Monday, 28 June 2010

"Anyone but England" - the rich, famous and useless

For anyone wearing an "Anyone but England", in answer to the question "who will win the World Cup", you've been proven right - no surprises there. As a realistic football fan, for me, it's not the winning, it's the taking part. And taking part in playing a football match assumes knowing what to do with the ball. And there was scant evidence of that from England's four "performances". Customs at Heathrow should charge these players with "impersonating footballers", and their passports confiscated so they can't do it again.

I first went to a football match in 1962. It was Portsmouth v Cardiff, I was 7, and I've been stuck with Pompey ever since. Suffering since 1962, I've followed the ups and downs of local, league, national and international football. But I can't remember ever feeling so let down by any team as much as by the current pathetic England team. And by "current", I mean the players who represented our country in the four games in the World Cup finals. If I was running England football they would no longer be the current team, I would tell the old guard right now that they are the past, and bring in completely new players, planning for 2012 and 2014.

I would much rather see keen, talented, fit, young players given a chance, than suffer more from the rich, famous and useless familiar faces. England's FIFA ranking hovers around the top 20, and we shouldn't expect them to win the trophy. I've been round the block enough times to have modest expectations, and settle for "valiant losers". But this current England team couldn't beat an average USA team, or soccer giants Algeria, but we were expected to rejoice when we managed to thrash modest Slovenia (pop 2M) by 1-0. Thank goodness the Germans were not on top form, and we escaped with a mild 4-1 beating. Our "world class" players seemed unable to perform, and our less talented players were cruelly exposed on a world stage.

I feel sorry for the England supporters who invested thousands of their money (a third of their annual income?), all their annual leave, and a heart full of emotion, in their beloved England team. Being a football supporter is always a risky business, with so few winners and so many losers. But to fall so far short of adequate is an insult to the travelling fans, especially when the players are paid £50k and more a week. As for Rooney complaining about the supporters voicing their opinions........

I don't know what is wrong with these guys, but then I'm merely a fan. Brian Clough said he only did man management. He didn't bother with team tactics. He considered that football is a simple game, and that his players were professional footballers who didn't need to be told how to play the game. Don't sack Fabio, he knows what he's doing and has won lots, just sack the players.

Today's "The Times" had an obituary for England's football stars, quoting Auden:
"The stars are not wanted now: put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods,
For nothing now can ever come to any good."

Bury the yesterday men, and start again.

(photo of Church Walk, Colchester, on St George's Day) (and yes, I know people wear "Anyone but England" shirts for other reasons.....)

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Everybody wants to be happy

"The planet can't afford a growing world economy, and the world economy can't afford a recession, so how should we live?", says me, paraphrasing Professor Jules Pretty of University of Essex, who gave a keynote speech at Colchester2020's Business Breakfast yesterday. He talked about consumerism round the world, comparing Europeans and north Americans, with people from Asia and Africa, and how many more planets we will need if they catch up with our levels of consumption.

So, as I tucked into my plentiful breakfast, he said (me paraphrasing again - his language was a little more learned) that "we seek growth so we can have more stuff, and we want more stuff as we believe it will make us more happy". Many of us in the west aspire to much more (often pointless) stuff, and the consequent happiness it will bring us, but we overlook basic human psychology.

Pretty then decribed a study of two very different groups of people. One group consisted of people who had won a fortune on the lottery, and the second were individuals who had become paraplegic following car accidents. For both groups, at least a year had passed since the traumatic/ecstatic event of their crash/win, and they were asked about their happiness "after" compared with "before".

And both groups reported that they had settled down after the initial change in feelings, and had reverted to how they were before, and were no more or less happy despite the big change in personal circumstances.

So, if you're unhappy, and dream of winning the lottery and subsequent happiness; first you almost certainly ain't going to win, and secondly, if you do win, you ain't gonna be happier. For myself, it has been rather traumatic to have a two-year old become type-1 diabetic, making me angry and ranting, and turning our lives in a different direction, but I can't say I'm any less happy twenty months on from his D-day compared with "before".

