Archive | January, 2015

OH, THE PAIN OF IT!

31 Jan

OH, THE PAIN OF IT!

NEANDERTHAL MAN photo: Neanderthal man avi evi_neanderthal_large-1.jpgIn this age of palliative medicine there’s no real need for anyone to suffer the kind of pain that can grind a person down and leave them a quivering, weeping wreck.

Pain through illness, accident, being gored by a beast in the wild should we be foolish enough to go anywhere near the kind of beast in the wild that might gore us, any kind of pain, can be eased with sometimes heavy doses of the right medication. Our pain and the unremitting agony brought about by tusked gouges will be eased even if the palliative painkiller leaves us feeling woozy or even comatose.

But it wasn’t always thus. In fact, it’s only in relatively recent years that those in pain have had access to such miracles. There was a time before even aspirin!

Now let us take ourselves back to the vast stretch of centuries that were encompassed by human pre-history, or the millennia that existed before early man left his first meaningful message via the gift of a simple line drawing on a cave wall. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that our species was around as totally illiterate hunters and gathers for far longer than we’ve actually had any history if we define history as the record created by humanity of his experiences and understanding his place in the world. So cave drawings might be seen as the start of mankind’s record of his life and so is the actual start of recorded history. As an aside, it might also be interesting to realise that the creation as described in Genesis occurred more than half of the way between those early cave drawings and their gifted artists, and today!

But this is about pain, and those prehistoric ancestors of ours knew one hell of a lot about it. They had to. The lives they lived have been variously described as being short and violent. Many of them will have died in unbelievable agony and with nothing, not even alcohol, to help alleviate their pain. Some might even have willed the beast already eating them to get a move on and bring an end to all that pain. And there will have been disease, cancers, infection – loads of infection – none of them nice.

It will have been under the yoke of the potentiality of pain and an inability to control it when the people probably turned to their gods. Oh, they had gods all right. There is evidence that mankind turned to the unknown forces he conjured from his imagination even before Neanderthal man surrendered to whatever it was that killed him off. Maybe it was during the thousands of years of prehistory that the need to trust the spirits and revere their nearest representative that our species had a propensity to believe the ridiculous shoe-horned into our psyches.

And some witch-doctor or wise old man, possibly as ancient as in his thirties, might have told them to glorify their pain. They might have said the pain had a meaning for them to try to understand, and by coming to terms with a reason they might find that pain became almost tolerable. It may well have been an early case of mind over matter. But the important thing is that it would have been attributed to the gods, an external crutch that leant them support as the blood flowed.

For millennia pain stayed the same but the gods slowly morphed one into another, yet they were always able to offer spiritual aid to the dying, the pain-ridden and the mutilated, and their witch doctors and priests multiplied.

In such time a man feeling the all-consuming grip of this or that condition as his ability to tolerate the intolerable was stretched to the limit will have asked himself why he had angered the gods for them to treat him this way, and the witch doctor or aforementioned wise man will have had some answers and the solution would almost invariably involve administering even more pain. It’s a strange logic that persists today in the attitude to medicines, that if it tastes bad it must be doing you good.

The bad thing, though, is the evolution bit of the story.

Pain and its non-relief may well have contributed to our tendency, years after palliative medicine became a reality, to believe the ridiculous. It’s a good thing we have the mental power to shake it off.

© Peter Rogerson 31.01.15

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A FRACKING SNOW SCENE

28 Jan

A FRACKING SNOW SCENE

buried in snow photo: Buried DSC01617.jpg
Here’s a jolly scenario.

The snow was piled against the bungalow, up its walls and meeting with the overhanging pristine white blanket that was slowly descending from the roof.

Inside, baby cried. Baby was cold. Baby was hungry. Baby was dying.

There was precious little the mother could do about things. There was no way out of the house, no way she could forced a passage through the tons of snow that lay like a morbid TOG 100 quilt across the world where she lived. There was no way she could get to the shops and no way those shops would be open anyway.

This was England in the middle of the twenty-first century, and the mother was desperate.

A mile away, in where he thought a lay-by might be if he remembered correctly because he couldn’t see anything in the white-out, the father sat and wept. He’d like to be able to get home, but couldn’t. He loved his wife and child, and anyway home would be warm and the car was cold. He’d burned the last of his fuel in order to keep warm and now he could only see one possible outcome.

