E is for Europe.

There are two Europes. One is a malignant Political leviathan aping the old USSR, despite the lessons its failure taught, the other is a wonderfully varied place, full of fantastic peoples, and worthy of extended visits, and getting to know more about.

A full ten percent of this fair isles residents never leave. There are the wilds of Dartmoor, the Brecon Beacons, the Mountains of Scotland, the Cornish Riviera, Historic Cities, from Bath to York, and all places in between, and over 4000 miles of coast. There is a lot to do and see here.

Some, like their ancestors, rarely travel more than ten miles from point of birth.

We do have a slight disadvantage, being an island, we have to cross the Channel to get to the rest of Europe.

Fun fact. My dear Wife and I had to attend an early morning  appointment in Greater London last year. Return rail ticket cost about £120. My eldest and I went to Berlin later in the year. Return flights for us were under £100. Brighton to Berlin, about 700 miles. Brighton to London, about 60 miles.

So Europe is accessible, go see it for yourself.

The other Europe is a bit darker.

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First, the History bit.  Over the last 1000 or so years, probably longer but 1000 years is long enough, the Europeans main hobby was War. It started in 1002 with a scrap between what we know today as Germany and Poland. The last big one ended in 1945, involving the same two Nations, and most of the rest of the world. You would think after best part of a 1000 years practice they would be really good at War, but this last conflict left both in ruins. Makes you wonder if that was a hint from the rest of the world.  

After the last big one, the winners devised a cunning plan to force peace on the Europeans, well, most of them, and this plan has morphed into the European Union.

Everyone was convinced they would rebuild, rearm and go back to war, once the next crop of soliders had grown up. The plan worked. By the clock, someone should have created a drama, and invaded someone else by about 1970. Have the Europeans broken the habit?

By forcing trade and cooperation on all the previous belligerents, war has become too inconvenient. Instead of ruthless armies of occupation, we have a ponderous army of bureaucrats meddling in  our day to day affairs. Instead of a slightly mad class of Aristocrats governing our lives, we have a European Commission, of slightly mad politicians.

If you ignore the huge financial mismanagement, the petty attempts at macro management, and the feather nesting, it basically works, because we are at least two big wars behind what historical precedent suggested.

It would be very easy for me to list a ton of things the European Union has done, and talks about doing, that would perpetuate the often polarised view folk hold. I like basic broad brush strokes. It was necessary for world peace that Europe be united. The old communist USSR was cast as the bogeyman, the USA and then NATO as the defender. Unified under a common threat. This ebbs and flows, time moves on.

Now we live in interesting times. War in Western Europe is unlikely. It’s good for the Arms industry, but that is not dominant. We have a businessman as President in USA. UK is leaving the European Union, Italy might do, Spain is starting to crack over regions. Greece has been financially ruined. Immigration of unskilled persons is at record levels.

It’s the age of soundbite politics, trial by media, twitter and 24/7 media. It’s the age of new generation, and they are generally disappointed. Every new generation feels the same way. This lot have the tools to tell everyone how they feel, and have been brought up with the dangerous message of entitlement, and other false promises.

Have to see where it goes from here….

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G is for Gods and Religions

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A great source of comfort to some, a reason to go to war for others, or just a fairy tale?

Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais have spoken far more.eloquently than most on the fairy tale aspect. What is significant is their position is one of tolerance, or even indifference. This contrasts sharply, in some cases literally involving sharp implements, with other more prescriptive religions. There is a with us or against us attitude with some religions that can only lead to conflict.

Religions are a sort of club. You agree to follow specific rules, you get some sort of reward. A lot of these rewards are a bit vague, and are only qualified for once conventional life is over. There are a few flaws in this, but religions have rubbed along for thousands of years on this vague promise with the good old carrot and stick. Happy ever after, if you follow these arbitrary rules, or eternal damnation. In some of the bigger religions, there is a fair amount of detail on the eternal damnation thing, presumably to make it sound as appalling as possible.

