Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Ever since man has discovered the art of writing, he hasn’t stopped.  Ok, the first writings may have been scribbles describing how Ugg the Mighty raped and pillaged his way through downtown Essex, but they did become more creative.

The Sumerians were the first creative lot, with their pictograms and let me tell you, they didn’t mess around.  The pictograms literally meant what was displayed, and they didn’t pull any punches either.  Look up their pictogram for a woman and you’ll see what I mean!  Anyway, the Egyptians then took part with their hieroglyphs, which were a lot more colourful and way prettier than anything else around at the time.  

Well, I don’t want to go on about the history of writing as we could be here all day and, I’m not an expert so I’d probably make a mistake and then be blasted with emails for those scholarly types telling me that I have the IQ of a dead newt (and I’d wonder how on earth did they know me so well?)!

Then came books!

Now we all know the bible was the best selling book when they all kicked off, but the Christians got over-zealous and banned scientific study and all written research.  However, instead of destroying the books (even they weren’t that stupid), they whitewashed over the written material and wrote more bibles (rumour has it that if the Christian Church weren’t complete morons, we could be around 500 years more advanced in our technology!)

One of the main drawbacks with early books was that they were only for the privileged.  They were pretty expensive as they each had to be hand written, line-by-line and book-by-book because the inventor of the printing press was taking his own sweet time in being born and then inventing it.  But, eventually, when he got around to it, the book boom began.  Once literacy started taking hold, there was no turning back and people began to read, which is quite good otherwise I’d be writing this for nothing and you would be wondering what all these funny symbols were!

Joking aside, books became a means to record history, daily occurrences, fiction, biographies, anything that could be written down, was, and given in great detail.  People began to thirst for information, scholars would write papers (mainly to try and impress their peers) so they could share their findings with the world and authors began to make stuff up.  Most people liked that bit the best.

The book has been around for centuries.  I was an avid reader and my collection of fiction is fairly extensive as I have never thrown a book away.  That has lead to a small problem of where to keep them all; the solution being airtight containers in the spare room.  I have five of them and they are full of books.  The downside to this is that I don’t have easy access to them and, at the end of the day, I don’t bother looking in them anymore as it is too much trouble to pull a container out, open it and look for a specific book.

That doesn’t stop me buying new ones though.  And to make matters worth, my wife can read too, so she buys her books, just to add to the numbers.  We have mountains of books hiding around the house, lurking in wardrobes or drawers and sometimes even accosting the dog, much to his surprise!

Time passes and things change.  The time usually, but nothing stops progression, apart from a good dose of suppression, but I digress.  A new craze has taken hold of people and more are in a frenzy to try this new technology.  The iPad has emerged, sweeping all before it away under its brash Applenessness.  The Apple brand name is now more popular than ever as a result of their various i-devices, but the iPad has created a hell of a stir!

Apple appears to be a rising star as their fortunes turn upward yet again.  With the iPod, iPhone, iMac and now the iPad, Apple is on the lips of everyone.  Also on their lips is what is it with that tiny ‘i’ in front of everything?  Does anyone else find it annoying (he asks while writing this on an iMac)?  There are several theories what the ‘i’ stands for, but yet again I digress (I blame the drugs!)

The mighty (well, not quite so mighty) iPad may change the way we read forever more.  It will happen slowly, but the demise of the aged book is drawing closer and as I grasp for more metaphors, the electronic book will slowly replace it.  Or will it?

The iPad isn’t unique in this market.  There are numerous other eBook readers (as they are called) such as Kindle, BeBook and Bookeen to name a few, and big companies such as Sony have their finger in the pie too.  The weird thing is, many of these eBook readers are better at being good readers than the iPad is, but that’s another story….

But can the eBook reader really replace the book?  We have had computers and printers in our office environments for years, the catchword was ‘a paperless office’, saving the trees, the world and Private Ryan.  But it has never worked.  People are always printing reports out because once its on paper, it’s real.  For some obscure reason, writing on a computer screen is ethereal; you can’t grasp it and feel it.  So the same applies with books.  We like to hold a book and read it’s dog-eared pages.  There is nothing like buying a new book and opening it for the first time.

I am obviously talking about my generation.  Although I have said that the paperless office is a fallacy, in fact a lot of files have been transferred to the electronic medium and replaced a lot of paper.  This makes keeping track of things a lot easier than wading through a sea of files and reports.  But, they don’t really count, do they.  A book is something different and I cannot see anyone from my generation preferring an e-reader to a good chunk of paper in our hands.

Time passes and people change.  There is the likelihood that in the future books will be consigned to the historic graveyard where Betamax and VHS reside.  I may not be around to see that, but one thing is for sure, books will never have a system error, crash or run out of power!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Fragile World

The horrific, recent events in Japan have captured the attention of the world. News services rarely headline good news, but headlining a humanitarian issue rather than one of war or corruption, can actually help in some ways.  An earthquake that actually shifted the Earth on its axis and measured 8.9 on the Richter scale (although some say it was higher) occurred as the Asian continental plate buckled, around 100 miles east of Japan.  This sudden upward thrust of the plate caused a tsunami that radiated across the Pacific ocean.

