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THE FIRST FIVE YEARS

15 Dec

It is often quoted by people like me who have a point to make that the influences on a child for the first five years of his/her life casts a shadow over the rest of his/her life. And this is undoubtedly the case: it’s the main reason why religions have persisted into the twenty-first century – and that’s a point that’s been made so often that it’s boring – though perfectly true.

And there’s a corollary, a neat one, though not to do with that precious first five years. It’s to do with perception.

A man I know sneered at me not so long ago because he claimed I had privilege due to being a grammar school boy. I ask you: I’m in my seventies and the assumption (wrong as it happens) that I went to a grammar school is seen as something to be frowned on because the frowner clearly didn’t. I’ve lived my entire adult life to dangerously close to the end with this perceived privilege. Pity I didn’t feel it!

So a perceived advantage was used as a matter of scorn. Doesn’t say much for the scorner, does it?

But he made a point worth emphasising because I have been heard to adapt this very argument and use it as a reason to distrust quite a lot of the present Government – not because they were or weren’t grammar school boys but because they went to the one educational establishment where privilege is apparently on the curriculum. They went to Eton.

This is nothing to do with the sacred five years. By the time they were five the millionaire parents of most of these cherubs had already made sure they knew what their station in life was to be. No. This is to do with a system of advantage that is based on affluence and the notion that there is a social hierarchy in which the moneyed can rule.

Some get there via other routes – the late Margaret Thatcher (who by virtue of her gender could never have been an Eton boy) carried a destructive chip on her shoulder because of it. And others have too. It’s sad, but when you live in a society in which advantage is palpably associated to birth and wealth it’s almost inevitable, I should think.

And the man who accused me of being a grammar school boy? No names, no pack drill, but he’s probably still at the foot of the privilege ladder, waiting in vain for his first step up.

The chances are because of it he burningly resents his own first five years of life.

© Peter Rogerson 15.12.15

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DREAMING OLD MEMORIES

6 Dec

Sometimes I get to thinking. It’s a novel idea, I know, but sometimes I do it. And here’s my latest bit if cranial nonsense.
I heard once, or it was explained to me by an expert or it emerged from an alcoholically-fuelled debate, that dreaming is a very special thing.
It happens, of course, when we’re asleep and our brain somehow grabs hold of images and events from during our lives and plays with them. One event might merge into another, or precipitate an intriguing plot-line for our sleeping heads to investigate.
What I picked up somehow is that this is a way our minds have of discarding unwanted rubbish and clearing space in our memories for new things. If that’s true it makes eminent sense because the last thing any of us wants to happen is for suddenly, mid-experience, a notice to be plastered in front of our inner-eyes saying “full up – stop living!”
We don’t actually want out memories to become full. It would be a disaster if they did, and each and every one of us must harbour quite a lot of unwanted detritus in the back of our heads, memories we will never need to access again, spaces where new experiences can be carefully filed away.
This may or may not be the way things are, you understand. I’m merely theorising on the basis of a half-remembered discussion from the days when my conversations with mates in pubs tended towards the esoteric. But assuming I’m right I thought I’d mention the aforementioned idea.
It’s getting to be like this. I dream quite a lot and forget most of what I dream, probably for some perfectly rational reason to do with nonsense. Yet of the few I do manage to recall once I’m conscious I’ve been aware that many involve people and events from quite a long time ago, when I was young. Last night I was wearing grey school shorts, I’m quite sure of that, and so were the lads I was with, on one of those home made vehicles made from orange boxes and old pram wheels that we were so fond of back then. And it crossed my mind that I’d had quite few dreams set in the black and white world of the early fifties.
So is my mind sorting through a fascinating period of history (childhood is probably fascinating for most us no matter when it was set – mine was the fifties and for my kids it would have been the eighties and nineties)?
And if that’s what it’s doing it’s a real cause of concern.
Is my brain searching through my past for what it considers to be irrelevant so that that part of my memory be overwritten?
I do hope not!
Those were precious years, so precious I’d do anything to go back and take a fresh peek at them, even relive them – but the tragedy is I’ve forgotten so much. Oh, I know there will have been hours, even days, of boredom, but I’d really love to treasure again the thrill I got when I started reading a Famous Five book that was new to me, or met, for the first time, my First World War ace hero, Captain Biggles. The second instalment of that war hadn’t been over for long (that’s how I look at WW2) and there was still a great deal of grey drabness around. Yet in the furtive monochrome of the lost years I found so much magic I’m sure that the land of dreams has already obliterated far too much of it to provide space in my memory so that I can remember new things, like what a prat the Prime Minister is and how wrong the present government is about just about everything it pontificates about. Wasted space!
And, brain, for goodness’ sake don’t obliterate precious fading memories as I dream because that black-and-white world was, I’m sure, a bloody sight better than some of the nonsense I’m expected to contemplate today.
© Peter Rogerson 06.12.15

