Friday, 29 November 2013

You Know Nothing

Looking back now at my 16 year old self I am amused by the idiocy of my beliefs and values and the thing that strikes me as the most ironic is the silly notion I had back then of what it meant to be a hero, a godlike being, a man on a pedestal. It reminds me of Ygritte in Game of Thrones looking at Jon Snow with a mix of pity and wonder and saying “You know nothing, Jon Snow” with such utter certainty.

There was this person who I saw amazing things in at that age; we were close friends, the 16 year old girl in me was convinced that destiny would unite us and to be fair I was bordering on obsessed with the poor guy. I certainly believed that he was ‘different’ from all the other teenage boys and was sure that he felt the same about me as I did about him.

Funny how things turn out.

I was right about some things, he certainly achieved far more in his life than people at the time would have believed possible. But academic or career achievements do not automatically make you a better person and some things, sadly, are inevitable. One of them is particular to men and I have written about it before. It is the inability to maintain friendships with other women when their partners can’t or won’t accept it. Regardless of past history or shared experiences.

The most ironic thing is that many years ago I realised, on reflection, what a bad match we would have been. Once I had actually fallen properly in love with my husband-to-be the trifling affections I had ever had for anyone else seemed quite amusing by comparison and I was able very quickly to see that in reality, as an adult, we really would not have made a good match at all.

So, his current partner, also an old school friend, had/s no reason to be worried. It is kind of amusing to feel threatened based on a well known, anecdotal, crush which never evolved. Surely she too can see and feel that all of us have moved on eons from how we were at 16?! I would be slightly worried if after travelling the world, 8 years of further study and self-reflection, marriage and a myriad of life experiences, I still thought and felt the same things as I did when we left school, right?

Anyway, it made me start contemplating what I might tell my 16 year old self, if I had the chance to go back in time (not that the precocious, over-confident 16 year old me would listen mind you). I came up with these things:

Things I would tell my 16 year old self…

1. Try not to get a taste for beer in the next few years – it will make you pile on the pounds at University and scupper any diets for years to come.

2. Start actually taking care of your face. I know you don’t wear make-up but you still need to moisturise. 

3. You may think a certain boy is god, on some kind of pedestal, hero worshipped. You will realise in later life quite how funny this is. Don’t waste your time, move on.

4. Read MORE. Keep reading and listen to Chris Tyler, she is right about the classics and you will ‘discover’ them later in life and wonder why you did not read them now.

5. Look around you at the friends you are close to. Only two of them will still be important in your life at the age of 34. You will, however, still be tenuously linked to many of the others on a hideous platform called ‘Facebook’.

6. Don’t bother doing a Media Studies degree – stick with a subject you know and love. By the way, you haven’t tried Philosophy yet but you will love it.

7. Stop considering yourself to be so hard done by; you may not have a perfect 2.4 family but believe me you will come to value this in later life.

8. Being ‘angst ridden’ is not as cool a look as you think it is.

9. Never, ever, get drunk on pernod. Or tequila. Unless you want your stomach pumped (and believe me, you don’t).

10. When you meet a guy called Stuart at a gig in the next year, pay particular attention to his teeth and NEVER ask him for a piggyback.

11. Sort out your passport; travel is going to play a big part in your life. Bigger than you think.

12. Tattoos are not a good idea in the next 5 years. Do not consider any that are ‘oriental’ you will come to regret them.

13. The level of popularity you have had at school will only continue for the next two years at college – make the most of it.

14. Lambrini is not wine. Neither is it big or clever.

15. Worry less about what other people think. It matters not.

16. The Manic Street Preachers are very cool – but self-harm isn’t.

17. Keep horseriding. Your knee will not improve unless you do.

18. Spend more time with Nana, she is going to become a major friend and confidante in your life.

19. TRY and save. Otherwise you will be paying off debts into your 30s.

20. Never ever say no to anything unless you really have to – be open to new ideas.

Isn’t it funny how at 16 we really do think we know everything when really we are still just kids. This kind of reflection makes me pretty glad I am not a parent because I am certain my folks probably did warn me about most of these things back in the day but of course I did not listen. 

Oh and one final note on all this, I recently discovered that one of the oriental tattoos I insisted on getting at age 18/19 and thought said ‘Friendship’ actually says the Chinese surname ‘Zhong’. Karma, as they say, is a bitch.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Emphasis is Everything

Hey folks

So - I wrote a blog the other week about being a woman and there was quite a lot of response to it, some of which was a bit baffling...