But it’s all so primitive. If you do follow the rules there is a  promise of serving some imaginary god like figure for all time under his or her benevolent gaze, or make for own choices and face the fire forever. Sounds like house servant or boiler keeper. Both are hierarchical positions, with you still at the bottom.  

Others appeal to more carnal aspirations, offering a vast number of inexperienced young ladies, at your disposal, to satisfy the most voracious appetites. Apart from sounding like a teenagers wild fantasy, it’s a bit harsh on the ladies. Where do they come from in this version? It’s not overly appealing for them, to be one of a collection of bags of flesh for a random male to abuse for eternity. How did they get subscribed into this story line?

At what point does anyone remember the sage advice, if its too good to be true, it’s probably not.

There is the small matter of proof. There is no record of a reliable witness returning from any of these reward or punishment centres. There are lots of documented near death experiences, where folk, who were presumably in significant pain and under the influence of a lot of medications, make claims of a long white corridors, calming feelings and so on. If you factor out a large number of me too claims, factor in the medication, and the also documented hopeless expectation of death induced calmness, that’s neatly explained.

I fully accept the comfort Religion brings to many people. It offers a codified life, which leans towards doing nice and civilised things, usually for the benefit of other people. Except the whole with us or against us, go to war thing.

I like the rules and safety net of modern life. I’m comfortable with the big rules about killing and stealing, being reasonable and mindful towards the needs of others as well as my own and so on. I am much less comfortable with big religions hoarding riches, slaying people who don’t agree with them, or agree to follow their choice of rules. It’s the big intolerance issue. I cannot understand how so many folk want to be in control of other people’s thoughts and actions.

My personal belief system can be summed up thus.

Firstly, life it is a result of a strange chemical reaction billions of years ago and then evolution happened.  

Secondly, If your alive, you will die, and the biological bits will break down and cycle through the planet again.

Thirdly, there is no master plan, stuff just happens.

Fourth and Final, always try to do the right thing. If the right thing is not obvious, try harder.

 

Ultimately, folk will do what they feel comfortable with or compelled to do. I do, and assume you do too.  

(Note, this whole alphabet thing is turning out to be more difficult than I thought. Pick 26 random topics and write most days. Good exercise, never again…..)

H is for Hate

Hate is a strong word. That’s not really true, it only has four letters, but its use can be hateful, in some circumstances.

Hate is an emotion, and thus specific to the individual. It is acceptable and a real thing for someone or something to be both loved and hated. Just ask any married couple.

Some argue hate is based on fear, others on lack of understanding, and some even on skin pigment. A different way to look at it would be to take the view that hate is based on lack of acceptance. That rather falls apart when someone tells you they hate brussel sprouts. That is not based on a shortage of acceptance, but on taste. It is also good news, as there will be less demand on the sprout pot, and thus more for me. Taste, texture, smell are all physical reasons, a simple not liking, and perhaps more comprehensible than hate based on pigment, or which book you have been told to believe in.

Hate is a barrier to communication, two sides cannot effectively compromise if hate is present, its a crude form of prejudgement, bias if you like.

Hate is an adult form of immaturity. It is an artificial construct used to unite one group against others. This is where it becomes more sinister. As part of the ruled classes, we are perceived as to be in need of some sort of control, some unifying factor is required. We all fall for this, and it has been the case for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Hate and similar things like prejudice are learned behaviours. We excuse them as societal behaviour, and thus they become acceptable to us.

It helps to think of it as an extrapolation of a tribal origin, or even further back, to instinctive behaviour. We lived in small communities, often mostly extended family. There was a lot of sense in unified aims and objectives, like enough food and water, shelter from elements. It was our aim to see we got those things, to preserve our bloodlines, our tribe, our lives, promote our survival. If there were other tribes with their own worthy aims of survival, then competition for those necessary resources would be inevitable. Competition leads to conflict, leads to winners and losers, leads to resentment leads to revenge, leads to hate?

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On a primitive level, probably not. I don’t suppose the Zebra hates the Lion, when in competition for scarce water. The Lion does not hate the Zebra, it just wants to eat.

So hate is very useful in contemporary societies, and can be used to unify or create division, depending on need.

