The secret Addiction…..

We are a nation of addicts. We all have an addiction, and like most addicts we do not seem to care for the supplier.

 

It is the addiction of energy, or power. There are now more people living in urban areas than were alive in the whole world in the year of my birth 1975.  According to UK government research we use 27307kg equivalent of oil a day to keep our country running. The news at the moment is about our big 6 energy suppliers and costs going up. They are blaming it on the governments demand for more green energy, and for once I think the government is right to push this form of energy.

 

We do not have the right climate for solar energy to help us out all the time, but we do have wind, we are a small island at the meeting point of five major weather systems and this creates wind. From my own small town I can see two small wind farms. These many say are a blot on the landscape and ruin our countryside. And yes I will agree with them, however I wonder if any of these campaigners have talked to anyone in Hinkley Point recently? The site of Britain’s newest Nuclear power plant.

 

After talking with some about this, their answer was we need to insulate our homes. But this is not going to make any real dent in our power usage. I live in a 1820’s three story house. How can we insulate? We can’t put in cavity wall insulation, our loft already has 18 inches of insulation. But we are only just scratching the surface of our energy use with heating. As a child my parent’s house had an electric cooker, hoover and washing machine kettle toaster and a radio. Look around us now and see how much stuff we have now that is plugged in. In our house we have;

 

Freezer

Tumble-dryer

Washing machine

Cooker

Dishwasher

Two coffee machines

Kettle

Toaster

Bread-maker

Coffee grinder

Tv

Digi box

2x Dvd player

Video player

Oil heater

Computer

Screen

Printer

3x Radio

4x  TV’S

3x Game consoles

 

Plus there are all the items you need to charge, Mobile phones, cordless phones, Lap-tops computers, Tablets.

And around 20 light bulbs.

I’m sure the list can keep on going and going.

 

We are a nation of technology users, and it is this technology that is using our power, lets also not forget the fact that there are now 70 million people in the UK now compared to 56 million in 1975. That’s an increase, of 2x the population of Inner London, all using more and more energy.

 

Its not only our domestic energy that we are using. It is estimated that we use 30 billion food kilometres in the UK alone, just to feed us or to put it another way. NASA’s probe Voyager launched 30 years ago has only travelled half that distance. Or we could go to Saturn and back 15 times.

 

The figures of energy in the UK alone are mind-bending, when we take the world as a whole they are just to big to contemplate it is 143,851trillion watts per hour.

Or for those that like numbers 144,851,000,000,000,000. (just to put into context the sun produces 12.2 trillion watts per square mile.)

 

But as mentioned like most addicts, we don’t care where we get our fix from. In 2011 87% of all energy came from fossil fuels. ( I have not got any more recent figures). We are tearing our planet apart for energy, We dig up coal, pipe our oil and gas and use it so quickly we can not carry on like this forever.

 

Instead of fighting the government, about putting up wind turbines, we should be getting in there before they do. In Germany whole communities are putting up wind farms and then using the profits to improve their local amenities. Not twenty minutes away from my house there are whole villages that have got together and plastered the whole area with anti Turbine posters and slogans. Because they claim it is bad for their health, or the noise is unbearable. Again these people should swap houses with residents of Hinkley Point.

 

We are a nation of energy users, but we don’t want to see that energy being created. We would much prefer if it was created in Another area and not in our back yard.

At the end of the day which of the following two pictures would you prefer to look out on.

wind.jpg

coal.jpg

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Mobile Apocalypse

Gottfried Leibniz….if you know this name and what he did then give yourself 10 gold stars and a chocolate bar.

 

If not well he…..no go and look it up, But without him our world today would be very different. Sitting this morning in my favourite coffee shop, I was waiting for my wife to finish writing a few cards. I was getting a little frustrated because my phone would not connect to the free wifi. (is it ironic that my spell check does not recognise ‘wifi’). Anyway after a minute I decided to give up and enjoy people watching. Looking around the coffee shop (look I am fed up typing coffee shop all the time so its Café Nero OK). In Nero’s there were around thirty customers, I decided to count who was using technology while drinking. Well it was easier to see who wasn’t, three of us my wife, me and a gentleman to my right who was reading a paper. I was at first not surprised at this, the first thing I do when I get into Nero’s is check my phone, the same goes for my wife.

 

Then I decided to count those who walked past the windows and who was using a phone, in the ten minutes I kept this up for, I counted 367 people walk past, of these 278 were on the phone, 2 were using tablets, one person stopped balanced a laptop on a post. I live in a small town of around 40,000 including all the outlaying areas. In that ten minutes almost 1% of the population walked past and 80% of those were using technology. (By technology I mean modern communication).

