Books

Ever since man has discovered the art of writing, he hasn’t stopped.  Ok, the first writings may have been scribbles describing how Ugg the Mighty raped and pillaged his way through downtown Essex, but they did become more creative.

The Sumerians were the first creative lot, with their pictograms and let me tell you, they didn’t mess around.  The pictograms literally meant what was displayed, and they didn’t pull any punches either.  Look up their pictogram for a woman and you’ll see what I mean!  Anyway, the Egyptians then took part with their hieroglyphs, which were a lot more colourful and way prettier than anything else around at the time.

Well, I don’t want to go on about the history of writing as we could be here all day and, I’m not an expert so I’d probably make a mistake and then be blasted with emails for those scholarly types telling me that I have the IQ of a dead newt (and I’d wonder how on earth did they know me so well?)!

Then came books!

Now we all know the bible was the best selling book when they all kicked off, but the Catholic Church got over-zealous and banned scientific study and all written research.  However, instead of destroying the books (even they weren’t that stupid), they whitewashed over the written material and wrote more bibles (rumour has it that if the leaders Catholic Church weren’t complete morons, we could be around 500 years more advanced in our technology!)

One of the main drawbacks with early books was that they were only for the privileged.  They were pretty expensive as they each had to be hand written, line-by-line and book-by-book because the inventor of the printing press was taking his own sweet time in being born and then inventing it.  But, eventually, when he got around to it, the book boom began.  Once literacy started taking hold, there was no turning back and people began to read, which is quite good otherwise I’d be writing this for nothing and you would be wondering what all these funny symbols were!

Joking aside, books became a means to record history, daily occurrences, fiction, biographies, anything that could be written down, was, and given in great detail.  People began to thirst for information, scholars would write papers (mainly to try and impress their peers) so they could share their findings with the world and authors began to make stuff up.  Most people liked that bit the best.

The book has been around for centuries.  I was an avid reader and my collection of fiction is fairly extensive as I have never thrown a book away.  That has lead to a small problem of where to keep them all; the solution being airtight containers in the spare room.  I have five of them and they are full of books.  The downside to this is that I don’t have easy access to them and, at the end of the day, I don’t bother looking in them anymore as it is too much trouble to pull a container out, open it and look for a specific book.

That doesn’t stop me buying new ones though.  And to make matters worth, my wife can read too, so she buys her books, just to add to the numbers.  We have mountains of books hiding around the house, lurking in wardrobes or drawers and sometimes even accosting the dog, much to his surprise!

Time passes and things change.  The time usually, but nothing stops progression, apart from a good dose of suppression, but I digress.  A new craze has taken hold of people and more are in a frenzy to try this new technology.  The iPad has emerged, sweeping all before it away under its brash Applenessness.  The Apple brand name is now more popular than ever as a result of their various i-devices, but the iPad has created a hell of a stir!

Apple appears to be a rising star as their fortunes turn upward yet again.  With the iPod, iPhone, iMac and now the iPad, Apple is on the lips of everyone.  Also on their lips is what is it with that tiny ‘i’ in front of everything?  Does anyone else find it annoying (he asks while writing this on an iMac)?  There are several theories what the ‘i’ stands for, but yet again I digress (I blame the drugs!)

The mighty (well, not quite so mighty) iPad may change the way we read forever more.  It will happen slowly, but the demise of the aged book is drawing closer and as I grasp for more metaphors, the electronic book will slowly replace it.  Or will it?

The iPad isn’t unique in this market.  There are numerous other eBook readers (as they are called) such as Kindle, BeBook and Bookeen to name a few, and big companies such as Sony have their finger in the pie too.  The weird thing is, many of these eBook readers are better at being good readers than the iPad is, but that’s another story….

But can the eBook reader really replace the book?  We have had computers and printers in our office environments for years, the catchword was ‘a paperless office’, saving the trees, the world and Private Ryan.  But it has never worked.  People are always printing reports out because once its on paper, it’s real.  For some obscure reason, writing on a computer screen is ethereal; you can’t grasp it and feel it.  So the same applies with books.  We like to hold a book and read it’s dog-eared pages.  There is nothing like buying a new book and opening it for the first time.