I felt like I had said "in my opinion this wall is painted yellow" and then people kept saying "DON'T assume this wall is not red!" and I was didn't say that...and revisiting the blog to try and figure out why and how a totally different message was being read in what I had written. I was utterly confused until I spotted the following example of why the English language is both beautiful and stupidly complex at the same time.

Near the end of the post as a defining point, I had written the following sentence - the emphasis in capitals is where I meant it to be:

"our lives are not EMPTY because we don't have kids, our lives are wonderfully full"

But it seems that just by shifting the emphasis on to a different word this sentence caused offence and seemed very provocative - it was being read, I believe, like this:

"our lives are not empty BECAUSE we don't have kids, our lives are wonderfully full".

Can you see what I mean?

I was confused as to why people kept saying that I had inferred that it was impossible to lead a full life WITH children when my point had been that it was totally possible to lead a full life WITHOUT them. 

Anyway, I am still mulling on whether to edit the post to put the emphasis where it should be. I probably will because I don't want future readers to think I meant the second message and not the first. 

It just goes to show that no amount of proof reading can prevent an unexpectedly reversed interpretation. It's all part and parcel of daring to say what you think online I guess and it is a minefield. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Ignoring Protocol

I am not a girly feminine girl by any stretch of the imagination. When I was a small child I did not play with dolls, in fact I had no interest in dolls whatsoever, it was all about stuffed animals with me. I never owned a Barbie or wanted to. I disliked dresses (I still do) and preferred trainers to heels until I was about 20. Then I decided I do kinda like heels sometimes, maybe 1 day in 50 but only if I don’t have to walk anywhere in them.

I have spent my entire life studiously ignoring what the world tells me I should be and do because I am a woman. I got married in a trouser suit (and anyone who remembers the trauma of trying to find a dress will smirk in reflection of the horror – it was not a smirking occasion at the time, I can tell you). I did not have bridesmaids either or a hideous ‘L plate’ hen do.

I do not wear make-up unless I REALLY have to and then I sort of resent it. This worries me as I am getting older and starting to realise that unless I start learning how to put make up on properly and on a daily basis my face will really start to resemble a bag of spanners all the time whereas up to now I have pretty much got away with just not bothering at all. I am basically useless at applying make-up when I can be arsed, which is thankfully not very often.

I do not understand how anybody can take longer than 30 minutes from bed to door in a morning. Thankfully my disinterest in cosmetics helps with this. I can shower and sort my hair out in around this timescale but I will never be cheerful in a morning, I like my sleep too much which is why I am the master at getting ready in the least time possible.

I get my eyebrows waxed every few months (I currently have not had them done since we left the UK in March though) and I get my hair cut and coloured every couple of months too – these are really my only concessions to ‘female’ routines.

I have always had close friends who are men – I find them so much easier to relate to than women and less bitchy. I naturally feel relaxed walking into a pub on my own and I do not need any guidance to place bets on sport (although I usually take it from my husband as he has much better gambling instinct than I do).

Thankfully, I landed a husband who loves me for the fact I am not concerned with traditionally female whiles. I think he would have an almighty shock if he realised how much time and money I could feasibly spend on adhering to such things but I have no intention of doing so (aside from the worrying fear of HAVING to start wearing make up every day or even just more often).

None of this is learned behaviour – I just really have never naturally had any desire to go down that path and likewise I don’t like children or baby related things and have never really wanted to be a mother (shock horror etc).

Now you would imagine that those that I have grown up close to and who know me well would accept and understand that this is just me, just who I am, just how I am. On the whole they do. My exacerbation at the world mainly comes from interaction with other women who I don’t know so well that like to point out that I don’t have a CLUE what I am doing with my life and need to be careful I don’t make a massive mistake.

It is this attitude of overwhelming arrogance and adherence to social ‘norms’ which frequently makes it difficult for me to build meaningful friendships with other women because they judge me for not liking children, not wanting to throw my life away on them, not planning fastidiously when to fire up the baby machine. They assume that I will, at some point, realise that I have ‘missed the boat’ with the kids thing, now that I am nearly 35 I should be starting to TICK, goddamnit!

And I am socially adept enough to smile and let it go over my head most of the time and I adhere to the fact that it is not socially acceptable for me to point out to someone who defines themselves primarily as a mother that I personally disagree with that life-choice. I refrain from telling them I think they made a huge mistake in sacrificing their free time, disposable income and identity for this small, whining monster even though they make no such allowance for me and my choice not to procreate.

