Saturday, 13 December 2008

Crystals and Clarity

I am a piss-pot philosopher. Not one that is expecting a round of applause at this somewhat alcoholics-anonymous style statement, just a fact. Plain and simple: and there you have it. Clarity.
I have reached my Damascus moment, my defining point, the moment in my life when all has finally become clear. The summary of this all defining moment? The long winded and overly drawn out conclusion? I don’t matter. Overly goth perhaps? A little too swoony and fetch me a grape perhaps? Nothing that complex really.
People I loved are now long dead and gone: a statement of fact. Once I am dead who will this matter to? No one at all; not one single person will remember Jack Stringer Thompson (my great grandfather) when I am dead. There will be yellowed photographs, there will be stories told, there will be oft repeated references to things that he said, but no one will really remember where they came from, why they are important, or even what they have to do with the proverbial price of fish. This has, surprisingly, made me a very much happier person. I have realised that there are one hundred and one daily things that drive me absolutely nuts that really aren’t worth caring about at all. I have probably just wasted my breath venting steam about something that won’t be any different afterwards, or that I can’t change at all, or that would need a lottery win to be able to sort out.
I sometimes wonder what we have doomed the future generations to, but then realise that they would probably have done the same as us given the chance. In fact, in a not quite so profound as Nostradamus sort of way, I can almost guarantee that once we area relocated on another planet within our solar system, the first thing we will busy ourselves with is polluting the hell out of it, creating new religions, and generally power grabbing right left and centre until we have a hotter version of where we live now. As the old saying goes, the King is dead, long live the King. Wherever we go we have done the same. Destroy everything around us as quickly and economically profitably as we can, and damn our children. Could anyone living in plague conditions feasibly think about continuing the family line? Did it ever occur to just one of them that maybe they’d be damning their children to a life far worse and far more difficult than theirs? People just carried on thinking totally selfishly and doing what all humans did before them and have continued to do to the present day. Reproduce, try and make ends meet, die.
There is the thought that Hell is other people, but I think that is a little too optimistic, let’s try and bring a modern day shine to it. Hell is you, hell is me, hell is here, and hell is now so make the best of it because none of it really matters. You will die, you will be forgotten, people will stop caring because it’s their own hide they’re thinking of when they lay themselves down to sleep at night, so enjoy the ride because the last stop is indeed a terminal.

