Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Dream!

When we moved into our current home- after a succession of liars and crooks (estate agents, solicitors etc.) had rifled through our monies- our closest new neighbour always responded to our greeting with the line, "Living the dream!" And, he was!

In truth, we never seemed to have that much time to chat. He was always rushing out as we were coming home, or vice versa. And then he was gone! To be replaced by our current neighbour, who we also only ever seem to pass at a jog. This is in truth a slight exaggeration, as we have extracted the time to stand in one another's respective homes, and to briefly swap our stories. Which leads me, albeit momentarily, to refer back to our former neighbour, or more so his, "Living the dream!" comment...

It was only after he had mysteriously and overnight departed to pastures new that it even occurred. Of course he really was living the 'dream,' only said dream belonged to someone else entirely. So, he was maybe more sustaining the 'dream' on behalf of someone else, through the act of 'living.'

Important family members
The 'dream' appears as considerably smaller and more personal when we trace it back a full generation, entirely more outwardly cute! It was both a more collective and an altogether far more inclusive dream. It both sought to envelope the wider nation and its people- many more of them- and it sought to entrust them with its evolution. Whoops!

It was also a time of embedded racism and sexism, much of which was hardly ever- my childhood perception- if at all, challenged. 'We' had 'The Black and White Minstrel Show,' on at peak viewing times of a weekend, singing their 'joyful' repertoire in the background. Admittedly, I didn't know anyone who openly watched this celebration of U.S. slavery. I thought that it was odd- much like many people thought Jimmy Savile very odd- and perhaps wondered if there wasn't something better to view. I knew that my parents didn't much care for it, but this wasn't born out of any sort of political stance. Because, just like so many of my friends parents, they were undoubtedly quite racist themselves. For a long time not many people actually thought- again, my childhood perception- to openly challenge the concept of 'The Black and White Minstrels,' as a peak viewing time TV 'spectacle.' And, let's not for a moment forget that the aforementioned 'peak viewing time' was initially upon one of just the two, then in 1964 three, available TV stations. With pretentions of 'personal betterment,' our family seldom ventured into the more commercial corruptions of ITV.

Female family member
My parents carried this institutionalised state of mind to their respective graves, and really it was only in their seventies and their eighties that they more often 'saw' this perspective challenged, outside of the immediate family that is. I carried with me, for several decades, a sort of self-awarded 'badge of honour,' 'attained' for upsetting much of the large gathering that had come to pay their respects to my late aunt, when I sat in the middle of the kitchen and discussed the public sector's possible futures under the then PM, Thatcher, with the lesbian partner of one of my cousins. For an age nobody challenged us, nor did they question the sexuality or the ethnicity of the aforementioned partner; these were 'benign' racists, many of them, and for the most part quite invisibly so.

The merest thought that racism in the UK is today at all shrinking away is probably quite absurd; it's surely still there, deeper in the foundations, quietly going on about its business, unchallenged. The difference is that it's much more wary than ever it was when I was a lad, more tentative about raising its head too often, or too frequently, more likely in the 'wrong' company. To the eye and the ear much of society functions seemingly without any covert racism whatsoever. Much like it functions without any covert sexism, or sexual abuse, or class prejudice, or disability discrimination, or (less so) religious intolerance. But, scratch the surface, and they're all still there. Of course they are, embedded as the necessary tools of a highly-tiered, pyramidal society, to be kept sharp and shiny but otherwise out of sight and mind until they might be called for.

In reality, and should the 'dream' so require, maybe, just maybe, many of those 'isms' will slowly die away through neglect. Maybe they'll finally attain their use-by date. Maybe, some time, a generation or so from now, we truly will be a racist-free society? Should the 'dream' still be forging ahead we will, however, then need some sort of replacement, purely so that the hierarchy may be sustained you should understand. Maybe it will be the era of gingerism, or those with the bluest eyes may yet have their turn, or the baldies, heightism? So towering is our 'society' that those at the top will by then be breathing more rarified air anyway. They'll be nearer to the sun, above the smog that their 'dream' has created for 'the rest' of us. Perhaps the species itself is just a generation away from its 'next' evolutionary split? The Icarians and the Rest?

For those who happened to catch-up with Andrew Marr's chat with the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, the 'dream' may now be that little bit less hazy. Almost the first thing that one noticed was that he seemed to have a clearer grasp of Britain's place in the current world than do many of 'our own' politicians. Marr would ask a question of the President and he would gaze thoughtfully back, often silently pondering the wider implications of the proffered words. Marr, all-the-while, would instead be loading up his next cartridge, sometimes looking quite confused at the duration of the Presidential response. More used to bursting through any of the more challenging or lengthy contentions, Marr was seen to often stutter or be made to reload, as Emmanuel Macron steadfastly refused to be derailed from his considered answers.

It was refreshing to hear such a pro-European giving such nakedly honest answers, and this too seemed to toy with Marr's trajectory- much like a man who has elected to lean against a door which he has not considered might suddenly be opened. Emmanuel Macron, with a slight inclination of his head, acknowledged that France might also have fallen into the trap of Frexit, before going on to elaborate. Marr again looked slightly perplexed, this was after all a President with leftward-leaning credentials, time will tell. 

Stormy waves and clouds
The interview is currently still available (as of 31st January 2018), some of it, and it made clear several points which the entirety of the UK Government's Brexit Team have thus far failed to do- Dave Davis's ineptitude aside, which has never been in doubt. Much, as is the nature of the beast, is still 'up in the smoggy air!' But Mr Macron was heard to enlighten upon the issues of the single market ("by definition, less deep than today!"), and the unsubtleties of 'the referendum.' For those who may have missed it, Macron went on to address the issue of possible, or more probable, reasons for the UK to have voted to further isolate itself from, effectively, the world, and this within a global market place! At least it will have united the racists, we may surmise, the Little Englanders and the bigots, and, in so doing, secured a somewhat darker 'dream?'

Most telling, for myself, was the "freedom without cohesion" moment, the moment when Emmanuel Macron went on to cite the current policies and, most importantly, the goals of the UK Government as being too unregulated, too free-market! For all of its points of clarification- hats off to Mr Macron!- the occasion was more than slightly Marred, however; nobody had informed the interviewer that points weren't going to be awarded, although the smirk often seemed to think otherwise.

Abstract vacuum cleaner with colours
See, what 'our' Government seems unwilling to acknowledge, unprepared to consider, is that the correct degree of regulation actually brightens the 'dream.' Unfettered deregulation creates a market in which it's the missing corners that give the less scrupulous companies the edge, and those now-cut-corners were there for a reason, keeping people alive maybe, preventing injury, nurturing mentality, ensuring that the 'dream' is still one of inclusivity, not one of consolidating exclusivity- gated mansions and shanty towns? The larger the company the more correct it always is now, by default, really? The individual always must now default to subservient? Best just seal off that back door to legal representation for the minions, the shiny one with the Doric columns at the front is all we need into this far better 'dream.' Access the company's website- we operate a telephone-free interface- do you have an e-mail address? 118 118, do me a favour! We might well dream about these things, but they're not the 'dream' that is actually being sold, sold, and sold again to us!

