Nomophobia …


Yesterday evening I did something I’ve never done before, I switched off my smartphone. I’ve had to reboot it in the past, the ‘ctrl-alt-del’ remedy for the modern age, and I often mute it or place it in airplane mode when travelling, but I’ve never actually switched it off and left it. I guess I’ve never really liked the idea of being ‘disconnected’.

And I have to admit it felt a little unsettling at first – what if someone tries to call me? But that feeling quickly dissipated when I realised nobody ever calls me. Phew! That was a close one!

I normally faff about on my smartphone before I go to sleep. I use the term ‘faff’, because it’s mainly whimsical, unimportant stuff I do – an established habit of browsing social media and newsfeeds. Anyway, yesterday, sans smartphone, I set my alarm on my alarm clock (I bought one recently) and read a book. It was that simple. The lack of blue light meant I was soon tired and it wasn’t long before I fell to sleep.

I didn’t sleep that well, waking often, old habits I guess, but as I had no phone to reach for, I had to face the periods of darkness head on. I soon got bored and went back to sleep with little else to fill the void.

This morning I woke to the sound of birdsong (it’s an alarm setting on that clock I was telling you about), but … and this was the most interesting thing … as my phone was in another room, I couldn’t immediately plug myself back into the matrix and inject myself with my normal fix of social media distractions. Normally, upon waking, driven purely by habit rather than need, I reach immediately for my phone and browse shit – checking notifications, checking for missed calls (as if!), checking emails, checking SMS, checking WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and finally Twitter.

The great thing about Twitter is that it’s infinite, you can spend as long on there as you want, clicking links and sinking ever deeper into the online abyss – a procrastinator’s dream. And if I do ever get bored with Twitter, I can always start back at the beginning, rechecking the news, scanning for more emails, any messaging updates, seeing if anyone has updated their social media, and so on.  And as a last resort, if I am really, really desperate to avoid life, there’s always LinkedIn (Hell’s very own social media channel).

But this morning I had little choice. I just had to lay there in the darkness, thinking about my day, all on my lonesome. It was old school and my out of shape mind and imagination quickly got tired of having to think for itself, so I got up and showered, wondering all the time if WWIII had actually happened. When I sat down at my desk, much earlier than usual I have to say, I switched on my phone and only then realised the world hadn’t changed at all – war hadn’t broken out, nobody of any note had died and no catastrophes had ensued.

I might try it again tonight. I’m currently wondering whether to stay with ‘birdsong’ as my wake up theme, or possibly switch to ‘rainfall’?

Decisions, decisions …


Monkey say, monkey do (parallel universes) …

It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I find myself all alone, all on my own, by myself, and I get excited by the seemingly endless possibilities of what I can do to fill the glorious void of time and space stretched out before me. Not just content to fill that time and space, but to better myself, to correct past mistakes, to make personal advances – to learn, to grow spiritually, physically and mentally.

Imagine the scene – I wake up one morning, no one is due home until tomorrow. I have no work, it’s a Sunday, say. A just-me Sunday, 24hrs to myself, to do what I want, and my head is spinning and overflowing with thoughts and ideas:

{screen shimmer to a parallel universe where my chimp imagination lives}

I rise early and visit a local market, I’m on my bike, I wave to the postman and stop briefly to chat to a neighbour. At the organic market I buy some fresh, local produce before enjoying a coffee with an old friend I haven’t seen in ages. Before leaving we make a date to catch-up properly over a beer. As I cycle home I plan the meal I’m going to cook for evening supper.

After I’ve unpacked I decide to go for a run – a long, uninterrupted run across the rolling hills within easy distance of my house. I return 72 minutes later (great time), exhausted but fulfilled. I take a long, lazy shower that refreshes. Shortly after I find myself sitting by the french window, mug of green tea in hand, reading my complex, dark and challenging novel, music is playing softly in the background, I think it’s Rachmaninov.

After finishing the novel, wow, I write a short review online. I then call my mum, we chat, we reminisce, we laugh. I do some laundry before I start prepping my evening meal whilst listening to a play on the radio. It’s hilarious, but, being partly educational too, I also learn a lot about the first world war, for it was a historical play. Smart. I catch sight of myself in the reflection from the window and I’m wearing a checked shirt, sporting round glasses with a rogueish haircut. I look ripped.