He was going to die, sitting there in his car, with the biggest wall of snow he’d ever seen blocking his way in every direction and even resting like a multi-ton weight on the roof of his vehicle.

“They’ve talked about extreme weather, and here it is…” his brain told him. “I remember when we marvelled at three feet of snow, and now there must be thirty…”

It wasn’t quite that thick, but who was measuring?

At home, baby died.

Then at home, the mother died.

And at the same moment, in the car the father died, but first he switched the radio on just in case…

There was at least one station still broadcasting. A crackly station. Or was that the wild winter sneaking via the aerial to distort the sound?

On that radio three twerps in a studio that was still working were discussing the problem, using twerp language to try and deduce what had gone wrong.

“They should have fracked more,” insisted one. “They should have ignored the environmentalists … I mean, what do they know? Then we’d have the gas to keep people warm…”

“It’s the fracking that did it,” gloated another. “Burning all that gas… every cubic metre of gas burn is a cubic meter of carbon dioxide … the atmosphere became unstable … the weather changed … people are dying…”

“We should have gone nuclear,” smirked a third in his twerpy, complacent voice, “then we’d all be warm and the weather would have settled back to its old friendly ways.”

“But there were nuclear accidents,” chided the first. “There aren’t any fracking accidents worthy of the word “accident”…

“Very few and very far between,” sighed the third voice. “In fact, hardly any at all. Much safer than dying in the cold.”

“Everyone dies anyway,” concluded the second. “What does it matter anyway?”

But the mother and the baby and the father didn’t hear.

The dead can’t.

© Peter Rogerson 28.01.15

AND DEATH SHALL HAVE DOMINION

27 Jan

AND DEATH SHALL HAVE DOMINION…

The one area in which gods grab our attention and make us think more than twice concerns the question of death.

That’s one sure thing that’s going to happen sooner or later to each and every one of us. It’s an event that may come along slowly as some lurgy rots vital organs inside us until they no longer function and we keel over for a last time, or it might be that piece of mischief waiting round the corner and ready to trip us up without giving the least bit of notice. Whatever the case, it’s death. It’s final. Our last thought may well be “so here I go, and it wasn’t a rehearsal after all…”

I suppose it’s the simple matter that everything we find familiar, the way the sun rises and sets, the colour of a spring sky, the hint of green that slowly spreads across early summer woodland, the melody created by birds just out of sight, everything we like and love in our world will be worse than lost to us, because the “us” part of the equation won’t be there to see or hear them.

And more than that. If there’s one thing most of us like is being well thought of by others, and we’ve all worked out that the greatest truths of how others carry us in their minds get revealed in our absence. Walk out of room and the truth will often leak out, unheard by us but manifest anyway. I’ve no doubt about that.

But death is more than walking out of a room. It’s departing for good. It’s leaving a space where we used to be and never returning to fill it again.

We’re out of the room for ever and ever, amen.

And the one place we’d like to be more than any other is there, in the room with our own corpse, weighing up the whispered comments of those unfortunate enough to see us in that reduced state. That’s the bad thing about dying: we won’t be there to see the effect of our death on others. Our ears, once so sensitive, won’t hear a syllable of the praise or blame that gets muttered over our decomposing flesh.

And afterwards.

We all have our routines in life, the things we like to do, the little rituals we create that mark us as, in some small way, unique. I should imagine that each and every one of us can bring to mind something that is peculiar to us, if not in its entirety but in some aspect of it. It’s something we do, and even though half the rest of the human race might do something similar, there’s not one of the countless billions who do it exactly the same way as us.

And when we’re no longer in the land of the living we can’t do it. The world we once inhabited has become, in the tiniest possible way, a different place because of our absence from it.

Then there are the people we love and who love us. They’re going to possibly shed a few tears before moving on. That’s something we’ve all got to do: move on, keep precious memories like fading snapshots in our minds, but move on anyway. But we won’t be there to witness any of it.

These must be the reasons we hate the idea of dying quite as much as we do.

And because it all becomes such a big deal some of us can’t cope with it. And of those who can’t cope a tiny minority turn to a hope, a dream, they know just isn’t true but try to conjure, through fear of the impossibly unknown, into being. Which brings me back to the beginning of this little piece, and the fact that gods can grab our attention and make us think more than twice about the question of death.