(Picture - tightrope walker, Colchester High St, Colchester2020 festival, evening of 25 June 2010)

Monday, 21 June 2010

News just in - Christians save Ys and cure diabetes

"Christians save drowning city from the sea". Read all about it. News just in, that the city of Ys was not drowned after all, despite reports yesterday on Big Swifty. The world's fairest finest city, has not, repeat NOT, drowned by the weight of its sin.

Today I received this CD through the post, telling the Ys story in yet another way. This time it's an opera, composed by Edouard Lalo in 1875. As with many fables, they take on new forms to reflect the tellers' different times, attitudes and ideas.
Right now, there's something that's really annoying some of the Diabetes-community, and that's religious groups trying to persuade people that their serious illnesses and conditions can be cured by their god. Even life threatening diseases can be overcome if you just have enough faith. There are churches out there preaching that you should give up on scientific medicine, and let their Lord take over your casebook. Now, if you're an adult of sound mind, and you want to stop your treatment because you've had enough suffering, or you have adopted a new belief system, I respect your choice. But if you're imposing this on children, or people who are unable to make their own judgement between science and faith treatments, be very careful.
There are individuals in the USA who are now being prosecuted by the state, for neglect of care of their children, after abandoning medical treatment for their children with Type 1 Diabetes, and trusting the Lord to save them. Unfortunately He didn't or couldn't, but He isn't the one in the dock. Of course there are churches out there who can tell tales of diabetes cures, and we're probably talking about people who have had improvements to their type 2 diabetes. To some extent in some cases, an individual may benefit from lifestyle changes. But to proclaim to people with Type 1 (and for many with type 2 Diabetes), "throw away your insulin crutches and walk", it will make them fall over, probably with a very hard crash to the floor, maybe never to get up again.
So the appearance of "The Bible Cure for Diabetes" by Don Colbert has wound up many a person with diabetes. It's widely available at places like Amazon, airport kiosks, and many bookshops in between. I personally have not read this book, and won't be buying a copy, as it would just make me angry, as well as supporting this man's business. Apparently Colbert gives no weight to the fundamental differences between types 1 and 2 diabetes, and offers false hope to those with T1D without giving any evidence of anyone with Type 1 being cured using Colbert's/god's method.

Now I don't necessarily believe everything that the scientific community puts out, and I have some understanding of the limitations of much of their work and the effectiveness of what they can offer. But I wouldn't trade it in for religion. Scientists have been on the case for around a hundred years, and good progress has been made in diabetes management. God has had a few thousand years since the Garden of Eden, and hasn't yet shown any signs of progress with the faith and prayers method. For those with medical conditions out there, that want to "double their chances", maybe try both, if that floats your boat.

And, talking of boats, on Faye has commented with "a story about a guy who's trapped on the roof of his house after a flood. He prays to God to help him out and save him. A neighbor with a boat comes over, but the trapped guy refuses the help, saying that God will save him. The water rises and rises, and a few different people come by with boats to offer their help. Each time, the guy turns them away, saying God will save him.The guy finally ends up drowning, and when he meets God, he asks why he wasn't saved. God replied, "I sent multiple boats, but you refused their help."

  • To the religious, thanks for your best wishes and support for people with diabetes, but please don't expect me to choose between a faith-only approach, and our hard-core analytical techie (but very imperfect) method.
  • Don Colbert, take your book back to the dark ages where it belongs.
  • Glen Hoddle and the like, I don't think our Frank should be punished for sins in an earlier life.
  • And if the Christians saved Ys, where is it now?

