Saturday, 23 April 2011

The British Monarchy

It doesn't take long, but before Prince William and Kate Middleton even arrive at Westminster Abbey for their wedding, the cry's of 'get rid of the Monarchy' are echoing around the Country.

This isn't helped by satirical news shows such as 10 O'Clock Live, a 'news' show, shown on Channel 4 every Thursday.  This week, David Mitchell tabled the question about the abolishment of the Monarchy and even went so far as to mention shooting them in a cellar.  The idea of Mitchell know how to use an automatic weapon is about as realistic of him ever shooting anyone, but the meaning was clear.  There were two others around the table that contested that the Monarchy should be abolished, their arguments were so inept I wont even go into detail.  There was a time when speaking ill of the Monarchy was treason, but with the current state of Britain, speaking ill of the Monarchy is the least of our problems.

The question of abolishing the Monarchy has been around for years.  If you were to ask the current crop of 16-30 year olds if the Monarchy should be abolished, I would guess that the majority of them would say 'yes'.  That said, I don't think the majority would be significant, just enough to tip the balance.  Even politicians have endorsed the abolishment of the Monarchy, stating that it is outdated and is a drain on the taxpayers.

The stupidity of the people in this country never ceases to amaze me.

For a start, the Monarchy is probably the biggest attraction for visitors to London.  There are going to be thousands more for the Royal Wedding, in a few days time.  The revenue that this will draw in will be massive and most of it taxable.  So while politicians of limited intelligence can spout off about them costing taxpayers, the income from visitors to London and even the UK completely negates their arguments.

However, it's an argument that isn't going away any time soon.  There is a significant number of the population that think abolishing the Monarchy would be a good thing and the immediate question is, how well informed are they?  I think the majority of these people are either jealous of the Royal Family or have ulterior motives.  They would have the UK become a Republic because…?  Is it working for the French?  There was a famous Englishman who thought the abolishment of the Monarchy would be a good thing, too.  His name was Oliver Cromwell.  Do you know how that worked out?

What would replace the Monarchy?  A presidency?  It is common knowledge that our government hangs on the shirt tails of the American's, but do we really need to go that far?  Also, who has the right to abolish it?  I am not a constitutional expert so I can't answer that question, but it can't be that easy, surely?

Britain should be proud of it's Monarchy.  It has been around since King Offa, who was basically a local King who seized the lands of those around him and claimed supremacy over the less Kings.  That was around 757 AD.  That's quite a lot of history to just dismiss.  Our Monarchy built the Empire, the biggest Empire in history, reaching around the globe.  The Empire only ended because of World War 2 and the American government's conditions for it's help.

The Monarchy has evolved over the years to become more of a figurehead rather than the rulers they once were.  They still symbolise the Commonwealth of Nations and, more importantly, the history of the United Kingdom.  Our Royalty is recognised all over the world and there are many countries that envy the UK and the fact that it has a Monarchy that stretches back for centuries.

The Monarchy has come under scrutiny numerous times over it's history and each time it has conceded part of it's power until, now, the Queen is little more than a figurehead.  The few perks they had, such as the Royal Yacht, Britannia have been given back because of the complaints that it costs the taxpayers too much.  Can you imagine the President of the United States giving up Air Force One?

Yet, to this day, the British Armed Forces swear allegiance to the Queen, not the government.  Many of the men and woman that join the Armed Forces are loyal to the Crown yet have different political views and that should be the crux of the matter.  No matter what your political view or your ethnicity, we all have one Queen, one Monarch and we should be proud of that fact.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Dumber Britain

Is the population in Great Britain getting dumber?

If you were to look at the statistics the answer would be a resounding no.  However, I have never been a fan of statistics because they tend to be without context and, most importantly, statistics can be manipulated to suit whatever purpose is required.

It has also been argued that students have been opting for the easier subjects; media studies has come under fire as being too easy and the students being handed the exam paper some four weeks or so before the actual exam.  There are claims on both sides of the camp and the argument is bound to continue for years as the pass rate for GCSEs and A levels increase.

Some well established organisations have argued that students are opting for the easier subjects in order to increase their chances of getting A grades.  This not only makes the student a more attractive asset to employers and universities, but increases the ranking of the school or college they attended.  All in all it is good for both the student and the establishment.

