Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Glue sniffing out of fashion, what is the world coming to?

This isn't the image on the BBC site, but it's much funnier
The BBC today are carrying a report on how protesters are now gluing themselves to things to make their protests.

Apparently campaigners have been following in the footsteps of the suffragettes and have glued themselves to structures in Edinburgh, Bristol and the House of Commons over recent months. A particularly good example was when a protester from Plane Stupid, who campaign against airport expansion, glued himself to Gordon Brown’s sleeve a couple of years ago. Still I suppose he’s lucky enough to have more than one suit.

Reading the report I find myself wondering, are we witnessing a hidden example of the general level of ignorance of adhesives, despite the wealth of DIY programmes on Channel 4? For the glue used by protesters is super glue, a fast acting adhesive that bonds instantly when the surfaces make contact and air is excluded. It works particularly well on skin as it is water tolerant and has been used to close wounds in surgery. The BBC, however, has clearly used an image of a two part epoxy resin which, while very strong and quite goopy when mixed, takes hours to set and would have required considerable cooperation from Gordon Brown or from the police outside the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Is it the fact that we don’t hear so much about glue sniffing these days that means picture editors in the media don’t know their cyanoacrylate based fast-acting adhesives from their two part epoxy resin?

I recently read a blog that said that one of the five things that is expected of a man to attract a mate is to be able to fix things, along with being physically strong, a high earner, etc. Obviously this image was chosen by a woman or a wanker.

BBC story

Monday, 23 August 2010

There was no need for you to say anything

At the weekend I went to a party with some friends and I met the most amazing couple. Strangely I thought I’d met the woman before but she swore we had never met.

She turned out to be with her husband and within a moment I registered that there was something unusual about them. He first appeared completely normal, in his fifties I’d say, she perhaps ten years younger, both of them quite attractive. However, when he spoke he sounded drunk, slurring his words slightly. Not too much but enough to be noticeable.

I’ve had a lot of contact with people with learning disabilities over the years as my sister has cerebral palsy. Not all the conditions I’ve encountered are the same and most of them are whole life conditions rather than acquired later in life. However, I can tell the difference between someone who is drunk and someone who has a disability.

It was fairly obvious that he didn’t have learning disabilities and I figured out quite quickly that he had some sort of brain injury, a stroke perhaps. Her manner towards him was very caring and patient and she was obviously thinking of his needs as well as her own; she ensured he had a drink, that they both had food, etc, rather than just fending for herself. She might have exhibited a very occasional indication of slight impatience which was a shame.

They must have been around for an hour or so, mixing and circulating, when she mentioned in passing, that he had an injury from an accident. A quite bad accident she added, before quickly moving on in the general chit chat. I read this to mean that she was explaining his speech impediment and making sure that we didn’t think that he was drunk. Now bear in mind that at all times he was completely alert, awake and lively and the only thing you might notice was when he spoke. But at this moment he bowed his head for a few seconds sitting there as he looked at the ground.

The comment seemed totally unnecessary. Perhaps some people might misinterpret his speech impediment negatively but fuck em! Here was a couple that had obviously gone through the most horrendous experience. Their relationship must have been tested to destruction however, they are still together.

I felt like saying, ‘That’s okay, you don’t have to explain, life can be really shit, for some people much more than others, but you don’t have to explain.’ Of course I didn’t say anything.

We only have one life, at least I believe so, and in a more secular world that view has implications that often play out in the form of selfishness. It’s just great to see two people that, despite the challenges, have stuck to each other (her in particular) when they might have split up hoping for something better. I don’t know what I would have done.

I’d like to believe that they were so in love before his accident that their love has sustained them. A more cynical perspective might wonder if he has an enormous amount of money or that his injury has not affected his ability to be the world’s greatest lover or the world’s greatest chef. On the other hand it may be the case that despite his injury the only affect on him is his speech and that he is undamaged apart from that, but from the way she took him by the had and led him away when they left, I suspect not.

