arms from being locked out.
  • Energy gels are okay but I need some real food to power me through a 50-mile ride.
  • The water in my bottle should have some energy-carbohydrate-powder added to it.
  • An Ordnance Survey map is essential.
  • I should charge my Tesco VX1 Party Phone the day before the ride.
  • Spare tubes are no good without a pump (I didn’t puncture BTW)

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Giving up caffeine: the bastard caffeine withdrawal

For some reason that I can’t remember I decided to give up caffeine. I’d been gently reducing my caffeine intake for a while, thinking that regular cups of coffee and tea might be causing my nocturnal fidgets. But then I stopped completely, and experienced nine days of constant headache. A buzzing, rumbling cancer of a headache.

Drugs

Withdrawing from caffeine made me think (again) about society’s mixed-up thinking on drugs. Our society thinks it quite okay for nearly every adult human to be completely addicted to a powerful stimulant. A powerful stimulant that gives you a nine-day headache when you stop taking it. And when all of those wired adults want to wind down, our society advises a powerful depressant drug, drunk in great glassfuls. Have a few beers, a bottle of wine or some gin and let your brain melt into your knickers.

We can medicate our moods with stimulants and depressants of one kind, but not another. Addicts of one kind are called you and me, but addicts of another kind are called junkies and criminals. It’s just bloody odd.


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Glorious Terrorism: The Joy of Bloody Violence

Peace (?)

I am a terrorist sympathiser. Now let me back-track: I’m not really a terrorist sympathiser, because I don’t think that terrorists should kill people. And actually all I have is sympathy for people who are so frequently oppressed, abused and silenced that they can only seek solace in terror.

No people should kill people, whatever their ‘justification’. And no people should oppress another people, whatever their reason.

Terrorists are very angry people. Nobody decides to blow themselves up without a good bellyful of outrage to help them depress the detonator. So the funny thing about our War on Terror is that we try to solve the problem of very angry people by sending our angry people (the military) to deal with them. It’s really weird actually, because if someone was angry with me, or intent on hurting me, I would want to know why, and I would try to resolve any conflict with communication before I ever threw a punch.

So why do Western societies tackle terrorists with extreme violence, rather than with calm diplomacy? Why do we throw hate upon hate? Bombing people who are already oppressed, downtrodden and fired up for Jihad just breeds more terrorists, so why do we do it?

Glourious Terrorism

I watched Inglourious Basterds yesterday and was surprised at my delight when the fictional band of Allied soldiers began hunting Nazis. The good guys were going after the oppressor, the abusive, violent Nazi scum, and it was almost heart-warming to behold.

Inglourious Basterds leads you to sympathise with terrorists; the Basterds are undoubtedly terrorists: they explicitly choose to commit horrifically violent crimes; murders so bloody and wicked that the Nazis speak of them in awe, in terror.

Because the Nazis are so completely awful, it seems acceptable for the Basterds to murder and mutilate them. The viewer watching Inglourious Basterds can cheer on their crimes, knowing that, however wrong, the bad guy is getting his comeuppance. But I wonder if this is how some Muslims feel when an Islamic terrorist commits a murder.

Have we become, in the eyes of some people, no better than the Nazis?

Speaking to Terrorists

We have a rule that we must not speak to terrorists. We can bomb them, but we can’t speak to them. We fought the IRA, but after many years of fighting, nothing changed. So we spoke more, and eventually the fighting stopped.
One day, perhaps many years from now, after all the bombs have been dropped and the guns are out of bullets, we’ll chat about our differences, see how we can live together, and stop terrorising each other.


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Exercise motivation: finding the motivation to go to the gym

Here are my tips* for getting yourself to go to the gym (or whatever form of exercise you prefer).

I’ve spent years struggling to do things – such as exercising or eating well or not smoking, so it was a revelation to discover that I could (occasionally) control myself!