Prince Charles, never one to hide his opinion, has also voiced his concern about the lack of interest in serious subjects such as English Literature and History.  In fact, there was concern about the literacy rate in the UK, although more students were completing higher education, the literacy rate was dropping.  The core subjects, English, Maths, History and Sciences have been left behind by newer, more attainable subjects, including Media Studies. 

British Universities are also finding it harder to distinguish between the the top percentile of student applications as the number of young people attaining high grades in A levels has increased.  In the past, only 10% of A grades were awarded making it easier for Universities to select the more intelligent students however, recently this figure has raised to 20%.  Criticism continues although the UK has risen in the international rankings for graduates completing higher education.

However, having been an instructor, I have seen the low literacy and numeracy ability of students who have numerous GCSEs, A levels, degrees and even PhDs!  As a result, we have had to spend precious time teaching them to read, write and do basic mathematics when we should have been teaching them other subjects.  On that basis alone, I would question the level of difficulty of the current level 2 and 3 qualifications.

Some years ago, a study was carried out using young volunteers who had each achieved a minimum of five A star passes in their GCSE exams.  They were asked to sit the old 'O' level exams in English and Maths.  Unsurprisingly, they all did badly, with the majority failing outright and not one achieving the highest grade attainable.  One distinction that was identified during this experiment was that if you got an answer wrong in an 'O' level exam you were not awarded any points.  In the current GCSE you are awarded points for trying to answer the question.  One student even remarked that you could get points for writing "f*** off", the GCSE allowing points for expressing yourself.

The 'O' level was abandoned in 1984 when the, then, Education Secretary, Keith Joseph, tried to close the divide created by the 'O' level and the CSEs (the Certificate of Secondary Education).  Back then, children were in primary school until the age of 11 and then they moved to secondary school, going through years 1 to 5.  On the 5th year they sat their exams.  The 'O' level was considered to be for the bright student and the CSE for 'the thick ones'.  The GCSE was designed to remove the divide between the 'elitist' and those with other skills.

"Under the old 'O' Level and CSE system, grades were awarded primarily according to statistical rules which measured each candidate's performance relatively against those of competing candidates.  The introduction of the GCSE meant that, for the first time, grades would be allocated with reference to absolute standards of knowledge, understanding and skill.  Despite concerns about the exams getting easier and of girls outdoing boys, the government is committed to retaining the system." the BBC article about the issue stated in June 2005.

There are many teachers and professors that mourn the loss of the 'O' level but Keith Joseph argued that the GCSE will be more intelligible to users.  A vague argument for what, to me, appears to be a very flexible exam if you can be awarded points for just expressing yourself.  Having sat and passed a number of 'O' levels, I feel cheated when compared to someone who has passed 10 GCSEs and then claims that the exams I took were easy in comparison.

That notwithstanding, the UK continues to have a continual growth in the number of students getting numerous high grades on their exams.  Anthony O'Hear, a philosopher and government adviser has stated that there has been a "rampant grade inflation" and others stating that the teachers have either become much better at teaching or the students have become much brighter.  Each year the number of students with a staggering amount of A star grades increase.  Does this not dilute the standing of the qualification?

It is obvious that I am biased on the subject.  I will always believe that the 'O' level was much harder to attain than the GCSE.  Having taught students who failed basic literary and numeracy test, I believe that the introduction of the internet, spell checkers and calculators have all had an adverse affect on the core abilities of the current generation.  However, the statistics will prove me wrong and the UK will continue to rise in the academic league.  However, in the long term I believe that the future leaders of industry, science and education will not be as creative, inventive or as daring as their predecessors.  The continued improvement in computing will probably negate this shortfall, as computers get faster and more able to do more complex tasks, mankind will continue to evolve.  But will our basic intelligence evolve as well? 

I saw a film, a comedy, where an average person was thrown into the future, a future where everyone was stupid, relying on technology.  The main character in the story was considered a genius because he could see the obvious.  Is this a possible future?  Not very likely, but I think someone should consider a revision of our current educational system. Surely some changes, especially to literacy and numeracy would only be a good thing?

The Royal Wedding

For another year now, the weather in Spring, here in the UK, is better than the norm.  Normally the temperature should be around fifteen degrees (centigrade) yet with all the gorgeous sunshine and the light breezes the temperature has been as high as twenty eight degrees.  But it's not the unseasonably lovely weather which is bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists to London in April.  On the 29th April, Prince William (second in line for the throne) will be marrying Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey.