Having kids is a choice. Once you make it you accept that your life will change irrevocably and if that’s your thing and it’s what you want to do then – hell yeah – go ahead and do it. I will be joyous for you, celebrate it with you, remember your kid’s birthdays and mentally cross you off the list of people we socialise regularly with. But please don’t try to ram it down my throat as though I am some kind of slightly idiotic moron who does not know my own mind.

I am SMUG about not having kids because my free time is my own, I share it with the one person I want to in the world, I read, sleep, work out, socialise when and how I want, we travel, plan adventures together; our lives are not empty because we don’t have kids, our lives are wonderfully full.

Now, can anyone teach me how to apply foundation without looking like a pantomime dame? That would be a USEFUL thing for me to learn from another woman.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

#100 Books - A Secret History, WOW!

So – I just found my first absolute GEM in this challenge and it’s a book I had never actually heard of before starting it, which, given what I have learnt about it since, is kinda shocking. I am a big fan of Bret Easton Ellis and have read all of his books, particularly enjoying Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction, the latter of which contains some characters which are cross referenced in Tartt’s A Secret History. It transpires that Tartt and Easton Ellis are friends who met at College – and it was this college (Bennington, Vermont) which became the basis for her Hampden and his Camden campuses respectively.

The story is a highly engaging and well written account of some murders which occur around and have links to the group of friends which the narrator (Richard) is part of. It is more a story about WHY the murders happen and how it affects those involved than it is about who committed them and this is one of the fascinating elements of the book. The characters are fabulous; vivid, strongly defined and easy to imagine meeting in your everyday life. From about 5 pages in I was absolutely hooked.

Tartt manages to convey with spooky accuracy the feel of being at college (University in the UK) and that period after arriving where groups of friends are forming and patterns of behaviour become set. It is very believable and some events really do trigger parallels for me as a reader, certain personality types which seem to be obligatory in this environment, expectations and attitudes to drink, sex, drugs. The accuracy of her descriptions paints a highly effective background to the story itself and I believe that this is partly why I found it so mind-blowingly engaging.

I can see some clear similarities with Easton Ellis’ style of writing, mainly the way this is paced, some of the language and the highly engaging characters, but Tartt makes this world totally her own and I believe she is far warmer and less clinical in her story than Easton Ellis usually is in his (not that this is a criticism of his work – which is probably better for being so).

I read this book in about a week, mostly in my usual small segments of time on the tram – but it was one of those which I simply felt desperate to retain engagement with and therefore I spent more time in an evening just blissfully reading for pleasure, lost in their world. I love Tartt’s style of writing and will definitely be looking up her other works off the back of this, I wish I had found her sooner and I guess this is where the #100 books experiment pays dividends because for every godawful Little Women experience, there is a solid gold nugget like this one.

I am now on to The Clan of the Cave Bear and it’s early days but going well. So far 4 books down of the 13 I need to complete before year end which is fair progress to stay on track I think.

Friday, 2 August 2013

#100 Books - Little Women

Sunday 28th July 2013 was a day on which I reached a blessed, waited for, hugely needed milestone in my life. I finally read the last page of Louisa May Alcott’s ‘classic’ novel Little Women and could put the awful thing down once and for all.

Rarely have I actively disliked a book so intensely and so quickly. Some tomes have let me down almost immediately but still had enough of a hook to keep me reading and ignore the poor writing or insipid characters, others have slowly let me down from a strong start and then there are those which have been a continuous, but worthwhile struggle (most recently Crime and Punishment). This was none of the above. It was just utterly bloody horrible.

I am aware that I am kinda trampling all over a book which many people love and for this I apologise. But the fact that this book is held in such affection (and is even on the list of 100 books you should read before you die in the first place) baffles me. I do think that the reason for this bafflement is that I have made the error of trying to read it as an adult when I should have picked it up as a child, when, I am reliably informed, the story would have charmed, rather than annoyed me.

However, I disliked this book so enormously that every single page put me into an increasing rage, to the point where I now feel that even if I had a daughter (it seems to be aimed at a female audience) I would NEVER let her read this terrible manifesto to prehistoric womanhood for fear of it sending all the wrong messages wrapped in a big pile of twee at a time when I would want her to be starting to learn how to be confident in her gender.

"a woman's happiest kingdom is home, her highest honor the art of ruling it not as a queen, but as a wise wife and mother"

For those of you who have not read it - the writing style of this book makes Enid Blyton read like Jo Nesbo. I did not think it possible to make words sound so very sickeningly sugar coated, to the extent that I started to question whether Allcott knew full well what she was doing and was, in fact, taking the piss out of us all. I find it very hard to believe that she meant the reader to take it seriously, even given how long ago this was written (1868). Unfortunately, this astoundingly sugary tone combined with the terrible sanctimonious preaching which the reader simply cannot escape, made me feel like I was being forcefed a hideously pieced together religious diatribe. It was like the Mormons had turned up at the door on their bikes and refused to go away until I had made myself physically sick overdosing on Battenberg whilst they recited psalms.