Anyway, here’s what worked for me:

Power your will

1. Focus on the goal, not the process.

Some people drag themselves through gym classes, thinking about the act of exercising, but exercise is one of those things that demands one foot in the future. Don’t be here now; be tomorrow then. Think of tomorrow. Think how fine your body will feel after exercise. You’re tuning the machine. You’re letting your body’s engine roar, and tomorrow you’ll feel better. Today’s trip to the gym is much more than just a trip to the gym, it’s part of a  lifetime of well-being.

2. Stop telling yourself that you hate exercise.

Why do you hate exercise? Your body is designed to move. To restrict your body is the unnatural thing. Running like a human animal, engaged in a chase, the hunt, fleeing danger; that’s what we’re made for.

3. Just do

People who want to do something often make weak promises, saying things like:

“I’m planning on not drinking this week.”

“I’m aiming for two gym sessions this week.”

“I’m probably going to run today.”

Right. We can all see the intrinsic flaws in these statements. There’s no commitment. There’s a big escape route left in every promise.

So if you’re going to exercise, just say you’re going to exercise. And just do it. Decide to do something, and do exactly that thing. Don’t make vague deals with yourself; decide what you’re going to do and do exactly that.

Sticking to personal promises is addictive. Once you start doing it you’ll find it hard to stop. And once the momentum kicks in you’ll find it impossible to stop.

4. Savour the feelings afterwards.

Okay, so you’ve just done it: you’ve exercised. Good work. How do you feel? You probably feel tired, elated, relaxed, spent, exhausted. That’s good. You’ve wiped away your stress, given yourself a better chance of sleeping well and started something big. Think about tomorrow. Tomorrow you’ll feel better for having exercised today.

When you feel changes in your body, make sure you consciously connect them to your increased exercise. You know what you owe for these good feelings. Your mood is more balanced, your heart beat more tranquil, your complexion more sunny – you owe this to exercise. When you recognise and value the changes that exercise brings you, it becomes impossible to stop exercising because you know that if you stop, so too will the good feelings.

5. Correct your false beliefs.

People have some funny ideas about exercise. Make sure you don’t fall for any crazy ideas…

Exercise makes you tired. No; being unfit makes you tired; exercise gives you energy. If you’re tired, don’t have a nap, go for a run.  So when you’re feeling lethargic, run around the block.

Exercise is a punishment. No it isn’t. Being unable to play football with your teenage children is a punishment.

Exercise is the last thing you need after a hard day. Actually it’s the first thing you need. The last thing you need after a stressful day is a big glass of wine. If you want to reset your stress clock and set yourself up for a good night’s sleep and a happy outlook tomorrow, go to the gym.

6. Say nice things about yourself.

Never say things like:

“I’m not the sort of person who exercises.”

“I’m shit at sports.”

“I should be in the pub.”

You may feel a natural inclination to deprecate your achievements, but don’t. Don’t reduce the power of your improvements with false modesty.

7. Bottle your self-loathing.

By self-loathing I mean all the bad thoughts you have about yourself. The loathing, the resentment, the doubts, the fears. Every time you sigh at your reflection, every time you eat the cake you were supposed to avoid, every time you dream about being fitter and healthier, every time you notice a new wrinkle or roll, put that bad energy in a special place.

And when you’re struggling to persuade yourself to go to the gym, go to that special place, lift up the lid, poke in your nose and inhale deeply. That is why you’re doing it. This is why you are going to the gym right now.

In times of weakness, remind yourself of why this matters to you.

8. Write down and share your commitment

Write down exactly what you’re going to do: when, where and how you’re going to exercise. Now give this promise to a person that you admire. The best person to share it with is someone you want to impress, or someone who you would hate to disappoint. Explain your intentions and ask the recipient to ask you for regular progress reports.

This is a kind of self-entrapment, but if you really want to do something, what are you afraid of?

Related blog post: Writing things down to get things done

 

*I must point out that I am far from perfect. I eat too much cake, drink lots of beer, enjoy pop music and can be deeply sarcastic. This post is, in many ways, a reminder to myself to be used in times of weakness!


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My Name is Asher Lev: a short book review

Jacob Kahn in gevecht met 'n wit doek

My Name is Asher Lev is a story about the battle between a deeply religious man and his artistic son.

The boy’s art is seen as pointless and silly. The boy is faithful, but he can’t deny his talent.