A Royal wedding has, historically, been good for the morale of the British public.  Even those who have been trying to abolish the Monarchy lighten up a little and enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the occasion.  Normally I would add a quip about not getting married and all the normal jokes that abound about marriage, but on this occasion I'll forfeit that pleasure.

London is already being prepared for the wedding.  Banners and flags adorn the streets, Londoners are preparing street parties and the tourists are flooding in, paying the exorbitant prices that hoteliers are charging for rooms.  In the shops the shelves are being filled with the usual tacky memorabilia from mugs with the faces of the happy couple, to other pieces or crockery and tableware as well as stationary and whatever else manufacturers can paste a photograph on.  Even numismatics (or coin collectors) can get a piece of the action as the Royal Mint has produced numerous coins ranging from common metal to gold and platinum for the Royal wedding.

As I write this, it is Good Friday, a religious day and yet Easter has practically been forgotten with the exception of the children who care not that another couple are getting married as long as they get a fix of chocolate in the shape of an egg or a rabbit!  Ok, the UK has long been on the road to irreligion, a significant majority of white british being indifferent toward any faith.  Yet, if you travel to Westminster Abbey any time this week, you will find a plethora of people milling around and taking pictures; posing where they think the happy couple will stand when they emerge from the church.

Around the city there are people at work erecting platforms from which the television crews will broadcast all parts of the occasion in glorious High Definition.  It has been estimated that the audience for this wedding could be in the region of three billion, almost half the worlds population.  Such is the attraction of the British Monarchy and weddings capture the personal and romantic side of a family that rarely show their personal side to the public.  The police and other agencies are, no doubt, having a headache over the security arrangements as such a public and high profile occasion.  Since the atrocities in 2001 in the USA and London in 2005, the fear of a successful terrorist attack on something such as this must play heavily in their minds.

The last major Royal Marriage was back in 1981 when Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer.  This was another great occasion that gripped the nation yet the controversy and the death of Lady Diana soon extinguished any lasting memories of the occasion and questions arose over why they were married to begin with.  The more recent marriage of Prince Charles to Mrs Parker Bowles was, in contrast, a quiet affair that caused more controversy and is more remembered for the questionable right for a member of the Royal Family to marry in a civil ceremony as uncovered legislative documents from 1956 and 1964 state that is was not lawful for members of the Royal Family to marry in a civil ceremony.

Although dismissed by Lord Falconer, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor, the second marriage of Prince Charles cast a dim light upon the Royal Family as a whole, the only exceptions being the two children of the late Princess of Wales, William and Harry (although Prince Harry has managed to cause some controversy of his own!).  The Royal Family has had a hard time since the death of Diana and conspiracy theories have only dragged this situation out, longer than it should have.

I expect that with the marriage of Prince William and Catherine (formerly known as Kate but the powers that be would rather she be known as Catherine as it sounds more regal) the Royal Family is hoping that the exaggerated ill will directed at them since the death of Diana will finally be expunged.  William has always been popular with the people and Kate Middleton has come from an 'ordinary' family.  This isn't an arranged marriage and the fact that a 'commoner' is marrying into Royalty has been the dream of millions of young women around the world.  In some aspects, people will consider this a fantasy come true and there is no doubt that they will be envious and ecstatic at the same time.  The wedding is set to be a fantastic event and one in which the Royal Family will be cast in a good light (which is long overdue) and the festive spirit will continue long after the two newlyweds have left the Abbey.

In the background to all of this, emerging from the woodwork, are the far flung relations to Kate Middleton who will soon be related to Royalty.  Some take it with good grace, happy to see a relation (of whom they knew very little about until now) fall in love and get married.  Others have appeared on television and expect that they should become more privileged because their distant relation has become a princess.  It's disturbing and highly amusing at the same time.  I think that, for some, it is in their nature to crave a higher status than what they have managed to achieve for themselves.  It is likely that in the future we may hear more from these relations as they hit the headlines as a result of some questionable act or another.  I only hope that the media don't smear Catherine as a result although I think that this is highly unlikely.

The 29th of April is going to be another day in history and hopefully one that is remembered for a happy occasion.  The wedding will be regarded as a joyous event around the globe and London will be crowded with people hoping to catch a glimpse of them as they pass by.  I sincerely hope that the two will be happy with each other for the rest of their lives and that the media doesn't pry and probe into every aspect of their personal lives.  I know that the media and manufacturers are already planning for the first child born of the couple and that, for me, is sad.  It shows that they are not participating in the occasion but planning and speculating on the lives of two young people.