 

Now I am old enough to remember telephones that you actually had to ‘dial’. They were cumbersome and six or seven numbers were all you needed. I am also older than the internet. But today it is all around us, mobile phone signals and wifi signals along with all the other radio signals. They are buzzing around us all the time. Looking out of the window at the sky, which was grey. I tried to imagine what the sky would look like if we could see all those signals in the air, different colours for different signals.

Imagine if we took my example of numbers and decided that 80% of the population were using mobile phones at any one time. If we round our population to 70million that means that 56 million people are on the phone at anyone time. Imagine 56 million little red lines shooting across the sky like pieces of wool.

 

Then there are those using wifi, and if you house is anything like ours the radio is constantly on (drowns out the children constant nagging).Then the signals for the Television, and then the radios that the emergency services use, or lorry drivers. It always amazes me how these invisible signals don’t get confused or run into each other. I understand the science behind it all, but still it is pretty amazing.

 

Back to Nero’s and me looking around at all the modern technology we use, the tills, the card payment machine’s (now also wifi). Even the coffee machine is computerised. I look at all this stuff and then remember how new it all is. It is since I was born that computers became small enough to leave buildings and then fitted into a room, and then left the room and fitted into a big box., and now they fit into your mobile phone which is small enough to fit into your jeans pocket. Computers have helped in every part of me getting that coffee. Growing, delivering it half way around the world. I am now trying to think of a business in this country that does not use modern technology in some part of their product chain. I can’t.

 

What if we turned the internet off, along with mobile phones and digital signals? Some would say we would be back in the 1950’s but I believe it would be further than that. My children’s generation does not know life without automation, television, computers and mobile phones are as natural to them as eating fresh fruit is to my generation. I had an idyllic upbringing in the country and enjoyed being outside. My parents subsidised shop brought produce with what we could grow on our small holding, I spent much of my spare time in my teens in the wilds, eating what I could forage, or catch. I was proud of being able to make fire without matches or a lighter. But even in my own generation these skills are not common. Because everything is now computer controlled, we would not have our fuel pumped or delivered to us, the food in the supermarkets would not get re-stocked. I am going slightly apocalyptical here aren’t I.

 

The pace of technological advancement in the last 50 years has been extreme. If someone from 1710 was transported to 1810 there would not be much difference, but if someone from 1910 was to be transported to now, can you imagine their mind overload.

 

‘Flying oh yes we do that everyday now’.

‘Telegram, no we don’t do those here use this phone made out of  plastic with no buttons and send a video of your self to America’

 

Oh sorry plastic?…video?….well here let us sit down in this American owned Italian coffee shop selling Moroccan coffee as it has free’ wifi’ and I can show you on my tablet, how you can use the internet to get all the information you need, hey we can blog about it, or even set up your own webpage. We had better be quick because I have just had a text to say I can have laser eye surgery tomorrow, and they need to prep me first. Here use this door as it opens by itself, no you go sit down over there by the double glazed window, I will pay, I have my touch and go on my phone. I can transfer my money from the other account while we chat. Do you want a macchiato or latte? Skimmed milk or semi skimmed milk.  Oh look I have had a tweet from Antarctica…Scott? Umm no sorry look I will show you what happened. Oh look I have had an email from the guys on the space station….

 

 

 

Till next time

Machiatto Anthropology (part two)

So yet again I am sitting in my favourite coffee shop. This time I was alone and had my pen poised ready to write something amazingly intellectual about spatial economics. But life was unfolding before me across three tables, the other side of the room.

 

Each table had four women around it. The first was surrounded by ladies all in their 30’s-40’s. From their clothing it looked like a business meeting and there was definitely a more dominate leader of this group who done most of the talking. Second table held four younger girls who seemed to be students, they were more vibrantly dressed and their talk was punctuated with laughter. The final table held four ladies in their late sixties early seventies. A tableau of life was there for all to see. Three stages of a woman’s life, sipping coffee.

 

The table with the younger girls, conversation was quick and followed no particular order, each participant vying for attention. While in one hand they had their coffee of choice, the other was clasped around their mobile phones. Half way through conversations the phones were brought into play. Photos were shared with the others, texts, tweets or messages in general were answered while still in mid flow. Hand bags were delved in for items unknown, and the only time others in the coffee shop were noticed was if they walked past them and knocked into their shopping bags.

 

The table holding the business meeting, was surrounded by concentration. Real or fained  I do not know. The imparter of information seemed to be animated while referring to a diagram and those whose interest she commanded sat upright and nodded sagely as if indicating complete understanding. There was a small break as the women who had lead the discussion left the table for five minuets. Shoulders dropped from the three remaining and heads bowed together checking watches, and their mobiles in the brief respite.