Hopefully they still have enough between them to keep it going.

Templates for Blogs

I'm thinking about dumping this blog template. I can't find a way to put an opaque background on the side bar so it's difficult to read the bio and the archive.

Any suggestions?

Oh and if nobody says anything it's really going to look like nobody reads this blog so speak up at the back there!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Uproar over maintenance of Dovedale stepping stones

It’s been reported that there is an uproar about the maintenance of the famous stepping stones over the river Dove at Dovedale in Derbyshire.


I would have thought that reasonable maintenance is appropriate. We look after our cathedrals to stop them falling down (Yorkminster has been massively underpinned). Were Stonehenge in a more complete condition we might consider maintaining it. It's only because it's frozen in time that leave it as it is and I'm sure that there is subtle maintenance that many of us aren't aware of. (Isn't one of the uprights of one of the triathlons underpinned with a concrete support to stop it collapsing? Or is that one of the stones at Avebury that I'm thinking of?)

Surely, if the stepping stones are worn and people are in danger of falling then the thing to do is to sensitively replace them with new stones here and there rather than top them off. The idea that they are 'a part of the natural landscape' is just fantasy.

Some people seem to believe that anything old is good and that anything new is bad. In that case don't drive or use a computer. The past was never preserved in aspic and it's probably only since the Victorian era that we have had this idea that the past in an unchanging era of romantic loveliness.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Dan Brown meets Douglas Adams

Radio 4 (Open Book) just said it so it must be true? Apparently one in every 49 books sold is a Dan Brown title. He must be rolling in it. What really galls is that I’m writing in the same paranormal adventure genre (with a strong touch of Douglas Adams).

I used to say my work was Harry Potter meets Men Behaving Badly, I think I’m now going to describe it as Dan Brown meets Douglas Adams, which is probably a better description.

So, if I could capture one percent of his readership, and I know I could, I could make a publisher rich and make lots of people very happy. I just need to find a way of reaching them.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Revisionist history

Denying the original pronunciation of 'Nestle', it seems the You Tube videos of old Milky Bar Kid adverts have been edited so that nobody can say that it was ever any different. This is rebranding taken to extremes as they try to cause us to doubt our memories. Didn’t this happen in a sinister sci-fi movie? They'll be denying the holocaust next!

After all Cesar dog food don't deny the Mr Dog era nor does Snickers deny Marathon.

After posting this as a thread on Facebook I was asked to comment the original pronunciation but I'd rather not lest the brand police kick my door down in the night!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Sweat Lodge - don’t try this at home kids

It’s a little over a week since I returned from the well known pagan camp in North Yorkshire for Lammas so I think I had better post the rest of my experiences before I forget.

I’ve not done a sweat lodge before, apart from a brief attempt about 15 years ago where I came out after the first round and decided not to go back in. Since then I’ve done a few saunas and have a better idea of my tolerance so last weekend I felt more confident to try it.

Perhaps by synchronicity or just by the interrelated nature of everything in the universe, the past few days have included a news story of a guy killed in the International Sauna Championships in Finland. (I wasn’t aware that doing a sauna is a competition.) There was also the story a year or so ago of someone dying after a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona; a town renowned for new age and pagan activities. Therefore my reticence towards sweat lodges is probably well founded.

However, last weekend I decided to bite the bullet and get sweaty. I must say that this was a really good experience. Of course there’s the initial stuff to consider such as do you go in naked and can you stand the heat and all that, but if you can get over these sort of issues then the sweat lodge experience is to be recommended.

I’d really got no idea what goes on inside, despite knowing quite a few people who have run lodges over the years.

To the uninitiated a sweat lodge is like a sauna except built in the form of a bender with wooden poles (in this case willow) tied together, covered with blankets and a tarpaulin to keep the heat in and the light out. A hole is dug in the centre, in which rocks are placed, which have been heated in a fire for some hours before. Some of the rocks are so hot as to glow red in the darkness inside the lodge. The participants sit around the edge, safely away from the rocks as water is poured onto the rocks by the lodge leader. The process is something that needs to be done by someone with some experience because there are considerable safety issues involved but, with a little common sense and responsible behaviour on the part of the participants, Messrs Health and Safety need have nothing to do with it.