My meal is ready, I pour myself a solitary glass of wine. I feel relaxed, muscles nicely tired from exercise. I recall the conversation I had at the market with my friend and I smile, ruefully. One glass of wine is enough, so I clear away and once the kitchen is spotless, I sit at an antique desk and write a letter to another dear friend, for I have many. I seal the letter and place it by the door – I’ll post that first thing tomorrow, I tell myself.

I’m tired, I make myself a chamomile tea and repair to my bed where I read a little but soon fall asleep for eight peaceful, slumbering hours. I dream I’m on a European historical and gastronomic touring holiday with many of my close friends, we are having a blast.

{Screen shimmer}

We are back in the room where the real chimp me lives.

I wake with a jolt. I’m absolutely shattered, I slept like shit again. I reach for my phone, I read Twitter for an hour, feel very angry at the world so switch to Facebook. After a few minutes I feel angry at my friends too, so I switch to Instagram. That feels better, nice pictures, though some are a tad boring. I really should get up. I go for a pee but get back into bed, picking up my phone again. I play Candy Crush – level 1470 is a total, complete and utter bastard of a level, as though invented by the devil himself, to be played for eternity in Candy Crush Hell by Candy Crush Sinners. I run out of lives and feel very, very angry with all employees at King, makers and developers of Candy Crush. I check my friends’ Candy Crush progress – bastards, every one of them, they MUST be paying, they MUST be buying levels. What snakes.

Two hours have passed, it’s now mid morning, I really should get up and do something with my day otherwise I’ll feel like shit, so I get up and shower. That’s better, well done me, and so as a treat I check Candy Crush, I have earned back two lives, yay! But I fail to beat level 1470 again … twice. I head to the kitchen for breakfast in a rotten mood.

I should have oats and berries but I’m starving. I spot the leftover takeaway curry in the fridge and smile, moments later I’m tucking into microwave-warmed chicken dhansak, bombay aloo, rice and leftover naan. My plate overfloweth. I leave nothing. I’m feeling really tired now, so I switch on the TV and watch a recorded Match Of The Day that sees me through to lunch. At least I’m clearing space on the TV’s hard drive, I tell myself.

I should go for a run but feel too tired, my belly swollen with curry. There’s a knock on the door, so I hide out of view. I try to read but I’m not in the mood for that either, so I search out a new boxset on Netflix.  It’s shit, so I reach for my smartphone and check social media, burning through the rest of the afternoon as my internal levels of anger and resentment rise like sap within me. The phone rings, I can’t bring myself to answer it, I’m not feeling very sociable.

I suddenly feel inexplicably sad and unfulfilled, but as it starts to get dark I decide it’s OK to have a drink and I start feeling better, so I open a bottle of red wine which makes me peckish. I look in the fridge, nothing, just an empty space where the leftover curry once lived. But then I remember the pizza in the freezer and I’m sorted.  The wine complements the pizza so much that I open a second bottle. The extra large deep dish with cheesy crusts is challenging, but with extra wine for lubrication I manage to complete the circle of dough just as I finish the second bottle of wine. Synchronicity.

I’m wide awake now. It’s soon midnight (how time flies), and a great time to post on social media, I tell myself. I’m feeling very political and tweet ferociously, letting the world (or at least my 172 followers) know exactly how I feel. I’m both political and funny. What a guy, that’ll show my followers and I wouldn’t be surprised if I pick up a few more after that tirade. I lose five followers, five idiot followers, so switch dolefully to Facebook where I post one of my funniest jokes ever which earns two likes – most of my friends must be sleeping.

It’s 2am and I’m peckish again. The 1.5 litres of red wine has left a funny taste in my mouth (was the wine ‘off’, I wonder?), so I open a bag of cheesy quavers (86 calories) and pour myself a generous malt whisky (way better than beer), which feels like a masterstroke. Perhaps I should have been a culinary chef/dietician with my own TV channel? My imagination runs wild.