 

The final table was interesting to observe, as all its occupants had to talk a little louder to make themselves heard over the general hubbub of the coffee shop. I spied at least one tea pot on this table and the remains of more than one pastry. Of all the three tables the clothing worn around this table seemed the most colourful. There was a definite grey black theme in the suits of the business table, while the student table definitely, had a lot more fake tan than the branch of boots two hundred yards away.

But a little closer inspection of this older table and again you could see the uniform of their generation. Floral dresses, sensible flat shoes, warm winter coats (still being worn even inside). The handbags were much larger, and the contents that I saw emerge from these was bewildering at least. Small umbrellas, and plastic hair nets. Cotton hankies, bottles of pills and medicines. Mobile phones were also present on this table, although not the snazzy modern ones of the other two. A conversation was had on one of these, very clear basic commands were pronounced eloquently while the user seemed confused in which direction to face.

 

My second cup of coffee heralded the breaking of this scene before me as the business meeting came to its conclusion and the alpha female parted company. The student group had finally decided that their time had come to an end, and continued chatting and text while leaving the detritus of their visit behind. The older ladies ensured their table was neat and all cups and plates were stacked neatly on the tray. Bags and walking sticks were gathered and they shuffled out of view. A quick wipe down by the ever busy barista, and a new customer sat down by himself with his paper spread out before him.

 

For twenty minutes, a brief moment in time eternal, I was enthralled by the occupants of three small tables in a coffee shop. How many meetings had taken place around coffee shop tables, throughout the country in that time? What news passed between sippers of coffee. Was it business ideas that would revolutionise, or revitalise a company? Maybe friends, that have not seen each other for a long time, passing on news of old colleges. Was there news, that changed their outlook on life for ever. Maybe there was a wife telling her husband that she was finally pregnant after years of trying. Or was there meetings that imparted the sad news of the death of a loved one. Were there meetings that had been scheduled to say goodbye, parents saying goodbye to their children as they went of to college. Or maybe, a weekly meeting between two friends?

 

As I sit and watch life go on around me, I like to stop sometimes and just enjoy being able to breath slowly, eyes closed and for a few minutes just have the knowledge that at that time, for one peaceful moment. I can relax, control my immediate future if only for a few brief minutes, shut out the sights and sounds that vie for our attention amongst a haphazard world. I feel the warmth from the mug in my hands and the comforting smell of freshly poured coffee and for that infinitely short amount of time just slowdown, stop and relax.

wanna, wanna, wanna,………..want one!

40 Billion miles. That is the estimated distance travelled by those shipping containers all over the world. What do they carry? Well absolutely everything, bits of plastic to make bigger bits, clothes, cars, hospital equipment. Have a look around you now and almost everything you can see has been moved in one of those containers. Within arms reach everything has been transported in the back end of a lorry.  There is nearly a quarter of a million lorries in the UK. If parked end to end, they will stretch almost two and a half thousand miles, or From ‘Lands end to John O’Groats and back again twice.

 

That number is being added to daily. Why? Well we are all to blame. We are now and have been for some time a consumer society. We want ‘stuff’ our economy is no longer based on what we produce here in the UK. The whole of our economy is based on what we spend in shops.

 

Selling is big business. I don’t mean the actual transaction, the figures of money spent in tills in the UK is mind boggling. What I mean buy ‘selling’ we also know as ‘advertising’. According to the ‘advertising association’ £100 billion is spent on advertising in the UK every year. For every £1 spent £6 is gained. It is now the middle of October and all the high street shops have started their Christmas lines. By the middle of November every shop will be packed full of Christmas goodies.

 

How much of these things do we really need or want. My wife and I enjoy a good coffee in one of the local branches of a nation wide coffee shop chain. After we finish we sometimes take a walk through the town back to our home and we will wander in and out of shops. Now we love charity, and second-hand shops. We have not decided to but into the up-cycle, reuse life style to amend for our capitalist ways. It’s just that we don’t have the money to spend on stuff full price. How ever we do also wander through the more upmarket nationwide branches. (Here in West Wales that’s Debenhams and the like). Everything about these shops silently scream buy me. But they don’t. They don’t just say buy me; selling an item is one sale, what many shops try to do is to get you to buy into a life style.

 

This is why celebrity endorsement is such a big business. If David Beckham, for example were to advertise a pair of trainers, the manufacturer could guarantee that they will sell thousands of pairs within a few weeks, because every seven year old boy interested in football would now be nagging their parents incessantly for a pair. Why because having those trainers would make you a little bit more like David Beckham and then you would be nearer playing for what ever team he plays for.