FATHER DEAR FATHER

28 Sep

I wrote this piece a couple of years or so ago and although it’s not like me to repost old stuff I thought I would this time because it’s somehow very personal to me.
MY PARENTS CIRCA 1940 photo image0-8_zps1e50fdb7.jpgMy Parents, circa 1940

Time and Relative Dimensions in Space..
TARDIS
The fictitious time and space machine that has graced the television airwaves since 1963 when the good Doctor took his first monochrome meddling walk through the Universe. The one thing in the Universe that I really, really wish was physically real.
And it’s not that I want to go and check on this or that significant day in history because I might find myself meddling with what ought to be left as it was despite all that happened as a consequence. Like I might learn obstetrics and give Mrs Hitler an abortion early in 1889 before her son Adolf was born.
It would be a temptation to interfere with any number of significant historical events and try to change the course of history for the better, and that might be bad because the unseen better might turn out to be worse than the seen actuality.
No. That’s not why I want to travel through space and time with the ease of the good Doctor.
What I really would like to do (and it’ll never be possible for perfectly obvious reasons that I’ll tack on at the end) is go back a bit and see how accurate or selective or downright wrong some of my personal memories are.
I’ve mentioned my father in blogs before, though not necessarily on this site.
You see, despite the fact that he was alive for the first four years of my life I can’t remember a blind thing about him, not can I remember ever remembering him, if that makes sense.
What I can remember is me, aged four and already a schoolboy, running down the stairs one morning (short trousers, jumper, tousled hair, untidy socks) to be greeted by “You’re not going to school today, Peter, your father died during the night…”
And nothing.
The man, he who donated his most excellent sperm to my mother, vanished from existence in my mind as though he’d never been.
There were references to him spasmodically during the ensuing years.
He smoked and it was the cigarettes that killed him… you must never smoke, Peter…”
He had an abscess on the lung, Peter…”
And that was all. A man who clearly produced really quality semen was no more, never would be any more, and suddenly, as if my mind had passed through an impermeable wall, there was no trace of him anywhere.
It wasn’t until I was in my sixties that I actually got hold of a few photographs with him in them. I might have seen them before, I don’t know, can’t remember. But those black-and-white images showed a few fragments from the life of a man I have no recollection of whatsoever.
You’d have thought, wouldn’t you, that there would be something there. Some shadow of the real man, an echo, maybe, faint and distant, of something he said, a suggestion in my mind of the father I had.
But there’s nothing, and the photographs, the faded monochrome images, are of a stranger. A man I never met.
That’s why I need that Tardis. Like the wonderful Doctor Who I need to ride the oceans of space and time and see who my father really was. What he did. How he met my mother (he was, according to Internet records, and they are the best I have, born in 1899 and I was born in 1943 so he was a bit tardy when it came to breeding, especially in a time when women outnumbered men quite considerably because of the bloody mess that was World War 1).
And was it childish grief that wiped him from my memory or did he spend so much time in bed or in hospital that I never really knew him?
So many questions, so few answers. I need facts! I need to sort out personal truth, personal guesses, personal facts.
Only then will I begin to wonder whether I should get a degree in obstetrics and deal with Mrs Hitler and her obscene pregnancy…
And the perfectly obvious reasons, the ones why my time travel is never going to happen? If it ever becomes a reality we’d find ourselves bumping into shadows from our futures, maybe far distant futures, and we haven’t, have we? So they’ve never come to see us, with their superior knowledge and well-thumbed history books and medical instruments. So the technology (thank heavens, I suppose) is plainly never going to be possible…
© Peter Rogerson 06.05.13