I wake at 5am, I’m fully clothed, laying on my bed, all the lights are on. I’m impressed how my autopilot self manages to do that, to get me home every time, and think I must be special.

Very special indeed.


Petitioning for a better life …

We all have a choice – we can choose the red pill or the blue pill.

When we choose the blue pill …blue pill

These dark, wintry days can get to us and if we’re unsuspecting they can affect our mood. Sadness typically requires very little effort, just passivity. Sit back and let all the bad things wash over you – the weather, the current political landscape, getting old. Focus on all that wasted time, on all those other, more successful people out there, and bingo, life feels overwhelmingly grim.

We can watch the news a certain way too – Brexit, this hapless government, Donald Trump, all the greed, violence, terrorism, food banks, homelessness, death, immigration – wherever you turn it’s bleak, it’s nasty, it’s dystopian. It’s a terrible time to be alive.

We look at ourselves critically. We’re getting older, fatter, we ache more, we sleep worse, we make noises when we bend down all of a sudden, we forget things, books take longer to read, ideas take longer to digest, food takes longer to digest, we increasingly need to wear glasses, we can’t run like we once did, we can’t fit into those trousers any more, our hair has gone thin and grey. Yuk.

And we build our barricades to suit. We choose our friends and colleagues, all our newsfeeds, all our social media timelines raining down on us, echo chambers playing back that which we already feared. It’s true, this is what we have become, a worried, complaining spectator on life. A gloomy, sombre onlooker passing comment, occasionally shaking our soppy fists, but always helpless, entirely hapless and seemingly clueless.

When we choose the red pill … red pill

Yes the days are short in January, it is dark and cold out there, but it needn’t stop us. We can dress for the occasion, both metaphorically and literally. This is England, it’s about as moderate here as anywhere on the planet. It’s sometimes a bit chilly, a tad breezy (nay, blustery even) and quite often damp, but that’s about it. We don’t generally suffer from tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts, flooding and bushfires. In fact there’s nothing in any of our weather stopping us gearing up and getting out there and enjoying the world. We grow accustomed to summer being good and winter being bad, but winter needn’t be enduring, it has just as much to offer us as summer. We can stop wishing the winter days away and instead enjoy them now. We can open your eyes instead of closing them, in the same way we can look forward to opening the curtains on a morning, not closing them on an evening. With the red pill we can approach things differently. A winter sky has far more to offer than a summer one if you just look with fresh eyes.

And we can choose instead to properly watch the news and instead of feeling overwhelmed and helpless, we can think of all the things we can change. We can think of the people who could really benefit from our help. We can start locally or we can start small, we can look around us at our neighbours and friends, even strangers. And we can soon realise we’re not the unfortunate homeless ones, we’re not the alcoholic in the park, we’re not unemployed, and despite what our bloated western bellies are telling us, we’re certainly not the hungry ones begging for food. The news can often be grim, but instead of letting it dictate our mood, instead of just sighing and rolling over or turning over, we can dictate the news, we can act and react. We can help make change.

And so what if we are getting old? That’s not news. Nor is it even a choice. It’s just a fact of life, of all our lives. I’m no longer 30 years old, so why strive to be 30? Surely its better to be the best 53 yr old I can be? Time, perhaps, to stop focussing so much on what I was, poring over what I have lost, and instead to focus more on what I have become – older yes, but also wiser, calmer, kinder? Perhaps focussing my energy on how I can grow spiritually, become better. A time maybe to seek out those who could really benefit from my advantages – family, friends and strangers alike. A time to stop taking, a time to give.

Although it often feels easy, we don’t have to complain, we can choose instead to campaign. To petition for a better life, not just for ourselves, but for those around us too. We don’t have to passively watch, we can, instead, actively participate.

Ultimately we are always free to choose the red pill over the blue.

Better lives don’t just arrive and happier lives aren’t searchable on Google. We have to make them happen, through our action and intent. There comes a time when we perhaps need to turn off the TV and the computer, a time to throw those curtains wide and open the front door, to start our campaigns for a better life, starting today, right now in fact, small steps, with a cold, damp, blustery, but beautiful wintry walk. All we need are our coats and sensible footwear …

The choices we make, every moment of every day, are always ours to make … the red pill or the blue pill?