© Peter Rogerson 27.01.15

WHERE WE WENT WRONG

26 Jan

WHERE WE WENT WRONG

mARGARET tHATCHER photo: Margaret Thatcher MargaretThatcher58.jpgI reckon that we’re all paying for the cruel dominatrix and her politically jaundiced ways, Margaret Thatcher (RIP) and her free-market economy that might have worked, but hasn’t.

The theory (and that’s all it was) expounded at length by the lady when she was in power was based on the illogical notion that an enterprise run for profit was going to be more efficient than the same industry run as a service to the community and on behalf of the community it serves.

I was confounded at the time. But, like a lot of people back then, in the heady days of a Britain on its way to bankruptcy I swallowed it. What we see now, of course, is that the fiscal problems of the nation had very little to do with a telecom giant or a public service gas industry and more to do with other frailties within society, some concerning an excess of Trades Union influence and its ability to unwisely bring the country to a standstill, and some to do the intractable management in key industries.

Somehow, we were led to believe, if an industry is owned by shareholders who expect a dividend every quarter then it will have to pull its socks up and be more efficient or go to the wall. They forgot, of course, that those same industries already had owners – we, the people.

There were two ways they could be made more efficient and produce the promised dividends and they involved reducing the workforce and paying them less (especially the lower echelons with little or no Trades Union power) and charging more for the end product, be it a phone call or gas or electricity.

And to make it all seem so very tempting we were told we could all become shareholders if we wanted to buy shares! Not that the truth, that we all held virtual shares already was explained. Anyway, sales took place and quite a lot of “ordinary” men and women bought shares. After all, they were a bargain and too good to miss!

The vindictive dominatrix probably knew what would happen. The shares would go up in value and the “ordinary” folks would sell theirs for a profit, not having the experience of financiers to hold onto them. And then her chums in the City could buy them and wait for their collection to pay ever bigger dividends.

The thing is, we had a much more divided nation back then. There was upheaval of a most unsavoury kind, some of it carefully sculpted by the aforementioned evil dominatrix, (remember her Poll Tax?) and it’s a mistake to suggest she cured all ills with her stubborn insistence that she was incapable of thinking an inaccurate thought.

Take her big sell-off of council houses. It seemed such a good idea, giving good tenants the right to buy their homes rather then spend their lives pointlessly paying rent for them, but what’s happened since?

A great many of those council houses, bought cheaply by tenants, have been subsequently sold by their excited new owners at a profit, and have spookily swelled the portfolios of private landlords who can charge twice the rent the council would have charged and for a poorer service. And those private landlords have entered the real economy of share-owners where the toil of the working man is unvalued, or, to be kind, undervalued.

And more: stocks of social housing, built up since the Victorian era, have been depleted. A young family in need of a roof over its head often MUST pay what private landlords ask, and often for an ill-maintained hovel.

And look what happened when she was finally and belatedly ousted from power: after a brief Major blip Tony Blair reinvented the Labour party and changed it into a Conservative shadow party and very much continued on the road she had built until he got tired of peace and wanted a war even if he had to lie to get one. But that’s another story.

When I hear it mooted that there are new Thatcherite moves afoot I become worried. I become very worried, because her policies caused more damage to our nation than even she might have expected, though in truth all her policies had one thing in common: they enabled a fiscally upper-class to accumulated ever more of the national cake, and keep it to themselves. Things couldn’t have carried on as they were when she took the reins of power, but there must have been a gentler, kinder way than that which Thatcher provided.

Remember this every time you pay a Utility bill or wonder when you son/daughter will afford a home of their own. And while you’re at it, don’t blame the immigrants: it’s not their fault.

© Peter Rogerson 26.01.15

THE TRIALS OF WOMEN

25 Jan

THE TRIALS OF WOMEN

 Pompeii, Herculaneum, Vesuvius photo PICT0026-1.jpgThe overpowering emotion I experience (being an old fart in his seventies) is an abiding and overpowering love for my wife. I would leap to her defence if anyone attacked her or even threatened her. She is very, very precious to me. That’s how I’ve felt since we first met over seven years ago and how I always want to feel.

As far as I am concerned the best I can ever hope to achieve is to be her equal, and that will be some accomplishment. And despite the infirmities that are brought on as the years past and I have admit I might be getting old, I find myself wanting to be closer than close to her, metaphorically and physically.

