Ice, Ice Baby

I temporarily deactivated my Facebook account last night.

Why?

Because if I see one more person having iced water thrown over their head, I might well just say something in the heat of the moment I regret.

So instead I’ll say it here, in a (hopefully) more measured way.

Image from: Martin4x4 http://www.pistonheads.com

“Er actually, in all honesty I’m not sure anymore.”

Now, before anyone has me down for an uncharitable, misery guts, out to spoil the chain gang fun, I’d just like to point out I am not in any way uncharitable. I am a misery at times, yes, but I am not trying to spoil anybody’s fun. Rather I am trying to stick to the principles I have held on to all of my life. And they are: to not be a sheep and to never be bullied or coerced into doing things I do not want to do or which go against my principles in any way.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the fact that ALS/MND has been highlighted and been given so much publicity is a truly great thing and I think the ice bucket thing was, at least to begin with, more unique than the “no make up selfie” thing for breast cancer awareness. It is also great so much money has been raised for this one cause.

Unfortunately it seems Macmillan (a massive UK based cancer charity) have hijacked the idea with “TextIce to… and so MNDA are not getting the funds maybe they could have from the efforts. MNDA is a much lesser known charity, in need of more exposure. I also read somewhere that the idea of the ice bucket was that it was iced to give the recipient’s body a similar shock to that of some one suffering from MND. I don’t know how true this is as other sites say the original ice bucket idea was promoted by certain cancer research charities. However…

As always with these things which go viral on the internet, there becomes a lost in translation element to them.

I was led to believe initially you donated or faced the ice bucket forfeit. (In itself a little bit of a bullying tactic if you ask me.) Anyway, that made sense. Sort of.

However quite quickly it seems the thing to do became to be soaked in water whilst been filmed of course as every charitable event these days seems to have some element of narcissm attached to it, and then also make your donation.

Er…so if you feel so strongly about this charity, why not just give a donation. Why have yourself filmed and covered in ice cold water?

I can’t help but note there has been a sudden upsurge in end of summer colds recently. Co-incidence?? Hmmmm.

Anyway, as I say, great. Lots of money and awareness raised for a good cause.

Will I be taking part if nominated?

No.

Why not?

Because I’m scared of having iced water poured over my head? Haha! Don’t be ridiculous. (Oh and whilst I think of it, it is not “brave” to have it done, as I read on one feed. Just as it wasn’t brave to post a selfie with no make up on to your feed a few months back. Talk about first world problems.)

No, the reason I will not be taking part is I don’t feel the need to be yet another person sitting on a plastic chair in a poky back garden having someone pour water on me, just to give my mates a laugh. For that is what it has become. Pure and simple narcissistic voyeurism. I’d be just another ‘slacktivist’ adding to the social media clickety, click obsession. I can hear my critics now   “It’s only a bit of a laugh, don’t me miserable.” Oh ha, ha, ha. Yes, motor neuron disease is hilarious. Also it was funny the first two times I saw it but after 2 million I’m bored. It’s just become another thing for people to have one-up-man-ship on hasn’t it? Who can make theirs bigger, better, funnier? It has become, for the most part, a self congratulatory activity, focused on fun rather than with a focus on charity.

Granted, some have made me laugh and actually look on in awe. Some have caused a wry smile to creep over my face as some don’t bow to the online pressure of their friends and find an alternative. I hope the builder who had two buckets and then two diggers full of water poured over him had all his mates sponsor him for it and raise a load of cash. I know of others who have done it in name of publicising other lesser known charities and been original in that.

But mainly I see just ordinary folk have a little bucket of water chucked over them and they nominate their mates and then give £5. Job done, move on and we’ll talk about it down the pub later. Hahaha.

Then there are the people getting their small children in on it. Oh and I’m not talking about the child doing the pouring. No, I’m talking about the 2 year old girl who appeared on my FaceBook feed having a whole bucket of water poured over her head. Not slowly or delicately or anything either. A two year old has no idea what they are doing it for. Their consent is because they trust you as their parent. Kind of like a baptism into the church I suppose but with a different, but no less confusing moral significance. You then video it and shove it on You Tube or Facebook for a laugh, not because you care about people with muscle wasting diseases. It is tacky at best and a form of child abuse at worst. It was this, more than anything, which prompted my exit from Facebook and this blog post. I will return when the hoopla and circus is done.

These people then post “You have 24 hrs, lol!” onto the video. Like if you don’t do it within that time scale something dreadful will happen. Someone telling me that is, to my mind,  tantamount to bullying. So no, I will not be following the herd. Sorry, if I want to give to charity I will. I won’t be bullied into it. Not by my friends, not by anyone. It’s called living in a free society.

Oh and not to mention the ‘oh so hilarious’ waste of water this activity promotes. Irony then when there are adverts on TV asking for you to donate to Water Aid… I’ll say no more.

So will I be donating money instead?

No.(*gasps*)

And why not?