 

But brands want loyalty, next time you are in a shop predominantly selling clothing have a look at the walls, there are posters of happy people enjoying their lives in this clothing. These models are always perfect in stature, the clothing fits its always clean and more importantly they have friends exactly the same. If you buy that ‘hand chosen ethnically knitted top’ and of course you can justify the £89.99 price tag because you just know, that by wearing it you will have the same life as those people in the poster.  Besides the shop you are buying it from only has eight jumpers on display in three sizes so there are not going to be that many people or more importantly your friends wearing the same top. So you have not only brought into the lie of life style change but also the lie of exclusivity.

 

And for a while you have that warm feeling mixed with excitement, it is a thrill to buy. But that thrill wears thin and next time it doesn’t last as long, so you buy more often. Of course we tell ourselves that we deserve this stuff , we work hard besides we didn’t have much as kids, well not as much as our friend did, they always had new stuff all the time.

 

And we are now back to the children, and Christmas is fast approaching (well according to the shops it is). I always enjoy listening to the conversations about how much people spend at Christmas. You have the one that says £500 per person is just going to have to be enough this year. Then there is always the one that says their year has been tough so they are going to push out the boat a little and pay it of next year. Of course there is the smug one that says they have finished their shopping already it’s all wrapped they only need to buy a few items for close friends. Then you have me. They all look at me expectantly awaiting my response, I normally shrug my shoulders say my children will get one or two things we never get too much anyway. But they start pushing for figures. They want actual numbers and why? Its so they can feel smug knowing that their kids are going to have a better Christmas than ours because they have spent ten tines the amount we have. Because Christmas is abut spending money, and the more you spend the better you have done it.

 

I once asked a cashier at my local Tesco store how much money they have taken, This was late morning two days before Christmas. I had a bottle of milk and chocolate bar. They said they tried to keep a mental note on the amount going through their till But gave up after £30,000. This is one till of twenty in one store out of hundreds. And that is just one shop chain.

 

So is this a post about Christmas, or Consumerism, or money, its not even about capitalism. But it is just a thought about the way advertising now dominates our lives. If every shop front was the same, and every item came in plain brown wrapping would we really prefer one shop over the other? Would we have the headache we always seem to acquire after a few hours of walking around the shops? But then I suppose we would not have an excuse to nip in and have a nice coffee before heading home, and well not having coffee shops would mean I wouldn’t have the chance to sit down and ponder over a nice cup of coffee!

 

Till next time.

Advisory warning.

How many times have we sat down with well meaning friends, neighbours and they have openly given their advice on any manner of situation you may be experiencing. To use the social media abbreviation, speak IMHO or ‘in my humble opinion’. Or when we face each other it’s ‘do you know what I think’. We mostly want to say no and I don’t want to either! But no, our listener is now turning counsellor and no matter how genuine they think they are they will generaly give misguided advice.

 

If we look around us at the professional world we see many ‘Advisers’. In the Worlds political stage we have peace advisors; in the business world we have financial advisors, safety advisors, security advisors. Most of these have trained for years in their chosen field. If we were to take the safety advisors as an example, we see they have studied in college and then spent years in industry before being able to advise on their specialist subject. They can also draw from test results to qualify their advice. Common sense dictates that if you work in a foundry you will need protective clothing and follow safety procedures carefully, our own inbuilt biological defences knows that if we get a little bit to close to molten metal we could suffer more than a slight discomfort.

 

Financial advice is a little more difficult as the markets and economics are ever changing and there are far too many parameters to ensure total success. Hence they spend day after day pouring over the data they need.

 

But when it comes to day to day advice everybody is willing to give it a go.

 

Two quotes come to mind, the first;

 

‘For advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise’.

A quote from, Gildor to Frodo, in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

 

 

The second is from the musical ‘ A fiddler on the roof’

and the song ‘If I were a rich man’.

 

‘they would come to me for advice, and it wouldn’t matter if I was right or wrong, because I was a wealthy man’.

 

Advice on life, from others seems to be given freely and abundantly. We all like to believe we know more than the next person and are willing to tell them so. But advice has two players in the game, the giver and the receiver.

 

The giver is seemingly the least complex of the two but we must study the person to understand the full extent of the advice. Their own view on life has a lot of bearing on the advice they give. The more analytical person could give advice based on a methodical approach to the problem as if it were a puzzle to solve, yet the person who lives a more emotional life, may just give advice on a gut feeling of the situation. Their own feelings and belief will always sway the advice they give you. A very basic example is if you were to ask me, ‘shall we have coffee or a cup of tea’? I will always say coffee as I detest the taste of tea.

