I sat cross legged looking up at Jesus. His arms were held out palms up and he did not look well - his skin was shiny and his beard was matted and unkempt. He was also unsteady on his feet, beside which sat loafs of bread and a few fish. Suddenly the light was sucked from the air and darkness descended. Nothing, I couldn't even see Jesus anymore. Suddenly there was a glimmer of light - the door opened a fraction more and Prideesh flicked on the light switch: “Why are you sitting on the floor?” I looked down at the box in my hand, back up at Jesus who had now reappeared and then at the good lady, silhouetted by the hallway light. “Jesus doesn't work!” I replied.
“Give me that!” she held out her hand and I reached forward, handing her the box. Her lips moved as she silently read the glossy words printed on the cardboard and then stepped into the room. She closed the door and flicked off the light switch - dark descended once more. We waited - nothing.
“You're right”, she said, flicking back on the light: “Jesus doesn't work. Do you want a cup of tea?” I nodded in the affirmative and she handed me the box before leaving the room. It had promised: 'The Ultimate Jesus Action Figure'. In big luminous letters at a diagonal to the main title were the words: “With glow in the dark hands!” I felt very disappointed, but I guess, should not have been surprised.
It is an unfortunate aside that since returning from Fort William and the resulting onset of frenzied storytelling, the blog element of this site has been neglected and at one stage was even replaced by the stories that resulted from this time. But having been badgered by nearly half of this sites regular readership on the need for more blogging and to move the stories elsewhere, I have decided to take their advice - which I am sure will please them both no end.
October 2006 was however a great time for me, something in my mind clicked in the realm of storytelling. I think as a whole it was the combination of Lolita and Great Gatsby. Somehow these two melded to create a fusion of words (Gatsby) and irreverence to standard forms of storytelling (Lolita) which just sprung me free from the confines of my percieved literary forms. Suddenly there really was no limit to which I could write, all I had to do was write it down.
During the remainder of October, November and December I manufactured more words of fiction than I had during the whole of 2006 (discounting corporate emails) and this stuff was on the verge of being good... well it was decent but compared to everything else I had produced it was good, especially with my evolving understanding through the mistakes I was making on the requirement for storytelling and urmmnn grammar.
So apart from frenzied storytelling which is a rough explanation for why there were few journals, living life has been the order of the day. That of course and Christmas: there in lay my double conundrum. Firstly I am a devout atheist which probably says all about Christmas through my eyes that you need to know. The conundrum being that for the first time I had actually come up with a good and original idea for the good lady's present. Eventually I decided that wrapping a bandanna around my head on Christmas morning and declaring my atheist ideals shortly before ripping open the carefully considered and beautifully wrapped presents of Prideesh, to be a little churlish. So it was that I ended up down the trophy shop in Reading and said present was received with very much joy and excitement.
About April time last year (2006), which I do not believe I recorded to any detail in any forum at the time, myself and three friends, who had been thrown together out of our unifying qualities - of being single or almost single, or desperately bored of our own company. Decided to start a book club - the book4.
As with all such things we started with a flurry of reading which encompassed 1984. Over the next eight months we also read: The story of 'o', Nausea, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Lolita and the current tome: 100 years of solitude, which you would correctly conclude is a pretty sorry return for almost one years worth of reading endeavour. But as with all things that involve a number of humans, reading has been plagued by all things human. We have been hindered by: divorce, relationships (within and outside of the book4), friendships (within and outside the book4), issues of conception and the requirement of asexual human reproduction (which seems rather complicated), holidays and the general run of the mill social commitments that sparsely populate your average cluster of thirty something diaries.
Amongst these social endeavours have been my semi regular trips to Riley's in Reading with the Irish. American pool was something I played extensively while working out in Singapore and something I have not played since, although English pool is something I do on irregular intervals. I like to think given a following wind I am a good pool player and at all times that do not involve a following wind I am a decent player, sometimes the wind blows against me.
Despite being work colleagues that sit opposite sides of a desk, I also like to think of me and the Irish as friends. He may disagree but that's his prerogative. That's how I see these pool excursions: two mates off to play pool and I love it. Irish as he will probably attest is usually only an intermittent communicator, much more often preferring the company of Linux which to be honest, given those that he is surrounded by in the workplace is not always an entirely unappealing option. For my mind though, the beauty of these pool trips is that somehow everything gets left behind, these nights are about playing pool, having a few beers, getting miffed because the other guy is playing well, getting miffed because your playing rubbish and just having a good bit of banter. On the way home you kick a few lampposts, wave goodbye on the platform and look forward to the next excursion where you avow revenge.
Riley's in Reading is a great place. It's set just 400 yards down from the town centre on Oxford Road and a 15 minute walk from the station (ten minute stride if your trotting behind the Irish). Joining is cheap and when we swore allegiance also incorporated a pool cue for just under a tenner. Once you have brought your drinks in the bar, got your balls and chosen your table it's a matter of walking down into the pool hall. This is a fantastic place, seldom when I walk down the steps does the buzz fail to get me. Roughly 12 tables line up in three rows, large TV's adorn each corner and each TV is crammed full of fast edits and lots of bare flesh, all in the name of music video. Beside each TV and in many other places are a cornucopia of speakers, although, the balance between being able to hear each other talk and tub thumping tunes is, I would say, just about right.
We normally get the table in the far corner, rack up the balls, pop our drinks onto the shelves and without much ado get down to business.
Irish and I are pretty much level pegging, although with different attributes on the pool playing front, which I can assure you makes our trips very interesting. This in the main is what I love about playing pool with the Irish: the competition. There is little I would not do to avoid losing and that is pretty much how it falls for him as well. After about eight frames either of us is usually never more than two frames behind and every frame is usually down to the black, or a mad rush of positioning and skulduggery while you attempt to outwit each other and pot the remaining balls to get on the black. By the time we resume after burger and chips (delivered to the table) it's very often tied and the final five or seven frames can be fairly taught affairs, especially as we pass that golden phase where alcohol makes your pool intuition almost supernatural, and we vie for that one frame that will give us the unspoken bragging rights on the journey home and during the few occasions we glance over at each other the next day. Great fun.
I think everyone has an acquaintance or a friend that likes to send out Friday emails. You know - the sort that arrive laden with images of Asians carrying a lorry load on the back of a scooter, people standing precariously on piled boxes trying to fix electronics over a swimming pool, occasionally funny power point presentations that contain images of boozed up Geordies compared against 'apres ski' or some moralistic diatribe on how we should lead our lives against all adversity.
In an average week I receive, both professionally and privately approximately 700 emails. I would say about 500 or so of these are valid correspondence that I will in some way digest, act on and then move on. Of the remaining 200 I would say 150 are mails that get past the spam filters of Hotmail and the corporate mail systems which I invariably need to check and make sure some well meaning human has not generated a genuine correspondence cunningly disguised as a spam mail – which happens more often than you would believe.
The remaining 50 emails are similar to those that I outlined at the beginning: images, power point presentations, humour and moral messages. Each one of these 50 emails will invariably contain a very long list of recipients in the addressee field as each sender of these emails can usually demonstrate a wide social circle of people that seem willing to receive such emails.
It is not surprising then that I will quite often receive the same email multiple times, which consequently takes the shine off the humour and tends to expose the messages of humanity and good will for what they really are - trite rubbish lifted from old copies of watchtower.
So ... my dear sender of Friday emails, if you are going to send me any such bundles, as you invariably do. That contain humour and humanity and a long list of those you judge as friends and acquaintances. Please do not be surprised if on occasion one of your packages of images or presentations pushes me over the edge and I take it upon myself to click the 'respond to all' button and enlighten your long list of friends and acquaintances on my particular feelings towards, in most instances, your trite moral message.
If you wish to avoid such actions on my part you could either put your long list of recipients into the BC (blind copy) field, which means I will not be able to burden your long list of wide eyed friends with my frustrations, or preferably, remove me from this long list. I am sure I will be able to cope with just the other 49 copies of the same email I already have.
If I were to say to you I do not play games, I would of course mean in the sense of computer games and this would in the main be true. However, like any modern male I do have a need to let off aggressive steam, for which I have a copy of Quake4 and Half Life2 installed on my computer – these usually suffice in the realm of sitting down and blowing stuff to bits.
The truth of the matter is that I don't generally do games because most modern games are so complex you almost need 48 hour days to fit in trivialities such as time for ones nearest and dearest, and wage earning for the benefit of ongoing lifestyle, not to mention mortgage - alongside the finer details of space fleet command.
That is not to say though that I do not go into computer shops and wish I had the time to do this but as a rule I stay away from the games sections because the pangs can be almost too much, despite that which experience has taught me.
Therein lays my problem. There are a few words in the English dictionary that always seem to loiter on the very edges of my vernacular and conscious, I think because I seem to have so little time for them - moderation for instance is one such. The problem I have then is not that I do not like immersive games, it is just that I know I cannot afford to indulge myself because my brain has supplanted moderation with behaviour such as obsessive and compulsive.
In the past this has manifested as a year long addiction to Championship Manager (Football Manager in modern parlance) in which I gloriously took Ipswich Town from the first division and won over ten seasons; the FA Cup twice, the Champions League once, the super cup thrillingly with nine men and an extra time winner that sent this player into raptures, the UEFA Cup twice and Premiership runners up three times and champions twice. I could mention the time I rocked up at fathers to find him with brand spankin new playstation and Tiger Woods 2004, got beat by six strokes and spent eighteen straight hours of the subsequent day and night at home with newly acquired Tiger Woods 2004 on playstation perfecting my skills. I could go on.
As such, the result of a minds weakness yesterday (Sunday), was finding myself walking home from the town centre with a little plastic bag emblazoned with 'Game' clutched tightly in my right hand. The bag contained – all for under a total £20 – Prince of Persia :Sands of Time, Hitman 2, Black and White 2, and Homeworld 2 - enough gaming content in ordinary circumstances to last me roughly 18 months.
Prince of Persia at this time remains unopened. Hitman 2 lasted about as long as it took me to take out some guy delivering a bunch of flowers and stealthily crawl around the destination mansion hidden behind said flowers and on tender hooks for the slightest sniff of a baddie. At which point Prideesh thought it would be hugely funny to creep into the room and had me screaming my fat head off because I somehow thought a baddie had sneaked up and tapped me on the shoulder. All a little too much and Hitman was abandoned for the time being. Black and White (the original) was a 'god' game which I loved but slowly lost interest in the more strategy and intricate management you needed just to keep your furry little god running around and maintaining order. Black and White 2 (BW2) is much the same and seemed pretty interesting (to me) as they had supplanted fictional places with historic Greece - cool. That is until I had to do the boulder throwing challenge, which I couldn't. In the original this was not a problem, but despite throwing f*!&k$£!$n boulders for over an hour - do you think I could hit the target? Could I heck as like. So, deciding that no god is really worth his salt if he can't throw stuff I moved onto Homeworld2.