Simply put, I can’t afford it. Recently I have given quite a lot of money to charitable organisations which I have chosen to give to. Money donated to individuals who have stuck their neck out and done something more incredible than having their spouse pour water on their head. For example a 300 mile bike ride, jumping out of a plane when you have a massive fear of heights, climbing a mountain, or having all your hair shaved off. Just four examples I can think of recently. And yes, I shared links to these events and even, in a tongue and cheek way, tried encouraging my friends to give, especially to my brother’s recent epic bike ride for a local charity, but I wouldn’t ever expect people to if they didn’t want to. This new trend, like the no make up selfies and ice-bucket challenge, whereby we ‘nominate’ people to take part is, yes, harmless I suppose and does great things to raise awareness and cash, but I personally find them tasteless and, like I say, a little bit lost in translation. They become less about the charity and more about the “look at me” element.

Besides, if I gave money to every single charity who came knocking at my door for subscriptions, every single money box shook in my face whilst out and about, to everyone who did something for sponsorship or to any cause to go viral on Facebook, I’d become a charity case myself. I am not Patrick Stewart. (Nicely done by the way, sir), but I give spare cash wherever and when ever I can. To charities I feel in some way attached to, for whatever reason. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever give to the MNDA, I’m just not going to do it because I’m told to.

If you want to give to this particularly charity, great. Carry on. (But you don’t need to have water poured on you or be filmed doing so.) If you don’t want to give to MND/Macmillan/ALS why not just give your five pounds to a cause closer to your heart, rather than following the sheep, (as some I know have.) Or give to  both if you can afford it. Just a thought.

Here endeth the rant.

As you were. (That’ll be cold, wet and with an ice bucket on your head then.)

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under First post

A Child’s Grief.

We can never plan for the uncertainty of what life may throw in our direction. How one small incident can change the course of our day, our week, our life. Today something happened to my six year old little boy which affected him greatly. Something which, to an adult, would be insignificant and trivial, but for him altered the entire feel of his day.

After lunch we decided to take a walk down by the river which runs at the back of the housing estate on which we live. He took his scooter and, as ever the case when we leave the house, a toy from his room. (It’s a security, comfort thing he has always had since his move here.) Today he decided to take his fluffy duck/chick pencil case. He doesn’t use it as a pencil case, he uses it as a cuddly toy.

Anyway, as we left the house he popped it into his jeans pocket with the cute head poking out and set off down the street. He said to me: “Think of a name for Zip Chick” (as this has all it has ever been known as). I declined, saying whatever I named it, he would disagree with and name it something else anyway. He laughed and said I was right, and promptly announced he would name the chick “Barry” (after his favourite book character Barry Loser). I stifled a snortle but at that moment Barry the baby chick/duck pencil case was born.

We scooted/walked down the path, happily laughing, stopping every now and then to stroke baby Barry’s little tuft of white hair, before popping him back in the jeans’ pocket. Ominous black clouds were gathering in from the North West but the sunshine seemed to be winning through so we didn’t hurry and we headed further on down the path.

2014-08-22 13.30.42

 

After a few minutes we reached the part of the stream where you can cross some large, flat boulder type stepping stones. “Let’s see if there are any damsel flies around today,” little one says, and set down his scooter, ready to cross.

His legs are not yet long enough to stretch from stepping stone to stepping stone so I have to carry him to the other side, which I did. However, no sooner did I set him down when we both turned to face the stream only to behold the sight of Barry the baby chick/duck pencil case floating off downstream in the current.

You can only imagine the horror.

Now it’s not a deep stream at this time of year, but it is fast flowing and so I had no time to dive in and rescue Barry. So from there on in, I felt like a useless parent. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, and I hate to admit this, but my first reaction (after saying “Oh no” out loud) was to laugh a little because the sight of this bright yellow fluffy duck pencil case floating away was momentarily quite funny and ironic. I couldn’t help think about how he was free in his natural environment and of course I tried this as a form of explanation for the tragedy later on.

However, all these thoughts disappeared at the realization that  little one was more distraught than I have ever seen him.

After the initial shock of seeing the lifeless body of the fluffy toy floating further and further from reach, the high pitched wails  of “noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” echoed around the open space over and over. The tears flowed and the grief cycle set into dramatic motion.

“I hope this is a dream,” the poor little distraught figure next to me howled, as I gently carried him back across the river. “Poor Baaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy, he neeeeeeeeeeeds meeeeeeeee. He’ll be lonely,” he sobbed over and over. “He’s only a baby. He doesn’t like water. Come back Baaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyy!” his little voice wailed, his arms outstretched towards the river.

We watched as Barry became a smaller and smaller yellow dot. M’s sobs continued coming in short sharp bursts.

I’ve mentioned before how useless I am when it comes to helping others deal with loss and grief. So I did the only thing I know to do. Hug him. It’s all I had. I told him to let it all out, though he needed little encouragement, such was the emotion of his grief at the loss. More hugs and kisses, as we sat down on the bench and let the reality of what had happened sink in. No words. We sat like that for a while.  Then came the only other thing I know to do: be practical.

“How about we walk along the rest of the river bank? Perhaps Barry has become caught in the reeds on the bank and there might be a chance to get him back?”

“I just want to go home,” M’s little sad face looked up, his heart so utterly broken.

“Okay, if that’s what you want to do, but we could try, you never know. There is never any harm in trying.”

“Okay, we’ll try. Poor Barry. He’ll be all wet and dirty,” lamented little one.

“Well if we do recover him, and I can’t promise we will, he can be washed.”

