Space vegetable purgatory.

Everyone’s got an opinion, but I think there’s one thing we can all agree on: in the developed parts of the world where cultural conditioning forces us to prioritize checking our very important emails before making sure we’re not about to be run over as we cross the road, things can be a bit messed up. Our so-called modern, sophisticated world, is one in which we live in a time of enormous political and social unrest, change and unnecessary, futuristic weirdness that we could all do without. It’s a simplification to say this, of course, but everywhere you look, things seem either overwhelmingly terrible, bizarrely horrific or needlessly progressive.

Watching the news, seeing the huge double-loaded boats full of migrants fleeing Libya, is truly awful to witness. There’s nothing I can do and the whole thing is such a shocking and depressing waste of life and it really does make you stop and think about how we came to such a crisis point. Then there are the bizarrely horrific things. For example, this morning I woke up and read a story about a young couple in which the female had shot and accidentally killed her partner, following a social media stunt which went more than a bit wrong. Then there was this: the other day, I tried to buy an apple at a supermarket using one of those self-service till things that usually don’t work, inevitably resulting in a disgruntled human member of staff needing to be called over, all blank face and could-not-give-a-shit. Just an apple, that’s all. All I wanted to purchase at that particular moment in time was a simple apple. But…I couldn’t find the apple anywhere in the fruit and veg section of the touch-screen menu, and the more I searched, the more I panicked, the more I began to think Is an apple fruit? Is an apple…fruit? Then followed a nightmarish day-dream scenario that must have only lasted the briefest time. In it, I was watching The One Show and Professor Brian Cox was sitting there all nonchalant as he does, smiling and lecturing in that endearing way of his, about how most people think that apples are a fruit but actually they’re neither fruit or vegetable, but actually a bizarre kind of space vegetable that isn’t really a vegetable at all. The presenters laughed heartily a—

“Scan it,” said a voice, snapping me back to the precariousness of modern life, and it wasn’t Professor Brian Cox, nor was it smiling. It definitely didn’t give a shit, however.

“What?” I paused. “…How…”

Just that familiar blank expression, like bloody always. I tried to engage with the face, doing anything I could, within my limited range of facial movements, to show that I didn’t understand. I really did not understand.

“…?”

“Scan it the apple,” said the cashier (what do you call them…the people who work the tills at supermarkets? Cashier feels too old-school, somehow.) “Apple scan it.”

I looked at the apple, turning it around in my hand, scared that I would find nothing and that, just maybe, I would always be standing there, just turning the apple, stuck in space vegetable purgatory.

And then I found it.

Turned out I didn’t need to find it in the menu, did I: the apple had its own personal bar-code, and it did not share it with anyone.

Fucking fruit.

Anyway, last night, my girlfriend and I discussed how we’d reached saturation point with watching the news on TV. We love watching the news and have a huge interest in current affairs, but recently it has felt like it’s all getting too much to take in. I’m not sure if things have genuinely changed as much as we decided they have done, but recently it seems like there’s been an enormous collision of old awful news reaching horrible conclusions and new sickening incidents occurring more rapidly than ever before, unravelling at frightening speed. For me, and many others, I suppose the really scary thing is seeing how the conclusions of the old awful news show a catalogue of problems, mistakes and human error which could surely have been avoided, and how the new news seems to be picking up exactly where the old awful news started, all those years ago. Time and time again, people speak about learning valuable lessons, and how this must never happen again. Then, as the next story about new news quickly develops, we’re treated to fresh mistakes and terrible speculation which suggests that nobody has learned anything at all whatsoever. In fact, of anything, it appears that the people in power have found even more new and innovative ways to fuck things up. And there it is, there you have it: the whole damn thing, tragic and horrible and damaging, starts all over again…

Aside from a love of observation and a hard-to-articulate desire to write successive sentences down, I think it is because of a need to emotionally deal with these things that I feel compelled to write creatively. I’m sure it’s a processing thing, like how some people have suggested that dreaming is our way of making sense of the stimuli we absorb in our waking lives. Or, maybe the answer is buried deep in our evolutionary code and consciousness: a need to record things in full, to keep ourselves immortal, to never be forgotten, to pass on our knowledge via the arrangement of data. Now I stop and think about that for a moment, it seems to compound an incredible sense of pointlessness and vanity. Thousands of news reports, literature, newspapers, books and video reports have already covered these subjects in immensely more detail. Why, then, do I feel the need to add to the mountain?

Why do any of us, in fact?

I can only speak for myself, but I suppose that the bad things also act as a trigger for me to write about the good things and the things that amuse me. Writing about silly things, and writing things in a silly way, is equally important. It brings a sense of lightness and allows one to escape. Aside from that, of course, it’s also a lot of fun to do. Wherever I am in the world and whatever I am doing, and no matter what is happening, I’m observing and documenting things in my mind, whether consciously or not. Making up stories, making mental notes, writing…in a strange sort of way. Most of the time these musings are fragments of full thoughts, fitted in and tucked neatly between the varying tasks that I do day-to-day. Some are echoes of memories, manipulated into stories that feel like I have written them. Some get skewered by a question at work, or toppled and erased by something more important. However the thoughts occur, there’s something really quite emancipating about just writing within the confines of one’s own mind, without a need or option to go back and edit what you’ve thought, knowing that it won’t and can’t be judged, that the thoughts remain free to roam, grow and evolve. I find that if I do this enough, I retain the thought patterns and can build on past writings, recalling or adapting them when necessary — or deleting them altogether, resurrecting them later or reusing them as I please. This, probably, is why I feel like I’ve been writing lots even when I haven’t actually been committing words to screen or paper. The fact that nobody else can experience those writings is not important — at least not to me. I think writing is about more than just the physical act of recording words. To me, it’s about documenting thoughts for a second or forever, not necessarily being able to pass those words on to anyone else.