Japan has been subjected to numerous natural disasters. It's location on Earth means that it is more susceptible to Mother Nature's wrath than other countries. It's not a massive island and when something like this happens, it affects the whole country and not just a region. Any loss of human life is terrible and the loss of thousands is so much worse. The problem is that when a single person dies, the name becomes the headline; when thousands die, they become statistics and the news, unintentionally I'm sure, dehumanises them to mere numbers. There are just too many names to list and it is a shame.

The natural disaster that caused the Tsunami soon fades into the background as the humanitarian issue becomes more prevalent. Once everything has calmed down, the actual realisation of the numbers of people lost become more apparent as bodies are found and more people are noticed missing.  Sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles, they are all parts of families that have already lost so much and have more heartbreak ahead.  I am sure that the most of us wish nothing but hope and good luck to them all.

To add insult to injury, Japan also had to contend with a problem with one of their nuclear power stations.  As a result of the tsunami, the power station immediately shut down and diesel generators began to cool the radioactive rods that provide the power for the plant.  Unfortunately the tsunami smothered those generators and the rods no longer cooled.  This caused problems including explosions and radiation leaks.  The Japanese tried their best to control the situation and many brave people, knowing the risks, volunteered to stay and help resolve the problem.

That was over a week ago now.  Japan is now taking account of the huge humanitarian disaster as well as economic.  Brave people continue to battle at the nuclear power station, risking their lives each day, not from immediate harm but the slow and lethal harm of radiation poisoning.  Those in communities that have been wiped off the map sift through the wreckage, some seeking anything from their former homes that is salvageable, other seeking family members, hoping against hope for their survival but realistic about their chances.  Rescue workers from around the world help, but their role as rescuers has been replaced by that of recoverers.  As the seas calm and those people that were lost to its violence just days before are washed back onto the shores, their bodies are recovered, usually with a rescuer saying a short prayer for them.

Throughout it all, the people of Japan have remained stoic and calm.  Rescue shelters housing hundreds of shocked, homeless people are doing their best to feed and keep those affected warm and safe.  However, the infrastructure took a severe battering and supplies are slow in getting through to the areas worst affected and still the people remain calm and composed.  They accept what little they have to eat and drink and share it with a loved one, all the while and all around them lay the reminder of the carnage that changed their lives forever.

Elsewhere in the world, doomsayers and selfish, self centered people worry about themselves.  Some worry about a radiation cloud that will never reach them, claiming all the time that the Japanese were at fault and the risks to their own personal comfort is at risk.  All the experts know that there is no risk but there is no telling these people.  They should be ashamed of themselves, but they are too conceited to know that.

Others in the world are doing everything they can to help.  It amazes me that humans can be so generous and caring yet have the capability to hate and war against each other.  Why does it take a disaster like this for us to realise that this is a fragile world and we are all sharing it, for better or for worse.  As a soldier I have seen the extremes of human characteristics from the brutal to the selfless caring.  It just confuses me.

The people of Japan will persevere.  The character of the Japanese people will not let them be defeated by this disaster and the help from the world at large will ensure they prevail.  I wish them all the best and hope that each and everyone of them finds some comfort and hope in the days and weeks to come.  I am humbled by the way they have not let their personal difficulties overcome them and have remained strong and resolute.  I salute those brave men and woman who continue to risk their lives for their fellow countrymen.  Japan has shown us that mother nature can throw a blow at humanity and humanity will face the consequences with stoicism, resolve and compassion.


Cassy loves chasing flies!
There should be a warning label with puppies!

Three months ago I bought the cutest Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy that you could ever imagine.  I called her Cassy.  I don't know why, it just seemed appropriate.  She was small, shy and very afraid.  As I left the breeder, she was sat in the back of the car, shaking and whining and my heart went out for her.  I tried my best to calm her and make her feel safe, but she obviously missed her mum and the familiar surroundings from birth.

Eventually I got home and carried her into the house.  Debbie, the breeder, had given me a blanket that had familiar smells for her.  I placed the blanket on the floor and she lay on it for hours, not moving.  She didn't want to eat or drink, she just lay there looking at me.  I will admit that I began to get worried.  That didn't last long!

After several hours, curiosity got the better of her and she started to explore the house with me in tow.  I didn't want to restrict her from anywhere except the bathrooms and bedrooms.  I wanted her to get used to the house so it would be familiar to her.  It was funny watching her plod along on paws that were too big for her and her little, inquisitive face looking back at me every few seconds.  From the outset she wasn't a tactile dog, she didn't want to be touched unless she wanted petting.  You couldn't just reach out and stroke her as she would move away.