In such a climate even the previously-respected companies will find that they're increasingly having to treat people with equal disdain... just in order to keep abreast of the crooks... "a race to the bottom!" Effectively we've started to regulate to make society ever-less inclusive, to shorten certain lives, to mark young children out as chaff and to ensure that they can't afford the wheat anyway!

Country scene with clouds
The disaffection is so palpable that one can almost taste it in the air at times. Whether people voted to struggle on towards a more united globe, or else to cut the steel cables and to contemplate drifting out into the Atlantic, where that more heavenly 'dream' surely resides, there is still tightly-knotted disaffection. Often the BBC et al will attempt to dress it up rather, or to tidy-up the degrees of disaffection, by slotting each grievance into it's preordained box, but this would be disingenuous. Often those that voted to better unite the globe are to be portrayed as being rather more satisfied with the state of the current EU. But this is likely so very far from the truth. Many of those who voted to remain were as dissatisfied as those who voted Brexit, I should know, I was one of them. I'd say that many of the Remainers have got, or have identified, even more to feel aggrieved about, because often they've given the situation considerably more thought... and still found it to be deeply wanting!

Each individual is just that, an individual, and as such will have his or her own reasons. For me, currently it's the manner in which this 'dream' is looking to 'embrace' the children. Should you happen to have strolled past Smiggle with a child in tow, you will quite quickly have realised that it's not the reliability of a pencil, a sharpener, the fastness or the particular hue with which said child is interested... no, it's the hypnotic sparkle of the otherwise redundant shell, or perhaps just the wrapper; the rubber does not so much need to properly erase as to be shaped like a pony, or a rabbit, or a polar bear... Hell, why not invest in the whole menagerie?

Build-a-Bear is far worse- in Norwich, Chaplefield, the respective shops occupy the same mall, rather like a pride of lions preying upon the unsuspecting wildebeests- here some of the staff genuinely are positively predatory; should they happen to catch the child's eye they're well practised at luring them in off the walkways; when they smile you can see that their teeth have been filed to points! In truth the actual bears are okay- at best they're just okay- it's far more the peripheral tat that goes with them! Why not also purchase a hat, a pair of boots, roller-skates, gloves, sunglasses, Hell, that bear's gonna need a Build-a-Bear variable rate mortgage! Attend the workshop, where your child/grandchild/nephew/niece may 'construct' their own formulaic bear and the hook has probably already been implanted- look at our sparkly wares!

And then there's the lovely Peppa; who wouldn't love Peppa, with her cutesie voice and her stream of moralistic lessons for the kids? When Peppa Pig came to Norwich- Theatre Royal- the seats were awash with happy children, interspersed with also mostly happy adults. With careful manipulation of one's pathway into the theatre one might even have managed to bypass the accompanying plastic tat that was on display in the foyer. The lights dimmed, the curtains opened and we all set about enjoying the show. In fairness the performance was always going to be okay, not quite as wonderful as many of the other children's theatre productions that we've witnessed- 'The Grufflalo,' 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt,' 'Little Red Riding Hood,' 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea,' 'Gruffalo's Child'- but still 'good.' We pondered the chaos that might ensue, as the children attempted to visit the toilets during the unusual half-time interval. Half time interval? Is there usually an interval?

And, as the curtains gently swished closed, so the interval suddenly took on a more sinister complexion. The 'dream' had pursued the theatre-goers inside, in to the auditorium; the aisles were suddenly transformed into a light-flashing 'spectacular' of the same garish tat that many of the seated parents-and-other-adults had so meticulously managed to circumnavigate earlier. No prisoners here! It was all going to the same Pacific location, anyway, but it still needed to be foisted onto the families first. Peppa doesn't appear to devote much time to this particular issue, during her T.V. life-lesson-slots.

Entertainment's long been in the bag! Whether it's the easy-betting route to darkest despair- "When it stops being fun, just stop!" It's really that easy!- or it's the longer road of pester power, entertainment's pretty much been bought and sold. Bingo, anyone, scratch card? We had, for the present- some of us- hoped to keep the children out of it, but your peripatetic and up-to-speed 'local' Executive-Head may well sell the school in not much more than an extended story time, before he's packed off to close the next business deal. You're either on this carousel or else the same is eyeing you up via your on-line purchasing history.

People have been led to 'believe' that they are party to some sort of friendly partnership, that the company or corporation they would otherwise challenge, or occasionally question, might somehow respect and cherish this 'relationship,' that it is a 'relationship' of mutuality... but really it's a 'dream,' far more nightmare than dream...

They're relying upon us not checking under the bed.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Try a Little Tendering

"I'm afraid that you can't get through this way. You'll have to go back and cross over back there!" I explained to the elderly lady. She squinted into the middle distance, whirled her stick about face, and set to retracing her steps.

Pedestrian access denied!
Are we nearly there yet?

"That perfectly serviceable pavement is out of service," I sympathetically pointed out to another lady, who had just worked her way around the tortuous detour, only to encounter one further barrage of orange.

"I could get through this way the other day." a frail-looking gentleman reminisced, as he pondered the insurmountability of the plastic wall set before him.

Unless you're one of these...
Bolt cutters essential!

Earlier in the day I'd skirted a full 270 degree arc around the store, culminating in a halting convoy of similarly bemused motorists. In turn three vehicles slowly manoeuvred the three-pointer, the drivers no doubt marvelling at how a singular exiting vehicle might have earlier solved the conundrum. I briefly contemplated ignoring the 'No access!' affront, before meekly opting for the pedestrian approach. If all else fails, I might just about be able to clamber over these damned things with a fully laden rucksack, I had reasoned.

Claustrophobia anyone?

As more than one person had observed, "The labyrinth often changes by the day." Even the staff were struggling to gain access.

"The store much appreciates the support of its valued customers," or something very similar was proffered, when I approached the customer service desk, with the vague idea of registering a concern. But, as anyone who has ever contacted 'their' council will know, any time spent upon a letter would be time entirely wasted.

Although an infrequent user, I am not a huge fan of the chained supermarket. But! I was given to pondering quite how much lost trade and income has been rained down upon my local Sainsburys in Norwich. I know, from my own observations, that there have been many less-agile shoppers who have loudly cursed the 'laughable' volumes of temporary street furniture. However, my concerns really are far more to do with the wider issues of road workings... or not workings.

Surely not!

For those who have recently joined a tailed-back half-mile of similarly frustrated drivers, along Norwich's Sweet Briar Road towards the snarled up Dereham Road roundabout, only to find, on any fine and sunny morning or afternoon, not a single high-visibility jacket in evidence, this rant may well be quite familiar. At least the gist may well be so.

Certain council employees- those who are not more likely to deflect or else evade, or get rather hot under the collar- may elect to point out that there are sometimes very good reasons for roadworks to be unmanned (or unpersonned). But still, this does not reasonably explain away these mass seasonal eruptions of orange-congestion upon our roadways, and increasingly our pavements.


In the absence of a better clarification I consider it only reasonable, human nature, to speculate. Why, quite why, are the cones even there if the roads and pavements are clearly (often) fully serviceable?