Time passes, and father and son grow slowly apart, with the mother caught between two people she loves.

The book culminates with the boy, now a young man, painting a crucifix. Now this painting of a crucifix is a big deal. Deeply Jewish people do not normally paint crucifixes, mainly because it’s the symbol of christians, and christians and Jews have a history of… urm, issues.

My Name is Asher Lev is a fantastic book, which I’m not doing justice to here, but the book troubled me in one respect, because it demands an appreciation of this blasphemy, the outrage of Asher’s painting of a crucifix. You have to get on board with their observant Jewish lifestyle, and get just how significant Asher’s painting is.

I was doing quite well, and was feeling moved by the story, but I would occasionally slip out of the story and feel puzzled beyond words that:

  1. Some people fashion their hair into twirly curls because they think an entity they’ve never seen wants them to.
  2. Some people worship a man who may have died on a cross many years ago because they believe he’s the son of a god.
  3. The rival groups are so tortured over each other that to adopt the imagery of one cult by another (for a painting) is an intolerable ‘blasphemy’ that threatens to rip a family apart.
  4. That people choose to shackle themselves to belief systems, even when they bring misery.

So yes, Asher Lev is a great book, but sometimes it was hard to understand the intensity of the situations, mainly because I don’t do faith – at least not faith in the supernatural.


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1986 Raleigh Record Sprint – My new bike

Me on my red BMX

I’ve been a keen cyclist ever since I was a child. I started with a little red BMX, then went on to a GT Interceptor that I thrashed around the neighbourhood on – skidding the tyres to ribbons and slipping across frozen rivers (this was somewhere in Kansas), until it was stolen from outside Truesdell Middle School. Bastards.

We moved from Wichita to Uckfield, England. I remained bike-less for a while, borrowing my friend’s mum’s Raleigh Lizard mountain bike (thanks Birgit!) for occasional outings. Then, I rediscovered BMX, first with an old chrome Torker that I struggled to fit a Gyro to, then with a GT Performer.

Eventually age and practicality got the better of me, and I bought a Giant Rock SE (mountain bike). And we had such fun! We rode to work, through Buxted Park, over hills and across Ashdown Forest. I bunny-hopped up curbs and flew over mud humps. I completed the London to Brighton on her, in a relatively fast time (considering I was on a mountain bike). Then some git nicked her from outside our flat on Third Avenue, Hove.

Again, I remained bike-less for a while. Then, my thoughtful in-laws gave me a shiny pink mountain bike for my 30th. Although the bike developed some catastrophic faults, it rekindled my interest in cycling.

So I scoured Gumtree and found a Mongoose Rockadile. And what fun we’ve had! Together we’ve explored the South Downs, whizzed through city traffic and travelled to countless meetings.  But all this city riding has made me yearn for more speed, less friction and something sleeker.

Update: some bastard stole the Mongoose.

The Raleigh Record Sprint

Raleigh Record Sprint
So I wanted a road/racing bike, but they’re not cheap. And having never ridden a racing bike, I was reluctant to spend £500 on something I might not like. So I scoured eBay, looking for a clean old racing bike.

It’s not easy to find a reasonably-priced classic racing bike at the moment, because there is a trend for converting these old bikes into fixed-wheel rides. So the prices are higher than they should be.

Anyway, eventually I found her: a 1986 Raleigh Record Sprint, in pristine condition. She’s spent most of the past 23 years in a loft, protected from decay by a coat of grease.

When I collected the bike, the original owner was clearly sad to see her go. He actually said, “bye bike,” and watched us walk up the stairs to the train platform.


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Father and Son – a book recommendation

MS0700_1949_H_Biography_JS

I’m reading Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, and want to recommend it to you.

Father and Son is an autobiography that records a boy’s upbringing in a puritanical household.

The father, Philip Gosse, was one of the blindly faithful, a sombre fellow who recorded his son’s birth with this emotionally-vacant entry in his journal:

E. delivered of a son. Received green swallow from Jamaica.

Rejecting Darwin

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is that Philip Gosse was a prominent marine biologist, and was approached by Darwin and his supporters in search of support for their new theory.