The Rats and the Race

People essentially don’t learn. In fact it would seem that people don’t even listen to themselves when they speak: open mouth, not bothering to engage brain and see what happens. Allow me, if you will, to set the scene.
The Prestige was the name of the tanker. It wasn’t really fit to sail, but due to the companies involved wanting maximum profit and minimum costs, it was decided to send it off anyway with instructions to hug the coast in case of emergency, thus allowing for an easy rescue. The theory was that all the while the boat was off the Iberian coast there wasn’t much to worry about. However, the proprietor of the boat obviously hadn’t looked into the fact that ‘Costa Da Morte’ translates as the Coast Of Death due to the fact that it is an extremely dangerous coast to sail even under the most favourable conditions. This meant that coast hugging here was going to cause an accident and, true to form, it did. One tanker full of oil belched and vomited its entire contents all over the Galician coast, the slick extending to France and down the coast of Portugal: an ecological disaster of epic proportions. There were fishermen out of work, thousands of volunteers to help clean the beaches, people coming from all over Spain and for that matter, the world, just to help with the huge mess that had been caused by this disaster.
Many grand words were spoken by politicians, many beautiful promises were made, and the population at large became avid eco-warriors: or so it would seem. The devastation caused by the accident and then subsequent cleaning was immense, entire ecosystems were wiped out and it was estimated that various rare species were completely wiped out by the oil. We were all totally informed, and the news spoke about little else for the most part of three months. Continual stories about this fisherman that would now have nearly nothing to live on, the villages that were now totally out of work, the scientists that spoke of how long it would take to recover. The message seemed to be universal. This sort of thing should never happen again, and the blackened Galician flag would be a symbol and constant reminder of the damage done.
Human memory is a fickle thing, the news eventually died down, the beaches eventually filled up with tourists again, the fishermen went back out to fish, and the lesson had been fully and properly learnt. Or had it?
Fast-forward to this past weekend. We had gone out to visit family on the Asturian (Northern Spanish Coast for all you geography buffs) coast in a little fishing port called Luarca. It is a pretty little place full of quaint little boats bobbing around, moored up to the quayside. A big fishing market next to one of the last remaining lighthouses makes for a chocolate box cover seaside view. The beaches are granite and so the sand is a dusty black colour, soft as down to the touch, leading up to a small rickety path that winds up to the impressive views from the cemetery on the looming cliff ridge that overlooks it all. There is a small tidal canal that runs all the way through the town; home to hundreds of seagulls feeding on the fish that swim amongst the rubbish.
Rubbish. Nappies, coke cans, rusty shopping trollies, plastic bags, rotting fishing nets, broken forgotten toys from long gone visitors. All of the pain, all of the shouting, all of the hubbub, tears and commotion, for what?
It would seem that our collective reality is based entirely upon what is on the news. We base everything we know on what we are told by two people on a nightly show on TV. Once it is out of sight it is indeed out of mind. The human race only cares about impressing the neighbours. We have become totally shallow, the ultimate in throw away culture, the gone-tomorrow people, those who no longer even have the will to care.
If you say it, mean it, if you want to, do it, if you have the notion, make it happen. The road to hell isn’t paved with good intentions, it is paved with the meaningless words, the chest beating rebel rousing speeches, the ‘would if I could but I can’t’ attitude. We’re getting there people, but this is a one way ticket, last stop chaos.

The Princess and the Peeved

Those more regular readers will know that there are several recurring themes in these few pages of aforementioned piss-pot philosophy, one of the more common being my total lack of understanding of the human race and its failings. Tonight I have been led once again to the point of near explosion by what can only be described as vengeful ignorance. For those not au fait with the whole Spanish Franco period, some background to tonight is warranted: if those that are could please excuse a gross over simplification, I am aware that there is a lot more behind what I have to say, but historical essays were never my forte.

Galician people have never had a very easy time of things. They form a large rural community in the North-West of Spain, and lay claim to one of the most dispersed populations in Europe. It is really common here to find villages in mountains where there are five people or less living in practical solitude and in very rough conditions. Due to living under a fascist dictator, and having survived a very bloody and hard fought civil war, these people underwent some very hard times and have been forced to emigrate all over the world in order to make their livelihood. Those that were able to went to Latin America where they had more or less the same language, those that weren’t went to places like Switzerland, Germany, France or really anywhere they could feasibly get to and where they could work.

These people had even been forced to eat grass as there was nothing else at all else left; they were very poor and often only had the very minimum with them. Perhaps this story is starting to sound a little familiar, perhaps it is already drawing a few parallels?

Memory is a fickle thing. It plays up on us at the most inconvenient of times. Nine am, the children due at the nursery in ten minutes and the car keys just won’t be found. The jewellery that great aunt Gladys bought for Christmas has gone missing and she’s due to arrive any moment now. The fact that people are now coming to richer European countries to look for work because they’ll die otherwise and are prepared to live in appalling conditions here, because even that is better than anything they have at home is comparable to the Galician situation at the start... of... Hang on!

Nobody seems to have reached this conclusion yet: how, escapes me totally. I shall give the explanation I was given tonight.

“Of course you have to remember that none of our relatives went to steal at all. They were all polite, well mannered, humble peasants who would help grandmothers across the street.” PLEASE!!!