I can remember a conversation with a good friend, had some time after writing and publishing my novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book, a few years ago. He was a good friend and someone I hadn’t seen in years, and he was chuffed for me about the realisation of my book. One thing he said to me has stayed with me ever since, and every now and again I go over what he said, coming to a slightly different conclusion each time. And what he said was this: “I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I always felt like it was too self-absorbing and vain. I just couldn’t justify it”. I can remember at the time thinking Self absorbing and vain? Spending hundreds of hours with one’s own thoughts? What the hell is self absorbing and vain about that? Looking back at the odd collision of those mini-thoughts that made up the main thought, I still find myself perplexed and amused. It’s worth noting that my friend and I had that kind of special say-anything-it’s-fine relationship, and that bar a small moment of total disgust on my part which was over before I even registered it being there, in the moments immediately following the comment, there was no awkwardness, and no change in the tone of our conversation. No noticeable change in the atmosphere. I remember being confused, but beguiled by the confusion and wanting to understand more. It was all positive, and sent us headlong into one of those deep conversations which you find yourself getting lost in, losing track of time, exchanging words, clarifying things, laughing, finding out as much about the other as your own thoughts that spring up out of nowhere. I just wanted to understand and appreciate why he felt like that and why the contrast between our two world views was so staggeringly different. I also recall that I didn’t come to any kind of confusion about this, either while we were chatting or in the time well after. Because the writing of the novel was so fresh in my mind, I suppose the impact of his words was greater than it would have been if we’d met just a few weeks or months later. I took it very personally, but in the best possible way.

Analysing what he said, as I write this, forces the invitation of a range of new mental findings: I wonder if he realised, as he said those words, that everything we do in life is, to a degree, very self-absorbed. It’s the nature of being human, isn’t it? I wonder if the thought he’d had was one he’d been pondering for years, or if it was something that had just cropped up without much prior consideration. I suppose the answer to that would potentially change my perspective. But either way, I guess what he was saying was that writing a book often doesn’t involve anyone else — at least, at the initial creation stage — and means thinking a lot on one’s own, without anyone else’s opinion. That the fact that it doesn’t is somehow bad and too lonely, somehow. And I can see his point there, obviously, because writing and isolation go hand in hand. From that perspective, if I’m representing it correctly, writing is incredibly vain: you’re in your own little world, not seeking approval, forging your own opinions and not asking for any kind of validation for those opinions, and you’re expecting other people — assuming you want the work to be read — to enjoy reading this and give you compliments. What if your opinions are misguided, formed in the wake or flow of a bad mood, or just plain wrong altogether? What if you can’t write well? What if your thoughts are attacking someone else, are biased, or loaded with a violence which is the reaction to something that was, at the time, unfair? However you justify it, writing, at the creation stage, is always one person and one person’s opinions, against the world. Or at least aiming towards it, squarely, taking aim, not apologising. Writing is a mental war.

It’s no wonder, then, that when someone reads your work and you receive criticism or feedback for the first time, it really fucking hurts. Wow, does it sting. It’s hard to explain how painful it can be to receive harsh criticism for the first time or even within the first few years of writing. Within it there is so much…else. You attack yourself for being crap and you berate your attacker, judging them for the opinions they have formed, asking them what right they have to criticise you, but trying to be polite and not be irrational. But that’s the thing that all new writers — and a lot of people who have been writing a long time, too — have to learn in order to move forward. We write and we put stuff out there, and it is the reader’s duty to form their own opinion and give you brutal, honest feedback, however it may come. Look at it from a reader’s perspective: why should they be nice about it? They’ve just read something which they potentially disagree with, and they feel like they have been in some way attacked. When they’re writing their criticism, they’re not thinking about all the time that you laboured over your masterpiece, and why should they do so? Within them, if they strongly disagree, is the weight of a life lived in, perhaps, direct proximity to the weight of your comments. If people don’t like your writing then, sadly, it is just tough shit and nothing else. It hurts me as much as the next person when I hear back from someone and they didn’t like what I wrote, but it is something that we, as writers, simply must learn to deal with. Because, in truth, negative reactions to your writing can only serve you for the better in the long run. And besides all these things, we did decide to send them out into the world now, didn’t we?