Reports are coming in that the Christian Saint Corentin saved the city in the last act, following Dahut's self-sacrificial drowning. (Or was she pushed by her self-serving father? - See "News of the Underworld" this Sunday.)
Yes, we can renounce our Druidical beliefs, embrace the Christian dogma, and the kind and loving Christian god will save the sinning citizens.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Ys - a timeless fable

Lyonesse, Ker-Ys (or Ys/Is), and Cantre'r Gwaelod are names of mythical cities from Celtic legends in Cornwall/Scilly, Brittany and Wales. The legends overlap, and recall a city that is now under the sea. Ys was said to be the most beautiful and impressive city in the world, but quickly became a city of sin under the influence of Dahut. She organized orgies and had the habit of killing her lovers when morning broke.

There are many variations of era and detail, but a common theme is that "good" King Gradion trusted his "feckless" daughter Dahut with the key to the gate of the dyke that kept the sea out of the city at high tide. But she was tempted to handover the key by men, or the devil, causing the city to flood, the people to drown and just the king to escape. He had to sacrifice his daughter to the waves and she became a mermaid. Yes, women are to blame for the downfall of civilisation.

The Brittany picture shows The Bay of Trespasses in the Bay of Douarnenez, one of the possible locations for the drowned city. We visited this bay last December; it's near Finisterre, and it is a most unsettling feeling watching the sea from this beach. There's something about the topography of the headlands or seabed that makes it look like the waves out at sea, only fifty metres away, are much higher than the beach, and that a big wave will rear up and swamp us tiny creatures on the beach. Maybe it's an echo of a folk memory, maybe it's a romantic thought from an overly suggestible mind, but it was very creepy. We watched the waves for half an hour, listening for the echo of the tolling of the city's bells, and thinking back to the Druid culture that is still hanging in there at the north west corner of Europe. And by a chance encounter with a wonderful Celtic harpist from Norfolk playing in Colchester I have discovered Joanna Newsom's take on the Ys legend. It has pushed itself so deep into my psyche, I can't stop singing it (only in my head!), as I marvel first at Joanna's wonderful storytelling, then the melodies and composition, her harp playing and her beautiful and quirky singing. On top of all that there's the wonderful orchestration by Van Dyke Parks. A quick look at the web confirms that it has stirred many listeners, and it appears in many lists of favourite albums of the year, decade and ever.

Of course, it's a more modern take on the legend, as the narration richly and earthily explores the themes. And don't get too judgemental of the people of Ys. King Gradion set up inland at nearby Quimper, and Paris took over as the new city of sin. But when Paris ("Par-is" means "simliar to Ys" in Breton) falls under the weight of its moral turpitude, Ys will rise from the sea. I hope I'm back there to see it......

Monday, 14 June 2010

Whose road is it anyway?

"An elderly man who caused four miles of traffic jams while riding his mobility scooter along the A12 has been given a form of “roads Asbo”.The man, who is in his 80s, was seen riding at 8mph on the southbound carriageway of the A12 near Chelmsford, on Thursday June 3, 2010" says Essex Police's website.

"Police received numerous calls from drivers concerned for the welfare of the scooter rider as he trundled along the inside lane of the dual carriageway, which has no hard shoulder. Officers from the A12 Alliance Patrol Team went to investigate and formed a rolling roadblock around the scooter to hold back traffic until the man, who is from the Chelmsford area, could be escorted off at the Danbury turn-off. Sgt Jason Dearsley of the A12 Alliance Patrol Team said it was decided not to send the man to court for careless driving and after the close support of his family it was decided to issue him with a year-long Section 59 warning. The warning means that if he behaves in such a manner on any road in future his scooter could be confiscated."

"Sgt Dearsley added: “Instead of tying up the court’s precious time we decided that the best way to deal with this matter was to use powers given to us normally for dealing with boy racers. We see it as an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (Asbo) for road users.”

While I have no problem with the Police coming to the aid of this guy, do we really need to make an example of him? Has he broken any laws by using his buggy on the road? (Next time I go down Chelmsford by-pass I'll see if there any orders banning cyclists, horses, tractors, pedestrians, poets and any other nuisances that stop the rest of us motorists going an illegal 80mph.)