My only response was, to say that, though some may come in boats, others stay and get married to family members, though this seemed lost on them all, and I was generally shunned from all proceedings after this. There are uncomfortable truths out there, there are people who rob and steal in every nation, distrust of the unknown everywhere. Tarring with the same brush is supposed to be wrong, even according to the holy books that are rammed down our throats here on a regular basis. Everyone up in arms about Semana Santa, this Romería (religious party with food very common here) in honour of Saint Mary, that Romería in honour of Saint Jehoshaphat etcetera, etcetera ad nauseum. If the book you are supposed to devoutly believe in says something is wrong, then where do you get the idea that what you are saying is justifiable? At least have the courage to admit you have no belief in anything other than money and leave it at that. There are enough topics here for at least three other entries to this blog, though they are probably best suited under another entry. Discuss as you see fit, though any entry that couldn’t be deemed polite or at least informed will be deleted. Let the flaming begin.

Late Night Lullabies

As I once wrote a long time ago, “It’s three am and I’m alone”. Just that this time it’s without the bitter taste of any cheap cigarettes, or any crying females anywhere nearby, though in all possibility the girl that lives next door may start at any minute, but she’s only months old so that’s quite normal in her case.
One good thing about a sleepless night is the ever present beer that it seems to mystically provide, and the chance to one again visit the bits of the brain that aren’t in everyday use. Though these days the old burnable friend isn’t here to accompany me any more like he used to, filling the room with smoke and letting my mind wander with the wisps and curls he let fly out and embrace me and then wander out into the night. I really miss rummaging round in the top pocket of my shirt, or the inside pocket of my charity shop’s finest jacket to root out the packet of Royals, tap them sharply against my hand, take out a fresh smoke and light up and lose myself in five minutes ‘me time’. Five years and three months ago today I smoked the last pack that had cost me a miniscule amount due to the exchange rate from Sterling to Euros and said goodbye to an old and cherished friend that had helped keep me sane on many an occasion.
My brand of choice was always Royals. In fact it still is if I get the chance for a sneaky cig at a wedding or at New Year then if there are Royals on offer then that’s my poison. They used to come in packs of twelve or twenty four following the imperial measures: sadly these days, having given in to pressure, they come in packs of ten and twenty like any other run of the mill tobacco. I used to love the white packet with the red stripe, seeing the crest on every packet, feeling the weight of the packet as I “packed in the ‘baccy” as a good friend called it, and then tore away the protective paper to smell that fresh tobacco smell. Chris used to call them ‘oily rags’ and asked me why on earth I was smoking ‘Those beefy flavoured things’.
“Why don’t you just smoke an Oxo cube? It’d be cheaper” he told me often: I never changed though.
They were there for my delusions of grandeur, for the moments when I realized they were delusions. They were there for my failures and for my successes and they were even there in songs about both. I’ve never really been one for metaphor, and most of the things you’ll find written around here are based on personal experience. So as the reference at the introduction said, that pack of Royals was there even when all the lights were out and everyone was asleep.
“It’s three am and I’m alone,
With the bitter taste of my cheap cigarettes.
My arms around a crying friend,
God let me take all of her pain away”
I was sat in our front room when that was written. Strumming around on my dad’s twelve string and messing around with chord shapes. I’d been out that night with a girl from college that I really liked, but, as per usual with most of the feminine species, she didn’t really think the same about me. So, yet another boy had treated her abysmally, she was fed up and trying to cope with a lot of things at once and had taken me to the centre of town to sit on the monument of a December night, smoke, talk and, in her case cry. A lot.
The moment we sat down I had fumbled in my top pocket, rooted out a cig and put my arm around an already crying girl to listen to the story. The wind bit in, the words flowed on from both of us, and the night generally moved on not caring whether we lived or died or spontaneously combusted; the image however, stayed.
So my old friend, on a night like tonight I really miss your company, even though my doctor is certainly glad that you’re gone, I miss you. The song will always have you there, as will some of my other late night musings; it was time to move on.