Philip Gosse struggled to reconcile his fundamental faith in the Bible with Darwin’s theory of evolution, so he rejected it and wrote a book that expounded an alternative theory. He believed that his book, his ‘Omphalos’ would ‘bring all the turmoil of scientific speculation to a close’ and ‘fling geology into the arms of Scripture’. But:

…alas! atheists and Christians alike looked at it, and laughed, and threw it away.


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Soup without noodles: betrayal, broken promises and Sainsbury’s

Mendota Sushi
If you buy chicken noodle soup, you’re probably the sort of person who likes chicken and noodles in soup. More than that, you’re probably the sort of person who – without being unreasonable – would expect their chicken noodle soup to contain chicken and noodles.

I was recently very ill. On top of a severe bout of manflu I had a tickly cough and a slightly inflamed toe. Seeking comfort and convenience, I turned to soup. A tin of Sainsbury’s Chicken Noodle Soup seemed to provide all the answers to my health questions.

But I was to be disappointed. My “chicken noodle soup” contained microscopic fragments of chicken, but NO NOODLES!

Clearly, the rubicon has been crossed. No wonder the Guardian is offering tips to survive an apocalypse. What does society have left if even soup is telling lies? There are no standards. The Daily Mail is right: Britain is broken.

(Picture courtesy of Karmalize)


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Monarchs – What are They Good For?

I’ve often wondered about the purpose of having a monarch, particularly when they don’t do anything and just cost lots of money. But, given the tourism value of our monarchy, I’ve always thought it was wise to let them be. They earn their keep, even if they are an embarrassing anachronism.

Today I read that Prince Harry has been filmed using racist language, and I wonder why we persist with an institution that is essentially a bizarre family, running rampant, funded by taxpayers who increasingly can’t afford it.

So here’s a little debate on the monarchy.

For:

Tourists love the British royal family (allegedly). Tourism is good for the economy; ergo, royal family is good for Britain. (In reality, only one royal residence makes the top 20 list of tourist attractions [according to Republic] and the town of Windsor’s favourite attraction is Legoland, not Windsor Castle.)

Against:

The royal family cost £150m £40m a year – money that could pay for a 8792 a few new nurses or 15 half a schools.

Our monarch serves no real purpose, other than to attract tourists, a job she’s not very good at.

The royal family are frequently the source of international embarrassment. Whether it’s Diana’s jet-set philandering, Harry’s racist remarks, Charles’ chatting to plants, Fergie being herself or Prince Philip’s racist remarks, the royals don’t improve Britain’s reputation.

The royal family are an anachronism. We didn’t stick to beheading just because it was traditional.

Summary

It’s time to sack the royal family.

(Picture of the Royle Family courtesy of the Guardian)


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The Guillotines – A rather rampant racket

Have you heard The Guillotines?

An old friend of mine is in this band. If you like music that’s out of control, with shivering saxophones and wailing guitars, I politely suggest that you listen to them.

(Picture courtesy of D Casey)


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My oh my oh myoclonic jerks

Mother Tongue: The English Language by Bill Bryson is full of wonderful facts. I recommend it. And I must thank Bill for doing me a huge favour: he’s given me the words to describe an affliction that I’ve struggled with for years: this wicked, involuntary jerking in bed at night- hang on, that doesn’t sound quite right… when falling asleep I often have a kind of giant bodily spasm- no, no, not like that. It’s like a big flinch. Like waking up by falling out of bed. You know what I mean.

Anyway, this phenomenon is known as a myoclonic jerk. I get myoclonic jerks. Do you?

(Cute puppy picture courtesy of Yukari*)


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Are you a fiction blogger?

If you write fiction that is posted anywhere on the net, let me know and I may well add you to my links.

Any kind of fiction is okay – including horror, science-fiction, speculative fiction, romance, steam-punk, cyber-punk, electro-punk, funk-punk, crunk-punk, historical, fantasy, historical romance, erotica, super-hero, gothic, fan-fiction and historical horror.

I’ll also link to poet’s websites – so if you’re a poet drop me a line and I may well add you to my links.