I never played the original Homeworld for the reasons I explained in the first paragraph but lots of people liked it. Homeworld2 (HM2) is a space strategy game and a perfect example of the deeply immersive world that I try to avoid - this is why:
I sit here now on a Monday night having spent almost all of my free hours since installing HM2 (which is roughly 17) learning how to battle immeasurable odds, manufacture fleets of attack craft, destroyers, collect resources, research methods for improving my ships and their attack capability and deploying these in a manner that one would hope would wipe out the relentless forces that sweep down upon my mothership. Of course what usually happens is that just as I am building up my fleet and starting to look like I know what's what, the evil hordes come along and blow up the mothership and I am left pondering the shortcomings of my opening strategy, lack of strategy during gameplay and the naive ease with which the computer running in 'easy' wiped me out. A quick cup of coffee and some deliberation is usually enough to heal the wounds of defeat and with new strategy devised, usually with some amount of website research completed, I approach the emergence of my new mothership with some hope. Repeat above process as required into the very early hours.
I think I am over the hump now though. Right now there is absolutely no desire for me to restart the game because I have just come out of an hour long monumental battle that I lost despite finally grasping the concept of in game research and super empowering my craft and tactically outflanking the baddies with my destroyers and vapourising what I thought was their mother ship (It obviously wasn't otherwise the game must be cheating, which I have only just ruled out). In doing so I used my whole fleet or bombers, gunships, destroyers and interceptors which left me vulnerable and open to counter attacks via hyperspace. The later being a technology I had not even bothered researching due to its complex nature and lost the game to the sound of groaning superstructure as my mother ship once more imploded.
Hopefully over the next few days the game, much like X2 circa June 2005, will run its course and I will be able to get back to the things that I should be doing like the creative writing assignments and reading.
Last Saturday and before the purchase of games mentioned in the previous blog I visited the wrinklies for the usual discussion on all the things we find interesting; god, including a discussion on who created god if he created us; evolution, natural selection, religion, chaos theories, and differing social and cultural attitudes between our generations. All interwoven around pops lamenting his inability to beat me at Tiger Woods golf once again, this time for the newly devised 36 hole 'Annual Potter Challenge Trophy'. We really do have fun!
You will also be pleased to note that I managed my first victory in Homeworld 2 last night, beating the oppressive forces with a dazzling display of resource and research management. Victory was attained via the time honoured strategy of chewing up all the universes resources and building the biggest and bestest my researched technology could offer. This did mean that as the evil hordes sent in their first wave of strike craft I only had six platforms of Ion cannons strategically positioned around my mother ship but these did serve as a worthy fail safe while I urgently manufactured and scrambled some advanced interceptor craft which saw off the remnants of this initial attack.
Intensive research had also revealed to me the wonder that is the battlecruiser of which two, enabled with 'hyperjump' I deployed and used to protect my mining resources supported by a very capable fleet or strike craft. The oppressive forces were then almost wiped out in their attempts to disrupt my precious mining facilities. The only trouble being that I had trouble locating their mother ship which had carefully cloaked somewhere in the solar system. It was only when one of my mining vessels flew past the cloaked ship and was disintegrated for its troubles that their location was revealed and all forces including my two battlecruiser's hyperjumped right beside their ship. After a monumental Star Wars type space battle between these great behemoths that stood toe to toe, with the surrounding space a quagmire of battle strike craft and bursts of flame, the battle was won and the nefarious enemy defeated.
Last night shortly after this great victory yours truly hopped onto the 18:54 from Newbury into Reading and soon found myself in Rileys for the monthly pool visit, which also happened to coincide with the start of the new local league season. Meaning we had to wait 30 minutes for a table. During this time we found that the new girl behind the bar that had started just before Christmas and seemed to carry the world on her rounded shoulders with attitude and work ethic to match - had somehow magically transformed into the smiling, witty and efficient employee that could not do enough to help and just make life easy for us the customer. All very unexpected but strangely pleasing. Unfortunately the wind was blowing against me in the pool playing stakes despite a promising start and I lost to the Irish. Saw a really good band on the video jukebox playing on all the TV's which turned out to be the Foo Fighters. Should have known they were not a new band from their fresh raw sound.
About this time every year it occurs to me, usually as I stand in front of a mirror, that the winter months have not been kind to me. That is to say, I tend to hibernate in the winter and encouraged by all sorts of nocturnal instincts tend to add a few pounds to this writers lithe, usually athletic frame.
As such come March I often find myself drawing up gym schedules and working on carefully planned eating regimes in an attempt to lose a few extra curves - this year six bloody kilos worth of extra curves. Keep an eye out for updates, things need to change. Last thing I need is having to bustle through the summer in a sweaty Hurley fashion.
Of the good things about the winter, paramount is not feeling any guilt for staying home and doing all the things I love to do; reading, watching the odd DVD, catching up on Lost episodes and writing.
As such you will be very pleased to know that I have churned out another stunning piece of prose under the guise of the 'Arry biography'. This one charts the considerable downs and the occasional up encountered during a visit to Provo, Utah way back in 2005. Not a word of the story was mentioned at the time in this blog because it was all just a little too traumatic, but it is now recorded, in all its glory. It is titled 'The Key' for reasons that will become obvious if you ever find yourself reading it, which you can do from here.
Watched Lost series three episode eight tonight (S03E08). I could cry. Not because of Desmond's deuce in the lost love stakes, but because the writers of the series finally showed their hand.
The opening sequence of the Lost pilot and the very first series was something that only came to me in the weeks that proceeded the end of 2006. I watched every single episode of season one transfixed over a period of three days.
Then came series two. As the season one end credits rolled up the screen I literally got up and marched to HMV and brought the season two DVD boxset. I had been warned that series two was a little hard to get into but nobody said it would take eighteen damn episodes. But it did, we had some highlights of course - there was Echo, the other forty four days and a passing interest in what drives Sawyer along with some good old biblical mythology. We had the bunker and the infernal computer of course but we spent so little of the whole series there and so much of it in flashback I started to think .. Ok ... so they are stalling for time because they lost the plot or are dragging it all out to prolong the franchise.
And then we have series three! Finally island story progression but a reiteration of the proverb 'be careful what you wish for' – all of sudden we have the others in all their glory, Sayid and Jin hanging out of trees while we are all shouting 'don't leave the boat!' Sawyer and Kate doing the Cha Cha Cha in a Polar Bear cage and Jack doing god knows what (that's meant to be a pun) with Ben.
I started to think that whoever was writing all this hocum had really run themselves down a mythological dark alley about episode six of series two, but tonight in episode eight of series three it was confirmed.
It seems fitting that we start from the end of the S03E08 and work back through time. We start with Desmond, drunk on a very expensive whiskey that costs per gulp more than a man earns in a month (we are told in the episode in a flashback/forward) which has been consumed in a session instigated by Charlie and Hurley on the Island because Desmond has had another one of his flash forwards in which he saw Claire drowning and then saved her.
The only trouble is that as the forty minutes come to a close we find out that he wasn't saving Claire, he was saving Charlie and as the whole episode spent a great deal of time telling us, destiny is unalterable.
Fair dues, Charlie could and probably will die unless Jack can pull a magical cure on a time continuum scale out of his bag. But I have to say I am little confused on the whole 'Charlie was supposed to drown rescuing Claire scenario'. For a start, as we are shown earlier in the episode, Charlie was stood right next to Desmond, Lock, Sayid and Hurley, chatting about the demise of Echo. This all allegedly more than a mile from the beach as they all stood together while Desmond suddenly gets his flash forward. Now if your intention was to save Charlie would you;
a) run towards the ocean knowing Charlie is right behind you, having had a premonition Charlie dies choking on the salty green stuff trying to save Claire?
b ) Say to Lock, hold onto this bag of bones called Charlie, and by the way Sayid, if Charlie gets the better of Lock, stop him at all costs. And then run off and drag Claire out of the ocean?
c) Not do anything, you know Charlie is the one at risk, not Claire, so stay where you are and all will end well?
d) If Charlie was meant to die how come Claire was face down in the ocean and Charlie completely unaware until the intervention of Desmond?
Of course it is confusing - whoever is running Lost is pulling myth out of their arses and banking on the fact low audiences will eventually cancel the show before they ever have to explain this mess.
Complete hocum - how things have changed for Damon Lindelof since being introduced to J.J. Abrams wearing his Star Wars t-shirt, ironic really.
I fell victim to an interesting bit of marketing Thursday last. It was almost the midnight hour and an email arrived from Ebuyer.com professing divx compatible DVD players for under £20. I clicked on the link.
A few seconds later I was staring at the ebuyer website but there was not a single DVD player insight. There was however a page full of cheap notebook computers.
I do not really need another computer – I already have a beefy desktop unit that runs an assortment of very graphical games in full 3D wonder and for which I do most of my web development and anything that requires a bit of peace and quiet. I also possess a four year old notebook that is usually used for typing up blog entries such as this, for which it is very well specified. My only real complaints for the old notebook are the wireless is not integrated and the USB pre-dates version 2.0 – so generally I have a chunky wireless card sticking out the side of the computer and get an annoying message whenever I plug a recent USB device into it, along with very slow transfer speeds. In general though, with the second battery giving the laptop some four hours of battery life it is very fit for purpose if a little heavy. At this moment in time it sits dormant on the far side of the room.
The focus of my attention on the ebuyer website was a number of sleek 'Acer' notebooks going for extremely reasonable prices - we are talking between £300 and £550. All seemed to have increasingly reasonable specifications and somehow managed to twang my lust hormones – the gadget lust ones that is, the lovemaster hormones were taking a few minutes off.
Flicking through the specifications it seemed for just under £550 + VAT I could get myself a perfectly reasonable notebook with; Dual core CPU, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD, a total weight under 3Kg's, Windows Vista (Home), DVD+RW, integrated WiFi, USB 2.0, NVIDIA graphics and integrated camera – and a whole bunch of other stuff. It arrived this morning.
Vista is very pretty if a little convoluted and comes with all the security options enabled by default, so it won't do hardly anything without fifteen windows popping up asking you to confirm whether you're sure because it is a dangerous world out there. I am not quite sure on the keyboard front either – it seems fine but does like a heavy finger otherwise you can end up with a high percentage of missed characters. I do find the more I use the keyboard the less this happens.
So once the Vista security levels were toned down and and I got to grips with the Acer management software, and uninstalled the Norton security system which seemed almost as complex as the operating system it was running on, I find myself with a very usable piece of hardware - onto which I envisage typing most of my blog entries as I have this one, now that I have installed openOffice. Once we have UltraEdit installed as well, the world will be mine – ha ha ha.
PS it plays DIVX videos as well.
Bosch is one of my favourite fiction characters, different but alongside Lee Child's Jack Reacher and Andy McNab's Nick Stone. Here we have Bosch back in the LAPD doing what he does best – trawling through casebooks and solving the unsolvable.
However, we go in a different direction with Closers. Gone is the verve of the old Bosch, instead we get a story that is in the main dry and soulless. For 300 pages we pace through the numbers with only the odd sniff of the man we know and love and unsure what is going on. The lack of colour from the story could possibly have been explained away with a little introspection of the Bosch character, listless at his daughters departure to Hong Kong, but there is no attempt. We have a few highlights with his study of the casebook – a Bosch trademark but the real Bosch doesn't kick in until the last 100 pages. From then on we are cool, but this sort of story telling used to happen with Connelly from page one.