Anyway, one of my most well-read friends informed me that it is widely acknowledged that Alcott herself thought the book was not that great and knocked it out speedily for cash. This makes me almost admire the woman for her audacity, although I have lost hours and hours of my life to this dirge. Further evidence of this theory that Alcott was being rather tongue in cheek comes from one of the subplots where Jo is trying to pedal her short stories to an editor who tells her: .

"People want to be amused, not preached at, you know. Morals don't sell nowadays."

I almost sniggered at the blatant hypocrisy of this statement within such a novel. It surely must be a joke?

The characters in this book all seemed pretty beige and unlikable to me, except for Jo who is almost ok and, I can slightly agree, is the ‘anti-heroine’ of the piece. Even she, however, is prone to the seemingly standard pattern of wailing and whining about life before receiving some kind of moralistic speech from the (slap-worthy, tedious and pious) Mrs March and declaring that her lesson is learnt. She also writes terrible poetry (akin to my 14/15 year old teenage angst attempts but without the mildly interesting swear words) which pretty much prevents me from liking her much even though she is marginally less of a wet lettuce than the rest of them.

I was reminded by a friend about the episode of Friends where Joey reads Little Women (encouraged by Rachel) and gets very upset when Beth dies. It was probably because of this that I was already aware of the event before I got to it, however, Beth is hardly formed as a character at all, continually referred to as the quiet, placid, demure, home bird (or being blunt, just really fucking boring)….so it was rather hard to feel too saddened at her eventual (although rather dragged out) demise. It also prompted more of Jo's awful poetry which in turn caused some swearing from me.

I am sorry, to all the Little Women fans out there. I really did give it a fair go but I really detested this book. I guess doing the 100 Books challenge is bound to produce some experiences like this, as well as some absolute gems (one of which I am now reading - The Secret History by Donna Tartt) and that's what it's all about. You can absolutely rest assured that there is no way in hell I will read the rest of this series of books or ever pick this one up again.



Friday, 19 July 2013

#100 Books Challenge - an Update

So - I am about a month into my #100books challenge and have already crossed off two books from the list, these were Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

I will admit that I struggled massively to get into Crime and Punishment and had to very much persevere with it to get to a point where I cared what happened (this was about a quarter of the way in - and it is a BIG book). I was aided by messages on social networks from friends telling me to stick with it - it helped that those that did comment were people I knew were avid readers and whose opinions I really respected, it gave me the impetus to keep going.

What I found so difficult with Dostoyevsky's work was that it seemed to start very abruptly, the characters rambled a lot about pretty dull things and there was a whole heap of what felt like irrelevant, uninteresting stuff going on. The amount of characters also made it hard work to follow and the writing required concentration (not an element I usually mind on its own but with these other issues it made it quite a chore).

This was not my first foray into Russian literature, I loved Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and Turganev's Fathers & Sons is one of my favourite 19th Century novels. Crime and Punishment was far less enjoyable than either of these books - but that is not to say I did not, ultimately, enjoy it. I was relieved to reach the end though. 

I am one of the 38.1% of people who simply cannot give up on a book - in the past I have temporarily had to walk away from a book and come back later (most notably the utter bastard that is Virginia Woolf's Orlando) but I cannot handle not actually completing them. I am, according to the Belbin team roles, naturally a completer finisher/resource investigator so I guess this is why I hate to leave a book incomplete, it feels like a failure to me.

Anyway, I stuck with it and got to the point where I realised that Crime and Punishment is actually a very clever story - a bit of a thriller where the reader is in on the crime along with the protagonist and experiences all the moral anguish he goes through as the twists and turns take him on a journey dealing with the guilt and repercussions of what he has done and the law try and track him down. 

It is not an easy read and for that reason I struggled with trying to pick it up for short bursts on the tram each day, it would be better suited to longer, more intensive periods of engagement, I reckon. By the end though I did care what happened to Raskolnikov and I would probably try another Dostoyevsky in the future. Not for a while though.

So - having finally conquered this mammoth I wanted something next which I could breeze through and enjoy - I definitely picked the right book in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which was so very easy and enjoyable that I actually finished it in two days flat and around an hour and a half. Joyously amusing and scarily prophetic considering it was written in 1979 - I had a couple of moments on public transport where I inadvertently snorted in laughter and caused some funny looks.

