Monday, 14 August 2017

The Race

There is something about watching a race, something compelling. Athletics has something no other sport has. It is perhaps the purest sport. Just one man against another. One woman becoming Number One. Chasing down the clock to be the fastest in the world. And whether you're there, track-side, or shouting at the TV, every spectator feels like they have a part to play. There is a thrill, a vibrant energy in urging every runner to push beyond themselves, to run harder, to persevere, to finish the race.

However, there is a dark truth about athletics, and it's not drugs or cheaters, but the truth that we can never know for certain who the fastest person in the world actually is. There are more than 7 billion of us, so there's a good chance that one of us, given the training and the resources and the opportunities could go faster. Maybe that's why the sport has struggled recently, even in the absolutes of a photo finish or a runaway leader, there are uncertainties. Who is the greatest athlete ever? How do we answer this?
     Fortunately, success can be measured in more than one way. Winning, yes, but also individually - a runner achieving their best, or catching everyone by surprise, defeating giants. Or simply getting up when they've fallen, battling back from life's painful moments, overcoming adversity.
     And this is a success we can all feel. Perhaps not on the running track, but in the race of life. Whether you're just leaving the starting blocks, rounding the bend, hurdling barriers or flat out on the home straight. Not all of us will have the glory or the limelight, but we can outdo ourselves, rise above our expectations, or the expectations of others. Challenge and defeat those who would bring us down, and at the same time encourage, support and lift up others; carry along the ones who feel like they cannot make it and are on the ground. Until, ultimately, we come to the finish line.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Not the News

Things that are not News:
     A sick baby
     A drunken celebrity
     Someone's pay check

Newspapers used to print short fictional pieces alongside their news headlines, now they don't have to because the 'news articles' are the stories. As humans we thrive off stories. We like to follow them, see them develop - what will be the next part of the drama, and that's alright when it's made up, but when it's just someone's life, a) that's a private affair (or should be) and b) why should I care, I have my own life to deal with.
     The News should be things that affect a large portion of society, and if the Newspapers and the TV and the Radio, can't find things to fill their columns and timings then they should just stop talking. Put some nice pictures in of penguins or something. It would certainly be happier to look at then the endless misery the reporters seem to drum up.

Have a nice summer!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

On the naming of things

I had a tree named after me recently, not merely planted in my honour (which is usually the sort of thing that happens when you're dead - although I'd still take it) but embedded in it's new plot of land and then proudly given my name, after which it was accidentally trodden on, but I think it survived. The whole scene was filmed on a mobile phone (of course) and the footage shown to me the next day by the novice gardeners.

I'm not generally into the whole naming of things, it gives them a personality they don't really have and a value they haven't really earned, but it's a human instinct. I think it gives us a feeling of ownership and therefore power or influence (although how you influence a tree I don't know). People name their houses, their cars, their laptops (yes, I've seen it done) even though it only heightens the sense of sadness when they inevitably lose it, break it, sell it or in some other means cease to have ownership.
     Meanwhile the naming of organisations, societies and events can take weeks and multiple meetings (and cost a fair amount too) all in an attempt to hook people in or provide some kind of importance or unity, which can work if the masses get involved. People can be very partisan these days. But then again, if the name is meaningless and it fails to attract attention you may as well give whatever it is you're naming a number and have done. The only things of any real importance, value and meaning are people. Of course, ironically, given the trend of parents attempting to be original, children being given numbers for names is now perfectly legitimate. MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has just named his new son 'Sixtus', and yes he is the sixth child, poor thing.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Other News

I picked up two bits of news this week that I think largely went unnoticed amidst all the other stuff going on in the UK, but both of which might have longer shelf-lives than the newly elected government.

Firstly, on Wednesday (7th) lunchtime, 50.7% of the UK's energy was supplied by wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning. This to me sounds like big news. 50% of Britain was powered by renewable energy for the first time! Add in nuclear, and by 2pm low carbon sources were producing 72.1% of our electricity!
     If that's not exciting enough the result of this was that prices fell to a 10th of their normal level - so we were saving the planet and saving people money. You just don't get these kind of good news stories, but the media barely seemed to notice. If nobody dies they're not interested.
     Now admittedly Wednesday lunchtime was both sunny and windy, but still this is brilliant, and it's not just in the UK. There are record levels of wind power being set all across Northern Europe! Now we just need the rest of the world to get on board.