I am obviously talking about my generation.  Although I have said that the paperless office is a fallacy, in fact a lot of files have been transferred to the electronic medium and replaced a lot of paper.  This makes keeping track of things a lot easier than wading through a sea of files and reports.  But, they don’t really count, do they.  A book is something different and I cannot see anyone from my generation preferring an e-reader to a good chunk of paper in our hands.

Time passes and people change.  There is the likelihood that in the future books will be consigned to the historic graveyard where Betamax and VHS reside.  I may not be around to see that, but one thing is for sure, books will never have a system error, crash or run out of power!

 

 

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Fragile World

The horrific, recent events in Japan have captured the attention of the world. News services rarely headline good news, but headlining a humanitarian issue rather than one of war or corruption, can actually help in some ways.  An earthquake that actually shifted the Earth on its axis and measured 8.9 on the Richter scale (although some say it was higher) occurred as the Asian continental plate buckled, around 100 miles east of Japan.  This sudden upward thrust of the plate caused a tsunami that radiated across the Pacific ocean.

Japan has been subjected to numerous natural disasters. It’s location on Earth means that it is more susceptible to Mother Nature’s wrath than other countries. It’s not a massive island and when something like this happens, it affects the whole country and not just a region. Any loss of human life is terrible and the loss of thousands is so much worse. The problem is that when a single person dies, the name becomes the headline; when thousands die, they become statistics and the news, unintentionally I’m sure, dehumanises them to mere numbers. There are just too many names to list and it is a shame.

The natural disaster that caused the Tsunami soon fades into the background as the humanitarian issue becomes more prevalent. Once everything has calmed down, the actual realisation of the numbers of people lost become more apparent as bodies are found and more people are noticed missing.  Sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles, they are all parts of families that have already lost so much and have more heartbreak ahead.  I am sure that the most of us wish nothing but hope and good luck to them all.

To add insult to injury, Japan also had to contend with a problem with one of their nuclear power stations.  As a result of the tsunami, the power station immediately shut down and diesel generators began to cool the radioactive rods that provide the power for the plant.  Unfortunately the tsunami smothered those generators and the rods no longer cooled.  This caused problems including explosions and radiation leaks.  The Japanese tried their best to control the situation and many brave people, knowing the risks, volunteered to stay and help resolve the problem.

That was over a week ago now.  Japan is now taking account of the huge humanitarian disaster as well as economic.  Brave people continue to battle at the nuclear power station, risking their lives each day, not from immediate harm but the slow and lethal harm of radiation poisoning.  Those in communities that have been wiped off the map sift through the wreckage, some seeking anything from their former homes that is salvageable, other seeking family members, hoping against hope for their survival but realistic about their chances.  Rescue workers from around the world help, but their role as rescuers has been replaced by that of recoverers.  As the seas calm and those people that were lost to its violence just days before are washed back onto the shores, their bodies are recovered, usually with a rescuer saying a short prayer for them.

Throughout it all, the people of Japan have remained stoic and calm.  Rescue shelters housing hundreds of shocked, homeless people are doing their best to feed and keep those affected warm and safe.  However, the infrastructure took a severe battering and supplies are slow in getting through to the areas worst affected and still the people remain calm and composed.  They accept what little they have to eat and drink and share it with a loved one, all the while and all around them lay the reminder of the carnage that changed their lives forever.

Elsewhere in the world, doomsayers and selfish, self centered people worry about themselves.  Some worry about a radiation cloud that will never reach them, claiming all the time that the Japanese were at fault and the risks to their own personal comfort is at risk.  All the experts know that there is no risk but there is no telling these people.  They should be ashamed of themselves, but they are too conceited to know that.

Others in the world are doing everything they can to help.  It amazes me that humans can be so generous and caring yet have the capability to hate and war against each other.  Why does it take a disaster like this for us to realise that this is a fragile world and we are all sharing it, for better or for worse.  As a soldier I have seen the extremes of human characteristics from the brutal to the selfless caring.  It just confuses me.

The people of Japan will persevere.  The character of the Japanese people will not let them be defeated by this disaster and the help from the world at large will ensure they prevail.  I wish them all the best and hope that each and everyone of them finds some comfort and hope in the days and weeks to come.  I am humbled by the way they have not let their personal difficulties overcome them and have remained strong and resolute.  I salute those brave men and woman who continue to risk their lives for their fellow countrymen.  Japan has shown us that mother nature can throw a blow at humanity and humanity will face the consequences with stoicism, resolve and compassion.