This is the first Bosch plot I had worked out before the end, which says more about the story telling than it does my ability to solve murders.
Anyone that spends any time worrying that writing a blog will reveal too much about their life, should write one. You will realise just how little of yourself appears there.
It has been a little more than a month since I last posted an update to this site – well it is actually just over six weeks. I think sometimes, so much happens that I would have to literally spend all my spare time writing about my spare time, to even do what happens justice. So in the next paragraph I will summarise.
About six weeks ago at the end of Feb - To Edinburgh by train went Priddeesah and I. Seats with no windows, long shadows and sun in Oxfordshire. Dense fog along the east coast heading into Scotland and we could not see Lindesfarne. There was a little encounter with a farmers wife and the Apostle Paul along the way. The Edinburgh George Hotel had been refitted and was soulless. All around the city Italians were celebrating beating Scotland in the six nations, on Scottish soil. Which almost made up for Wales beating England. Saturday night ended with us with our noses pressed against our hotel bedroom window at 3AM - watching a drunk 'fight night' four floors below. Sunday and we watched two thirds of the football final previously known as the Milk Cup before some maintenance man in the hotel unplugged the satellite. There were a few words with the manager who thought giving us a few drinks would make amends. We both caught colds, Prideesh first who also had tears in Waterstones Starbucks while opposite I looked out over the castle – how was I to know the correct answer to 'Am I being pathetic?' was not 'You are acting like you're on your last legs'. There was a little pose of parent free girl pre-teens on the next table emulating, I can only imagine, their mothers. All very amusing. The journey home - a four year old boy asleep on Priddeesh's lap while his mother stood in the aisle - a long story. Home and Priddeesh failed trying to work out the controls of Spellforce - purchased while we perused the rain sodden streets of Edinburgh. Both of us spent the remaining days of our week off sneezing and drinking medication and sleeping. My cold went to my chest and the infection kept me off work for another two weeks.
Feels like Prideesh is moving in by the amount of odd coloured cloth loitering in all corners of the flat. Sold my 42 inch rear projected TV on eBay. Pete came to stay and we had a great weekend in March playing Spellforce. Played pool with the Irish, this time on a Monday due to social restraints and it being cheaper, although I lost – apparently it is cheap because nobody goes out on a Monday. We spent about a tenner each on the video jukebox and treated the sparse collective to some classic thumping tunes, rather than the hip hop rubbish the auto DJ selects.
Did a friends birthday meal event in Reading where I ate a steak that cost twenty two quid, it was a great steak but not that great. I also spent most of the night arguing with the Irish on the semantics of just about anything. Moved Priddeesh's 26 inch LCD into the living room and connected my new Acer notebook for the full multimedia experience. Tried to order Sky but nobody seemed interested. Had my three days off in March where I just played Spellforce – should be reading and writing and updating my CV.
Ordered a 40 inch LCD screen for the living room – obviously 26 inches was not big enough. Finally chased down Sky and arranged for them to install. Brought a large corner glass TV multimedia stand for the living room on which we will sit the large LCD and within which will be placed all the goodies that will be attached to it. Delayed visiting my uncle and parents – so much on.
We zipped over to Bromley for an evening with Lee Child – creator of 'Jack Reacher' where I managed to ask him a few questions from the front row including: “I notice the beginning of your latest book is very similar to the beginning of Dan Brown's Deception Point. Does this mean that in two books time Jack Reacher will find Jesus?” - chortle, chortle. He signed his latest book and very kindly posed for a photo, displaying that he is also a very patient man as Priddeesh fiddled with her new camera phone. Prideesh also cut my hair, the first time since December anyone has cut it - it was getting a little wild.
Brought a large metal and glass stand for the 26 inch LCD that looks really cool that we have now attached the 26 inch LCD to in the bedroom at the end of the bed for those late night Balders Gate and Smash Court tennis sessions. We planned and started a diet and health regime a couple weeks ago which includes running, which we strictly adhered upto but not including the whole of Easter. We had a great impromptu night out in Newbury after going down to the park on Easter Sunday and flattening some grass. Ended up in the Berkshire Tavern drinking Staropramen while watching the England and Australia super eights cricket. But was too far gone by the end of the England innings to know to this moment what the Australians did. We ended up in Pizza Express and laughed ourselves silly all the way through the meal and home, and to the kitchen allegedly, where I was apparently found in the middle of the night on my back on the floor quite happily munching on mini-bagels.
Priddeesh attacked and won a battle against the bathroom mildew. We spent a great end of the Easter weekend perched on the balcony BBQ'ing a couple barramundi and enjoying the early summer evening amid our herbs and bamboo and wondering where the clematis was going to get to.
The large TV arrived and it is very large, but the new corner glass multimedia cabinet has so far not collapsed under the weight. It does unfortunately use a resolution not currently supported by my Acer notebook, so the screen don't fit that well on the left, but it is mostly OK and the picture is very cool, and very large. While I was twiddling with the computer though I forgot Man Utd were live on ITV1 and missed their 7-1 victory against Roma on my shiny new TV – Ggrrrr.
One might be forgiven for thinking that starting your order for Sky's television services with a satellite dish already connected to the outer wall of your apartment block, might be an advantage.
Careful analysis of the Sky website had allowed us to determine the ideal package, which was centred around sports and everything else save for movies, which I have an abundance of in DVD form adorning my study walls already.
My first enquiry to Sky got me through the credit check and my details were forwarded onto my local satellite provider, who would call me back within two working days.
Two weeks later I called Sky again and this time when they passed on my details to the local satellite provider I noted the local providers name and number.
A week later I rang the provider directly who's eastern European accented female operator apologised profusely for the lack of call and arranged for an engineer to visit. The visit would in theory entail the engineer turning up, plugging the satellite unit into the existing wall socket, initialising my card which would be sent to me immediately and then leaving me jaw agape - at the wonder of the vast array of channels. And of course with access to Sky's premiership and champions league coverage as well as American Football, come this autumn. I also have a passing interest in cricket which can make for interesting background noise as you wile away the night hours.
The engineer duly arrived on the afternoon of Wednesday 11 April, dropped to his knees in the space behind the television that I had carefully prepared and declared, after screwing something onto the satellite wall point that I had no signal.
The next twenty minutes were spent with mini ladder in hand and Sky engineer in tow scouting for a cupboard full of cables, which was eventually located in the loft above the third floor landing. Balanced atop my little ladder the engineer raised his head above the loft ledge, swivelled sideways, unplugged something, plugged it back in again and declared that my relay was 'not working', in roughly equivalent words.
A few short moments later he was reversing out of the car park. As he parted, throwing tools into his bag and grabbing hold of the neat cardboard box labelled 'Satellite receiver' which I followed with mournful eyes, he told me when the guy responsible for the satellite cabling for the apartments fixed the problem, that I should make sure I have a signal before calling back Sky.
On various documents, not least the mortgage that sucks up a good portion of my salary, I am listed as the owner of my apartment. As this apartment is located in England and therefore 'leasehold' there is a management company involved in the running of the 'plot' of land it is built on. In two years I have never had direct dealings with this company save for handing over the required £70 monthly charge that facilitates the maintenance of the plot. I know that the maintenance takes place because the front door got vandalised last autumn and someone replaced it, and someone from a gardening company turns up at 6:45AM regular as clockwork once a week between March and October and spends three hours walking the plot with a veriety of hedge trimmers, lawn mowers and a number of other piston driven gardening implements.
Within twenty minutes of the Sky engineer vacating my premises I had talked to the management company that seemed to comprise two women based in Essex and was promised that the communications contractor would call shortly. They did. A visit was organised for the Friday morning and after relaying the details provided by the sky engineer the contractor, with a wondrous Irish accent from the deep south that you so rarely hear, promised to throw a replacement relay into the van.
He did. He arrived at 8:10 on Friday the 13 of April and spent over an hour in the loft before returning to my apartment with the faulty relay in hand. At which time he plugged some box like yellow device into my sky satellite wall socket and after a few moments proved that I had a signal by showing me moving images of the 'God' channel, which is their baseline because it is the weakest satellite signal – which made me giggle - inwardly of course.
With strong feelings of gratification for this man and the over whelming but suppressed need to tip him with a crisp note of her majesty's currency I thanked him and bade him farewell.
Twenty minutes later I had confirmation from Sky that they would try and get an engineer to my house that day, in order for the simple process of plugging in the set top box and initialising my card to be completed. The Sky engineer arrived at 11, all very efficient - apparently he was passing. He whipped out the satellite unit, plugged in all the cables and frowned at the setup screen. Apparently there was no signal – aaarrgggghhh!!
We did the poking our heads into the loft thing and unscrewed the cable face plate in my aprtment, confirming the lack of signal through the cable but all to no avail – no signal. Not quite sure what changed in the two hours between me seeing the God channel and Sky arriving.
I am currently waiting for the contractor from the management company to return my call.
Specifically aimed at Christians in America, but eye opening enough that this should send a shiver down the spine of any cognitive human. The large portion of this book looks at the insanity of worshipping gods and details the pointlessness of trying to live a modern life by a religious doctrine written 2000 years ago.
During the books main body the belief system of Islam is compared to that of Christianity - highlighting the faith systems of Islam that seem ridiculous to Christians and then pointing out that Christianity is built on the same tenuous vague arguments - that neither has a viable grip on the origins of man or of our emotions.
The interesting point that Sam Harris rams home with chilling finesse is that America needs to face upto the flaws of Christianity, because the same points of manipulation are being used to motivate followers of Islam and Muslims: 'really know how to believe'.
Pros - the cleverly brief description on the frailties of the bible and the contradictory messages within. Of evolution as simply the progression of a species from a simpler form to one more complex. And then the very effective and almost casual dismissal of intelligent design and creationism.
Cons - a very occasional over reliance on statistics that took me from the main point and weakened, for my mind, his argument. Specifically when making his point on all the worst things that happen in America happening in areas with religious/political affiliations. This may be correct but the method of argument detracted from this.
A well written warning to mankind that is unlikely to be heeded. Worth the one or two hours it is likely to take in reading no matter your background or belief.
Previously on 'Reach for the sky' – ordered Sky and got passed onto a provider company that never called back. Eventually they arrived, declared there was no satellite signal and left. The contractor for the management company turned up, replaced a faulty relay in my loft and declared that all was working after showing me images of the god channel on a little box of his, that was plugged into the satellite socket. When Sky turned up to install the box, there was still no signal.
Of course my call to the contractors that maintain the apartment, announcing that there was now no Sky signal, again, was never returned. Demoralised I never chased them for over a week. Eventually though, motivated more out of a desire to see the Champioms League semi finals on Sky more than anything else, I chased them down via the Essex girls and a date of that Friday, the 27 April, was set.
Friday morning and shortly after the nine thirty marker we have the charming southern Irish geezer looking sceptically at me, firing off all sorts of questions along the 'what did you change?' line. Working in IT I knew where he was coming from. People do the stupidest things and then dead pan lie that nothing has changed! Muttering away to himself, he then disappeared. A few minutes later a baseball capped teenager was seen clambering up the stairs with a step ladder, heading I presume, towards the loft.