Here we go again, demonising "boy racers" and silly old people, getting in the way of the rest of us more important people, as we hurtle down the A12 from nowhere to somewhere else, or maybe we're simply parked in a trunk road traffic jam. Maybe we should all look at ourselves, the way we expect to use the roads, who we might be sharing the road with, the speeds we take for granted, and the possibility that anytime there could be an unforseen 0 mph hazard in the road just ahead? Hello escaped cow, hello grand piano fallen off the back of a lorry. Before cheering that this wayward man has been sorted by the long arm of the law, could we reflect on our own behaviour and attitudes to the vulnerable sharing our common space?

(Picture taken on minor road in Scottish highlands near Invergarry, the fence made entirely of hub caps found in local ditches. Maybe some ASBOs are needed for all these reckless drivers?)

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Fiddler on the roof and under water

There's a quivering wreck in Prettygate this week and his name is Big Swifty. He's up on the summer house roof applying bitumen sealant swishing with a sticky mop, and laying roofing felt slashing around with a Stanley knife. But it's a 30 degree slope and the temperature feels like 30 degrees, so he's sinking into the roofing felt unless he keeps dancing around, continually moving his formerly athletic figure to get the job done, whilst staying rigidly still to avoid falling off the roof. A sweat inducing tense session.

For no apparent reason, one's mind drifts away to appropriate soundtracks to the episodes of one's life, and everyone's favourite "Fiddler on the Roof" seemed appropriate, but "If I were a rich man" I would have paid someone else to do the job.

Then it's Friday night and I'm down the docks for a gig on the Hythe Lightship, where I catch a fiddler underwater. On the bill are five acts, three of them from the individual members of Dead Rat Orchestra. My late arrival meant that I missed two of the three Rats, but still had a splendid evening, with Daniel Merrill and the Flowers of Evil playing an engaging set.

Descending to the ship's engine room, we were confronted with Daniel's own backing recording, and a bunch of people in the audience wondering what was going to happen next. Then Daniel appeared in the spotlight from between items of machinery, pipes and girders. I don't know where Daniel gets his musicial ideas from but it reminded me of an astonishing take on the output of people like Eric Satie, Velvet Underground, Kurt Weill, Stranglers, Paganini, Terry Riley, Bela Bartok and folk, circus and gothic music from eastern Europe and Russia.

Very rich fare indeed, and immensely stimulating and entertaining as Daniel played his violin accompaniment to it all. Again, a wide range of pace and style; sometimes lyrical, sometimes noise, sometimes both at once. Visually interesting, and spiced up by the amazing acoustic of this unusual concert space. Imagine the sound bouncing around in a 7m square steel box, 3m deep; with the tide rising up the outside of the wall of the room, so that Daniel and the audience were underwater by the end of the set.

A fascinating musical set, a dry summerhouse, and the end of a good week. Fiddlers on the roof and underwater rool OK? Catch Daniel when you can.......

Saturday, 5 June 2010

coast to coast - the short cut

The last few Mays I have been to Scotland, to take part in the TGO Challenge, or have my own outdoors trip in the highlands. This year I joined my pals Rod Ross and Alan Hardy for their start from Glenelg on the west coast, planning to walk with them for four days of their two-week walk towards their destination at the east coast, 200 miles away at Dunnotar Castle. We made a great start, camping on the lawn at the Glenelg Inn, right on the coast opposite Skye, before heading inland past the 2000 year old brochs - round towers built in the iron age.

Navigation was easy enough although we were remote from the nearest road, and the weather was "mixed", but at least it meant we were not bothered by the West Highland Midges. Wild camping went well, with my new gadget "Jetboil" cooker proving a little wonder - backpacking's not all about kit, but good stuff makes for more fun and comfort.