ATHEIST PETER AND A BIT OF PEACE

13 Sep

ATHEIST PETER AND A BIT OF PEACE

graveyard photo: 001 grave-yard.jpg

Everyone who knows me is perfectly aware of my stance over gods, deities, magicians, call them what you will. It’s my belief that their power is derived from the imaginations of humanity and not from any eternal magic wand that waves hither and thither in the ether. They do not actually exist. Not even magicians if what they do is magic as defined in dictionaries. That’s my belief and I won’t bore my friends by imposing these views on them too often. Because, if I do I might put at risk something precious to some of them.

You see, not everyone has the same views as me. Not everyone is atheist. Some intelligent people, for perfectly good and sound reasons of their own, believe that I’m wrong. They do believe in gods. I can’t get my head round their persuasion and they can’t get their heads round mine and who’s to say that I’m right and they’re wrong? Certainly not me: I haven’t got so imperfect an ego as that.

You see, it is possible for two diametrically opposed opposites to exist simultaneously and be equally true. I look at it like this: we have our three score plus (a big plus I hope) years on this planet and we die. We end. We cease to be. In my universe that’s it. There’s no escape to another dimension, no Heaven for the good guys to go to and no Hell for the bad. I mean, think of the sorting house with around one hundred and fifty thousand (give or take) people dying every day (do the maths).

A ceasing to be is all there is. Our thoughts, our fondly held beliefs, our convictions of who we are and what we stand for, all go in that final instant and although we may have written them down or recorded them for posterity on some media, they are gone because we have gone. That’s all there is to a human life. Sad, I suppose.

That’s in my universe, but there are others. And some of them are almost certainly better than mine.

What does it matter a jot to anyone if a little old man and woman derives comfort from something they believe in as their life wanes and the darkness begins to fall? Of what possible importance can it be that minds that are closing reach out and try to grasp the only thing that matters at that moment, their comfort from a belief they’ve held their whole lives long? And of what possible significance can it be if that belief is based on reality or ancient legends? What is really importance is that when it actually matters that conviction gives a great deal more comfort than its absence would.

We’re all going to die, of that I’m certain, there’s evidence in graveyards around the world, and we can see, rationally, that those graveyards are all that is left of the dead. But if a person, as he or she approaches that certain ending, can gain assurance and comfort from a god or a dream of Heaven or the hope that old friends will be waiting for them, maybe past generations in their blood-line in serried smiling rows, then what’s possibly wrong with that?

It would take a very bitter and unkind ego to suggest that anything at all is wrong. Life is certainly too short to let philosophy and dreams of gods get in the way!

 Peter Rogerson 13.09.15

MY BRUSH WITH GLORY

19 Jul

MY BRUSH WITH GLORY

schoolboys running photo: Arcenio Running DSCN1954.jpg
You start mulling over one thing and you find your mind drifting to another. I suppose it’s because the older you get the more memories you accumulate and the more memories you accumulate the more one event brings to mind another. Or something like that.

For instance, a few days ago I reminisced about my cricket-playing triumph during which (you may recall) I put myself in as opening batsman of the rag-tag team (I was the worst possible athlete, so I was Captain) and succeeded in carrying my bat throughout the innings.