It was only a few minutes into the grand exploration that she was sick in front of the television.  Charming.  If Eastenders or something was on I could understand, but the television was off!  Obviously her nerves had gotten the better of her stomach and I was thankful that she hadn't eaten much.  Without a word of complaint, I cleared it up while she looked on, curious.  It must have been a sign to see me with a bucket of water and a cloth as, just as I was finishing with the sick, she decided to empty her bowels.  Completely.  By my chair.

To say it stank would be an understatement.  It was awful!  I didn't want to scare her on her first day but I admonished her in a calm sort of way.  She stood back, leaning forward the way only puppies can do, her ears perked and a look of pure innocence on her face.  How could anyone be upset?

Needless to say, over the days this continued and slowly, but calmly, the admonishments became sharper and she began to understand that maybe pooping in the living room wasn't the right thing to do.  She began to learn to go outside and do her business for which I was very grateful.  The only problem was, I have a large and very interesting (for a puppy) garden.  So, once she realised that when she stood by the patio door and began to whine I would let her out, she would start doing it even if she didn't need to do a poop.  She just liked running around the garden.  In the snow.  In the middle of winter.  It was freezing out there and she didn't care.

Fortunately puppies sleep a lot.  And eat a lot.  And poop a lot.  And want attention A LOT!

She is now six months old and I have trained her to do as I ask her.  Well, I don't actually ask her, I have taught her to understand my hand signals for sit, stay, lie down and fetch.  She is very clever when she wants to be, but she is still a puppy and puppies want to play all the time, even when they are bone tired.  They are a lot of work.

I never wanted children (mainly because I still haven't grown out of my teens!) because of the commitment and time they take up.  I always wanted to do things and a child would have stopped that.  So does a puppy!  More so, in some cases.  Don't get me wrong, I love Cassy to bits and she is a gorgeous dog, but she is more than a handful.

They should definitely stick warning labels on puppies.  Something like, "WARNING!  This puppy will do what it likes, when it likes, where it likes and there is nothing you can do to stop it.  Ensure you have plenty of cleaning materials to hand and be prepared to give up your social life.  You will fall under its spell and no matter what it does, you'll think it's cute.  Oh, and kiss your bank balance goodbye!"

I think that would suffice!

By the way, if you want to see her when she was cuter, I made a short video on Youtube.


Tuesday, 22 March 2011


At last Spring has arrived.  That's if you live in the northern hemisphere otherwise it's the start of Autumn, but that's antipodeans for you!

For me, Spring is the real start of a new year.  Gone are the monochrome, dreary winter days and colour is reintroduced into our lives.  Slowly but surely the trees begin to change, no longer the bare, dark skeletons from horror films, but multicoloured giants from fantasy.  The transformation is beautiful.  The warmer weather ushers in the more soothing Spring breezes, carrying upon it the scents of new life and the renewal of a cycle that has been played out over milennia.

Now, more than ever before, I look forward to the warmer weather and the changing scenery.  Like most of the mammals in the world, I have hibernated over the winter months, rarely leaving the house or even venturing outside.  I have stared out of the windows and watched the winter play out; raining, snowing or both.  I had heard the winds tearing at the trees at the back of my garden and the frost icing over their bare branches.  Winter made me a prisoner and Spring is the start of my freedom, albeit a limited one.

My accident has denied me so much that I used to take for granted.  Although I have a wheelchair, sitting in it and going anywhere is painful beyond belief.  The vibrations as the wheels travel over uneven surfaces cause my back to spasm, the result of a botched diagnosis has left my dieing spinal chord hypersensitive.  The result is unrelenting pain.  Pain I no longer wish to experience and so I hide away, not daring to move and never leaving my house.

Spring, however, means that I can venture into my garden and feel fresh air over my face and breathe in all the fragrances of the new season.  I am fortunate that I live in a rural part of the country and often see deer and foxes amongst the trees.  But it is the trees that capture my imagination.  I often sit and wonder what they have experienced in their long, silent lives.  Many of the trees near me are old oaks, probably dating from before the first World War and would have been around as London was bombed into ruins.  I will never know for sure, but I can imagine.  Oaks are wonderful trees being full of character, rugged bark, spreading branches and thick, rugged trunks.  They are usually the home to a myriad number of animals from squirrels to birds and everything in between.

As spring progresses, I will watch the oaks grow their canopies of green leaves and see the acorns form and grow.  They look stunning, standing there, massive, dwarfing the pines and cedars.  I always think of them as the trees with spirits.  Fantasy books describe dryads and their attachment and life-bond to their trees and those trees I imagine to be oaks.  It suits them.