I guess that is the price you pay for being royalty.  I don't think it's fair and I would think that neither would they (Kate having already complaining of being harassed by the media).  The media?  Well they don't really care either, for them it's all about selling papers and attracting viewers.  Sad, isn't it?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Celebrity or Content

It's become something of a natural phenomena recently.  Many celebrities are now sponsoring charities, political figures and views as well as campaigning for the like.  On a whole, the use of celebrities as sponsors is successful and the general public will flock to whatever cause they are supporting; the UK's comic relief is a key example of this.  But what is more important; the celebrity sponsor and whatever they may advocate or the actual content of what they are promoting?  Unlike politicians, celebrities are not accountable in the political sphere but can influence it.  What makes a celebrity more qualified to speak on something rather than a subject matter expert?

Celebrity sponsoring has never been so popular as it is today.  Due to the nature of communications today, be it the television, the internet or even radio, we are swamped with all manner of celebrities from sports, film and television.  There are even celebrity bloggers who have risen to fame as a result of their online blogging and its popularity.  So, celebrities are everywhere.  You can't turn a corner without bumping into one.  But as popular as they may be, for whatever reason, they are still ordinary people.  Many of them have very little education, some of them have PhDs.  How do you tell?  How can you know that a celebrity actually knows what he or she is talking about when they sponsor something?  Why do people take more notice of them rather than an expert in the matter.  Why do politicians want celebrity endorsements?

Very few major charities do not have a celebrity or two lending support to them.  The celebrity can ensure that an issue has a greater audience simply due to their celebrity status.  They don't even have to say anything intelligent, just as long as they don't say anything stupid and jeopardize the good work the charity may be doing.  In this case, the use of celebrity sponsorship is a great way to generate interest for good causes, but it does have it's pitfalls.

In the UK, we have an annual charity event called 'Comic Relief'.  It's a televised event and draws millions of viewers due to its popularity.  The aim of the event is to raise money for charity, investing money into projects in Africa and the UK.  It's main draw are the numerous comedians that support it as well as other celebrities that endure some form of humiliation (in a humourous way).  It's a great event and goes on for hours.  The BBC hosts it, usually over two channels.  Comic Relief has made tens of millions of pounds since it first started many years ago, all for charity.

The one thing no one has asked is, why haven't things changed considering we have thrown hundreds of millions of pounds at it?

If a business had been given the same amount of money to invest, you can be pretty sure the investors would like to see the results of their investments.  Yet, in the case of Comic Relief, no one has.

I am not suggesting that Comic Relief is squandering the money in any way, but we have been shown the same thing for a fair number of years now and there seems to be no change.  The same problems exist as before millions of pounds were thrown at it.  Therein lies one of the first problem.  If you just ask for money, eventually people are going to ask why nothing appears to be changing or nothing appears to have been done.  The celebrities are always being filmed in the poorest parts of Africa, year after year.  Surely there must have been some changes?

At the end of the day, however, no amount of money is going to change the situation in Africa until the root cause has been identified and changed.  I am sure that all the charities involved over there are doing the best they can in difficult situations and any help that celebrities can bring must be a godsend for them.  Other charities have also benefited from celebrity endorsements and this is for the betterment of us all.

However, the real crux of this blog is celebrities getting involved in politics.

There have been cases, in the UK, where celebrities have taken up the gauntlet and changed UK policy due to the amount of public support they garner.  One key item that comes to mind is an actress, Joanna Lumley, campaigning for the rights of Gurkhas.  For those of you who are not familiar with this, I will give a very brief explanation. 

The British Army recruits Gurkhas from Nepal to be part of the Gurkha regiment.  The history goes back to 1814 when the British fought the Gurkhas as part of colonial expansion of the British Empire.  The Gurkhas have been loyal and hardy soldiers within the British military for a great number of years, yet when their service was complete they were not given the same pension as that of a soldier recruited from the UK.  This was obviously unfair and Ms Joanna Lumley supported the Gurkha Justice Campaign, along with other celebrities.  The campaign was successful and the rights of the Gurkhas was justifiably recognised and British Law was changed.