I never realised until now that this is one of a series of novels and I will definitely read the rest in the series as I really want to know what happens next. The concept is great, the story starts with Arthur Dent trying to stop the local council from bulldozing his house in order to build a bypass and quickly transcends into the story of the end of the world as we know it. Surreal? Absolutely! But so funny and clever as to be a joyful ride for the reader.

I am glad to have read both of these books, as different as they were they were both very much worth the investment. I will have to dedicate a blog post on its own to the book I moved on to after these...which is Louisa May Allcott's Little Women. I am afraid this book has caused much swearing and incredulity and I need to finish it (unfortunately) before I can fairly surmise - although the thought fills me with despair. Hopefully I will finish this over the weekend and then I shall be back...

Monday, 10 June 2013

Books & A Sub Project

Last week one of those ‘quizzes’ did the rounds on Facebook where it tests how many of the ‘Top 100’ books you have read. I enjoy doing these because I am an avid reader and am curious about what makes the top 100. Interestingly, there are a number of different variants of the ‘Top 100’ – the current facebook one is more recent as it includes Life of Pi and The Kite Runner and Cloud Atlas, none of which are on the BBC one I have referred to below.

The BBC one was done in 2003 so is probably due an update this year to reflect a decade’s worth of new books which deserve the recognition. I, however, have been meaning to make my way through the original list since 2003 and have made some progress since then (I only read The Great Gatsby for the first time last year).

So this will be a sub-project for my blog ‘Observations of Ali’ and I want to get to having read half of this list by the end of 2013 – I have currently read 36 so this may be a little ambitious – but let’s see how we get on. Once I have completed this 100 I can try to mop up those which appear on one list but not others, like the books mentioned above. For now I want to concentrate on this list.

Some of the books on this list I read as a child, like Black Beauty, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Matilda – others I have always meant to read and never got round to, like Treasure Island, War and Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird. There are some which I am surprised have made the list at all – there seems to be a lot of Terry Pratchett on here and whilst I have read a number of his books and found them amusing, I am amazed he merits 4 separate entries on this list.

Anyway, I spend an hour a day on trams at this point in my life – commuting in and out of the city for work. I figure this is a prime opportunity for dedication to the project. I also tend to read before I sleep at night but thanks to the Kindle app being on my iPad I can keep it all synced. 

I embarked on my first foray into the list (aiming to hit 50 by the end of 2013) this weekend, picking Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and I have to say I am massively struggling with it. I have started it three times but keep mentally losing the thread and switching off. I do not know why this is, I have read Tolstoy and Turganev previously with no such issues so it’s not just a Russian issue – but I may have to put this one down and come back to it, not a great start to my latest project! I will try for a bit longer to break through the mental wall though…

My intention is to blog about the books as I read them, with 14 to read over the next 6 months I guess I should get on with it!
So - as at 10th June 2013 - the list stands at:

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

36/100 read

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Sad Day in the UK

I think the world changed slightly last week, when Lee Rigby, a young UK soldier was hacked to death in broad daylight on a London street. My world certainly did. It has thrown some interesting light on various factions in society and made me contemplate a lot about the country I have left behind, as well as the world at large which we inhabit.

Firstly I should point out that I broadly disagree with the fact that this brutal, barbaric and utterly terrifying incident was a ‘terrorist attack’. The use of language is interesting. When the UK government decides something is ‘terrorism’ then it frames an incident very differently than if it is just a random, unhinged attack by a couple of radicalised nutjobs. That is not to say that I do not think the perpetrators were extremists – they clearly were – but the two things can be, in my opinion, mutually exclusive.

To my mind a ‘terrorist attack’ involves a synchronized, large scale, meticulously planned event. I am thinking on the scale of 9/11, the 7/7 bombings in London, Madrid 2004. These were clearly all designed to deliver a particular message at a particular time. The two cretins who butchered a man in Woolwich last week may have been similarly motivated but by comparison their methods were amateur bordering on insane. Which I believe they, clinically, were.

Russell Brand wrote a piece which is very much in tune with my thinking on this subject, opining that the individuals involved were clearly severely mentally ill and deserve our pity for that. If they had really been ‘terrorists’ then surely they would have sought to die during their ‘attack’, as is fairly standard in such things. They did not die for their cause, or maybe they under/overestimated the British police who did not shoot to kill. Yes they had a ‘message’ but it seems to me pretty clear that they were not sent by a ‘terror group’ to carry out their ‘attack’ – they were just doing so off their own backs.