I’m not suggesting, by the way, that you should listen to all negative criticism and immediately initiate an attack on yourself. I don’t think that is how it should work (I am also not suggesting that it’s OK for someone to tear someone else’s work apart for fun, just because a writer has decided to push their work into the pubic domain). If you spend some time processing the comments and find yourself in agreement of any kind, then that is something different. But very often, it is just a case of you cannot please everyone all the time. I’ve sent writing to multiple people — like when people read drafts of my novel to test read it as I was making changes — and occasionally received completely polarizing responses. This is probably one of the most confusing situations that can occur, as the horrible truth dawns on you that you will make some people happy and others very angry, often for what feels like no particular reason. In some writing personalities — and I’m sure in almost all, to some degree — it can create a perfect fusion of alarm, confusion and immense insecurity that goes far beyond just a small dilemma of conscience and self-esteem. You sit there, broken, wondering how the fuck you can please everyone, sure that the most popular and successful of writers have mysteriously found a way. The reality, of course, is that they have not, and have always struggled with the same identical problems as the rest of us. The only thing successful writers have done differently — other than the success, obviously — is learn to process the feedback and continue in the face of all of it. And, when you pause and really confront what they must have faced, it’s really quite impressive, isn’t it? They’ve literally received dozens or hundreds of personal insults, intended, it would seem, to stop them from committing any more words to paper or screen. Some people, like Stephen King, have received many thousands of very personal attacks, been vilified by the press, have been harassed in the street and have even received death threats. Death threats. All because of words. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, how they managed to continue? Can you imagine going to your full-time job and then, on the walk home, being subjected to horrendous insults and death threats, just because you mis-spelt someone’s name incorrectly, or forgot to fill out a piece of fairly inconsequential admin? I admit that I’m being slightly facetious there, but you get my point, hopefully. It takes guts and sheer dogged determination to keep writing when people say that your writing is terrible, offensive, pointless or just a massive waste of time. It can feel like the attack is not just an attack on your ability to configure sentences and paragraphs: it can also feel like a direct attack on your perception and how you see the world…an attack on your identity and personality and in every way personal. In some ways, it seems to be saying “you don’t see the world in a worthy way”, and that can be horribly damaging to an individual.

I like to think that now, after a decade as a professional writer — I began working as a freelance copywriter in 2007 and have written in excess of over 3,000 blog posts in that time, only slowing down in the last few years — I know what I’m doing. Well, enough to get by. I can process and I can handle. That’s what I tell myself. But the truth is that I am still learning, and will likely always be.

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I’m back. But is anyone else still there?

What a half-hour I’ve just had! Wait, allow me to start again — I’ve already gone and irritated myself: what a half an hour I’ve just had. It’s half-an-hour, not half-hour. I’m not American. I’m very much British.

There, I feel much better now.

So, as I said, I’m back. Back with this blog post. Back writing on this blog, and for the first time in 3 years, no less. And it nearly didn’t happen. Why? Because I couldn’t find my bloody freaking password now, could I. Actually, I couldn’t even remember the Username I have for this Blog. In fact, it was only down to my previous self’s total and utter obsession with writing down passwords and saving them on random, un-labelled memory sticks — fantastic habit, that is — that got me out of this hellish debacle. Feels like backwards time-travelling, in a strange sort of way. Obviously I’m better than I think. Clearly, at some point in the past I sensed that my future self would become utterly useless — something that was hardly a surprise, I suppose, given my previous failures. But still, I’m proud of my past more forward-thinking self, even if it was also a bit too negative, almost waiting for me to go and fuck up. And, who knows? Even today I might have done something incredible to future proof another mistake my future self is yet to make. I suppose I’ll find out in time like the rest of us. I just wish I had an inkling of what that mistake might be right now, as I’ve already lost half-an-hour. The way the world’s looking, I may not be able to lose another. There may only be a few hours left…

Got a bit sinister and dark there, didn’t I. It was bound to happen. I mean, Donald Trump? Anyway, enough of that.

The real question is…is anyone else there? Who knows, not me. And do I care? No, not really, not a bit. After all, it wasn’t like this blog and the writing within it ever made me any money and acquired me thousands of readers, was it? (No, no it wasn’t and it didn’t.) Not that money and having shit-loads of readers is important, but, well, you know what I mean, I’m sure.

Still, it’d be nice to know that just someone is out there. Is anyone? You don’t have to answer, don’t worry. Not that you are, or were going to, but, well…

Funny what triggered me writing this blog post and the existential despair of forgetting a long forgotten password, actually. I was just on that strange Twitter thing — also for the first time in absolutely bloody ages, but in a less stressful know-the-password situation — looking about, seeing if I had any Notifications, and then I found myself looking at a nice Tweet that someone called Tommy had sent me (age forces me to think that I must put weird new-fangled words in italics and there seems no way out. I can’t see it getting better. And now those italics have started to manifest in strange facial expression versions of physical italics whenever I’m forced to say a word like Snapchat). Well, sent the world. But primarily me, I think (I really don’t understand all the new technology, balls to it).

Anyway, this bloke, he was called @tommy66788. Tommy Lawn, as a matter of fact. And Tommy, this Tommy Lawn, he’d carefully used his limited number of characters to ask me if I once wrote a blog post about cowboy boots (something that seems to consistently occur every year or so, as it happens). Made me smile, it did. To this I replied that I did indeed write it, and, as is hard to comprehend for someone who still takes at least a day to reply to an email, Tommy wrote back almost immediately, crushing my mental capacity to fathom just how someone can be so incredibly fast and also live any kind of life. I’m not vain enough to repeat what he said here, of course, but it was nice, anyway. Tommy said that he’d bought some cowboy boots from Texas in America and that he liked the article. He also said that he wears his cowboy boots non-stop. Yes Tommy! To Tommy, I salute you. As mentioned in that post about the boots I bought, I find it and have always found it brutally difficult to turn corners while wearing my cowboy boots. Perhaps I have a special sort, I don’t know (or perhaps it’s me who’s special? Seems it’s looking likely). Or perhaps the corners round here are particularly challenging. Either way, I’ve inadvertently gone and said about 5 times more than Tommy did in his one single admirable tweet, and pretty much said almost all of what he said. Maybe it’s time for me to re-think how vain I actually am after all…

It feels pretty damn good, anyway, this writing a new blog post thing. Let me tell you.