Puppies

Cassy loves chasing flies!

There should be a warning label with puppies!

Three months ago I bought the cutest Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy that you could ever imagine.  I called her Cassy.  I don’t know why, it just seemed appropriate.  She was small, shy and very afraid.  As I left the breeder, she was sat in the back of the car, shaking and whining and my heart went out for her.  I tried my best to calm her and make her feel safe, but she obviously missed her mum and the familiar surroundings from birth.

Eventually I got home and carried her into the house.  Debbie, the breeder, had given me a blanket that had familiar smells for her.  I placed the blanket on the floor and she lay on it for hours, not moving.  She didn’t want to eat or drink, she just lay there looking at me.  I will admit that I began to get worried.  That didn’t last long!

After several hours, curiosity got the better of her and she started to explore the house with me in tow.  I didn’t want to restrict her from anywhere except the bathrooms and bedrooms.  I wanted her to get used to the house so it would be familiar to her.  It was funny watching her plod along on paws that were too big for her and her little, inquisitive face looking back at me every few seconds.  From the outset she wasn’t a tactile dog, she didn’t want to be touched unless she wanted petting.  You couldn’t just reach out and stroke her as she would move away.

It was only a few minutes into the grand exploration that she was sick in front of the television.  Charming.  If Eastenders or something was on I could understand, but the television was off!  Obviously her nerves had gotten the better of her stomach and I was thankful that she hadn’t eaten much.  Without a word of complaint, I cleared it up while she looked on, curious.  It must have been a sign to see me with a bucket of water and a cloth as, just as I was finishing with the sick, she decided to empty her bowels.  Completely.  By my chair.

To say it stank would be an understatement.  It was awful!  I didn’t want to scare her on her first day but I admonished her in a calm sort of way.  She stood back, leaning forward the way only puppies can do, her ears perked and a look of pure innocence on her face.  How could anyone be upset?

Needless to say, over the days this continued and slowly, but calmly, the admonishments became sharper and she began to understand that maybe pooping in the living room wasn’t the right thing to do.  She began to learn to go outside and do her business for which I was very grateful.  The only problem was, I have a large and very interesting (for a puppy) garden.  So, once she realised that when she stood by the patio door and began to whine I would let her out, she would start doing it even if she didn’t need to do a poop.  She just liked running around the garden.  In the snow.  In the middle of winter.  It was freezing out there and she didn’t care.

Fortunately puppies sleep a lot.  And eat a lot.  And poop a lot.  And want attention A LOT!

She is now six months old and I have trained her to do as I ask her.  Well, I don’t actually ask her, I have taught her to understand my hand signals for sit, stay, lie down and fetch.  She is very clever when she wants to be, but she is still a puppy and puppies want to play all the time, even when they are bone tired.  They are a lot of work.

I never wanted children (mainly because I still haven’t grown out of my teens!) because of the commitment and time they take up.  I always wanted to do things and a child would have stopped that.  So does a puppy!  More so, in some cases.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Cassy to bits and she is a gorgeous dog, but she is more than a handful.

They should definitely stick warning labels on puppies.  Something like, “WARNING!  This puppy will do what it likes, when it likes, where it likes and there is nothing you can do to stop it.  Ensure you have plenty of cleaning materials to hand and be prepared to give up your social life.  You will fall under its spell and no matter what it does, you’ll think it’s cute.  Oh, and kiss your bank balance goodbye!”

I think that would suffice!

I made a short(ish) video of her when she just arrived if you would like to see her bouncing around.  Click here.

Spring

At last Spring has arrived. That’s if you live in the northern hemisphere otherwise it’s the start of Autumn, but that’s antipodeans for you!

For me, Spring is the real start of a new year. Gone are the monochrome, dreary winter days and colour is reintroduced into our lives. Slowly but surely the trees begin to change, no longer the bare, dark skeletons from horror films, but multicoloured giants from fantasy. The transformation is beautiful. The warmer weather ushers in the more soothing Spring breezes, carrying upon it the scents of new life and the renewal of a cycle that has been played out over millennia.