Surely we need to be asking some questions about how and why young men who grew up and were University educated in the UK became so disenfranchised with society that they were able to carry out such an act? That has got bollocks all to do with their race, religion or which football team they support – it is a comment on their socio-economic status and influences alone.

What terrifies me the most in the wake of this tragic incident is not the fact that it could have been me or someone I love wearing a Help For Heroes shirt, walking near a barracks, looking like they might serve in the Armed Forces. It is not that it could happen again (human nature and the world we live in, sadly, says it certainly will in some variant or another). The thing that scares me most is that fear, dripped into the minds of the British people (such as by labelling it a terrorist attack), provokes the ugliest and stupidest of responses in a worrying number of them.

Unfortunately the most stupid sections of society don’t tend to be too keen on listening to reason. They don’t generally read much or care about politics or dare to learn anything about other people than what dumb stereotypes can tell them. Which means they have no tools with which to decipher what they are being told other than to put together 2+2 and equal 67 (Our nation is under attack by Muslamists! – I so wish this was a word I had never encountered). The education and upbringing of these people should really be addressed as a priority because in a country like the UK where we (wonderfully) have freedom of speech, these nasty little bastards can spout their bile all too easily. It is 2013 folks – that these idiots are still in existence is beyond belief.

The Stupids (as I shall call them henceforth) also fail to realise when they are being played. By this, I mean when the slightly cleverer but highly ugly-on-the-inside morons who lead them (see Nick Griffin, Tommy Robinson et al) corale them into sheep-like behaviour, denouncing, quite irrationally, an entire religion and/or race (the Stupids generally struggle to separate the two). On this side of the fence language also plays a powerful part – things are irrationally labelled ‘anti-British’ and hilarious, nonsensical, unfounded claims are made (they want to us to adopt Sharia law!) which feed into the fear driven, hate riddled mindset of the Stupids and perpetrate further panic, knee jerk hatred and vile racism.

There is also a more worrying group than this. Not quite idiotic enough to be in with the Stupids, they are clever enough to realise that out and out racism is deeply unattractive, but at their core still harbour a rotten, stinking, detestable streak of discrimination which they simply are not quite smart enough to hide. Unlike the Stupids they are not so obvious in everyday life but if you inhabit the increasingly ridiculous world of Facebook you can’t miss them.

These are the people that start conversations with “I am not being racist but…” which should always be immediately translated into “I am being a huge nasty racist and…” for more accurate context. They are the people who circulate those emails which blather on about how Britain is becoming too determined to placate the minorities and is losing its identity as a result, usually filled with claptrap which has been circulated a million times before like ‘the word Christmas will be banned for fear of offending other religions’ (doubly ironic how most of these numpties suddenly care about being a Christian at this point when they mostly only enter a church for a wedding or funeral).

They set up Facebook pages saying things like ‘PROUD TO BE BRITISH’ which is a noble sentiment I grant you – but what you can bet is that within seconds of said page going live it will be brim full of icky nastiness from fellow ‘stealth’ racists spouting thinly veiled bigotry about how ‘they’ should all adapt to our culture if they want to live here etc. Ironically, the effect of such ‘proud to be British’ pages generally has the directly opposite effect on me. Sure the odd well-meaning, genuinely NOT racist person may choose to ‘like’ the page or submit a generic comment supporting the sentiment. But they will be massively outnumbered by the stealth shitheads operating under the disguise of being ‘patriotic’.

Increasingly irritating are the attempts to manipulate people into liking/commenting on such pages. The moment people start sharing those sorts of things (they generally start with the words ‘Share if’ and end with a statement which makes me do a facepalm – ie ‘you are proud to be British’, ‘you support our soldiers’, ‘you hate cancer’.) then I utilise the ‘hide’ function of facebook immediately. It’s like - no, really?? You mean if I don’t like or share this it means I am not proud to be British/do not support our soldiers/love cancer? Blimey, well I better just shoot myself now because I want my facebook to actually be interesting/useful and not cluttered with this utterly moronic bullshit.

Anyway…I am going off the track….

Lee Rigby was killed by two nutjobs, one of whom was tortured in Kenya and harassed by MI5. Yes, the pair seem to have been radicalised by some extreme clerics but we should also be asking what in our society drove them to feel that this was the only way to respond? Questions also clearly need to be asked about why, if they were on the radar of UK security services, they were not prevented from getting to the point of carrying out such an atrocity.

Those are the questions which need answering at a surface level as a direct result of this particular incident.