In Which Computers Got It All Right

“A minnow a minnow, I have him by the nose” exclaims Jeremy Fisher in Beatrix Potter’s story for children, and I feel that she is saying something really relevant for today too. In fact ‘Settlers’, an old ‘God’ style game where you control the fate of a race that has lost its home also has a very good point too. We are minnows firmly caught by the nose that believe we are gods in control of everything around us. When I started writing this I thought it was going to be a Henry the fifth style pep talk, but then cynicism kicked in and I realized that the human race couldn’t care less about pep talks unless they’re in Disney films.
The fact is that the more I look at the planet around us, the more convinced I am that we are treating it like one of the many management games available on the PC. You are put in control of a group of people, country, planet etc. and then the game gets steadily more and more difficult, throwing different and varied challenges in your direction until ultimately you are totally destroyed. The problem with a lot of the management games available is that people get bored of being good and then start to destroy things: even taking delight in releasing Godzilla or a couple of well placed tornados right in the middle of the heaving metropolis to watch the skyscrapers burn and the people run around like ants with their nest on fire. It would seem that we have got to the stage of boredom where this has happened to humanity. Those in charge have got bored of leading, having power and being responsible: so now it’s all about sex, drugs, rock and roll and making as much money as you can in the least amount of time. In a rather stereotypical cliché, let’s quote Nirvana “It’s better to burn out than to just fade away”.
Let’s face it. We have the technology to make electric cars, we have the means to end world hunger, everyone could live together in peace, but we can’t be bothered. It’s too much like effort. Even the web-pages where you only have to give one click to give some child somewhere food for one day without even filling in any forms get half heartedly clicked once and then totally forgotten. People are far more interested in sending on a chain letter promising them the best sex they’ve ever had rather than feeding someone going hungry. Think about it. How many times in the last month have you sent an e-mail on because it promised you your wish come true, or because apparently AOL or Bill Gates are going to bother to track an e-mail all round the world and mystically pay you a couple of hundred quid without having your bank details or your real name? Sex fairy, wish come true, or…
The other day, parked outside the school I was working in until recently, I had paid for a couple of hours but my student had cancelled the lesson at the last minute. So I went to give my meter ticket to someone else. I wasn’t going to use it, and thought that perhaps someone else could take advantage of it. I don’t think I look particularly like a serial killer, or like I have leprosy, or even like I’m dangerous. In fact I was in a semi suit (without tie admittedly) and had a briefcase and was armed with my most charming of boyish grins. I spoke to three people: one of whom ignored me, another drove off, and the third person took some convincing to make them believe I was being honest. Obviously anyone giving something away must have an ulterior motive, as they couldn’t possibly be genuine. When giving this parking ticket away I was even told off by an elderly woman whose words went along the lines of ‘keep acting like that and you’ll end up stabbed and in a gutter’. For giving away a parking ticket.
I’m waiting for the big cursor in the sky to come down, pluck me up in true Black And White style and offer me as a sacrifice, or to see a big ‘Game Over’ flashing up in the sky one of these days, and the cosmic joke will all be over; If this isn’t a game then the reality of the situation is far, far worse than any games company could ever have believed.

Diaries Of The Eternally Disorganised

Today I was looking at my diary. Yes; my diary. I do have one despite all the rumors to the contrary, and the very fact of having one and updating it with the new term’s plans made me realise the absolute disaster area that is my personal life insofar as any organization skills are concerned.

We have been in England for nearly three weeks now and I have managed to do nothing, not one jot, not even a half hearted move towards seeing anyone at all, and there is no reason whatsoever for this to happen. We live in a technological age where communication has never been easier, and instead of doing the obvious thing and getting in touch all the time and being available for everyone, I find myself retreating ever more and more into myself. Perhaps the time of writing all these articles will give a hint as to why.

I write, mostly, in the middle of the night, when everyone else have long been in bed and are busy notching up zeds to themselves quietly in their own worlds, floating round in their dreams until the harsh nasal groan of the alarm clock at eight or even earlier. Night time is really the only time I have to do anything these days, as nappies, tantrums, reading stories, feeding children and getting them all into bed take up the rest of the time. This has been what has filled the last three weeks. We’re all out of bed by more or less nine, then, there are all the breakfasts to sort out, bottles to be prepared and children to bathe. Usually by twelve we’re starting to look ready to face the day and can think about where we’re going and what we are actually going to do there. Everyone is piled into the car and then we go out with the picnic prepared and scamper about the place trying to keep a seven month old baby entertained and keep a semi-tangible reign on our toddler.