And that brought to mind the occasion I nearly made an impossibly stupid error and got perilously close to being selected for the school cross-country team.

It also involved the non-athletes because the keen lads played rugby and being in the school rugby team was tantamount to being a god. But not everyone wants to be a deity, and I didn’t.

I was a little on the large side. Not fat: very few people were fat in those days (the1950s, during which there were still post-war shortages), but of the more ordinary-sized boys I tended (only slightly) to the chubby. In other words, I may have been carrying an ounce or so of extra weight, but very little more than that. And during “games” I opted several times to do the cross-country run.

The instructions were always the same. Now, for complete accuracy I’d be obliged if you could read the following quotation in a South-Wales accent. I can’t be more precise than that: it was almost sixty years ago and I’ve found that my memory of ancient accents has been the first to fade with the passing of time.

“Now lads, I want you to run along Ashlawn Road, down Onley Lane to the Canal, along the canal bank and up Barby Lane and then back to school…”

It was a pleasing route. The first part was along a main road, but there was little traffic in those days, Onley Lane is a typical Warwickshire country Lane, the canal had a good, solid bank with gruff men huddled over their fishing rods, scowling at the vibration created by a couple of dozen schoolboys thundering past, Barby Lane was another adventure in beauty and back to school meant the huffing and the puffing was over.

Part way down Onley lane I recall a bridge that I can’t find on the map (I have looked) so it may have been demolished as redundant or it may have been something I dreamed up. In support of myself there just might have been a railway line with my bridge accompanying it, one that was obliterated a few years after my school-days by what is still remembered as the Beeching Axe, a draconian reduction of railway routes following a report or two by the still-despised Doctor Beeching. Anyway, if that rail existed I’ve forgotten it. Or imagined it. Something like that.

The thing is, I didn’t smoke. It’s a filthy habit (though I’m ashamed to say I did spend some years corrupting my lungs after I left school) but quite a few of the other boys did, some of them like veritable chimneys, and they had secreted about their persons the odd cigarette that they paused under the real or imagined bridge to puff away on.

I ran on (of course – any runner of whatever despicable inability will tell you that once you’ve found a rhythm you should stick to it), and I left the smokers behind me. The rhythm of my steps was hypnotic and my P.E. shorts were, no doubt, a disgrace.

And on one occasion I arrived back at school at the end of the race in third position. Out of, I don’t know, perhaps twenty. That drew the Welsh eyebrows in my direction. No doubt their owner thought something along the lines of “here we have unexpected talent!”

I wasn’t selected. I can’t remember any more than the intense sense of gratitude that swept over me as a consequence of that failure. But for some reason I was left to ponder on what glories might have been, though I was aware that those in proper teams invariably never stop under real or imagined railway bridges for a drag of nicotine and any possible advantage to me would be non-existent. Probably Welsh wisdom also saw that.

And that’s my brush with glory. Maybe not as memorable as my fantastic innings at cricket when the fastest bowlers in the school team couldn’t dislodge me and from whom I claimed a dribble of runs, but a brush with glory none-the-less.

Hurrah for sport!!!

© Peter Rogerson 19.07.15

THE BOY GROWS UP.

18 Jul

THE BOY GROWS UP.

Little Me photo image0-17-1.jpg
I know a man who would swear that black was white if it helped him come to terms with the irrationality of his prejudices. Quite a lot of people are like that in one way or another – I probably am myself. But taken to extremes it can be quite disconcerting and I don’t think there’s much that’s extreme about me.

Conviction is one thing and belief is another, though the two do often get confused as they barley-twist a dance through life together. And they can both be horribly wrong.

One of the things that dominates the pseudo-intellectual warblings on the Internet is religion. You either believe it or you don’t believe it (I don’t at the moment, but that’s by the by). But I have read through multi-syllabic crap on philosophical sites because A is a man of conviction (i.e., he’s been convinced by argument or evidence) and B is a man with belief (i.e., he believes without the need for proof or further input) and neither can agree about anything except the fact that they don’t agree.