The other side of the river was impossible to navigate, as there was no way down to the bank for the overgrown nettles and high path. We crossed back over again and tried the opposite side to where Barry had floated towards. Sure enough we came to a clearing on the bank, and there, on the opposite side, caught in the reeds, lay Barry.

2014-08-22 13.49.36

The little yellow dot is Barry :(

The sobs started over again, as it dawned on little one, that there was no way we could reach Barry.

“At least we can say goodbye to him properly here,” I said.

“I don’t want tooooooooooo. Noooooooooooo! Poor Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyy.”

“It’s too deep here and too fast flowing for me to go in and get him,” I said. “Listen, how about when we get home, I’ll look on the internet and see if we can get a new one. It won’t bring Barry back, but it might help make you feel better.”

(Is this the right thing to do? I don’t know, but when someone you love is hurting so much, you do anything in your power to make that hurt go away.)

Sniffs and sobs continued, followed by a reluctant “Yes, okay.”

We turned from the river bank to head home as the clouds had  moved over head now. M turned to the river and whispered “Bye Barry,” before climbing back onto his scooter.

“I was going to cuddle him in bed tonight and now I can’t,” he said as we slowly and solemnly strolled back towards home, the summer shower beginning to plip-plop from the sky. “This was going to be the best day ever, but it’s just turned out to be horrible.” His solemness tore at my heart and I just let him talk it out.

As we sheltered from the sharp shower between two sycamore trees, he cheered a little. He found a stick and said he would keep it so as to keep him company in place of Barry. The thought of finding a new Barry on the internet, also helping to keep his mind focused on something else when we got home. As we walked up the grassy bank towards the house, he said “I will keep this stick as a reminder of this day, and of Barry.”

2014-08-22 13.57.59

Two hours on since the incident, he is still clearly sad. He has sat and watched the TV cuddled up to me, whilst I write this epitaph. Even sweets did little to lift his mood. Every now and then he mentions Barry again. Just a few moments ago he said again:  “I really just hope this day has all been a dream.”

Thankfully we have located a replacement Barry. He’s not exactly the same, but similar. He is yellow, has the same eyes and the same tuft of white hair. He has a larger beak and flippers, which Barry didn’t have. He has to come from the USA though, so the wait is a few weeks. He won’t replace Barry, but hopefully the new one will help to take away the pain a little and help M move on.

Today, although my initial reaction was to giggle and trivialise the incident, I had to think about how I would have felt if something precious to me had fallen in the stream and floated away, irretrievably. I had to recall being a child too. It also helped me to remember that loss of a toy for a child is the same as the loss an adult may face when losing a loved one, only on a micro scale. He’s been through the whole spectrum of grief this afternoon. He’s now just identified with one of the characters on a TV programme who has lost something.

“Oh, that’s like me with Barry today,” he so wisely reflected. He then said :”I’m so tired.”

And I thought about that. He has been through the equivalent of a few months grieving this afternoon. He’s had the shock, the anger, the denial, the bargaining, the depression but already he is coming to acceptance.

It’s been a lot of emotion to deal with for one small person in an afternoon.

Hell, it’s sent me on a learning curve as a parent too.

8 Comments

Filed under General Rambliings

The Human Zoo

I’m breaking both my new blog post rules today. First this has nothing to do with writing. Second; it’s a long one. Enjoy!

For those of you familiar with my blog, or me in any way, you will know I have a thing about the ever growing human population, its effect on the planet and so on and so forth. (See here and here for linked musings.)

I also have my theories on many aspects of human behaviour and why, as a ‘civilised’ society we really haven’t come as far as we think we have in terms of distancing ourselves from our base core as animals.

Sure, we are intelligent (though there are times I would argue our intelligence is our biggest downfall as a species.) Sure we don’t toilet ourselves out in the wild, unless we are on a camping holiday, up a mountain, in a traffic jam, or three years old. We like to think ourselves as above the rest of the animal kingdom because we have managed to survive and thrive for nearly a million years now (which is nothing given we’ll probably be extinct in another hundred if we carry on). We believe we are superior because we’ve developed a whole bunch of pretty much pointless technology (if you stop to think about it for half a second.) When I speak of humans in this way I speak of ‘Western’ societies and cultures, who yes, may be more ‘civilised’, whatever that means, but I have a theory that we as a species are not so far removed from our animal instincts as we like to believe, at least in one area of our behaviour.

And to make my point for this ramble I am going to refer you to the city of London (or any other sprawling metropolis you care to live near, or are familiar with.)

Some of you may not know this, but I have a little bit of an aversion to people. I don’t mean people as individuals, I know some very lovely people and I like company otherwise  get lonely. No, I am speaking more in terms of society, people en mass, as a concept: a Western society; a consumer, capitalist society; a modern society. We are a conceited animal and this bothers me as a member of the species and it seems to me that when people gather together en mass, for any reason whatsoever our animal instincts become all the more apparent and this hypocrisy that we are so high above other species bugs me, because we’re not. Not really.