Words and wars


Whilst catching up with my backlog of queued podcasts earlier this week, I heard a phrase in reference to the current global war on terrorism that caught my attention.  I don’t remember it exactly but it went along the lines of:

“There are only ever conversations and then wars”

The point being that all we ever have to secure peace is dialogue, discussion or negotiation and once that ends all we have is a reversion to violence on some level.  It’s when talks stall that violence starts, and that’s true whether it’s a local neighbourhood dispute over loud music, or two nations disputing the ownership of land. The magnitudes and implications may be very different, but the processes of negotiation on every level lead ultimately to only one of two outcomes:

negotiate -> compromise or agree -> resolution
negotiate -> fail to reach solution -> violence

It’s rather obvious I guess, but I’d never looked at it in this way, that at a very basic level, all we have in life, to safeguard our desire for peace, safety and happiness, comes down to words and exchange of ideas. Just that. Nothing else.

Whether spoken or written, words give us the ability to set ourselves apart from all other species, to truly become great. Carefully constructed groups of words form ideas and underpin arguments and reason, leading to cures against disease, improvements in technology that lead to improvements in the quality of all of our lives, and the ability to change opinion, to reach consensus, to compromise and reason, ultimately underpinning the very fabric of civilisation as we know it.

And given the importance of words, it is becoming increasingly worrying how social media echo chambers are distorting how we all perceive the world, and therefore how we communicate and interact with the world in our daily lives.

Such echo chambers have always existed, albeit in slightly different forms. Some people always buy The Daily Mail because it satisfies their right wing leanings. Most importantly and most dangerously, it closes the circle by emphasising and endorsing  pre conceived thinking and opinions. If you read The Daily Mail, you read how immigrants are to blame for the economy, lack of housing, demise of the healthcare system and so on, because you read it day after day after day in your newspaper.

Of course this isn’t just a right wing phenomenon. If I care about animal welfare, with a few clicks of a button, all I see all day are stories of cruelty to animals. If I believe the world is run by an elite lizard illuminati I can surround myself in conspiracy stories to back up and endorse my concerns. If I believe man never landed on the moon and it was all a hoax, there are over 137,000 online articles to immerse myself in to ‘uncover the truth’.

And today we don’t just have newspapers to construct our echo chamber, we also have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc, where we get to select and customise our feed content to suit. We determine who makes up our timeline, and so if I am a racist I choose to follow racists who also follow racists, so when I wake on a morning and turn on my smartphone I am bombarded by memes, opinion pieces, photographs and videos that underpin my pre-formed views of the world. Many of us get most, if not all, our information from such places these days. And with fewer and fewer news corporations with increasing levels of power, we are starting to see this also on our TVs and radios.

With very little effort at all, before long, we are all cocooned into our own customised, polarised, filtered views of the world. We experience the same world events but have our own personalised echo chambers to do the interpretation for us, serving it up to us on a 4.8″ super AMOLED HD touchscreen platter.

And if you are President of the United States of America, you follow just 43 people on Twitter, most who either have the word ‘Trump’ in their surname, or who conform to the very same views of your own.  27.7M followers, following the most powerful person on the planet, who in turn follows just 43 people.  This is Trump’s echo chamber. This is the source of his words, the cradle of his ideas. This is where his opinions are formed, where legislation is constructed. This is Trump’s World.

Words and wars – Ne’er a truer word.

The Versatile Blogger – nominated x 2


I am flattered and honoured to have received two nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award so a big, big thanks x 2 goes out to mythinkout and also pointless & prosaic who were kind enough to nominate me. As an Englishman this delights me and makes me feel very awkward, in equal measure. I confess I contemplated ignoring the nominations, but that would have been very rude and impolite, so thank you once again from the bottom of my blogging inkwell you two!