Now, more than ever before, I look forward to the warmer weather and the changing scenery. Like most of the mammals in the world, I have hibernated over the winter months, rarely leaving the house or even venturing outside. I have stared out of the windows and watched the winter play out; raining, snowing or both. I had heard the winds tearing at the trees at the back of my garden and the frost icing over their bare branches. Winter made me a prisoner and Spring is the start of my freedom, albeit a limited one.

My accident has denied me so much that I used to take for granted. Although I have a wheelchair, sitting in it and going anywhere is painful beyond belief. The vibrations as the wheels travel over uneven surfaces cause my back to spasm, the result of a botched diagnosis has left my dieing spinal chord hypersensitive. The result is unrelenting pain. Pain I no longer wish to experience and so I hide away, not daring to move and never leaving my house.

Spring, however, means that I can venture into my garden and feel fresh air over my face and breathe in all the fragrances of the new season. I am fortunate that I live in a rural part of the country and often see deer and foxes amongst the trees. But it is the trees that capture my imagination. I often sit and wonder what they have experienced in their long, silent lives. Many of the trees near me are old oaks, probably dating from before the first World War and would have been around as London was bombed into ruins. I will never know for sure, but I can imagine. Oaks are wonderful trees being full of character, rugged bark, spreading branches and thick, rugged trunks. They are usually the home to a myriad number of animals from squirrels to birds and everything in between.

As spring progresses, I will watch the oaks grow their canopies of green leaves and see the acorns form and grow. They look stunning, standing there, massive, dwarfing the pines and cedars. I always think of them as the trees with spirits. Fantasy books describe dryads and their attachment and life-bond to their trees and those trees I imagine to be oaks. It suits them.

Come September, the start of Autumn, their long, silent vigil over this area will be over. The land has been sold to a building company who will build community housing. The old oaks are in the way. They take up too much land and their roots run long and deep. They cant be allowed to jeopardise the building of the new houses. They will probably be cut down, not allowed to show their golden autumn colours and have their fruits collected by the squirrels that live in them. The squirrels will have to find a new home and somewhere else to find their food. The oaks that have watched time pass silently will watch no more. Their old lives are over and their hearts sold to be pieces of expensive furniture or beams in a refurbished barn.

Fortunately, I wont be here to see it. I will have been moved as the house I am in will be demolished as well.

Next winter is going to be a long one and there will be no spring for the trees at the end of my garden. For me, next spring will be bittersweet. But life goes on. For some of us.

Generosity

Today, 18 March 2011, the BBC broadcasted their annual Comic Relief event. Comic Relief is where numerous British celebrities and even some international celebrities ‘do something funny for money’. Basically it’s fund-raising for those in need. Not only is the money distributed to charities and programmes in the UK but also gives help to those in need in Africa. As I sit here and watch it, they have already raised over £30,000,000.00!

Now, lets put this into context.

For those of you not aware, Britain is in a recession and it is a period of austerity for a lot of people. Our income tax has been raised, cuts have been made in government spending and thousands of people are being made unemployed. It paints a bleak picture. It is bleak and people are having a hard time.

Yet, even in the face of these dark days, people are still donating to Comic Relief. Even I, the original scrooge, have donated some money and I am soon to be homeless and jobless. People are giving what they can and celebrities are doing whatever they can to help, as well.

There is an expression that charity begins at home. Comic relief proves that this is no longer the case. Comic relief cash is working in over 66 countries around the world! As I mentioned earlier, there is money that is being kept in the UK to help those British in need. Even in a first world country there is poverty, child abuse, forced prostitution and children having to look after their sick parents, denying them a childhood. There are so many needy causes and Comic Relief is one of the key events in the year that help raise money for these causes.

What amazes me is that British are considered stoic and uncaring. What I have been watching tonight dispels that myth. People and companies are giving so much and asking for nothing in return. I am surprised, maybe I shouldn’t be and shows that I am not the giving type. I feel humbled by my fellow countrymen as their generosity appears unlimited.

This is just a short piece. I wanted to share this with everyone who knows nothing about this. If you feel like giving, you can always donate through the link. So many companies are helping including Paypal and iTunes.

To those who have given, I take my hat of to you and you have managed to humble me enough to give. I hope that many more feel humbled and give whatever they can.