 

We really are that gullible…..

I is for Interested..

Now this can be a bit of a curse, especially with the discovery channel and YouTube.

There is so much freely available information. To make it more interesting, quite a lot of it is wrong. Not always totally wrong. But often inaccurate or misleading. The now legendary Encyclopedia  Britannica collection in most aspiring households has been rendered obsolete by Wikipedia’s growth. Without fully understanding how it works, it’s fair to assume if you are reading a blog, Wikipedia needs no introduction. But. And I know it’s a poor show to start a sentence with either of those words, but, it’s readily editable by anyone who can be bothered to register. Regardless of their expertise or political leaning. Britannica had a good reputation, although it could be dated. Wiki is not so reliable, but is a good starting point.

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(This is not a picture of me. In the free to use photo section, there appears to be little demand for grumpy overweight blokes peering at books. Just have to make do…..)

The discovery channel is great entertainment dressed up as vaguely educating. It usually entertains, even if you have to watch out for the words could, might be, and one day.

As a human, there are certain basic needs that have to be met, water, shelter, food being the basic building blocks of life. The Discovery channel is a long way down that list, but if the basics have been met, the need to stimulate the few pounds of soggy grey matter behind the eyes becomes more important.

I sometimes wish I could be interested or even fanatical about watching sports. That is well catered for. Doing sport is ok, good sometimes, watching it does not sit well with me. Watching live sport has a number of drawbacks, watching it on a small screen is not my beverage of choice. Simply put, watching a person pushing the limits of physical endurance, whilst slumped in a near vegetative state, consuming a steady stream of high calorie, high sugar crap, just seems wrong. Maybe I should watch the cycling from a static trainer, or the athletics while on a treadmill, not sure how I could watch Rallycross, other than throw myself off the chair occasionally.

But people do get interested in being a spectator, i’m just not sure how. Hence, the tendency to get interested in many different things, none of which are mainstream, and frankly only of interest to myself. The curse is to have a butterfly mentality, flitting from thing to thing, dependent on mood, weather and how much coin there is in my pocket.

Take art of example. I like doing art, making pictures, chasing pigment all over the page, that sort of thing. My art, my connection.  I have limited interest in watching art, like spending hours at a gallery. I am just not that deeply connected to it, or more likely, have that deeper level of understanding.

Or I will spend hours watching or reading about history.  If I go someplace, and have a bit of knowledge about the history of it, I will try to find some sort of physical connection. Literally touching the wall. The defeat of the Nazi’s in Berlin was a lot less abstract to me once I had touched the Reichstag building. The Cold war more real when I walked along what’s left of the Berlin wall. Suffering and crises was real at a Romanian state orphanage in the early 1990’s. The Iron age becomes more tangible when you walk around an abandoned hill fort.

And I have no idea why.

L is for LEGO

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This started with Lego, and will continue to bring in Lego now and again. This is the primary build from 31048 Creator set, released in 2016, Mountain hut or similar. I don’t buy a lot of Lego any more, but when I do, it tends towards the Creator sets. What I like about this one is,

  1. Compact. It all fits on a base, no significant bits flapping about loose. Well there is a moose to make with this set, but as it falls into the flapping about loose category it does not get made.
  2. Quick to build.  Less than an hour.
  3. Variety. You have a lake, fishing, woodcutting, frogs, tree, some inside detail, and a fire.
  4.  Its a small building. I quite like small buildings.
  5. Nice rendering of a log cabin.

Have a nice day..

 

M is for Mental Health

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Now I am am no Mental Health professional, and some MH conditions are chronic, and need professional treatment. With my neck firmly and willingly on the line, most are not.

Stay with me on this.

This is about mental well being, a sort of keep fit for the brain.

The object is to suggest some tools to avoid common mental health concerns. They are my opinion only, and your mileage may very.