Now I think back over the past 3 years, I’m struggling to really work out why I disappeared from this blog altogether. Were myself and my partner dealing with the miracle of bringing up quintuplets while I simultaneously ran a multi-national business? No. Have I found myself too busy to write words on a screen in rapid succession? Occasionally I have, but then again…somehow I’ve found the time to catch up with both Home & Away and Neighbours, usually one after the other on Channel 5. I suppose, then, the biggest thing that’s changed in the last 3 years is my work and the direction of it. I used to be exclusively a freelance copywriter, but nowadays I’m more involved in video and TV production.

One thing that I know has had an effect on my writing is having this massive iMac computer. See, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide I needed a 27 inch computer and a ridiculous amount of hard-drive storage. I needed all this stuff to do my video work, you see, that’s why I bought it. You might be sat there thinking How would a great big computer prevent someone from writing? And it’d be a fair question. But here’s the thing, my friends: the moment I got my big computer, something changed. Something got disconnected. Where once I’d been able to sit on the sofa and write my blog posts in leisure, blissfully ignoring all other responsibilities and delighting in musing about all kinds of inane crapola, I now had to sit bolt upright at my desk in a completely new position (my laptop had died by the time I got my new iMac). Gone was the connection I’d had with my laptop. With my laptop, there was something about the proximity of my hands on the keyboard and the small screen that seemed to create a kind of emotional pact between me and the small, uselessly underpowered machine. The new iMac was great for video and graphics work, but it was about as useful as a Ferrari if you wanted to grate some cheese when it came to writing long-form stuff (could you grate cheese on a part of a Ferrari? In hindsight I am sure you can. There’s probably a bit you can have custom adapted specifically for it. I feel ridiculous, in hind-hind-sight-sight, for even bringing it up).

What’s silly, in an even more elongated version of hind-sight, is that I’m writing this on my iMac, and it’s fine. It’s happening. I’m doing it. Clearly I am. But something is definitely missing. So I think a new laptop might be on the horizon. Actually, I think it needs to be. I’ve missed writing this blog too much for it not to be. I love creating videos and I love producing art, but writing…well…there’s just something about writing…and I need a small underpowered machine again. Who knows? Maybe I’m undergoing a kind of rapid backwards evolution of some sort. Maybe in a year or two you’ll find me with a bit of slate and a load of chalk.

3 years, eh? A lot can change in 3 years. Look at the UK! Look at the state of the world! So much has changed that I don’t know where to start. Which suits me well, as a matter of fact. Because I’ve written enough for one night, so I’m not going to bother. Yeah, that’s the spirit.

I am going to bother to write my WordPress Username and password down, however. I realise that it isn’t wise to do that, but then, what is it wise to do? Only last week we were on holiday and there was a really steep slope that wasn’t wise to drive up in a shitty hire car, in the ancient village where we were staying, and I went and did that and got stuck half way to the top, didn’t I? Yes, yes I did. And a whopping great nightmare it was, too. Ah, you have to love an ancient village. We really should have hired a horse instead.

This has been fun. It really has. I forgot how therapeutic writing is, when it’s not the most frustrating thing ever in the history of the world. My goodness writing is so frustrating but also so necessary. What a strange combination. And now I keep thinking Could I ride a horse? Probably not. Definitely not. I don’t know about you but I’m really quite scared of horses.

Ebola outbreak: there is no hope for us if we cannot first overcome our striking arrogance

Seems to me, the favoured way of starting an article like this appears to be a harsh reality check presented by way of a difficult-to-fathom collection of numbers. In keeping with that, I could start with a series of shocking statistics about ebola related death rates. But I won’t. Aside from saying that the current death toll stands at something like 4,447, with as many as 10,000 people per-week likely to be infected in various places across the world very soon – whose figures do you trust? – I don’t really feel there is much point. The fact that the word outbreak is now openly being used in both the media and the medical community should tell us everything we need to know. Of course, the definition of outbreak varies depending on the thing that happens to be outbreaking, but in this case we’re talking about a disease that is more expansive in its reach than what medical experts believe to be normal or has historically been the case. Either way, over 8,000 people across our globe are believed to be harbouring this nasty, deadly virus, and there will be more deaths on the way very soon. We can play it cool and manipulate the figures as much as we like, but one aspect of the truth is difficult to argue with: if we were ever expecting ebola, we were looking the other way when it finally arrived. Now it’s here, it’s becoming obvious that if we do know what to do, we’re not in agreement about how to do it, or even if we should bother to at all. Lots of weighing-up is going on, yet some people’s scales are more wonky than others.

By today’s social media and Google-won’t-load-my-page-and-it’s-been-a-full-5-seconds-I’m-considering-going-to-another-network standards, ebola is, of course, nothing particularly new. The mysterious haemorrhagic fever first cropped up back in 1976, in what we now call the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ever since then, it’s more or less silently been wiping out unfortunate poor people who never stood even the remotest chance against ebola to begin with.

Then it came to the west, and people started to actually give a shit.

For me, the worst thing about something like this – aside from the obvious worst thing, which is that innocent people are losing their lives daily in a horrible virus atrocity that cannot be stopped – is just how much there is to think about. And it’s not like that information is forming an orderly queue, either. It seems each facet of it is vitally important for us to not only know right now, but act on, delegate and decide.

Do we start with worrying about closing borders? Or should we focus on a cure? Should we do both simultaneously? Equally, it would seem sensible to accept the fact that ebola is in full-flow and fight the symptoms, rather than just leaving people to rot in a room while we figure out how not to catch it – to accept that only by trying to help those who are sick can we truly understand the thing in its demolition-heavy active state. Keep looking, though, and you tend to see the same thing rearing its ugly head, time and time again: wherever your starting point is, not even the experts in ebola seem to really understand exactly how it can be transmitted. For me, while swiftly dodging the tricky subject of border closing, etc, this is a very good place to start.