Now, if I find myself in a crowd of people I can become quite claustrophobic, as I’m sure an awful lot of others can do too. If I spend time with a large group of friends, I retreat into myself more than I do if with only a few, and the introvert in me needs days alone to recover from the ordeal. In general I am not the most tolerant human of other humans. I will admit that. I don’t like it about myself, in fact I regularly beat myself up about it, because society deems I should be all loving, all caring, all embracing of my fellow man. However, I just cannot abide people en mass. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an evil, human hater, wishing ill on all who cross my path. I have developed the social skills I need and have a moral compass which wishes well and goodness to all, (okay, almost all.) I am polite, amiable, affable, conversational, kind, sensitive (not all at the same time I hasten to add), even in the face of extreme adversity. I tolerate the sometimes baffling behaviour of other humans because I realise I am not perfect and  I’m human and others tolerate my baffling idiosyncrasies so all’s fair. No, I am a grumpy, intolerant, snappy, boring, judgmental, selfish human too when I want to be. I have no illusions that others won’t find me irritating, rude,even obnoxious at times, but all this does not stop me absolutely detesting other humans when there are too many of them around. This I believe is pretty much a base animal instinct. Some of us simply control the uncomfortable feeling being around crowds of people better than others.

Here’s the thing which got me re-thinking this issue again.

Yesterday I visited London for the day. I have been to London before and always thought  what a hell hole it is. (Sorry if you love London as I realise many do, but uuurghh, it isn’t for me.)  I had, after years of not visiting, kind of forgotten how bad it was, but yesterday it all came flooding back.

Now I am no country bumpkin who simply hates cities from sheer ignorance. Quite the opposite. I was born and raised in England’s second city. No, not Manchester; Birmingham. I could also spend many a week wandering the streets of Edinburgh and I have always liked the times I have visited other UK cities. But, but, but…London is a different kettle of fish altogether. It isn’t that it is just  so much bigger, it is, at least it appears that the people there are just so, well, rude, for want of a better word. I know I am now going to get Londoners from all over say this is not so, but just hear me out as I don’t blame you. You see it’s probably not your fault.

In Britain we hold a theory that the further north you travel, the nicer folk are generally speaking. I wholeheartedly agree with this from my experiences and here’s my theory as to why this holds true.

Generally speaking, the further north and west you go in the UK, the less people there are. It’s that simple. The further South-East you go, the more there are.

I personally don’t believe human beings were designed to live in anything bigger than villages or small towns. I really don’t.

All that our ‘survival of the fittest, dominant species, transport linked, global community’ crap has done is encourage us to live in massive, overcrowded communities which, from what I see, only make us extremely miserable. Why else do we have a TV programme called “Escape To The Country?”

This misery of overpopulated communities I evidence every time I travel to London.

Take yesterday for example. I arrived at London Marylebone station mid morning. I felt calm and relaxed after a pleasant train trip down on a Chiltern train from The Midlands. The first thing I had to do was find toilet facilities, which I located quickly, only to discover I had to pay 30 pence for the privilege. (Yes, I had forgotten about this particular quirk of the  capital’s public restrooms.) I can only assume the reason there is a charge is, due to the sheer volume of people needing to use these facilities, the council, or whoever, have to ensure they are not been misused. The more people there are to mistreat them, the more need there is for a charge to deter ‘undesirables’. How depressing. Large communities cannot be trusted it seems. (Either that or the charge is to pay for the upkeep of the wonderful decor of a perspex Monopoly Board on the back wall – nice but pretty pointless use of public money when a short walk away, homeless people camp.)

Anyway, having no change, I hopped on over to the WHSmiths on the other side of the concourse and bought a flapjack for me and a KitKat for the little one. Whilst we were in the queue, getting in the way most likely, those ahead of us and around us were practically throwing their money down at the cashier before she even had a chance to see what they were buying. So in rush they were. Why is it people in London are always in a rush? Do Londoners have such bad time management skills that they never leave enough time to casually stroll into a train station and catch a train at a leisurely pace? I’m surprised there aren’t more dead bodies from heart attacks littering the place.

Anyway, I digress, again. The next job was to hit the tube. With a six year old. Now this wasn’t too bad in the morning but later on. Well. I’ll come to that shortly.

The first thing you notice about people travelling on the tube is the lack of eye contact anyone human will have with any other human and the air hanging heavy with suspicious minds. No one is relaxed. Hackles are up, eyes are alert to the surroundings but dead to other humans, ears pricked because everyone is a stranger and anyone can pose danger. The drunk, the mentally ill, the mugger. Any one of these people around you might have a bomb strapped to them, a gun in their pocket or a knife at their belt. You begin your day happy and relaxed, being the same old trusting self but after ten minutes on the underground you find yourself merging in with this suspicious, nervous menagerie of people. You know no-one. You trust no-one and survival in the metropolis jungle becomes your only concern.

This atmosphere of suspicion and fear leads to an almost eerie quietness throughout the underground which I find odd in a place so heaving with people. All that is heard is the clatter of heels on stairs, shuffling footsteps, suitcase wheels bouncing down escalators and the screech of the trains themselves. But there are no human voices. Or at least, very few.  This eerie quietness of a place packed with so many people is disconcerting and telling.  No one says please or thank you. No one smiles and this, I believe, is our animal instincts kicking in. All we are interested in is protecting our own space, and no one does that quite like the locals.

You can spot them a mile off.

They will be the ones marking their territory like a dog.

Heads held high, shoulders back, eyes forward, focused, running down/up the left hand side of the escalators, crossing the yellow safety line in a move no tourist would dare try. They don’t stop and consult underground maps, or falter at the barrier for their ticket, and they don’t care if you were next to the empty seat first. They are quicker than a whippet out of a trap when it comes to snatching that elusive seat as soon as the previous occupant has lifted their bottom from it. It’s quite a sight to behold. They must have been champions at every game of musical chairs when younger. In fact I wonder if Musical Chair Champion has to be a prerequisite of acquiring a job in London.