The UK is about to participate in a referendum to decide how we vote in elections.  It's called the Alternative Vote and I wont go into all the details.  However, a number of celebrities have voiced their support for one of the two various camps.  As far as I am aware, none of them are experts in British Law or constitutional politics, yet they are garnering support for whatever camp they believe should win.

At the end of the day, these celebrities are ordinary citizens and have a right to their own opinion.  However, by using their celebrity status, they have been given a platform by which they can campaign for whichever camp they deem to be the best.  They have had more influence than the elected politicians, not that that should be a surprise to anyone as British politicians have nearly been branded as corrupt as a result of recent investigations.  However, the celebrities have no accountability, unlike the politicians.

A key question has to be, do any of these celebrities actually know what they are talking about or are they just giving their personal opinions?  If I started to campaign for one of the camps, no matter how well informed or qualified I may be, I would not have anywhere near the same amount of influence as even the most minor of the celebrities.  The same appears true for the politicians.  They cannot influence as many people as the celebrities.

I am not suggesting that all or even any of the celebrities don't know what they are talking about and have just been given a script to read, but common people are drawn to them as a result of their popularity rather than the actual understanding of the content and value of their motivations.  There have been cases where some celebrities have campaigned for totally idiotic ideals.  Very entertaining to watch and read about but pretty scary in the amount of people that believed them due only to their popularity.

This isn't new and has been going on for years.  In the USA, a certain Hollywood star became a governor of California.  From what little I understand, he was a good Governor and was re-elected as a result, but I wonder how much influence his celebrity status had in getting him elected in the first place?  I was even wondering if the US was going to change it's law so that he could run for President, but that was going to be a stretch no matter how popular he was.  It wouldn't have been the first time a Hollywood star became the President of the United States, but as he was not born a US citizen, it wasn't an option.

The good news is that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be making films again instead of advertisements asking the British to come and visit California!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


I know that this may be hard to believe, but there are two four o’clocks in a day!  The first time I discovered this was while I was in the army.  Trust me, it was a terrible introduction!  I still remember it clearly; stood in a trench with a fellow recruit, dead tired as we had been run ragged throughout the night by our sadistic instructors, we watched the dawn creep slowly over the hills and trees.  It wasn’t a spectacular dawn as described in books and paintings, but a dreary one, promising rain.  It was, to be perfectly honest with you, a totally miserable experience.  The shock of being awake at such a ridiculous time mixed in with the fact that we were going to be wet and miserable for the rest of the very long day was enough to make a grown man cry.  We didn't, of course.  Mainly because we could barely classify ourselves as grown men and the fact that our tear ducts were too tired anyway!

But that was a long time ago now.  I have been up countless times since, and the experiences have been mixed.  I do remember one outstanding dawn, in Saudi Arabia, just before we were going to teach a bloke called Saddam that he really shouldn’t have occupied a nearby country.  I was stood on the roof of a building we had ‘borrowed’ and was having a well deserved cup of tea and a smoke, when I noticed the sun rising over the desert.  Now that was the sunrise as described in books; the darkness turning from a deep, dark blue to an orange, then red and finally yellow and blue as the sun crested the dunes.  It happened so quickly that you could barely believe it.  I would like to have classed it as the perfect sunrise, but our situation seriously dampened any poetic or romantic notions!  It was very pretty and I have yet to experience another like it.

And here I am, again, at dawn, experiencing another four o’clock.  This time, however, I am at home, listening to the noise of birds chirping (does anyone else find that annoying?) and wondering why the hell I am awake!  Even the dog is snoring quietly in his bed, having looked up earlier and watched me make a cup of tea.  I wonder if he thought I was a complete idiot being up this early?

For me, though, being up at this time is due to circumstances beyond my control.  Some poor souls have to do it every day through necessity.  I really feel for the men and women that have to be up at this time of the day because of their jobs.  Having never been a ‘morning’ person, I imagine their misery at having to do whatever they are doing at this time of the day and, all the time, wishing that they were back in their warm beds, sleeping and dreaming dreams of Easter bunnies or whatever their subconsciousness conjure up!

There are, however, weird bunches of people who actually like being up early.  To me, that’s about as natural as me eating grass and producing orange juice!  I can understand wild animals being awake – they have to be for a variety of reasons; from getting something to eat to just ensuring that they aren’t the something to eat for another animal!  But people?  For me, the call of a lovely warm, comfortable bed and being in a deep, blissful sleep is by far the best way to not experience a dawn.  But not these people, they are up, making tea or coffee and doing stuff.  How wrong is that!