I am given to reflect back upon Tesco's now widely known practice of buying up huge tracts of land, which then sat 'inactive' for sometimes decades, merely in order to prevent fellow supermarket chains, and therefore competition, from gaining proper access to the market. Thus, I find myself wondering if similar practices are not now being routinely employed here.


It has been suggested that many aspects of due governmental process are broken! I would go further and contest that, far from failing (as might be regarded by the general public), governmental due process is working just fine (as might be regarded by the soul-devoided individuals at the helm).

When, in some darkened backroom, it was decreed that everything private was to be favoured over everything public a ball was set in motion. When, in the same or a similar darkened backroom, it was decreed that unequal austerity was to be imposed... When, in some darkened backroom, it was decreed that democratic accountability was to be regarded as troublesome old hat... When, in some darkened backroom, the decree was thrown, like some vast and smothersome fire-blanket, over local councils- the fuller-process began, of course, with the devolution of monetary control- the prospect of wholesale privatisation and outsourcing of all services was set in motion. The primary aim was never to improve services.

Instead, it was intended to greatly increase the acreage of private pickings to corporate interest. Thinly disguised, in some instances, through tendering. Tendering!

And, in so far as we the general public are concerned, nothing soon looks set to improve!

In the instance of roadworks, the tendering process appears more openly broken than with other 'services' or items. I have been informed, and I have read, that the process invariably favours certain larger contractors. We could again speculate, with all of that spare corporate-cash sloshing about, why it is that this routinely happens, but this is probably here best avoided.

Should the process, as here contested, always favour certain larger corporations, and, should the tendering process 'somehow' circumnavigate the consideration of workforce availability, should this happen, then, theoretically, one corporation could end up with every contract. Imagine!

Theoretically, we might find our roads snowed under a barrage of orange barricades, awaiting the unscheduled arrival of nonexistent workers who would otherwise be slowly ticking off a painfully long list of cordoned-off congested roads and pathways. Congestion, already governmentally considered neoliberally acceptable, increases!

Improving Norfolk's Roads!


Grenfell Tower statistics.

Number of fatalities:
71 (officially)
Number of lost homes:
Number families still homeless or in temporary accommodation:
105 (as of 11th December 2017)
Number of empty properties in the borough:
1,399 (as of 18th June 2017)
Number of fire stations cut from the region:
Number of prosecutions: 
Still zero!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Signs Preceding the End of The World.

Or, just maybe, just maybe, 'Signs Preceding the End of This World?'

For anyone who may have envisioned the world ending in a gory blaze of '28 Day' horror, they will perhaps be likely to get away with things relatively lightly, or conversely they may even be a little bit disappointed? But for others, recognising '28 Days Later' to be merely an Alex Garland inspired piece of popular cinematic fiction, things are looking increasingly likely to pan out in a none-the-less irretrievably bleak fashion.

To everyday witness the nation's latest initiates hurrying along the city's streets, eyes seemingly compelled to view that tiny screen as if life itself depends upon the clipped message encapsulated within, a non-recyclable coffee-cup perhaps welded into a free fist, one might suppose ourselves as a species to have already long-surpassed the use-by date.

They, that is the initiates, should know that a Pacific 'island'- several variable locations and counting- awaits the casual discardance of the aforementioned cup. Will the pallid light from the screen be urging them ever-onwards to the consumption of yet more vacuumed plastic tat? Who knows, rainbow images of the globe's selfsame demise might instead be streaming directly into that space behind the eyes? Only another 336 shopping days to go until Christmas, and already some of last year's efforts are most likely colourfully adorning our beaches. But, for the most part, it's very much a case of out of sight out of mind... unless one happens to find oneself travelling upon any of a number of the Pacific Ocean's busy cargo vessels. "Fancy that! Look, isn't that an old Jif bottle? And, over there, a whole cluster of them- aren't they now collectables?"

With regards to the 'recyclability' of those 'fist-welded' discarded coffee cups, the depressing fact of the matter is that they can actually be recycled. It's more that the willpower to have them recycled is lacking. Currently there are two existing recycling plants in the UK- I guess that, in our interlocking society of mostly smaller wheels, the bigger cogs have deemed it financially 'unviable' to expand this scheme. In the 'bigger picture' economic growth demands that we prioritise in a manner always most likely to benefit the culprits.

Maybe our current best hope is that these imperishable slicks quickly evolve, so that they might as a 'species' somehow be always drawn to those beaches favoured by the globe's most business-minded CEOs, other culpable business-peoples and bought-up politicians- from tiny acorns and all that. But, whatever design this new life-form is likely to take, it had better get a move on, Ms May and her cohort have plans to get 'seriously' tetchy with any offending industries, sometime in the next decade (is it?). Ms May has danced her dance for the puppeteers, 'yesterday's' crisis having been deferred, yet again, for another generation to ponder, thus also to be remarketed as tomorrow's even-more-pressing crisis.

We have bigger fish to fry, especially now that we are again pushing to dredge those sovereign waters entirely free from edible life. Car sales are down, so those hazy horizons may still be somehow marketable, but conversely the motor industry's likely secretly-screaming out for more built in obsolescence. Knife crime has once again blighted the BBC's daily celebrity sales promotions; quite how to spin this one so as not to blight future knife sales? The future's no longer quite so orange, is it? If it all gets too much why not take a stroll out to your nearest retailer, to avail yourself of one of those newfangled drones? What, you thought there was going to be some sort of safeguard in place? "No worries, we just sold one to Mad Mickey! Of course it isn't armed, do you think we're stupid?"

And then, just when we thought things couldn't possibly plunge any deeper, Carillion went and jumped ship! "It's PFI or bust!" Well, I guess it's bust then, isn't it Mr Milburn MP? And, how's that deeply feathered nest working out for you and your 'good' wife? We all hope that the quills are not irritating your pristine white CEO backsides- is that a genuine porcelain implant? Health service provision, was it Mr Milburn, no longer MP, squaring that Circle? We should all let out one almighty sigh of relief that the CEOs at least will walk away, 'untainted,' intact, oblivious! But, as always, never any the less wealthy.

Bad news might well travel fast but it does not, these days, always quite manage to circumvent that very last hurdle, that of the actual delivery. Hermes, Parcelforce, DHL et al might fight their respective pathways to your door, but if circumstance should happen to drag you away for more than a minute, and you do not possess a large enough letterbox, or perhaps your own personal staff- "Our excellent courier service cannot guarantee a more specific delivery slot. Will you be asking your employer for a morning or an afternoon?"- you may instead have to settle for a 'Sorry we missed you' white card upon your doormat or other substitute.

If we were at all cynical we might, at this moment, be wondering if 'our' government's constant undermining of the former national postal service- subdivisions, sell-offs and closures of local Post Offices- were not being driven by 'other' financial interests. Or else perhaps successive governments are attempting to worshipfully mirror the Pacific's garbage islands with some entirely more local ones, those consisting of the nations undeliverable parcels and packages?