Then there were the two women in the queue for the escalator: “It’s busy isn’t it?” says one to the other “Oh yes” says the other one very pointedly:  “It’s the Museum Crowd isn’t it?” as though tourists were the scourge of their city, rather than part of it’s lifeblood. After which, they jump the queue as, of course, they have more right than we to be at the front. Some locals do speak, but generally only to mark their territory, show the tourists and outsiders who’s boss.

Once on the train, there spouted the word of a poncy young adult very loudly organising his trip to America with his friends. They were sat opposite him but  happened to have a can of squashed human sardines standing up, swaying backwards and forwards, between them. “Right, yah, my father lives in Floridaaah yah; he’ll let us know the cool places to stay…blah blah blah blah….. Yah, that’s the kinda vibe.” (The vibe? Who even speaks like that?)  “Oh we can pop down to Mexico from Floridaah yah?” Yes, because Florida to Mexico is akin to a trip through the Blackwall tunnel. Maybe it is if you have daddy’s private jet to borrow, who knows? Again, marking his territory. Subtext: “I don’t care I’m on a packed tube train. I’m quite comfortable with this because I do it all the time and I’m young, hip and happening. It doesn’t matter that everyone can hear me and that I’m basically talking at someone’s groin. I’m from London and I laugh in the face of the Tube crowds.” All I could think was “Tosser.”

See this is what being around people in crowds does to me. I become an intolerant, sarcastic cow.

Depressingly, other than this one individual, I saw not one smile on four different tube journeys. Not one. Not even his friends. If they were his friends.

Not that I blame people for not smiling. It’s hotter than hell on the underground and you’re surrounded by all manner of odd humans. Really odd. It’s like a pressure cooker. There is nothing much to smile about as people pour in and out of the doors like a can of coca cola that’s been shook up too much.

This however doesn’t account for the rudeness one encounters. The woman with the suitcase who thought it perfectly okay to barge her way thought the queue to the escalator for example. Seriously, what makes her better than me, the next person or the next? Though actually, again this rudeness, this abruptness of Londoners, I think, comes down to basic animal survival instincts. The aim is to get from one point to the next as quickly as possible, but there are all these other millions of humans trying to do the same. In conflicting directions most of the time. Then of course there are the bumbling tourists with their children strolling though the barriers to navigate. Shoulder barging seems the quickest and most effective form of communication it appears.

On top of it all, there is just simply the mad, fast paced rush of the entire place. Those who run up or down the left hand side of the escalator, because tube trains don’t run every three minutes. It’s like some sort of disease that people using the underground have. “Must not ever wait for a tube train: I must run and ensure I arrive just as it is pulling in, then jump on board, regardless of how many people are in it already. I couldn’t possibly wait for the next one.”

It is just an alien world to me. Humanity seems desperately lacking. No one surely likes it? Everyone is miserable and rude and intolerant of others and the worst thing is it is so easy to find yourself quickly getting sucked into the mentality of basic my ‘survival’ matters above all else. But instead of your survival being about avoiding the jaws of a Sabre toothed cat, it is being first to the train, to a seat, to your destination.

And it is all, to my mind completely pointless and unnecessary.

Those commuting on the tube are doing so for their jobs which earn them a wage to help them live in the most expensive city in Britain. And they rush about like blue arsed flies to do this. They do this so they can buy lots of stuff. All the stuff no one really actually needs. The stuff our intelligent, civilized, developed society tells us we need.

This is why I don’t like humans much and going to London in particular just brings it home to me more. I just can’t help but despair at our species when I am in large crowds, be that in a tube station, in a shopping center or even on social media. The constant rush and white noise of so much unimportant stuff. I reflect and can’t help but think: “Oh Good Lord there are just so, so, so many of us. Too many of us, clogging up the planet, destroying it with consumerism and planet wrecking stuff.” It scares me, truth be told.

And thus I just don’t think we are designed to live crowded together in big cities. It clearly makes us all hateful and miserable and intolerant. It is also why we generally only have a few close friends and family. Humans, like other animals are not, I believe,  designed to cope with too many other around. Too many other animals in the pack creates competition, suspicion and intolerance.

Humans, in this respect, despite all our intelligence, are no different to other animals. The main difference is that other animals live in herds which don’t go into the millions crammed into ridiculously small spaces.  Animals, when they have their territory threatened by other herds kill and maim other animals.  Out intelligence and humanity prevents us from this, to a certain degree, but tell me, why do you never hear of rioting in small Scottish coastal towns? Hmmmmm? I think the rudeness and utter misery conveyed by the majority of people I saw in London, especially on the underground, simply echoes this on a mini, repressed level. It only takes one small incident for the pressure cooker to blow.  We want/need to claim our territory, even if it’s just that tiny corner of the tube train and we’ll beat any one down if they try to get to it first. I saw it in queues for the toilets, queues in the museum, (crikey, I even felt myself ready to blow at the woman in the queue behind me who had no concept of personal space and continually bumped into my back).  I saw it as people jostled and vied for the best seats on the train home. It is the same in any environment where many people are gathered. If we are honest in these situations we, at best, tolerate our fellow humans. We don’t embrace and love them. As I’ve said before, we look out for ourselves, then our own tribe (family, close friends, those we have specially selected to be a part of our lives). We care very little for anyone else. We don’t have the capacity to.