At a deeper level, we surely need to start tackling the inherent and ugly face of the Stupids and the Stealths. The former group should, in my opinion, be tackled with as much gusto as any potential ‘terrorists’ would. These nutjobs breed more of the same and are not conducive to a progressive society. They make me ashamed to be British and the more they are allowed to bang their filthy, disgusting, racist drums the more appalled I am.

Within my personal facebook ‘friends’ there are more ‘stealths’ than I can ever be comfortable with and the Woolwich incident made them all come trundling out of the woodwork. The sad thing is that some of them genuinely seem to not want to be seen as such and would like to believe they are not. But they do utterly stoopid things and are careless about what they choose to ‘share’ and ‘like’ and I shake my head in despair at their lack of awareness when using social media tools to convey who they are and what they stand for. Thankfully, now I am 10,000 miles away, deleting people just got a whole lot easier.

As someone who has recently made the jump and moved to Australia, where racism is worryingly rife (it is one of the only negatives of living in this beautiful country) I was actually proud to be British because of our wonderfully multi-cultural society and progressive attitude to the same. Until last week. I feel like I can no longer feel proud to be British based on the reactions of the idiotic factions who were illuminated so crudely in the wake of the Woolwich murder.

And one more thing.

If I see one more circulation on email or facebook claiming that Julia Gillard (the Australian PM) has ‘made a stand against immigration’ then I think my head will explode. This is a grimy little lie and a twisting of facts to make it look like she basically said ‘migrants must adapt to our culture and not the other way around’. It is generally circulated by the stealths – as a poorly disguised vindication of their own beliefs, and it is completely and utterly untrue.

Please just do a bit of research before being conned into sharing something which is both ugly and incorrect. Question things. Google it for christ’s sake.
Australia has a tough immigration policy – I know because we just navigated it and it took us 12 months of admin, forms, background checks, references and hoop jumping, plus the small matter of £3k. I am now an immigrant here. Unlike the UK, Australia has particularly robust borders and it means that clever UK based ‘Stealths’ think it should be emulated at home (which would be largely impossible due to EU membership). That is why utter bullshit like the Julia Gillard story perpetually circulates. Don’t get conned into continuing the cycle of nonsense.

The saddest thing to my mind from this whole, ridiculous reaction to Lee Rigby’s death is that the actual murder has been overshadowed by the misplaced anger and hatred that followed it. I live in hope that one day the world will be a more balanced and tolerant place.  


Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Drugs DO Work (A Little Too Well)

I have been mulling on the subject of drugs and the way they affect people for quite some time and wondering whether to post or not to post...

I quite understand if after reading this your opinion of me changes quite radically and you decide that I am, after all, a hooligan with a lack of morals - that's what makes the world go round I reckon so feel free to say so. Or just to disapprove. Or unfollow, or whatever.

To be honest, I am pretty good these days at being oblivious to contempt (it helps, in my job) so don't sweat it too much if this blog melts your brain into a frenzy.

Drugs, then.

I am referring to ALL synthetic or natural substances which are consumed one way or the other to create an effect on the human body. Prescription drugs, recreational drugs and any other drug you care to mention. 

The reason this has been close to the front of my mind is that I am currently watching two dearly beloved family members try and give up the "demon weed" - nicotine. As far as drugs go, especially those which are, somehow, "legal" this one is pretty evil. Not only does it do all the obvious and awful things to your body but it can turn its users (even very sane, rational, intelligent beings) into monsters.

For instance. My mom and step-dad were taking champix for a number of weeks and have both done absolutely magnificently well so far in living without cigarettes. I am incredibly proud of both of them in their efforts and I am hopeful that this time they have enough desire to break the habit that it will work. However, because of the crazy nature of the addiction I can't really talk to them about it because whatever I say will be interpreted as unhelpful and may well provoke a violent/vehement reaction.

That makes it kinda hard to be supportive to be honest.

But addiction to fags seems to have the ability to cleverly manipulate users into believing that to actually 'give up' the drug is, in some way, to fail. Defensiveness of smokers is akin to that of foxhunters in that no matter how much rationale you can produce (and which they KNOW is out there) as to why it is a horrible habit, the natural response tends to go along the lines of freedom of choice/other things kill you anyway/it's too late in my life for it to make a difference/I like smoking.

To which my response is a slightly baffled one. 

Freedom of choice is an ironic one as from where I am standing and much experience of spending time with smokers, it seems that the habit actually DICTATES what you do, where you go, where you eat, the mood of the group, meal times and many other things. So yeah - if you choose to smoke and you believe that that freedom is important - maybe consider how constraining it is on you in other ways. Just saying.