Secondly, Boeing is researching the possibilities of having commercial-passenger jets piloted by computers (or artificial intelligence). Now, you might think the biggest concern here is 'can they make it safe?' And yes, that is one of the main questions they're trying to answer. But that was not my first thought.
     My first thought was, 'why?'
     Why do we need planes flown by computers when we have perfectly good pilots that do the job already, and what are all the pilots of the world going to do when they are usurped by this artificial intelligence? Go on jobseekers, I suppose.
     Actually, my issue isn't really with this specific story, but with the general trend of the world to replace humans with machines that do the same job. As far as I can tell, new technology that is actually useful are the things that help us to do jobs, not do the jobs for us! It's no wonder there are so many people out of work, and soon the pilots are going to join them. My commiserations if that includes you.

So, there you go, energy and the economy solved in one blog post. All we need are more wind farms and fewer bonkers ideas about having robots do everything for us. Now, back to work everyone, before you find a machine has taken over.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Response

How do we respond to an act of terror? It can be hard to know.

People talk about standing against 'them'. But there is no 'them' to stand against. There is no physical enemy.

Others talk of standing against hatred, but I wonder even if that is right. A person who commits an act of terror does not know the people they are affecting and can have no personal hatred of them. It also seems to me that the cause of such acts is becoming increasingly less clear.

So, how do we respond?

As I see it the only way can be through love. Loving people, individually. Not because love is the opposite of hate, but because love is the opposite of a lack of love. A person doesn't have to be hated to cause violence, but if a person does not know that they are loved, that they are valued, that their life means something to someone, then there is no telling what they will do.

A show of love together in the immediate aftermath is good, but more important I think is the love we give to those around us every day, and particularly those who we might not think to care for. This love can be expressed as simply as a smile or a pleasant greeting, although the more you can show someone their worth the greater the impact will be. This is a deeper response than what to me seems to be the slightly shallow words of people trying to be noticed for their sympathy.

Ultimately our response should not be for what we can get out of it, but what we can put in.

And I'm still working on that.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

This page intentionally left blank

"Whatcha up to?" she asked.
"Filling time," he said.
"With what?"
"Life."
"Going slow is it?" she suggested.
"The dull days go slowly, the busy days disappear, and that's the way it is," he replied. "Time is a great magician."
"So what are you actually doing?" she asked again.
"Sinking balls on a snooker table."
"Is that on a dull day or a busy day?"
"Both, it's just that the busy days are the ones when the colours get replaced."
"You know you don't make any sense?" she complained.
"This page intentionally left blank."
"What?"
"Like on exam papers. There're plenty of things that don't make sense."
"But it helps to make sense, because then people understand each other."
"That's the first thing you've said that might not have been a question" he noted, "but anyway, does it matter? I've met plenty of people, and I've never understood any of them."
"Everything matters," she said.
"Or nothing," he mused, "if everyone's special then no one is."
"You're special," she mocked.
"Thanks," he said, "so are you."

Friday, 7 April 2017

With Hope Before

A cloudless blue and a burst of yellow sinking slowly towards the pale hills. The first buds, the constant return of life, the energy and the peace. Is this why we love old England so? Is this why for millennia people from countries near and far have been attracted to our pleasant shores and have come to live here. From early invaders to the displaced, the rich and poor of distant nations, all have come to find life in this bounteous land.

Winston Churchill, in his History of the English-speaking Peoples, wrote of ancient settlers: “The invaders themselves were not without their yearnings for settled security. Their hard laws, the rigours they endured, were but the results of the immense pressures behind them as the hordes of avid humanity spread westward from Central Asia. The warriors returning from a six months’ foray liked to sprawl in lazy repose. Evidently they were not insensible to progressive promptings; but where, asked the chiefs and elders, could safety be found? In the fifth century, as the pressure from the East grew harder and as the annual raiding parties returned from Britain with plunder and tales of wealth, there was created in the ruling minds a sense of the difficulty of getting to the Island, and consequently of the security which would attend its occupation by a hardy and valiant race. Here, perhaps, in this wave-lapped Island men might settle down and enjoy the good things of life without the haunting fear of subjugation by a stronger hand, and without the immense daily sacrifices inseparable from military and tribal discipline on the mainland. To these savage swords Britain seemed a refuge. In the wake of the raiders, there grew steadily the plan and system of settlement. Thus, with despair behind and hope before, the migration to Britain and its occupation grew from year to year.”

In the human mind there is always the search for something better, something that will satisfy, and although nothing has ever seemed to fulfil all we hope for it hasn’t quenched our desire to keep on looking. For refuge, safety, security, prosperity. As Churchill hinted at, Britain has always been a place where such things could be found, and on such is our nation built. So now we, and the rest of the world with us, see a place of safety, security, peace and prosperity.

Yet the more safe we become the more vulnerable we are, blind to the real dangers, which no longer lurk just across the water but inside ourselves. Laziness, boredom, comfort. We should always be aware that although things seem to change only slowly, there is nothing permanent on this earth. The invaders and the migrants can tell us that. And so we live with 'hope before' as we seek a place of peace. Where all wars end and strivings cease.