We’re animals.

And to me, London is just one massive, human zoo.

 

NB all ramblings are my own opinions. Feel free to add yours in the comments box below and thanks as always for reading.

2 Comments

Filed under General Rambliings

99-Word Flash Fiction

One of my minor goals lately has been to attempt a piece of 99 word Flash Fiction. I didn’t want to force it and so I didn’t. However, when Story Bandit on Twitter (@storybandit) laid down a writing dare to write a piece of 99 word flash fiction, incorporating the words: bumpy, enthused, long-haul trucker and damning, a story sprang to mind immediately. I had a lot of fun teasing the words to get to 99. Oddly enough, I found it’s  much harder even than  writing the 140 character micro fiction pieces for Friday Phrases on Twitter. Anyhow, I hope I’ve managed to pull something off with this piece.

Thoughts always welcome from anyone who knows more about Flash Fiction than I do in the comments section. Thanks :)

Survival of the Fittest

We warn all motorists not to drive there, unless confident of their survival skills.’

Ed laughed at the damning magazine article describing ‘America’s Loneliest Road.’

Undeterred, enthused for the trip east, he took Highway 50 across Nevada.

It lived up to its name; desolate, bar the lone long-haul trucker who passed him near Austin.

Eventually, almost hypnotised by the monotonous procession of telegraph poles rising from expanses of bleached desert, and concerned upon reading ‘no services for 88 miles’, Ed headed for the bumpy, more scenic Pony Express Trail.

There the trucker waited in the sagebrush, ready to feed.

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

Breaking The Law…The Write Way.

Am I a writer?

Well, I write stuff. I write blog posts and short stories and flash fiction and I’ve written a novel. I write pieces of 140 character micro fiction on Fridays and I write a journal.

But if you asked my friends or family: “What does Joanne do?” They’d reply, first of all:  “She’s a teacher.” Then they might say: “she’s a foster carer to her nephew.” They might say she’s a bossy, cantankerous weirdo too, I don’t know. What I do know is that I doubt any of them would say: “She’s a writer.” Which is odd, given that I probably spend a quarter of my time doing just that, when I’m not teaching, parenting or doing chores.

I wonder if I had any of my work published, whether this would change. I’m pretty sure it would.

However, let’s take now, as now is where we’re at.

Do I class myself as a writer? If people ask me: “What do you do?” do I reply with: “I’m a writer?” Or “I write.” Well, the short answer is, no, no I don’t. Why? Why do I not say I am, when actually I write an awful lot?

The answer is I suppose two fold.

The main one being: I don’t earn a living from it. I write, but it’s a hobby really.

The second answer is more complex.

It is more to do with what I see of the writing community around me, whether they be published, none published writers/authors or traditional or indie published writers/authors. I don’t see myself as a writer yet, as I break practically every writing rule,ever conceived.(Mainly because I hate being told what to do. I’ll follow advice, sure, I’m not a stubborn idiot, but tell me something is black, set in stone and I’ll tell you it’s white and wobbly.)

So, here are 13 reasons I probably can’t consider myself a writer, just yet and why I won’t be published for a very long time! (< there’s one; right there.)

1) I do not send my short stories, flash pieces to magazines or other literary publications as I see many of my Twitter folk friends doing.

2) I do not plot and plan stories or novels or characters in any kind of detail.

3) I use adjectives as if they are going out of fashion.

4) I use cliches (see above ^) and adverbs excessively. (<)

5) I do not write every day or at a a set given time, or give myself word count goals. Not even when people on Twitter are screaming at each other to do so, as though if they don’t write, their arm might fall off.

6) I have no idea what characters are going to do in any given situation before I put them in a situation. I do not write them a full bio before I plonk them head first into a story. Fun! Try it!

7) I don’t read anywhere near enough. I average a novel every two months these days. Shocking. I therefore, according to Stephen King, “have no tools to write.”

8) My novel starts with a prologue.

9) My novel starts with a prologue featuring the main protagonist

10) The first actual chapter of my novel doesn’t introduce the protagonist.

11) It took me fourteen months to finish the first draft, not three as Stephen King recommends. Though I am not Stephen King…so.

12) I break pretty much every one of Elmore Leonard’s ten tips for writers (covered above) as well as a) I don’t only use said as a dialogue tag. b) I have opened a short story with a weather description. c) I have gone into detailed description in my novel at times because…well, TOLKIEN! d) And I have definitely used suddenly numerous times and more than 2 exclamation marks per 100,000 words.

13) I never follow writing rules. (except the laws of basic grammar and using active over passive, though I’m pretty sure I’ll have broken those too.)

 

What “rules for writing” don’t you follow? I’d love to know that I’m not the only law breaker out there..Come on, ‘fess up; you’ll feel so much better for it. :)

 

 

14 Comments

Filed under Plot Development, Writing

Flash Fiction: Heart Shaped Box

This week, no rambling, left-field Joanne thoughts, oh no. I’m in at 294 words in another Flash Fiction piece inspired by one of my earliest FPs. It’s had a few drafts. It’s gone from 600 words to less than 300. It’s gone from first person, present tense to third person past tense but finally settled on third person, present tense. The original FP is at the end of the piece. It’s not my best piece, I’ll happily admit, but it was a challenge I set to myself to write something and publish it in an evening. So here it is. Hope you enjoy.