When the UK mistakenly thinks that the ghost of some Victorian Empire Nation might better negotiate its own way, and the globe's most powerful man transpires to be rather more a child-minded sociopath, the more elderly amongst us might truly thank the fictitious Lord above that we will not be around to witness the arrival of that new golden dawn towards which we are currently hurtling. Except to note that many of those who are closest to death actually chose this pathway for their closest and next of kin. Perhaps the bleaching of the globe's coral reefs is in reality simply a quicker means of getting those ocean souvenirs dried and displayed upon the sales shelves? Give it another generation and perhaps a bleached hunk of coral might sit alongside a beach-found fossil, upon many a classroom's themed 'Extinctions' table? Something for the unqualified teacher replacement service to discuss with her Year Fours?

If we should for a moment doubt the journey's trajectory we could instead chart this far shorter journey: Six months after Grenfel Tower burned to its present husk, prematurely ending the lives of (we are governmentally 'informed,' as few as) 71 people, already the monied corner-cutters are flexing their foie-gras stuffed muscles and demanding that residents of similarly clad towers will pay handsomely to see their homes made safe. Not so much seeking to make safe as exploiting death, in order to turn a tidy profit.

Property mogul Vincent Tchenguiz and Proxima GR Properties are insisting that residents of the next potential mass burning (maybe Croydon Citiscape) pay £31,300 per flat to have their tower re-clad with panels that are deemed merely fire-retardant. Currently Proxima are charging the residents £4,000 per week for the 'privilege' of fire warden patrols. Is this not truly breathtaking?

De-regulation! No wonder it's the 'unstated' Tory mantra. That and 'outsourcing.'

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Atacama Dreamscape?

Even now, as I start to tap out these thoughts, so it is almost as if I am still slightly unsure that I am 'actually' awake- it is 03:23 of a Tuesday morning. This posting may read as a tad self-dramatic, but I thought that I should quickly note the experience, before some significant detail is whisked away and is gone from my grasp. By the time that it is posted the 'moment' may already lie several weeks in the past, but at least it, or that vital essence of it, will have been 'captured.'

To clarify, I am referring back to a dream that I have just had (31st October 2017). It was quite so 'real' as to have left taste in my mouth and a sense of arid sandy soil between my toes and upon my clothes, a sun-scorching sting to my eyes. More, it was one of those dreams from which one may awake more than once, as I believe that I did, and to be left unsure that one is not still quite dead to the world.

Track to Parinacota.

I believe that I awoke at the very least once before, to find myself still asleep, yet also fully enveloped within the afore-alluded-to dream. Such dreams- I have not reliably had one so vivid since I was a child, or at the very least a far younger adult- may leave one so stricken as to warp one's belief as to quite which is real and which is not.

Atacama Sunset.

Elon Musk is undoubtedly but one of many souls to have speculated that we are far more likely virtual than real. "There's a billion to one chance we're living in base reality," he has claimed. At least a decade prior to this, Nick Bostrom pondered that we might 'simply' be, "living in a simulation," in which case of greatest concern should be that "our 'future selves,'" might simply, "switch us off." In its various guises the idea dates back at least as far as a speculative 17th century. Many of the variable musings as to the degree of reality, or not, that we might perhaps inhabit are not even those of the chemically adjusted mind... and who's to contest that even this mode of thought might not be some form of enhancement to significantly better our perceived understanding?

The Andes at dawn.

Encapsulated within this concept, we may also find a far more credible space for humankind's various guises for what sometimes passes as God. Would he, she or whatever then really much care which particular model we chose to adopt or to pseudo-worship? There is not seriously the acreage here for even merely my own ponderings upon the very tenuous nature of 'reality.'

Church at Parinacota.

Except to briefly mention a still quite vividly recalled 'moment,' back in the late summer of 1996. I had woken some time in the dead of night and had, upon an inexplicable urge, been drawn to the bedroom window- at this time I lived opposite a church, and within a village uncursed by street-lighting, so would sometimes not bother to pull the curtains closed of a night.

Flat plain
Having, in the small hours, just climbed from my bed I knew that I was 'awake,' yet I had somehow carried with me some fragment of the 'dream' from which I had just awoken. Lit by the moon, the church opposite had been transformed into a 17th century (another 17th Century reference?) white-washed Chilean church, and all about its walls had been the gently-ruminating, dusty Atacama Desert. I still well recall being both fascinated and perplexed, unsure whether to somehow further explore this phenomenon, or else to ease myself back into that 'real' world?

Andean Sunset.

To commit the experience properly to paper is and has always proven quite impossible, a credible explanation also requires being able to search within my pleading face and eyes, to be assaulted by my insistent voice. Even then I doubt I would be properly believed. It was as if I had somehow woken into a moment which was untethered, neither of this world nor of that one. A listener, or reader, would surely assign the moment to one of perhaps sleepwalking, or else to some such other similar category. But there would surely have to be left just that tiny element of uncertainty?

So, round-about-the-houses, and back to 'last night's' dream.


This alternate reality took me back, again, some twenty-now-years to that same holiday in Chile. I was again at altitude upon the volcanic plains about Mount Parinacota, secreted within the Lauca National Park. The altitude sickness, which incidentally has pursued me from dream to this reality, was with me, the taste of vomit still unfresh upon my tongue. A couple of concerned Israeli fellow travellers had earlier expressed much concern when I had opted to be dropped off at the sandy junction to some half covered track, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But also there was this wild excitement at having found myself, during the following days, seemingly almost-virtually alone at some 4,500 metres, fully immersed within a cornucopia of Andean wonderment. There was the constant presence of arid soil between my toes, the dust in my eyes and upon my clothes, a sun-tightened feel to my face and a certain altitudinous wild sensation that lingered about my nostrils.

I had daily risen prior to the sun, whilst its presence was just barely evident at the eastern horizon, and I had leap-frogged out into a freshwater lake, the shallow waters held in abeyance via a certain volcanic rockscape. The freezing temperatures of the night had hardened the various mossy bofedal clumps, enough that I might venture just far enough from the shores. And I had sat within the magical puna landscape and filled my notepad with all manner of detail, and my camera with just a tiny taste of the High Andes.


Once again, referencing my notebook, running along uncannily parallel to last night's dream, I am now reminded of the sheer radiance and of the burgeoning aliveness of the place. I had noted the eruptive joy that I had felt at the moment that a small wading bird had alighted just a few metres from where I was sitting; it duly commenced to completely ignore me as I sketched away. The Diademed Plover had lain close to the top of a long list of hoped for wildlife, and had duly set the day upon a perfect course, excepting the pounding headache which never quite left me during my days at this altitude. I am reminded also of a niggling nose-bleed that would never quite relent.

Route out towards the lake.

The list of wading birds, the slightly less-buoyant Andean Swallows and Andean Lapwings, the various species of flamingo, the ducks, the various coots, the vast array of finches and other species, is both as immense in the notebook as it was in the dream. For this I am thankful, but also slightly curious.

Lake shoreline.