Thank you.

Faith and Belief

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

Until 1994.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes I wish I did. I want to feel as if some benevolent deity is watching over me and carrying me when I am at my weakest. I want to relive the special feeling I used to experience. I want to believe in miracles.

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

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

The Death of Fossil Fuel

With the unrest in the Middle East comes the inevitable rise of fuel.  With unleaded fuel reaching £1.40 per litre (approximately £6.30 per imperial gallon which is 4.5 litres) and diesel becoming even more expensive, the austere times and the continuing price rise in a dieing product is causing problems throughout the UK.  The cost of fuel isn’t helped by the taxes.  The UK government takes over 50% in taxes on a litre of petrol; that’s more than the actual cost of the product, with the retailer making pennies in profit.  To top it all off, there will be an inevitable feathering of prices when the price of crude drops; that is fuel prices will drop much more slowly than they increased.

This surely must be the deathknell for fossil fuel.

The price of fuel has reached the stage where it is bankrupting businesses and crippling the man on the street.  The government, afraid of a similar blockade that we had several years ago, has promised to intervene, possibly lowering the tax on fuel, but more likely freezing the planned increase on the litre.  Either way, with our pitiful public transport system and our complete reliance on our cars, things will need to change.

It’s times like these I curse California.  Not because I dislike Californians, quite the opposite.  Many years ago they passed a bill that ensured car manufacturers made electric vehicles.  These vehicles were never sold but leased and people loved them.  They were clean, efficient and worked perfectly.  That was until the oil barons managed to regain influence over the powers that be and the electric cars were removed from the roads.  The bill that had created them had been removed, the result of typical political corruption.  The owners of the cars wanted to buy them, but the manufacturers refused and they were all destroyed.

Imagine if the politicians hadn’t caved to the oil barons.  Imagine how the electric engine would have evolved faster due to public demand.  Imagine how we wouldn’t be in this mess now.

Vehicles that are powered without the use of petrol have been around for a long time.  There is the popular myth of one car manufacturer creating an evolutionary new propulsion system that did not use fossil fuels which was immediately bought and hidden by a prominent oil company.  No matter how true or false the story is, the truth is that it is the oil companies are responsible for the lack of serious research into alternative fuel sources.  It’s only recently, when we knew that there is only a limited supply of oil left, that alternate fuel vehicles have made a come-back.

With the big car manufacturers making both electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars and their increased appearance in the car showrooms, there is no doubt that people are seriously considering a change.  Obviously there are those that can afford the current fuel prices and have the supercars that need it.  As yet, there is no replacement for the oil driven supercars.  Eventually, as research progresses, there will be.  There is the Tesla, which (to me) looks like a Lotus.  Reviews on it are mixed, but with it’s limited top speed and the fact that it’s range is severely limited, it’s not a serious replacement for the Aston Martins and Ferrari’s out there.

I’ve never been an environmentalist or even really cared for it.  I love the beauty of nature and I hate seeing rain forests being destroyed, but I have always been of the opinion that I am on this Earth for about 70 years (if I’m lucky) and then I’ll be gone.  What happens after that wont affect me.  I have, however, been vehemently against the hold the oil companies have had over our transportation system.  The executives of these companies have been making millions off us while at the same time doing their bit in polluting our planet.  It’s well past time that ended.

We are surely witnessing the final throes of fossil fuel as it’s repugnant shackles are slowly pried off us.  The emergence of viable, cleaner and cheaper alternatives are slowly changing our mindsets and dependence on the black cancer that is fossil fuel.  It’s going to take time, but the price of petrol will only speed things up.  I can’t wait to get rid of my current car and buy a new hydrogen powered one.  I look forward to that day and hope it arrives quickly.  I hope that our infrastructure to support these fuels becomes more established and we can all move forward.

This century may not see man land on Mars or realise world peace but it will see the death of our reliance on fossil fuel.  It’s well past time.

Obviously I am angry about how the fuel prices are affecting us all and hence this rant.  For those that know me, I am a petrol-head.  I love fast cars and fast bikes but I have grown sick and tired over the amount we pay for this privilege.  For me to rant like this means I have reached the end of patience and even I want to see change.  Sorry.