Heart Shaped Box.

Jim scrutinises the parcel on the counter top, wondering what on earth the hospital could have sent. The plain, brown paper package has being there a good two hours, torturing him. He’s walked away from it numerous times, then returned, not sure whether he should to open it.

The news the night before that Donna had died, after a three-year battle with cancer, had been shock enough. But when a motorcycle courier had turned up that morning with a parcel from the same hospital she had passed away in, a cold chill had run through Jim’s spine.

I could just throw it away – not open it. The thought plays over and over in his mind as he fingers the thin paper covering the box, persecuting his curiosity more than he can stand.

Finally, being able to look at it no longer, Jim seizes the parcel tape and tears it off in one swift movement. Removing the outer paper reveals a blue gift box with a well fitted lid and a neatly tied bow.

Tucked under the ribbon, rests an envelope bearing his name written in capitals.

Discarding the letter, Jim lifts the lid but even two hours procrastination can’t prepare him for the contents.

Bile rises quickly and his stomach somersaults. There, packed in ice, is the unmistakable mass of a human heart. The raw redness of the aorta and ventricles, the veins and arteries, clearly visible through the translucency of the cold storage.

Confusion flooding every synapse, Jim grabs the letter and rips it open.

A donor card flutters to the floor.

Unfolding the letter, Jim finds Donna’s distinctive scrawl, still recognisable after five years apart.

‘Dearest Jim,

I gave this to you long ago. This time, I hope you won’t reject it.

Yours forever, Donna.’

 

The above story originated from this Friday Phase which I wrote back in January.

He knew she’d died; he’d read the obituary. But it was a shock when he opened a parcel from the hospital to find her donated heart there. 

 

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Writing

Mirror, Mirror

The theme for Friday Phrases the week before last was ‘Reflections’, and as such it meant I spent a disproportionate amount of time gazing at my own reflection and reflecting on the world, looking for inspiration.

Well I may not have found much writing inspiration for the theme, but it did get me thinking about image and how we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived by others.

So welcome to, what no doubt will be an incoherent ramble, with a little self indulgence thrown in, all about image perception.

There is, to my mind, no doubt about it: self image and appearance is important to us in western society, whether we like to believe it or not. I think most of us would be lying if we said we didn’t want to be considered physically attractive, beautiful, handsome, fair, pretty or whatever. I know for certain I’d be lying if I said that. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not saying physical attractiveness is the most important attribute we as humans have, far from it. It is most definitely not. But I don’t think anyone would be honest if they said they didn’t care about how they are perceived physically by others, or by themselves.

It seems to me that we are almost brainwashed from a very early age to think of appearance as highly important. Consider the Wicked Queen in the fairy tale Snow White. She is a woman obsessed by her appearance, constantly seeking reassurance that she is the fairest of them all. And then, wham! One day a younger model comes along and confirms to us all that youth is indeed more aesthetically pleasing. Okay, I know, perhaps the inherent message is that Snow White is more beautiful because she has a purer heart than the Queen, but seven year-olds don’t read that deeply. The younger girl is prettier. That’s the message which comes across.

Now, we all quote the cliches: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, etc, etc.. And, whereas we may say we hold these values in terms of how we think of other people, do we really believe these values of ourselves?

I would hazard a guess that there are very few people out there who look in the mirror and like what they see. It is as though most of us have a pretty distorted image of ourselves and I feel in the past ten years or so, the obsession with image and perfecting our physical appearance has gone to a whole new level. I believe social media, as with many forms of media, has a huge role to play in this. It has advanced and elevated the image consciousness of the world to be something even more instant than glossy mags, films and television ever brought us to.

Whereas before the onset of social media, we were perhaps able to rationalise our own distain for how we look. We could say:  “Well these people are models or film stars and they are airbrushed and they have make up teams surrounding them and personal trainers.” We can no longer use that rationalisation. Now we log onto Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram and we are bombarded with pictures of everyday folk looking their best. Because now everyone can photo-shop themselves. Everyone can take a selfie until they find the shot they are most happy with: their best angle; chin up, chin down; black and white; best side; subdued lighting. I sometimes look at the avatars of people on Twitter (women, as that’s who I will naturally compare myself to) and just  wonder at how many stunningly pretty women are out there and just feel utterly depressed by it. And I know I’m not the only one who will be doing that.

Yet, I have to try and rationalise that too. After all, who puts their worst picture up? I know I don’t. I find one I can live with (as liking photos of myself just doesn’t happen) and use that. One where I look marginally better than most.  I joked about the phenomenon of ‘selfies’ in another post, (which you can find here) but recently read an article about how some people who are obsessed with finding the right angle may be suffering from some form of mental disorder. I found this quite disturbing. However I guess we all want to show ourselves off in our best light. We may pretend not to care, but ultimately we do. Look at how Hans Holbein portrayed Anne Of Cleves. Henry VIII fell in love with her portrait, but couldn’t stand her, and professed her to be ugly. Seems perhaps things in human nature hasn’t changed all that much.  How we are perceived by others merely through what happens to be on the outside of what is a far more complex, interesting machine of nature, is it seems more important than most of us would care to admit to.