I had made the questioning observation that the higher-altitude Silvery Grebes could not possibly be of the same species as those I had seen two weeks previously, bobbing as a small raft upon the Pacific. The note, unknowingly 'supported' via far more copious and scientific observation, has since come to just fruition. I had, hours later, padded less assuredly back towards the lake's shoreline- the bofedal was fast softening under the quickening heat of the morning. A gem-like Andean Negrito flashed its primary flight-feathers, before dropping to the plain and substituting a zipping run for the labours of the air, a rich rufous-earthy back upon a muted charcoal body. The drier landscape was already quite awash with all manner of grey ground-tyrants, many sporting their own specific cap-come-nape-patch as a clue to species, many not. Somehow, defying the significantly enhanced drag of gravity, way up in the eye-scouring blueness, a pair of juvenile Mountain Caracaras were whirling to no immediately apparent purpose. The far more handsome, and thus absent, adults were having none of it!  

Receding peaks 

Even the most seemingly insignificant minor-slopes were able to conjure a throbbing heat to the temples, drawn from the dull ache at the back of the skull, but the effort was quite rightly deemed worthy, merely for the greatly enhanced proximity of a resplendent Black-hooded Sierra-finch. Surely these creatures had somehow thieved something of the essence of the setting sun upon their backs? Even so a scuttling Vizcacha might still set the heart to yet greater pounding, and the skull to yet greater pain, as it scaled a sheer slope as if 'twere horizontal; nether rabbit nor mouse, instead some bizarre other rodent-type, equipped also with a miniature beaver-type-tail to waft at the air in departure.

Moss as hard as pumice.

Defying the almost prickly-pumice qualities of the strange mountain-moss, I sat to permit the pounding to subside, becoming aware, as I did so, of a family of humbug Puna Tinamous, neither bustard nor grouse, but either way appearing instantly very akin to a snack-upon-legs. "Such plump and vulnerable-seeming birds will certainly have evolved their own peculiar means of surviving," I considered, although at this sort of range none was immediately evident. The flashing flight of the earlier noted White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant again animated the puna-desert-dreamscape. Although perches were at a premium this bird evidently had a greater claim than did most other species; there was a multitude of ground-tyrants and shrike-tyrants from which to choose. No sooner had it alighted than it was beating ten bells out of some uncertain former lifeform.

Andean Flicker nest holes.

I had already noted the 'unlikely' holes, drilled high into the ridge, but it was the echoing call which finally drew me to the ground-feeding activity of several Andean Flickers. Although the landscape was quite immense the absence of sound was, at times, almost more so. I had watched the towering twisters wandering intermittently across the desert but, even then, it wasn't until I had determined to stand and embrace the form as it whipped about my ears that I could actually hear the fine scattering hiss of sandy particles, severely chastising any areas of exposed flesh. The experience left me with sand-choked hair and much grittiness about my face, ears, hands and clothes, in the ears and especially in the mouth!

Andean sunset.

I had planned to spend the best part of the final day walking to Lake Chungara, but opted instead to abandon the effort when yet another semi-feral dog set about snapping at my heels. I had heard the beast drumming across the sands from more than half-a-mile away, and that was before it had commenced barking its war cry into the void. The distance afforded me just time enough to arm myself with a few meatier stones. Our brief engagement saw me landing at least two significant blows upon the damned creature, before a sharp whistle brought the whole affair to a much-appreciated conclusion. Whatever the damage, clearly I hadn't, at least not significantly, damaged the bugger's legs. I know that one stone thudded into the side of the ultra-angry face- I think that I had winced at the sound of stone upon tooth- but far better that unsightly mess than my ankles, I had reasoned. Whatever the damage, the unseen whistler never thought to question my hastily-elected approach to evading dog-attack. At lower altitudes I had grown accustomed to arming myself with any from the most thorny of boughs, but up here this more benign and defensive manoeuvre had been denied me.

Route to Cotacotani.

It was at the point of perhaps greatest isolation that I was, I had initially thought, once again to be 'challenged,' but this time it was by a virtual dot at the foot of a low line of arid hills. Thankfully this beast remained put. Upon closer binocular inspection this transpired to be another of the lama-like Guanaco- I was impressed that the creature had so distantly and instantly recognised me as a potential threat, even though I was far from this. I took the time to sit for a while, by the icy crystal stream which I had been tracking, and there I noted my only Red-backed Sierra-Finch. It was instantly separable from the wealth of alternative finch species that had earlier been on offer, a stunningly rich-red saddle, set behind a soft grey neck and head. I had known that such a sighting was almost a 'gift,' but had not yet realised quite how sought-after these jewels had become. I know that I was able to spend fully fifteen minutes studying the bird, as it scraped about at the edge of a chiselled bank. And all the while my presence was punctuated by the distant bark of the solitary Guanaco.

Atacama Desert.

A decidedly more substantial twister was seen to be gathering strength some distance off to the west. I watched with mounting interest as the rising cloud slowly resolved itself into one caused by a wandering Land Rover. I think that I must have watched the vehicle's approach for well over a minute and a half before there was even the faintest hint of a mechanical growl- all the while my sentinel was echoing 'his' warning into the vastness. It was only as the engine became a background constant that I thought to look more carefully at an 'islet' of isolated boulders rising at the centre of the valley.

Track to Parinacota.

Upon a far closer inspection of the rocky cluster I noted that the shadows here cast, such as they were, had now assumed rather more of a fluid presence, seeming almost to ripple across the surface of the nearest and the most sheer of the visible surfaces. Assuming the strange spectacle to be some sort of trick of the rising heat, I watched on, almost absent-mindedly awaiting some sort of credible resolution or further clarification. The shadow, almost dreamesque at this juncture, appeared to lengthen and then it twisted and thinned outwards, stretching itself almost to breaking point before contracting into the form of some sort of creature... a cat maybe?

So, this had been the cause for alarm, and all the while I had been unaware. Had the approaching jeep not drawn my attention back towards the outcrop it is most unlikely that I ever would have spied the feline. It transpired that the 'shadow' had in fact been more cat than shadow, albeit more visibly liquid than solid, and so I concluded this to be the form of a black Jaguar. I pressed my eyes to my binoculars, as if attempting to push them clear through the lenses and ever closer to the beast. I caught the eyes ever so briefly- green, I thought- and in that moment it was evident in such casual behaviour, that the beast had all the while been watching me. As the Land Rover drew level with the mound so the ripple shimmered one final time and then simply 'melted' into the flat surface of rock.

Before shaving and drinking heavily, or perhaps after drinking heavily?

I mentioned the sighting to my driver, Gary, before we set off down to the lower altitudes of Putre, where the altitude sickness would thankfully decline to follow. At first he reacted sceptically, but would not completely write off the likelihood of such a cat. So, before setting off, we slowly circled the mound, which conspired to be rather more diminutive than it had at first appeared, certainly no higher than ten feet at its peak. We twice drove round the perimeter and at such a slow and meticulous pace, never once glimpsing so much as a dubious shadow, but still Gary remained adamant upon us staying put, securely inside the jeep.

Framed within one of the vehicle's wing mirrors I was confronted by a vaguely familiar face, spied for the first time in several days, and I was curious to note that so much unkempt hair and patchy beard had afforded it something of a 'different' persona. All that it needed now was some sort of beret, maybe the barrel of a rifle peeping out from behind a right shoulder?

A far more benign Putre.

Scratching away at a mat of unaccustomed facial hair, I squinted into the light; suddenly so much older those features appeared in the bathroom mirror. Head cropped tight, and jawline uncharacteristically clean shaven? Instantly, I regretted having glanced at the offending wing-mirror.