So, in accordance with the VBA rules, here are 7 things about me:

  1. I look like the Before photo in every Before/After fitness transformation photograph that was ever photographed.
  2. I’m 51 years old, but I think I’m about 34.
  3. I was born, grew up and still live in England, but have also lived in Munich – Germany (’97-’99) and Virginia – USA (’00-’02)
  4. I have an INFJ personality type which means I’m in the smallest, most select group alongside Gandhi (good), Plato (smart), Wittgenstein (wow, cool), Dostoevsky (get me!), Hitler (awkward), Bin Laden (wtf …?)
  5. I hate mushrooms
  6. The last time I cried was when our family dog died. He was called George. He was ace.
  7. I’m listening to Joni Mitchell as I type this (Court & Spark album)

My nominations are all bloggers who have either 1) blogged about something that made me go “wow”, 2) made me laugh or 3) inspired me to carry on blogging.

In no particular order:


Emma Fleming

Cars and cooking


3389 miles & further


Greater than gravity



The idiocy of being me …

I’ve been set an assignment by my Blogging101 course, to ‘write a blog to my target audience, on any subject, but with an interesting twist’.

I immediately panicked, I don’t have a target audience…

Target audience -> all human beings

That feels a bit vague …

Target audience -> people like me

This is hard, really hard.

The Blogging101 students have a common room, an online chatroom. I’ve already been on there several times and seen that loads of people have already done their homework and this is just like school all over again, all those feelings I used to have, have come flooding back. I’m more obsessed by how far others have got on their assignments than actually doing my own, and the more I procrastinate, the bigger my crisis becomes.

And yet it feels ever so slightly comforting and familiar, like slipping into an old pair of jeans. Part of me likes being told what to do, part of me likes to rebel, I will do my homework assignment but not without a small drama, a quiet rebel yell, a Tim Henman-esque fistpump.

It’s getting late, but here I am, doing my assignment, writing about not doing my assignment. This is like a bloody John Le Carre novel.

And this is a picture of a twisty snake, next to Tim Henman, fist-pumping. Pretty interesting huh? My classmates are gonna love this …


twisty snakeHenman

Unchaining the digital slave

Browsing Facebook is easy, playing candy crush is simple, building my SimCity takes very little effort. I can easily burn several hours a day doing these things, and I can do them anywhere – on a plane, on a train, at my desk, in a meeting (!), on the loo, in bed. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and do them. I think of something funny, something that I think will make people laugh and so I make a mental note to post an update on Facebook in the morning. Sometimes I do it there and then in the middle of the night, in case I forget, and whilst I’m on my phone I may even sell some items on SimCity to get more money, to build a bigger city. I’m a terrible sleeper.


I’m currently stuck on level 500-and-something of Candy Crush Saga. I’ve been stuck on it for weeks and it’s really hacking me off. I contemplated paying for extra moves, or buying additional booster packs but I thought better of it. I’ve paid before, 69p, doesn’t sound a lot but each time you do it a small piece of your soul dies and your kharma shrivels up, like a slug exposed to salt.

I’m on level 15 of SimCity BuildIt, but I’ve only been on it a couple of weeks. I look enviously at my SimCity neighbours, some who have row upon row of shiny skyscrapers and beaches and airports and beautiful people and … how do they do it? I’m so envious, I must work harder at mine, so I load it on iPad as well as iPhone allowing me to build my city anytime, anywhere, any place, it’s the right one, it’s the bright one, it’s Martini.

Facebook brings out the worst in me. I update my status at airports, that’s cool, and foreign restaurants, and cinemas, and concerts. I like to tell jokes to make me look funny as well. Basically I’m a show-off and an attention seeker. I also only choose to share select parts of my life – I choose my photos carefully, need to look good, need to look cool. I like to talk about my kids, but only the good stuff, the funny stuff. I don’t mention the arguments, the screams and shouts, the tantrums, the door slamming.

And possibly worst of all, when something exciting happens, I have this urge to take a photo and upload it to Facebook, often lessening the experience of the actual life moment itself as a result. I see life’s exciting events through a lens rather than just experience the event itself.

I also, rather ironically, get really annoyed by other peoples updates – people that show-off, people on beaches, people in schmalzy restaurants, people in airports mysteriously omitting their destination, making us guess where they’re heading. People posing in a selfie, people posting YouTube songs, like we care!! Yes that’s right, people identical to me, I’m a hypocrite.