I tend to have fairly strong atheist leanings myself and yet I’m quite happy to confess that we non-believers are among the worst because the barley-twist dance between conviction and belief is closest to the surface with us. We probably believed either fully or half-heartedly in the array of fancy notions disguised as a particular religion and then after a bit of Deep Thought we became convinced there was something wrong with them and once we’d concluded that nonsense and brain-washing on an immense scale were involved we hated ourselves for being taken in by it all. It’s only natural, I suppose.

But all this doesn’t mean I’m right. I might believe that I am, but I hope I’m honest enough to admit that belief might be as spurious as the opposite beliefs that once fluttered around inside my head (because education and vicars and the BBC had put them there) were. No – I’m as likely to find my present beliefs are wrong as I was when I found my religious ones were. Not that I’d return to them unless presented with a gigantic pile of incontrovertible evidence in support of them.

No. My mind’s rather open.

Let me tell you about a small note-book I had when I was at Junior school. I bought that notebook (I rather suspect it was from Woolworth’s and cost around a penny) and wrote really important stuff in it, mostly about space and space exploration (I’m talking about around 1950, before any real exploration of space had begun). But I was excited by the possibility and wrote down facts by the score, in quite small writing because I was no longer a small child and didn’t want it to look childish.

I read avidly. Science fact and science fiction both excited my developing brain. That’s not an attempt to make me look particularly bright as a child but because reading was, in fact, really all there was for a half-way inquisitive child to do.

And I came, in those young-boy, short trouser days on my first discovery that not all is well in the world of knowledge, because my teacher, in an attempt to provide a bit of perspective in a subject she probably knew next to nothing about explained that the sun was a hundred times bigger than the Earth and the Earth is a hundred times bigger than the moon. At a guess there was an eclipse of one kind or other just round the corner and she wanted us to make some sort of sense of it even though we were ill-equipped with experience to do more than marvel.

But I wrote her statistics (a hundred times bigger, a hundred times smaller) in my notebook and discovered, soon after that they were WRONG!

I had recorded an inaccuracy. The sun is a great deal bigger than a hundred times the size of the Earth and the moon quite a lot larger than a hundredth of the size of the Earth, and before long I discovered that it is 1/4 Earth’s diameter, 1/50 Earth’s volume, and 1/80 Earth’s mass – I doubt I understood the difference between volume and mass but was bright enough to notice that the number 100 didn’t appear anywhere.

At that point I lost my faith in teachers. I had been lied to! I had been taught misinformation! And by one who should have known the true facts!

And at that point I started questioning everything, and eventually God came under the microscope of my mind. I spent ages with him because the impregnation of belief had been so comprehensively eased into my brain. But in the end he had to go, to join lunar statistics as something I should never have been told in the first place. After all, he didn’t make sense and anyway there were inconsistencies in ancient books I’d been told held the absolute truth.

My original belief morphed into a conviction that the opposite to God was true.

So what did I shove into the vacuum (that one thing abhorred by nature and my own common sense) left by God?

I poked around, looked here and there, mused over big bangs, read about the expanding Universe and, you know, nothing cropped up. Oh, the scientists smile seraphically as they intone glorious facts about that tiny point that exploded in the beginning and out of which, with a big bang, emerged all of matter. They dress the Universe up with a life-expectancy after which there will be nothing, and before which there was probably nothing.

And, you know, it’s no more convincing than God. So I don’t know. I’ll have to think it over before I’m convinced of anything but I do know this: it could be there’s a force or a power at work that we might call God and that, despite all the blabbering by pseudo-philosophers on the Internet, I might just start believing in it.

After all, as I said, my own common sense abhors a vacuum and God’s just a name for something.

© Peter Rogerson. 18.07.15

TERRORISTS, I SEE YOU!

12 Jul

TERRORISTS, I SEE YOU!

terrorist photo: Terrorist Terrorist.jpg

If I knew everything I would be a god.