Since the outbreak’s beginning, we’ve been told that ebola can do this or does do that. Not possibly, but more or less definitively. For example, it can’t be transmitted through the air – don’t be silly, it doesn’t have wings. It can be transmitted by direct contact, however…whatever that actually means. Aside from stating how ebola can be passed by infected bodily fluids, nobody is keen on specifics here. But in a world where every new day begins with a new contradiction – in the past few days those contradictions have become so striking and obvious and dominant that it is hard not to darkly laugh – it’s no longer possible to have an accurate idea of what we’re talking about. As I type these words, I wonder if ebola can be transmitted through layers of plastic, or if its next mutation will present in different, unexpected symptoms that are entirely invisible to all and utterly without any warning whatsoever.

One look on social media, and across the news, will tell you that steadfast limits have already been set for the ebola virus. In what can only be deemed an act of pure human arrogance and immense scientific indulgence, alleged experts who don’t even understand how precaution-taking-people are getting horribly ill are saying that deaths in the UK are possible but not likely (at the time of writing). Worse, it sounds a lot like these experts haven’t even seen the film Outbreak – if they had I think they’d be much more worried. This comes merely days after ebola claimed various people in other parts of the world where the exact same thing was also said to be true.

Then there’s the evolutionary standpoint, which is downright ugly. To say that viruses have the upper-hand on us would be something of a major understatement. And, in truth, it could – and very likely will, unless I’m being arrogant – genuinely be the thing that kills us all. Viruses don’t care much for limits, and they don’t really ever die, either. The best that can be hoped for a virus is that it will transfer to another less-fortunate species who will then have to deal with it for a few hundred – preferably thousand – years before passing it onto something we consider even less worth having around us. Who knows exactly how the hell ebola got here to the human population. The point is that our magnificent arrogance is standing like a massive brick wall between us and any kind of positive progress.

Nowadays, we are all ebola experts, and that saying could be taken a little more literally than I intended – thanks to the fact that, by the looks of it, the average non-expert person has about as much chance of recognising someone with ebola symptoms as a WHO professional. Not to devalue their (the experts in question) hard work and supreme understanding of what’s going on here, but only a few days ago people seemingly in-the-know were shouting adamant that someone with ebola could not get on a plane without being noticed as an obvious threat by those around them.

That was fine, and it sounded comforting for a while, but then we learned that a nurse had displayed signs of ebola just the day after getting off a flight to the United States. More alarmingly still, the authorities are now monitoring x amount of people who were on that flight for possible ebola symptoms. Thing is, with the influenza season now teetering upon us, it’s going to be tough to tell the difference without dragging each and every one into a booth and performing an awful lot of expensive blood-work.

One of the most irritating things about all this, for me, is that we have seen infections and viruses spread a million times before. Every year we all put as much distance as is possible between those who are sneezing all over the place, and many of us still fail miserably to not become targets. So, in theory, we should be well-practiced for this kind of outbreak, should we not? In a way, when you simplify things, ebola is like the common-cold but a million times worse. Look up the symptoms if you want. Or just watch the film Outbreak.

Finding the reality amongst all the carnage is proving to be more and more difficult as time goes on. Just how deadly is ebola? Just how much should we be worried? Locking down entire countries is a nice idea in theory, but are any of us actually prepared for the result of that? Surely a complete lockdown would be enormously damaging to our economy just as much as everyone else’s. A true, total lockdown might involve nobody coming in or out of an awful lot of countries for a very long period of time. It sounds over-dramatic to say it, but who would deliver the precious ebay goods that many of us constantly bid for, if it got to a stage where only health experts could go in and out? Stop trade and you don’t have much left aside from an awful lot of angry citizens and not much to do. Remember, the internet relies on international commerce. If we do have to stop the wheels turning, it may cripple us, and ebola will still be there to live another day when we re-open the borders. That’s the really aggravating thing about ebola, and the kind of miserable bastard illnesses it hangs around with: ebola, quite literally, has all the time in the world. In fact, it has much more. If the going gets tough and the world does finally explode into stardust, it’ll just transfer to the nearest piece of flying space rock and wait around for a billion years or so until it finds a suitable host. Perhaps one of the most freaky things about viruses is that they always find a host, yet care nothing for finding a host. Ebola, as far as I can see it, is just hanging around, waiting to drain the life out of anyone it comes into contact with and it doesn’t even know it. How do you combat an enemy who does not even know it’s the enemy…a brilliantly adaptable enemy that (probably) doesn’t have a brain and is infatuated with taking something whole and making it zero?

A partial lockdown may be preferable, but is that any better than no lockdown at all? In truth, is there such a thing as a partial lockdown? Or is that like having a partial wee? Try having a partial wee, I dare you. It’ll only end in tears when you walk away. Tears of more than one kind, I tell you that much.

Ebola is now a pop-culture phenomenon. The Jimmy Saville of infectious diseases, if you like. The way we perceive as humans means that we have no choice but to consider ebola a vast enemy that knows only too well what it is doing. Just like Cancer, and all the other horrible fuckers out there that routinely make the human race’s lives a collective misery, ebola is malevolent and knowing and lots of little angry people seen through a microscope and that’s the way we like it – yet if this is a fight, it’s like the hand of a God smacking-out a tiny, defenceless squirrel that was never the one to gather all the nuts. Thinking about ebola this way normalises it and makes it flawed (bringing a low IQ squirrel into it just ridicules the argument, but too late now…). Yet, so far, we haven’t detected too many flaws. That’s because ebola has been around for a very long time already, and it’s had about a million more years than us to evolve. So it doesn’t particularly do flaws, or so it strikes me. It’s a hard thing to remind ourselves of, but we will never catch it up, because by the time we catch up with where it is right now, or even where it was a hundred years ago, it’ll be so far ahead that we’ll be dead in the ground and turned into carbon.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thinking it, but I personally don’t know what to do about all this ebola worry. And I feel like I should do something, seeing as we’re all in this together. One thing is for certain: I will not be volunteering to go and fight ebola. I make no apologises for that, either. I’m scared to death and I have plenty of first-world excuses, so don’t even try me.