I try and justify this nonsense to myself and it goes something like this – I work hard, I need to relax, I deserve to relax, and so this is my relaxation, playing SimCity. Therefore I wake at 3am to fill my factories with metal and wood, to build tools and equipment, ready for the morning. Perhaps I’ll even play a bit of CandyCrush too, then realise I haven’t played Words With Friends for a few days either and my Scrabble friends will be getting annoyed with me, so I’d better do that as well. I’m exhausted, but hey this is my relaxation time, I deserve it.

How warped and flawed is that thinking?  Of course work is hard, and yes family life can be hard – thinking ahead and planning meals, cooking, cleaning, all this on top of a draining and demanding job takes time and effort, but it’s the same for everyone. So why then, when I have so little time for anything these days, do I feel the right thing to do is sit down and check my SimCity? My hammers and spades are ready – Yay! So I make more, but oh no my SimCity police force is understaffed and my SimCity citizens are getting antsy, my mayor approval rating is falling!  So I switch to Candy Crush but this is such a hard level …

And no matter how hard I try, my SimCitizens are always pissed with me, because that’s how the game works. I built a police station but now they want fire protection, I build a fire station but now they want improved sewage and waste collection. It’s so insidiously stressful and it’s 100% self inflicted.

Meanwhile, I’ve only got 3 bloody likes for that YouTube video I posted on Facebook? What the HELL is wrong with these tone-deaf idiots? And on and on it goes.

All these things we do seemingly for pleasure, but somehow I manage to make them my life. I become enveloped, my head is spinning – what to do next? Water my strawberries on Farmville or build more chairs to sell in SimCity? Those candies won’t crush themselves and if I’m not careful I’m going to lose at scrabble again. I’m not good enough, I’m failing at everything. Now I have traffic jams on my SimCity streets – sadface #sadface :-(.


Of course, to any sane person, none of the above is real, none of this is life, none of it is living. In the meantime, outside of my self-promoting digital world, out there in the real world, real people are feeling ignored, real bills are left unpaid, real relationships left untended, real problems unresolved. Life is hard, Damon Albarn was bang on, modern life is rubbish, so adding to this with digital nonsense is so utterly, unspeakably facile, I think my head might explode, and so it’s time to make some changes.

Click, whirr …

Facebook – deleted
Messenger – deleted
SimCity (BuildIt) – deleted
CandyCrush – deleted
Words with Friends – deleted
Google+ – deleted
Snapchat – deleted

=== The End ===

The School Reunion

It was 34 years ago when I left secondary school, and 32 years since I left sixth form college. As I lost touch with everyone when I headed off to university in 1983, that means it’s been at least 32 years since I saw anyone from my schooldays, and so you can imagine my nervousness as I went to my first reunion last night. Inside the pub there would be a small group of people, all of whom were between 16-18 the last time I saw them, and now were all aged 49 or 50.

I imagined the worst, I always imagine the worst. I worried about whether I would recognise them (although I had prepped by studying Facebook photos), and I worried if they would remember me. I imagined walking in and being met by a dozen blank faces attached to a dozen youthful, slim bodies that had cheated the ravages of time. I imagined in-jokes which I wasn’t privy to, memories and recollections that didn’t involve me, stories that were unknown to me. I imagined chatty, confident, bright sparkly people and I thought of how I would stutter over my words, finding little or nothing to contribute. I imagined being the outsider because part of me always felt that way at school. I wondered if I had repressed bad memories of school, memories that would spring forth the moment I walked through the door. Were there 10 bullies waiting to confront me for one more playground bullying session? Then there was my accent, I had lived ‘down south’ for all the intervening years and my northern brogue was softened at the edges. To southerners I had a northern accent, to northerners I had a southern one, I didn’t fit in linguistically anywhere, but here I was, on home northern turf, on their turf, more proof, if proof were needed, that I was the outsider. Why was I even here? I started to panic as I approached the door and had to muster all my strength and courage not to just walk away. I had lived without these people for 30+ years, I could do it for a few more surely?

As I entered the pub I saw small groups of people gathered at tables and instantly I panicked. I was looking at them and thinking to myself, ‘is that them?’ I flushed, and started to panic some more, but then in the distance I saw the group.  I recognised Dave first, he hadn’t changed much, here goes nothing.