Two hours later the Irish contractor re-emerged and explained that the signal from the satellite dish was not strong enough but they had 'boosted' it. This seemed a little strange to me as the satellite dish was probably no more than 150 metres, at best, from my wall socket. I know that a signal travelling down copper will get weaker the further it travels and will need a booster, but the boosting should be completed via the relay boxes above the adjoining apartments. I couldn't really see what the problem could be. Later it occurred to me that the management company were probably too tight for relay boxes and that the signal was simply passed through too much cable and a number of hubs that simply split off the signal, rather than boost. Now that would explain the problem.
But, the convivial Irishman un-boxed a sky set top box, plugged it into my wall socket and produced an assortment of channels, proving there was at least signal. Of course we didn't have my activated sky card so I couldn't check any of the channels I really wanted, but we did have sky channels, which was a BIG advance on where we had been two weeks earlier.
A quick review of the set-top box test page, did show that the signal strength was rubbish but was assured that this should be fine. My distant memory did recall that my signal strength in a previous life, with a dish attached to the outside of my house, had not been brilliant either but had worked without issue.
After discovering that the wonderful Irish accent was in-fact Canadian, allegedly, the contractors disappeared with their Sky box. A call to the Sky company revealed nobody was in the area but would visit Monday. So I retired to my study (which has never seen any activity of the sort) and started tapping away safe in the knowledge that Sky was actually working. I left my freeview box on with Sky Sports News jabbering away in the background as reassurance despite the freeview signal being enitrely seperate than the actual Sky signal, despite both coming from the same wall socket.
Ten minutes later it all went very quiet. Wandering out from my study into the lounge revealed that the screen was blue with a 'no signal' message emblazoned across the middle. Flicking to terrestrial revealed that I now had no signal whatsoever – Hoorah!
Of course I didn't have the contractors number so had to get back onto the Essex girls and then onto the contractors, by which time they were doing a ton past Reading back to Tonbridge Wells. It wasn't me that called them, but I could just imagine the colourful prose in their van when they got the call and headed back towards Newbury.
It turns out, that my cable in the loft, connected into the relay/hub had 'fallen out'. So after imploring them to ensure this didn't happen again, they once more spent time in the loft before departing and I left Sky Sports News on all afternoon, just in case. We did not have a re-occurrence of that particular issue, but ...
A different Sky guy turned up on Monday – big, brash and ginger haired with a complexion to match. He un-boxed the Sky set-top box, declared that my connector cable was 'shite' but not to worry he would provide a good one of his own and then connected everything before skipping through viewable channels - courtesy of his own viewing card, which seemed enabled for all. Of course the channels I really, really wanted came up with 'No signal' although lots of channels were available. The Sky guy pulled up the Sky box test page, and looking at the signal strength bar, announced my signal was 'shite'.
Close to committing an act of extreme violence upon the nearest inanimate object that looked 'up for it', I instead clenched my teeth and fists and told the Sky guy I would sign the contract anyway – which tied me into twelve months of payments – and would chase down the contractors to get the signal improved.
That last is something to this date (May 22) that I have not yet done. Mostly because I currently lack the will and secondly because tightening the connecting cable to wall and set-top box using a spanner – enough to make it secure but not to ruin the thread, improved the signal. Enough that we only had the 'no signal' message for between 1 and 5 minutes before the channel jumps into life and lo and behold, we have Sky Sports. Which of course meant that I got Sky Sports just intime enough to see Man. United get knocked out of the Champions League – which is not a good thing, for my mind, although they were very thoroughly beaten by the better team.
The funn thing about touch typing is thay in the main it is all about muscle memory and just knowing where the keys are a goos way of testing this is to try and typw a paragraph woth your eyes closwd as I just did with this it will not be a surprise for you to learn that I have not covered the section on punctuation yet
SPOILER: If you have not watched the final two episodes then you may want to come back when you have.
So, it is over – Lost Season Three that is. As Damon Lindelof said in his latest podcast: “It started a bit bumpy ...” which has to be one of the great understatements. But it did kick start just after the Christmas break and had me hooked for every second right up until Kate drove away from Jack at the airport in the season finale: 'Through the looking glass'.
So what are we to make of all this? Well my latest theory in a short and undistinguished career in Lost theories goes something like this: The island is a time-line hub. A portal into different parallel existences based on the unchangeable (fate) and our personal choices in life. Let me explain.
The flashbacks we saw with Jack were obviously flash forwards to a time after they had got off the island, but there were several key parts of the flash that lead us to believe that it was a different time-line for Jack and Kate. For a start we have the straggly beard, we have Jacks father still alive if we believe what he said in the hospital and the most obvious – Kate covered in make-up, which is something she has never done even in any of her flashbacks. Different time-line, different personal choices. It should also be noted that she wasn't that concerned about Mr. Policeman, once more different choices, she never killed her stepfather in this one.
Further static for this theory is the fact that the episode is called: 'Through the looking glass'. Obviously the title of the underwater station, but also the name of the Lewis Carol sequel to: 'Alice in Wonderland', where we spend time in an alternate universe. Testament to this link is the rabbit in the Darma logo as Desmond swims under the station.
You can bet your life that when Lost does eventually end in 2010, that there will be some moral message strapped to the fuselage and I am guessing that this will be about dealing with events we have no control over but taking responsibility for those we can. The purpose of the island then is being able to change some of these choices, and why it seems that 'Jacob' seems to flicker between several 'parallels' at the same time. That's my current take at least: redemption, which is why Jack is so keen to go back to the island as we go lights out.
Who was in the coffin: Juliet.
Thought the way they handled Charlie's death was cool, although I have to say I might have been tempted to try and make it out of the blown porthole and get to the surface ... surely. Had a tear on my cheek. He will of course feature in future seasons in character flashes, will be interesting what they might do if the island does have some time-line capability. Look forward to three seasons of flash forwards etc.
Great stuff, great writing.
What's your secret read?
What's the most important book of all time?
What's your favourite and least favourite word?
Will digital books replace printed books?
Which law of physics would you change?
Are we alone in the universe?
What's the greatest threat to humanity?
Who would you clone?
Who's your science hero?
Stephen King or Stephen Hawking?
Who would win a fight between Darwin and Newton?
Would you have yourself cryogenically frozen?
What's the most important lesson life has taught you?
Questions pilfered from the June 2007 copy of Focus. The worrying statistic about Americans in the second answer is courtesy of Gallup May 2007
Having just finished reading 'Bad Luck and Trouble' I have to say, this is about as satisfying a fiction read as you might hope to find.
If you have never encountered Jack Reacher, then I bid you do so without further ado. He is big, at least 6'4, very, very strong and military trained. He also has a supercomputer for a brain (not literally he is just very clever). During his thirteen years in the military he made Major twice, with his prime years spent heading special investigations within the Military Police. Jack Reacher then, is a human you do not really want to get on the wrong side of.
In the creation of this character, Lee Child (author) has created all the things that stir the imaginations of boys and surprisingly a good many females. Reacher is Robin Hood, Terminator, Columbo, Conan the Barbarian -a whole bunch of hero figures wrapped into one large package, and neither Reacher nor Child are prone to wasting anyone's time.
We know there is going to be little threat to Reacher, rather Child's craft is in putting those Reacher cares about in jeopardy and then having us sit back slack jawed as Reacher goes about teaching those fool enough to get in the way, just how unwise their actions have been. In short Reacher is an opportunity for every man (and women) to experience through fiction, some payback for all the injustices we see in the everyday world and are powerless to do anything about.
In this the latest of the Reacher series, I think we are into our eleventh year, Reacher gets an SOS from a buddy from his MP days and finds that someone has been throwing his old team out of helicopters. Along the way we get embroiled in national defence, terrorists, Las Vegas and LA life. And of course get caught up in trying to figure just how Reacher is going to sort all this without losing any more of his team.
In writing Reacher, Child has explored a myriad of book styles over the years and this gives us a new angle in the terror drama while maintaining the raw Reacher presence. A great read for the fan and a great introduction for the new recruit that will have both checking out the back catalogue.
Pros: Probably one of the most layered of the Reacher stories with that good mix of plot and characters, puzzles and expectation for Reacher retribution.
Cons: The title makes the book sound like a middle tier American detective novel.
Anyone here for a good helping of vitriol in regard to my last and most recent employer may not get what they came for. Not you understand because of any moral imperative on my part but the terms of the redundancy package dictate that I say nothing slanderous about my employer, and I am not about to forsake a lump of tax free cash for the sake of vitriol.
I will say something though, so bare with me. In 1983 I turned on my first CPU driven piece of hardware: the Sinclair ZX81 personal computer running at 2Mhz with data storage achieved via cassette tape. The out of the box memory was 1k and I was in awe!
By the time I pressed the power button on my first file server in 1989, my hunger for information technology – a term still to be coined at that time – was insatiable. During the intermediate years I had self learned Z80 assembler programming, could code in several different incarnations of Basic and was busy automating manual processes for my employer (ED: Standard Life) using a DOS based 'Office' and scripting suite named 'SmartWare', that would give Microsoft's current (circa 2007) offering a good run for its money, that is, if the contest was judged on features that benefited efficiency.
In 1989 my virgin file server, when it eventually reached its blue and white text based 'c worthy' monitor screen, proclaimed itself to be runnning Novell NetWare 3.12. This machine was considerably more advanced than the ZX81: a CPU running at 33Mz, 16Mb of memory and a colossal 133Mb of hard disk storage that was considerably quicker than accessing data from tape.
By 1993 I had become bored of programming, judging that I was not likely to see much of the world simply by shining a seat and creating endless pages of code. At the time there was also lots of talk about software that would soon be writing its own code – no need for programmers. Self programming software was of course the first great example of a practice the IT industry would become renowned for: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD).
During that last fifteen years of the twentieth century Novell's NetWare was the pervasive and most reliable technology for storing and accessing files on a central networked server. All the people that seemed to know what they were doing, were doing it on NetWare. And all considered Novell had by far the best technologies and I wanted in on the fun. It is hard to quantify what I loved so much about NetWare. I think in the main it was because it delivered on the promises of information technology (IT).
Today we look about and see what IT gives us, and it seems to offer as many problems as it does solutions. In the beginning though, the few of us that were there witnessing this amazing thing grow around us, naively only saw what it might achieve. We did not see the inevitable mechanism of commerce, the need for constant patches, upgrades and withdrawn slow release product enhancements in the name of that vital revenue generating: 'license renewal'.
We didn't see that software and hardware were in fact complicit in an illicit affair, that both would drive each other for want of commerce and not out of need. Do the majority users need their PC's for anything more than they did ten years ago? We do not surely need supercooled processors to browse the internet and import pictures, an observation the emergence of operating systems such as Linux would seem to substantiate
NetWare was how IT should have been. Clean and efficient, and it did just what it said on the box. So enamoured was I that in 1996, having fully moved away from programming and into NetWare and IBM centric systems management, I took out a large loan that equalled 60% of my annual salary at the time. This was used to buy a whole bunch of Novell training courses and a home PC that doubled as a file server, through which I learned the finer details of NetWare, initially, with the view to giving up my job and working freelance.