So the real question is…what do any of us do? Should we riot and demand to know what the authorities know…if they do, in fact, know anything? Or is the fact that we are being protected actually good for us? Can any of us outside of a very few people actually handle the truth? What if this is the end? Is it good for us to really be aware of what we are fighting?

And about that – there’s a lot of talk about us getting over-excited. Over dramatic. It won’t be the end, it can’t be, we have this under control. That kind of thing.

Now, I hate to break it to these people, but it can be the end, and there probably isn’t a great deal we can do about it if it is. If it’s coming, it’s coming, and no amount of posting over-confident statements on The Guardian’s comments sections is going to change that fact. What’s probably better is to be grateful to and for all those people who have been – and are presently – volunteering to help keep this thing in-check. They are the ones bringing the wall down, even if only in mouse-sized pieces.

There is another side to all this that’s even more troubling, and so far I haven’t read much about it: ebola could just be the warm-up act. The half-decent-but-not-amazing support gig for something far more deadly and catchy and easily transmittable. If that’s the case, we can look forward to one hell of an encore. One we will not be here to see, think or feel about. There will be no refunds, so don’t even bother to ask.

Looking at the symptoms presented by ebola does not make for a very smiley picture, if that really needs to be said. The picture is, instead, extremely dark and very grim. People who get ebola usually die a horrible death which involves lots of blood leaving the body and lots of mess you can’t so much as go near without worrying about contracting the virus yourself. If there is something out there and it is more deadly than ebola, we had better wisen up, and quickly.

So, instead of speculating and turning the other way when we hear something we don’t like the sound of, I say we face up to it. I say we explore what’s being said and listen to every argument fully before we decide it’s invalid or misled – it may be just what saves us, or saves others. Maybe the authorities will listen if enough people question the status quo. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, we are running fast out of time to be arrogant and headstrong and thinking we know everything. Let’s get our bloody heads together. This one could just be a biggie.

The Apprentice, episode 1, in 3 paragraphs

Potatoes which are actually experiences. Everyone forgetting everything always. Alan doesn’t have lines on his face, he has deep, impenetrable ridges of the variety that climbers look avidly for in cliff faces. Very-Shoreditch-yuppy-arty-farty-bollocks. Sword falling idiots. You are a total shambles. Slow-motion leaves and slow-motion pigeons. A woman with a very long necklace. Nick’s face, as if mere moments after a very painful operation. Potato appointment. Pure human desperation. Sarah not realising that you need actual money to buy things. No genuine people who actually live in London. Karen looking fed-up. Onlookers with smug faces. Need to sell the T-shirts! Insulting words about Gandhi. Arty farty Robert dressing up hotdogs. Obscene greed and undesirable personality traits presented as good ways to be a professionally minded human being. Alan wearing a funky purple and black tie.

Allegedly interesting tasks coming up. Endlessly frustrating hot dogs. Water on the boardroom table that rarely gets drunk and if it does, you don’t see it often. Felipe’s mole face. Multiple headscarf changes. A guy with white shoes, London hair and no socks. No shower curtain! Emotional abuse. Charles’s CV. The T-shirt fiasco and total transvestites (er, I meant travesties). Ridiculous hot dogs and Felipe’s sausage sellers. It all somehow working out. “I did manage Steven actually.” Lots of talk of instructing drivers. High heels and bags of potatoes. Incredibly transparent sales pitches. Edgy Shoreditch. Boys who can’t stop interrupting. A collection of people you very much hope aren’t the only ones left if Ebola kills everyone else. Viper! A free wheelbarrow. Karen Brady’s boardroom transformation. Fundamental business errors. Valuable sausages.

The losers’ café. Wrong reason boardroom bringing. Responsibility for hot dogs. Alan Sugar’s ever-growing ears. Boys forgetting T-shirts. Task passenger. Supposedly uplifting images of what are, in reality, imprisoned and helpless exotic zoo animals. Generic shots of London, lifeless and bleak and massive and depressing – in HD. Daft slogans. Peculiar ears. Running in high heels. Nasty remarks about northern people in general. More terrible team names. A social worker you would never want near any vulnerable person, ever. Felipe can’t high-five. Girls pushing a wheelbarrow about inelegantly. Generic sunset shot. Grown ladies turning into demented children. Horrified buyers. Shutup Steven. Big error.  Handy scapegoats. A guy saying he can make women do what he wants. Zero common sense…

Where the light isn’t: The Paedophile Hunter, Channel 4

As of Wednesday the 1st October, 2014:

I sat for a few minutes after Channel 4s new documentary The Paedophile Hunter finished, wanting to write but not knowing where to begin. This, of course, is hardly classifiable as unusual behaviour for me or anyone who chooses to spend large amounts of time trying to articulate those most weirdo and elusive of things: thoughts and all that surround them. But what made it different for me this time was just how indecisive I was about the film’s conclusion and its intended purpose. To educate? To incite? To unite? To inspire? Truth be told, I didn’t have a clue, and 24 hours on I’m still nowere near certain. I was angry, and disbelieving, and completely lacking in sympathy for men who deliberately engage in high risk, predatory behaviour towards vulnerable people, yet at the same time, I felt…sad. Not for the men, but for the world we live in, the world we appear to have failed to save. The world so many of us know so little of.