My homework had paid off, I could put names to faces, we shook hands (boys), we hugged (girls). There were only four of them, I was the fifth and in that moment all eyes were on me. I seriously wondered if they were all looking at me and thinking ‘who the fuck is this old bastard?’ but then Dave said “Tha can lose that posh accent nar Andy”. I was in and I headed to the bar for a much needed pint of courage.

They all looked very familiar. Obviously older, but their faces, especially their mannerisms, hadn’t changed. Others arrived and the group grew, and along with it, my confidence.

Some faces were more familiar than others, although all were known to me and it felt nice. As time went on, drink helped melt away any lingering inhibitions and stories unfolded, memories were unearthed as synapses fired in the dark recesses of my brain for the first time in over 30 years. I wanted to chat with everyone, in detail.  I wanted to know where they lived, who they lived with, who they still knew from school. I wanted to know who had kept in touch with whom, and who, like me, hadn’t. People I hadn’t thought of for several decades were mentioned, brought back to life, brought back to my life, all wrapped up in newly found and rediscovered memories.

Best of all was meeting Dave and Andy again. Dave and Andy were in my gang, we did everything together from the age of about 6 to 16. We shared lists of our favourite girls, we went to parties together, we copied each other’s homework, we listened to records together and went to concerts together, we did most things together. And even though that all stopped for over 30 years, within seconds of seeing them it was back, just like it always was. The banter, the in-jokes, the nods and winks, the nudges of familiarity, it was all there just like it always had been.

At the end of the evening, when it was time to say our goodbyes, I felt a real sense of kinship, a bond, not just with Andy and Dave, but with all these people.  It wasn’t a great school, in fact it was pretty grim and shitty if truth be told, but we all got through it and had made something of our lives.  We shared a life as children, and we had a common string of mutual experiences that no-one else knew or understood, and that made us a special group.

All my earlier fears had been unfounded.  It was, in reality, a true and genuine pleasure to meet every single one of them again.  To renew friendships no matter how tenuous.  With 50 yr old heads on our shoulders and a lifetime of experiences behind us, I got the feeling we all felt better for this.  This was like therapy and it felt great.

I can’t wait for the next one now, bring it on.

You have deactivated your Facebook account … (again)

I have, and it feels good.  I deactivated Facebook before, and I said it felt good then too, but I went back, I caved in.  Here’s what I wrote last time:

Re-reading it, I still agree with every word and wonder why I ever went back?

Main reasons for leaving:

1) I dislike my own updates.  I’m mostly trying to show people how witty I am by forwarding other people’s jokes (impressive), and if I’m not making a joke, I’m self publicising by posting from some glamorous location so I can show everyone where I am.  Look at me!

2) I dislike (some) other people’s updates.  Many people use Facebook to show off.  Facebook is like one big pissing contest around exam time/holidays/christmas.  And yes, I’m guilty of this – see 1) above. Look at you!

3) I waste an enormous amount of time on it.  I checked if before bed, I checked it each morning and if I woke in the middle of the night I checked it then too.  I also checked it at work, on the train and walking down the street.

4) It stole my creativity and it stole my time.  Why bother expressing your feelings in a thought out, considered piece of prose, when you can do a short FB update instead? Why work hard at producing something original when you can upload a photo or share an article?

5) It spoiled great occasions.  So addicted to Facebook was I, that if I was at some fantastic event, my first thought was to capture it and share it with Facebook.  As I wrestled with technology, tried to take photos in the crowd, or struggle to login to wifi or get 3G access, the ‘event’ unfolded in front of me, and I was missing most of it as I viewed it through the lens of my iPhone instead of with my eyes.

6) It’s anti-social and it’s become so insidious it’s changing society and how we interact with each other, and that scares me most of all.

Knowing my track record of anything, I will give in and go back at some point, but then if you’ve been reading this blog you already knew that.

This is me

Progress, what progress?