Best get some of this down, before the memory fades...

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

A Truly Second Class Performance

Children's TV has pretty much gone stratospheric since the days of 'Watch with Mother,' with the likes of 'Bill and Ben, Flowerpot Men,' when TV viewing for the infant was very much a half-cocked afterthought. The neoliberal dream back then, of course, had far yet to go in the then-poorly-exploited field of pester-power. Now, having 'hastened on,' one might easily access several channels of 24-hour viewing, quite naturally interspersed with the requisite volume of targeted, in-the-child's-face advertising. 

In truth I don't so much recall ever, as an infant, watching Bill or his alliteratively-named, supposed brother, Ben, more so as an adolescent. I remember spending entirely too much time laughing and joking about the adopted linguistic traits of the characters, when I should instead have been properly focused upon the 'O' Level syllabus, either literature or language, this detail I do not recall; it was quite likely a bit of both.

A school that was orchestrated as much under the tutelage of would-otherwise-have-been hippies as it was career teachers, mine was fairly open to such juvenile distractions. I recall also that 'we' afforded much time to 'The Clangers,' 'Noggin the Nog,' and that a number of 'us' were very much in awe of the likes of Oliver Postgate, alongside a few of the more sporting and conventional musical performers of the day. The art studios- they were most definitely studios- often seemed to operate like some sort of virtual commune.

The goal of a raft of A*s was not at this time quite such a 'distraction' as it has more recently become. Jobs were pretty much a given, although not necessarily always the precise ones that everyone would have wished for. Times were generally more benign and considerably more inclusive. I played quite a lot of cricket, and this meshed pretty well with the heat of the long summer days and an almost driven lack of focus.

So, back to 'Bill and Ben,' or more precisely Ben, the undoubtedly younger and more easily provoked twin! I'm thinking here specifically of a Ben of uncertain thought process, perhaps frustrated through a given inability to effectively communicate outside of immediate associative boundaries. Curiously, the Ben in question is not unlike 'our own' Mr Stokes, although his lack of sometimes-appropriate communication skills seems these days to manifest itself in altogether more ill-advised ways.

I am getting around, albeit somewhat tortuously, to the same Ben Stokes who ironically appears to have shown himself to have finally and almost magisterially overcome his tendency towards rash stroke-play at the most inopportune of moments. Sadly, Ben's is entirely a different species of self-destruct to that often of late employed by the currently-colourful English Ashes Squad/Team. Ben's is upfrontedly and unreasonably more confrontational, eventually and demonstrably evolving from on field abuse, and now on to other darker recreational pursuits. The rest of the squad have thus far concentrated their own bouts of self-destruct entirely towards the cricket field of play.

It, that is the team's effort, has this summer-season and for several of the preceding ones, provided a wonderfully pyrotechnical spectacle for the fans, at least those who are prepared to pay the Sky-high ransom, or else watch the live spectacle. Will the team- our's or Sky's?- explode into life, or will they otherwise implode, we have frequently been given to speculate- it is surely a Ray Winston wet-dream, a veritable betting bonanza!

A most unexpected e-mail brought, for me, the whole sorry affair right out into the spotlight, perhaps prompted through recent events. Lord alone knows how one goes about tracking such a hermit as myself? But, tracked I was, and from a most unlikely quarter; I had almost completely put the related episode away and out of mind. But, it did help to clarify an until-then-unresolved issue for me... Ben Stokes, please desist or step sideways and into the unbeautiful game of football.

Along with a then very close friend, commencing quite unexpectedly during our lazy sixth form days, I had just started to practise, and even more rarely play, along with the then Middlesex Second Team- one of the school's physics teachers was then a team regular- it was to be hoped that this might lead on to 'better' things. My 'friend' was, I always considered, a far more gifted prospect than was I. Through the faded memories of several decades, I recall his batting as wonderfully flamboyant; he wasn't quite the full Barry Richards, but then neither was anybody else in world cricket. He modelled his game upon the great South African, and I think that this was what actually brought about our 'being noticed.' That is to write that he was noticed and that I just happened to be present at the time of the noticing.

I was rather less fluent- although I still much preferred batting- but could also bowl a bit. Mike Proctor was my cricketing idol. I could neither control the ball as masterfully nor intimidate a batsman so well, nor could I bat with such imperial might, but again neither could just-anybody else in the cricketing world. Still, we could dream, and 'everybody' had their cricketing idols, so we dreamt and we played on

We had barely started to get to know 'the group,' when stupidity and consequence brought about an unhappy closure to the brief flirtation. I had always considered it an embarrassment, had almost put it well away from my thoughts. Mr Stokes, with whom I have absolutely no sympathies- except with the current English Ashes hopes- and the untimely aforementioned e-mail brought the sorry memory and a rather nasty taste flooding back to the fore.

It seems like almost another lifetime- I almost had to check that it was actually mine- when we used to mix and to chat with the likes of the wonderful Vince van der Bijl and even rarely to watch the truly dangerous Wayne Daniel pounding 'depressions' into the middle of the wicket.

I remember that Brearley, perhaps the most astute English captain that I can recall, was not ever quite the charmer that his TV and radio persona would suggest, that he was frequently dismissive of even the other regular first team players. I recall that Gatting was ever the bumptious and opinionated one, entirely as his TV and radio persona would suggest, and that Edmonds, far more so than Embury, could perform almost magical feats with the ball. Other players are now but shadows of memories, except for Selvey who often seemed to flatter to deceive, except for when he was at his most cunningly deceptive.

Daniel was a wonderfully funny chap, but really scary in the nets; I cannot now believe that serious injury did not result from some of his early work with the Second XI. It swiftly transpired that he should not continue to bowl at the Seconds. But always my favourite was the monster of a man who was Invincible Bill, as we called him. He would spend forever talking through how best to draw a false shot with the perfect late-away-swinger. In truth, he seemed sometimes to bowl even faster than Daniel, but his quicker ball didn't seem to make quite such a threatening sound as it thudded into the back of the net, perhaps because it wasn't so often accompanied by that adrenalin-inducing whistle from somewhere around ear height? I remember Daniel once pitching the ball no further than around the middle of the wicket and watching it lift clear out of the rear of the nets and towards the players cars. It missed the lot, instead crashing through a changing room window and (perhaps) denting one of the lockers; a seriously faded memory has me recalling it as Captain Brearley's, but this could be just fanciful?

Upon further reflection I wonder if the denting of the locker actually happened at all, or in fact whether the ball in question was actually a beamer, but do remember padding carefully into the showers, just in case a shard of stray glass had evaded the attentions of the broom.