The reason why I was struggling so much with writing is probably fairly simple at its core: The Paedophile Hunter is one of those very rare, brutally honest documentaries that exists in a genre almost entirely of its own making. We’re used to hearing about vigilantes and people who will do whatever it takes to keep vulnerable people safe, but what we aren’t used to is seeing them stare right at us, through the screen, as if this is all fairly normal. That’s exactly what we were confronted with tonight, when Stinson Hunter, self-confessed professional paedophile revealer, showed up on Channel 4, all (metaphorical) guns blazing. With no distance between him and us and us more or less sitting in his front-room while he groomed the groomers, you couldn’t not look at the screen. And at times, the level of disgust that transcended the boundaries of the television was nothing less than stratospheric. You were right there with him and his no-holds-barred buddies, and a lot of the time, for me at least, it didn’t feel anything other than 100% captivating. Confronted by such alarming behaviour, the only thing you could do was say “wow, this is absolutely terrible.” The scope of this brutal urban theatre, combined with the quality of the filming and editing, meant that it was easy to get lost in thought and a miserable kind of somewhat thrilling contemplation. Sometimes, I even managed to forget that this was about real life. That’s pretty scary.

The most disturbing thing about the film – if it’s even possible or right to rate the level of disturbance when all these things are so blindingly messed up and downright wrong on so many obvious levels – was, for me, just how pathetic the moment was when Stinson finally cornered one of the men he and his posse had worked so hard to entrap. You hear about sexual predators being particularly devious and manipulative. A realm of human being who only exists to cause misery to the most vulnerable of people in our society. Yet never was a man more feeble than when on screen here, all wide eyes and absolutely no idea of the trouble he was in. No clever excuses and no threats made, and they were all like that, really, with very few exceptions: all proper victims, if we can use that word. Utterly bemused about what the hell was going on around them, at times you could actually see their lives being hollowed out from them, right before their eyes. Their careers gone, their marriages in ruin. You could actually see them going through a moment of spiritual understanding where they knew it had finally happened and caught up with them: they had lost everything, and it was always going to end this way.

And the worst, most horrible part was that some of these men looked like they’d known it was coming and they’d been preparing for it for a lifetime. This considered, it’s no wonder that Stinson lacked sympathy in every conceivable way.

The question of whether or not what Stinson does – has done, on numerous occasions – is wrong or right is one that will no doubt be pondered over intensely as the reviews come in, but I don’t think that’s where we should be focusing our efforts – it’s happened, we watched it, we wanted to watch it, those are the facts and I don’t hear anybody saying that he should stop. What concerns me is that for every man that Stinson goes after, another ten are working harder, and smarter, to evade capture. To minimise every trace of their abusive behaviour in a way that cannot be seen and outed so easily. That’s what really scares me.

You look at Twitter and the evidence is strong that people like (or should I say appreciate?) what Stinson is doing. Some think that this man and his gang should be knighted. And you can’t blame them at all, can you? Because if it takes vigilantes to do what the authorities should already be leading a welfare revolution in, then there is something seriously wrong with this picture. Without doubt, we are in big trouble.

Stinson argues that what he is doing is right on every level. It’s hard to argue with his reasoning, too: when he baits and invites these men into his home, he doesn’t use threats of physical violence, and he does not restrict them from leaving whenever they choose (although you could argue that the bullying level is so high and intense that it over-rides some individuals’ cognitive ability to leave). In fact, his biggest offence is playing these villains at their own despicable game. That said, such things hardly seem necessary. When you have enough intimidation on your side to sink a small island – not to mention a video camera capable of beaming those images into the public domain in a mere matter of seconds, and a very receptive, enthusiastic following – you don’t need to make a fist or own a weapon. Words and a barrage of insight about how much trouble one is in are clearly enough.

Much as I agreed with what Stinson said when he argued that these men were doing this of their own accord, and he was merely the catalyst for their demise, difficult questions couldn’t help but arise. Ones I didn’t really want to think about, but found myself musing deeply. Ask yourself: what happens if gangs of more ruthless vigilantes begin to appear? And what about the enormous potential for the public to harrass mistaken identities?

Another thing I worry about is the pact mentality of people who condone such behaviour, without – and this is just potentially, because everyone is different – thinking for themselves. There is the danger, here, of losing ourselves in mass hysteria that may build and build. Of not stopping and thinking and gauging every case on its own merit. I’m not saying any of the men shown in the documentary shouldn’t have been exposed – thinking about it now, I still feel that they all should. I mean…who would want to turn back the clock and give them back their anonymity? Then again, why do these things still nag at me? And what happens if a Stinson Hunter appears on every street corner out there in a matter of weeks? What happens then? Will paedophiles find a way of entirely bypassing the thugs completely? Will I ever stop repeating myself?

Then there are all the other troubling things that this documentary illuminates: if we’re all looking one way, what’s happening over there…or over there? There are so many aspects to abuse and grooming and internet safety that it is impossible to cover them all in one blog post, but here’s a taste: men aren’t the only people who abuse children and young people. People abuse people, and those people can be female, too.