All this is a way of asking “how can men in a different culture be so different?”

I have watched women walking an unnatural distance behind their husbands because that’s what their culture says they must do, the men, being superior, always in front. I am aware that those husbands must have radically different feelings towards their wives than I have. The only way I’d let Dorothy walk behind me like that is if we were carrying a long plank of wood, sharing the load between us and with me at the front.

Appalling stories of the abuse of women – wives, that is – come from around the world. It is considered quite proper for a man to beat his wife and entire legal systems are constructed in order to cruelly limit the freedoms of the women unfortunate enough to be born into them.

And it’s not just in the East where some cultures say that women are inferior to men because they committed the original sin and we’ve all suffered because of it ever since, but closer to home where there are secure homes for battered wives.

How can this be? I’ve heard it argued that some women choose a husband who is dangerous and happy to live “on the edge”, and marry him from choice. They then put up with the excesses some dangerous men are capable of until fear for their lives makes them try to break away – and that’s not always possible. To some, mercifully only a few, the breaking away is postponed for too long, and they end up dead, and with their dying breath they may well tell of their love the man who’s killed them.

I don’t get it, but it does happen.

What is harder for me to understand is the way whole cultures behave that way to their women, and, like the dying lass mentioned above, the women say they like it that way. Maybe they do, possibly because they’ve had the lie, that there’s another life to come and the one they’re suffering is a painful preparation for Paradise, shoe-horned into their brains.

I’m pretty certain there isn’t any such place, though. I can see no evidence that we, on a small planet among billions of other small planets, have been “chosen” to have an eternity in some heaven somewhere. My understanding of the Universe has no place in it for a final destination as fanciful as that.

But if it’s fiction that re-enforces the perceived right for some men to bully those weaker than themselves then it’s about time that fiction was consigned to the scrapbook of history where other fancies fade away.

Women are usually too precious to hurt.

© Peter Rogerson 25.01.15

THE PRICE OF OIL

24 Jan

THE PRICE OF OIL

We inhabit a crazy world, but not quite as crazy for us in our little island as it is for others. We’ve had our moments, though. We used to burn people at stakes if they disagreed with us – at least, our long-deceased leaders did. But in recent centuries we’ve calmed down quite a lot and gradually accepted that the most useful aspect of being intelligent is to be tolerant. We also admit that of the two sexes the female is possibly the most useful in evolutionary terms and ought to be treated with a damned more respect than they were historically. (Without the egg there’d be nowhere for the millions of sperms to go, and although vice-versa might be true I find it impossible to tolerate the notion of a world without women).

But I note that elsewhere the tolerance light doesn’t shine anywhere near as brightly. I’ve just read that the Indian Supreme Court brought shame on the great country of India by criminalising gay sex. That reeks of intolerance to me, and intolerance it is. And cruelty. Whether we like it or not a natural progression from romantic, idealising and passionate love is sex and to ban it is an act of unbelievable stupidity. What they’re saying is that if a human being was born with an innate desire for a member of his/her own sex then he’s a criminal. He’s being contrary deliberately, it seems. He can help what he does, so it’s a crime and he needs to be locked away for ever. Yet in every society there is a fairly similar proportion of men and women with that basic, innate, uncontrollable and, to them, perfectly natural drive towards homosexual love. I’ll bet there are quite a few in the inner chambers of India’s supreme court. It’ll be them who, afraid they might themselves be outed, have turned the thumb-screws tightest. It’ll be them who are saying “see, I think they’re criminals and because I so publicly and openly say that I think it I’m clearly not one of them”…

I’ve also noted the recent death of the elderly King of Saudi Arabia and that we should all be lowering flags to half mast in order to acknowledge the passing of a great man.

A great man?

Excuse me, but is this the same man who after living for ninety years and being in absolute power for many of them has died without doing anything about the brutal fact that women can be lashed half-way to death because they were silly enough to be raped? Has he spent his extremely long life happy with the notion that rapists can be set free but the women they rape must be guilty even if the intrusion was painfully unwelcome and even hated by her?

And, on a lighter, less painful note, is this the same man who has in no way challenged a system that imprisons women for driving a car?