 

I simple example I know, but what about another more reasonable scenario. You firm has offered you a much higher paid job but you have to move to a City or in the country, away from your friends and current life. One will advise you to go the other to stay and both their arguments will be valid and make sense.

 

The receiver of the advice, the second party in this example. They are full of complexity that will take far too long to explain fully. Some have already made their mind up and are really only searching for confirmation from as many people as they can. Others really don’t know and want to be told what to do. These can also portion the blame onto others if something were to go wrong.

 

But we must all understand that advice is just that. It is not instruction as many feel it is, giving orders that must be followed and then becoming upset when it is ignored. Also it is not to be given flippantly, advice carries weight and that must be considered.

 

Listening is an art, I believe there are two types of listeners. ‘Those who listen to understand, and those who listen to reply’.  We are all both, but the former is much less practised. Many people will form their opinion of a situation within minutes if not seconds from first hearing about it. Then they will jump in with what they believe is a similar scenario within their own life and explain how they got through it. Much of the time all people want is to be listened to without interruption. But his so rarely happens. And those who give advice want to give it and be thanked for it, believing they have solved another problem due to their superiority.

 

For those blessed to have children, do you remember the countless bits of advice you received from every single person you met on how is best to bring your child up. If you were to follow them all it would be impossible. I have four children aged between 6 and 14. Very rarely I get asked what is the best thing to do. My answer is always the same. ‘As long as you’re not being cruel physically or emotionally with it you have made the best start. Always show it you love it. I am afraid you are going to do what everybody else has done, muddle along as best as you can.’

 

 

Till next time.

 

Naming your Etymology,

Having a spare hour or so in my local town I decided to do something quite out of the ordinary for me and many thousands even in our own country. I went to our library. But this was not a whimsical visit I had a purpose. For a few days I was wondering why we use our most common word ‘the’. Now I know every word is just a sound but ‘the’ is quite a weird one. Many of our words have come from our varied ancestral languages that now make up English.  But ‘the’ is a weird sound it has a guttural sound to it, but we use the very front of our mouth to form the start of the sound and then the deepest part of our throat to finish it. It is basically just a pronounced grunt.

 

I struggled through high school French, and my few weeks attempt at German became laughable. But one thing always intrigued me, was the gendering of objects. This I always found wrong, she is a table he is a door etc. Why didn’t every body just do away with gendering and do as we do and make it inanimate? So after almost 40 years of belief in our superior system, you can imagine my shock at the discovery that we once gendered our furniture.

 

But as I thought about it a little deeper, we do still gender some items don’t we. For hundreds of people out there their car is female, and many carry names. I grew up with a tree in the garden we affectionately knew as ‘the old man.’  It is if not captivating it is at least thought provoking to ponder the beginnings of words.

 

It’s a  testament to our language that there is no defining figure to how many words there are. Arguments are in the region of 1.2 million words, why are we using the words we are speaking now.

I love words, I love this amazing English language. The rolling beauty, of a poem. The rising euphoria created by a speech before war. The linguistic skills of a rapper.  Even the basic answer of a child

 

Sadly my command of the language and its punctuation eludes me. I have tried to tame the ordered world of the comma and full stop. The split infinitive and third person commentary are secret codes that I can not crack. I was once told that my mind races on over the horizon and my thoughts don’t wait for comprehension to catch up. A mind that creates good grammar is likened to a pack of lions hunting; each knows its place and role, where as mine is more like a herd of springbok evading capture.

 

Thankfully programmes written by those who do understand such things are available for me to use and I can make somewhat understandable sense of my thoughts. This brings me onto the meaning of Names.

 

 

This is where our language lets us down. Many of our names have lost their ancestral homes. Do Mr. and Mrs Fletcher still make arrows? Does young David Walker still trudge daily in vats of urine soaked clothes setting the dye?

Mr Baker, Smith, Carpenter, Weaver. All these names are now carried by people who have forgotten the feel of the tools that gave them their name.

 

Then there are our first names, my own is carried by both genders but with different meanings as a male like my self it means ‘supplanter’ for the female ‘conqueror’. I have never asked my parents why they called me ‘Jamie’ it was probably due to it being a derivative of my fathers ‘James’. When we named our own children, my wife and I used names that connected with us in different ways. Our oldest was after a song, my only boy after a character in a book who we admired, the next girl down was another derivative, this time after my wife’s name then the last one because well we were running out of ideas and we liked the sound of it.

 

But what if our names were to truly reflect our personalities, like they once did? Would our names sound smooth and gentle, caring or protective? Or would they sound harsh, bitter, angry, even jealous?