And I did. During the period from 1996 through 2003, I sat thirty two Novell exams without fail (plus five Microsoft exams just to see what all the fuss was about), that accredited me in Novell's core technologies to their highest commercial technical levels.
On the back of this I freelanced purely within the realm of supporting these technologies, which included jobs that covered most angles of the commercial spectrum – the good, the bad and the ugly. The highlights of that time were the Bank of England, various large solicitors and almost two years in Asia and the Middle East. These last not only generated a substantial amount of income but provided some of this life's greatest experiences.
By the time this life arrived at 2003 though, several things had come to a head - the dichotomy of the Novell legend is of course one which separates efficient technology from sales, marketing and all round business impudence. And that's not vitriol, that is recorded in the annals of IT history.
As such, by 2003, Novell had lurched from a position of dominant market leader to one that, in the main, scratched a crust at the feet of government and education license renewal schemes. This also had the consequence of drying up my sources of income, which meant that when I was approached to work for Novell, I did so readily. Not just from a desire to remain in IT and not specialise in Microsoft technologies, but from a passion and not a little hope.
You see, for the die hard first generation IT geeks of the last century, Novell is equivalent to that one girlfriend that breaks your heart completely and you never get over. You adore not only her features, but also the core operating system - it is almost worship but all she ever does in return, is break your heat.. Admittedly that is a fairly tenuous analogy - IT geeks don't often have girlfriends. People loved Novell though, I guess I still do - for that time when it was a technology that fulfilled on the promise of what IT could achieve.
The irony is that four years as a Novell employee have turned the passion of a driven technologist, into one devoid of any desire to fight any more battles in the face of insurmountable odds. In my time all companies have served obstacles and frustrations but none have excelled quite as well in the realm of de-motivating a workforce as Novell has. Nor does any company excel in placing bureaucracy and corporate dogma in the path of employee's that ultimately prevents fee paying customers from getting what they actually signed up for.
Never have I ever experienced a work environment, and I have done my share of civil service, that glorifies the ordinary if completed with fanfare, while ignoring continuous achievement. That encourages and rewards management practises focused around mindless processes, over any ability to actually work with and motivate fellow humans. Is it any wonder that employees lose their desire to sweat blood having seen these efforts repeatedly dashed against the rocks of incomprehension and lurching corporate directive, the details of which we won't go into as that probably would be slanderous.
Looking back at Novell from the outside, as they busy themselves with downsizing and porting all they know to the more fashionable server platform that is Linux, we should ask ourselves why they are doing this in the first place! Haven't they already got an excellent server platform in NetWare? Why did NetWare became so unfashionable? Is it because the platform is outdated? Is it inefficient and badly coded? Does it not support or even exceed modern requirements for meta directories and redundancy in availability? Can you think of one server technology currently available that can viably claim to be better?
No, we can't. NetWare's demise has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with Novell's ability to market and sell. And so then - with this shiny new Linux platform now being leveraged into an already crowded market by Novell, on the back of temporary Microsoft inclusion and marketing savvy, there does not seem any reason to believe anything in world of Novell is about to change.
So there I was sitting on the balcony reading Richard Dawkins latest tome when the good lady Priddeesh found the 45 minute forum on the Great Writing website. The challenge was to write a piece of fiction in under 45 minutes. She began reading out some of the suggested topics.
This little story manifested when she mentioned prison break and the detail just appeared on the page during the 37 minutes it took to write - Priddeesh timed me.
Of course there was the quick edit at the end which took another 13, so I went 5 minutes over. And then of course there was the 15 minute edit after I reread a few hours later. So now it is hopefully clearer, mostly through punctuation and we are upto 65 minutes.
So how do you escape a jail that has stood the test of time? You can find out by clicking here.
Monday morning and I woke up, that was the good news. The bad news was the intense pain I felt all the way down my arm, any movement turning up the intensity by seemingly endless degrees. Attempting to shift my weight in any direction caused every muscle down the side of my body to scream agony at overworked brain neurons. Tilting my head to one side confirmed my worst fear. Priddeesh was in a similar predicament, a slow groan emanating from her lips as she edged towards her side of the bed.
A sad state of affairs after so much expectation and hope. Of course, it had all started at Priddesh's bidding during a conversation Friday night. A request she had been making since February. So after a brief period of research on the Saturday afternoon we found ourselves proud owners of a Wii.
The Wii itself is small, no bigger really than a portable DVD player, white and comes with a single CD shaped disk and a controller set. The purchase of a second controller set is essential if you want to gorge yourself on the true wonders of this little beasty – for the Wii is designed in the main for playing games, but that is the very least of it.
This is a gaming experience like you have never had, and why I imagine we have legions of mothers nodding their heads in approval, when their eager husbands and children alike point in a needful fashion through gleaming shop windows.
The power of Wii is in the wireless controller, which when held, cleverly detects motion and movement. Coupled with games such as that provided the controller can become a golf club, tennis racket, baseball bat, boxing gloves, bowling ball and with the purchase of other games, swords, guns, steering wheels – the potential list is endless.
Of course there should be a note of caution - spending countless hours fearlessly throwing yourself around the living room while attempting to return a digital tennis ball can be a serious wake up call to the seldom exercised forty something body.
And so we are back to where we started. So severe were the protests of my body this morning, it took fifteen extra minutes to button my shirt. Once I had managed to grunt my way down the stairs and leveraged myself slowly into my automobile, I was only able to use my right arm sparingly during the 63 mile drive to work. At all other times it lay limp and uncomfortable across my lap.
Through the day and into the evening, seizure in all muscles and joints from calf through thighs, stomach and all of my back, made significant physical moves like shifting my weight from foot to foot, or swivelling on my chair at work, particularly traumatic.
But ... the Wii is great fun, especially if there is a group of you. I now know why all the parties we hear in surrounding apartments sound like everyone is having so much fun. It isn't that the party goers have dynamic personalities, get on really well and charismatically engage each other in humorous conversation – nope – they must have a Wii.
One of the many very cool features of this little device is the ability to take a daily exercise test, where you are appraised over a number of actions based around stamina, speed and strength. Once the test is completed the Wii calculates your 'Wii age' based on the results. Which of course had everyone falling around the floor when this male managed to clock up an age of 76 (four years under the maximum!). I do not suspect we will be doing the test tonight.
Ed. You will be pleased to hear that JohnieBG did manage to rouse himself Monday evening for the daily exercise test, at the insistance of Priddeesh. He is proud to reveal that he got rated at Wii age 28. That is despite having to shuffle back to the sofa post test and then not moving for several hours.
The problem for anyone that has been brought up in a religious society but has questions about faith, is knowing where to look for answers. Well there is no longer any need to fret - thanks to Richard Dawkins we now have a comprehensive and exhaustive review or gods, religions, their ideals and their right over our reasoning minds.
And when I say comprehensive, we really are talking no stone left unturned. Dawkins starts apace in his preface, setting the scene for his approach and really doesn't relent until we head into the final few chapters.
This book is probably not going to be read with an open mind by devout followers of religion. But it is the type of book I wish had been available to me, as I began to question the religious doctrine that was pervasive during my childhood and adolescent years.
If you are asking yourself questions like; what right does religion have over my conscious mind, could there be a Christian or Islamic god? If Adam and Eve are not real, who were they? If the stories in the Bible are not historical what are they? What foundations other than the Bible are religions built upon? What makes them 'true' to believers; And if there is no god, hell, heaven, afterlife and morality as defined by faith religions - what is there?
If these are the sort of questions you are asking yourself, then this book is a great place to begin finding answers and forming your own opinions.
There has been a considerable amount of vitriol directed towards Dawkins approach in this book, it would appear from both science and religious communities. I do not understand why. It is balanced, honest and thoughtful. Just because his argument is compelling does not mean that it is aggressive, it is not.
Throughout the text various quotes from great thinkers from both ancient and modern times are used to substantiate his arguments, as well as the clever analogies he uses in his other books about Evolution and Natural Selection. Which by the way, if your worried about being deluged with science, there is very little of here.
Pros: A great place to begin answering those questions any reasoning adult mind must come to, it really does cover every angle. A book so layered, you will likely come back to it on many occasions to substantiate your own evolving thoughts on the 'Why are we here?' level.
Cons: The sheer depth of the content can make this a philosophical challenge, especially if it is your first stop to answering questions. For my mind I wanted greater coverage on the frailties of the Bible. It gets decent coverage, but it is the very foundation upon which modern religions are based (Old Testament) and which Christianity has shaped western civilisations (New Testament). Even people that don't have faith still often see the Bible as being a religious document that has somehow been derived through the word of god. If the truth of this were better explained, the arguments against religion would be a lot easier for the masses to understand.
Recommendations: Dawkins quotes and references Professor Bart D. Ehrman, one of the foremost Bible historians of our time. Ehrman has written several books on the New Testament, Jesus, his teachings and the origin of orthodox Christianity which are compelling reading in themselves.
Having lived the large proportion of my life shouldering a Christian guilt brainwashed into my very being during childhood, I make absolutely no apologies for my frequent references or rants towards the religions that blight our modern cultures. I do feel though that I am getting better at not doing the anger thing.
So much so that I am now at the point I can write flippantly about the whole thing. As such I was reading the July edition of Focus the other day when I came across an interview with Richard Dawkins. In the interview the interviewer eventually managed to build up the courage to ask him, if God were ever proven to exist what would he ask him.
That got me to thinking, what would I ask god in a conversation? The result is the inciteful, and often hilarious ' God Dialogues' which are posted in the short Stories section of this site as: 'A Voice of Reason'.
Obviously hilarious and inciteful are my own words, if you want to choose words of your own you best rush over there and get reading. Part Two is written and currently being edited. Part three is underway, as I am sure you will all be eager to know.
Biorhythms are supposedly hypothetical alterations of physiology, emotion, and/or intellect. Or so it says on Wikipedia. Ordinarily, these life rhythms are meant to skip along in slightly fluctuating circles. Sometimes they flatline and things just don't work as you expected.
7:55 is the absolute latest that I can walk out of my front door, dragging behind all that I will and won't need that day, and still make it to the office a minute or two either side of nine.
At 8:20 this morning I was standing in my living room texting a colleague - my arrival would be some twenty minutes later than anticipated.
It had started with my shoes – which were eventually located under the desk in my study, the other under the bed. Then it was the passcard for the office - gleefully discarded Friday night, now nowhere to be seen - eventually found in the clothes bin. Then there were the car keys, down the back of the sofa. And then my phone, which I had put down at some random spot in the house after texting the colleague. Miraculously the wallet was right where I left it.
Finally the apartment door was locked and I clambered down the stairs with an assortment of bags in tow, snagging each on every protruding surface and bannister. Once the front door had been negotiated and bags juggled to facilitate entry to car, I settled into the comfortable sports seat of my Coupe (my guilty pleasure) and proceeded to ready myself for the 63.2 mile journey to destination office.