 

  1. You are one of many. You are not that special. Some will love you, some will hate you, some will enrich your life, others will not. Most will not even be aware of your existence. Good things will happen to you, bad things will happen to you. You were born, you will die, and you have no control over either of those. You simply are. You are that consciousness behind your eyes and just over your nose. You are that last interaction good or bad. Accept this. Try to do more good than bad.
  2. To paraphrase one of actor Jack Nicholson quotes, “The less I care, the happier I am“ So the message here is to care about things that are within your influence. Care about the people close to you, the people who want to be with you, or be part of your life. There is little point getting all riled up and passionate about things you have no sway over. View these other things as what they are, just entertainment. Support your team, but if they are not the winners this time, that’s no reason to feel bad, or to feel angry or depressed. You can celebrate the game, and feel grateful to be part of it.
  3. Have a look at mindfulness as a way of enjoying the mundane, as well as the spectacular. Even sat at the keyboard typing, I can marvel at the apparent dexterity of fingers and hands, feel the comfortable pressure of crossed ankles and so on. Try to do the best you can at whatever your doing.
  4. Try to minimise your exposure to harmful substances, and avoid where possible being dependent on these. Recognise the difference between say a social drink with friends, and getting completely shitfaced. One is a great and acceptable use of your time, the other is not. Understand your limits, and understand how judgement can be clouded when intoxicated.
  5. Get a good sweat on several times a week. Your personal level of fitness will determine what is required, but physical exercise makes you feel better. It’s all do do with some complicated internal biochemistry, but it really works. Just don’t use it as an excuse to beat on yourself. In any way. You are doing this for yourself.
  6. Try to avoid treating yourself on payday. Treat yourself the day before payday, with what is left. Better still, with half of what’s left, and squirrel away the rest for another day. Avoid reckless debt. Experiences are way much better than things. If making a large purchase, ask your sales person how much commission they are making on it. Or put it another way, how much money are you going to give them personally to buy this thing. Remember, if they fudge the answer, what else is fudged about this deal. Do your research. Let’s not forget who is doing who a favour here.

 

Only experience will show what works for you, but try to protect your mind. Life may harm you, but it’s how you view that harm that defines you. It’s not enough to blame your misfortune on an event, and give up. You must always move on, or you won’t. Take help and advice as needed, but move on. Two little quotes, Dory in Disney’s Nemo, “ Just keep swimming, just keep swimming “, and the French Foreign Legion, “ March or die “

And away’s celebrate your Victories. Its personal to you, and important.

 

Be happier.  

 

 

 

N is for Night Shift.

 

Even before the 24/7 world we live in now, there was the night shift.

It used to be the domain of the emergency services, lorry drivers, and a few others.

Now it is much more widespread, with at least 12% of the workforce regularly working nights.

That is about three and a half million out of a total of thirty two million employed people, Unemployed or otherwise economically inactive accounts for a further ten and a bit million.

So at any given time, some 3% of the population are trying to sleep during the day.

When the other 97% are not.

This is a personal issue for the other 3,499,999 people, who like me, find that night shifts account for about a 1/3rd of my paid hours.

As a regular night worker, I am able to share the benefits, of a much shorter life expectancy, feelings of total exhaustion on a regular basis, and a totally non existent sleep pattern.

Do you really need your Supermarket open all hours?

As part of the Emergency Services, and thus publically funded, there is an EXPECTATION that the work will be done, the crises will be averted, and the majority of the other sixty odd million people will be able to carry on with their lives, blissfully unaware.

I stress it is my choice to be on that front line. Commitment, duty, and vocation are not words widely used, out of this industry.

Speaking of stress, those who manage avoid working night shifts will never experience the thrill of being expected to make critical, and potentially life changing / ending  decisions, when totally exhausted.

It’s a lot more common than you’d think.

But you only get to hear about it when we get it wrong.

This is the fun bit, the other 10,000 correct decisions are irrelevant. In the eyes of management, and often the media, it’s the mistake that defines you. We quite rightly expect value for money for services we pay for. Emergency services workers are not miracle workers, but they do perform unseen miracles everyday.  

You would miss them more than you could possibly imagine.

Really short today, last couple of Night shifts have been insanely busy. If I told you what I’ve been doing you wouldn’t believe it, and you’d probably have trouble sleeping.