 

If someone close to you were to name you to a stranger with one word what would they name you? Would you like to be named for your looks, or your wealth? Would you to prefer them to name you after your personality, or you intellect? Imagine a world where all females looked exactly the same and all men were perfect copies, yet that was the only change. Would your character shine bright enough to stand out? Would your name be; Joy, Kindness, Love, Patience. Or would it be Vapid, bitter, jealous, angry?

 

So what is your name?

Bite sized Life!

My oldest daughter has a friend over the other day, who mentioned that she did not like reading. I would have been surprised but only a few days before I read that National Literacy Trust released info that 17% of children and teenagers would admit to be embarrassed if found reading.

As an avid reader a husband to an avid reader and thankfully a father to four children who enjoy reading. This study I actually find to be very sad. A little delving and I started to understand her statement. It wasn’t that she didn’t read or that she was embarrassed to read it was just that she found that concentrating long enough and holding the information in her head about different characters was difficult.

Now I am sure that if we threw Shakespeare at any fourteen year old, they would balk at the weight of the book let alone at the words used between the covers. But we do have thousands of children who are now in their mid teens, who have never had to concentrate on anything for longer than thirty minutes.

As very small children we teach them to read by giving them a book with ten maybe fifteen words on a page explaining the whole story. (I am not knocking this it is the best way to learn to read). The problem is everything is now aimed a the most base level of understanding. Television programmes are interrupted four maybe five times an hour for advertising. The story is stopped people can think over the last ten minutes of viewing and digest it then continue on with the next ten minutes. You can watch the first two minutes of the ‘Ten o’clock news’ get the bulletin and then walk out of the room with just enough info to ensure the world isn’t going to end before Saturday.

Even the scourge of this decade ‘Social Media’ everything is delivered instantly and quickly as possible. I am not going to go on for ages about our language becoming despoiled as I believe that language itself is a living thing and adapts to its time. Don’t forget it wasn’t that long ago we used ‘fall’ instead of ‘autumn’ even our most common word ‘the’ is relatively new to our language.

Back on track sorry. Instant gratification is almost now seen as a human right. We want everything now! Instant food has become the norm rather than a once a month treat. Credit, and not just money but everything tangible, clothes, tech, even cars.

We can wake up in the morning with nothing and by the time we go to bed we can have a wardrobe full of clothes, enough tech to fly to the moon and back a very nice car on the drive outside and a holiday booked to South of France. But none of it is paid for.

Or instant life has set our culture on a downward spiral. There are a few that try to buck the trend, cooking everything from scratch, making their own clothes. This should be the way forward but it is always going to be a struggle as our whole country is against it. The economy isn’t made for slow cook lamb. It is cheaper to but a pair of jeans, made for almost slave labour in a far flung country, have it driven to the port, put on a container ship, sailed from the other side of the world to Rotterdam, driven through three countries put on another ship driven to a depot then delivered to a store where they then sell them for £14.99 and still make a profit. If you try buying enough denim to make a pair of jeans it will cost you. at £7.85 per metre. nearly £40.  Also no school teaches enough of the original sowing, or for that matter cooking skills.

What does this have to do with not enjoying reading I hear you say! Well it’s just that our culture doesn’t encourage anybody to think for them selves anymore. Having to work out a problem in your head is not something even children have to do. When I was a child back in the 70’s and 80’s I played out side (on a small holding) we used sticks as guns, or swords two sticks became ski poles. When it snowed we used plastic coal bags as sledges. A piece of string had a thousand of imaginative uses. If you look through a toy magazine there is a toy for every conceivable situation.

The imagination has been taken out of our children’s well childhood. So when they come to read a book, their imagination just can’t keep up. They can’t imagine a world behind a wardrobe, or rafting down the Mississippi river. The one exception to our Children’s world is about a boy who escapes our world and is included into an imaginative magical one. Kudos to J K Rowling. Let’s not forget that the 12 year old who read that first book is in their late twenties now.

I encourage my children to read but even more importantly I encourage them to write.

Macchiato Anthropology

People watching, or to give it its proper title ‘anthropology’. Unlike many proper anthropologists I am not keen on spending hours hidden a jungle eating rice and gnat testicles, to study the behaviour of a tribe hidden from the modern world.

No I much prefer to sit down in a comfortable chair sipping a macchiato, and perusing those who pass the plate glass windows of my local ‘Café Nero’. (yes I know my dear wife has written about this subject in her blog, but we were there together and the subject interested us both).

While we both like to give the passing persons a fictional life back story, normally becoming more extreme as the time goes by, (and the caffeine takes hold of our neurone receptors). I also like to look a little deeper at the behaviour of the individuals and groups.