Once home again at about six or seven we start the whole routine of getting everyone fed again, undressed and ready for bed, then bedtime stories are read, children are coaxed into bed and we finally breathe a sigh of relief that the day is done.
This, my friends, when all this is finished, when Raquel finally shut her eyes, Jacob has finally grumped his way through the last bottle and we are sat on the sofa is when I finally have time to ring: at nearly eleven ‘o clock at night. Most of you aren’t teachers, most of you don’t stay in the UK for your holidays, most of you have to be in bed at a semi sensible hour to get to work the next day, and thus receiving a phone call at eleven, you are probably going to assume that someone has died or that it is an emergency of apocalyptic proportions. “Thus” say I pretentiously, “ I shall phone upon the morrow” and the whole routine starts again.

So here we are at the end of August, term time looming like Lurch with a hangover, holiday nearly over and I have achieved beggar all of what I had planned, seen nearly none of the friends I hold so dear, and have to go back to Spain where I know I shall be staying until at least Christmas.

I miss you all and have been a monumentally crap friend. You are my family, the ones I chose, the people that have put up with, accommodated, helped, loved and looked after me without ever asking for more than the odd laugh or perhaps the odd pint. Please accept this apology and remember that you are always in my thoughts and in my heart and that if I can, I will. Love Ben / Winst / BJ xxx

Changing Times

My radio player has just stopped dead in its tracks. An abrupt, shuddering, jarring halt, like when you’re learning to drive and you kangaroo bounce the car a few steps before stalling. I was listening to Oasis’ wonderwall and I got a sudden mental image of one of my classmates from ninety four rolling a fist with obligatory smoke in it high in the air and singing at the top of his lungs in the common room. We were very young, and even then I thought that the image was going to capture the time and then become horribly outdated by the time I was in my twenties.
There my friends, you have it. Outdated. I have children now so I’m rather forcibly outdated, but the image is still there. Everything had a Union Jack painted on it, cider was snuck out on to the common to be drunk whilst clutching on to a measly hand rolled fag in some kind of teenage pretensions of rebellion. In effect doing exactly what our parents had done, and doing what kids are doing everywhere today. Perhaps even the fact that I’m writing this ought to be making alarm bells ring like crazy in my head, though the thought is there, niggling.
I’ve always been very aware that what I do, and what I used to do were not really anything new or different, but they were exciting. There was some kind of naïve rush at going out all in black, makeup on, nail varnish shining and the whole world seen through a one pint set of cider goggles (or stella vision as a good friend once called it). I went home in the car with my friend’s grandmother whilst they daringly trekked home from the pub at the regular Friday gig we were hanging round. Then another Friday would see me tramp on to the bus, take up a po-faced legs drawn up position on one of the back seats, and try to look like the perfect conformist rebel.
Today I tried on a pair of extremely tight fitting jeans again for the first time in nearly five years and the rush came back again: the excitement of the gigs, running around free, making what passed for music on a selection of first guitars busily drooling over the Les Paul catalogue dreaming of the day when it would be a reality, not just a hopeless fantasy.
They’re gone now though. I don’t really think I could feasibly push a pram through town in full on going out gear these days: though my daughter would love to get made up with me I’m sure. Everything has a time, and no, I’m not going to give in to temptation and quote psalms or even the Byrds, but they have a point. Added to which, when I look at the diaries I had, the songs I wrote and the old e-mails I have hanging around I remember that there were certainly parts of it that weren’t that great at all. The selective memory we all suffer goes to block out a lot of the angst of asking a girl out, the worry about exams, and the desire to fit in anywhere wherever that may be.
I said once that I’m the same me just with bills, and that’s probably true; I don’t feel any different. Now, though I care much less about what’s expected of me, and much more about those around me, because just like my friend’s roll up, the dance is going to carry on without us one day.