They say he was a moderniser and we know that that it’s taken the best part of a thousand years for our own society to sort itself out and crawl from the mire and morass of the medieval years, to become almost fair to women as a consequence, so how could he be expected to do it in a single lifetime? How spurious can an argument get! A woman gets raped, so flog her? Administer ninety lashes to her fragile back? Or a woman wants to take a spin behind the wheel of the family car, so lock her away? The man was some moderniser that has left ancient rules condemning women to a medieval life of drudgery and lack of basic freedom in place.

And we are supposed to find enough respect to lower our flags out of misplaced honour for a misogynist who happens to have died?

Ah, but we mustn’t upset the Saudis, must we?

They’ve got the oil.

© Peter Rogerson 24.01.15

A SECOND CLASS STAMP

22 Jan

 A SECOND CLASS STAMP

second class stamp photo: Stamp 9 stamp-9-600px.jpg  “It is,” thought Arthur Tooty, “a long time since the world ended. I wonder if something went wrong?”

God looked him up and down and noted the shabby strands of green post office forms hanging untidily from the man’s penis. “I never made a creature like this,” his voice boomed inside his mighty omniscient head. “What has the world come to?”

Then, “What do you mean, Mr Tooty?” he asked aloud.

“It’s just a question I ask myself every day,” muttered Arthur. “I didn’t say it out loud, you know: I merely asked myself why, since it’s been such a long time since the world ended, has something gone wrong? I mean, it must have, surely?”

“What makes you think the world’s ended?” asked God, stretching himself in order to look mightier than he already was. “I mean, I never told you that anything of the sort has happened to it and as far as I can tell you’ve been dead too long to have noticed. World’s endings make quite a splash, you know, with debris flying here, there and everywhere across the Heavens. Even the most experiences angels have to duck!You’d think I’d have known about it.”

“It ended a week last Tuesday,” said Arthur defensively. “I know that it did because I was standing in a post office queue wanting to buy a second class stamp – I never buy first class ones because they’re more expensive and things get where you want them to just as quickly with second class – when there was this almighty explosion all around me, and the world ended.”

“Oh, that,” sniggered God. “That wasn’t the world ending, silly. It was the man behind you in the queue.”

“What did he do? Sneeze or something?” sneered Arthur. “I tell you, it was an almighty explosion, a dirty great big one, a bang so loud it deafened me… don’t you think I know what a sneeze sounds like?”

“I didn’t say he sneezed,” sighed God. “It was you who said he might have sneezed! It was nothing like a sneeze! He was one of them others, you know, the seventy-two virgins for killing Christians brigade, and he blew himself up. You’re right, though, it was quite a bang. Impressive, I thought.”

“Seventy-two virgins? You mean he blew himself up just behind me in the post office queue, and earned himself seventy-two virgins as a prize? That doesn’t sound particularly fair to me, especially if I don’t get any virgins and he who blew me up gets seventy-two!”

God tapped his own nose knowingly and grinned back at Arthur. “Ah, but you do,” he said, cryptically. “You get a virgin. A lovely piece of meat if I say so myself, and because I know you’re gay you get a lovely young man. Innocent as the day he was born, he is, and untouched by mortal woman – or man.”

“How do you know I’m gay…” asked Arthur. “I never told you! I never told anyone! I go about my business without having anything to do with man or woman. I live my own life. Lonely it is, true, but that’s what I choose to do.”

God sighed. “I know everything,” he murmured. “There’s not a thing about anyone on Earth that I don’t know, and you’re gay all right. Now then, would you like to meet your prize? Your virgin? The core of your innermost desires? The one sentient being anywhere who can satisfy your every yearning?”

“And the bloke who killed me? He gets seventy-two?” asked Authur Tooty.

God nodded, a sardonic smile creeping across his wise old face. “He does,” he confirmed.

“That doesn’t strike me as being one hundred percent fair…” began Arthur. “After all, if I’m to believe what you say, I’m dead!”

“You are,” confirmed God. “Blown to pieces, you were…”

“And the bloke who did it gets the biggest reward?”

“It might seem that way, but it isn’t really. You see, he was gay too…”

“Oh! And that makes it all okay? So he gets seventy-two innocent young women to spend Eternity with for killing me?” asked Arthur.

“No, silly. I wouldn’t be that unkind – not to the virgins, anyway. You see, you were blown to pieces by his bomb … seventy-two pieces, to be exact…”

© Peter Rogerson 22.01.15