I am a keen walker and enjoy heading of to the hills and spending time hiking through the wilder areas of this small island we call Britain. While walking over yet another rise on my way to the journeys end, if anyone else passes there is always a few spoken words of greeting, nothing probing, nothing personal just general niceties to pass those fleeting moments.

But here the as concrete, bricks, and shop displays shout for attention our willingness to acknowledge each other disappear. I am sure that many will argue that there are far too many people to say hello to, and that we have nothing in common, unlike the ramblers who are all doing the same thing hence have a connection. And yes I will agree with you that even in our small Welsh town as you walk from one end to the other, you could pass hundreds of people and to say hello to each would be a laborious task at best.

It is the fact that most people just seem to ignore each other as they pass within a few feet. Being British we hold our faces with composure and no emotion showing. But what if that person you are just about to walk past is about to get hit by a bus, and yours is the last face they see, do they see a face of indifference? We all dream that we will die on our beds with our families beside us peacefully going to sleep for the final time.

Looking back at those people who pass by the windows (it really is a good place to people watch by the way). You can divide them into many groups. You have the old widows that pull a trolley behind them, looking at windows full of ‘things’ that they could not even dream of when they were children in war torn Britain.

Then there are the retired couples, whose clothes slowly start matching as both start wearing beige slacks with elastic waist bands for comfort, enjoying their shopping day.

Next you have the business type. Now we don’t have the city type here, but there are the suited and booted who are glued to there phones and looking harassed.

As transport is getting better and technology is now so cheap we have an abundance of the ‘rich young and hip’. They can not afford to buy a house so they live at home still, and spend their money on clothes and fashion.

Then there are the young mothers, who prowl around with their pushchairs in packs. This is the most diverse group as the backgrounds are separated from each mother/child coupling. The wealth of each can be seen in the clothes of the coupling. One will be wearing ‘Baby Gap’ and ‘Boden’ while the other a sports top paired ‘Primark’ Jeans, and an all in one baby-grow with slogans printed on it.

Then you have the Parental group, those old enough to have children in school or college. Not quite old enough to look forward to retirement but a little too old to be going out Saturday nights. This group spends its time in town not out of necessity but to enjoy window shopping for a new ‘thing’ to replace the old ‘thing’ that has finally given up the ghost after fifteen years of faithful service. To while away the time they will sit down and sip a macchiato and watch people go by.

With an observant eye you can see within these circles they do acknowledge each other in their own manner. The young mothers steer towards each other start talking from twenty yards away and don’t pause in stride as messages about toddler groups are given. The business types will raise their hands in greeting and use a simple form of sign language to communicate to each other that they should phone, while still on their phones to other business types arranging meetings. The old widows will stop and discuss the latest ailment affecting them or their neighbour then continue on holding their coats around them even tighter. The retired couples are the ones that stop and will have lengthy discourses about the state of the world and how it was so much better way back when. The ‘rich young hip’ will greet by giving a smile and one will always give an astonished look at the others news. But the parental group don’t make much effort they will pass each other and give a small nod.

It is almost never that these groups will acknowledge each other, as they pass each other in a chaotic ballet played out for time immemorial. Passing etiquette between groups are passed down from generation to generation. Younger shall always take the higher pass, pushchairs have right of way through crowds and if you pass within three feet of each other you must move you arm out of the way and twist slightly at the waist.

If you have to squeeze through a gap the uttered sentence ‘I am so sorry can I just squee…’ must never be completed before the manoeuvre, and the ‘thank-you’ has to be louder than the question.

But the one group that has the highest authority are the elderly widows. They will plough on head down.

Woe betide you if you are caught between an ‘elderly widow’ and ‘pushchair toting young mother’. You know you are going to upset one and you have to choose quickly.

Within that two hundredth of a second you judge your opponents. First the old widow she is four feet nothing and weilds a four wheeled trolley full of tinned cat food and fresh bread, then the young mother the child is asleep and there are no piles of shopping falling of the pushchair, then with an apologetic smile you side step the pushchair and hop over the back wheel twisting in mid air and apologising for there not being enough room. If the pushchair contains an awake baby that is grubby from sweets the mother has used as blackmail just to keep it from screaming, and there are enough bags hanging of the back of the pushchair to keep the local landfill site busy for the next six weeks. A quick look at the mother whose hair is now auditioning for the next yeti film and there is look of exasperation on her face and her eyes are wet from tears of frustration then, you flatten yourself along the wall wishing you could become like the chalky emulsion that you know has just covered your coat. And pray that the two passing will leave you enough room not to loose you toes.