Of course the actual habit of smoking is as addictive as the nicotine and breaking this is as hard to achieve. But it is achievable. I have watched people do it. I know many people that have - but I reckon that exactly like with alcohol you are never a non-smoker, you are a reformed one who chooses not to smoke.

Too many times the fags creep back in if you let them. The champix apparently make them taste horrendous. They already smell horrendous to me even without the champix but I have never really thought too much about the way they taste - do they seriously taste nice normally? I find that hard to believe when they smell so stale and foul.

Unfortunately the champix has side effects which can mean the difference between staying on them or not. Good intentions can be obliterated by the crazy dreams and hormonal reactions they can cause. What a fucking shame. Surely one day they will manage to make something tangible that works and does not provoke side effects which so easily derail people trying so hard to give up.

Because nothing makes someone who hates failing angrier and more defiant than failing to quit. And the default stance is entirely predictable - "I smoke because I choose to, deal with it" is much easier to say than "I smoke because I have absolutely no choice in the matter, quitting is too hard".

Please don't think I speak without any experience of the lure of the demon weed. I have smoked in the past and tried most substances, legal and illegal. I was a student for christs sake; in the 90s it was, to paraphrase Noel Gallagher, as accesible and acceptable as having a cup of tea and EVERYBODY I knew was a social smoker. Mostly because it was 'cool' to smoke the odd bit of weed and that was all it was. Not many of them progressed to full on smokers but some did.

I always hated the taste and the smell but could see the allure after a couple of drinks. Thankfully I never ever got to the stage of wanting to smoke sober and therefore it was very easy indeed (especially after the smoking ban) to knock that association on the head.

I know people (some of whom are 'respectable' in real life with proper grown up jobs and everything) who have been out of their tree on wild concoctions of narcotics and psychotics in the past. I believe it's part of growing up. The difference is between those who played with it, experimented and decided it was just a rite of passage and those who turned it into a menacing aspect of their permanent personality. In amongst the people I know there is a tangible link between the education level of an indivdual and whether they were able to lose the urge to sniff/smoke/snort as they grew up.

Anyway, I digress, I just wish that it was easier for people to make a choice about smoking. I am certain if you put a button in front of most smokers and said 'if you press this you will immediately cease wanting to smoke' they would press it. Because it would be easy. But stopping smoking is bloody hard work - because the drugs DO work. A little too well.

I reckon cigarettes should either be made illegal or should cost around £20 a packet - then the choice for many smokers might be easier to make.


Monday, 14 January 2013

Kids in the Workplace

Back to the old blog for this one as it is not related to #ProjectOz.

WHY do people think it is a brilliant idea to bring kids into the office? Especially kids who are going to run around screaming for most of the time they are there? I swear once people have kids something physiologically happens to them which mentally prevents them from being aware of the fact that some people do not like kids.

And even people that do like kids do not necessarily enjoy the little fuckers making an obscene amount of noise in their work environment.

This morning I nearly lost my mind when an ex employee (who must have left at least 3 years ago) randomly turned up with a 3 year old (could be older/younger, I am rubbish with these kind of guesses, it was capable of running about if that helps).

Said rugrat then behaved for approximately 2 minutes as he weighed up his victims before deciding that the most fun in the world was repeatedly kicking the stationary cupboard with a massive thud. Shortly after this he discovered running between desks whilst yelling, which occupied a further half an hour (mother was in one of the meeting rooms catching up with her old boss and seemingly oblivious to the noise her little darling was making). We were then treated to a mixture of these two activities until she could be bothered to take the monster away.

I had to resist the urge to trip the little sod up as I returned from the photocopier and had to step around him twice as he hurtled about. Why do people believe a) that there is a limitless amount of love for their child from other people and b) that it is ok to leave said child unsupervised based on a small token of affection people had for you years ago when you were actually a member of staff?

I have never really had any truck with bringing kids into the office because I cannot see who it ever really benefits. Someone actually turned up to our Christmas party a few weeks ago with a child in tow, I was silently incredulous.

I think that even if I liked kids I would have an issue with this and as a manager even more so. I just think it is incredibly selfish to impose a small child on an office full of people trying to get on with their jobs, some trying to take important phone calls against a background of yelling - I mean, that's not rocket science is it?

Seriously folks, next time you consider doing this (and most of you wouldn't dream of it anyway) just don't. For the sake of your colleagues (or ex colleagues) and your own reputation. Because people will seriously think you are a nobhead even if they do not actually say this to your face.