Being drawn somewhat to components of the electrical variety, getting ready starts with plugging the iPod into the FM transmitter, which is in-turn plugged into the cigarette lighter. Usually I then fiddle with the iPod controls and select some educational lecture. If I need to fill the blanks of an embryonic story or item of prose – I turn to Moby, Mogwai or a number of orchestral movie soundtracks. Today is Moby but I leave it on pause for the time being, simply turning on the FM transmitter and tuning in the radio. Next we pull out the TomTom, which for the less informed is a satellite navigation system. I of course do this journey most days so actually know where I am going, but this TomTom allows me to talk handsfree as well, which is cool. And it also tells me how much further I have to go till the next junction. This last can be very helpful when I am suddenly stirred from my Moby induced writing reverie fifty minutes down the line and have no idea where on the M4 I am. Next we go through the 30 second process of connecting my phone to TomTom. This should not ordinarily take so long but I just renewed my mobile subscription and got the sleek looking Samsung U600 for almost nothing. The only problem is that it won't let my TomTom connect unless I go through each process manually.
With all connected now though, the coupe roles backwards in a slow arc under my guidance and then we crawl forwards to the communal car park exit. I select Priddeesh's mobile on TomTom, there is apologising to be done. In the heat of locating shoes, phones and passcards, I had indirectly accused her of tidying said objects to remote female logic driven tidy places. With the TomTom ringing I wait to become part of the busy procession of vehicles. Soon there is an audible click and Priddeesh answers. My apologies are on the tip of my tongue when someone knocks on the passenger window.
I look across and am confronted with a pretty female face framed by carefully nurtured curly auburn locks. She is probably about eighteen, maybe nineteen and by now has opened the door and is leaning in.
“Hello. Are you going into town?”
I tell Priddeesh to hang on a second and respond: “Well no actually, I am heading to the M4.”
“But you're going that way?”
“Well ... yes I suppose so.”
“Don't s'pose you could give me a lift, fucking hammered last night and can't face the walk!”
“Oh ... !” I turn back to TomTom and tell Priddeesh I will ring her back, disconnecting.
I am a sucker. This is widely acknowledged and in the past has got me into all sorts of scrapes. Generally, if I can do something for someone that isn't going to change the long term course of my life, I probably will.
“Sure get in.”
She half staggers, half drops her slight frame into the passenger seat and flashes a mega-watt smile in my direction. In the meantime I concentrate on pulling into the ebb and flow without hitting any oncoming cars.
“You're a star. You businessmen are quality.”
Admittedly I am driving a flash car, but I am wearing Chino's and a Tesco's long sleeved shirt. So the tag 'businessman' sounds slightly odd, especially as I am a geek come software engineer. I get the impression I am not her virgin businessman experience.
“So you off to work then?” I ask her.
“Urmmnn No. I got sacked on Friday. Am off to sign on with all the other bums!”
“Oh. Where did you work?”
“JJB, it was sweet. They was all lovely ...”
Skipping over the 'why' element of the conversation I continued. Of course being old enough to have a twenty something daughter I struggle with contemporary conversation.
“So how come your still hammered, what time did you go to bed last night?”
“Oh ... do you live round here?”
“Yeah, right where you picked me up, in the YMCA.” I decided not to correct her on the semantics of precisely who picked up who and decided to go with the literal understanding.
“Really. Those buildings are the YMCA?”
Sure, it's fucking ace. Everyone there's my babes. Especially my little Danny! He's my man!”
“Cool. Everyone needs someone, right!”
“Sure. He's got the biggest cock ever!”
“Like it's this huge ... “ with this she shaped her slender fingers in front of her face as if readying to eat a giant Baguette and then started miming how precisely difficult it was to eat said baguette.
“Like its so big I can't get it all in my mouth ...” Still vigorously gnawing on the end of imaginary baguette, hair tumbling backwards and forwards.
I was admittedly a little shocked at being confronted with such graphic detail, sixty seconds into our first meeting. But being sat next to a pretty nineteen year old miming the finer points of fellatio on a giant baguette, will never rank as the most tortuous experience of this life. But that life has taught me all good things must come to an end.
“So where do you need dropping off?”
“Urrmmn .. the clock tower would be good!” Hands still poised in-front of her face.
The clock tower is an extra half mile but by now it seemed pointless. Apart from the fact I was starting to warm to her, I was already very late, so an extra five minutes was going to make no difference whatsoever.
“How about I drop you off by Waitrose?”
“Oh mate that would be ace!” With that she repeated the businessmen were all stars mantra and then stroked my shoulder in a friendly non-salacious manner.
“I like your shirt.”
“Cheers, cost me a tenner in Tesco's.”
“Wow!” She seemed genuinely impressed.
“But I prefer Asda, I like their t-shirts.”
“Yeah me to, clothes that is. They do good hair stuff, but its hard to get to one here with no car!”
“You're not kidding, I can't find one with a car!” She laughed.
Two roundabouts later I pulled over outside Waitrose.
“Here you go.”
“Cheers mate. I really am grateful!”
With that there was an awkward pause, she was so pleased she wanted to show her gratitude – my mind merrily skipped through several scenarios while smiling benignly back at her. In a few years time I guess she would have leaned across and pecked me on the cheek. But at nineteen her understanding of how to pay gratitude seemed tarnished by man's salacious expectations. I bade her farewell.
With this she beamed back and half climbed, half stumbled onto the pavement, pushing the door almost closed before trotting off.
Having leaned over to close the door properly, I pushed the vanity mirror back into the sun-visor and popped the visor back into place. I then tapped redial on TomTom and waited several rings, pulling back into the rush hour traffic. Priddeesh answered: “Hello!”
“Hello you. You're never going to believe the morning I am having!”
I was reading something on the web the other night about trying to create emotion and fear simply by using the correct choice of words in a story. This got me to thinking.
I have also been wanting to write something that involved either Jana and/or Jane from my as yet unpublished 'Stories of a Legend' book. So here we are - you wake suddenly in the middle of the night and all you have for explanation is the memory of a sound. This is a pretty short one, so click here to check it out (it has the added bonus of not containing a single reference to god).
So God is back! This time for part two and I am not going to tell you what this one is about otherwise you will never go and read it. But those that have read it have been very enthusiastic, including one 18 year old who positively chewed through the text. Which provided me with a sense of achievement it is hard to define.
I hope you will take the time to check these out, this being the second of what is currently designed as three parts. You can goto part two by clicking here. You can also access the whole essay from the main menu on the left.
I hope you enjoy
This morning my eyes opened to a steaming cup of hot coffee sat on the bedside table. A 'byeee' made its way through my subconscious as my mouth finished a sleepy: “Drive carefully”.
The apartment door closed, then the landing door. Silence, save for the wind and trees playing together outside. Today was Saturday and it was entirely my own. As such I immediately fell back into a deep sleep.
Come 12:30 I swung weary legs onto the wooden floor, pulled on jeans and t-shirt and then headed towards the kitchen, via the bathroom.
The kitchen surface was still littered with the remnants of last nights chicken fest, courtesy of Tesco's clearing the last of the daily cooked stock. I had brought two. Pushing all the old plates to one side, the second chicken was speared with a carving knife and carefully manoeuvred from bag to clean plate: breakfast. The microwave pinged and the steaming cup of coffee that started the day had been resurrected, and didn't taste too bad at all.
The downside to having a whole day to yourself, is knowing where to start. So I sat down with the Sky remote and channel surfed. The Sky box had been left on MTV Dance, not of my own doing but one of the more palletable music channels. I sat through three videos of hot pants, reflective sunglasses and tanned skin bottom wobbling before moving on. During the week I had glimpsed what looked like a new Spice Girls video at the gym and had hoped I might catch it in its entirety. But my desire was not that great. I spent a few more minutes checking out the sports channels and turned it all off.
Next on the itinerary is the study and computer. I don't care what anyone says - given a completely empty house and enough time, a kept man's thoughts will fairly quickly turn to porn. For this male the conscious mind finds American porn an affront to the concepts of 'beauty' and 'erotic'. So we usually find ourselves drawn by stunning eastern European females getting the good news from well endowed European males without hairy buttocks. A satisfactory conclusion is reached after a few minutes of fast forwarding to the good bits and we proceed to the remainder of the day slightly clearer of thought.
Having stashed a bottle of diet coke and a book: 'Marley and Me', along with hayfever tablets into my 'man bag', said bag is hoisted over the shoulder and we head out into the now brilliant sunshine of this Berkshire afternoon.
It always amazes me when you see TV programs showing teenage children that have never seen real live country animals just because they live in cities. How can that be with few places in this country being more than a portion of one hour away from green fields! As such, a break in the traffic has me trotting across the road, through the Halfords car park and onto the canal path. A world apart.
The sun is high in the sky, so shadows are still short and everything is bathed in its magical light, the warmth working its way through my skin. This canal is lined by large dense trees shimmering a glorious mid-summer green, the recent rains making the colour depth seem more vibrant than usual. There is something about these mighty towers of wood and leaf, wherever they stand, dancing to the beat of the wind. You really can get a sense for how Tolkien came to the idea of living trees. I sometimes imagine that whatever forces might have created the earth now live in the trees, silently watching us and judging us, swaying from side to side talking to one another.
The walk into the town centre is no more than fifteen minutes. Right up until you emerge into the town you would never imagine you were in the middle of a busy suburbia. Through the journey I have been accompanied by hopeful swans regally keeping pace against the busy current, their signets erratically following behind.
The quest of the swans is not without reward. My bread carrying days are currently at an hiatus but there is an army of parents lining the canal as we near the town. Each seems to be in partial control of an unsteady child, which uniformly emit high pitched squeals of excitement at the sight of the swans before raining a barrage of bread onto every part of water not occupied by a swan.
There is a football pitch sized park of cultivated green attached to the canal as you enter the town, which is usually very popular. This day is no different, indeed more so as it seems the local barge social group are having their annual shindig. Barges are three deep tethered to the side of the canal and there is bunting everywhere. But apart from that, and a number of tables that each seat two or three middle aged humans set around a bottle of red wine, there is no other sign of related festivities. Occasionally a couple corralling a dog will stop by a table for a brief chat, while parents with prams and harnessed children head past towards the swans, occasionally pausing to point at the bunting.
The park is its usual cacophony of colour, bare flesh and pre-mating rituals, being almost exclusively occupied by groups of young teenagers. Some of the groups are focused around an older male outwardly displaying the appearance of cool and hip, sometimes older males loiter around the fringes, hoping for leftovers.
A row of tall trees separate this from the pavilion, which during the summer weekends often serves as a stage for local bands. The bass and the frequently tortured voices can be heard from the open windows of my flat. Right now a band that sounds very much like the 'Cure', which you may never heard of if you are under thirty, are banging out a number of songs that play easily albeit loudly on the ear. All around the pavilion groups of older but still young people somehow talk and laugh despite the noise. I have never understood, even when I was this young, how humans can effectively communicate while surrounded by such noise and can only assume these have no clue what the other is saying.