Of course watching this from the comfort of a heated coffee shop, only weakens your resolve to go out and join the fray, and that third cup of coffee already beckons, besides the chores will always be there later.

Jamie

Carpe diem

Carpe Diem.

Seize the day or something like that.

Don’t you just hate those people who are so happy all the time. Nothing seems to get them down No matter how often you see them they are always perfectly dressed and have smile on their face. There lives seem to be a perfectly organised operation that never ever goes wrong. They attend all the right school functions, their kids are always clean and shine in the umpteen extra curricular activities they take part in. You look at their lives and then you own. Your smile is due to the copious amounts of coffee consumed, your children are always running out the door last second to school after yanking the school jumper out of the tumble dryer still slightly damp, trying to eat toast do up shoe laces and run at the same time so they are not late. My younger children have trouble trying to find matching shoes let alone socks. We are always at the school gate as it is about to close and forget the important bit of home work in the car or it is still on the window sill in the hall at home.

I always look at these other people and think ‘how do you do it’? You must collapse into bed every night shattered. But then as time goes by you listen to their conversations on how their children don’t talk to them, or the fact they never see them over the weekend.

There lives are so busy ‘doing’ they forget the ‘being’.  Now I am not stupid enough to belive my kids can’t stand me sometimes but we thankfully all still get on really well. My mid teen daughter still enjoys hiding behind doors and jumping out on me trying to scare me. She still likes giving her old dad a hug in public. My son is about to enter his teens still likes to cuddle up with me on the sofa as we sit down to watch Top Gear re-runs or our guilty secret ‘Shaun the sheep’.  My two little girls who are so close together they are always categorised as one. We enjoy playing stupid games and are constantly climbing over me wrestling or using me as a shield from each other.

It’s the same observations I have seen in church.  ( not so much the odd socks).

There are churches that seem to have everything running perfectly. Full set of stage lights, rotating vertical screens for the words of the most recent worship songs, uniformed greeters at the door, every member of the leadership has published books. Two Sunday morning services of 600, three midweek prayer meetings,bible studies, women meetings, mother toddler groups, youth groups, the list goes on.

Then you have those churches that seem to hobble everything together at the last-minute, they sing with gusto in the praise session to hide the out of tune piano, that is held up by a pile of books and a guitar case. The sunday school class is held in the back of the Builders van, as the normal room is now knee-deep in water. And the preacher delivers his sermon with a raised voice as the microphone has sagged once more to his knees because the sellotape holding the mic stand up has decided to go elsewhere.

I always belive that you can see where somebody’s passion is by looking at three things.  Their calendar, their conversation and their wallet.

It is the same with a church.

Have a look at the notices at a church and tick of the evangelistic gospel spreading events, and then tally them against the church outing events. Then listen to the conversations after the service, Now you will always get the normal sporting talk about someones favourite team, or the house extension saga. Ignore them it’s the church talk I like listening to, it’s the two couples talking about a mutual friend and who’s turn it is to invite them to the breakfast come little gospel talk on Saturday. The conversation about the visiting the elderly this week that didn’t make it to the notices and helping Mrs Crockett with her garden pond type conversations. But the one I always listen out for is the one about the Prayer meeting, I have sadly never heard a conversation saying that they are going to have to move to a bigger place because the prayer meeting is just so well attended people are having to sit on the floor in the hall outside.

Going back to my own Family we always make a concerted effort to talk with each other and everyday. We will always ask our children about their days and their worries. We also will talk to them about things in our lives that worry us. We might have to filter some of it or put a positive spin on some things with our children ageing from 6 to 14 some subjects of conversation are easier than others but we do talk, constantly.

And that is what God wants from us. When he created Earth and mankind before the fall he spoke to us daily and we to him. We live in a social media world with instant messages and hundreds of ways of communicating with each other. Yet with God we have always had an instant communication system. We don’t have to be computer savvy, we don’t have to pay a monthly fee, we don’t even need a ny special devices. We just need to talk.

Prayer, is nothing more than talking to God. Yet we seem to shy away from doing it. we have this belief that we must talk to God in special long words. I still don’t understand after nearly 20 years of being a Christian and attending a number of different churches why the prayer meeting is always the least attended. Of a Sunday service Preaching is given 30-45 minutes singing is given 10-15 minutes and prayer is relegated to a few slots totaling 5 minutes. Of the seven churches I have attended only one has had a pre-service prayer meeting, and that was attended by 8 people out of a congregation of 150..To be Christian is to be like Christ..so why when Christ spoke so openly about prayer and we read that he prayed often and lengthy do we as a christian church pray so little..

Jamie