And that god could range anywhere between being a hoary old man with a dubious beard to a nano-particle that nobody properly understands though scientists reckon they might get close enough to see one some time soon.

But I don’t know everything, which is why I’m writing this now. I’m not a god, you see, but an elderly old bloke in England who likes to do a bit of writing that hardly anyone will ever read.

And what I do know is that absolutely nobody knows everything. In fact, I’d be prepared to bet there are huge gaps in even the most comprehensive knowledge. But what troubles me is that there aren’t enough people aware of this.

And another thing I do know is that mankind has progressed in knowledge if not in wisdom since he evolved and knows a darned sight more now than he did know in an earlier age. And he still doesn’t know anywhere near everything.

Back in the bad old days there was absolutely no knowledge about the cause of disease, so there was no sensible way of combating it. The closest they got was distrusting miasma, or smelly air, and they cured the sick (or tried to) with sweet fragrances from nature. They were ignorant as to the elements that constitute all of matter, though they did believe there were four – air, earth, fire and water, though how they combined to make, say, glass, they were at a loss to explain. Knowledge takes time to be discovered and there’s a great deal of trial and error before real know-how is confirmed.

Before the notion of germs, of bacteria, of viruses, of the periodic table of elements there were men (and maybe a few women, if they were permitted) struggling to make sense of their world and they hit upon what, to them, was a sensible explanation: in the beginning some guy designed and made it. Different groups of people had a variety of similar explanations, and the one that time made dominate the rest came under the heading of gods.

In the end what they call monotheism dominated, monotheism meaning the whole kit and caboodle that we call the Universe was made by a bearded bloke who is a combination of control freak, cruel megalomaniac and loving father. And that fearful figurehead survives into the modern age.

At the moment there are random(ish) groups of terrorists using their concept of what they call god as an excuse for murdering and destroying. I’m not sure whether they’d be doing that if they didn’t have that concept of their god but guess some of them probably would find a different banner on which to attach their blood-stained colours because all they really want is the violence. Some of them, psychopaths to a man, merely want power, and in their eyes power resides solely in the control of others.

It’s got nothing to do with Higgs boson particles, or old men with dodgy beards or anything called god. It’s something that is antisocial and really ought to be exterminated, for the sake of the rest of us. There are, after all, billions of us humans and we all have our own views of reality and yet the vast majority don’t get all pig-headed and go about willingly murdering and destroying for the sake of views we may pretend to hold.

I, for instance, admit to being largely ignorant. Is there a God (either with a capital or lower-case g)? I don’t know, but rather suspect not, and my not knowing has more to do with my awareness of my own ignorance than because I think there’s a gap in Creation that an old bearded bloke would fit neatly into. Am I an atheist? Well I don’t go along with any of the currently revered army of deities so I suppose I am, despite my own ignorance.

You see, our long lost ancestors had their dreams and wrote them down and their words have lasted a great deal longer than the dreams ever should. And they are still being read today, and not just read but repetitiously hammered into willing heads until the old dreams gain an impossible new life. You can do that with the human brain: it’s called brain-washing, and you can even do it to yourself.

Yet most of us, when we read an ancient book, know it for what it is: a struggling attempt by men (and possibly women, though women weren’t always given a proper say in the affairs or our species) to determine the truth about their world, but with considerably insufficient data. There are few of us who would read, say, the Old Testament, and believe every sentence in it. If we did we’d have to wrap out morals round a barley-twist and probably end up talking and thinking out of our back passages. And the same is obviously true of the Qur’an. The words, the dreams, are from another age. They’re like Harry Potter meets the dinosaurs: fictitious magician greets the truly ignorant.

It’s only those who batter old myths into their own skulls that end up believing them, and some with no imagination get the idea that their knowledge is so special everyone should share it. Deluded maybe, idiots yes.

And very dangerous.

© Peter Rogerson 12.07.15