And for all the people out there thinking Don’t be ridiculous, a woman would never do something that terrible to a child or young person, I urge you to keep an open mind and consider the lessons that history has taught us so very many times. From now on, we need to be even more careful and be vigilant about awareness in ways once unimaginable. After all, abuse happens where people aren’t looking. Worse, it happens where they wouldn’t even think to look.

Then there’s the controversial question or notion of paedophilia as a condition, or worse, an identity, which further complicates things. Massively, when you think about it. The stigma of the creepy old man does nothing but serve as a source of amusement for some, while missing the point at best and distracting us from the more complex arguments that some paedophiles keep putting out: that somehow, this is right and acceptable. Creepy old men are the cliché of yesteryear that nobody takes seriously anymore, aren’t they? They’re the caricatures that lack the depth of nastiness that are actually out there. Real, dangerous paedophiles, on the other hand, are increasingly showing themselves as organised, determined individuals who point-blank will not stop. Worse, the paedophile can be anyone, and they don’t have to subscribe to a certain image (contrary to popular belief on social media, they can’t all be recognised by their dress code and their ownership of specific types of glasses). Even more unsettling, to really get to the crux of why this issue is so horrendous can only be done by considering what to do about the problem…which at the moment is not much, if anything at all, bar act when information is available, very often too late. Some experts who have conducted years of research in the field suggest that paedophilia is an ingrained personality trait. Something as difficult to remove as sarcasm or someone who can’t help but laugh at pathetic jokes. Other experts, conversely, believe in the idea of treatment very seriously and are saying that we should treat all paedophiles medically, without exception. For them, paedophiles are just as much victims as the individuals they pursue. For these experts, their evil is not a horrifying choice or learned belief, it is an affliction which we all must pay, literally, to have healed. So that one day, they might be what society calls normal…

Chances are, it’s going to be a long time – if it ever happens – until the two divisions come to universal agreement. Which is why we can’t afford to be lazy any more. The question is, what to do next?

Silly Old Goat is now live!

SOG

It’s simple really. My new website, Silly Old Goat is now live. The site is the new home for my humour blogging, as well as my new restaurant and travel reviews. After a long haul with hosting companies, learning about plugins and lots of other things which I have never had to deal with on this free blog, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it!

Naturally, as a direct result of this, people have been asking me if that means this blog is finished. It isn’t. I’ll still be posting blogs here every so often, although in reality it won’t be as frequent. Hopefully people enjoy reading it. We shall see…

Katie Piper: new life, new baby

Katie PiperYou meet someone in a bar, you smile, you laugh, you fall in love. It is perfect and effortless, the way things ought to be. Then, one day, you’re walking down the street and, completely out of nowhere, your entire body feels like it’s on fire. You’re not sure what’s going on, exactly, but the feeling is so strange and terrible – so otherworldly, unfamiliar and desperate – that you know it’s bad. You realise you are in serious trouble. In fact, when you wake up, you realise you might die, and that’s just the beginning. There is so much more to overcome.

Many know Katie Piper as the ever-smiling TV presenter and former model. The face of numerous documentaries. Many more will know her as the acid-attack victim and subsequent creator of the Katie Piper Foundation. The woman who courted an over-zealous Facebook fan, without knowledge of his sinister past.

Back in February 2008, Katie was living a normal life with the same common concerns of many people her own age. She was doing well on her path to success in the world of digital media, and thrived on the new challenges she was being given.  In March, all that changed when Katie’s ex-boyfriend Daniel Lynch hired someone to carry out a vicious attack. The guy who threw the sulphuric acid at Katie went by the name of Stefan Sylvestre. Both men, unsurprisingly, are now serving life sentences in jail.

Acid attacks, horribly and surprisingly for some, are actually not that uncommon. The savaging effect of sulphuric acid – which has been used for metal cleaning, the production of explosives and fertilizers, amongst many other things – makes it the perfect weapon…if your goal is to destroy somebody’s facial features, confidence, self-believe and entire soul. And with acid attacks, burns are far from the only concern. Because acid corrodes skin so effectively, it leaves open the possibility of secondary problems: infection, cardiac arrest, multiple organ issues. The list goes on and on, and is compounded by the fact that skin is the largest organ of the human body.

Having followed Katie’s recovery with a reasonable degree of attention over the years – a recovery which has been all but dominated by a string of complex surgeries, including that which was needed to restore her eye-sight – I found myself smiling as I turned my computer on this morning and scanned the news. For today, Katie got the chance to do something she once would have thought impossible: to show her new baby off to the world, with a great big smile on her face. Belle is her name, and she was born on the 14th March, 2014.

Amongst spiralling concerns about the welfare of the Earth and as-yet unknown technological inventions which look set to make our current social media enterprises look weak by comparison, great things await Belle. Belle will get to grow up and see her mother truly happy, in a world where unthinkable medical progress can now make a real difference to not just physical wellbeing, but emotional wellbeing also. Thanks to the pioneering work of Mr Mohammed Jawad – the leading reconstructive plastic surgeon at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, who was instrumental in Katie’s successful recovery – there is now hope for burn victims which simply did not exist before. This is a tremendous thing for any of the approximate 1,500 people who are affected globally every year (statistic courtesy of Acid Survivors Trust International).

All this is something which is particularly poignant right now, just two days after 22-year-old Mary Konye was jailed for 12 years. Naomi Oni, once a friend of Ms Konye, suffered serious burns to her chest and face when Miss Konye decided to throw acid in her face. All because of an alleged comment she made about her friend being ugly.

What’s to come from Katie? I’m looking forward to seeing more. Katie Piper is an inspiration, so, if you have the inclination, feel free to click the above link and see what she’s doing at her foundation.