The process is designed to create a space where the participants can have a transporting experience so that the heat, humidity and darkness allows an altered state and further experiences might follow.

No doubt there are as many ways or running a lodge as there are people running them, but on this occasion there was a series of ‘rounds’ where each person was invited to speak to a given subject. During each round water was added to the stones to create steam which rose up the centre of the lodge and descended along the roof line to engulf the participants. As the participants spoke in turn the lodge became progressively hotter. At the end of each round the door would be opened to allow the temperature to drop and people could escape to douse themselves in cold water or just lie on the cool ground if they so chose. Amazingly I think there were some people who stayed in the lodge throughout which is no mean feat considering the whole process took somewhere between two and three hours.

Each person’s turn at speaking was punctuated with a series of addresses based on Native American cultural references to ancestors, the great mystery and creation, etc., becoming like a mantra before each person spoke.

Obviously it’s not for me to reveal what was said by the people there but it’s betraying no confidences to say that each round was directed towards a particular subject in general. So there was a round for general introduction, one calling for healing for people not present, one for healing of those in the lodge, and others that I really cannot remember. Some were designated to be hotter than others with more water poured on the stones. Often when the door was opened between rounds I found myself bolting for the cool of the air outside.

On the whole it was a challenging but positive experience and I can recommend it. It struck me as highly authentic, though not necessarily in the obvious sense. The Native American aspects may or may not have been authentic and to be honest that’s fairly irrelevant. The references to ancestors, Great Mystery and Great Spirit merely add flavour to the experience and you could make references to whatever culture you choose with similar results.

The real authenticity, I feel, comes from the nature of the ordeal. A sweat lodge is something you don’t take on lightly as evidenced by the recent deaths, although those may be more as a result of machismo rather than any spiritual challenge. Any act of magic or enlightenment, however you chose to frame it, should take some effort for without effort there is no energy. I often refer to this as oomph, others call it gnosis. Without oomph you are merely trotting out hollow words and actions.

Elements of the modern pagan movement suffer from the same ailments as the rest of the modern world. People want quick fixes, simple solutions and easy answers; and some so called pagans seek their enlightenment this way. But they are unlikely to find it. A dissatisfied but successful professional who pays what we think of as a month’s wages for a weekend course on how to become enlightened might return to work on Monday feeling transformed. However, this is probably the result of having some boundaries pushed very briefly or the excitement of daring to break a taboo or two. But these benefits are short lived because real transformation is a lifelong process.

The song Mythical Kings and Iguanas, sung by Dory Previn in the early seventies, tells of those that are sure that ‘everything of worth is in the sky and not the earth’. Deciding that you want a life change and bringing it about by collecting together some crystals and candles with a tarot card or two and reading a rhyme taken from a book on healing or some web site is not going to get you a result.

Tackling a personal issue, however, by facing up to the honest truths, perhaps revealing those to a group of strangers who are also putting themselves out there while putting yourself through a considerable ordeal might just shake you up enough to get a result. The sweat lodge is just such an ordeal and the serious nature of the event gives it oomph. The fallout from such experiences can take enough time to percolate through your unconscious to have a long lasting effect. Of course experiencing even a sweat lodge in isolation with no other commitment isn’t going to change you.

Back in the old days, before we started using the term pagan, we called ourselves occultists and practiced a style of magic that was described as running barefoot in the head; what we were doing was once referred to as amateur brain-surgery. Perhaps a better term might be amateur psychotherapy.