Unfortunately it didn't go so well for Rod, who twisted his knee getting out of his tent the following morning, and he had to limp down off the hill and withdraw from his event. He called a cab from Kinloch Hourn, a hamlet also on the west coast, so at least Rod did a coast-to-coast hike of some sort. Meanwhile Alan and I walked along Britain's longest single-track dead-end road, meeting up with Rod for a drink at Tomdoun Hotel. I completed my 45 mile hike by walking on to the Great Glen at Invergarry. I caught a bus down the Glen to Fort William, on the west coast at Loch Linnhe, so at least I could say I travelled coast to coast, a bit like Alan and Rod.

I hugely enjoyed my train trips up to Inverness and back from Fort William, some of the best scenery that can be seen from Britain's railway lines. And I had to sample local food and drink, and enjoyed some great company. I've made around fifteen visits to Scotland, and there's always so much to see, history to learn, and hospitality to be tested. I hope to be back soon.....

Friday, 4 June 2010

suburbanite joins Gaia Tribe

"We want to be part of a community, let's try this" we said a few months ago. But as the date got nearer we became a bit apprehensive. Would we be too self-conscious? Would our belief systems be compatible with the others'? What would the food be like? Would their calm karma enrage me? And how would Frank get on? See for info about the event we attended, on a river meadow by the Derwent near Malton, Yorkshire. (With some excellent home-made wood-fired showers, an amazing but simple contraption, mmmmmm.)

Arriving after noon on Friday we put up a borrowed tent at our fire circle, like it's the most natural thing in the world for a small family from central-heated double-glazed semi-detached southern-softy suburbia. Somewhat wary of the others, our fears were soon dispelled, as, without exception, our tribal neighbours proved friendly, welcoming, fun, and interesting; and not in the slightest bit preachy, judgemental or pushy.

So, how did it go? Answering my questions...... Speaking for myself, I'm always too self-conscious and need to loosen up. And no one made me feel uncomfortable, even though some of the communal activities were outside my comfort zone (by about two miles). Belief systems? What do I believe in anyway? My "round of the seasons and the weather" paganism-light sat well with the celebrations of earth, air, fire and water (the four elements, not the seventies band).

The food looked promising on the web-page, from the on site vegetarian "Peace-Cake Cafe", in a marquee. And it delivered in spades; a range of fresh soups and salads for lunch, and tasty choices for the evening meal. Plus there were home made cakes and breads, and a late evening Pudding Club, which we might have tried?

How was the karma? Before the event this worried me. Would everyone be too smiley? Would I feel like I didn't belong in their ecstatic world? Would I be seen as the uptight citizen from planet normal? But all I experienced was the company of some very relaxed people who were fun to be around.

Frank loved it all - the communal life and the camping, and the kind friendly people who made him feel very welcome. We loved experiencing the weather - hearing the pattering of rain on the tent, and the whooshing of wind through the trees one stormy night. We found Frank's diabetes management difficult, as the food balance and timing was a bit out of our control. Jules suffered a little with the cold and damp, but she brightened up in the day time.

There were lots of activities, but most of the time we sat around chatting or relaxing. The camp had many acoustic musicians (and percussionists), and it was a great pleasure to hear them playing alone or in informal groups. We attended some morning circles; I remember sitting in a large tent with a bunch of people who were not too snidey and cynical to be able to enjoy James Blunt's sentimental ballad "You're beautiful", being played as people turned up to the morning gathering. One evening we watched an amusing premier performance of Twelfth Night, by a scratch troop of mainly very young people, who pulled off an amazing Toby Belch/ Andrew Aguecheek/ Malvolio treble act.

The overall verdict on the Gaia Tribe event? Great fun, and highly recommended. Time to socialise, and time for peace and quiet as we sat around our woodsmoky fire. And hanging with a bunch of people who are not cynical about positivity and dreams for an even better future. We would love to go again, though I've probably heard enough "oms" to last me through to next year. Back home, and there's going to be some changes round here, but first it's time for some real coffee, with full caffeine content......


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