These ‘morning’ people are probably aliens, sent to spy on us while we are all asleep.  Ok, probably not, but they may as well be.  What on earth can you do this early in the morning?  Nothing is open, TV is rubbish and even the postman is only just waking up!  But there they are, walking the dog (who is probably very annoyed about being dragged out at this ridiculous hour – my dog would probably look at me as if I was completely insane, bite me, then go back to his bed.  And who could blame him!) and probably making their way down to the news agent to get a paper (the news agent is probably not a morning person but is one of those poor souls that have to get up early).  And then what do they do?  They go back home, sit down with their paper and a cup of tea, waiting for the rest of the world to wake up!

I am not one that would judge a person on how and why they do things; ok, maybe I am.  I am sure that I have some foibles that people would consider strange (like writing about people being up early in the morning) and, no doubt, people may think that I am slightly weird (but in a good way, naturally!).  But as dawn turns into day, I sit here wishing I was asleep without a worry in the world, while the real weirdo’s walk their cats and greet each other with happy smiles and waves.  And to top if all off, it isn’t even a nice dawn.  It's cold, it's damp and I'm awake!

Monday, 18 April 2011

A Visitor

Today I met someone new.

Ok, not an earth-shattering statement but for someone who rarely ventures outside, meeting someone new is quite an occurrence.  In fact, it's such a significant event that I am writing about it on my blog!  How's that for special!!

What makes it more interesting is that my visitor was a priest.  In fact, he probably still is a priest, but as he is no longer here, I can't guarantee that.  Maybe after visiting me he has given up on being a man of the cloth and has turned to alcohol!!  Joking aside, a priest in my house is a special occasion.  I thought it might be for my last rites, but he just wanted to chat and get to know me.  It was a very enjoyable visit.

So what, you may say.  Big deal.

Maybe you are right, but for me it was a big deal and quite significant.

Today has not been a particularly good day for me.  I wont bore you with the details, needless to say, I wasn't dancing any jigs or doing cartwheels.  When my priestly visitor arrived, I was nearly catatonic and less than enthusiastic.  I did wonder if he would be trying to convert me or maybe even recruiting me into the priesthood as I retire from the Army in fifteen days.  I was wrong on all counts.  This man, this priest, who had never met me before, just wanted to give me some company; to chat if I wanted to or just sit in silence if I wanted that.

It was an hour or so that ended too soon.

A person I had never met before and knew nothing about me, sat and chatted with me.  We chatted, we had a laugh and I even had a cry.  I wasn't uncomfortable in this man's company, I didn't feel any pressure or feel that I had to be something that I wasn't.  Our conversation covered a myriad of topics and we discovered that we had several things in common.  Before anyone suggests that this is the beginning of some sort of Bromance, let me reassure you it is nothing of the sort.  I am not his type and he is married, anyway!

Everyone has their own view of the world, the people and the societies that inhabit it.  I have never really believed in man being selfless and caring but recently I have experienced numerous events that disprove my views.  I have read about the experiences of an extraordinary woman, seen the selfless generosity of a people beset by austerity and met people who have taken the time and effort in order to make me feel a little better.  All my preconceptions have been turned upside down and my opinion of the human race has improved.

It's enlightening to know that there are countless, selfless people out there that endeavour to make life a little better for others.  It can be the smallest of gestures or just giving time to help.  It doesn't really matter what it is, the point is that they do it without asking for any reward.  It's just a shame that these people are scarce and outnumbered by those that only care for themselves.  If only we all could give a little time or effort to help others then the world would be a much happier place; a safer place.  If only one generation of man learnt to be a little more selfless then our children would learn from us.

Ooops, I just started wandering off and being philosophical and stuff.  Sorry.

Anyway, back to my visitor.  He, probably intentionally (you just don't know with those priest types!), made me feel a little better and thereby made me kick myself out of my stupor.  I'm still not going to be able to do a jig or anything as dynamic as that, but I'll imagine that I am doing one - it's the best I can do at the moment!  I am going to read his blog (apparently they don't just preach but can write as well!).  I've added a link so if any of you are interested, you can have a quick read too.