My Grandma had it tough.  She told me stories about her life as a small child with something like 9, 10, 11 siblings.  I’m afraid I don’t remember the exact number, but she often told me the story of how her dad would tell them that it was time for bed, and they all raced in unison upstairs with all the energy they could muster. Why? How odd! If I ever tried to get my kids to bed they resisted, rebelled, had tantrums, so why was my Gran and her brothers and sisters so conformist?  Turns out they raced to secure the middle part of the bed where you were warm, and safe.  On the edges of the bed, 9 children wide, the latecomer faced being exposed to the brutal elements, often pushed out in the middle of the night onto the stark cold, cockroach infested floor.  In the morning, when the light was turned on, there was a scuttling noise as the cockroaches headed for the dark recesses of the room.  You bet your fcuking ass they ran to bed. And let’s face it, listening to Winston Churchill on the World Service wireless ain’t no Beyonce concert on YouTube.

I can’t imagine that life my Gran had.  It fills me with dread and horror.  And yet I remember walking to school in deep winter, for miles.  I remember PE in the freezing cold, so cold I couldn’t do up my shirt buttons as my fingers were too numb. The PE teacher marched you into the communal showers and flicked your bare arse with his towel if he felt you hadn’t showered properly. He stood at the exit of the shower, watching, barking orders.  Sometimes he got the table tennis bat and smacked you so hard you had DUNLOP emblazoned on your cheeks for several days after.

When I tell my kids that, their reaction is similar to my reaction when I heard my Gran’s stories about cockroaches under the bed.  A reaction of incredulous horror.  How could life have been so stark?  My kids didn’t even shower after sports at school, it wasn’t seen as socially acceptable.  Life progresses, and life becomes more protected, softer, more cushioned, more safe, more predictable, more sterile.  This is progress after all. Studies have been commissioned that say hitting kids with table tennis bats is cruel, just like sleeping 9 to a bed is inhumane and is now more or less outlawed, consigned to the middle pages of the Daily Mail pouring scorn on the working class or foreign immigrants.  Progress.  How lucky we are these days.

And yet, sometimes I wonder if we are now really living. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss those showers, and I would never advocate smacking with ping-pong bats, but it was a life full of living, whereas life these days sometimes feels so sanitised, so protected. We seem, these days, to wander around in a kind of haze, a fug, conforming to an expected ideal, the modern ideal of modern living. We have all the trappings. I have a satellite feed, I have a broadband feed, I have unlimited, plumbed, sanitised water, I have electricity and gas, heat, as much as I can ever muster and more. I have a car and can afford to put petrol in the tank whenever I want. I have a large wall mounted TV, I have smartphones, tablets (prescription and electronic variants), I holiday in the sun, I occasionally ski, I have all that. I have become comfortable. And comfortableness brings freedom, freedom to choose from all these rich pickings at my table, all within arms reach. Progress. And if I as much as see another of God’s creatures in my house I whip out my credit card and call Rentokil who come out to destroy them with the latest man made toxins. Awesome.

But really, am I any happier, any better off, than my Gran was? Had my Gran been asked to predict what would life be like if it had been full of heat, light, cleanliness, more than you could ever imagine, she would of course have grabbed it with both hands. She would have probably imagined a life of unimaginable pleasures, a life filled with joy – parties, feasts, mass rallies of people, social gatherings, debates, more parties, unlimited travel, and yet here we are – with all these comforts, and what do we do? We choose to watch others through the medium of our televisions, our modern drug of choice. We surf the web looking for wheatgrass juicers or frictionless drawers for our kitchen. We watch, ostracised from others, viewing reality TV and becoming angry by the behaviour of the ‘celebrities’ within. We crave the life of our heroes – footballers that earn £200k a week, movie stars that have had surgery to keep them beautiful.  We desire the renovated house, we watch with green envy as the TV chef cooks a feast to astound and amaze their friends. We go to bed mentally exhausted, yet physically moribund, corpulent and unfulfilled.

My Gran went to bed exhausted, and if she wasn’t on the edge of the bed she grinned herself into a deep slumber, wiped out from a day of stark but real living.  She lived to a ripe old age too, and I remember seeing her on her death bed and I thought to myself, now that was a character, that was a life well lived, a life full of stories, of experience, of interaction.

And I wonder if we will feel the same.  Progress, what progress?