The balls of the sweat lodge, with the inherent physical risks, along with the transporting nature of the heat, humidity, darkness and discomfort, make it a practice that counts. No matter what the symbolism, be it Native American, Scandinavian, Siberian or something cobbled together from your own preferences, it’s authentic. It’s not an easy option leading to a quick ego massage. If you get it wrong it’ll fuck you up but you might just find that is stirs things up enough to wreak real change, you just might not know what sort of change to expect.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Lammas Camp 2010

Yesterday I got back from a well known pagan camp in North Yorkshire for Lammas and I’m still not caught up on sleep.

It’s a three day event but I help out by running the trader’s field, laying it out and getting everybody to the right pitch etc. It gets me to camp a day earlier and I get to know everybody which I like.

I’ve always been responsible for the building of the wicca man on a Sunday too. I say wicca man, that’s a bit of a misnomer as the wicca man is more often made of wood and willow withies stuffed with straw but we’ve all seen the movie and that’s the name he was given the first year. I saw a similar straw and withy man at a camp back in the late nineties so the following year when a friend and I went to this well known pagan camp in North Yorkshire I suggested we have a go at creating our own. I’ve been in charge of it ever since.

We build a larger than life effigy of a man on a pentagram made of bound together lengths of firewood that the farm gets as off-cuts from a saw mill. Often the figure is in the region of eight feet tall. After processing him around the camp site we prop him up against the fire and burn him.

The effigy is known as John Barleycorn which is a second misnomer as the legend of John Barleycorn doesn’t describe him as being burned. Instead he is cut down, harrowed in, boiled up and generally brewed into beer. In our case we are using the name to represent the grain crop in general.

The ritual has gained in sophistication over the years and we now have a standardized ritual (the beginnings of a tradition) where someone steps forward from the crowd and complains that the figure is golden, fit and healthy at our expense of toil in the field. The crowd are invited to decide what we should do about this and, in an acknowledgement of our animal nature, the crowd demands he be burned. As representatives step forward to take up torches the crowd shout burn him, burn him. As master of ceremonies I egg them on. Finally he burns in a glorious pyre.

As the figure burns someone else steps forward from the crowd and asks 'what have we just done?' This represents our remorse at our actions. After a short discourse the crowd are invited to decide what should be done and they call for the return of John Barleycorn.

Shortly, after long enough for the shouting to reach a peak, a man dressed in straw and very little else springs into the circle and proceeds to dance around as the returned John Barleycorn. Soon everybody is inside the circle, singing and dancing with pipes and drums and the party continues until after dark.

It’s great fun, we get two or three hundred people baying for the burning and then turn them into a compassionate population again. I get to lead the whole affair and this year I lost my voice what with all the calling for burning and compassion. It’s a cross between ritual and participatory theatre.

I'll post more about the weekend when I've had a bit more sleep.

I'm a bit dissapointed with Blogger.com

Hi all

New post to come shortly, hopefully today, but I want to quickly express my frustration with Blogger.com. I've found it a bit awkward to use and the search facility seems to be pretty rubbish too. Something which amazes me when you consider it's part of Google.

I chose Blogger.com because I imagined that it would come up in Google searches very easily. So I was completely amazed that I had to register it with Google and all the other search engines. I might be able to understand that with other engines but you would imagine that Google would know of a new blog on it's servers from the start. When I posted the G20/Ian Tomlinson post I was very disappointed that nobody would be able to find it. (I believe this discussion should be as wide as possible. See my post of July 22.) Of course I understand that people will chose weather or not to read my blog but if they never know of it's existence then how can people make that decision.

Lately it's been asking me to give my log in details each time and when that doesn't work it puts me through a lengthy password reset process that just drains all my enthusiasm to write when I want to. If they don't sort that out I'll be off.

I had been thinking that if it comes to the crunch, i.e. I have more instances of difficulty logging in, then I would move my full archive over to another blog service. However, my preference would have been Blogspot.com but checking that out I find that Blogger and Blogspot are part of the same service so I suppose that means that Google owns my arse now.

That's all a bit unfortunate because up until today I have always had fairly positive emotions towards Google. Please don't mess it up guys.