Boy shopping is a little different from girl shopping. At the moment I am working my way through season 2 of Battlestar Galactica, which I am enjoying despite its increased leaning towards religious hokum. It does have great characters and a good style. Battlestar Galactica is at the head of a long DVD backlog which vies for my leisure time along with three whole rows of a bookcase, so I avoid HMV and Waterstones and half heartedly window shop. I soon find myself at a crossroads. One direction takes me to the pasty shop; another to the Lock, Stock and Barrel and the last to Starbucks. Having put on a kilo, or two as the result of too many summer evenings in the Lock, Stock and then the pasty shop, these two are out of the question. It takes a few long moments of dilemma while standing in the sunshine to motivate legs towards Starbucks.
With coffee in hand I head back towards the canal and the park where I find a space on a bench and spend the best part of two hours sipping the coffee, occasionally looking up at the throng of passing humans and reading 'Marley and Me', which is a very good read indeed.
As dark clouds begin blotting out the sun and sky blue, heralding an evening of lazy rain, I head over to oddbins. Red wine is my only alcohol vice right now and then only at the weekends. Usually I will pick up a couple bottles from Tesco's during the Friday night shop, very often this will be Banrock Station and very nice too.
Standing now in Oddbins I find myself dwarfed by floor to ceiling wine, looking at a whole bunch of names I don't understand. Fortunately the manager comes over and asks me what I am looking for. Having told him that I have no idea, but like a smooth taste, I am led over to a tasting table where I sample a very nice 'Syrah from Chile'.
Carrying two bottles and heading homewards the air is suddenly filled with the sound of the Serenity movie end credits. This means my phone is ringing which in itself heralds the imminent end to my day alone.
Sometimes someone, maybe a friend or colleague that knows you love to read, shoves a book into your hand exclaiming: 'you must read this!'
Which is exactly how I came to be in the possession of a book about one man's life during the entire lifetime of his pet Labrador: 'Marley and Me'.
I have to admit the premise didn't really appeal, especially being allergic to animals and not spending much time with them. But I love being recommended books and plucked it from my crowded bookshelf just a few days ago. I turned the tear stained last page, yesterday afternoon.
There are probably a whole bunch of words I could use to describe how this story affected me but I will restrict it to one sentence. The story is charming, beautiful, about life, family, your place in this world, about what is important, and all because of one loopy Labrador.
Pros: Wonderful, laugh out loud funny throughout, understated and all the more remarkable for it.
Cons: You will need a box of Kleenex close to hand for at least the last forty pages.
It is funny. I started this website in 2002 with the goal of learning website design. I imagined creating all sorts of amazing effects for my website and duly learned and created, and wrote.
Three years passed and this site saw all sorts of designs that included amazing Java cascading menus, a look that was entirely greyscale and so many twirling flash effects you felt dizzy just from looking at the page.
Ironically, I eventually came to the inevitable conclusion that the web page needs to be simple and ended up with what you are now looking at. One day I hope to animate the stick figures in the main title and pretty-up the right hand menu so it looks a little like the left menu. And maybe one day I will make the middle section look like the pages in the writing sections – more like real pages rather than a white space on the web page. But apart from that my focus for most the last two years has been on writing. If someone tomorrow offered me ten thousand less per year than I am earning now, so that I could write full time – I would bite their hand off right up to the shoulder.
As the years have passed and the web development diminished, the writing here has expanded. It started awkward and grammatically flawed but joining a book club in 2006 opened up a whole new world of literature and consequently what I write has evolved. For the better I hope as I am going to spend this winter writing a book. It is all planned out and everything. The book is of the fictional kind and anyone that knows me or has spent a short time reading the entries to this site will know its central theme. What the hell, it worked for Dan Brown.
When I write it is almost always with a picture in my mind, as if I am creating in words scenes from a movie or from a comic. These images often resemble the type you see in manga comics or fantasy art posters. For 'Dancing to the Beat of Sixteen Hearts' it was the image of the small windswept female warrior set on the horizon above a billowing camp of tents. For '34 and Forty Three' it was the snorting and raging bull's head talking to a small child, wide eyed in bed. The images are endless.
I have always had some desire to manifest these pictures as digital art. I love trawling shops and book stores that sell such things, in the hope someone will have realised one of my visions. Attempting them myself has always seemed just beyond my comprehension, the sheer amount of technical and creative effort required in translating mind to digital canvass a step too far. That is not to mention the equipment and software needed.
Sometimes though it takes an accidental moment to release that inner creativity, or at least a hope for creativity. Yesterday I was standing in the newsagents just down from where I work, my eyes skipping over the endless magazines of Z-list stars hugging each other or boyfriends on some faraway beach or rented stately home. Suddenly, between 'Closer' and 'Muscle' my eyes rested upon a fantasy image of 'Conan the Barbarian'. Above the image my mind translated the wordy title: 'ImagineFX', subtitled: 'Fantasy and Sci-Fi digital art'. The floodgates of creative anticipation started to creak open.
The magazine as it stood, at an awkward angle as if just dropped into the rack, was I presumed an uncollected order for someone now disinterested or elsewhere.
Two pages past the front cover I was hopelessly hooked - 'drawing tutorials' and loads of ordinary mortals pictured alongside their stunning attempts at art. Immediately I imagined myself in this magazine next to my own image of the lone windswept female. Needless to say the magazine now has a home.
That night - last night, having read 'ImagineFX' from cover to cover twice, I completed two hours of relevant research and price cross checking before clicking on the 'Proceed to checkout' section of Amazon. In a matter of hours a Wacom graphics tablet along with a book titled '100 things you should know about drawing' – an ImagineFX recommendation, would be heading towards my hot eager hands.
Who knows what the end results will be, or even the beginning and intermediate. I do know that I know nothing at all about art, my only pedigree being quite good at copying cartoons as a child. Anything of note will be appearing here. The anticipation of illustrating key moments of the novel to be is almost palpable.
Jesus, it has to be said, was problematic. And not as you may think in substantiating an argument but in the sheer wealth of information that did weigh down the first several drafts of this.
Christianity is the foundation upon which our western societies are built, it has shaped our very minds and developed our core sense of morality. But what do most of us really know about its historical truth ... ? You can read this latest installment here or read the whole essay - currently in three parts here.
I am aware that half the nation (give or take a million or so) will have been doggedly rechecking this website over the last week for evidence of my recent Wacom endeavours, and no I am not talking about what I get upto on Saturday mornings.
Of course merely possesing an art tablet does not provision for immediate creation of stunning fantasy images - one needs an art package. Of course the Wacom came with a trimmed down version of a commercial package, in this instance Corel Paint Essentials 3. It is probably very good but the interface was archaic and the application is now uninstalled. Instead a quick peruse over at the always useful About.com and I quickly had my hands on 'ArtRage' - which is an amazing piece of shareware (thirteen british pounds) which sells itself on its pure ability to replicate the whole pen, pencil, brush with oil to canvass or paper experience and behaving like it is the real thing. It is, so much so in fact, I swear I can smell the oil! I really am not kidding, it's weird.
Anyway ArtRage and Wacom are working very nicely together and as evidence I have included my first major work of art which is not a self portrait although it is created with oils. Step back and behold!
I had been thinking all week about writing a comment in response and thanks to the reviews of 'Dear God – Three' (DG3). Of course, given a week to think on this response I have ended up with this. Apart from being intentionally informative on the processes and thoughts behind the writing of DG3 it is also a shameless advertising plug for the actual essay. Which you can read here.
A question that I get asked very often, and one that constantly surprises me, is: 'Why are you so fascinated by religion, you don't even believe in god!'
'I think, therefore, I am' almost always trips through my subconscious before my lips, larynx and tongue collaborate to talk on the foundations of this culture, built on two thousand years of religious rule, law and social imprinting. Religious cultures by their very nature are masters of shaping the developing mind.
Which is why, if you ever do get to think: 'Who am I?' or 'What am I?' addressing the role of religion through history is vital. It is surprising the number of blank looks I get when forming this answer. Obviously wondering who or what we are isn't that common a question to the human mind. Maybe people already think they know.
These essays are in part the result of this minds quest to not just know whether I have faith, or not. But to know why.
In knowing the 'why' the key questions seem obvious: 'Where we created by a supernatural god?' If not: 'how?' 'Is the Old Testament really the word and stories of god and his people?', 'Is Jesus really the son of the Old Testament god?' if not: 'who the hell is god?' and: 'how come we have Christianity?'
And so we have the major themes for these essays.
One might say that 'Dear God', especially part three, simply confirms my own belief. That I have told a story that I want you to read and believe yourself. That is of course true to some degree. But I have come to this story through a great deal of deliberation and questing. The path traced during these essays of the questing mind, is a path this mind has trodden.
As a young man I had a firm belief that modern Christianity did not in anyway represent me as a human. But I had great capacity for a belief in god, just no religion that seemed viably to match up with my expectations of a god.
Having never been capable of blind faith, I could no more blindly discount religion than I could accept it. These essays then, simply represent what I have come to believe.
It is interesting to me just how much faith people seem to have in Christianity in the face of almost insurmountable evidence negating its validity. I think maybe it is the human minds need for faith. Surely there is faith to be had in knowing a real truth rather than grasping onto what we hoped might be true?
One of the comments to DG3 tended to agree with key elements of the essay but then sited the 'beatitudes' as being the ideal representation of Christianity.
The beatitudes for anyone not in the know essentially describe gods vision of the perfect citizen. We see Jesus detailing them in Matthews sermon on the mount, in some part via Lukes gospel, obviously they are quoted in later Church liturgies and importantly we have them in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which pre-date Jesus and Christianity.
The beatitudes categorises those that god will look favourably on: the poor, mourners, the hungry, the persecuted, the meek, the merciful, pure of heart and peacemakers.
Ignoring the fact that god seems to have lost interest in caring for those that fit that bill, we should look at how Jesus came to be preaching them.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a recent find (last century) of ancient Jewish texts that include the books we know in the Old Testament. Analysis of additional scrolls found at the time reveal they were maintained by a people from the northern territories of ancient Palestine. These people had grown disillusioned with orthodox Judaism and over a period of time formed new ideas about god that included the apocalyptic message and some of the beatitudes.
The Jewish man Jesus, born and bred in the northern city Nazareth would very likely have been raised to believe these new concepts as a religious truth. It is probably how the Jewish Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth later came to preach the forthcoming apocalypse and the beatitudes amongst other things. Was Jesus Christian? Absolutely not, for reasons explained in DG3. Are the beatitudes a definition of gods ideal Christian? No, they are Jewish concepts later adopted and shaped by Christians. Does this god even exist? No, why not is explained in DG2.
While it seems half of America still waits in expectation of the apocalypse, most, including the modern orthodox Church gave up on the apocalypse almost two millennia ago - simply amending god gathering his faithful into his eternal kingdom at the final reckoning to life after death.
Equally the beatitudes are a great bit of marketing by the early Christian Church that still works well today - don't worry if you are poor, hungry, meek, persecuted etc. It simply means you are one of gods chosen. Great, I have to die before life starts getting better!
Of course the beatitudes leave little room for the modern masses of western Christians who almost to the man, women and led child, fail to meet any of the beatitude criteria.
It is occasionally said to me, that I must have swallowed Richard Dawkins 'God Delusion' hook, line, chapter and verse. To which I respond: 'You obviously haven't even opened it!'