Over time I’d like to have a directory of fiction and poetry blogs to share with my readers. Nothing fancy- just a list of links.


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Death Widget – what the world needs now?

A couple of years ago I read an amazing book. It was thrilling and terrifying and made me look at life in a new way. It is The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker.

Ernest Becker believed that people are massively affected by their fear of their own death:

“The knowledge of death is reflective and conceptual, and animals are spared it. They live and they disappear with the same thoughtlessness: a few minutes of fear, a few seconds of anguish, and it is over. But to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one’s dreams and even the most sun-filled days- that’s something else.”

(more…)


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Deodorising the Destitute

On a recent trip to Paris, I was touched by this scene of tenderness and cooperation:

A hoary, malodorous hobo bumbled into an upmarket perfumery in St Germaine. A haughty sales assistant marched toward him- presumably to turf him out.

But rather than nudging the homeless man out the door, the lady plucked a perfume from the immaculate glass shelves and liberally doused him with scent. The homeless man stood quite still, smiling serenely, enjoying the attention, the intimacy, the tendresse.

Adequately refreshed, he thanked the girl and left.

The lovely thing about this moment was the inferred routine – this man, possibly the best-smelling tramp in Europe, was clearly a regular.

(Picture courtesy of Pedro Simoes)


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Ulysses made me do a bad thing…

I did something very usual. I read half of Ulysses, eventually succumbing to my hatred for the book.

Ulysses is awful. I read half of it, hated every word, and was eventually persuaded to stop reading it. Why read a book that you don’t like?

I know that Ulysses is full of jokes and clever references and devices, but I don’t care. I couldn’t read it and get anything from it. I’ve yet to meet anyone that has finished Ulysses, let alone enjoyed it. It seems that Ulysses is most suited to academics, who can spend their lives picking apart Joyce’s trivial game. For those who just want to read, rather than study, books, I recommend something other than Ulysses.

Only reading half of Ulysses was a first for me. Before Ulysses I finished every book that I started (as an adult). Now, having accepted the notion that life is short and my time better spent reading books I understand and enjoy, I can’t stop stopping!

Here are the books that I’ve recently abandoned:

  • This Book Will Save Your Life – A.M. Homes
  • The Bone People – Keri Hulme
  • Rabbit, Run – John Updike
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

So, what do you think? Is it better to abandon books you don’t enjoy, or should you persevere and see how they end?

(Picture courtesy of Benny Lin)


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The struggle to be here now

I don’t really do resolutions. I’ve found that...
article post

Learning to ride a road bike (long distances)

I’m a beginner. It’s fun to be a beginner. You...
article post

Giving up caffeine: the bastard caffeine withdrawal

For some reason that I can’t remember I decided to give...
article post

Glorious Terrorism: The Joy of Bloody Violence

I am a terrorist sympathiser. Now let me back-track:...
article post

Exercise motivation: finding the motivation to go to the gym

Here are my tips* for getting yourself to go to the gym (or...
article post

My Name is Asher Lev: a short book review

My Name is Asher Lev is a story about the battle between a...
article post

1986 Raleigh Record Sprint – My new bike

I’ve been a keen cyclist ever since I was a child. I...
article post

Father and Son – a book recommendation

I’m reading Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, and want...
article post

Soup without noodles: betrayal, broken promises and Sainsbury’s

If you buy chicken noodle soup, you’re probably the...
article post

Monarchs – What are They Good For?

I’ve often wondered about the purpose of having a...
article post

The Guillotines – A rather rampant racket

Have you heard The Guillotines? An old friend of mine is in...
article post

My oh my oh myoclonic jerks

Mother Tongue: The English Language by Bill Bryson is full...
article post

Are you a fiction blogger?

If you write fiction that is posted anywhere on the net, let...
article post

Death Widget – what the world needs now?

A couple of years ago I read an amazing book. It was...
article post

Deodorising the Destitute

On a recent trip to Paris, I was touched by this scene of...
article post

Ulysses made me do a bad thing…

I did something very usual. I read half of Ulysses,...
article post