Come September, the start of Autumn, their long, silent vigil over this area will be over.  The land has been sold to a building company who will build community housing.  The old oaks are in the way.  They take up too much land and their roots run long and deep.  They cant be allowed to jeopardise the building of the new houses.  They will probably be cut down, not allowed to show their golden autumn colours and have their fruits collected by the squirrels that live in them.  The squirrels will have to find a new home and somewhere else to find their food.  The oaks that have watched time pass silently will watch no more.  Their old lives are over and their hearts sold to be pieces of expensive furniture or beams in a refurbished barn.

Fortunately, I wont be here to see it.  I will have been moved as the house I am in will be demolished as well.

Next winter is going to be a long one and there will be no spring for the trees at the end of my garden.  For me, next spring will be bittersweet.  But life goes on.  For some of us.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Writing Aint Easy!

I like to write.  It hasn't always been the case, I know I hated it at school, having to write an essay of five hundred words or more!  Gaah!  I wanted to go out and cause some trouble somewhere.  I think that as I grew older, ok, a lot older, it became something therapeutic.  You can just sit down and write whatever nonsense you want, then tear it up and throw it in the bin.

The internet and blogs have changed all that.  There are now millions of us who sit in front of a computer and tap away, revealing thoughts, emotions or, like me, just writing drivel most of the time.  You could spend a lifetime reading all the blogs out there.  Some will be written well, some not so well and others as if a three year old doberman had been walking over the keyboard!  Ok, maybe that was a little unfair.  I know most dobermans are more literate than some of the posts out there.
However, credit where credit's due, they tried.  Some are naturally eloquent whilst others have to try hard.  I think I am one of the latter.  Writing, for me, isn't easy.  It's not just the distractions, the wandering thoughts and writers block, it's the actual creation of words in some sort of order and making them interesting to read.  For others, they can sit down, distraction free or even with an earthquake around them and create a masterpiece.  I wonder if the best selling writers are naturals or people, like me, who struggle to create coherent sentences?

A couple of years ago I became disabled and all the things that I used to enjoy in life were impossible for me to do again.  That left a bit of a gap in my lifestyle.  Actually a huge gap as I could no longer work, either.  So, I am sat at home, depressed, hurting and feeling sorry for myself, wondering what on earth I am going to do for the rest of my life.  That's when it hit me.  I can become a world renown, best selling author!  It was so simple!  I would sit in front of the computer and create a masterpiece in words, the sensation that the English language has been patiently waiting for since the last edition of the Oxford dictionary!

Well, it didn't happen.

Like that was a surprise!

I started on one piece of fiction and, with a proud flourish, presented it to my mother to proof read.  It wasn't a completed book, just the first couple of chapters.  My mum sat down and read it.  She then turned to me, as I was waiting expectantly like a new father, and told me that it was too linear.  The story was too simplistic and some other things.  By this stage I had tuned out and was contemplating art or something.

She was right.  After I re-read my supposed masterpiece, I realised that it had been written very poorly and it was extremely linear.  It was that simple.  Obviously I wasn't going to be a best selling author overnight.  Ok, I was never going to be a best selling author; it's just not in me.  I struggle to write, my imagination is limited at best and my mind has a constant habit of wandering off.  I blame the massive amounts of pain killers for that, but who knows!

So, I wasn't going to write a best selling novel, become rich and famous (or maybe I would have remained mysterious, writing under a nom de plum) and enjoy all the benefits thereof.  What else was left?

It was then I realised that I could just write my linear ramblings on a blog!  Perfect.  Maybe there would be no worldwide recognition as the creator of literature that would wow the masses, but I could still get my work published - sort of.  I have dabbled in writing a blog before, but it was sporadic as I was too busy doing other things.  Now, however, I have fewer distractions of that nature.  The blog was perfect.  The chances were that nobody would read my words but I could still enjoy writing them, pretending that people were reading and enjoying my dark wit, subtle style and total lack of modesty.

I have started to write another book.  The going is very slow, it's taken me months to write just 15000 words.  My mind still wanders and I am easily distracted.  I struggle to put sentences together in a coherent fashion and am seriously considering buying a three year old doberman to do my work for me!  But I have the blog and it doesn't criticize me or make judgments about my writing style.  It's just there and it publishes my ramblings no matter what they say.

I have learned that writing is a gift that we don't all have.  I bow with reverence (if I could bow) to those who struggle to place one word after another and still create something that is worthy of praise.  I seethe with envy at those who can sit down and write a bestseller during their afternoon coffee.  Finally, I take back all my sarcastic comments of those who have tried, like me, in vain to write something barely legible.

The one thing I think we all have in common, though, is the fact that we enjoy writing, no matter how good or how bad it is.  There are an awful lot of us and many of us will never see the creations of others.  But I do understand the effort that goes into it and appreciate that words have a habit of not quite saying what you mean.  Writing is something we all need to do but those of us who try creative writing must be gluttons for punishment.  Writing just ain't easy!