Invincible Bill was curious about this ability that a couple of the Seconds had, to get the ball to swing counter to the conventional; at first we all found this baffling, Christ alone knew that it was hard enough anyway to properly exploit the swinging ball. I could occasionally manage this 'aberration,' but only do it with a quite worn, even tatty, cricket ball, and unreliably so; the ball would appear to be set upon a perfect trajectory, only to suddenly veer off line at the last instant. If 'we' adjusted the line accordingly then almost inevitably no such swing would occur. We played around with the delivery, which both baffled and evaded Invincible Bill; it was the only time that I can ever recall Brearley actually talking to me, rather than at me or otherwise down to me. Selvey was very quick to pick up on this strange trait; it was the one thing that he learned to do really well, although it never seemed to happen for him during his brief flirtation with the international game. I think that this ability- few other cricketers at the time had toyed with the variation- may even have brought about my solitary chance for first class cricket, against Cambridge University... a chance which never quite materialised. 

I had honestly almost forgotten quite how wonderful the time with my Middlesex Second Team 'colleagues' was; even after all these years I could feel the emotion welling up. I think that I have barely talked about the instance for over thirty-five years, instead defaulting to 'less traumatic' but more prosperous minor club times. Recalling the now-seemingly-insignificant event curiously still seems so very and surprisingly raw!

Even as I write the words I can feel an inner-shakiness- is it anger, or just upset, or perhaps a bit of both?- as I remember my then friend secreting some tiny black grains into Brearley's shaving foam, at least this is what he later claimed to have done. And I can recall a face like thunder, when the partially blacked-up captain- more grey-chinned, as I seem to recall- emerged from the washroom and demanded to know who, "the bloody prankster" was. 'Friend' and self were immediately told to get dressed; 'friend' left in a tantrum but I sulked, came on briefly as a sub to take a single catch on the square-leg boundary. I never stayed on to partake of the post-match ''analysis.'

I carried on with the Seconds for a couple more games, but never with quite the same sense of belonging. Bumptious Gatting- with his elephantine memory and arse- and an absence of my guilty ex-friend were always 'present,' even when they weren't. My cricket had taken a serious dint! The timing of my second half-opportunity was spectacularly poor! Even Invincible Bill suggested that I should more-seriously consider the Uni-option, which I duly did and that was that.

I believe that my then friend went on to perform rather spectacularly- his e-mail suggested as much- but know that he never again chanced his arm at the First Class game. We quickly lost touch.

So, Mr Stokes, it leaves me quite beyond words to contemplate the humongous scale of your misdemeanour, when coupled with the number of on field chances that you have been afforded. Mine was neither my own misdemeanour, nor was I afforded much of a second chance. I did not repeatedly hurl abuse at the opponent, neither did I end up trading punches with either opponent or spectator. I have admired your game- the silent part thereof- but decidedly not the wider spectacle.

I read more recently, that even the amateur game has taken something of a nosedive. I learned that umpires- the sort of job for which I would once have happily sacrificed a lazy Sunday- are now having to 'tear' apart brawling, heavily-tattooed opponents- your game, Mr Stokes?- so much so that the signals of the game are now being extended to include a four-part warning, the ultimate of which is to be a sending off!

A sending off in a game of cricket? What the blazes has happened to our most wonderful of games? One wonders quite what the odds are upon who will be trading the first on-field Ashes blows? Any thoughts, Ray? My money's on Warner. 

Bon voyage! 

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Yet Another Age of Unreason

As a child I was gently indoctrinated, along with just about everybody else in my class, into the ways of our Lord. From a very early age it was put to me that there was, nonspecifically out 'there,' a far greater and more powerful Being and that, intrinsic to this contention, there was a tome of knowledge, also non-specifically, far beyond anything that I could ever hope to amass. Thus, I was introduced to the concept of 'faith.' We sang a lot, which didn't leave a great deal of time for questions.

Where would such a Being reside? Heaven, where's that then? How could such a Being know what everyone was doing? What about those people who were working deep underground? How could such a Being know what we were all thinking? At the same time? What about dreams? How would such a Being be able to 'hear' all of our prayers? How would such a Being prioritise? If someone said 'good' things, but secretly thought 'bad' things, how would such a Being know this? What if we believed the 'bad' things, because a cleverer person had misled us? How would such a Being be able to tell the difference? If someone made a very 'bad' choice, hurting or killing others, why would such a Being not intervene? Why would such a Being allow natural disasters to kill and hurt people and other creatures?

Our's was never to reason why, apparently. We just weren't knowledgeable enough to understand the overriding will of such a Being. Although, some of us, even at such a tender and an early age, were starting to draw our own conclusions about this 'greater' Being. 'Faith' we were reminded- my teachers reminded me, my mother reminded me, the church reminded me, and numerous other people reminded me- was our lot. Faith!

Now that I am older I know enough to know that I am differently unsure. Older and slightly more jaded, I am arrogant enough to believe that I know the answers to some of the above questions. Now, I have different questions... requiring different answers, which necessarily do not pertain to faith.

Accepting, just for the sake of argument, that I am not going to be able to directly put my questions to such a Being, I would like instead to be able- safely!- to ask these questions of those who are most 'certain' of the 'answers'... the fundamentalists.

The fundamentalists have, of course, weaponised 'faith,' effectively remodelling it as fear! Naturally, honing the doctrine to a fine point- fear is often anyway still not enough- the fundamentalists might well kill us regardless; they might detonate shrapnel amongst our children, or they might career their vehicle along a busy pavement, or they might simply refuse to reason, sheltering behind the trusty (rusty) shield of faith, a highly selective shield when it comes to bombs and bullets. Our bombs and bullets, those of reason, are, we are 'assured,' far more discerning than are 'their' bombs and bullets, the old 'benign collateral' (cite "friendly fire") versus 'indiscriminate terrorism' argument! Proudly wear your faith, wear it much like a pair of spangled blinkers, wear it like a mask!

My opening question to the Being's spokesperson upon this Earth would have to be, why it is that our imperfect minds have been equipped with nothing better than faith with which to navigate our route through (theological) life? Why then equip us with the means with which to question 'His'* existence? So, of those various humanly-scribed books, which tome was actually the first draft, and which should we take to be the 'finished' (polished?) article? Presumptuous on my part, maybe, but I'm going to suggest that just a smidgen of greater clarification might not go a miss. Are we perhaps long-overdue a further redraft?

And then on to the sensitive subject of personal armaments, about these cursed hand-guns and rifles for example- those which have often been employed in His name- shouldn't we perhaps keep them locked well away from the cerebrally inept? We have, I am hoping, now evolved well beyond the belief that sinking a flaming cross into the earth, and wandering around in pointy white hats, weapons loaded, may be a superior or purer means of somehow 'ordering' humankind, along the lines of some sort of human-paint-chart? Couldn't we just hammer home this point, once more for the hard-of-understanding?

My is it third?- and certainly it is the most delicate of questions to the Being's spokesperson on this Earth- relates to the female gender of our species. I am, of course, assuming that this set of rules isn't perhaps an earlier and some-since-time superseded draft of His 'correct' Holy Book. Why, I feel obligated to ask, is having been genitally mutilated considered to be the 'correct' physical state for any female?- or, especially, any innocent child? And, in anticipation of any response, I would like to question 'why said 'clitoris' was there in the first place?' Further, I would like to ask 'if this means that He has therefore made a fundamental error?' Furthermore, is it not cruel to have designed 'us' for pleasure, only to have then prescribed the removal of one highly significant means by which this might be achieved? Is He then not in some major capacity also flawed? Is it really the role of certain significantly flawed and immeasurably-lesser beings to 'improve' upon His efforts?' Page numbers for reference, please? 