My subconscious then trips through the bibliography that helped form this conscious opinion while they go onto question why I am so fascinated by religion. As a matter of interest the bibliography includes: The Bible (Readers Digest condensed and illustrated version, Revised Standard Version and via SwordSearcher – digitally as reference - every English translation of the Bible since and including Wycliffe and Tyndale).
Bart Ehrman's 'The Apocolyptic Jesus, Luke Timothy Johnson's 'An interpretation of the New Testament', Bart Ehrman's 'Historical Introduction to the New Testament', Tom Wright's 'What St. Paul Really Said', Bart Ehrman's 'Lost Christianities', Richard Dawkins 'The Blind Watchmaker', Richard Dawkins 'The Ancestors Tale'.
'A beginners guide to genetics' by Suzuki and Cullis after I got half way through the Blind Watchmaker and realised I didn't understand. And in my continuing quest consumed John Searle's 'The Mystery of the Consciousness', Sam Harris' 'Letter to a Christian Nation' and 'The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason'.
I think, therefore, I am.
Anyone that thinks the 'God Delusion' is about Christianity is mistaken, it is about the psychology of faith in a god and it covers a wide spectrum of thought. Unfortunately, with a grand stage open to him Dawkins for some reason just dismisses the bible in a few pages and that is it. That really bugged me. Surely if this questing mind could discover the origins of life, self and Christianity with the help of Amazon, he could take the time to tell everyone how the Bible really came to be.
With this eating away in the back of my mind I was reading Focus about two months ago when I happened upon an interview with Dawkins. It was a interesting interview which ended with a clever angle. The interviewer eventually built up the courage to ask Dawkins: 'If god was discovered to be real, what would you ask him?'
I thought that was a brilliant question and Dawkins response was up to the challenge. These were both then tossed into the mixing pot of my mind alongside the disappointment at his missed opportunity in looking at the history of the Bible. Together they formed the basic concept for these dialogues but I still didn't know that I was going to write them.
A few weeks later Prideesh and I were standing around my parents dinner table chatting about life, god and golf when I noticed a book sat askew on the counter: 'Conversations with God' by Neale Donald Walsch. I picked it up, read the first two pages and the floodgates opened. Suddenly I was hearing my own dialogues in my head. Prideesh and I came home and I started writing 'Dear God – One' the very next night.
On Writing 'Dear God'
The first essay: evolution, literally spilled onto the page. I think it was the easiest because evolution and genetics are very widely written about and discussed with the average layman in mind.
The second essay: The Old Testament, took a little more work but that was not so much in finding what I wanted to say, but in actually saying it within the platform of these dialogues.
The third: Christianity, took seven weeks and five major re-edits. Writing 'Dear God – Three' (DG3) was the most difficult writing challenge this mind has so far attempted.
One of the key pluses for the first two essays was the humour. While not actually being hugely funny it did break up the dialogue, gave the reader a moment to pause, collect their thoughts and move on - it freshened the mind's palette and made the whole thing a lot easier to digest. Finding any way of putting humour into DG3 was hugely problematic because someone or something always needs to be the focus for the humour.
In the first two of these, especially the first it was easy. The questing mind really didn't have a clue and some fun could be had. Likewise there were a few jokes to be had on the culture, perception and of course 'you're really god!' front.
In DG3 it was important that the questing mind was perceived to be catching on, and almost on the same page as god. Humour through god was also difficult because it had been so thoroughly done in the first two and would have needed a dumbing back down and repetition. That left the only avenue for humour in Christianity itself which was totally out of the question, it would have ruined the impact of the message and alienated anyone with the slightest perception of faith.
My personal thoughts on Christianity probably impacted as well. Keeping the dialogue even handed was not difficult but I carry some resentment for the moral guilt it placed upon my adolescent and young adult mind – and made humour in the writing of DG3 hard to come by.
Another problem was the length. There were so many avenues that could have been discussed that the first draft was well over 10,000 words - that's 4,000 words of really interesting dialogue about the founding of the orthodox Church, and the coming together of the New Testament that currently sits calling to me in several disparate openOffice documents. It may become part four, am not sure – I want to get these conversations out of my head and finished!
Prideesh read the 10,000 word version twice (now that is devotion). She said: it made sense but was bookish, that it needed to be a lot shorter, and should focus on one aspect. She was right. We decided that it would need to stick very closely to just the story of how Christianity came to be, why Jesus became known as the messiah and no deviations. We also decided that the story had to be in the one essay not split into two. So another two weeks later we had the 7,500 word edition.
Once the core story was there the job was to go through the text and remove or re-word anything that confused. Once more Prideesh was excellent here and got me to remove a large chunk I had written on scholastic methods for textual comparison and dating (almost 1000 words!) which included a discussion on how George Orwel's 1984 might accurately be placed and dated by no means other than textual comparison and historical reference. It was apparently interesting but too much extra information. Painful to remove but Prideesh, as usual, was right.
Another area that got trimmed down was in demonstrating the differences in the gospels and the made up stories in attempting to manifest Jesus the messiah. The point was made with just those in the nativity and the beginning of Matthews gospel, so the others I had were trimmed out. Another painful process.
Eventually I had the text, down now to 6,000 words, and just needed to balance the dialogue between the questing mind and god. This was difficult but also one of the most rewarding. One of the secondary objectives for this was to really try and influence a readers thoughts on character or plot simply through dialogue. It is something you can probably just keep revising. So in the end I had to stop tweaking.
The last few edits were done by Prideesh and I reading DG3 out as if it were a play, which was great fun. It all made perfect sense to us.
There have been some comments that at times the dialogue confuses the god and the questing mind, almost as if they switch. This is actually intentional. I have reread this a couple more times (which was difficult as I have been looking at it for so long now I can barely bring myself to read a word of it) and it functions as I wanted, maybe just not as cleverly as I hoped. You are supposed to think that the roles reversed, it is meant to stick in your mind because it gets pay-off in the last part.
I hope you will drop by to read the last part when it gets posted.
Whatever your thoughts of these essays they represent a considerable personal achievement, I think as much as getting them out of my head, as anything else. As with any personal endeavour they are rarely accomplished alone. As such huge thanks to the special one: Prideesh.
The imagination is an amazing thing. In my mind I can fly if I so desire, my fist held out directly in front of my face, my other arm straight at my side. The wind as I hurtle through the skies tugs at my hair, grasping at skin and clothing. Through clouds and out the other side, the cities and villages and patchwork fields blur beneath as I roll and dive, just as I did decades ago in the local swimming pool, when I only dreamed of flying.
Heroic deeds are easily accomplished in the mind - wading through countless bad guys, each one felled with quick efficient strikes. Blink and I am careening through space, next in some manic action sequence with vehicles pin wheeling over my head from the force of some impact.
In the last seven years I have driven a great many of England's roads, clocking up just under 200,000 miles along the way. Driving is not what I do for a living, just something that I do in getting to places I can earn a living, or to participate in life.
In this time I have never been involved in a road accident or seen one happen, but I have quite often driven past the consequences. Tonight is an example.
Heading east along the M4 – blue skies and the odd white cloud bidden by the first hints of autumn wind. Just after the last Swindon junction the vista suddenly becomes a sea of brake lights and flashing hazards. Everything on my passenger seat deposits itself into the foot well.
Over the next twenty minutes the traffic slowly concatenates towards what must be the scene of an accident, while police, fire and ambulance efficiently hurtle past on the hard shoulder.
Another twenty minutes and I am crawling through a scene of devastation, I have never seen anything quite like it.
In the central lane there is an upside down silver car, pointing to roughly four o'clock as I sit. It looks like a Ford Focus but I cannot be sure and for all intents and purposes seems to have been dropped from about twenty foot onto its roof, reducing the car to half its previous vertical height. A punctured air bag flaps free in the small gap that was a drivers window, now no more than an inch or two upside down high.
For seventy yards leading up to the felled vehicle the central reservation guardrail is bent over at an angle into the opposite side of the motorway. This is a strong metal fence over one meter high that has been designed to stop lorries and cars travelling at speed from crossing into incoming traffic.
It has not been bent over from horizontal impact but looks to have been forced over because something landed on it and skidded along its surface for a good fifty yards. Minds eye serves an image of a car doing the sort of trick you see kids doing with skateboards along the top of low steps and guardrails.
As unlikely as this seems, evidence would indicate this may have been the case - a number of cars travelling in the opposite direction around this point look to have veered off suddenly and are scattered at various positions along the motorway and hard shoulder, most with two or three punctured tires.
Stones are strewn across both sides of the motorway. We are not talking a few handfuls but what appears to be most of a pebble beach. There is no convenient shingle lorry pulled to a sudden stop with its tailgate hanging down as explanation, just wide deep tracts of churned mud from the central reservation. Several traffic officers have pulled brooms from the back of their cars and having climbed over the bent fence are stood in the middle of the westbound motorway, ushering these stones back towards the central reservation. Queued traffic looks on, awe has not yet given way to impatience or anger.
Back on the eastbound side of the accident, the hard shoulder is a collection of fire engines and police cars. Further on the hard shoulder and first lane of the motorway mirrors the westbound, with countless vehicles at odd angles seemingly having come to a sudden halt. The embankment is littered with dazed humans. Just a bag full of minutes ago they were hurtling oblivious to some destination – just another journey.
A paramedic attends to a blanketed but seated female. She is staring through all the pandemonium as if looking into another world. I cannot see any ambulance so assume the medic was left behind and the ambulance now screams towards the nearest accident and emergency.
A policeman once told me that speed is the multiplier that can be applied to assess the severity of any accident. But he saw very few accidents that could not have been avoided if one or all of the drivers had been actively thinking about driving.
As I look back at the vehicle, so flat and utterly defeated, with its pummelled bodywork and shredded air bag fluttering in the wind - nothing in this realm of my imagination now faced with a hard physical reality, can possibly conjure a force powerful enough to render this vehicle through this path of devastation to this end.
Well. The special one is back and no I am not on about Jose Mourinho getting the soon to be vacant coaching job at Bolton. Everybody is of course special and that includes myself. I just happen to have recently returned from my summer holidays - reinvigorated, rejuvenated and transformed into a golden tanned adonis. Which of course for anyone that knows me might be a leap of imagination too far. Well okay then - I have transformed from pasty white to dirty white and adonis was never in the running.
Kefalonia - destination holiday was great and relaxing and only marred by the fact it was end of season and all the bar staff have had their fill of red faced tourists. Getting one drink was never a problem, but getting a second became an art that I thoroughly studied but never mastered.
As the aim of this holiday was once more to relax and read and build momentum for the book writing winter, I of course took a whole bunch of books. Far too many of course to read in the time that was available but I made a good fist of it: Douglas Coupland's 'Generation X', Steven Gerrard's autobiography 'Gerrard', John Humphries' 'In God We Doubt' and Chris Ryan's 'Strike Back'. Do not fear, full reviews are forthcoming.
So for now. It is not good to be back, but I am here and have to earn a living, so will be around for a while. Here is looking forward to the winter and not needing excuses to stay indoors because outdoors is going to be horrible, wet and windy and cold.