So why am I writing about image now?

Well, an odd thing struck me the other day. I have noticed, in the year or so I have been active on Twitter, that I have received disproportionately more compliments about my physical appearance than at any other time in my thirty eight(ish) years of life. From people who are, essentially, strangers to me. Granted, some have become friends, but my friends in ‘real life’ don’t pay me compliments, so I find it a little bit weird. Really nice, but weird nevertheless. Now don’t misunderstand me, this is not a daily occurrence and I’ve not got men bashing my door down to date me or anything, but I have received many lovely comments about how I look from both men and women than I can say I ever have in my whole life before.

And so, I got to wondering why this happens on social media rather than in real life. I mean, I haven’t photo-shopped my photos. I don’t look different in real life to how I look on a photo so why has this started happening? My theory is this:  Perhaps it is the safety of saying it from behind a computer screen which makes people braver. The British inherently know that if you pay someone a compliment directly, there is a 99% chance of the recipient of the compliment blushing a bright berry shade before going off to die in a corner somewhere or at the very least feeling it necessary to pay one back just to be polite.  Or of course come back with some self -deprecating comment. All very uncomfortable. Therefore, do Brits not give so many compliments in real life, but find it no bother across the world wide waves? I mean I can’t say I recall any of my friends or family telling me, for example, that I’m pretty. Now I have various people on social media commenting positively on how I look. Some of them are even British!

I bet someone from my life now pops up and says, “Don’t you remember that time in 1993 I told you you were pretty?” Which brings me to my next point about image and perception.

It seems that we only internalise and remember the negative comments, (unless they are outweighed considerably by the positive comments) and I think this is why I find it strange now that people all of sudden are commenting positively on my appearance. Because I’ve never had, to my fickle memory’s knowledge, received that many compliments before.

Here’s how it all seems to me. I can’t accept compliments about my physical appearance very readily because I myself do not think I am attractive.

If I had to describe my physical attractiveness I’d say I’m slightly below average, maybe with a rating of four or five out of ten.

This is what I see when I look in the mirror:

Individually I have features which work: eyes are fine, nose is not too big, not too small. The mouth is okay.  Teeth are mostly straight. Two normal looking ears.

BUT, for me, they just don’t work together. They don’t.

When I smile, my lips go over to one side and my teeth are wonky. My nose also leans to one side and one nostril is a different shape to the other. There are dark circles under my eyes which are now more sunken than they ever were and there are too many wrinkles. I have fat cheeks and worry lines which Mr Worry from the Mr Men would be proud to own. My nose in profile is inexplicably weird looking and because I used to suck my thumb as a child my top row of teeth jut out more than the bottom row. All in all, I’m not a fan of my face and I think I know why.

I once watched a TV program on the subject a few years back. It was all about what is perceived by humans to be physically attractive and, it turned out, in terms of facial features, symmetry was key. Oh and big, wide eyes. Apparently. So the more symmetrical your face, the more attractive you are to others. Perhaps my own perception of my own face is not so far off the mark after all, because there’s no symmetry going on here!

So when someone tells me I’m pretty or whatever, I do try to graciously accept the compliment. I am even starting to believe that, yes, maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder so I have to accept what they are saying, but what I behold is not beauty, and so I do still find it hard to take those kind of compliments.

I also find it hard because, as I say, it has never really happened to me in real life. Maybe I’m better in 2d than 3d, I don’t know!

And I suspect that, as with us all,  I’ve held on to the negative things said to me, none of which have ever been said to intentionally hurt, rather than hold on to the positives when they have been said.

So instead of a seeing  a “nice” smile, I see the buck teeth my brother teased me about when he was eight.

Instead of seeing  “lovely” eyes, I see the huge pair of Deidre Barlow style glasses, (Google her my foreign friends) which I had to wear all though my teens.

Instead of seeing a “curvaceous” rear end I see a fat arse and the “thunder thighs” one boyfriend once thought nothing of pointing out.

I see feet which are too big and arms with too much hair for a woman. I see a face which would be better if only my eyebrows were plucked, according to one friend.

Instead of a “pretty” face I see the malleable cartoon features another boyfriend so sensitively told me I had.

I hear: “Well, you’re not ugly are you?”

I hear:  “You have to rely on your personalty to get a boyfriend.”

I hear “You have  to make an effort, whereas your sister would look good in a bin-liner”.

I hear: “Are you a girl or a boy?”

And at the very root of all this stuff about our physical attractiveness is our own perception. We are harder on ourselves than anyone else will ever be. None of those things said to me were ever said vindictively. But they, and others like them, have stuck and formed my own opinions about how I look.

It shouldn’t matter, when all is said and done. Beauty is, as they say, only skin deep.

But in this day and age of the global village, selfies and celebrity culture, I think we are all finding it increasingly difficult to not compare our physical image with that of others. For some of us, it simply compounds feelings which have been a part of our personality for years. Just another curse of our modern first world lives.

 

Thanks for reading as always. Told you I’d ramble and go off the point!

Feel free to pay compliments, I mean make relevant comments, in the box below. ;)

 

 

 

12 Comments

Filed under General Rambliings