Here on Earth, I think that it would be only reasonable to assume that I argue for the vast majority of humans when I seek to question the butchering that is done in seeking to (shall we refer to it as?) modify the human form. Are these 'people'- the butchers- not defacing His work? Can we not instead modify the butchers?- if only to remove from them their more dubious of powers?

And, quite why would He create someone so very beautiful, only to condemn that same someone to a lifetime of conducting 'life' from within a black box, a niqab or, even more condemnatory, a burka? Really?- so, it's entirely about modesty, is it? Does this mean then that the man in this 'relationship' is acting immodestly? So the woman is actually a possession, is she? And the covering of the hair thing?- perhaps then You might have considered a less hairy model? I presume then that the role of the more hirsute male requires entirely less modesty?

And stoning? What, even if the male perpetrator- cases of rape, for example- is permitted to watch on, whilst the female victim is being pounded into  the earth? Is he, the perpetrator,  also then permitted to throw rocks? And, what is it supposed that the perpetrator is actually 'punishing,' should he deign to partake? Will the mighty Being judge him at some later date? Pages? **

And- fourth now is it?- this racial difference thing? Perhaps I'm being just a bit thick here, a bit humanly flawed, as 'twere, but it really doesn't feel in any way superior, being white. On a handful of occasions I've been given due cause to think that being white is, if anything, rather inferior. White pointy hats and burning crosses, what was all that about? Demonstrating superiority, how? Do those with the loudest shouty voices also possess faith? Or has some form of enraged-entitlement here substituted? Any sort of hierarchy seems questionable, colour or otherwise... that is, unless we should regard those who follow this path as immensely inferior? You know what, might we just have stumbled onto something here?

Surely I cannot be alone in thinking that we here upon this Earth are well overdue a smidgen of enlightenment on the mega-touchy subject of "racial superiority?" The 'ride' thus far has not been a wholly tranquil one! The merest concept of 'superiority' is never going to sit comfortably, alongside any culture that it is looking to 'order,' or that might be hoping for order alongside reasonable law.

Thus, cannot we all hunker down to a spot of disentanglement, for example where Semitism and Zionism are concerned? A 'few' of the more confident readers are becoming a tad alarmed at the tanglement-by-design of terms like anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist, media-orchestrated-and-fuelled and further fanned by the thoroughly-disingenuous. Semite, pertaining to a group of Semitic languages, spoken by, amongst others, both Israelis (Hebrew) and many Arabs (Arabic), am I right in believing this to be so? Would that then- although somewhat veiled through this ever-curious twisting of reality- seem to imply that the Zionists are amongst the more anti-Semitic of peoples?

My next question would be, in the event of a human detonation, or vehicular mayhem, who gets to decide who might live and who might die? Well then, who in His stead might decide? Okay, so does this not mean that His human spokesperson is destroying and/or defacing the Supreme Being's work? And, if your response to this is that the Divine Being then intervenes to decide who does and does not survive any such act, why then are not all of the perpetrators also subject to such a brutal 'selection' process? Might I be so bold as to suggest that He perhaps endeavours to ensure that the ultimate-decision-makers- those who might plot or otherwise bring about such awful destruction- are always, from this point onwards, to be situated far closer to the consequences of their decisions, especially as they profess to be following His imperfect plan? Under these circumstances, would they 'smile' quite so confidently for that flash?

And, this mention here, just here, about the taking of a single life destroying a whole universe? I think the wording is "... if anyone slew a person- unless it be for murder or spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people." (Al Quran 5:32) How should we regard this wisdom, as an earlier note... or better, as the perfected amendment? Shouldn't we clarify this issue, specifically for those who possess the wrong kind of faith? And, with much haste!

And, this far too non-specific, "spreading mischief in the land"?- who gets to decide which is 'mischief' and which is 'government?' And, where the two transpire to be one and the same?

Pertinent to an earlier question, am I to assume then that the detonator, or driver, or knife-wielder, the 'religious' killer, is going to be repaired in Heaven? And, will his, or rarely her, 'repaired' mind still be 'functioning' along similar lines? How many virgins is that? What, virgins with or without fully functional genitalia? Anticipating the masculinity of His response, can I then ask- refraining from employing the 'r' word- what sort of congress is this likely to be? Is this then going to be a different sort of Heaven for all of those virgins who will be on the receiving end? References again, please?

Presuming then that His loyal foot soldier's thought-process is to remain fundamentally unchanged, will (s)he be required to continue to detonate, or stab, or run-down other inhabitants within this Heaven? What, so sort of like a one-transaction contract, specifically undertaken prior to 'joining' the 'anointed,' then? And, 'this' type of 'suicide' will be afforded a 'get-out-of-jail-free card,' will it?

Will there be many (for the sake of argument, shall we refer to them as) mass murderers in Heaven? How will other, non-violent, arrivals be expected to relate to these murderers? Will there be time, do you suppose, for the inhabitants of this Heaven to converse calmly about the 'good' old days? If so, is there a 'correct' and politer etiquette for referring to the shattered remains of murdered children? Is there one which permits the murderer not to feel somehow excluded from politer circles as they well might down here?- or otherwise deeply and irretrievably ashamed? So, will these mass murderers now be able to laugh and to joke and to somehow to 'live' (on) with themselves? What, no remorse? None whatsoever? Again, can I request specific page numbers?

And, what if killer A is 'right', for want of a better, far better word, to have murdered' those in group A, whilst killer B is wrong to have murdered those in group B? Will killer B be judged to have sinned for adhering to the wrong type of faith? What, even if the ritual slaughter was carried out in 'good' faith?

Can I also ask, is life here on Earth really supposed to be quite so Hellish and devoid of compassion? Does that not then make Him a vindictive Being?

And dare I ask, just for the sake of argument, should we be preparing ourselves for the event that His idea of Heaven might actually transpire to be our idea of Hell?- and that He might transpire to be some sort of monster?

If we are not to question these things then why would He give us the minds with which to do so? Unless this also is another design flaw. Or is it yet another test... of our faith?

We are finding that neighbourly respect and affection- at least whilst we are trapped here upon His Earth- offers a mighty antidote to much of His more curious will. Often, this might even happen to transcend faith. Even so, might I not harbour just that tiny kernel of contempt for the religious fundamentalists?

Finally, would it be in any way unreasonable to conclude that, if one could reason with religious people that there would be no religious people? Do any of these thoughts make me a sinner?

* Apologies for the gender allocation. In modest justification of my choice, I chose to affix a male label over a female one because I considered that the faults of any such being- pain, war, 'torture,' conflict, that sort of thing- were more likely to sit 'comfortably' within the remit of a male creature.

** And, this would have to be the moment, the moment, at which we- that is 'we' unbelievers- may be as certain as it is possible to be, that certain 'individuals' are far more inclined towards faith and religion because it is entirely the means by which they seek to consolidate their advantages over others, than because they are inclined to believe in anything other than their own advantage. Otherwise, why would they lay themselves open to such disappointment in the 'eyes' of their 'God?'