I am looking forward to his next visit and next time I am going to be more lucid so I can have a theological discussion on Darwinism or something.  Or, I could just offer him a coffee and chat about the weather.  Or maybe puppies.  Who knows!

Faith and Belief

Being half Italian, I come from a long line of Roman Catholics. My uncle was even a Catholic Bishop in the Vatican and wrangled it so that I was baptised by Pope Paul. I was raised in the faith, became an alter boy and was, at the age of eleven, convinced I was going to be a priest (or an astronaut - I wasn't too sure). For me, being in a church and praying to God made me feel something special inside. As I grew older (and decided not to be a priest) I didn't attend mass as often as I should, but still found time to pray.

Until 1994.

 After I had done my first tour in Bosnia I lost my faith. Many of my colleagues were mentally scarred by what was happening at the time, some suffering long term, never to deploy again. I simply decided that I no longer believed that there could be a God. Upon my return to the UK, I spoke to my Commanding Officer and told him that I wanted to change my religion. Being a catholic, I had to be seen by the ranking catholic priest before they would process my request and so I dutifully reported to the priest and underwent a series of philosophical and theological debates. At the end of it all, I became all the more adamant that I no longer believed in God.

I told my mother who was devastated. I had become an atheist, something worse than Church of England to my devoutly catholic mother. My family thought it was just a phase I was going through and were convinced that I would come to my senses after some time. So, they didn't press the matter and I continued with my life. The only significant difference being I no longer prayed and I never thought about God, heaven, hell or anything.

There were ramifications. No matter how hard you try, you just cannot switch off being a catholic. It had been a significant part of my life and now it was gone. No longer could I wrap myself in my belief during times of hardship and pray for the strength to continue. In it's place I had nothing but the belief in myself to overcome these obstacles.

Nearly seventeen years on, I am still an atheist. I am respectful of an individuals faith and it's not something I advertise.

So, why the post if I don't advertise? Bear with me and all will be made clear.

Time has the effect of changing things. I never once believed that I would live to be past forty. Due to the nature of my career, I believed that eventually my time would be up and it would be all over. I never once believed that I would be injured in such a way that I would no longer be able to care for myself or that I would be in so much pain all day, every day. That is exactly what has happened and I feel totally useless most of the time, it is so incredibly frustrating.

It is only now that I understand why people are content in their faiths and beliefs. During my lowest points, I become introspective and often wished that I was dead. I can no longer muster the courage or determination to believe that I can overcome this obstacle. I know my body is damaged and that there is very little current medical science can do. Sometimes I rally and muster the will to try and not be depressed and defeatist, but those times are becoming fewer and farther between. As I write this, I am determined to overcome this, but it wouldn't be unusual for me to feel totally defeated and depressed in a few hours time.

What I no longer have is my faith. I still don't believe in God but sometimes wished that I could. It's not something you can just switch on to. Faith and belief is deep rooted like a glorious oak. It will stand the test of time and take all the battering you can give it and still stand tall. It's roots keep it solid, delving deep and securely. But once you cut that tree down and uproot it's foundations, the tree is dead. No matter what you do, there is no way you can regrow that particular tree.

Some people have revelations and have renewed faith and belief. They can regrow a new tree and, in some aspects, the new faith can be stronger than the previous. They will be able to experience the strength and conviction that their faith gives them. As I felt when I attended mass, they will feel that special, indescribable feeling that true faith gives. I no longer feel that and wish that I could. I have not had a revelation and my experiences have further convinced me that there is nobody watching over us.
Sometimes I wish I did. I want to feel as if some benevolent deity is watching over me and carrying me when I am at my weakest. I want to relive the special feeling I used to experience. I want to believe in miracles.

I don't and I doubt that I ever will. I am reaching out in desperation and wanting to find relief to my suffering but find that I only have myself to believe in. I cannot bring myself to change my belief just because I am in need of something. Perhaps that is to my credit, not being false to myself or anyone else. I don't know, perhaps it's being stubborn because of my past experiences.

For those of you with faith, be you Christian, Muslim, Jew or whatever, cherish it. I am, in a way, envious of your belief. People take it for granted but until you have lost it, you don't realise that it is a gift. It's a pity people abuse it or misuse it. At the end of the day, it's something you can all fall back on. In this way, you are all of one mind. The differences between you are insignificant in the overall scheme of things and maybe, one day, realization will come.